There have been moments, in possibly everyone’s life when one wishes one could drop everything and go on an adventure. Not everyone has the courage to follow through on that impulse, but every once in a while, you meet someone who has done exactly that.
Paul Smee, the adventurer from England, has in his lifetime visited a grand total of 81 countries. In June of 2015 he quit his Mechanical engineering job to 'just' travel. He is a budget traveller with only a small backpack, riding local buses, trains and tempos as well as cargo boats. He prefers crashing in hostels and tents or living with Couchsurfing hosts around the world.
Smee is the very definition of someone who is a veteran at travelling and has some superb bits of insights to share.
What made you decide to go around the world?
Having been an engineer at Gas Turbines, the nature of my work required a bit of travelling. I was sent offshore many times to many countries. With each stay I realised that I was enjoying less than half of the wonder the place had to offer. Free-time travelling for social purposes was much more gratifying. Thanks to my “rotation based” work”- I started to fly off to bits of the world every 4 weeks. It was cool but hectic. So I have decided to travel this time, without being constrained by time. The best way to travel is to travel a bit slowly. Through 2014-2015, I had finished selling all assets I owned. This gave me confidence to start my voyage.
What determines where you go? What factors do you take into account while planning your trips?
For me it’s a bit of bit planning with a curious amount of spontaneity involved. In general, a period of one year is considered to qualify as “Long-term travel”- But one year for the world is not enough!
I’ve already covered Europe and South Asia extensively; Bangladesh was one country that was next on the agenda. I had much of Latin America to explore; only visited Ecuador. So I did a big trip around Latin America which was supposed to start with Argentina, but I flew out from Mexico to there instead, as this was the relatively cheaper option. I think budgeting is a big part of any trip and should be included in the plan. Then I hopped back to Europe (Portugal) and back to South East Asias(Thailand, Laos)…now in Bangladesh. There was not much information available about this country so I wanted to experience it firsthand. I just flew from Bangkok and got to Dhaka with an on-arrival visa.
While you travel across the landscape of various countries, to what degree are you affected by what you see outside nature? Do you notice about the politics, culture and social fabric, for instance?
Sadly, poverty has been a recurring theme for most of my travel. As an outsider it is possible and possibly easy for me to identify its ill effects. But in most places I travel to, the people have normalised it to a part of everyday life. In this regard, I want to praise what I’ve seen in Cuba which is a small island country with splendid healthcare and food. Not one homeless person was spotted in Cuba as my searching eyes looked.
What’s awesome about Bangladesh and how has it treated you?
This fascinating country is full of friendly, cheerful folks. They are very hospitable, like the Myanmarese. But I love it even more as it seems to have fewer Western tourists. I enjoy the presence of people calling chats and wanting to take my photos.
It’s been good so far. I have the local bus routes figured out. But I have to show them every time with my GPS where to go as the names can be quite troubling to pronounce.
Many of us aspire to travel, but in reality life presents us with various factors that stop us from going. What would you like to advise them?
2. Understand your feasibilities and challenges better- passport issues for example. This is why most people prefer to have on arrival visas. You can often visit a neighbouring country at ease. Like Peru to Bolivia is easy travel.
3. Plan and Budget
I have never been in any particularly threatening situation. When you go to a country, get a feel of the place first. I use a metric to judge the levels of safety of a place and the common culture there. For example, it is alright to take a night-time stroll in Thailand but it is not the case with every country. Be mindful and enjoy.
Photo Credit - Courtesy