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Saturday, May 10, 2014

12 things I learnt about me, the world and travelling whilst backpacking

Every travel blogger has the list - the ten things you learnt on the trip, and on them are some great tips for other travellers but one thing remains true - you really won't know until you do it yourself. No guidebook covers your emotions during your time on the road, and no one else can tell you what you will feel. The idea that it would all fit into a neat list is a little laughable but it definitely makes it more accessible to readers, so in pondering on my own recent travels, here's my list. It's all personal

1. You can call it lonely, or you can call it free.
Many people who have travelled speak about bad times on the road, saying it's not all good, sometimes you get homesick, things go wrong, you're reminded that life goes on without you etc, etc -
The funny thing is, there was never a time that I felt homesick - maybe because I don't know where home is anymore but mostly because I was enjoying the absolute freedom. The one time I had a rough week (being reminded that life goes on for the rest of the world) I simply couldn't dwell on it. I was in Sydney at the time, the weather was absolutely beautiful (except one day of pissing rain) and there was so much to see, do, explore and enjoy that I quickly realised that although life goes on elsewhere - I'm out here living it and how cool is that?
(Do I look bothered in this pic??)

2. Big Bottles of water are the way forward.
Seriously, when you're on a budget in Oz and NZ, stock up on big bottles of water from the supermarket. You can get them for $1, the 500ml are approx $3 or more each time if you buy in a local shop, and if it's summer - you're gonna need a hell of a lot of water. So, if you are long term travelling, invest in a refillable bottle - preferably somewhere cheap. I had a sturdy water bottle that saw me through a few countries, I just always made sure it was empty when I got to customs in the airport. Yes, liquids have to be under 100ml - but they don't mind empty 500ml bottles! Seriously, it's such a small thing that you forget but if you're in Oz/NZ for a month or two, this will actually save those precious pennies.

3. The Kindle app really made my life better.
I'm a paperback/hardback book girl. Every trip I take, I've normally got at least two books and generally end up buying one at the airport. Backpacking, this wasn't going to be an option. I downloaded the Kindle app to my Samsung and it was great on so many occasions. When delayed at an airport but had free wifi, I downloaded new books, looked at free stuff, etc. When adjusting to a new timezone it was time to download some more or finish a new one. Queues anywhere became completely stress-free because I had time to catch up on reading - which wasn't happening when I was out experiencing everything else. I've finally come around to the idea that technology really can improve my life.

4. Being flexible makes everything easier
I'm normally a big planner, spreadsheets, lists etc. This fell away when I started travelling because there is no point. I stayed longer in some places, shorter in others, sat at tables with people I normally wouldn't dream of, shared food on buses with complete strangers and I also began to accept that no one, anywhere, runs to my schedule, and I kind of liked that. It taught me a valuable lesson in life - things really are only a problem if you make them a problem. It's plastered on all sorts of self-help and positivity sites but everything is really about your attitude. I also had to pay to change many flights, book other ones etc. So, my advice to anyone else is - get the MOST flexible RTW ticket you can, because anything you lock down is likely to change - and you can do without the $150-plus change fees, even if you don't care so much about them anymore. (When I got home, I realised that I may have been flexible but my credit card isn't so much!).

5. One nice dress is a must on the packing list.
I made a silly mistake when I went to Sri Lanka, assuming that because I was volunteering for a month in a charity that I wouldn't need anything too dressy. How wrong I was! After only two days there I was invited to an evening with international sports stars and the following night we went to watch an orchestra perform. I was really lucky that I had *just* met a great Aussie girl who happened to have a similar body type to me, and that is unusual. She lent me a dress for the first night and I winged it the second night but there were many times I felt underdressed. It's fine if you're just island-hopping but there may come a time that a nice outfit will come in handy.
Thanks CJ for the dress!

