Category Archives: Travel Tips

Why Moving Across the World Doesn’t Always get Easier

Each person, city and country will present its own relocation difficulties, but today you’ll hear about Hong Kong’s (slash mine). I can almost officially say that uprooting yourself does get easier after a while, but there are always those hidden stumbling blocks.

Time to get my gripe on about moving to Hong Kong….

26_05_14_40

Its fucking hot. I think its appropriate to have this at the top of the list. I never knew I was one of those weak people who cant handle hot, humid weather, but turns out I am. Its the boob sweat, dehydrating kind of heat that leaves me wondering if next time I’ll be so stupid as to join in on the hike. the only place to be is indoors with the AC on. Although apparently the AC needs to be sub zero in order to counteract the heat. You can’t win.

Finding an apartment. On the one hand there are a tonne of apartments available because people come and go like its nobodies business. On the other hand, property costs about a zillion dollars per square meter. The moment you start looking at places within your budget, you realise your previous ideas of big and small spaces will soon change.

The best part is the down payment on your over-priced apartment.In Hong Kong, be prepared to part with 3.5 month’s rent for your initial payment. Its made up of your first month’s rent plus a 2 month deposit plus half a month’s rent in agency fees. Most people I know had to ask their parents for help when they first set up shop in Hong Kong. Me? Well I payed my dues on the yachts.

I share a 3/4 bed with another above average sized human being. This may sound impossible to westerners but its doable I promise. I’m 5.9 and he’s around 6.1 ft and we, believe it or not, have managed to make it work for us. Its not even that we cuddle the whole night through. The early days and winter are clearly behind us.

The mattress incident. The extra-length mattress we had delivered to us but then needed to return is the mattress we sleep on today. Why is that? Because coffee spilled directly on and ALL over it before they managed to take it away from us. Think of one of your worst 48 hours and then think of this. A stressful and PMS-filled move, topped off with ‘the mattress incident’ that brought me to tears. The mattress now fits because it has to. When I tell this story everyone always wants to know ‘who spilled the coffee?’ the answer is and has to be ‘both of us’ to avoid ruining a relationship over spilled coffee.

An initial loss of social life. Drinking at any establishment is as expensive as if you were doing it in Australia. Drinking alcohol is abut 50 times more expensive, relatively speaking, than anything else here. We’ve been here 3 months and only went out for the first time a few days ago. Moving to Hong Kong without a job or steady income means that you SHOULD NOT have much of a social life at first. That is if you want to keep your head above water, financially.

Other than that, things are going swell 🙂

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , ,

On Being an ‘Angry South African Expat’ and What Really Makes us Tick

Lets get one thing straight- there is no such thing as a ‘South African expat’.

People who have chosen to live outside the country should not be lumped into one category. Even though the term applies to anyone living abroad, its much more complex than that. There are South Africans living all the over the world for reasons that vary from being racist, to a career move, to prolonged travel. And for a long time now ‘South African expat’ has become somewhat of a curse word, a word used to describe deserters full of hate.

I felt the need to bring up the issue of the South African expat because a) I am one of them and b) I’m pretty damn tired of feeling guilty about it. (And also a recent trending article got me thinking.)

IMG_0124

The first category of South African expats are of an older generation. These individuals have many enemies. They have been living outside of South Africa for years, if not decades. They are targeted by anti-expat articles written by naysayers who write with just as much hate as their accused ex-countrymen supposedly harbor.

This generation of expats left South Africa around the time of the country’s first democratic elections. In the months leading up to them, petrified white South Africans fled the country for fear of being the victims of a counter attack. (That or they were just downright racist and couldn’t deal with a black president).

There is a certain (large) amount of negativity towards this group of people. You can find proof in all the long winded pieces about evil-expats written by gushingly proud South Africans. We get it- there are South Africans living abroad who talk shit about their native country, it’s crime stats and corruption.

But if you ask me, one of the few places one might be exposed to these bad vibes and negativity is in the comment section of an article written by aforementioned gushingly proud South Africans who love singling out expats and their ‘stupid’ decision to leave. Being picked on for being ‘unpatriotic’ and leaving is only going to cause debate, negativity, a lot of back and forth and name calling. I do not condone bad behavior from either side. No-one is idiotic for choosing to leave or stay.

But, as with most things in life, there is a new generation.

Not all expats decided to ‘run for their lives’ around 1994. What about those who left more recently. Those who stuck around long enough to see Mandela become president, watch the ’95 Rugby World Cup and maybe even long enough to enjoy the 2010 festivities….. but eventually still made the decision to leave. While l don’t hold the all answers about the increasing flow of South Africans out of the country, I do have a few questions for those who love to complain about it:

Did you know that people all over the world leave their native countries to pursue better opportunities? Did you know that it is not necessarily unpatriotic to leave your country to live in another one? That often, living outside the country makes us more patriotic than ever before? Especially because, and did you know this, being removed from South Africa and it’s problems helps us keep a more positive outlook on it that you might?

