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Why travel?

Travelling. It seems to have become the trend of the 20th century. It is a must for young and old alike, something to enrich your life and your CV. Those who travel write about it and those who want to travel talk about it.

Ultimately, everyone has their own reasons for wanting to travel, most would say its to see the world, or to make the most of their life, some may even say its simply just because it sounds like fun. But I have to ask, is this enough?

Can the simple urge to want to see and do more substantiate a long-term travel or do you need more? After all, long-term travelling is very different from planning a few weeks away. It requires you to literally change the way you live to a whole new lifestyle pretty much overnight. And no matter how prepared you may think you are, after the novelty wears off you will have to face that moment in your travels when you ask yourself, “why am I travelling?”

My initial reasons had always been to experience the world and learn about new cultures, before I inevitably settled down in one place and joined the rest of society with a “normal” life.

I know some would say that you don’t have to “settle” and you could change your life to in essence travel forever, moving from country to country for potentially most of your life. However, despite the desire and pull to travel, I know deep down this is not my ultimate goal.

I admit I do eventually want my own house, with a piece of land to call my own. I am not saying I necessarily want to marry and have kids, but I do feel that I will want to set down roots sooner or later. And strangely enough, the more we travel the more I am aware of that urge.

So I ask myself why am I travelling? The answer that comes to my mind is not what I had expected.

The obvious answers do not fight for prime position, but rather shy away to a different answer, one that I had not expected. After all, I was sure I was here to see and feel the world! Instead what floated to my mind was the fact that I want to see if I can do it.

Can I survive a year of travelling, of uncertainty and if so, what can I learn about myself and how I interact with the world around me? Or even more so, will I learn anything at all?

Now I am not discounting any of my experiences or places that I have the good fortune to visit, and I am happy to have travelled for as long as we have. But ultimately, I have come to realise that travelling is more about the person than the places.

Travelling is hard. It tries you, and even more so if you are in a relationship. It tests your resourcefulness and your adaptability, but if you let it, it can be very rewarding and it can also teach you new depths about yourself that you may not have even known existed.

After all, there has to be more behind travelling than just being long-term sightseers snapping photos…

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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First Impressions of New Zealand

After 9 months of travelling from Mexico to Argentina it was finally time to leave Latin America, and head across the ocean to new lands. In this case for us it was off to New Zealand.

Our flight from Santiago, Chile, had not been the smoothest, with an already late departure of 11.25pm, we ended up with an unexpected long delay. Just as we were about to take-off we were turned around and told the plane could not leave due to the air con system not working. 3 hours later the technicians finally replaced the faulty parts and we were able to take-off.

Landing in Auckland early the following morning and feeling a little groggy from the flight, we looked out the terminal for a glimpse of our new country to explore. The first thing that struck us was the weather. Having been accustomed to an average temperature of 25C + and clear blue skies on a daily basis, what we saw was a shock to a system. We arrived to grey skies, rain and a top temperature of 15C and it felt a little too like the UK….

Auckland - Air Pacific plane advertising The Hobbit movie

However, as we moved the through the airport we couldn’t help but notice that this was indeed a very different experience to landing, at say, Heathrow. We were greeted by gentle music playing through the speakers, a virtually empty airport, friendly staff greeting us and an overwhelmingly relaxed atmosphere. It was easily the most calming landing experience in my life.

Auckland - welcome to New Zealand

Continuing on our way out we were met by an overly friendly immigration officer welcoming us whole heartedly into the country, rather than questioning us on our intentions. And as we exited customs the first thing we noticed was a large information point called “i-site” with just about every leaflet you could imagine. As if that wasn’t enough, they even had free phones for you to use to call hostels and free SIM cards for your phone. I was amazed.

We spent the first few days exploring the city centre around us and generally getting used to our new environment. However, we couldn’t get over how empty this supposed “large” city was. Now I know Auckland is small by comparison to other cities, but this felt more like a town in terms of number of people. When we mentioned this, we were told to go to Queen Street, the main shopping area, as that was where most people would be. We went, and have been numerous times in the run up to Christmas and it still feels as busy as a small town!

We had been considering moving out here as part of our original plans and therefore decided to gather some information to fill in the missing gaps in our research. Again, at the risk of repeating myself, we were surprised at how easy it was and how chatty people were. We decided to pop into a bank just to ask about the process of opening an account and 20 minutes later we were still chatting to the manager about her family in Fiji. Immigration was even easier. No appointment needed, no queueing, just turn up, go to the counter and have all your questions answered!

