Graham, who is originally from Southport, started travelling at the age of 19 visiting Indonesia as a volunteer. “Since then, I realised that the acquisition of travel experiences is more important to me than career achievements,” he told us. From there he began travelling with his girlfriend to as many countries as he could for as little as possible, documenting his journey through writing reviews on TripAdvisor.
We caught up with him to discuss all things travel, including his best travel memories, his favourite destination and tips on how to travel on a budget.
What do you enjoy most about travelling?
Travelling gives you memories and experiences. I’m only in my early thirties and I’ve already seen more than the average person does in one lifetime – bizarre animals that I never knew existed in the Indonesian rainforest, valleys in Norway, and plateaus in Turkey so stunning that a thousand photos couldn’t capture their full beauty.
What have you discovered about the different cultures and people while travelling?
I’ve met some amazing people while I have travelled and everywhere has something unique. I remember meeting a woman trying to save her dying village by filling it with scarecrows to replace the people who have moved away and to attract tourists. It was quite unbelievable as her passion for her village really showed. I’ve also met scuba divers who rebuilt damaged coral reefs by hand and even a few people who have quit their jobs entirely to travel the world and work in local communities.
What do you enjoy the least about travelling?
I’d have to say snorers in hostels! I stayed in a guest house in Japan where despite having a private room, a snoring guest from a nearby room kept me awake, even though I had a combination of silicone earplugs, noise-cancelling headphones and white noise blasting at full volume. If someone sounds like an elephant having an asthma attack when they’re asleep, they probably need to see a doctor.
What is your funniest memory from travelling?
I was in a magic club when I was a student in the UK, and we used to visit the Blackpool Magic Convention every February. One year, a friend of mine surprised a famous Japanese magician called Ponta the Smith by giving him a kiss. A few years later, while travelling around Japan, I booked a hostel in Osaka completely unaware it was right next to a magic shop and bar. I excitedly went next door to peruse and discovered it was run by none other than Ponta. I was very surprised to see him, and upon recognising me, he asked “Your friend’s not with you, is he? with a look of fear on his face!”
Was there one experience in particular that made you fall in love with travel?
I went to Indonesia in 2005 as a volunteer and it was the first time I had gone aboard without my family. It was by far the furthest distance I had travelled at that point and it remains to this day one of the most memorable experiences of my life. We stayed in tiny villages on remote islands, mingling with the locals and its myriad of mysterious creatures on our doorstep.
I had read countless books and seen just as many television documentaries about the rainforest, but seeing it in person was a wholly mind-opening experience. Around every tree, there were insects, snakes, frogs, primates and birds that I had never seen or even knew existed.
The people were just as interesting. I knew nothing of Indonesia’s culture or history before I went, and indeed I’d had little interaction with non-British people up to that point. But once I bridged the communication barrier, I discovered we had far more similarities than differences, and what differences there were I found intriguing.
Since it was your first trip, did you struggle with anything in particular?
It took me a short while to adapt to the living conditions (limited electricity, dirt roads, mosquitoes, squat toilets) and to appreciate the potential dangers (scorpions, falling trees, getting lost after dark). Ultimately these made the whole experience more visceral and meaningful. I actually cried when it was time to go back to the UK – I’d made close friends and everyday was a new adventure. It was like being torn out of a dream.
Did you learn anything on that trip?
Having lived a sheltered existence in a small English town, it was a wake-up call as to just how much there is out there that the average person never encounters or even thinks about in their lifetime. My time in Indonesia changed my life and made me realise that I have a little under a century to explore as much of the world as I can.
You say you travel a lot with your girlfriend, what role does travel play in your relationship?
My girlfriend and I live in separate countries and part of the reason we got together was our shared love of travelling, and it’s made our long distance relationship possible. Together, we’ve been to Turkey, Greece, Thailand, Japan, the Philippines, US, Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Hungary, Romania, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Ireland. We have similar tastes and rarely differ enough that one of us wouldn’t be willing to try what the other suggests. She’s the perfect travel companion.
What is your favourite destination?
While I’ve had great experiences in all the places I’ve visited, my favourite destination was Japan. I lived in Japan for two years and the whole thing feels like it was a dream. I spent five months travelling and still haven’t seen it all. Japan is everything you imagine it to be; the neon lights of Tokyo, the temples and shrines of Kyoto, bizarre game shows, pachinko parlours, and so much more. I saw a rocket launch to the International Space Station while staying in Yakushima, I walked in an abandoned theme park in Nikko, I made furry friends in a cat cafe in Tottori, I saw a mountain being set on fire in Nara, I’ve been a ninja in Iga and I scuba-dived in Okinawa and Hachijojima. And I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
Any tips for how to travel on a budget?
- Location, location, location.
For British travellers, while a flight to somewhere in Western Europe may be cheaper than South East Asia, you will spend far more per day on hotels, food and attractions. So think about going further out, you could save a lot more than you think.
- Keep an eye out for accidental fares
We saved NZ$500 (£292) when Air New Zealand accidentally listed half price return flights from Auckland to Niue! Use a credit card a lot Get one that gives you free air miles when you spend. You may be able to forgo the flight fare altogether.
- Seasons can make a big difference to accommodation prices
Try going just before or just after peak season to get the widest range of options for the lowest prices.
- Hostels are my primary choice of accommodation when travelling
I consider anything over £20 a night to be pricey (though naturally this may be the standard in some countries). If you’re going to be out exploring during the day, why do you need a luxurious hotel to store your stuff in?
- Cook your own food sometimes!
While I would encourage travellers to try cuisine at the local eateries, in some countries you may be better off cooking for yourself at the hotel/hostel.
- Transport passes are ubiquitous and can save you a lot
I bought the Seishun Juhachi Pass twice during my travels in Japan and both times it paid for itself two times over. For long journeys, overnight trains save you the cost of a room for one night, and give you an extra day to explore.