Tag Archives: travel

Stop being lazy and ignorant! Learn the Language!

It is a really sad thing when you come across people who have been travelling in a country for a substantial amount of time or have moved there to study and after three months of being in that country, they have made no effort whatsoever to learn any of the language. For me it is something that just happens. I am interested in it. I want to learn. While I don’t profess to be able to speak any languages fluently, I am quite proficient in Spanish after spending 8 months in Central America and then another 8 months in South America, where I returned to Spanish school to get my head around more of the culture and to be able to connect with more of the people here. I do not, like so many other, just expect that because I am a tourist, that you should have to learn English to speak to me. That to me is ultimate disrespect towards the people you have traveled to meet. Not even trying to meet them halfway in their own country, where I’m concerned, is downright rude.

Of recent times, I have travelled through several Arabic speaking countries and have had the locals teaching me how to say things in Arabic. Despite my limited amounts of things that I could say, most locals were amazed at how ‘excellent’ my Arabic was. And by amazing I mean ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, ‘how much?’, ‘do you have change?’, ‘is it free?’, ‘don’t touch me’ and ‘pigs might fly’ among a few other silly phrases I would use to joke around with the locals. They would literally tell me ‘wow, you Arabic very excellent’. I guess this is quite a rarity for them. But these things enabled me to walk down the street and manage to order myself a kofte on my own and pay for it, and afforded me a form of independence from the group trip that I was on. Most of the others on the group trip looked at me like I was insane for even wanting to try. Too much effort.

Another language that I found super useful was learning some Indonesian. When heading into the wonderful world of Java, or anywhere outside of Bali to be honest, the English becomes limited. I have quite fond memories of really disjointed conversations I have had in Indonesian/English with local people. Especially the three women I met on the bus coming back from the Dieng Plateau who were also teachers and were quite sassy ladies. They told me I was beautiful on a bus full of strangers and they all started hollering and hooting at me. I got quite embarrassed but it was also quite amusing.

At a minimum, when arriving in a new country, you should learn to say ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, ‘please’, and ‘how much?’ I know that sometimes in European countries you are changing country and language every week and this makes it difficult to retain or learn very much at all. But if you are going to a country and planning on spending a couple of weeks to a month there, do yourself a favour and start to learn some language skills. You will find that the locals will be more receptive and helpful to you, and that you will learn so much more than you bargained for about the people and the culture because you have bothered to make the effort. It shows you have a respect for and an interest in the people where you are visiting. And that in itself, will act to enrich your travels and your life for the better.

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Lost On The Road: How To Find Direction When You Don’t Know What You’re Doing Anymore

I won’t lie. In the last couple of weeks I have started to feel a little lost. It is something that happens to all of us when we spend such a long time travelling. For me, I will have been on the move for fourteen months now and I still have three more to go.

The idea of getting up in the morning and having to pack my bag is exhausting. Having to go through the same monotonous “get to know you” conversation with everyone you meet is boring. Doing the same activities day in day out and spending half of your waking hours on the bus is tiring just thinking about it. So what do you do? Pack up? Go home? Forget the dream and pack it in? Or keep going in the hope that something will ignite in your soul and give you the fire back.

For me it took having a rest. I went to a small little community in the hills of Ecuador, checked in for five days, did yoga every morning, sat in a hammock and read, had an afternoon nap, and had a massage every other day. And I didn’t much speak to people. I read about mindfulness and neuroplasticity and tried to apply some of these principles to my everyday life. One of the quotes I read greatly resonated with me:

“Being lost is greatly underrated. It can mean you are in a place of unknowing where the rational mind cannot go. In the way that we need darkness to see the stars, we need unknowing to become a beginner again and engage with the mystery and wonder of it all.”

And so I took from this that it was ok to feel lost. It was ok to feel like I was floundering. Because somewhere underneath the struggle, there was something to learn that I do not yet know about.

But as always and in the meantime, as I figure out what these things I am supposed to learn are, there are things that I can do to make life a little more interesting. And as they say, change is as good as a holiday from your holiday.

1. Take a detour

If all you are seeing right now are cities, go to the mountains or the beach. If you spend all your time looking at churches, go to a museum. Templed out? Go see something different. Doing the same thing repetitively isn’t exactly inspiring after a while. So change it up.

2. Treat yourself

We forget as backpackers on the road to do things for ourselves because we are so hellbent on saving cash every single place we turn. Take some time for you. Go out for a really good meal for one at a restaurant and savour every bite. Have a massage. Go to a yoga class and stretch your body. Have a manicure. Do something that makes you feel like you’re investing in yourself.