We started to feel like New Zealand actually genuinely did want tourists and prospective new residents in the country. Not just because of potential money spent here, because things here are definitely not cheap, but more because everyone seems keen to show you what New Zealand is really about. I haven’t quite nailed its essence but I can’t help feeling more relaxed and thinking that maybe this place is, as they say here, “awesome”.

Auckland - panorama of the business district with the famous Sky Tower landmark

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The top 5 of Latin America

Looking back on our time in Central and South America I started to think of the best places we visited for value, beauty, experiences etc. So I thought I should compile a short list of the best countries we visited for some of the essentials:

1 – Value and experiences

For me I think Guatemala is top of the list for this. Not only is the country by far one of the cheapest that we visited, but it also seems to have an endless supply of places to see and things to experience. From the must-ride colourful chicken buses of “Guate,” as the locals call it, to the beautiful old city of Antigua surrounded by towering volcanos, to the endless Mayan temples buried deep within the northern jungles. Plus, let’s not forget the colourful markets where bartering with locals is definitely a fun game for both side, and where you can still walk away with amazing bargains.

2 – Relaxation and beaches

This category is harder as there are definitely 2 contenders for this spot, Belize and Costa Rica. However, for a slow relaxation pace you can’t beat Belize. As they say in Caye Caulker, “Go Slow”. From sandy white beaches stretching out into clear waters, coconut trees dotting the horizon and endless snorkelling along the barrier reef, Belize wins hands down. And if the empty country with less than 400,000 inhabitants still feels too crowded, you can always disappear to a small secluded Caye off the shore of the mainland.

3 – Adventure

Costa Rica should again definitely be considered for this, with cloud forests, sandy beaches and volcanos there is something for everyone. However, next door and working very hard to catch up is the underdog, Nicaragua. Although, the country does not yet have the same infrastructure in place that Costa Rica offers, it more than makes up for it in the variety of tours and experiences you can choose from. Whether you want to trek an active volcano, go rafting in the rivers, take a boat ride on a steaming lake or go boarding down the side of a volcano, Nicaragua offers it, and best of all at probably half the price.

4 – Diversity

Although we did not get to explore this country as extensively as we would have liked to, we could already see that Argentina deserves to win this category. In one country you can experience, salt plains, deserts, multi-coloured mountains, immense waterfalls, bustling cities, vineyards and glaciers. Now I know Chile also offers much of the same, and having travelled from north to south of it back in 2010 I do feel that it is a very close contender, but somehow I feel Argentina just pegs the lead on this category.

5 – Living history

Having now been to Peru twice, I still believe that it offers visitors a unique chance to glimpse history in modern times. With a large range of amazingly well-preserved sites and artefacts it allows you to experience both the Pre-Inca and Inca civilisations almost first-hand. Apart from the well-known sites of Machu Picchu and Cusco, there are numerous sites dotted throughout the country, from the museum of Sipan with the incredibly well-preserved mummies and their clothing to the relaxing Tipon complex. For me it still remains a truly memorable country to visit.

Of course if we had to do it all again we would visit every country, but these for us really stood out the most.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Our 10 Money Saving Travel Tips

We are now in our final phase of our Latin American travels with only a few more weeks left here in Argentina, before we move onto New Zealand. So I started to think about the different little things we have done during the last 8 months to try and save money along the way. In doing so I have come up with 10 tips that I hope may help you on your future travels.

