54,885km. 33 countries. Countless new friends. And not a single flat tyre!
Our mammoth journey from Singapore to London is certainly one we’ll never forget. Not only have we tackled our dream of retracing the original Land Rover expedition undertaken by Oxford and Cambridge teams in 1956, we’ve also amassed a treasure chest of incredible stories and epic life experiences which will stay with us forever. More importantly, we’ve learnt a great deal about ourselves, happiness, travel and the incredible world we live in. From the weird ‘n’ wacky to the wonderful, here are some of the highlights, challenges and biggest lessons learnt from our 2015-2016 Best Expedition in the World.
WHAT WERE OUR TOP THREE COUNTRIES?
Myanmar: It was an eclectic clash of ancient and modern influences. Being there to experience the three-day Thingyan Water Festival was perfect timing. A party atmosphere, non-stop water fights and smiles all round.
India: An incredible melting pot of the friendliest people, the tastiest foods, rich history, religion older than the earth and landscapes that blew my mind; stunning beaches, hectic cities and of course the majesty of the Himalayas.
Pakistan: My new favourite “shouldn’t visit” country without a doubt. We met exciting people, drove the length of the Karakoram Highway and picked fresh fruit from glacial, mountainous valleys.
India: The whole time we were in India (10 weeks), I couldn’t wait to get out of bed in the morning. Around every corner, something thrilling was waiting to be witnessed, from the wonderfully exotic to the brilliantly brutal. The street life was a source of never-ending entertainment. India delivered a constant assault to my senses, and I loved it! The landscapes were spellbinding and incredibly diverse. The people were welcoming and packed with personality. There’s nothing quite like India.
Kyrgyzstan: To say the least, it was completely wild. From the remote yurt stays with nomadic tribes and national sport of Buzkashi (goat dragging) to the grand lakes and vodka-infused sauna parties, the whole experience felt like a crazy dream.
Pakistan: This was the most hospitable and generous country Ben and I visited during our journey. The people were hungry to show us the other side of Pakistan – the one we’d never seen in the media. My visit made me realise I needed to take everything I read and heard with a chunky grain of salt. Truth can only be discovered through firsthand experiences, and it’s often a lot more heart-warming than expected.
WHAT WERE OUR TOP THREE MOMENTS?
>> Unpacking the Colonel in Singapore at the start of the adventure. The realisation we were about to start the trip of a lifetime was phenomenally exciting. With 12 months ahead of us, a million unknowns, new countries to explore, strangers to meet, friends to visit and another BIG life adventure for Sophee and I, it was the culmination of 18 months hard planning.
>> Crossing the highest road in the world – the Leh to Manali Highway. After battling administration to get the permit, we put our faith in Colonel Mustard (our 30 year old ride) and summited the 5328m Tanglang La Pass where the rewards were exceptional. Snowcapped mountain peaks, rich green valleys, vast deep gorges and high-altitude desert tundra….oh god take me back!!
>> Standing on top of the Rock of Gibraltar looking across to Africa. At the end of a tiring few weeks battling the cold and short days of Europe’s winter we made an instant decision to cross into Morocco and we’re so glad we did. Back into real, raw travel which tested our senses and minds every second of the day.
>> The Thingyan Water Festival in Myanmar was an absolute highlight. The entire country joined in a massive water fight for four days. The beating heart of the action was Yangon, where the main streets were lined with stages, hydrant style hoses, enormous speakers blaring techno beats and thousands of happy locals. Getting drenched and dancing with strangers was the most fun I’d had in years.
>> Tuscany was every bit the dream. Ben and I had the opportunity to stay in a 16th Century castle (Castello Banfi) surrounded by hectares of premium vineyard, which was kissed by a glorious tangerine sunset at the end of each peaceful day. It was heavenly – the perfect place to enjoy a holiday from our holiday.
>> The unassuming town of Chefchaouen (Morocco) blew me away. When I finally found my way to the traditional medina I was instantly captivated by the labyrinth of iridescent-blue backstreets and vibrant market stalls. Adding more magic to the moment were the local men who walked around in hooded cloaks, wizard-like beards proudly on display.
