So how much do you REALLY want to travel? I mean, it’s easy to say you would “do anything just to travel”, but would you really…..
I had just returned from working on a summer camp for disadvantaged kids in New York, and a spent couple of months touring the US with friends, so I was broke. So broke that when I arrived in London, my sister had to give me £20 so I could afford the train to the connecting airport for my flight back to Dublin.
So here I was, zero money in my bank account, some minor debts from a crazy time in Vegas, and with dreams to continue traveling. What could I do? I was back in my small town in Ireland, and couldn’t work out a way to live my travel dreams. Working for $10 an hour in a bar would see me stuck at home for months, I couldn’t do it, I was 23 and I wanted to see the world, experience crazy things, get lost in foreign countries. I had to do something. Something drastic. Medical Research.
What the hell is medical research?
In short, you get locked in a hospital for a certain length of time and a company pays you to test drugs on you. The slightly longer version for those of you not in the medical research loop, the premise is basically that huge pharmaceutical companies can’t release new drugs until they have been tested on ‘willing’ guinea pigs (of the human variety). The pharma companies therefore undertake medical research whereby they offer significant compensation to people who are willing to let them test their drugs on you, after you have signed a very large disclaimer contract stating that if you get ill, lose limbs or die, you can’t sue them. Marvellous.
So I scoured the internet for medical research/clinical trials in Ireland and stumbled across a company called MDS in Belfast, about a 90 minute drive from my hometown. They were running a medical test that lasted 5 weeks. I called up and enquired.
Basically the deal was this:
- You get locked in their private hospital with 20 other people for 33 days
- You can’t leave the room for the whole 5 weeks under any circumstances, if you leave you don’t get paid
- You can’t do any exercise whatsoever
- You can only eat at set meal times, no snacks ever, and you must eat exactly what they give you regardless of whether you like it or not. They have to keep all the conditions constant across patients.
- You can’t have any visitors
- You take drugs twice a day and get 12 vials of blood taken
- You wake up at 5.45am (to take the first set of drugs) and go to sleep strictly at 10.30pm
In exchange for all that madness, I would be paid £2000 ($2600) tax free, upon completion. I agreed, and signed the forms. Soon I found myself going through a stringent medical, got the all clear and within 10 days I was on the way to Belfast to get locked in the clinic
To be frank, I thought it would be a breeze. Just over a month. No probs. I’ll read books, watch movies, play Playstation. Easy, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong.
On day 1 we got to meet the other patients, and it was a very strange group of people. I don’t know what I was expecting, but in hindsight it’s only weird, desperate or broke people who would submit themselves to an ordeal like this so it’s actually not that surprising that the group was quite an odd bunch. I was hoping there would be a selection of younger people in my situation, just graduated high school or university and needing a quick cash injection but in reality it was older, long term unemployed people who preferred to do this a couple of times a year rather than building their careers in the real world. My hopes of like-minded people was crushed. This was going to be a long month.
The doctors and nurses were friendly enough, but it’s a pretty boring time for them too. They take so many injections and blood samples each day from you, that rather than literally inject you 25 times per day, they actually fit a tap into your vein (a cannula), that they can flip a switch and take blood multiple times each day. 10 years on I still have a scar in my arm from that thing.
5.30 am wake up, take drugs, give blood, have an injection. Then it’s breakfast, and the food is pretty bad. It’s a kind of mix between standard hospital food and airplane meals, not a great combo, but this time remember, you HAVE to eat everything on the plate. They can’t risk any factors differing between patients, so if you’re not a big fan of that damp, limp tuna and onion salad, tough luck son. You have to eat it up. The staff circulate to make sure everyone finishes everything, although when it’s particularly bad I’d be walking out with my pockets full of the least desirable things and discretely disposing of it down the toilet later!
On Day 2 I watched the entire director’s cut triolgy of Lord of the Rings BACK TO BACK. That is 726 minutes, or 12 hours and 6 minutes. What a day. And from there, it was all downhill. Remember, no exercise is allowed as it may affect the behaviour of the experimental drugs, so you can’t use the time to get in good shape and annoyingly, I didn’t have my blog then so I couldn’t work on that either. That left me with books, TV, and movies. But there’s only so many times you can watch the OC and One Tree Hill (kidding, kind of…). The days seemed neverending.
The boredom was horrible, all I could think about was getting out. It was literally like being in prison, but by choice. I needed the money so I couldn’t quit, so I sucked it up, and each day ran into the next. The food almost became bearable. The blood was flowing out of my arm at pre-set timings. The routine was set, and of course the days dragged on, but like all things it soon came to an end.
When the last day came, I could have cried. Walking out the front door of the clinic was heaven, I went straight to Subway for a footlong meatball sub, BBQ sauce, extra bacon, a huge coke then onto a bar in Belfast for a delicious pint of Guinness, and then maybe a couple more. It never tasted so good. Actually, we weren’t supposed to drink alcohol on day 1, as we had a check-up the next day, but thankfully nothing flagged during the check-up. I was paid a few days later, and you know what? It was all worth it.
Now I Can Afford to Travel
It was November 2006, I was 22, and I had almost $3000 due to this mad medical trial stuff. The time was right, I was going to change my life forever. Back to my home in Ireland with mym mum, where I spent December researching ‘how to travel the world’, ‘how much does it cost to travel’, ‘traveling with very little money, and I stumbled across ‘teaching English in Asia’. The course, run through Cambridge University, was $1600 (about £1100) AND you could study it in Thailand. THAILAND?! Now we’re talking.
I used my medical research money to book myself on that course, signed a contract to work in China after I completed my course in Chiang Mai, Thailand and booked a one-way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand for February. What a way to spend my hard earned cash. One last Christmas with my mum, sister and grandmother and early the next year I was off. Little did I know I wouldn’t be home again for nearly 4 years, but I’d be coming back a changed man. A traveler, a blogger, a businessman, a free man. But it all started with the medical research. So would I recommend it? You might think I’m mad, but absolutely yes. It changed my life, and for that I’ll be forever grateful. People often ask me now, did it have any side effects. My initial response is always ‘of course not’, but then again, directly after the medical research, I’ve been on a quest to every country in the world, seeking adventures and experiences in ever corner of the globe, never settling for an average life, so who knows, maybe it did have an effect on me! Certainly a positive one.
So, when you say you’d do anything to travel, do you really mean it!? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to know if you’d do the same!