Not all who wander are lost


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Not all who wander are lost


When travelling, people often ask the same questions e.g. "how long you away for?", "where are you going?", "what are you planning to do when you get there?". In contrast, people from back home might say: "when are you going to settle down?" and "what are you going to do when you get back to the real world?". A traveller often gets asked more questions about their adventures by locals and others they meet on the road, than family and friends. I remember one trip, returning after touring the USA, seeing 33 states, and some people won't even ask how it went, were others might feel obliged to ask: "Was your trip any good?". In response, I'd say: "The whole trip was amazing, but I definitely have some favourite places." Rather than continue the natural progression of the conversation, thinking they'd ask more questions, it'd stop with a: "Oh that sounds good." A 4 month trip, is cut short by a 30 second conversation. Yet a curious stranger will talk to you for hours/days; someone who is genuinely interested and 'gets' your lifestyle.

I accept that the friends you make when you are younger, don't necessarily mean friends for life, or the boyfriend you have when you are 18 years old, doesn't lead to marriage; people change and the chances are, you will often grow apart from the people you know as you get older. People tend to associate themselves with others that they have things in common with and thus when we hit our 20s and out of the educational playground, life takes us in different directions and friendships. 

I used to fit into the social norm - I went to University, then had the serious job in the professional corporate world, had the rented apartment in the city centre trying to save up for the mortgage 'dream', whilst also spending too much on drinking at the weekends. I lived a ordinary 20-something life, but I questioned whether I actually liked it that way, or was it because I wasn't brave enough to burst the bubble? Then, one day, I looked around the office and realised how miserable everyone was and how my naive Ally McBeal fantasy hadn't panned out the way I thought. This life wasn't for me.

Indeed, people think you tend to fall into this travelling lifestyle, but you don't. You choose it, and work hard for it too. I choose to hand in my notice, buy a plane ticket and three weeks later I was volunteering in Uganda, the start of my African adventure. When I came back, I 'd had a taste of how I wanted my life to be: lack of responsibility, lack of possessions, lack of monotony, and a whole lot of 'mores'. No longer did I feel the need to want that mortgage, or settle down, get married and have the 2.4 children. Over the years I have naturally drifted from a few people, but have gained many more friendships as my common ground has shifted.

Sometimes, people will say: "I wish I could do what you do." Then when I say, "why not?", their answer is often associated with fear of finding a job when they get back, or financing the trip in the first place. 

Sometimes, people will say: “I wish I could do what you do.” Then I say, “why not?”

I can understand these concerns as I had them too at one point, but now, I'm confident enough that I'll always manage to get a job when needed (even if it's not exactly what I want). I'm open to the other possibilities and remain flexible. But, it's still JUST a job to me; to fund the life I want and not let it define me as so many people let it be.

As for financing the trip, this just comes down prioritising and what really matters to you. It can be done, with patience, determination and seeing the bigger picture at the end of it all. In our society, most people are in a rush and want things almost instantly. Saving takes time and sacrificing the things you often like and are used to. 

The strange thing is, I've said to people in the past: "Hypothetically speaking, what would you do if I gave you $50k?". Hardly anyone would say they'd quit their jobs and spend every last penny on seeing as many places and doing as many things as possible. It's often: "I'd use it as a deposit on getting a house", "pay off the mortgage", "buy a new car", or "buy designer clothes". People like the idea of travelling, but in reality they are content with their annual 2 week holiday, in their all-inclusive resort somewhere in the Mediterranean (the common trip for the British). There's nothing wrong in that and I'll genuinely 'like' pictures on Facebook of friend's holiday snaps with their family in Tenerife. I am very much of the opinion, that if you are happy, then I am happy for you. I also understand their priorities, as I had the same goals/desires once too.

So, why if I get other people's situations, do they not understand my lifestyle choices? I've never been one to care what people think of me and what I do, but it's more a discussion on the opinions of social norm vs people who live their lives out of a backpack that fascinates me. Now that I've been living this nomadic existence for sometime (outside of the 'acceptable' college gap years), having sporadic jobs as and when needed, people are starting to question what I am running away from or why I am escaping life…or rather, their understanding of life. A long-term traveller must lack education, can't hold down a job, and/or is trying to find something (that they'll most likely never find). I am none of those. I do this, because I can. Because I looked at my life, didn't like what I was doing and had become, and decided to have the balls to change it. Going to a different country won't necessarily make your life any better; I have known many people 'escaping' to Australia to live very similar lives they had back in the UK. 95% of people live the same week over and over again. Office work is often the same everywhere. 9-5 work either works for you or it doesn't. What I seek is something different. The path of life for the vast majority of us follows the same boring trend and I’ve just no motivation for it. I want to see every corner of the world, not be stuck somewhere behind a desk, even if it's in a hotter climate. That to me is not travelling; it's just a different post code.

