Travel

One Year In: 10 Realisations from Life on the Road

So Toby and I have now been travelling the world for a whole year. We had a fantastic 4 months in South America (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia and Peru); a short break in Fiji with Toby’s dad, Alex and sister, Rachel; almost 8 months living and working in beautiful New Zealand and now we are in Australia. We have been incredibly lucky. We have met some wonderful people and and seen some amazing things, and our Instagram games have definitely gone up a level. In some ways our trip so far has met our expectations, but there have been a few things we have realised along the way.

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1) Travelling isn’t actually that scary
When we first arrived in Rio de Janiero a year ago we were both nervous and a bit worried; upon arrival we actually waited in the airport café for the sun to rise as we were afraid to venture into Rio in the dark! Of course we were excited, but our immediate thoughts were consumed by things like which bus to get and making sure our possessions were all safe. After a few days we did relax a little and enjoy ourselves a bit more, and after a couple of weeks things just stressed us out less and less. We had a few hairy situations when buses didn’t arrive when they were supposed to, or we couldn’t find our hostels, but they became easier to deal with and we have developed a little routine. Travel is fun. There will always be locals to help you out and people are generally lovely. It’s still an adventure, discovering new places, but it doesn’t feel daring anymore, which I think is good. We’re just sitting back and enjoying the ride.

2) Spending 24/7 with one other person doesn’t have to be difficult
Several people warned us before we left that spending every day with each other wasn’t going to be all plain sailing. In particular, the male clientele at the pub Toby worked at told him he was completely insane for going travelling with his girlfriend. I also frequently read travel blogs where people gave you tips on how to not drive each other completely insane, when you’re travelling with a friend or partner. Well I have to say it has mainly been plain sailing! Sometimes we get hangry (hungry + angry, although that’s mainly me, not Toby), sometimes we are tired, and everyone has bad days, but all in all its been great. We know each other so well now (nothing is sacred once you’ve both had terrible food poisoning a few times) and I couldn’t imagine doing this without him. Perhaps we’re a lucky exception, I’m not sure, but I think people exaggerate about how difficult it all is. After all, we are just on one big holiday!

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3) How to live out of one small bag
This doesn’t bother Toby at all, but I have to say living out of a small bag can be a pain. I don’t have much stuff, so I get very bored wearing the same clothes all the time. Sometimes I want to wear something nice when we are going out in a city somewhere, and all I have is my one pair of jeans or a very crumpled up dress. However, it teaches you to eradicate the need for ‘stuff’. We frequently visit lovely little gift shops and walk through markets selling interesting clothes and trinkets. We have treated ourselves to a few new bits and pieces along the way, but there are no impulse buys. Whatever you purchase, you have to carry for the rest of your trip, and it has to fit inside our 45L backpacks. No matter what size your bag is, you will fill it. Toby and I limited ourselves to quite small bags, which I think has been a blessing. Although it can be frustrating, it really helps you to get out of the habit of buying things you just don’t need.

4) National stereotypes are generally true
Germans are highly efficient and are weirdly good at spending the tiniest amount of money possible (it’s hard to tell if they’re still having fun though). The French think that the bread and cheese everywhere is terrible, and in a lot of places they have a point. Chinese and Japanese tourists really do take photographs of everything. We were on a train in Peru and a Chinese couple opposite us spent a long time taking photos of the complimentary instant coffees and plastic wrapped biscuits. Most Europeans, but especially the Dutch, have fantastic language skills, and can usually speak English better than we can as well as 10 other languages. Swedes are not seen frequently, but when they are they are so chicly dressed – how do you look so good living out of a backpack? Americans are loud, but very friendly. I’m not sure if this is a stereotype, but the people we have met from Denmark are very very funny. And, of course Kiwis are an exceptionally friendly bunch. Then I guess this means we must be the ‘whinging poms’, but who doesn’t love a good moan?

