“Don’t be ashamed to tell your story. It will inspire others” – someone who probably had a really good story
I feel the time has come to confess: Olive is not my real name. Nor is it Ryan, though many people I am close with know me by that name. My given name is Zoë Irene Shipley. When people who know me by Ryan or Olive find this out, they tend to respond with something along the lines of “But Zoë is such a pretty name, do you not like it?”, to which I generally reply “Yes, I love the name Zoë and it suits me quite well, but I also love the names Ryan and Olive, and I feel like they suit me too!”
Allow me to explain where this all started. In my fourth year of university, I went on exchange for a semester to Keele university in England. Before leaving, I had a random conversation with my friend Dave, who told me that he used to go by David in high school but decided to change it up when he got to college. It was such a small change, but it actually felt a lot different to him and was a fun way to switch things up a bit and feel like he was getting a fresh start. During that conversation, I had the revelation that I, too, could change my name if I wanted to! People with names like Elizabeth have endless acceptable options to go by: Liz, Lizzy, Liza, Ellie, Beth, Biz! My given name, Zoë, doesn’t really offer many options for changing it up – but why should people whose names are easily changeable get to have all the fun?
After my chat with Dave, I decided that I would go by something completely different when I got to England. I have always loved boys’ names for girls, so I settled on the name Ryan. I had worried that it would take me a while to get used to and I would constantly forget to introduce myself as Ryan, but it actually caught on pretty quickly and there was only one time that I almost called myself Zoë. I loved the name Ryan and, because I had picked it out for myself, I felt like it really suited me and how I was feeling at that time in my life.
I had also been worried that people might question me or not believe my name was Ryan, but what were they going to do, ask to see my driver’s license? And besides, what reason would people have to not believe me? How often do I question the name someone gives me when we are introduced? I even met some guy called ‘Nutrino’ the other day and I just smiled and nodded and said “Nice to meet you, Nutrino” (damn hippies). In my experience, most people don’t really care what your name is and are pretty happy to call you whatever you introduce yourself as.
I did get quite a few comments about Ryan being a boy’s name, to which I would respond something like “Well, it’s a girl’s name too, and it’s my name!” and that was usually the end of that. I decided early on that I wouldn’t tell people upfront that it wasn’t my real name, but I wouldn’t lie about it either. If anyone ever asked me why my parents had named me Ryan, I would simply explain that it was a name I had chosen for myself because I liked it.
After being Ryan for five months in England, I returned home and went back to being called Zoë. I wasn’t trying to change my entire identity and had no interest in asking the people who knew me as Zoë to start calling me Ryan instead. But I enjoyed being called Ryan so much that the next time I traveled, I decided to go by it again. It became my official travel name and I would even change my name to Ryan Zoë on Facebook whenever I was out of the country and then back to Zoë Ryan when I was home.
There are now many important friends in my life who know me as Ryan, which is fun because I feel like it gives me a little reminder of how and where I met them. When I go by Ryan, it’s like a little secret that I get to have and because I’m usually traveling, I tend to be in a more adventurous mode when I’m Ryan. I wouldn’t say that going by Ryan makes me a different person, but it does add some excitement to my travels and gives me a chance to try on different aspects of my personality.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: but Olive, your blog is called Olive Abroad, what does Ryan have to do with anything!? Well, my travel name used to be Ryan, but after a few years I decided it was time for another change! Olive is another name I have loved for a long time for many reasons. If you’ve ever seen Little Miss Sunshine, you will know that the badass little girl who eats ice cream a la mode, dances like a rockstar in a beauty pageant, and is basically my life hero, is named Olive. In addition, olives are delicious and are one of my favourite foods. Fun fact: at a recent Sunday night dinner, I fit 34 green olives in my mouth at once and subsequently chewed and swallowed them all, just to prove that I could.
And so, in my most recent adventure of moving to do a working holiday visa in New Zealand, I decided that I would go by Olive and it has been delightful. And since it was here that I finally decided to give my blogging a go, I felt it was only appropriate that I write as Olive, especially since I feel that changing my name is one of my signature travel moves. Plus, Olive Abroad just has a much nicer ring to it than Zoë Abroad or Ryan Abroad.
Why I Write
Now that you know more than you probably cared to know about why this blog is called Olive Abroad, I’d like to tell you a bit more about who I am as a traveler and a blogger. For one thing, I have quickly realized that even though I began this blog with the idea of focusing on travel, I have learned through my writing that I have much more to talk about than just giving tips on the ten essential travel items or the best places to eat in Europe. Although most of what I write does ultimately relate in some way to my travel experiences, I find a lot of what comes out has to do more broadly with how I live my life and what kind of person I want to be, which hopefully other people can occasionally relate to.
I want to be clear that I do not write this blog because I have figured out all the answers in my 28 years on Earth and am kind enough to bless the general public with my immense wisdom. I write this blog because I have so many thoughts bouncing around in my head, ideas about how the world works, questions about what it means to live a full life, and general musings on the things I have grown up to believe are important and wondering whether they are actually true. I write because I want to start conversations about the things that matter to me and to create my own opinions through meaningful discussions rather than accepting as fact everything society has stuffed into my head. I write because I enjoy writing and because it gives me a space to process my thoughts and get them down somewhere instead of bottling them up inside where they get all mixed up like spaghetti.
In addition, much like music, writing my blog allows me to be creative and to use my creativity as a way of connecting with family, friends, and even strangers. Since I started writing, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who have told me that they related to something in my blog or that it helped them to see something in a different way. It even provides me a platform to share my favourite photos and inspirational sayings, which is really just a lot of fun for me and gives me an excuse to take even more fun pictures of all my beautiful friends!
