As I’m about to head on my next overseas adventure and am also revamping this blog, which involves reading through all my previous entries, I am reminded of all the important things I’ve learned on my travels so far and thought I would document them here.
1. Keep it short over all
Last year I travelled for eleven consecutive weeks, moving from city to city and hostel to hostel. As I read through my blog entries as the time passed, I can follow my progress from excited and enthusiastic about travel, meals and sights and eager to befriend everyone in the hostel; to exhausted, increasingly bored, frustrated with my weight gain and over the fleeting acquaintances from short term hostel stays.
By the time I finally got to Toronto, where I was heading to live long term; all I wanted to do was earn money, be a productive member of society, eat healthily, do some exercise and make some friendships that might last. Although plenty of people travel for much longer than my stint – many for months on end – I have no idea how they manage to keep it up and stay keen.
So I’ve learned that about four weeks is the maximum time for which I can travel and maintain enjoyment. This amount of time also ensures that my attitude during the trip is optimal: as I know I’m only away for a limited amount of time, I make the most of every day and worry less about lack of sleep, weight gain and how much money I’m spending. I know I’ll be back to eating healthily and earning money all too soon.
This is also a convenient realisation for me to have made, as annual leave in Australia is four weeks per year. No more quitting my job to travel!
2. Stay in each place a minimum of four nights
During my big trip last year I stayed at each place for an average of three nights, with some places only getting two nights of my time. I did this due to trying to see as many places as possible on my budget and I usually never consciously thought it was too short a time in each place; however, in hindsight, it seems crazily short.
When I went to Perth during the middle of this year I stayed for a total of nine nights in Perth alone, and five of these in the one hostel. Even though Perth is hardly London or Rome, it meant I was able to really relax into the place, settle into my hostel, get to know the others in my room and make local friends with whom I could hang out repeatedly. It also meant the ability to go at a slower pace and not feel the need to get up very early each day.
And in Europe I probably had the best time in Rome where I spent a whole four nights and luckily with the same group of people at the hostel. From now on, I will stay a minimum of four nights in each place, and maybe even longer.
3. Do it myself and skip the tours
Although I had a great time on my Contiki tour of Ireland, I have had worse luck on other tours I have taken and have generally found that they are problematic in several ways:
a) They involve getting up too early every day for my liking, such that I never get enough sleep
b) A surprising number of others on tours are not keen to experience the nightlife – yes even Contiki tours, which are generally accepted to be party tours. On Saturday night in New York City I was ridiculed for wanting to go out because everyone was tired. No joke.
c) Spending more money than you would otherwise: you can travel much more cheaply staying in hostels, taking public transport and eating at restaurants that are cheaper than is included in the price of a tour. And you can still go on free walking tours or relatively cheap day tours while backpacking to get the informative aspect you get on tours.
d) If you find you’re not clicking with the others in your tour group, it’s going to be a long time stuck with them; and you’ll be less able to meet others than when by yourself as you won’t be in a hostel and will be expected to hang out with the tour group rather than go off and meet locals.
e) People on tours seem in general to be less down-to-earth and open than people I’ve met in hostels, for some reason. I assume this is due to the type of people who stay in hostels and do everything themselves compared with the type of people who prefer the comfort of hotels and tours.
f) Tours are heavily populated by females: in my case 80-90% have been female, whereas hostels tend to be more like 70% male. And in my experience males are more down-to-earth (and less concerned about showering twice a day, for example) as per point e).
4. Travel by myself
While I have had some good times when friends have joined me on my travels, over all I have found the freedom I achieve by travelling by myself and the fact that I more often meet locals due to necessity to outweigh this, such that I have mostly had better times travelling by myself. But then I personally get a real kick out of meeting new people; I know others prefer to share their experiences with an established friend.
I have also had the experience of travelling together damage and even end friendships, and have heard the same tale from others. Even if you think your friendship will withstand travelling together, you might be wrong. This is perhaps also an argument for a couple to travel together to test their relationship.
5. Travel more South-East Asia
Although I only dropped into Thailand and Vietnam on the way to Europe last year, I enjoyed this part of my trip the most. Everything is cheap, including all day tours that can be booked the night before; the culture is much more different from Australia; the landscape is utterly beautiful (and different from Australia, the US, Canada and Europe); and the other travellers in hostels are more down-to-earth, relaxed and ready to party than those in European, US, Canadian or Australian hostels. People are also more interested in sleeping in than getting up early, so it’s also a lot easier to sleep in dorm rooms. All of this is why my next stop is Thailand again. Psyched!
6. Don’t arrange anything early in the morning
When I had morning trains, buses or planes it of course meant getting up much earlier than that to get there in time. Knowing I have to be up early – I’m not a morning person so the very idea is exhausting, and will probably prevent me from getting to sleep – I stay in the night before, missing out on a night of socialising.
On my next Thailand trip I have arranged my inter-location transport so that I never have to be up before 9am. And I’ll skip the all-day tours, for which you have to be up by 7am, in favour of the plethora of convenient afternoon tours that start at 2pm.
7. Time myself to be in important places on the weekend
When I went on my Contiki tour of the US (prior to this blog’s existence) the tour took us to Las Vegas on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights; when everything really happens on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights (see point 3). If nightlife is important and at its most active on the weekend, you should make sure to be there over the weekend. This is less important in huge places like London or New York City where you can find something to do every night, but even relatively big cities like Toronto perform significantly poorer in the nightlife department on a weekday than on a weeknight.
8. Research hostels on Hostelworld.com
I stayed in a horrible 22 bed dorm in Barcelona (the hostel was named Kabul: don’t stay there), where it took two hours to check in at 10pm and there were no power points in the rooms, because I had read that it was one of the best party hostels in the world. After that nightmare, I went on Hostelworld.com and saw how bad some of the reviews actually were.
I thence chose the hostel I would stay at when I returned to Barcelona based on careful examination of Hostelworld reviews and found one that had a fun party atmosphere, but one that was separated from the ability to sleep comfortably if you didn’t want to party. It made the two Barcelona experiences completely different. And this brings me to point 9:
9. Don’t stay in more than an eight bed dorm
10. Consider hostel location as well as reviews
The hostel I very briefly stayed at in Rimini (so briefly the description is at the beginning of my Rome entry) was also meant to be a great hostel due to its party atmosphere, but was so far from the beach and town we had to walk for about an hour to get anywhere and there were no functioning buses. Probably if I had checked the place out in detail on Hostelworld I would have realised that.
11. Accept that I will gain (a lot of) weight
There’s no getting around it: I gain weight every day when I’m travelling. Eating many more kilojoules than I normally would due to eating out all the time and trying to savour the local food – which also tends to mean eating when I’m not hungry sometimes – as well as not exercising means weight gain is unavoidable. The only way to avoid it would be to stay in the hostel, spend time grocery shopping, cook at the kitchen and find a gym: in other words, not actually experience the place I’m in.
Before I embarked on my big trip people assured me I wouldn’t gain weight due to all the walking I’d be doing. I gained over twelve kilograms (over 20% of my body weight) in eleven weeks. I’ve also gained a few kilos after only one or two week trips (yes, I’m not joking). So the only thing to do is accept the situation, not travel for TOO long (see point 1) and relax in the knowledge that when I return to normal healthy life it will come off – eventually.