I've always been an explorer, an adventurer, a curious soul. Yet breaking the mould can often be interpreted as someone who is lost in themselves, having no purpose or direction. I think it's quite the opposite. We travel to experience new things and live on our own terms. I'm a traveller who is running towards something too; it may not be the social steps one must take by the age of 30, but it's still a direction i.e. a purpose to see the world, try new sports, learn a new skill, see new cultures, testing oneself, breaking barriers, tasting new cuisines, and making a difference. If by 'lost' it means looking for the right choice for myself given the options I have open to me, then I suppose I am, but I would disagree that I am lost because I have an unconventional lifestyle. I'm exactly where I want to be, living life according to how I want it, not persuaded or defined by my culture. I will not compromise for anyone, as to change for others is to lie to yourself. I don't want to be that person who regrets not doing these things, rather I want to live for the now and deal with the consequences later.

Travelling makes you realise how short life is

I have always said that travelling doesn't make you an interesting person, you either are or you aren't to begin with, but what it does do is make you realise how life is short, how there is a big world out there, and there's a lot to see and do. When you live this existence, time goes out the window, weekends are no longer defined, every night can be a Friday night. This is what makes me happy. Not everyone requires the same stability of driving back every night after work to the same house, the security of having their post go to an address, or the comfort of watching their weekly shows on television.

However, I am under no illusion that I'll probably have new desires and dreams as I get older and maybe I'll be living a different life in 10 years time. Maybe, I'll crave the security, so many of us have been conditioned to want/need. It's likely. But, what if I don't? Will I still be a lost then, or will I still be living a life on my terms, not following the pack? This 'phase' in my life then becomes an actual existence. Who knew?! For I believe that breaking the mould does not equate to a wanderer who is lost, especially those who seek truth beyond definition, beyond the image, and beyond the tradition.


San Blas Islands


San Blas Islands


WHAT''S IT ALL ABOUT?

If you decide to take a boat from Panama to Colombia (or even vice-versa) you’ll have 2-3 days island hopping in the beautiful San Blas islands of Panama, exploring postcard picture perfect islands, snorkelling some of the clearest waters you'll see on earth, sunbathing on the deck of your yacht, eating fresh seafood by night, and experiencing the traditional lifestyle of the Kuna Islanders.  Then there's the 30-50 hour journey across the ocean to Cartagena.  This can be a love or hate situation for people, who either relish the idea of playing Jack Sparrow, after the rush from their Caribbean island hopping adventure, or just want to it to be over with after the first rocky nights sleep, suffering from seasickness, over sun-exposure and exhaustion. 

Most boats go from Panama to Cartagena, but some captains also offer a trip to the Panama/Colombia border which is a 4-5 day trip where you’ll sail through the entire group of islands and finish in the Colombian town of Sapzurro, avoiding the dreaded 2 day open ocean crossing.  From there you’ll take a lancha to Carpurgana, a speedboat to Turbo and then buses to Cartagena, Medellin or wherever you’re going.  Most prices for this sailing experience are between $450 and $500pp. It’ll then take another day or so and $85pp to reach your destination. The area around Carpurgana is beautiful and known as a secluded Colombian beach resort town. There are very reasonably priced hotels and budget hostels there and transport to Turbo leaves at 7.30am each morning for $25 each and takes 2hrs.  This trip actually looked good, but we don't know anyone who took it, probably due to the presumed hassle at the end?!

The actual sailing route through the San Blas islands and where you anchor is totally dependent on the Captains, they all have their favourite spots and Kuna families that they know.  Expect great snorkelling sites, beautiful beaches and meeting local indigeneous tribes.  NB.  Our friends reported that some islands had issues with trash.

Some trips are also very party-led.  Everyone on our boat was aged between 25 - 35.  On our first night, our boat polished off every last bottle of rum everyone had brought we them.  The second night was the obligatory 'getting know each other' and card games.  Then it just turned soar and awkward between everyone when the boat broke down and pleasantries went out the window.  However, our friends were on a boat which was much more relaxed and mellow and had an older crowd.  They enjoyed it all the same (probably because they didn't have the drama onboard like ours).  What to read what went on?

We booked through Mamallena hostel.  See their site for boat reviews and departure dates.  Email to make a reservation.  You need to be booking a few weeks before to secure a place, and depending on the high season (December to January) and boat, that maybe up to a month.  Everyone on our boat booked less than a week to go, including ourselves.  Many people cancel, despite their $50usd pp deposit, so it's worth checking back if you are after a particular boat.

WHAT''S IT ALL ABOUT?

