Why Travel Sucks And Is A Waste Of Time

A friend of mine asked me to write about the down sides of travel, and after the day I had yesterday it will be slightly less difficult than usual (I stepped in mud up to my knees, got my first blister and dropped my phone in a river). Please keep in mind I’m collecting all the negatives here in one place for entertainment and not because these items weigh heavily on me and are ruining my trip. I don’t need advice (unless it’s really innovative) about saving money on food or how to find cheap train tickets. Also, all the photos for this post have been taken in my bedroom, partly because I think it’s funny but mostly because my shoes are still soaking wet and I can’t go outside without putting my feet in my wet shoes, blurgh.

Money

I don’t like thinking about money all the time and I certainly don’t like spending money all the time. Travelling is like getting stuck with a pin 20 times a day. Every time you want to eat, sleep, see or do almost anything, your hand goes into your pocket. I have set myself a tentative budget of $100 a day but I know I’m going over it. I have enough savings to cover this trip but it is always a little stab when I check my bank balance or my envelope of currency and it has noticeably dropped. Obviously this is inevitable and there are ways to mitigate it (camping helps, so does being able to cook my own food) but after a while it gets oppressive.

Most of our accommodation in Europe and London has been booked and paid for already so I’m hoping that helps too. Also stuffing myself with a hearty B&B breakfast means not having to eat until early evening. Still, the money thing can be a big downer at times.

Food

Obviously food is a highlight of travel, but it can also be a real pain. After travelling for a few months I start to resent the amount of time it takes to find a decent place to eat, read the menu, wait for our order to be taken, worry if I forgot to ask an important question (for example: “sorry, when the menu says the steak comes with beans, do you mean green beans or baked beans?” – it turned out to be BAKED BEANS. What the heck), wait for the food, eat the food (the best part of the experience), wait for the bill, wait for the waiter to take the little plate with the money and bring back change and then collect your coats and bags (check under the table or you’ll be back in 30 minutes for your scarf or shopping) then finally leave.

It exhausted me just typing all that.

Obviously you don’t need to eat in restaurants for every meal and Luke and I have streamlined our process by only eating two meals a day and staying in self-catering places when possible and we do buy sandwiches and eat them in parks etc, but restaurants can be a better option. They are a place indoors when they weather is bad, they usually have wifi and they often serve the kinds of national dishes (like pork knuckle in Germany or fondue in Switzerland) that you would have trouble eating on a park bench. Also the restaurant in itself can be a destination, like the Austrian cafe where Sacher-Tortes were invented. All I’m saying is that it doesn’t take long for me to miss my well-stocked kitchen and toasted-sandwich maker.

Accommodation

I love a fancy hotel as much as anyone but sadly I can’t afford to stay in luxury all the time. Even if I could there’s annoying things about all hotels, no matter how humble or Hilton-esque. Like light switches. Where in god’s name are they? You will find yourself asking this at least once a day. Also, how does the shower work? Where is the plug? Why is the sink hole closed and how do I open it? I have had a door handle fall off, trapping me in my room all night when I was up at 3am to go to the toilet. This was many years ago but the memory of my terror and desperation will never fade. I have been in hotel rooms where I can hear neighbours vomiting, where there are no windows, where the windows open onto an indoor pool, where the air conditioning is like a waterfall running onto the floor.

This is one of those tricky sinks. Took me a few minutes to work out that it spins, you have to press down on one side to open in.

Hotels are like those lucky dips you get at school fairs. Theoretically if you pay more you should get a better bag of treats but often paying more just means a bigger disappointment when you realise what you’ve got. I’m not saying this happens all the time, but I have learned not to get my hopes up after looking at the hotel website photos.

My current bath-in-room arrangement is very fancy looking but the water insists on coming out of both the tap and shower head at the same time.

Company

Well, I could get myself into trouble here so I won’t mention any names, thereby leaving everyone I’ve ever traveled with suspicious and offended. Don’t worry, I’m obviously not talking about you! You were great!

