No one realises how beautiful it is to travel until she comes home and rests her head on her familiar pillow
Well here we are then, more than six months since I landed back on English soil after my dream trip around the world. Life couldn’t be more different now and not sure where to start with summing things up! It feels wonderful to be back with the people I love and I am so lucky to have such a supportive family, friends and partner. Of course, it all felt ridiculously strange at first like I was going through proper trauma for the first couple of weeks back. I actually experienced a culture shock in my own country, how weird is that? I’m OK now though and realizing what an incredibly fortunate person I am.
Many things had changed at home since I went away.
The country has a new ‘coalition’ government, we are balls-deep in recession, and I had lost my job while I was entertaining the penguins in Antarctica so back to square one on that one! The bits in my brain responsible for science though had somehow been buried underneath the bits for personal survival and adventure seeking. Big relief that it did come back quite quickly. I feel like I am just about getting back in the game now, maybe with a bit more confidence and definitely much wiser! I have been working towards setting up a new business or maybe even two!!. Still early days and not sure whether either are going to work right now but I am giving them my all, you never know til you try right?
Since I have been back I have been asked ‘so is this it now then? You got it out of your system?’ Emmmm well, I don’t plan to take off on my own for such a long time again, that was definitely a one off, but as for getting it out of my system, think again! Since coming back, I am trying to plan a trip back to India and I have already been back to Thailand.
Vibrant Bangkok complete with homemade Tom Yum soup and a huge Chang beer followed by climbing up a limestone karst on Railay, those special feelings return. I have been asked ‘so how does it feel to have achieved your lifelong dream?’ Yes I guess this could put you on a bit of a downer, where do I go from here? My response is to have new dreams. My dream is now to travel to lets see, maybe Africa, Iceland, Alaska, Bhutan……………… Yes new dreams are good but there is nothing quite like returning home to England to all its blandness, but also its beauty and freedom, for which I have a renewed appreciation.
Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
I now have a new way of coping with whatever life throws at me.
If I feel myself succumbing to the pressures of the intense Western lifestyle, I simply let my mind take me back to that beach in the South Pacific, to the top of that glacier in Antarctica, that sunrise over an active volcano in Indonesia or to that special starry lake in New Zealand. Whatever happens, I will always have this in my memory, the special moments, the conquering of fears and of challenges. I even got to meet new family in the US and Western Australia and spend precious time with them. What could be better? Sadly, my uncle who I met for the first time ever in California is terminally ill but what a special opportunity to get to know him. To think that I nearly bottled out of going on this adventure, my dreams being saved by the shock of that car accident, that terrifying morning driving into work, aquaplaning the car, losing control and smashing at high speed into the barrier.
If things had happened slightly differently……. Doesn’t bear thinking about… Whoever was looking out for me that day I owe you so much more than getting away with the accident almost unscathed. A sign that it was time to live the dream, not plod along dreaming the life but never getting around to doing anything about it. This turned into one hell of a ride right?
Anyway, here are a few statistics, memories and thoughts from my trip…
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
One of those ridiculously cheesy travel clichés but I REALLY DID IT!.
With a heart bursting with inspiration and a mind thirsty to learn, my solo round the world adventure looked something like this….
- One year away from England, I started with just a one way ticket to Malaysia
- Travelled to 22 countries
- ALL seven continents
- 47 flights, countless buses, boats, jeeps, trains, horses and treks
- Well over 100 beds, hammocks, floors, sofas, ricebags and beaches slept on!
I couldn't bear the thought now of looking back at my life and not having done this. I will hopefully look back twenty years from now with incredible memories of adventure, challenge, and above all the people that I met where ever I went. New friends for life, adventurous souls and inspiration from all backgrounds, religion, age and fortune. Before I left, I expected that I might feel old, that the hostels would be full of gapyear students boozing it up til the next full moon party.
I was very wrong and quickly realized that age is totally irrelevant when on the road. We all shared a love of adventure, nothing else mattered.
‘The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page’ – St Augustine
I wasn’t intending this to be a deep soul-searching experience but it was a great time to reflect, push myself out of my comfort zone and go on the most incredible adventure. To me, the world is much more than a book, it is the best education one can hope for. I learnt more about people, politics, and geography than I ever did at school or University.
Always do what you are afraid to do - Ralph Waldo Emerson
I learnt what it feels like to be on top of a mountain, to jump out of a plane at 15,000 feet, to sail the roughest seas in the world, to fall backwards down a waterfall in complete darkness, to experience an earthquake, to go deep underground in a mine, and to dive to the bottom of the ocean.
I now know how my body copes with extreme heat, humidity and cold, ridiculous altitudes and extreme sleep deprivation. Seeing all kinds of weird and wonderful animals in their natural habitat, being nipped on the ass by penguins in Antarctica, splashed by a breaching humpback whale in Australia, handling piranhas, sloths and crocodiles in the Brazilian Amazon, diving with sharks, being chased by a massive monitor lizard on a beach in Borneo and then by an aggressive sealion in the Galapagos. Constantly being challenged by how to safely get from A to B in a strange land, how to communicate with the locals and how not to be ripped off. Not only magical travel experiences but they also sharpened up my skills for the world of business, effective negotiation, planning, and getting the best from diversity. I learnt that whatever the challenge, no matter how tough, there is nothing quite like humour to get you out of sticky situations and make things easier.
A smile costs nothing but can make all the difference, grin and bear it, if things are not working, swiftly move on as life is too short (Warning: cliché overload!)