If you decide to take a boat from Panama to Colombia (or even vice-versa) you’ll have 2-3 days island hopping in the beautiful San Blas islands of Panama, exploring postcard picture perfect islands, snorkelling some of the clearest waters you'll see on earth, sunbathing on the deck of your yacht, eating fresh seafood by night, and experiencing the traditional lifestyle of the Kuna Islanders.  Then there's the 30-50 hour journey across the ocean to Cartagena.  This can be a love or hate situation for people, who either relish the idea of playing Jack Sparrow, after the rush from their Caribbean island hopping adventure, or just want to it to be over with after the first rocky nights sleep, suffering from seasickness, over sun-exposure and exhaustion. 

Most boats go from Panama to Cartagena, but some captains also offer a trip to the Panama/Colombia border which is a 4-5 day trip where you’ll sail through the entire group of islands and finish in the Colombian town of Sapzurro, avoiding the dreaded 2 day open ocean crossing.  From there you’ll take a lancha to Carpurgana, a speedboat to Turbo and then buses to Cartagena, Medellin or wherever you’re going.  Most prices for this sailing experience are between $450 and $500pp. It’ll then take another day or so and $85pp to reach your destination. The area around Carpurgana is beautiful and known as a secluded Colombian beach resort town. There are very reasonably priced hotels and budget hostels there and transport to Turbo leaves at 7.30am each morning for $25 each and takes 2hrs.  This trip actually looked good, but we don't know anyone who took it, probably due to the presumed hassle at the end?!

The actual sailing route through the San Blas islands and where you anchor is totally dependent on the Captains, they all have their favourite spots and Kuna families that they know.  Expect great snorkelling sites, beautiful beaches and meeting local indigeneous tribes.  NB.  Our friends reported that some islands had issues with trash.

Some trips are also very party-led.  Everyone on our boat was aged between 25 - 35.  On our first night, our boat polished off every last bottle of rum everyone had brought we them.  The second night was the obligatory 'getting know each other' and card games.  Then it just turned soar and awkward between everyone when the boat broke down and pleasantries went out the window.  However, our friends were on a boat which was much more relaxed and mellow and had an older crowd.  They enjoyed it all the same (probably because they didn't have the drama onboard like ours).  What to read what went on?

We booked through Mamallena hostel.  See their site for boat reviews and departure dates.  Email to make a reservation.  You need to be booking a few weeks before to secure a place, and depending on the high season (December to January) and boat, that maybe up to a month.  Everyone on our boat booked less than a week to go, including ourselves.  Many people cancel, despite their $50usd pp deposit, so it's worth checking back if you are after a particular boat.

THE COST:

Prices currently range from $395 to $600 pp, depending on the boat size, quality and the captain.  Please know that a cheaper boat does not mean a lower standard of trip, it just means a captain with lower operating costs.  We paid $575 pp with the Maly boat and captain Jules and it was not worth the money, especially considering what other people got for their money, who paid less.  The quality of the boats varies - we got a yacht, but our friends were on a Catamaran (the Anapa, which they highly recommend).  Despite our experience, we would still recommend the trip, as flight prices are often around $400pp, plus hostels and food costs for 5 days, so if you do the maths, it would probably make the latter option more costly.  Research your boat beforehand here.

WHAT DO YOU GET FOR YOUR MONEY?

The price of the trip includes all meals (it should be breakfast, lunch and dinner), water departure fees and taxes. Food quality and quantity varies boat to boat, and even day to day. For the first 3 days, we had lobster dinners, apertizers, huge breakfast platters, plenty of snacks, then by day 4 it had swindled to only 2 very basic meals a day, no variety and poor quality, and small portions. Not good. We therefore would NOT recommend anyone to go with our boat (Maly) or our Captain (Jules). Our friends had 5 days of fairly consistent meals (nothing lavish, but nothing vile either), so it completely depends on the luck of the draw with the boat, captain and first mate.

All boats accommodate Vegetarians, Kosher, etc, but you will have to let the Captain or booking agent (e.g. Mamallena hostel) know before you get on, so they can get supplies in Panama City. 

For drinks, water, coffee and tea is included, but you'll have to bring your own alcohol (most people brought rum and beers with them) and carbonated drinks. Everyone on our boat didn't bring enough to last 5 days, so it's worth considering how much you actually need. We were rationing coke by day 3. There should be a cooler box onboard to keep drinks cool (but not cold). You're lucky if you get ice. Take a small water bottle to refill on-board or you will probably find drinking hard when it gets bumpy.

We brought a few snacks with us, but the first 3 days it was not needed, as our potions were big. However, on days 4-6 (we had an extra day as our boat broken down) it was definitely needed. Everyone was starving.

EXTRAS:

The captain of the boat will take care of all immigration requirements and these costs are included in the price. 

Snorkeling gear is included in every trip, but the quality will vary from captain to captain and quantity will also vary, often one between two people. We brought our own with us and advise others to do the same, so aren't waiting around or on a time limit to explore that shipwreck quickly. We can't advise where to purchase a snorkelling set, but they cost about $15usd in Panama. We heard from fellow passengers that they were over-priced and hard to find in Panama City though.

