How I got bitten by the Travel Bug
This is my story of how I started travelling and got bitten by the travel bug. I have told this story countless amounts of times and it never gets old.
You will create your own story
We all start somewhere and that’s why I feel it is important for me to tell you my first travelling experience.
Here is my first adventure and how it all started:
At the young age of 15 I attended a scout camp in Essex called Eurojam. It was my first international scout camp and I was very excited, as we had spent the past year fundraising in order to attend this event. We arrived early, after a long 30 minute drive and waited for the overseas visitors to arrive. As we built our campsite, scouts from all around Europe arrived one by one. Scouts from Iceland, Spain, Finland, and Guernsey – It was rather exciting, as I’d never really communicated with anyone outside the UK before.
Once everyone had moved in and the tents were set up I decided to go and say hello to my new neighbors from Finland. Finland?! I thought to myself, what a bizarre, out of reach place! In fact, this has been my first international interaction ever!
I felt like a spaceman on my first mission. I was so nervous and didn’t even know what to say. After noticing they were around my age and must be interested in meeting a local, I plucked up the courage to say hello.
“Hi!” I said as I entered their gateway. I was greeted with silence…Nothing. Well, that could have been the moment when my travels would have stopped all together. It’s weird how one moment can change the path of your whole life and everything you live for. I could have just turned around and said, “screw international friendship, I’m sticking to the UK, they talk to me here!”
As I looked around at the group of 30 or so, I found it rather odd that nobody wanted to talk to me.
But now I know what Finnish people are like after living in Finland for a year. Not once did I speak to either of my neighbors (they chose to wait until my door closed before they would depart from their own house) so needless to say, they probably weren’t the best people to start a conversation with. I would have been better off going to say hello to the Portuguese, however, the difficulty there would be trying to make them stop playing the guitar, let alone saying hello.
Just as I was about to turn around and walk out the door feeling a bit rejected, in the background I heard a quiet voice. “Moi?” Her name was Elina and she was from Sienajoki, a small town in the middle of Finland. After we got talking about what it’s like to live in Finland the whole group got drawn into the conversation and I tried to remember all of their Finnish names which ended up being next to impossible. In the end, I started to give them all nicknames related to their funny sounding names and after much laughter we couldn’t stop talking. In fact the scout leader had to shout “lights out! Time for bed – see you in the morning.”
I could have stayed there all night talking about how bizarre it is living in Finland and how funny their language was compared to my British accent. I left heading back to my group who were full of grinning faces pointing out that they could hear all the laughing going on with the Finnish girls and how it sounded like I had secretly become Finnish all of a sudden.
In fact, during the whole camp experience I spent most of my time with the Finnish scouts and become very good friends with all of them. One particular girl Elina, who first said hello to me, from the start I fancied a lot and was very sad to see her leave on the bus back home to Finland. When they all said goodbye to me as they were getting on the bus to drive away on that long overnight trip back to Finland, I was really sad as I had gained some pretty awesome friendships with a lot of them.
On that exact same camp the European Union had put on a cultural learning tent for scouts to go along too and pick up maps of Europe and to learn about all the different countries and cultures you could easily discover in arms reach. These maps got my travel bug going as I planned out routes and stumbled across the inter-rail scheme where you could hop to all the countries around Europe on one single pass. Travel then started to become tempting.
This was all around 2005 when laptops and the internet started to gain popularity for home users and Finland at the time were very technologically advanced so I vouched to keep in contact with all of them after the camp via the internet.
After such a great camp and making so many new friends I was mesmerized by how globally connected we are with the use of the internet and technology. It was great keeping in contact with all my new friends from all around Europe and particularly Finland.
After talking for a few months it was coming up to Christmas time and I wasn’t doing that great in my first year at college. It’s hard at that young age to be given the responsibility of deciding what you want to do for the rest of your life and I struggled with making the wrong course decisions.
