Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a very open-minded guy. It wasn’t always like that though. My views and opinions on the world and it’s inhabitants slowly evolved over the years. Living in various different places helped. I was born and raised in Birmingham, England which has a rich history of cultures, mainly from Ireland, Pakistan, India and the Caribbean.
I then lived in Malta for 7 years which exposed me to a completely different culture and thinking. Finally I settled in London, a city that can rightly be classed as the world’s capital. Living in all of these different places slowly began to expand my mind and thinking, but it was travel that truly changed me.
I guess it began way back in 1989 when I went on a school skiing trip to Brasov, Romania. At the time, the Berlin Wall was still up and the Soviet Union was still a superpower. The dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was ruling Romania with an iron fist when we arrived in March of 1989. He was overthrown by people power in the December of the same year. So, according to the Western media and politicians, we were visiting “the enemy”.
I had no idea what Romania or it’s people were like. I was 13 at the time and all I was interested in was football and girls. (Some would say, not much has changed then!) After a week in Brasov my outlook on Eastern Europe had completely changed. The Romanians welcomed us with open arms and we had a week of fun and laughter.
However, we did see the darker side to life during our trip. Kids my age and younger would hang outside our hotel every night asking for food. On a trip to Bran Castle we came across one of the infamous orphanage’s that was about to explode into Western consciences. When I got back to England, I realized how lucky I was that I had a roof over my head, food on the table and Parents that loved me. I also realized that you should not believe everything you read in the news. The people of Romania were just like me. They wanted the same things I wanted. They were no enemy of mine. That Romania trip planted the seeds to how I think now.
Fast forward 26 years (man, I am getting old) and I still see the ignorance in newspaper & t.v. news reporting.
When we travelled overland from Europe to Asia, I had never stayed in a hostel, let alone considered couchsurfing. As our travel budget was so low, I knew we would have to use hostels to make our trip last. At first I insisted on only sleeping in private rooms, the thought of dorm rooms in hostels felt so wrong. Yet, within two months of travelling we had stayed in dorm rooms, university accommodation and even some strangers house for free in Seoul. Two months of travel was all it took to expand my mind to different types of accommodation. Now my criteria for a room is: Does it have a bed? Is it clean?
In those 18 months we had lifts from strangers, countless meals and food from strangers and even trips with strangers. I would never of felt comfortable doing these things at the beginning of the trip. Travel changed all that.
We all have our preconceptions. Before we visited Russia, I imagined that the country would be one of my least favourites. I don’t know why I thought that, I just did. Russia turned out to be the biggest surprise of our trip. The country is beautiful and the people were extremely helpful. If I had not travelled to Russia, my preconceptions would still be the same. It was the same with Mexico. So many friends and family were telling us to be careful in Mexico because of all the drug gangs. I don’t blame them for thinking that the whole of Mexico is unsafe, after all, most Hollywood movies depict Mexico as some hell hole with people desperate to leave. Hollywood could not be more wrong. Mexico is an amazing country with the most vibrant and fun people we have ever met. Our Mexican friends would never want to leave to move to the US. Why would they? They live amazing lives in an amazing place.
So many of our beliefs about people and places are formed over many years of media exposure. It’s not until we travel to these places and meet the people for ourselves can we truly know what we are talking about, and even then we will only have a snapshot of a country and it’s people. After visiting so many places, I don’t see myself as English/Maltese/European. I see myself as Human. Thousands of years ago, there was no England/Malta/Europe. There was just humans wandering the Earth looking for food and shelter. Not much has changed really, no matter how much we pretend it has in our skyscrapers and man-made islands. Many people around the world are still wandering the Earth looking for food and shelter. Man created maps and put lines on them but from space there are no lines, there is just land and the oceans.
Before I end this post, I want to share some of the words from the last entry on our first ever blog. I think they capture the spirit of what travel is truly about:
Hello everyone! Part of me still can’t believe that this is the final blog entry of our 18 month trip. I’d been dreaming of one day taking a year off to travel since 2006. It took years to finally decide to make it happen, but I’m convinced I did it at the right time, and best of all with the right person.
