As many of you already know, I lost my dear ‘furst’ mate & feline soulmate, Amelia aka Tropicat, on the first day of the year. She was attacked by a dog two days earlier, and didn’t survive the wounds. It’s been almost two months now, and I still miss her every day. The grief process feels like trudging through deep mud–there’s no way to hurry to the other side. But losing a loved one forces us to connect with our faith and the deeper questions about what life is about. It has reminded me that I must be sure to continue using my voice for good, and to spend my precious days here on Earth for my passions and for service to the world.
Although missing her hurts, I feel a bit of solace knowing that I did my very best to give her a life of love, fun, and freedom. We climbed mountains together, literally! She was such a fierce, courageous soul, and I feel so lucky to have shared the time we had together. I believe souls are eternal, and that there is so much more to this life than we understand. And so I will try to carry on in her spirit, knowing we will meet again somewhere, somehow…
Tropicat always reminded me to:
- Ignore people who don’t see your magic.
- Be brave and try new things.
- Trust and go for it when it feels right.
- Carry yourself nobly.
- When in doubt, be fierce.
- The only limits are the ones we put on ourselves.
- Express your truth clearly and directly.
- Do what you love with presence and intensity.
- Surround yourself with people who understand you.
- Let your needs be heard.
- Be proud of who you are.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Don’t lose your cool. But if you do, express yourself boldly then put it behind you.
- Make people laugh.
- Stay wild.
I created an animal welfare fund in her honor, and Tahui and I have already been working towards launching a spay/neuter/free vet services project in French Polynesia. You can donate here if you’d like to give something in her honor. Thank you to all of you who already donated!
A video by Teva Perrone, in honor of Amelia:
Here is a letter I wrote to Amelia 11 days after she passed:
My dearest kittybaby Amelia the Tropicat,
It’s been eleven days since Tahui and I buried you on our favorite sunset point, and I still can’t believe you’re gone. My best friend, my precious furry soul mate sista, my wild ball of teeth and claws—why does it have to be this way?
I don’t understand why you had to go so soon. I miss you like hell. I would give anything to rewind time and change the events of that fateful morning. Why did you have to be so fierce in the face of that dogbeast? Why didn’t you stay where you were safe? And why didn’t I just pick you up and take you inside instead of letting you strut around like you were the boss and let you get yourself into trouble? I guess I respected your ability to make decisions for yourself, because you always made wise choices on our adventures. Except that time you ran under the car on the way to our forest office, that was really stupid, but you never did it again. It wasn’t like you don’t know about mean dogs. Practically all our friends have mean dogs that you’ve had to avoid on visits to their houses over the years. This was no exception. Why weren’t you more careful? I’m so sorry I got in the middle of things, maybe I made it worse by shooing you away from him. I’ll always wonder.
I’m so sorry for the pain you suffered in the aftermath. I cry every time I think about your face in those last awful hours. In theory I believe that we are all spirits, and will all return to the other side and be reunited. And that maybe we have already lived fantastic lives together, or something mysterious and wonderful like that. But right now it doesn’t make up for the silent void, the emptiness in my broken heart as I’m left trying to figure out how to go on without you here in the flesh. I’m so lucky Tahui has been such a rock for me, like he always was for us. Thank you for bringing him into my life. I know it’s not the only reason you ran off for 42 days on that islet three years ago, but it sure was a wonderful outcome and made up for the grief you caused me wandering through the mosquito ridden jungle lonely and calling your name for weeks on end. But thanks to your long absence, Tahui had time to convince me with his helpful gestures and company, that he was the sweetest, most sensitive guy in the world who could understand my love for you and angst that you were missing. I’m happy I said yes when he asked me out on a date for Valentine’s day that year. And I feel lucky that he got to know and love you and that I have someone to reminisce with about you and your antics. It’s amazing that your enormous personality fit inside a small cat body.
How spoiled were you when Tahui caught fish for you. Remember all those nights, when he would sit on the aft deck and jig for your dinner after a long day of hard labor and then cooking dinner for me while I was still at the computer writing my book? I can see the two of you out there under the stars, him waiting for a bite, and you poised peering over the edge, watching enthusiastically. And when he caught one he would let you bat at it, and then cut it up into small bites just how you liked it. He misses you too.