If you are someone who enjoys writing, or you think you might, or even if you’re not really sure it’s your thing, I highly recommend you give it a try. Write in your journal, start a blog, write letters to your friends and family – anything you can do to get yourself writing down your thoughts and ideas. Like anything else you want to be good at, writing is a practice and the more you do it, the easier it gets. After a while, you may even find you have your own voice and look forward to writing as a way to unwind after a stressful day, or as a way to calm all the voices bouncing off the walls of your brain.
And if you are someone who feels overwhelmed by the thought of having to write down every detail of your day in a journal, try this simple practice: write one haiku each day. Haikus are three-line poems that follow a 5-7-5 pattern of syllables. I did this once while traveling in Spain and Portugal for three months and will be doing it again during my current trip to the south island of New Zealand. I find it much less intimidating than trying to record everything I have done each day, especially since travel days tend to be quite jam-packed with exciting things. Instead, I pick the most salient detail from that day and write a haiku about it. This allows me to capture important moments from my trip without feeling like I have to spend hours writing it all down.
For your reading pleasure, and to prove to you that these do not have to be amazing pieces of poetic genius, I have included a few of my own haikus below:
partying with the
spanish makes the next day rough.
playing guitar brings
warmth, but we should leave before
the sprinklers come on.
outside it’s cold and
wet, but inside, the tapas
are warm and tasty.
Why I travel
I was recently featured on the Wild Hearts Club, my beautiful friend Kat’s blog on solo female travelers. To create each feature, Kat asks a comprehensive series of questions covering all things travel related, which really got me reflecting on my travel experiences (and gave me lots of great ideas for future blog posts – thanks Kat)! She asked about personal motivations, scary experiences, life changing moments, travel logistics, tips and tricks, and many other interesting questions. It was a great chance for me to think about why I travel – what do I get out of it and why is it so important to me to see new places?
It would be easy to say that I was born to travel and it has always been in my blood, but to be honest, it hasn’t. I think I’ve always had a desire for adventure and certainly wanted to see other places, but traveling on my own wasn’t really even on my radar until a friend convinced me to apply for that semester of exchange I did in university. I had been on a school trip to Europe my senior year of high school, but didn’t realize how simple it would be to plan a trip on my own and didn’t even really see it as an option. It was going overseas to England at the age of 21 and planning a trip to Italy during that time that got me hooked and opened my eyes to the travel possibilities that were available to me. And you know what they say – once the travel bug bites you…you can never get rid of it…just like herpes (or something like that).
I guess if I were going to sum up my main motivation for traveling, it would be something akin to that quote about climbing Everest: because it’s there. I honestly think the reason I travel is a combination of fear and love – the fear of living my whole life and experiencing so little of what there is and the love of seeing new places, learning about myself in the process, and realizing how much is out there. This short video by the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows does a pretty good job of capturing that feeling. I know I probably can’t see the entire world in one lifetime, or have every human experience possible, but I don’t plan to sit around on the couch and let that fact stop me from doing as much as I possibly can.
One thing you may find surprising about me is that, the more I travel, the more I am convinced that I want to settled down in the Pacific NW. I love seeing the world and I will never stop going on international adventures, but I have learned that my heart truly belongs in Portland, Oregon (or at least somewhere nearby). That part of the world is my home, where my roots are deep and nourished and the people I love and have shared the majority of my life with are close by. No matter how awesome a new city is, or what special communities I may become a part of there, nothing can compare to Portland for me because she and I have a shared history that just can’t be created elsewhere.
If I could have it my way, I would collect all the amazing people I have met from all over the world and bring them back to Portland with me. We would create one giant hippie family and live together in a permanent KiwiBurn-style community, sharing resources and skills, building compact and efficient tiny homes, brewing kombucha, growing our own food, doing yoga every day, and raising our children and gracefully ageing together. Although I will never stop doing everything in my power to manifest this reality, I think the odds are pretty slim that it will actually come true (at least the part where everyone I know and love is there – I think the other stuff is actually fairly likely).
However, that’s one of the beautiful things about traveling – if we knew we were going to be able to spend our entire lives with everyone we met, it would take something special away. I think knowing that people will be around forever takes away the sense of urgency that is sometimes required to connect deeply and have profound experiences together. Knowing that your time together is brief makes it all the more important to get the most out of it and make sure someone knows how you feel about them. (Of course, we never really know how much longer someone will be in our lives – ideally we would keep this in mind and always be letting people know how we feel)!
To sum up…
In conclusion, I am a big fat liar who enjoys tricking people into calling me names that don’t belong to me, just because I can. I write because I am more eloquent on paper than in person and my brain turns to mush if I don’t organize the thoughts that are swirling around in there. And I travel because I’m a huge scaredy cat who is afraid of living a mediocre life and I don’t know how else to address that issue.
All of that being the case, I can honestly say that if I were to die tomorrow, I would not have a single regret, I really wouldn’t. I feel like one of the most fortunate people in the world to have been able to follow my heart wherever it takes me and to have the most loving and supportive family and social network a girl could ask for. Although there are still many more things I want to do and experiences I want to have, I can honestly say that right now, I am doing exactly what I want to be doing with my life and I am SO incredibly grateful for that fact. Part of it is luck and part of it is just not being willing to settle for a life that is any less than exactly what I want it to be. It’s still a work in progress, and it always will be, but at least I know I’m headed in the right direction.
And so, if you are someone awesome I have met in my travels and you have not already done so, please drop what you are doing and move to Portland, Oregon and help me start my dream hippie commune. Feel free to bring all your loved ones along, too. And a hoola hoop or two wouldn’t hurt. I promise it will be amazing.