- how to travel WELL!
It's not easy to push out of ones comfort zone. To do so, alone in a foreign country especially if you are a women and like me quite often feel out of place, is crazy hard. Yet the reward to find your trails, off the beaten track, are immense.
So, I do travel alone, and have done so most of my life. Seeking the unknown and grandness that sparks all senses. I most often travel on a budget for the true value it adds to the experience. And spend, when I feel it’s justified, making then conscious eco-friendly, fair-trade choices. This is, of course, friendly on the wallet and way more in tune with the place travelled!
Here are my most loving 11 top travel essentials - on how to travel WELL!
#1 Keep it simple
As a young driven travel journalist on my first assignment abroad, my list of “to do's” was packed. While briefing my photographer (a well travelled elder man) he said: “-Let’s start by
having coffee by a square and see what happens.” Of course this was way too passive for my ambitions, but I agreed. And learned the key lesson to all journeys: Never rush, Never hunt, Never force – Be welcoming and Keep it simple! (On spot example further down.)
#2 Use public transportation
It’s cheap. Often perfectly sufficient. And you get to see the real place you are visiting.
#3 Blend with the locals
Pull aside the curtain and go behind the polished facade, and real life will appear, real people, real feelings, real food and real interactions!
Samoa. Photo: ©Nemo/Lydiasplanet
#4 Save where saving is simple
Stay at basic accommodations. Eat locally. Ride publicly. And buy groceries in the food market. As mentioned, you save money, add value to your journey since you more likely end up in less touristy neighbourhoods, come closer to the people. And importantly - your money adds to the local infrastructure, rather some rich dudes empire.
#5 Spend where spending adds value
Though simplicity deeply nurtures and feeds your soul. Luxury pampers your body and relieves your brain. If luxery is your only consumption - it makes you feel empty. But if you have none, your skin never fully relaxes.
For me this means I every now then enjoy gourmet food and silly expensive coffees at hip cosmopolitan places. I sleep a few nights a month at lush boutique hotels, and often pamper my self with massage or a spa thingy. It becomes a vacation in the vacation and it's a great way to re-charge my battery, connect with other digital nomads and read up on world news.
But I always choose smaller family-run places, rather than hotel/food chains.
#6 Always be prepared for the unprepared
If it seems wise carry both an umbrella and swimwear. Or, wear high heels with flip flops in your purse. It is far easier to be ready for adventure, if you feel a sense of control.
I always carry a tiny credit-card size pouch, with band-aid, sewing-kit, sunscreen, pocket knife and some emergency money... This might be a mum-habit, but I do feel it has helped me to be braver and given me the sense of having my ‘comfort zone’ within.
#7 Always be wise
Especially if you are a woman travelling on your own. Don’t walk where you don’t feel safe walking. Don’t be polite to strangers your gut tells you to stay clear from. If you arrive late at night and you feel uncomfortable, order an authorized taxi, check-in at first decent hotel… Don’t save money if it is on your expense of safety. Even if there isn’t a literal danger, just a feeling!
We women have a tendency of not always acting accordingly to our gut. We processes it through our mind and find reasons and excuses for our own and other peoples behaviour. Get in sync with your gut, and trust it.
Through my travels I always try to simplify things, approach people humbly and be modest about being a privileged European. Yet, one can not avoid the fact that we as westerners are privileged. And whether we like it or not, it is stupid not to acknowledge those perks when it comes to personal safety. And wisely put them in use in order to have a better travel experience.
So, always carry with you enough money/visa card to put yourself in safety if you need to. That is, if there is a volcano erupting, and you want to leave, you can! With that said, I have never ever needed to put it in to practice and I have travelled countries torn by civil wars, terror groups and mobs. Having this mind set, in combination with a fine tuned gut feeling, my actions has so far made me feel in control of my situation and well being, and I have been safe.
#8 Avoid large tour operators
It might seem like they know their business, but huge buses, massive crowds and tight schedules isn't the way to do it.
There are plenty of great reliable smaller family run operators, who knows their region like their back pocket. Often they are run by cool locals or re-located travellers who more likely will provide you with a way better experience. Research pays off.
#9 Do it your self
Some times getting to where you want, by foot, bike or public transport, does
#10 Think for yourself
If everybody says: "be there by sunrise", maybe you want to go at sunset. Or if it's a popular place with the locals, maybe you want to avoid the weekend and go on a Tuesday. Or the opposite. It depends on what you want to experience. Choose what fits you.
Java crowds. Photo: ©Lydia/Lydiasplanet
As promised, the spot on example:
Out of place in Yogyakarta While I was in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, I wanted to go to the temple of Borobodur. Feeling slightly out of place, I booked a minibus tour with a hip hostel/café to take me. We
gathered before sunrise, rode the bus for 20 minutes to a view point and watched the sun rise above the temple area. Then we rode to the temple and were given 2 hours to explore it.