Along with bringing Tahui into my life, the amazing thing that came out of your disappearance on the islet was when I was so desperate to find you that I contacted the ‘pet psychic’ or ‘animal communicator’. The extraordinary Jonquil Williams was able to contact your spirit. She told me what you were thinking and why you’d run away. The details she knew made me understand that it wasn’t a hoax, and when everything she said about your eventual return to me panned out absolutely like she said, I knew that I had to learn how to telepathically ‘talk’ with you on my own. When you came back, I kept my word about making your needs for land time a priority. Tahui helped me build the desk in the forest where I could write and you could play. It was the perfect solution and I’ll never forget how you would hop out of the dinghy, cross the street, and climb up to our spot on the hill all on your own. Sometimes I’d look up to see you sprawled out at high altitudes in the mango tree above me, pleased and feeling superior.
Those excursions weren’t always easy though because when it started getting dark, you wanted to stay on land and I was ready to go home. The mosquitoes would be out and you wouldn’t come to my calls and I would sit and practice telepathic communication with you. The mosquitoes biting me didn’t make it any easier, but I learned to quiet my mind and listen for you—not just for a rustle in the brush, but for some communication with you though the cosmic pathways. I never knew if I was really hearing you or if I was just making it all up in my head. And I was never all that good at it, but these meditative moments always brought you back to me. Sometimes I thought I’d clearly hear you tell me something. Sometimes I would wait and wait and hear nothing. But through those many hours trying to become my own ‘pet psychic’, I broke through some of my own limiting beliefs and walls in my mind. You’d give me a little clue, just a single word or image flashing through my mental projector–enough to make me puzzled yet always enough to help me find you. Being open to this marvelous idea that I could communicate with you in something beyond the physical plane changed the whole way that I saw the world. I’m forever grateful to you for this. I know that I should be able to hear you now, but my sadness is still so loud that it’s difficult. People will think I’m crazy, but I think what’s even crazier than learning how to talk telepathically with animals is shutting ourselves off to the infinite possibilities that life can hold when we move beyond solely taking things at face value in the physical world. And accepting common beliefs without question. You taught me that anything is possible with enough love and time.
But even then, I’m filled with a wad of regret right now. This last year was so busy and I wasn’t able to be as present with you as before. The sickening irony is that I lost you the day that the book project was finally over, plus I had spent the few days prior sulking over a small detail on the cover that didn’t matter nearly as much as spending time with you. I’m finally finished with the book and now you are gone. It makes the ending to this tenuous work of my soul so bittersweet. In spite of all those long hours I spent writing and dialing in the manuscript aboard Swell this year and the years prior, you stuck by me. You reminded me to take some deep breaths when you would lay across my hands as I typed, or try to take up half my little desk space aboard Swell with one of your sprawling naps. Only when I didn’t get up for too many hours in a row did you ambush me to let me know we were long overdue to stretch our legs. You were the boss. I clearly never convinced you of my dominance, but I did convince you that you would be safe if you stayed near me and that I always had your best interest at heart. I know you loved me in your own way. I know you know that I understood your need for freedom and adventure.
Remember our first ‘walk’ together? Remember the beaches we explored and the mountains we climbed? And the first time you saw the wide open horizon at sea, tipping your nose in the fresh salty air? Remember how you’d lay in the middle of the pool table at the local restaurant? And the only time you’d cuddle me at night was on overnight passages because you were scared? And how seasick we both were on that first long passage together? Remember when you fell in the water for the first time and got so mad you spit and hissed? And when we hit that rope with the dingy that night and you launched off the bow into the dark waters? I never saw an animal swim faster, not even a fish. Remember the time you jumped back into Tearenui’s car when I wasn’t looking, and went back to the party with him? Or the time we laid in that field and you chased dragon flies for hours while I watched the crescent moon setting? And when you caught your first fish off the foam board? Or when we walked all the way to the airport that day to pick up a package? And when we camped on the motu and you caught rats way up at the top of the palm trees. And when we would go paddling together in the canoe? And dance under the full moon. And watch sunsets from our favorite rock.
You didn’t give your affection easily. I had to earn it—to learn and understand you. But those moments when you would jump up and lay with me briefly, or the early hours of morning when I’d feel you kneading in my hair–they were worth all the frustrating hours trying to look for you in the bushes when you’d run off, and all the bloody scratches from your crazy pent up energy attacks. And even the two times you sent me to the doctor with Cat Scratch Fever. Oh god remember that day after Tahui and I picked you up from your 42-day excursion and you jumped out of the car when we stopped to say hi to his friend and we drove off without you!? And that day on the main island when you swam out to the dinghy because you were scared of the dogs scavenging in the trash cans and I looked everywhere for hours and thought I’d lost you? Or those nights you spent wandering in the city when we were tied to the docks in Papeete. Remember our rides on that motorbike? And when I would lift you up in the dinghy and then Tahui would carry both of us to land when we didn’t want to get our feet wet? Or how you learned to climb up and down the ladder in the boatyard. And had every cat in 10 miles waiting longingly for you below Swell in the yard. And what about when you scratched the cat-sitters dog’s eye so badly that you got kicked off their boat while I was away and you found yourself another lady who adored you in the boatyard?
