I first realised that I was going to have to opt out of the rat race back in , but it took until for me to save up enough cash to achieve escape velocity. The idea was to go away for a little over a year and try to decide what I wanted to do with my life, but I soon discovered that I was inadvertently doing exactly what I wanted to do with my life already, and my trip grew and grew until, finally, travelling became what I did for a living. It was at that point that I decided I needed to come home.
Since that first dip into the world of travel, I've continued to explore the world, whether on holiday for a couple of weeks, or heading out into distant parts of the world for months on end. Here, for those of you who care, is a summary of my travelling life to date.
My First Big Trip
My first travelling experience lasted for 33 months and three days, a little longer than I'd initially planned. In those (nearly) three years I visited Australia (twice), and New Zealand, French Polynesia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, India (twice) and Nepal. Here's the route I took:
Here are more details of my first real bit of travelling, which provided me with the inspiration for all that was to follow.
Australia (11.5 Months)
I landed in Sydney in a daze. I had no plans, no idea what I was doing on the other side of the world, and to cap it all I was jet-lagged. I wandered around town for three weeks, getting my bearings, before finally getting lucky and finding a job in Melbourne.
Melbourne was a perfect place in which to buy a car, so after a New Year spent up in the bush in northern New South Wales and a quick trip across to Tasmania, I managed to track one down that wouldn't kill me. Oz was a rusty but trusty 1977 Toyota Corona, and after giving him a major overhaul, Oz and I set off west on the mother of all road trips.
We drove along the coast to Adelaide, and up into the outback of the Flinders Ranges. Confident that neither of us were going to die – at least, in the short term – we struck west across the monster that is the Nullarbor Desert, ending up in the bottom-left-hand corner of Australia and, finally, Perth.
I worked in Perth for a few weeks and dragged Oz 1000 km east to Kalgoorlie just for the hell of it, and having popped over to Boston, Massachusetts for a friend's wedding, I again strapped myself in and struck north. Rattling along the coast, with me singing loudly and Oz clunking and scraping in time, we kept going until we got to the top-left-hand corner where, in preference to falling into the sea, we turned right into the Pilbara, where I went on a seven-day trek through the middle of absolutely nowhere.
Stopped only by a little accident that Oz and I had miles from the nearest human beings, we followed the coast east, traversing the amazing Kimberley and eventually crossing the border into the Northern Territory, home to such amazing sights as Kakadu, Katharine and Darwin. The final leg of the trip was south through the Red Centre, where I realised that my visa was going to run out before I could visit Queensland, so instead of rushing I spent my remaining time in the central outback, soaking up the sights and sounds of the wilderness.
All that remained was to drive back to Melbourne, sell Oz (reluctantly) and leave the country before immigration started knocking on my door.
New Zealand (6 Months)
I spent my first few weeks in New Zealand working in Auckland, where I managed to track down and buy Zed, a 1984 Toyota Corona station wagon into which I threw a mattress, all my belongings and a map of the country. Soon enough Zed and I had driven due south, crossed the Cook Strait to the South Island, and were exploring the back roads of southern New Zealand.
Christchurch and Dunedin were amazingly friendly places, and a Christmas spent on a glacier at the foot of Mt Cook, New Zealand's highest peak, was something to savour. It whet my appetite for the ruggedness of New Zealand's beauty, and before long we were driving southwest into the wilderness.
This was where the walking bug struck. I walked the Kepler Track, the Hollyford-Pyke Route and the Routeburn-Greenstone Track, wearing my boots down to the quick. Following the west coast north we drove over the Southern Alps at Arthur's Pass to visit Christchurch again (only to have poor Zed broken into and lots of gear stolen) before burning up to Nelson to explore the beautiful beaches and to catch the ferry back to the North Island.
Zed and I then proceeded to explore the North Island, heading west to Taranaki (where I walked round the volcano and up it), then into the central regions of Tongariro (where I again walked round and up things) and eventually up to Northland. Time was running out, but it was here that I discovered what I would do when my six-month visa ran out, so I popped back to Auckland, sold the car, and got myself ready for the next stage of my trip.
