The event was hosted by Duncan Milligan,* a dynamic expedition leader with help from Austin Vince, a larger-than-life long distance motorcyclist.
Compared to these two legends of the adventure travel game, I felt very out of my depth having spent the previous years studying to be a psychiatric nurse. Even so, it was a good crack with a lovely audience.
The three of us were offering advice to anyone off on their first long trip: Duncan about travelling overland by motorised vehicle; Austin about adventure motorbike trips and I was there to hold forth on bicycle touring and mules.
At the end, we each had to provide a written list of our top ten travel tips for audience members. I didn’t keep mine at the time but it went something like this:
“We do not take a trip, a trip takes us,” wrote John Steinbeck in Travels with Charley, and it’s the best travel advice ever.
I think Steinbeck is saying, yes, it’s important to be prepared, but also to just go for it, embrace the unexpected, and when things go wrong, which they will, to keep smiling, don’t panic and think on your feet.
Without wanting to sound naff - set off with an open heart and an open mind. Also, realize your spectacular good luck and, as my Mum always said: “For goodness sake, remember to have fun!”
Whilst planning a journey you will have those who will praise your adventurous spirit. Others will call you, often quite justifiably in my case, a reckless, irresponsible fool. It’s important to have your critics as well as your champions: they spur you on in different ways.
The politics of certain countries stinks but the people on the street will still look out for you. Some of the countries I feared the most before travelling through – Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and Nigeria – showed me the most extraordinary kindness. Always be prepared to have your pre-conceived ideas shattered.
You must be ruthless with your packing. Yes, you will need the right gear, especially in terrain with harsh climates, but you will also be amazed how little you can carry or simply obtain on the hoof.
Essentials: a few bin liners, a head torch, thermals, a couple of elastic bungees, pen knife with gadgets, photos of loved ones (proper ones, not just on a phone), a jar of Tiger Balm and a copy of The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard - the writing is so fine, and, however rough your journey, his will make yours look like a picnic on Primrose Hill.
The most important thing is to believe 100 percent in your journey, however ridiculous it may appear. This is coming from someone who has walked over 2,500 miles from Mexico to New York with an ornery, 17-year-old mule.
Your trip has to mean the world to you. If you don’t embrace it heart and soul, nobody else will.
It’s also vital - to paraphrase the Dalai Lama - to be true to the dreams of all those who would love to hit the road, to be in your shoes, but never have the chance.
Think carefully about what you want from your journey. What is your time and budget? Do you want to traverse deserts, jungles, mountains or seas? Travel on foot, in a saddle, by vehicle or public transport?
Should you go with a friend/friends? Do you want to tweet and blog? Or do you want to be alone in the wild with no technology other than a buckram notepad? All have their pros and cons.
If a chancer like me with limited language skills, stumpy legs and a bad sense of direction can make it half way across the world by a combination of bicycle, mule and canoe, then trust me, really anyone, given the opportunity, can go on an adventure.
You don’t need heaps of expertise or money. You don’t need to be Indiana Jones. You can have an adventure over a year, a week or even a weekend. At the end of the day, all you really need is a change of clothes and a dream.
Let’s wrap up with some classy advice from The Odyssey by Homer, perhaps the first great travel book:
“It is not the journey itself, but what you bring back from it.”
Spot on, wise friend, and it probably sounds even better in ancient Greek.
Best of luck,