It’s now been exactly two decades since a British guy set off with just a backpack to his name on a journey that would make and shape him for many years thereafter. Many countries were ticked off in the wake of that but it was this date 20 years ago when it all began.
That person was of course me and the picture above shows a young me at Heathrow Airport (my dad’s choice of background!) about to head off on an around-the-world travel adventure for over a year. Other than a couple of solo trips to Germany (1995) and Sweden (2000) I had done very little in the way of travel so didn’t have much knowledge about backpacking other than the few things passed on by my oldest sister who had done the same thing a few years earlier.
Back then I wasn’t quite brave enough to just buy a plane ticket so went with a big group where the first few days of the trip (visa, transit, tours, a bank account, a PO box address, some accommodation etc) were all arranged for us. After that you were on your own. Except you wasn’t really as a few dozen other people were in the same situation. I even knew one of them beforehand as my colleague and friend Melissa was part of that group. Even though we didn’t spend too much time together whilst in Sydney it was always reassuring to have someone around that you’d known for more than a few days!
Looking back now I am fairly embarrassed by my attitude towards Bangkok which I didn’t give a chance as I was only interested in getting to Australia. It was quite an eye-opener and thankfully I’ve been able to return a few times since and have liked it more and more each time on visits in 2008, 2013 and 2016. I had absolutely no knowledge or interest in food culture back then so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that my first meal in Thailand was KFC!! According to my journal (now available online here) I didn’t eat much of the local food at the dinner and Thai classical dance show on my first night either!
Once I was in the swing of things I soon realised that the whole group arrangement thing was a waste of money but in hindsight it probably was needed at the time for a bit of reassurance. On the subject of money, what I spent in my first few weeks in Sydney was probably equivalent to my budget for a couple of months after that. I didn’t know the real cost of things and all seemed so much cheaper than the UK as this was a time when there were nearly AU$3 to the British pound. Such heady days are long gone now!
I was no doubt overly keen to make friends initially and exchanged e-mail addresses (there was no social media back then!) with pretty much any Tom, Dick or Willy in the first few weeks. The whole e-mail thing really does sound a little dated now and the kids of today don’t know how easy they’ve got it with wifi and smart-phones rather than having to go to an internet cafe every few days or whatever!
Hostels really were an easy way of meeting people (some more than others) and sharing experiences as it was an era before laptops, MP3 players and smartphones had become the norm for everyone. Even wifi and digital cameras were not at all common. When I stayed at such places a decade later or so it was a very different story with all travellers buried in their own portable devices!
Other than ‘Neighbours‘, ‘Home & Away‘, the ‘Crocodile Dundee‘ movies and a load of stereotypes I didn’t really know too much about the land Down Under. Thankfully everything fell into place and over time I gained more and more knowledge from hundreds and hundreds of other travellers and was ultimately very satisfied with where I went and what I did.
I’d never really done any sightseeing by choice, and it was quite interesting to see how quickly I changed and began to take interest in things I had only ever associated my parents with doing! Within weeks of arriving in Australia, I was going off to see Botanical Gardens, aquariums and all sorts of places I’d never shown the slightest bit of interest in!
At the turn of the century I had barely ever mixed with anyone from countries outside of the British Isles. Whilst many of the people I met when travelling in Australia were from the UK, I did also meet and get to know travellers from many other countries including Japan. I met some great Japanese guys (I didn’t really know anything about Japanese girls until I arrived in Japan a few years later!) and travelled with a few which was really interesting and really opened my eyes to a completely different mindset. I guess this, along with the 2002 FIFA World Cup, really sewed the seeds for my future career in Japan.
In the wake of those 15 months backpacking I went on to visit over 50 countries, with the majority of them being whilst in Japan. Since Covid_19 reared its ugly head I really do feel lucky to have experienced so many places, and that I had been to see family in both Australia and the UK the year before.
My wife and I never had any plans to travel overseas in 2020 and that’s not going to change this year either. It’s now been a few years since we went to another Asian country. The last time was Hong Kong in 2017. It’s hard to imagine going anywhere too far or exotic in the next decade or so but we would like to at least take a short trip to Taipei, Seoul or wherever one day. Luckily I’m satisfied with domestic travel for now and look forward to unearthing some little places that are unknown to many.
Click here to read ‘A Fox Down Under – My 2001-02 Journal Is Now Online!’
Click here to read ‘TF Flashback – Big Day Out Festival In Sydney (2002)’
Click here to read ‘TF Flashback – Driving Across The Nullabor (2002)’
Click here to read ‘TF Flashback – Christmas In Australia (2001)’