Extraordinary voyages

Over the past year we’ve met many people on many different kinds of trips, but of everyone we’ve met there are a couple of fascinating people who really stood out.

One of the most interesting pairs we met were a Portuguese couple who were bicycling from Portugral to Hong Kong.  They had applied for some equipment sponsorship (for free bike gear) and were writing a weekly article for a local newspaper back in Portugal (which they said helped fund their trip “only a little”) but were mostly living off money they’d saved and using couchsurfing and camping to make the journey possible.  When we met them in India, they said their favourite country had been Iran because of the generosity and hospitality of the Iranian people.  Whenever they entered a town or village they would be served tea, invited in to a stranger’s house for refreshments and offered a place to sleep if they needed it.  The section of their journey through the deserts and mountains of Central Asia was particularly inspiring.

In Nong Kiau, Laos we met a family in an RV who were eating dinner at a table they’d set up.  Their RV had a sticker on it that said “Break around the world” and they made such an interesting sight that I had to ask if they were doing a trip for charity or other reasons.  Jean-Philippe, the father I spoke to, said that they were just travelling the world to have time together as a family.  They had sold their house and everything in it and set off with their four children; a 3-year old son, two 6-year old twins, and an 8-year old daughter on a two year trip around the world.  From France they travelled across Europe, the Middle East, down into India and all around south-east Asia where we met them.  They then planned to travel onwards to Australia, New Zealand, South America from the tip of Argentina all the way up to the United States and from there they would return to France.  When I asked him what motivated such a seemingly radical decision, Jean-Philippe said that for the past ten years he hadn’t been around to see his children grow up because the job he worked had taken up all his time and forced him to be away from home for extremely long days.  The family decided to leave on this trip and home-school their children for the two years so that they could be together as a family.  They chose the camper van (instead of hotels) so that their children could have somewhere stable to think of as home during the trip.  Although the costs of a trip like this are huge, especially the shipping costs for the RV when there’s no land connection and the visas for 6 people, this family seemed so happy and the experiences they’re giving to their children are absolutely invaluable.  To read more about their route and motivations they have a website http://www.breakaroundtheworld.com/ in French and English (some of the translations are still in progress).

A South African girl we met on the border between Laos and Vietnam had been travelling for the past four years all over Africa, Europe, Central Asia, south-east Asia, Oceania and was on her way to China when we met her.  Passionate about travel, she could tell you stories for hours; from the time she fell in to a volcano to her motorcycle accident in Vietnam to when she avoided the night guards in Angkor Wat to be able to sleep in the temple.  She funded her trip by working along the way and adhering to every money saving tip in the book, without compromising her activities or experiences.  She showed us her world map crisscrossed with lines on every continent except for the Americas which she hid with her hand saying it was depressing that she hadn’t been there yet!  An experience-seeker, when we met her she had just embarked on a bicycle trip across Laos which she said admitted had been a terrible idea seeing as this was her first bike trip and Laos is a very mountainous country.

Another solo female traveller that we met was an American girl in India.  She actively pushed her personal boundaries and comfort zone while travelling to try and better understand herself as well as the challenges faced by people around the world.  Of all the things she had done possibly the most dangerous was travelling to the West-bank in Palestine and telling Palestinian people that she was from the United States to see their reactions (she said that although everyone had been friendly before they knew where she was from, once she told them she received many hostile responses including being yelled at and spat on).  She has also slept on the street near a train station in India to see what it felt like to be homeless, travelled Western Europe on an $15 a day budget and hitch-hiked all across the middle east, Asia and Africa.

Although these people are on exceptional journeys that most feel they would never be able to do, I also want to mention the hundreds of people we met, of all ages and budgets, who were taking anywhere from one month to one year to travel the world.  These people all have their own stories and reasons for travelling that are no less important or interesting than those on multi-year voyages.  Any amount of exposure to different ideas or cultures helps us to question ourselves and grow as individuals.  During our trip, Nathaniel and I have learnt through reading and observation, and have grown through direct experience with different and occasionally difficult cultures.