Category Archives: Bethany Naylor

Tinder Travel Tips

It’s a little known fact that the whole reason I started blogging was a guy I met off Tinder. Although I know many of you will doubt me when I say this, Tinder isn’t always used for hookups. I know, shocking. It can be the greatest tool in your world conquering toolbox, if you use it right. If it can give me a job, it can give you a good night out. If you utilise it correctly.

In August 2015 I arrived in Malaga teary and sleepless, having just days before ending the longest relationship of my life. When it was over, I immediately ran away to work on a beach in Spain for the rest of the summer, because at the time that was exactly how I dealt with my problems. I still do, in a way.  I already had tinder installed on my phone, before we had broken up my ex and I had made a bet to see who could get the most matches in a day, which in retrospect was probably a sign that our relationship was drawing to its natural end.

After checking in to my hostel, I immediately fired up Tinder, hoping desperately to find a fellow soul to spend my two days in the beautiful city with. After returning from Guatemala my brother had told me how he had used Tinder to find English speaking tour guides amongst the locals, so I figured I could do the same.

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Now, first things first. If I ever use tinder in England, which isn’t often I admit, I tend to get roughly a 50% return on my right swipes. In Spain, I was getting closer to 100%. Secondly, Spanish guys on tinder tend to be a lot more to the point, and half the messages I first got were no more than dirty bootycalls, even though my profile stated quite clearly that I was only looking for a tour. If anything, this openness actually makes it easier to find that one person who you expect might not be an asshole.

Then, something interesting. I met a guy who owned a travel site, and who was looking for exactly the same thing as me. Someone normal to go and get a drink and see the city with. We ended up bonding so much that when weeks later he recommended I start writing down my experiences, I took him up on his word as if he were a closer friend than just a guy I’d seen twice on holiday. We’re even still in contact today.

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I still use tinder when I’m travelling, sometimes you just get a free tour of the city, others you walk away with a friend for life. The last tinder date I went on was in Rome this January, and it actually ended up being one of the most enjoyable dates of my life, even if it lacked that special spark which prompts a second date.  (Looking back, this may have been because we ended the night in the gay district and my eyes were slightly distracted elsewhere.)

You might hate tinder, you might think it sucks and it’s users are pathetic. Be realistic, the vast majority of young people these days have a tinder account, the chances are that at least one of them is looking for the same thing you are.

So here are my tips for using Tinder as a travel tool:

  • Know what you want from it. Are you looking for a tour? A local? Other tourists? People to get a drink with? A hook up? Make sure you’re clear in your own mind before you attempt to meet anyone.
  • Be upfront about what you are looking for.  If you’re not looking for a hook up, make that clear. My go-to tinder bio when I’m travelling starts with the sentence. “I HAVE A BOYFRIEND.” That way people know what to expect and can’t get irate when you’re inevitably not interested in taking things further.
  • Safety first. Most of us know that when we go on a date, especially with a stranger, it’s of utmost importance that someone, somewhere, knows who you’re with and what you’re doing. This isn’t any less relevant just because you’re on holiday. If you can’t tell someone back home, (or if this would be useless), tell your hostel staff. Tell them you expect to back at X o’clock and give them a phone number so they can call you if you’re not. Meet in a safe place. Preferably a place with lots of people about, and a place of your choosing. No, you don’t know the city, but a big square with lots of people in has less danger than the small cafe down a dingy alleyway that no-one has ever heard of has.
  • Have fun. We live in a world where potential friendships, unlikely hookups or even job offers are only a swipe away. Use this to your advantage and let social media help your travels not hinder them. No, don’t be that guy sitting in the hostel kitchen mindlessly swiping through all the girls on tinder until he finds that one girl on the second floor that he was too scared to talk. But where’s the harm in having a little fun whilst you’re away?

Written by Bethany Naylor

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Dealing with Anxiety

Anxiety is really hard to write about, as everyone has a different experience. It’s one of those things which can be so subtle that nobody notices until you’re completely overwhelmed, and is also something that almost everyone experiences at some point in their life. I’ve always been an anxious person. Some of my earliest memories I have are of a 3-5 year old me, worrying about something she said or did to upset someone, even if that person never noticed. When I look back at my life, my strongest memories are the fears, the worries, and existential crises which still keep me up at night if I let them. It’s strange then that now, I am capable of catching 9 hour flights and 16 hour bus journeys alone, with only my own mind for company,  even if it’s still hard.

Me, not being anxious, by a different lake in France
Me, not being anxious, by a lake in France

Sometimes my anxiety disappears. It will hide itself under the surface for weeks or months at a time, and slowly I begin to feel like a real person again. Other times, my anxiety is so bad it makes me throw up, scream at someone I love, or quite literally hide myself so no one can find me. A single word will reduce me to tears, or a bad attitude will leave me aggressive and looking for a fight. I remember in an old house I used to share with a friend and my boyfriend, there was a huge cupboard, quite capable of hiding a fully grown woman inside covered in coats. It became my refuge when things were too hard. Nobody knew. Sometimes you need to hide from the world, and that’s okay.

 

Often my friends ask me why I’m shaking. I do it a lot, so much that I usually don’t even notice. During a bad phase I will spend hours of the day quivering like a leaf, whilst on a good day it will only last maybe half an hour and then I’ll be fine. When it first started, maybe at age 14, I had no idea that it could be a symptom of anxiety and instead assumed I was chronically ill. Added to this, certain foods would make me feel so sick to my stomach that I could not keep them down. Many blood tests later, there is nothing wrong with me, at least physically.

Me, probably being anxious, by a lake in France
Me, probably being anxious, by a different lake in France

When I started to travel, the anxiety was extreme. Although I would always be having a good time on the surface, underneath guilt, fear, and trepidation were bubbling away quietly, threatening to boil over and destroy the facade I had made for myself. Over time, it got easier. On my first real travelling experience, six months of backpacking and volunteering around Europe, I had my boyfriend with me, and he made everything okay. Although there would still be days where I found it impossible to get out of bed and face a constantly changing life, and I would still be a shaking mess whilst waiting at the airport or train station to move on somewhere new, having that support with me, constantly at my side, holding my hand and telling me -“Fuck it, you’re strong enough, you can do this” – made every day that much easier. We’re no longer together, but his voice of wisdom still lives on every day in my head.

