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How do you plan a birth?

In the lead up to the birth, everyone – friends, my massage therapist, my parents, co-workers, the baker even – would ask me about my birthing plan. I found it absurd to plan something that was so completely and utterly primal.


Plan what, exactly?

I knew that once my waters had broken and the labour pains were in motion, there was little I could do to change the trajectory. The baby had to come out. To me, it was like planning how exactly how you were going to go down a water slide.

It was an odd quirk, because I normally exercised a lot of control in everything I did. But I suppose, in some small way, refusing to think about a plan was one way that I exercised control because quite frankly, birth freaked me out.

If I could’ve had it any way, I would have liked to have given birth in water, managing the pain along the way using any of the relief they could offer me. I imagined being a full Earth mama, with my long hair framing my baby bump, as I grimaced and groaned, breathing my baby gently into the world, as my wife whispered encouragement into my ear.

I knew that there was a chance the bath at the hospital may not be available when I went into labour, so I accepted that this may not be my truth. I remained open minded to a standard vaginal birth, or even a caesarean section, if it was needed to bring my child into the world safely. After all, you still got to see the baby immediately and have it on your chest. I looked forward with anticipation to whichever birthing experience would give me the child I so longed for.

When I got to four days past my due date, though, I was all out of patience.

“This baby needs to come out now.” I spoke assertively down the phone, expecting that the hospital would just fit me in because I was done being pregnant. It was December the 11th – a day past my due date – and I had been having daily and nightly panic attacks.

“No, no. You’ll be fine. Just rest up and come in on the 20th, dear.”

“But this baby is kicking me in the ribs and I’m panicking.” I knocked my ankles together on the couch, nervously.

“We’ll see you on the 20th.”


The very next day, I spoke to my general doctor and demanded that she change their mind. She picked up the phone and told them that I had a history of mental health issues, I was anxious, the baby was getting larger, and my anxiety was not abating.

“Sure. We can see her on the 13th of December.”

The sliding doors at the Royal Brisbane hospital welcomed us. We sauntered down the corridor with giddy excitement, then went up the elevator to the midwife’s consulting area.

The whole place looked like Santa Clause had screwed up his entire village, loaded it into a bazooka and shot it at the walls. Christmas posters and ornaments were slathered all over every conceivable space, and then some. We were welcomed into one of the consulting rooms, where I lay flat on my back, wondering when they would suggest an induction. I had desperately wanted to go into labour spontaneously, but nothing had worked – vigorous sex, running, time in the bath.

The midwife poked and prodded my belly as the baby writhed and kicked in anticipation. She furrowed her brow and avoided my eyes.

“The baby’s head is displaced, and I think he’s quite big. Had they told you that during the ultrasounds?”

I moved uncomfortably.

“Yeah. They said he’s measuring ahead.”

“How would you feel about being induced now?”

I paused, swallowed and gathered my apprehension.

“I guess?”

I looked over at my wife, who had raised her eyebrows.

“We don’t even have our bag packed.”

“That’s okay, we can send your wife home to prepare everything. We can take you up to the ward shortly.”

The nurse explained the various methods of induction. After quiet consideration, we decided upon a balloon catheter, which would be inserted either side of my cervix and then filled with water to induce dilation.

So much for a birthing plan.

“It’s uncomfortable, but sometimes it can bring on labour all by itself.”

I didn’t particularly like my chances.

They took me into a room that was so brightly lit, it nearly burned my retinas. I started to feel anxiety welling up inside me. Not because I was scared of the labour, but because I could feel control was slowly slipping away. I didn’t want my labour to be one artificial intervention after another.

“Now, I see you’ve expressed a desire for a water birth. Because we’re inducing you, that option will no longer be available.”

The doctor came in and propped me up on the stirrups, spread legged like a loose woman. He shone a blinding light inside my vagina, and I thought if he leaned a little closer, he might be able to shake my baby’s hand.

After the balloon catheter had been inserted and filled, I lay on the ward, relaxing as my cervix opened – not like a flower, but like the stiffened top of a Milo tin that had lay untouched for months, with a teaspoon being used as a slow but hardy lever. I inhaled and exhaled as my inner self stretched, preparing for the joy of birth.

“So do you know what you’re having?” The midwife asked as she inspected my cervix.

“No idea. Hopefully a baby.” I smiled.

We were both convinced the baby was a girl. We’d taken to calling it a ‘she’ whenever we rubbed the belly. Prior to finishing work, I had spent the last few months on a teaching contract in learning support. I had been working on-on-one with a student on the Autism spectrum who required intensive modifications to his learning program. He only attended school two hours a day, two days a week so I had a lot of time to myself.

