Sunday, 5 October 2014

People I've Met On The Road – Julian

Travelling As A Couple
I often notice when I am travelling, how difficult many couples find travelling together. Frequently where one wants to go the other does not. What one finds interesting the other finds tedious. What one sees as a bargain the other thinks is a waste of money. It is a sure recipe for stress and arguments. Many couples dread these trips. Survival in many relationships relies upon one party being prepared to give-in to the other, or perhaps taking turns to be in charge. I don't want to gender stereotype but where holidays with children are involved, you will often find the man grumbling to himself in the background, while reluctantly going along with what the mother in the relationship has organised. I've seen a few hiking, cycling and adventure holidays where it is the reverse and the father is at the front driving a reluctant band of children followed by their unamused mother. In some extreme cases, separate holidays become the only way to survive this problem. I think this is the success of holiday companies like Club Med or Centreparks – something provided for all ages and all tastes.

I met my wife while travelling and later working in Japan (we are both English). It had been an uneventful day in downtown Tokyo. She appeared, intense green eyes peering at me suspiciously across the top of a large book in British Council Library. We had been on the same TEFL teacher training course back in Hastings, UK, but had never spoken, because she had had me down for a bad lot. Japan was a shaky start and we seemed to argue for much of the time. However when we went away for a few days camping in the mountains, I think we were both shocked by how well we got on. There was no question, we seemed to fit each other perfectly when we were travelling. This happened every time we travelled, and we travelled quite a lot – including, after a couple of years, a six-month overland trip back to the UK. In fact our first child is the result of our happiness together on that trip.

Travelling With Your Teenager
In 2008-9 I cycled with my 18 year old son from Ireland to Japan. It was a tremendously exciting experience but a hard one. Not because of the cycling, but due to the conflict we faced between us on almost a daily basis. 10 months of my son resenting me, glaring at me. Not every day but quite a lot. I remarked upon this one day during that trip to a guy named Julian. We met him in a Vietnamese hostel. Julian was a tour leader who took groups of westerners mountain-biking through the mountains of North Vietnam, China and Laos.

Cycling through North Vietnam 

Our extreme haircuts in Cambodia were a stark contrast to my no-cut beard

The book about the adventure has become an Amazon best seller - so maybe the pain of the trip was worthwhile

"Travelling with your teenage kids is the worst mate," said Julian in his laid-back Aussie drawl. "It's a dangerous game that's for sure. They have an inbuilt desire to destroy you – really! Prove you wrong about everything and show you what a crap idea it was of yours to bring them on the trip. And they know all your weaknesses mate, oh yeah! No, I've seen it too many times in this job. Bad karma."

"What about couples?" I asked. "Do you get much trouble with couples on your trips?"

"What? I'd say so mate!" Julian sat up on his bunk with a face like an electrified exclamation mark.
"Girls think bringing their guy on a trek will be a great way for them to get closer. I mean WHAT? Most guys would give anything to do a trek like that with their mates but not with their bloody girlfriend! All that time together? Injuries and breakdowns? Jeezus, they're gonna be a sure way to cause an argument! Sam with marrieds, except they probably already know it's gonna be a nightmare. They get bullied into it or they just sleepwalk into it 'cos the other one books it up. Disaster! I can spot 'em as soon as they get off the plane."

"But surely they're not all like that?" I asked. "Surely there are some success stories?"

Mr or Mrs Right
"Oh hey, yeah! There's always the odd couple now and again - hardened travellers usually - who really work well on a trip. Considerate of each other, you know? Understand each other's needs. Give each other space, that kind of thing. On the other hand you do see younger couples or couples who are newly together sometimes who travel well together. Not many but a few now and again. What's really interesting for us leaders though, is when singles come on treks and find that they work really well with another traveller. It's kind of a good omen you know? If they can get on together on a tough trek it's pretty sure that you'll make a great couple - well assuming the sex is OK, I mean that's a given eh? Yeah I can tell you, I've seen a few unlikely pairings in my time and a lot of them have stood the test of time. So it does seem to be a good litmus test. Like, take someone off travelling before you marry them 'cos it's a bloody sure way to know if it's gonna work out! Yeah you know I still get e-mails from some couples after they're all loved-up and married - kids even, you know?"

"I suppose you've been invited to a few weddings then, Julian?"

"Oh damned right! Been to a couple too. One gay couple from Paris. Another couple paid for me to fly over to The States. Put me up in a 'brill' apartment. Finance lady around forty. Nice woman, a bit, you know, straight. Hey I don't wanna say ugly, but not a looker. So yeah she hooked up with a guy who was a self-employed plumber. Mind you he was no oil painting either, but they were just, you know, great together. I think they've got like twenty vans in New York now and a kid. Yeah it's great when we see people get together. Makes it all worthwhile, you know? Yeah, my mates say I'm a bit of a romantic actually."

Unsurprisingly there are many guides on how to avoid arguments on holiday. Here is one:

If you would like to read the bestselling travel book 'Long Road, Hard Lessons' by Mark Swain, you can find this along with his two collections of short stories on Amazon, Smashwords etc. 
In the UK his books can also be found in all Waterstones Bookstores.


  1. I travel alone - initially because I had no choice, as I was widowed, the kids had flown, and I wasn't going to sit about waiting for someone to notice I might like to go somewhere.

    And now I wouldn't do it any other way. You get to do what you want, all the time - and you meet the most wonderful people who might have passed you by if you had company. (Well, some are not wonderful, but I brush them off).

    1. That's so nice to hear, Jo. I agree and particularly head for hostels and budget hotels when I'm travelling alone as people seem more open to meeting others. Enjoy your travels in 2015.