Fishing gear is also included but expect this to be just a line and lure being pulled by the boat as you are sailing.

What the trip does NOT include is the transport costs to reach the boat. There are a couple of departure points but the majority of sailboats in Panama are currently leaving from the San Blas islands themselves. We departed from El Porvenir, which required a 4WD 2 hour journey for $30usd pp, again organised by Mamallena Hostel. We know others who departed from Portobelo and Puerto Lindo and they decided to take buses and taxis (it worked out cheaper, but more hassle). It's about 1.5 hours from Colon City (or 3 hours from Panama City). If you pay direct with Mamamllena, keep hold of the receipt, to prove to the driver you paid.

You will also have to pay the national park entry of $15usd pp and some entrance fee (not entirely sure what that was for) of $2usd pp.

FURTHER MONEY ADVICE:

There is no opportunity to get money once you leave Panama City, or Cartagena, if you're coming from Columbia. As you'd expect, there are also no ATMS on the islands and the ports, so make sure you have enough to carry you through to the other side. We estimate about $100usd pp will cover you until you get to a bank or Bureau de Change. Not every boat goes to the main ports of Cartagena or Turbo, so additional money will probably be needed. Some (seemingly cheaper at first) boat trips camp on the islands and small fees are required here too.  Remember to take small dollar bills.  Like everyone else on our boat, we just spent money stocking up the beer cooler (which wasn't much, as we brought alcohol with us). We only ended up spending $5usd each in the end, but needed the money for a hostel when we got into the port on the otherside.

Payment for the trip is made in cash only and collected by the captain once you are on-board. It is advisable to start withdrawing money from an ATM a few days before so that there are no last minute worries as some banks set withdrawal limits lower than what you need for the trip. Ours (Natwest bank) is capped at $400usd a day for example.

FINAL ADVICE:

Captains will collect payment and passports when you arrive at the boat, and you will not see your passport again until your hostel in Cartagena, but don ́t worry as this is normal procedure. You should also get a brief tour of the boat and safety instruction in case of emergencies, but we never got one.

Some people have cabins and some people slept in the saloon of the yacht on sofas. I'd recommend clarifying this with the booking agent, so if you know you are in the saloon you can ask for a discount. You'll probably get around $25pp off the original price.

A couple of boats offer daily showers but for most trips the only chance of having some sort of wash is in the sea.

Once on-board, the Captain will stow away your large bags, leaving you with your day pack and all the essentials you will need for the trip. It is better to organise your bags before you depart as this will save on time. You'll likely just need board shorts/bikini, some type of music device, camera, books, sea sickness tablets, sunscreen (a high factor), a couple of t-shirts for the evening.

Inside the boat can get incredibly hot, with no air-con and lack of fans, so expect to be spending a lot of time on deck.

As these are backpacker trips, there's no being waited on and you may have to help out with cleaning and cooking duties, but we didn't have to on our boat.

All boats state that they are anti-drugs, but you'll find most captains smoke pot. It's up to you if you want to risk it, but no-one checks your bags leaving Panama, or when you get into Columbia. You literally get on a boat at one side and get off it at the other. Remember that the captain takes your passport and gets it stamped, etc and you get it back from Mamallena hostel at the other side, so there's no immigration to pass through. Strange system, I know.

And finally, we really hope you have an epic time sailing through some of the most untouched islands in the Caribbean at a snip of the price those cruises usually offer.  The first 3 days for us, was one of the highlights of our Central America leg.  Explore.  Experience.  Enjoy.

Email: mamallenapa@yahoo.com to make a reservation.


Best Worst Nights Sleep


Best Worst Nights Sleep


It's fairly common knowledge that long-term travelling on a budget is going to inevitably lead to some restless nights sleeps: whether that's those overnight buses/trains, no air-conditioning in humid places, lack of heaters in freezing conditions, all night battles with mosquitos in a tent, spending nights in airports, braving it in the jungle, or rollercoaster boat journeys through open water storms. These kind of experiences, or twisted experiments as I see them, often result in a restless nights sleep, but more likely no sleep at all.

The most common annoyance for us is usually centred around dorm rooms. We once stayed in a 40 man dorm room, that resembled a Concentration Camp, and like a cliche dorm experience there was that one person who wrestled with a plastic bag in the early hours, then someone who liked to see how many times they could unzip/zip their rucksack in an hour, then the finale - an inconsiderate a**e who just loves hearing their snooze button go off every 15 minutes. However, this is nothing compared to those "surely, this can't get any worse" moments, so here are some of our best 'worst' night sleep stories we've experienced:

1.The consolation prize.

