Born in 1989 and raised in the leafy eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, Nick Johns-Wickberg grew up enjoying every advantage one could hope for in life. His childhood was filled with summers at the beach and golden retrievers, orchestral music and the sweet, melodic roar of live footy on the weekend. A private school education instilled in Nick a work ethic strong enough to override his natural laziness, and his general academic aptitude had him primed for a career in medicine, following in the footsteps of his successful mother.
But just as his life’s path seemed so neatly planned out ahead of him, a series of events occurred that – as the Wombats once sang – “changed this little boy’s brain”. At nearly 18, and with his year 12 exams looming, Nick met his first girlfriend. As he discovered the pleasures of the flesh, so too did he discover the pleasures of live music, partying, and downing four litres of goon straight from the cask then puking all over a friend of a friend’s backyard. Suddenly the idea of studying for seven years to become a doctor seemed unpalatable, so Nick instead embarked on three years of heavy drinking at university in preparation for a career as a ‘journalist’.
It was during these heady years that Nick first got bitten by the travel bug (as well as several other disease-carrying insects, presumably). He backpacked around India and hiked through the Himalayas in Nepal, feeling his mind expand with every night spent in the mountains under that icy, star-flecked sky. His studies concluded and he set off again, this time on a six-month voyage from West to East across Europe. Still, Nick imagined a future back in Melbourne, and when he returned he fell into a comfortable job writing for a medical magazine at the age of 22.
It took all of a year and a half for the office life to grind Nick’s soul down to a nub. Sick of office politics, and beset by the inevitable flabbiness of mind and body that comes with life spent at a desk, he bit the bullet and quit, deciding to pack his bags in preparation to live, work and travel, once again on the Continent.
It was on this second European adventure Nick really started ticking experiences off the bucket list. He got pickpocketed. He hitchhiked. He bought a Bulgarian car and drove at highly illegal speeds on atrociously maintained Eastern European roads. He bribed some police officers and was nearly arrested by others. He was best man at a wedding in an embassy. He lived and worked in a small town in England (legally) then lived and worked in a big city in Serbia (let’s say legally). He even made it briefly into the Middle East and Central Asia.
Although these experiences were exhilarating and life-affirming, they were also kind of pointless, and littered with the kind of low, lonely moments that never make it to social media. A spectacular mountain view was often tempered by a night spent alone, shivering in the car at the side of an undriven road. A wild, debaucherous evening of partying was regularly followed up by a wasted, bored day. Nick’s few romantic encounters were often rendered tragic by their brevity (and that’s not a premature ejaculation joke, you animals!).
While Nick to some degree ‘found himself’ living this carefree, bohemian lifestyle, he also lost a large part of the identity that had shaped his youth. Time spent chasing rabbit holes in the company of hippies and conspiracy theorists instilled in Nick a libertarian, somewhat fatalist philosophy: career work was slavery, planning for an uncertain future was pointless. Gone was the boy who’d had a long-term plan, leaving behind a 27-year-old man who could only imagine his life in the present tense.
When he finally returned to Melbourne in September 2016, Nick struggled to readjust to a consumerist society, a family and a group of friends who expected him – to some extent – to know what he was doing with his life, and how he would generate the money required to eventually buy a home and support a family. Frustrated, Nick turned his back on the web writing work that had sustained him in Europe and resorted to odd jobs to get by in those interim months, further delaying any questions about his future plans.
Ironically, and in a way that only deep-seated privilege can accommodate, it was Nick’s family – the very people whose way of life he had shunned – who supported him during his most pathetic moments. Staying rent-free at his mother’s house allowed him to save up enough money to dream of a return to the continent, and eventually he bought a one-way ticket for an escape in May 2017.
A month before his departure, Nick was effectively fired from his labouring job at a winery (for being lazy and inept, surprise surprise). His pride wounded and his life philosophy hanging in tatters, he decided to return to what he knew best: writing. It was time to put all those years on the road to use by finally eking out some kind of narrative by which to understand his life. He set up a Facebook page as a platform for his lame jokes, and he bought a web domain. It was time to embrace the alias that suited him so perfectly:
The Tragic Traveller.
So, you might ask now that you’ve reached this website: how is The Tragic Traveller different from the thousands of other travel blogs out there? Well, the aim of this website is not to simply record a list of “places I seen and things I dun”, but to explore travelling as a long-term lifestyle, in all of its conflictingly glorious, sullen and hilarious moments. At times the blog will be satirical and viciously self-deprecating, at other times sombre and reflective. It won’t necessarily be chronological; you’ll be taken on flashbacks, flash forwards and random asides subject to the author’s whims. Hopefully, all up, this blog will help Nick find some meaning in his pursuits on the road (and also make lots of money and eventually lead to a book deal).
So thank you, dear reader, for making it through my rambling introduction post, which was inexplicably written in the third person (until this paragraph). Now it’s time to strap on (I mean in), grab your passport and join me for the ride as we explore the world through the tragicomic lens that is my own mind.