We thank Tess for sharing her intense story with us. Tess grew up in Switzerland to a Portuguese mother and an Austrian father. She has lived in Portugal, Namibia, Australia, England and Thailand. Her thirst for wanderlust started from an early age, when she decided to spend Christmas in New York with her then boyfriend when she was 16. At 17 she ran away from home to learn English in Australia. At 21 she moved to Namibia. Her life pretty much consisted of running away for her love of Wanderlust. She is currently travelling the world – no need to run away anymore.
My life as a nomad started from an early age. I suppose, having a multi-cultural background means you are destined to travel. I was only a few months old when my parents took me on a plane to visit relatives in Portugal – my mother’s origin. Being half Portuguese and half Austrian having grown up in Switzerland made me often feel like I did not belong anywhere. Instead, I felt I belonged to the world. I would write stories as a young kid about the far-aways and was longing to meet people I had never met.
I had always been passionate about other cultures: Portugal was like a second home to me and at some point I was fluent in five languages. Whereas some of my friends would speak about settling down in the same town they were born and grew up in, the thought of doing this made me feel physically sick. I never understood how you could be happy living in one place for the rest of your life. Now I know that I was missing something a lot of people had: ‘roots’. Even though I was born in Switzerland, my blood is not Swiss. Even though I’m half Portuguese, people in Portugal think I’m a tourist because I’m fair-skinned, blonde and well…look anything else but a Mediterranean girl. I’ve only been to Austria twice and never had a relationship with my Dad’s family – nor my Dad for that matter – so I can hardly count myself to be an Austrian. It is peculiar to grow up rootless. It feels like you never belong anywhere – even in your own home. When people ask me ‘Where are you from?’, I don’t really know what to say and my answers seem kind of awkward.
My mum had passed away just before my 18th Birthday and after completing High School, and before University, I felt I needed to go out into the world to ‘find myself’ and to heal my wounds. As a young woman my mum spent a few years in Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony, and the culture had influenced her greatly. Some of my bedtime stories were tales of her adventures and life in Africa. I had naturally grown up being curious about this continent. Through a funny twist of events, I ended up moving to Namibia, following my mother’s African ventures, when I was 21 and remained there for three years.
One day, a friend of mine and I drove from Windhoek to Swakopmund, a quaint little coastal town, which was roughly a four hour drive away, and my boyfriend at the time gave us a lift in the back of his pick-up truck – or ‘bakkie’ as the Southern Africans call it. We had a thin foam mattress to lie on and some blankets to cover ourselves and off we drove lying in the back of the car looking up to the sky, giggling away and feeling the warmth of the African sun on our skin. This little adventure was life changing, as I realised I could not go back ‘home’ and pretend all of this never happened. I had seen more of life. Africa had burnt itself deeply into my soul. It was now a part of me. Surely there was a little spot somewhere where I could plant my seeds and grow a beautiful home of my own – one where I would feel like I belonged?
Three months later I transferred my studies to do a university degree online, sold pretty much everything I owned and moved to Namibia for good. At least I thought. It was a challenging time as I went through a tumultuous discovery of myself and essentially, to be honest, I felt very lost. I was just meandering through life trying to keep my sanity. I had hoped to finally settle. Every time I visited Switzerland, I told everyone how I was going to live in Africa forever. But, I realised, there I did not belong either. There too, I was always the foreign girl. Sometimes people would be suspicious of my intentions of living there, as if I plotted an evil plan. “She left Europe to live HERE? Something must be wrong with her!” One woman even said to my then-boyfriend “be cautious of European women. They mess with your head and mean trouble”. I was standing right next to him.
I thought travelling through Namibia and living there would remedy my wanderlust once and for all. I would come to my senses. Travelling will be out of my system and I will finally be ‘normal’ like everyone else and find a good man to marry, buy a house and live happily ever after. So, I chased a conventional life and tried ‘working on myself’. If I played the role well, at some point, I would fall in love with normality – of that I was sure. Then my relationship failed. I resented him for having dragged me all the way out to Africa to be with him – even though it was my choice to do it. I was young and naïve. And I was very angry. Essentially, I know now, I was always trying to fit in and be something I’m not. You can only try to do this for a certain period of time, before reality catches up again and hits you in the face time and time again. An inflatable balloon who is pushed under water will inevitably pop back up where it belongs. It’s physics. It’s logic. You can work on your flaws – but you can’t be something you’re not.
Struck by Wanderlust again, with a huge empty hole in my heart of years of trying to conform, I carefully mentioned the topic of leaving Africa to my new boyfriend. He surprisingly liked the idea. Long story, short: we moved to England, we fought, we broke up. In the meantime, I had transferred my studies, graduated in London and well…I never returned to Africa – but gained a degree! I remained in London for six years, which is a pretty long time for a restless soul like me. Most of the people I met here either had an international background, are rootless and clueless like me or simply ‘don’t fit in’ anywhere else in the world. I could see myself living in London for the rest of my life. It was the first place I ever felt at ‘home’ and because of this, London, will forever hold a very special spot in my heart.
But then I moved to the English country-side. To the very English country-side. Where I was the foreign girl that did not belong, all over again. I felt lonely. And my ‘disease’ and ‘unrest’ struck again. I started dreaming of these wonderful places to visit. Maybe there was more to life: something simpler but richer and essentially truer to myself? Maybe nothing is wrong with me! Maybe I’m meant to go out into this world and explore. I no longer felt like my travel addiction was a sign of a derailed personality. I felt, it was simply part of me. It was who I was! A few months later, I quit my job in the Corporate world, sold everything I had, yet again, and bought a one-way ticket to Nepal. I’m now currently travelling the world. I no longer feel like I need to run away. I no longer feel like I have to conform to anyone else’s idea of what a ‘normal’ life looks like. I am a born nomad with no roots. And perhaps I will never grown them – and that is ok. Because in the process of finding them, I unexpectedly and serendipitously found something else: myself.