Diary of a backpacker 1 – Crossroads and making memories

I suppose a time comes in everyone’s life when we reach a crossroads and we take a good hard look at ourselves. We look back on what we have achieved and we look into the future to see where we want to be. We can get swept along with life and before we know it we have ended up somewhere we don’t really want to be. We might not know where we want to be but we know that where we are at definitely isn’t the right place. We live with a strange niggling sensation in the belly, and there is an inner voice, unsatisfied with the current state of proceedings, that asks us ‘Is this really it? Is there not more to life than this?’ Waves of soul searching are felt within. We begin to entertain different versions of our life. We dream of a different tomorrow. And sometimes, as a result, we end up making huge decisions that can change the course of our life forever.

If I was to pinpoint that moment in my life it would have to be when I decided to go travelling round the world for a year. I had just turned 30, I was single once more and, after selling my house, I had money in the bank. I had invested wisely in the purchase of a new house which I would rent out. The plan had been to purchase more houses and make money as a landlord. But after a month-long trip to Thailand and Australia my mind was changed in what can only be described as a lightbulb moment that came to me on the long flight home. The new plan was to go backpacking round the world. My long-term ambitions for financial security would have to wait as my hedonistic urges took centre stage. Sometimes you just have to seize the day and live for the moment, carpe diem and all that.

Prior to my trip to Thailand and Australia I saw my life as being in Newcastle. I was a crazy Newcastle United fan and would never miss a match for anything. My family was in Newcastle, I had a great set of friends and I loved the nightlife. But after experiencing what I did when I was away, I had the travel bug and I had it bad. I knew I just had to see more of what there was out there. I was excited about the cultures, the languages, the food, the different beliefs and customs, the places and, most of all, the people. Newcastle would always be home and it would always have my heart, but it would still be there when I got back. On top of that, being a Newcastle fan totally destroys your soul in a really bad way so a break from watching them could even be good for my health.

Once the decision had been made to go travelling I began to plan it. At first I had close to 30 countries on my hit list. After investigating the logistics and thinking about the timeframe, it became clear that I had been a little ambitious. Eventually I managed to whittle it down to a more manageable number. I would begin in South America on a guided tour with other travellers. Beginning in Brazil on the Atlantic coast we would travel through Bolivia and into Peru on the Pacific coast. From there I would leave the group and travel solo to Chile and then Argentina. The next stop would be Australia where I would travel on a working visa to give me an opportunity to experience working in a different country for a couple of months whilst making my way up the east coast. From there I would travel into South East Asia, beginning in Singapore, before moving on to Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Then I would catch a flight to Hong Kong before travelling to my final destination, India.

I bought a round the world flight ticket which gave me the means to link up with different continents. As it was flexible, it also gave me the option to change flights if I wanted to stay longer somewhere. For countries that were joined by land I would be able to travel by train, bus or sometimes riverboat, as was the case in Laos for instance. The beauty of beginning the trip with a guided tour was that it meant everything was organised for me and there was little pressure for me to find my feet straight away. It was also reassuring to know that at the beginning I would not be travelling alone. As my confidence grew once my travels progressed I would be better equipped to fend for myself.

At last the big day arrived. It was time to begin my escapade into lands unknown. It was heart breaking saying goodbye to my family and even more so as I left my mother with tears in her eyes. I was consumed by very mixed emotions. There was sadness for leaving my family and friends, nervousness for leaving the security of my home town, but also excitement for what lay ahead. As I boarded the plane that would take me to Rio, it was strange to think that I would not be seeing England again for a whole year. It was even stranger to think that the next time I set foot on land it would be on foreign soil at the other end of the world. Europe was Europe but South America was something completely different. It was very exotic to me and also a little scary.

It was the start of an amazing adventure that would change me as a person and change my outlook on life completely. It would see me journey on planes, boats, trains, buses, cars, motorbikes, tuk tuks, tractors, canoes, rafts, helicopters, and even on the back of camels and elephants. I would paraglide in Argentina, bungee jump in Thailand, trek to Machu Picchu in Peru, and pick cotton in Australia. Every country had its own sparkle, its own distinctive piece of magic. Every day was different. To grow as a person we must aim to step out of our comfort zone as much as possible and to challenge ourselves and our beliefs on a daily basis.  As the great Mark Twain once said, ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness, and many people need it on these accounts’. For me, it opened my mind and heart and made me a better person. Stuck at those crossroads I can now see that the decision to spend my money on traveling unlocked new possibilities and ways of thinking that have shaped me in all aspects of my life right up to the present moment. And besides, life isn’t about the big house or the flashy cars, it is about making memories and having fun in the process.

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