One year ago today, I got on a train in Liverpool. Then I got on another train, in London. Then I got on a bus, still in London. And finally, I got on a boat. Sometime around 11pm, on 4 August 2013, I stood on the rear deck of a Dover – Calais ferry, and watched the white cliffs disappear into the distance beneath a clear black summer’s night sky.
I haven’t seen England since.
In the year that has passed, much has happened. So much in fact that, as I sit and reflect one year on, its difficult to believe it has all been crammed into 12 tiny little months. I have travelled 8,000 miles around the world, a journey that took me through 11 countries and 7 time zones. Through Europe, the Baltics, and Russia. Across the trans-Siberian railway and through Mongolia and China, and finally to Vietnam.
Along the way I have had some spectacular experiences, done things I’ll never forget, and met people I’ll always remember. I’ve seen sunsets and sunrises (more sunsets than sunrises, admittedly…), slept on rolling trains and bumpy busses, ridden camels and horses, eaten snails and birds eggs and God only knows what else, and on at least three occasions seen the pickled, waxy bodies of dead communist leaders.
I’ve learned how to do new things. I’ve learned how to ride motorbikes, how to speak Vietnamese (anh biết nội một chút tiếng Việt), how to control classrooms full of screaming 7 year olds without resorting to violence. I can now teach someone how to use the present perfect tense, when a year ago, I’ll admit, I wasn’t even sure what it was. For the first time in my life I’ve signed up for a gym membership and still been going to the gym six months later!
Perhaps one way to measure your progress in life is to look at where you were a year ago and to ask, what you can do now that you couldn’t do then? What have you learned? How have you grown? By this measure, the last year hasn’t been bad at all. I set myself an ambitious target – to go to another country on the other side of the world, to live and work there, and to get there overland, without flying. That was a big ask. But, I did it, and I look back now from my home in Vietnam, and I see all I did, and I feel like I’ve reached the top of a mountain.
…but, have I reached the end of my journey? That’s a difficult question to answer. Of course, when I set out, my goal wasn’t only to reach Vietnam without flying. It was to reach New Zealand without flying. Vietnam was only ever intended as a mid-way point, somewhere I’d live and work for a year as a teacher before travelling on through south east Asia towards my ultimate goal.
At least, that was the plan. But since arriving here, some things have changed. Among them are the facts that I’ve now got a girlfriend here who I love spending time with; I’ve got a job which I actually quite enjoy doing; and it turns out Hanoi is, for all I grumble and moan, a pretty decent place to live, like nowhere else on earth, and somewhere I don’t want to leave in such a hurry.
Given these facts, my original goals may well be changing. I can’t say for sure yet: who knows what twists and turns the future holds? The last year demonstrates just how much can happen in the space of a single short year, and it’d clearly be a mistake to make outlandish predictions.
The next 12 months at least seem settled – I have now signed a new contract with the school I’m working at in Hanoi, which will keep me here until at least July next year. Life beyond that, however, is blurry at best right now and depends on a range of different things. So who can say?
As such, a year on from leaving England, I now can’t tell you quite where Adam’s Grand Tour will finish up. A journey lacking a destination might seem a pretty dumb idea, and right now I don’t really know where – or indeed, what – my destination is. I have reached one destination at least, and for the next year it seems Adam’s Grand Tour will become Adam’s Slightly Less Grand Day To Day Life In Vietnam.
But… who needs destinations? Sure, at times they have their uses. But I’m not someone who needs everything in the future to be crystal clear. I don’t need certainty, and indeed, a little bit of uncertainty about the future can be among the most exciting things there is. I used to love the sense that I didn’t know where I’d be a year from now. Even if I am planning on stopping here in Hanoi a little longer than perhaps I first planned, that hasn’t changed at all.
Twelve months ago, I set out doing, probably, the biggest thing I’ll ever do. I stopped saying ‘I’d love to travel around the world’. I packed my bags, left my Mum in tears on a train station platform, and I went off and did it.
Twelve months later, I find myself standing looking back at an astonishing year which I’ll never forget. ‘I’d love to travel around the world’, I said, and I did it. I guess what happens in the next twelve months and beyond depends on what I start to say between now and then.
Adam’s Grand Tour still has some way to run…