Asia and the Middle East

When people ask me, “which was your favourite of the places you visited?”, I say, “that’s easy – India”. And when people ask me, “were there any places you really hated?”, I say, “that’s easy – India”. On arriving in India and meeting other backpackers it soon became apparent that you either hate India or you love and hate India. Nobody just loves India. Like much of Asia, India is full of incredible cultural and natural wonders that travellers coming from a western perspective will never have seen anything like at home. But equally, most western backpackers would never normally see anything like the chaos and the poverty that exists here, and nor would they experience the sweaty frustration, confusion and hassle of doing the most everyday tasks. But it is this mix of beauty, hardship and adventure that keeps people on the road for months and keeps them coming back fro more.

This was my first time in the developing nations and was also my first time travelling alone. This journal is the product of 7½ months worth of backpacking around Israel, Egypt, Jordan, India, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos on what is commonly known in Britain as a Gap Year. A year traditionally taken by middle-class youngsters between A-levels and university in which they suspend their academic education and enrol in the School of Life – which generally takes place where the average daily temperature exceeds 35 degrees and the average daily wage falls short of 35 pence. It is also known as ‘going travelling’. Like most gap-year kids, I set off with little more than a backpack, a Lonely Planet guide, a plane ticket and blind optimism. Although my twist was that I swapped the digital camera for a sketchbook and some biros, and this is the result.

The book can be read from cover to cover like a kind of rambling, plotless story, or it can be dipped into at any point. It’s partly a collection of anecdotes, partly a guidebook for prospective backpackers that includes the details that the Lonely Planet miss out, and partly a scrapbook of cultural, theological and biological observations. I suppose if it has any purpose, it is to encourage people to ditch the package holidays and do some ‘proper’ travelling – and that every cliché you ever heard about going travelling (especially in India) is true – that it’s inspiring, appalling and astounding – that it’ll change your life – and that the outside world is nowhere near as dangerous as The News always implies.