It was Golden Week (the busiest week of the year), and all of China was out exploring their country. We had to get a 10 hour train to our next destination, but our train agency had failed to secure tickets for a soft sleeper OR hard sleeper OR even a soft seat. Staying in our brothel hotel another week was too much to bear, so we took our chances with a 3rd class ticket on a hard seat. We've been on a week long train journey across Russia, so we can handle 10 hours…or so we thought. We clambered on the train with 30kg worth of luggage each (that was our first mistake) and attempted to look for our seats. We quickly realised that there were no assigned seats and with the tickets being over-subscribed, it looked like an all night standing game in a train that seemed held together with chewing gum (literally - it was stuck in all the corners). We stood there, for what felt like eternity (not even being able to play a game of cards on our propped up rucksacks), as the train flew around corners and everyone (and everything) went flying.  After 2 hours of playing sardines in the middle of a carriage with 80 people, in an area that could probably hold 50 (at a push), 2 people got off at a stop and we managed to grab their seats. I don't want to even think about how filthy they were. Then the heat set in. It felt like a sauna and everyone was dripping and smelling...badly. Adding to this, babies started crying; my eyes were streaming from the cigarette fumes that choked the cabin; live chickens were running around trying to escape their death; and the stench of something that definitely WAS dead, lingered around the fabric on the seats. 

I tried to get some sleep by leaning my head against the window. Minutes later, Gwyn informed me of the smears on the screen and all I could feel was a sticky substance in my hair. No idea to this day, what it was. We sat there for hours, practically shouting at each other over the noise of the engine, with our feet getting drenched from the now knee-high rubbish floating through the cabin. That's no exaggeration - it looked like a slum, and some of the most foul smells I have ever come across. 8 hours had gone. Things looked promising that we'd make it to the other side of this journey from hell, but then I really needed the toilet. I was desperate. I was 5 metres away, but it took me 15 minutes to wade through the rubbish and squeeze through the people and over the animals. As if I was taking part in a some twisted game show, I opened bathroom door number one. It had a massive hole in the floor, were you could see the train tracks whizzing pass. It was tempting, if the rotten urine drenched wooden floor boards didn't look like they would give-way any second. I'm aware that I'm heavier in weight than the average chinese person. I decided to take my chances with door number two. That presented me with one of worst sights I have ever seen. There was faeces all over the floor, walls and ceiling (that's some effort). I couldn't handle touching the door handle to close it, let alone walking in with my sandals, essentially dipping my toes in someone's waste. I thought I could handle roughing it, but I'd been defeated. Still in desperation of needing the toliet, I wrestled back towards our seats to get advice from Gwyn. All he could muster was: "No-one else has been to the toilet since we have got on, so if you've got to go, just go". A low point - it was either potential death by urine, a poo swimming pool or wetting myself on my seat. I sat there, pondered for awhile, then choose the latter. Hours later, we arrived at our destination, only to be treated with another 1 hour 'going around the houses' taxi journey. I didn't feel so angry about him ripping us off, seeing as I knew later on, he'd be the one cleaning the back seat, where I was sitting.

2.Straight jacket anyone?

I have never been a fan of sleeper transportation and after this ordeal, I vowed never to do one again. Somewhere in Asia, we jumped aboard a sleeper bus for the night. Given the horror stories I had heard about the bottom bunks, people having to many drinks, blah blah, I choose the second tier. The beds were like coffins and you could only fit in them if you had your arms down your sides. It appeared they were made for children - I'm 5ft6 and my feet were hanging over the edge trying to avoid kicking someone in the head. We'd been warned about the potential risk of theft, so I wedged my rucksack under my legs. Then the bus hit the highway. Racing down the lanes, like something out of 'Fast and Furious', almost falling out of the bed and fearing for my safety, I copied everyone else and strapped myself down with rope, my knuckles already white from clinging onto the side rails. I used the sheet they'd provided as some type of makeshift straight jacket to keep my torso in. With the smoke in the air, the paper-thin pillow, the constant honking of the horn from drivers and the arctic air-conditioning, there was no way I was going to sleep. Exhausted, dehydrated and hungry, we arrived later than expected (and I have no idea how). What really capped of the eventful night was being greeted to air-raids in the city. We couldn't check into our hotel until midday or even kill a few hours wandering around tourist attractions, as the whole city was on lock down. Argh. I would've been hitting my head against a wall if I wasn't so tired.

3.And people say holidays start at the airport...