Arriving home the day of Mandela's death was extremely special for for. I was humbled and totally appreciative of my country.

Arriving home the on day of Mandela’s death was extremely special for me. I was humbled, appreciative and proud of everything my country stands for. I was like a tourist experiencing the magic for the first time.

If you meet an American living outside their country, or a Swede or a Kiwi, would you question their patriotism? Probably not. And their countrymen probably wouldn’t give two hoots about their decision to leave either. So why do South Africans get so upset at the idea of, God forbid, a South African living outside of South Africa?

Remember, a lot of people who leave South Africa intend to return in the future. The experience and knowledge they gain overseas and eventually bring home is priceless and should not be underestimated or downplayed. I like to think they’d contribute massively to a better South Africa one day instead of assuming they’re making things worse.

Unfortunately the dilemma continues for new generation ‘deserters’. Although we’ve gained the right to vote abroad, we’ve somehow lost our right to an opinion on the state of the nation.

American expats wouldn’t think twice about calling George Bush out on his stupidity. They’d second guess their country’s gun laws in the blink of an eye . So why are South African expats at the point where they feel guilty about making judgments about home? We seem to have lost our right to speak negatively about South Africa after making a decision to leave. Apparently leaving means we’re no longer entitled to think along the same lines as people who remain to contribute: Zuma is a dick, crime sucks and growing your savings account takes decades.

If someone makes the decision to leave, so be it. Instead of reacting with negativity and blaming them for their lack of positive contribution to the country, rather give them a hug because you know how hard it must be to leave and a high five for managing to do it on a South African passport.

In the past four years living abroad I’ve encountered a lot of questions related to South Africa, its political and social situation. I don’t sugar coat things. I say yes, my house is fortified and yes, my heart does race when I arrive home late at night for fear of being hijacked at my gate.  I say these things because I have been asked and because they are true. NOT because my favourite past time is to talk shit about South Africa.

IMG_9969

It is also my experience that once these people have heard what I have to say they are, naturally, quite shocked. My answers are often met with more questions. And this is most likely the reason why when you meet foreigners they might bring it up in conversation with you. Not because I’ve exaggerated or gone on, but because they were shocked by what I had to say. Because a lot of the time what South Africans call their reality, is insane.

In the same breath I try and encourage the people I meet to visit there one day because just like a problem child, my problem country is completely delightful and they’d be missing out if they never got to know it.

Tagged , , , , ,

F**k you, Lonely Planet

The traveler’s bible. The massive brick of a book lugged around by globetrotters, taking up precious space and adding unwanted weight to an increasingly heavy backpack. All for the times when we need some information about where we are, where we’re going and where to stay and eat.

I’ve never been tempted to buy a lonely planet. Not for any of the countries I’ve traveled or lived in. They’re expensive, hefty and much like the bible- seen as gospel instead of a guideline.

Why buy it when the internet has everything you need to know about anywhere in this world? You can access it from almost everywhere and more often than not, its free (or close to it). You might have to do a bit of work to find what you’re looking for but I’ve always thought that’s part of the fun. Hell, you can even head straight to the lonely planet website if you want.

During my India trip I traveled with various people who were in possession of a Lonely Planet. I paged through them now and again looking for some help and inspiration. This is what I came to find out.

India_262

Writers for the Lonely Planet know the places they write about like the back of their hands. They are chosen over other travel writers for the job because they have lived in the area for extended periods of time and know what they’re talking about. Only problem is, while they know the truth about somewhere- like how its just another shitty Indian city- they don’t say as much.

They are not being paid to write negatively. Instead they write about the Pink City, the lake palace and the famous temple with careful objectivity interspersed with as many pleasing adjectives as they can muster.

So when the time comes to choosing a spot close to Delhi in which to spend your last few days before departure, you’re left feeling helpless because each place has been described as not being too different from the rest. A temple, a river, a bustling bazaar.

They had this to say about the Rajasthani city of Jaipur:

“Jaipur, the City of Victory, is chaotic and congested, though it still has a habit of tickling travellers pink. Stunning hilltop forts and glorious palaces fit like footprints from a rich royal past, candyfloss-bright turbans blaze a trail through brilliant bargain-filled bazaars, and fluttering saris catch the eye like butterflies.”

I beg you, show me a sane person who enjoyed Jaipur. There was nothing, literally, nothing going for it. Not the 45 degree heat, not the disease ridden train station, not the unimpressive Pink City or the even less impressive Lake Palace. We hated almost everything about the place and yet, there’s someone being paid to write what you see above, misleading poor travelers who don’t know any better.

India_315

We should have known better, though, after a fellow traveler told us it was hell. And after countless Delhi locals told us how hot it was. But you’ve got to see these things for yourself I guess and, well, Lonely Planet doesn’t paint an aweful picture. They even dedicated more pages to it than any other Rajasthani destination- it must be worth seeing. Wrong!