First, traveling alone. It’s been better than I expected but there are two times when I really want company. The first is when I’m looking at something amazing and want someone to appreciate it with me. The second is when I have a decision to make and I’m not sure what to choose. I’m not a particularly indecisive person but I like input from others and Luke is particularly good at looking at things in a different way and offering another perspective. I miss having him here but I also know he’d be miserable sleeping in a tent or walking through a bog. For something I didn’t really anticipate encountering, bogs have featured pretty prominently in my experiences here, but that should fall under a different heading I guess. Are bogs worth their own heading? Probably not.

Of course, traveling with other people can also be a real pain in the proverbial. When planning to travel with others there’s so much to take into consideration. Do you have similar budgets? Do you want to see similar things? Do you get up and go to bed at the same time? Do either of you snore? There’s no one in the world I’d rather travel with than Luke but we still had a few epic fights when we did our last really big trip. I learned a lot about myself through that. I need time by myself at least once every few days, even if it’s just a walk for an hour or two or an evening reading in bed. If I don’t get a bit of solo time I can rage out at the most unassuming and trivial things… it’s kind of like travel PMS or something. I’m not even sure why it happens.

I have traveled with all kinds of people on all sorts of budgets and with all sorts of interests. Sometimes I think traveling with a huge group is easier than with one or two people – a variety of people to talk to and possibilities for splitting into smaller groups to do different activities rather than feeling like you have to stick together – which leads to my least favourite thing about traveling with other people. Waiting. Waiting for people to pack, to find tickets, to finish eating, to arrive, to shop. I don’t mind waiting for people to arrive if a bus or plane is late, I mind waiting when people are disorganised and I hate waiting when it seems someone is going to make me late for anything. I am quick in the shower, quick to pack, quick to walk and quick to eat. Waiting for people who can’t get going in the morning until they’ve had their coffee/breakfast/whatever drives me crazy. I’m sure my impatience is just as unpleasant for them too but let’s be honest, it’s entirely their fault (and nothing you can say will convince me otherwise).

The company we don’t choose can also be a nightmare. Like the guy on the train who chews with his mouth open, the people with the screaming child in the breakfast room, or the lady who harrumphs and won’t stop talking. At least these people are usually easy to escape, even if you have to wait until morning.

Getting Lost

I don’t think I really have to elaborate here.

Living Out Of A Suitcase

I quite enjoy living out of a suitcase/backpack in the beginning. Fewer choices to make and I keep everything in small bags so my pack only takes a minute to pack and I know where everything is.

This lasts about a week until everything somehow gets rearranged and impossible to find. Then another week later I’m sick of my clothes. Another week in and all my leggings and undies have developed holes, which is what happens when a normal six months worth of wear happens in three weeks. Then one sock from every pair disappears, then I start looking like a hobo. Right now I’ve been away for three weeks and my shoes stink and look like they’ve been through a war, plus they are soaking wet from yesterday’s bog encounter. My two new pairs of leggings both have holes in them, the trousers I bought are so loose around the waist (but tight around the thighs, so no cause for celebration there) that I have to pull them up every few steps, and I am thoroughly sick of hand washing things. I rarely use laundromats because I have so few clothes that paying £3 to wash six items at a time hardly feels worthwhile, but if I don’t wash every three or four days it means I stink. Fine if I’m camping but not ideal when sitting in a breakfast room with polite families at a B&B.

Waiting

I always have a kindle, iPad and phone but waiting is inevitable if you’re like me and don’t enjoy the adrenaline rush of arriving at an airport or bus terminal with only moments to spare. If you are like me then you will spent at least 10% of any holiday waiting. A good reason to start a blog. There’s only one thing worse than extended periods of waiting, and that is missing your boat/bus/plane. This happened to me in Japan once and I hope I never again experience the sensation of running through an airport in tears, filled with adrenaline, dragging a heavy bag and barely being able to converse with the people at check in.