WHICH COUNTRIES WERE THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT?
Not being able to travel through Iran. During the planning for the trip and from the conversations I had with people in the lead up to the trip I knew it could be one of the most exciting countries to travel through. I was hugely disappointed to find out three weeks before we were due to enter the country, my visa application had been rejected. It wasn’t so much the 6500km detour we’d have to take around Iran, more the frustration of missing out on somewhere as iconic and off the beaten track.
Greece. I think Ben and I explored the wrong parts of this popular bucket list destination. Apart from our stint in a quaint mountain village, we didn’t encounter the incredible beauty we’d anticipated. Many of the main cities seemed quite rundown and soulless. The main town on Corfu island was charming, but the rest of this holiday “paradise” felt a bit shabby. Perhaps late autumn wasn’t the best time to visit. Based on what I’ve heard from other travellers, I definitely need to give Greece another shot!
WHAT WERE OUR WORST THREE MOMENTS?
>> Wasting 10 days sat in Delhi waiting for the bureaucratic bullshit from the Chinese Embassy officials to materialize into….absolutely nothing. Sort our your issues with India at a political level, tell people applying for their visas the truth behind a refused application and don’t hide behind your minions at the front desk as you’re too spineless to come and discuss the problem in person! There, I’ve got that out.
>> Loosing our minds to the constant demand of social media and the desire to produce incredibly epic photos all the time. Yes, travel around the globe is superb, embracing and wonderfully immersive, but the modern demands we place on ourselves to continually tell the story across our digital platforms can be hugely detrimental to your actual enjoyment at the time.
>> Being refused my Iranian visa. In the months leading up to our trip I’d read, heard and dreamt about the wonders of Persia and couldn’t wait to spend a few weeks exploring its ancient lands and meeting the people. However being denied entry did take us into Central Asia and through The Stans (link to guide of The Stans on best life blog) – one of the best parts of the trip.
>> At certain points throughout the trip, life on the road became depressingly monotonous and unhealthy. Travel fatigue usually took hold at these moments. Eat, drive for 8-16 hours, set up the tent, eat, sleep, repeat. This routine wasn’t so fun in the winter months or when we were following boring highways and racing to a distant destination. Luckily, these periods didn’t last more than a week or two, but they seemed to go on forever at the time.
>> Big arguments with my #1 man were never fun, and we had a few of them during the trip. Because it was just the two of us (most of the time), these moments were very isolating and confusing. Negative thoughts can easily blow out of proportion when you’re on a yearlong road trip, especially when you don’t have friends or family around to help give you a reality check. On the flip side, the experience forced Ben and me to rely on each other more, learn to be vulnerable with each other and find ways to overcome problems as a team. This adventure definitely brought us closer together more than it nudged us apart.
>> Perhaps my worst moment was the flight back home. My mind started to panic. What on earth was I going to do with my life in Brisbane? How could I go back to “normal life” after all of the incredible places, people and possibilities I’d seen? What did I really need to make me feel happy? Before I left for Singapore, travel was meant to help me figure these types of things out. Instead, our journey has left me feeling more confused! I can understand why many people in the same post-travel position just keep travelling. My days have been filled with constant highs for so long, it’s hard to go back to the humdrum.
WHAT WERE OUR TOP THREE CULINARY EXPERIENCES?
>> Devouring a Goan fish curry in Panaji, the capital of this famous beachside state. India knows how to combine spices and fresh food to produce some of the tastiest meals out there, but the experience of sitting down for a fish curry at one of the most famous restaurants in the area, Ritz Classic, resulted in an hour-long celebration of local food. Magnificent.
>> Singapore is a melting pot of cultures, religions, architecture, light shows and of course food. During our first week of the trip we stayed at Betel Box Backpackers with its delightful owner Tony Tan, who runs one of the best food tours we’ve been on. Throughout the night we learnt, bought and consumed over 30 different dishes including, of course, the infamous Singapore Chili Crab.