Ok, so Jaipur is shit. Thats fine, we’ll find a nice air-conditioned room and spend most of our time indoors and get some work done. Where does Lonely Planet say we should stay? This one sounds good, lets book there. And yes, aside from the broken AC that had us unable to sleep through the heat, and the, literally, exorbitant prices of what they call food, I guess it was a nice place. A place worth mentioning in the travelers’ bible.

I suppose when the Lonely Planet guy had visited, the hotel’s surrounding area didn’t look like central Baghdad, the road completely torn up and none of it taken away- like it had been recently bombed. And I also suppose that the price of food wasn’t originally so sky high. It was no doubt the hotel’s mention in the Lonely planet, and the subsequent rise in guests, that had them thinking it was ok to charge what they do for food. Luxury restaurant prices for way below average dishes.

Our experience in the self-proclaimed ‘Yoga Capital of the World’, Rishikesh, was no different. Lonely Planet, in all fairness, is not the only one to blame here. It’s also the mob mentality regarding the place and general over exposure of it. The Beatles went there 50 years ago, its a yogi’s delight and is big on the map of the well-worn tourist path through India. These are all pull factors attracting close to every traveler of India.

But what I can’t see past is Lonely Planet’s claim of Rishikesh being “conducive to meditation and mind expansion.” Yes, its famous for its ashrams and yoga courses within them but I can’t help but KNOW that those are the only places one is to find peace in the fly, monkey, vendor and tourist infested town. While I’ve often struggled to find peace during my stay in India, walking through the streets of Rishikesh while whipping my hands around to ward off the flies, was one of the least relaxing things I’ve done. And don’t get me started on the motorbikes and their incessant honking on the two footbridges that cross the Ganges. 

NorthIndia_13

I went as far as typing “Lonely Planet sucks” into Google to see who out there agrees with me, if they do at all. I was happy to see that I’m not alone/crazy. There are people out there who agree with me on this. While once upon a time it was a guide book worth having, it is now an over-commercialized bible-esq book that people think they need. The information is often unreliable and there’s even a mention that a Lonely Planet Guide Book was written by a man via Google, having never stepped a foot in the country. That would explain a lot.

What sucks even more is that successful and respected travel writers that I follow use and mention these guide books on their blogs. An indication of how difficult it can be to make money as a writer. Having to resort to aligning yourself with a famous but low quality guide book just for an added source of income. Unfortunately, this is the life I’m striving for.

To conclude, don’t buy a Lonely Planet. Have more faith in yourself, your gut and intuition. Do your own research and go to cities and towns that sound good to you and have reviews that sit well with you. There are also other, lesser known but higher quality, guide books out there. Here is a list of them. 

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Wrapping my head around blogging on the road

Who knew there were so many things to consider when blogging on the road. What do I write? How in-depth do I go? How much hindsight do I need? How much of an effort do I make to find wifi? These questions and more swirl around my head, contaminating my mind, frustrating me.

Arriving in Mumbai almost four weeks ago was a definite sensory overload. For me it was mainly the heat and the noise. Coming from tourist-haven Barcelona, I felt like I was prepared for the amount of people, but the incessant honking combined with the heat was headache material. I was probably adding to the sensory overload by trying to figure out how I would filter through all the mental and photographic images, the encounters and experiences.

India_315It took a while but I finally came to the point where I was able to side-step the over-stimulation I was causing myself. I gradually realized that it’s near impossible to take everything in and live every experience while simultaneously coming up with story ideas. At what point does my lived experience become part of a story?

IMG_5088

 

What helps, unsurprisingly, is jotting things down in a notebook. The trick is to have this notebook with you almost always because, and take this from me, you’ll often think of a great idea that you will never again remember if you don’t write it down straight away.This side of things takes practice. Although I consider myself a writer I’ve always struggled with keeping diaries. I can’t do the day-to-day musings, preferably written poetically and possibly ‘for my eyes only’. A big reason for that is probably because no-one will be reading it and so I half don’t see the point.

 

But there is a point. The point is to remember. A diary reminds people of their experiences and my notebook does the same. I might jot down a word or a sentence or elaborate on a point I want to make, but the overriding idea is that I can come back to it later when at some point I’m inspired to do so.

I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to figure this out.

Backpacking is tough. I might be stating the obvious here but there’s a lot of moving around with heavy backpacks and if you’re me -a camera bag and a non-travel friendly laptop. Backpacking is about overnight travel. It about putting your belongings down in your new digs and feeling like you’ve just run a marathon and could sleep for days. Then there’s the added self-imposed blogging pressure; a niggling feeling of needing to maintain consistency.

