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Travel Life

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The Reason Why I Travel

What exactly do I want from travel?
Why am I doing it?
What do I hope to achieve?
Why do I spend so much money on it and make so many sacrifices for it?
What am I really getting in exchange?

The first time I was asked these types of question, I was arriving home from Rome. But the person asking me to defend my choices wasn’t a skeptical friend or a concerned family member. These were questions I asked myself – and I continued asking myself for many years.

Because, honestly, I didn’t know how to answer.

This had been my third international trip. And it had become, suddenly, unexpectedly, very expensive and stressful. I was coming home broke, sleep deprived after spending several nights homeless, and possibly in trouble at work because I was getting in three days later than planned.

My first few international trips had all been very difficult, in fact.

There was no sugarcoating it. Travel had not been gentle with me. Instead, it had ripped the rose-colored glasses from my face and stomped them to bits almost immediately upon introduction.

It was always, always, always inconvenient. And here I was after my third trip overseas, asking myself: why do you do this to yourself? What are you getting from it?

I knew I wasn’t “finished” traveling – but at this point in my life, I did believe I would be finished one day (maybe after stepping a foot into each continent) and I was looking forward to the relief of that day. Maybe then I could focus on my safer, cheaper, easier hobbies – like reading, writing, or yoga.

So I spent an entire transatlantic plane ride pondering these hard questions. I didn’t find any answers that day.

But maybe now I have a few answers to share.

One note that, of course, I believe travel can teach you many things and make you a better person. I have written about this before – but if I’m being honest, although I appreciate that aspect of travel, it’s not really what drives my need to do it. These are the (kind of quirky) motivations behind my desire to explore the world, but I feel certain other travelers have completely different lists. (And I’d love to see them!)

I’m greedy for every sight, every experience, and every story.

Ever had FOMO? I have something like that – but instead of a preoccupation with what my friends are doing without me, I’m obsessed with what the whole world is doing without me. If I think too much about this, I feel genuine anxiety about how much I will inevitably miss out on. I want to see everything. I want to be everywhere. I want to try it all, understand it all, be in it all.

I’m addicted to the adrenaline rush of new places.

I am not an adrenaline junkie at all. I hate roller coasters. I was terrified out of my mind when I tried cliff diving. Although Simon will probably attempt to get me to go skydiving one day, I cannot imagine ever being able to jump out of a plane. The one adrenaline rush that I’m addicted to? The feeling of being surrounded by nothing familiar and having no idea what’s going to happen next. I think I actually need this feeling regularly. Healthy or not, it’s an unfightable addiction.

I want to be invincible, and I want to prove it.

Clearly, travel does not always lead to the most peaceful situations. But now I find myself a bit disappointed when a trip goes smoothly 100 percent of the time. I want to be challenged. I want to be uncomfortable. I want to be thrown into an impossible situation and then come out the other side unscathed. Not because I have superhuman bravery – I actually think I’m an annoyingly fearful person – because I want to repeatedly show myself that I can be scared but still push forward and do whatever I want. I will allow myself to be scared, but I will not allow myself to think for a second that fear should hold me back. I want to be free of all those limits, and travel has been the best way to keep giving myself this lesson.

Nothing tastes sweeter to me than feeling rootless and free.

Only a rare handful of people have understood this peculiarity of my personality. Rather than seek out security, I am resistant to it. Nothing sounds worse to me than rooting down. Freedom is one of my most powerful motivators, and flying halfway across the world at least stretches out those roots, if it doesn’t break them completely. I feel the most at peace when I look at my small collection of possessions (everything I own can now fit in my two carry-ons!) and think about how quickly and easily I could go anywhere in the world. By having no home, I can have any home. I am building my life everywhere and nowhere.

I strangely relish the feeling of loneliness.

A common question for long-term travelers is “don’t you get lonely?” Of course we do. I was also lonely sometimes at home in my “real” life. There is no path that makes you immune to loneliness – no matter how large your family or social circle. But loneliness on the road is different. I can sit in a coffee shop surrounded by foreign words, not another other English speaker in sight, and I’ll feel completely, thoroughly alone – and I enjoy it. I love it. In these moments, my time is only mine. My thoughts are now for me and no one else. It sounds silly and cheesy, but this is how I can become my own best friend. This is how I learn that I love my own company and that I can find everything I need in myself, in the simplest of ways, no matter where I am or who I am with.

I want things that can’t be taken away from me.

Every time I step outside of the airport in a new country, I feel the greatest surge of satisfaction. Something has been added to my life that will never leave me. No matter what I’ve sacrificed to get to a new place, no matter how much I’ve spent, or what goes wrong, or whether I’ll love it or hate it or grow bored with it by the next day, I will have always been here. Becoming attached to material items makes me nervous – I don’t want too many things that I could lose or damage, but the experiences I have traveling are priceless because they are a sure thing. Mine forever. Untouchable.

I would love to hear your reasons for traveling. Can anyone relate to my thoughts? Anyone have their own motivations to share? Comment below!

The Different Types of Travellers – From One Extreme to the Other

When you live abroad or travel full time, you become part of a new, very close-knit community.

It’s a community of expats and travelers, and at first you might feel like this is the secret to finding your very best friends – everyone will be just as eager for adventure as you! Just as excited about the cultures of the world! They’ll be fun-loving, flexible, and full of curiosity!

But as months pass and those careful small talk conversations evolve into ones with more meaning, you might be surprised about how much variety there actually is among the people you thought would be perfectly suited for you.

Yes, everyone is very unique and generalizations are never perfect – but for simplicity’s sake, let’s agree that there are a few different “types” when it comes to travelers. Some we love! Others might inspire a bit more eye rolling – and we’re sure they’re rolling their eyes right back at us for their own reasons.

So let’s break it down:

The Complaints You Don’t Care About

We’re starting here because it’s something we are definitely guilty of – lest anyone think we’re setting ourselves as above the rest.

Trying to keep a smile on your face and a happy thought during a 12 hour bus ride? Well, good luck if you’re sitting next to us. We’re going to be in a foul mood, and we’re going to talk about it.

You’d think we’d eventually realize that traveling will always include, well, traveling.

But no. We do not accept it. We hate planes, buses, trains – maybe we’d be happy with a teleportation device. But probably not if we still had to go through customs.

