One of the most fantastic things about travelling is that you never stop learning. I mean it, NEVER! It doesn’t matter if you have travelled in 70 countries or in “just” 2, if you visit a country for the first time or been there countless times , you will always end up learning something new, more or less amazing! However, the more you step out of your comfort zone the stronger the “lessons” will be, and this is something that I can’t stress enough. The travel style you choose has definitely an influence on your internal journey as well- it’s so different to be under the protective umbrella of a guided tour for example than by yourself. Your experiences will vary significantly should you travel with £1000 in your pocket or £10. So, what did I learn in 2018, the year I jumped out of my comfort zone, quit my job and previous life and spent 6+ months travelling in Siberia and Asia?
1. (Travel with a lot of) Stuff
I always knew I do not need every top/ dress/ whatever I possess (believe me I have thousands!) but as a designer/ stylist and shopping lover myself I “had to” buy a lot of stuff. Backpacking does not offer you much room (unless you can carry 30 kilos on your shoulders for extensive periods of time!) so I had to keep my backpack light. Believe it or not we can live with much less than we think! I am not reinventing the wheel here and if you are avid travellers you already know about it. I had to leave behind many (many!) things I wish I could have taken but a 70L backpack and a cabin laptop bag was my limit. I know backpackers carrying over 20 kilos but for me is a no-no; even 12kilos limited my freedom a lot! Downside? I had to wear the same clothes over and over again – such a personal failure!- but there is always room for some colourful lipsticks!
2. Budget (and privilege)
It is possible to survive with less than £10 per day in SE Asia – including accommodation! Oh yes, even though it is very tough. You have to sleep at the cheapest place you can find or to couchsurf or volunteer or workAway (read no.3!) but it is doable. The problem is the cockroaches you have to deal with (NOT everywhere!) or the big lizards (or the bad mattresses or the lack of toilets or…) ! Once, we accidentally booked a room on top of a striptease-club in Luzon island, Philippines only to find out that the supposed-to-be bathroom sink was literally next to the bed!? As if this was not enough, the tap was half-broken and the cockroaches could come and go at their own pace! Splendid, right? But..wait, I went through this because I chose to do it , I could have returned back home 1-2-3 months earlier cause I am privileged enough to have this option. But what about half of the population worldwide that lives on less than half of my daily “cap”? Oh yes, 5 dollars according to the World Bank!! What are these people’s alternatives and what are we doing about it?
3. How and Why to use Workaway
This website can be a life saver! When you have no interest about a country, not enough money, no plans for the future or just a gap week/month/ year to fill in the workaway may be the answer! I have described it properly on this post but it’s not only about the money that you can save, it s also about the locals you will meet, the new skill you will learn, the family you will help and the experience that you will broaden your horizons. I am begging you, do your research and go! For me, the 2 weeks I spent working on an..UpSide Down art installation in Malaysia were absolutely fantastic (see the toilet photo below!) and the WorkAway is also the reason I am in Malta now.
4. Diversity (and privilege again)
We, as human beings, have such a tiny acceptance spectrum towards different people! I realized this long time ago but travelling in such difficult conditions made me deal with it over and over again. We tend to believe that our experience is the best, the only “true” one, the universal. We take for granted that the things will be done everywhere the way are done in the place we call home. I am still trying hard to get rid of this mentality too; the moment I discerned that I had done a good step closer to this goal was when I heard a fellow traveller swaggering that “WE (westerns) have to TEACH THEM (West Africans) how to spend THEIR money smarter and not in silly things (aka big open weddings) ” and I realized that a huge BS neon sign was flashing in my head! I admit that I expect more from travellers – unfortunately this year I have met arrogant, racist, selfish, sexist etc people along the way BUT I was pleasantly surprised by others who try to make the world a better place. I know, I have been complaining a lot about it in my Phi Phi islands piece but I will keep doing it (sorry not sorry) as it’s time for more people to choose side!
5. Mosquitoes – ha!
The tropical diseases are called tropical for a reason , they are not to be taken lightly hence the precautions, the vaccines, the health and safety travel reports etc. However, as Greek, the amount of mosquitoes’ bites I have been encountered with my entire life, cannot be beaten by Asian mosquitoes! In my 6-month Asia stay only once (Koh Lipe I am talking to you!) I was bitten by the mosquitoes’ community of the entire island! Other than that, the mosquitoes do exist and bite (and undoubtedly they can be dangerous) but nothing unbearable! Come prepared in the Mediterranean!
This could be a blog by its own! Would you believe for example that some villages in Siberia do not have internal toilets in nowadays? Oh yes, only external open toilets with a hole and a wooden base that is the only place you can stand in –everything else around is snow or ice! Doing your job half-naked in the mid of Siberian winter…my body still hates me for that! Or, in the Philippines, some islands do not have “normal” flush and you need to collect water and pour it inside the “toilet” as fast as possible? Adventurous , right?
7. (Travel) Gear
Since we are talking about Siberia and its harsh winters I learnt the hard way that the right weather gear helps you to explore any place at its fullest. Thanks to London charity shops I was very well prepared but, still, for a warm-blooded Mediterranean person the -40C degrees cold was too much! However, we managed to spend many hours outside (with indoors patches of course!) without freezing to death, even if in some points we were very close to fade! Lesson learnt : proper research in advance especially for extreme circumstances destinations!
8. Tropical Beaches
A tropical beach means amazing seawater?! Sorry, not always the case! I am a spoiled Greek and I can not be satisfied with an amazing tropical beach only- I need the sea to be “swimable” too! In the Mediterranean sea we are not used to experience tides or similar… weird natural phenomena that keep us away from the sea, we can swim anytime almost everywhere , weather permitted! In tropical countries (we noticed the same last year in Tanzania as well) you have to take into account the low and high tide-times if you prefer swimming than walking! Don’t get me wrong, I love the tropical landscape, the palm trees and this thin powder sand feeling but I just love more being in the sea with no time limits (especially after my non-sea 6-year period in London)!
Different religions inside a country can be a problem only if its people allow it to be. Talking with locals in Malaysia (primarily a Muslim country) showed us that hate has no place in Penang. The old city of this island (called Georgetown) has Muslim, Christian, Chinese and Hindu quarters/ communities, each one with their own temple. Volunteers from every religious belief gather together, usually on Saturdays, and clean / paint/ refurbish each temple on a weekly rotation basis. The kids are taught not only that people have the right to practice different religions but that no religion is superior to others. People live peacefully and the few hate incidents (no community or country is perfect yet!) do not ruin the entire atmosphere. Keep it up people!
End of my travelogue for the roller coaster 2018! Can’t wait for a superb 2019!
What did you learn this year?