Three years. 1095 days. 26,280 hours. You get the idea… we’ve been travelling for a long time now.
Three years ago today Carmen and I set off from our home in London for a fortnight in Croatia with my parents then jetted off to Toronto to start an indefinite period of travel.
Three years and nineteen countries (and counting) later, we can hardly believe how the time has flown. And oh the places we’ve been….
Our travels have taken us to many amazing places – black sand beaches, bustling cities that never sleep, jungles, deserts, mountains and land flat as a tack.
Croatia, Canada, The United States, Puerto Rico, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Bolivia, Peru, The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Tasmania, Melbourne and Sydney, Bali, The Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan.
Coming up, we’ll be heading to Borneo in Malaysia before returning to Bali and then back our home in Australia. From there, who knows?
In our time away we’ve launched a business, Red Platypus, written articles for top travel publications, written books, pursued dreams, made scores of great friends and see and done some things that etch deeper than any tattoo.
So to celebrate three big years on the road, we’ve come up with three big lessons. Because what’s the point of a journey if there’s nothing to show for it?
1. It gets easier to say hello and harder to say goodbye
When we first left Australia, we were jumping out of our skins to move to London. And when it came time to leave that grey-skied city and seek the sun around the world, we just about sprinted for the plane.
But when it came to meeting new people at the start of travelling, we were still big city living defensive. All that’s changed now. For most of our time away we’ve been meeting great people regularly and have no trouble striking up conversations with total strangers.
But we find it’s getting harder to say goodbye, both to places and people that we love. Maybe it’s an instinct we all have to put down roots or keep the good times going no matter what. Saying hello seems to make our hearts bigger, and goodbyes make them easier to break.
2. There is no authentic
I was standing in a massive, gleaming new shopping mall in Chiang Mai, Thailand and having a great time watching people walk by. All the brands you know were there. The same products and styles and attitudes advertising that better life you can get for a low, low price, right here and now.
Those on a quest for authentic travel would turn their noses up at such a scene. But I love it. Seeing how local Thais were living increasingly modern lives, twisting things their way, incorporating outside influences into their culture. It was as fascinating to see as the trip we made last year to a remote Thai region famous for its traditional textiles and arts industries.
Both places were representations of the true Thailand. I hate the concept that there is an authentic layer to a place while others are seen as inauthentic, bastardised or corrupt. Everywhere else influences everywhere else. All is in a state of flux, and though it can often be sad to see old ways dying out, by dismissing or pitying those situations, you can be blinded to the really cool stuff going on.
In the end, people are just living their lives and getting on with it. Travel can trick you into thinking you are some grand Poobah on a tour to see the genuine wilderness, when actually you’re just another person moving through. The tourist choked beach is as much a part of things as the remote village where a visiting foreigner is a rare bird. Other people are not zoo exhibits; by moving into their space for a brief period of time we owe them respect, no matter how derivative or unique we think their circumstances.
3. The world gets more and more interesting
I’m not a big believer in the “travel will change your life” claim. I think you can just easily walk slack jawed past the most wonderful things in the world as you can also connect with them. As with all things in life, attitude is everything.
I’m also not a fan of thinking that another place is intrinsically more cultured, spiritual or worthy that where I have come from. Such thinking can blind you to the nature of the world, which is that everywhere has something good to offer, and that everywhere has its problems too.
But the more I travel, the more intricate and interesting the world becomes. Sure, I’ve gotten whip crack good at entry level travel stuff like packing, navigating airports, dealing with foreign currency, keeping cool in confusing situations and learning enough local language to get by.
The more of a travel veteran I become, the more I realise I am still a rookie, and I know that I will always be one. There is no mastery of travel. It’s not a competition or an act of discipline like going to the gym. There’s no “best place in the world” or “this will change everything” experience to lust after. Just looking out the window on the plane as it climbs through the clouds is enough.
There are highs and lows and in-betweens, rough and smooth, good times and bad. What never changes is that the world is more complex, simple, beautiful, ugly, terrifying, uplifting, mysterious, obvious, derivative and weird than any stamps on passports can thread together.
And I will keep going for as long as my bones or Carmen can carry me!