“You’ve never been to Stonehenge?! How, when it’s right there??”
This was just one of a few surprised statements I’d come to expect of my newfound American travel companion in Prague (for the sake of anonymity, I shall call him Normal Jonny). Even he’d been to Stonehenge, and he’d flown over oceans to get there. All it would take for me was a couple of hours down the M5, and still, I’d never even thought to make the journey.
The same can be applied to: Edinburgh; Giant’s Causeway; the Isle of Skye; anywhere in the Republic of Ireland (NOT THE UK, but it’s still just right there!); Snowdonia; the Cotswolds; even the Yorkshire Dales (I go to university in Yorkshire, in case you’d forgotten).
It’s not like I even feel like I’ve seen that much of Europe, let alone the rest of the world, but when you’re confronted by the fact that Normal Jonny had seen more of the UK’s Greatest Hits than you, a bona fide UK citizen since birth, you start wondering whether you’ve developed an attitude of, what I’m calling, “Anywhere But Here”. I mean, is it really normal to have traipsed every nook and cranny of Bratislava before exploring the countryside in your own region?
Travel, like charity, begins at home
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret a single trip abroad I’ve ever taken. Everyone knows that travelling to another country, across a time zone, into a new language, just adds a heightened sense of something new and exciting to any trip. But, how can I meet the look of disbelief on the faces of all the Normal Jonnies when I tell them that they’ve discovered the secrets of my country before I have.
And, they’re not even secrets! Stonehenge! Loch Ness! Mount Snowdon! These are globally recognised landmarks, the stuff of legend, and I’ve been taking their proximity for granted for 20 years.
As a European, I’m used to being told by people from other continents how lucky I am to live so close to so much. 6 hours? I could be in France, Russia, Italy, Turkey, Algeria! I could nip to Paris for a day trip if I really felt like it! Is this knowledge making me lazy? Am I putting it off until later? Or, as is historically common in Europe (sorry – it’s about to get philosophical) am I so captivated by the sense of ‘otherness’ that the rest of the world offers me, that I’m forgetting about what exists on my own back door?
Could it be the worst truth of all: I’m only ever proud of my home when I’m no longer there
I’m not gonna wax too lyrical about Britishness and identity, but it’s safe to say I’m not afraid of calling out this country’s bullshit. However, I’m also not ashamed to boast about its good parts (Leeds, London, and Wolverhampton Wanderers FC have my whole heart forever), but I’m still guilty of taking this place for granted.
I haven’t been to Wales since I was about 7, I’ve only crossed the border into Scotland once for a music festival, and I’ve never been to Northern Ireland! What’s up with that? With so many people flocking to the UK every year for a holiday, a mini-break, a new life abroad, why have I been ignoring the special something that these people seem to see much more clearly than I do?
Normal Jonny, if you’re reading this, you gave me something to think about. Though you took the piss out of me when you found out how uncultured I was, it was fully deserved. This “Anywhere But Here” mentality has taken me to some really cool places, but it’s also bled my bank account dry, and made me something of an international laughing stock. Maybe it’s about time I looked a bit closer to home for inspiration. Yeah, I live here, but you seem to know where you’re going better than I do. Not for long though.
Are you guilty of the “Anywhere But Here” mindset?