“I travelled because I had to. There was something out there in the wild emptiness that alleviated me from the madness and pain of a scripted life. There was something out there that called me home. I was bewitched by a spell of mountains, lakes, foreign smells, exotic lands and encounters with people you’d meet briefly before you both sailed away into the eternity of the cosmos. Travelling was life in vivid colour – fleeting, precious and, at its fundamental core, transient in nature.”
“When you are here and now, sitting totally, not jumping ahead, the miracle has happened. To be in the moment is the miracle.” Osho
To be happy and content is the perhaps the most common desire of the average human-being – to feel like everything is in its right place. But from an early age it is easy to feel out of place in this world, as if we don’t quite really belong.
As we enter school, teachers suggest now isn’t good enough by asking us what we want to ‘be’ when we grow up. As we leave school, friends and relatives suggest now isn’t good enough by asking what we are ‘doing next’. When we get a job, our bosses suggest that now still isn’t good enough by telling us salvation lies in targets and promotions. Elsewhere advertisements suggest we are incomplete by telling us the latest ‘must-have’; governments urge us to plan and save our money for our retirement; religions even tell us we are ‘sinners’ and must seek repentance for simply being born.
When we are all constantly inundated with such disempowering rhetoric, it is easy to feel out of place in a world which incessantly relies on a relationship to the external – an addiction that so often deprives us of the sheer internal joy of being alive within the present moment of our immediate surrounding universe.
Perhaps to use the word ‘world’ is erroneous. This word represents the floating mass that is planet earth – the organic spaceship that is floating around a spherical fire in a solar system that’s a part of a galaxy moving 2.1 million kilometres per hour as it catapults itself through an infinite universe. To be out of place in this world is to be alien – which we are not. If biology and evolution tell us anything, it tells that us that humans grew out of the world as fruit grows outward from a tree. This planet is our tree of life; our bodies are maintained by its air, food, water, materials and temperature. These were the things that forged us. These are the things which make this rock home for each and every one of us. We are exactly where we need to be.
But despite this intrinsic and inseparable connection we have to our universe and planet, we often feel ‘out of place’ – as if we are strangers here and don’t quite belong in our own home; as if the ‘here and now’ is not good enough. And as this phenomenon continues to pervade, I – like many others – have come to realise the falseness of this feeling that many cultures seek to condition their citizens with.
“Wherever you go, there you are” Jon Kabat- Zinn
As mentioned, such a feeling begins from an early age when we are dangled a carrot in front of us and told to chase, chase, chase. As soon as we able to understand words and orders, we are made to feel marginal and peripheral by the hegemonic cultural discourse. We are taught that life lies somewhere ‘out there’ – an oasis of contentment and happiness in the future that only cultural and social institutions can lead us to if we follow their rules.
So, what do we do? Naturally, being susceptible and impressionable to our elders’ philosophy, we accept we are incomplete human-beings and pursue their game. We go through institutional education jumping through hoop after hoop until we graduate; we then join the world of business where the hoops of exams and grades are replaced with promotions and pay rises; a little later we get sucked into chasing material goods and saving for retirement. While you could argue such processes are seemingly unavoidable in our current systemic and industrial society, it is ridiculous that we are never educated to feel like we have or are enough in the present moment – something that we can all agree is an essential part to human happiness and inner contentment.
And so inevitably – as nurture triumphs over nature – we suffer, stress and strain.
Getting lost deeper and deeper into the ideological wonderland of culture, we try desperately to ‘keep up’ with everybody else also engaged in this game. We run in packs chasing down hoop after hoop, consequently having our pockets perpetually picked of the preciousness of the present moment – the only place we can or will ever be. “The grass is always greener on the other side” thus becomes a mantra of many of our lives as media, social media, advertising, business and the general cultural discourse suggest there is always something better than where you are now. Bought the iPhone 7? Well now you need to work harder to buy the new iPhone 8. Just met that quota at work? Well now you need to chase the next one to get that promotion.
