What Has Travelling to Over 100 Countries Taught Me?

Travel Impact 

When I say “travel”, I am not referring to those complacent bloggers and social media cretin who vanquish across the planet without a clue of what they have even seen in the process of doing it. I am talking about the ones who take the time to breathe in the air, sleep on a stranger’s floor, eat unfamiliar but delicious food, getting banged up or scarred, and in the process of it all hoping you might be learning something to take back home with you. There is truly something to be said with “slowing down and going with the flow”. This is something I too learned while traveling, amongst many other things and after traveling to well over one hundred countries in the past fourteen years I can tell you this, travel does change you, it takes what you once believed to be the truth, and turns it upside down. The scars of travel are not always visible, but just like a bad tattoo, they remind you that you have changed, that you stood upon the alter and have been baptized into the wonderful world we live in. This post is some of the more personal changes I have seen in myself after globetrotting this planet. 

Travel Isn’t Always Easy 

“Be a Traveler, not a tourist”, this is one of those self-absorbed travel quotes I truly stick by even to this day. What is the difference between a tourist and a traveler you say? Travel is hard, it takes you in as a hopeless virgin and spits you out as a jaded veteran, whilst tourists tend to return home often emptier handed than when they left.

You see, travel takes a lot of physical and mental effort. The “journey” that many travelers often refer to is usually the bits they remember most. That journey was the thirteen-hour flight that led to a layover in rural China, where they met a villager from the minority Akha people who took them to their village to dine on giant bee larvae, all while they should have already arrived safely in Bangkok. It is the kind of moment where you’re saying “sorry mom and dad” as you down your tenth shot of mystery liquor with a group of rebel soldiers somewhere in the Congo. Travel isn’t easy, it’s not meant to be, you will suffer, but boy does it feel good. 

What Has Travelling to Over 100 Countries Taught Me?
Crossing Papua New Guinea as the Locals do!

People Are All the Same 

We all go in search of the unusual and trust me in saying this, you will find plenty of weird but wonderful things on your journey. The longer I traveled this world, however, the quicker I noticed that we are all in search of the same thing. It does not matter if you are a nomadic cattle herder from the Horn of Africa, or the salaryman in Tokyo, we are all on a similar path. The path I am referring to is not always the same, but what we are looking for is a life of joy, exploring the unknown, learning new ways, and sharing this with others.

With all the negativity in our media, wars on terror, governments indoctrinating their people, and our planets systematically ripping from the seams it’s hard to believe that there is any good left. But, from traveling this world and meeting its people I can assure you, well myself at least, that we all do want the same thing, peace. 

What Has Travelling to Over 100 Countries Taught Me?

The Industry Isn’t What It’s Cracked Up to Be

Wow, the travel industry, talk about a vile place. People ask me to choose between North Korea and Afghanistan which one was more dangerous, but truth be told, the travel industry has almost taken my life far more times than the smiling nomad in Afghanistan. 

If you stay long enough in the game the lures of “rags to riches” take you in. “start a travel blog and make money” and words like Digital Nomad make you believe that people will even pay money to hear your story. This isn’t even entirely untrue! Some lucky bastards like myself have manipulated our way into getting paid to travel, but is it all worth it?

One thing I learned from being a travel blogger is my absolute distaste for travel bloggers. I don’t mean that I hate them all, for instance, I have met some amazing bloggers during the hustle like my boys at “Hand Luggage Only” and Mathew from “Expert Vagabond”. 

What Has Travelling to Over 100 Countries Taught Me?
The Industry did However Take me to All 7 Continents

On the other hand, I have had the liberty of working with egotistical Instagram stars who believe their birthright is enough to demand others to pay their way across the globe. Not to mention the pricks who spend all of a three-hour layover in a country just the brag that they have been to every nation on the planet. These are the kinds of travelers who dominate this business, the ones who discreetly tell you on Instagram “This is why your life isn’t as good as mine” and when the camera is off, they set into a deep dark hole of depression you never see. 

What Has Travelling to Over 100 Countries Taught Me?
Avoiding the Industry and Just Traveling are my Favorite Experiences

Break the chains my friends and travel free without deadlines or set paths and you will find yourself liberated just as you did the first time you boarded that plane into the unknown. 

Sometimes you Just Need to Say Yes (Always) 

It was my very first trip, I was eighteen years old and had arrived in Bangkok, Thailand three days ago. The city frightened me a bit as I always grew up in smaller towns, so I decided to head north to a quieter part of the country. Before boarding my train, I scoured across the station in search of something appetizing. What I found was a bubbling cauldron of hell-broth turning over what looked to be chickens’ feet. 

Little did I know that this simple village curry would define who I would be for the next thirteen years of my life. Thinking to myself “do as the Romans do” I dove into this stew of the unknown. I ripped that nail right off the chicken’s foot and spat it on the floor just as the weathered old man beside me did. With a thumbs-up of approval and a new taste for the unusual, for once in my life I felt triumphant.