Sorry (not sorry) for spreading our negativity around – we just have to vent it out sometimes.

We get that some people don’t like our attitude. But sometimes our fellow travelers join in, we all have a laugh, and the time passes by much quicker.

The Good Side – We’re easy to read! No one is going to struggle to guess our mood – we’ll definitely let you know.

The Bad Side – All that moaning might not be the most pleasant thing to listen to on your red-eye flight. Oops.

We could get an award in moaning when it comes to transport. 

Just Keep Smiling 🙂

On the flip side, we have our arch nemesis, the traveler who is going to be positive no matter what.

Let’s be honest, these people aren’t going to appreciate us much, and they are definitely going to annoy us in return.

Positivity can be a great thing! If you’re always angry, then the problem is probably you – not the country you’re in or the people you’re with. But, it’s also okay to experience a range of emotions and form an opinion or two along the way.

Constant positivity just isn’t real. Traveling will expose you to a lot of different situations and experiences. Some are going to be amazing. Some will be hilarious, confusing or humbling. Some are just going to suck. And we like a traveler who tells it like it is.

Of course your opinions are biased toward your own culture. We get it, everything is relative, there is no “good” or “bad,” one culture is no better or worse than another.

But I’m still going to be unhappy when customer service is slow, when buses are late, or when I can’t find any food I like. And that’s okay. We can voice a complaint and then move on. Everyone will be fine.

I really believe that us travelers are living the dream! But not every single moment is the dream.

The Good – A positive person can be a very laid back and flexible travel companion.

The Bad – Too much positivity and it just becomes an act. Not everything is good, and it puts pressure on other travelers to also pretend they love things that are actually torturous. A good ranting session can sometimes relieve stress!

But Home Is Better Because…

It’s always confusing to run into this one. They seem to have very little interest in other countries and they talk only of home.

We can’t really know what they are thinking, but we suspect they are only traveling in order to impress others. Deep down they must be counting down the days until they finally get back to their old familiar lives.

Because whenever something bad happens (and something seems to happen every day to these types), they lament that it wouldn’t have happened back home. They never got food poisoning back home. They wouldn’t have been targeted by a pickpocket back home. All the taxi drivers back home are honest, pleasant people who appear as if by magic whenever needed and always know the best route in any weather, traffic conditions, or zombie apocalypse that might occur.

Everything reminds them of home. Their new friends will get stuck in endless one-sided conversations about the way things would be done, organized, or handled back home.

Home, home, home. So why did they leave?

The Good – Honesty is always appreciated, in our opinion.

The Bad – But if we’re being honest, we just don’t understand how these people decided to start traveling in the first place. If it’s not what makes you happy, find what does!

Some experiences simply can’t be compared to home.

Keepers of the Sacred Itinerary

We don’t care how cliche or overhyped they are – we always want to see the top tourist hotspots when we’re traveling.

But we don’t need to see every single monument, museum, or historical site a city offers. And it can be difficult to travel with those who do if it means a packed itinerary, planned down to the minute, with little room for resting, wandering, or spontaneity.

There are (at least) two sides to every city. The tourist trail is one part, and we appreciate it. But we also find value in the day-to-day life and routine of the locals. You aren’t going to find that rushing from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre to Norte Dame.

While we like to prioritize a couple famous sights, we aren’t brokenhearted if we don’t see everything in the guidebook.

The Good – These travelers are excellent planners and they are probably very organized and knowledgeable.

The Bad – This travel style is just exhausting. You’ll see a lot, but will you enjoy it?

The Wise Men (and Ladies) of the Road

These are the travelers who claim to have “found themselves” during their journey. Maybe they’ve learned to be less hung up about time. Now they stop and smell the flowers. They aren’t materialistic anymore. They’ve gone vegan. They have let go of society’s beauty standards and live more authentically now.

Travel can definitely be a life-changing experience, and we can’t deny that our own experiences have influenced who we are today.

But sometimes it makes us cringe a little when fellow travelers are talking this way at a tourist-filled full moon party or a bar street without a local in sight.

It gets even worse when someone starts setting themselves up as an expert about a country they’ve only been in for a week. The longer we stay in a place, the more convinced we become that the local culture is too complex for a foreigner to truly understand.

And how often has someone given us a warning (or an enthusiastic thumbs up) about a place – only for us to experience something completely different when we arrived there ourselves?

A little humility is nice in a traveler. Your understanding will always be surface level, and it will never really be your place to dissect a culture that isn’t your own. If this is unappealing to you, the travel lifestyle might not be for you.

The Good – The ability to adapt to another culture is great, and an interest in self-growth will always serve you well.

The Bad – An interest in a new culture is okay, but it’s overstepping to proclaim yourself an insider.

Here’s a few more that you may have come across.

The Bragger – This traveller has done everything – jumping out of planes, exploring deep into caves, trekking through rainforests – and they want to tell you all about it. Have your own story to share? You’ll quickly be interrupted because he’s done something similar – but even more epic! And that’s only if you can get a word in to begin with.

The Paranoid – You might wonder what this person actually does when traveling. They won’t use taxis (they’re all trying to cheat tourists), they won’t take a bus to the next city (they drive too dangerously), they won’t go out after dark (they’ll probably get mugged), they won’t eat the local food (it’s not clean).

The Hippie – They’re so deep. So enlightened! They learned it all from their time exploring temples/monasteries/ashrams (or their friend’s time, or their friend’s cousin’s girlfriend’s roommate’s time). But thinking about what they said later – it doesn’t actually make sense. It sounded great, but it was just trendy words, spiraling around, arriving nowhere. Maybe the original message was life-changing. But it’s been watered down to nothing by the time it reaches your ears.

The Soapless – Something about traveling seems to make certain people doubt their usual hygiene routine. Is this really considerate when you’re sharing a room with 20 strangers or crammed into an overnight bus for the next 8 hours?

The Spender – The one that blows all their money in one day. By day five they are calling their parents to send an emergency transfer of cash – or even worse, they are on the streets begging for plane money from the locals.

Which of the above are you?

But every type of traveller has one amazing thing in common! They have enough adventure in them to get on the plane in the first place.That can never be knocked, and we’ll always admire it. No one is perfect. We are all a certain “type” from time to time, and others will get annoyed by our contrasting perspectives or habits.