“No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.” Alan Watts
Of course, it is obvious that we need to make plans for the future if we are to survive, but the current set-up is so bewitching, so intoxicating and so all consuming, that many of us become completely lost within this shady forest of deception. This brings about the wolves of overthinking, social anxiety, depression and insecurity that continue to hound many minds throughout the modern world as people hunt to obtain that which cannot be caught. Many of us get lost in this addiction to the external so much that we spend our one life doing things we don’t want to do under the illusion we will eventually arrive where we belong: the oasis of happiness in the mythical future.
But as the saying goes: ‘tomorrow never comes’ and this is why I – and so many others out there – are currently waking up from this trance and remembering that which we forgot since we are children. That we are not out of place in this world. That each and every one of us is a product and realisation of the entire universe – a manifestation of consciousness standing here proudly atop this beautiful green and blue rock that we call home. This is where we belong, and the present moment is all that is and that will ever be.
Yes, it really is. When you mourn the past, that is done in the present; when you worry about the future, that is done in the present. The external is a falsity: something which only exists in the clumsy chambers of the human mind.
And so, as society and technology continue to sweep us away from the here and now, I urge us all to reclaim our own consciousness from this deception and come back to our senses. It is time for us to relax and realise life is not as serious as culture makes it out to be. It is time for us to realise that we are an intrinsic part of the universe – and we can never be out of place even if we tried. It is time to come home; to where we are and always have been.
Only then will we all collectively learn that the ‘game’ of society is exactly that – a game that can be played, but is ultimately not something to be taken too seriously. Only then we will become aware that things beyond our control are pointless to worry about – that the greatest power one can hold is to be completely absorbed in the present moment of their immediate environment. As our consciousness expands, we will be able to see through the deceit of many marketing campaigns, arbitrary cultural values, unnecessary overtime, trivial and frivolous worries, and anything that is generally insulting to the soul of the individual human-being.
So, let us wake up and discover the power of the present. The power of saying “I have enough”. The power of appreciating that which is priceless – the burning sunset, the crisp winter air, the breeze dancing through the spring grass, the smile on the face of a friend, the quietness as you fall asleep next to a loved one, the firework display of the stars shimmering in the night sky.
Discover the power of contentment; the power of knowing you are where you are.
A fish out of water; a classic car rusting in a garage; a bird in a cage.
Some things in this world just simply aren’t meant to exist in certain environments. Disregarding the qualities that makes them such wonders of life, art and magnificence, it makes our heart ache when we witness such beings go to waste during their precious and powerful moments here in the universe. Contained wonder; contained raw power – a true travesty of existence that leaves most compassionate people with a sense of melancholy when witnessing such unnatural sights as a fish flapping helplessly on sand, or a bird hesitating to spread its wings because of the metal bars three inches in front of its beak. These things do not belong in said environments, we tell ourselves – in is not natural, and it is not just. But in looking at these things and concluding such thoughts, sometimes we need to look in the mirror, look back upon the reflection and ask: what about humans? What about ourselves?
Of all the creatures on planet earth, we are by far the most complex and intellectually powerful. With the tool-set to explore, interact, construct and create, me and you have the dexterity and intelligence to build skyscrapers and climb to the top of mountains; we have the utter depth of language to connect with people from all around the world and go on journeys, start adventures, live dreams, share knowledge and discuss complex ideas. No other being can even get remotely close to the level of communication me and you have right now in the writing, reading and understanding of these words and sentences. In human history our kind has culminated such physical, linguistic and intellectual excellence to sail around the world, write novels, build satellites, fly into space, climb the tallest mountains, run the longest races and break the unbreakable records.
But as majestic and advanced as we are, we are not invincible and – just like the aforementioned creatures – we are also vulnerable and at risk when we are to enter unnatural environments; ironically one which is self-created in the form of a sedentary lifestyle that permeates our daily routine living. Such a way of living comes from an overexposure to technology and a society that places us in one place and often tires us out, leaving many of us not to explore, build, exercise, learn and interact with the world – but to instead live a life of stillness – one where we remain indoors and incessantly consume media as we degenerate our health and complex minds. In doing so we become the salmon out of water, the Chevrolet rusting in the garage, the eagle in the cage. We become the very thing that so often leaves us with a sense of melancholy and sadness – our abilities to explore, build, run and discover contained by a lifestyle choice of closed living.