After a week in the hills of Northern Thailand, I returned to Bangkok, this time the fear had dissipated, and my heart filled with the courage that the chicken’s foot had given me. I was destined to always say “yes” to the new and this epiphany would lead me to countless more experiences that define who I am. 

Be open-minded, embrace change because what you might consider “odd” thousands see it as an everyday norm, and who knows, maybe something as simple as a chicken foot will change you as it did for me. 

Live in the Moment 

I constantly refer to the scenario where you are hit by a bus crossing the street. As you lie in your last moments of consciousness as the paramedic struggles to revive you, what will be the guilt on your mind? Will, there be, “I wish I had eaten that chicken’s foot” or “I should have hooked up with that hippy in Nepal”. 

I learned early on in life that “Life” is considerably shorter than what one might expect. Now, this isn’t something new that I am telling you, we have all heard the saying “you only live once”, but there is a lot of truth to this overused and spent quote. 

My experiences in this world are what I hang onto most. They are engraved in my DNA and have shaped me like those radioactive trees in Chernobyl. When I lay on the street mangled as the light leaves my eyes, I will remember the people I have met, the food I ate, and the crazy things I have done. 

Let Iban Tribesmen tattoo me in the jungles of Boneo, why yes! Or how about chewing coca with a shaman almost freezing to death in the Peruvian Andes; Absolutely. Living your life in the now and remembering that yes, we do only live once so live it like you’re on a rollercoaster that can derail at any time, you won’t regret it, man! 

Traveling Broke is Better Than Not Traveling at All

I have never been a man of wealth, this is not to say that I grew up poor, because I didn’t, but I have never been showered in the lap of opulence being able to do what I want, when I want. I must work for a living as do most, but what I have learned is that traveling on the dime is an experience in itself! 

People who meet me for the first time always say things like “Oh, if I had the money I would travel” and “I’m just not in a place to travel financially”. Although your pockets might not be lined with gold it doesn’t matter, you don’t need a lot of money to travel, and having the privilege of being raised in North America I will say this without any pause, you already CAN travel. 

What Has Travelling to Over 100 Countries Taught Me?
Finding Ways to Travel on the Cheap! I use Motorbike Often as its Cheaper and More Fun

I see myself as living proof of this. Stop thinking about that floating hotel in Bora Bora; Instead, how about visiting a tribal village in the Brazilian Amazon or sitting with your feet in the sands of the Sahara atop a massive dune. These are experiences one can do without much money, not to mention they will leave you feeling giddy and full of energy when you get home, not like the pina colada hangover from your resort’s Senor Frog’s bar. I will leave this with a quote that is tattooed on the inner core of my soul.

“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.”

― Anthony Bourdain,

Travel isn’t Always Pretty 

As I stood at sunrise in western Madagascar’s famed “Avenue de Baobab” and snapped an award-winning photo that would land me on the cover of National Geographic, what you didn’t see were the children adorned in rags watching me from the distance. The elderly man digging in a pile of rubbish in search of a morsel of food. 

What Has Travelling to Over 100 Countries Taught Me?
The Photo that made me oh so famous!

You see, travel isn’t always pretty, it’s downright ugly at times, but there is something to be said for those of us who don’t look away at the world’s atrocities and try to find some understanding of why it is the way it is. 

These are the kinds of images that plague my mind when friends complain to me that they cannot afford the newest civic model. When people say “life is unfair” because they can’t do another weekend of binge drinking. 

In the beginning, these haunting images didn’t always positively affect me, it was one of the aspects of traveling that many travelers most likely won’t tell you about. It caused resentment often leading to anger being pent up and built inside. As time goes on, remembering the war and poverty that I have seen, I have now developed a much different view of life. 

Remembering that not all have had the privilege to see these horrible things and learn from them. That seeing it on TV is not the same as seeing it in real life. Eventually, just like how I imagine attaining nirvana must be, you enter a state of humbleness, and instead of dwelling on the negativity, you begin to educate. Travelling isn’t always pretty, but dig past the rubble and you will eventually find peace in knowing that everything will be alright.

What’s Next for the Uncharted Backpacker? 

My life has never been a well-structured, goal-driven directive. It’s more like a struggling artist suffering from severe ADD not being able to quite understand what the hell he is even painting, but it’s something. 

I know every time you click into Instagram, Facebook, or search up a travel blogger for the most part they will be standing scantly dressed on a beach claiming to have life figured out in their “You’re missing out” post, but that fortunately is not this post I am writing. This post is to hopefully in some way or another give you hope, to tell you “Hey everything will be alright” regardless of what you’re going through. 

So, what is next for the Uncharted Backpacker? Who knows, the world is a big and wonderful place, and I am confident that whatever comes next, I will stand tall with my typical shit-eating grin and say “yes”. 

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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