Us, not being anxious, on a beach in France
Us, not being anxious, on a beach in France

Next, I worked in Rome, alone. Although that time realistically can only be described as the best and most rewarding time of my life, within 2 months of being there I had lost more than 30 lbs. 22lbs in a single month, the first month. I was scared every day. Alone every evening. Lost. Guilty about rewarding a body which my anxiety told me did not deserve the love and care it needed to survive. I worried everyone hated me, I worried that my relationship would fail, and I worried about what the hell I was doing there anyway.

I gave up. I came home. Abandoning what was suppose to be a year of work after only four months, terrified that if I stayed, I might actually die.

So trust me when I tell you this. Anxiety is the evil monster under the bed. Anxiety is the bad man walking towards you on a darkened street. Anxiety is with me, every single day, every single minute of my life, even now, and even tomorrow.  And still I continue.

Whatever happened there, Rome will always be in my heart
Whatever happened there, Rome will always be in my heart

So how can you cope, when you feel like everything is falling to pieces before your eyes, and you’re a world away from everyone you love? I want to try help, I’ve been there, I’m still there, and I’m still travelling.

Build a support network

One of my problems originally, was that when I left the country alone, I felt like that meant I had to be truly alone. I would put off calling my family for weeks, thinking that if I called, that meant admitting weakness. How silly does that sound? Now when I travel, I have my list of helpers who I know will always be there for me if I’m in trouble. Even if it’s just skyping your grandma to find out what’s going on in her life, having regular contact with the people back home helps you to stay grounded. Calling your best friend just to have a chat about some silly thing you did reminds you that people do love you, people do care. I’ve even found that staying in hostels or couchsurfing rather than hotels or Airbnb makes it easy, as you have automatic friends there who just want you to have a good time with them.

Take a moment

When we travel, we rush around the place, trying to cram in as many perfect memories as we can into one day. This is great, but it can leave you exhausted and craving peace and quiet. Just taking five minutes alone every morning can make that much difference. Some people call it meditation, but I just see it as grounding myself in my place in the world, acknowledging my own fears and desires, and slowly letting them go. Another way to look at this could be the opposite, essentially. One of the best tips I got from a therapist was to set out a certain time every day where I was allowed to worry and fret as much as I desire. The hard bit, if anxiety were to surface at another time, you have to write it down, remember it for your later worry session, then cast it from your mind. Harder than it sounds.

Make a list

First I have to admit something. I’m a huge fan of lists. On any given day I have several lists I work from, things I want to do, things I need to think about, things I want to stop and appreciate, or even things I just love so damn much. On a bad day my lists can be pretty negative, but on a good day they give me hope and inspire me to be the person I want to be. Having a list will let you get that little bit of routine back into your life, which although I claim to hate, I secretly crave.

The best place to write a list and take a moment, Nerja, Spain
The best place to write a list and take a moment, Nerja, Spain

Plan ahead

Although travelling without a plan is great for some, I personally couldn’t do it. Finding accommodation for my trips is usually the first thing I do, because as well as giving you the best price at the cheapest hostels, it gives you a little sense of security that if all else fails, you’ll have a bed that night. I’ve met people before whilst travelling who never book a bed until they arrive in the town. I could never do that. I would be worrying constantly that I’d be spending yet another night sleeping in an airport. Before I travel I know where I’m staying, what the place is like, how I need to get there, what time the desk is open, and how much every step of the journey will cost me. If I don’t, I probably wouldn’t catch the flight.

Look after yourself

This is an easy one in theory, although a lot harder in practise. Healthy body, healthy mind, so the saying goes. I’ve found it to be true. Even if you can’t, eat well everyday. Even if you can’t, sleep well every night. Even if you can’t, wash everyday, even if it’s only with a wet wipe. If it makes you feel better, put on some make-up, dress up nice, or wear your impractical high heels for a historic town tour. Do what makes you feel most comfortable, nobody is judging you, and if they are, who needs them?

On the flip side, if you need a day in bed, take a day in bed. Don’t feel bad about it, you owe nothing to anyone. On my first day in New Orleans I didn’t get up until 5pm, and then parked myself on the sofa with an aspiring actor for five hours watching NCIS and drinking cheap champagne.

Suffering from anxiety makes everything in life harder. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t explore the world at your own pace, seeking refuge when you need and excitement when you please.

If you’re struggling, there are a lot of resources you can  make use of.

Mind

Headspace

B-eat

Written by Bethany Naylor, who is currently experiencing severe anxiety from the thought of expressing this to the world

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City Of Shadows

Every so often in life we all find a person, a place, or an idea, that makes us fall so deep in love we are blinded to all of their faults and shortcomings, creating a picture in our minds of complete perfection. This false ideal is unsustainable and fragile, eventually shattering and more often than not, leaving us broken-hearted and lost. For me, that was place was Barcelona.

Barcelona. One of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, the home of Gaudi and his brilliant architecture, the capital of Catalonia, and one of the most interesting cities I’ve encountered in Europe. From the wide open beaches of the Barceloneta and the gleaming high buildings of the Port to the rambling cobblestone streets of El Quarto Gótico and the fairy tale gingerbread houses of Parque Güell, the city is full of magic and mysticism. Barcelona is not simply a modern, fun, and vibrant city, it also has a long, mysterious, and incredibly interesting past.

