jetsetters: ben of the red rucksack

the-romantic-the-winoWell, hello and howdy-doo! Is that how you spell “howdy-doo,” do you think? It is a hyphenate? Do you live for reading our weekly Jetsetters intros? Because we live for writing them, and we’re sure Ben of The Red Rucksack really appreciates this one.

Cha, that’s right, it’s Jetsetter day!!

The first of the year, in fact. So, ready to meet Ben?

Hi Ben!

Ben West - Donkey

The moment you caught the travel bug: My first trip out of Australia was in January 2000. My sister Melanie was living in Indonesia working as a teacher so when she got holidays I flew over to explore Java with her. I’ll never forget my twitchy excitement on that plane!

Over a month we went to Jogjakarta and explored much of Java together. That trip was a huge turning point for me. With Melanie spouting fluent Bahasa (and cursing at the occasional tout) I learnt that most people you meet abroad are genuine. The big wide world is not that scary. We saw Borobudur, climbed an active volcano and had an absolute blast together.

Thirteen years, a few mini-trips, many failed romances and lots of soul searching later, I acted on my passion for travel when I walked out of a prospering pharmacy business and hit the road indefinitely.

First experience traveling alone: I think that solo travel is something of a misnomer. You always meet people heading in the same direction, or with similar interests. However, I have spent a fair bit of time in the Tasmanian bush alone…as in proper alone.

Ben West - Tasmania2

I once went for five days wandering the mountains without seeing another person. Getting right into your own head with nil distractions is an awesome way to find balance. I always leave the Tasmanian bush feeling rather ‘Zen’.

Ben West - Tasmania

The first time I did this was when I owned the pharmacy, so it was brilliant to get out of mobile phone reception as well! Some weird ideas sure pop into your head after a decent time alone…like the idea to just pack up everything and go.

Ever been (or thought you’ve been) in imminent danger while traveling?: *Three mile stare while re-living a comprehensive montage of ‘moments’* 

Because I enjoy mountaineering there are quite a few sparkly moments that come to mind. In 2011 I climbed Manaslu with Mal, a good friend of mine. Having summited this 8163 meter (26780 foot) beast, we got back to camp 3 just as day was turning to night. Despite being on the move for about sixteen hours, much of which was spent in (Ominous voice) “The ‘Death-zone”, I knew I had to get lower. I could feel warning signs of Acute Mountain Sickness coming on, such as increasing nausea and dizziness and knew that if I pushed on to camp 2 things would improve.


Mal asked a sherpa to join me; then being exhausted he went to bed at camp 3.

I started my descent thinking the sherpa was behind me, but the sherpa changed his mind and also went to bed. I was out alone on the hill!

Being totally spent and not thinking clearly, I wandered off the trail and got into unconsolidated, loose snow. This meant that with each tired step I would break the thin crust and fall into thigh deep snow. Each time I fell, I thought it was a proper crevasse. Pulling myself up and continuing sapped all my energy. Soon I just sat on the snow and watched the sun set. I knew that a night alone, without food, shelter or water, would mean I was staying on this mountain for good.

Watching the sun slowly sink over Nepal was an extremely moving experience, but even at this time I was glad to realize I had absolutely no regrets…apart from a very real possibility that I might not see my lovely girlfriend again!

Thankfully some time later Mal woke and turned on his radio. The cavalry came and all ended well.

Worst hotel/hostel experience: When I was in Rio I found a cheap hostel that was relatively close to the city. I was tired and went to bed early despite parties going on all around. Just as I was falling to sleep I felt my left hip getting moist. It slowly dawned on my that whoever had slept in the bed last had pissed themselves. The hotel staff had just covered the mess with clean sheets.

Once I had arranged a new mattress, showered and gone back to bed I fell asleep, only to be woken a few hours later by racks of coughing. Looking through a smoke filled room I saw that the wall fan was ablaze. Flames were licking at the ceiling, the room was dark with smoke and the situation was quickly turning nasty.

Ben West - Rio Fire

I ran to wake a snoozing night manager who quickly filled a bucket of water and ran to the room. Following behind him I was yelling, “No water!! Electrical fire.”

Thankfully he realized his mistake and we found a dry towel to smother the fire. One exceptionally drunken man in the dorm didn’t wake throughout the entire performance. I found a new hotel early the next morning.

Favorite “I can’t believe I’m doing this” moment: Oh gosh, I’d have to write a book about all of these…oh wait! To choose one, I would have to say trekking around the Peruvian Andes with a donkey. When I owned the Pharmacy I kept a picture of a guy leading a laden donkey through mountains. This served as a reminder of what I really wanted out of life, not money and things but experiences. While frantically selling drugs to people who <mostly> wouldn’t need them if they looked after themselves, I dreamt of heading off into the unknown with my laden donkey.

I don’t know why I fixated on the donkey thing; it might be something to do with a Tintin book I read as a child.

Nine months after I sold the business, I wound up trekking the Cordiella Huayhuash region of Peru. I was struggling big time with the altitude…I had headaches, nausea…all that fun stuff. As I came over a ridge-line the entire Andes were splayed out in front of me like some vibrant painting. I had long forgotten about the donkey photo but as I watched condors playing on thermals the memory came rushing back.

Pinching myself, I realized I was finally inside my photo! The colorful life I had always dreamt of was my reality.

If you liked Ben’s storytelling, be sure to check out all the tales in his book, The Red Rucksackavailable now. I mean, he required us to read part of an answer above in an ominous voice, so we’re pretty sure it’s good.

And, if you want to be a Jetsetter just like Ben, get at us. We’ll be waaaaiiiiiiting.


the romantic & the wino



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