3. Ask different questions

One of the most mundane parts of meeting people is the same bloody questions and answers over and over again. So develop an arsenal of different questions that enable you to crack through the surface of people quickly to see what they really are about. It will be more interesting than the “where are you going?/where are you from?” bullshit that you encounter everywhere you go and will allow you to make better connections.

4. Pay attention

People miss the small things in life. Sometimes it is nice to sit back and really take in what is happening around us. Attune your ears to all of the sounds about you. Observe the different colours and activities of people around you. Observe your own body moving through these environments and how you react with them. It will create a peace and a feeling of being one with where you are and will help with feeling lost and detached by rooting you in your environment.

5. Slow down

Sometimes the pure pace of travel will wear you out and drain you of your enthusiasm for things. If it is a luxury you can afford, slow down. Stay in one place a little longer and get to know the place and the people a little better than normal. Remember that it is ok to take a day to do nothing and just sleep, read or rest. We all need to be grounded and centred in one place at times to get the rest and recuperation that we need to move on.

6. Reflect

Especially on long bus rides with nothing to do, it is nice to just stare out the window and reflect. What is it that you are feeling and where you think those feelings are coming from. Having an inner awareness of self allows us to process and find the solutions that we are looking for. It allows us to think, feel and then grow. And as mentioned in the quote above, you cannot see the bright and beautiful stars in the sky if not for the darkness. Sometimes it is good to not know everything. Sometimes it is good to not even know where we are going. It is even better if you can learn to let go of needing to control these things and go with it. The world will often take you to where it is that you need to be to learn the lessons that you need to learn.

So have faith and trust. Feeling lost is yet another type of speed bump in the emotional roller coaster of life. But if you are good and kind to yourself, try new things to stimulate your brain and remember to rest, everything else will eventually become clear. You will find your purpose and direction again, and when you do, you’ll never have to question it, because you’ll have worked hard on the process towards knowing.

 

The Backpacker’s “Fuck no!!”

As a follow up to the Backpacker’s “Fuck yes!!” I decided we would then explore the other side of the fence with those moments of travel where you are thinking to yourself ‘you’ve got to be fucking kidding me!’ also known as “Fuck no!”

  • Waking up in the morning with explosive diarrhoea when you have a flight to take or a full day on a bus. Yeah, this is going to be fun, time to go get myself an adult diaper and hope that I don’t manage to shit myself in front of a whole bunch of people in the process….. “Fuck no!”
  • When you don’t make a reservation for a hostel and roll into town to discover that everywhere is booked out and you wind up sleeping at the bus station or on the floor of a random hostel that is kind enough to let you have floor space. “Fuck no!”
  • When you get your money and credit cards stolen. “Fuck fuck fuck! NO!”
  • Better yet, when you get your passport stolen. “Seriously? Fuck no!”
  • When you smash your camera or your phone. Guess that means no more pictures. “For fucks sake! No fucking way!”
  • When you get to the bus station to take the last bus for the day and they tell you that it is full and there is no more space…. “Fuck…. no……”
  • When some arsehole decides to turn the light on and noisily pack their bag at four am to leave without consideration for those who are sleeping. “Are you fucking kidding me? Seriously, fuck no!”
  • When you get stuck sleeping in a room with someone who either smells. Can you please not invade my sense of smell and leech your horrendous body odour into all of mine and everyone else’s stuff. Go have a shower filthmonger! “Fucking hell no!”
  • When you meet some arrogant fucker who wants to tell you how good they are and they keep following you around when you’re trying to escape. “Fuck no!”
  • When someone you don’t like tells you they are coming to spend the day with you….. Can’t I just run away? “Fuck no!”
  • When the bus leaves you on the side of the road in the middle of the night because this is the final destination. Where the fuck am I and how am I supposed to get anywhere from here? “Fuck no!”
  • When the travel agents try and extort more money out of you for shit that you have already paid for. “No fucking way! Fuck no!”
  • When your legs get mauled by insects and they wind up getting infected so you walk around for a month looking like you’ve got measles from the waist down. “Fuck no!”
  • When a rat chews a hole through one of your bras…. not your average thing that happens to normal people but it happened to me and what did I yell? “Fuck no! Are you fucking kidding me!?”
  • When you accidentally leave half a pizza or other really good food in the hostel fridge and are half way down the highway before you remember. “Fuck no!”

For anyone who has travelled, I am sure you can relate. Chuck us a line if you think of anything else x

The Backpacker’s “Fuck Yes!!”