French Polynesia (3.5 Months)
I had seen an advert for a crewing position on board a 36 ft yacht, Zeke, that was sailing east to French Polynesia and in a big loop round through the South Pacific, ending up back in Australia after something like nine months. Throwing caution to the wind, I applied and got the position.
This turned out to be a bad move: the first leg of the trip, leaving in , was a 28-day non-stop haul to the Gambier Islands, some 3000 nautical miles from New Zealand, during which I was more seasick than I ever want to be again. The problem was that there was no choice: you don't turn back once you've started.
However, the three of us – the captain, the cook and me, the first mate – battled on, despite the captain and the cook falling out dramatically and, at one point, only communicating through me (which meant all they heard from each other for a few days was 'blearghhh'). Finally we made landfall on the Gambier Islands in mid-, and I kissed the ground like a long-lost lover.
The chef left Zeke in the Gambiers, luckily finding another yacht that had a vacancy. This was good in that it meant the captain and the chef were no longer in danger of pushing each other over the side, but it was bad in that there were only two of us left to sail the 1000 nautical miles to the next port where we might find crew.
After a month loafing around in a paradise where the natives were friendly, the fruit plentiful and the beaches perfect, we raised the sails and pointed Zeke north towards Tahiti. After a couple of stops at idyllic atolls where the locals looked after us like long-lost family and, thankfully for me and my inability to keep food down while sailing, fed us well, we arrived in Papeete, the capital of Tahiti. Here I decided that I simply couldn't afford to lose any more weight, and relieved that I would never again have to sail a yacht, I flew back to Australia, where the ground only sways late on a Saturday night.
Australia: Queensland (2 Months)
Having learned to scuba dive in New Zealand, I immediately went north from Brisbane to Cairns and spent ten dives exploring the Great Barrier Reef. Next I headed south via Hinchinbrook, Magnetic and Fraser Islands, where I walked extensively before ending up back in Brisbane, from where I flew out to Asia, the next big challenge.
Indonesia (2 Months)
Arriving in Bali with no local money, nowhere to stay and not one word of the local language in my vocabulary, I realised that Asia was going to be quite a different experience to the West. It was also going to be a lot of fun, and I wasted no time in heading east into the unknown.
Stopping only to climb a 12,000 ft volcano, I went east through Lombok, Sumbawa and Flores to Maumere where, due to the scarcity of ferries, I had to jump on the first overnight boat I found to Ujung Pandang in Sulawesi.
I spent a month exploring the incredible sights of Sulawesi and getting horribly ill (which was to become a regular occurrence in unhygienic Asia), but due to the fact that Indonesia only gave me a non-extendible two month visa I had to leave, so after popping over to Java for a couple of weeks, I flew from Bali to Singapore. As Sumatra, Kalimantan and Irian Jaya were, at that time, on fire, I figured it would be more pleasant to fly over the smoke than drive under it; it turned out to be a good decision.
Singapore (2 Weeks)
In Singapore I lingered in the supermarkets, staring at the food and marvelling at the consumer wonderland I'd wandered into. I stayed with a friend who, having put me up in his penthouse, flew off to Bangkok on business, leaving me in a pool of luxury into which I sank thankfully. I stocked up on nutrients after my Indonesian illnesses, I explored the sights and sounds of Singapore, and after a couple of weeks I realised that I simply had to get out before I got hopelessly addicted to luxury.
Malaysia (1 Month)
I had assumed that Malaysia would be boring, but I couldn't have been further from the truth. From the history of Melaka and the phallic skyscrapers of Kuala Lumpur to the beaches of Pulau Pangkor and the culinary multiculturalism of Georgetown, Malaysia was a delight. It was made even better by my meeting up with a delightful Englishman halfway through the country, Charlie, with whom I travelled until I left Thailand.