We were on our way to Pampola, for the annual Running with the Bulls festival in Spain. We had it all organised - afternoon flight, pick up the hire car, drive a few hours, overnight stay in a hotel, run with the bulls, try not to die. As it would happen, the flight leaving from the UK was delayed by 7 hours (good old budget airline), so when we finally arrived in Barcelona, all hire car companies had closed up shop. We considered renting one of those airport pods for the night, but with an apparent price tag of $10usd per hour, we opted for the free floor space in the foyer, thinking we would wait out the 9 hours in the airport overnight, until the hire company opened in the morning.  We packed our rucksacks around us, making a little den, and lay our hoodies down on the floor for protection.  The noise in the airport was impossible to sleep through and the ground was so cold it made our backs ache. Then at 1am it went quiet. Relief. Moments later, just as we closed our eyes, some security guards came over and told us (with a game of charades) we were no longer allowed to wait in this area as we were making the place look untidy. We explained our situation, but they were having none of it. He pointed for us to move along.  We hauled all of our crap, found a closed Starbucks and made a base for the night by pushing some seats together. Just

as we had fallen asleep, another security guard leaned over us, his sole role was the protection of those wooden coffee stirrers, and onnce again, we were told to go. We eventually found a little nook behind a lift and dropped into a fitful sleep, waking half an hour later to cleaners vacuuming against our heads. I swear they cleaned the same patch over and over again, hinting for us to move. Playing them at their own game, we gave a frustrated glance back. When they left, we made another last ditch attempt of trying to reach the goal of one hour undisrupted sleep, but, surprise, security guards were going around waking all the vagrants (aka passengers) up. As along as everyone had their eyes open and weren't sleeping, they were allowed to stay in the same patch. How considerate of them.  It was 5am.  We stared like zombies into the abyss, willing morning to arrive. Finally, the car hire company opened its doors, half an hour later no less, reaffirming their mission statement of the customer does NOT come first. By this point, we just wanted to get of the airport from hell, but as luck would have it, we hit rush hour(s) traffic. Don't you just love when a plan comes together?! Who knew that the running with the bulls the next day was going to be the easiest part of the trip!


Travelling couples


Travelling couples


MAKE OR BREAK: TRAVELLING AS A COUPLE

People have always told me that the hardest obstacles a couple will face in their relationship will be: living together, financial worries and having children.  I can’t comment on the latter, but for us, the greatest testing times in our relationship, comes when we travel together.  For the most part we get on, but living out of each other’s pockets 24/7, having with foreign languages to contend with, different cultures, and often long journeys to the next destination, travelling can bring out the worst and best in people.  With dehydration, hunger, humidity and exhaustion thrown into the bag, it can cause havoc with your relationship status and can make or break couples. 

For us, living in a different country is the easy part, but as soon as the stresses of long-term, constant country-hopping travelling become part of the weekly norm, things can get tetchy.  If you can’t find a way to manage and work through cramped living space, get over their annoying habits, learn how to tackle situations when things go wrong or when you both want to do different things, the challenges will be far too much for you to bear, and could lead to the end of your relationship.  Here are my top 10 tips to help make, not break each other, by creating a foundation of respect, understanding, co-operation, teamwork and incredible memories to fall back on when the times are tough.

1.START ON THE RIGHT FOOT

It’s important to have a healthy, solid relationship with your partner before setting off.  If you already have a lot of problems, argue a lot or can’t be honest with each other then it would be a good idea to work on those issues before you start travelling.  If you really can’t get through these problems, then consider whether travelling is a good idea for you to to do together and always have a back-up plan if things don’t pan out eg a contingency fund.  Never budget on you both travelling together to cut costs.  It will ruin your trip of a life-time if unfortunately travelling together isn’t working, but you’re made to stay together for financial reasons, rather than wanting.

Long term travel is more likely to be successful if you have been together for a decent length of time, as often it means you are out of the ‘honeymoon’ period of the relationship and you know each other a lot better, and more importantly know how to deal with problems together and what each other likes and dislikes.    However, for any couple, any issues or resentments currently affecting the relationship will only be magnified once you’re on the road, so it’s crucial that these are addressed.

Compatibility is key.  Gwyn and I both want to see the same places, do the same things most of the time and we view places, people and culture in a very similar way.  If someone wants to traveller longer and live on a budget, but his or her partner would prefer a shorter luxurious trip then it’s not going to work.  We’ve seen many couples that work amazingly at home with their comforts around them, but they have very different idea about trips and have broken up because of it.  Talk things through before you go away to reduce the risk of this and if possible, go on a test run (eg a trip longer than 3 weeks) before hand to give you an idea of how you get on, on the road.  The key is to travel in a similar manner to how you plan on traveling long term.  Don’t stay in 5 star hotels if your plan is to backpack through Asia.  Of course, fights might happen, but it’s more big issues that you need to be aware of and whether you can over-come them together.

Also, make sure you are both on the same page, rather it being one person’s dream to travel and the other being dragged along in fear that their partner will off anyway with or without them.  This is never a good way to approach long term travel as a couple.  If so, you will most likely be destined for failure.

It’s completely healthy and normal to have doubts about travelling together.  Gwyn and I have had this a few times actually, but we also know we wouldn’t want anyone else to be there when things go wrong or experience the highs together.