>> Pomp and ceremony aren’t always essential ingredients for a delectable cuisine experience. Sometimes the simplest menu in a subtle location can deliver a culinary crescendo. Following up on a invitation we received through Instagram we met Gian in the tiny village square in the Tuscan hills. He took us for lunch at his favourite haunt, a small restaurant built into the sandstone walls. We dined on nothing more than freshly made pasta, a splash of olive oil, a dusting of parmesan and a good shave of locally sourced white truffles. Why make life complicated?
>> Our first yurt stay in Tash Rabat (Kyrgyzstan) delivered one of those, “Oh thank God, proper food!” moments. We’d been roughing it for a while; so, our arrival at a community of luxury yurts, which were bordered by mammoth mountains, was like entering the gateway to heaven. When we entered the dining yurt, a breakfast feast fit for 20 kings (or a small group of weary travellers) was served. It included salami, local cheese, fresh bread with clotted cream and homemade jam, and a stack of mysterious morsels that were halfway between a fluffy pancake and the ultimate doughnut. We hadn’t seen these type of foods since we’d left Brisbane seven months prior, so they definitely hit the spot. At a different yurt stay in Kyrgyzstan, we had the opportunity to watch a nomadic family make fresh lamb momo stew from scratch (i.e. from live animal to feast). While it was a bit challenging to watch, it was fascinating to experience subsistence living…the stew tasted pretty amazing too.
>> Every food experience in India was incredible, though they were often served with a side of food poisoning! The flavor-packed street food (authentic samosa was a favourite) was worth the toilet time. I loved my stays at India’s Hyatt Hotels in Delhi and Goa. They served up Indian food at its absolute best and there were no nasty repercussions. Our visit to the communal kitchen at Amritsar’s Golden Temple was another brilliant experience. Volunteers dish up hundreds of thousands of free meals daily and they’re pretty delicious. Breaking bread with a hall full of hungry, non-English-speaking Sikhs was seriously cool.
>> During our time in Pakistan, Ben and I had the chance to live with a family in Islamabad. The humble house chef, Jamroze, was a culinary genius. He served up the best traditional foods imaginable, including a flakey paratha that was lighter than angels’ wings. His Chai teas were top notch, too.
WHAT WERE OUR FUNNIEST “LOL” MOMENTS?
Long days spent driving from city to city, across countries and borders can eventually take their toll on the human spirit! But, not being ones to let a few thousand kilometres getting in the way of having a good time, Sophee and I decided to break the monotony with a good old-fashioned water fight. Take a gulp of water and eject it in as fine a spray as possible over the person sat next to you whilst driving of course! At the time, absolutely hysterical!
Pakistan delivered my most embarrassing LOL moment. Upon meeting a devout Muslim family, I made the mistake of going to shake the patriarch’s hand. He kindly explained why this was a no-no and proceeded to introduce me to his wife. She went to kiss my already blushing cheek, but my awkward return gesture meant we ended up kissing each other on the lips…in front of her entire family. I was mortified at the time. The moment seems hilarious now.
WHAT WERE OUR BEST ACCIDENTAL FINDS?
The natural bridges of Cherrapunji. Built by the locals over thousands of years by bending huge vines at right angles across the river. It provided the only way to cross the river raging below during the rains, which in Cherrapunji are almost every day of the year being, officially, the wettest place in the world.
All of the animals I wanted to smuggle back to Australia. From the moment I arrived in Singapore up until the time I reached the UK, I couldn’t help but notice all of the homeless animals. We don’t really have strays where I’m from, so I was both saddened by the neglect and suddenly in animal-lovers heaven. There were so many beautiful, sweet-natured creatures in need of a little love. Up until Europe, I practically had a new “pet” each day. Donkey, cow, buffalo, kitten, piglet – you name it and I attempted to mother it. While Ben and I both found it hard to drive away from our new furry friends, I loved having the opportunity to give them a bit of luxury and lots of attention while I could.
WHEN WERE WE PUSHED OUT OF OUR COMFORT ZONES?
