In today’s Why We Travel interview, I speak with Ben Holbrook, creator of “Driftwood Journals.” Ben is originally from Wales in the UK, although he has been living in Spain on and off for around five years. He is a writer, photographer, and budding filmmaker. He has also been published by mainstream travel publications such as National Geographic Traveller, Telegraph Travel, and a number of inflight magazines.
Describe your first transformative travel experience.
There have been so many. Both of my parents were travel agents so I grew up traveling more than most. I remember my father letting me ride a scooter up this huge mountain. I couldn’t have been older than nine or ten. We found a monastery at the top and hung out with these Buddhist monks as the sun set. But I suppose the trip that really changed my life was when I went to visit a friend who was studying abroad in Florence, Italy. A small group of us took off and hiked around Cinque Terre, staying wherever we could along the way. Drinking beer in the streets and living off bread and cheese. I was amazed to find all these expats who were just like me but living in Italy. After that trip, I decided I wanted to move to Italy, so I started exploring my options. Long story short, I ended up moving to Barcelona, and I still live in Spain today. I don’t think I would have made my way here if it hadn’t been for that last-minute trip to Florence. It opened me up to the idea of just packing a bag and going. I realized that I didn’t need to plan everything out perfectly. I could just go and work it all out as I went.
Why is travel important to you personally?
I think about this a lot. My theory is that people travel not to find themselves, but to escape themselves. It rarely works of course. Because wherever you go, there you are. When I travel, I love the fact that I am anonymous. I am no one. Once you’ve escaped yourself, or at least the people who think they know your inner self, you can start exploring the possibilities of who you could potentially be. When I moved to Spain I started writing and indulging in my passion for photography. This is not something I felt I could have taken seriously back home, within the confines of the culture I lived in. In turn, this allowed me to dream wildly, to chase ideals that would have been shot down had I have been back home in “the real world”. This led me to becoming a full-time travel writer/photographer/blogger, which means travel is still a huge part of my personal and professional life. Sometimes this is good, other times not. Other than the freedom travel gives you to be the person you’d like to be, I also like that it helps me understand what it is to be human. Travel makes you realize that no matter who you become or who you really are, it doesn’t matter. You are just an ant on a rock, drifting through aimlessly through space like everyone else.
How would you describe your travel “style”?
I try not to have one. I’d rather stay in a hotel over a hostel, but it’s not something I fret about too much. My main goal is to see, feel and experience the way people live in the place I am visiting. What is their ‘normality’? Where do they go? What do they eat? What do they do? It’s just about being curious, and perhaps a little nosey. I do however always travel as light as possible. Even with my camera gear, I still only travel with carry-on only. I want to be able to move around as quickly and painlessly as possible.
What tips do you have for travelers to make their experiences more meaningful?
One: Try not to have too many expectations. I find it’s better to go wherever you’re going with an open mind and let things happen naturally. When you have a list of a thousand things you want to see and do, you tend to miss out on genuine experiences because you are too busy rushing from one landmark to the next.
What are your favorite travel-related books, movies, paintings, poems, songs, etc.?
Golly. Anything by Paul Theroux usually does the job. I’ve also been reading his novels recently, which also succeed at inspiring a sense of wanderlust – The Mosquito Coast is a classic. I appreciate that he digs deep into the places he visits in search of the truth. He’s not looking for a nice time or an easy ride, he’s curious about the world and wants to understand it for what it is.
Another of my favorite writers, and greatest inspirations, is Chris Stewart. Having been booted out of the band Genesis (he was the original drummer before Phil Collins took over), he moved to Spain and bought a small farm in the mountains of Andalusia. He still lives there and writes books about his life between working the land. I discovered him by accident (literally found his book in a charity shop on my lunch break) at a time when I was questioning my regular 9-5 life in London and dreaming of escape. That he’d done it even though it had been difficult made me think I could do the same. Start with Driving Over Lemons, but be prepared to be overcome by an urgency to sell everything and move to rural Spain.
A lot has changed since I became obsessed with travel and I am growing increasingly concerned about the impact it has on the natural world. I feel a sense of guilt that I travel so much, and even more so that my role as a travel blogger fundamentally means I am encouraging others to travel more, even though I think we should all be trying our best to travel less. But I still believe in the positives of travel and its potential to change the world, or at mankind, for the better. To break down stereotypes and open people’s eyes. I’m a person whose natural disposition is somewhat nihilistic, and in many ways, I believe travel has the same purpose as art. To quote Woody Allan (if I dare): “The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.” For me, traveling is a way to remind myself that, despite the chaos, pain, suffering, and injustice in the world, life is still worth living. The world is still a beautiful place. A place worth exploring.
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