Venturing out of your comfort zone provides an experience that is yours alone, writes Tommy Walker.
On every trip I've been on in the past five years, I've felt an imperative urge to spend at least a little bit of time away from the crowds and tourist hotspots.
"Why are you going to Venezuela? No one goes there — plus isn't it dangerous?" I was once asked by a fellow traveller in Brazil. She looked at me with a straight face, amazed as to why I would do such a thing. It was almost as if I had to stick to the well-trodden trail in South America, the "Gringo Trail" from Colombia down to Bolivia.
Her question got me thinking. I used to believe all travellers and backpackers were adventurers at heart, set for long, exhilarating trips and willing to go anywhere. Many people feel it's a God-given right that travelling should be 100 per cent safe. For me, travelling doesn't mean that. The purpose of travelling is to be taken out of your comfort zone. True travel brings total freedom.
I get that we all need a break sometimes. I understand we want to see amazing things and have a great time at the best places. But I believe the original and most authentic reason to travel is to experience something more pulsating, exotic and well, risky. I think we forget we are seeing the world, and that travel can be — and sometimes is meant to be — difficult.
"Paraguay is boring, don't go there," I was told by many. "There's nothing to do!"
I loved hearing that; I smirked with a quiet excitement. It brought down an already low expectation. I found myself visiting eco-reserves, zip-lining in the jungle, hitch-hiking to deserted ruins. I revelled in the fact I was going to a country no one really cared about, because this wasn't anybody else's experience, it was mine. The lower your expectation, the more fruitful things become. You can have fun anywhere in the world, as long as you treat everywhere blank and brand new.
"Guyana is definitely off the beaten track," I once read in a Lonely Planet. I visited of course, mingling with locals on deserted beachlines, flying on chartered flights into the country's dense jungle and eating authentic cuisine on the street. But I still ask myself: what is the attraction? What is the gut instinct drawing me to these countries like no other? The answer? It is the lack of expectation and the potential for anything to happen — less the bucket lists, more the experiences. I read that once, too.
I'm a firm believer that many people go off the beaten track simply because they want to see something different. Others go for show; the chance to boast about it later. For my ever-continuing journey, I've learned that going "offbeat" provides a personalisation that cannot be topped. You form a connection to a place that you know may be inconvenient and troublesome but that makes it all the more beautiful. Being around all that chaos and unpredictability? I love it. It makes me strive for more and increases my desire to see the world first-hand.
Every new place is a good place — I guess that's my motto.