So, when we started on the road...
.... we really didn’t know what we were doing! We had been on a few 3-week trips to South America and Asia but nothing like the 10 month behemoth we’d quit our jobs to undertake. Like the start of most long term trips, we made the classic mistake of organising the first three months of travel in advance by booking trains, planes and visa’s, high-fiving each other thinking that having it all planned would make it easier. Wrong! One of the most important things we’ve learnt on the road is that going with the flow of the trip, listening to your gut and each other, and take the advice of your fellow travellers. These are our top tips for really getting to know a place, it’s people and culture.
Clearly, there are many ways to travel but in a nutshell we are low-budget (£25 a day) independent travellers who like to walk in nature as much as possible, although we love the cultural hit of a city too.
The reasons we choose long term travel:
We love to strap our old boots on and go walking in mountains, glaciers, lakes and forests. If there's one thing that make us feel alive... it's nature.
Living Like A local
Eating, travelling and bargaining with local people is exciting and has taught us so much about the hosts and their countries.
People are so friendly, helpful and giving! We've been looked after by so many people of all ages. It’s heart warming to embrace different cultures, which makes for incredible memories.
We eat meat (sparingly) but will also try most things once; so eating street food, things on sticks and the hundreds of different varieties of bread has been an incredbile treat. Chinese baba bread - wow, so tasty.
Just turn it off...
Our first 3 months on the road were fun but also frantic, and at times stressful. It taught us valuable lessons that influenced the rest of the trip. In Slovakia we had a flight booked to Russia, which left us just under two weeks to explore a small part of the country. We travelled across to the high Tatra’s mountains but there was always a nagging feeling that however far we traveled from Bratislava we’d soon need to retrace our steps for the outward flight. Having a rigid plan stopped us exploring further east and helped us realise that the unplanned ebb and flow of travel was an element we enjoyed, unplanned trips just seem more fun and definitely more memorable.
The moment we arrived in China we were free to explore without time restraints, away from the confines of a timetable, so we decided to start getting off the beaten track by trying to find those place that you’ll normally see when you pass by on the bus, the places between the places. That spirit of wondering into the unknown is a sensation we both crave, apart from the time we wild camped in a bear infested Siberian forest. We awoke in the night to an ambush, luckily it was ambush of noisy cows not bears!
It sounds silly but full-time travel is tiring (remember to take holidays within the holiday) and so the longer our trip lasts the slower our approach to travel has become. Once we would arrive in a city and spend every waking hour trying to see everything in it, nowadays we are more focussed on having downtime; reading, writing (this blog), listening to music, exercise etc, spending just a few hours wondering the city but staying longer there to enjoy it at a slower pace.
We definitely recommend this approach, as you’ll start waving at the same local faces, find some awesome restaurants you’ll want to eat in everyday or have some cool chats with like minded folk or people that you’ve never met before. Travelling slowly helps you break from the shackles of your old life, perhaps a busy work-orientated existence where your day is timetabled between meetings and productivity.
If you're looking for direction I truly think travel has helped us free ourselves from the burdens of over-planning, commercialisation and expectations of the modern world. Travel gave us the freedom to really look at what we wanted from life and answer questions that most people fail to even ask themselves. We'd like to thank Micheal from Denmark for making sure we answered this, sadly, obvious question, "are you happy?". We soon realised what needed to changed to ensure the answer is "yes".
Another changing element of how we travel is following guides and ratings, or not following them as the case may be. In the beginning we relied on Lonely Planet for most of our travel advice but from reading the inspiring insights of other bloggers like Nomadic Matt and seeing first hand the effect these books have on the places we’ve visited. These days, we opt for independent travel advice or just turn up and wing-it.
We started to get frustrated that certain restaurants with recommendations from LP or Trip Advisor badges in the window would be full of people and yet equally a similar restaurant around the corner would be empty. We’d eat in both restaurants and most of the time the quieter place served better food at a cheaper price but also served local people. The difference was you might sit in a cafe with local people rather than a candlelit cafe surrounded by other tourists. So, where possible, we try to source our information from other travellers, local people or just take a risk. Don’t get us wrong LP can be very useful but it is just one node for information, I have written about this in more detail here:
Not knowing it all
Sometimes it's easy to read blogger's posts and it sounds like they have an answer to everything, indeed, you can meet people like this too. Even when you feel experienced enough to arrive in a new place prepared with rate exchanges, embassy details and taxi numbers it's impossible not to be taught something new about yourself, the country or your partner every time. Truly you will learn more about your loved one by travelling with them than by just living with them. It helped us realise that travel can be messy, tiring and underwhelming and whatever picture social media, or otherwise presents, there is no perfect way to survive a long term travel trip. Everyone's journey is different but the high points can be life-affirming or even life-changing.
Not knowing everything is an important skill to learn because our ability to react and adjust to changes now compared to 10 months ago is astonishingly different. Once upon a time we might have sat, body hunched, and scared at the thought of having missed the last night bus to Luang Prabang at 11.45pm, but over time you learn to laugh about these things and use your powerful ad-hoc pragmatism to have a quick chat with a local person who will give you a tip off about a bed for the night. In our experience, every hurdle can be overcome and these challenges push you one step closer to our backpacking mantra of "do something everyday that scares you". Although we pushed our fear factor a bit too far on the Great Wall of China.
Getting to know you
It would be rude to discuss our travel philosophy without acknowledging that this is a shared vision by a husband and wife, who have been together for 12 years. Even after spending a third of lives together I have learnt more about Ali in 10 months than I did in the 4 years we lived together and 1 year of marriage before the trip. We have been through everything together, and I mean everything! We share the space we sleep in, food, drink and even fluctuating mood's (well mine really ;-)! If one person is ill the other person is there with them too, at every yucky stage. Travelling long term with a partner requires patience, tolerance and common sense but I couldn't imagine travelling without Ali as we have shared the best years of our lives together, whilst creating enough memories for a lifetime. I truly believe that if you can travel for 6 months spending everyday with your partner, there is no reason why it shouldn't last a lifetime.
Although I still can't convince Ali to watch 'Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade' so we can watch the epic filming of Petra from the 1980s... some things will never change.