Two years ago, I left the UK on my most ambitious adventure so far. My plan was to travel from the UK to Papua New Guinea without the use of flights. I hitchhiked across Europe, up through Turkey and into Iran where I fell in love with a Persian princess along the way.
I trekked deep into the Pakistani Himalayas, drove a rickshaw across India, travelled back to Iran to get married, set up a base in Thailand for a bit, returned to Pakistan to lead an expedition into the mountains, explored the magical kingdom of Bhutan and finally returned to Thailand, which now feels kind of like home.
Recently I’ve been thinking about everything I’ve learnt along the way, about the many humbling revelations, near misses, comic encounters and stunning sights I’ve witnessed.
This is my attempt to give you a snapshot of what it’s like to be on the road for two years. You’ll find out about some of the crazy things that have happened to me but also how travel can be the ultimate tool for self development and seeing things from a different perspective.
This is a long post that I’ve put together from two years of journal entries, not everything is entirely serious (don’t take offence if you are a monkey lover).
Whilst some of these experiences are unique to me, many backpackers on long journeys will have similar experiences on the road.
I hope that these journal entries, personal as some of them are, give an insight into what it can be like to go on an adventure across the world.
1. Things go wrong when travelling
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows if you’re travelling the world for any real length of time you will encounter challenges. Missed connections, pesky policemen, biting insects, diarreah, swallowed bank cards, frustrating visas, crashed motorbikes and challenging people are just a few of the things I’ve come across on the road. Travelers make mistakes – problems do arise and things DO go wrong.
2. And it’s your attitude that counts
When things do go wrong, it’s an opportunity to develop confidence and problem solving skills. A positive attitude and a sense of humour can help you overcome most problems. Remember, it’s never as bad as it seems. The more scrapes you get yourself into, and out of, the more capable you will become.
3. Getting off the beaten path alone can teach you a lot
4. But you don’t have to be alone
Even if you are travelling in places with no other backpackers, it’s usually pretty easy to meet other likeminded people. On the road, you never have to be alone – unless you want to.
5. It’s always worth learning some of the local language
Just knowing how to say ‘hello’ and ‘thanks’ will make people smile, it shows you are making an effort.
6. But language skills aren’t essential
In Pakistan, I spent four days in a log cabin with my French friend and two police officers assigned to keep an eye on us. Neither of them spoke a word of English but we had long conversations all the same. They were quick to teach me ‘pass the joint’ in Urdu.
7. The world is mostly safe
I’ve been to lots of countries that worry my Mum, and I’ve been told many times that by going to places like Venezuela and Pakistan, I’m risking my life. Whilst I have had quite a few near-death experiences on the road, these have mostly been my own fault on account of seeing myself as invincible (I have now learned from this and included it in The Broke Backpacker Manifesto).
I’ve rarely felt threatened by others and the only external danger I’ve regularly faced is crazy traffic. In general, some of the most ‘dangerous’ countries are the most friendly as the locals are aware the media has portrayed them poorly and want to welcome foreigners.
8. Trust those who have been, ignore the haters
Before I went to Venezuela, a lot of people told me I was going to be kidnapped. Before hitchhiking across Iran, I was warned I would be robbed. Before Pakistan, some very misinformed people told me I would be beheaded. These guys all had one thing in common – none of them had been to the country they were so terrified of. Weak minds are influenced by
propaganda the media – don’t let people pass their own insecurities and doubts off onto you. Ignore those motherfuckers and trust people who have actually been.
9. Iranians are the most hospitable people I’ve ever met
Iran is the easiest country in the world to hitchhike in – I never had to wait more than a few minutes to get picked up! I was always invited in for tea, offered a place to stay on numerous occasions and fed until I was about ready to pop… Iranians are amazing people.
10. Monkeys are bastards
Picture the scene. After a brutal one hour hike, you finally make it to a magnificent and abandoned Indian fort with an incredible view over the valley below. You sit, enjoying a joint, soaking in the majesty that surrounds you, feeling a bit like Indiana Jones. Before you know it these feelings are dashed as a horde of territorial and angry monkeys, some the size of a big ass dog, surround you and tries to get at your shit. Valiantly, you fight your way out of the fort and vow never to trust monkeys again. I’ve been burned by monkeys a couple of times, fuck those guys.
11. Rickshaws are slow
Originally, I planned to drive my multicoloured rickshaw nearly 4000 kilometres. Little did I know that the maximum speed was thirty seven kilometres an hour and that it would break down a dozen times a day.