Then you remember you’re in India. After you’ve booted up your breaking computer, converted your unreadable photo files and touched them up a bit, you realise the internet has stopped playing along and opening a single webpage can kill your soul.  Don’t forget that there’s 1 socket, 2 people and 500 things to charge.

So I ask you to excuse me while I travel, while I navigate around the idea of blogging on the road in a third world country. I may be experienced at being an ex-pat but this ‘backpacking’ is a whole other ball game.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Un Cafe con Leche, Por Favor

Barcelona offers a lot to a lot of people. You’ve got Gaudi and his colourful, wacky architecture dotted around the city. You’ve got the Gothic quarter which dates back to Medieval and even Roman times with its labyrinth of tiny streets. There’s the beach, the cathedrals, the tapas and the wine. And hopefully one day I’ll get round to writing about some of those things. But today I’m here to talk about coffee.

I’m a tea person. I want tea when I wake up in the morning- milk and one sugar. Everyday for the first 18 years of my life, I woke up to a mug of hot tea next to my bed. I love tea. But in Barcelona I’m getting in touch with my unexplored coffee side- and for good reason. You cannot walk a block without passing a well established cafe that offers good coffee with whatever else they’ve got going on.

IMG_0391More often than not, cafes are synonymous with delicious pastries that take a lot of will power to overlook. I was pleasantly surprised but also confused upon arriving in Barcelona. I’d just come from France- land of the pastries- to find that neighboring Spain offers almost as high a quality and possibly a higher quantity of pastry shops. The main difference being that France own the bragging rights and according to the rest of the world- are the specialists in this area. And while this may be true, Spain comes in a close second, scoring extra points for humility.

IMG_2243Spain possesses a vast vocabulary when it comes to all things coffee, ordering a plain “café” will get you quizzical looks from the server. There are a variety of ways to enjoy your cuppa. The most popular choice is ‘cafe con leche’ (coffee with milk) which is an espresso with hot milk added. ‘Cafe solo’ would be your Espresso, Cafe Cortado is ‘stained coffee’ where just a drop of milk is added to the espresso. If you’re after a milker option the uncommon, latte-like, ‘Leche Manchada’ is a little coffee and a lot of milk. Cafe con Hielo or Coffee with Ice is an espresso poured over a block of ice. Cafe bonbon is sweetened with condensed milk. Cafe bonbon con hielo- sweetened coffee on ice.

*I’m a cafe con leche girl. 

Coffee culture thrives so well here that you can make it your mission to visit a cafe daily and not go to the same one twice – they are literally on every block, on every street, in every neighborhood.  They come in all shapes and sizes and of course some are better than others! We used to frequent the one featured below because of its close proximity to our house (15 steps away). Its definitely one of the quirkier cafes with a homly seating arrangement- popular for meet up groups and working on your laptop. But there’s definitely better coffee to be found- so we continued our search.

IMG_9358By the time I leave Spain I imagine I would have spent a fair amount of money on the coffee hunt, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Cafe culture is special and brings people together- don’t mind if I do. 

IMG_2556**This just in: Just finished one of the better coffees since arriving here. From a very unsuspecting cafe filled with locals. Thats when you know. 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Travel Tips: How to Keep Your Travel Costs Down (and still have fun)

The fact that I’m writing this doesn’t mean I went through all these efforts (this time round). It’s safe to say that my post-yachting-season-bank-balance has allowed me to live relatively well throughout my time in Spain. However, I am aware that saving when you have a lot of money is easier than doing so when you have a little. So my approach has not been an ideal one in terms of making my yacht-money go far. Let’s just say I’ve been treating myself after a summer of doing something I wasn’t loving.

It’s not always as easy as following a set of guidelines on ‘how to keep your travel costs down’. There are always factors that will influence the amount of money you spend. Even if you’ve done all your forward planning. If you’re super strict on yourself and don’t allow other people to affect your decisions, you might end up spending the daily amount you’ve limited yourself to. But then you could be missing out on a lot. So how do you achieve the ‘win-win’ situation where you’re spending a reasonable amount and not missing out on all the fun?

Staying at a hostel is one of your cheaper accommodation options when travelling. But since the hostel life can tend to revolve around meeting new people and socialising, you often find yourself spending more money than you otherwise would if you were, say, a loner and not keen on mingling. Going out for coffee, heading to pubs and clubs, hitting up the sights and doing all kinds of activities together will eventually take its toll on your wallet.

There’s no point in trying to avoid these hidden costs altogether because it will mean avoiding the making of great memories. Just try to pick and choose your indulgences rather than joining everyone and doing everything. This is if you’re attempting to make your money go far. If you’ve had two pricey days in a row, take a break and lay low for a while. Do things by yourself that are free or cost very little.

Going for a walk in search of a view costs nothing

Doing things with other travellers is fun and shouldn’t be avoided just to save money. When possible, suggest free or cheap things to do.