2.THE GREAT EXPECTATIONS

One of the biggest problems faced by travellers is the disappointment and arguments that spring up from unmet expectations.  More often than not, places, activities, people, the culture, is so much better than we imagined, but not everywhere is going to look like the over-photoshopped pictures your see on the ‘100 things to do see you before you die’ sites.    Don’t expect perfection all the time. 

Take the time before your trip to do creative dreaming together — imagining all the places you’d love to go, and how you might react to the everyday issues that might crop up on the road.  By starting your trip with similar expectations of a place, you’ll both react better to the good and the bad. 

Also, people expect much more from their partners before they embark on these life-changing trips.  Everyone has their up and down days.  I’ve been unappreciative of things before and Gwyn has definitely shown his moody side.  Just accept that you are going to have bad days traveling as a couple.  Or when things don’t pan out, just make a joke out of it and put it down to experience.

3.BEWARE OF HAND GRENADES

Whenever Gwyn and I start snapping at each other it’s often because we’re both hungry and our blood sugar levels are low.  I swear burgers have saved our relationship and stopped one or both of us screaming our final goodbyes, packing our backpacks and jumping on the next flight to somewhere else.  We have gone many days of rushing around all day to see everything and we’ve been ratty, because all we can think of is food.  It sounds basic common sense, but make time to have scheduled stops to eat, or at least get some snacks/make a packed lunch if you know it’s going to be a busy day.

Also, being de-hydrated is probably one of our biggest argument instigators.  You'd think it'd be as easy as going to a shop to stock up, but there have been times when we forgot to plan ahead, are in the middle of nowhere and run out of water.  It's little basic things that trigger nothing into something.  Plus, on a health perspective it makes sense.

Tiredness and frustration are the hand grenades that could possibly rip your beautiful relationship apart and plays a big part in bringing out the bitchy side in someone.  There's always someone in a dorm room who wrestles with a plastic bag in the early hours, or someone who likes to see how many times they can unzip/zip their rucksack in an hour, or that annoying person who just loves hearing their snooze button go off every 15 minutes, which all result in a restless sleep.  In a camper van it's often the heat/cold, or idiots outside who like to play 'knock, run' on the windows at 3am.  

things will be so much better after you’ve had a hearty meal, an ice-cold beer and had a decent nights sleep

Firstly, in relation to those dorm room risk factors, the one benefit travelling as a couple can mean that a private double room is often a similar price to getting 2 single beds in a 15 sleeper dorm room, so they'll less chance of outsiders keeping you awake.  Also research your hostel.  We've had our fair share of all-nighters, but very few can maintain that lifestyle, so if you see the phrase 'party hostel' appear in the guide book, knowing you have a big day ahead of you at 6am, we usually avoid these.  

Secondly, we've found that first class trains and buses are often much quieter and spacious than the second or third carriages and outside of western countries there's usually not much difference in price between classes.  $5usd extra can be money well spent.

Chances are, you'll have been used to your partner's bedroom habits before you embark on the big trip, so there should be no surprises, but in the close proximity of a camper van, annoyances such as their hot foot touching yours or external noises, can drive people (particularly me) round the bend.  Most people don't have the budget to get air-conditioning throughout the night in their camper, so invest in decent fans.  Also, avoid slants, and try not to park at the side of highways where the action finishes at 2am and starts at 5am.

The above ‘problems’ are really quite simple to sort out and I promise things will be so much better after you’ve had a hearty meal, an ice-cold beer and had a decent nights sleep.  

4.DON’T OVER PLAN

We plan more than anyone we know (we actually do full-on day by day excel spreadsheets with a billion details) and we always maintain that a smart traveller reads up before they go. However, with that being said, just because you have a plan it is not necessary to remove spontaneity from a trip.  Sometimes you don’t know the best things about a place until you get there.

Also, nothing kills a trip like the stress of trying to do too much.  This definitely happened to us on our Central America trip.  A long flight, weather, bad food, mechanical problems with a car can quickly change your plans. If you haven’t left enough flexi time, things are going to get stressful. Travel is also about living in the moment and focusing on each other.

Allow time and talk to locals and see if there are special things happening in the area.  Many of our favourite memories have been on local recommendations and believe me, those guide books only cover the basics.  Branch out and if you think you need two days for a visit, plan to stay three or four.

5.SHARE DECISIONS

There is usually someone in the relationship that likes to make all the decisions.   That's usually me.  But given I am often the one who works longer hours when we are not on the road, Gwyn tends to do most of the pre-planning stuff before we go on our jaunts.  When something doesn't go according to plan, we tend to blame each other (or rather I blame him).  So, we've learnt that making decisions together eliminates an eruption of a shouting match.

Be sure to make compromises on where you go, stay and the activities you do. Gwyn and I enjoy a lot of things together, but I know he isn't the biggest horse-riding fan and I certainly wouldn't be picking bike-riding adventures in a line-up of activities.  Don't dismiss what you want to do, for the sake of the other, but work on how you both get to do what you both want.  Work as a team and remember that this is both your adventure.