Once I got into the swing of things, I discovered that I was way more adventurous that I could imagine.WHY? WHY THE HELL NOT? ;-)
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller
Tell me about it… My time away from the UK has made me look at my country in a different light. We see ourselves as a rich nation yet measure wealth in terms of material possession and perceived social status. We spend most of our waking life at work and neglect relationships, doing things that make us happy, spirituality.
How well do you know your neighbor? We may be rich in knowledge but we are piss poor in community spirit. I met the happiest people on the planet in Cambodia. With violent atrocities still fresh on their minds, most of them live on less than a dollar a day with the whole family crammed into a little shack, but they all work together to provide for the village accompanied by big smiles and a cheeky sense of humour. Who has the better quality of life? Them or us here working our asses off, sick with stress about losing our jobs and our standard of living. Everything is relative. It is a ridiculous luxury just to be able to drink fresh, clean water straight from the tap and not get sick. A year with very few material possessions, living out of a little backpack and sleeping in hostels proved something to myself.
Don’t worry though, I’m not going all Good Life or born-again buddist on you, I get a lot out of my career and appreciate living in a nice house. The way we expect to live here though is not the only option, there are other things out there that enrich and enhance quality of life that I only got a little taster of. On second thoughts, maybe I should have taken up that offer from the monk in Burma to go and live with them! haha
‘Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth.’ Buddha
“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkien
I left England with a clear plan and that was to have no plan! Well OK, I must confess I had kinda hoped to be a little more organized but then just a week or so before my flight to Kuala Lumpur I had that accident and it not only made me more determined to follow my dreams but it also knocked me off my perch for a while.
I decided my route as I went along, roughly heading eastwards to eventually make it round the world and back to UK. I travelled with a little netbook and used the internet a lot to decide where to go as well as taking advice from other travellers and sometimes just rocking up somewhere randomly to check it out! As a solo traveller deciding my route as I went along, I experienced true freedom. The more I travelled the more I despised the Lonely Planet and other such ‘bibles’ that result in brainwashed backpackers looking to ‘find themselves’ but basically just following everyone else around, going to the same places and scared to actually travel by themselves and interact with locals. My wanderings took me to some interesting places though, not least spending a very random night with a rungus tribe in Borneo learning the nose flute! Others that spring to mind are being stranded in a remote village in Northern Laos with an injured foot with just fried rats to eat, riding in a battered collectivo with indigenous Peruvians to some random village in the sacred valley, oh and of course that crazy illegal night in the monastery in Myanmar waking up at 5am in a roomful of chanting monks!.
My random wanderings have given me the memories that I will truly treasure.
“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark
‘No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar, pillow’ – Lin Yutang
I would like to officially confirm that my own bed in my own house is by far the most comfortable anywhere in the world. That night in mid-March I finally returned to England from Morocco, shivering with the cold and totally shell-shocked that the dream was over. Everything seemed different. The roads seemed so quiet and civilised, everything looked so pristine, twenty pound notes had got bigger WTF? They hadn’t really but I was just being weird… It has taken me a long time to adapt back to life here.
I spent months in South America struggling to speak Spanish then I come back and cannot stop speaking it in shops and restaurants. I remember going to a job interview not long after I came back and giving directions to the taxi driver in Spanish! Took me a while to get out of the habit of checking in my mind before I ask for something ‘how do I say that in Spanish?’ Weird. Just getting into a taxi without checking if it is properly registered or I was about to be kidnapped didn't feel quite right....
This whole experience makes me realise how lucky I am that I was born in a free country with the freedom to travel. Many of the locals I met in the less developed countries would dream of owning a passport. Taking a sabbatical from work to travel is a luxury of living in a developed society.
Every single day on the road I felt grateful for the experience but I am also so proud of myself for taking the risks, career-wise, personal and financial, to be true to myself and follow my dreams.
Before I finally sign off to focus my energy on my new adventures in the world of science and business, I would like to thank the followers and readers of this blog, whoever you darn well are! Forty subscribers to the blog that I know about but I am incredibly overwhelmed to have had well over 75,000 hits! Someone must be reading my crap! If I knew I would get this many hits I would have set up one of those 'penny for every click' money making things and travelled for the rest of my life on the proceeds haha!! Anyway, where ever you are and whoever you are, thankyou so much. Writing a blog still feels to me like a blatant attention-seeking thing to do.
I started writing though as I thought it would be a good idea to capture my adventure of a lifetime, something to look back on and remember the details and also to share with friends and family. Along the way though I have also met some incredible people online who have followed my journey and even provided valuable support and inspiration. One inspiring girl in Las Vegas, Nicole, who I have never met but we have become good friends online, wrote an article about me in her own blog which overwhelmed me. Thanks Nicole Nicole's blog about my travels. I have also been lucky enough to have several magazines and marketing companies contact me to request photos and articles.
One of these articles, on the unique dance and culture of Cartagena, Colombia, has already been published in Mondomix magazine Mondomix article. I am really surprised to get this attention and following several suggestions, I have decided to pursue an opportunity to make my images available to magazines, marketing and anyone else that may be interested. With the help of an old Uni friend (thanks Steve!) I have set up this website karenspink.com and am exploring some options for partnering up to market them.
Nothing may come out of this but you never know til you try right? ;-) If you want to help me out then please help me spread the word by sharing the link to my website cheers everyone..xxxx
I am so grateful to have travelled at a time when it is so easy to keep in touch with people on the internet. All the inspiring souls I met on the road who's faces I will never forget and hope to meet again as well as friends and family back home that have been following my progress around the world. It has been completely mindblowing for you all be part of this journey that has been so very special and life-changing for me..
Bring on Phase 3 of my life, I am ready for you now......