It only took three or four nights for the stories to begin pouring out. Turns out there's nothing like whisky, a campfire and a captive audience to get the confessions flowing.
Sandra had just come out of a 20-year marriage, she admitted, pouring more booze into a metal mug. The divorce papers were being finalised as we sat there speaking under a dark African sky.
Lucy, meanwhile, was fresh from a break-up of her own, splitting from her boyfriend of a few years just before she'd begun planning this journey of a lifetime. Dave was in a similar boat too, straight out of a break-up. Megan, meanwhile, had quit the job she'd always hated and followed her dreams to Africa, to this road trip from Kenya all the way to Cape Town.
I had a similar story, too, ripe for the confessing. I was fresh out of a five-year relationship; I'd quit my job and decided to travel. I was ready to see the world on my own, same as everyone else here.
In hindsight, we were a pretty sorry bunch. You could have looked at us on our big African adventure as a brave group of souls who had just made big changes to our lives and were following our dreams. Or you could have seen us for what we really were: a gang of broken-hearted misfits hiding away in a place no one would ever find us.
And it's not like this was a surprising tale, either, that we were some sort of anomaly. Travel has long been a refuge for the broken-hearted and the bruised. It's the thing you do when all of the other parts of your life seem like they're falling to pieces.
Travellers might like to think of themselves as hardy adventurers, but half the time they're just on the run from something painful or uncomfortable back home. Going travelling is the easy option. It means you don't have to face up to reality for a while.
I've met plenty of travellers all over the world who have used some sort of disaster at home, romantic or otherwise, as the impetus to get off the couch and across to the other side of the world. Travel is, after all, not so much about getting away from it all as it is about getting away from just one or two people.
It's what you do when your love life has gone wrong. It's the decision you make when your job is getting you down. It's the option you take when it doesn't seem like any choice at home would be easier or more effective.
Travel gets you away from your reality. It removes you both physically and emotionally. It gives you something else to think about, some other purpose, some other mission. Suddenly your day isn't about battling through another data entry shift or trying not to look at photos of your ex – it's about haggling with rickshaw drivers and seeing how many Beerlaos you can drink before you fall over.
Going overseas, to another continent, to another hemisphere, cancels out any chance of bumping into your former girlfriend or boyfriend or significant other with their new partner down at the cafe. It forces you to quit that job you hate while also removing the responsibility of worrying about not having another one. It's win-win.
There's no shame in this motivation, either. You have to use whatever impetus you can.
Though at the time travel might seem like a short-term solution to your problems back home, a long journey into the unknown frequently sorts those things out. There's plenty of time to ponder your true desires and beliefs when you spend, say, three months driving around southern Africa in the back of a truck.
With the clarity that can only come from self-reflection and whisky, you figure out that yes, that break-up was actually a good thing. There really are plenty of fish in the sea. Your friends weren't just being trite.
You figure out that quitting that boring job was the best thing you ever did. You decide what you want to do in the long-term. You make the changes that need to be made.
Or, maybe you don't. It doesn't matter. Worst comes to worst you just have a really good time, and arrive back home refreshed and mended. Bump into your ex at the movies? No dramas. Get another boring job? All good when you're saving for the next adventure.
Travel doesn't have to be a break from reality. It can be your new reality. Sometimes it just takes is a little heartache to get there.
See also: Why you should always go back
Listen: Flight of Fancy - the Traveller.com.au podcast with Ben Groundwater
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