This is a guest post by my good friend and fellow British traveller, Kneale Brown. We have a scarily similar life experience and even lived in the same part of England, yet met on my very first night away in Bangkok. If you like what you read you can follow Kneale on Twitter (@KnealeBrown).
Standing in a Kiwi brothel at 3am on a Tuesday morning, I realise that my writer’s block is entirely created by the fact I have too much to say. I’ve been trying to write something for this blog and for myself for over a month now, and it’s simply overwhelming. I’m capable of it for sure, but what should I write? How can I convey the strange sensation of travelling to the green masses?
And that’s how I start down the surely short road as a travel blogger: typically ‘backpacker drunk’ on cheap booze in a city I don’t know; spending my New Zealand dollars in an establishment of ill repute (merely, I must add, because the bar is open 24 hours – honest mum).
I’ve been on the road for just over a year now, yet I can still remember the sensation of England lifting from under my feet as the plane took off and the fatalistic sense that either the world would embrace me with open arms or devour me whole. Either of those outcomes being acceptable in the end because I would have left my comfort zone, and that was the most important thing, right? Right?
When you travel you can only travel with an open mind. Stay close-minded to cultures, nationalities, food, drink and all the differences of a country and you will never gain anything as a person. We can spend all our cash as travellers on trips to national parks, jumping off cliffs attached to bits of elastic and imbibing copious amounts of whatever the locals decide to call beer, but for all the photographs and souvenirs in the world the most important thing we take away is a sense of understanding the people and places we visit. That is free, that is worthwhile, and it won’t get lost in the attic like the multi-coloured boomerang you bought at Sydney Airport.
Of course, this open-mindedness more often than not leads us into situations and sections of society that are less likely to be experienced by those with jobs, houses, mortgages and self-respect.
I’ve found myself in Thai strip bars where the international Olympic committee wouldn’t recognise the game of table tennis as legitimate if they saw how it was defiled. I’ve been bitten by so many parasites I couldn’t tell which itch was from flea, mosquito or bed bug – and the fungus that developed on my behind at one point seriously made me consider whether I was growing to love travelling or travelling was growing to love me. And most recently, I’ve been entirely sober (honest mum) at 3am on a school night discussing the finer points of the New Zealand Prostitutes Union with a ‘lady’ who surely was ironically named ‘Chastity’.
But far from being bizarre, these things meld easily into a traveller’s life. The once strange become like a wristwatch; you can leave it behind, but at some point you will miss it.
When your days start in a 22 bed dormitory with a smattering of sweaty Dutch, German, English and French backpackers and the occasional random girl the ‘Swede’ brought ‘home’ last night (who incidentally moaned all night, which I can only imagine was because the bed was too hard…). And your day ends drunk, listening to the Japanese guy above you talking in his sleep (there is surely nothing scarier) and the Irish girl across the room snoring like a walrus while the club downstairs pumps out 90’s pop hits until 4am. That’s when most things in normal society start to feel a little twee and you learn to not take life too seriously.
It is this point I’ve been leading to – I’ve noticed the one thing that unites those that travel is that they don’t take the world too seriously.
Bill Hicks famously said “it’s just a ride”. I think he meant it should be short, fun and enjoyable and this in itself leads us to the cliché: “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”.
If you’re the kind of person that takes life too seriously, maybe you should travel or maybe you shouldn’t, I don’t know. Hell, make your own mind up! I’m off to watch the jelly wrestling at the bar next door.