Travel writing is such a wonderful mix of education and entertainment, self-indulgence and showing-off! It’s where you get to say things like ‘Returning from a piranha fishing trip, we find our host dragging an anaconda out of the spare room’ (from 2000 Herald Sun Grab an Anaconda).
Or to show people how rewarding a different mode of transport can be, such as taking a bike-riding tour through Cambodia (2007 Sun Herald Cycle of Life), where you get close to the people and history while cycling past rice paddies and through tiny villages where kids come running out in pure excitement to proudly shout ‘Hello!’ in English.
I was inspired to travel after my wonderful parents decided to use dad’s long service leave responsibly, by taking myself and my brother out of school for five months. Well, it was to go around Central and Western Australia in a Landcruiser and caravan, and as I was only six and Rob eight, it wasn’t that irresponsible! Actually I can highly recommend it to parents, as we received so much education while travelling. Mum even improved my abysmal numerical skills by making times-table flashcards… Yes, we had to do homework, damnit!
I returned to primary school with tanlines, lots of beautiful shells for show-and-tell, and an urge to travel in later life. We did further trips to Queensland (right up to the tip of Cape York), Tasmania, and New Zealand. It was always educational, learning so much about the environment, the flora and fauna, geography, let alone culture and other lifestyles. Sadly, I’d never met indigenous people while growing up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne in the 70s. But I did while travelling with mum & dad, and I’m forever thankful.
In adulthood, I moved around while working with horses, to other areas of my own state, Victoria, plus Western Australia and New South Wales. It was all eye-opening – we have different slang and even slightly-differing accents from state to state, if you listen hard enough.
And then I started travelling overseas, first to work with horses in Ireland, with side trips to England and Malta. Then the trip of a lifetime – three months in South America, from Argentina, a short foray into Chile, then hitting the Mardi Gras in Rio de Janeiro and joining a tour across Brazil into Bolivia and Peru, including walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Unforgettable? Absolutely! And I visited an old friend from ag college, Ricardo, on his family property, right on the southern-most end of Argentinian mainland, home to sheep, icy winds and Magellanic penguins (2001 Austn Way Australias Woolly Connection). Warm hospitality exists in the coldest, most isolated places!
Further trips happened, including on the romantic-sounding but rather cramped conditions of the Trans-Mongolian train journey, from Beijing, China, through Mongolia to Siberia, then to Moscow and St Petersburg. Three weeks of full-on education there, through some of the poorest countries and toughest environments on earth. Both overwhelming and stunningly beautiful at once.
I can never say how different my writing might have been be without the travel – only that every single experience and adventure, person met, history learnt, sights and smells and tastes, good and bad, are all brewing there until they’re drip-fed into a piece of writing at some point. If only everyone could have these experiences, see how others live…
I know, I am so very lucky, and not everyone gets these chances. But it’s good to leave your comfort zone when you can, whether it will inspire your creativity or simply help you to understand other cultures and lifestyles 🙂