Most people, and by that I mean the incredibly small sample size that is my own group of friends and acquaintances, find themselves reaching 30 fairly settled in to their careers, relationships, families. Some have had kids of their own, some have taken their first, second and third steps on the property ladder, and I’d say a fair proportion would deem themselves fully “grown out” of any aspiration to strap their life to their back and fly off to some far flung place.
And don’t get me wrong, that’s certainly not an indictment on them or anyone fitting that description, I just seem to have taken a different approach. Since becoming single I’ve made travel more or less a priority in my life, just behind food, shelter and family.
I’ve been doing this for a few years now; fitting as much travel as I can in and around my career as a construction professional. It’s not easy to get the time and it certainly doesn’t come cheap starting each new adventure from the UK, but it works for now until I can finance some more long-term travel.
So what small nuggets of wisdom have I gleaned from all of this so far?
1. You are not as useless as you might assume
This is personal but I think a lot of people will relate. How many times has your day routine been thrown out of whack for some reason – a cancelled train or a car break down, for instance – and how much has it thrown you for a loop? I can attest to simply taking days off work for less, because the alternative – finding some other way to get to the office – just seemed too daunting to bother with.
Well that sort of stuff happens on the road…all. the. time!
And you know how you deal with it all? You just crack on. Because you have to.
A favourite of mine is making a last minute decision to visit Japan in January, straight from Australia. I had no plans and not much clue other than a booked flight to Osaka and a night in a hostel. Somewhere. I turned up at the airport needing a train, realising I had no idea where I needed to go, no idea what any of the signs even said – and the fact that far fewer people spoke English than I had expected. Also, Japan is cold in January. Australia very much is not. I had failed to properly account for this.
The next day I woke up in my hostel, because despite all of that, I’d just cracked on and found a way to make the journey. It wasn’t difficult or dangerous, just a little testing, but you can bet your arse it felt like an achievement!
And FYI: Uni Qlo is amazing!
2. Your social awkwardness need not follow you around the world!
Seriously. I can walk into a bar in London, spend 4 hours sipping beer and not engage a soul in conversation. I’ll see a vaguely recognisable face from a distance and actively avoid any encounter. My dating game is weak. A. F.
But put me in a hostel in South East Asia for an hour, I’ll walk out with a group of new drinking buddies from any background you can imagine, male AND female.
It really is an amazing thing, how easy it is to strike up conversations with people in these situations, and how many will actively engage in conversation with you. Especially when you are on your own.
I’ve had countless conversations with people at home that have started with them explaining that they’d love to do what I do, but they just don’t have the confidence, or they’re scared that they will be on their own the whole time. The beauty of all of this is that you can be on your own purely on your own terms, and when you’re ready to socialise you can.
Also – beer helps.
3. You are not as old as you feel
Honestly this is probably one of the main reasons I love doing this so much. Back at home, as a guy in his 30’s, at that stage in his career where real responsibilities exist, and where people really see authority in (some of) the things he says – plus the fact all his mates are now married off with children of their own, you can start to feel a bit past it.
The fear that embarking on a backpacking trip as someone out of their twenties will leave you looking like that creepy old guy you always used to see at the club, is painfully real.
But fear not my not-yet-grey friends. It’s not like that at all.
Obviously you will have large groups of people fresh out of their teens in the places you’ll stay, but equally there will be people in their 40’s and 50’s. Most of the time all of these people get on just fine and age is very, very rarely mentioned. There’s no age limit to any of this, and no one is judging. There’s pretty much always someone else older, more drunk and much more embarrassing than you anyway!
But if you are the oldest, drunkest person in the room, please message me. You are a legend and I would like to buy you a beer.
4. Other people are always the greatest source of learning and understanding
I live in Britain. I’ve always felt a little naive when it comes to my knowledge of the wider world, and in a lot of respects I still do, however my view of that world has shifted immeasurably since I began travelling. It’s now less a collection of countries that are “bad” or “good” or “safe” or anything else, its an immensely large group of very real people, all with their own story.
One of the greatest things about travelling on a budget and staying in hostels is that you meet some of these people. I remember sitting at a table at a hostel in the Philippines talking with a group of guys whose names are long forgotten, but two were Saudis, on Philippines, one English and a Chinese guy. We weren’t talking politics or economics or anything remotely of that scale. As far as I remember it we were talking about girls. It might not seem much but now whenever I hear about those countries on the news I remember those guys, and the connection we had over a beer and a very common theme…
The world just seems a slightly better place, and if that’s me being naive, well I’m happily so.
5. Travel makes you awesome!
Ok, bit rich maybe, but there is some truth there.
How about the added strength of character from making your own way all over the shop on a budget tighter than a gnats chuff?
How about being the resident expert in your social group for foreign food, beer and oddly named global currencies?
What about having the best anecdotes, like that time you hilariously woke up on a Thai beach covered in dayglo paint and no clue how you got there? See!
Also, there is greatness in the realisation that money spent on experiences rather than things is the best. Yes, your car may not be a top of the range Mercedes and you might not have the latest iPhone, but fuck it you used the money to buy flights so who’s winning really?