The Reason Why I Travel

As soon as I saw these pics, they just screamed HAVANA to me. The deep turquoise contrasts beautifully with the zingy yellow of my dress and it just makes me daydream of warmer climes…even though it was shot in a stairwell in Peckham!

I haven’t actually been to Havana (yet) but its visuals provide such a strong reference point, from the art nouveau and art deco architecture, vibrant colours and super cool classic cars. It’s definitely high on my list of places to travel along with….well, everywhere.

You may have noticed on the blog and on social that I’m a bit of a moving target. Travel is one of my main passions, along with fashion and food. On average, I tend to travel somewhere once a month. Often short-haul trips to Europe along with a couple of trips to far-flung destinations a couple of times a year. It sounds decadent but exploring the globe is important to me and its something that I prioritise, much like people prioritise Chanel handbags or a new car. I guess I fit the millennial stereotype of preferring experiences to things. Every time I travel, I learn and grow as I discover a new place and a different culture. I go in with my eyes wide open and my arms flung wide, ready to embrace the new and broaden my experience.

I know I’m very blessed to be able to travel and I’m so grateful that I have the opportunity to. I was bitten by the bug young, my parents would take us away as much as possible as kids, first to places in the UK like Cornwall, Loch Ness and the Welsh countryside and then to places like Florida or Australia to visit my family there. As I grew older, I took weekend breaks to Europe when I could afford to and explored places like Barcelona, Budapest and Marrakesh.

I would call these trips holidays as opposed to travelling. To me, there’s a distinct difference – a holiday is just popping somewhere, enjoying it but not straying too far from the well-trodden tourist track whereas travelling is a much more intoxicating experience. It’s peeling the layers back and really feeling a place, connecting with the people and immersing yourself in its culture. It’s venturing off into the far corners and away from the well-beaten paths. Sometimes it means stepping out of your comfort zone but that’s often where the magic begins.

Like most modern voyages of self-discovery, my transition from holidaying to travelling starts with heartbreak.  Four years ago I walked away from an abusive relationship and that little act of braveness has changed my life in more ways than I could have ever imagined. While I didn’t experience physical abuse, the emotional and psychological abuse became so intense it nearly broke me. Isolated from my friends and practically a prisoner in my own home, I wasn’t even a shell of my former self. I barely existed. Everything had been stripped away from me, I switched my emotions off and I was like a ghost.

When I walked away, the relief wasn’t immediate. I felt numb for a long time, I guess I had gotten used to not feeling anything. Slowly I began returning to the ‘old me’. The colour came back. I learned to smile, to go out and live without crippling fear and anxiety. Sometimes while I was having dinner or drinks with friends, I’d have silent moments where I was so thankful I had the freedom to go out that I nearly cried.

As the months passed, I realised that that relationship nearly killed me and I counted my blessings for escaping. I was determined to live, to make each day count. I relished my freedom and I felt like I could do anything I wanted. Life felt limitless. On a whim, I booked a flight. To Cambodia. In two weeks’ time. I’d never been away on my own. I’d never been to Asia. I didn’t even own a backpack. But I’ll be damned if any of that was going to hold me back.

That trip to Cambodia was life-changing. Arriving with a newly purchased backpack and no idea where I was staying that night, I decided to fully embrace whatever came my way and live the fuck out of life. Over the next 2 weeks were like nothing I’ve experienced before. From waking up before sunrise to visit temples alone at sunrise in Siem Reap to drinking rooftop cocktails from a teapot with new friends in Phnom Penh, I was living joyfully, revelling in the cultural riches of this amazing new land. As each experience unfolded, I fell further and further in love with this beautiful country, with travelling and with myself.

Since then I’ve travelled to some incredible places including Vietnam, Malaysia, Bali, Myanmar, Kenya and Zanzibar. But Cambodia will forever hold a special place in my heart. It’s a beautiful country with a rich, tragic history and the most wonderful people you could hope to meet on your travels. It’s also the place where I pieced myself back together after being ripped to shreds. It felt almost like hitting the reset button, except I was stronger, wiser and more worldly than the ‘old me’. It had such a profound effect on me that even now, four years on, I still feel a huge rush of emotions when I talk about it. It healed me in a way I never thought possible.

Sometimes the most unusual catalyst can propel you to unexpected places and sometimes you can find yourself in places that you’ve never been before. I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to explore the globe and discover a little more of myself in each place that I’ve travelled to.

Dress – Topshop | Shoes (similar) – ASOS

Photography by Adorngirl. 

Reena Rai

Reena Rai is a 30-something London-based fashion, travel and lifestyle blogger. She has been blogging for 10 years (!), previously at before launching her self-titled blog.


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