Editor’s Note: In preparation for the eBook I am writing, I have started profiling travellers. Here is a travel profile of Rob Jardine who went from first-time solo traveller to lifelong wanderer. Many thanks to Rob for answering my many questions and also taking the initiative to add extra information in.
The first time I ever travelled, I did it by myself and it was the most rewarding and challenging experience of my life. It changed my life forever.
My name is Rob. I am 26 and I am from South Africa. I hold a South African passport as my travel document, aka the “Green Mamba”. However, I am open to any Canadians or Irish who wish to marry to make acquiring visas in the future, a lot easier.
My first trip out of South Africa was in 2012. It was my first time I ever left Africa and the first time I travelled by myself. Thrown into the deep end by myself I managed to turn a three month trip on the east coast of the US into a twelve-month journey through North, Central and South America.
Why did you start travelling?
I started travelling because I wanted to understand people and myself. In life one develops a certain mental model, schemata or way of thinking. This way of thinking both enables and constrains how one interprets and makes sense of the world, and oneself. This is shaped to a large extent by the environment and time that you grew up in.
If you only experience one environment you will only experience one way of thinking and you will only understand a small part of the world, and therefore only a small part of yourself.
If you want to truly understand yourself, and the world, you have to understand how different people live and interpret the world. This is achieved by varied experiences that are attained through travel.
By attempting to understand the full complexity of the human condition through travel, only then may you attempt to understand yourself.
However, this understanding is only achieved by being a traveller and not a tourist. A traveller is someone who travels to seek new experiences to stretch and reframe their understanding of the world. A tourist travels to see new things to tick off a post card list for friends back home.
A traveller stays with a host family or hostel and orders off a menu without knowing what the dish may be. A tourist stays in a hotel and eats at the same franchise restaurant they have in their home country. One of the ways this is best achieved is to be a solo traveller as you are forced out of your comfort zone.
What inspired you to travel?
My uncle. He did a trip similar to mine where he started in Argentina 30 years ago. He made his way up to North America in one year by getting a few odd jobs along the way.
He always encouraged me to test myself and I saw my first trip as an opportunity to do so. He always told me that there will always be time to gather money but never enough time to gather experiences.
Did you experience fear before embarking on your first (solo) journey?
Yes, an incredible amount, mixed with excitement of course! My concern was that I had never been on a flight longer than Johannesburg – Cape Town (1hr30min). The flight from Johannesburg to Washington D.C was 14hours. It was completely unnerving.
And during my twelve months of travelling solo, I would be lying if I said there weren’t any ‘downs’. However as I overcame more and more obstacles the number of such moments dwindled.
How did you deal with that fear and what would you say to someone experiencing such fear?
To say that I handled it well would not be entirely truthful. I struggled with it. But I overcame it. I survived because of the people I met, the mistakes I made and the things I learnt.
The best advice I can say is that whatever you are doing, whatever you want to do, or are scared of…Someone has already done it. You are not the first. And You certainly won’t be the last.
That statement shouldn’t undermine your ambition or deter you. It means that whatever you are going through someone has already done it and someone is currently doing it, or something similar at least.
Therefore all that research you need to do and those mistakes you are afraid of, someone else has already done it. Find those people! Talk to them, join them. Share your stories. Hear their stories. You are not alone. You never are.
As you conquer each new challenge you get to build a reflective memory bank of achievements. Once you get to grips with a complicated metro system the next one becomes easier to get to grips with. Once you have made your way through one country that doesn’t speak your native language the next one becomes easier.
You realise that you can get by with only a few phrases in the local dialect such as “where is” “thank you” and “please” etc. Once you have got the first visa in a foreign country the next one becomes easier.
Once you have built a steady stream of challenges that you have overcome or “victories” you build up a bank of successful memories.
When times get tough, when you have those ‘downs’, look back at those ‘downs’ and think how you have been in worse situations and how you have overcome them. I have been in worse situations and I have overcome them. These memories fill me with confidence in knowing that I can do it because I have done it before.
What have you learned through travelling, both about yourself and other people?
I have learnt that no matter what you do in life, someone will criticise it, so just do what makes you happy and forget the rest. Do what makes you happy and don’t beat yourself up about it.
There are enough negative people in the world that will criticise you, don’t let yourself be another one.
I have learnt that moments in travel life are different to normal life. When you travel it is more than likely that what you are doing at a specific moment, you will never do again. You will never get a chance to take a picture of the building, ask that girl on the bus for her number, jump off that cliff, have the weird looking drink at the bar or eat that dish that looks like meat from a domestic pet.
So more often than not you go with the thing that scares you because often it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. I just wish I and many others acted the same when it comes down to normal life (non-travelling).
What is your favourite travel destination and why?
I would say Central America as a whole is worthwhile because of the fellow travellers you will meet and the location. It is easy enough to travel there, small, cheap and you often bump into fellow solo travellers along the same route a few weeks or months down the line.
Certain areas of the world attract a certain kind of person or traveller. In my experience, the people you meet in Central America are made up of party animals and hardened travellers looking for experiences. There are also many people looking to find themselves and those are the most worthwhile people you will meet.
From the Engineer from San Diego who drove his Camaro to Cancun because his Russian mail order bride turned out to a flop, to the roadie from a Britany Spears tour who now paints murals, you meet them all.
Is there any other advice you’d like to give anyone looking to travel for the first time?
Find the right discussions boards, websites and groups that are relevant to that part of the world and become an active member.
Back up all data online, whether it be on DropBox or an external drive.
What is your Favourite Travel Quote?
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
What is your Favorite Travel Video?
Do you have an upcoming journey planned?
It’s a surprise!
Are you embarking on your first solo trip? Are you experiencing any fear?