Chasing Jupiter’s Travels

March 2017. London, UK.

At the end of last year I decided to write a series of blogs about some of the most important things I learnt from my ride from London to Sydney. One of the things I wanted to write about was what I felt my trip taught me about adventure travel. 

Adventure travel never seems to have been more popular. In a large part this has been fuelled by more people undertaking adventures as well as the rise of social media as means of promoting them. By its very nature adventure is self-selecting in terms of the people it attracts – they are passionate about what they do, so its logical that social media has become a platform for people who want to share that and inspire others. From mid-week micro-adventures to grand inter-continental overland trips, there is a thriving community out there full of ideas, passion and inspiration.

But there are the more traditional sources of inspiration. For my own adventures, Ted Simon – the author of Jupiter’s Travels – was the stand out one. It was reading his book over the winter of 2010/11 about his 4 year round the world solo motorbike trip in the ‘70s which first planted the seed in my mind of undertaking a big, overland journey. Because that trip was so iconic for me – as it has been for many other people, including Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman – it framed my ambitions and expectations as my plans for adventure motorbike travel began to develop from 2012 onwards.

His trip was as much a trip of exploration as it was of adventure. Aside from the fact that there weren’t that many people tooling around the world on a motorbike back then, Ted did his trip at the time when our day to day knowledge about the world around us didn’t come from constant, real-time contact with it. Rather than coming from Facebook, Wikipedia or the latest news alert, that knowledge came from books, tales and newspapers written, told and read after the fact. There was a gap between the world out there and the ready availability of information which created the opportunity for an adventure that can be harder to find on our world today.

In 1974 the roads were rougher and, in the UK at least, our relationship with the world around us was arguably more straightforward. From an overland travellers’ point of view, it was an era when it could be said that there was greater stability in the international order and where the public dividing lines between societies and their politics were less blurred.

Today the world – and the environment in which adventure travel is undertaken – has changed dramatically. Humanity’s diversity is no longer as polarised as it once was economically, politically or culturally. Whether it be due to international transport, technology or mass immigration and the multiculturalism that arises from that, any GCSE Geography student can tell you that our world is more inter-connected, more integrated and more inter-dependent than in any other era in history.

But what’s important is that means that today we’re exposed to a far greater range of information about that diversity – through rolling 24-hours news coverage, online knowledge sharing and a constant stream of social media. Never before has so much information about the world around us been so easily and readily available.

So what does this mean when it comes to comparing overland adventure travel in the world today as opposed to in 1974? And is it possible to undertake the kind of trip like Ted’s when circumstances have changed so much? 

What I found was that whilst we might have more information available to us about the world, that doesn’t necessarily equate to a direct increase in our capability to understand. That’s because the sheer amount of information available to us has grown so massively that it has outstripped our basic human capability to keep pace with that. And that – I think – is what is at the heart of those who undertake similar trips today. The quantity of that information might have grown but the quality hasn’t. There is still a big world out there and adventure travel remains an important way to simply go there and see the most important things here and now for yourself, and share it with others too.

Even though there has been this explosion in the quantity of information available, even that struggles to keep pace with developments on the ground. This is particularly the case as the lines between cultures and societies are now more blurred than ever – but often in a way that sits in harmony rather than in conflict with existing culture. From smart-phone wielding selfie-obsessed crowds in India and Pakistan, through to Facebook-posting Buddhist monks in an orphanage in the Burmese countryside and the huge new articulated Chinese trucks ploughing down the the freshly laid tarmac of ancient Silk Road routes, these things might not make news, journals or lectures but nonetheless they tell us a lot. They challenged my existing assumptions about the differences between societies and, in particular, the developed and developing world.

This integration has another, less appealing aspect to it. There is a natural degree of uniformity that comes with it. Almaty, in Kazakhstan, is an obvious example, where with a friend we spent what seemed like hours trying to find some kind of local food amongst the rows of Italian, Indian and American themed restaurants. At the same time the freedom of travelling by your own vehicle brings home just how developed the backpacker tourist industry is and the detachment that naturally brings from the countries it exists in, to the detriment of both parties.

When I left London in June 2015, I wanted to have the opportunity to see the world on my own terms with my own eyes. My trip challenged my own expectations from what adventure would bring me and made me realise how easy it is to make assumptions about our world at a time when it is a more integrated, messier place than ever before. 

When I look back at the source of my inspiration in Ted Simon’s own travels, I don’t do so with the same kind of romanticised set of expectations that I might have once had. His trip was a product of his world in his time. What I learnt was that overland adventure travel is about the opportunity we have to see the world as it stands today – because what you experience will always be unique to the circumstances of that time.

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