Uncharted Backpacker – A Recollective Journey into the World of Traveling

Uncharted Backpacker

What defines us as a “traveler”. What separates our journeys from the common tourist? We all go searching for something unique but end up following each other’s paths. I believe what sets us apart is “the traveler” is always in search of something we cannot obtain, a life altering experience, to get lost in faraway lands, even when the destination is not always certain. Travel often leaves marks on us, a reminder of who we were and who we have become. Our lives are changed by it, whether it is for better or for worse. Who am I, I am a traveler, a wanderer, a madman. In my loneliness I am legend. This is a summary of the key moments of my life into travel that have defined who I am today and my ascent into becoming the Uncharted Backpacker.

South East Asia – To be Young and Naivete

At a young age I read books of world explorers and watched Anthony Bourdain’s television series. I cannot pinpoint the exact moment I decided that I wanted to be a world traveler but if I was to venture a guess, I am sure it was in some episode of “No Reservation’s” while Tony was in the process of getting inebriated and eating scorpions on a grungy street in Asia.

At the ripe age of eighteen my contumacious behavior towards authority lead me to buying a one way plane ticket to the orient. Apart from a school trip to Greece and Turkey I didn’t have much experience traveling abroad, but I wanted to throw myself into the deep end and that is exactly what I did.

My first trip was relatively tame, I completed my PADI Scuba Dive Master course in Koh Phi Phi and landed a low paying, cushy job, leading dives around Southern Thailand. After five or six months my father flew down to meet me and together, we traveled to Cambodia.

It was an amazing first trip, but I had felt something was missing. When my father departed back to Canada, I found myself in Bangkok wondering what to do with myself. This is where I learned a valuable life lesson in the society of travel, DO NOT! I repeat, DO NOT! Take the negative advice of other travelers when it comes to visiting new places.

Uncharted Backpacker – A Recollective Journey into the World of Traveling
Life was good, Scuba, Beer and Mind Blowing Sunsets, but I knew I Wanted More!

I asked many people I had met in Thailand “What do you think of Vietnam?”. Almost all of the travelers who had been, or at least told me they had been to Vietnam said the country is full of rude, bitter people that make any visit here absolute misery. After ignoring this advice and traveling to Vietnam for a month I can assure you, I had made the correct decision. Traveling Vietnam is where my entire existence as a traveler morphed into a travel hungry, bygone soul left to wander hopelessly around the planet.

India/Nepal – Rebirth, Becoming a “Traveler”

Every story always has a key moment when the protagonist experiences an event which changes the course of his journey. Traveling to India and Nepal was mine. It was not one specific moment, but many all tied into a single encompassing blur that baptized me into an utterly confused individual who questioned the existence as I knew it. I dunno, maybe I was going through a bit of a hippy phase but seeing the living hell many must endure in the slums, watching the cremation proceedings in Varanasi, the smorgasbord of colorful cultures, and the struggle I experienced hiking to Everest basecamp alone.

Before I delved into this bewildering shock of the senses I was back in Canada for financial reasons. I went back to the dull life of lifeguarding and was saving every penny to get back out into the chaotic life I now crave. I had not been exactly sure where I wanted to go, but any noteworthy traveler I had met in Vietnam told me there was one place I must go and that was India. Little did I know that this trip would set the course and ruin my life with travel until death.

Uncharted Backpacker – A Recollective Journey into the World of Traveling
When I drove my Motorcycle Across the Worlds Highest Motorable Pass in India

I fell in love with-it all-in India; travel began to have a certain romance about it. The sensation of the unknown, the unfamiliar smells which were not always good and of course the lure of being on the road constantly to discover something new.

Libya – War, What is it Good for

By now I had traveled across Asia, South America, Europe, and North America. Backpacking to 50 nations over the span of four years. I was growing weary of my mission, and many began to wonder when this “phase” would end for me.

Pondering what my next move should be I obtained a TESOL certificate which would let me enter the ranks of English teachers living abroad. Although my course was completed, I was left wondering “where the hell do I find a job”, which had never been a strong suite for myself.

