I had two numbers written in thick black marker across my wrist, and I was not happy about it. The thick marker had the type of ink that stains for days; the type of marker preferred by graffiti artists and people marking boxes when moving house; the type of marker hostel-grade soap and hand sanitiser couldn’t budge for the next few days.


The reason I had the two numbers written across my arm was that I was about to jump off Bloukrans River Bridge in South Africa. At 216 metres, it is the highest commercially available bungee jump in the world on what was also considered the world’s largest single span concrete arch bridge. A fear of heights and want of adrenaline had driven me to sign up for bungee jumping the bridge, but it was the number written on my wrist that was first and foremost on my mind.


In order to throw you off the bridge with an elastic bungee cord in a safe manner, each person is weighed and their weight factors into the length of the bungee cord they use. That’s all fine and good, but there are few things more horrible for a girl-no matter how well-adjusted and confident she is- than having someone writing her weight on her body. And the black marker written on my arm was a clearer indication as any that I’d done what I’d dreaded: I’d packed on the pounds on my RTW.


68 kilos.


When I’d left home seven months earlier, I’d weighed under 60 kilos. Seven months of rice, beans, chicken and fried plantains down one coast of South America, and a hefty indulgence in Argentinian steak up the other side, had led me to this weighty problem of a double-digit gain.


Sure, for a little while I could have blamed the industrial dryers used in Colombia, Ecuador and Chile for shrinking my once-perfectly fitting travel clothes. Or I could have been honest with myself that a change in diet, excess consumption of alcohol, a change in routine and the unfortunate tendency of the only affordable food being greasy fast food meant that I had put on the pounds.


Still, I could also have stopped and appreciated the fact that maybe, just maybe, I had packed on the pounds because I was happy. Eating has always been an emotional issue for me- as I assume it is for every woman I’ve ever met. Before I left on my round the world trip, job and relationship stress had keep my 5”11 frame fairly skinny.


“You need to eat more” my friends and family said, poking at my ribs. “You need to lose some weight” my then-boyfriend said. The exhaustion of being a prodded this way and that about what I weighed kept me firmly on skinny side.


My body seemed to follow one rule: when I was happy, I packed on weight, when I was skinny, it was generally because I was miserable. But it took me until I was standing on the bridge in South Africa about to jump to work his out.


Here’s the real reason I had put on so much weight on the road: I was happy. In seven months on the road I’d rescued baby sea turtles in Costa Rica, swam with sharks in the Galapagos, camped with the Colombian military in the jungle north of Cartagena, hiked to the top of Wayna Pichu to overlook an ancient city, dragged my increasingly large butt across the W circuit in Patagonia, walked across a glacier, rode horses across the plains in Argentina and shopped for bigger sized clothes in Rio.


I’d never been more active in my life, and never had so much fun. I wasn’t unfit. I wasn’t fat. I was happy- and my weight gain was proof of that. So with that increasingly comforting idea in my head, I counted down from three and jumped, letting my screaming body. I had earned every one of those kilos, and every one of those kilos had ended up being well worth it.


So yes, you may gain a little weight while on the road. Your pants may become a little tighter and the bungee cord may ever so slightly have to be adjusted for your extra few pounds. But that's probably because you had a few extra pints with new friends, ate amazing food you know you'll never be able to taste back home, and filled your belly with experiences.  And you might have to consider that yes, you can measure happiness by how little your clothes fit once you return home.



By Shaney Hudson