What type of traveller are you? Have we missed a key type? Do you think we’ve got a type all wrong? Let us know!

The Illusion of India

Before we traveled to India, we already had a lot of ideas about what it would be like.

We’ve found that this attitude is common among some travelers – we often hear people talking about places they’ve never visited with just a little too much confidence that they have it all figured out.

We were definitely guilty of this. A year ago, India was often brought up in our conversations – usually when we were discussing the countries we didn’t want to visit. In fact, our no-go list was summed up like this: India and active war zones.

So we can’t really remember how we eventually talked ourselves into this trip, but less than a year later we had applied for our visas, booked out flights, and we were on our way.

And what we found was a beautiful, chaotic, at times overwhelming, at times breathtaking, endlessly complex culture that we could never fully understand after just a two week trip – its laughable that we thought we could make judgements about it before we had even arrived.

We had so many preconceived ideas, and most didn’t line up with reality.

What we thought India would be like all the time. 

Here are a few beliefs that we had, and maybe you’ve had similar thoughts:

(Keep in mind that we were only there for two weeks, so we are not an authority on this culture – not even close! These just reflect our experiences.)

 

What we thought: Transportation in India will be torture! The buses will be smelly, bumpy and painfully slow.

How it actually was: Well, for starters, we never even took a bus – though we were thoroughly convinced that buses would be the only affordable option, as they have been in many other Asian countries.

In reality, India was a breeze to travel through. The train system runs through most of the country. First class tickets are dirt cheap, and you’ll get an air conditioned cabin with comfortable seats and seemingly endless food – I think we were served at least once every hour.

The train rides weren’t too long – we thought we’d have an all-day ride from New Delhi to the Taj Mahal, but it was only 2 hours. When a train ride did seem too long, there was always another interesting place on the way to break up the journey.

While we took trains from city to city, there were many transportation options available when exploring locally. These include the famous green and yellow rickshaws, taxis, sometimes a subway system, and even Uber.

The final verdict: Getting around was 1000% better than we thought. As a couple who abhors nearly every transit option, these trains were like a gift.

These trains made India travel borderline delightful.

What we thought: The people will be horrible, rude and the service will suck.

How it actually was: We definitely encountered some pushy men selling souvenirs or hired cars, but majority of the encounters we had with the locals were pleasant.

It seemed that hotels and restaurants took pride in their customer service. We were impressed by those who went out of their way to help us. We also enjoyed taking a lot of selfies with locals, who often approached us and asked for a quick picture – eventually we started asking if we could get one too. Now we think of how many pictures of us are on the phones and cameras of locals around New Delhi and Rajasthan.

And when you’re trying to avoid those pushy drivers and salesmen? Look confident and keep your gaze steady and uninterested. When we were feeling a bit lost, we’d suddenly find ourselves surrounded by men offering us a ride, asking if we wanted to see the local fort, and telling us they could take us to a great restaurant. If we made eye contact with someone selling t-shirts, they’d suddenly be chasing after us, asking our size and how much we’d be willing to pay. But confidence and determination generally kept us free from this annoyance.

The final verdict: Very wrong! The Indian people we met were great, apart from the odd arsehole, but what country doesn’t have those?

The locals were great.

What we thought: India is just chaos – it runs at a thousand miles an hour.

How it actually was: Well, yes, all of the above. But, honestly, we loved it. I really don’t think anything can prepare you for how crazy and fast paced it is. If you’ve experienced Asia before, that might take away 1 percent of the shock.

It was like no other place we’ve been, and we’ve done a fair few Asian countries. The traffic is horrible, with everyone driving in any direction they please with seemingly no road rules. There are huge, sluggish cows strolling down the middle of the busiest streets. There are endless items being sold on the side of the road, laid out on blankets, along with people sleeping, eating, or even washing off their kids in a large bucket. Sometimes you feel paralyzed on the streets – incapable of moving and not knowing where it’s best to step next.

The final verdict: Spot on! This thought was a correct one! It is just crackers.

Cows just wandering the streets.

What we thought: The food is horrible and we will end up with the shits all the time.

How it actually was: Yes, we ended up with the runs, stomach cramps and poo smells that could pollute a small conglomeration. But! It was kind of worth it because the food was amazing.

The curries and side dishes were just so good. Even McDonalds and Subways had so many unfamiliar options, with new spices and unique twists. For vegetarians like Kristin, there were endless options everywhere we went.

But, from our experience, it was simply impossible to keep perfect digestive health. After the first few days, our stomachs felt a bit off, and it was a roller coaster ride from there – some days were better than others, but we never felt completely normal.

You just have to have a sense of humor about it, but don’t miss out on the local food. Sometimes this is just part of traveling.

Our one word of advice is to look for restaurants that look a bit cleaner and nicer. They might be more expensive, but not so much that you need to completely readjust your budget. Paying more is worth it to ensure you’re getting food that won’t make you too ill.

The final verdict: We were half right and half wrong. Yes, the shits were unavoidable, but it wasn’t as bad as we imagined – and pretty much everything we ate was delicious.

Think about where you decide to eat a little bit.

What we thought: The hotels will be dirty and inhabitable.

How it actually was: We found places that were very affordable but still nice (or nice enough), but we usually skipped the bottom-of-the-barrel cheapest option. We believe that you usually get what you pay for. If you always pick the cheapest available, you might find yourself miserable in some horrid accommodations.

When we arrived in Jodhpur, we had not booked a room yet. It was the end of our trip, so we were getting a little looser with our plans. Exhausted and trying to stretch our dwindling budget, we were willing to give a cheap option a shot. Within a few minutes of trying to get settled into our smelly room with an overflowing toilet, we realized that we simply had to get out immediately.

For just a little more money, we were able to stay somewhere much nicer. If you want to be comfortable, it is definitely possible.

The final verdict: You get what you pay for. Just figure out your priorities before you go. Want to save every penny possible? Be ready for questionable bathrooms and rooms without air conditioning. Want a little more comfort? Work it into your budget – honestly, these accommodations will still be cheaper than most others in the world.

Paying a tiny bit more gets you a lot more in India. 

