My god, it seems like ages ago now, but in 2009, I set off on a round the world trip with two friends (who incidentally didn’t know each other), a wad of cash and a pair of rose tinted glasses.
I was 23 and still living at home. I had made the choice not to go to uni and instead had started my career at Virgin Holidays, first of all taking reservations over the phone and then finding my way into the marketing team, which I absolutely loved. I hated the idea of leaving my fledgling career but I knew it was now or never, so I cashed in my savings for a round the world ticket, quit my job and only then did I announce to my parents that I was going travelling.
My mum was devastated, but I stuck to my guns and within a couple of months I was standing at Heathrow with a backpack on my back and a few simple belongings ready to see the world. I wanted excitement, I wanted new experiences and most of all, I wanted freedom.
What followed was a whirlwind experience of planet earth that changed me forever. Every day I saw new things, met new people and those few months taught me some life lessons which I carry with me today.
Travelling through countries who really don’t place a lot of importance on time-keeping gives you a new perspective on having to wait an extra 3 minutes for that tube in London. When you’re relying on others to take you from A to B, there will inevitably be a few disagreements over scheduling, and you may have to wait for a few hours in a car park in the middle of nowhere for a bus connection, or your plane might be delayed for several hours whilst you wait for the pilot. This is OK.
For example, whilst travelling through Bolivia, we saw another public bus in trouble and stopped to give them our spare tyre. After all, the closest town was a two hour drive and traffic on the road was sparse, so the chance of help was practically zero. We drove away, commenting on how lucky they were that we were passing and wasn’t it great that our bus driver was such a nice guy, when twenty minutes down the road we blew a tyre. Obviously as our spare was now on another bus travelling in the opposite direction, we had no choice but to wait for 3 hours whilst someone came to our rescue. There is absolutely no point in getting stressed out in this type of situation. There is nothing that can be done, and actually it makes a pretty good story so you might as well just get on with it!
Most people in the world are happy, peaceful and generous. We wouldn’t have evolved into what we are today if this was not the case. However there is a small minority who will target tourists and travellers for financial gain, whether that’s in conducting a scam, deceiving trust or outright violent crime. Now I’m not saying that you should be completely suspicious of everyone you meet; more to conduct yourself with a healthy amount of caution.
An example of this happened to me in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After spending a couple of months in Spanish-speaking countries I was comfortable enough conversing with the locals and loved practising whenever I could. One night after having a few drinks in the hostel, I was walking to a nightclub with my travelling buddies when I got talking to a group of local girls who were eating a pizza. After sharing a few jokes we walked on, only to be covered by a disgusting goo. The girls behind were laughing and saying that a bat had just flown over and deposited itself all over us. They offered help, and produced some tissues. Despite us saying we were fine, they proceeded to wipe us down with these tissues, laughing away with us as they did so.
All of a sudden, I felt my purse being lifted from my bag. I knew it had gone, as I kept a couple of heavy (but small) padlocks for my suitcase in there, and the weight had been lifted from my bag’s strap. Instantly I saw red. I shouted in spanish at the girl, demanding my purse back. She denied all knowledge, so I grabbed her and took it back. In the confusion, her friends had removed my friend’s phone from her bag and as they ran away, we noticed the theft. I kicked off my flip flops and ran full-pelt after the cheeky little robbers, chasing them into a taxi. Unfortunately the taxi driver chose to believe them as they shouted that I was a crazy, deranged woman and as I hammered on the windows, the driver put the pedal to the metal and our thieves made their escape. That night taught me to be wary of others, even if they appear to be trying to help you. The suspected ‘bat poo’ was in fact chewed-up pizza cheese which they had spat over us. A classic move which I had been blissfully unaware of.
Lifelong friends can be made in a matter of hours
When you travel, you come across all sorts of people that you wouldn’t necessarily meet in everyday life. Some you’ll party with and then move on, some you’ll find unbelievably irritating, and some people you’ll click with instantly and their path crossing yours will leave a lasting impression. The very nature of travelling means that people are more open to making new friends and enjoying every day, but during my 8 months on the road, and on my various trips since then, I’ve met a handful of people who I now count as close friends.