The highlight, though, was a six-day solo trek through the oldest tropical rainforest in the world in Peninsular Malaysia's Taman Negara National Park, where I got hopelessly lost and had to rely on the local natives to help me out, despite their complete lack of English or Malaysian. Luckily they were very friendly...
Thailand (1 Month)
I went to Thailand to party in the festive season, and for that it was perfect. Beautiful beaches, a hedonistic life-style and cheap alcohol made it the perfect party zone, but after a while it began to pall: all too soon Thailand became boring and simply didn't live up to its potential. The tourist-battered culture paled in comparison to its neighbours, and I began to look forward to leaving Southeast Asia to explore pastures new. Thailand was all right, but when the world is this big, all right isn't good enough.
Southern India (2.5 Months)
I loved India from the first second. Insane and full of life, India is both a traveller's dream and his worst nightmare, and the contradictions of rich and poor, war and peace, and democracy and corruption made sure India never got boring. After Thailand, India was a revelation.
I flew into Calcutta but headed south straight away, to take advantage of the dry season. Taking in Hyderabad on the way, I explored the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala extensively before making my way north through the centre, slowly heading towards Nepal.
And on the way I discovered the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. The Islamic tombs in Bijapur and Mandu and the ancient ruins of Hampi were simply indescribable, and it was with some reluctance that I rushed north to catch the end of the trekking season in Nepal.
Nepal (1 Month)
In all I spent three weeks trekking the Annapurna Circuit, a beautiful walk that takes you up to 18,000 ft and strikes you with its beauty despite the heavy impact of tourism.
Heading east, the unique valley city of Kathmandu and the Indian-Nepalese crossover of Janakpur proved to be fascinating, but it all seemed to go a bit too quickly, and before I knew it I had rushed across Nepal and back into India, which, on reflection, was exactly where I had wanted to be along.
Northern India (2.5 Months)
Back in my favourite country in the world I took the toy train up to Darjeeling where I spent a week of bliss before heading down into the sweating plains of Varanasi, home to more dead bodies than is healthy for a mollycoddled westerner to see. The heat wave struck, bringing the temperature up to 50°C, so I thought I'd avoid it by heading west to the desert.
The beauty of the Taj Mahal shone through the heat haze before I shot off to explore the maharaja's palaces of Rajasthan, a collection of majestic buildings spread throughout the state, a story in stone of the grandeur of India's proud heritage.
Gujarat, south of Rajasthan, was a different story, with the ship-breaking site of Alang, the alcoholic island of Diu and the disaster of a cyclone that struck the west of the state while I was there, causing three days without power and water, and fuelling rumours of a cholera outbreak to the north. I hastily evacuated and headed back into Rajasthan again.
After checking out the western desert reaches of Rajasthan I crossed north into the Punjab and finally to Dharamsala, where I spent a week of pure laziness in preparation for my return home. Finally I flew to Amsterdam on , from where I returned to London on 21 July.
An Interlude in Morocco
After getting sucked into the dot.com boom, which prised me away from travel writing for a while, I finally got back into it in , when my girlfriend Peta and I managed to get away to explore central Morocco for a couple of weeks. As writing has always been more of a hobby than a drag, I decided to write about it while on location, and you can read the results on this very website.
Morocco (2 Weeks)
Our journey was a round trip, starting and ending in Marrakech, where it was relatively straightforward to get hold of a hire car for exploring the desert (we ended up in a Fiat Uno, which was surprisingly good at negotiating desert tracks. Heading south over the windy roads of the High Atlas, our first stop was Aït Benhaddou, home to one of the most stunning desert fortresses I've ever seen. The Drâa Valley took us to our first taste of the Sahara – a taste that included insanely invasive locals and voracious sandflies – but after a long day's drive west across the hammada we reached Rissani, where the Hôtel Kasbah Asmaa's swimming pool, air conditioning, and ice-cold beer reminded us that we were supposed to be on holiday...
