Monday Meetings – Stuart ‘The Thinker’ Aitken
Another Monday, which means more Monday Meetings. But it’s ok, this is the fun type, where we talk to interesting people who’ve done interesting things – trying to find out what life is really all about!
Today we’d like you to meet Stuart, a traveller with the world on his mind, who kindly answered a few of our questions about How and Why he travels. Since talking to us the first time, he’s done plenty more exploring, including working in Australia and learning to speak Korean. So we’re hoping to bring you more from Stu later, if he slows down for more than five minutes.
1. Who are you and where on earth are you from?
|Stuart Aitken, from Yorkshire in the north of England! I was born in Leeds and then, from about 12 years old onwards, ended up more of a country boy living further north, close to the Yorkshire Dales. I finished school when I was 18, having not necessarily tried as hard as I should have, and having decided I didn’t, at the time, want to go to university. From 19 to 22 years old I maintained a not bad, but totally average, existence working in Harrogate, my nearest main town, in an exhibition and conference events venue where I helped to set up for events and then worked as a sort of customer service/helper person when the place was open to the public. Frankly, I hated it. Now, after a few other things, including leaving to travel for a fair few months around India and south-east Asia, I’ve landed in Australia, working another basic (but better) job to save money for potential future university study and further ‘worldly’ discovery!|
2. When did you start travelling, and what did you do? Did anything prompt your travel or was it spontaneous?
|The thing, or person, who first got me away from the norm was my old boss, Nigel Thompson, who I’m endlessly thankful to for him pushing me to do it. Since my first proper job was one of those ‘nowhere’ jobs without any sense of future or growth, he recommended I go on an expedition with Raleigh International, a British youth volunteer organisation who send groups of willing volunteers to arranged partner countries to do personal and community development work on a grand and varied scale. I ended up in India for 10 weeks and it was, without doubt, what opened my eyes to the rest of the world.|
3. Could you describe your personal travel philosophy? Are there any rules you stick to or ideals you try to follow?
|Being a Westerner, I don’t like being ‘the’ Westerner, since so many have a concept of travelling which basically translates to, “go to poorer country, be rich, party hard, feel elite”. For me, life and travelling is not a holiday, it’s a thing not all people have the chance to do, so it should be valued. If possible, I prefer to have no itinerary and no plan, which means less of being a herded tourist and more of having to mix in with the locals and learn things for myself. Sometimes this can lead to occasions of boredom or loss, but other times it can bring totally spontaneous events and situations, such as the time I was rounded up by a man in Laos who offered me free whiskey to help his son and a few others build a bamboo bridge across a huge, fast river in Luang Prabang.|
4. What is your number one tip for new and experienced travellers alike?
|Unfortunately I’d say the best tip is, “Trust no-one.” I learned that the hard way on several occasions… Being a traveller makes you a huge target because mostly you won’t know the places, the people or the cultures, and you probably won’t have many friends or contacts at hand to help you out. So it’s best to think bad before you think good. However this only applies for when you’re on the move. If you begin to settle somewhere, or if you find a good group, then obviously the situation is a little different, and safer.|
5. Do you want to travel more in the future? What are you thinking of doing next?
|Right now I’m thinking a lot about wanting to check out the whole of China. But then I consider how close Mongolia is. And then there’s Russia. And northern Europe. And southern Europe. And the middle east, and onto the whole of Africa… There are so many different places I’d like to see. Primarily, though, China has been on my mind a lot for a ‘next place to visit’, and I’m also liking the idea of doing a bit of an adventurous expedition into somewhere harsh or adverse in some way, like a desert or mountainous region. But I have no plans as of yet.|
Or as Susan Sontag said “I haven’t been everywhere yet, but it’s on my list”.
6. What do you most like about travelling, and why do you travel?
|Learning from the people. Sightseeing is at the bottom of my list of things to do when I’m somewhere new. I just like to get a proper feel for a place, which usually involves doing normal and fairly unexciting things. The thing to remember is that everywhere in the world, people live, and so, wherever anyone might be, the primary thing they need to do is survive. So for me, travelling is learning and seeing how people do that.|
7. What has been your favourite journey or experience to date?
|I can’t name one exact time, but whenever I look back on my travel the first thing I think about is the north-Indian Himalayas and my journey into Leh from Manali. It was a sleepless 17 hours on a large minibus where, although it was the same as any other minibus in the world, we had to negotiate a good 400km of bumpy, dusty, perilous and un-laid road, which at one point was totally gone, so instead the driver cut straight through a small, shallow river with a bed of random rocks as big as heads for the wheels to bounce over. The thing that amazes me most is that these drivers do it several times a month.|
8. What is your favourite kind of travel?
|My ideal sort of travel would be to go somewhere totally new but equally amazing, off the beaten track, or a bit more secret. In general, though, all travel is good and anything can change the situation to make it into a good or a bad memory. I have loved some things that I would normally hate, and hated some things that I would normally love! …Life… is… an adventure!|
Exactly, and you only get one! Thanks for taking time to talk to us Stu, and it’s good to see that although travelling is not all roses, a real traveller won’t let bad experiences get in the way of having more good ones. Keep up with Stuarts exploits and ‘everything he generally gets up to’ at www.stuartaitken.wordpress.com, where you can also find links to his impressive photography on Flickr.
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