My transformation into a traveller

2014 has been an incredible year for me. This year I travelled across 11 different countries across 2 different continents with 7 different travel partners. I camped in the mountains, on the beaches, in the forests and by the roadsides. I slept in hostels, hotels, vans, buses, kitchens, barns and several mansions. I spent a month working in a community based around the female orgasm, a month in a community based around African drumming, and a month in a hostel in the middle of San Diego’s gay district.

My travelling experiences over the past year have been far beyond my wildest dreams. But the most unbelievable thing about it all?

It was easy.

Where does self-transformation come from?

If you’d told me at eighteen years old that travelling was easy, I’d have laughed in your face. At eighteen, travelling was the hardest thing in the world: I was still in school, living in my parents house, with no money, no idea about how to look after myself, no hope that I would ever find someone else who wanted to travel with me. Like every other teenager that yearned for the open road, my heroes were Jack Kerouac and Christopher McCandless: I saw them as independent and capable adventurers – everything that I was not. I used to keep a journal, and I remember writing in it all the places I would go if I could.

Actually, the truth was that I had already been to a lot of different countries on holiday with my family. But what I wanted was real adventure.

So how did I go from being an awkward family-holidaying teenager to the handsome, rugged 24 year old adventurer I am now?

  1. I had a burning desire
    Before I started travelling independently, I had a burning desire to travel independently. Even though independent travel seemed like a painfully remote prospect, it was the focus of my thoughts every night. Almost all the books I read and the films and TV programs I watched were focused around famous travellers and their adventures.

    In many ways, I felt helpless – it was difficult to imagine that I could ever achieve my ambitions of travel – but I literally couldn’t stop myself. Seeing the world was the only thing I cared about.

  2. I made mistakes
    My first “adventure” was a ten day solo hiking trip around Wales when I was 19. It was a disaster. I bought too much food, couldn’t carry it all, dumped it in the woods, and then spent the next few days starving when I couldn’t find more food. Not that I knew how to cook the food when I had it – mostly I tried to survive off boiled onions and potatoes. Not exactly the most delicious meal.

    But in those 10 days I covered 100 miles by foot. I climbed a bunch of mountains, got chased by a bull, and saved a lamb that had fallen down a well. At the end of the trip I felt amazing – for the first time I had some travelling stories of my own.

  3. I made it part of my identity
    Despite the huge amount of self-imposed discomfort I had on my first journey, I kept on travelling. I found a travel partner who was more experienced than me and could teach me things (like how to eat). Together we went around France and Spain for a month. After that, even though I wasn’t really an experienced traveller myself yet, I made it part of my identity. It didn’t matter that I’d only gone to a handful of places on my own.

    I was a traveller.

  4. I accumulated the required skills
    Once I though of myself as a traveller, I didn’t really have much choice: I had to keep moving. I organised my whole lifestyle around visiting other places. Every time I had the opportunity to go somewhere else, I took it. I even spent a year of my university education studying abroad in the USA.

    Over the course of my 4 year degree I accumulated many different new skills. I learned things like how to talk to people confidently, how to attend to my basic survival needs, and how to get value for my money. I wasn’t always good at these things, nor was I consciously training myself to be a good traveller. But because I was travelling often, I constantly had to apply these new skills in the context of travel – and I was improving.

  5. I had the opportunity to transform
    By the time I left university, I had seen a fair amount of the world. I had a lot of stories, anyway. But I hadn’t managed to have any of the big travelling adventures that I’d dreamed about as a teenager. What I had found was a Canadian-American girlfriend, and my dreams were changing. Now I went to sleep imagining myself working a steady job, helping to provide an income so we could continue to be in a relationship. And although we were living together in Canada, I wanted to move back to the UK – I had given up on further travel.

    When we broke up a few months later, my life was an empty void. I was literally living in a tent with all my possessions in the world. As I looked around at the things I owned – a rucksack, a sleeping bag, warm clothes – and as I thought about the things I knew how to do, I really only had one option. I had to go travelling.

I’ve been single for a year now, and in that time I’ve crossed the west coast of the USA border-to-border twice (once in each direction) and hitch-hiked almost 4000km in Europe. I’ve feel like I’ve achieved more than the dreams I had as a teenager.

The process I’ve described above wasn’t something I set out to do. But it was so powerful that it turned the impossible hopes of my younger self into reality. Can we to go through this process deliberately? Can we maintain a conscious awareness as we undertake each step? I’m not certain.

But I’m sure going to try.

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