Arc de Triomf
Arc de Triomf

When I first went to Barcelona I was 13 years old. My family stayed in a small flat in the gothic quarter, I remember feeling terrified as we entered through the graffitied and barred door in a dark and silent street. I had just finished reading ‘The Shadow of the Wind’, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, which to this day remains my favourite book of all time, I reread it at least once a year. The book, set in post civil war Barcelona had ignited a passion for the Spanish culture and history in me and I hold it solely responsible for my degree choice. The four days I spent wandering in this incredible city did not quench the fire inside of me, instead, fed it steadily until I made it a life ambition to live there one day.

The following summer, my family hosted a language student from San Vicente, a town very near Barcelona. We became friends and I visited her once a year for the next four years. Every time, I would spend a few days in Barcelona, simply walking and watching, breathing in the city. My favourite method of seeing a city is to in one direction until I hit a red light, then turn down the available route. The grid system of Barcelona is perfect for this. Forward, Stop, Turn. Forward. Stop Turn. Rinse and repeat until done. Now  you’re in a place you’ve never seen before and have no idea how to get back to where you started. At this point, have a beer and contemplate life, before guessing your direction again, and heading back home. These were the times I lived for. I would spend all year waiting for the next time I could go back, not even thinking about other places because my goal was Barcelona. It still is, in a way.

During my A level studies, my school offered the chance to do a week of work experience in Rosas, a small but beautiful coastal town north of Barcelona. At that time, I was working on a project on Catalonia, essentially a detailed political, cultural and historical assessment of whether Catalonia should be independent. In Rosas I had the chance to interview several of the people I worked with, and the week taught me a lot about the history of Barcelona, embellishing the sheer respect and understanding that Zafón had already instilled in me. It also convinced me that if I wanted to live in Catalonia, I would have to learn Catalan.

Beach front hotels, Rosas, Spain
Beach front hotels, Rosas, Spain

The year after, I went back again. This time with my best friend, to visit my friend in San Vicente, and a girl who had au paired in Bath, and ended up staying at her house in the final weeks. This experience opened me up to a new part of Barcelona, the nightlife, restaurants and shopping which before I had stayed away from.

After a few months of travelling and volunteering in Europe the year after I finished school, my sights turned back to Barcelona. The plan at the time, was that I’d move there in April and work a volunteering job until I have managed to find a stable job and flat, and to remain there the following three years for university. This however, was when my plan began to fall apart. I was travelling with a friend, and we had secured a workaway position in ‘The Hipstel’, a hostel in the centre of Gracia. Our flight from Venice, where we had spent a romantic weekend getting lost in the narrow backstreets, landed at midday. Within an hour, we were on the airport bus into the city centre. The fare had doubled since last time I had been and we found ourselves struggling to find cash for lunch as the heavens opened as we arrived in Plaza Catalunya. Our hostel did not remember us. They had no idea about the dozens of messages we had been sending back and forth, and could not offer us a job. We would later find out that this happened at least once a fortnight.

Plaza Real
Plaza Real

Eventually, we were provided with beds and a job in a partner hostel, two minutes away from Plaza Catalunya. Within a two weeks I was forced to find a second job, as the hostel did not provide food as advertised, and the meagre 30 euro salary a week for 40-50 hours work could not even begin to cover the costs of life in the city. Being a not very unattractive British female, who could speak Spanish, I was offered four interviews within two days and accepted a job offer on the Barceloneta. 70, Carrer de Sevilla. Bar Celoneta. What a wonderful place, what an original name. The increase in income meant we were able to live better now, and my experience there taught me how to make 14 different types of sangria, something which has never been relevant since.

Yet again, this time the city failed me. Finishing work most nights after 2am meant that rather than an easy metro journey, more often than not I had to walk home 40 minutes through the port and up Las Ramblas. Every single night, without fail, I would be harassed by drunk men, usually tourists, who wanted to know ‘what a pretty girl like you’s doing out so late at night.’ It got the point within a couple of weeks that I was so sick of having to bat away the advances of idiots, that I would instead latch onto the closest looking normal person when I left work, and make them walk me home. This, whilst wearing long skirts or jeans and high-necked tops, I can only imagine how bad it would have been were I not dressed so conservatively.

There was one night which convinced me I would never be safe living in the city alone. I was talking to two young men after work one night, I had told them I could speak Spanish earlier on in the night but they had forgotten, and we’re addressing me in poor English. Luckily, this meant that I could easily eavesdrop. That’s the story about how I ran home, after hearing two young men discussing how they would be able to take advantage of me.

A dragon statue in Parque Ciutadella
A dragon statue in Parque Ciutadella

I left Barcelona two years and six months ago, after trying for several months to make it work and being struck down at every attempt. The night I left, £500 worth of valuables were stolen, including every single photo I’d taken travelling. I’ve only been back once since then, for two hours.

Barcelona is a difficult city. There is a darkness which lurks under every doorway, behind every corner. A thick smog of shame and secrecy hangs over the city, a city where so much has happened, and no one ever talks about. I love it, and I hate it all at the same time. I am ashamed that it bested me, and I know that one day I will go back, and that that time it will work.

 

Written by Bethany Naylor

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Faraway in FaroWay

Sitting in my dark room in the first months of university , a heavy depression hung in the air. The curtain was tightly closed, in order to keep out the prying stares from the benches outside, and the candles remained unlit. Due to fire regulations and yet a old romantic soul, they stayed purely for decoration. I was thinking about the two years preceding that moment, years filled with exciting and new adventures, incredible sights and discoveries, and a new set of friends every day. In truth I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing there.

Inside the gallery of old art, sculptures and instruments by the harbour in Faro
Inside the gallery of old art, sculptures and instruments by the harbour in Faro

In was purely by accident then, that I happened to be absent mindedly browsing skyscanner that evening and came across incredibly cheap return flights to Faro, Portugal, that Christmas. At £50, it seemed like a less economic decision not to do it considering how much is usually spent on a student night out, so I booked it without a second thought. After deciding that I would use this time for pure relaxation, I stayed away from couchsurfing.com and instead spent the next the few days researching on various hostel websites for a good deal. Due to an administrational error, a few days later I stumbled upon something amazing. Thanks to the mistake of someone who has probably long since been fired, I managed to book six nights in FaroWay hostel at an absolute steal of one euro a night. Talking to the hostel manager once I had arrived, it turns out that only one other lucky guy had managed to book before that error was taken offline ten minutes later.

