Firstly, it's made me so much more self-reliant and independent. I've also become far more patient and tolerant ( I hope). I love seeing geopolitics at first hand and trying to understand how countries and borders have evolved the way they have, Peter Hopkirk's The Great Game was a brilliant read on the Silk Road, as is Tim Marshall's Prisoners of Geography.
I've become far more aware of the subordination of women across the globe and cultural pressures and teaching that too often ensures women's acceptance of their role. A young, university educated man in Iran told me that women should wear headscarves because they 'look better in them'. Women in Somaliland remonstrated with me when I went out wearing trousers – the men were, on the whole, much less bothered. It depresses me to see how far and fast the aspiration towards materialism and celebrity is spreading. Though I start to challenge my assumptions about what constitutes a good life when I see how happy and content people in developing countries often are.
I used to read up everything before I went and compile lists of must-sees, but I've learned that it's better not to travel with any specific expectations and I sometimes don't even read guide books, other than for practical information and just see what happens when I get there. The reward is often strange fauna, extraordinary landscapes, diverse customs, colourful festivals, amazing places to relax in.
On the whole I've been welcomed as a traveller. Most people I meet are very pleased that I've shown an interest in their country, though in some places, like South Sudan, the concept of tourism is totally foreign. I was warned not even to think about taking out my camera in Juba, where photography equates with spying.
A single woman travelling solo is a concept that frequently evokes both pity and bewilderment. At Kathmandu Airport, I was taken into a curtained alcove to be security checked. 'Are you married? How many children do you have?' inquired the official. 'I'm not, I said.' No children. 'Oh I'm so sorry,' she exclaimed and forgot to search me. Sometimes I just invent husbands and hordes of children, who I've left at home. That story is accepted much more readily.
It makes me realise how I lucky I've been growing up in the UK, even though our current politics are also a cause for confusion on their part and - embarrassment, on my part, when I'm abroad. I'm questioned repeatedly about Brexit. It was all the officer at the Somaliland Embassy wanted to talk about when I went for my visa. He didn't ask me anything about my proposed journey.
I've been on the receiving end of some abuse as a British or European traveller. I've been told to 'Go home!' both politely, in Arabic and in much more colourful Anglo Saxon English. I've had rocks hurled at my bus in Jordan (Sadaam Hussein had just invaded Kuwait and I was one of the last remaining tourists.) More frequently, I've been welcomed, especially, to my surprise, in ex-British colonies, where fond reminiscences have been common. In Bangladesh, my guide told me that it was commonplace to describe someone as 'being English' if they had a good idea. In Somaliland, the locals queued up to tell me, in very broken English, and with very big smiles, that they were once a British Protectorate. The peak of G'an Libah looking out across the desert to the Gulf of Aden is most notably 'where the British drank their tea'.