My travels have been colourful, to say the least. A kaleidoscope of adventures across five different continents. Throughout my years as a tour guide throughout Europe and Asia I slept in five star hotels, hostels, air bnb's, couches, boats, many airport floors and the occasional bus stop bench. I travelled by foot, by car, by yacht and by plane.
One time I even fell out of a dodgy parasail after drinking six mojitos for breakfast in Mexico (yes, literally out of the sky and into the ocean. I have a video to prove it). Yet it's only been this year that I have discovered an entire new way of moving. It's not particularly glamorous or stress-free. It doesn't require buckets of money or months of arduous planning. It can be dirty and rough, yet it's the most alive I have felt in a very long time.
My definition of true, unadulterated, sweet freedom is wild camping.
To wild camp is to quite simply pitch a tent somewhere that isn't in a specified campground. Some afternoons we would drive for hours upon hours looking for a suitable spot. You'll want to get off any busy roads and find a sheltered spot with soft, flat ground. After a full day of driving to Loch Ness we thought we had finally found a lovely spot set in a deserted forest. The next thing we knew, we had pitched our tent on an ants nest and ticks were jumping across our feet. It was that day that we learned how fast we could pack down a tent and get the fuck out of there.
Our days would start with a swim in the river, stream or ocean. We would brew a lovely hot coffee and have the fire roaring so that when we ran back from our swim, it was like stepping into a warm hug. Submersing yourself in freezing cold water has got to be one of the healthiest ways to wake up. After our coffee's (which we often had in the nude, totally embracing natures way!) we would do a little yoga and meditate to the sound of the birds. Sometimes we would surf, sometimes we would run 10km. Sometimes we would read our kindles in silence until there was an idea we thought the other person would like to know about. We would often acknowledge how grateful we felt. As someone who has really struggled with anxiety this year, this morning routine was a breath of fresh air. In the 'real world' my anxious mind would panic at the thought of not knowing details, yet on the road it was irrelevant. I knew I was safe, fed, loved and therefore, I was happy.
We always had a (very) rough idea of where we wanted to head but because nothing needs to be booked, this is completely subject to change. Google Maps is your best friend and if you're going off-grid, I recommend downloading the map offline. Switch it to terrain mode and you'll be able to check out from above places that look like they could be winners to sleep overnight. Make sure you have your favourite podcasts and playlists downloaded as well for the inevitable times that you haven't had signal in hours. Needing to conserve batteries for a week means that your phone is only used for necessities. There's no mindless scrolling, no rolling at your eyes at strangers arguing online, no clickbait or provocative news to read. No Netflix, no emails, no distractions. Just you, the essential things you need and endless possibilities for adventures.
In terms of camping food, forget the stereotype of packets of fried rice and two minute noodles. We ate like royalty. We would cook everything from chickpea and broccoli curry to spinach and ricotta ravioli with kale and sun-dried tomatoes. Part of the wild camping experience is slowing down, way down. If it took an extra hour to cook over a portable gas stove and a bunch of hot rocks, then so be it. Pour another glass of merlot and chill out. At any one time we had a selection of cheeses, hummus and chutneys.
Our scrambled eggs in the morning were complete with spring onion and herbs. The chocolate supply never dipped below 50%. Enjoying a meal with someone as opposed to just eating it is something that gets overlooked way too often. We ate when we felt hungry and we savoured every bite. To wild camp, is to be fully present.
I can't stress this next point enough. Leave your camp spot without a trace. The most heartbreaking part of our trips was the amount of rubbish other campers had left. We would often take bags of rubbish out of the forests and beaches with us. It's the most selfish, ignorant act to use a piece of land and not to clean up after yourself. Of all the people wild camping, I'm positive that the vast majority are respectful and have common sense. However, it's often a very small group of people who take advantage and ruin it for everyone else. Please please please, leave your camp in a better condition than what you found it. Take rubbish that isn't yours. We camped with a washing machine drum that we used as a fire so that we wouldn't scar the ground with new fire pits (you can see in the background of the photo above). I want my children and grandchildren to be able to wild camp, so make sure you do the right thing and clean up every inch of your site.
Whilst wild camping amongst 100 year old towering trees in a forest in Killarney National Park, Ireland, I had what could only be described as a moment I will never forget for as long as I live. The sun was setting, so Tom and I set out to explore the forest. Golden rays of light glittered through branches. We could have dropped a rock and only the nearby animals would have heard its sound. We were completely alone. We tiptoed through the forest barefoot, listening intently to every single sound we could hear. The sing of the bird, the crack of a branch, the whistle of the wind. As we were about to turn back, a massive deer met us in the middle of the path, about 30 metres away. We locked eyes and time stood still. After a moment, we instinctively took one step toward the deer, sure that it would be spooked and run away. Instead, the deer took another step toward us. I don't have words for the adrenaline surging through my veins and for the connection I felt with nature in that moment. A few steps closer we both moved. Curious, wondering, animals. A branch snapped nearby, spooking the deer into the dense forest. His powerful hoofs shaking the ground as he bounded away. Tom and I looked at each other speechless, I was near tears. There's a primal instinct that ignites in you when you go off-grid. You realize that one day you will die, and you will become the trees, the dirt and the deer. One day you will be only dust, determined by the direction of the wind. One day, you will not be here. But for today, you are. The next breathe I took was full of cold air, awakening my nostrils and filling me with life all the way to my belly. My soul was electric; I was alive.
Whilst sacrificing daily comforts and certainties, the connection you have with yourself and your camping partner increases exponentially. On one of our last evenings on the Isle of Skye, the night sky was putting on a new-years-eve-style show for us. Every few minutes a shooting star would light up the evening sky. I lost count after we had seen 15 shooting stars in around an hour. We sat on the earth with our eyes to the sky, watching like children in awe. We went to sleep that evening with the gentle pitter patter of rain on our tent, a sound that is second to none in terms of coziness levels. The sunrise woke us the following day where nothing was planned, promised or guaranteed.
And this is what freedom feels like.