Friday, 8 March 2013

Round the world trip - 10 years on

The Needle, cross-island walk,
Rarotonga, Cook Islands
On the 8th March 2003, a 19-year-old little Jezo Kempo went on a round the world trip (RTW). I took 17 flights, and went to: Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, and Mongolia.
This was my first day as an international rogue.

Thinking about it now is pretty strange. On the one hand, it was a mind-blowing trip, I did amazing things and saw some frankly epic stuff. I had no idea what to expect, it was my first real trip away from home, and in some respects it was very scary. Going round the world? At 19, by yourself? To ... foreign countries?

Franz Josef glacier, New Zealand
And yet, it was a Totally Normal Thing. The middle-class gap year backpacker trip was already a British institution, and I spent more time with other British tourists than foreign tourists or locals the entire way. Thailand sounded like a scary place - my mum initially didn't want me to go to Asia at all - and yet on arrival, there was an entire industry and infrastructure already set up for well-off middle-class kids just like me to travel around and do whatever touristy stuff I wanted: get drunk on island beaches, ride an elephant, go jungle-trekking in the north. The main character in The Beach (amazing book) talks about the tourists turning Thailand into some horrible plastic culture-less place, and Alex Garland wrote it before 1996.

When I got to Mongolia, I met a World Vision group of 16-year-olds. 16!

Today, the world is even more interconnected. Today, travel prices are lower, cameras are all digital, phones have touchscreens and wifi.

Sky diving over Lake Taupo, New Zealand
Global travel is still not something that just anyone can do at the drop of a hat, and it's still not physically possible to just go for a weekend in Australia or Africa. But the idea of such a trip being absolutely "once-in-a-lifetime" is no more.

At the time looking forward, I was wide-eyed and ready for anything. And while I didn't get eaten by sharks or locked up in a Thai prison, a lot of anything happened to me. It was exhilarating and exhausting and amazing.

Gobi Desert, Mongolia
Today, looking back, I'm not sure how to feel. In 9.5 years since, I haven't done much actual "travelling". Other than a quick trip around Central/Eastern Europe in 2008, it's either been holidays, or just living here in New Zealand. So it wasn't the start of a new travelling habit (or for some, addiction). I love travel and feel comfortable doing it, but I was not born to travel.

What it marked was the start of me evolving - turning gradually into the Jez you know and love/hate today - and understanding that the world is both a) bigger than we can possibly imagine, which we should never forget, and b) more accessible than we assume, which we should never forget either. People say, "oh I could never do that". People talk about money, commitments, responsibilities. Well, these things are always important, but they will always be there for you, and there will always be ways to accommodate them.

The reason I moved to New Zealand was an accident. I put myself in a situation, and I had to go through with it. Sometimes, the biggest reason for not doing big and exciting things is that we're simply afraid to reach out and touch it. It is as difficult and effortless as making a decision.

These pictures are only some of the 1500+ film(!) photos that I took. They're all living in a box back in the UK; one day I hope to scan them all and put them online. Those photos will tell of swimming with catfish, obstacle courses with Mongolian kids, snorkelling in Muri Lagoon, getting lost in Tokyo, dinosaur bones at the Flaming Cliffs. But anyway.

In a couple of months I'll be in Thailand, which I'm quite excited about, on my way back to the UK, which I'm very very excited about.

But right now, I'm involved in booking my 2nd round-the-world trip.

I am 29 and a half years old and I am still looking forward.

Sunset at the Flaming Cliffs, Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Taranaki Falls, near Whakapapa/Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand

At the top of the cross-island walk, Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Lagoon boat trip, Aitutaki, Cook Islands

The longest beach I've ever seen, Fraser Island, Australia. Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world. "It is used as a landing strip for planes and an informal highway for vehicles (highway rules state that vehicles must give way to aircraft if they are oncoming)."

Wreck of the Maheno, Fraser Island, Australia

The landscape in the Gobi desert is this flat.

Dusk on racing yacht, Whitsunday Islands trip, Australia

Atop the sand dunes in Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Flaming Cliffs, Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Semi-wild horses, My Camp, Mongolia

Wanaka, New Zealand

Sunrise from boat, Whitsundays, Australia

Shanty districts in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia

My friend Sonynbayar having a sleep, making heat-preserving igloos, Lotus Children's Centre

Sunset from Mrs Macquaries Point, Botanic Gardens, Sydney

Abandoned (or not?) temple, Mongolian desert



Flaming Cliffs, Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Train station in Mongolia

Adrenaline of a Bangkok tuktuk ride

Whitehaven beach, Whitsunday Island, Whitsundays, Australia

Graffiti at Newtown station, Sydney


  1. Some incredible photos there mate. You've done more in 10 years than many would in 10 lifetimes!

  2. I agree with Matt -- now everyone heads off to Mongolia when they're 19. Good for you, my dear sir.

    And huzzah for the random accident that saw us both in New Zealand at the same time. Can't imagine my time there without you.

    I'm with you on the living abroad > travelling bit. I just can't live out of a suitcase!