When we visited the slums in Mumbai I initially felt uncomfortable. Maybe it was arriving in a pretty obvious, foreign vehicle, walking around with a blaze of blonde hair, profusely sweating in the heat and humidity, amidst the stench of the sewers whilst carrying a big DSLR camera that did it?
Once we’d had a chance to stop and chat to some locals, pose for a few photos and relax into it, everything became a lot easier and we came away having had a enlightening experience.
Definitely while we were in Kyrgyzstan. My welcome to this country wasn’t the best, with a mild case of molestation meeting me at the border post. Spending time with a nomadic tribe was a fascinating experience, but also quite shocking. We met one young girl who’d been bitten by a horse. After raiding our Land Rover for a first aid kit, we had to teach the young woman how to apply antiseptic cream and bandages. The nomadic people (and their cattle) do it seriously tough, especially in the thick of winter. While the locals seemed very resilient and reasonably content, I felt frustrated knowing I couldn’t do a lot to change the animals’ brutal living standards. The first time I was exposed to the bloody sport of buzkashi (“goat dragging”) I had to walk away and have a cry in the Land Rover. It was the only moment throughout our trip I was pushed beyond my limit.
WHAT WERE OUR SCARIEST EXPERIENCES?
Surprisingly nothing really came at us out of the blue on the trip. Yes, driving through multiple roadblocks and security checkposts in Peshawar on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan was pretty intense and potentially scary, but the police and security forces treated us like foreign dignitaries and couldn’t do enough to help out.
One of the scariest self-administered moments of the trip had to be loading the Colonel onto the ridiculously precarious barge at Lake Attabad. Fitting a 5.5m long, 3500kg Land Rover onto a narrow, unstable, rickety wooden boat took nerves of steel and more than once I looked back at Sophee with a furrowed brow and look of concern complete with beads of sweat trickling down my forehead!
Definitely being in North India and Nepal during the earthquakes last year. When the first major quake occurred, we were on the sixth floor of a rickety old hotel in Darjeeling. The cabinets started to tremble, the building began to sway, and screams filled the air. Ben and I bolted down a never-ending flight of stairs and joined the terrified masses outside. Once we’d discovered what had happened, our hearts went out to the people of Nepal. If we’d felt the earthquake hundreds of kilometres away from its core, we could only imagine how horrific the experience would’ve been closer to home.
Tremors continued to plague our time in Darjeeling and we had to have a serious conversation about our plans to visit Nepal. Should we ditch them for the sake of our safety or keep calm, carry on and cross our fingers? We decided on the latter, as we knew Nepal desperately needed our tourism dollars at this point in time. So, we packed a mountain of supplies (to ensure we didn’t add pressure to Nepal’s resources), came up with safety and emergency plans, and drove into the unknown…and we’re glad we did!
The time we spent in Nepal was incredible, from our nine-day trek to Annapurna Base Camp and wild safari through Chitwan National Park to our luxury stay beside Begnas Lake and chill out time in the hippie hangout of Thamel. Sure, we had another hairy moment in Kathmandu when the second major quake kicked off. But, we stuck to our safety plan and everything turned out ok!
WHAT WAS THE BEST ROAD TRIP DURING OUR ROAD TRIP?
Without question the Leh to Manali highway. Yes it’s the highest road in the road but the experience goes far beyond just the simplicity of bragging rights. I’ve never enjoyed a road through the wilderness as much as this one. Every pass introduced another unique landscape from the soaring peaks, to the deep canyons, to the high-altitude desert tundra.
I have to agree with Ben. The Leh-Manali Highway is next level and needs to be experienced in one’s lifetime. But, just to add something different, I’ll also put my hands together for Italy. Our road trip from Bari to Sicily and then up the West Coast and inland towards the Austrian border was the stuff of dreams. Italy contains so much natural beauty, it almost seems unfair. My favourite spots included: Alberobello (the village of “gnome homes”), Taormina, Cinque Terra, Florence, Montalcino (Tuscany) Rome, the Amalfi Coast, and the Dolomites. Food, wine, fashion, landscapes, man-made masterpieces…everything was just beautiful.
WHICH PLACES DESERVED MORE TIME?