The effects are deadly. Health campaigners against sedentary living warn that such lifestyles can be linked to as many deaths a year as smoking, with the risk of falling victim to fatal heart diseases rising by 64% when one maintains a static, sedentary lifestyle. Amongst this, research papers conducted on the public also attribute health problems such as depression, diabetes and even dementia. The problem goes beyond such physical health problems though – it rocks our foundations of mental and spiritual well-being. How can we as people aspire to become learned and knowledgeable about the world when our windows to it become sensationalist tabloid-newspapers and trashy, unimaginative television? How can we learn to talk to people and develop our empathy when we physically interact less and less each day? Whereas a lack of exercise will degenerate our bodies, an over-consumption of media and lack of real world empirical experience will degenerate our minds.
Sure, the technological aspects of the information era present to us many advancements in the world. Computers and their capabilities act as the veins of society; TV news brings us far-off events to the comfort of our homes; our phones make it easier to connect than ever before. But to leave this world completely unregulated, place too much emphasis on it and let this static consumption totally replace our natural environment is unnatural and damaging. In a world where technology is becoming increasingly ubiquitous, we need to seek to experience people, events, and places not through profit-driven media, but through travel, exercise and exploration. We should learn not through word of mouth and gossip, but by empirical experiences and real tangible things. These are the things that help us evolve mentally, physically and spiritually – not a static and still sedentary lifestyle that is counterproductive to the evolutionary process that has made us all such advanced beings in the first place.
You and I were meant for so much more than a still lifestyle. So let’s put the fish back in the water, fire up the rusty old Chevrolet one more time and release the eagle from the static cage. Take flight. Walk, run or cycle once a day; integrate travelling movement and learning into lifestyles. On the journey of evolution let our lives count for positive, adventurous and progressive strides, not static and still ones. Because as far as you and I go, we are only here once – so let’s use this time to utilise the tools that make us the most advanced species here on earth. Get up from the chair, open the curtains, open our minds, explore, dream, learn, move and discover.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”
Okay, maybe this particular journey wasn’t a thousand miles, but over one hundred miles through the topsy-turvy, meandering Alps in the summer heat with a 15kg backpack strapped to you wasn’t exactly a walk in the park either. The ‘Tour Du Mont Blanc’ – one of great long walks of the world that snakes its way around the Mont Blanc Massif as it passes through ridiculously pretty and bucolic regions of France, Italy and Switzerland. Following some research on the internet a few weeks before, I booked my flight, loaded up my backpack and set off to the Swiss city of Geneva where I caught a connecting bus to the French town of Chamonix that sat at the foot of the highest mountain in Western Europe – Mont Blanc. The aforementioned single step hit the tarmac as I immediately set off on my journey as I left the bus and began a short walk down the alpine valley to the charming French town of Les Houches – the official start-point of the tour. I lazed about all day catching up on sleep due to fruitlessly attempting to sleep in the airport the night before my 6.30am flight. A thunderstorm lashed down from above and I spent the first night cocooned in my tent before emerging enthusiastically the next morning ready to hike.
The first day was still littered with light rain and grey clouds obscuring the surrounding mountains I had came to see, and I made way up out of the valley alongside quiet roads that were lined with chalets and holiday homes. The summer season of course meant an end to the skiing and this was reflected in the quietness of the streets and the eerily empty ski fields where ski lifts gently swung in the valley breeze as they
solitarily awaited the distant return of snow. For now it was summer season – the season of hiking where people like me trudged up and down these valleys while sweating profusely. I reached the top of the valley (the ‘Col’ as they call it), ate a packed lunch and spent the second half of the first day descending to the bottom before meeting two Canadian girls Melanie and Sarah on their first trip to Europe. Being from British Columbia, they were no strangers to beautiful alpine mountains and we spent the afternoon chirping the usual traveller back-forth chat while walking through the quaint and picturesque scenery that was filled with rustic, stylish houses and settlements adorning colourful flowers and immaculately groomed gardens. The day ended again with me sheltering in my tent as a night storm battered down into the valley. Well, at least it’s at night hey.