12. True challenges are the ultimate bonding experience
Driving a rickshaw across India with my brother Alex was probably the most stressful and exhausting thing I’ve ever done. A few people drive rickshaws on adventures like this but I’m telling you – none of them have done it in the piece of shit, truly ancient, rickshaw that we had. This was much much harder than we anticipated. So many things went wrong on this adventure and luckily our default reaction was to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, swig some more red bull, roll another joint and keep pushing on. We came out the other side with a much stronger relationship having gone through the eye of the storm together.
13. You can always find a place to sleep
I’ve slept rough quite a few times on my adventures but really, this is very rarely necessary. A kind soul will normally rock up out of nowhere to offer you a place to stay. Personally, I love camping… Camping out in a cave in Cappadocia is one of my favourite travel experiences so far.
14. You can have a good time on $10 a day (and it’s possible to survive on less than that)
To find out how, check out the backpacker bible 😉
15. Traveling on a tight budget will help you appreciate the little things
Like hot showers, fresh bread, a seat with some space and all of the many acts of kindness that will come your way on the road.
The gratitude you develop from forgoing the fineries of life is one of the best experiences of budget and travel and a top reason WHY everybody should try it once.
16. Being short is great when travelling
I am five foot six, a less than ideal height when it comes to dating but the perfect height for long bus rides and fitting into tight spots. I always secretly chuckle when I see some six foot giant scrunched up in the back of a bus.
17. A good pair of shoes is vital if you’re going adventuring
I learned this the hard way when my trainers fell apart whilst trekking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. I duct taped them back together and used plastic bags to keep the water and snow out of my socks, it was an uncomfortable two week trek (but totally worth it).
18. The best mountain scenery in the world is in Pakistan
Thirty of the world’s highest one hundred peaks are in Pakistan and the best bit, you’ll have them all to yourselves. Pakistan is the adventure capital of the world… go check it out.
19. You will fall in love
In every country around the world, there are attractive people who are looking for the same things – a good connection, good times and good sex. It’s easy to fall in love on the road.
20. And love on the road moves fast!
Sometimes, you’ll feel like you’ve been dating somebody forever when you actually met just a week ago. This is because you have so many amazing shared experiences whilst travelling that emotions can move fast.
21. Heartbreak happens, and that’s OK…
People are usually heading in different directions and flings end just as quickly as they begin. Fear not, noble Cupid, the next romantic conquest is just around the corner. Enjoy the times you have with your current beloved and don’t worry about the future too much.
22. Sometimes, you need to pursue it, no matter how crazy it seems
But sometimes, you will meet somebody who will blow you away. Somebody who will be on your mind long after you have left them. Somebody who you feel like you are meant to be with, the kind of person who simply gets you and is your ideal partner in crime. Often, by the time you realise this person means as much to you as they do, you’ll be far apart. But maybe an event will hurl you back together… Maybe one day your beloved sends you a raunchy nude whilst you are halfway up a mountain. Powered by lust and frostbite, certain now that this mountain ain’t worth the hassle, you turn around, brave a blizzard, hitchhike five hundred kilometers in the wrong direction, convert to Islam, get married and live happily ever after… Hey, it can happen.
23. Plans change all the time
Go with the flow.
24. You’ll meet some of your best friends on the road
Travelling is kind of like speed dating except with friends.
25. You can find marijuana in almost every country
Eventually, I’ll have smoked a joint in every country in the world. #lifegoals
26. Visiting Bhutan is like stepping back in time
Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to visit a country I had always to explore; Bhutan. This is a truly amazing place, utterly unique, where time stands still.
27. There is nothing like waking up to an amazing view from your tent
I love camping… The feeling of being totally isolated amongst nature is hard to beat. I’ve camped out in more countries than I can remember. Travelling with a tent is smart, especially if you are on a budget, as it means you can find a place to sleep pretty much anywhere.
28. Digital detoxes are good for the soul
I spent a solid six months this year hustling hard on my online ventures and I fucking loved it. It feels great to be building something, however, it’s important to get away from screens and I encourage everybody to try a ten day digital detox once a year. Most recently, I did this for three weeks in Pakistan, it was awesome.
29. Phones detract from your travel experience
When I first hit the road, at the tender age of 19, I didn’t have a phone. It was god damn glorious. Most travellers back then didn’t have phones and we all talked to each other. It was great. These days, that’s changed a lot and a lot of travellers seem to spend more time documenting their travels than actually experiencing them. Hell, as a travel blogger, I’ve been guilty of this and that’s the reason I quit snapchat, I didn’t like how it was getting in the way of my travels. These days, I have the balance pretty much spot on.
