What I’ve learned in eight weeks of full-time travel: Part one
Things I’ve learned that mostly relate to actual travelling
We’ve been travelling full-time for eight weeks now. In some ways, it feels like a lot longer than that – it almost feels like a real lifestyle now. And of course it does, because it literally is our lifestyle, albeit temporarily. In other ways, it feels like just yesterday when we set off from Dublin airport in the middle of August. One thing that is for sure is that ever since we set off, it’s been one big learning curve, so I decided to write about some of the things that we’ve learned so far. We’ve learned loads, and I know we’ll continue to learn loads over the coming weeks and months. Because there’s so much that I wanted to write about, I decided to break it into two parts – this first part is about all of the travel-related things that we’ve learned. I’m sure some of these will overlap with part two, but that’s okay – you can make your own mind up. Part two is all about the more general life lessons or things that we’ve learned about ourselves, and you can read it here!
The best things are free
One of the main themes in this post will undoubtedly be things that I thought, suspected, or already knew, and I’ve just had them affirmed in a big way. This is probably number one on that list.
Most of the things that we’ve enjoyed the most haven’t cost a penny – or they’ve cost very little. Watching sunsets on the Adriatic coast; dipping our feet in the sea and taking everything in; going for a swim in the Slovenian lakes; meeting up with friends old and new. These all cost nothing or next to nothing. Walking tours are a great example too. Most major cities have free walking tours and in my experience, they’re often better than the paid ones (of course, you should absolutely tip your guide if you enjoyed the tour and you have the means to do so).
There have been things that we’ve spent money on that we loved too, but there is a real, tangible pattern when we talk about our favourite parts of the trip so far. Not all, but most of them actually have been free or very low-cost.
Of course, sometimes the ‘free’ part of this is offset by the price of a coffee or a glass of wine, but these are optional. And coffee and wine make almost everything better, so a small outlay can go a long way to making some really special memories.
And I know that some businesses have caught on to this and tried to make the free things not-so-free. The ones that really stand out to me are the cafes on St Mark’s Square, Venice – who charge you something like €10 for sitting on their terrace before you even order a coffee. Every seaside destination will have restaurants and bars along the seafront that charge considerably more because of their location. Sometimes they’re worth it, sometimes they’re not. The good news is, there are still loads and loads of things and places that you can enjoy for absolutely nothing. All you need is the desire to do so, some patience and a bit of creativity.
It’s difficult to find a balance between authentic experiences and a good infrastructure
This sounds obvious, and it is obvious – but the reality of it is a lot more difficult to manage than the concept of it. I remember reading about chicken buses in South America that don’t run on a timetable and just set off if and when they fill up. I remember thinking that would be sound – the idea of it actually seemed like quite a novelty. Right now, I couldn’t think of many worse things! Should I be sorry about wanting a bus service that runs on time? Because I’m not. We haven’t had anything at chicken-bus levels of unreliability (thankfully) on this trip, but there have been plenty of late departures with zero information communicated, even more late arrivals, long-haul bus journeys being completely overbooked and people sitting in the aisles for the whole journey. And getting your luggage paid for, loaded on the bus, and actually getting yourself on to the bus has been a complete free-for-all. Hasn’t anybody in the Balkans heard of a queue before?? I’m all for being polite and letting a few people get on in front of me, but not when it seems to be an entire small village showing up at the last minute and trying to be first on.
Getting from one city to another is just one small example, but it’s a fitting one. The truth is, if you want to find real authentic, non-touristy travel experiences, that’s going to come at a cost – and that cost is often comfort and peace of mind. And that might be okay for some people. I think I’m still trying to find the right balance for me. Maybe ten years ago I would have been happier to wing it a bit more and see where I end up. But now, I’d like to know that I have a bed to sleep in tonight and that I can make myself a cup of coffee when I get there. I’m sure there must be a way to do this without constantly being surrounded by swarms of tour groups – but I’m still figuring out what that looks like for me. Ask me again in another eight weeks and maybe I’ll have found it.