Weather

Depends on the type of holiday I suppose, but weather can make or break any holiday. I’ve been inordinately lucky this time around but walking any city or stretch of countryside in the rain isn’t huge amounts of fun. If you’re in the city then it means having to deal with raincoats and wet things every time you go in or out, your photos don’t look great (if you can take any at all) and you have to put up with ducking and weaving past other people’s umbrellas on narrow footpaths when you’re at the added disadvantage of not knowing where you’re going. Wet weather walking in the country just means a greater chance of bogs.

Sunny weather, as I’ve seen on this trip, also has its disadvantages. Namely, crowds. In a country where a sunny long weekend can be headline news, you can bet every scenic spot will be rammed with people if the temperature is over 14 degrees (balmy!). We’re heading to Italy, Croatia and the south of France in July and August and I’m already worried that we’ve made a terrible mistake as all of Europe will be on holiday at the same time. Plus I feel sapped of energy when it’s actually legitimately (+30C) hot, so I am a bit worried I won’t make the most of our time there. I was utterly useless at Angkor Watt years ago when it was 40 degrees and chucked in the temples for the hotel pool and bar. I still don’t regret it.

Coming Home

There are two main problems with coming home. The first is when no one expresses the slightest interest in anything you’ve been doing. My Dad is offender #1 in this department. I can write this because I know he doesn’t read this blog, only Mum does. (Thanks Mum! You’re the best!). The other main problem is when too many people express an interest and you get tired of relating the same stories over and over. The way to get around this is to write a blog so that the people who are interested can come along for the ride with you and then ask pertinent questions (not just ‘what was your favourite bit?’) when they see you in person. Or better yet, leave a comment on the blog. Hint hint.

Actually, coming home has many down sides. Returning to work, having to live in a space where someone else isn’t changing your bedsheets and towels every other day (let alone dusting… I am always appalled by the amount of dust in my house after I’ve been away… or any other time really), not eating out, having to do boring things like get your car serviced, pay bills and so on. All the things you don’t have to worry about on holidays. Oh and don’t forget that your bank balance has, at the very least, been halved.

On the other hand, it is nice to know where the light switch is when you get up in the middle of the night.

So this was my nowhere-near-complete list of Why Travel Sucks And Is A Waste Of Time. If you have any more reasons that I could add please list them in the comments, I’d love to read them!

Changing Times

Yesterday I threw a ‘welcome back’ bbq for myself and Luke. A chance to catch up with people we hadn’t seen yet and hear what everyone has been up to while we’ve been away.

The answer was fairly plain – breeding.

I’m used to kids age 5 and up, I find small children both hilarious and confusing. After I put my dog in the bedroom for a nap, telling the boys (who had been throwing the ball and chasing her for ages) that she needed a rest, I found them climbing on the stairs calling out ‘Doggy! Doggy!’  and looking for her between boxes nowhere near the bedroom. Then later the boys were digging through the esky like little hobos searching for food in a dumpster, stuffing ice cubes into their mouths like it was chocolate.

People ask ‘how was your trip?’ and we say ‘good’. How do you describe nine months of experience in a passing conversation? Really, I just want to catch up on what’s been happening since left and now it’s *almost* getting back to feeling like we’ve barely been gone. It’s funny how some people say ‘you’re back already!’ and others feel like we’ve been gone an age. Somehow it manages to feel like both. Despite social currents altering somewhat since we left I feel just as close to all my beloved friends. It’s like relaxing back into a giant beanbag, being home. Secure and comfortable and warm. Lovely!

Packages!

My dog loves tennis balls, so sometimes instead of throwing one for her we throw 20 and see her go crazy. That was a bit like me when I got home to all my packages.

Well, I say all… I’m still missing at least two – and two of the most exciting ones! Still, it was a most enjoyable hour or so, slashing tape, ripping cardboard and remembering what I’d bought. Half the packages are just bits of paper-  tickets, programs, maps – that will remind me of things we saw and did. I also bought an unholy number of teatowels. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before – they make the best souvenirs. Useful, pretty and cheap!

I did mess up the loungeroom something shocking, but I tidied most of it away almost immediately, proving that an addiction to tea is not the only thing to have changed since I left home.