The next day's drive to Merzouga was bone shaking, but our Fiat Uno held itself together (well, apart from one hubcap that's probably still out there in the dunes), and it was here that we took a delightful camel trek into the pink dunes of the Erg Chebbi. After relaxing for a few days in the soaring desert temperatures, we drove north out of the desert via Todra Gorge, where intestinal bacteria somewhat spoiled our enjoyment, before we finally crawled back to Marrakech via Ouarzazate.
Morocco would prove to be a good introduction to Africa, something that would come in handy for my next trip...
Exploring West Africa
Ever since my big trip of 1995-1998, I wanted to hit the road again. I fell in love with the deserts of Australia and India, and I found the tribal cultures of Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand absolutely fascinating, so logic dictated that I would be in my element in Africa, home to some amazing deserts and more tribal culture than the rest of the world put together. Eventually I tired of the rat race enough to save up for a year travelling in Africa, and in I flew out to Dakar in Senegal to start another long-term trip.
However, this time things were different. When I hit the road in 1995 I was as single as you can be, and I explored Morocco with Peta, so it was a complete surprise and no little shock to find that solo travelling is a nightmare when you have to leave half of you behind. I'll never forget the wrench of Heathrow Airport, and I never recovered. I thought the road would be fascinating enough to distract me, and I thought I'd get used to being alone. I never did, and in , after just three months, I decided to call it quits: instead of flying from Ghana to Kenya to explore eastern and southern Africa, I bought a one-way ticket to London, and spent the summer walking from Land's End to John o'Groats instead. It was definitely the right decision.
Here's the route that I ended up taking through West Africa:
And here's what I got up to in the depths of the desert...
Senegal (2 Weeks)
I chose to start my visit to West Africa in Dakar, because it's an easy entrance point for Europeans. It's not as scary as some would have you believe, and a visit to Île de Gorée is a must. I didn't hang around too long, though, opting instead for a quick sprint up the coast to the slightly disappointing St-Louis before heading back to Dakar and on to the Petite Côte, the name given to the coast south of Dakar.
I got horribly ill in the seaside village of Toubab Dialao and struggled to enjoy the shell islands of Joal-Fadiout, only to find that the beach at off-season Palmarin is a complete washout. Luckily the sand-spit settlement of Djiffer proved to be much more pleasant, and after a boat ride to the riverside town of Foundiougne and a road trip to the junction town of Kaolack, I said goodbye to Senegal and headed into the Gambia.
The Gambia (1.5 Weeks)
The Gambia is much easier travelling for Anglophones, and even its capital city, Banjul, is laid-back and friendly. I soon headed for the beach at Fajara, where the local touts – or bumsters – have to be seen to be believed. Luckily things calm down to the east, and places like Tendaba and Jangjang Bureh sit beautifully by the tranquil River Gambia, providing a perfect opportunity for a bit of river boating. Finally, after traversing the whole country, I ended up in the transit town of Basse Santa Su, where the world's second worst bus scraped its way across the border and back into Senegal.
Senegal (3 Days)
My original plan had been to catch the Dakar to Bamako train as it passed through the Senegalese town of Tambacounda, but after a few days' waiting the train was cancelled, and I had to take the long road into Mali in the company of the world's worst bus.
Mali (1 Month)
I'd been looking forward to Mali as the jewel in West Africa's crown, and it's certainly got some top-class attractions. From the border town of Kayes I jumped on the train to the capital Bamako, where I sorted out a few visa issues before heading to the main tourist centre of Mali, Mopti. From Mopti I took a public pinasse up the River Niger to Timbuktu, where I went camel trekking and soaked up the atmosphere of one of the most famous places in the world. Back on the river – this time on the public ferry – I sailed downstream to the market town of Gao before looping back to Mopti.
I then decided to enjoy two of the most famous sights in Mali: the mud mosque at Djenné and the astounding cultural experience that is the Dogon Country. Unfortunately my health hit a real low point during the trek, but the memories are still golden.
