When a rare opportunity for extended travel arrives, you just have to grab it with both hands

I’m going backpacking in South East Asia for 90 days. I know, I hate myself too. We haven’t plotted a route yet but it may possibly cover Burma, Vietnam, Laos and perhaps Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines; and if we have time, South China. And to start off with, we’ll go to north-east India (which curiously feels a lot like south east Asia in terms of climate, food and faces) and attend my niece’s Himalayan wedding.

I’m so excited. I have my jabs, some guide books, I’ve checked that my passport is valid and where I last left it, and I’ve dusted off my favourite backpack. If curiosity and excitement had a weight, I’d have a hefty surcharge at Heathrow in 10 days’ time.

It’s kind of liberating to not know exactly where you’re going, to not have booked hostels and transport ahead of time.

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Hearing reactions from friends

It’s been interesting hearing the reactions from friends when I tell them what we’re doing. Most have a longing fondness tinged with mock-jealousy.

‘The last hurrah before you have kids,’ said one, a little presumptuously. 

‘Get it out of your system,’ said another friend. Out of my system? Did I hear that right? Get TRAVEL out of my system? Travel that great teacher, that harbinger of hope in hopeless times, the bringer-together of the races, the nationalities, the classes, the faiths and the faithless. Travel that catalyses ideas and trade, crystalises mutual respect and understanding and dissolves intolerance.

No, I never want to get travel out of my system. Unless it’s gastroenteritis.

When Jenny in the office learned that I was going away for 3 months she enquired, ‘Prison term is it?’ It’s flattering the high esteem my colleagues sometimes hold me in isn’t it?

Without doubt we’re very lucky and grateful in the same measure to have this opportunity and I don’t take it for granted. Travel, when you’re not trying to escape from natural disasters such as storms, floods, earthquakes and the worst form of natural disasters, other people, is a privilege.

In fact it was a fortuitous set of circumstances, a perfect storm, that conspired to make this trip a reality …

  • Firstly, our jobs. Sarah’s a contractor; this doesn’t mean she kills people for a living, but rather that she has the flexibility to have clearly delineated periods of employment; the gaps between them are usually the fun bits. As for me, my employer is quite an enlightened company that has a strong focus on wellness, flexible working patterns and work/life balance; it allows its employees to have unpaid mini-sabbaticals of up to 12 months twice in their career.
  • Secondly, our friend Sharon’s parents were planning to coming to London from abroad and needed a small place to stay for 3 months. Not only that, but her parents love cats. We have a small flat, we’re leaving for 3 months and we have a cat. You couldn’t make this up. Bingo! So now we get a wonderful couple, Terry and Heather looking after our flat and after our cat, the myth, the legend, Silver. It’s a big tick-box ticked.
  • Thirdly, we’ve been saving up and planning for this trip for a couple of years; 90 days away from home doesn’t come cheap, so we’ll be booking up in hostels, and taking night trains, buses and boats and flights.

By the way, I think our Silver doesn’t know we’re going away. I did have a quiet moment yesterday to tell her, heart to heart. She just scratched her ear with her hind leg, yawned and started licking her bum. I think she doesn’t understand. Perhaps she does.

Hey ho. I’d better start packing; I’d better check those other animate creatures, the passports, haven’t gone walkies …


This post is part of the blog series

’90 Days in South East Asia’

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