I’m something of a poster boy for the mental health benefits of travel. It’s something that frequently comes up on this blog. Perhaps even too often, I guess that just goes to show how significant it is. But that’s not to say jetting off to the other side of the world is the answer to all mental health problems.
I’ve been on this planet for 27 years, with six months of that spent traveling parts of the world as a solo backpacker. Four years ago I was part way through my third and final trip when I visited South America.
Whenever travel comes up as a topic of conversation there is one word that is constantly mentioned – lucky. I’m always having people tell me how lucky I am to travel as I have in my life so far. Which, yes, in the grand scheme of things I am, but at the same time luck has nothing to do with it.
As cliché as it sounds all three of those trips were born out of nothing more than a dream and hard work. Everyone I know has had the same opportunities to travel but have chosen to do something else which they are perfectly entitled to do.
There are endless travel memories I could write about which hold a mental health benefit to me. Being taught how to ski by my dad in 2003. Passing that wisdom on to one of my friends ten years later. An early December trip to New York in 2011, where walking the streets of Manhattan felt like stepping into the scene of a number of my favourite films growing up. And that’s before I even get to my three backpacking trips.
For this week’s post I want to take a look at my final large trip in 2017. A throwback to the years I ran a travel blog. More specifically the very first part of it where I visited Peru.
Arriving in Peru was surreal experience. I originally planned to arrive on the morning of my 23rd birthday but flight delays had me land 24 hours later. So instead of starting life as a 23 year old in Peru I had a beer in London, Bogota, Panama and Lima.
After checking-in to the hostel I slept for a few hours before getting my first taste of South America.
Strolling the streets of Cusco I felt like Marty McFly when he first arrives in 1955 in Back to the Future. This was partially because of jet lag. But it was also because I was immediately slapped with the biggest culture shock of my travels up to that point.
My travels had previously taken me to Australia, New Zealand and USA. Places that are all culturally similar to the UK. That was not the case in Cusco.
Once upon time this Peruvian city was the capital of the Inca Empire. It is also where many tourists go to acclimatise ahead of taking on one of the treks to Machu Picchu. Which is why I was there for about a week. To be honest you can see the history of the place in a day or two. But adjusting to the altitude ahead of a four day trek through the Andes is vital.
As well as adjusting to the altitude I used my first week in South America to phase back into the backpacker lifestyle I had been without for 18 months. The same way of life which would be all I knew for the 10 weeks ahead of me.
I met people from all over the world, watched the Champions League final in a Peruvian sports bar and won the hostel’s wacky wire competition at the first try. At the end of the week I met the guys I’d be hiking to Machu Picchu with.
I first became aware of the seven wonders of the world when I visited one – Chichen Itza – while on a family holiday to Mexico in 2014. I was hooked. The idea of traveling always appealed to me but that Mexico holiday was where I knew the extent of which I wanted to do it.
The wonders of the world quickly became my bread and butter of knowledge. With the RMS Titanic recently joining them. I made it one of my aspirations to see them all, aiming visit all seven within seven years. Turns out that was an unrealistic target because seven years have passed and Taj Mahal, Petra and The Great Wall of China are yet to be seen.
As my knowledge of them got stronger I decided Machu Picchu was my favourite. There was just something about having to hike through the mountains over a four day period to reach it that made it stand out.
There are a number of hikes to choose from. I opted for the Salkantay Trek. Four days of hiking through some of the most picturesque mountains I’ve ever seen. As high as 4600m above sea level (the highest ski resort in Europe is 2300m), alongside train tracks in the jungle and mountain paths with waterfalls. We’ll forget about the giant spiders that find their way into tents and mosquitos that feasted on my legs.
It’s the best hike I have ever been on and I owe a lot of that to the group I was with. It was made up of myself, two guys from New Zealand and a boy from Canada.
Joining a group tour as a solo traveller you always run the risk of meeting people you don’t gel with. I can tell you that from past experience. However, for the Salkantay Trek I had the perfect group. We bounced off each other really well, didn’t slow one another down on the hike itself and it made all the difference.
