Why I decided to become a world traveler
The “migratory gene” must have been particularly potent in my blood line, because at the tender age of 27, I resigned from my high-powered job, sold all of my possessions, packed my bags, and booked an “all-around-the-world-traveler” plane ticket, valid for 24 months. Crazy right? I aim to convince you otherwise through the stories of countries I visited, people I met and places I stayed.
We adventurous-types get itchy feet at some stage of our lives, prompting us to hop-on a plane in search of distant lands. Be it a gap-year after University, a well-deserved break in a frantic work schedule, or the ultimate reward after a lifetime of service, leisure travel has an uncanny ability to make us feel refreshed, to allow us to leave our beliefs and certainties at home, and see the world in a different light.
Being born and raised in one of the most beautiful places on the planet – Noosa, Australia – people often question why I felt the need to travel. Anyone that has visited this “the jewel in the crown of the Sunshine Coast,” will inevitably have been charmed by the stunning scenery, ideal climate, upscale restaurants, hospitable accommodation and fun activities. Being an outdoorsy person myself, I’d regularly put my hiking boots on and venture out to Noosa National Park.
With over 500 hectares of forests, beaches and cliffs to revel in, trail walking here offers physical challenges and breath-taking views in equal measure. Along with outdoor activities from fishing and surfing to bird watching, there’s no shortage of things to do in Noosa.
Yet even those of us fortunate enough to live in paradise still catch the travel bug – the simple act of moving is a basic human desire. We are a migratory species!
And so, on the 1st of January 2012, I became a world traveler.
Where I visited as a Global Traveler
The “all-around-the-world-traveler” ticket I bought gave me the freedom to go anywhere on the entire globe. Literally anywhere. Were I spontaneous to the extreme, I could have taken a dart, closed my eyes, and lobbed it towards a wall map, jet-setting to wherever the dart landed. Within reason, of course – the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is not a destination that the major airlines tend to fly to.
My more reasoned ways made me opt for a carefully planned travel schedule. My ordered, OCD-like manner drove me towards organising the dates, accommodations and accessories I would need even before stepping foot on a plane. I even considered the types of international cuisine to sample on my journey!
North American Destinations
Being a sheltered Aussie, I grew up with aspirations of visiting various North American cities, particularly the ones that featured in some of my favourite films. “Gangs of New York” got me giddy to see the statue of Liberty and towering Empire State Building. I should have known better than to descend on New York, flush with cash. Madison Avenue, is like a black hole for your bank balance – it sucks it all up. Barney’s New York ruined me. Between designer jeans, hand-crafted wallets, and swanky shoes, I was left out of pocket, but looking pretty fly! At risk of bankrupting myself, I absconded from the city before it was too late.
Ah, Boston. With its world-class universities and student population, this city is an ode to youth. If only I’d dedicated every waking hour since being of school age towards becoming a biochemical engineer, perhaps I would have achieved the grades needed to be accepted at Harvard. Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Mark Zuckerberg would have been a nice way to pass time at University. Regardless, being surrounded by the brainy as taking its toll on my confidence, so sought out normality in Chi-city.
My curiosity about North American sports also fuelled my decision to head there. To my mind, Baseball is just about the silliest game ever invented. The way I see it, people only ever take it up so they can incessantly chew tobacco and spit, and still be deemed respectable members of society, loved and adored by their fans. Anyone with these tendencies that avoids playing Baseball is destined to be shunned by society, and will likely end up in a raggedy sleeping bag under some derelict bridge. And so, my inquisitive nature about this sport led me to head to Chicago, where I heard the Cubs fans were particularly foolhardy and fun.
Ice Hockey, too, blows my mind as a concept. I’ve watched one match before. It felt like I was tuning into a UFC match, and a game of ice hockey just happened to break out. Toronto, the home of the Maple Leafs, has the largest youth ice hockey organisation in the world, which I speculated must be a breeding ground for devoted Maple Leafs fans.
A love for wine and a distinguished pallet drew me to take on a wine tour in California. I was seduced by Napa Valley’s bold, spicy Zifandel’s and ripe, velvety Merlot’s. I do like my vino, but let’s just say, I’m not the sort of taster who spits his wine out into a bucket. I thought it fitting to rent a red convertible Mustang when I was out there. I know, how clichéd. But I made up for this tacky behaviour with an expert knowledge of wine, one that would rival Paul Giamatti’s cultured character in Sideways.
