After looking forward a couple of weeks ago (and don’t forget, you can still enter the competition!), I started looking back at my very early travels, and especially at the people I met.
On 8th January 2009, I flew on a one-way ticket from London to Singapore on my own and spent the next three months travelling in Asia.
I was 22 and I had graduated from university a year and a half earlier, then worked in a bookshop in central London to save up the money for the trip I’d been dreaming about for over a year.
In the meantime, I’d had a mental breakdown (quarter-life crisis?) which, among other things, resulted in constant psychosomatic pain in my stomach and eventually therapy.
It was my first solo trip for any period of time longer than a couple of weeks, as before I’d always travelled either with my family or with Zab. I left on this trip not really know what to expect, but just that I needed some time to myself and a change of scenery, something which I’d been desperate for almost since beginning my higher education five years earlier.
At first, I thought I might be lonely, but I soon discovered that I couldn’t stop meeting people. Most of them I’m no longer in touch with, but some of them made a lasting impression on me, and helped me realise who I was and what I wanted, both from life and my travels.
The Mexican Girls in Singapore
I was sitting at one of the public computers a hostel in Singapore, looking up how to get to Kuala Lumpur by train when I overheard two girls talking in Spanish about exactly that, so of course, I told them about the site I was using and the conversation went from there.
It turned out they were about to travel to Kuala Lumpur on the same day I was planning to, so we ended up teaming up and going together. In the end, the three of us travelled together for about four weeks up to Bangkok.
Spending almost every waking hour with them, we got to know each other pretty quickly, and while of course there were ways in which we clashed, we generally got on really well and had a great time.
Travelling with them showed me what it can be like to travel with friends, something which I hadn’t done much of before, and unfortunately still haven’t.
The Australian Couple in Luang Prabang
“If you buy it, you carry it.” This sentiment stuck with me, and is something I’ve found myself repeating to Zab more than once.
I first heard it from an Australian guy to his girlfriend, both of whom I met in Luang Prabang around my 23rd birthday. I hadn’t really ever been much of a shopper before that, but I guess I had never consciously considered the implications of buying lots of souvenirs on my trip before I heard those words.
I liked him immediately. It also turned out that he had lived down the road from me in London a couple of years earlier.
The Filipino Guy in Pagudpud
In the small beach town of Pagudpud, I met and befriended a young Filipino guy whose job it was to charge entrance to the beach to non-hotel guests. This mostly involved hanging out with his friends on the beach, occasionally taking part in a karaoke sing-off with other locals and talking to tourists.
I stayed for about a week in the spare room of one of his family friends just a block from the beach and hung out with him almost every day. We talked about life in the Philippines and he asked me a lot about my life in the UK. We compared our jobs working conditions, pay and quality of life.
When I realised that working in a bookshop in London I used to earn in a day what we earned in a month, I was suddenly felt guilty and decadent. I later realised, this was a kind of first world privilege, and it wouldn’t be the last time I felt it on my travels.
Just before I left, he gave me a small pouch made of coconut shell which I used to keep my headphones in. One day, about two years ago, I left it on a train in Germany by accident. That was a sad day.
The Russian and the French Girls in Beijing
Having worked for over a year in a retail job after finishing a university degree and leaving the UK with no idea of what I wanted to do with my life other than travel, meeting these two girls had a huge impact on me.
The reason meeting them was so significant for me was that it set off the idea in my head that that was something I could do: I could teach English, surely! Having left London without much (or indeed any) idea of what I would or could do once I returned, suddenly having this spark of an idea felt very comforting.
Who have you met on your travels who has made a lasting impression on you? Who is the most memorable person you’ve met?