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Returning from a Year of Travelling

So it’s now almost 2 months to the date since we arrived at Heathrow airport with our backpacks firmly in place following an almost 12 month round-the-world trip. The initial shock of arrival, made worse by the last week of our trip being spent on the beaches of Bali only to land in freezing UK temperatures, has started to wear off.

Our first 2 weeks back in the country were literally spent floating around the house and re-adjusting to the cold, something we have still not managed to accomplish. The following 2-3 weeks we ventured out to see friends, ex-colleagues and generally try to re-integrate back into society on this side of the planet. Having said that, we both agree that some things we will never be able to adjust back to.

The most shocking thing for me when we returned was the realisation of how much “stuff” I still owned. Prior to the trip we had undergone a massive clear out of our belongings, and because we were unsure of our intention upon our return we had boxed everything up ready to go. Opening boxes and discovering just how many items we still had was a revelation, especially as I always prided myself in being fairly minimalistic. With the feeling that my backpack was pretty much all I needed still firmly in my head, I decided to undergo a further clear out and was surprised at how easily I could “part” with items. I was able to easily discard things without the emotional attachments or what if scenarios, and as such the local charity was especially pleased to see us when we started hauling box after box into their shop.

Despite the reduction and now half-empty closets, it still took me almost 3 weeks to wear something from this new collection of mine. It felt strange to have such a choice of clothes, and let’s not forget shoes! Bit by bit I expanded my daily wear to include a couple of the items from the half empty wardrobe. However, despite the occasional use of other clothes there are many which still just sit there looking at me and I still feel slightly guilty about that.

The next big adjustment came with the inevitable food shop. Throughout our travels we had shopped on a daily and sometimes bi-weekly basis, depending on where we were staying and for how long, so thinking about purchasing food for longer than a few days took some getting used to. The mere thought of having a freezer and being able to batch cook with more than just a half broken pan and an actual sharp knife felt totally surreal.

As such the first 3 weeks we simply shopped for a couple of days at a time, slowly getting used to having such commodities and gradually expanding our choice of foods as well as amounts. 2 months on and we are now back to buying on a fortnightly basis, however we have not reverted back to the wasteful ways of the west.

Instead we plan what we will eat and buy accordingly, then with our “menu” firmly in place on the fridge we simply tick meals off as we go until we have eaten everything in store. Only then do we re-stock for food. Unfortunately, my mother does not see this as beneficial, but rather that I have been permanently scarred by budgeting and my travels, and therefore keeps trying to give me money so that “I can eat what I want, when I want”. I doubt she will ever see the point of our planning.

A key part of travelling is budgeting, and if you learn this, it will serve you well in the future. With my partner waiting for his work visa for New Zealand and me looking for work, something totally surreal in itself after not setting foot in an office for over a year, we have to manage what little funds we have left. So, until we have an income we are still living with a set budget and accounting for all costs, something we never did before in the UK and which has not been that difficult to do.

The transport issue hasn’t hit as hard as I thought it would. Not having had a car for nearly a year has not made us suddenly crave one. In fact, we are happier to walk around and use our natural form of free transport, known as legs. Alternatively, if we must go further afield then neighbouring villages, we take public transport, which is an adventure itself, or if available borrow a car.

One of the hardest things to get used to has to be the weather. If you are from the UK you will know what I mean. If not, then imagine grey skies, and this year in particular a very cold and long winter, and no sun. The hardest part is the lack of daily sunshine. Yes the tan is fading because of it, but that is not my main concern. The fact that day-in and day-out you never see and feel the sun on your skin has a rather depressive feel on the brain. You actually feel your body craving sunlight and slowing down as a direct response to the constant greyness, especially after almost 12 months in the sun.

The overwhelming challenge since we returned has to be resisting being sucked back in. Obviously travelling opens up your eyes to new things and ways of life, but as to how much it will impact you is dependent on you. If you do allow it to alter your perception then your challenge is to keep that perspective alive, even when you are the only one with it and there is nothing around you to reinforce it.

