The appeal of 'travelling' for most is the idea that we can contently ditch our 9-5 job, rid our tired working souls of any responsibility and exile ourselves to a life of exploration, culture and soul-searching. Amongst others, it appeals to those in their formative years looking to broaden the mind, unearth the soul and enrich themselves with life experiences they perhaps wouldn't have been exposed to day to day. Travelling encourages free thinking and the ability to trust your intuitions....but has it all become a fad? Does it now evoke the exact opposite?
Travelling has become a mass market of 'followers', a rite of passage for those embarking on a 'Gap yah' which, in my opinion, has grown into a terrible student cliché. Much like the UK festival market, it has evolved into a bandwagon-jumping mass of men wearing Chang Beer vests and girls with flower garlands in their hair believing they're about to invest in the pursuit of individual enrichment. In reality, they just look like everybody else.
When someone suggests going 'travelling', it's likely to be the well-trodden path of South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand - the furthest place from the UK possible, spending the most amount of money to get there. This format has become so mainstream that unless you work and save tirelessly, only the super privileged can afford the pleasure. It's telling that we're starting to mock 'Gap Yah' travelers as a following; the last Inbetweeners movie introduces us to a wannabe hippie with deadlocks who is revealed to have a Trust Fund and live with his parents in a five bedroom house in Surrey.
The excitement has become less about the individual and their own journey and more about being confined by the rules. We feel like we need to live up to in answer to the inevitable burning question of "Where you going travelling then, mate?". When I told people I wanted to drive around Europe I had almost prepared myself for the "So you're not going to Phi Phi?" question. When I told them I was only going for five weeks they were even more shocked, as if there was some unwritten rule, some standard policy that if you don't go away for at least a year you are some sort of phony.
I had romanticised about travelling around Europe for many years. For as long as I can remember the perfect scenario was always a VW Campervan and a couple of mates, crossing borders, driving through multiple countries in one sitting. But it was more than just a day-dream, it was about not having to hit that morning alarm at 7.15am, scrambling out of bed for work. I'd get to wake excited by the prospect of my next day's driving. 'Travelling' for me has always been about getting in a car, taking a bike, walking, sailing; doing it by its very definition:
Travelling/Travel: To go from one place to another, as by car, train, plane, or ship; take a trip; journey:
to travel for pleasure.
In the real world VW campers are extortionate and not all of your mates can commit to such an expedition; but my little trip suited me just fine. I quit my media job in London, picked up my mate, Biels and took off in a £450 Ford Fiesta packed with a tent, BBQ's, in-car kettle and a carefully planned 3,700 mile route of Western Europe. It was the way in which we did it that made the experience unique to us as friends.
So what can we learn from some of the world's most prolific travelers?
Marco Polo set out travelling with his father and uncle around Asia for 24 years and aged just 17 year old, Polo covered over 15,000 miles. He came back and inspired the world to travel and see the world.
American novelist and poet Jack Kerouac was perhaps the ultimate traveler. Kerouac, famously a pioneer of the 1950's 'beat generation', inspired the more commonly known 'hippie' and counterculture movements. His most notable work On the Road tells of his trips from New York, Denver, LA and San Francisco and the wild adventures he and his 'Beatniks' encountered. It was his books that first opened my mind to the idea of travel as a teenager.
Monty Python legend Michael Palin traveled the world in 80 days, voyaged Pole to Pole full circle, across the Sahara and through the Himalayas. Palin showed us that by challenging ourselves, as humans we can achieve anything.
In short, there's no set success formula to travelling, just try to be authentic. My advice: avoid the clichés, dismiss the 'travelling' stereotype, plan well, get in a car, or get on your feet and find your own way. Don't be another 'Gap Yar' cliché.