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5) Travelling by land is much better than by air
Toby and I planned our South America trip with enough time to travel between places by bus. At first I was apprehensive, as I tend to get car sick on long journeys, but I’ve come round to the idea that it’s the best way to see new places. Of course, fly if you’re short of time, but it doesn’t give any sense of the distance you’ve travelled. You just leave one place and appear in another. You see a lot more of the country out of the window of a bus, you see strange animals and tiny rural villages that you completely miss otherwise. It also means you don’t have to visit as many airports, and they’re always pretty rubbish.

6) You don’t have to be mega-rich to travel to amazing places
Travelling for a long time costs money, but how much it costs is pretty much up to you. Yes, you have to pay for flights to get away, but you can shop around to find reasonable ones. And then yes you have to pay for hostels and food, but again, you can be savvy with what you buy and where you stay. You start to think of money in a different way. When you’re tempted to splurge a bit, your mind automatically works out how many nights accommodation that is, or how many Dominoes pizzas that could get you (in New Zealand and Australia they’re only $5!). You start to think of money in a different way. We try and stay to a daily budget, and so far our money has got us pretty far!

7) You realise how much you love home
This might not be the same for everyone, but being away has made me realise all the things I love about home. As they say, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. Not only do I miss my family and friends (of course), but there are lots of things I miss about London. Friends upload pictures of London all the time, and they probably don’t even realise how lucky they are being in one of the best cities in the world. When we were in New Zealand I missed how diverse London is. When we were in South America I missed the simple things like good cheese, or marmite. I always miss the brilliant culture and history of the UK, especially when staying in such new countries like New Zealand and Australia. Homesickness does get easier the longer you’re away, but there’s no reason for any of my family to worry that I won’t ever come home. I love home too much!

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8) Travel doesn’t quench your thirst, but makes you greedy for more
We’ve been lucky enough to travel to loads of different countries so far, and there are hopefully a few more to come, but it doesn’t satisfy the travel bug, it makes it worse. When we flew out of Peru, leaving South America behind us, we had a long list of more South and Central American countries we really wanted to visit, that we didn’t have time to fit in. We even had more places in the countries we did get time to visit that we wanted to see. We had had such a wonderful time, we just wanted more. Before this trip is over we’ll already be dreaming of all the places we’d love to go next, we’ll just need to find ways of funding it!

9) It’s not a holiday
Although I joke that my life is one big holiday at the moment, it’s actually harder work than you’d expect. The first couple of weeks in Brazil we were going out for beers every night, caught up in that ‘it doesn’t matter, I’m on holiday!’ mood. But we soon came to realise that it’s not sustainable, either in terms of money, or our health. It’s not a holiday, it’s a way of life (and I am aware of how pretentious that sounds!). As I said before, we have to live on a fairly tight budget if we want to travel for months at a time. We also have to do loads of boring things that you don’t really associate with a life of travel and fun. We still have to cook dinner, wash up, do our laundry, go to the supermarket, and in New Zealand we had to work and pay tax too! Some days are more holiday-like than others, and we are so lucky we don’t have to go to work every day and we get to go to all these wonderful new places, but it’s not all fun and games, I swear! When you’re on holiday you also don’t need to keep arranging transport to the next destination, or make sure you’ve got somewhere to stay. Generally you’ve planned out your holiday beforehand, so once you’re there you just have to sit back and relax. However, when we are feeling a little bit stressed about something, we do have to remind ourselves how cool it all is, and how we’ll be wishing we were back doing it again once we’re having to go to proper work every day!

10) You have to get used to the pretentious ‘wanderlust’ life lessons
If I had a penny for every time I read phrases like ‘Life’s not about avoiding the storm, it’s about learning to dance in the rain’, ‘We all smile in the same language’ or ‘It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey’, I’d be rich. Those phrases belong on tumblr, not on the bathroom walls of your hostel. It’s all a load of rubbish, but that doesn’t stop people getting it printed on T shirts and tote bags. So far we haven’t discovered the meaning of life, but we’ll keep searching on the back of toilet doors and get back to you.

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6 thoughts on “One Year In: 10 Realisations from Life on the Road

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