It is not a cliché but reality that travelling opens up your soul to the larger world around you. The hard part is keeping this openness when no-one around you understands it. As such, my advice would be, travel and see what you can. Absorb local cultures and let your views change, but don’t then store it away as just “experience” in life. Keep it alive in the little things you do and don’t lose your new found perspective.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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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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All I want for Christmas…

Blue skies, long stretches of white sandy beaches lined with coconut trees and crystal-clear aquamarine warm waters. Days spent snorkelling and frolicking in the water, with the afternoons spent sunbathing and the nights chilling out on a hammock under the stars.

Well this was how our Christmas and New Year’s was supposed to be, that is until Cyclone Evan struck Fiji, just days before we were due to leave Auckland. Luckily, no one was hurt in Fiji, unlike Samoa where people lost their lives and livelihood in the cyclone and the following tsunami that hit in the run up to Christmas.

The cyclone hit the Nadi side of the main island, skirting along the coast as it made its way out of the area. From what we saw and heard it would seem that people have lost their homes and that the general day-to-day routines have been severely disrupted, from uprooted trees at the airport to power being down and loss of communication between some islands.

Our resort was supposed to be on Manu island, just a short distance from Nadi and in the days running up to our flight we were unsure as to what to do. Should we risk it and go or should we stay in New Zealand for the festivities and do something else? Flights resumed just a couple of days before our due date, but with it then came flood warnings around the area and even though in the end they did not materialise, we decided to stay put.

Despite losing our flights we decided to stay in our accommodation until the 27th December and then rent a camper van for a whole month instead of the original 2 weeks we had planned. We may not be relaxing on the beach and soaking up the sun while drinking from a coconut, but we will be enjoying an adventure around the 2 islands, and who knows we may even spend a few days on a beach here too!

However, throughout this my heart goes out to all those having to deal with the devastation of living post cyclone and post tsunami, especially at this time of year.

And so, all I want for Christmas is for everyone to help in whatever way they can to get the people of Samoa and Fiji back on their feet quickly and show them that Christmas is not just about where you are and what you have, but it’s about spreading love and joy to everyone, especially those who need it the most – http://www.givealittle.co.nz/cause/pacifictsunami

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Travelling – the good and the bad

Its true that you can never really predict things in your normal day-to-day life, but this is even more the case when you’re travelling. We had officially celebrated 9 months of relative hassle free travelling, we had never had problems finding somewhere to stay, never really struggled with the transport systems and almost always found something to eat, so all-in-all it had been a stress free time.

However, on our last day in Buenos Aires, that all changed.

We had learned that travelling overnight on a Saturday was not always a great idea as most countries would observe the Sunday closure traditions. As such, we had taken to travelling overnight on Sundays and enjoyed the relatively quieter departures from bus stations.

As we were heading to Mendoza next, a 14 hour bus journey, we left Buenos Aires on Sunday afternoon. Heading off to Retiro, the bus terminal, we thought nothing of the journey. The only thing that got my senses tingling were the types of people hanging around outside the terminal. I don’t like to judge people by their appearances, but the crowds just seemed a little rougher looking than the ones we had encountered when we arrived.

Unfortunately, my senses were right, with only a few more metres to go from the entrance I heard a hissing noise, like a bottle being squeezed. Seconds later I smelt a terrible odour and when I touched my unfortunately long hair, it was covered in green slime. Within seconds a lady approached claiming it must have been a bird dropping and offered me a tissue, however I instantly noticed my partner seemed to have the same green slime all over his trousers too. We stopped for a minute and tried to get the stuff off, only to realize it would be a lost case without a bathroom to hand.

The lady then started to say that the stuff was on the backpacks and we should clean them. I had already realised what the game was here but had not been sure if she was in on it too or not. Instantly I turned around and headed straight to the bus station with my partner in tow, thinking “its bad enough I just got selected to be robbed, but I am not giving you my things that easily!”