Gertrude the hostel Stork
Gertrude the hostel Stork

In mid December, armed only with a carry-on filled with four textbooks for three essay titles which would remain neglected for the duration, and a poor grasp of Portuguese that three months of a degree had lent me, I arrived in Bristol Airport with no idea of what to expect. I have travelled alone of course, but this definitely seemed more like a holiday, and I wasn’t sure how to approach that.

Faro harbour

Fortunately for me, one of the best things about FaroWay hostel was the diversity of the crowd it attracts. I was by far the youngest person there, and by then I had learnt that although wisdom doesn’t necessarily grow with years, the multitude of stories does at least. The first night I spent in a dimly lit typical Portuguese bar, discussing literature and politics with a 44 year old Scotsman. Scot, it happened, was also midway through writing his first novel, and we exchanged stories and ideas throughout the night. He had been travelling since the age of 18 and had witnessed things I can only imagine. Five years was spent with an ex girlfriend, living in a cave in southern Spain and harvesting their own fruit and vegetables, dumpster diving for anything which they couldn’t grow.
When he first started travelling mobile phones were not yet a thing, and the only way he had to keep in touch with his family was to call the landline in the local pub in the middle of the Scottish highlands, and book an appointment for his mother to come in and talk to him every few months.

The second night was spent with Scot, a Floridian girl, an incredible man from Paris, a boy with Greece, and a Belgisch woman living in London, watching a typical Portuguese style of music called Fado on a bar by the beach. Jorge, our host, was incredible in his ability to make sure that everyone in the hostel had met each other and was getting along, and was always happy to provide a recommendation for coffee, lunch, dinner, or evening entertainment. I miss that man. I have stayed in many, many, hostels, and never have I found a man so enthusiastic and kind to his guests.

Some of my favourite graffiti I found in Faro
Some of my favourite graffiti I found in Faro

The next days were spent discovering the town and surrounding area with the guy from Greece, who I still hope to see again one day. Faro is an amazingly beautiful and historic town, the best backdrop to a romantic setting that I can imagine. Arriving back in Faro on the Friday night, I met another man who would go on to change my life. Fresh off the bus from Lagos where I had spent two unforgettable days, I came back to the hostel in a sad and weary state. Fortunately for me, my roommate Aoki, from Bali, had a very similar expression on his face.

After I invited him out on the terrace to share a beer and forget the woes of life for at least a moment, we ended up spending 7 hours in the many bars in Faro, discussing everything from love and relationships, to cultural differences and religion, to diet and fitness. We stayed in contact from then, and in February of this year he invited me out to Reykjavik Iceland to distract me from the many stresses that University life so willingly provides. He was an incredibly good friend to me in a time of great need, and I can only hope that I returned at least a small fraction of the impact he had on me.

Orange trees and sunshine in December
Orange trees and sunshine in December

In April I spent ten incredibly, awe inspiring, and beautiful days with him, his wife, and her uncle in Reykjavik. Strangely, I have not yet written about those times. In all honesty, the only excuse that I can give, is that the kindness and beauty I discovered in Iceland deserve a far better writer than I. The time I spent there changed me both mentally and spiritually, and I have found that not a day goes by where I do not remember seeing the aurora borealis light up both the sky and my dreams.

A sunset over Reykjavik
A sunset over Reykjavik

The day I spent hiking up Mount Esja with Antonio Monteiro was a turning point in my life, I learnt more from that man and that mountain than I have learnt in so w many years of schooling. On my penultimate day in Iceland my grandfather, another man I worshipped and loved like a god, who has had a bigger influence on my life than he ever knew, on so many lives more than he ever could have wished for, went into hospital for his last time. Were it not for the advice and love I received from Antonio, were it not for our talks about death, and reincarnation, were it not for the strength and wisdom he showed me, and the faith he nourished in my heart, I don’t think I ever could have survived. A man like Antonio Monteiro is a very lucky man to find in life, I cannot be more grateful for the time I got to spend with him, Aoki and Julianna in Reykjavik.

The oldest church in Iceland, possibly
The oldest church in Iceland, possibly

For someone so different, so much wiser, intelligent, and loving than I can ever aspire to be, he changed my life, my views, and my heart at a time when it could not have been needed more. I have a habit when I travel, even long before my grandfather’s death, of finding grandfather figure in those who I meet. In Barcelona, it was the head chef of the pizzeria next door to my bar on the Barceloneta. He called me Carmen because he could not pronounce my name, and I loved him for that. In Rome, it was the manager of the cafe I frequented four times a week, the man who brought me chocolates and biscuits and insisted that I must eat. When I went back to Rome, he wasn’t there. Because of his age and health, I was heartbroken and distraught, until one day I bumped into him on the street and he explained that a triple heart bypass had meant that he could not return to work, at least for the foreseeable future. Antonio, you are one of the best men I have ever met, and I will never forget all that you did for me.

None of this, none of the growth, none of the friendship, none of the love, none of it would have happened if I had not taken that chance and been spontaneous. In booking flights to a place I had barely heard of and never seen, I let the wind carry me where it must, and it saved my life.

The cat I met in Iceland loved posing for photos
The cat I met in Iceland loved posing for photos

Written and edited by Bethany Naylor

Although I managed to spend ten days in Iceland on a shoestring budget thanks to the generosity of a few amazing strangers, the reality is that it can be a very expensive country to visit! If you’ve been holding off Iceland due to financial concerns, why don’t you check out Ferdinand Götzen’s blog post on surviving Iceland on a budget!