  1. Cooking. You’d be surprised how much you can save yourself by cooking your own food, especially by batch cooking. Whenever you can go shopping at the local markets where you can batch cook few days’ worth of food for a couple of pounds! Plus, if you are vegetarian, gluten/dairy free or vegan you will find some countries do not cater very well for this, so cooking is a good way to ensure you know what are eating.
  2. Tupperware. A follow-up to cooking that may seem like a small thing, but if you can prepare and take food with you on long journeys or days out you will not only save money, but also eat healthily.
  3. Invest in a SteriPen. This has to be the biggest saver in terms of the environment and money. You will need to initially invest about £60 to buy one but you will never again have to buy water. I cannot even begin to imagine how many litres of water we would have had to buy if we didn’t have this little device. Instead we simply pour water from any tap into a flask, place the SteriPen inside and 90 seconds later the water is fully sterilised – perfect!
  4. Do your own washing. Again this is somewhere where the pennies add up. I know it’s far easier and more convenient to use a laundry service, but once you have spent £1 on detergent, you can wash your clothes for free for over 2 months at a time.
  5. Take the local bus. In every country there are tourist buses and local buses, however in some countries in Latin America there really isn’t much difference between the 2 except for price. Not only can you save yourself up to half the fare, but you also get to travel with local people and learn about the country you are visiting.
  6. Walk. It might sound obvious but your best form of transport is your legs. Unless it feels unsafe to do so, walking to and from places and around cities can save you a fortune and also help keep you fit!
  7. Menu of the day. On the occasions we do eat out, we never opt for tourist places; instead we head out to the local joints where food is generally tastier and cheaper. Plus, most have a menu of the day which consists of up to 4 courses and drink for what can sometimes be just a £1-2 per person. This also applies to local vegetarian places where sometimes you get more food than you can eat!
  8. Negotiate everything. Generally if you stay longer than 3 days in a place you can bargain a discount ahead of your stay. You should also always bargain at any market whether its food or souvenirs, and definitely bargain for any tours you think about taking. And sometimes if they seem like they won’t budge on the price the best course of action if to walk away, chances are they will come after you with a better price, and if not you will probably find it cheaper next door anyway!
  9. Take freebies. Whenever you happen to be at a nice enough hostel which gives you free soaps or even shampoos, make sure you take them with you when you leave. It might sound petty but we have yet to buy soap in 8 months!
  10. Learn some of the language. It might sound strange but if you can hold even a very basic conversation you will be treated less like a tourist and will probably find people more willing to give you a fair price.
 
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Posted by on November 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Long-term Travel: Comfort versus budget

I remember reading on almost every long-term travel advice article that you should always budget in fortnightly or monthly treats. It had sounded like a good idea but I also thought that I didn’t need really need it. I would be fine with travelling on a budget, not a tight cant-afford-to-go-over-by-a-pound budget, but nevertheless a budget. I could survive in cheaper hostels and buying all my own food and cooking as I go and making our money go further.

However, I have noticed that as time has gone on I have relaxed our budgets per country slightly. I have not yet gone over my estimates, but I am finding myself getting closer and closer to the limits with each country. At first glance I simply thought that South America was just more expensive than Central America, and to some degree that is the case. After all the travelling distances are further and that costs more.

Yet on closer inspection I have found that my daily expenditure is slightly higher. Thinking more about it I have realised that in the last couple of months I have tended to opt more for en-suite rooms instead of being content with shared bathrooms. I have opted for the slightly nicer hostels, and at times even a hotel. This month alone I have noticed that we have even eaten out more, rather than cooking to save money. I even found myself splashing out on an expensive meal!

In perspective when I say eating out, I don’t mean spending a fortune but rather making the most of the delicious vegetarian set meals that Peru has had to offer. And at only £2 -3 per meal it hardly sounds like I’m blowing the budget, yet these things do add up.

So why has this started to happen? Why I am no longer content with the basics?

Well, as I lie on a nice orthopaedic mattress and my first non-lumpy pillow in months, I have to admit that I enjoy some creature comforts, and that maybe if you’re travelling long-term you just have to allow yourself some basic comforts to sustain yourself.

So whereas I may not be up to splashing out on a regular basis for treats, I think I may just have to come to terms to relaxing my ideals on the expenses and allow a slightly higher level of comfort during our future travels.  After 7 months I feel I deserve a comfy mattress, a fluffy pillow and a few more meals out, after all it shouldn’t all be hard work, should it?

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Art of Travelling

We have officially been travelling for over 6 months now and I am still amazed by how many people we meet along the way who seem to think that we are just on an extended holiday, rather than a new life style. Don’t get me wrong, travelling is definitely better than working 9-5 Monday to Friday and running around all week trying to ensure you have everything done on time, to ensure yourself some rest time on the all too short weekends.

However, one thing people don’t seem to realise is that travelling is not just something you decide to do to see places. It actually takes a lot more dedication and planning to pull it off. I’m not just talking about the preparation that is involved in a long-term travel, which believe me is a lot, but the actual day-to-day living. There are many aspects to travelling that people don’t think about, such as the daily management of a limited pot of cash with no top-up options!

When you are on holiday you can afford to take out your credit card and add a treat, knowing you can pay it off with next month’s salary. However, when you travel you have to be aware of all your outgoings and sometimes that means knowing when to rein it in. For example, cooking saves us money which allows us to travel for longer. Another thing is learning the art of bargaining, sometimes even saving just $5 on accommodation can mean eating out instead of cooking every day.