I really do feel strongly about this as I feel young people have an incredible chance to really make something of themselves with the correct guidance and aspirations. But having that question of ‘what to do with your life’ as your future depends on it, was a horrible time for me. In fact, I found it tough as I struggled with the work demand and deadlines. I had essentially enrolled into something that was too difficult for me with no escape.
I was lost and confused and it was horrible. This was when I went to the library and found an old out-of-date Lonely Planet guide book about Finland. Rather than working on my assignment during free time, I read the whole thing from start to finish. I was captured by it as it reminded me of my new friends and how interesting their culture was. This led me to think if it was possible to go to Finland; to travel there on my own. Before this it had seemed impossible, or so I thought.
Don’t you have to be old to travel? Don’t you need lots of money? And don’t you need the time?
Christmas break was approaching and I had just £96.10 to my name. Life was really horrible and all the impossible work that I was getting behind on seemed like Mount Everest.
When I got home and talked to my new Finnish friends about the possibility of visiting them, they all leaped at the idea and thought it would be brilliant. They all wanted to show me their unique country and most importantly wanted to show me off to their friends and bring back the great memories from the summer.
I must have been a fool, but I’m so happy I did it. After searching around I found a cheap flight to Finland with Ryanair for £50 return, which would leave me £46.10 for everything else. After reading that this was the daily recommended budget, I was in a tough situation. Should I go to this unknown place and leave the UK on my own for the first time? Should I run away from home (as my Mum clearly stated that I wasn’t allowed to go), and would I want to return to further my education or would I simply drop out?
With all these fears surrounding me, I had lots of voices telling me to not go. But all I could think about was my fantastic memories from the summer. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I didn’t like the thought of always knowing that I could have gone and kicking myself for not doing it.
On the day of my departure my Mum threatened to call the border control to report I was a runaway. My Dad explained that Finland has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, that I was going to be staying with scout friends and their families, and how I was now growing up into an adult. Finally, she came around to the idea!
As I was lugging a massive wheelie bag to the check-in desk and discovering that my bag was massively overweight, all the while watching my Mum look at me with that “I told you so” face, I couldn’t believe that this was actually happening. I was just a kid and I was going on one of the coolest adventures of my life. I was also getting to see my distant friends again, and experiencing their culture; but first-hand this time!
Once I passed through security (my mother took a whole bag of clothes back to the car with her), I was finally on my own. It was a weird moment for me as this was my first taste of independence and solo travel. I was free to do as I wished, and no-one to tell me what to do. However, I also had a lot of responsibility as my family had put a lot of trust into me to ensure I could make such a trip.
I’ll never forget the landing as I approached Tampere airport, the amount of magical snow I could see surrounding all the trees and falling down as we landed. It really was just magical. This was a moment I would treasure for the rest of my life; the feeling of what travelling can bring you, these unique experiences, and in fact I’ve never seen so much snow let alone been in such a cold country!
As I arrived at the airport and waited for my massive bag to come along I could see my first Finnish friend Jenni waiting for me with her father, it was like someone was looking over me and these kind people were interested in making my adventure an adventure just as much as I wanted it.
This was not only my first ever time travelling abroad on my own, this was the start of many future trips to come.
For the next month I travelled around Finland staying with my scouting friends. Luckily, because of my age, I could buy child rate tickets and it was Christmas, so I asked my relatives if I could have spending money for my trip rather than gifts this year. That worked out a treat and it allowed me to buy the tickets.
I stayed with Jenni in Sahalati just outside of Tampere over Christmas, then onwards to Sienajoki to see Elina again and to work on her family’s cow farm. After that I went onwards to Oulu for New Years Eve with Anni and then up to Rovenemi to see Father Christmas and then back down to Tampere. All of the time staying with Finnish families, going to Finnish schools and learning all about their culture and way of life.
