What was that scent? It was sweet and familiar, despite the environment being so different to anything I had encountered before. Like icing sugar on pancakes perhaps or the aroma from some fancy perfume. It was a honeyed smell, drifting from the green foliage which lined the apartment. This was the first thing I noticed when I arrived in Barbados. Next, was the heat.
The hottest country I’d been to before Barbados? Britain. Yep, that rainy country I grew up in. It’s also where I visited on all my family holidays growing up too, back when the little car chugged along for eight-hours to the coast with five of us squished in the car. I, being the youngest, got the middle seat with the cool box on my lap. Cramped AF. We’d stay in self-catered cottages and feel fancy when we ate out at a nice pub on the last night.
Growing Up, all our holidays were a drive from home
Packed lunches were enjoyed at classic British picnic spots; somewhere looking over the gorgeous coastline, deep within the verdant green countryside or, occasionally, at the side of a road. And we ate classic picnic food too; a ham sandwich each, a packet of crisps and a penguin bar. It was predictable in a way I never understood back then. This was our life, a British holiday every summer. Except we didn’t think of them as ‘British’ holidays back then – this island was our whole world.The awful word ‘staycation’ certainly didn’t exist – I thought bordering country Wales was incredibly exotic. The rest of the world, and the idea of one day venturing outwards, was more exciting than the best fantasy movies and adventure books -and just as impossible.
Summer holidays ground to a halt after my brothers had growth spurts – we would no longer all fit in the car, you see. When I was in my late teens that changed – my grandparents, my closest whom was now diagnosed with cancer, clubbed together to get me on the final school holiday, a ‘History’ trip to New York. It was an insane and unexpected bout of generosity.
My first flight
The plane ride to America was the most magical moment of my life – ‘Oh my god, we’re in the clouds!!’ I howled as my fellow students ordered me to shut up. ‘Have you never seen a cloud before?’ Their boredom couldn’t curtail my enthusiasm: ‘But they look so different from up here!’ I was completely in awe.
I left home and didn’t go on a week’s holiday for another eight years – abroad or in the UK. Although there were a couple of weekends away with my best mate AND visits to the rites-of-passage which were British music festivals. This isn’t a hard-done-by story, merely a series of observations. Although man, I could have done without going to Reading Fest. Twice. Yikes.
I thought Travel Abroad was Luxury I’d Never Have
Regardless of circumstance, I’d been fed the notion that travelling abroad was a luxury. Something people like me would never be able to. So as much as I longed for adventure, I shut the idea from my mind that I’d ever really, seriously, be able to see the world.
Enough about that, let’s roll forward to THE ACTUAL CARIBBEAN shall we?
When I was invited to Barbados by a friend’s family, all my ideas of where I could and couldn’t go were challenged
I could see the ocean from the balcony. I’d seen the sea before but this one was new. This was the sea they dressed up for holiday campaigns; one which was decorated with fat paint brushes dipped in the brightest blues and crowned with a perfect sky. This was the tranquil beach holiday I grew up believing only movie stars went on. A place of endless rum punch, where a quick dip cleansed the palette between courses. This was Barbados, and I wasn’t meant to be there.
But back home, I couldn’t afford a place to live…
The generosity of my friend’s parents, who invited on their family holiday, was touching and terribly kind. But it was also overwhelming. At this point in my life I was living out of a backpack. No, no, not in the cool traveller’s way – in the sofa-surfing on friends couches to save up for a new deposit kind of way. During my lengthy Sleepover Tour of London I couldn’t afford to buy a round of drinks in Barbados but they didn’t mind – they even gave me a bikini and beach dress, knowing I wouldn’t be prepared. I’m not sure which was more shocking – that I ended up in Barbados or that I wore a bikini. Shield your eyes guys, Cass is in the Caribbean! Woohoo!
The trip was glorious. 7am starts on the balcony with fresh coffee and banana bread and plating up dinner in the same spot hours later as we watched the sunset, gazing over the sea we’d been snorkelling in earlier. On the last day we got on a catamaran, jumping off the boat at opportune spots to swim with fishes and turtles. Excuse the cliché but yes, I was in paradise.
But who am I to deserve such luxury treatment? I got called-out for not knowing what a canapé was (‘You just take one Cassie’) and managed to get cold in The Caribbean because I’d not slept somewhere with an AC before and couldn’t work out how to turn it off. Oops.
People think travel isn’t a privilege when it’s close to home or on a shoestring budget.
I may have felt out of my element but in being there I was one of the rich. And in travelling – whether it’s in a hostel over a few months or a fancy hotel once a year – we are always one of the privileged. We can take as much pride as we want in having saved for travel or staying in hostels on a shoestring. We can be ungrateful for a one-week annual vacation to a place not so far from home.
But ultimately, it always a huge, huge privilege. Most people will never go on holiday. Many people will never have the option to save. Have you ever met someone who had the ability work abroad, sell all their belongings for a monetary value or take a second job, still look at traveller’s photo and say ‘They’re so lucky, I’m so jealous’ rather than being grateful for the life they already have – often a life they chose for themselves? They are are equally privileged to have this choice to make, but I know from experience that it’s hard to have perspective.
I grew up wishing to explore what lay beyond the horizon and thinking it was too far to ever cross. But, well, I did cross it. And I realised if I could get all the way from Britain to Barbados then perhaps the rest of the world wasn’t as out of reach as I’d previously believed. What if travel could be my choice after all?
I challenged my perspectives and changed my priorities. Now I’m moments away from travelling the world and I must acknowledge my privilege – the privilege I had all along.
The privilege that comes from both chewing sugar canes upon a sweet-scented hill in Barbados and munching on ham sandwiches whilst squished between two big brothers; with our unpredictable British summers, sometimes the best picnic spot was in a parked car! From here we could watch the rain splatter and slide down the windows, patiently waiting for the storm to pass so we could explore what lay outside.