Wanderlust blogger and avid traveller Alastair Humphreys gives advice for new adventurers who just need a little prod
Catching up on some podcasts last week I learned that the final combatant from World War One has now died. Claude Choules was 110. It is poignant that the last thread connecting us directly with those lunatic years has been severed. And it is fascinating to reflect on a life that witnessed so much change in our world.
But what really struck me in an interview recorded with Mr Choules shortly before his death was when he said, “I don’t regret anything about my life. I have had a wonderful life. If I was to have my time over again I would do everything the same.”
Wow. More Edith Piaf (“Je ne regrette rien”) than Frank Sinatra (“I’ve had a few”)...
I have written that sentence on a piece of paper and pinned it above my desk. For what a fabulous mantra to try to live by it is. I mention this today because people are often anxious about committing to go travelling. From my experience I feel that some of the common concerns are valid, whilst others are not. And I think that there is one concern that is far more important and which overshadows all of the negative ones: you don’t want to reach the end of your life and have regrets about not making that special trip you have always dreamed of.
So today I’m going to try to give any new adventurers a little prod towards going for it, and arming you with a decent argument to throw back at naysayers, worried mums, and the little voices in your head!
I am aware of course that sometimes you may have genuine difficulties in doing the travels you dream of. So please forgive me if I sound a little flippant. I’m not, I am just trying to play down the difficulties and accentuate the positives of heading for the open road.
You will probably never have enough money for your travels. You could always save for a bit longer to be able to afford that slightly nicer hotel or an extra stop-off on your round the world ticket. But don’t let saving for your trip eventually take over from actually doing the trip!
Don’t get old and catch yourself saying “I planned a big adventure once, but it never actually happened. I was saving and saving and then... (insert appropriate boring excuse here).”
I spent four years cycling round the world and spent just £7,000. I did not choose to do it on such a shoestring. I just preferred to get going and make it happen rather than risk delaying and delaying and never beginning.
Four years of banana sandwiches was a small price to pay for eking out my money into four years of memories. I walked 600 miles through southern India for £500 more recently. And £300 of that was the plane ticket!
“Now’s not the right time.”
“I can’t spare the time."
We’re not all going to live to 110. Carpe Diem, seize the cliche, do whatever it takes but just commit to a start date and BEGIN! Sure, you’ll miss someone’s 40th birthday party or won’t quite get the cheapest season for flying, or you’ll hit the monsoon in Madagascar. So what! At least you’re on your way. And as for not being able to spare the time! Crikey this one baffles me! You are not wasting your time going travelling: you are USING it!
I’ll give a little leeway on this one... A lot of the world is pretty stinky. If you go in an interesting way to interesting parts of the world you’ll encounter “interesting” toilets, “interesting” food, and probably the odd “interesting” dash for a loo. But you will very soon realise that a few vaccinations in advance and a few sensible precautions work wonders. And you don’t need to be unadventurous: sizzling hot street food in Saigon is safer, more fun and delicious than a salad in a swish hotel.
Don’t wander strange streets late at night, don’t get drunk and ride a moped, don’t think that riding on the roof of a chicken bus is the safest place to be (though it IS the most fun place to be).
Apart from a few sensible precautions like this I can promise you that most of the time in most places you go in the world you will feel safe, maybe even more safe than you do in your home country. And this is particularly true of places that sound “scary”. For example I get regular emails from people worried about travelling in Iran. And I get regular emails from the same people telling me how amazing the hospitality and welcome was once they actually went to see for themselves.
I often get lonely, homesick, even bored on my travels. But when I return home I find that everyone is reassuringly unchanged. I promise you that you won’t miss out on much if you go away for a month or two. Everyone will still be here, they’ll love you just as much, and you might even appreciate your family a bit more when you get back. And of course Skype and Facebook are always there if you’re longing for a familiar face.
These adventures and experiences and lessons will be so valuable to you in all aspects of your life. If your employer can’t appreciate that then you should go work for someone else. Life is a-flying. Don’t waste your opportunities. Most of us are fortunate enough that we’ll be able to find some sort of work, somewhere: you’re not going to starve to death. So go for it! Hand in your notice. Take the chance...
Knowing nothing about a place does not mean that it is a scary or difficult place to visit. On the contrary! It means that you surely need to go there to fill in the blanks. And, surprise surprise, once you arrive in Scaryland you will discover that they have shops and buses and beds for the night. They have shops that sell food and medicine. And they probably all love David Beckham and Lady Diana. You’ll be just fine. So don’t let a lack of knowledge put you off. Try to flip it round and see it as an exciting opportunity.
I am well aware that there are more important and noble things to do with your time and your money than going on an adventure, but they are topics for a different website to this one.
There might be better things to do with your time and money but there certainly are not many things better! I have learned more on my travels than I ever learned in school. I’ve spent thousands of pounds in poor parts of the world that needed my money. I’ve built up a range of skills and experiences that make me more employable than I was before I began travelling.
Finally, of course, if you head to far-flung lands and discover that you actually hate the wandering life and it’s not for you, then you can always come home again. It’s better to try it, find it’s not for you and come home than to reach 110 and regret not having made that journey. I want to reach the age of 111 and be able to say “I don’t regret anything about my life. I have had a wonderful life. If I was to have my time over again I would do everything the same.” Make your choice, adventurous stranger; ring the bell and bide the danger. Or wonder, till it drives you mad, What would have followed if you had...
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