On a day off, I had pulled up my ultrasound video. Pausing on one still, I saw a set of testicles. I took a screen shot and showed all of my friends, convinced that maybe I was wrong.

“Nah, that’s three lines. That’s a labia. I think it’s a girl.” My friend offered me her view, because she’d had two babies before me, so she knew. I hung onto that, still believing that our baby was a girl.

The midwife kept popping in and out.

“If labour still hasn’t started by three AM, we’re going to break your waters and give you a hormone drip.”

I lay in a ball, awaiting the next step. I changed positions occasionally and the sensation felt like period cramps, with an added knotting and twisting feeling. Any time my stomach hardened with Braxton Hicks, I became excited that it was finally happening.

“Nope, not yet. Sorry, love.” The midwife shuffled in and out, checking on me, then going to do her rounds.

The Earth inched towards evening as the sky lit up an intense orange. As the darkness of night crept in. I lost a little more control as I became aware labour was not going to start on its own.

My body had let me down.

At that stage, I was still hopeful of a vaginal birth, even though the interventions were starting to pile up. As the night wore on, the midwife changed over. A freckled woman called Janine walked into the room. She felt my belly and noticed the baby was kicking quite vigorously.

“Wow! You’ve got an all night rager in there!” she exclaimed.

As excited as the baby was, it still wasn’t three am. I held feebly onto the hope that labour might kick in, but it never did.

“All right, it’s time to break your waters.”

She leaned towards me and tilted the bed back gently.

“Okay, put your legs up girl. I’m going to get the doctor.”

I took my position and waited.

The doctor came in, and Janine handed me a breathing apparatus.

“All right. You know those cannisters that all the kids are breathing in at the festivals? This is basically the same thing as that. It will enable us to break your waters with minimal discomfort. Don’t think about what we’re doing – just lay back and think of nangs.”

I giggled, assured that I was in good hands.

“Okay, breathe deep!”

I breathed in the cold but pleasant air and it was like breathing in the universe. It hit me instantly and I threw my head back, in fits of laughter.

“No way! She’s a one-pot-screamer!” Janine couldn’t believe what a lightweight I was.

While I was in fits of euphoric laughter, the doctor guided the plastic stick inside of me and I suddenly came back to Earth, with a sobering wash of warm water around my ankles.

“Hooray, you did it!”

I looked at everyone in the room through slitted eyes, still slightly giddy from the gas.

The next step was to give me hormones through an intravenous drip. Within a short while, I was contracting.

“That was a good one. Your littler rager thinks so, too.”

I crinkled my nose and grinned, proud of myself for how well I was handling the contractions.

I laboured on for hours, with the cervix dilating on schedule. As I started to become tired from a lack of sleep, the contractions intensified. It was a consequence of the induction hormones and it became unbearable very quickly. Nonetheless, I stayed strong.

“Hold onto me.” Natalie said, as I stood in the birthing suite, leaning forwards every time I contracted.

“Is it too late for an epidural?” I asked.

“No, I can organise that right away.” Janine replied.

Within a half hour, my spine was being sized up for the injection. It was a painful ordeal, but as soon as the block was injected, the labour became a lot more bearable. I lay back on my bed and peacefully drifted in and out of sweet sleep, being occasionally woken so that my cervix could be checked.

“Well, that’s me done for the day. Such a shame that I didn’t see the baby born. That’s why I do this job.”

I waved Janine off as Jenny the midwife quickly introduced herself, then wasting no time in checking my cervix.

“It’s 8cm. You’ll be pushing soon, and you’ll have a baby in about two hours.”

I beamed! It was finally coming together. Despite the interventions, I felt in control. This could end well after all.

I continued to feel the tightening of my body with each contraction as they became more frequent. Soon, I felt a sharp, choking feeling around my middle. It knocked the breath out of me.

“Hey, I can feel this now. Is this normal?”

“Just turn up the epidural. Here, like this.”

Jenny showed me how to dial up the machine that was controlling my epidural.

“It’s not working.”

I became slightly anxious at the excruciating contractions I was feeling, which were apparently far beyond the intensity of what I would’ve felt in a spontaneous labour.

“Here, keep dialling it up.”

I pressed the button rapidly.

“It’s seriously not working.”

The epidural specialist came in and tried to fix the problem, but nothing was working. Jenny asked me to spread my legs so she could check my cervix once more.

