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Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, England, France,
Germany, Holland, Ireland, Spain and, of course, Wales.

What you’re looking at above is a map of Europe. A map of Europe showing, in red, all the countries that I have travelled to in my life. I would have put a world map there instead, but I’ve not really travelled extensively outside Europe. No, I’m not xenophobic – it’s mainly because I have never enjoyed the thought of travelling alone, and I don’t know (m)any people who would like to go to a fairly distant country.

It’s not only that though, but I always think; “Would I want a travel companion?” My reason for thinking this is because I am not a typical ‘tourist’. If I were to save up so that I could travel to a relatively distant country for a couple of weeks or months, I wouldn’t want to go and visit the big monuments and take all the typical photographs along with everyone else – I’m not going to have a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide book stuck in front of my eyes.

I like the idea of going to a country with no real ‘plan’ – no set rules – going on my own back, seeing what happens when I immerse myself in the culture, and doing what those who are ‘locals’ do. That is what I judge to be a worthwhile visit. Basically, I don’t want a ‘holiday’, I want a voyage; an expedition. I don’t want to ‘see’ a country, I want to experience it and learn from it.

A perfect journey for me would begin at home, doing research. Buying a phrase book and reading as much as I can about the country before even considering how much it would cost to get there. I would like to hear from those who have been and learn about great places to go that are ‘off the beaten track’ and unspoilt by mass tourism.

If I then decide to visit this country, I would choose a few destinations to stop at, organise my travel and a place to stay for the first few nights. I would take little with me and once there talk to the natives to see what they do and if they can suggest anything for me to do. I would be kind and gracious and hopefully, if offered, stay with a family for payment of some sort.

Would this really be possible if I were to travel with someone who didn’t want to do this? If my companion wanted to go ‘sightseeing’ and I would prefer to go out of the cities and experience life ‘outside’, can you honestly see there being no tension? I would like to think not, but I don’t believe that would be the case.

I’m not saying I want to travel alone everywhere though; definitely not. As well as places where I could do the above (Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, etc.), I also have aspirations to visit cities worldwide. I can’t imagine enjoying these more when alone than when with a partner – it’s all about striking a balance.

That said, this is what I would want my ‘personal travel map’ to look like in the near future:

This map is as above but with the addition of: Italy and Switzerland in Europe; China, Japan, Mongolia and both North and South Korea in Asia; Russia, crossing the expanse of both these continents; and Canada and the USA in North America.

My brother shall be studying in Tokyo, Japan for just less than 12 months come September 2006 – whilst he is out there I am planning on making the obligatory visit and spending some time and money in this metropolis – the capital of Japan and also the most populated urban area on Earth. The flight there would incorporate a stop-off in Seoul, South Korea and I would also like to spend a day or two here. This flight, from London Heathrow to Tokyo is 25 hours long – if you don’t take into account the time-difference!

This just leaves Russia, Mongolia, China and North Korea. I’ll hopefully, if everything goes to plan, I’ll be visiting these countries in that order – on the Trans-[Siberian/Mongolian] Railway. This involves leaving Moscow and travelling 5655km on the Trans-Siberian line from Moscow, passing across the Volga (Europe’s longest river, after 442km on the railway), the official Europe-Asia boundary (1777km), and Lake Baikal – the largest lake in the world, containing 20% of the world’s liquid fresh water at 5185km.

Once on the Trans-Mongolian line, the journey continues through Mongolia where I would like to stop for a few days and spend some time with a Mongol tribe before continuing through to Beijing, China. From Beijing, after spending some time there, I would very much like to travel to North Korea – one of the world’s last nominally communist states – before heading back home.

Bon Voyage!