Alternatively, take a chance and do it together.  It has opened us up to new opportunities that we never would have taken if we travelled solo or refused to try something new. If you are stubborn and not willing to give your partner’s ideas a chance, you’ll not only be missing out but your relationship will suffer as you start to resent one another.  Seeing your partner happy should make you happy enough to do it.

We’d recommend participating in activities that involves teamwork, support and encouragement, such as white water rafting, tandem cycling, or scuba diving together.  Not only do these type of activities give you a fun memory to share but it helps you to join as a couple more.  You will learn to rely on each other’s strengths and how to lift each other to push through personal barriers too.

6.PUT THINGS INTO PERSPECTIVE

We have been guilty a few times of coming away from a place and only really appreciating it when we are looking through our photos.  Always keep in mind that this is a once in a lifetime experience and you might never get to go back.  Cherish every moment, as sooner or later, you’ll be back in the rat race like everybody else.

Sometimes, when we have an off-day we just have to man-up, realise how lucky we are and get over any issues.  For the most part, when things go wrong, it really isn’t that bad.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Remain calm. If your travel partner misplaced something, it doesn’t help either of you to get mad or impatient.  Everyone makes mistakes. Just take a minute to think about it - is it really worth worrying about or even fighting over?  We try to see the funny side of situations and laugh at the crazy things that happen.  Always be supportive and understanding. On the bright side, mishaps make great travel stories (as we all know too well).

7.DIVIDE AND CONQUER

If you are going to survive as a couple, then teamwork is essential.  We routinely employ the 'divide and conquer' approach to our travels, were we split up duties.  Gwyn’s ‘jobs’ are often associated with the van, cooking and taking pictures.  My tasks are usually cleaning, writing, negotiating and planning logistics/itinerary of the next country.  Whilst Gwyn cooks up, I will clean the van (trust us, it needs doing everyday).  The system works and no one feels they are putting all the graft in whilst the other sits back and enjoys the ride.

Leverage each other’s strengths.  Learn what each person is good at and define your roles.  By knowing our roles we limit arguments and misunderstandings (most of the time).

Despite what people think at home, travelling can be hard sometimes.  If you stick together and back each other up, you can get through the tough times.  We sometimes forget that when it comes down to it, we only have each other and there have been many times when we’ve both got each other out of sticky situations.  We don’t know what we would’ve done without the other being there, so appreciate this.

8.TAKE A BREAK

This comes in two meanings.

The first is taking a break every so often, from each other.  It can get pretty monotonous and annoying seeing the same face and hearing the same voice day in and day out.  Getting ‘me’ time is not only healthy, but a necessity.  It could be as little as having a 30 minutes out, were one plays about on the laptop (Gwyn) and whilst the other reads a book (that’ll be me), or we’ll listen to music, go do some exercise or even take a whole day excursion on by ourselves.  Some people need ‘me’ time more than others (like me), so make sure you recognise this in your partner and give him/her space.  By the end of the day, you’ll both have realised how much you’ve missed each other.

The second is, take breaks in the trip if/when needed.  If you’re like us, you’ll want to do and see as much of a place as possible.  We’ve learnt that planning is a good thing, but rather than stick to some rigid itinerary, have down days and just chilleg one day a week.  It’ll not do anyone any good to keep going all the time - moving from one place to the next every day.  It funny how a little luxury will bring a smile back to your face and bring you closer together.  It’s been one of our biggest regrets in longer trips, so learn from us: take your time; take a break.

9.TALK IT OUT

We do find salvation in meeting other people, mostly glad to be having a break from each other and looking at a different face for once.  There's nothing better meeting new friends, who you have shared similar experiences with, can joke about the hassles of local life and swap travel stories.  Despite all those travellers on their iPhones and laptops chatting to 'friends' on Facebook in the hostels, I believe that majority of travellers actually prefer it old school and enjoy meeting people face-to-face, so get involved.  I've met a lot of my best friends on the road.  It’s good to talk it out with other people, besides your partner.

10.ROMANCING

When you’re constantly having amazing moments and seeing beautiful things, we found that many other couples, including ourselves, often forget to have ‘couple’ time and keep the romance alight in their relationship.

Try to schedule in quality time with your partner, where you do nothing except relax and enjoy each other’s company.  Or forget being on a budget for once and splurge once in awhile on maybe a spa day, a candle-lit dinner on a beach, cocktails in a fancy bar, comfortable lodgings for the evening, or a cinema date night.  It completely revives us and does us the world of good, not only for our relationship but for ourselves.

Even a small gesture goes a long way and can mean a lot to someone. It could be as simple as getting your partner a sweet treat from the supermarket.