I’m sure you’ve read countless blogs featuring the lucky adventurer with their stories of quitting their humdrum job, selling their worldly possessions and travelling the globe to find themselves.
Maybe you’ve got friends who’ve done just that and the tirade of bikini clad, cocktail sipping, white sandy beach photos make you seethe with jealousy and question why you haven’t told your own boss to stick his job where the sun don’t shine.
Perhaps you’re like me and you already took the plunge to ditch your boring life and go live the dream. You’ve been there, done that and you’re currently wearing the t-shirt on the pristine beach as you feel the sand beneath your feet and the waves lapping at your toes.
The only thing is… I changed my beach - I’m not in the tropics anymore. Now my beach is in the North East of England, that t-shirt is hidden underneath several jumpers and there’s no way I’m taking my converse off to stick my pinkies in the North Sea!
“But you lived in paradise! Why would you ever leave?!” In January 2016 I made a conscious decision to abandon my desert island and I know what you’re thinking - she totes craycray.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Tioman Island is paradise.
I remember flying in from Kuala Lumpur and seeing this little oasis sticking out of the South China Sea covered in ancient rainforest. I could already see the coral reef through the crystal clear water as we approached the tiny airport. It was spectacular.
I lived and worked in Ayer Batang. There’s no cars, just a path that’s wide enough for a couple of scooters that separates the beach from the mountainous rainforest. You can walk along the quiet stretch in about 15 minutes, stopping in the numerous bars to abuse the fact that Tioman is duty free.
A beer is only £0.60
Beers only cost £0.90!
The diving in Tioman is stunning. It’s not famous for regular big fish sightings as it’s a pretty shallow area, but the granite rock formations make the underwater landscape something else. It’s a haven for macro life and a favourite among nudibranch hunters from all over the world.
James navigating the tight corridors at Labas Island
James penetrates the cracks of Labas Island
Eat, drink, dive, play, argue just like your real family
So why come back?
Malaysia is a beautiful country, but it doesn’t make it easy for an expat to live there. I had a work permit and even a Malaysian Identity Card. But I still couldn’t buy cheese. Can you imagine 4 years with restricted access to cheese? The nearest REAL cheese shop was a two hour ferry ride and a 3 hour bus ride away. We were like addicts waiting for the next fix when someone left the island with a promise to return with dairy goodness.
In reality, there’s no place like home.
The North East has this strange tractor beam hold on everyone who’s lived there. It’s a stunningly beautiful place both above and below the waves and there’s not many people who can stay away forever. Plus there’s plenty of cheese.
I loved my little island family (and I still do), but they just weren’t a substitute for the real deal. A Skype hug will never compare to a big squeeze from your mam and dad. And as much as I tried to keep up to date with my mates, having to raise a glass over facetime meant I missed out on some of the biggest days of their lives – their marriages, their new borns, and their heartaches. I wasn’t there for them when they needed me and I’ll never be able to make up for that.
Our feeble attempt to make it feel like we were part of our friend’s wedding
Leaving to live the dream is unbelievably selfish, and it’s only when you come back do you realise how much you were missed and how much you have missed. Having said that - don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Travelling is something that everyone should do if they get the opportunity. Had I not gone to Malaysia, then I wouldn’t be anywhere near the person I am today. Your friends and family will support your dream and hide their tears while they wave you off at the airport, and by god will they be happy to have you back!
Of course this is only part of the story… there were a few other reasons to come back. Just some little things like getting married, being accepted onto an amazing business acceleration program and, of course, planning to open a new dive centre.