When Sarah pings me with an email, I drop whatever I’m doing and open it straight away to see what funny gems await me inside. She’s bubbly, precocious, and knows everything and then some about beauty. She’s currently living a nomadic, freelance life on the road with her boyfriend and has emailed me from countless airbnbs and one overnight bus ride. They set off with barely an itinerary and instead have gone wherever the wind (or other traveling friends) has taken them. Highlight reel includes: Singapore, London to buy a car, Portugal, Italy to store the car in long term parking, Vietnam to re-set visas, Thailand, San Francisco, India where they they stayed at an ashram, Croatia to meet up with friends, Berlin for a friend’s wedding, Oz for another friend’s wedding, and back to London to see family and sell said car. During these nomadic adventures Sarah has had to re-learn a thing or two about her beauty and wellness routine, so I’ll let her take it from here…
I’m what people would call a stable girl. Reliable even. The female equivalent of a Volvo, to paint a sexy picture for you. I’m a Capricorn too, so I guess it’s part of my DNA. For 15 years straight, I worked in magazines, and seven of those were spent as a beauty editor (most recently as Beauty Director of Australian Marie Claire). I stuck to things, which I know is tragically un-Gen Y of me. So when, at 35, I told my friends I was leaving my job and the country with a one-way ticket to “somewhere”, they were mostly just baffled by my un-Volvo-like behavior. And then they wanted to know if I was going to take my Dyson hairdryer with me (um, obviously).
There was no dramatic catalyst for me to leave the sparkly shores of Sydney. I had my people there: a killer eyebrow guy, my dream hair colorist, and a barista who made coffee so good I considered taking him with me (but instead opted for supersized cans of Oribe dry texturizing spray because, priorities). But I definitely had the feeling that another 15 years could pass and I would still be exactly where I was.
So when my boyfriend suggested we go travelling semi-permanently I said yes, even though it kind of terrified me (I blame the Aquarius and Pisces in my chart for such craziness). It wasn’t about taking a long indulgent holiday, but more to see if we could do life differently. We wanted to work still (I did have a thriving coffee addiction to support after all), but outside of the normal office life… and maybe even find some adventure along the way. One-and-a-half years and 14 countries into this new life, we still have no set plans, but we do have a few learnings:
1. Red Lipstick is life.
There are times during travel when you feel like a movie star – usually that’s somewhere between the fourth and fifth Aperol spritz. Most of the time, however, you feel sweaty and pore-cloggy and about as hot as gum on the subway floor. For those times, there’s red lipstick. In my former beauty editing life I would wear a bright lip daily – it was my thing. But obviously I couldn’t bring all the colors in my lipstick wardrobe with me (because that’s just ridiculous and excessive), so instead I took a very conservative three reds. One orange-based for everyday fun, a blue-based for a nighttime vibe, and a matte for just because.
And you know what? I’ve used them all down to the stump. Because when I’m sporting epic regrowth that is easily mistaken for (bad) balayage, and when I’ve had to wear the same (once black, now grey) dress again, it was the only thing that made me feel a little bit polished, a little bit “me”. Or at least not like a bag lady, which is a definite positive.
2. Have something that’s yours and yours only.
I will preface this by saying I love my boyfriend very much. He’s brilliant and funny and many other wildly charming adjectives, but he is not my entire world – just the romantic love part of it. Pre-adventure, my weeks were filled with work events and friends and facials, which meant boyfriend and I would see each other for a few hours each night, weekends, and for requisite viewings of Game of Thrones. And suddenly, we never not saw each other. We worked together. We travelled together. We face-masked together. The togetherness was strong.
Very early on, I realized I needed something that was solely for me – and that thing was yoga. Even when I didn’t have the physical space, it gave me the mental space to clear my head of all the chaos around me. On my mat I felt like I could properly exhale, like I’d been holding my breath the whole time and didn’t even know it. Plus, when you’ve been on a plane for 24 hours straight (a fun “perk” of living in Australia) yoga is like a wheatgrass shot for the body and soul. It calmed me, grounded me, and probably kept my relationship alive too. I was reminded of how important it is to have your own interests in relationships, something I’d always taken for granted. But when your life is no longer filled with other things, it’s also something that can be so easily lost.
3.Social media is not food for the soul.