Here are a few other things we got completely wrong:

Domestic flights will be way too expensive – we got a super cheap flight from Jodhpur to Delhi that saved us a full day on the train at the end of our trip

After seeing the Taj Mahal in so many pictures, the real thing will probably be a let down – Wrong! It was still stunning and surreal.

The Taj Mahal was stunning. 

After living in Thailand, we can handle any heat – We’ve never been anywhere hotter than India. Carry around the biggest water bottle you can (finding new water bottles to buy was sometimes a challenge) and don’t plan to be out in the middle of the day for too long. Mornings are best if you are sensitive to heat.

And here’s a couple we were right about:

The air in big cities will be polluted and breathing will be a problem – Yes, this was the case, especially in Delhi.

Those rickshaws will be kind of scary – They were! Some went way too fast, weaving around traffic, pedestrians, and bikes. Some even went the wrong way down busy streets.

They were a bit insane. 

Many things can put you off travelling somewhere new. You can always come up with an excuse to stay home or choose somewhere “safe.”

We learnt an important lesson with India: You always need to see a place for yourself before you make up your mind, Don’t rule something out based on what other people say (or a guidebook or the internet). You might think you know what it’s going to be like, but odds are that you have no idea. When it came to our assumptions about India, more were wrong than right. Even when we were right, it wasn’t that bad – sometimes we even loved the things we thought we’d hate.

Have you ever been put off somewhere because of what you thought it would be like? Have you ever been completely surprised by how different a country or city was? We’d love to hear your experiences.

Airports: The Best and the Worst

Lately, we’ve started to feel like we spend more time waiting around airports than we do in our own home.

These days, booking a plane ticket doesn’t feel too different from getting tickets for a bus or train. We can do it online, and if we’re determined, the tickets can actually be pretty budget friendly.

If only a day of air travel could also be compared to the simplicity of getting on and off a bus. Instead we find ourselves doing an annoying routine of rushing, waiting, rushing, waiting, repeat, repeat, repeat.

But airports are basically unavoidable if you plan to travel very far.

Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised by the comfort and facilities at an airport – but most of the time these buildings are nothing but pure misery.

In fact, sometimes it seems like airports might even go out of their way to make their customers as uncomfortable as possible. So when we find the rare gem with entertainment, luxury, or even just fast Wi-Fi and plenty of places to charge your phone, we take note.

Below we’ve listed some of the best and worst airports we’ve been to. If you ever find yourself in these areas of the world, here’s what to expect:

The Good Ones

Singapore Changi International Airport 

This airport is voted the best in the world and it’s very clear to see why.

It’s comfortable. It’s beautifully designed. It includes a few unique touches, such as butterfly and cactus gardens, massage chairs, and a cinema. It seemed as if it was put together by people well aware that waiting around the airport is mind-numbingly boring at best – so let’s give everyone something to do while they’re here.

If you’re in for a long layover, you can take advantage of the free 2-hour city tours. There are also sleeping areas, great Wi-Fi, music stations, a swimming pool, and play areas for the kids.

What to remember: Make this your connecting flight! Especially from Australia to, well, anywhere in Asia and Europe. 

Natures a big part of the worlds best airport.

Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Thailand  

In a culture where most people are pretty laid back, often moving slowly and not worrying too much about the time, this airport is surprisingly quick and efficient. Check in takes minutes and you’ll whizz through immigration. The waiting areas are very spacious with plenty of seating, and before you know it, you’re on your flight. The facilities are good, the Wi-Fi is fast and the chairs are comfy. That, on top of the ease, certainly makes it a cut above many others.

What to remember: Don’t panic too much if you’re a little late. You should be fine. You can also let the staff know if you’re plane is boarding shortly, and they will usually help you out by getting you closer to the front of a line.

Its speedy in Thailand’s biggest airport. 

Others we’d recommend

Brisbane International – Very efficient and on the ball. Impressive.

Melbourne International – Must be an Aussie trend, but their airports are spot on. Very organized which is the most important characteristic in an airport.

London Heathrow – A lot of bad press, but we think they do very well for the passenger demands – and there are some good restaurants here too!

We wish this list was longer, but these are the only airports that we believe can honestly be recommended. Many others are simply average.

The Average

Mumbai International Airport

Like many of India’s airports, Mumbai International is known to be a layover airport. Mumbai seemed to get half the message. They provide good Wi-Fi and plenty of opportunities to cure your boredom with restaurants, bars and entertainment stations.

But if you’re expecting comfort, get ready to be disappointed.

You’ll find the most horrible sleeper chairs that are only half upright, made from a wood-like leather material. It’s not good for a 7-hour nighttime layover.

However, it was our own fault for flying from Colombo to Bangkok via Mumbai! You only have to take one look at a map to see why this made no sense.

What to remember: Don’t expect to get much rest here. If it’s unavoidable and you really need some sleep, pack something comfortable to lie on and find a space on the floor.  

Palma De Mallorca Airport, Balearic Islands, Spain

This one is just odd! The facilities are fine, it’s just strangely massive. You wouldn’t expect such a big airport for a small Spanish island. From check in to boarding, we were walking for about half an hour. The long empty corridors don’t really need to be there.

How to Prepare: Pack a scooter? A bike? Roller-skates?  At least a pair of very comfortable shoes.

But even average is preferable to our next category. We bring you to the terrible few:

The Terrible

Kalkota International Airport

Simply dreadful! This airport is absolutely massive but has nothing in it. Once you’re passed security on the international side, there is just one restaurant. And their service is slower than a snail’s pace. We also found some shop that couldn’t serve because their one crappy till was broken. Apart from that, there was literally nothing else.

“At least there’s WiFi!” you might think. But if you don’t have a phone number where you can access your text messages (many international travelers won’t), you won’t be able to get on. Because for some reason you need to get a code to sign in. Why isn’t the passport information enough?

Overall, the airport just felt miserable. Not to mention we almost missed our connecting flight thanks to the one rude man dealing with a massive line at immigration.

Avoid at all costs. Easily the worst airport we’ve had the misfortune of being in.

What to remember: Pick another Indian airport to layover in. If not, find some food beforehand, because your next flight might be boarding by the time they get around to serving you.

The dreadful airport itself. 

Surat Thani Airport, Thailand

It shouldn’t be too hard to avoid this small airport in the south of Thailand. If you ignore this warning, be ready for rude people who never should have chosen a career in customer service.

