After 30 years of travel, 50 countries and seven years of blogging, you’d think I might actually be good at this travel thing by now. Travel’s my passion, and I love being able to share my advice and experiences to help other people get out there and see the world too. But I can’t help feeling like a bit of a fraud, because in some ways I’m a rubbish traveller. I’m miles away from that stereotype of a ‘serious’ traveller – those people who visit obscure countries, eat nothing but street food, travel for months at a time and befriend locals wherever they go. But there’s more than one way to travel, so I thought I’d come clean and confess my travel sins.
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I’m not that keen on flying
Funnily enough a dislike of flying seems to be an occupational hazard for a lot of travel bloggers. Either we’re all masochists or it’s one of those necessary evils that are worth the pain in the long run, something you can forget about once you arrive in an amazing destination. For me that dislike of flying comes from a combination of feeling trapped, not having any control and turbulence making me feel sick. That and the fact we’re 30,000 feet in the air. I go through phases with flying though – there was a time when I used to be in tears on take off (and looked so terrified a random stranger once gave me a Valium), but now I power through with to a supply of books and medicinal G&Ts. But it’s never going to be something I enjoy.
It’s not just the physical sensation of flying either, it’s the conditions on planes too. In my dreams I swan onto the plane looking elegant, get upgraded to first and spend the flight quaffing Champagne. In reality I’m juggling three plastic bags and a travel pillow and trapped in the middle seat next to a snorer with a TV that doesn’t work. So if there’s another way to get there then I’ll take it (though maybe not boats – the motion sickness thing means they’re not my favourite either). The train is definitely my favourite way to travel. It just seems so much more civilised – more space, better views, the chance to stretch your legs. But until there’s a train across the Atlantic or over to Australia I guess I’ll have to keep braving the plane.
I don’t really like travelling solo that much
A love of solo travel seems to go hand-in-hand with being a serious traveller. Isn’t it the best way to make real connections with locals and means you can just do and see the things you want to without having to compromise? Sounds good in theory, but in reality most of the time I have to admit I prefer travelling with someone else, whether that’s friends, family or even random strangers on press trips. Even as an introvert who loves her own space, I can have too much of a good thing. I have done a few solo trips – the longest was six weeks in New Zealand. But although I arrived on my own, I only spent a couple of days actually alone, and ended up spending the rest of the trip travelling around with people I met while I was out there.
For me it’s partly about having the company – and someone to share the memories with. But it’s also a bit of a safety net and confidence boost having someone with you. It can helps to push you too – to keep you going if you’re feeling exhausted and tempted to crash out with room service rather than trying an amazing restaurant. And although being able to do exactly what you want is one of the benefits of solo travel, travelling with someone else means you’re exposed to their interests – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You can always go off on your own if it’s something really weird, but you might find that cheesy tourist attraction you’d never have chosen to visit turns out to be one of the best memories of the trip.
I’m a bit of picky eater
Picking up skewers of unknown meat and bowls of mysterious stew might be some people’s idea of food heaven, but I find street food a bit scary. Running the gauntlet of night market delicacies like deep-fried spiders and rat on a stick as I travelled around Southeast Asia probably didn’t get me off to a good start. But it’s not that I don’t like food or am one of those people that won’t eat anything but Western food whenever I go abroad. It’s just that I like to know at least a bit about what it is that I’m actually eating.
I have some stomach problems which mean I have to be a bit more careful of what I eat than most people. I can’t eat gluten and I have to be careful with too much dairy or tomatoes. And although I try to do my research and find out what I need to avoid, sometimes eating out abroad feels a bit like playing food Russian roulette. Is this weird-looking dish going to be the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted – or am I going to spend the rest of the trip in the bathroom? This is why I’m a big fan of apartment rentals, so I can prepare some of my own meals – and I get to indulge my obsession for exploring foreign supermarkets.
I don’t want to do everything
Although part of me is in awe of travellers who’ve visited every country in the world, I’m not planning on trying to join them. I have a healthy travel wishlist that will keep me going for a long while, but there are a few bits of the world I’m not really that interested in seeing, or that sound a bit too much like hard work. Like Antarctica – it tops a lot of people’s bucket lists and although it looks absolutely stunning and would be an amazing experience, in reality I don’t like boats and am terrible in the cold, so I think it’d be wasted on me. Same goes for a lot of Central Africa and the ‘stans’ of Central Asia – they just don’t really appeal to me.
Your travelling tastes change over time too. 15 years ago my wishlist was all big European cities and Southeast Asian party beach towns. Now I’d rather explore smaller places, get out into the mountains or go on safari (plus my Sangsom bucket tolerance is not what it used to be). And on a smaller scale, I’m not one of those people who wants to see EVERY SINGLE THING in each place they visit. I know a lot of people want to pack the most they possibly can into every weekend break – only stopping to grab something to eat and sleep. But I’d rather chill out, pick a few things I really want to see and then spend the rest of the time wandering around, stopping of for drinks and coming home feeling like I’ve actually had a break.
I’m neither a budget nor luxury traveller
When you read a lot of travel blogs and websites, it starts to feel like people are basically split into two different categories. On one hand there are the budget travellers with their backpacks, dorms beds, street food and 24-hour bus journeys. And on the other there are the luxury travellers with their business class flights, five-star hotels, private chefs and Champagne on tap. But what about the middle ground – when you’re past the ultra-budget stage but you don’t have a luxury-style income? That’s where I’ve found myself, maximising my travels by trying to stick to a limited budget and get the best value for money.
For me it’s about saving money where I can so I have enough left to splash out on amazing experiences and a few luxurious touches. So that’s flying with easyJet but shelling out for a private transfer the other end so you don’t have to sit on a bus for hours. Or staying in an apartment rental so you can make your own breakfast then going out for a Michelin-starred restaurant for dinner. Surely this middle ground must be where a lot of travellers find themselves, so why aren’t we more visible? [We could do with a decent name for it though – ‘mid-range, good value travel with a bit of affordable luxury’ isn’t all that catchy.]
I don’t want to travel full-time
Being a permanent – or at least long-term – traveller seems to be the dream for a lot of people. And although I did 16 months in one go in the past, these days a few weeks at a time is enough for me. I still start to get a bit panicky if I don’t have at least one trip in the diary. But after years of moving around, where I couldn’t count the number of different places I lived in, I love having a home base too. Coming back to my cats and my own bed is such a nice feeling. And sometimes I’d rather spend a few free days ticking off some of the never-ending DIY jobs or exploring places near home. Like anything, travel can start to lose some of its magic if you do it all the time. Having a gap between trips gives me chance to reflect on the last one and start getting excited about where I’ll be off to next – the anticipation is almost the best bit!
So those are my travel confessions! Make me feel better about myself and tell me what are yours?