As a long term backpacker, life is very different from the ordinary life. There are different things that we learn to appreciate that people in ordinary, everyday life wouldn’t generally get excited over. So here is a non-conclusive list of “Fuck Yes!” moments in the life of a backpacker. Feel free to add your own “Fuck Yes!” moments in the comments below if I have missed any.

  • Finding free food in the free food bin at the hostel! Now I have free pasta for dinner and I don’t even have to go outside or contemplate what the cheapest thing for me to eat today without dying of a heart attack is. A huge thank you to whoever left it there! “Fuck yes!”
  • Finding a half bottle of awesome shampoo that has been left in the shower when you’ve just run out of shampoo. Nuff said! “Fuck yes!”
  • Getting to the bus station five minutes before the next bus leaves when there is a four hour wait until the next one. And getting a good seat. “Fuck yes!”
  • When you have been hunting that animal you really want to see in the wild across an entire continent and it has evaded you for months and then suddenly…. Whoop! There it is! “Fuck yes!”
  • When you are in a bar dancing about sober as a judge because there isn’t enough money for drinking in the budget this week and a local person you’ve never met hands you a shot of rum or whatever other hard liquor they are passing around and then adopt you as their friend. “Fuck yes!”
  • When the taxi driver gives you a fair price straight off the bat and you don’t have to argue with them for half an hour about what is a fair price. “Fuck yes!”
  • When you find money in the street. In anyone’s world, this is a “Fuck yes!”
  • Meeting really awesome people that you hit it off with immediately. Friends for life biatches! “Fuck yes!”
  • Checking into a hostel to find that the bed is the most comfortable, fluffy and awesome cocoon that you’ve ever slept in. “Fuck yeah!”
  • Hot water when there usually isn’t any to be found anywhere. “Fucking awesome! Yeah…..”
  • Sleeping in a room on your own. Nobody else has checked in…. looks like I’m sleeping naked tonight! “Fuck yes!”
  • Going to the public toilet to find that there is actually toilet paper in the cubicle. Even better, finding it clean! “Fuck yeah!”
  • When everyone else eats in the restaurant and you eat dirty street food and everyone else gets sick but you. Arsehole, I know, but “Fuck yes!”
  • When people give you directions and they are actually the right directions. Sometimes, especially in the Americas and Asia, if they don’t know they make it up so as to not look ignorant. You can literally wind up anywhere. So if the directions are good…. “Fuck yes!”
  • When free breakfast is included in your stay and it’s full on massive buffet! “Fuck yes!”
  • When the museum or attraction entrance is free… “Fuck yeah!”
  • When you go home looking so dishevelled that your mum shout’s you a free haircut! “Fuck yes! Look at me I’m a human again!”

Such an easily excitable breed us travellers….. until the next!

Actual Danger vs Perceived Danger: Tips For Travel Safety

A common conversation I have with people about travel usually winds up going something like this:

Person: “Where are you going?”

Me: “Mexico.”

Person: “Like, I just don’t understand why you would want to go there, it is like sooooo dangerous and people get shot at and stabbed by cartels and there is just such a huge drug problem that you will never survive there. It is just too dangerous. You’re crazy!!”

This ‘perceived’ idea of danger in other countries is in many cases ridiculous. Yes it is dangerous in some areas of the world. There are many places that I would not consider going as they are warzones or in severe civil conflict. But for the most part, provided that you are street smart and don’t make stupid decisions like walking down the street in the middle of the night instead of catching a cab, there is quite a low chance of these things happening. People see the one off cases on the news, the media makes a huge deal out of it and people think, well that place is clearly too dangerous to go to. Oddly enough, I have travelled to over sixty countries over nine years and the only place I have been attacked in the street and hospitalized for it was in my very hometown where I grew up in Australia.

I remember my very first trip to South East Asia. It was my first time out of western society and I was terrified. My mother had pleaded with me not to go for fear of my being raped/mugged/murdered/stabbed/shot at/put in jail for having drugs planted in my bags like Schappelle Corby/dead. To the point where I was terrified to be going. I got on the plane after ziplocking, padlocking and then cling filming all of my bags before I left in an excessive frenzy. I got off the plane in Bangkok and went over my bag with a fine tooth comb to ensure nothing had been tampered with or touched. I picked up my bag nervously, told them I had nothing to declare and I was out the door within 5 minutes flat thinking to myself…. ummmm…. is that is? Post this the worst thing I encountered in South East Asia was petty theft. People would have their bags and pockets picked. Again. Be aware this happens. Don’t carry things in your pocket, get a bag with a zip. The other trick is, don’t get so drunk that you aren’t aware of your belongings. Most people who get things stolen off of them are drunk. Me included. One morning I was drunk and sleeping on a beach in Nicaragua with my iPod in my hand and I awoke to find it gone. I was angry for all of a minute and then I started laughing because if an old iPod was all I lost in 4 years of travel, I am doing pretty well.

