Wanderluster :: Shanny Matterson

Packing up your life into a suitcase or two, leaving the home you’ve known for much of your life and moving to a small tropical island in the South Pacific is the stuff that most people only dream of. But for one girl, it very much became a reality!

Shanny is the powerhouse chick behind the blog ‘Rebel+Roam’ and for the past 2 years has called the tiny pacific island of Niue home. Between teaching at the islands primary school and spinning tales of travel on her blog, she spends her free time snorkelling about the reef, diving with dolphins and whales, getting involved in the local cultural celebrations and kicking back with her partner Dan and their adopted pup Willow.
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What’s been the biggest lifestyle adjustment for you since moving to Niue?

Shiiiiitt…I have to pick just one? Besides the massive changes in culture, lack of Internet connectivity, the remote location, change in diet and learning a new language? I guess it’s the adjustments in the day-to- day things that I used to take for granted back in Australia.

In Niue, there is only one television channel (which we don’t watch in our house), and there are no billboards, shopping malls, nightclubs, fast food outlets or movie theatres. In fact, I can count the number of restaurants we have on one hand. Businesses close very early, and pretty much everything is shut on Sundays as Niueans observe this as a day of rest to attend church services.

Traffic doesn’t exist; seat belts are optional (and never enforced); and there is no public transport here. There are roughly only five roads on the whole island – you can drive around the entire country in just over an hour – and the max speed limit is 60km/hr, so it’s no biggie to have a few beers and then cruise on home. For half of the year, we only have one flight in/out per week, so opportunities to escape the island and venture somewhere new are limited (and expensive!)

Most of our food supply comes either via plane (once a week) or cargo ship (monthly); everything else comes from the sea or from local bush farms. Back home I used to be a gluten-free, diary- free, whole foods-lovin’ semi-vegetarian, but as our food choices are very limited out here, I’ve had to change my diet significantly.

But there are some wonderful lifestyle adjustments that make living out here so damn amazing; the biggest one being the work/life balance. I work in my role as a primary school teacher from 8am-3pm, which leaves me with plenty of time to explore and enjoy the island. No sitting in hours of gridlock traffic for this lady!

I live in a cottage that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. I have coconuts, limes, chilies and papaya growing in my yard. It’s quiet, peaceful and private. We even have a hammock, as clichéd as that is. There is zero crime here, so we never lock anything – I leave my purse and keys in the car on a daily basis and I’ve never had a problem.

Snorkelling on one of the many reefs that surround our island is part of my weekly routine; I’ve swum with humpback whales, tickled sea snakes, dived with sharks and played with dolphins.

Going out dancing on a Saturday night means wearing cutoff shorts, Havaianas, a messy ponytail and no makeup – not a high heel or fake eyelash in sight!

Long story short? It’s about as far from life on the Gold Coast as you could possibly imagine.

 

Packing for a 6 week trip can be hard enough – how did you manage packing for a two year stay?

Honestly? I didn’t think too much about it. As someone who has past experience with starting all over from nothing, I’m not overly attached to material possessions. To raise the money to move over here on such short notice, my boyfriend and I sold and gave away 90% of our belongings, which didn’t leave us with much. Whatever we had left over got packed or left behind.

We each packed a suitcase crammed with tropic-friendly clothes (i.e. a shitload of boardies, bikinis, singlets and Havaianas); cameras; laptops; a Mexican blanket; a hammock; and some trinkets, books and photos to make our new home feel like ‘us’. We each also bought a dive bag stuffed with all of our scuba equipment – and believe me, we own a LOT of dive gear. Dan is a dive professional and I’m an advanced diver with almost 3 years experience, so packing this shit was not an option – it was a necessity! #diverprobs

 

A lot of people have never even heard of Niue – what is it about the island that you love, and what would you say to encourage people to visit?

Honestly? I’d never even heard of it until two months before moving here!

Niue is one of the friendliest and most laid-back countries in the world. We wear flowers in our hair and Havaianas on our feet. The people are warm-hearted, kind and honest; it’s one of the safest places on the planet; and there’s no poverty and very little commercialisation. It’s a very back-to- basics kinda place.

There is a simplistic and authentic beauty about Niue that draws you in; whether it’s hiking the numerous sea tracks that dot the coastline, exploring ancient caves, or swimming and snorkelling in any of the pristine reefs surrounding the island. As a diver, I absolutely love being in the water and the diving here in Niue is the best I’ve ever experienced; 100m visibility is normal and the warm tropical waters allow us to dive comfortably year-round.

Niue is the perfect destination for anyone who loves the outdoors and isn’t afraid to get out of their comfort zone; in fact, I think it’s an adventurer’s paradise.

 

Your blog ‘Rebel+Roam’ is a space for travel tales, hard truths, life lessons and inspiration for adventure. Your followers know and love you for your honesty, frankness and kick ass attitude. How would you define ‘honest travel’ and why is it important to you?

To me, honest travel is all about keepin’ shit real – like, down and dirty REAL. I mean, there is so much crap about travelling out there on the inter-webs already and I don’t want to perpetuate more bullshit. Life isn’t perfect; and believe me, neither is travelling.

I feel as though a particular ‘trend’ has emerged in travel blogging/writing: young, thin, twenty- something girls posting perfectly lit and edited photos of exotic locations; flawless makeup and hair; impeccably dressed and accessorised with a Dior handbag, Chanel sunglasses and oversized floppy hat; the perfect pout and dreamy gaze out to the horizon…

Le’ sigh.