For anyone not aware of the scam, it goes like this:

Step 1, cover victim with something such as spilled drink or in our case bad-smelling slime.
Step 2, offer help and try to get backpacks, bags etc away from victim.
Step 3, steal said bags from now double victim!

At the terminal we realised just how bad they had gotten us, we had the stuff on our trousers, bags, tops and I had it in my hair too. Armed with a change of clothes and shampoo I headed to the bathroom, praying it would wash out. Luckily, it all came out from the clothes and hair and did not leave any stains or smells behind. Needless to say the bathroom attendant was not surprised when I explained what had happened, saying “yeah that’s how they try to steal from tourists”.

Once we were both washed and changed we headed off to catch our bus for Mendoza and tried to leave the bad experience behind us. As is always the case you never know what’s coming next, and luckily following the bad came a bit of good.

The bus was brand new and they served champagne as soon as we moved off, apparently something included in our ticket that we did not know about. And so despite the foiled robbery, we sat on the bus and toasted Buenos Aires goodbye with our complimentary drinks!

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Can I please just send my parcel?

During our travels we had sent parcels back home without too many problems and surprisingly they had all arrived. So, instead of shipping our last parcel from Bolivia, we thought let’s ship out from Buenos Aires, Argentina, as surely it would be easier and faster from there.

To save money we always re-used carton boxes to send our items and so we saved up 3 cereal packs, turned one inside out and made a nice little brown box. Armed with our still open parcel we headed to the post office.

At the counter the gentleman asked me what was inside, and I showed him the wrapped up souvenirs saying they were stone sculptures and some bits and pieces. Somehow my explanation and his questions didn’t match up, and he tells me I need to go and get my items certified before I can send them. Let me mention at this point that Argentinian does not always sound very Spanish, so am thinking something is strange here.

Luckily, a lady who was beside us comes up and asks me what is in the box, to which I show her and explain again. She then tells me the guy thought I was shipping medicinal items and hence why I needed the certificate, which apparently involves going to another office and queuing for a few hours to get. Surprisingly she goes to the counter and explains the whole misunderstanding to the guy for us, so we are called back for round 2.

I am asked where it needs to go and if I want a box. I say no thanks I already have the brown carton box and there is nothing fragile inside, to which he replies I will need to wrap it with brown paper. I look at him and tell him that the box is already brown carton, is that not the same? The answer is no, I need the brown paper.

Feeling a little frustrated we go and buy the roll of brown paper from the nearby shop. We return to the post office, wrap the brown box in brown paper, tape the box shut and write the address at the front and back. Now, so far in every country I have sent a parcel from I have used the same address for both, as after all I do not have an address abroad, and it has not been a problem.

So with the box wrapped and addressed we head back to the counter. I hand over the box and the guy starts shaking his head and saying no, no, no to me. Am thinking now what the hell is wrong? He looks at me and says I can’t use brown tape to close the brown parcel, only clear tape or string. I stand there open mouthed thinking you are kidding right? But no he is not.

I take a deep breath and explain I only have brown tape with me, so he says I’ll need a post office box to put into. At which point I think fine, I don’t care just put into whatever you want and ship it out! He gives me back the box and tells me I need to fill in the addresses and then come back to him. On a hunch, as everything has been going so smoothly, I ask him if its ok that I use the same address for both.

He looks at me incredulously and starts to shake his head again saying no, you have to have an Argentinian sender’s address or you can’t send. I reply that I’m a traveller, how can I have an address here? But he just tells me that if I don’t have an address I can’t send.

All of a sudden I feel the bubble of rage mounting inside. So much for choosing a nice modern city from which to send I think. Fearing I may just explode I grab my parcel, rip off the brown paper and say fine, forget it, I’ll carry it with me to New Zealand instead, and decide enough is enough for one day!

I should have just sent it from Bolivia after all…..

 
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Posted by on November 27, 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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