Luckily, and luck is how I describe the vast majority of how my life unfolded, the president of my TESOL school had heard word of my travels. He rang me up and explained he had a wild venture he would like me to be apart of. This insane task was to be setting up a school in the newly war-ravaged nation of Libya. As per usual without any prior research I boarded the plane that would send me into the belly of the beast.

I could write you a novel about the six months I lived in Libya, but you all will be busting my balls for rambling on into one of my stories. Libya was without a doubt one of the most fucked up places I have been. It is run by whoever calls themselves overlord that day, for the most part all its citizens carry sub machine guns to get a jug of milk, but it is also filled with some of the most endearing and incredible people I have ever met.

Uncharted Backpacker – A Recollective Journey into the World of Traveling
Hiking Across the Libyan Sahara

I was given the opportunity to see a country that almost no one has in over forty years, I also witnessed firsthand, the atrocities that unfolds during a civil war. By day, I dined on shawarma with friends, but at night we would sit atop of my school smoking sheesha watching precision airstrikes and artillery leveling what I hoped would not be my part of town next.

I left the country in a hurry, another of the bunch in line for ultimate ruler of the world began his military campaign against his own people. The country turned into a hot bed of strategic killings, extremist rebellions which all made it a volatile situation for a Canadian traveler. Let me stress this to you, I had no security, no embassy helping me, nor did I have any assurance of safety from the college. It was the Libyan people who kept me alive, who made sure I was not blown up, maned or locked in a box for eternity. I left Libya confused, as I got to go home, the friends I made however, did not, they without choice had to remain in this living hell.

Afghanistan – The Uncharted Backpacker Travel Blog

When I was a boy, I watched the twin tours fall and a war erupt in the Middle East. The headlines showed a nation filled with sorrow and suffering, but what I saw was something completely different. I saw majestic mountains filled with tribal cultures triumphant to those who tried to conquer them. I saw a world to explore that essentially remained a grey area on the map. I have had a lifelong obsession with Afghanistan and after surviving Libya I decided to visit the place by any means necessary.

Prior to my visit during my preparations my friend had the idea of creating a travel blog so that the few who wondered where I was and what I was doing could see, what many only describe as “life into insanity”. I jokingly made a comment to my friend saying “Hell, maybe one day I’ll write about Antarctica!”

With a sense of adventure and a new URL I crossed the Silk Road and embarked on a two-month expedition into Afghanistan, and I documented everything I witnessed. Afghanistan has a “young man’s journey” story feel to it and because of over thirty years of war, most who have experienced it were here for all the wrong reasons. I however, did not document this and instead showed the light on Afghan culture, food and history.

Uncharted Backpacker – A Recollective Journey into the World of Traveling
My First Stop in my Afghanistan Voyage, Mazar e-Sharif

My journey to Afghanistan took flight when Business Insider decided to make it a headline story about a tourist who chose to brave the trip there…. I promise you, there was nothing brave about it.

I chose to travel to Afghanistan and actually had a very wonderful time doing it, nevertheless my blog Uncharted Backpacker came to international attention and what followed was a string of job opportunities and paid travel. I had become overnight famous, but had no idea how long it would last, so what did I do? I took advantage of every single opportunity I could traveling to Tibet, North Korea, Bhutan, Iceland, Peru, Greenland, and many more all in the name of the travel industry!

Madagascar – The Death of Anthony Bourdain

Now, a somewhat well-known travel blogger with over 100 countries under my belt, I felt somewhat invincible riding life on a high, but like all highs there is an abrupt end to the glorious feelings you’re experiencing. one month into a two-month sponsored trip in Madagascar my reality all came crashing down.

Struggling to obtain wifi in a remote beach village I finally got a connection to call home, but before that I saw the news headline. The man that I give credit to for my sense of adventure, the one who inspired me to this day to travel without prejudice was just found dead from suicide in his hotel in France.

I wandered onto the beach in front of where I found the news and slumped down beside a fishing boat. Feet in the sand, wind blowing my hair I stared out towards the ocean without a thought in my head. I remained here for the better part of the day, filled with mixed emotions. Kinda funny that someone I had never met could impact me to this degree, but it did, it completely changed the course of what I was doing.

Uncharted Backpacker – A Recollective Journey into the World of Traveling
Avenue de Baobab, Madagascar

It’s ironic that the next day I snapped the Baobab photo that landed me into the spotlight once again. That photo getting thousands of views every minute projecting my name into countless big-name icons all while I felt completely dead inside during its height is quite possibly the greatest metaphor for my traveling career.