6. Make friends with people completely different to you.
I normally wouldn't dream of socialising with anyone much younger than me, being as I'm not really that young  anymore (sad to say!) however I struck up a wonderful friendship with an 18 year old German girl in New Zealand, and we really 'got' each other! Elsewhere, I had some brilliant nights out with two other girls who hadn't even started college yet and it all reminded me that age is just a number when you're travelling. I was never treated as 'older' and even when people were much older than me, I realised that we're all in the same boat, having these new, crazy experiences. I felt even freer around younger people to do crazy things as they absolutely don't judge (something that happens when you're stuck in a rut in Dubai or elsewhere). It lead to some absolutely crazy nights in Sydney and Queenstown and they are great memories. I did draw the line at having a dalliance with a particularly 'hot' 19 year old guy, but maybe I shouldn't have!!
Jessica, myself and Nicole at Wake Up! in Sydney - one of those crazy nights!

7. If you've been up one tall building, you've been up them all.
Of course there are a few cities where the tall building is a must - I'd probably say Kuala Lumpur, as it's the Petronas Towers, but funnily enough, I didn't get up that one. These usually cost a fortune, and EVERYTHING is extra - a bar of chocolate at the top is a total rip-off. I skipped it in a few places and I don't think I missed anything. I guess it's personal, but unless it's got free or half price drinks (The Marriott in Bangkok 5pm - 7pm, Ladies night champagne at the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai), skip it. Looking down on most cities is much the same as looking down on another and doubly skip it if the weather isn't great. I didn't climb Sydney Harbour Bridge as I thought the price was exorbitant, and I had just jumped out of a plane a week earlier for about $50 extra - not much is going to beat that.

8. How I didn't get sick travelling...
Well, my anti-malaria tabs made me throw up on the street in Bangkok (no, not a hangover) so I quit them, however I have managed quite a few countries without illness - Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka included. How? A girl in Dubai gave me this wonderful tip, take a spoonful of the tap water every day in each place you get to, it builds up your immunity. I ate local foods, salads etc, I brushed my teeth in tap water, I generally ignored much advice, if I wanted to eat it, I did. I didn't get sick. Perhaps I'm just lucky or have a great immune system but honestly - before that I used to have a dodgy tummy quite regularly and that was whilst living in Dubai, so I'm sticking to her advice. I did, however, have great travel insurance - just in case.

9. Keep a change of underwear and top in your carry-on.
Amazing when you've been 16 hours in an airport, as I was, in Malaysia.

OK, now I'm thinking of loads....but I'll probably stick them in the blog as I go along anyway. So the last three -

10. Thai bank machines charge horrendous fees, try and have cash changed or USD on you to change before you go.
Pretty self-explanatory.

11. Always have a scarf/wrap etc whilst in Asia (or for that matter, the Middle East)(or anywhere with changeable weather)(and also the plane!)
It's first and foremost about respect. If you're wandering around on foot and you want to go to a temple, you may need to cover up. Some places insist on it. I had one scarf and I had this wonderful wrap around cardi which doubled as many things and also kept me warm on planes (budget airlines with no blankets!) many times. Seriously, my most used item. It was nippy in SE Asia over Christmas, surprisingly, and that wrap was worn almost every evening. Sssh, I moved around a lot, most people wouldn't have known!
That's a wrap!

12. Plan ahead with snacks.
6 hour bus journeys can turn into 12 hours, planes get delayed, Trains may not serve food, you may be on foot for longer than you think. In Oz and NZ you can purchase food on board but it will seriously cost you. I was so lucky in Auckland that my friend's mum had kindly left out things so I could make sandwiches - otherwise I would have forked out NZ$56 (!) for the lunch onboard. I learnt that lesson and it really stood to me in other places: once we stopped for food at a completely fly-infested place - seriously you couldn't see for the flies - and there was no way I was eating there. Thankfully I had brought ritz crackers (well, something like them!), a mandarin and a bar of chocolate. I have countless stories similar to this. Perhaps this is another reason I didn't end up sick.

I'm sure I'll update and add to this but most people have their own versions - about camera batteries, SD cards, laundry bags etc. These are ones I didn't find and that meant the most to me.

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