Africa. Always Africa…
Having fallen behind schedule, we raced through Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Austria at breakneck speed. If we’d blinked while passing through Liechtenstein, we would have completely missed it! Ben and I barely had enough time to feel completely gob-smacked by this region’s beauty before our Landy was climbing out the exit door. The same goes for Ireland. We didn’t get a chance to do it justice, so we’ll simply have to go back one day.
WHICH PLACES DO WE WISH WE HADN’T MISSED?
Vietnam. Having the Land Rover with us wasn’t always the cheapest option, especially when it came to entering Vietnam. The $500 tax for a week in the country was too much to stomach, so we turned north into Laos, missing it altogether. Next time we’ll head back and do it on motorbikes instead.
The Bulkan States – especially Croatia. By the time we made it to Greece, we were a month behind schedule and at risk of missing Christmas with the rellies in England. Rather than rush through South Eastern Europe, we took the ferry straight across to Italy so we could spend more quality time there and in Morocco. At least I have an excuse to visit Europe again in the future!
WHAT WERE OUR DREAMIEST SUNRISES & SUNSETS?
Sunrise – Annapurna Base Camp. I left the relative warmth of my down-filled sleeping bag and traipsed into the frigid darkness outside our refuge, camera in hand. Watching the first sunrays fracture the lightening sky will be something that stays with me forever.
Sunset – on the flip-side the best sunset was on the hot and humid coast of Cambodia. With barely a breath of breeze, the glassy ocean consumed the flickering ball of fire as we watched from a hammock hung above the lapping waves.
Sunrise – I must admit, I like my sleep-ins, so I didn’t see too many! Having said that, two of the sunrises I managed to witness were real beauties. After a long night of Full Moon Party shenanigans across Koh Phangan (Thailand), I stumbled back to our beachside villa, climbed into a hammock and watched the sun put its probing light on the messy shoreline. Party litter aside, the sky’s tangerine glow was glorious – the best hangover cure I could ask for. Our dawn balloon ride over Cappadocia (Turkey) was also pretty epic. Dozens of colourful orbs took to the sky like dancers to a stage. We floated up and down with the wind, the sun’s crimson spotlight illuminating our smiles and the mysterious troglodyte landscape below us.
Sunset – As cliché as it sounds, Tuscany served up my favourite sunsets. As each day came to a close, a soft wave of pastel colours swept across the sky and over the undulating vineyards. It was completely dreamy.
WHAT WERE THE MOST PHOTOGENIC LOCATIONS?
Tough one! It’s a dead heat between the northern end of the KKH (Karakoram Highway) and Ladakh in the north of India. Both straddle the Himalayas, are so high up that the air is crisp and clear and have lunar-esque landscapes.
Every country with its toe in the Himalayas is nothing short of spectacular. I’m convinced this precious part of the world really is the playground of the gods. Northern India, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan – I went wild with my camera in all of them and felt incredibly inspired to capture the moment. I was also captivated by the colourful culture and sweeping desertscapes of Morocco along with the bizarre Door to Hell in Turkmenistan. But, if I had to recommend one country for aspiring travel photographers, it’s hard to go past India. Every sight – from the spectacular to the ugly – seemed beautiful when captured by my Nikon.
WHAT WERE THE TOP THREE ITEMS WE PACKED?
>> Handpresso coffee machine – I love my espresso coffee in the morning – no milk, sugar or caramel pollutants. Just thick, rich, dark, bitter coffee. Rather than risk the quality of roadside Nescafe stops or hotels with antique filter machines I bought a Handpresso hand pump machine and loved it. It’s simple to use, requires nothing more than boiling water and a strong forearm and delivers the perfect doppio every time
>> Nikon DSLR – armed with a plethora of lenses and a head full of creative shots I lugged my reliable D7100 up mountains, threw it in the cubby box, dropped it, scratched it and still it continues to deliver stunning images.