Mess! And, since I’m sure you’re going to ask, Raptormas appears to have been celebrated rather than Christmas while I was gone. Apparently this is going to be our new thing and a new board will be painted every year until we have enough to decorate the front fence and confuse the neighbours. Lighting and sound effects may be involved.

So there you go, my packages! Quite possibly my best Christmas ever.

Apparently This Is A Thing.

I had no idea until recently that something many people do when travelling for long periods is make ‘when I get home’ resolutions. I started making notes on my phone about half-way through our trip. If Past Me could see Present Me she’d be super impressed (and quite surprised) to see that I’ve already started on my long and somewhat daunting list. Of course Past Me would be completely unsurprised that I’ve ticked off a few of the easiest things first.

I spent a day planting some lettuce seeds, strawberries and other things I found in my seed box in the laundry. Sure, some of the seed packets went out of date several years ago, but you never know! I was inspired, while in Italy, to plan my garden so that fresh, sweet lettuce leaves could be harvested weekly. My friend Julian even put in some seeds before I got back that are already sprouting. What a champion!

I’ve also hung up most of my clothes and even put them in colour order… because I could. Hopefully this will last for at least a few weeks back into the work term.

It’s a pretty crappy photo but having all my clothes brightening up my room (they’re hanging under shelves, not in a wardrobe) makes me happy.

I’ve blocked in dance classes every Monday and I’m investigating either pilates or yoga for Wednesdays. Needless to say some of my plans involved becoming fit like some kind of 37 year old superhero. A superhero whose superpower is losing important things until 5 minutes before they’re needed. Oh, and ambidextrous golfing. Obviously I’ll be in high demand.

I’ve also learned how to make pulled pork and it turned out exactly as I wanted. Next: corn chowder! Cooking goals are so easy to achieve when they involve putting things in pots and leaving them to boil for hours.

I’ve continue to teach myself crochet skills and have made some flowers. One of my enormous and probably unachievable goals is to rope my friends (and anyone reading this! *looks at you all expectantly*) into creating a yarn bombing project. For the uninitiated, this is a public craft project where you knit/crochet/sewing things and then attach them to railings, light posts, bike racks etc and pray they don’t get destroyed by vandals. Why do this? No reason, really, except it’s a fun way to put something creative into the community, work with like minded people and create moments of ‘wow’ for complete strangers. We saw some astonishingly good stuff on our trip and I’d like to recreate that but in a different theme for my area. So if you’re reading this and you’re interested in participating let me know! I’m thinking a garden/nature theme to be put out in public in spring, which gives us a good 7 months to get sorted. Hopefully I can get perhaps 5 or 6 people to create a 30cm stretch each.

I have a bunch of work related goals. I’m ridiculously excited about going back… to the point where I probably won’t sleep the night before which will completely ruin my first day. Stupid brain. I want to stop using facebook during the week, go to lots of professional development and schedule in at least two afternoons a week to stay back late. Oh and spend more time in the staffroom – I miss my lovely colleagues.

Then there’s getting the garden to a decently productive level – I have three big raised beds out the back and Anth is only using one. I think perhaps it’s not too late for tomatoes or beans before the first frost. I have a circle of paving in my backyard that has a ridiculously large and pointless weeping cherry in the middle. I need to work out how to trick someone into coming and taking it away for free (ideas?). It’s probably worth hundreds… I just need to find someone who’d want it.

Cherry tree in the middle… you want one?

So basically I lie in bed every night turning over my various schemes and ploys and plots and hijinks and I’m *so happy* to be home. If it were possible I’d give my house a cuddle and whisper in it’s ear ‘I love you.’

The front of my house – fabulously private and green, it’s a nice, shady spot to sit.

Home! But Not The End!