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Exhausted thoughts

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I’m sitting on the roof top terrace of a hostel in Long Island City, New York. It’s one of these new style hostels, big open spaces, draft beer on tap and huge sofas for the guests to lounge on as they recover from their days. up here on the terrace, there are wicker seats with soft white cushions. I wonder what they do when it rains unexpectedly, there’s no shelter. My muscles are cramping and my eyelids drooping, but I won’t let myself give up until I’ve seen the sun set across the intimidating Manhattan skyline. I wandered along the river this afternoon, watching children play and helicopters fly, but I bet it’s another experience from up here. I’ve come this far, it’s my final stop. I can make it another hour.

The last time I was in this city was two months and a day ago. We flew into JFK as the sun was setting, I had just finished my first year exams, it was my first time coming to America, and I had the whole summer ahead of me. I could feel the excitement building as I waited for my luggage, biting my lip with nervous thrill as I waited for my friend outside of the airport. I’m back here now, but everything feels different. I feel like somehow, I am different. I don’t mean just physically, although I’m sure I am. My skin has browned to an olive glow, my hair has become dreaded, I wear a bandana and a dream catcher hairpin everyday to keep it out of my face. I have a new tattoo, a sun, in memory of both home and away, and the brightest personalities I know. Freckles creep across the bridge of my nose, threatening and yet restraining from breaking out entirely, as they did two summers ago in France.

 

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No, it’s not just physically. Something has changed within me, something that is hard to pinpoint. On my walk these evening I stopped to pass the time with two elderly men, one American and one British. They both lived in Massachusetts, one only 50 feet away from the house where Lizzie Borden once lived. I spoke with them about politics, about Syria, about Donald Trump, about England. When I left they seemed happy to have met me, as I was to meet them. I don’t know why I did that, but I’m glad I did. Just knowing that that those men were at that age and still didn’t understand was a comforting thought.

Being here, my faith has been challenged, my values have been shaken and my core beliefs rocked. I have met people who on any other day I wouldn’t have looked twice at, and they have become important memories for me. I remember when I arrived in North Carolina two weeks ago, in Fayetteville. After drinking an excessive amount of coffee after my 12 hour bus journey, a cafe agreed to look after my bags for me whilst I explored the historic town. At one point, I had walked away from the old town, across the slow river and rusted train tracks and found a small park. It had beautiful fountains and floral displays, similar to a park back at home. I started taking photographs of the central fountain and the roses and within a few minutes later a woman came up to, suggesting that my photos would look a lot better if she was in them too. She was wearing all red and had short, possibly shaven, hair underneath a baseball cap. I smiled and her and agreed. She didn’t look like she was in the right mind set to have a conversation, so I started taking her photograph on the edge of the fountain, after a few, she came over to see. She smiled so widely. I thanked her, wished her a pleasant day and started my walk back to the centre of town. Turning around as I reached the end of the park, I saw her jumping and splashing in the water, I had never even asked her her name. It didn’t matter.

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I think when we grow up, we create an identity for ourselves so young. We teach it to our family and friends, saying ‘this is me, this is who I am.’ We get so trapped in creating an image for ourselves and a trying to find a personality which fits, that we never remember to wait and get to know the person we have become. When I pictured myself, I used to see an awkward, overweight and angry person, angry at the world and herself for not letting her be who needed to be. Now when I picture myself, I see myself walking, in an unknown place. I see myself strong, and confident. I see an inquisitive and curious girl, one who now understands that she never will understand herself, nor the world. But she’s happy, and that’s all that counts right now.

 

 

Written by Bethany Naylor

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A Rescue Mission

When it’s 2 o’clock in the morning and you’re wandering along an empty road five miles from your flat attempting to thumb a lift, you really begin to contemplate your life choices. The conclusion I came to? My lifestyle is mad, and I couldn’t be happier.

In the middle of exam season I was lucky enough to get an invitation from a friend in Regensburg. Within two days I had booked my tickets, jumping at the opportunity to escape the tedium of lectures and bad student food. Using Skyscanner, GoEuro and Rome2Rio I managed to organise a weekend in Bavaria with two weeks’ notice using only the money I would have spent on a couple of nights out at uni.

 

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Taking my chance to be a tourist in London that night

The downfall of my scheme was evident when, just a few days before take-off, I checked the time of my flight: 6 am. In my excitement at the time of booking I had not contemplated the thought of spending a night in the airport, which is just as fun as it sounds. But you can’t beat return flights for £24, even if some sacrifices have to be made, especially when your friend’s sanity is at stake.

 

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A church in Memmingen

By 9:20 am I had landed at Memmingen Airport, and two minutes later I was through security. It didn’t take me long to remember everything I loved about Germany when I was working there two years earlier. The greenery and natural beauty are quite astounding, but coming from the UK you really have to admire the efficiency of the German people. In Memmingen, I had two hours to kill, and luckily I arrived just in time for the Saturday food market. One of my favourite things about travelling is visiting the local markets and figuring out how I would shop if I lived there. Memmingen did not disappoint me. Set in a beautiful square overlooked by an impressive church tower, with sausages, beer and brown bread everywhere, the market completed every stereotype I had had of Germany as a child.

 

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A market in Memmingen town square

Another two hour bus journey later, passing and stopping briefly in Munich for forty-five minutes (though I will definitely return, perhaps for Oktoberfest…). I was finally in Regensburg, 24 hours after leaving Nottingham.

Regensburg is a beautiful city, divided down the centre by a wide river with many impressive buildings. It’s definitely somewhere I could imagine living when I eventually settle down. Another thing I noticed was an overwhelmingly young population. In general this means that the prices are lower, but more importantly that the city centre has one of the highest concentrations of bars and clubs in the whole of Germany. I had my chance to experience this later that night after spending a wonderful evening ice-skating at a disco at the Duomo Arena, something I would recommend for anyone visiting the area.

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Regensburg Cathedral

My top suggestions for Regensburg: the cathedral is spectacular, especially at night. Take a walk along the river and stop at one of the bars with a view, visit the holocaust memorial, go iceskating, and then end the weekend with a few too many in the Irish bar by the cathedral. For me the main objective was to make sure my friend was in a good place by the time I left, which I did by making sure we drank our body weight in alcohol, and getting her set up with a nice guy from Detroit on the sunday night.