Following a second day trudging up and down over my first 2500m Col in the now frustratingly gloomy weather, I was nestled in a beautiful French valley that exploded in the colour of green as the summer sun finally made an appearance. Doing the trek counter-clockwise (it can be done either way around), I was now in the tiny town of Les Chapieux and en route to climb the next Col to make my way into Italy where dramatic views of enormous, spiky rock faces awaited me on the southern side of the Mont Blanc Massif, not to mention an entirely different language (as if my few French phrases weren’t painful enough to the locals). I packed away my camping gear, ordered a couple of delicious French baguettes for lunch from a small shop and starting climbing into Italy. Over the border I was met with stupendous views of the now-clear mountain range where a stretching alpine valley snaked alongside an engulfing, jagged crowd of sky-piercing mountains and wrinkled hills. The scenery was incredible; the skies clear and blue; the paths filled with butterflies dancing to the rhythm of nature; and I, despite walking over 30km this day, was extremely content witnessing such beautiful scenes. When you’re an avid world traveller with a lust to ‘see the world’ it’s easy to neglect some places that seem close to home; the mental world map in your head pleads to be filled with travel and experiences from far-off places rather than those within a small circle of home – Europe, in my case. But this is a ridiculous philosophy I realised as the accompanying world-class and stunning, mountainous scenery lit up my eyes as good as anything in New Zealand, South America and even Nepal did. I had never even considered coming to the Alps a few weeks back, and yet here I was loving it.
Following a ten hour day of walking where I had teamed up again with the Canadian girls and an adventure-enthusiast, American-Australian called Brooke, I was slightly off course as relentless talk of pizza and ice cream had roped me in and took me off my planned path and towards the Italian mountain town of Courmayeur – a pleasant and supposedly posh settlement that lay cuddled in the surrounding hills and mountains which left me with an annoying accommodation problem.
As far as shelter goes, there are two main accommodation options for hikers undertaking the Tour Du Mont Blanc, and these were A) Refuges – the most popular option which were large houses essentially serving as hostels offering dormitory-style accommodation with meals, and B) Camping – the budget and, of course, most fun option. Being forever a budget traveller I was tactically following the camping sites around the trail, but a detour to Courmayeur meant tiredly wandering around the town in twilight at the end of a long day to find a refuge. I swiftly learned refuges could only be found in the mountains and that, also, there was nowhere to wild camp in a town surrounded by vertical landscapes. This left me reluctantly forking out for a hotel. Oh, the backpacker ego pain of becoming a tourist for one night! Still, c’est la vie I told myself; me and the three girls had a memorable day’s hike, good conversations and a bountiful dinner. Yes, eating a 15-inch pizza and drinking beer with brand new friends after a long day’s adventure in the mountains is how every day should finish I told myself. There may have been pain, sweat and more expense than I planned, but it’s the memories that count. In a world where people can get lost in numbers, money and possessions, always it’s the experience that is most important.
The next two days I made my way out of the Italian section of the tour and into the Swiss section. Another long day’s 30km+ walk out of Courmayeur further along the south side of the Massif had left me with painful blisters on my feet and the usual weight-loss I had experienced twice already this year on my multi-day hikes in Nepal. A few tinned cans of spaghetti and tuna with a load of biscuits and fruit wasn’t exactly enough for long days spent in the sun climbing over 2500m passes with a 15kg backpack. But still, there was always time to recover. And if you’re going to take a day off to recover, eat and drain blisters on your feet then why not do it in one of the most beautiful towns you’ve ever seen. In this case, Champex – a gorgeous and relatively small tourist town in Switzerland that had a lake in its centre filled with crystal clear water reflecting the blue sky – the perfect place to laze, gaze into the mountains, read and drink some wine. I arrived here with my new hiking friend from the Ukraine – a family man and aerospace engineer who had started the hike the same day as me and was eager to power through to the end. Having never met anyone from the Ukraine, I was eager to speak with him and share the experience. He proved to be an extremely friendly and all-round good person – eagerly sharing stories, offering food and drink and informing me about wild fruits as he foraged for small, edible berries along the trail. Following the first night in Champex where we drank wine, ate and chatted as the sun went down behind the enveloping hills, we parted ways as he pressed on and I took the day off, taking it easy before resuming the second half of the trail the next day. Three more days of hiking left I noted, as I studied the map and guide.