When you aren’t dealing with difficult staff, you’ll be stumbling over people and their luggage as they wait in unnecessary and poorly placed queues. No thought of organization seems to be put into this layout.

Finally, we have to talk about their chairs. They couldn’t have picked more uncomfortable seating if they’d tried. We compared them toilets – made of steel and stinking like sour drainage.

What to remember: Try other southern Thailand airports such as Phuket, Krabi or even Koh Samui. If you end up here, be ready to practice your patience.

Dubai International

We expected great things from Dubai, as it’s one of the most common travel hubs in the world and home of Emirates, an award-winning airline. You’d think comfortable layovers would be a top priority.

That didn’t seem to be the case.

The airport is huge. We didn’t see all of it, but the parts we did were poor. It was expensive as expected, but most businesses didn’t accept international currencies. The service was dreadful and the lack of facilities shocked us.

What to remember: Get some local currency if you want to eat or shop. Explore more and hopefully you’ll find something that we missed.

The let down that was Dubai International.

Others to avoid

Muscat International, Oman – For a city so immaculately clean, with such stunning architecture, they seemed to leave the airport behind.

London Gatwick International – It’s so crowded, you won’t be able to move, much less find a seat. For the love of pudding, make the airport bigger!

Kos International Airport, Greece – Had to throw this in from my younger days. Shithole!

Guangzhou International, China – Very bleak. The WiFi is a struggle and the restaurants have inconvenient hours. Just a strange atmosphere.

Airports are an unavoidable part of traveling. I’m sure in the future there will be many more to add to these lists. Have you had a terrible experience at an airport? Which do you think is the best or worst? Do you disagree with any of our thoughts? We’d love to know.

The Annoyance of Travel Small Talk

Meeting new people is one of our favorite parts of living abroad and travelling often.

People are always coming or going, or we’re coming and going, so there is a constant rotation of new friends, work colleagues, and even people we don’t particularly get along with (but love to remember later with a laugh). This is very different from our life at home, where finding new friends as we got older was rare.

You meet some amazing people when traveling!

But – while most fellow travelers have interesting stories and perspectives to share with us, it seems nearly every conversation with a new person begins the exact same way. After a combined 7 years abroad between us, we are definitely 100% over “traveler small talk.”

Before we can get to the nitty gritty and discover someone’s best stories and general personality, we all just ask each other the same questions and generally supply similar, if not identical, answers. Here’s a few examples (and some alternatives):

Where are you from?

Without fail, someone will ask this question within 2 minutes of a conversation. Sometimes even before we get around to sharing our names!

While it’s a common icebreaker, hometowns are often the least interesting thing about a traveller. We aren’t exploring the world to keep our minds lingering on the place where we’ve already spent years – I think we are all far more interested in where we are right now, in that moment, rather than somewhere we’ve already spent a ton of time and words on in the past.

The desire for travel often comes from our desire to experience new things – so having this conversation countless times is just not very interesting to any of us.

But this question does help us all to identify each other in some way. We understand why it’s asked. It is unavoidable, but there might be a more interesting way to approach it.

Here are some ideas:

  • How is [the current country you’re in] the same or different to your home?
  • What do you miss most from home?
  • What are you glad to have escaped?
  • If I was visiting your hometown, what should I see or do? What should I eat? Where should I go for a drink?

Open-ended questions are always more fun to explore! Let’s give each other something more to think about.

How long have you been travelling?

What does this honestly tell about a person?

It doesn’t provide a story. The answer is just a number – no details about where the person has been, why they were there, how much they’ve seen, what they’ve loved, what they’ve hated, or what they’ve experienced.

When this is asked – especially without any follow up questions – it hints at a meaningless competition about who is the more serious traveler.

Get better stories and ask about someone’s travel history in a new way. Our ideas:

  • How did you come to choose this lifestyle?
  • What motivates you to travel?
  • Have you ever hated a city immediately upon arrival?
  • What’s the best thing that’s happened to you while traveling?
  • What culture do you think is the most fun?
How long have you been here?

This is another question that ends the conversation as quickly as it began. There is rarely going to be an interesting answer here to inspire a story or friendship. Prepare yourself for an awkward pause afterward while neither of you know what to comment on next.

Want to know about someone’s time in this specific region? Try these questions instead:

  • Are you happy with the hotel you chose?
  • What has surprised you most since you’ve arrived?
  • Could you see yourself living here?
  • Do you think the [local tourist attraction] is worth it?
  • Have you had any great nights out?
  • Would you come back?
Where are you going next?

Discussing future plans can also be a dead end. Why? Because we haven’t been there yet! We don’t have any stories or experience to share. The only response you’ll get is the location and maybe an “I’m really excited!”

To get a better idea about what someone has planned for the future, ask them:

  • What kind of adventures do you still want to have?
  • How do you choose the places you visit?
  • Where do you never want to go?
  • If you stopped traveling now, what would you regret not seeing?
Where were you last?

Asking about our last stop is a little better, but it’s not always likely to pull out the good stories without further prodding.  You don’t want the response “I was in the Philippines – it was beautiful.” You want “I jumped off a cliff and got stung by a jellyfish,” or “I got so drunk I pissed all over my backpack and clothes in the middle of the night.”

Here’s how you can get those stories instead

  • What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you abroad?
  • Have you had any embarrassing moments when you weren’t familiar with the culture?
  • Have you ever stumbled upon something totally unexpected and interesting while traveling?
  • What’s your best drunk-abroad travel story?

Lets not get bored before we get to each other.

Then there are the questions that are just so boring, we both know that neither of us is interested in the answer.

  • What do you think of the food here? “It’s good.” Glad we covered that!
  • What airport did you fly from? Never going to be interesting.
  • Who did you fly with? Still snoozing!
  • How did you get from the airport to your accommodations? It’s actually surprising how often this question is asked.
  • Have you been in the pool/sea? Yes, but I don’t really have anything to say about it. Do you?
  • What time did you get here? 3:00pm. Where is this conversation going?

Small talk is never going to completely die out – we do accept this. But the type of small talk so common among travelers needs a complete makeover in our opinion. Tell us something that gives us an idea about who you really are!

” I’m excited to go sky-diving this week – would you ever give it a try?”

“I’m just looking forward to spending the next few days on the beach with a beer.”