Some people I met through Central America had experienced muggings. Again, majority of the time, if you just give over all of what you have and let them go, you will not have any problems with your physical safety. It might shake you up a bit, but this for the most part is the worst of what will happen provided that you follow the major safety rules. Which are as follows:

1. Don’t walk around at night EVER, especially alone. Take a cab, or organize yourself so that you have everything that you need. Night, just like at home, is the biggest time of day for predators.

2. Keep money and credit cards in different places, including sewn into the insides of your pants. So they took the 20 bucks in your wallet and one of your ATM cards? You have another ATM card somewhere else and $20 in your bra.

3. On the topic of ATM cards, if you do by chance get held up and they want you to go to an ATM, don’t keep a large amount of money in your transaction account. Transfer the amount you need to take out online right before you take it out and leave the rest in an untouchable savings account.

4. Take photocopies of all of your important documents and cards including your passport and send them to yourself in an email. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you are robbed of everything, at least you will have everything you need when you get to your consulate on file online. Also send copies of this email to your Mum or someone you trust that can help you.

5. If you can avoid it, don’t travel at night and don’t travel when you get dropped off in the middle of nowhere at night or very early in the morning. These are the times of day where less people are around and you are less visible in the public eye.

6. Listen to advice about do’s and don’t’s from smart locals and from your hostel/hotel workers. Most of the time the locals will tell you what the dangers are in the prominent are, where to go and where not to go.

While this is not a comprehensive list, this is certainly helpful in avoiding any potential dangers and getting caught out with things. For the most part, following these rules, the amount of trouble you will find will be minimized. It is very much a shame that some people do not have common sense enough to look out for their own safety. It is also a shame that places that have incredibly friendly locals get a reputation through the media for a few events that occur with horrific outcome. For the hundreds of thousands of people everyday who travel, have a great time and come home safely, you will get a handful of stories that end in tragedy. But this also fares for the people who get in a car and drive everyday. There is always that risk. In life, everything that you do has risk. But you don’t constantly get lectures from people who don’t drive telling you about every car accident that happens and why you shouldn’t get into a car to go to work. It is always those that haven’t travelled and don’t understand that are dishing out these lectures based on what they see on television. But really, it is not as bad and horrific as it is made out to be. Travel broadens the eyes and the mind. I honestly believe if you haven’t travelled then you haven’t lived. You haven’t understood the amazing diversity of the human race and the things that make us different and yet the same. So take the leap. Take the risk. And you might just find that maybe it isn’t actually that ‘dangerous’ after all.

Shit I Learned In Scotland

In the glorious half term from school I decided that it was about time I ventured up to Scotland to see what it was all about. Not only was it full of stunning natural beauty, but also full of fun and fascinating stories of the past. I learned  more than wee bit of shit while I was there, but here are some highlights.

  1. Loads of different sayings take their origins from the Scots

‘Shitfaced’

Back in the days, Edinburgh was full of high-rise buildings. Of course, being in the days before toilets, people used to just chuck that shit out the window. Literally. If you were in the lower floors and had your head stuck out the window you risked getting shat on. So they would yell out before the bucket load of crap went flying out the window and if you didn’t get your head in quick enough, guess where it landed. They say that those who were drunk were dumb enough to hear the call of pending doom and instead of pulling their heads in, they would look up. And wind up with shit on their faces. Shitfaced. Superb!

City views over Edinburgh

‘Doing a Bouch job’

Thomas Bouch was an English engineer who built a bridge that wasn’t structurally sound, it fell down and killed a whole stack of people. What a massive fuck up! A total Bouch job

‘Soccer’

As much as the English and Europeans love to moan about the fact that we call it ‘soccer’ in Australia, it is in fact their fault. They bloody well invented the word. It derives from the full name of the sport from back in the day ‘association football’. Abbreviation of the name and tapping and ‘er’ on the end (oddly a very Australian thing to do… maybe that is where we get it from) results in the word ‘assoccer’.

‘Going berserk’

The Beserkers were a Viking clan full of fierce warriors who apparently fought in such a massively drug-fucked state that people thought that they were crazy. As such, when people go crazy now, they are going berserk.

Stone circle from Lewis and Harris

2. Seagulls can drool.

I mean, I had no idea until I was sitting on the pier with what has been voted the worlds best fish and chips and this damn seagull is sitting in front of me and his beak is literally dripping all over the pavement. He stopped once the fish was gone and I got to the chips. Clearly not as tasty…. but just wow…..