The key aspect though is that something has to actually switch in your mind to be able to travel. We noticed that the first 3 months we were basically “holidaying,” we were in the country with an itinerary and we kept thinking about home and comparing things to other trips. Not only this but our attitude was somewhat different, we were not quite embracing each place, but more passing through them.

At the 3-4 months stage we started to really feel like it was taking its toll on us, we even started to think about maybe taking a break. We felt tired with the constant moving, the unpacking and re-packing and the always thinking ahead to the next place. We were basically burning out.

Towards the 5th month we noticed another change, we finally let go of the expectations of travelling and started to think about only where we were. We stopped planning about the next place and worrying about what we would do and where we would sleep. We stopped thinking we had to fit everything in, just because we were lucky enough to be here travelling.

We still had a vague idea but we weren’t chained down by the thoughts and as such, we started to feel more free in ourselves and embraced where we were. The biggest change was we stopped thinking about what to do next and simply enjoyed what we were doing at the time. We finally started to travel and live on a day-to-day basis.

Travelling has now turned into a new lifestyle, similarly to when you start a new job, and you spend the first few months feeling your way round the place before you start to feel part of it and settle down to your new role. Travelling is no longer about cramming things in to see or places to be but rather enjoying the daily activities or lack of if we so decide. The pace in our minds has finally slowed to be able to embrace travelling and not just be on an extended “holiday”.

Although we do not tend to think about what will happen when our money runs out, it has left me wondering how we would ever adjust to a “modern” lifestyle again, or simply if we would want to.

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Hitting the travelling wall

5 months into our travels and I feel like I have hit a wall, similar to that of when you have been training for a few months and all of sudden you feel like you can’t go any further.

You know you have to push through and that once you do you will get your second wind to continue, but just before you can, you have that final hurdle to overcome.

I have been feeling a little lethargic of late, mainly since starting our travels in South America, where everything is so much bigger and further. Central America had been considerably easier in terms of crossing countries and getting to places to see, so much so that we saw a fair bit of the area.

Yet since we crossed to South America and onto a new adventure towards the Andes, with infinitely more places to see and immensely larger distances to cover, it has left me feeling a little deflated.

Technically we have now crossed the equivalent of our journey in Central America in just a few weeks in Venezuela and Colombia, but we have not even seen a fraction of as much as we would have liked to, mainly due our time scales which do not allow for us to travel at the same rate we had in Central America.

But for me the biggest hurdle to overcome is knowing that the more amazing places I discover around us to visit the more I am reminded of the time, distance and, let’s not forget, the cost needed to be able to accomplish these mini adventures.

In an ideal world things would not have to be decided on by availability of time and money, we could see all the places in the world that we wanted to, but unfortunately for us this is not that case.

And it is this feeling of missing out on so much that leaves me feeling deflated and almost thinking “well what’s the point?” Yet I know in my heart that seeing even a fraction of this beautiful continent is better than never having seen it at all, I just have to overcome the feeling of insignificance that this immense continent imposes on me.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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10 items I cannot travel without

Having been on the road now for over 4 months there are items which I have used all the time and inevitably items which I admit I could have left behind.

I will not count my winter gear into this as I cannot not yet know the extent of what will be used until I cross down to South America, so for the time being this applies to hot and warm climates.

Top 10 items in no particular order:

  1. STERIpen – This compact UV device allows you to quickly sterilise water of up to 1l at a time, in essence making any tap water safe drinking water. Despite the initial cost for the device this has more than paid for itself as we easily get through 4-5l per day.
  2. Sarong – I know everyone says how great it is to pack one but after these few months I can’t stress it enough. It has acted as a dress, as a skirt, as a beach towel, for creating shade and as a light blanket. Am sure I will discover more uses as I continue on my travels.
  3. Spork – It is amazing the amount of times you will need a spoon or a knife or a fork when you are self catering, even more so when you are self catering on the road! This lightweight all in one is perfect for ensuring you have all your utensils to hand.
  4. Packing cubes – This is the first trip I have used them and it has made my life so much easier that I will never go anywhere without them! I use Eagle Creek cubes and have all my clothes split out between 4 medium cubes, this makes finding items easy and helps me to re-pack my backpack in minutes – definitely recommended.
  5. Swiss Army Knife – Similarly to the Spork the Swiss Army Knife allows you to have everything you need to hand, depending on the model you select you get different items such as tin opener, corkscrew, scissors, saws etc.
  6. Sunglasses – Probably obvious but I have used these daily and would probably be blind by now without a pair!
  7. Flip-flops – I did not actually bring a pair with me and only bought some when my KEEN sandals were stolen and I was waiting for a replacement. However, I have to say that for the space they take up they are definitely worth packing as they allow your feet to breathe.
  8. Camera – You just can’t go on holiday or travelling without one! I admit I would love to have a digital SLR with me but I didn’t want the worry of a new expensive camera on my head every time I took it somewhere. Do I regret it? Occasionally, when precision action shots are needed but on the whole not.
  9. Sleeping bag – This was one of the items we weren’t sure about and nearly left behind, but I have to say that a lightweight sleeping is well worth the space. So far it has been used extensively on the buses through Mexico as they are freezing cold, as a pillow in hostels and even needed as an extra blanket when we have been on higher grounds. I can also see this being used even more once we hit colder climates.
  10. Wind-up torch – We bought 2 small eco handheld wind-up torches to take with us. Although not as powerful as the likes of Petzl head torches they have proven effective and we never need to worry about the batteries running out.