So we’re back in sunny Melbourne and I have many, many thoughts to write on the joys of being home, and a half written post about New Zealand – and everything in between. The blog is certainly not done and dusted, although goodness knows how many people will keep reading now our journey is officially done. Although we’ve not spent much time on it over the last 3 weeks or so, what with all the moving from place to place, we’re both feeling quite motivated to keep going. Think of Christmas to New Year’s as a small hiatus for us but we’ll definitely be back, I’m hoping at least once or twice a week. I’d like to record my thoughts about Melbourne and all the things we do here (for the sake of our new and old foreign friends who might be interested), and, for the sake of dispelling rumours, how very infrequently we even see spiders, snakes and sharks, let alone are consumed by them*. There’s also documenting the process of going back to work after a year off and then we’re hoping to do a bit of travelling around Victoria. Not to mention the fact that Luke still has many months of video to edit. Africa is up next!

So don’t abandon us just yet – there’s plenty of people to meet, places to go, and life-sized cardboard cut- outs to admire. You’ll see!

*My friend Sarah went to the beach with her mother the other day and, she tells me, they were both pursued vigorously by a pinchy  crab but it was less than hand sized so it really doesn’t count. I’ve barely seen any spiders at all in the week I’ve been back. Barely any!

Barcelona: Musings On Travel.

We’re pretty much at the two-thirds point in our trip now. Six months down, three to go. We’ve got a couple of weeks to go in Spain/Portugal before heading back to the UK for a bit, then the US, New Zealand briefly and then home. My thoughts keep turning, more and more often, to how much I’m going to enjoy getting home and doing all the things that I normally take completely for granted, such as being able to flush toilet paper down the toilet (thanks for reminding me of that one, Toni!), not to mention not having to carry a pocketful of toilet paper everywhere. Heck, I’m going to enjoy just knowing where toilets are. I’m not even one of those people who needs to go to the toilet every five minutes either – it just continues to irk me on a very minor level that the second I start needing to go is probably when I should start trying to find one, just in case.

Of course traveling is still proving extremely enjoyable and has far more ups than downs, it’s just that I tend to always post about the ups and, I’ll be honest and probably reveal something less than admirable about myself when I admit that I like reading travel posts by other people that are about the down sides of travel too. I think that’s why I fell totally, head-over-heels for the Ricky Gervais series ‘An Idiot Abroad’. If you haven’t seen it, do.

So yeah, there’s definitely a part of me looking forward to home – and I like being able to travel for long enough to miss home. That way when I get back it’s almost another adventure in itself, a rediscovery of life’s other pleasures. Like cooking and knowing you have all the things you need right there. Like being able to wear clean socks every day. Knowing exactly which aisle of the supermarket to head for. Being able to spend a whole day on autopilot, not having to make basic decisions about where to go, what to eat, how to get anywhere. Being able to see all the friends who I’ve barely communicated with this year because our lives don’t seem to intersect online and, even more importantly, seeing those people who’ve made a real effort to keep in contact, fill me in on gossip or just say ‘hi’ occasionally. Those people will be getting huge hugs from me.

I also hope I get to meet some of the people who’ve been reading this blog and who I know of via friends (like Deb!), or see people who I feel I barely knew before but have so much to say to now (Leanne!). Connecting with people via the blog has been a strange and wonderful thing and not something I’d expected at the outset. It all makes me want to find some way to keep it going when we get back.

What else do I miss about home? My dog – currently being spoiled to death by my housemates. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here but Penny now has her own facebook page and I spent far too long yesterday on facebook talking to her (Luke an I might have accidentally spent most of the day in the hostel bar drinking sangria) – well, talking to her via Jess, my friend,  housemate, secretary, responsible adult, and all-round-life-saver. This trip may well not have been possible (or at least certainly not as easy) without her on the home end, sorting my mail, receiving my packages and sending me photos of my garden to reassure me that everything is ok without me. Which of course isn’t true – everything is *much better* at home without me because I am a messy pig and the house is far better off without my piles of fabric, clothing and junk everywhere.

So while we’re having a great time I don’t want anyone at home to think that I won’t be full of smiles and happiness the day we land in Sydney and I’m already looking forward to Christmas at my brother’s house (they’ve just finished building it) with his beautiful family and my mum and dad, seeing Luke’s family again and then getting back to my house, my garden and my friends. Luke and I both miss you all.