Do you love surprises? Or does the idea of getting to the airport and having no idea where you’re going excite you? At the end of last year Contiki sent me on a mystery trip. Mystery as in, yes, I had zero clue about where I was going or what I was doing, all I knew was the date I was leaving and that I had to pack a suitcase. Turns out, that’s all I did need to know.
In the lead up to the trip I had A LOT of people ask me if I was nervous about not knowing the plan. Including a very sweet UBER driver on the way to Sydney airport who just wanted to know ‘who was picking me up on the other end?!’. I told her that I was meeting a group of other people and she quickly forgot the mystery of it all and became excited for me. The truth is, me and planning aren’t really friends anyway. I once tried planning accommodation in the lead up to a Europe trip only to find out from the hotel receptionists on arrival that I’d booked for the wrong month. Planning is hard for me. Travelling without a plan (or one that is taken care of by the legends at Contiki) makes my life far more enjoyable. I like the edge, it’s fun living on it.
I’d been given a stack of envelopes with strict instructions on when I could open each one and the first one was itching to be opened at the departure terminal. I was probably the only person in there who didn’t know what flight I’d come for. I ripped open the envelope and saw…
Kanchanaburi Floating Hotel Special Stay
I was stoked. A few years ago, I bullet journaled a bunch of random things I wanted to do and see. The golden reclined Buddha in Bangkok was on that list. It was one of those mind-wandering rainy-day activities which was quite possibly the result of watching an episode of ‘Getaway’ on TV. On reveal that I was flying to Bangkok, I’d completely forgotten about that journal. It wasn’t until I was walking around the Grand Palace later that I remembered writing it down.
I arrived and opened another envelope with the address of the hotel and that’s when it occurred to me… was Thailand the only stop on this trip? I felt that bubble of excitement you get when faced with a happy unknown. This was already a wild adventure. When I arrived and met the rest of the Contiki group they were shocked to learn that I had NO IDEA which trip I was on. I don’t think they believed me so I showed a couple of the guys one of my video blogs which documented my arrival onto the trip. They were shook, or is it “SHOOKETH”?, either way, they were that.
Ironically, my real nerves came not from the mystery destination, but from meeting new people. I always get pumped for how many new faces I’ll meet, but I do get nervous meeting new people no matter how many times I do it. The start of every trip gives me butterflies; walking into a room of fresh faces. Most people only have that feeling a few times in their lives… school, uni, the first day at a new job. It’s exciting, it’s that one moment we all look back on at the end of each trip to reminisce on how far we’ve all come.
Once the trip officially started I realised it didn’t matter that I didn’t know where we were going. I honestly didn’t need to. I quickly learned that I was on the Asian Adventure trip and my suspicions had been correct – this wasn’t a Thailand only trip, we were going to Laos and Cambodia too. I was glad I’d packed those board shorts alright! I want to clarify that I still knew exactly what I would be doing everyday despite not knowing the full trip itinerary for one reason anyone who has ever been on a Contiki will know—the day sheets. Contiki always make it easy, everything is a simple question away. The trip managers are superheroes and their day sheets are incredible. Each day is planned out so you don’t have to get too far ahead of yourself. Take it one experience at a time and you’ll be in the right place.
Would I have changed anything if I’d known the destination? No, probably not. I approach every trip the same, with an open mind and an acceptance of the people, places and changes around me. From both an external and internal viewpoint. I had been to Cambodia before, for example, but going back to this country held a certain amount of nostalgia. Within myself, I have developed and changed since my last visit. I’ve grown as a filmmaker and as a human so being back there allowed me to reflect and acknowledge those internal changes. That in itself excited me. Thus, a huge part of my adventures with Contiki is an acceptance of the unknown and being comfortable in that time & place. There’s honestly never a dull moment.
I view travel as something that is at the mercy of change.
It’s so hard to choose one stand out experience from a trip. With every moment feeling like the best surprise birthday party ever, I was caught up in the joy of discovering. Between the stunning waterfalls in Thailand, the epic scenery of Vang Vieng, the temples of Angkor Wat and quad biking at sunset in Cambodia—there was one extremely special moment that keeps replaying in my mind: visiting the Sai Yok Elephant Sanctuary.
I’ve never felt so much love from an animal. This sanctuary is a haven for rescued elephants where the locals care so lovingly for them and give them the dignity they deserve. That means no rides and no chains, just mud baths, strolls around their natural habitat and plenty of snacks. In saying that though, I think I now know how my mother was feeling whilst I was going through puberty and she’d complain that I’d never stop eating. Watermelon, bamboo, whatever was in sight, they’d eat it. Elephants are just like boys going through puberty. I could relate. On a serious note though, they are truly remarkable creatures and being up close with them was an experience I’ll never forget. It was a very pleasant surprise on this mystery trip, alright.
A mystery trip was exciting. No planning, no stressing—all I had to do was pack and I was able to surrender to the pure joy of travelling and discovering something new each step of the way.