“You should be 10cm. These contractions are stretching you out for birth. I know it’s hard but hang in there.”

She looked inside me, then paused. I knew enough to know that the pause was not good.

“Your dilation has regressed to 7cm…” she trailed off and walked out the door to get another midwife.

“Hi, I’m Cheryl.” Another midwife walked in, speaking in her thick New Zealand accent, accidentally brushing my forehead with her fingers as she turned around.

“Holy smokes, you’re hot!” she exclaimed. She swiftly pulled the thermometer out of its device and took my temperature.

“Forty degrees!”

All the nurses in the room shuffled around and then left the room, leaving me anxious about what was going on.

About five minutes later, a doctor stepped into the room.

“You have an infection, which is why you have a fever and regressed dilation. Your baby’s head is still displaced. We need to call time on this labour for everybody’s safety.”

The idea of a natural birth slid completely out of my reach.

“Just sign this consent form and we will take you off to the theatre.”

I signed very quickly and a midwife came to remove my hormone drip.

“Your contractions should stop now. Don’t worry about the epidural.”

As soon as she said that, my contractions seemed to intensify. They went from lasting around thirty seconds, to being a continuous sensation that wasn’t going away. I rolled over and curled up in a ball, unable to straighten my body out.

“Ahhhh!!! It won’t stop!” I screamed.

They started to wheel me down to the theatre, ready to prepare me for a caesarean section. When we got there, the doctor started to explain the spinal block.

“We’re going to insert some fluid between the spaces in your spine. Then we’ll put some water on your belly to see if you feel it. Then we’re going to cut just below your bikini line to deliver the baby. Do you want your wife to say if it’s a boy or a girl?”

“Oh my God, stop talking and just insert the epidural!” I writhed in excruciating pain. The contraction that started when they took out the hormone drip hadn’t stopped.

“Okay, I’m sorry.”

The doctor stabbed my spine and I remained curled into a ball with an oxygen mask on.

“Oh my God, I’m going to vomit!”

I leaned towards Natalie and the doctor leaned into her ear.

“You have to stay strong, for her.”

My forehead was sweating and I couldn’t move.

“Can you straighten out, please?”

I tried my hardest but I couldn’t move my back at all. The doctor rolled me onto my back and patted just below my bikini line. The nurse poured a few drops of water on the area.

“Oh my God, I still feel the water! Don’t operate!” I yelled.

“Okay, we’re going to have to do a general.”

The anaesthesiologist leaned in and inserted a needle, which I couldn’t feel above the contractions. Even on my back, I was still curled up. As I started to lose consciousness, I felt myself losing all control. I had to let go. I inhaled sharply and expressed my only wish.

“Don’t tell her the sex of the baby before I wake up!”

That was the last thing I remember as the curtain of unconsciousness fell down around me.

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Of Love and IVF

It’s always funny when you hear people trying to quantify motherhood. Everyone always knows who would make the best kind of parent, and who definitely should not procreate. Most people agreed that abusive, negligent people shouldn’t be parents, but a lot of people also feel that some women just weren’t maternal enough.

Despite all the progression that has been made by feminists, there still exists a certain mould that would-be Mums need to fit into.

For instance, if you’re career-driven and well-travelled with a lot of care for your financial status, then you’re considered to be far less maternal than the barefoot-and-pregnant girls who grew up playing house with Barbie dolls – the type of women who married their high-school sweethearts and spent all of their child’s formative years at home, making perfect crafts and perfect home recycling systems for their Instagram feeds. Such people also often seemed to be born with the perfect body for childbearing, bringing their infants into the world effortlessly in expensive private hospitals without a ton of interventions.

If you’re a gay parent, you are definitely seen to be further outside of the Mummy-mould because you have to create a family in a way that some would consider to be scientific and clinical, rather than as an act of physical love, which has been built up as the high-watermark of “normal” motherhood. It’s all about love, after all.

I was definitely never the Barbie-child, and I put off having children in my early 20s because I chased career goals and stability. As an intellectual who didn’t much like hugs, I often feared that people would see me as some kind of rigid, refrigerator parent who couldn’t put my textbooks down long enough to attend to my child.

With all that being said, my son, Soren Harry Forrester Miles, is my entire world. I know that everyone thinks their progeny is the most beautiful thing to ever grace the Earth, but I honestly believe it’s true. He is perfect. Although he is an IVF baby, I didn’t spend years trying or squander tens of thousands to get him. He was a first-time fluke.