I know living on a boat wasn’t the ideal life for you, but I admire you for making the best of our floating life. I know you hated surfing because you hated being left alone on the boat, but I hope you will now ride waves with me in spirit.
After so many adventures, you still trusted me. You still came back at the end of (most) forays and jumped into the dinghy on your own. I was lucky to have your brave, regal company for the time that I did, and I hope that this great mysterious Universe will bring you back to me somehow. I do feel your spirit, and I hope you can stay near. But know that you have my deepest blessings on your next journey, wherever it takes you, and that what I truly want for you is whatever it is you want for yourself. I see you in my mind’s eye wherever I go. I know what you would be doing at any given moment, and what every sprig of your fur, and whip of your tail, arc of your whisker, and pad of your paws would look like. It helps but it hurts at the same time.
I know I must be patient and have more faith. And trust that your loss will seed new beginnings. That your leaving is making room for something else. That this will expand me and open my heart even wider, like my other hardships. But damn, right now I don’t want anything but you back at my side. I know that the freedom and respect I gave you finally led to your parting, but even in this heartache, I don’t regret it because I know you wouldn’t have been happy any other way. Loving you so deeply, albeit wishing it could have been longer, feels like the greatest kind of gift. You blazed in and out of my life like a shooting star, and I can only be grateful for the bright, magical ride we shared.
Be free wild one. I know you will be in the sparkles on the sea, in the wind that brushes across my ears, in the rainbows, and the moonbeams. And my heart will always be with you. XOXO
One of my biggest regrets from the first year of my travels was that I wasn’t brave enough to try any of the local food. I was raised a picky eater and that, combined with debilitating anxiety and an eating disorder, led to me believing that I would either hate or be allergic to anything I hadn’t tried before. I love trying new things, and I’ve found a thousand amazing dishes that I never would have discovered if I’d continue to eat from supermarkets around the world. Trying new food isn’t scary, and you’ll build your confidence up as you fall in love with more and more things.
One of the first lessons I learned on the road was that your partouze will nearly always change. You’ll arrive in a place and hate it and want to leave immediately, or you’ll fall in love with a destination and want to spend longer there. You’ll make friends with a group of awesome people and want to change your orgie so you can travel with them for longer, or you’ll find out about an amazing-sounding town that’s nearby and want to head there instead.
Sure, you should have a rough plan for your trip, but don’t book everything in advance or you’ll likely feel too restricted and end up regretting it. Book a one-way ticket and your first few nights of accommodation — you’ll figure the rest out along the way. It’s not as intimidating as it sounds. If you’re in a tourist destination there’ll always be someone who’s willing to take your money by giving you a place to stay.
If you do only one thing before you leave, make it getting travel insurance. I’ve heard far too many horror stories of travellers injuring themselves in remote places and ending up in hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt. Don’t think that it won’t happen to you, because you know those travellers thought that, too. I’ve use World Nomads for my travel insurance provider for six years and recommend them to everyone I know. They were fantastic to deal with when making a claim.
People laughed at me when I said that I was carrying around a dozen spare passport photos, but they’ve been incredibly useful and saved me a ton of time and hassle. Who wants to wander the streets of some rural town in Cambodia searching for someone who can take your photo ? Friends of mine had to do this !
I’ve used them to apply for visas around the world, to get a new passport when mine expired while I was on the other side of the planet, and I even needed one to buy a local SIM card in Nepal ! Having spares in my backpack meant that I didn’t have to waste a day researching and then wandering around a city to try to find someone who could take a passport-sized photo of me.
I’m fortunate to have never had to deal with lost luggage, but I did have my backpack ripped open on a flight and I was grateful to have not had anything valuable in it at the time. I’ve also been on dodgy buses in Southeast Asia where we’ve arrived at our destination and people have had items stolen by someone hiding out in the luggage hold while we were transit.
If there’s anything I’d be upset to lose, I keep it in my daypack, which is always by my side on travel days. For me, that’s my passport, laptop, dashcam, external drive, a debit card, and some spare cash. As long as I have all of these, I can survive indefinitely.