30. It’s good to get out of your comfort zone
I first hit the road because pretty much everything made me uncomfortable. I was shy and unsure of myself. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone helped me to face my demons and evolve into a more confident person.
31. Taxi drivers are the worst
I very rarely take taxis, preferring to hitch, drive myself or when necessary take an uBer. The last time I took a taxi I had a screwdriver pulled on me when I refused to hand over fifty euros for a thirty minute journey. In fact, I would say more than HALF of the arguments and altercations I have had in my last nine years of travel have been with taxi drivers.
32. No pain, no gain.
To get to Jomalhari, the mother of all mountains in Bhutan, I had to trek for five days through almost constant hailstorms. Worth it? You bet your ass it was.
33. Spend money on food
When I was travelling on $10 a day, I used to spend almost all of that on food. It’s important to eat well on the road to keep your health up, especially if you’re roughing it.
34. Time is warped in some places
In Pakistan, “twenty minutes” could mean anything from two hours to two days.
35. Always be friendly
Enthusiasm and politeness can take you a long way in life, this guy’s got the right idea – check out that grin! 🙂
36. Beware foreign road rules
In Iran, they have speeding cameras. I know this because I got caught by not one but two whilst tearing around Tehran at one hundred miles an hour in my father in law’s car, sorry Dad!
37. Travelling teaches you how to problem solve
If you’re on a budget, you can’t buy your way out of problems. To be broke and on the road will teach you how to solve a real massive variety of problems.
38. You’ll learn how to assert yourself
On the road, you will learn how to stand up for yourself against touts and pushy salesmen.
39. You’ll improve your social skills
You meet so many people on the road that you can have never ending ‘do overs’, you can experiment with the kind of person you want to be and how you want to interact with people.
40. You’ll learn how to haggle
Negotiating is a valuable skill and one that you can hone on the road.
41. Traveling can improve your job prospects
Employers are looking for people who can think on their feet and problem solve. Crucially, employers are looking for people with life experience – travelling the world will give you a ton of that!
42. It’s important to use your free time wisely when travelling
I have three go-to outlets for free time: Push ups (minimum of 100 a day), reading and writing blog posts. If you don’t use your free time, you’ll end up bored (and probably a pothead).
43. There are many ways to support a life of travel long term
The internet provides you with TONS of ways to educate yourself and to earn an income. Use your free time on the road to look into what interests you. If you want to travel forever, start working on a passive income stream. Setting up my travel blog has completely changed my life and allows me to travel full time.
44. But it can be tough to work
It’s difficult to get a lot done in hostels, so if you really want to hustle you are going to need a base. Work hard and work efficiently and you can achieve anything. I talk about my method here:
45. Keeping a travel journal is the best way to record your trip
For me it’s partly this blog, I tend to write about whatever I want which is refreshing. I keep my most personal thoughts in my bullet journal though.
46. Not every day on the road is amazing
47. Sometimes, you need to take a chill day
Things go wrong, sometimes you need to take time to recenter yourself and rejuvenate from being on the move. I recommend hanging out in a hammock…
48. Always try to be kind
If everybody is kind, the world will be a better place.
49. There’s nothing like arriving somewhere new
I get a real buzz, an almost electrifying enthusiasm, about rocking up somewhere totally new – who knows what’s gonna happen, who I’m gonna meet, what I’m gonna see, what I’m gonna eat? I love the uncertainties of a new adventure.
50. Traveling has made me obsessed with staying up to date with world news
I always try to keep myself up to date with international politics because it genuinely interests me. Traveling has made me even more interested in understanding just how the world works. It’s important to take everything you read online with a pinch of salt and to choose your sources wisely. I recommend The BBC and The Independent as the most trustworthy news sources but never take all your news from one source and always remember there are two sides to every story. By staying up to date with world events, you’ll have a deeper understanding of the world you are exploring.
51. Get more out of your adventures, do some research!
I love history. Before I rock up anywhere near, I always do a bit of Wikipedia digging to find out the history of the place I am travelling to. I also strongly recommend reading books about the countries you are travelling through, you’ll learn a ton and have a more meaningful experience.
52. Be grateful for what you have
Honestly, if you are reading this that means you have easy access to the internet and are probably American, European, Canadian or Australian. We are so god damn lucky, we have access to so many opportunities. Don’t moan about not being able to afford to travel because the truth is you can travel, you just might not be as comfortable as you would like if you’re travelling broke. Do it anyway, it’s an awesome experience.
