My life has been consumed by travel. It is not the life that I envisaged for myself, growing up on a farm in Western Queensland. But somehow, travel was always in my blood. In my late teens, I saved money from part time jobs in order to travel. One of my first trips was travelling to Cairns alone by train at the age of 16. Later it was bus trips to central Australia, Western Australia and beyond (when that was mainly how you travelled). Next it was to New Zealand for work (where I got my first insiders experience) then on to the UK where I worked in London and Scotland.
Living in rural Scotland was a real eye opener. I lived in a caretakers cottage that belonged to an ancient, crumbling castle. I spent my mornings getting back to my roots, chopping wood to heat the cold damp space. In the evenings I worked in a bar and quickly had to get used to all the small town talk of the locals, before trying to evict them if they stayed on far beyond closing time. An insider’s experience, you bet!
I came back to Australia to get serious, to go to University and to get a proper career. After many years of slaving away at my degree part time and renovating houses it was time to hit the road again.
This time it was to Nepal, to go trekking in the Himalayas. I can honestly say this is what changed the course of the rest of my adult life (and still has an impact today). Whilst the trekking and the spectacular mountain scenery was amazing; it was the connections I made with the local people that stayed with me. It was the first time in my life that I experienced village life in the raw, witnessing subsistence living hand to mouth. It had a profound impact on me and so the decisions on what to do with the rest of my life were set there and then. Little did I know this though!
After returning to my job in Australia (one that I didn’t enjoy), I kept yearning for a different life, one where perhaps I could make a difference and be part of something where it wasn’t just about me and the ‘big’ choices I had to make in life (ie. the next exotic place in the world to visit to keep myself interested).
2001 was the turning point. I made the bold decision to give up my well payed, secure job and hit the road. I gave myself 5 years to be away and to discover the meaning of life. To help where I was needed, to live a life that was a little rough, to discover who I was and to find my place in the world, rather than being defined by the material possessions that I had worked so hard for.
I returned to Nepal, volunteering in a small village school and living with a local family. Being an insider in Nepal made me very happy, even though there were plenty of hardships to overcome. From having to eat rice and dahl for every single meal (including breakfast!), to living in a house where the squat toilet was a few flights of narrow stairs down from the room and to enduring cold as I had never endured it before (without suitable clothing). Despite all of that I couldn’t get enough of it…I kept returning, again and again. I knew I couldn’t settle back into the life I had before.
There was another cause calling me, to go to India to teach Tibetan Refugees, so after a couple of previous visits (where I taught short term) I decided to return to India and take up the position of running a centre in Dharamsala for the period of one year. That year taught me many things about the hardships of refugees. It taught me about their displacement, dislocation and not being able to return to their homes for which they yearn for day after day, year after year. It was and continues to be a hugely humbling experience for me.
I felt as though I had come home in India. I was happy, my heart was full. I decided to go into business with a local, running a hotel and a restaurant. It was also at that time I started my first travel business. I was an Insider and I wanted to show people what it was like for me.
To this day, even though I mostly live in Australia, I still regard myself as an insider in India – having a local driver’s licence, having a home in India, shopping at local bazaars for food and essential items, speaking a smattering of Hindi, having local friends and travelling extensively throughout the country. One of the things about being an Insider is that it creates lifelong memories of the people you meet along the way and the places you bond with. These are the experiences that help you delve deeper into another destination and create memories that will last a lifetime.