The next point is somewhat related. It’s very important if you’d like your money to stretch further that you don’t eat in restaurants all the time. It may not seem like it at the time but spending money on a meal in a restaurant even once a day is way more expensive than cooking something for yourself (and possibly others- always a cheap option). Unless you’re in India where you might feel like and actually might be a millionaire.

As fun as this may look, it takes its toll on the budget traveller's bank balance.

As fun as this may look, it takes its toll on the budget traveller’s bank balance.

Think twice before booking transport between places. Maybe there’s a cheaper option- shop around. Sometimes a bus or train ride might not cost you that much less than a flight. This is the case around Western Europe a lot of the time. Saving time AND money- score! Booking transport (and accommodation) in advance almost always saves you money too.

Even cheaper options and something that can be an absolute life saver in places like Europe where you might (and probably will) get sick of spending so much money on long haul journeys, are car-shares. Blablacar.com is an absolute winner for this. I have touched on it in a previous post but for those who are still in the dark…. Type in your city of departure and desired destination. A list of lift offers will appear from people already doing that trip in their own car. You then contribute the amount sited to join them on their journey. This can more than halve your travel costs (and force you into a conversation with someone potentially awesome or influential).

029

I think it goes without saying that when you cross the border and leave your home country  you’ve GOT TO turn off your mobile data. That is unless you’re a fan of spending exorbitant amounts of money on surfing the internet. (Or even just checking the odd email or Facebook message. You’ll be surprised just how much it will cost you). Just do it ok. This is not a fun mistake to learn from. You’re better off buying a sim card in your destination country, with which you can most likely buy credit with mobile data or even just mobile data.

Try your best to avoid changing currencies at airports or ferry terminals. You won’t get a very good exchange rate, i.e. you’ll be losing more than you otherwise would (if you’re like me and are often changing the weak South African Rand for a stronger currency like the Euro). These places feed off last minute money exchangers.

Having to stick to a budget is not always a bad thing– it can be a blessing in disguise. Often it will force you out of the more expensive touristy areas and into parts of the country or city that is way more authentic. Couch Surfing is a prime example. By saving on a couple night’s accommodation you are also getting a completely unique view on the town or area you are in.

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Smoker’s Paradise: Barcelona and the Legal Weed Scene

Arriving at a non-descript place, situated in a small but busy square, neighboured by various shops and restaurants, we ring the doorbell. Someone who looks like he smokes all day every day comes to let us in. I’m with a familiar face and we’re welcomed inside. My chaperone pulls up a chair and sits with some friends who frequent the place just as often. I’m on my own and head to the counter………

I did hardly any research prior to my Spanish trip for reasons I’m not really sure of. I knew I didn’t want to see a boat and be able to eat, sleep, socialise, ‘live’ at my own pace for a while. 11am mornings, early nights, late nights, see people, not see people. Sightsee on days I want to and not feel bad about some good, long chill sessions.

The whole Cataln culture and desire for independence thing was news to me when I arrived. But what I also had no idea about, and what actually affected my life directly was what came to my attention regarding the marijuana culture in Barcelona. In one sentence, smoking a joint is almost as socially acceptable as puffing away on a cigarette (although we all know that’s borderline taboo itself).

I was constantly aware of the smell of weed- on the streets, during the day, at night, at the hostel, outside pubs and clubs. Everywhere. It took me a couple days to finally come to the realisation that marijuana in Barcelona Is an accepted part of life. I mean this not only in the way that it is socially acceptable to smoke the stuff, but also in its accessibility.

Thanks to a loophole found in laws pertaining to marijuana in Spain, opportunists have managed to build businesses (legal ones) based on the sale of it. Yes- you can purchase weed, legally, over the counter. And once you’ve done that, you can pull up a couch in the establishment, roll yourself a joint and enjoy it in peace.  

These ‘clubs’ as they’re called are a relatively new thing but for a long time the law has allowed two marijuana plants per person, so long as its grown and smoked in the privacy of your own home. The loophole works more or less this way: They take your allowance of 2 plants and provide you with a regular yield at a fair price that you can collect from the club every day. For every member that joins, the club can then add and grow another two plants to their ever growing fields of herb. Obviously not everyone is purchasing marijuana from their ‘own’ plants, although some do.

IMG_9393

Drug use and possession for personal use do not constitute a criminal offense under Spanish law (crimes must have victims in Spain). All things considered, I felt comfortable publishing this photo.

Towards the end of my extensive hostel stay I was what you might call ‘accepted’ by the staff as ‘one of them’, or a little more than a guest at the least. Their ‘local’ club is conveniently located 2 blocks away, and as with any of these establishments, one needs to be a member to gain access. Id spoken to enough passing travellers to know that obtaining a membership at one of these places is as easy as one, two, three. Quite literally. 1. Arrive at club, 2. Sign up as a member with any form of identification and 20 euros, 3. Purchase the marijuana of your choice. Indoor, Outdoor, Sativa, Indica, 50/50 for 4,5,6,7,8 euro a gram. Your choice.

