Empty nest – the gap-year girl

Whether you’re the one leaving, or the one left behind, the inevitable separation of parents and children as the latter grow up and move on can be exciting and painful, for both sides. Ali Roff left home on a gap year to travel the world alone, aged 19, leaving her family behind for the first time…


Empty nest – the gap-year girl

Last week, a monk tried to con me out of $20 for reading my mind. The week before, I learnt how to surf in shark-infested waters and laughed so hard I sprayed cheap ‘goon’ wine all over my flip-flops. I’ve also trekked through a rainforest, sat for hours singing with a pair of Irish brothers and fallen desperately in love with a boy from London, of all places, where, in nine months I’ll return home briefly before heading off to university.

A quarter of my trip has already floated by in a haze of colour and sunshine. It’s been a mix of incredible happiness and desperate loneliness; a roller coaster of experiences powered by a curiosity and courage I didn’t know I had until I stepped off the long-haul plane onto foreign soil. It’s a journey, and I’ve realised that doesn’t mean every step will be taken with a skip and a smile.

It’s in those non-skipping, non-smiling moments that I miss home. I think of Dad and his quiet sadness at the airport. The few tears that escaped his eyes make mine well up now. Then there’s my little sister, with her own big adventures to come; I can see her impatience for freedom in the texts we send each other daily. And Mum. Mum who tells me that I’m only 24 hours away from home. It’s reassuring for me, but also for her. I know how much she struggled before I left. Her own anxiety was made worse by the fact that her first child was about to fly the nest. My excitement overrode concern for her feelings. This is my big adventure! When tensions were high, planning, saving and packing at home, I’d get frustrated with her. She’d had her fun and adventures growing up, so why wasn’t she happy for me to do the same?

She fretted that I wouldn’t keep in touch. I was irritated by the pressure, upset that she thought I wouldn’t want to talk to her, but also hugely relieved she’d always be on the other end of the phone if I needed her. I’m not sure I granted her the same reassurance, but what she didn’t realise is she was the one I wanted to share all my adventures with.

Because the problem with travelling on your own is having no-one to share those spectacular, life-changing moments with; no-one to scream excitedly with when you see the Sydney Opera House for the first time, or clink a cheap cocktail with once you reach the right town after a hairy eight-hour bus ride.

Mum has been there forever, from bloody knees in the playground to first-love heartache, so, after 18 years, why did she think I’d want to leave her out of the biggest, scariest, most amazing thing I’ve ever done? I call and write when I can, we chat and laugh, she listens to my adventures and comforts me with stories from home. When we can’t talk, I scribble in the beautiful journal she gave me. I haven’t told her, but every word I write in that journal, I write to her. She’s the one I want to share it all with; amid the awe and excitement of exploring the world, I think of her every step of the way.

Photograph: iStock

More inspiration:

Read Letting go of grown-up kids by Diane Priestley on LifeLabs