Long before travel blogging became a thing, Dervla Murphy decided to document her overland cycle ride from Ireland to India in 1963.
Armed with one change of underwear and a .25 automatic pistol for protection, she set off across Istanbul and the remote Afghan passes, in search of the Great Unknown.
By any standard, the six-month feat was a dangerous one. Murphy was attacked by wolves in Bulgaria at one point, and had to fire a warning shot when a man attempted to assault her in Azerbaijan.
But the so-called “Dunkirk to Delhi” adventure – captured in Murphy’s bestselling account Full Tilt – was the starting point of her lifelong career wandering the globe, spanning half a century and more than 20 travel books.
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For Murphy, travelling is more of a calling than a challenge: “People are born with wanderlust. It’s a pretty strong instinct”. When she herself first left Ireland, she wanted to travel so badly, she was “like an elastic stretched to breaking point”.
Now 86, the adventurist has some sage advice for modern travellers.
“The one thing I’d advise people to do is never to take a mobile phone or a computer or a gadget with them on their journeys,” she tells the Telegraph in a new interview.
According to Murphy, full cultural immersion – where you eat and sleep like the locals – is the key to any true road trip. And technology, naturally, forms a barrier in this process.
Even back in the 1960s, Murphy was astonished to come across foreigners on her travels who had never actually spoken to local people, let alone entered their homes.
“For them, travel is more a going away from rather than going toward,” she noted at the time. “They seem empty and unhappy and bewildered and pathetically anxious for companionship, yet are afraid to commit themselves to any ideal or cause or other individual.”
Whether she’s hiking the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia or cycling across Laos, Murphy’s own adventures have always played out on a slower sphere, which has no doubt helped with her quest to live local.
“I have never learned to drive, because I hate cars and I love bicycles,” she says, adding in another interview that “you never want your travelling to be too easy.”
Above all, Murphy’s greatest asset for solo adventure appears to be a fierce independent streak.
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“I never get lonely. Ever. I don’t know what it feels like,” she tells the Irish Times. “When I have company I enjoy it, but essentially I’m a solitary person […] I suppose there are some women who don’t mind being dependent on a partner or husband, but I couldn’t imagine doing that.”
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