In Kuala Lumpur I met a guy from New Zealand. After a particularly heavy night out on ‘Pub Street’, Lisa and I shared a taxi to the Batu Caves with him and his new travelling companion, a young woman from Switzerland. The four of us ended up spending the day together.
That evening, over dinner at a food hall in Little India, we started talking about our home countries. The New Zealander (I didn’t know what he was called – that happens a lot on travels, you spend hours or even days with fab people and never know their name) was from Dunedin on the South Island.
“We spent two weeks on the South Island before Christmas,” I chirped in. “Milford Sound was amazing. I’d say it’s in the top three places I’ve seen on our whole travels!”
“I’ve heard it’s great,” he replied. “I’ve never been there.”
What? I thought. How can you live on the South Island of New Zealand and not have visited Milford Sound?
It didn’t stop there. The more we talked about the highlights of New Zealand, the further my jaw dropped at this guy’s revelations that he’d seen none of them himself. Mount Cook. Waitomo Caves. Haast Pass. Tongariro Crossing. He had spent his whole life in New Zealand and not been to any of these places, and yet here he was travelling for months across south-east Asia.
As surprising as it may seem, this is not a rarity. When speaking to backpackers I meet around the world, so many of them have not seen the sights in their own back yard. Just three weeks ago in Australia I met a Brazilian from Florianopolis who had never been to Rio. In Bali last week I met an Argentinian who had never been to Iguassu Falls or Patagonia. In Argentina, I met a French guy who had never seen the Eiffel Tower. And I’ve met countless Australians who have never been to Fraser Island, Whitsundays or the Great Barrier Reef.
This has got me thinking about my own experience of home. I am reasonably well travelled around the UK, but I have spent four years living in London – I even got married there – and have only experienced a fraction of what it has to offer. I’ve never been to the Natural History Museum, the British Library or the V&A. Not been up the Shard. London Zoo, the Aquarium, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge – nope, none of them. For someone who loves cities, that’s quite a poor show.
That’s why Lisa and I have decided to extend our travelling journey. After we fly back to Heathrow in May 2018, we are going to spend three days as backpackers in London; we’ll stay in a hostel, take a free walking tour and get around as many of these places as we can. (Lisa has been a much better home tourist than me and has seen most of the above, but wants to experience it all again with me.)
With dreams and ambitions to fly away and see the world, it’s easy to forget about the amazing experiences that are all around you. I’m going to put that right. And besides, it’s a great excuse to defer our return to reality just a little bit longer.