I was born in the UK in 1982. As a child I had no interest in what seemed somehow to entertain other children; I could not see what the attraction of kicking a football around the school yard every break- and lunch-time was. I think I began from an early age to withdraw and started to live in my own intermediate domain, in a semi-fantastical world which was above the mundanity around me, yet still constrained by reality. I longed for something more exciting than the limits of the school grounds and would happily stare out of windows, or beyond the edge of the sports field, imagining what lay beyond.
Throughout the insecurities and uncertainties of adolescence, I think I lost sight of this domain. I believe that for most people, this is the process of ‘growing up’, where one resigns one’s dreams to pure fantasy and accepts a life of mundanity; work, career, family, retirement, death. When I was eighteen, on the island of Crete, I had a coming-of-age moment in realising that there is indeed a magnificent world out there, available just by the act of travelling into it, where I could live out these fantasies of beautiful, distant, exotic locales. Where these mental images of the world came from, and why they are so compelling, I am unsure of, lost most likely in the vivid imagery of childhood. But they were out there for me to experience, if only I could avoid the trap of falling into mundane adult life.
Early trips to Africa and South America focused very much on pure imagery, and a longing for the spiritual fulfilment of being in magnificent natural surroundings. In June 2003 I embarked on what was to be a life-defining trip; my first trip to Asia, travelling overland from Istanbul to Beijing. In addition to the delight of truly sublime scenery, it was on this trip that I started to appreciate cultural richness; that there were cities out there filled with beautiful architecture, cities so ancient and rich with human activity that they seemed to be living organisms, and were of interest in themselves, unlike the soulless piles of brick and concrete which I usually find western European cities to be.
The biggest discovery however was the people. I found people who were warm, welcoming and open. People with whom one could very quickly strike up a relationship, despite sometimes very considerable cultural differences. In contrast to what the media projects through foul television channels and worthless gutter newspapers, the outside world was full of decent human beings who were disarmingly kind and trusting. Also, coming from a non-religious background, it took me somewhat by surprise to be so impressed by the traditional, religious communities I travelled amongst. For the first time I was surrounded by people who placed value in the abstract and immaterial, and not in simply money and possessions.
Tiring of the constraints and tediousness of public transport and inspired by a newspaper clipping sent to me by my mother, the idea of a 2004 backpacking trip across Africa would evolve into much larger journey through Eurasia by car, setting off finally in May 2007. In the fifty-five month Odyssey which followed, I fulfilled what felt in my twenties to be my lifelong ambition. The journey soon became a way of life, and has ultimately made me the person I am, shaping my view of life and the world, teaching me far more than many years’ worth of education and forever putting settled life into perspective when set against an itinerant life of freedom, discovery and self-development.
Following the end of the initial four-and-a-half year part of my Odyssey in 2011, I returned to settled life, spending much of the following decade in the narrow, colourless, flavourless, lonely mundanity of western Europe, studying and then building a career which I hoped would be both well remunerated, and would give me the opportunity to work internationally. While I would end up living in the north of the Netherlands, a most singularly charmless and unappealing part of the world, generous annual leave would see me make four rather shorter extensions to my Odyssey; journeys where I would attempt to recapture some of the highs of freedom, discovery and friendship which had previously been my life.
In 2020 my life changed once again, when I made the long dreamed-of emigration out of Europe, moving to Borneo. Here I soon found myself falling for the place I lived in; the beautiful, untrammelled jungle and beaches; the friendly and truly courteous people; the year-round warmth and lack of stress or irritation. For the first time in my adult life, the relentless urge to travel seemed to be faltering slightly. In 2021 and 2022 I made a journey to Turkey and Iraq; memorable mostly for the delight of being one of the first foreigners in recent years to travel by car across the country and the extremely warm welcome I received from every Iraqi I met. At the same time however, I started to feel the allure of long, solo vehicle trips slowly fading. Somewhere in this trip, I believe I reached conclusion of the Odyssey, for now at least.
While I still harbour urges to make specific trips – by bicycle across China, a winter journey through Mongolia, a visit deeper into the Middle East and Arabia and, of course, my old dream of driving around Africa – these no longer permanently occupy my thoughts. Having completed the first forty years of my life, I have a sense of having achieved my most pressing ambitions and am beginning to enjoy settled life, to my great surprise. Now, indeed is the time to set new ambitions.
This website portrays my life from the age of twenty-five onwards in episodes of travel separated by hiatuses of mundanity. There are photographs of the places I have seen, and sometimes the people I have met. These are the images of my imagination. Around these are my attempt to describe the physical journey, retrospectively, from notes, photographs and memory. I hope you enjoy what you see and/or read.
Great blog! So much information, thank you!
I have seen your feedback on Lonely Planet on Afghanistan and I have some specific question to ask you about this, if you can spare the time…
I couldn’t find your direct email address…
So, if you can, please email me directly, so that we can take this offline.
I read a post on your blog, EuraisaOverland, regarding your trip from Pakistan to Afghanistan. I have a question about that route. Basically, I am a Pakistani citizen and I am planning to visit Kabul once. Getting a visa to Afghanistan, as I have enquired, seems pretty straightforward. However, the journey and safety are two of my family’s biggest concerns. So, the thing is that in order to cut costs and keep it affordable (since I am a student from Lahore), hence I want to travel from Peshawar to Kabul via Road. Because the most flights are routed through Dubai which adds to the expenses and make it unaffordable for me. So, could you please tell me if it is possible to travel from Peshawar to Kabul via Road? Like, is there some transportation company that operates a bus or a van for this route? And, how long does it take? How much trouble is it getting through the immigration checkpoints and border controls between Pakistan and Afghanistan? The direct flight costs between $350-400. So, do you think it would be worth taking the risk of going by road to Kabul from Peshawar? Please feel free to give me your insights on this question. My parents are discouraging me from visiting Kabul but I have a strong desire to visit it at least once in my life. Therefore, I would love to hear your feedback. Also, if you could tell me about budget hostel accommodation in Kabul, that would be great too. Looking forward to read your response to this. My email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Usama Hameed Sami
Forman Christian College Lahore
I am a writer that will be travelling in similar places in the former USSR – beginning in Bishkek. I really loved your blog and it’s because of it that I will be choosing to begin Bishkek (and not Vladivostok). Would I be able to ask you some questions? My email is email@example.com