I first travelled overseas when I was 16. Landing in Gibraltar was like entering a new but also familiar world. The road signs all looked the same. People were speaking English. There were even red post and phone boxes. But the landscape was like nothing I had ever seen in the UK. An ever-present rock loomed over the small peninsula that juts out into the bay. Monkeys clambered over the trees, snatching unsuspecting tourists cameras and sunglasses. The sky and sea were a deep blue, something I had only seen on TV.
I absolutely loved it.
My parents couldn’t afford to take us on fancy holidays when we were kids. We would spend our summer holidays on the North Sea coast, visiting the Yorkshire coastal towns of Bridlington, Scarbrough and Hornsea (with more of a brown, murky sea than the blue of Gibraltar). I have fond memories of these trips but as I got older, I longed for more. To see places that I had read about in my world atlas. As a kid, I would spend hours studying the different countries and their capitals. I longed to experience cultures, explore new lands and bring back memories that are impossible to get from staying in the UK.
Is there a ‘best’ way to travel?
Over the years I have travelled in many different guises. Here are some of the ways I have travelled:
- Lads holidays to Magaluf and Aya Napa
- Romantic beach getaways to Greece and Croatia
- Cycling through Europe, wild camping and staying in hostels
- Interrailing across Europe
- Deployments with the British Army to hot and dusty places
- Battlefield tours to Italy, France, Germany and Belgium
- Army training exercises in Africa
- Ski trips to the Alps
- Diving trips in the Red Sea
- Rugby tours to Spain, South Africa and the USA
- Trekking the Himalayan mountains
There are countless different ways to travel. Most people automatically think travel=beach holiday. If you are only comfortable staying in 5-star hotels and sitting by a beach you are missing out. The world has so much more to offer. If this is all you can bring yourself to do, you might as well wrap yourself in bubble wrap and sit in a sauna. It is impossible to get a real feel for a country if all you do is stay in the tourist resort bubble.
Looking back to some of the trips I did at 18, I wouldn’t dream of going on most of them as a 28-year-old (such as spending a week with hoards of drunk British youths in resort towns like Magaluf). Over time your tastes change.
I have been lucky enough to experience many different types of travelling in the 12 years that have passed since my first overseas trip. The thought of spending a week by a beach fills me with dread and boredom. For others, this may sound like a dream.
The early years
At first, I travelled for the excitement of being somewhere new. As I turned 18, this quickly turned into an opportunity to practise my new favourite hobby – binge drinking. This was something I was pretty good at (or so I thought). Alcohol turned me into an outgoing character. The centre of the party. Booze removed all inhibitions. I became the best dancer in the room, the best singer and the funniest comedian (again, so I thought). Travelling and drinking became interlinked. I would choose where I would go based on where was a good place to party. Looking back, I overstepped the mark on many occasions.
Drinking in one city is very similar to drinking in any other. Over time, the nights merge and they become a hazy distant memory. Those party games in a hostel were fun once and maybe even on the second time but on the 10th time, they become tiring. As does spending the early hours of the morning hugging a toilet bowl in a communal hostel bathroom, ejecting the tequila shots and long island tea cocktails from the mouth it only entered a few hours before. I dread to think about how much money I have spent over the years on getting drunk on my travels.
Without a doubt, my motivation to travel has changed. No longer do I look for the best place to party but now I seek the best places to trek, dive or ski. I still enjoy a drink but not in the same way as I did back then. Now the drinking is no longer the main event. It is an accompaniment to my journey.
Experiencing different cultures, learning new languages and spending time with local people is what makes travel so valuable.
During some of my early travels, I experienced little of this. But neither do the people that stay in 5-star hotel resorts. Both sides only get a glimpse of the country they are visiting. To truly make the most of travel is to experience other countries not as a tourist, but as a human being. This can be difficult if you are only staying somewhere for a week. This is why I now try to spend a good few weeks in a place so I can really absorb the history, culture and feeling of a new country.
Travelling is one of the most important aspects of my life. It has enriched my views and horizons in so many different ways. Looking back, I probably spent too much time partying in my early 20s. Lessons have been learnt and now I am looking forward to the next adventure. To travel without the need to get wasted and to set challenges.
So why do I travel?
My reasons for travelling have changed over the years. I used to travel to simply have a good time. Now my reasons are much deeper and more thought out than that. Of course, I still want to have a good time but I don’t mind if I have a tough time or a challenging time. In fact, I seek that more now than I did in my early 20’s.
I travel to learn. Not just about the place that I am visiting but to learn about myself. This is why travelling alone from time to time is important. I’ve found it to be an enlightening experience to spend an extended period of time alone whilst travelling. The person you are when you are alone is the real you. By knowing who you really are will make planning for the future clearer.
Experiencing how people in different cultures live adds a whole new perspective to how I choose to live my life. Realising that my possessions are not what brings me true joy. That money is a tool and not purely a means to happiness. Real happiness comes from social interactions, from old and new friends and family.
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