Because in that moment of confusion, fear, and panic, I find myself
Like the junkie sat in the corner on a comedown, I’m always looking for my next hit; I’ll happily admit it, I’m addicted. Fortunately, I’m not talking about drug abuse, but travel abuse.
My first ever memory of travelling was standing in front of the Delorean from Back to the Future at Disneyland, Florida, aged five. I happened to be crying my eyes out. I was too small to go on the ride, apparently one of the best at Disneyland, and my older brothers were making that fact very well known to me. From that point, I vowed that one day I would ride that Delorean. For me, it epitomised exploring the unknown.
I was one of the lucky ones. When I was younger, my parents happily dragged us around the world to some far flung places. Admittedly, some of their parenting techniques could be questioned, like the time they thought it was a good idea to take us to a sacred crocodile pit in the Gambia, West Africa, in 1994, where I was consequently bitten by a crocodile (true story). Luckily, child services didn’t take me away so I could continue to travel with my parents for years after, and a sense of adventure was instilled in me.
As the years passed, my travels became more and more adventurous, and this was highlighted when I was 19. Forget Kavos and Kos, I went to a place where true hedonism reigns – Thailand.
I travelled around the country with a couple of friends for four weeks, and it was from that point that I considered myself a backpacker; it was from that point that I was truly addicted to travel.
I loved every second of it; I loved the sights, the sounds, but most of all I loved the unknown. After all, that’s what travelling is all about.
Ever since then, I’ve travelled to a number of countries, immersing myself in as many different cultures and societies as possible. In my eyes, the stranger, the better.
There’s nothing quite like finding yourself in a new country utterly perplexed as to what’s going on around you. That moment of confusion, fear, and panic is exactly what I’m after; that’s my hit, that’s my drug.
As Bill Bryson once said:
“But that’s the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I don’t want to know what people are talking about. I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”
The longer I travelled, the more accustomed I became to being on the road, making it so much harder to find that hit, so I started upping my doses, pushing myself to the limit. In essence, I became completely and utterly irresponsible.
The one time I nearly overdosed was when I was in China. I crossed from northern Vietnam into China via the Friendship Pass, which, despite its name, was particularly unfriendly.
To cross the border, you have to walk 500 metres through no man’s land, and all I could think about was how unprepared I was. I would like to say I was underprepared, but I was completely unprepared; I had done absolutely no research into the border crossing. I didn’t know what the procedure was, if I needed any money, and most importantly, I didn’t know if there was a bus station or a train station on the other side. As they say, assumptions are the mother of all fuck ups – I was clueless and I loved it.
After crossing the border without any major incident, I found myself in China. I knew I had to get to Nanning, but here my lack of preparation showed its true colours; I had no money and I couldn’t speak a word of Mandarin.
Trying to explain to a Chinese bus driver in sign language and an empty wallet that the only way I could pay him was once I got to at ATM was one of the hardest situations I ever had on my travels, but it was also one of the biggest rushes, far outstripping out-and-out adrenaline activities such as skydiving and cliff jumping. That moment of confusion, fear, and panic was what I lived for, because in that moment of confusion, fear, and panic I found myself.
Eventually, I managed to get to Nanning, pay the driver, and get a hotel for the night. As I reflected upon that just happened, I realised I was on a comedown.
What’s the moral of this story? It’s that everything works out in the end. No matter how up against it you are, no matter how scary and confusing the unknown may be, if you approach it in the right frame of mind it can be remarkably rewarding. The time you’ll learn the most about yourself is by putting yourself through the toughest scenarios, so you may as well enjoy it on the way.
Now, where’s my next hit?