The most delightful pink morning haze lingered over the temple, as we entered. From the surrounding jungle we could hear birds and wildlife wake up to a new day. It was magical.
Most AWESOME experience ever! And just as I thought to myself that this, this is going to be my most awesome experience ever! The bus loads of entire Yogyakartas tourism at that point entered. Tour guides with signs above their heads screaming – this way! Hordes of tourists, in obscene colours, hats, glasses and cameras – ran me over! The chatter, the technology noise (didn’t think before this moment there really was one) - over whelmed me!! And then came the prayers. First large groups of monks in orange walking in long lines, loudly chanting. Which I thought was cool and exotic. And then larger groups of praying westerners, also equally loudly chanting. And though I most clearly understand that I, in my pale skin and colourful dress, no doubt added to the scenery. It was not the experience I had whished for my self.
So I went to the empty food stalls by the base of the temple (every body goes sight seeing first – eating/drinking after) and bought a fresh juice. I sat looked at the food stall owners prepare their day of commerce, and allowed the craziness to simply happen.
Some 40 minutes later, the haze still lingered as I slowly started the ascent. I heard groups on their way down complain on the haze giving bad sight and photo opportunity. I took my time, lingered on every level, reading ancient inscriptions, and watching prayers carry out their sacred rituals. As time passed, so did the crowd.
My Way When I reached the top, my minibus group anxiously wondered where I had been, and told me that it was now time to leave. I heard myself calmly explain I was not returning with them. Every body got startled and wondered how I was going to get back. And the truth is, I had no idea. But I figured it was still early morning and we where only 20 minutes away from town, so at the very least I could call for a taxi. And with that I said good bye.
All of a sudden, Borobodur once again got quiet. Sounds reappeared. I could hear birds, and farmers on fields I couldn’t see. My hazy images of the temple were empty of people and serene. I sat at the top alone and let the sun rise as I ate some snacks I had bought in the food stall. For a while I read about the temple in my guidebook and then slumbered in the sun.
As midday approached, groups of school kids started showing up. And the bustling sounds increased again. At this point I felt I was ready to descent. But as pretty much the only westerner there, and also a pale and somewhat plump such, the kids thought I was awfully exotic. And descending took way more time then I thought since I constantly was asked to have my picture taken. At first this bothered me. And then I thought, what the heck this too is an experience, and I dived into the weirdness of that full heartedly.
By the time I got out, I wasn’t feeling out of place at all, I was rocking! So instead of calling for a cab, I started walking.
Rural Java unfolds I had seen on my phone map that there was an exclusive small hotel on the hillside a few kilometres away, so I decided to walk to it and call a cab from there. With only the direction set I started walking on gravel roads leading into the jungle, turning into pathways next to rise fields, turning into other gravel roads thru simple settlements in the lush nature.
By the time I got up hill to the lush hotel. I had picked rambutans from a tree, run into an old lady who demanded me to apologize for picking fruits of some one else’s tree, been offered coffee from the tree owner, walked with an old man with a bike and a dog for like a kilometre on paths that wasn’t on my map, been offered a ride with a family on a truck and finally welcomed (with a surprised look on his face) by the gate keeper at the hotel.
Rocking it Here I sat down by the pool, had a lovely and well deserved late lunch, asked if I could use the pool, met some really sweet people (a mix of Americans, Australians, and a Britt) who was leaving later that night - whom offered me a ride to my hotel. Spent the rest of the day with them, leisuring by the pool, having dinner and drinks, and got driven home like a rockstar as night turned into dawn.
Honestly at some point, or many, I did think to myself whether I was putting me in possibly unsafe situations. And with that I come to the last, and very possible most important, part on the essentials - how to travel WELL, which is:
#11 Trust your gut, and take risks!
If you don’t put yourself out of your comfort zone, you will never ever move those confining boundaries. And you will miss out on experiences your soul craves. It doesn’t matter how ever simple or complex desires you have. Boundaries remain, until chosen to be challenged.
This doesn’t mean you should push yourself into uncontrollable situations. I do believe every one of us very well knows our own limitations and what we are ok with.
For me for instance, it takes me a few days, to get in to my travel skin. Before that I can feel rather insecure. But then I begin to see how things goes, and I start to get into my own rhythm. Suddenly I’m in this dance with the environment and bigger challenges are delightfully rewarding. And then, other days I can feel pitiful, only moments later (often after a coffee and some sun) to feel cool and in tune again. It’s a cycle, or a battle, of self-confidence, fear, old habits, trust issues and new longings. All coming down to what one allows to take lead.
Finding your own strengths and weaknesses, and be able to read your mood, is essential to grow as a human, and to dare to explore not only countries but human relations. So my deepest and most loving tips is: take the time and effort to truly get to know yourself. And then push your boundaries!
Love, kisses and happy travels,
PS. Anything you'd like to add? Please share.