I tend to travel quite a bit. 2016 saw me jump on and off over 70 flights, so yeah, I guess I'm a little addicted.
But why do I travel? The short answer is, because it's the best education in the world. Now, don't get me wrong, I've been to some great schools in my time (shoutout to IS Manila and Macquarie Uni!), and while they taught me Math, English and Science (and totally failed to teach me French), my supplementary education came from traveling.
It's from traveling that I learnt about different places, cultures, food, geography, experiences and most importantly, different people.
It's one thing to read about a place in books or on the internet, it's another to see it with your own eyes, but more important than "seeing" sights, you need to immerse and truly experience a place.
You can see photos of the colors of Morrocco, but you have to travel there if you want to experience having a jovial three hour haggling session with an old carpet seller over glasses of sweet mint tea (this was one of my favorite parts of the trip).
Think you know Italy because you've seen some travel documentaries? Go to Florence and listen to a solo violinist playing under the moonlit arches of a piazza on your way back from eating the most delicious handmade pasta in a hidden mechanics garage-turned-restaurant across the river. The feeling you'll get can't be conveyed via television.
Ever heard of Zanzibar? Maybe as a mythic place you're not sure is real somewhere in Africa? Well, it's real. A pulsating and vibrant island off the coast of Tanzania with a rich history of spices, slavery and British and Arab influences. The ancient stone town looks like a movie set, and whilst you can learn a lot about the place from history books, I bet you never knew that they do a roaring trade in pirates dvd's of....? Filipino soap operas. Yes, the Zanzibari's love Pinoy soaps that have been dubbed into Swahili. Try and find that nugget of wisdom in a guide book (Jericho Rosales has quite a fan base there).
And about those people. I've met some of the most wonderful and friendly people on my travels. A lovely couple in Cairo who bought my friend and I dinner simply because they wanted us "to enjoy your visit to our country".
A lovely Cuban family who invited me to their house and cooked up the best food I had on my first trip to Havana.
But it's not only amazing locals you get to meet, you also meet fellow travelers from places even further afield, both of whom broaden your mind with their opinions, lifestyles and world views.
Once you understand where they and their ideas are coming from (which is made easier by experiencing their culture first hand), then you can appreciate people's difference of opinions. You don't have to agree with it or make it your own, but just understanding another persons point of view and respecting their right to it goes a long way in making the world a better place.
And every now and again, you'll come across simple words of wisdom from the most unlikely of sources.
A young kiteboarding instructor named Anthony I met in Tarifa, Spain was telling me about his day. He'd lost his keys, and his scooter was padlocked to a fence. He was living very basically, and had to pay a large sum of euros to get the chain cut and have the ignition replaced. Later that day, he broke his only kiteboard and a replacement would cost more than he could afford. I told him it sounded like he was having a pretty bad day. But instead of complaining, he just shrugged and said with a smile "it's ok. They are just things and I'll figure something out". And he meant it. We hung out for a couple of weeks and he was always smiling, always polite, friendly and a genuinely good soul to everyone he met. When I left, he gave me words to live by.
"As you travel, remember to spread the love".
And so that is why I travel. To experience places. To learn. To meet people. And to spread the love.
Freediving with Sharks in Hawaii with the shark conservation group www.OneOceanDiving.com. Spreading the love when you travel also extends to animals and their environment. Always respect both and only go to animal encounters that do not harm or alter an animals natural behavior and surroundings.
Having a local show you around is a great way of experiencing somewhere new. In Copenhagen my old friend Thea showed us how to experience the city the way the Danes do. This is something I try and do whenever friends visit Manila for the first time. It makes for a truly authentic experience because you’re not going to the usual “tourist sites”.
Nothing like having a Viking named Ragnar grill up a BBQ for you in the Scandinavian countryside.
Negotiations to buy a bottle of home-made Sljivovica (plum brandy) from this lady’s backyard vineyard in Croatia was done with a lot of smiles and laughter since neither one of us spoke a word of each others language.
In Morroco (pictured), Turkey and Egypt, carpet negotiations are conducted over glasses of hot, sweet mint tea and can last for hours. Come armed with a sense of humor, a smile, a few stories and a lot of patience and you’re guaranteed to enjoy the process as much as I did.