Miriam – the early years…
I grew up in Münster, a beautiful university town in the North-West of Germany. I was never one of those kids who knew from an early age what they wanted to be when they grow up. When the question presented itself what to do after school, I had no idea what to choose to spend the rest of your life doing. Having to think about my future though, it became clear I was interested in languages and I wanted to study abroad. I somehow ended up studying Regional Science Netherlands-Germany (yes, it’s a thing!) in Münster and in Nijmegen, Netherlands. As it turned out I really enjoyed this study course, learning the Dutch language as well about history, economics and politics of the Netherlands. As my major I chose communications science and marketing, so I got the vague idea to be working in this field in future.
It brought me to live in the Netherlands for a year where I met a group of friends from all over Europe. After our time together in Nijmegen we did stay in touch and visited each other quite regularly for a while. I guess this is where I got infected with a case of travel-fever, wanting to explore more of the world, meet people from foreign places.
While I was writing my thesis in 2004, the pesky question came up again of how I would spend the rest of my life earning money. While my studies were great, I didn’t feel well equipped to enter the professional world, so I decided to do an internship to gain some experience. Ideally however I wanted to combine the useful with some fun, so I decided to do the internship abroad. This time I was aiming for a destination slightly further away from Germany than the Netherlands. My choice fell on Cape Town, South Africa where I had lined up an internship at a Dutch company organising weddings in South Africa.
I landed in Cape Town on 8 January 2005 and it was love at first sight. I was hooked. It was no surprise that I decided to extend my original 4-months stay by another two months. After only a few weeks back in Germany I applied at the Lufthansa Call Centre in Cape Town and started working there shortly afterwards. After 2 years at Lufthansa I made my way to work for the student placement organisation that had organised my internship back when I first arrived. Here I got my first taste of planning and running weekend trips around Cape Town for international students and to negotiating rates with accommodation and transport companies amongst other duties. From there I landed a job at a local tour operator, learning the ropes of tour planning in Africa, dealing with clients directly as well as overseas travel agents. From there I left my role in reservations and advanced to a sales position at a different overland tour operator. With this company I had already tasted life on the road as a German translator on two overland trips – one 3 week South Africa camping trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg and then a few weeks later another 3 week Cape Town to Victoria Falls camping trip. What an experience! It was not only an amazing adventure, but also helped me to properly understand what happens on the road. My new role had me dealing with the travel agency partners overseas – mostly in Germany and the Netherlands – as well as in South Africa. I got the chance to attend big international travel shows, events and roadshows as well as do sales calls all over South Africa, Europe and once even the USA. I made great connections professionally as well as personally. And it was also during this time when I met the shark in a small souvenir shop in Jeffrey’s Bay and we started traveling together! Read more about this momentous occasion in the shark’s biography (Link).
But then… Bangkok!
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Cape Town, my job, my friends – everything I had worked for. The 4 months internship had somehow merged into 9 years of living in Cape Town and the natural question, I guess, had been looming in the back of my mind – ‘what comes next?’.
The answer came in form of my Australian born (now) husband. We met through work in Cape Town and a few months later started dating – I guess that’s what you kids call it these days. Shortly after we became a couple, he was asked by his company to move from South Africa to Bangkok, Thailand for a great job opportunity. He asked if I would move with him to Thailand and I said yes! I had never been to Asia, let alone Bangkok and while I tried to be prepared for a culture shock, it is just something you cannot avoid. Coming from close to nature, wine-country-on-your-doorstep Cape Town to the hustle and bustle of Bangkok with its high-rise buildings, heat and pollution. It took some adjustment to say the least.
Partly thanks to visa-related reasons, the shark and I used our first year in Bangkok to travel a fair bit and had the chance to explore Asia. Say what you want about Bangkok, but it opens up plethora of amazing travel destinations which you can easily do on the cheap. After a year of floating around I picked up a job at a Backpacker travel agency and later a position at a Destination Management Company. Somehow 3 years went by quickly and I was finding my feet again in the travel industry, finding friends and generally living in Asia.
Things were good, things became comfy!
Australia and the nomadic lifestyle…
But once again fate struck in form of another job opportunity for my husband, this time in Melbourne, Australia. The offered position was an amazing opportunity and decisions had to be made quickly. When life gives you a chance like this, you don’t say no. We therefore decided to pack up in Bangkok and settled a few months later into our first house together in Melbourne. In the beginning I was able to keep my job in Bangkok, working from home still looking after the European partners. This arrangement unfortunately ended about 6 months later when the company I was working for got a new owner who made my position redundant.
