Toni White, Founder of Reclaiming Your Future

 Toni at her favourite place in the world, the Bondai to Coogee coastal walk in Sydney, Australia

Toni at her favourite place in the world, the Bondai to Coogee coastal walk in Sydney, Australia

1) Hi Toni, and congratulations on being a globelle gal in focus! Where in the world could we find you now? 

I’m currently living the oceanic life in Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia.

2) What inspired you to first start travelling? 

Weirdly, I don’t think I ever experienced a ‘lightbulb’ moment of inspiration to hit the road. Rather, my desire to start traveling stemmed from a conversation with a friend discussing her impending trip around Asia.

We emailed back and forth about her upcoming trip, discussing the places she had decided to go to. Receiving the photos and links of where she was heading, l found myself saying ‘I wish I could go’. Her response was simply – why can’t you?! The cogs in my head finally began to turn. It made me sit up and realise how unhappy I had been in my long-term relationship and that I had no ties to stop me if I was brave enough to book the ticket.

Travelling has been part of my life from a very young age though. My father lived on an island off of the coast of France following my parents’ divorce while my mother and I lived on mainland UK.  From the age of six, I flew by myself every school holiday to see him. I guess you could say solo travel has been in my blood since my main packing essentials were a teddy bear and a colouring book!

3) What's been your favourite place to visit, and why?

Sub-Sahara Africa.  I backpacked/camped through 6 countries from South Africa to Kenya and it was the best experience of my life. I saw nature at its most raw.  There are no words to describe the emotions going through you when you’re inches away from elephants and leopards, falling asleep in your tent to the sounds of zebras and lions calling to each other. 

Those 7 weeks changed my life and the continent stole my soul; there isn’t a day goes by that I don’t wish to be back amongst the dirt of the land and the call of the wildlife.  I would trade in everything I had to live the simple life amongst the animals and the adventures available there.  

4) Obviously life on the road is about fewer possessions and more moments, but what is the one thing you cannot travel without? 

I was trying to think of a way of saying ‘my iPhone’ without receiving a roll of the eyes or being labelled a ‘flashpacker’ but truthfully, it is.  And no, it’s not because I can check into Facebook and brag about where I am.

I can’t travel without my iPhone because it’s my creative world; it’s the piece of equipment I use to capture both photographic memories and where I can write ideas or even entire articles when I’m on the move and inspiration hits.  It’s the modern-day version of carrying a sketchpad and notebook. I love nothing more than to stop mid-run to take a photo of a sunset and write down how I'm feeling in that moment; to read back those emotions days or even weeks later make me realise why I love to travel so much!

5) Who has been the most influential person to your travels, and why?

My mum.  It sounds so cliché but she taught me from a young age to be independent and to attempt to push through my fears and live despite them.  She threw herself out of a plane when she was in her 40s and would always be the first one to pull me on to a theme park ride when I was nervous.

She taught me that it’s ok to be scared; that the fear is fleeting and that true living lies on the other side of it. 

There is a saying that a good parent will give you the ‘roots to ground you and wings to fly’ and I believe that. I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher.  

6) What is the worst thing to happen to you on the road? And how did you deal with it?

Six weeks after arriving in Sydney I became sick and, though I didn't know it at the time, I was about to become very sick. A whole host of symptoms lead to urgent CT scans, ultrasounds and turning yellow with jaundice. After five months of misdiagnoses ranging from stomach cancer to food poisoning and allergies, I was told I needed urgent surgery to remove my gallbladder. Though they didn't recommend it, after months of losing faith in the doctors, I decided to fly home for the procedure so that I could be around a support network if there were any complications.

The day after I landed my doctor told me that it wasn't my gallbladder at all but my liver as originally suspected. Two weeks later, I was in a specialist’s office being diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune illness of the liver. I won't lie, I was a sobbing mess for days wondering what I had done to deserve this. It was a dark time, and I believed I would never be able to travel again, but after a long, large dose of steroids and daily medication, supportive friends and family, I made it back out to Australia to continue my dream! 

 The photo of Toni that saw a viral response on facebook 

The photo of Toni that saw a viral response on facebook 

7) A while ago you had an uncomfortable experience concerning body image from which you were able to raise awareness of this important issue. Can you tell us some more about what happened? How have you dealt with the response to this?

