“Travel is more than the seeing of sights… it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” (Miriam Beard)
As South East Asia Backpacker Magazine turns five years old, I decided to get all nostalgic and reflect upon the 30 editorials that I have written for the magazine over this time. Reading back, it is funny to see how each short article reflects a stage in my life as a backpacker and see how much I’ve changed, I guess to be able to deal with the different aspects that arise when you are immersed in a life of long-term travel.
Watching friend after friend say goodbye on the road, I wrote about how to deal with transience, an issue that so many backpackers find difficult. Bored out of my mind waiting for transport systems to work, I wrote about the art of patience in South East Asia and how you learn to be more flexible with your plans. After being a solo traveller, realising that it’s the people you share experiences with along the way rather than the places themselves that count, I wrote about the importance of connections when you travel. Love on the road, travel hiccups, doubts, fears, homesickness, perfect moments, fate, decisions, diarrhea, Buddhism – we’ve covered a lot of topics in the magazine over five crazy years!
So have I changed as a traveler? I think I certainly have. From a wide-eyed ‘everything is amazing!’ to a ‘If I see another temple today I’m going to go mad!’ – I can see how I have developed a different attitude to backpacking in general. I no longer ask for someone’s Facebook after chatting with them for 40 seconds, I wince at the questions “where are you from?” and “how long have you been traveling for?” and I don’t feel the pressure to tick of every single sight or experience that a city has to offer. I have become more relaxed, more able to deal with passing relationships, more able to accept that travel isn’t always amazing and that you have to take the rough with the smooth. On the other hand, I can no longer abide grimy, cockroach-infested hostels, can’t deal with life-threatening hangovers when teamed with 12-hour bus journeys and would rather pay for a taxi than lug my backpack eight blocks to save 50 baht. Maybe I am just growing up?
Travel changed my life in the biggest way imaginable. After six months travel in Asia, I decided to start a travel magazine and never said goodbye to this unpredictable lifestyle. Now over five years later, I’m still as addicted as ever to travel and I don’t desire to go back to ‘normal life’ in England. Ever. Not ever. When I look around at other backpackers for whom this is a ‘gap year’ or a short stint before starting a ‘proper career’ or even just a holiday – I reflect that even though travel may not become their lives (as it did mine!), it is nevertheless a life-changing experience, that if you embrace in a certain way, can change the path of your life forever.
For me, the most important way that travel changes us and teaches us to become better people is that it forces us to appreciate life in that moment. The first hot shower you’ve had in five days, the Skype with your Mum who you haven’t spoke to in weeks, the spontaneous moment when you re-encounter a long lost travel buddy or the last night with someone who you’ve shared so much with. Although we travel to see extraordinary places, we also travel to be able to find the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Curious to know about what the five year journey has been like? Below get the inside scoop on what steps we took to become the magazine we are today!
1. THE IDEA TO START A BACKPACKER MAG:
After travelling in SE Asia for six months, I knew that I didn’t want to return back to ‘normal life’ in England. I’d fallen in love with the spontaneous adventure of backpacking and I just needed to figure out a way to make travel a part of my life!
As I explored Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, I noticed a lot of free travel magazines available in hostels, but I saw nothing that captured the imagination and camaraderie of the backpacker trail. I decided to start SE Asia’s very first (and still only!) magazine dedicated to independent travellers.
My idea was to create a ‘travel diary for everyone’ where people could share their own stories and tips of life on the road. My inital sketches for how the mag would look were nothing like how it would become!
2. TAKING THE IDEA TO BUSINESSES IN S.E.A:
Of course one of the very first steps was to talk to businesses in SE Asia (hostels, adventure companies, dive schools, restaurants) about what they thought of my idea. I had decided to make the magazine free all around the backpacker trail, so would need companies to sponsor the magazine to raise the money to pay the print bill! When we received our very first contract (from Viking Divers in Koh Phi Phi) and they emailed me the advert that would appear in the magazine, I knew there was no going back!
3. THE LAUNCH – THAILAND:
In June 2009, after getting the support from 18 companies for our very first issue, we printed thousands of magazines and headed to the backpacker hub Khao San Road to hand deliver them to backpackers! I was nervous to see how it would be received and watched people reading to see if they laughed in the right places!
4. CAMBODIA, LAOS & VIETNAM:
After launching our magazine in Thailand (as well as getting our website up and running!) we travelled to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to talk to businesses having the mag displayed in their hostels and about advertising. From cycling up dirt tracks to have business meetings with horse ranches, hanging out at dive schools and rasta bars to partying and making connections with one of the biggest hostels in SE Asia, the legendary Hanoi Backpackers Hostel – my day job had become very different to anything I would have back home in England!
5. SENDING MAGS WORLDWIDE:
We set up a system so that travellers could order the magazine anywhere in the world. People began to have them delivered to their doorsteps in America, Australia, Europe – keeping the travel spirit alive!
6. OPENING THE OFFICE!
December 2011 saw the Grand Opening of the first S.E.A Backpacker Office in Chiang Mai, Thailand where backpackers could drop in, ask advice, share their travel stories and find out more about the South East Asia Backpacker world! With backpackers dropping by with their weird and wonderful tales – no day was the same!
7. BUSINESS TRIPS!
With the office up and running, we still had time to take lots of business trips to find out more about how the SE Asia backpacker trail was growing and evolving. We travelled to Malaysia and Indonesia expanding distribution, as well as a particularly exiciting trip to the Philippines to meet with the Ministry of Tourism!
8. DIGITAL MAG
In April 2013 we launched our digital magazine for iPad and Android. People could now download S.E.A Backpacker Magazine wherever they had WIFI making it more accessible for everyone! You can now download all back issues through our website.
9. S.E.A BACKPACKER AMBASSADORS!
From Day One S.E.A Backpacker Mag has been written by backpackers on the ground – so we decided to take this one step further. Last year, we started the Ambassador Program hiring talented travel writers to work more closely with the magazine, keeping us bang up to date with backpacking life!
10. TRIP BOOKINGS SYSTEM
Over the past five years, we’ve discovered some amazing adventure companies that we wanted to give you the opportunity to get to know and book trips with! So, last month we launched our trip booking service – a fun, easy to use and great value for money booking system for travellers. So, all the adventures you read about in the mag… You can now book!
SO WHERE NEXT? SOUTH AMERICA
At the beginning of the year we sent a few members of our team to explore a brand new continent… South America – with the hopes of starting a brand new sister magazine! Get inspired for your next adventure at: southamericabackpacker.com