Tommy Walker has been on the road since 2011 throughout 6 continents. In every trip Tommy has taken he has always looked to venture off-the-beaten track, realising he loves the lack of expectation, the rawness and the sense of doing something different. Tommy visited Myanmar before it got popular with visitors, and roamed for 2 months in India back in 2012-2013. Since then he has travelled solo in Venezuela, Guyana, Trinidad + Tobago, Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia and Paraguay. He is now an internationally-published travel writer and journalist, and oversees a total reach of 180,000 via social media. He believes it’s his destiny to travel to Africa main, and the Middle East, both which are next up on the horizon.
You’ve written: ‘Going travelling is thought to actually help your working career and to get ahead in life!’ How can I convince my boss that hiking the Andes would make me a better cubicle-dweller?
In a working job or career you will have to problem solve, think quick, meet deadlines and take on new tasks, experiences and liaise with all sorts of people; colleagues and customers. Travelling somewhere that is a challenge, is out of your comfort zone and is something different helps you gain more life experience. It allows you to be more creative and find solutions. You have to weigh up your options, your choices, your budget, your surroundings and your dealings with people. It isn’t a holiday where you just relax; you become more independent and forward thinking – all relevant attributes to help you in a workplace.
From a personal perspective, you’ll feel more a lot more accomplished by going travelling somewhere as challenging as the Andes. Whatever the excursion maybe, it’s something different. Once you’ve achieved what you’ve set out to do, what comes with that is added patience and confidence. You’ll be able to say you’ve achieved at doing something different and that feels good. Happiness is key to any good employee.
There are lots of travel tips for all kinds of journeyers on your website. Can you suggest a destination with a tip for these types of solo travellers?
Curious, but a newbie
As long you’re not from there, heading into somewhere like Southeast Asia is the best place you can visit. It feeds your curiosity of a different culture and customs, while it’s safe and well-travelled meaning it’s a great place to begin your travels. Plus, it’s easy to meet fellow travellers if you wish too.
Western Europe would be another place, although it’s more expensive it’s obviously very open to travellers. There aren’t as many defined routes to travel here as there are in Southeast Asia but it’s still incredible to witness so many different cultures.
Bog-standard hostel haunters, interested in going a bit further afield
South America would be a good choice, although travelling here isn’t easy. I’d recommend you have some travel experience under your belt prior to visiting here. With so many things to see and do, both on and off the beaten track, South America can be life-changing. The Gringo Trail, consisting of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia you’ll have a great chance of meeting fellow wanderers. A tad more offbeat, places like Guyana, Venezuela and Paraguay aren’t flooded at all with travellers but have some incredible places to experience.
Fearless explorers with iron guts
I think a fearless explorer or someone with adequate travel experience, places like the Middle East and Africa would be the pinnacle. I know Africa is the pinnacle for me. Real, in the thick of it Africa; East, West and Central. Travel routes are scarce, tourism isn’t huge – it’s very off the beaten track. You’d definitely need iron guts here! These kind of destinations are for the travellers who are independent, thick-skinned and a little bit hardened. You’ll definitely be the odd one out giving the lack of mass tourism, but that’s the beauty of it.
6 years on the road can take a toll on your love life. Can nomads be romantics, too?
Definitely – you learn so much about your love life and what you want. Meeting people from different cultures and expectancies teaches you so much. You can become more continental, more worldly while the different nationalities of others alone is the biggest interest really. Some are more laid back, others are more naturally beautiful. Being on the road that long, as a single guy, it’s not a time without some experiences. There’s probably more times than you’d think you could be romantic and actually get in a relationship with someone, because the curiosity of one another’s nationality is so strong. Yet, it just depends if you want to commit or keep soldiering on. I choose the latter.
A common fear about going solo is loneliness. How do you combat feelings of isolation?
I think that’s part of it. If you’re a long term traveller, explorer or someone who works on the road you have to be comfortable with yourself. I enjoy my alone time, whereas other people can’t take it. Meeting other people, whether it be fellow wanderers or the locals doesn’t have to be difficult, and most people on the road who naturally love the journey will be open-minded enough to make new friends. If I get lonely I work or hit social media, which I know leads to the next question.
How has social media changed things for lonely foreigners?
Hugely. I first hit the road at the very beginning of mass social media use. People had to lift their heads up and interact whereas now, people can hide behind looking at their phone. It’s like a shield to not be embarrassed being alone. We all do it because it shows we aren’t alone and we have friends somewhere in the world.
Plus, pre-meeting travellers has never been easier. With the tons of Facebook groups online now ( I admin many, with around 150,000 members ) you can pin point your steps and meet up with fellow travellers. Social media makes it easier to meet people, but it does lose the fear of the unknown and decreases the possibility of more random meet ups, and they are some of the best things about travelling.
A common misconception about long-term solo travellers is…
Everyone has lots of money. Or the people who do it are loners. You can travel long-term and live on a budget. People who travel aren’t necessarily loners, they just seek for adventure and a more exciting life. Everyone is different. Long-term solo travelling is arguably the most independent choice of lifestyle. Of course, people in poverty or people who do not have a chance to travel will go through unquestionably more difficult circumstances. But for the majority of people who have a choice, independent travel mixes it up; it’s living outside the expectation of society.
Many people budget a lot or work on the road and actually prefer that lifestyle. Some say people are running away from life, but it’s undeniably the opposite, they want to see life in all of it’s glory. Another huge myth buster is that long term solo travelling is like a holiday – but it really isn’t. The way of life is like any other, it has ups and downs; there is just less middle. The ups are amazing, like Christmas Day, and the lows can be lonely, but when you have the guaranteed highs to look forward to, you get through them.
As a solo traveller, do you have any first aid or safety training?
None officially, I’d just react to whatever the situation tended to be. I’ve been in a couple of very precarious situations, from fending off a Indian guy about to grope my friend, to helping a man to hospital. You just react and try and help as much as possible.
A travel nightmare…
Running out of money, travelling inner city at night or being robbed or losing important things. Oh, and getting hurt on the road seriously, but one or two bumps and scratches should be expected.
A travel triumph…
Going off the beaten track to somewhere you just know hasn’t succumbed to mass tourism. For me, the feeling is addictive. You look at people like Benedict Allen, who says he goes on offbeat journeys to feel alive, and I can really understand that. It makes you feel like you’ve done something different, something tough; survival of the fittest and all that. You’re really seeing the world from a different perspective. You live life simply – in the Western world we have too many options and things, so when we do the normal boring stuff we become frustrated.
Yet, when you look at some third-world countries the locals are in the whole happier. I put this down to lack of expectation and the lack of exposure to any of the bullshit materials we have been provided with. They just live within their means. When it’s all said and done that’s something I personally will yearn for. Once my own travel ego and personal accomplishments have been achieved, that’s all I want is to get away from the road and find some peace.
Where to next?
Planning on a year’s stint in North-east Asia, so Hong Kong, the Koreas, China, Japan and Taiwan etc. Then heading to Russia next year which will be interesting! Africa is #1 for me though, so that is knocking at my subconscious door within me, so I think within 2 years max I’ll be there, and I don’t intend on passing through too quickly. I’m really intrigued about the Middle East culture too! Plenty more to see!
For more on Tommy’s adventures, check out his website: http://thewanderingwalker.com/