Yemen – My Epoch of Arrogance

Feeling lost and fucked up? What’s next? Well according to the international community of self-ejaculating imbeciles who make up “travelers who travel to dangerous places”, you should bribe your way into the world’s most treacherous place and sneak into rebel territory. Guess what! I did exactly that and as you might assume, it did not end well. My cousin, girlfriend and I bribed our way into Yemen in 2018.

Uncharted Backpacker – A Recollective Journey into the World of Traveling
What to do when stuck in a War Zone? Pose with guns of course!

After two weeks of sneaking past check points, rubbing shoulders with ISIS and pretending that everything was just fine, my travel companions and I were conned into an “interview” with local police, where we were inevitably arrested under suspicions of being a spy, I mean what else would a white skinned, blue eyed Canadian be doing here?

Two weeks of interrogation then proceeded, I won’t get into detail, but I can assure you it wasn’t a great time. When we were finally released, we were told to go to a man who (I won’t name for his safety) used to work as a tour guide. He paved the path of survival over the next two long months of being trapped in Yemen.

Despite a massive war breaking out and having witnessed firsthand some of the most terrible atrocities of mankind we also had the opportunity to see one of the most unknown, stunningly beautiful places filled with easily some of the most incredible people I have ever met.

Uncharted Backpacker – A Recollective Journey into the World of Traveling
Sneaking Across a Warzone to Yemen’s Capital, Not My Brightest Decision

After two long months of uncertainty, we escaped on a Red Cross flight with zero help from our embassy, but all the help from the Yemeni people. Yemen is a land of extreme contrasts, and it is this very land that changed my life in every single way.

Antarctica – I am Legend

If you have made it this far into the story your probably wondering, what kind of stupid decisions will you make next? Although I am certain that there will be plenty, up until now I have been traveling to very different corners of the world. Yemen was a rollercoaster of events that ultimately made me remember an unattainable goal I had set when I first started the travel blog, when I jokingly told my friend “Maybe one day I’ll write about Antarctica!”.

Uncharted Backpacker – A Recollective Journey into the World of Traveling
After almost eight years of travel blogging, Uncharted Backpacker finally brought me to the end of the world!

Remembering this I began once again working on my blog, this time traveling to remote corners of Greenland and the Amazon Jungle showing the world forgotten worlds. It had been several years now since Yemen and to be honest I completely forgot about Antarctica.

Out of the blue while kayaking in Haida Gwaii I received a message from an Antarctica tour company asking if I would be interested in joining them on a three-week expedition to earths final frontier.

Snow crunched below my feet as I climbed to the top of a glacial peak. In the distance the call of penguin colonies broke the eerie silence. I veered my attention to the fjord across from me. Mountains soaring into the fog, jutting down into an eternal black sea, this is the land dreams are made of. Flashing back to all the journeys that brought me here to this one single moment in time could not have prepared me for the ocean of emotions I felt. I did it, and in the words of Anthony Bourdain, it really is the ass end if the world.

What’s Next for the Uncharted Backpacker?

Since Antarctica a global pandemic has decimated the travel industry, killed countless travel blogs, and allowed countries such as Hong Kong, Myanmar, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan all but disappear from the travel radar due to political strive or war.

With all this going on my travel has been limited to my home in Canada since I returned home from Antarctica. Now, being almost two years since I had last traveled, I am finally ready to hit the road again. With my bags packed and my first trip planned I will be boarding a plane in nearly one week after I post this.

Travel Blogging for me will be different. Writing and photographing the people, landscapes and cultures across this big, beautiful world is my focus. If I have learned one thing since I have started traveling, is to live everyday like it’s your last. Focus on what makes you happy and do not worry about what other believe you should be doing. Back to my roots, traveling at its finest to uncharted destinations, where I want to go and whatever the hell I want to do. This is what I love and what Ill die doing.

Stephen Gollan

Uncharted Backpacker is a glimpse at the past eleven years of globetrotting I have done. Now at over ninety countries I share my travel knowledge for you so you too can travel the world and see what wonders it has to offer.

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