When I first went travelling I believed every ounce of travel rhetoric, that travel would change me, that it would be the most important thing I could do with my time and that I would be a lesser person without the experience. While I look back and consider my intentions a little naïve, all of the above was true in my case. It completely changed my life. Through travel, I found meaning, structure and an entire fraternity of like minded people.
But while my heart still feels the same way about travel, my head has changed. While it may only have been five years since my first big trip, I am not the same person who arrived one evening in Khao San Road with two enormous bags, no hotel reservation and no plan to think of. The years have helped me to look with real hindsight at my travels, not with the rose tinted spectacles of a poor traveller desperate not to go home. To mark this change, I wanted to share with my readers how I feel travel has changed for me, and I’m sure many of you will be able to identify with at least some of these points.
You Get What You Pay For
Like many travellers on a budget, the first – and arguably most important – factor in choosing something to do while on the road is cost. As a broke backpacker, when I arrived in Thailand I was put off by things I considered pricey. I never went on that Flight of the Gibbons tour in Chiang Mai and I opted out of the various trekking tours that Northern Thailand is famous for. At the time, I was happy to save a few Baht here and there by avoiding these experiences, but I look back now and feel differently. I might never see these places again, do I really want to avoid doing something just because of the price tag?
Money is, of course, a big factor for everyone, but when it comes to experience, you can’t short-change yourself to save few bucks. When I travel now, I keep myself open to everything, regardless of cost. While I’m probably not going to be writing about helicopter trips anytime soon, I realise now that spending a little bit more can get you a lot back.
Research Research Research
As I previously mentioned, when I arrived in Bangkok a fresh faced 21-year-old (see above) I was completely without even the vaguest plan. I was an adolescent citizen of the world, and I knew it even then. My first few days consisted of frantically scouring my Lonely Planet book, looking at new places to stay and plotting out a hasty last-minute route; I was quite literally winging it across the world. Many people might enjoy this style of travel, viewing it as spontaneous and exciting. The reality for me however, was a night spent in a bed bug infested dorm room. I’ve been unlucky enough to be attacked by these vicious insects a number of times, on one such occasion I arrived in the morning, had a nap and found by early afternoon I was covered in itchy red bites. Not planning anything in advance meant I was free to go anywhere I pleased, but when I arrived I had no idea the quality of the place I would be spending the night.
Nowadays, in part due to my lovely partner Kasha (the brains of the outfit) planning is a big part of the trip. It gets us excited about what’s in store, helps us to pack in awesome sights, things to do and gives us the solid reassurance of a clean, comfortable bed after a long day. I look back and think I must have been crazy to travel the way I did, missing out on seeing so many incredible things simply because I couldn’t be bothered to research.
Who I Travel With
When I left university I instinctively knew I wanted to travel. I don’t know what sparked the desire, but it was suddenly the most important thing in my life. None of my friends wanted to join me, and I anxiously accepted that this was something I had to do on my own. So I did. I travelled solo and it was one of the best experiences of my life and it has shaped everything I’ve done since. But while it was fun to be completely independent for a while, things have changed.
My travel accomplice Kasha and I have been to 10 countries and many dozens of cities together. The richness of each trip with her is threefold what I could ever hope for on a solo trip, because I have someone I love to share the experience with. I was happy to be a solo traveller, but who really wants to be a solo traveller if you have the option to do so with loved ones? Whether it’s opening the doors to travelling with my parents again (after a 10 year ban), adventures with my brothers in Snowdon or travelling with friends; I consider these options equally, if not more, rewarding than travel with me myself and I.
Travel is Not a Competition
Everyone has come into contact with them, usually as they prop up the hostel bar, lightly bragging about the destinations they’ve ‘done’ in an attempt to wow anyone within earshot. As a wide-eyed virgin backpacker I looked with awe at these meandering nomads, hoping I could one day emulate their lifestyle. However, in the grand scheme of things someone who has travelled to just a handful of cities can easily have experienced a greater richness in their journey than someone who has travelled widely yet seen little.
Travel is not the numbers it’s the knowledge, the experiences, the learning and the people you meet along the way. It’s easy to forget that travel means different things to different people, but it is most certainly not a race to 196 countries. Whether you are heading to Skegness or Sri Lanka, travel is personal and precious.
What it Means to Me
As any 21-year-old might, I considered travel a romantic escape from the tedium of a 9-5 job, which was in my case a retail assistant role in John Lewis. So when I started to travel, I believed the mantra spouted by nomads that I could continue on the road indefinitely. This idea that I could almost bypass life’s difficulties entirely was alluring, making me desperate to delay my return home as long as humanly possible.
So when my working visa for New Zealand finally ran out, I felt numb. I’d been living for months in Wanaka, a sleepy commune in the South Island, surrounded by majestic mountains and a serene lake. I had a job working as a bartender in a backpacker bar and I my saw friends every day, but something was missing. I returned to England to work as a waiter, with my only plan to save enough money to return to Australia.
I recognise now that I harboured an intoxicating urge to travel, to leave everything behind; life’s responsibilities, career prospects and even my dreams. I was a magician, with the power to click my fingers and disappear, resurfacing halfway across the world with a completely new identity. But soon it dawned on me, what am I running from? I was afraid of the world, and through my actions I downright rejected the possibilities life gave me.
Now, I’ve built a solid foundation. I’ve followed my passions, progressing from waiting tables to writing about travel for some of the UK’s biggest travel companies. I’ve grabbed opportunities, creating this blog as a creative outlet and sharing my stories with anyone willing to read them. And finally, I’ve met someone special who shares my view of the world. Travel is no longer an escape from life, it’s an opportunity to enrich the one I’ve created. I cherish every day the privilege I have to travel, because I’m one of a very small percentage of people in the world who have the ability to do so. I try to treasure small moments, the fragrance of the air, the feel of sand between my toes or the sounds of a city at dawn. I love this planet and I will always remind myself just how lucky I am to have the chance to see so much of it.
Why do you travel? Have you noticed a change in the way you travel over the years? Share your thoughts by commenting below.
Need a giggle after all that serious stuff? Check out my guide to dealing with dogs in Thailand.