IMG_20131112_144615[1]Some clubs are a little nicer than others but they all provide the same function. You will always get a few different strains on offer and will never be disappointed by strengths and tastes as every batch is monitored for a high standard. On arrival you might be offered drinks and a seat and some of the nicer clubs will even host cinema evenings and club nights where you can get to know fellow smokers.

……..He photocopies my ID book, cuts out the picture and glues it to what will be my membership card. Then he puts it in the laminating machine and we begin to talk business. This is a first for me- purchasing marijuana in much the same manner as I used to rent my movies from the movie store. Being out of the loop in terms of what’s what on the ‘menu’, I ask, ‘what’s your favourite?’ A question I used to ask the movie store people.

I settle on one called 1024- an interesting name- the only one I’ve come across made solely out of numbers. I reunite with my friend and pull up a chair. I meet his friends. Also Argentinians. The one’s been to South Africa- on a rugby tour 15 years ago. I’m told what needs to happen next and I oblige. Even though there’s already one going round the table.

Want to read more about this unique situation? Here is a great article with some sweet pictures.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Travel APPtitude: techonolgy and the modern traveller

It’s not uncommon to see travellers spending more than the recommended daily allowance on their gadgets while on holiday. Our addiction to modern technology, and more specifically, to our smart phones, means that we are incapable of doing without them even when we are supposed to be adventuring through foreign lands.

If you were a Pintrest fan at home a week ago, who’s to say you won’t be tempted to scroll though pin after pin now that you’re in Rome or Rio De Janeiro? Some people just can’t seem to do without their usual dosage of social media when they’re on the road. It’s an ugly truth about the world we live in today. It’s not uncommon to see a hostel stayer remain indoors and online for the majority of their stay. It could be for Facebook reasons or to keep up with your favourite sport via streaming.

IMG_9189

Keeping connected @ 360 Hostel, Barcelona

But I think it’s important we appreciate the ways in which technology has affected our travels positively. In many ways it has created a simpler and even safer way to travel.

How does technology help us travel safer?

Social media is one of the ways. ‘Checking in’ may sound to some like a lame thing to do, and in certain ways I guess it is. Victoria is at –Starbucks, or Victoria is at –Barcelona. (The former being a tad more lame than the latter.) But it occurred to me that if you’re travelling solo and for whatever reason, go missing, social media could come in very handy. If you’ve checked in recently – that would be a starting point for your search.

Simply talking a friend or family member online means there’s always someone out there who knows your current location. The same with uploading a photo that you took five seconds ago with your iPhone. The way social media keeps us connected could get annoying if you’re keen to fall off the face of the Earth for a while. But I have a feeling the modern parent wouldn’t appreciate that too much- they’re too used to keeping virtual tabs on us.

Certain apps for smart phones also do a great deal in terms of keeping us safe. One like Citymaps2go is useful for finding your current location without needing to connect to the internet. Simply download the map of the city you are planning to visit and not only will you have the map but a little pin showing exactly where you are. Perfect for avoiding getting lost and ending up on the wrong side of town.

DSCF0600

Reading a map in a windy Marseille

Then there’s the Travelsafe app that contains a database of emergency service numbers for just about every country you’d ever care to visit, plus plenty for those that you wouldn’t. There’s also embassy details should passports go missing and – for the truly paranoid – the option to pin certain services to your home screen as widgets.

Technology also makes travelling that much easier

There are times when I think that my life would be simpler without computers. I’m not the most technology-savvy person and when things go wrong there’s little to no chance of fixing the problem myself. That being said, I can’t deny that my life would be way more complicated without it. New technologies are very much part of my life and I’m the first to admit that I rely on them a lot. A smart phone that connects to wifi, internet banking and Google Translate are all things that make my life abroad that much simpler (when they work).

Then there are all the apps. Apps, apps and more apps designed purely for the traveler/tourist/person not in a familiar place. One that detects the nearest ATMs, one that help you navigate the New York subway and even one that supposedly sends a cab to your exact location when you click the ‘pick me up’ button. I’ve never been a huge ‘app’ person. Probably a lot to do with my technology-savvy-less-ness.  It took a long time and a friend of mine to finally get me onto the Facebook app (now that I have it I don’t know how I went so long without it).

One that took my fancy is Google Goggles. If you stumble across an important looking building but have no idea what it is, fire up the app, take a picture of it and so long as what you’re pointing as is famous enough, the app will send you to its Wikipedia page. Google doesn’t always get every search right but it often does. Plus it’s a fun way to go about enlightening yourself. Although, you may need to find the ‘wifi-finder’ app first so you can get connected.