My journey home was even more eventful than the way there. After three hours in a car with a Czech man I met on blablacar, who didn’t speak a word of English to match my complete incomprehension of German, my hopes weren’t too high for my Couchsurfing arrangement later that night. But I was pleasantly surprised. I stayed with a pair of Greek horse trainers who were kind enough to welcome me into their home at 1 am, and then still stay up talking to me for two hours and drive me to the airport the next morning. For such a short stay, that was probably the best experience I’ve ever had using Couchsurfing and I will definitely stay friends with the couple.

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A town square in Regensburg

Back in London at 9 am, I had twelve hours to explore the city before my bus back home at 9:30pm. There is so much you can do in London for that long that I ended up exploring the city centre and spending 3 hours in a music shop before heading to Camden (my favourite place in London) for evening drinks.

The lessons I learnt this weekend are simple. Firstly, take every opportunity you are offered. Secondly, every friend you have is a connection to something bigger than you. Finally, everything happens for a reason, and most of the time it will work itself out.

 

 

This article was originally posted on The Wayfaring Student

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A Word of Gratitude

Sitting down in a small independent coffee shop in Fayetteville North Carolina, the sun has been steadily growing stronger since my coach from Atlanta, Georgia, arrived at 6:30am, till at 8:30am it is already burning the back of my neck. This is the first chance I’ve really had to write for a few weeks, and there’s something I have to    get off my chest.

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Early morning in Fayetteville, North Carolina

Since being invited to America last summer and booking my flights in November for the best deal, I had patiently been awaiting my adventure with no small amount of trepidation. In all honesty, I had never really thought about going to the States at all, or at least it wasn’t on the top of my list. However, when a couple of very good friends I made whilst working as an au pair in Rome invited me out, I suddenly couldn’t get it out of my head. Originally the idea was to spend the summer up in Maine with one of the girls, where we could relax and pretend to be in Rome before travelling down to North Carolina to celebrate with the second friend at her wedding reception.

Within months those plans had changed, the wedding reception had been postponed and the first girl had accepted a position with Cityyear with Americorps and was due to be in San Antonio, Texas half-way through my journey. ‘Road trip?’ I said. ‘Road trip.’ She agreed. So the plan changed. A month in Maine, a week long road trip down to Texas with my friend and her wonderful mother, a week in Texas helping her to explore and settle into the new flat, then a three week journey by myself back up to New York City for my flight home.

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The harbour in Portsmouth, New Hampshire at sunset

So I’d like to say some thank yous. Firstly, and probably most importantly to the Flanagan family. In the time I spent with them they treated me like a family member, making me feel absolutely at home and welcome in the time I spent with them. They taught me about American history and current politics and culture, drove me hours to show me amazing sites such as Salem, which had been a dream of mine since I was a child, and Boston, where I was surprisingly not hated automatically for being from the wrong side of the pond. They introduced me to their friends and family, who it seemed were just as happy to meet me as I was to meet them finally, after having heard so much about them, although looking back that may just have been typical American hospitality. This family provided so much for me and treated me so well that I will be grateful forever, and never forget my time there.

Secondly, a word of thanks to the strangers. Thank you to the bartender in Boston who poured me a large glass of free whiskey after I looked upset when he asked me what I thought about Brexit. Thank you to the Flanagan’s family members who hosted us on our trip down, I learnt so much from you and you showed me such kindness. Thank you to the Turkish man in San Antonio, who teared up and thanked me heavily when I returned to his store to ask him if his family was okay the day after the coup in Turkey started. Thank you to the bus driver in New Orleans who refused to let me leave the bus station until he had confirmed that I knew exactly how to get to my hostel and that it wasn’t too far. Thank you to the Jack Black lookalike from New York City who took me out that next night, got me drunk for free and regaled me with stories about his travels in south and Central America. Thank you to the couple from Kansas who invited me out with them and took me to see one of the coolest blues bands I’ve ever heard. Thank you to the Brit/ Aussie who got drank hurricanes with me on my last day and talked to me about such deep things? Thank you to my couchsurfing host in Atlanta who provided me with a double bed and silk sheets and explored the city with me, I had an amazing time with you.

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The Civil Rights walk of fame, Martin Luther King Centre, Atlanta Georgia

Thirdly, a word of forward thanks, to the friend hosting me here in North Carolina, despite having a busy household with a beautiful Siberian Husky and a new puppy. Thank you to the family friends in Virginia who have been looking after my backpack for a month to save my poor shoulders, and who will be putting me up for a few days next week. Thank you to the couchsurfing host in New York City who is just as excited as I am to show me the city and see it from a strangers eye

Finally, thank you to the family and friends I have back home, who have provided me with the life skills and character to be able to get through the difficulties of travelling. It really is rough sometimes. Sometimes you are there, sitting in a hostel, craving a conversation with someone who really knows you, a hug from someone who feels safe, a coffee with an old friend. You guys have given me the foundations, now I’m learning to build for myself.

 

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A dark storm approaching on the beach at Camp Lejeune, Marine Corps Base Camp

Written by Bethany Naylor

Read about my final arrival in New York City here!

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Love on the road

Your eyes meet over the box of brie cheese and discarded baguette crust between you. The slowly descending sun creates a rough mirror upon the powerful water below, throwing golden reflections bouncing across the surface. Two sets of footprints mark a path up the rippling sands of the dune where you have spent the last few hours eating good food and butchering both the Greek and the German languages. To your direct left up the beach, you can see a lighthouse. Tall, red, white, and proud, it marks the head of the windswept coastline beyond which you can see a haze which is the mainland of Portugal, a solemn reminder of the ticking clock.

