I caught the moment on film, which was pretty rare back then. No one carried a mobile phone in 1997. I had a cheap point-and-shoot camera that usually never made it out of its case – the fact I carried it that day was some kind of miracle.
But when I flip back through the photo album now (yes, an actual hard-copy photo album), there's the shot. There's the moment.
I still get the thrill of being somewhere new and exciting.
My mate Karl is perched on the back of a scooter. The background is blurred because the scooter is moving, but I know we're somewhere outside of Armacao de Pera in southern Portugal. We're heading to a waterpark out there in the hills, a daytrip to break up all of the late-night drinking and early-afternoon sleeping in.
Ron, a Scottish friend of ours, is driving the scooter. He's gritting his teeth and pretending to be scared. Karl, meanwhile, is twisted in his seat to stare straight at the camera, straight at me on another scooter next to him. He's got one arm around Ron, and one flung into the air. And he's got the biggest grin on his face that you've ever seen, this comical ear-to-ear smile, a look of absolute joy and excitement.
That smile is everything. It's the thrill of youth. It's the realisation that we can go anywhere, we can do anything. It's the unbridled, unencumbered joy of having no one to watch us, no one to judge us, no one to control us. It's the discovery of the world and everything it has to offer. It's the dawning understanding that this is it – this is what we do now. This is our lives. This is everything.
I was 17 when that photo was taken. Karl had just turned 18. We were old childhood friends who decided to take a gap year together after high school and travel the world. We'd been down the east coast of the USA, then moved up to the north of Scotland to live in a little cottage and work on a farm.
During the course of that stay we made friends with a bunch of local Scots, four of whom were planning a trip to Portugal in late summer. They invited us along; we jumped at the chance.
For a whole fortnight we shared a flat in Armacao de Pera, in the Algarve region, four Scots and two Australians, all 17 or 18, all as naïve and inexperienced as you can get. We went out drinking every night at local bars and danced at Euro-trash nightclubs. We slept in as late as possible. We ate churros down by the beach in the last of the evening light. We hired scooters to explore the countryside, to get to the waterpark, to get to another nightclub, to have fun burning around small country roads.
That was when I took that photo, and that was when I knew: travel would be my life. This was all I wanted to do. This was all I would ever do.
I didn't know, then, I would go on to work in the industry. I hadn't even considered it as a possibility. I had a deferred enrolment in a Bachelor of Applied Science, majoring in marine biology – as far as I was concerned I would go on to work in a lab somewhere studying fish.
But I knew at that point that whatever I did, I wanted it to include travel. All of my holidays would be dedicated to travel. All of my savings would be spent on travel. All of my life would revolve around travel.
It's nice to be able to pinpoint that moment – even nicer to have captured it on film. You can't see my face, because in 1997 few had thought to turn the camera around and point it at themselves. But I can guarantee it was a mirror image of Karl's, the joy, the freedom, the untouchable power of youth.
I've spent my life ever since chasing that feeling again. And I still get it, even without the youth bit. I still get the thrill of being somewhere new and exciting. I still enjoy the freedom. I still crave that sense of the unknown. I still ride scooters, too.
The travel world will have changed by the time we're all allowed back out there to do this sort of thing again. But I'm confident that all of the good stuff will still be there, the joy, the freedom, the wonder, the thrill.
I hope to capture it, again, on film. And I plan to soak up every last drop.
When did you realise travel would be your life? Was it one moment? One trip? Or did the feeling creep up on you? Do you think the thrill will still be there post-COVID?