Seoul was incredibly good fun, but after five days, it was time to leave South Korea. We flew back to Hong Kong where I stayed just for one more day before boarding a flight back to the UK.
I’m back! So what’s different?
In Little Gidding, T.S. Eliot wrote:
“We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring,
Will be to arrive where we started,
And know the place for the first time.”
It’s an absolutely gorgeous lyric about how travelling provides new lenses through which to view the familiar but I’m not sure that that Eliot was quite right! Being back is undoubtedly weird but contrary to Eliot’s musings, nothing has changed. Fair enough, I was only gone for seven months or so, but I thought that at least some things would feel different. However, the streets of London felt absolutely the same, my relationships with my friends and family were exactly the same, which I suppose, on reflection, was a very good thing.
I naturally shy away from questions such as “What did I learn?” or “Have I changed?” which I think of as indecently corny; however, I’d be pretty unreflective if I hadn’t given them at least some thought along the way. All I can say with certainty is that I’ve probably never been happier than I was when travelling these past seven months. It sounds ridiculous but there were so many times that I would just skip down the street with a loon-like grin on my face. I remember several times walking down Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, Melbourne without a care in the world and just feeling happier than I’d ever been. I remember strolling around Hanoi’s Old Quarter with a full belly and a couple of great coffees in me and feeling euphoric. I remember countless great encounters with some of the most interesting and stimulating people I’ve ever met. Also, time after time over the course of seven months, I saw some of the greatest things in the world; sights and places that I’ve wanted to see for most of my life.
If I had to try and boil it down, I think I was happy for four main reasons unique to travelling. Firstly, I’ve never felt as free at any point in my life as I did on whilst on the road. You do exactly what you want to do when you want to. You get up when you want to; you move on when you want to; you spend time with who you want to when you want to; you just do everything as you want to do things; it’s brilliant!
Secondly, I’ve never felt as ‘open’ and receptive as I did on my travels; open-minded to new things; open-minded to new people; open-minded to new experiences; open-minded to new perspectives and this just kept breeding more and more receptivity to the point where everything seemed possible, positively compounded again by the fact that I was on the trip of a lifetime. It makes you reassess everything that you think is at the core of your personality and, surprisingly, that’s a good thing. It’s a virtuous circle: the more open and receptive you are, the more stimulated you become, and the more stimulated you become, the more open and receptive you become and so on. There were times when I was literally bursting with ideas and new thoughts. Openness is definitely something that I want to hang on to wherever I am.
Thirdly, there were the fantastic people that I met throughout my trip. I list the most important and most memorable encounters to me below, but aside from those listed, I consistently met fantastic people along the way, whether local or traveller. The friendliness of the locals towards me, a random traveller, was incredibly uplifting and just made the rest of the world that much ‘closer’ to home. The friendliness of fellow travellers impressed upon me the existence of the ‘Traveller Code’, an unwritten but broadly understood rule whereby travellers look out for each other and help one another when needed. I found myself on both sides of the code at different times of my trip and it was great to be a part of such a global, civilised and unofficial network.
Fourthly, you can’t not be happy when you’ve had the great fortune to have seen some of the greatest sights in the world on a consistently frequent basis, week after week; from Machu Picchu to the Bolivian Salt Flats to the Cordillera Real to Rio de Janeiro to the Iguazu Falls to Buenos Aires to the Andes to Sydney to the Great Barrier Reef to Uluru and the Kata Tjutas to Melbourne to Hong Kong to Angkor Wat to Halong Bay to Beijing to the Great Wall of China to Shanghai to Seoul – I mean – wow!
What was my favourite place? It’s a tough question to answer because I really enjoyed almost everywhere I visited. But, if pressed, I would say that in terms of places, I loved Machu Picchu, the Bolivian Salt Flats, the Great Wall and Angkor Wat the most; all simply mind-blowing and magical sights. I was probably most affected, though, by the Salt Flats; stark, viscerally beautiful and totally otherworldly; the kind of place and experience that your soul remembers forever.
In terms of cities, I absolutely loved La Paz, Melbourne, Hanoi and Beijing. Each has an incredibly invigorating energy about them that makes living in them, even for a short time, such a heady and enlivening experience, and, with the probable exception of La Paz (which makes the list for its sheer craziness), all have an intensely creative atmosphere about them that is more tangible and palpable than anywhere I’ve yet seen in my life – the kind of environment that I’d like to live in and that, without question, all aspiring world cities should seek to emulate.