3. Witches don’t drown in shit.

So the river that used to run through Edinburgh used to be full of people’s shit that they used to just pour in there. When they accused people of being witches, they used to throw them in the river and say that if they didn’t sink and drown that they must be a witch. Well given the viscosity of a pile of faecal matter, most of them really didn’t sink. So they’d drag them out and burn them on the stake. That right there is logic for you. Even better, they cleared all of the shit out of this area and turned it into a nice lovely park full of green plants and wonderful flowers fertilised by the remnant bits of shit and dead witches from the area. One may even say that when sitting down there having lunch that you are hanging in the shit pit.

The old shit pit is now a park….

4.  Braveheart the movie is an absolute load of shit and things really didn’t happen that way at all. 

  • Firstly, the ‘brave heart’ actually referred to the heart of Robert the Bruce, not William Wallace. Robert’s heart was carried into the battle that won the Scots independence after his death.
  • The Battle of Sterling win hinged on the fact that there was a bridge that the English had to cross and were eventually backed into a corner of the river bend and couldn’t retreat. Where’s the bridge?
  • Bruce did not betray Wallace and get him captured
  • ugh…. and the list could go on… very entertaining fiction for the most part.

5. Other random shit

  • The word Caledonia is what the Romans used to call Scotland
  • Fife is the alcohol and oddly enough, pregnancy capital of Scotland being home to the bottling of Schmirnoff, Barcardi and Johnny Walker
  • Half Hangit Maggie was a legend for surviving a hanging and waking up in the coffin on her way down the road to be put in the ground. She kicked on for another 40 years post that….
  • Greyfriars Bobby is also a legend. He was a dog that sat by his masters grave for the better part of 15 years, his love and loyalty never faltered.
Cute little Greyfriars Bobby
  • I still don’t like oysters…. the slimy thing went down and some shell got stuck on the roof of my mouth and gag reflex kicked in… yuk. Just feed me a kilo of mussels instead any day.
  • Stone circles are everywhere up north in Lewis and Harris. I daresay they are cooler than Stonehenge and…. free!
  • And…. I want to go back to Scotland! This country is amazing and the nature is just stunning. I want to go back and climb more mountains and take some more boat trips!

 

Parasites and I are like total besties

This morning, much to my horror and disgust, I went two doors down to the pharmacy after just getting off the overnight bus and wandered into the hostel bathroom to cheekily message my mum and get frantic with my newly acquired nit comb. You see, after a couple of days of itching like a fucking mad woman and thinking “fucking wool hats” I then lost my hat somewhere in Stuttgart and continued to itch like a mad bitch. This coupled with a few welts here and there had me thinking…. now I remember my younger sister getting them when she was about five.  But I never did. Until now. I am a grown arse woman with nits. And I don’t know if this has to do with high school age children sending them my way or the arseclown I sat next to on the plane.  Either way I am somewhat and somewhat not amused.

I am amused because I am a 32 year old childless spinster with nits. I am amused because in this whole trip, in which I usually encounter bed bugs and have to do full eradication upon return I haven’t yet seen one. I am not amused because I am so goddamn itchy!!! This wasn’t exactly how I planned things to go and now I suffer sheer paranoia.

So of course at every moment I get I am secretly crawling into toilet cubicles to comb handfuls of hair out of my head and no more nits. I am pretty sure that I got them all first go which wouldn’t be surprising considering I combed every direction for about 3 hours instead of seeing the sights of Berlin. But this still didn’t stop me. My room is clad with lavender and tea tree oil and I smell like an essential oil factory lathered in all of my oil.

My forearm looking like it swallowed a tennis ball after a bed bug bite

Despite all of this I was oddly calm. We can get rid of these. I am not allergic to these to the point where I welt and shake like a demon fiend. I don’t have to look in every nook and cranny of my luggage for the little buggers hiding.  You just spray it all with lavender and tea tree and get out your comb and you are pretty well done. Easiest parasite I have ever had to get rid of in the end. Much easier than bed bugs, giardia and all the other horrific shit I have had to deal with on the road. Just please God let there next time be no more bed bugs… or fleas……. or mosquitoes. I hate those things too! I went to Milan one weekend and woke up the first night with a swollen eyelid from a mosquito bite. The next night I woke up and the other one was swollen shut from yet another mosquito bite. Oh the joys of having such sweet blood! Ugh…. so yeah…. can I please, travel gods, go at least one trip without being mauled by something? Just pretty please?