53. It’s tough to stay fit on the road
Personally, this is my least favourite part of travelling – struggling to keep my fitness in good condition! I always travel with a skipping rope and I do 100 pushups daily as a bare minimum.
54. You can have whatever you want if you put in the work
The law of attraction is a powerful thing, visualise what you want, visualise who you want to be and then work your butt off till you get there.
55. Don’t be fooled by the ‘Instagram lifestyle’
I could write a whole post about this. There’s a huge amount of misinformation floating around the web about longterm travel. The truth is that many travel bloggers portray a style of travel that isn’t financially sustainable (they’re scoring all that fancy accommodation for free you know, not paying for it) to us lot. Use your gut when doing your research and remember – it’s all about the actual travel, the cultural immersion, meeting cool people, not staying in glitzy resorts.
56. Beware FOMO
Fear of missing out is a bitch, don’t let it get to you.
57. Locals often know best (and Couchsurfing rocks!)
Some of the best experiences I’ve had whilst travelling have only been possible through local intel. I am a huge fan of Couchsurfing and have Couchsurfed all over the world – it’s an awesome way to meet local people and have amazing adventures. In Jordan, I cavesurfed with a Rastafarian Bedouin for a few nights.
58. Thank fuck for buffs!
I never travel without a buff, it can be used as a makeshift eyemask, as a filter to keep dust and pollution out of your mouth, as a cover to keep tattoos out of the sun, as a bandage and, in extreme situations, a makeshift condom (just kidding).
59. This planet is massive
The scale of this world, this galaxy, this universe and all of the unknown mysteries constantly boggles and excites me. Our world is an amazing place.
60. But it’s not invincible
Don’t contribute to the plastic problem. Please don’t trash this amazing world. Take your shit away with you when you’re finished camping, hiking or romping in the woods.
61. If you’re lost, stay calm
Retrace your steps, find a logical place to pause and collect your thoughts, usually somebody will come along after a while who can help you out. If you’re out in the middle of nowhere, know which direction you need to walk in and carry a compass or use the app on your phone.
62. Always try the street food.
It’s cheap, it’s fast and it’s an authentic taste of the local culture.
63. You can form real connections with people from different countries
I have an adopted family in Pakistan, and I feel no weirdness using that term, I love these guys and think about them almost every day. I’ve visited them three times now and every time, I’ve grown closer, they are a remarkable group of people.
64. It’s better to be decisive even if you make the wrong decision
Dithering rarely helps anything. Make a decision and roll with it, evolve your plans as you need but be decisive.
65. You’ll meet amazing people on the road with the craziest stories
I’ve shared beers and more with professional poker players, a stripper, a drug smuggler, a washed up rock star, a Cryptocurrency founder, a Russian tycoon, a poet, an inventor, a Bollywood actress, a Kurdish freedom fighter and many more amazing people. Ask questions, find out the stories of those you are with.
66. Most people want the same things out of life
On the surface, it can seem like people from different cultures have nothing in common but in my experience, I have found that everybody has the same hopes, dreams and aspirations. People all around the world want to feel safe, want to feel loved and want to be noticed. People want to laugh, to build a good future for their children and to work on their passion projects.
67. Always pack a good book
Stay off your phone and instead read a book – check out this post for some of my favourite travel reads.
68. I’m still scared of heights
No matter how many times I conquer this fear, I still get dizzy at heights. Not mega-manly I know but there you go.
69. Find beauty in the little things.
Every day, there will be at least one thing that is beautiful. Keep an eye out for it.
70. My favourite hostel hack
While I’m a fan of camping and couchsurfing, every now and then a hostel is a better option. When booking a hostel, ALWAYS look to see if they serve free breakfast. This one little hack can save you thousands of dollars over the course of years, especially in the more expensive regions of the world.
71. It’s the journey, not the destination – this is cliche as fuck, but it’s true.
When I began this two year journey, my destination was the purpose of the trip and it motivated me – it was on the horizon, it was something tangible, I just had to keep going East. Along the way, so much happened and whilst I do still intend on reaching my destination I am enjoying this journey way too much to want to rush it to an end.
72. Travelling long term is the ultimate learning experience
73. Travelling long term won’t solve all your problems, but it may help
Personally, travelling has saved my life more than once. Traveling the world has allowed me to put some deep seated insecurities to rest, to accept myself for who I am and to work through a lot of shit. There is a huge amount to be gained from exploring the world and yourself and being on the road gives you so many incredible opportunities to experiment, learn and evolve. Peace out maaaaaan.