I think the anxiety set in around month three, probably around the same time the dopamine from all the excitement started to wear off. Suddenly I was faced with the task of finding freelance work, which required both motivation and putting myself out there. So I did what anyone would do in my situation: I procrastinated. I got sucked into the vortex of social media, feverishly “liking” all the pics from my former life – the parties, the events, the free donuts, the gloss. I FOMO’d hard, and then would simultaneously berate myself because here I was, in Italy, gorging on pasta like it was facing extinction, so wasn’t my life the fabulous one, dammit? Wasn’t this #livingmybestlife? It was a dark, self-loathing spiral and once I finally pulled myself out of it (thanks in large part to the wondrous magic of fettuccine), I realized it was making me miss out on the adventure. So I cut myself off. Just until I was in a place where I could just “be” and be happy.
It’s so seductive, social media. It seems so sweet and innocuous like a little handbag dog that you can dress up in sequined top hats and superhero capes, but all the while it’s digging its claws into your self-esteem. And it’s always, always yapping at you to be fed. But, just like they teach you in doggie training you need to show it who’s boss. To take back control. For me that meant aligning my virtual world with my new physical one and surrounding myself (and my insta-feed) with inspiring, like-minded people who added to my life, not made me feel sick about it.
4. Don’t play roulette with foreign hairdressers
I am fiercely passionate about my hair colorist, Richi. He’s the first person I call when I’m home (sorry Mum). But, as far as haircuts go, I’m anyone’s. Mostly because I only really ever get a trim or if I’m feeling wild – bangs. Anyway, it was with this cavalier attitude I decided to get a haircut in Berlin.
I chose a salon based on the scientific approach of what products they had in the window (in my defense it was Olaplex, which I love). Plus, I figured it was only a trim anyway so what could go wrong? Idiot. I gave my explanation to the English-speaking stylist (a trim with no layers) and went back to the free Wi-Fi. Forty-five minutes and a blow-dry later I looked up and… there were layers. Many, many layers. I essentially had a Rachel cut, 20 years too late. I will spare you the teary, hysterical aftermath but needless to say, it took me six months to be able to wear my hair in a non-spiky topknot again. And, I definitely learned my lesson: Research! Recommendations! Don’t fall into a YouTube hole when someone is holding scissors to your strands!
5. Some things don’t change. But, beauty routines? They sure do.
I packed 11lb of beauty products when I left Australia. And I still maintain it wasn’t excessive – it was culled from 25lb after all. Plus, choosing between my three favorite serums was just too hard and too overwhelming, and also my face had gotten used to them (and it was very precious and very fancy like that). There were some things that did have to change, but lucky for me I actually learned a few things from my beauty ed years that (mostly) saved me from looking like a teenage backpacker. First up, I traded my full head of blonde highlights for a root-stretched bronde to disguise the fact that I only saw my colorist once a year. Secondly, I learned to dye my own invisi-brows (thanks to professional dye and strict instructions from my brow-master). Those with a set of Delevingne brows may think this is ridiculous, but let me tell you, for someone with blonde, sparse hairs this is a vital life skill. Dyeing them regularly means that people can actually tell that I’m shocked/surprised/haven’t shaved my brows off – win! I also ditched foundation for SPF BB creams, I wore my hair in a topknot overnight to get waves, and sunscreen became my ride or die. But you know what? I’ll still splash out on a facial in a random country or spend an hour doing a winged liner just to buy tomatoes because it makes me feel good. And although it may not be the most profound of learning’s, when there is no “normal” in your life these little routines are the things that ground you. Because making a huge life change doesn’t have to mean giving up all the things you love. Plus, sometimes doing something just because it makes you feel good is reason enough to do it.
6. I’m sorry; the old Sarah can’t come to the phone.
I’m going to get all deep here for a second, because man, this was a tough one to learn. After 15 years in the glittery world of magazines, I felt confident knowing who I was. I was a magazine editor. A writer. A cheese-lover. But always the magazine part first. I loved my job and I loved being a part of that world – especially as a beauty editor where it was in my job description to trial massages. But then I didn’t have that anymore and suddenly I wasn’t sure what defined me. Like, what was I supposed to say when I met people now that I wasn’t “Sarah, the Beauty Director of Marie Claire”? “Sarah, the professional vagabond currently on the brink of a mid-30s crisis” didn’t quite have the same jazzy soundtrack. Anyway, it turns out this was a gift in disguise, because I learned that not only was I much more interesting than my job description, but that I had many more stories to tell than the ones that were published. And better yet, I now had the time to create new ones and perhaps even learn things about myself – without all the pre-conceived ideas of who I was before. Now I’m just a freelance vagabond spit-balling here, but I’m pretty sure that’s what freedom tastes like.
If your as big of fans as Sarah as we are, check out her soon-to-be launched site, CiaoAmica.com