Document your travels through place name photos

It was while in Shanghai, just a few days into my 6 months “rite of passage” from China via SE Asia to New Zealand, I decided to make a “rod for my own back” and take of photo of me and the name of every place I was in at the time. Fairly simple to do you would think, but road signs weren’t always easy to find, names of the city/town/village were sometimes perched too high up, or in a few smaller places seemingly didn’t exist. This all lead to occasional and unnecessary exploring, much to the frustration of my patient travelling companions.

During my half a year adventure I had photos taken with anything from restaurant signs to tarpaulin banners, fountain artworks to t-shirts, maps, baggage carousels, bus stops, tuk-tuks, trams and railway station platform signs.

I went to at least 49 places as I traversed the 7 countries inbetween China and New Zealand which conveniently fitted neatly into a 7×7 square grid. So this is what I ultimately came up with after all these images lay dormant on my laptop for the last 6 years.

My montage of place name photos

My montage of place name photos – BIG VERSION

…and my top three photos?

Queenstown Mall. A rare occasion. A big sign at knee level

Queenstown Mall. A rare occasion. A big sign at knee level

Manly Wharf in Australia

Manly Wharf in Australia wearing the ubiqutious ‘Laos tubing’ t-shirt

Tanned with traveller hair in Thailand's Aonang

Tanned, skinnier with an attempt at traveller hair in Thailand’s Aonang

Was it all worth it? Probably not. But I could always make a canvas print in the future for my dining room wall or simply use it to create a new Twitter header instead. 🙂

My place names cover shot

My place names Twitter header shot



Can you do a gap year in your mid 30s?

Yes, yes you can! Maybe you you went straight from A-levels to University and from University straight into a full time job, while your friends unable to get a graduate job went off to have the time of their lives backpacking around SE Asia, working at the Sydney 2000 Olympics or canoeing in Nepal … like my friends did. And then one year working turns into two, two years into five, and before you know it, into ten! … but then you get made redundant! Yay! This happened to me back in 2009. I was delighted! Although I have to caveat this my saying I had no wife, kids, pets or mortgage so it made things a lot easier.

Backpacking when you were 23 “may” have been better than when you were 33, but then that’s better than doing it when you’re 43 … although I’d go at that age too. And actually at 33 you’ll appreciate it more as you’ve been working hard for the last 10 years and won’t just see it as a continuation of school/university fun times.

Meeting people never a problem

Meeting people is never a problem

My 6 month rite of passage was the typical China > SE Asia > Australia > New Zealand route and the groups of people I encountered fell broadly into 4 categories:

  • The majority were 25-26 year olds who’d been working for 3-4 years, realised that work isn’t “all that,” but had managed to put some funds together
  • Next up were the post A-level and post degree “gap year” backpackers.
  • That left the reduncancy beneficiaries like me in their mid 30s in the obvious minority
  • Finally there were the late 40s/early 50s “hippies” who’d happily been travelling for the last 20 years or so

And how was it travelling “solo”? Well as it happened I travelled with my friend Rob (Hornbower Travels) around China for 4 weeks before he headed off home allowing me to ease into things nice and gently. A short flight from Hong Kong to Hanoi and an excursion up to Sapa lead to me befriending a Spanish girl and a lad from England at which point I realised that travelling solo can be pretty darn good as you meet many more people that way. No offense Rob! 😉

Wanderlust Chloe has a great post on travelling solo

… and a thorough assessment by thegrownupgapyear

Travelling with a friend helps to start with

Travelling with a friend helps to start with. Rob and I in Hong Kong

After just 1 week in and around Hanoi culminatring with a boat trip around Halong Bay, I fell in with 4 girls from Sweden and some lads fom Middlesborough and ended up travelling with them more or less for the next 5 months.

So yes go do it! It was a great experience, it will open your eyes to the world and 6 months is just 6 months after all anyway. Although when your longest holidays have only ever been for 2 weeks, then getting 2 months into your trip and realising that  you’re not even halfway is a lovely feeling.

Travelling is really a great leveller and when you’re all in the same fake Havaianas flip flops, all wearing the same Vang Vieng ‘In the tubing’ vests, all staying in the same basic hostels, all reading the same Lonley Planet guide books then age, profession and background really don’t come into it at all!

The obligatory In the tubing Vang Vieng vest

The obligatory ‘In the tubing’ Vang Vieng vest