Walking alone on this hike proved to be a great decision so far. On one hand I had lots of time to solitarily wander, marvel at the mountainous expanse and listen to music while letting my mind wander; conversely on the other hand – because the hike was so popular with people of all group sizes, ages and shapes – there were also plenty of opportunities to speak to and team up with friendly hikers alongside the trail. As I made my way up and over the highest pass of the whole trek, I met Noam – a young Israeli guy who was also solo trekking. Like Ukraine, Israeli was a nationality of person I had never really encountered (at least not one on one) and ongoing chat showed that – despite borders, governments, cultures, religions, language and whatever else separates us – people are inherently similar and looking for the same things in life: usually to live their lives well with a sense of purpose, peace, community and fulfilment. We talked life and philosophy before sharing lunch atop the pass, gazing out at the spectacular view of the cutting valley and the dazzling glacier and white-watered river that streamed down into it. There below we camped and were joined again by Brooke – the American, Australian girl I had walked with previously to Courmayeur. With just two days left and the same way to go, we now had a trio of us to undertake the final miles as we headed back to the northern side and French valley that sat in the shadow of the Mont Blanc mountain. The end was nearing.
Following a relatively easy day’s walking of around ten miles, we rested, loaded up on food from the first supermarket in two days, and got tipsy off ‘hammer wine’ – 3 euros of low-quality, grape-filled goodness. My stomach was demanding calories as I hastily assembled an enormous French baguette and filled it with ridiculously cheap cheese (1.50 for 350g of Camembert!). This alongside the merriness of wine and good company meant a pleasant evening before undertaking the final day where we would climb up the mountain above to get the best panoramic views of the Mont Blanc Massif. Now joined by another friendly Israeli guy called Omer, we loaded up for the final time and immediately began a steep ascent of over 1000 vertical metres. Over the course of the trail, a hiker ascends and descends a total of 10,000m and this final day would make up a good portion of that with its relentless climb that even included vertical ladders and steps at one point. Climbing up an old rusty ladder on the side of a mountain with a big backpack and no safety harness really made you feel like Lara Croft or something.
Finally all four of us made it to the top and took a short detour to the lakes beside us. We arrived here sweaty and exhausted after the thigh-stabbing final ascent and immediately sank down besides the rocks to eat, drink and rest. The scenery around us was breath-taking; the first lake was surrounded by shining green grass and lay directly in front of a panoramic and cinematic view of the Mont Blanc massif where enormous distant spikes and mountain faces zig-zagged their way along the horizon as they displayed their snowy peaks and glaciers. An array of colours dazzled my eyes in a dreamy dance of blue skies, white snow, green grass and reflective, crystal-clear waters. Mont Blanc stood gleaming clear opposite us across the valley.
I had the privilege of seeing a few spectacular views this year, but this was right up as the most stunning alongside the close-up view of Mount Everest and its surrounding peaks. The world and our reality truly is a work of art, and I could never get bored of this universal painting. Like a tourist in a gallery, I observed and marvelled at the views some more before me, Brooke and Omer jumped in and swam within the icy cold glacier water of Lac Blanc – much to the amusement of surrounding, photo-snapping tourists. We swiftly emerged freezing and refreshed, ready to head down the mountain and conclude the trek where it started – in the town of Chamonix. It, sadly, was the end of this adventure. C’est la vie; c’est la vie.
And so after eleven days, eight days of hiking, three countries and over 110 miles of good experiences, sites and people, I sat at the foot of my tent sipping beer and staring up into the mountains once more. I was alone again having said goodbye to the others – a natural and forever common occurrence in the world of backpacking. The last days had been exactly what I would call a perfect equilibrium of existence while we go about passing the time as we live and breathe on this floating rock in space. Days spent in beautiful natural environments, with changing landscapes, new faces, few worries and good memories is what it is all about.
My trekking adventures this year had helped steady the fire that burns inside a restless, young soul wanting to experience the beautiful gift of reality we have found ourselves with. And the Alps and this hike had been an experience that surpassed expectations.
Les Alps, it is Au Revoir for now, but surely not for good.