I have met up with some of my travelling buddies in London since returning home, and we still share that strong bond which was formed whilst we enjoyed a more carefree existence. This is one of the reasons I love travelling so much. It opens you up to an entirely new community of new open-minded friends.
Living away from home and eating foods which your digestive tract is not used to, as well as drinking water from unfamiliar sources will ultimately lead to some kind of illness if you are away long enough. Despite your best efforts to avoid eating unsanitary food, you never do know exactly where it has come from and a bout of the ‘backdoor trots’ can leave you in a world of pain. Similarly, you might think you’re drinking safe, bottled water. However in some countries it’s commonplace for water bottles to be filled with tap water (or worse, water from a river or estuary), and then re-sealed so it looks like a fresh bottle.
My advice is to take plenty of anti-diarrhoea tablets with you, including those which dissolve on your tongue so you don’t have to take them with water. Obviously if your itinerary is taking you through more developed countries, such as Australia, New Zealand or the USA, this is not so much of a problem, but if aiming for South or Central American countries, or through Asia or Africa, it’s better to err on the safe side to avoid losing days to a case of the green apple nasties.
The world is a lot more expensive than people lead you to believe
Over the 8 months that I travelled, I spent around £18,000. Yes, you read that right. This appalling amount of money was well above what I had originally planned for when I set off. I’ve never been very good with money, and having a new suite of exciting new experiences at my fingertips proved too much for me; I just had to do EVERYTHING. I went skydiving, canyon-swinging, bungee jumping, paragliding, swam with wild dolphins, drove a van through Fraser Island and sailed the Whitsundays in Australia. OK, my trip was a little extreme, but even the 2 girls I travelled with spent a minimum of £13,000, and that was being fairly careful.
The truth is I completely underestimated how much the whole thing would cost. The cost of living in Australia and New Zealand for example is astronomical! A loaf of bread cost around $7 (£5) and a can of coke around $2 (£1.50) in the land of Oz. I soon burnt through my savings and had to be bailed out by my ever-doting grandpa. I’m not proud of this, and I know I was lucky to have someone who could help me complete my trip. Next time I won’t be so frivolous.
It’s OK to spend time alone
When I first left for my round the word trip, I was so used to spending time with people all the time. I had never lived away from home and I enjoyed a busy social life which meant I never spent much time on my own. It was actually a bit of a running joke amongst my friends that if I was ever walking somewhere on my own, they could expect a call from me so I wouldn’t feel so alone whilst walking.
Although I travelled with two friends, there were times where you felt completely alone. When travelling between places there were hours at a time where you could sit and think, and really get lost inside yourself for a while. These moments allowed me to grow up a little, and to figure out who I really was, and who I wanted to be. I wouldn’t have changed this ‘internal’ time for anything. Thanks to this time I am now completely self-assured and have had a complete U-turn. Now I actually enjoy spending time by myself. It’s funny how travelling can change a person isn’t it?
Try to live life less selfishly
When you travel you won’t just be exposed to new and beautiful landscapes, you’ll also meet some people who will change your view of humankind. It’s easy to become stuck in your own little bubble where you go to work every day, see your friends, maybe head to the gym, and then start all over again. But when you travel you come across people who have daily struggles just to survive, or have been dealt a hand so awful that it puts your cushy life into perspective.
I was lucky enough to be born and raised in England, where people love to moan, but it’s actually a pretty great place to live. Healthcare is free, women can walk the streets feeling safe, we have access to clean drinking water and safe food, and to put it bluntly, things could be a hell of a lot worse.
When I was travelling I saw poverty, sickness and loneliness, and it made me feel guilty about the way I was living my life. I didn’t stop for long enough to make a big difference to these people’s lives, but I helped where I could, for example, taking rice to orphans in Cambodia (see top image), or visiting an orphanage in Peru to give a little time and money. It was nowhere near enough of course. But what I saw has given me a different view of the world and allowed me to step outside my selfish bubble.
I could go on all day about the effects of travel on a person’s wellbeing, but I’ll stop there. Are you an advocate of travel to broaden the mind? Why not share what you’ve learned from travelling in the comments box below?