Nicky, my wife, and I have always loved to travel. Individually, we were backpacking round the world long before we met. However, neither of us originally realized how much we would learn from our global adventures. And how insights gained would translate into re-defining our lives, re-shaping them in sometimes surprisingly new ways.
So this article exists to provide inspiration. To inspire you to learn from your travels, challenge yourself, and use your wanderings as positive springboards for change. If we can give you some encouragement in this, we will be well pleased!
Nicky and I both originally worked in high-level corporate environments, brilliant work which brought its own stresses. Today, we run our own home-grown business, Millican, pioneering production of classic travel and outdoor gear drawing on vintage design, rooted in organic materials and a commitment to sustainability. On the way, Nicky also re-trained as a therapist, working increasingly with cancer patients. Looking back, it is tempting to see these events as points on a straight line. However, our progress was far more of a zig-zag, frequently involving shifting insights and fumblings in new directions. So how did our travels influence this?
1. THE BIG ONE – MARRIAGE
On an immediate, practical level, travelling meant that my original plans to emigrate to Australia changed as a result of my meeting Nicky. We married and I ended up living in the UK, first Nottingham, then the Lake District, the birthplace of Millican. So be aware of how travelling can throw you a very curved ball!
2. LESS IS MORE
We all seem to weigh ourselves down with homes and personal possessions. But the truth is that we came into life with nothing and we’ll leave it the same way. Travelling separately in the early 1990’s, Nicky and I both learned that a 60L travel bag can carry all one’s real essentials.
We met in Latin America when we were both taking time out of work to travel and explore. Our world trip ended up lasting twenty months, taking in countries as diverse as Ecuador, Peru, the USA, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia and China. Now, whenever we get bogged down in life or the possessions we inevitably collect along the way, we remember that travel bag still lying in the corner. It’s a great incentive to clear our clutter and strip back to the bare essentials again. Backpacking led us to seek a simpler way of life, one with less clutter and more space for experiences and people.
3. ENJOYING CONNECTING WITH PEOPLE
Of course, we had many exciting adventures during these travels. But some of our most special memories are also often of quiet, apparently insignificant moments when we really connected with someone, often a complete stranger.
I remember sitting in the wooden hut of a farmer’s wife in northern Thailand. She taught me some basic Thai and I taught her some English while we chomped on fried chicken feet. And Nicky fondly remembers being surrounded by street kids in Cusco, Peru sharing corn on the cobs with them, all in silence, just enjoying each other’s presence.
Now we strongly value the importance of connection. For us, the human element in business is critical. We want to forge true and honest connections not just in our personal lives but in our commercial ones too, bringing soul back into business.
When we were looking for a bag-maker, we found our partner, Henry. Henry’s dad originally started their business in Hong Kong. Today, they remain a small family business, now located in mainland China. We love the family element and Henry’s passion for food, tea and quality of life. We like the fact that he farms and feeds his team, and other workers from surrounding factories, with high-quality vegetables. Our relationship with him isn’t simply based on commerce.
4. MAKING CONSCIOUS LIFESTYLE CHANGES
Another impact has been the call for our generation to make lifestyle changes that will improve prospects for people and planet alike. It’s not that we’re eco-warriors but our eyes have certainly been opened by the things we’ve seen.
A major influence was our visit to Sri Lanka on the anniversary of the tsunami. It was humbling to gaze out at hundreds of paper bags filled with lit candles along the shore, placed by local people to commemorate each person who had died.
At the same time, we were greatly encouraged to see how international support really was making a difference. Micro-finance loans were having a positive effect. For example, a local fisherman who’d lost his boat and livelihood was given enough money to buy new rods and netting, enabling him to take the first steps to re-establish his work.
At a time when we often hear much cynicism about Western aid and its administration, it was heartening to see micro-finance starting to make a difference in Sri Lanka. Microfinancing is something that we’ve love to become more involved with in the future, helping with small loans to the poor in developing countries so that they can start their own businesses or undertake paid education.
5. LEAVING OUR CAR AT HOME
After our travels through smoggy and exhaust-fumed cities like Bangkok, Hong Kong and Shen Xen, we became more aware of how much we relied on the car when we returned from our travels. And yet outside the cities we’d visited, the main mode of rural transport often remained a bike or a donkey. So why do we need to use our car for local journeys?
Almost half of all car journeys in the Western world are for journeys less than two miles long (when the car is less efficient and most polluting). So we’re doing our best to walk or cycle as an alternative. We’ve invested in waterproofs, remembering the Lakeland saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing”.
6. EMBRACING A HEALTHIER WAY OF LIFE
As I mentioned, Nicky originally worked in Brand Management. However, she subsequently shifted work dramatically, moving into the therapeutic field.
In many ways, the seed was sown way back in the Australian outback when she was ill. With no doctor or pharmacy in sight, Nicky was forced to rely – against her will – on some essential oils that a local woman sold her. To her surprise, Nicky amazingly recovered. This experience, among others including learning about the traditional medicinal use of plants from an aboriginal elder, led to her investigating herbal and complementary medicine in a lot more detail.
Being forced to attend to her health in this out-of-the-way spot forced Nicky to revise her own assumptions about medicine and kick started a new trail of curiosity and, ultimately, a new career.
7. REMEMBERING THOSE WHO HAVE TO FIGHT FOR THEIR FREEDOM
In Thailand, we had the opportunity to meet students who supported the Burmese opposition leader, Aun San Suu Kyi, known by many as “Burma’s Nelson Mandela”. This remarkable woman continues to live under house arrest, imprisoned by the military government in Burma.
The students we met were eloquent young people in their twenties, many of whom had been forced to flee their homes and places of study and take refuge in the jungle. There they created small camps where they lived during the rainy season, bases for their activities to liberate Burma and bring democratic freedom. Meeting these students had a profound effect on our appreciation of our own freedom – our ability to live how we choose and to say what we feel, without repercussions. When we’re feeling like life is throwing us a curved ball or that things aren’t working, remembering these students pulls up sharp and puts things in perspective.
So there you have it – some personal ways in which our lives have been impacted by our travels. We could say much more – about our desire to create well-crafted, travel-related items that people can trust; or our wish for our daughter to have as wide and open-minded a perspective on the world as possible.
But I hope that what you’ve already gleaned is the way that travelling and living simply, meeting people from different cultures and delving into others way of life can lead to surprising insights and new directions for your own life. It’s a reminder of the constant importance of upping sticks, getting out there, and hitting the road again with our backpacks.