Okay, you finish university this summer and you’re still unsure about what to do with your life. You pick up the rule-book of our capitalist society and flick to the chapter after university. ‘Chapter Five: Post-Degree Life’ – “You must now apply for a job in a business and field that you can see yourself working in for the rest of your career, nine hours a day, five days a week, year after year.” You read on with trepidation: “you must do this so that you can get a deposit on a house, get a brand new car, a new wardrobe, get those items advertised to you on the TV, and you must get all of this before your peers do”.
All those possessions you could have – the security; the comfort; the routine. If everyone chases these things instantly then surely you have to as well? Surely it’s the only way, right? Well, twenty-one years into my life and in my last year of university, I can safely say that I don’t own a lot of the aforementioned stuff, but the experiences I do have are something infinitely more valuable to my life. Yes, in the past I have threw out the car money so I could stay in Africa one summer working as a journalist and hanging out with a bunch of rastafarians; I threw out the deposit money so I could fly to Australia/Thailand and parachute, sail, cage-dive and party my way around the coast with a bunch of strangers; I threw out the wardrobe money so I could cycle my way through European countries, seeing the sights, raising money for charity and sampling the beers along the way.
The best thing about these possessions is that – unlike the stuff in the capitalist rulebook that I’m meant to obtain – these are things that aren’t mass-manufactured and can’t be lost with bankruptcy, divorce or some gambling addiction. They are locked up within myself, where they can never be compromised. So you have to ask yourself: which possessions are more valuable to you as a person currently in your life? Experiences or ‘stuff’?
In case you can’t work out with side I’m leaning to, it’s most definitely the experience side for me. We live on a crazy, convoluted, messed-up planet and only tread its vibrant soil but once; why would you want to spend it all in one routine, one job, one culture, one house, chasing all the items your neighbours have? Why would you not take this moment in time where the right combination of technology, political stability and infrastructure has allowed us to travel to multiple far-off places for the first time? Stories are created. Strangers become friends. Insights are gained. Experiences become possessions.
Perhaps this phenomenon can be further highlighted by looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – a model that defined the common order people chase their human needs. Although just a theory on a theory, it’s a good way to reflect some possible ideas.
As you can see, ‘security of body, of employment, of resources, of the family, of the health, of property‘ are some of the basic needs near the bottom of the pyramid that can be possessed in conjunction with work, mortgages, savings and material goods. But what about the self-actualisation and esteem qualities of ‘morality, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts, respect of others, confidence, self-esteem, spontaneity‘ and those near the top of the pyramid? Will you grow those from material goods? Will you develop those immediately getting stuck doing something you have no interest in for forty-five years?
It is obviously dependant on you, your own personal interests, your relationships and what you seek to get out of, contribute and achieve from working in your particular field; however it’s more than likely for a lot of people – still unsure of what career (if any) will fulfil them – that those things can currently grow from the amazing opportunity of travel where you can gain perspective, learn first-hand about the world and experience other cultures, ideas and peoples – rather than sit at at the same desk every day in a job you’re not interested just to mindlessly chase the word ‘successful’. Just remember that the term ‘successful’, used in the context of the working world, is one constructed by a capitalist ideology – the parameters of which are measured by money and market share: things that were again constructed by other people that aren’t you. Don’t be instantly pressured into something you don’t want to do by such a debatable, problematic and relative term.
So go and travel. Go and travel if you still don’t know what to do with your life. Especially if you haven’t been before. Ignore your tutors who want you to constantly chase ‘success’; ignore mum and dad who want to see you ‘grow up’; ignore the TV that tells you to work to buy the latest car. Respond. Respond against a system that can hinder you. Go and catch a plane to an exotic country; go and hike through the expansive wilderness; go experience other cultures; go and party to the early morning on a beach with a bunch of strangers; go and spend your days gazing out at sea and your nights looking up at the stars.
If you don’t have the money then work for a bit, or combine the two and work while you’re away – working visas and teaching schemes are common in many countries and are a part of such experiences. Don’t worry about falling behind – you can still have all those other items and fulfil those other important needs later on in life; just take the lack of responsibility, proliferation of good health and the complete freedom and liberation that this age brings to head off with a flimsy backpack and see our bewildering world. There’s a good chance you will discover what you want to do with your life whilst out there travelling. And if you end up in a mundane job working for the human necessities of family, security and home, at least you took your chance to possess enriching experiences on top of those when you had the chance.