In the meantime, my husband’s high-rolling job had him travel between Asia, Europe and New Zealand for most of the time, so I was flying mostly solo in our new home. I kept busy by exploring Melbourne and surroundings as much as possible, while waiting for my visa to come through. The shark and I even went on a solo road trip from Melbourne to Adelaide – what a beautiful drive that was! We loved it – the shark and I.
After about a year, things changed at my husband’s work and he decided that after 15 years that he had enough. What better opportunity to enjoy the fruits of all the hard work than to go travelling for 6 months?! Once again, we packed up our house, rented it out and started to travel from Australia to East Timor, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Dubai, Southern Africa, Iran, Sri Lanka, Thailand, China, Japan and back to Australia. What an adventure! Asked what the highlight was, it would be impossible to pick one destination as the best. All were amazing in their own right.
In Southern Africa we did a 5-week road trip from Cape Town via Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe to Johannesburg in a 4×4 car with a rooftop tent. Road trips are probably my favourite way to travel in any case and this was just a fantastic experience.
East Timor was one of my favourite destinations for being so untouched by tourism and for the beautiful, underrated place it is. Iran was the most surprising destination in a positive way with the friendliest people and the most fascinating culture. Sri Lanka was just such a beautiful place with the exoticness, but without the sensual overload of India. Hong Kong I just love – it’s one of the most exciting cities in the world with so much more around it than most people think. Japan is a magical place, there is nothing that is done half-hearted and I would love to spend more time there. Anyway…I digress.
As fabulous as the travelling was, at some stage we had to get back to reality and earn money again. We both landed a job at the same company and returned to – guess where? – Bangkok! Between February 2019 and March 2020 we were back in Bangkok with friends and jobs already sorted, we were looking forward to an exciting new part of our carriers in the travel industry.
And then it was 2020…
I guess we all know what that means. Life as we knew it ended and “the unprecedented times” and the “new normal” started. Phrases, I am sure, everyone cringes about by now.
By mid-March 2020 the tour operator we both worked for had to stop all trips worldwide. I remember leaving the office on Friday, 13thof March, thinking I will return on Monday and I ended up never seeing my desk, this office or colleagues again. Bizarre.
All tours stopped, the offices world-wide closed and we decided to sit the lockdown out in Australia rather than hot, steamy Bangkok. We only packed a few things for about 3 weeks, because we thought we would return by about mid-April to pick up where we left off. We left Bangkok and have not been back ever since. Thailand is still closed for (reasonable) international travel. As our lease ran out in August, we gave up our flat and our friends were kind enough to pack all of our belongings to move them to their house. I was made redundant in March already, my husband in October. The global number of employees at our old company shrunk from about 900 employees to around 200. So many of our friends in the travel industry have lost their jobs and livelihoods. And here we are at the tail-end of 2020 without a job or a steady address.
BUT! This is not a sob story!
Overall, we had a pretty good year 2020. It turned out surely unexpected and was sad and frustrating at times, looking back however I had more many happy than sad moments. I was reminded to be grateful, to look forward to new opportunities and taking my life to a new path. We had time to slow down, spend time together, go for walks every day, eat better, drink less and spend more time with loved ones. Luckily everyone close to us stayed safe and healthy, which is the most important thing after all.
We ended up staying in Sydney for 5 months, did a little road trip around New South Wales. In August we were able to leave Australia to visit my family and friends in Germany for a while. We spent a month in Greece, we spent a few days in Malta and did a road trip for a couple of weeks in Turkey. We were lucky enough to be able to make our way to South Africa, where we will spend the next few months, resetting and starting all over again. I am excited, it feels like a reset button has been pressed and new opportunities are up for grabs.
I am not going to lie to you, this is my third attempt to write this blog. I always abandoned the idea, because I felt my stories, travel tips and experiences weren’t special enough. Plus, I had a full-time job to earn money. Sometimes you lose sight of what you know and who you are.
Travel and tourism, living abroad, being an expat, a stranger, starting all over again, getting out of your comfort zone, dealing with and working in new cultures, even travelling in COVID times … all of this has been my life over the past 15 years. I am sure I have a few things to share that will inspire you to pack your bags and explore the world yourself.
I am looking forward sharing the Shark’s View with you!
Miriam & the Shark