I was running along the coastal path between Bondi and Bronte in Sydney, Australia which I was doing 4-6 times a week at the time. When I stopped to stretch, a woman walking past ‘suggested’ I was a little too big to only be running in a crop top and given that I don’t have any boobs to speak of, I knew exactly what she was talking about. I was so shocked I didn’t fully realise what she’d said until I’d started running again and that’s when the anger and hurt kicked in.  I was angry that she felt she was allowed to comment on a strangers body so rudely and hurt because she reinforced all the insecurities I felt about my body and living in such a ‘body beautiful’ suburb. 

Last year I gained almost two dresses due to the high-dose, long term steroids I had to take for my liver issue. At the time I had often felt too weak to exercise, so when I moved back to Bondi, I was physically and mentally ready to get fit and lose the weight.  I went from being unable to run half a kilometre without struggling to 5km several times a week.

I was so incredibly proud of this achievement (HQ: As she should be!) but her one comment took that all away from me – for about 30 minutes.  I realised the most important things about what had happened. She had no idea what my body had been through in the last year, Her opinion was not a fact. Her words said far more about herself and her insecurities than they ever did about me. 

I took a photo of myself in the mirror when I got back from that run.  I posted it to my facebook community of 300 people, asserting that whilst I had fat, I wasn't fat. I acknowledged that I had curves and I was busy working on them for myself.

When I woke up the next day the post had been seen by almost 650,000 people, with over 800 supportive comments and was liked by nearly 13,000 people. I felt overwhelmed with love and the affirmation that most people in this world are truly wonderful.

8) Since being on the road, you started your own initiative: Reclaiming Your Future. How did this come about? What inspired you to do this?

 I've always been the person most of my friends turn to when times get hard and they've needed someone to talk to. I wanted to somehow combine my ability to listen to their issues and offer (in their opinion, not mine!) good advice with my passion for writing.

I'd been thinking about starting the website for a while but ironically it was when I lost my Australian dream and my health, that I finally found the required drive to launch it. I was so emotionally lost having returned home and receiving my diagnosis that waking up each day having the website to work on became my therapy. It gave me purpose. Over a year later, all of these statements remain true!

9) What does Reclaiming Your Future hope to achieve, and how?

 The website is about learning from the past, living in the present and hoping for the future. It is there to teach people that it's ok not to be ok and that everyone struggles with life whether they are open about it or not.

I want people to be able to become more honest and vulnerable with each other; to realise that we are all facing battles and that with a little bit of support, understanding and good friends, we can help each other get through the most difficult times.

10) What does travelling mean to you?

Facing yourself head on. Travel strips away all of the distractions we put in our lives: the socialising, the drinking, the movies we watch, the fashion we buy. When it's just you and your backpack in a new destination facing sensory overload, it tests you. It makes you see your strengths and weaknesses; it affirms old ones and allows us to see new ones. Travelling allows you the time and perspective to quietly unpack all your emotional baggage and pack it up again neatly once you have learnt from it. There is no better educator than the world and our individual paths through it. 

11) If you could offer one piece of advice to those considering travelling for the first time, either solo or as part of a group, what would it be?

Push yourself. You're going to feel scared, lonely, stressed, anxious, overwhelmed; you name it, you're going to feel it. The absolute best advice I can give you is to be aware of how you feel but attempt to push through it. Be scared of jumping out of a plane but realise that it's going to be an experience you'll be talking about for months or even years. Feel lonely with your tears after a stressful day of travel but know that you are not alone. Be homesick and know that you can go back whenever you like but accept that, like most emotions, they will pass and you will be ok again soon.

12) How can people follow your journey, and become involved with Reclaiming Your Future?

You can head over to my website www.reclaimingyourfuture.com, check out the amazingly supportive community we have on Facebook (www.facebook.com/reclaimingyourfuture) and follow me on Instagram (www.instagram.com/reclaimingyourfuture) to hear about mental health and life on a real level whilst I encourage you to live your life one step at a time!

 The sunrise at Bondai that Toni currently enjoys on her morning runs

The sunrise at Bondai that Toni currently enjoys on her morning runs