>> My Hoka One One running shoes – no other sport is as simple as running. Whenever and wherever I could I’d go running on our Best Life adventure, just to keep my fitness ticking over. Sometimes my vistas were running-porn; the sweeping hillsides laden with tea plantations in Malaysia, the rain drenched beaches of Monsoonal Goa, the frost-hardened footpaths of Scotland and the dusty, street-dog filled backstreets of Delhi. So many places, so little time!
>> I spent a lot of time in the passenger seat of Ben’s Land Rover. During our long road trip stints, I couldn’t have survived without my Macbook Air and XCom Global international wifi device. They enabled me to write blogs while on the go and keep busy.
>> Scarves are the most useful things I packed from a female perspective. In hot Southeast Asian countries, they were all I wore (apart from my swimsuit)! When I reached Europe in time for winter, they kept me snug as a bug. In conservative countries, scarves came in handy when I needed cover my hair, shoulders, arms and lower legs in places of worship. In desperate times, I also used them as towels or picnic blankets. During the Annapurna Track, I rolled my scarves up like snakes and put them over my shoulders so they weren’t rubbed raw by my backpack. So many uses!
>> One of the best gifts my husband bought for me was a Kindle. I can’t sleep without reading myself into the land of nod. Carrying dozens of books with us wasn’t a viable option, so and e-book reader was the perfect solution. The only problem is, it usually ended up under my pillow once I’d fallen asleep. I left my kindle in hotels a couple of times, and had it mailed to my next destination. Ben seems to think my Kindle has done enough independent travel to write its own book!
WHAT GATHERED DUST?
I know I’m guilty of carrying too much weight in the Colonel on trips like this but my motto since being a cub scout is always ‘Be Prepared’. Maybe having a huge awning for the roof tent was an unnecessary luxury? Ok we didn’t even get it out of the bag once! And yes we carried A LOT of spares…just in case. But if we didn’t have a flywheel removal tool/spare 4 x exhaust mounts/shock absorbers etc we’d surely have needed them…wouldn’t we?!
Board games. I’ve been on a couple of big expeditions now, always expecting to find myself in a complete state of boredom at some point. This never really happens, though. A pack of cards, on the other hand, is always worth its weight in the Land Rover.
I also took too many clothes. When I’m living at home, I probably use 20% of my wardrobe 80% of the time. While I was living out of a Land Rover, I used 10% of my clothes and 10% of Ben’s clothes 90% of the time! Funnily enough, I still managed to convince myself I needed to buy new clothes during the trip. India was my undoing.
WHAT WAS THE WEIRDEST MOMENT OF THE TRIP?
On the way back from a night of fun and festivities at the medina in Marrakech, we wandered back to our riyad, only to find the Land Rover surrounded by a group of around 50 people made up of a few policemen, some security guards and local men. They all appeared to be pointing at something high up on the car that I couldn’t quite make out. It was only when I entered the group (standing out like a sore thumb with my blond hair and extra height) I realised the reasoning behind their slightly animated mood was the presence of the Western Sahara flag on the side of the vehicle, something I painted on along with 30 other country flags back in 2008 after circumnavigating Africa.
To me, it didn’t seem wrong on weird to have it there, but to the ever-increasing group it appeared to be rather offensive. Morocco doesn’t identify Western Sahara as a separate country, merely a region within their own border where rebels have formed a disputed territory. They simply will not recognise the flag, the name or anything to do with it. I’d caused extreme offensive and shown support for the rebels by having it on the car…parked right outside the royal palace!
I spent the next two hours firstly removing the painted flag from the car using thinners and a cloth, then being scrutinised by the secret police, royal police and immigration as to why on earth I’d decided to paint it there in the first place, what I was doing in the country and what my intentions were.
Suffice to say it all finished rather amicably. They understood my mistake, saw the reasoning behind it and waved me on my merry way!
Hands down, our time in Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat. “The White City”, as it’s known, was completely reconstructed in the 20th century and redeveloped using imported European and faux marble. Everything looked eerily pristine, and we discovered it was illegal to drive dirty cars around town. Needless to say, we had to hide Ben’s Land Rover!
