Hitting Reset: How Fiji Got My Groove Back

“Can I ask you something?” the hazel-eyed Brit interrupted from across the hostel breakfast table.

“Let me get this right: you’re not a beach person. And you don’t dive or scuba or hike. What…exactly…are you hoping to get out of being here?”

It was a surprisingly personal and pointed question for someone I’d known for all of an hour. I could’ve been offended (“What’s it to you my trip has no purpose, guy??”) but he wasn’t far off: I had landed in Fiji for seven days, with absolutely zero plans, and was clearly a bit lost.

“I don’t know,” I responded slowly. “But I think being *anywhere but New Zealand* for a whole week may be enough. Just to get away.”

I’ve been quiet this year. Hideaway quiet. Living in New Zealand hasn’t been a bad experience, per se — but it hasn’t been my favorite either.

Let’s just say: Wellington hasn’t suited me.

I won’t get into all the reasons why, because that deserves its own post (and woooo boy what a post that’ll be, because it’s been a trip) — but also, this is about Fiji.

Fiji was my escape. After seven months on the North Island — the longest I’ve spent in one location without leaving in nearly a decade —  I was going mad. The walls were closing in, some personal situations weren’t going spectacularly, and so in a major fit of Eff This Noise I decided to

– stop drinking

– quit Facebook

– book a solo flight to Fiji

all in one go.

But as the Brit observed: I’m not the target demographic for beach tourism.

So why Fiji?

Because, like the sappy romantic I am, Fiji to me represented… the cheapest flight out of Wellington.

(Did I say romantic? I meant cash-poor pragmatic.)

Yes, short of going to Australia — which is culturally about as much of an escape from New Zealand as Canada is from the US — a $450 roundtrip to Fiji was the most affordable international flight option. (Yikes.)

So I forked out and off I went to this island paradise, by myself, with no plans to dive, no hiking gear, nada. Just myself, a backpack, and a whole lotta built up resentment at New Zealand and my life choices there.

Fiji brought me back.

If life in Wellington had deflated me like a mid-dance Pikachu, Fiji was the gust of air that resuscitated me back into one of those wacky-wavy-inflatable-arm-tube men.

And it was all thanks to a Fijian couple named Wais and Ele.

Through a last-minute Hail Mary browse on Airbnb (as in, I’d already arrived in Fiji and was miserably trying to fall asleep in a 16-bed hostel dorm at 3 am when I found it) I ended up spending the week in a homestay with their family in a remote island village, where I was forced to live waaaay outside my comfort zone.

Wais and Ele were my host parents for the week, and seeing the way they and their six children lived their life — what they valued, what they could easily do without, and their coexistence with nature — made me reassess my own hangups and priorities.

Isolated from every comfort I knew, this uptight city girl suddenly didn’t care so much about being endlessly covered in sand, and dirt, and salty sea water.

About a “shower” that was just scooping cold water out of an old oil barrel.

About walking around a house full of ants and stepping on hordes of them with my bare feet. Seriously, so. many. ants.

Despite being a germophobe allergic to half of nature and generally quite avoidant of the other half, Fiji saw me going for hikes, eating with dusty hands, spending hours on the beach playing frisbee, climbing trees, and even attempting to scuba more than once.

I awoke at 6 am every day to catch sunrise, my alarm being the chickens and children and church choirs that would start up well before then. When the sun went down it was pretty much literally ‘lights out’; my body clock reset to a natural rhythm that was the exact opposite of the bartender hours I’d been accustomed to working.

Every morning Ele made breakfast from scratch, accompanied by fresh fruit from the garden. One night, dinner included fresh fish they’d caught the night before. I relished how comforting a simple home-cooked meal could be.

I was introduced to the community with a kava ceremony with the village chief; a few days later we gathered for a lovo, a feast cooked in the earth, on the other side of the island.

As we waited for the meal we drank beers on the beach, watching the full moon rise against a pink-purple sunset; afterwards we drank bowl after bowl of kava and sang songs with the local villagers until it was time to boat back home in darkness, the sea and our happy faces illuminated by only moonlight.