Be random. Surprise people. And most importantly – ask questions that encourage stories and thoughtful opinions. If you can answer something with one word, rephrase it!

We skipped the small talk and went straight to the drunk

Do you find small talk difficult, boring or painful? Or are we just being too grumpy? If we are, tell us! If you like our suggestions for new questions, give us a few ideas of your own.

 

Budget Travel – Is It Worth It?

As regular travelers, we love a good deal or trick that keeps our wallets full and happy.

We aren’t getting rich on our teaching salaries, so every trip needs a budget and a plan to stretch our cash as far as it can go.

Unfortunately, sometimes this frugal mentality gets the best of us, and we end up making very poor decisions that we regret deeply when the consequences arrive.

Sure, we’ve saved a little money, but is that always worth it? We don’t think so – especially when the cheapest choice results in only minimum savings alongside maximum discomfort.

We want to share some of our funniest and most ridiculous “budget travel” stories – please, learn from our mistakes!

Shanghai

Shanghai is an expensive city, so we couldn’t believe our luck when we found a hotel at nearly half the cost of every other “cheap” option. Of course, we should have seen that as a red flag, but we were blinded by the money we were saving. We happily booked a room and patted ourselves on the back for our shrewdness.

We started to realize our mistake when the taxi drove us from one end of the city to the other, and then kept going. Where were we? Why was it taking almost 2 hours to get to our room? Was the taxi fare going to be more expensive than the room itself?

When we finally arrived, we were in the middle of nowhere. You couldn’t even tell that we were in the largest city of China anymore.

Later we figured out that we were next to a different airport and the hotel was mostly for people with overnight layovers. But we weren’t flying out of that area, and now we were in the worst location possible.

To add insult to injury, our room was horrid in every sense of the word.

Lesson learned: Some things are more important than cost. Location should always be a top priority in your accommodations.

The centre of Shanghai was getting further away.

Reykjavik

What’s worse than a hotel in a terrible location?

No hotel at all.

Yes, we once decided to save money by skipping a hotel altogether.

We had an early morning flight, and we thought we could get away with a homeless night in Iceland by staying overnight at the airport.

There were several problems with that plan. First, Reykjavik’s airport had strict rules about not sleeping. There were signs forbidding it, and security guards roamed the halls waking up any sleeping travelers. Second, we missed the last bus to the airport anyway, so we couldn’t get there until morning.

Where did we spend that night? In a bus station, with no heater, during a blizzard. Suddenly the extra 23 dollars we’d saved on accommodations didn’t seem nearly worth it.

Lesson learned: Don’t voluntarily go homeless. Especially during winter in the Arctic Circle.

An arctic blizzard made it an uncomfortable evening.

Myanmar

To save a measly 5 dollars, we ended up in a wood hut full of spiders, cockroaches, and flies. Just 5 dollars!

Lesson learned: Concrete is worth another 5 dollars. Always..

Koh Samui

When you live in Bangkok, getting to Koh Samui should be a breeze.

There are daily direct flights, you’ll only spend about 30 minutes in the air, and then you’ll have a quick 5-minute taxi ride to the center of the island.

But we always know how to make things more difficult.

Again, trying to save money, here’s what we did instead: Plane to Surathani, a 2-hour bus ride, a 2-hour ferry, and then a 1-hour song tao. We saved about 40 dollars.

Lesson learned: Just go direct when its available! Travel days are stressful enough without adding several legs to your journey.

Take the cut and fly sometimes.

Vietnam

Ah, night buses. They are a frugal travelers dream!  They are cheap, you can skip a night in a hotel, and along with saving you money, they also save you some time.

There’s just one catch: they are horrid.

They play loud, terrible music.

They honk their horn every second (and so do the other cars on the road).

The toilets leak and stink up the whole bus.

They drive like mad.

You won’t sleep, but you will be terrified, stressed, and annoyed.

Lesson learned: No, you won’t sleep through the journey. Save yourself the headache and book a flight.

The night buses are grim. 

Sri Lanka

Once again giving up a simple, direct flight, we ended up with an 8-hour layover in Mumbai. If those 8 hours weren’t reason enough for regret, we also quickly realized how ridiculous this flight itinerary was. Bangkok to Sri Lanka – stopping in Mumbai meant we had gone past our final destination just to turn around again.

Lesson learned: Check a map to see if your flight plan makes sense. You might save some money with certain itineraries, but you could also be wasting a lot of time.

Have you ever found yourself in a ridiculous situation while trying to save money? We want to hear your stories!

Do You Want to Travel? Then Get on the Plane.

Years ago, we both came to similar conclusions about our lives. From our comfortable and familiar homes, we realized we wanted more. More things to see, more people to meet, more cultures to experience – more of the whole world! There was an itch that we couldn’t scratch at home, and we both decided the answer was to live abroad and pursue a life of travel.

Others have absolutely no desire to travel. While this may be hard for us to wrap our minds around, we 100% respect it. It is always admirable to be confident in yourself and know what you want from life.

We aren’t trying to change your mind if you genuinely don’t dream of a life on the road (or across an ocean).

But we do have some encouragement for those who long for travel, the way we did, but feel held back by external circumstances.

Honestly, we see ourselves in you! We know what it’s like to feel scared, uncertain, unprepared, or unlucky when wanderlust starts to tug at you.

This is what we needed to hear several years ago, and we hope it will be inspiring for you today.

We want to encourage you to get on that plane.

You don’t need as much money as you think.

No paycheck will ever be large enough if you aren’t keeping a budget that truly reflects your priorities. If you’re determined to travel, your spending and saving habits should reflect that. This might mean giving up other expenses in your life that have become habitual, but actually aren’t as important to you.

It is also easier than you think to save money on travel costs. Learn how to fly cheaply or even for free.  Eliminate more expenses by housesitting, couchsurfing, traveling during the off-season, or searching for rooms with hostelworld.com or Airbnb. Choose destinations where the cost of living is very low, and your accommodations, food, and bar tabs will barely make a dent.

If you want to travel long-term, we encourage you to work while you travel. Your job abroad (or online) won’t need to pay too much if you choose the right country where costs are low.

You’re going to be safe.