When our parents travelled or lived abroad in their youth they would find themselves disconnected from home for weeks or even months at a time. I’m grateful that I live in an era that allows me to live out my dream and at the same time not have to live with being so far removed from the important things in life- family and friends. And of course I’m grateful for Google maps.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Kinds of People You’ll Find at a Hostel

If you haven’t stayed in many hostels before or in one at all, you might be under the impression that certain ‘types’ of people or travellers stay in them. While I cant speak for how things were years ago, I can safely say after my hostel experiences, that there is no ‘one type’ of traveller that chooses hostels as a preferred form of accommodation. Its not necessarily the young traveller looking for cheap accommodation and a good time.

IMG_5024

So who can we find in the bunk below us or in the common area spending too much time on their devices? These are the ones I’ve identified recently:

The Newbie

This person is either new to travelling or to staying in a hostel or both. While a lot of hostel stayers will have stayed in many others before, there are some that you will meet who are staying in one for the first time. These people are intrigued by the constant flow of people in and out of the establishment and can be found interrogating new roommates upon arrival. The Newbie could also be new to travelling as a whole and might be unusually interested in the lives of the Intrepid travellers

The Intrepid Traveller

This person has travelled a lot and has stayed at many hostels. They are not as eager to become best friends with every new face they see but instead let the connection form naturally. Some types might be big on talking about what they’ve seen, done, where they’ve been and how cool it was. Others might keep this information to themselves but can be spotted from a mile away by how comfortable they look cooking their meal for one in a foreign kitchen surrounded by strangers.

Someone like this man who we found with a flat tyre after cycling through the Atacama Desert can be found in a hostel when he's not in his tent

Someone like this man who we found with a flat tyre after cycling through the Atacama Desert can be found in a hostel when he’s not in his tent

The Neat Guy

This guy is not me. The neat people are able to live out of their suitcases or backpacks without it looking like an erupting volcano. Some of the really talented ones even keep it zipped up and untouched-looking the entire time. I am currently sleeping above such a person. I don’t know how they achieve this.

The Messy Guy

This would be me. This has always been me. It’s as if taking an extra 5 minutes to pack away what I’ve just worn is the hardest thing to do. Having this kind of personality is probably also what made me struggle a little in my summer job as a yacht stewardess KEEPING THINGS CLEAN. The messy people feel bad about their untidiness, but not enough to rectify it. Please note, in my case its organised chaos and is limited to a 1m squared area. And I still know where everything is.

There definitely seemed to be more 'messy' travellers in South America. I'm sure it has a lot to do with the type of person who travels that part of the world

There definitely seemed to be more ‘messy’ travellers in South America. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the type of person who travels that part of the world

The guy here on business

Believe it or not people travelling on business also stay at hostels. They might not be the CEO type but here and there you’ll find someone around for a reason other than just ‘travelling’. These folks can be seen spending a lot of time on their devices – and are forgiven for it. Unlike the hostel stayers who have their noses buried in social media as if they were at home on their couches.

The Quiet Guy

This person will wander around the hostel, sometimes with earphones in, not speaking to anyone. Days can go by without many words coming out their mouths. I don’t have much else to say about these ones.

The Organised Traveller

Some people, mainly those on a tight schedule, will have everything planned out down to the hour. Printed out travel itineraries and all. This person is often the same person as ‘the Newbie’.

The go-with-the-flow Traveller

These ones don’t know what they’re doing today or where they’re going tomorrow. “Somewhere in Spain”, “Maybe Madrid”. The go-with-the-flow traveller and the organised traveller might have difficulties travelling together.

The Friend

There will inevitably be ‘that person’ staying at each hostel who you click with. It could be another solo traveller, someone from a similar background or country, someone from a completely different background, or someone you’ve picked up as a lover. Basically you have the chance of meeting and connecting with anyone from anywhere. Your friendship could last 24 hours or your plans could end up involving each other for a few weeks.

Travelling solo means being able to do what you want to do, when you want to do it. This includes changing your route along the way and joining someone elses. Eoin convinced me the Bolivian jungle would be a good idea.

Travelling solo means being able to do what you want to do, when you want to do it. This includes changing your route along the way and joining someone elses. Eoin convinced me the Bolivian jungle would be a good idea.

The Partier

Usually of a younger age. The partiers will focus on how much alcohol induced fun they can have- and lets not forget the drugs. So far I can say that these types are more likely to be found in South America than Europe.

These girls partied non stop through Bolivia and Peru. Here's them on a hangover.

These girls partied non stop through Bolivia and Peru. Here’s them on a hangover.

Bare in mind- a hostel stayer can be the friend, the neat guy, the intrepid traveller and the go-with-the-flow traveller all in one. Other combinations are also possible.