In one short week, Fiji helped me re-evaluate and rediscover my identity: who I was as a traveler, a photographer, a writer. It exercised a creative muscle that had grown weak in New Zealand, where I was so unhappy I hadn’t felt the desire to take a single photo or write a blog post in months.

Perhaps most importantly, Fiji reminded me there was a whole world outside of Wellington. It sounds silly, but I’d lost so much of myself in my Kiwi bubble that I’d forgotten that simple fact.

The day I flew back to New Zealand, I had to return to work that same evening.

“You look good,” my managers commented as I strode in refreshed, tan, confident.

“You know what? I feel good,” I responded, a smile on my face, ready to take on the night.

Have you ever had a trip that affected you so much more than you expected?

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  1. Glad you are back. Going to nature and simplify my life is so powerful for me too!

    • Thank you! It’s good to be back. Never would’ve expected to become a nature person but the simplicity really does wonders!

  2. Yay! The blog is back! I’ve been wondering about you. Sorry to hear that nesting in Wellington has been less than fun :(

    Moving to Portland was/is my rejuvenation trip!

    • Ah we haven’t had a VC in ages! Let’s catch up soon? I definitely need to visit you in Portland next year.

  3. Edna – so sad to hear your not enjoying Wellington – I loved it. I spoke to you before you moved there over instagram. Im back in Ireland! I hope you enjoy the rest of your time there and look forward to your blog post about it :)

    • Yes I remember you telling me about your time here! It’s a lovely city, just not home :) That said I’ll be back in Ireland next year, hopefully we can grab coffee!

  4. Love this! Welcome back.

  5. Oh babe :( Completely understand where you’re coming from with this! It’s so easy to get caught up in everyday things that the things you love start slipping by but I’m so glad Fiji refreshed your zest for life (and writing, I’ve missed your posts!) xo

    • Thanks love! It’s definitely been a learning experience if nothing else, and at least I have that. Can’t wait to see you when I’m back in London xo

  6. I’m really glad that Fiji refreshed you too! And I’ve missed your posts too!

    My biggest fear with trips that are so awesome is that in the end, you have to go back to reality… stupid reality…

  7. Hi Edna, really enjoyed this post, it is refreshing to see someone post on the internet something that has not quite gone according to plan, after seeing so many brag posts by others. I lived in NZ for about 8 years, then Australia, then Singapore…I would not consider going back to live in NZ, not because it is not a nice country but because it is so remote and there are no tier 1 cities there.

    • Thanks Stella. It’s not all good times, but then again nothing ever is! I’m sure I’ll be back to visit in the future, but I don’t see myself living in NZ again either for those exact same reasons.

  8. Samantha says:

    Looking forward to your NZ post (I already have one about Korea this year half drafted in my head and it’s been all of 2 months back…).

    Glad you had such an amazing experience in Fiji! Sometimes it really is the things we least expect that wind up being so life-changing.

  9. Welcome back, Edna! Sounds like it did you a world of good! Sometimes we all need to step out of our comfort zones. :)

    • Thank you Stephen! Yes definitely a good reminder to try something different once in a while :)

  10. Wow, Edna, that looks like such an amazing experience! Bravo to you for stepping out of your comfort zone. Back when I was living in San Francisco, a place I really didn’t enjoy, road trips and weekend getaways were what I needed to reset and I would drive somewhere every chance I got. I totally understand this need! Welcome back!

    • Thanks Mo! It’s reassuring that other people can relate (and also not entirely like places that everyone else seems to love, like SF). It’s good to be back!

  11. Looking forward to reading your New Zealand post, Edna, and I hope you’ve been able to extend that Kiwi vibe so it can help carry you through. Getting off social media and into nature is so replenishing, even if it feels completely unnatural at first. Take care of yourself and remember that you always, always have the option to get the heck out of dodge.

    • Thank you Aimee! It sounds obvious but I’d totally forgotten I could just leave…also I think part of me was being quite stubborn and intent on making this work, instead of just accepting that it wasn’t going to happen and cutting my losses. Live and learn, though. (PS I’m going to be back in Singapore soon and would love to catch up!)

  12. Welcome back :) Fiji is a magical place – I’m so glad to hear it had such a positive impact on you! I could really use a Fiji-style escape right about now!