Burkina Faso (1 Week)
I only spent a week in Burkina Faso, and all of that was in the capital Ouagadougou, which turns out to be a wonderful place. I would have explored more of the country, but by this stage I desperately wanted to relax in an Anglophone country, and with Ghana just to the south, I couldn't resist...
Ghana (1 Month)
Ghana is a delightful country, though by this point in my African journey I'd already decided that I needed to go home. I'll health plagued my visit to Kumasi, but I spent a recuperative week with friends in Accra and discovered one of the most wonderful venues for Christmas, the seaside village of Kokrobite, home to Rastas and relaxation par excellence.
After a quick weekend trip to the rainforests of Kakum, I headed west along the coast, taking in the amazing slave forts of Cape Coast and Elmina before ending up in the trippy stilt village of Nzulezo. On the way back to Accra I took in the beaches of Axim and Busua, but by this stage I'd lost interest in being away from home, and on I flew back to London with palpable relief.
As a chill-out exercise after the strain of West Africa, Peta and I spent two weeks driving round Cyprus in , and again I wrote about it while we were there, publishing the resulting articles right here. Our timing was impeccable, as the borders separating the northern and southern parts of the island were opened not long after we visited; of course, it is fantastic news that the divide is slowly being eroded, but it does mean others can't experience the fascinating and bizarre nature of travelling through a divided nation.
After a couple of years' break from travelling – during which I walked from Land's End to John o'Groats and learned to ski black runs – Peta and I headed off to Cuba in , somewhere we wanted to visit before Castro pops his clogs. We weren't disappointed; it's a great place to visit.
Our most recent holiday, in , was to India, my favourite country of all. As always, India proved to be a real highlight; if all holidays were like this, we'd never come home...
Cyprus (2 Weeks)
Because it isn't possible to drive around the whole of Cyprus, exploring southern Cyprus involved some backtracking, which is why our journey formed a figure of eight, starting and ending at the pleasant port of Pafos, with its incredible Roman ruins. Heading up into the mountains, we reached Troodos, where we skied on Mt Olympos. From the highest point of Cyprus it was an easy drive to the picturesque mountain village of Kakopetria, from where the capital city of Nicosia was a short downhill drive. After exploring the Green Line and the two halves of this divided city, we took a roundabout route through the party beach resort of Agia Napa to Larnaka, a convenient stop on the way to Pissouri, where the nearby ruins of Kourion proved a worthwhile detour. Heading northwest, we then took the scenic coastal route to Polis, where the Akamas Peninsula provided some excellent walking and some breathtaking views. Returning to Pafos, we flew home after two great weeks of exploring.
Cuba (2 weeks)
Cuba is a huge place, and in a fortnight it's only possible to explore about half the island (unless you like driving solidly for days on end... which I don't). We started in evocative Havana, where we hired a car and shot southeast to Playa Girón on the Bay of Pigs, home to one of the worst hotels I have ever stayed in. Luckily things improved in the wonderful colonial town of Trinidad, and Camagüey kept us occupied in the blistering heat. The best, though, was back west, on the pristine beaches of Cayo Santa María and in the quiet town of Remedios, where we finally found what we were looking for.
India (2.5 weeks)
Ever since I visited India back in 1998, it's remained my favourite country on the planet, bar none. It took a while, but Peta finally managed to persuade me that we should visit the subcontinent, and I'm glad to report that she fell in love with Mother India too. I chose Kerala as a relaxing introduction, and we travelled round in a circle, flying into Trivandrum and heading straight for the beach at Varkala, before taking a luxurious houseboat along the Keralan Backwaters. We then explored Kochi and hired a car and driver to take us to the tea plantations of Munnar and the nature reserve at Periyar, before heading back for more beach action in Kovalam. As always, India excelled, and I'm sure we'll be back again one day. What a place...
Plans for the Future
Peta and I are currently planning a year-long trip to central and south America, starting in October 2013. You will soon be able to read all about it on this website... or that's the current plan, anyway.