“This first cycle is purely diagnostic,” the nurse had explained.

“It’ll give us a better picture of your hormones so we can get closer to success. After all, the embryo grade is BC – it didn’t divide quickly, so it’s unlikely to implant. This is all par for the course.”

I remember asking if that meant it was a poor-quality baby. I meant a baby born with sickness or challenges, but it came out in poor taste.

“Oh, no!” She laughed.

“It just means you won’t get pregnant first go. Your baby will be as bright as any other.”

Thank God.

Like any parent, I wanted my child to have the best chance of a full life. Because I was a worrier by nature, I ruminated about all the things that could go wrong. Even though my child didn’t exist then, I still wanted them to have the best start I could give.

With our low chances in mind, we planned a wedding, I wrote a children’s book, and we both signed up for masters degrees. The night of the embryo transfer, I released my book and sat up all night with pizza and my laptop, filling over a hundred book orders when I was really supposed to be feet up with Valium and a nice, cold glass of water.

The next day, we took a flight to Cairns for a much-needed holiday and to keep our mind off the two week wait. We stayed in a cheap Air BnB and I lay in the backseat of one of my best friend’s 4X4s, inserting vaginal pessaries and taking in the rainforest surroundings.

Ah, the serenity.

Just a few years prior, we had started the whole IVF process. Full of artificial hormones, laid back and had my eggs extracted. Six, in total.

Making an IVF baby was hardly an experience in love.

In the week following this process, my six eggs sat in dishes with donor sperm. I had to call the clinic every day to ask how many embryos were still dividing.

Six…. Then five… then four…. Then three… then two.


Three thousand nine hundred dollars and we got two embryos, one of which barely made it to freeze. I couldn’t believe it. I was despondent.

Nonetheless, my two ice-ice babies went into the freezer for later, until such a time when I was happier in my job.

While I waited and looked for other jobs, the baby’s nursery was set up in our home, taunting me through the closed door. We moved to a neat new apartment and set it up again in our humble abode, and it became a bleak and constant reminder of our social infertility – the fact that we were being forced to put family life on hold because of our circumstances.

When the day of transfer finally came, I was so ready to be a Mum. The compounded misery of what was realistically only a few short years was finally going to extinguish.

I couldn’t wait.

As I leaned back, floating high on Valium and with my feet in stirrups, I was still somewhat hopeful that it could just work the first time. After all, we had employed the help of a fertility gun who had been in the game since the first IVF babies were being born in Brisbane, in a time when doctors still smoked around tables while they discussed baby-making.

In the days before the transfer, I had been indulging in weekly massages and nightly meditations in the bath. Our chances may have been low, but before the two-week wait was up, I had peed on more than fourteen sticks. The lines got darker with every passing day. They’d told us at the clinic to never pee on a stick because the injectable hormones could give a false positive, but we were clinging to any positives we could.

We’d given it our best shot, and it had worked.

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The only boy in ballet class

When I was pregnant, everybody asked me if we knew what we were having.

Um… a baby?

In all seriousness, for the longest time, I thought Soren was a girl. Even right up until the delivery. Even after seeing clear testicles on an ultrasound still.

A lot of people would say to me, ‘Aw, if you get a girl, you can do ballet lessons! SO cute!”

I loved the idea of baby ballet. The calming music, the listening skills, the flexibility, and the gorgeous outfits.

But – I felt that I could enjoy that with a little boy, too. So when I realised I could sign him up at Queensland Ballet from the ripe old age of one year, I did exactly that. I thought it would just be an easy class with some sing-alongs and a bit of “dancing”, facilitated by the parents.

I thought there’d be time to chat and relax with the other Mums.

When I turned up, the class was full of two-year-olds who could already jump, spin, turn, and follow instructions.

So here I was with my 13kg chunk, jumping like a kangaroo, twirling like a jellyfish, sleeping like a dingle dangle scarecrow… definitely not relaxing or chatting.

It turned out to be a workout for me as much as him! Which was fine, because he absolutely loved every second of it… until he was asked to sit still on his dot.

Because the rest of the students in the class had proper leotards and shoes, I decided to go shopping to get him the outfit so he could look the part. I had to research quite a few shops to find shoes small enough, and when I got there, I noticed that there was floor-to-ceiling displays of everything dance – and everything hyper-girly.

Shoes, bags, outfits, hair accessories… the lot. Then I looked over to the corner. The boys’ section had been relegated to one tiny place in the store.

Unlike the girls’ section, which offered hundreds of products, the boys’ section had just a small offering.