Tourists are the worst
Speaking of swarms of tourists – they are just the worst, aren’t they? I now properly understand why tourists get such a bad rep! And I know it’s a bit of a paradox, because technically I’m a tourist, and it’s only really because of tourism that we’re able to go on a journey like this. But you know the ones that I’m talking about – large groups who take over squares and cobblestone streets, stop abruptly for no reason even though there are people walking behind them, and believe that their photo of the world-famous monument in front of them is more important than everybody else’s. Infuriating. And even more so because it’s been highlighted so much on this trip – I guess the more tourist destinations you visit in a row, the more you recognise that this is going on. Maybe it’s easier to just shrug it off if you’re on a five-day trip. I really don’t know what the solution is.
It’s for this reason in particular that I really don’t like bridges as tourist attractions. Bridges are for getting from one side of a river (or whatever) to another. So please, please stop swinging your selfie stick at people who are just trying to go about their lives.
I know there are loads of tourists and travellers out there that are incredibly considerate, kind, thoughtful and generous. It’s just a shame that it’s often the other ones that stick out so much. I guess it’s important to recognise and remember that it is only a small percentage of people that are so annoying. But they are oh so annoying! Do me a favour and be extra nice to everybody around you the next time you’re on holiday or travelling. I’m trying really hard to be.
Slow travel is the one for us
We have so enjoyed spending a longer period of time in some destinations. More than once, we’ve gotten a comment from our host along the lines of ‘seven nights is a long time to visit, so you might want to do a day trip to x, y or z.’ The truth is, we’ve just been enjoying really getting to know the places that we’ve visited. It’s not very often you get the opportunity to spend seven to ten nights in more than one destination – especially if you’re in the ‘real world’ – you know, people with jobs and other commitments and that. So we’re just taking our time and enjoying ourselves. And I think we’ll try to take this into future trips that we do, and not always feel like we have to be constantly on the go all the time.
We’ve found that spending two nights somewhere is absolutely not enough – by the time you get the travelling in to arrive at your destination, you actually only have one full day of exploring. There’s not even any point in unpacking really, because you’ll be packing again before you’re able to get a full charge into all your electronics. Even three to four nights has started to feel like not enough. Sure, it’s almost certainly enough to fit in all the major tourist attractions, but then you end up in a position where you feel like you’re just getting to know a place and then you’re up and leaving again.
I think anywhere between five and ten days – depending on the destination – has become the right amount of time for us to stay in each destination. It means you can fit in all the important stuff, take a day to relax and recharge, but also immerse yourself into everyday life and get a proper feel for wherever you are. Spend a couple of hours in a coffee shop not feeling like you need to be somewhere else. You’ll get a better feel for a city doing this than you will trying to squeeze four monuments into five hours. And you’ll enjoy it way more. We do, anyway.
Overpacking is a real thing that you shouldn’t do
Almost every article I read before leaving strongly advised me to not overpack. I tried not to, honestly. But it’s so easy to just throw in an extra t-shirt, and I swear, those real paperback books have definitely been worth taking as well as my Kindle.
There’s a reason why this piece of advice is offered from almost every corner of the travel blogging internet universe. It’s a really, really easy trap to fall in to. And one you will end up regretting. Remember, you have to carry everything with you to every single destination. Trust me (and everyone else who has made this mistake once) – you will not need as much as you think you’ll need.
Here are some things that I’m really glad I packed: reusable carrier bags (£1 from Primark – a seriously good investment!), insulated water bottle, inflatable travel pillow, flip flops, safety pins.
Things I really could have done without: Those extra t-shirts, extra pair of shoes (I’ve worn one pair. One.), the four to eight (I haven’t checked) pairs of socks that have never made it out of my backpack, multiple (!) paperback journals to write in. I think five (five!) pairs of shorts was probably too much in the end. I’d have survived with two. Honestly, if you really need something, you can almost certainly buy it when you’re on the road. Pack and then take half your stuff out and then go. Actually, the best thing I did was decide to buy a smaller backpack than I was originally going to buy. And I still overpacked. Less is more, people.
