Five Years Around the World

January 23rd, 2015. A plane touches down at Honolulu International Airport bearing an anxious – and extremely inebriated – Welshman with a large flag and a foolhardy plan. That Welshman was Max Boyce (he planned to climb Mauna Kea bollock-naked whilst playing ‘I’m Going Home to Swansea Town’). Also on that plane was another Welshman, with a slightly more reasonable plan of visiting every country in the world. This, folks, is the naissance of Hit The Road Jack.

It’s been five years to the day since I started penning and posting my wearying thoughts in earnest. A full sixty months – of which seven have been spent in the back of a van – since I stared down a solid career, a prudent existence, a life of consistency, commitments and ties and said, “Nah, you’re all right mate”. That single decision has afforded me the freedom to do the only thing I find any value or worth in: travelling. Since 2015, I’ve been privileged enough to be allowed into forty-nine nations and fifty US states; completing road trips from Vancouver to Key West and from South Korea to the UK; backpacking through Central America and around the bulge of West Africa – and not once managed to flush a toilet without looking first. It’s been a trip. A bloody tricky one at times.

Every now and again, usually when staring at a low-calorie vegan meatball marinara and thinking, “why the hell did I pay for that?”, I briefly question myself – as would anyone at a time like this. Had I accepted that strong and stable career (in the words of May), I could very well have moved into a new build on the outskirts of Cardiff by now, adopted a Husky called Samwell from the shelter, churned out a kid or two, and not be staring at a low-calorie vegan meatball marinara. For the briefest of moments, brief being the operative word, I feel as though I’ve missed out on something good – FOMO for the millennials.

It may sound a straightforward proposition: avoid ties and stay on the move. However, I may be biased in this, I believe it’s far harder to continually say no to something than to say yes. To forego jobs I’ve thrived in, relationships I’ve revered and opportunities I’ve dreamt about, all in the name of autonomy. Had I have grasped at any one of those three things, the next would not have come along, not in the same form anyway. Had I stayed at a job I loved in Vancouver, I would never have taught in Korea. Had I stayed in a culture I relished in Korea, I would never have driven the Pamir Highway. Had I stayed on the greatest road in the world, I would never have been punched in the face in Honduras – swings and roundabouts. In summary, I find it’s easier to say, “yes, this will do”, rather than, “no, what is next?” I prefer the second option.

Well, you may ask where it all ends? When will something be too good to refuse? The simple answer is when Saoirse Ronan asks me to move to Dublin with her – game over. Failing that, it doesn’t. On my most recent voyage, I bumped into a seventy-year-old Belgian lady called Anne, in the cheapest and dingiest hostel in Dakar – and quite possibly West Africa. She just so happened to be one of the most interesting, intelligent and inspirational individuals I have come across. Her modus operandi involved absorbing as much as she could about a country, from its culture to politics to religion to cuisine, and penning it down in her bulging blue notepad.

Anne lived and breathed each place she visited, splitting her time between exploring the hidden corners of towns and cities and the library; before returning to a humble hostel (never a hotel) and having discussions with the other travellers. Her plan was to use her pension to reside and study in every nation in Africa which, in her words, “may take five years or the rest of my life, but time is of no importance.” She is doing what she adores and certainly proves that age, gender, and societal norms are no barriers to African backpacking. I can think of no greater blueprint.

When I’m asked what the most important thing I’ve learned whilst travelling is – approximately once every five years – I split the answer into two parts: external info and, unsurprisingly, internal info. Without wanting you to close this tab and kill yourself, I’ll keep it brief. External information relates to everything I have learned about the people, geography, religions, and cultures of all the places I have visited – the sorts of things that could be useful in a pub quiz or when impressing your imaginary partner. In this regard, the number one lesson, without a doubt, is how bloody helpful, accommodating and friendly 99.9% of humans are – regardless of their background. Although this is common sense to most, I still find it life-affirming when complete strangers offer you a cup of tea or help you fix a tyre or smuggle you in their boot with a hoard of cocaine. Internal information, alternatively, relates to all the bizarre intelligence I have gathered about myself on the road: what I require to function as a human being and how to remain content. The answer being to watch Lady Bird, Brooklyn and Little Women on repeat until I genuinely feel that Saoirse Ronan is my friend.

Well, what started as a celebratory anniversary post, has turned into a philosophical justification for continuing my reckless methods for the next five years – I can only apologise. Health permitting, I will uphold my goal of visiting every nation, stranglehold my goal of writing a novel, and withhold my goal of singing naked with Max Boyce up a Hawaiian peak – he’s a damn lunatic. On a serious note, momentarily, thank you if you’ve read any of my puerile posts over the last five years – I do hope that they’ve given you a tickle or a titter. On the presumption that they have – they better have – I will continue producing them until a certain Hollywood actress files the restraining order. Until January 23rd, 2025, folks.

J

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2 Responses to “Five Years Around the World

  • Graham Sinnett
    6 months ago

    Thanks Jack. I have enjoyed all your post and look forward to the next. Especially the road to Carmarthen. From Korea. That sounds like a Bing Crosby and Bob Hope movie. But I forget you to young to remember that duo. So onwards and upwards you man keep it coming. Best wishes. Graham, Wombourne, Staffs. You Grandmas cousin.

    • Jack Noah Rees
      6 months ago

      Thanks Graham! Especially for the donation, that’s very kind of you. Hope the family is keeping well. All the best!

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