Not one to be discouraged, I dressed Soren up and he started shaking his bum as soon as he was in the outfit.

His joy did plant a thought in my head, though. It is so challenging to be the only one doing something. He is likely to always be the only boy in ballet class. It would be a shame if he ever gave it up, just because it’s not popular with boys.

I wish I had the answers. I just hope and pray that as he gets older, he sees his uniqueness as a strength rather than a weakness. I can only keep on encouraging him and hope he remains true to what he enjoys doing.

That’s all we can hope for our children.



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She’s so messy.

“She’s so messy. If you open up her desk, it’ll swallow you whole.”

That is what the girl next to me in Year 4 once said, and she was right. My desk was a maelstrom of snapped pencils, drawings, lots of bad handwriting, and dried up pieces of glue.

A few years earlier, my Year 1 teacher pulled my mother into the classroom after school just to watch me try to organise my things from afar. I would become so overwhelmed by all of it, that I would kind of just step back and forth in a dance.

“See? She can’t organise herself.”

In Year 12, I sat an English test. I had to write a monologue for a specific character in a book. I knew exactly what I wanted my character to say, and my fingers couldn’t spew the words out as fast as my mind wanted them to.

At the end, my teacher was splitting hairs about marks that she “could have” given me, pointing out to me smugly that, “If there weren’t three gaps in between the parts of this word, I would have known you meant ‘educated.’ Can you see now why I marked you down?”

Yes, lady. I can see now why you marked me down and I don’t care. 

Now that I’m nearing 30, you only ever see small glimpses of this past-self in my current life. For instance, I have this process where I need to leave my laptop and school bag out on the bench so I know to take them in the morning. If I don’t, I will get halfway to work before realising that I don’t have my belongings.

It drives my wife mad because it’s mess and clutter.

But – my Tupperware is perfectly organised, my handwriting is neat, my bench is clean, and my books are organised. I work to perfect to-do lists.

Why is it that I struggled so much to do those things in the past, yet I am now a neat perfectionist?

I guess the difference is that back then, I felt like it didn’t count. It was easy enough to coast through primary school without a care in the world, and once I got to high school, the divide I felt between scribbling out the fictitious monologues and the exams and the actual real world where you turned up for work, ate your vegetables, and paid taxes just seemed so far.

Put simply, I felt that there was no ‘buy in’. 

I had spoken at length with the careers counsellor and I had no idea what I wanted, beyond wanting to be educated, but the longer I sat in the four walls of my high school, the less educated I felt, the messier I became, and the more I failed.

It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now I have one and a half university degrees with distinction (I’m sure that means something to someone, somewhere), a minimalistic, organised apartment, and a crisper full of vegetables.

I am neat. I am successful.

I got all of those things because they became things I wanted, so I figured out how to strive towards them. I tidied the handwriting. I learned to study. I became ruthless with clutter. I watched hours of YouTube videos that taught me how to cook.

Yet, I see adults scowling at the messiness of today’s youth, hanging them by the threads of their inattention, the untied laces of their dress style, their schoolwork, or even their handwriting, and I cannot help but wonder….

Maybe they want it all, but just not now. 

mixed paints in a plate

Maybe a lot of us are artworks in motion and the best is yet to come.


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Is he a good baby?

As a new parent, this is the question I am asked the most. 

Yes, Soren is a good baby. But you know what? All babies are good babies.

In fact, I would suggest that all children are good children. Some are born with challenging traits or placed into situations that ultimately lead to the development of less adaptive coping mechanisms, but that does not make a child ‘bad’.

They are a product of their genes and environment, both of which are out of their control.

They are coping with the situations in their lives, with the brain wiring they were given at conception. 

For example, some babies seem to sleep well from day one, whereas some babies are all-night ragers.

Some babies and children need a lot of reassurance, whereas other babies need less, or ask for it in different ways. 

Some babies cry a lot, others don’t cry unless they’re completely overwhelmed. 

‘Well, what’s wrong with saying he’s a good baby?’

baby lying on inflatable ring

When we think about good versus (bad?) babies, it’s important to think about our language. “Good” implies that a baby or child is capable of making considered, moral choices. The opposite, of course, is “bad.” 

This has never sat comfortably with me. 

In my studies last semester, I completed a unit on child abuse and neglect. One of the core aspects of the curriculum in this area was about risk and protective factors. In the first year of life, one of the most significant risk factors for child abuse and maltreatment is the child’s temperament. 