Just remember that after the rule-book is read, the adverts consumed, the paycheck cashed, the garage occupied and the wardrobe full – travel, like education, is one of the few things you buy that makes you richer.
Okay, so you’ve got it all planned. You’ve dropped a pin on a map of the world, found your far-off destination, researched all the crazy things you want to do and are itching to throw your clothes and camera into a bag and jump into the glistening, pure pool of adventure travel. A sense of excitement warms your soul and you begin to float towards the heavens – but suddenly the quantum reality of the universe pulls you back down and reminds you to check your bank account. You view your account balance: $32.04. Enough to get you to the next town maybe, but not to the corners of the earth. You realise you’re gonna have to save up to afford this next adventure.
This is such a battle global backpackers go through time and time again. If you were lucky enough in the game of life to be spawned in a first-world country then even working for the minimal wage will be enough to get you out in the world to travel; in fact, there are many people out there who travel with little to no money – but that’s another story. With a sense of grit, determination, patience and by just being sensible with money, it’s possible to save enough to go anywhere you want. Here are some things to think about as you save for your next backpacking trip.
Do I really need it, or do I just want it?
A few minutes walking around any city centre will see your eyes swamped by a starry universe of advertisements for clothes, products, gadgets and expensive cuisine. It may have just been payday and you’re itching to shower yourself in such luxuries, but it’s useful to step back and think whether any of that stuff is of any use to you as you save up for your travelling adventure. In fact it is during backpacking trips that many people come back to basics and realise the small amount of things that you need to get through the day. These are: food, water, oxygen and shelter (sometimes even this is a luxury on the road). Put simply, these are the fundamental things you need in order to survive – cutting out the luxuries or other things we’re led to believe are ‘necessities’ will see you saving hundreds of pounds/euros/dollars/pesos each month. How much you are willing to embrace ‘the simple life’ will reflect how much you begin to save. So skip lunch at Nandos and grab a potato salad from the nearest supermarket.
Find extra ways to make money
Seven times in the past I have took a dive into the unknown of pharmaceutical testing and donated my body to medicinal research. Essentially I became a human guinea-pig where my time and body were used to test new medicines. While this sounds scary and crazy to anyone I mention it to, the reality is that it is very safe, ethically approved and thousands of these studies are conducted every year in most developed countries. Such ventures allowed me to save additional hundreds of pounds for a backpacking trip in South America, a long-distance bike ride in Central Europe and ongoing travels (including a cage-dive with great-whites!) within Australia whilst I was there. This is just one example of another way to gain income besides work, but if that’s not for you – look elsewhere. Get a weekend job; sell your unused possessions; go into a casino and prepare to win millions (I take no responsibility for the consequences of this one).
Get rid of your car
Yes, that shiny metallic stallion that gets you around town may be your immediate ticket to freedom, but in the long run of saving up for an adventure it can be anything but that. Cars, while great to get around, are ultimately a massive consumer of your finances that can see thousands being spent on fuel, insurance, tax and repairs. If you have legs and have a job that is accessible by bicycle or public transport (your ego may have to take a hit), then sell the car, store the money from it and start counting the hundreds you will no doubt save each month. Hey, if you even live in a hitch-hiker friendly country maybe even try hitching around – it is a genuine mode of travel that will be extremely useful to you on your travels.
Stop drinking and smoking
If you’re really passionate about strapping on that backpack and going on a grand adventure then your hedonistic vices may have to be suppressed for a while. Oh the humanity – the reality sinks in and one hears the groans for miles as the thoughts of giving up those weekend sessions or fag breaks for the near future ring cold and clear. The simple fact is that nights out, drinking and smoking see massive amounts of disposable income being spent in the matter of a few hours in a bar or club – all for you to be left with a hangover and a need to spend even more money on fast food hangover cures the day after. Give it up. Your body and wallet will thank you for it I assure you. And if you thinking this is rich advice, know that this is coming from a very keen drinker numerously accused of being an alcoholic who is currently two months sober on the road to adventure – my longest period sober in the last six years!
