It’s fair to say I don’t fit the mould of your average solo traveler. I’m married with two young daughters, aged seven and nine, and I work as an in-house solicitor in London. It’s not the kind of job you can really do as a digital nomad. I spend a lot of time in the office meeting with clients, so my options for adventure are limited.
Despite this, I’ve spent the last few years visiting as many different countries as I can, from North Macedonia to Belize, Kosovo, South Korea and beyond. It’s all part of “Project Century”, a challenge I set myself to visit 100 destinations before my recent 40th birthday.
The idea was driven by my sense of romantic discovery, as well my penchant for type II fun. I’m forever chasing the thrill of finding somewhere new and remote. I love a challenge, too. You just can’t put a value on that feeling of summiting Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, discovering a lost city in Colombia or singing to a Bengali villager on a wooden boat. I’m also a keen photographer and document my wanderings on Instagram and my blog.
Sailing around Antarctica is a standout moment
Of course, this kind of travel isn’t without risk. I almost got stuck at at Khartoum airport, Sudan, after I muddled my exit visa before a flight connection to Cairo. I was running around the airport frantically trying to sort things out. It was chaos. In the end, a Sudanese airport cleaner dropped everything to help me.
Then for my actual birthday, I went all-in with an epic trek to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. The accommodation en route was very basic. We couldn’t shower for nine days and we ended up stuck in a snowstorm. It’s moments like that that have you questioning what you’re in it for. But then you get home and forget all about the hardship. You look back and think, “Wow, that was amazing.”
Standout moments from my solo expeditions include sailing around Antarctica. The landscapes were so vast and beautiful it was overwhelming. You feel quite insignificant in comparison – it’s a great leveller.
I’ll always remember the moment I saw Machu Picchu
I’ll always remember the moment I saw Machu Picchu in Peru for the first time. My friend and I raced up the Inca Trail in order to be the first to see the Sun Gate and the incredible views over the Andes Mountains. I felt like Indiana Jones. Other countries I love include Bhutan, with its spellbinding people and panoramas, and Namibia, home to otherworldly sand dunes and a true middle-of-nowhere feeling.
I’d say that 70% of my travel is solo and 30% with my family. Through our adventures, I’ve passed the travel bug onto my two daughters, too. Since they were toddlers, they’ve joined my wife Sima and I on all kinds of adventures. Nara, our youngest, was just two when we used a car seat to improvise her place on an elephant safari in Sri Lanka. When we took our eldest, Waimea, to Cuba we found everyone so welcoming. The locals were really friendly and inquisitive about our family and invited us into their homes for tea.
Our children are so inquisitive about the different cultures, too
One way I maximise my annual leave is by making the most of stopovers. Breaking up a journey somewhere is a great way of getting to see more as you go. And flight prices are a lot cheaper. You also get to manage jet lag better thanks to the break.
Over the past few years, I’ve traveled with my family in tow to Amman en route to Sri Lanka, Dubai on the way to South Korea, and we’ve also shoehorned Namibia into a Cape Town trip. Over Easter next year, we plan to travel to Uzbekistan together. Not your typical family holiday destination from the UK – it’s off the tourist trail – yet it’s a really friendly place, with beautiful cities and great infrastructure.
You could argue it’s an inconvenient way to travel, and more taxing than sitting by a pool for two weeks. But it’s also more rewarding. Our children have learned to adapt and problem-solve as they explore. They are so inquisitive about the different cultures they’re exposed to.
I’ve learnt from traveling that people are inherently good
Of course, some destinations aren’t as family-friendly due to security issues or the challenges of getting from A to B. So in-between exploring with my family, that’s when I solo travel. My wife Sima is fine with it, as long as I plan trips during term time. I’m very hands-on with childcare when I’m home. And Sima likes to plan a night or weekend away by herself. So it works out well.
To secure great deals on flights, I’m a member of Jack’s Flight Club. Their flight deal emails have been a big influence on my travels, as well. Recently, I landed some fantastic deals on flights such as Nepal for the Everest Base Camp Trek I mentioned earlier, which popped into my inbox. Additional travel inspiration comes from travel magazines, travel bloggers and Instagram. The running list I keep on my phone features places such as Pakistan, Mauritania and Malawi, to name a few. But I’ll go anywhere that I’ve not been before!
What I’ve learnt from traveling so much is that people are inherently good. I’ve hitchhiked across the Yucatan Peninsula with a couple and been invited to play football with Amazonians in Peru. There’s a real beauty that comes from making connections with strangers; it’s something we’re all inherently looking for.
Settling down and adventure aren’t mutually exclusive
The way I see it, travel is a gift that life gives you. It’s also a huge privilege. Just 6% of the world’s population have set foot on a plane. So if you’re lucky enough to have that opportunity to explore, go ahead and seize it.
Lots of people wait until their kids are older or they’ve retired to see the world. That’s such a shame as you don’t know where you’ll be in 20 years’ time. It’s a huge period of life to miss out on. I’m living proof that settling down and adventure aren’t mutually exclusive. Even with a steady job and family commitments, you can make the wanderlust happen. There’ll always be obstacles, but don’t let them put you off. You just have to be organized with your annual leave, and willing to stretch beyond the ordinary in where you go, both with your loved ones and alone.
Our time here is finite. You won’t look back on your life and regret the things you didn’t buy, whether that’s the latest smartphone or a dream sports car. But you may well hanker after the places you didn’t get to see and experience on this glorious planet of ours.
Traveler and photographer Shuo Huang lives in London with his wife, Sima, and two young daughters. You can follow his adventures on Instagram.
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Images: courtesy of Shuo Huang and Flash Pack