I feel this representation of travel perpetuates an archetype that travelling is all about having the right accessories, the right outfit and portraying a gypsy lifestyle where everything is sparkly- glitter-and- unicorns fucking perfect; when in actual fact, travelling is way more challenging than that. In my experience, you’ll spend more time shitting the bed (figuratively speaking) than posing sexily in it.

For me, I’m much more interested in talking about REAL things: travelling to mend a broken heart; conquering fears; living outside the box; sleeping in dodgy hostels; losing yourself in foreign cultures; one night stands; awesome food; life-changing experiences; getting fucking trolleyed on tequila; dancing on bars; fighting your inner demons; and basically how to thrive – not just survive – whilst doing your thang abroad. I want people to know that they can go anywhere they want and experience whatever they desire, even if it doesn’t look ‘perfect’ to the rest of the world. #fuckthatshit

As a travel writer, I always present myself as honestly and authentically as possible to show people that there’s more to travelling than taking the perfect picture to go with that perfect outfit. Because real travellers don’t give a fuck about how the world looks – they care about what it feels like to be out there and a part of it.

 

I’m a big believer that travel is treasure for the soul – not only does travel and it’s experiences make you richer but also stronger. Was there a time/trip where this rang true for you?

Ever since I was a little girl doing a school project on France, I‘d dreamed of travelling the world. Looking at pictures of exotic foreign lands bursting with history and culture filled me with an insatiable curiosity and longing to explore. It was like a magic doorway to another life had been revealed to me. I had big dreams to travel when I turned 18, but as so often happens, life had other plans for me. It wasn’t until my husband left me when I was 27 that I finally had enough of dreaming and decided to make shit happen for myself.

Heartbroken and deeply craving adventure, I used the small amount of money from our settlement to buy myself a backpack and a ticket to Europe. I spent 5 weeks in the summer travelling solo, and for the first time in my whole life I felt complete. I figured shit out on my own; forged new friendships; saw some of the most incredible sights the world has to offer; pushed myself to the limits; and partied harder than a Kardashian on cocaine.

But there’s one moment in particular that I will remember for the rest of my life: the first time I saw the Eiffel Tower, I was so overcome with heart-bursting joy that I found myself sobbing incoherently on the ground and forgiving my cheating ex-husband. I was just so damn happy after being miserable for so long that it all poured out of me in that moment. I suddenly understood that all endings are beautiful because they allow us to experience new beginnings…and my ending had brought me to Paris, the place I’d dreamed of visiting for 21 years.

It was the greatest experience of my life, and from those first tentative steps abroad, my love of travelling blossomed.

 

What words of wisdom would you like to pass on to would be wanderers?

You’re stronger, braver and more capable than you can imagine. Don’t let anything – or anyone – stop you from seeking out the experiences you dream of. If you’ve got itchy feet and a wandering heart, then buy the damn ticket and get on the fucking plane – you won’t regret it. Just don’t forget to pack some dark sunnies, birth control and a good alibi. You’ll figure out the rest as you go.

 

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FINAL FIVE

My scariest or most challenging moment while traveling…

Well, that’s a hard one – I’ve done some pretty gnarly shit in my time abroad! I’ve scuba dived with Bull Tiger sharks in Fiji – whilst they were being fed heaping bins of fish chum. I’ve been (legally) high as a mofo in both Florence and Amsterdam (and less-legally high in other places, TBH). I’ve been so ill that I’ve hallucinated; passed out in one country and woken up in another; and gotten so lost in cities that I thought I was going to be sold into an international sex trafficking ring, à la ‘Taken’. Oh, and there was this one time a cute bartender I was hooking up with in Vienna accidentally set my face on fire…that kinda sucked and hurt like a mofo. But it was pretty funny too, in hindsight.

 

Most rewarding experience I’ve had while abroad…

Surviving.

 

Best travel advice I’ve ever been given…

Life’s too damn short – just fucking do it.

 

Best travel advice I could give to someone else…

No matter the cost, no matter the risk, no matter the fear – just get yourself a ticket and GO. Whatever’s stopping you is nothing in comparison to the amazing things that await you out in the world.

Sure, you may (accidentally) step on a few toes or break a few hearts along the way, but the confidence, perspective and experience you’ll gain in return is invaluable. Trust me, you may regret buying that new pair of shoes, your car, or even a house – I know, I’ve been there, dude – but I swear, you’ll never regret any investment you make in travelling.

It’s the gift that keeps on giving, long after your passport is packed away.

 

There are countless things to discover and learn when we travel – about ourselves and about the places we visit. The most valuable lesson I’ve learned while traveling is…

Travelling is freedom and adventure and education, all spun into one life-changing bundle. It is the love that will never fail me; the boyfriend that will never break my heart; the investment that always gives me far more return than what I put in. To travel is to dare greatly, love immensely, and live voraciously. My life has changed forever because of my choice to be a digital nomad and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Recently I’ve thought about how much inspiration and knowledge I gain from my favourite wanderers and so decided to feature them on my blog! So much of what I’ve experienced during my travels has been by word of mouth, another blog or an Instagram post/comment – advice that comes from first-hand experiences usually wins over any guide book available. I hope you gain a little something from their insights like I have!