I thrive off feedback and welcome your questions about any issue related to independent travel. I’m particularly keen to help people overcome their fear of travel, and give friendly advice on facing up to complacency, routines and all those things that stop people from travelling for extended periods. So please get in contact with your questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.
1. What is Independent Travel?
The best way to define independent travel is to say what it’s not – it’s not tourism. Tourism means short breaks and all the details of where you’ll stay and what you’ll do have usually been organized in advance. Independent travel involves a much longer time-frame, up to a year (there are some people who travel indefinitely: see the Life of a Permanent Nomad) and there is an element of chance in where you will stay and what you will do. Some people organize these details in advance while others, like me, play it by ear and go with the flow. My approach is to simply choose a place to go, carve out a chunk of time, get the money together, travel alone and don’t do too much research as I’ll find out everything I need to know (and more) after I get there. In this way independent travel is a mystery and a way of life.
In my view independent travel should be done alone. A lone traveller is easier to approach as opposed to a couple, and so he/she will meet more people – but many people travel in couples or groups and that’s fine. It generally involves travelling to the other side of the world and spending as much time as possible getting to know it. But you can travel independently in your own country, doing cycling or hiking tours. What’s essential for anyone who wants to do this is to build up the skills that will enable you to get the most out of your journey and keep you safe. See this article for more details: 10 Skills for Independent Travellers.
2. Was it Easy to Become an Independent Traveller?
I didn’t plan to become an independent traveller, it just happened naturally. But I do remember being afraid of travelling alone and overcoming this fear was the key to getting away. I described this process of conquering my fears at the start of 9 Months in Tibet. Somewhere along the road I picked up a series of skills that I consider essential for anyone who wants to travel independently. These were things I learned gradually, with experience, and not from a book. If you really want to become something, if you have a burning ambition, you can make it happen whatever the odds.
3. Can You Advise People About Working Abroad and Career Choices?
I love talking to people about the future. Many young people seem worried about what they will do and, in my experience, school doesn’t equip them with the skills they need to evaluate the situation properly. The main thing that people need to navigate the job market (and life itself) is confidence. It’s all very well applying for a job but you may hate it and how do you know that you’re not a brilliant pastry chef, mechanic or PR person?
My advice is simple: experience as many different jobs as you can between the ages of 16 and 30 – work in bars, kitchens, building sites, vans, offices and shops – and eventually you’ll work out what you want to do – and that is the point you should go to university and study your chosen subject. This will give you an overview of the job market, will help you relax, build confidence and take the right decisions. Part of this process should be working abroad – all young people should try and get summer jobs in foreign countries, or volunteer postings, and the tourism industry everywhere needs charming young English-speakers like you (and check out this article: Introduction to Working Abroad).
4. What Do I Do Now?
At the moment I am a freelance writer, editor, troubleshooter and project manager. My last big project was as a PR advisor and editor and European rep for a Scottish rehab clinic. This involved editing their blog, managing a small team of freelancers, and helping them spread the word around Europe. I had no idea I would end up working with addiction but it’s one of the most fascinating subjects I have come across and so it’s a cool job. I am currently based in Bucharest but will have moved to Liverpool by the end of 2015.
Before this I was a PR consultant on EU projects, a project manager in Eastern Europe on NGO projects and I did a stint as a journalist. I always seemed to end up being in charge of things and yet I knew I wasn’t cut out to be a manager or director so I went in the direction of PR and communication, telling the outside world what’s going on inside the organisation.
5. Should I Travel Before Getting a Career?
In my view the best time to travel independently is before you get stuck into a steady job as this tends to result in lifetime commitments, marriage, kids, houses and these are hard to get away from. I know it’s not easy to hit the road after school or university but it’s a lot easier than later on in life. But the same fears — travelling alone, getting lost, running out of money, getting robbed, ruining your chances for a career — face anyone considering independent travel, whatever their age. And then there is complacency, the difficulty of getting away from the comfort of your own home. These obstacles are harder to overcome than getting the money together — and what I’m saying is that the older and more settled you get the harder it is to travel independently.
Another consideration is that independent travel, and getting a short term job abroad, may well result in you getting into a completely different career. I never would have imagined that I’d be working for a Scottish rehab clinic while living in Romania. The fact is that working abroad, and especially within the EU, is a lot easier than it has ever been as you don’t need special visas and work permits.
6. Is Travel a Way of Life?
Independent travel can certainly be a way of life and there are people who travel indefinitely. If you can adapt to foreign cultures, if you can handle missing home occasionally, if you thrive on being in strange places — independent travel could become your way of life.
7. How Can I Get a Review Copy of 9 Months in Tibet?
Just go to my contact page, send me a message and I’ll send you the book.
8. Can I Get the 9 Months in Tibet in a Bookshop?
The short answer is NO – at least not yet. My plan was to publish it on Amazon in 2015 but I lost faith in that process when I found out how many books are published every day (thousands). Currently I am looking for a normal, old fashioned book publisher and hopefully I will have a deal by 2016.
9. Will you Give a Talk at our Event?
I really like giving talks at events, schools, universities, festivals and book clubs – so please send me an invite and check out the video on my page about talks (under About Me). If I am in the area I will do my best to come but if I’m on the other side of the world I may ask for a contribution towards my travelling costs.