What are your top 10 travel items? Have you discovered any new essential gear you will take with you on future trips?

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Decision time

So we’ve been doing the maths behind our travels and as it stands it will end up taking us 5 months to complete our tour of Central America, that’s nearly 2 months longer than estimated.

This in itself is not a bad thing, however, we have a 12 month round-the-world (rtw) ticket which expires on 21st February 2013.

Why is this a problem you may ask? Well if we just had South America left to see then it might not be, but we have paid to get us all the way round to New Zealand and then onto Fiji (one place I do not want to miss), continuing to Australia, Bali, Singapore and then back to the UK.

As it currently stands we would only have 5-6 months in which to see South America, and after being reminded of its enormous size by a world atlas I am left wondering just how we will accomplish it.

The obvious thing to do is to streamline our onwards journey to enable us to see South America and I could live with skipping Singapore and Australia, partly because they were free stop-overs anyway, but I cannot justify losing a flight to New Zealand as that is serious air travel from Chile, our final stop in South America.

Plus, let’s not forget the very reason we are going to New Zealand is to possibly emigrate there, so not taking that flight by mid January is not really an option.

Obviously funds also play a large part in our decision-making and so far we have done really well in terms of expenses versus budget, so if our trend continues we could afford to extend our travels, but do we really want to miss out on our pre-paid flights?

So what do we do?

We have decided that in the worse case scenario we will use Singapore and Australia as stop-overs and stay only 4-5 days in Fiji and Bali, this in itself will cut down our onward travel by over a month.

Next we will try to claw back a few days for each country as we go. If we can get 3-4 days back per country over the course of the next 5 months we might get 4-5 weeks back for our travels outside Latin America.

This will obviously mean taking a few extra flights than we had planned for but I think that it will still work out cheaper than having to buy a new ticket to New Zealand.

These options should then just about put us back on track. Obviously this will rely on us sticking to the new schedule and not getting ill, or finding anything new to see along the way and everything working out just as we plan…

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Learning to Travel

How do you go from living a 9-5, Monday – Friday life to travelling, and more importantly to actually embracing the experience?

As we spend our first “chill out” week in Caye Caulker, Belize, I am starting to wonder how and when does the brain fully take in the experience of travel?

We are now in our second country and second month of travel and yet I feel I am almost going through the motions of certain things. Don’t get me wrong, it has definitely dawned on me that this is long-term and I am not missing my “old” life one bit, in fact, part of me has already moved on to the possibility of extending our travels, if we can penny pinch along the way.

However, I can’t help feeling that a certain aspect to our travels is missing, something I can’t quite put my finger on. Is it the fact that we are renting a place and the daily chores of cooking, etc, is far too familiar to me? Or is it something else?

Before we embarked I had had thoughts of travelling and one day having an epiphany moment of “oh my god, I am travelling the world” and that with it, something more would follow. Yet I have not had this moment, instead I have felt a certain detachment in some respects, almost as if the concept of what I am doing does not actually astound me. This leaves me thinking is it because I have already travelled so much in the past?

I have been privileged in the fact that I had already notched up a fair few countries under my belt prior to this adventure, so are my expectations higher because of it? Is it simply a case of “yeah, I’ve already seen something like it,” or is it maybe because everywhere I turn, every site I visit is filled with coach loads of tours each one taking away a little bit of the mysticism and magic from it, leaving me feeling like I am just another $ to be made?

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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