I’ve only been overseas three times so far – New Zealand, India and Nepal, and the US. In Nepal I hiked to Everest Base Camp. I only know one other person (other than the people I hiked with) who has done that, and she is a friend of a friend who I haven’t seen in over 10 years.
Before I went, I felt quietly impressed with myself for doing this. I mean, Everest Base Camp! It was a scary flight into the craziest airport in the world followed by a two week hike to get there, with risks of altitude sickness along the way. I was doing something pretty special, right?
So, here is a photo of base camp as we arrived:
We were there for about half an hour, and during that time more people came and went. I think that on the day I made it to Base Camp, so did about 200 others. And that was just one day! Yup, not so special any more, was I?
Am I naïve to think that my travel is unusual or impressive?
Perhaps it’s because I don’t know many people who like to travel like I do. Most people I know prefer to stay in hotels, where they are guaranteed a bed and a hot shower every night. They are happy to walk around a city or tourist attraction, but don’t want to have to pack hiking boots. So when I explain my travel plans, which generally include days of hiking, staying in tents or hostels and going at least one day without a shower, I am generally met with comments such as “you’re crazy” or “I can’t believe that is your idea of fun”.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m Aussie, so I love people thinking I’m crazy!
But I think these comments help me feel as though I am doing something special, so a part of me is disappointed to find thousands of others doing the same. I most recently experienced this in the US last year. I had heard of Zion and Arches National Parks, but I knew virtually nothing about them. I only visited them because they were part of a tour that fitted in with my schedule and seemed interesting (best decision ever though!). So, I guess when I didn’t know much about them (and most people I know haven’t even heard of them, let alone know where they are) it felt again that I was going somewhere off the beaten track.
We spent the entire trip getting early starts to every hike as advised by our tour guide to avoid the crowds. And he was right – so many people, everywhere. We walked for almost an hour (fairly easy hike, but hike nonetheless) to see sunset at Delicate Arch:
Pretty right? Here is a small sample of the others taking the exact same photo, at the exact same time, as me:
Yep, I’m an individual, just like everyone else.
So, what’s my point? Because, obviously, I haven’t said anything new here, and I didn’t mean this post to be sob story about reality vs ideals.
My point is that people like me (and I know there are many more of you out there) crave the unusual. But what may be unusual to us may not be to the rest of the world. Once upon a time places like Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu were exotic and “out there”. Now I know lots of people who have been to both.
Perhaps we need a mind shift. If you want to something unusual, look smaller.
I have climbed Mt Walsh (about an hour and a half from my house) twice. Both times we had the 3 hour track to ourselves – we saw two others the first time, and one the second. When I camped at Blackdown Tablelands with my parents, I think there was only 1 or 2 other groups there at the same time, so we had the walking tracks to ourselves. I only know a handful of people who have climbed Mt Larcom or even been to Carnarvon Gorge, despite the fact that Carnarvon is fairly well known. I know many people who have lived in central Queensland all their life and never been to Heron Island, Great Keppel Island, Lady Elliott or Lady Musgrave Islands, which are all close by.
Perhaps “off the beaten track” is much closer to home. It may not be as exotic if you don’t need a passport, but if you want to do something different, something away from the crowds or tourists that make you shudder, perhaps you should look in our own backyard.
Sure, you might jostle with a hundred other people at the big locations – Uluru, Surfers Paradise beach, Cradle Mountain, the Great Ocean Road or the tip of Cape York, but you have a good chance of being all by yourself at most other places. Isn’t that enough to satisfy that feeling of adventure in you? I think it may be for me.
There’s nothing wrong with overseas travel, or of visiting popular tourist destinations. I’ve loved the trips I’ve taken, and plan many more, as there are things overseas travel can give you that local travel can’t. But I think we should look at travel within Australia differently. We should appreciate the fact that we have things that are hard to find in other places, and we should treat these experiences as impressive and unusual, because they are.
After all, there is nothing quite like a great view, or a beautiful waterfall, or coming across a wild animal when there is no one else around and you get it all to yourself. It is just as special whether it’s on the other side of the world or an hour from home.