real life

'Travel can be transforming - but this trip was a game-changer.'

My working life involved a substantial amount of international travel, landing me in exotic, far-flung places. When I stopped working and relocated to a quieter country life, trips to these amazing destinations came to a sudden end. I didn’t miss the work too much, but I really missed the travel and relationships with my international business network in a profound way.

The change definitely left a vacuum in my life. Something that had a lot more significance than I’d realised was suddenly gone. With that in mind, I soon began to think of ways to get myself back on the road and involved in a meaningful way with the countries and people I loved so much.

Travelling has always been part of who I am: both professionally and personally.

At the ripe old age of 19 I took off for Europe vowing never to return (that lasted two years). My journey took me to Norway which had, for no good reason, always held a strong attraction. Having never even met a Norwegian before, I took a ferry from England to Norway, planning to stay for a week. I fitted into life in Oslo without missing a beat and stayed for two years. Being blonde haired and fair skinned, most people mistook me for a Norwegian – a transformed identity I was happy to adopt. (That was until the locals saw me skiing, then my cover was well and truly blown. No self-respecting Norwegian would ski the way I did.)

importance of travel
"My journey took me to Norway which had, for no good reason, always held a strong attraction." Image: Supplied.
"My journey took me to Norway which had, for no good reason, always held a strong attraction." Image via iStock.

Sensing my restlessness and desire to start travelling again, friend and Lonely Planet author Stan Armington (Trekking in Nepal guide book) invited me to join a small group he was escorting to remote Upper Mustang up near the Tibetan border in Nepal.

Travel for many of us can be a transforming experience and this trip proved itself to be a life-changer. It allowed me to shed my skin in some ways, to re-think and re-invent who I was away from my past working life.

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Mustang is a wildly beautiful region of Nepal and is culturally and geographically part of Tibet. My experiences in this ancient Buddhist land were both transient and profound. Riding a sure-footed Tibetan pony through such an extraordinary landscape was like being in rural Tibet 1000 years ago.

My mind was made up. Upper Mustang was well and truly ingrained in my imagined vision of what the future could hold. I started dreaming of returning as soon as possible. But how was I going to get back to that hauntingly beautiful, remote place, where life went on more or less as it had for centuries?

A chance re-connection with friend Tenzin Choegyal, an Australian/Tibetan musician provided the catalyst and sowed the seed of an idea that would see me heading off on a tangent and engaging for the next nine months with one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever worked on.

"My experiences in this ancient Buddhist land were both transient and profound." Image: Supplied.
"My experiences in this ancient Buddhist land were both transient and profound." Image via iStock.

I offered to put together a fundraising trek to Lo Manthang, with Tenzin accompanying a group of Australian trekkers. Tenzin had crossed the border to safety in Nepal when fleeing from Tibet with his family in the 1970s. He had never returned, and I approached him with the idea that we would follow his footsteps on this journey as he re-visited his homeland in Upper Mustang for the first time since leaving with his nomad family as a small child. He agreed in a heartbeat.

The concept was a winner, and the fun of marketing the trip began. I was lucky to get some free PR in mainstream media, with the help of a PR company I’d used in my prior working life. They also happened to be excited about the project and pitched in for free.

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The response exceeded all expectations, with the first group booking out immediately. It wasn’t long before a second, then third departure were added. We were on our way, with each client committing to raise a minimum of $1000 for the Australian Himalayan Foundation. Every single client exceeded that goal.

"There are more adventures on the horizon, and I love this reinvented travel life and this reinvented person." Image: Supplied.
"There are more adventures on the horizon, and I love this reinvented travel life and this reinvented person." Image via iStock.

The experience for Tenzin was captured in a moving documentary filmed by the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program. My dream of returning was fulfilled, and Tenzin got to see the border of Tibet, a land his parents could only dream of returning to. The other huge benefit was that we raised $31,000 for the Australian Himalayan Foundation, a not for profit organisation dear to my heart. It was a winner for us all and immensely satisfying on a personal level.

I finally felt as if I had contributed something to this beautiful region - all the while amending, shaping and changing who I was on this earth and what I did in this life. I know that my travel and the opportunities that spin off that are inseparable, enabling my re-invented self to live a dream of sharing unique travel experiences with others.

Having recently returned from a trip to another extraordinary location – Kashmir - I’m working with Sue Badyari, CEO of World Expeditions on some bespoke journeys to Srinagar, Ladakh and beyond. There are more adventures on the horizon, and I love this reinvented travel life and this reinvented person. It’s rewarding, philanthropic, fun, and I can’t wait to bring these projects to life.

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