After four days of hiking the stunning Salkantay pass we were rewarded with the ultimate prize. A trip to Machu Picchu – one of the seven wonders of the world.
The final day of the hike took us to Aguas Calientes where we stayed the night ahead of an early start. It was still dark when we made our way to the wonder set 2400m into the mountains.
The beauty of getting to Machu Picchu so early is that you get to see the sun rise over the ruins. Which is made even better because we were there before the bulk of the crowds.
Machu Picchu surpassed all of my expectations, it really did. I’ve seen four of the seven wonders so far and it is definitely my favourite. It really felt like we earned it by completing the four day hike.
After getting a tour of the ruins we hiked up to the sun gate. It’s only a 10 minute walk from the ruins and is where those who complete the world famous Inca Trail first lay eyes on Machu Picchu.
Sat atop of the Sun Gate looking down on the glorious Machu Picchu was an amazing feeling. It was one of those pinch me moments where the scale of what I was doing really hit. I’ve had a few of them traveling over the years and this was right up there as one of the biggest and best.
Seeing Machu Picchu started off as a dream after visiting Chichen Itza in 2014. Three years later I was there and truth be told I got a little emotional.
Emotional because it seemed so unrealistic given where I was mentally in 2014. At that time, to me at least, it always seemed like it would remain a dream.
In the past I have been guilty of planning too far in advance. A lot of the time this involved things that were out of control. I like to think i’ve changed in recent years. For example, I’m currently training for the London Marathon in October, but I hardly ever think about the race day. Instead I focus on the next run. And while I’m on that run I’m thinking about the next mile.
I bring this up here because it’s important not to act too late on something. If you do that one of two things will likely happen.
Either you’ll never do it or you’ll get there and realise you don’t want it anymore. I know it’s not always entirely feasible either financially or otherwise – especially in the COVID era – but there does come a point where you find yourself thinking of excuses.
I was very fortunate that my travels came at a time where I had full-time employment and my outgoings weren’t too much. The only other thing missing was my attitude.
You can use me before my mental breakdown in 2014 as an example. Never in a million years would I act on something such as the idea to travel. It took therapy and help from my friends over to give me the push to go and visit the travel agent.
After the success of my 2015 round the world trip I never looked back in that sense. Eight months later I was back in New Zealand and in summer 2017 I finally reached Machu Picchu.
The importance of travel in my life
Travel will always be a prominent feature in my life. Well, when the COVID situation allows it to be. It’s just one of those things that has had such a huge positive impact on my life that I would be a fool to stop.
The only thing that changes is the manor in which I travel. Before I set foot on a plane in 2017 I knew it was my final backpacking trip. I knew I wanted to try other stuff that would make it impossible. That, plus I didn’t want to run the risk of too much of a good thing.
We live in a world where nothing is safe from time. The films we loved growing up become dated, the brand new car we bought two years ago is due an upgrade and with every minute that passes we find ourselves closer to death. Bleak, I know, but that’s just the way the world works.
No amount of money can ever buy a second of time. But with the travels i’ve been on throughout my life I’ve picked up a catalogue of memories that continue to stand the test of it. I don’t know when I’ll next be on a plane heading to an exciting new destination (or one I’m familiar with) but what I do know is it is definitely a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’.
The original plan for this blog post was to cover all of my South America adventure. However, when I started to write it out it turned into a 4000 word monster. Seeing as each country has it’s own mental health moral to the story I’ve decided to turn it into a little series.
Hope you enjoyed the Peru instalment and I’ll see you next week as I look back on Bolivia!
– Published on June 23rd at 20:00.
2021 London Marathon
I’m running the 2021 London Marathon for Mind!
If you wish to donate or keep up to date with how my training and fundraising is going you can do so by following the links below.
Fundraising Page: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JordanCamp
My blog post about the event
Mind Website: https://www.mind.org.uk