18 months ago Paul and I had a choice to make. We could invest our savings into a deposit for a new house, or we could invest the lot into seeing the world. There’s only one way to make big decisions like these. When I’m 90 years old, rocking on my chair which memories will I cherish the most?
So now that we’re on our way back to London, homeless, jobless and deposit-less, how do I feel about my decision? Very emotional – these 18 months have been an incredible insight into the wonders of this world, into the beautiful human spirit and into what it truly feels like to be alive and free.
And yet I’ve also learnt that access to luxury is not what makes us happy. I know we hear this all the time, but I had to see Laotian children happily playing in the river, not a stitch on their bodies but eyes full of joy, to truly appreciate it.
I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to up and leave for 18 months. I’ve had a chance to break free from the automatic rituals and routines we build for ourselves without questioning, and I’ve had a chance to question them.
There’s been one common theme in all the countries we’ve seen and all the people we’ve met. Be it a Chinese girl holding her Grandma’s hand, a Russian man giving us his food, a Vietnamese woman showing us a wonderful view, a Japanese man walking the opposite way he was going to help us when we were lost, and countless other experiences, we’ve seen there’s love in this world. And when we take the time to show it to others, it creates magic in the air and peace in our soul.
So this is it! Our final blog entry.
Wow, 18 months on the road. It feels a lot, lot longer. We go back completely different people to when we left. Our minds are more open, our hearts are warmed by the humanity we’ve seen around the world and our bodies are ready to change the world. Watch out England!
As you have read on this blog, we have had the most amazing experience. Yet, words or photos really cannot describe what you feel when you do a trip of this magnitude. I will give it a shot but I fear it will fall short.
The first thing that comes instantly to mind is that you feel alive, really alive. You feel and know that you are actually living every day to the max as opposed to just existing. The sense of freedom is wonderful, so much so that when Karen & I get home we will fight and fight and fight to keep it. I love the slowness of everything. I love the fact that I can actually sit and talk to people whilst having breakfast / lunch / dinner. I mean really talk too and not worry what time it is, or if I am missing that shit program on t.v. that I will forget about the instant it ends.
Strangers are friends that you have not met yet. How true that is when you are travelling. We have made some incredible friendships on this journey with people from all over the world. All because we felt open enough to say ” hello”.
Don’t believe the news! The world and its people are a lot safer than you are led to believe. We have been in places where volcanoes and earthquakes happen so regularly that they barely register any interest and we have been treated with kindness, love and unbelievable generosity in so-called “places to be careful”.
“I don’t have the money to travel” Not so my friend! You can easily live on £15 a day in Asia. We would have spent more if we had stayed in England on shit that we don’t need. What will we remember on our deathbeds, the new t.v. we bought or swimming with Whale Sharks? Ermmm.
I am not saying travel is for everyone. It is not. We had some tough days and slept in some truly awful places but what I am saying is this: Don’t let assumptions stop you from living the life you want.
Nothing on this trip has shown me that we have more than one life (no matter what our Buddhist friends in Asia say), so we’d better make sure we are actually LIVING it!!! Get off the sofa, turn off bloody X-Factor/ Celebrity / Talent and get out there! It does not even have to be far. The world is full of surprises just around the corner. Rant over!
Karen & I will do our best to lead by example and if we go off the rails I give you all permission to give us a kick up the arse. Thank you so much for all the lovely comments you have left on this blog and thank you for reading it. We have tried to give you a glimpse of what we were going through these past 18 months. We hope you enjoyed it.
But wait! Do you honestly think this would be the one and only trip that Karen & I do? Come on, you know us better than that. So all I can say to all you wonderful people is this….
To be continued…………………
Reading these words 3 years after they were written makes me smile. We truly have kept to our promise and made sure we still have that freedom.
I like to think that travel has made me a better human being, one that has more understanding and empathy for other people and cultures. I have learnt a lot but there is always more to learn.
Where shall we go next to learn about the world?