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As he leans in to hear you better above the wind, you see a line of silver in his hair and remember the differences between you. Culture, age, and language, even your basic interests do not align. If you were at home, this guy would be a no-go. Beautiful, yet not the kind of guy you touch if you don’t want to get hurt. Then you catch yourself breathing in, staring, and you have a decision to make.

You look around the deserted island and feel a sharp pang of envy for the solitary fisherman who remains. What a simple life that must be. You notice your hand moving towards the wine bottle half buried in the sand as he asks you what you’re doing for that dinner that night. At some point, you realise he’s not asking you personally what you’re planning on eating but expects that this day would carry on until it was time to part ways with a whispered goodnight. He sees it as a team plan and you realise that despite travelling alone to avoid that, you don’t mind at all.12512688_10208594004667944_8162276734129886991_n (2)

Do you let yourself fall whilst still trying so hard to get over someone else? Do you open up to this dark haired beauty who’s side you had not left for three days? Or maybe you end it now, before it’s too late. Maybe you go back to Faro on the last evening boat, and watch the sun’s vibrant colours until it descends too far and you are left to stumble in the darkness hand in hand to your hostel.

That night as you are cooking, he’ll try to help but in the end, will just make sure your wine glass filled at all times and talk with the other guests. When the couple from America ask if you are together, don’t laugh awkwardly. If a kindly elderly gentleman from France asks if you are in love as you carry out more glasses onto the terrace, just smile. Enjoy it. You know it’s not real. It was never going to be real, but it can still be beautiful. In bed, you’ll promise yourself that you’ll forget him when you leave and that you know it’s nothing. You can’t even hold real conversations because of the language barrier, you have nothing in common, what are you doing?

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When he leaves, you walk him to the coach station. He promises to message you and you promise not to reply. You didn’t exchange numbers, and he doesn’t have internet. It will be easy to forget. You kiss him on the cheek and turn around to walk away just as you see his coach pull in. You walk without looking back and congratulate yourself for that on the way back to the hostel.

It surprises you somewhat the next morning when you find yourself back in the same place, ticket in hand. It surprises you more when he’s there walking towards you, knowing as he did that you’d be on the first bus in the morning.

In the end, it doesn’t work. He tries to buy you flights to see him and you’re too proud. You message him for a coffee when you pass through his home-town later that month but he’s too busy. You meet someone else, and he meets someone else. However, that doesn’t matter, none of that matters. That was never the point. Is it not just enough to share a beautiful experience in a foreign land? Why do we have to hold on to these insignificant relationships? When you travel you are able to be whoever you want to be. You are probably not the same person as that girl who stuck her tongue out at the show that night, and he is probably not the same person as the care-free and relaxed kid you hung out with that week. You are both playing a part, and whatever part that is it’s important to remember who you are and what’s important to you.

My biggest piece of advice in terms of love on the road is this. Let it be beautiful, let it have no boundaries and let it open your heart and mind to new people and experiences. Be spontaneous, go on adventures and have moonlit walks on the beach. Have as much fun as you want, but do not let it be real. Learn and grow from it, but never make yourself have to get on a flight home two days before Christmas with an aching chest.

Written and edited by Beth Naylor

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There’s a story behind it

One of the most common question that those of us with tattoos are asked is -‘Why did you do it?’ Here’s why I did it.

As anyone who travels frequently, either on soul-searching adventures or daily commutes will know, music is the food of the road. How else can you block out the screaming baby behind you, the arguing family on the metro or even the unwanted noise from the bed two feet away? Two hours into my second twelve-hour bus journey in two days, with no phone, no music, and no more books, I began to ponder this question. For the next couple of hours until daylight departed I rambled on in a newly acquired notebook about the subject. Now let me tell you how music is a life saver.

Firstly, finding someone with a shared enthusiasm for your music is one of the quickest ways to form an intimate bond with a stranger. You can never underestimate the importance of this. When you consider your friends at home, there’s a high likelihood that at least some of you have similar tastes in music. The same happens at a gig, you instantly become best friends forever with the people around you due to the combination of good music and alcohol, which is also the atmosphere of a good hostel. There really is no difference travelling.

At a free flamenco evening with my hostel in Seville 2014
At a free flamenco evening with my hostel in Seville 2014

To give an example, I doubt I will ever forget the afternoon I spent driving through the Tuscan Mountains with my couch-surfing host, both singing out hearts out to Gong, a band I had no idea anyone except me and my Dad still listened to. This led to wine filled evening singing and playing Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Guns n’ Roses. (We couldn’t keep up with Gong.) Another one of my best memories from travelling took place in the summer I spent working in Sevilla with my best friend. Ten minutes of conversation led to a six-hour dancing, singing, andguitar night, on the riverside of Triana, which only came to an end when the increasing morning heat reminded us of a flight to catch back home.

P.S The band are called Triana Paraso Fiscales and are getting quite popular. Perhaps I should have accepted that 4am marriage proposal from the cute guitarist

P.P.S Alejandro if you’re reading this, I never forgot you, and as I no longer have EU citizenship…. hit me up.

On a mountain top in Tuscanny with my couchsurfing host in Bologna
On a mountain top in Tuscanny with my couchsurfing host in Bologna

Secondly, I grew up with music. To this day, my favourite bands are still the ones my parents introduced me to. I remember driving through the welsh countryside standing on the back seats, my brothers and my heads sticking out of the open roof of the 2CV watching the convoy of those beautiful but terrible cars stretch out in front of us. ‘Knocking on Heavens Door’ was playing I think, but maybe I made that up, I have been known to have an overactive imagination. After abandoning violin because neither my parents nor I had the patience to put up with the screeching until I got better, I began to play clarinet with the promise that if I got on with it I’d be allowed to learn the saxophone, like my hero Lisa Simpson. (I’ve also tried Veganism, Buddhism and being better than my brother too but it didn’t really work out.) Throughout school, I played in three bands and two choirs, and as soon as I had a job saw live music as often as I could, probably contributing towards my minor case of tinnitus these days. When my saxophone needed to be fixed during my A levels whilst I working towards a still unachieved grade 8, I lost a big part of myself and didn’t really realise for at least a year. It was actually my Grandparents who encouraged me to get back into music in the last year, and I’ll always be grateful to them for that, especially my Grandad, who very recently passed away. He was probably my biggest inspiration musically growing up, always singing and encouraging all his grandkids to practise their instruments. Even a few months ago I remember playing my new saxophone to him over skype, and how proud he looked.

