In 2010, I took 6 months off from my job to travel on my own around the world, managing to visit 14 countries (Egypt, Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, China, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada. I had planned to include Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and Brazil, but after attending the Burning Man festival, I decided to spend the remainder of my trip in the States. [Note: 3 years later, I'm still digesting the experience of Burning Man, it completely blew my mind. More about that adventure in a future blog post]
Definitely one of the craziest things I have done. Granted, I now have far less 'material wealth' than most of my peers, but I've experienced significant personal (and professional) growth as a result of taking one of the biggest risks of my life. Plus, my bucket list is now a lot shorter!
Some of my experiences
Far too many to list in one blog post, but here are a few:
- Hot air balloon ride at sunrise over Valley of Kings
- Trekking towards Everest Base Camp (had to turn back at 3,440m due to altitude sickness)
- Sunrise at Ankor Wat
- Taking out money at ATM in Ho Chi Min City and observing the maximum amount available was 2 million in the local currency
- Arriving in Thailand during the riots, and as a result, stayed in a bungalow right next to the beach for next to nothing as tourists had disappeared
- Riding on the world's first commercial operating Maglev train in Shanghai
- Wandering around Jiuzhaigou Valley [Considered by some to be the prettiest place on Earth]
- Walking along the Great Wall of China
- Local people asking to have their picture taken with me [This was happening every day in China, no matter where I went. I believe it's because I'm brown, tall, and relatively hairy. Many Chinese had never met someone who looked like me, I was a novelty]
- Visiting the most heavily militarized border in the world and having a bottle of North Korean beer
- Staying in a tropical fruit farm in the oldest surviving rainforest in the world
- Meeting Aborigines, Maoris and native Hawaiians and learning about their history and culture
- Driving from San Diego to Vancouver along the Pacific Coast Highway in a Ford Mustang convertible (and using AirBnB for accomodation)
- The Grand Circle tour, including a full moon tour of Monument Valley
- Spontaneously renting a Cessna 172 plane and pilot to take pictures of Garibaldi Provincial Park from 10,000 ft
- Tried weird and wonderful meats along the way such as Crocodile, Kangaroo, Ostrich, Bison, Shark, and Sea Snake (was offered Dog and Cat burgers in Beijing night market, but refused)
What was it like?
Every day was an adventure. At that point in my life, I'd already visited over 25 countries, so I wasn't afraid of new places and new people. I remember meeting someone in Japan who told me that simply contemplating the idea of travelling to so many countries, and needing different currencies made her very anxious. I didn't really plan much apart from knowing that I had certain stopovers along the way. Most of the 6 months was quite spontaneous. For example, I was flying from Siem Reap to Bangkok, without any idea of where to stay or visit. Sitting next to me was an American guy married to a Thai lady. We got chatting, and they recommended flying to Krabi from Bangkok and staying in Railay West, as that was their tip as locals. So, I did that, and had a brilliant adventure there. I got many of my tips on where to stay or what to see from local people. What was surprising was how many other travellers you meet along the way, and how helpful people in general can be. The world is considerably less dangerous than you've been led to believe [especially if you pay attention to mainstream media such as Fox News]
What did I learn?
I learnt to express gratitude for everything that I have been given in life. That humanity can exist in the most unexpected of places and there is more that unites us than divides us. Only by working together can we improve the lives of 7 billion people.
It made me realise that the 3 biggest challenges our world faces are water, energy and food security. I was able to witness changes in certain Emerging Markets with my own eyes, particularly visiting 8 different cities in China. Most of my peers in the West still don't realise the profound economic and cultural changes going on places like China. In all my life, I've never witnessed the pace of change that I experienced in my trip to China.
In my opinion, the 21st century will not be a unipolar world with the USA standing alone as a superpower, I believe it will be a multipolar world, with more voices at the table. I've always been curious about the world, but this trip really pushed me to think globally every moment of every day.
Self-reliance is one of the biggest skills I developed. It's 2am in Cairo, I was looking for a taxi, and when I found one, I had to persuade the driver to take me, and if he agreed, to then barter for the fare as he won't use the meter. He spoke almost no English, and I just knew how to say 'Thank You' in Arabic. I pulled out my phrasebook, but there were no streetlights, so I was bartering with the driver, from the front of the car, using the light from his headlamps so I could read from my phrasebook. One also learns to trust one's gut instinct, because in that moment, the only person you can rely on is yourself.
Oh, I packed lots of stuff that I might have needed into one backpack. I estimate I used probably 20% of the items (including clothes). You'd be surprised what you can pick up in local markets along the journey. I'd definitely take less next time.
Well, since that trip, I've also managed to visit Finland, to visit the Arctic Circle to witness the Midnight Sun (A period where the sun never sets, i.e. 24 hours of daylight) and Russia to attend the White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg, and pop over to Moscow too.
So, 44 countries now.
I read about the Travelers Century Club which admits people who have visited 100 countries, so my goal is to visit another 56 countries over the next 10 years. Alternatively, another RTW trip with just a toothbrush? Rolf Potts travels round the world with no luggage!
I leave you with two quotes that have inspired me to change how I live my life.
'Money comes and goes, but time only goes'
'Don't be possessed by your possessions'
There are 39 pictures in the slideshow below which show some of the highlights from my trip. Hover over the images, and the description will appear. I hope this post inspires you to pursue your own travel adventures.