My first cultural experience was one I will never forget. After arriving at Jenni’s house with her Father and Mother, which they had built themselves (very impressive); I was invited to stay in the sauna guest house outside. It was like a little mini wooden house that I instantly fell in love with. Artu, Jenni’s brother invited me to visit the Sauna with him and his father, which I had read about in my well out-of-date Finnish Lonely planet book. I was unaware of the proceedings, but politely accepted and decided to go with the flow. Surely Finnish people don’t get naked with guests?? it’s just a family thing right?
Low and behold moments after just meeting Jenni’s family, they were stark naked in front of me. I didn’t know whether to run away and get the next flight home or just go with the cultural flow. I remember thinking in my head, ‘oh well, when in Finland’ and went, ‘screw it!’ I decided to get stark bollock naked and join in with the whole cultural experience. I have to say if you’re ever invited by a Finnish family to go to the sauna always accept!
It’s the most incredible experience and a very rare opportunity. In fact, it really was so unique to me. After 10 minutes or so the whole being naked thing passed my mind, and we were just a couple of lads chilling out drinking a nice cold beverage, talking about life in Finland and the UK. This was such a humble experience that I could have taken a whole wrong way and embarrassed myself!
After a while it was really hot and I wanted to cool down, Artu had told me he had specially prepared an ice hole for me before I had arrived. I have to admit I was a little confused, but nodded my head and decided to join in.
Stark naked I ran out of the sauna house, along the jetty and plunged into the frozen over lake. I couldn’t speak even if I tried, the rush of heat from the Sauna compared to the sub zero lake was just a crazy contrast that it really worked! As I tried to get out my hand froze to the ladder pole and I couldn’t get it off, I tried talking to Artu but I couldn’t quit mumbling, he laughed, but really I was screaming for help, after a while he clocked on to what I was trying to mumble and poured a bucket of water over my hand and I ran back into the sauna house.
Never in a million years would I ever have thought that I would be doing something so crazy.
That’s the joy of travelling; you have no idea what is around the corner, the adventure, the experiences, the endless possibilities that are at your reach simply by jumping on a random flight and meeting up with some locals interested in learning about other cultures for one evening. Much better than just staying at home watching TV letting the world pass by.
When I cast my mind back to that moment in time at the end of my Finnish trip I remember getting a phone call from my college after the holidays had ended in the UK. I remember that exact moment like it was yesterday, I was sitting on Jenni’s decking during a mystical sunset looking out to the frozen snow covered lake as birds flew around and elks were running in the distance. It was like a scene from a movie. They wanted to know if I was returning or not, I just looked at where I was and just thought to myself, this is one cultural experience I will never forget and there must be loads of other cultures around the world waiting to offer a similar Experience.
That’s when I said over the phone that I will not be returning to college and they invited me in for a meeting to discuss it further the following week.
It was that moment after a month of travelling that I had realized what I had achieved. I felt like a Pokémon levelling up to a new person. If I could achieve so much experience in just one month, what could the other 200+ countries bring? How will I have time (at the age of 15!) to explore it all?
I could spend the rest of my life achieving just this experience and it would be the most incredible experience of my life.
Back home, after I had my meeting at college, I decided to drop out and get a job to fund my European rail adventure. It sparked a travel bug in me and I haven’t looked back since. We all have that one first great experience that you will hold close and remember forever and it will only spark more travelling adventures.
I wanted to share my first travelling experience with you as I feel it’s important to lay down the foundations.
I have told the above story over a hundred times and it takes a good few hours over coffee to tell, but everyone I tell this story to be fully engaged and blown away by how I first started travelling.
Even I forget I was only 15 at the time and get blown away myself, I started very early compared to most solo traveller’s I have to admit.
When you take that first step towards travel your be breaking away a lot of fear which is very common for first time solo travelers, it is scary.
But once bitten by the travel bug you’ll never look back.
If you Don’t enjoy it, well at least you can say you gave it ago, which is more than what most people have ever done.