The natural tendency at New Year is to look forward to the year ahead, making resolutions and planning adventures. For me though I often find myself looking back to the past year, and as I struggled to digest my Christmas turkey I got to thinking about my travel in 2010. What does my last year of travel say about me? What kind of traveller am I? What are the experiences that mean the most to me when I travel?
As I look back on the last year, there are some experiences that really stand out for me, walking part of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela was definitely one. This ancient pilgrim route stretches across northern Spain and even just walking a small part of it was an amazing experience. While the route itself is more than a thousand years old, it is still an important part of life for the locals who live along the way. A very different, but equally moving experience was taking a tour of a favela in Rio de Janeiro. I started to think about what these two, very different experiences had in common and the one theme connecting them was the people I met.
When I first started out travelling I was incredibly passionate about the history of the places I visited, I was drawn to the buildings of historical significance; the palaces, the churches; the museums. I am still fascinated by that, but more and more I find it is the lives of the local people that really draws me into the places that I fall in love with.
When I visited the Rocinha favela in Rio it wasn’t because I am into crime, grime and poverty. In fact, searching for poverty to go and look at strikes me as a little prurient, but equally if I am visiting a place where poverty exists I don’t necessarily want to spend my whole time there in a tourist bubble hiding from it. Don’t get me wrong though, if experiencing local life means kicking back outside the bar on the town square of a Sicilian village and having a few beers while watching the old boys play cards, well that’s just fine with me too!
For me though, the most moving of travelling experiences is when the locals allow you to be, however fleetingly, part of their lives. I will never forget the day we got an England v Brazil game of beach football going in the gorgeous Brazilian beach resort of Paraty. Our only language in common was the shared joy of running on the sand kicking a football. I am an appalling footballer, and although some of the other lads weren’t, we were still roundly thrashed. What an experience though, it cost nothing yet it was amazing.
I love to see something different when I’m travelling. That doesn’t have to mean going to a place where few other people go, often it can just be the chance to see a different side to a place that many people visit. Most of us have enough monotonous routine in our day jobs, I don’t want the same generic experience in every place I go on holiday. So I am always looking for something different. I want to see new things, but I also love to see something I am familiar with in a totally new way!
The train hostel where I stayed in Lund was a little like that. I’ve spent the night on many a sleeper train and I have stayed in plenty of hostels, but the day I discovered there was a hostel that was made from a converted sleeper train I knew I would have to stay there. Just last month I was in Krakow where I did the amazing Communism Tour. I’m always up for a trip around a museum to learn about the history of a place, but when I saw I could learn about Poland’s communist past while driving around town in a Trabant, then I knew I just couldn’t miss that opportunity! Does any car say communism more than the Trabant?!
So, they were my 2010 highlights. I’ve enjoyed looking back on them and now I am excited and ready to look forward to 2011! How was your 2010? What travel experiences meant most to you last year? How are you going to find more of them this year?