The list could really go on longer when focusing on the cultural, consumerist spending habits of people in modern day society, but it really is as simple as looking at where your money is going and taking control of your finances and life. We live in a world of distractions, advertisements and temptations where you will be shown hundreds of ways to spend your money every day. But ultimately it’s you who is in control of your spending habits and if you’re serious about getting out there in the world of adventure, then it is up to you to look at how your money could be saved.
With a little first-world austerity, and some simple temporary lifestyle changes, you’ll be surprised at how quick those travel tokens rack up in your bank account.
Rebellion: an angst-ridden word that brings about images of uprisings, stoic defiances and Bastille-esque overthrows.
In fact defined as “the action or process of resisting authority, control, or convention”, said action or process can be realised in workers’ strikes, protests, political movements or even in fashion and subculture – groups such as Punks, Hipsters or Bikers going against societal expectations in the way they act and the way they style themselves. But when one looks at these things holistically, we can so often witness a way everything spirals around and each one is ultimately fallible to the system. Worker’s strikes can only last for a set period of time before their livelihood collapses; protests can spiral out of control with protesters getting arrested by authority and their voice ignored; subculture styles are capitalised on by advertising and marketing companies reciprocating the trends back to them in order to profit off their rebellion. Through the resistance of it all, so often it ends with ‘the man’ getting his way. However, there is another act of rebellion that has the capability to evade such capture and compromise – a ‘movement’ and lifestyle that resists conventions, control and authority to a much larger degree than any of the aforementioned examples.
Travel. Backpacking. Wandering. The act or process of venturing to new places, new people, new horizons and new worlds. Packing your few possessions into a flimsy backpack and leaving your home, system and conventions behind; setting your eyes to the horizon and relentlessly aspiring to wander to the next place and the next experience. In the act of adventure travel, one becomes distanced from the overarching prism of society where the mechanisms of control and convention may dictate the way for a period of time, but never for the duration. When one uses all their money to voyage to a new place and not on things that tie them to a single society, how can specific conventions, control and authority be a part of that person’s life? When one systematically moves from society to society throughout the years, how can one individual society’s rules and views be implemented onto that person in any effective way? The answer is that they can’t. Societies and political structures rely on people’s lives being static and still in one place, and if one becomes nomadic in nature and lives a life of physical movement, then the mechanisms of an individual society lose their influence drastically. To travel is to rebel. No monthly mortgage payments; no permanent job and pension scheme; no expenditure being used on consuming advertised or marketed products; no singular exposure to bias, samey media conveying everything one way. A single society’s foundations of control, authority and convention lose their zest when a person exists on a global scale. Yes, travellers adhere to laws and conventions when they are in a specific country, but when that stay is never set or fixed, any long-term hold over that traveller becomes marginal – all they need is a few hundred dollars and then all of it is left behind again. French philosopher Albert Camus said that “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion” and perhaps travellers/backpackers are the ultimate embodiment of this. A life of movement and adventure is not compatible with the system – after all if everyone were to live a nomadic existence then the conventions, control and authority of single societies would be completely disrupted. The system would buckle, be forced to change to be reborn. And as far as rebellion goes, it can so often consist of violence, intent to destroy and something that eludes a sense of danger – however in travel we see a form of rebellion that is arguably entirely ‘pure’ and harmless. Most travellers’ (the good ones) aims and ambitions are to explore, to enrich, to learn, to anew and to experience; many work jobs locals don’t want to do on working holiday visas in countries and many teach languages and spend money they gained from first world countries in third world countries – a direct transfer of money from the rich to the poor empirically bridging the international poverty gap. To associate this kind of rebellion with anything as negative as violence or a clashing of two sides is just not correct; if anything it resembles more of a peaceful protest. A pure rebellion. An act where the world and its people become enriched, thoughtful, less materialistic, less judgemental and close-minded.
So angry with the system or disillusioned with the lack of options your society gives you? Sick of working a soul-less job for a faceless corporation whose only aim is to line the pockets of their bureaucrat bosses and investors? Don’t destroy, don’t protest, don’t get angry, don’t strike. Travel. Move, explore and experience other societies; engage in other ways of thinking and new philosophies; tread new grounds and gain new perspectives in a true peaceful protest. Reply. Respond. Rebel. Perhaps in a world of chaos, scandals and corruption, it’s the last escape from the corrupted system that free-spirited souls truly have.