I was expatriated and displaced at a young age. At just three months old I moved to Saudi Arabia from the UK. Aged three, we went to Bahrain. More than 30 years later and I now live in Dubai.
Basically, my whole life has been a holiday. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that every time I travel somewhere new, I want to move there.
The first time I remember it happening was when I went to Hong Kong. I, quite literally, fell in love. I adored how different each part of the territory is – the modern skyscraper-heavy skyline; the gritty Monkok street market; the beautiful green landscapes and the wondrous Tian Tan Buddha statue of Lantau Island. Each area introduced me to another side of Hong Kong culture, and I was hooked. That was it. I was moving there. I was convinced. For a few months, at least …
Then I went to Rome. Ah, Rome. The Colosseum, the pasta, the Vatican, the pizza, the art, the paninis, the architecture, the gelato, the people, the produce; all amazing, all the stuff dream home cities are made of. It became the next place I was going to live. Then I discovered Dublin. The craic! The accent! The Writers Museum! (I'm not even kidding.)
It's actually quite rare for me to leave a place without saying: "I could so easily live there." And I put that down to the fact that – like I said – I was essentially brought up on holiday.
Mixing with people of different backgrounds, being immersed in a culture that’s not my own – these are things that are completely normal to me. In fact, especially when I was in those various confusing stages of teenage angst, I felt more out of place in the UK than I did abroad.
Yet, as you can tell from my actual choice of living spots, I haven’t gone very far. Instead, I’ve simply made my way around the Gulf, one country at a time (I’ve still to tick off Kuwait and Oman).
I daydream about doing my grocery shopping at farmers’ markets in France, making a New Orleans jazz bar into my “local” or drinking tea every day at a Moroccan riad, but these are mostly just romantic reveries. On the odd occasion I have taken these musings one step further, absent-mindedly researching accommodation rental prices or job opportunities, I’m brought back to reality (sometimes with a thud) and realise I am already where I’m meant to be.
The UAE also has farmers’ markets and Arabian-style courtyards, although admittedly the jazz bars leave a bit to be desired. But that’s what holidays are for, right? To experience something that’s a bit different to your norm. The fact is, whatever destination might seem exotic to you from afar is a whole other ball game when it comes to actually living there. I’ve come to the conclusion that actually living in most places might even ruin the illusions I’ve so expertly conjured up.
Back in my teenage days, when going home to England for the summer, I'd be inundated with questions about Bahrain ("Do you ride to school on camels?" "Do you live in tents?" "Can you get salt and vinegar crisps?"). It didn't occur to me then how different my life was, and how exotic it might have seemed to others.
What to me were moments of the mundane were the makings of a memorable holiday for my family and friends. And vice versa (at this point, England is almost as unfamiliar to me as my chosen travel spots).
So, I’ve decided to take my inordinate love for selected foreign lands with a pinch of salt. Then again, I’m off to Iceland next month and I can just imagine having a hot spring in my backyard …