Ashgabat was completely state-of-the-art, with first class universities, shopping malls, sport stadiums and racecourses at the ready. The funny thing was, they were all practically empty! The humble population of Turkmenistan is only just over five million, but the country boasts huge oil and gas resources and a thriving economy. The people certainly seemed to have everything they needed, but is was all a bit “Stepford Housewives”. While everything looked perfect, something just didn’t feel right.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNT ABOUT HAPPINESS?
>> Wherever you go in the world surrounding yourself with family and good friends is a key part of having a satisfying life. Happiness can be found in the most unlikely of places too. The slums of Mumbai, the remote, tiny villages of Italy and the desert towns of Eastern Morocco, were all places we had great interactions with people who oozed genuine happiness through every pore of their body.
>> Fabled as ‘The Happiest Country in the World’, Bhutan confirmed to us it is a wonderful place to live, it’s untainted by the outside world and retains a purity of culture, people and landscapes I’ve not seen anywhere else on the planet.
>> It seems the more developed or supposedly ‘1st world’ countries aren’t necessarily the happiest. This was strikingly obvious as we made our way from Asia into Europe. The transition from subsistence living to cities with such busy, work-driven lives means there simply isn’t enough time for people to casually chat with strangers or engage with others in the street. People often had their heads down, engaged in an online world rather than appreciating the environment they’re in, what’s going on around them or interacting with potential friends.
>> Human beings crave freedom – the freedom to pursue a life that’s aligned with their own happiness, not other people’s expectations. In Western countries, many seem to ignore this yearning, submit to the pressure of capitalism, and focus on keeping up appearances and competing with others around them. Before they know it, their lives are packed to the brim with responsibilities, mountains of meaningless “stuff” and burdens which make them feel stressed out, weighed down and held back. It’s hardly surprising that the happiest people we met throughout our trip were those who lived simply. The lack of “baggage” enabled them to roam freely, pursue their dreams without fear (they had nothing to lose), and simply enjoy being in the moment.
>> As William Shakespeare once wrote, “Expectation is the root of all heartache”. As soon as we put conditions on our happiness, there’s always the risk that moments, things and people (including ourselves) will cause disappointment and sadness. If we can learn to take things as they come and then focus on the positives in any situation, life will become a lot more enjoyable. Easier said than done.
>> Genuine human connection breeds happiness. The highlights of our trip were the moments when complete strangers took us under their wing, helped us out unconditionally or enquired about our lives. It made us feel like we mattered and we weren’t alone. This trip made us realize that if all we had in life was caring relationships, we’d still be pretty darn happy.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNT ABOUT LIFE IN GENERAL?
The countries that get the hardest wrap in the media and are deemed ‘dangerous travel destinations’ are often the ones where the people are the friendliest and have the most to give.
Having driven the length of the Himalayas and the Alps, crossed the Pyrenees and dipped into the Atlas Mountains I’m convinced I’m happiest in the mountains. Their incomprehensibly monstrous scale and sheer vertiginous vistas leave me short of breath and gasping for more.
Land Rover’s rock! There I’ve said it. After 4 continents, 60 countries and over 150,000km in Colonel Mustard, there’s no other vehicle I’d rather have been in.
It’s important to be open-minded. Sure, we all have our values and beliefs based on our upbringings, but it’s not fair to judge others against them. Apart from heinous crimes, there’s no right and wrong – just different. If you can open your mind to other people’s ways of life and thinking, it can help you become a more well-rounded person. Hence, the brilliance and necessity of travel!
Fear is a crippling beast, which should be challenged at every opportunity. Whether it’s in the context of travel, business, relationships, fitness, creativity or other areas of our lives, fear holds us back from being our best selves and getting the most our of our short lives. It’s interesting to ask the question: “What would I be doing right now if I knew everything was going to turn out ok?”. For most of us, the answer is something completely different to what we’re actually doing. Fear is so powerful and counterproductive – it’s crazy!
The world is full of good people who are doing great things. If only the media gave positive news stories more airtime we’d all feel a lot better about the world, humanity and our future. Travel has injected me with newfound hope and optimism. It was great to get away from a TV and newspapers for a while, and soak up information through firsthand experiences.