And I figured, while out West, I may as well see everything that the continent had to offer on the Pacific-Ocean side of things. I remembered reading an article in the Economist which ranked Vancouver as the number one place in the world to live. Now, clearly, Noosa mustn’t have been eligible, otherwise it would have taken the trophy hands down. Anyways, with all the brouhaha surrounding the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games and the opportunity to hit the slopes and cut-up the moguls at Whistler, how could I resist.
In the spirit of sampling all means of transport, be it trains, planes or automobiles, embarking on a cross-country journey from Vancouver to Montreal as a no-brainer. Inspired by the back of the Bank of Canada $10 bill, I opted to be a passenger on “The Canadian”, a 4,466km railway escapade. This journey induced multiple “eyegasms”. I was bowled over by the boreal forest, I gasped at the Great Lakes, revelled at the Rocky Mountains and praised the prairies. The best site of all came in the form of a sassy brunette with curves of a goddess who fortuitously was assigned the bunk bed below. Despite the pre-determined nature of the bed she was given, let’s just say she exercised her freewill and slept where she thought was most appropriate. Zoe, you will be missed.
Montreal offered me a slice of sophistication. Venturing there before my European escapade meant that I was eased into the world of older architecture, rich history and foreign languages. In a bid to do something cultural, I explored the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal. Rembrandt blew my mind. Picasso was poor. Walking the city extensively took its toll on me so I splashed out and paid for up-market accommodation at Hotel le St -James.
At this point, North American cities began blending into one. I bore witness to an endless sea of skyscrapers and fast food chains masked with plumes of smog. Don’t get me wrong; the parks, the people and the architecture are world class, but I needed a variation of scenery! To Europe – with love!
My Love-Affair with Europe
London. I touched down in Heathrow and rehearsed a British accent and the local slang in my head over and over again. Having watched British Jones’ Diary and Austin Powers: The Spy who Shagged Me on the way over provided much-needed inspiration.
Having done my research, I discovered that London is the most visited city on the planet. And, to my mind, rightly so. With a rampant, socially-acceptable drinking culture, a rich history, impeccable architecture and a great night-life, what’s not to love?
I went to see a football derby; namely Arsenal versus Tottenham. The football chants wee hilarious, and by the end of the match, I found myself shouting “Yid Army, Yid Army”. This felt slightly uncomfortable given that I’m without a religion, but I could have been pummelled by the surrounding fans had I not made my allegiances clear by means of song. London’s museums left my jaw agape, particularly the Natural History and British Museums. They say that “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”. Whizzing by the Houses of Parliament on a double decker bus, I couldn’t have agreed more.
Welling up with tears, I said goodbye to London. The Eiffel Tower beckoned, you see. Paris greeted me with sunshine, fine wine and a smorgasbord of aged cheeses. I will temper my observations of the Parisians, but they are a funny bunch. Never have I known a people to be so obsessive about the finer things in life. Designer clothing was a must. Anything less than a three-course meal was seemingly out-of-the-question. Perfectly manicured gardens were the standard. But my, what a pretty city. It is the mark of perfection, a city so unmatched in its beauty that I can now truly understand its allure for honeymooners.
Paris gave way to Rome via the much-despised but ridiculously-cheap airline, Easy Jet. Being able to jet-set to one of the most beloved destinations in the world for under £50 is simply unfathomable for us isolated Aussies. In this ancient Italian city, I was able to connect with my inner-gladiator at the Coliseum. At school, I fancied myself as a bit of a history buff, and a trip to the Pantheon, Rome’s best-preserved Ancient building, proved just that. I was able to recite facts I learnt in Ancient History well over a decade ago. I stuffed myself with thin stone baked pizza, threw my spare Euros into the fountains, and hopped on a flight en-route to Amsterdam.
The Netherlands. I know what you’re thinking. The fragrance of a certain green herb filling the air, while jolly locals walk around giggling like school girls. As comedic as that would-be, the narcotics consumption is generally limited to the tourists looking for a novelty. Space cakes and spliffs aside, Amsterdam’s Vondelpark as a green abyss, a place of serenity amidst a bustling city. I was surrounded by tulips, which I’d imagine are slightly more affordable than during the Tulip Bubble of 1637, when a single flower was priced up at 10x the yearly wages of a skilled craftsman. Being a tourist (and not a pervert), I thought it fitting to frequent the sex museum of Amsterdam. I felt a little bit ashamed after having my photograph taken with an excessively large penis statue. I sat down to hang my head in shame, only to have a shot of air shoot between my cheeks, simulating a certain sexual act. I had to leave this city, and continent, quickly.
Rest of the World
Between little-remembered full moon parties in Thailand, dancing the night away to Psy in South Korea and mingling with mummies in Egypt, the rest of the world kept me busy too. You’ll have to read on to find out more…