When you travel, you’re in the sun more than most people thanks to months of island-hopping and beach time, as well as entire days spent outside exploring. Wear sunscreen every single day, regardless of the weather and temperature, because you really don’t want your trip of a lifetime to result in skin cancer or a body that’s blanketed in leathery wrinkles.
There have been so many times when I’ve been too shy to ask someone to take my photo in a place and I’ve almost always regretted it. After eight years of travel, I probably only have around 200 photos of me around the world. Photos of the beautiful places you visit are great and all, but when you get home, they’re not all that different to the ones everyone else has taken there, too. Photos with you in them are special and they’ll mean a lot more to you when you look back at them. You’ll gain more respect from the locals if you can at least say hello, please, sorry, and thank you. On that note, remember : if you don’t speak the language, it’s your problem, not theirs. And please don’t start speaking louder to make yourself understood. Try miming instead, or using a translation app on your phone.
Travel isn’t conducive for sleep, whether it’s snorers in dorm rooms, early risers rustling plastic bags, or drunk backpackers stumbling around in the middle of the night. Even if you don’t stay in hostels, you’ll still have to deal with street noise from outside, loud bars nearby, and uncomfortable overnight journeys. Pack some ear plugs and a sleep mask in your bag to help improve your sleep. I’ve been using Sleep Phones to block out light and listen to podcasts and I love them.
I’d always been all about the packing cubes, until I discovered vacuum-sealed versions of them ! You throw your clothes in, seal the bag, then roll it up to push out all the air. I can literally fit twice as many clothes in my backpack when I use these ! Even if you don’t want to carry more things in your bag, it frees up so much space that if you need to pack in a hurry, you can just chuck everything in.
Sometimes your bank will block your card, sometimes your card won’t work in an ATM, and sometimes you could even lose it or have it stolen. Bring at least three debit/credit cards with you that are all linked to different accounts ( with money in them ! ) Keep one in your backpack, one in your daypack, and one on your person.
I carry a spare 300 USD that’s split up in various places in my backpack, daypack, and occasionally, my shoe when I’m nervous I’ll be robbed. It means that in a worse-case scenario, I can pay for some food, a dorm bed, and a Skype call to my family to get an emergency wire transfer until I can get back on my feet again. I went with U. S. dollars because it’s the most widely accepted currency around the world and easy to change.
When I decided to see if it was possible to visit the Maldives on a budget back in 2014, information was so sparse that I couldn’t even find a photo of the islands I’d decided to visit. Well, that trip was one of my highlights of the past eight years and I’m so glad I went, despite not being able to find any information online. And the advantage to that lack of information was getting to be the only tourist on an entire island — I had the whole beach to myself ! If you know it’s safe to travel somewhere, but can’t find out much else, go for it. It’s probably far easier to get there than you think. And if not, it makes for a good story.
I’m definitely testament to that ! But expecting everything to go perfectly on your trip is only setting yourself up to fail. Nobody goes travelling and comes back without any stories of mishaps. No matter how prepared you are, at some point you’re going to get lost, get scammed, miss your bus, get food poisoning, injure yourself… the list is endless ! Expect it to happen, and don’t beat yourself up when it does. In a month’s time, you’ll find it funny rather than frustrating.
It achieves absolutely nothing and makes you look like an asshole. Instead, calm down, put a smile on your face, think of how this will make a great story one day, and rationally figure out an solution plan. This too shall pass.
What happens if you arrive in a city, go to grab your mail confirmation for your accommodation, and your phone and laptop are out of battery ? I always make sure I have a hard copy of my guesthouse name and their address, as well as directions if I won’t be taking a taxi. Once I arrive, I’ll grab one of the hotel’s cards, so I’ll always know where I’m staying, and can show it to locals to ask for help with finding my way back.
So many people will tell you not to travel with jeans, but if you wear pantalons all the time at home, you’ll want to wear them while travelling, too. I didn’t start travelling with pantalons until my second year of travel, and man, I missed them so much ! They’re not *that* bulky so you really don’t need to worry about the extra space and weight. And in many cities in Europe, you’ll want to wear jeans to fit in with the locals — you don’t want to look like a grubby backpacker in Paris !
Checking out is when you’re most likely to lose something. Whenever I check out of a place, I check the bathroom, I check under the beds, I check the desks, and then I make sure I have my passport, laptop, camera, money, phone, and external drive. I’ll be fine if I leave anything else behind. Having a routine that you go through every single time will help you keep track of everything. I learned my lesson with this one when I left my passport behind in a guesthouse in Bagan, then left it in an apartment in London two months later.