Hostels are far from the dirty dives that people thought of them as before. And they are especially not something out of the movie ‘Hostel’. By my definition a hostel is a place where you pay less per night for accommodation than anywhere else. Its also where you have access to free internet, cheap laundry services, the odd free meal, camaraderie, adventure and comfort. There is no reason to ever stay in a bad hostel when we have access to sites like Hostelbookers and Hostelworld. They give us every single detail from location down to if they supply locks or not. The ‘reviews’ section is particularly important and can really help you get a better feeling of the place before arriving or if you even want to stay there at all.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

5 Things I didn’t know before my job on a sail yacht

Here’s a list of almost completely unrelated things that I have learnt during my season working on board Moonlight II.

No sea sickness for me.

I knew quite a lot about myself at the age of 24 when I joined the yachting industry, but whether I suffered from seasickness or not was yet to be determined. My first experience at sea was a crossing to Corsica on a beautifully still night – smooth sailing one might say (although we weren’t sailing). However I still managed to convince myself of feeling a little queasy, so I popped a pressure point wrist band on each arm along with a pill and nodded off to sleep. The pill sure did its job in knocking me out and worked throughout the whole next day keeping me feeling well and falling asleep everywhere. But, as it turns out, not even the roughest seas have managed to get me down this season. As a crew member on a sailing yacht sometimes I’m at sea even when the winds are pushing gale force (although not often) and the calm lake that is the Med becomes unwelcoming and violent. As long as I’m on deck I’m A-OK and glad to say I have never felt like emptying the contents of my stomach.

French swear words

6 months on board as the only non-French crew member has taught me a few things- one of them being that the French swear almost as much as they smoke. And that’s a lot. Us English speakers are quite boring and tend to use the beloved ‘F**k’ as a noun, verb, adjective, exclamation and more. There is no equivalent in French. So they switch between various naughty words and if my crew represent the majority of all French people, then this is a country of potty mouths. A favourite of theirs is Putain (Pew-tah). It’s strange how a word literally meaning ‘whore’ can be used in situations of any kind. And it rolls off the tongue ever so easily for anything from an urgent need to pee to something more deserving of an actual swear word. The French have somewhat of a reputation for being…… difficult. And my qualitative ethnographic research has shown this to be true. Reputation well-earned I’d say. Saving them is their tasty cuisine, wine, pastries, rich culture and quirky sense of humour.

Crew members bowl movements

Moonlight II is and isn’t a small yacht. At 30 meters she is a good size for a sail boat, but compared to 100 plus meter floating hotels out there she is but a mast atop some drift wood. Guest cabin sizes are impressive, always bigger than first time visitors expect to see. As for the crew mess, this is where things get a little cosy. Which is why one becomes aware of one’s crew members bowl movements. Some go three times a day, each meal passing straight through not leaving much time for digestion. Others perhaps once a day and the unlucky ones less than that- owing to the uncomfortable situation of having everyone know when you’re doing your business I guess. The loud pump-action flushing system doesn’t keep things discreet either. You become immune to these things very quickly.

The force of gravity

Throw a ball up in the air and it’s guaranteed to fall back down. Tip a table over and whatever’s on top will crash to the floor. Take a sailing yacht, put some wind in her sails and you have a once perfectly balanced boat now moving through the water at an angle of sometimes 70 degrees -depending on the wind. In other words, take a sailing yacht, put some wind in her sails and anything on board that could possibly move- does. Thanks to our powerful friend gravity, tables and chairs need to be fastened to the floor, flowers, candles and fruit bowls need to be stowed away. Cabinet doors securely fasted and unlike in aeroplanes’ overhead storage spaces, things will actually have moved throughout the journey and are likely to fall out once opened. Somehow I often seem to forget this- especially when I open my bar fridge for the first time post-sail. Guest cabins need to be checked before setting sail as items will shift from the open cabinets into the toilet bowls. Prevention is always better than cure. The better the sail the more of mess the boat is afterwards.

Never buy a boat

If you are rich, or if you plan on being rich one day then I suggest that you think twice before buying a boat. You know how they say buying a car is a bad investment? Well buying a boat is way worse. Why? Things on boats are ALWAYS breaking. I’m yet to meet someone who works on a boat that isn’t in constant need of repair. There is always something broken and ten to one it costs a fortune to fix. Supposedly when you buy a boat you pay X-amount for it. The next year you will spend 10% of that X-amount on it. In its second year, 20% of X-amount and so on. This, I’m assuming is if you’ve bought the boat brand new. Also, you will pay your awesome crew a ridiculously high salary compared to other labour-intensive jobs. The owner of my boat has been trying to sell it for 11 years- since the day he bought her basically. Knowing what I know about her, it would be daylight robbery taking someone’s money when you know the bag of problems they’re going to inherit. Instead you should charter a boat if and when you make your millions. Being a paying guest might come at a hefty price but you’re only paying for what you get- which is an awesome holiday and nothing more.

All hands on deck! Everyone pitching in with helping get a generator back in its place

All hands on deck! Everyone pitching in with helping get a generator back in its place

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,