So – a high-needs baby with colic and a need for reassurance is more likely to be physically harmed, ignored, shaken, or emotionally maltreated. 

They are vulnerable. 

This doesn’t mean it will happen, but the higher stress levels brought about by challenging temperaments and behaviours can create conditions where maltreatment is more likely. 

In my mind, to then label babies as ‘good’ places the blame on an infant for stress brought about by higher needs. In a very small and implicit way, it blames a child for how others respond to them. 

In any event, babies just need our love – and when they challenge us, they need it even more. 

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The joy of travelling alone

Ever since I can remember, I have had the travel bug. It probably started the first time I watched Madeline; I always had a deep desire to stretch my wings and walk on the roads less travelled.

As I grew towards my adult life, my parents encouraged me to ‘wait until I had friends who wanted to travel.’ As I started to meet new friends, I realised that our styles would be completely incompatible. My friends wanted to drink and party with Contiki, I wanted to travel at my own pace and to do so quietly.

When I was 20, I booked my first trip alone to Tokyo, Japan. My parents begged me not to go, but I did anyway.


My only big mistake was that I nearly missed the flight back because I assumed a flight from Tokyo – Osaka – Brisbane started as a domestic flight, therefore, I only had to be there a half hour early.

Oh, well. I made it in the end.


The next year, I took a teaching trip to Hangzhou, China and visited Beijing and Shanghai when I was done. After that, I thought I could conquer the world….


…. then I visited India. At the ripe old age of 22. Probably one of my poorer life decisions, but I have no regrets.

I did the golden triangle – Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra – where I saw rats the size of cats, experienced real Indian accommodation ($7 a night and no running water), and had gastro out of both ends.

I also had a taxi driver who tried to scam me out of money after I’d run out, so I had to distract him and run into a hotel.


In 2012, I came out of a three year relationship so I spent the slush fund I’d had tucked away for a European jaunt with my ex and spent 3 months travelling in Greyhound buses on the west side of the USA, Canada, and Mexico.

Some highlights included couchsurfing at Richmond Arquette’s guest house, meeting survivors of Jonestown, and hanging out with lots of internet friends.

I had the time of my life.  IMG_3707.JPG


Greyhound Buses – where hope goes to die



Before I left, so many people got busy telling me why I shouldn’t travel alone, but I did it anyway. The only downside was when I got bronchitis in Las Vegas on New Years’ Eve and ended up spending it in Sunrise Hospital, Nevada. So many drunks.

Good times.


Christmas Day was good, though. Spent the day skiing and nearly crashed when I stupidly took on the steep mountain.

Right before Soren was conceived, I travelled to Sri Lanka, Qatar, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia on my own.



Sri Lanka was an adventure from start to finish, with dirt-cheap Air BnBs, crowded trains, hot weather, and about 21km of walking most days.


The high point was when Natalie joined me for Christmas and we spent the day surfing.

From there, I left my love and went for my first trip to the Middle East – Qatar.

Obligatory camel photo

It was there in that dusty corner of the world that I learned the value of drinking tea, enjoying extravagance, and being left alone.

On New Years’ Eve, I boarded a flight to Azerbaijan. Most people I spoke to would raise their eyebrow and say, ‘Where the f#*k is Azerbaijan!?’

In case you wanted to know, it is part of the far-Eastern-European part of the world and a former Soviet nation. It is untouched by tourism, full of stray cats, and cold as anything in January – so much so that it started snowing flurries when I went for a run.  The highlight was definitely catching two buses to a place out of town and finding an eternal fire – very valuable in the cold weather. You can also buy 75c Russian vodka in the supermarket – also good for keeping warm.

From Azerbaijan, I took the no-frills overnight train to Georgia. It was somewhat confronting to cross a border in the middle of the night, especially when the uniformed customs officers spoke very little English.

In Georgia, I got a $50 tattoo and also ended up in a bath house after catching a random bus. I had no idea what was going on when the lady running it took me into a locker room and told me to ‘strip!’ I obliged, and she took me into an underground shower room filled with 20 other naked ladies, all different ages. The water came from the Earth and was boiling hot. In the corner, an elderly lady was being washed by her daughters with a rag on a stick. It was oddly beautiful. 

I took another overnight bone-rattler from Georgia to Armenia, where I finished my Eastern European jaunt. It was beautiful from start to finish.

Some people fear travelling alone, but I cannot recommend it highly enough. You learn to love being alone, and to solve problems independently. My goal was to get to 30 countries by 30 and 10 of them, I have done as a solo traveller.

No regrets.