Skype and Whatsapp aren’t a substitute for the real thing
There’s loads of technology now that makes it really, really easy to keep in touch with home. In fact, we would probably be struggling a bit if we weren’t able to regularly call home and see and chat with our loved ones. But video calling home just isn’t the real thing. Which is an obvious thing to say, but the truth is that it isn’t even close to the real thing. Skype calling is so far from giving a hug, laughing with nieces and nephews, calling in for a cup of tea and a chat just because. Nothing can make up for that.
Now, we knew that we would miss these things when we made the decision to go travelling. It’s one of many sacrifices we decided would be worth it for the period of time that we would be away. It’s just a dangerous thing to let technology convince you you’ll miss home a bit less. Okay, we probably do miss it a bit less than if we didn’t have the video calls, but that doesn’t mean we don’t miss it. Being away from family and friends will always be the most difficult part of travelling, and while technology certainly helps, it’s not a solution to this age-old problem!
It’s hard to meet people while travelling as a couple
We’ve met up with both old and new friends, and had some casual conversations with people, mostly on boats, buses or tours. But we haven’t really met any people by chance that we’ve formed any sort of bond with. And we’re usually quite social people. I think two things are happening here.
I think travelling in the off-season is a factor. I think there are less travellers our own age, or on similar journeys to us that are currently on the road in the same places that we are. I also think that travelling as a couple is a big factor. I guess if you’re out at a restaurant or bar, or even on a walking tour, you’ll see two people who are a couple and normally assume that they kind of want to be left to their own devices. Which is the case sometimes, but more often than not, we’re absolutely open to chatting to new people. Just because we’re travelling as a couple doesn’t mean we want to exclusively only interact with each other the whole time we are away. It’s not a big problem for us – far from it – but it’s definitely something that we’ve noticed. Anybody else had any similar experiences?
First of all, I can’t believe I haven’t taken a photo of one of the hundreds(ish) of cevapi that I’ve eaten! But I had to end on a high note! I had heard of cevapi before I came to the Balkans, but I had no idea that I would end up really loving it! I think I’ve eaten cevapi more than any other single thing on this trip. And I’ll miss it when we go back to the real world! When it’s so tasty and so cheap (especially in Bosnia), it’s difficult to muster up the enthusiasm to go back to your apartment and cook something yourself. When you can have cevapi. My number one thing that I wanted to do on our last day in Sarajevo was to make sure I had one last Sarajevo cevapi. It was worth it.
The real question is what has changed my life more: cevapi or Vigo ice cream? Spoiler: I’ll probably never answer this. It’s like picking your favourite child, only more difficult.
A few honourable mentions to small things that I’ve noticed. I’ve been surprised at the quality of the tap water. Everywhere we have visited in Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia have all had really good quality tap water. Our wallets and the environment are forever grateful!
I’ve also noticed that although you have a lot more time on your hands, you still have to prioritise what you want to do with that time. I sort of thought I’d have all the time in the world, would read loads of books, learn loads of new stuff, listen to all the podcasts. But if you don’t make a point of doing something you want to do, you’ll end up just wasting away your day doing something mundane. I’ve ended up writing a short list of things I want to do every day and making sure I get through it. Something else that I’m sure I’ll bring back into the real world.
Last but not least, being sick on the road is pretty crap – and all I had was a cold. It really got me good for four or five days, and I felt awful. Half because when you feel miserable, all you want is all of the home comforts. And half because I felt so guilty about not being out exploring all the time. It was a vicious circle. You’ll be relieved to know that I survived. I’m just glad we haven’t had any serious ailments on the road, and fingers crossed I haven’t cursed it now for the next few weeks!
So there you have it – just some thoughts and things I’ve learned while on the road for the last eight weeks. I’ve also written another post with some more musings about life in general, rather than specifically about the travelling side of things.
What have you learned while travelling?