It’s human nature to feel uneasy in unfamiliar places, especially when surrounded by people who look, act, talk, or behave differently than you are used to. But this instinct is not very accurate. Compared to America and England, many places in the world are very safe. Of course, every country has some crime. There are no guarantees whether you are at home or abroad. All you can really do is be alert and use common sense.

And that uneasiness that you’ll feel? It’s inescapable, but it’s also only temporary. It wasn’t long before we realized we were more comfortable walking in Asia at night than we ever felt back home. The streets are busier, the crime rates are lower, and the locals are friendlier and more helpful than any stranger we met back home.

You don’t need a travel partner.

There is a huge community of solo travelers exploring the world, and they will be excited to meet you and share their experiences with you. You might board your plane alone, but with the right attitude, you’ll have new friends in the next 24 hours. Your best travel companion might already be out there, not waiting around with you at home.

Your perfect travel partner might already be out there.

You don’t need anyone’s permission.

If you’re an adult, this is your decision. If a family member or friend voices concerns about your travel plans, thank them for their input. They just care about you, and you can’t fault them for that. But then come to your own conclusion about what you can and can’t do, and what you do and don’t want.

Your free time is precious – make the most of it!

If you are very busy, that’s even more of a reason to make your limited holiday time really count! Meaningful travel doesn’t have to be a 4-year nonstop trip at the opposite end of the globe. You can do a lot more than you think in the time you have.

Living in England? Give Eastern Europe a try.

If you live in America, you can take a short trip to Central America that could potentially change your entire worldview.

Get off the beaten track. Don’t go to the same place twice. Choose your flight times carefully to maximize the time you can explore.

You don’t need to speak the language.

You will be able to communicate everything you need to, one way or another. Read our best tips for overcoming a language barrier.

You aren’t too young. You don’t need to wait until you’re older. 

Take advantage of the energy you have when you’re younger – you can sleep anywhere, in any position, and wake the next day without a complaint. You can stay up all night when your flight is delayed or when you decide to take a night bus to your next destination. You can keep up with the party-goers at your hostel.  You can idealize the cultures around you with perfect innocence and optimism and people will think it’s endearing, not delusional.

You aren’t too old. You don’t need to regret that you’ve missed your chance.

Take advantage of the resources you’ve accumulated and free time you’ve earned. You can spring for the luxury hotels and a bit of fine dining. You can travel slowly and intentionally, and no one will pressure you. You will be offered respect and courtesy, and you will have amazing experiences while appreciating the comfort you’re able to afford.

There is an advantage to travel at every age. Enjoy whatever it can offer you right now.

Bring the kids!

We can’t speak about family travel from personal experiences, but we are always relieved and impressed to see families traveling far and well even with small children in tow. It can be done, and it might even instill a sense of curiosity and adventure in your children at a young age that will carry them through their adulthood.

You don’t need luck.

We are often told that we are lucky to live the way we do. We do feel lucky in some ways: We are lucky to be native English speakers, because it gives us employment opportunities basically anywhere in the world. We are lucky to have met each other, because we both want the same things from life and we push each other forward instead of holding each other back.

The choice is yours. Keep going straight.

But a lot of it is choice, not luck. We know what we want, and we chose the right path to get it. If it’s also what you want, waiting for a stroke of “luck” is not the way. It’s time to act! And we’d love to help. Not sure where to begin? Let us know your situation, and we’ll offer any pointers we can.

The Language Barrier: Best Tips & Awkward Stories

Too many people are reluctant to explore the world because they are afraid of trying to communicate with non-English speakers.

We want you to know that there is always a way around not knowing the language.

You might believe that if you can’t speak the language, you won’t be able to communicate at all. After travelling to over 20 non-English-speaking countries, we can assure you that you will find a way to communicate (and understand) no matter what.

We’ve found that not knowing the language has never prevented us from finding food, shelter, or transportation. It has never stopped us from meeting locals and having a laugh with them. It has never kept us from enjoying our travels in any way, but it can be hilarious and create some bizarre scenarios.

So how do we do it?

A Few Basics Go a Long Way.

To start with, it’s always helpful (and polite) to know a few simple phrases, at least “hello” and “thank you.” If you have a few weeks before your trip, or even just a long plane ride, practice greetings, directions, numbers, and how to order food and drink.

Learn how to order the essentials.  

Use Your Phone

Many situations can quickly be resolved with the use of a translation app, like Google Translate, on your phone. Make sure the language you need is downloaded for offline use!

You can also search Google Images to help you out, or use a drawing app.

Google translate could become a very good friend. 

Try New Words, New Phrases, New Gestures – Just Keep Trying!

Not sure where your attempts at communication went wrong? Remember that no two languages line up perfectly. You may have unintentionally used some local slang that confused the meaning of your words (I’ve gotten in trouble with accidental idioms that use words like “yellow” or “egg”), or there might not be a direct translation of what you’re saying, causing your translation app to miss the mark.

No two languages line up perfectly. 

If you’re trying to speak an Asian language, tones can often change your meaning. In Thai, ‘gly’ can mean near or far, depending on how your voice rises or falls. That can definitely cause some confusion!

Even body language and gestures can occasionally mean something different in another culture. I remember facing a room full of laughing teenagers (and one very red-faced boy) in China when I asked one to come talk to me with my index finger. Apparently, that gesture is quite inappropriate in their culture.

These obstacles and missteps are inescapable. You just have to laugh it off, think of another way and try again.

Accept That You Will Look Silly Sometimes.

We all have, and it’s okay!

When your limited vocabulary fails you, it’s time to use the easily-misunderstood but universal language of facial expressions, gestures and prop use. You will become a charades master. 

Some efforts will go better than others. Some will be a stroke a genius! Others will end with you looking absolutely moronic. Some will accomplish both at the same time.

We have looked like complete idiots on more than one occasion, but these are all fun stories to laugh at now.

There was the day Kristin needed some feminine hygiene products from a shopkeeper and found herself trying to demonstrate a heavy flow and miming the act of inserting a tampon. She has had prouder moments, but she did leave the store with what she was looking for.

There was also the day we needed a toilet plunger. The gesture we used could be (and was) interpreted in some very interesting ways, and the Thai woman clearly thought we’d lost the plot.

And one night at a Chinese KTV party we tried to explain we needed another microphone. That looked like something entirely different being pulled towards our mouths.

