I’ve only been on the road for a mere 10 weeks, but it’s extraordinary how much you learn when you travel, even for a short time. I will be writing a couple of these posts, for travel is but a continuous lesson in life, love, friendship and all the workings of this marvellous universe, and I am but her eager student. Here is my first instalment:
1. Solo travel merely means you left home alone: very rarely are you actually alone. You make connections quickly and with ease, and may find yourself traveling across three countries to attend a music festival with someone you just met on a boat the day before…!
2. Learning a bit of the local language will change your experience entirely – for the better. Do it. Even if it’s just a few simple words and phrases like, “thank you, please, yes, no, help, bathroom, food, where” etc. – it will make your life easier, enrich your experience, and the locals will appreciate it.
3. Wifi is everywhere. The internet has truly spread to all corners- whether it’s free wifi in your hostel, or one of 6 internet cafes on the same street- it’s abundant and it’s cheap, though speed wise maybe not quite what you’re used to from home. Nevertheless, sometimes it’s nice to disconnect entirely and stay somewhere that doesn’t offer wifi or have an internet cafe 2 minutes away to tempt you. Connect with the people around you instead of the cyber world, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the those human, real life connections. And believe it or not, the cyber world didn’t cease to function without your presence for a few days 😉
4. Carry small denominations of cash with you in each country you visit. You will likely take out change from a bank or ATM and it will be dispensed in large bills. The first thing you should do is visit a larger store that you know will have change (usually a larger grocery or convenience store will do) and buy something small with your big bills to get change. Why? Because most of the places you try to use your money (markets, small shops, restaurants, and even some hostels) will not accept large bills, imploring that they don’t have change. Sometimes they are being honest, sometimes it’s a ploy to keep your change, but usually they just don’t want to take your big bills and give you their small ones in return.
5. Not all travelers are super-awesome-amazing people like yourself (I know, shocking, right?). In fact, some of them are downright annoying and disrespectful. Remove yourself from people and places where the energy is negative or else it will wear you down. Beautiful souls are surely just around the corner at the next town or hostel.
6. You don’t need a backpack full of brand new MEC gear to travel- you may need a few top quality key pieces like your rain jacket, shoes and backpack, but the rest can come from your closet, or even better, from the cheap markets and stores you encounter on your travels. I wish I had left 90% of the clothes I brought behind and instead bought what I needed on the road.
7. “Bring half of what you think you need”. I wish I had listened to this rule! I brought way too much gear and it’s outrageously obstructing and cumbersome, making traveling from one destination to another really stressful (although I’m gaining some good muscle!). You really can find everything you need on the road. And trust me, you don’t need that $28 salon shampoo or 3 pairs of sunglasses. You only want those things. A bar of soap and 1 pair will suffice. You quickly learn to let go of the first world comforts of home and rough it a little, and realize that roughing it isn’t all that bad after all.
8. The people you meet and travel with can make or break a trip. You could be staying in a tiny town that seems to have nothing offer, in a run down, grungy hostel that has cockroaches, no doors on the bathrooms and a coleman stove barely hanging on to the wall for a kitchen- but if you’re with the right people you can find yourself in such a place for 5 days, with your time spent full of laughter, smiles, hammock swings, surfing and eating fabulous cookies from the internet cafe. Make you sure are smitten with the people you choose to travel with because they will fill your heart with love and your belly with laughter when the cockroaches and rogue toads fill your mind with terror!
9. Bus transportation sucks, pretty much no matter how you do it. Waiting for long hours in bus depots, getting the worst seats on the bus (read about our adventures getting to Granada on the bus here), being held up at border crossings for hours on end, not understanding what’s happening at border crossings, smelly people sitting beside you, no room for your legs, bags or to recline, no bathrooms- the list goes on and on. Do whatever you can to make the journey as comfortable as possible and just remind yourself that it’s only a few hours, or day or two- that the agony is not in fact eternal! Having a buddy makes a world of difference. Have a great book, good music, some water and snacks, an inflatable pillow, a blanket (that too cold air conditioning, if they have it, can be worse than not having it sometimes!) and keep yourself occupied until it’s all over with.
10. Get up for sunrise. I promise you, it’s more than worth it, every time. Plus, you can just have a nap in a hammock later 🙂