Embarrassing? Of course. But the point is that it’s all good fun. You will get some strange looks, but when everyone finally understands what you’re saying, it can be taken as a joke all around.

Anything to get that microphone!

We just have to remind ourselves that travelling is worth it. It is worth the extra patience and extra effort. It is worth every moment that frustrates, confuses, or embarrasses us – and it’s only temporarily. We eventually reach understanding, we learn from every encounter, and we always have something to laugh about later.


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A Scooter in Bangkok: The Best Kind of Death Trap?

At first, renting a scooter in Bangkok seemed like one of the best decisions we could have made. This sprawling, chaotic city is notoriously difficult to get around, but with the scooter we had found independence and freedom.

We could go anywhere. No more taxi drivers refusing to turn on the meter. No more long ticket lines and crowded trains. We took our scooter to work. We spent weekends zooming all around the city. We even took it on holidays to Pattaya and Kanchanaburi. After 4+ hours on the road, we’d arrive at our accommodations sore and grumpy, but adamantly insisting that the discomfort was worth it to avoid the horror of public transportation.

The scooter gives you the option to stop and see at any time. 

We even named him – Tooter the Scooter. He was an essential part of our life – until a collision from behind sent me flying and thinking: is it worth it?

Traffic here is the 2nd worst in the world, after Mexico City. Cars and buses are crammed on every road. There is no such thing as a smooth journey around Bangkok. I’ll never forget the day that I spent 4 hours in a taxi – without the traffic congestion, it should have been 25 minutes.

The BTS and MRT trains only cover a fraction of the city, and the buses are always packed, vile, and reeking of body odor. You might occasionally see a public boat on the river, but that route won’t take you many places either. A scooter seems like – and is – such an appealing option.

However, our biggest regret was becoming so reliant on the scooter, to the point that even the thought of using other modes of transport was stressful. The reality is, after such collision, they’re really not that bad.

It became the ONLY way to travel.

While we’re not going to say never ride a scooter in Bangkok – honestly I’d probably encourage you to give it a try – we do want to offer some insight into the annoyances and potential dangers you could face.

The first point is the traffic. You’d think a city with so many bikes on the road would know how to accommodate both cars and scooters. Ideally, cars would stay in straight lines within their own lanes, and scooters could easily move between them when traffic gets congested. Instead, you’ll find cars all over the place, making it beyond infuriating to find the best path through. What should be a quick skip through the middle of still cars takes twice the time because you have to weave in and out – and it’s not easy dragging a scooter in a city with stifling temperatures 12 months of the year!

Notice that most cars are not directly behind the one in front. 

Always be vigilant! Always! I’ve seen cars cut 3 lanes of traffic just to get 10 metres in front of where they were originally. Pointless and idiotic, but that’s what you have expect.

Meanwhile, buses think they own the road, and the not-so-rare moron can be found speeding around traffic on a motorbike doing wheelies.

To be honest, the majority of the people you share the road with are going to be idiots.

The point is, even the safest driver can’t be assured that he will avoid an accident. There is always a risk. We couldn’t have been more careful. We drove slowly. We paid attention to our surroundings. We stayed in the left lane whenever we could. But it wasn’t enough, and after 7 months an accident did occur.

You might do nothing wrong, but you can’t control what another driver will do! Even trying to be safe and going slower will usually result in a car up your backside blasting their horn at you. It was difficult not to get shaken up when that happened without warning. Just what a scooter driver who lacks a little confidence needs, being scared from behind!

The chaotic roads of Bangkok. 

After the accident, I immediately realized I never wanted that horrible collision feeling again. But I can honestly say that if it didn’t happen I would still be on the scooter because it makes travelling the city so much easier. It’s quite a dilemma. But for us, never again!


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How Travel Changes Your Perspective

“Travel changes you.” Throughout my life this is something I’ve heard countless times. I don’t think any other activity has gained as strong a reputation for opening the mind and encouraging character growth.

Reykjavik, Iceland
A few weeks ago I entered my 20th country (Vietnam), and this milestone got me thinking: How has my time abroad affected me?

I’ve learned that bad feelings are not bad.

While traveling, I have experienced a wide spectrum of emotions. Of course, these include wonder, excitement, curiosity, and inspiration. But I have also felt fear, uncertainty, annoyance, discomfort, and boredom.

And where do you think my best stories come from? When do you think I came home feeling more resilient or more experienced?

When we arrived in Beijing with no return ticket, no hotel booked, and barely enough Chinese to ask for help.

When we spent a night homeless and exhausted in a cold Icelandic bus station.

When I was robbed and ill in Tanzania.

Now, whether I’m home or somewhere out in the unfamiliar, I say yes to more experiences. Whether they are “good” or “bad,” I know I will be thankful for them in the end.

We laugh about this day now: Lost in the Forbidden City. In the rain. Still carrying our bags because we couldn’t find a hotel.
 

I’ve found comfort in knowing that I can ALWAYS adapt.

Unexpectedly, I’ve learned to love the frustrating struggles we encounter with each new country.

It’s satisfying and empowering when something that seemed challenging – chopsticks and squat toilets in China, dressing modestly in the desert heat of Oman, over-the-top spicy food in Thailand, communicating with only charades and body language – finally becomes normal and natural.

We’re already out of water! Dressing appropriately in the Middle East makes you thirsty.
The thing is, I don’t really know myself, and I don’t really want to. Knowing myself is not the goal anymore. I can always change, I will always change, and I like changing. I don’t want to find myself, but I do want to surprise myself.

I’ve accepted that my journey will never be finished.

When I first started traveling, I remember thinking that it would only take a handful of trips overseas to feel as if I had “seen the world.” One or two stops in each continent, and I could claim my title of World Traveler™. Then that always persistent, painfully expensive travel itch would disappear and I’d be ready to find an easier, cheaper, less time-consuming obsession.

But that’s not what happened.

I’ve now accepted that I will probably never be happily rooted to one place, and I’ve learned that the world offers way more variety than I’d ever thought.

A 2-week trip to Asia won’t scratch Asia off the list. Myanmar is vastly different from the Philippines, which is vastly different from Vietnam — and a quick visit to any country will never give me a real grasp on its culture.

The world is best explored slowly and thoroughly, and I now believe I’ll always want to do just that.


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