Thirdly, music is really, really cool. In much the same way as taste and smell, important songs, small melodies or even a certain key change can fire us back into the past, as we remember the first time we heard that song on a night out, or when we first kissed our partner to that song so long ago. Every time I listen to the Mary-Anne and the Grave Diggers album by Regina Spektor I am transported to Sri Lanka, staring with excitement and disbelief out of the window as my brother’s head annoyingly hits my shoulder every five minutes as he drops off to sleep for the fiftieth time. I can see the colours, smell the trees and feel the shaking of the bus. Bebe’s ‘Siete Horas’ takes me to Rosas Spain, my first real experience of freedom, when my friend and I realised how much it annoyed another friend so decided to play it as much as possible. When I hear that song I develop a slight hangover. Rudimental’s ‘Feel the Love’ reminds me of my best friend and every great weekend we had over the years in London, pre-drinking and wondering aloud if we’d get served that night. Anything from the Kill Bill soundtrack or Pink Floyd ‘The Wall’ instantly reminds me driving to school with my Dad, whilst Coldplay’s ‘X and Y’ album reminds me of my mum working in her studio and ‘Wires’ by Athlete reminds me of the months after my brother was born fourteen weeks premature.

I will never be able to listen to ‘St Christopher is coming home’ by Frank Turner without remembering that evening in Rome when I realised how much I missed all my old friends. Being on the road a lot is really tough. You leave your friends, family and safety nets behind, any friends you make whilst on the move are usually (but not always) temporary ones, and it can be really hard to feel yourself when no one you’re with knows the real you. Music which reminds you of old and new friends is one of the best ways to feel in touch, even if you really aren’t.

At a free Fado concert in Faro, Portugal
At a free Fado concert in Faro, Portugal

So, as previously said, music is just tops. I love it. I need it. Having said all that, one of the worst things to happen to me travelling also involves music. Now, I’m the type of girl who can barely walk in a straight line without some kind of beat to keep moving, and the selection of music on my (already cracked and therefore worthless) IPod was a collection I’d spend 6 years building up. Through no-ones fault but my own inability to wake up even during an earthquake, one early dawn my IPod, camera and laptop were stolen out of our tent near Barcelona. Three months of travel photos and 6 years of music, gone. I hate to admit it, but that really threw me. Due to spend the next month walking through mountains and fields, how would I cope without music? Well as it turned out, I treated my (very understanding and very gentle with criticism) travel buddy to 40 days and 40 nights of Broadway renditions.

It wasn’t until three months later walking across a bridge in Rome, after a couple of months of disillusionment and confusion, when I realised what I had been missing. Singing along to ‘Jet Lag’ by Frank Turner and having the wobbly moment about travel and leaving people behind that the song induces, I suddenly felt a complete peace. I worked out that I had barely been listening to or doing any music, explaining my feelings of loss. I think it was maybe 2 days later that I got my first tattoo, a small heart on my wrist made up of a treble and bass clef. In doing this, I conquered three of my biggest fears.

Not a single regret 2 years later
Not a single regret 2 years later

 

1) Wrists. I’m not sure how normal this is, but I can’t stand wrists. I think they’re fragile points of weakness in otherwise well-designed bodies. Veins? Don’t get me started. They are definitely not something which should be visible, let alone raised! However, rather than beginning to shake and hyperventilate when the sweet talking Italian begin to gently sterilise my wrist, I pushed through, even watching him work the design into my skin. I only got lightheaded once, despite his clever little joke about this being his first tattoo as well when I told him it was mine.

2) Permanence. From Ice cream flavours and pen colours to degree choices and relationships, I think it’s fair to say I’m not the greatest at making decisions, although some people wouldperhaps phrase that with stronger words. More often than not I’m the one who still hasn’t decided when the waiter comes and ends up just ordering the first thing they see when they look down. Important decisions have been struggled over for months, only to inevitably be decided through a coin toss, game of darts or on my better days, a long page of pros and cons. To choose my degree, I applied for five completely different courses at five completely different Universities and then just went with a prettiest campus when the day came. (Spoiler Alert: I dropped off that course after a week.) Sometimes the decisions you make in a rush don’t ruin your life forever, hard to believe I know.

3) Losing my music. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever stop wanting to make music again, but it has happened before and I didn’t expect it then. This is a reminder that music makes me happier, stronger and more creative. It’s hard to describe the rush when an audience breaks into applause in a huge auditorium, whilst you are all standing there trying to recover from what just happened. In typing up this article I’ve realised that the worst thing that could ever happen to me would be sudden onset deafness.

Tattoos, although certainly becoming more popular these days especially amongst the younger crowd, are still not entirely accepted. When it’s pointed out to me that ‘tattoos need to mean something, nothing is so important to be marked permanently on my skin’, I tell them how music has made me who I am today and that without it I would be lost. Every day I have a reminder that life always looks better when you give it a soundtrack.

 

Written and edited by Beth Naylor

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People over places


My first summer abroad, 6 weeks in Sevilla

When I started travelling, I was definitely leaning towards the more naive end of the age range. I caught the travelling bug after taking my first solo flight to visit a friend in Spain at fourteen. Since then I’ve taken every possible opportunity to travel, even delaying my start at University by two years because I wasn’t quite ready to settle down in one place. When I started this lifestyle, I was always one of the youngest in the hostel, the one with the least life experience and worldliness. It was a humbling experience. I was desperate, as some of us are, to always be on the road and moving on. Always looking ahead to see new things, I would rarely return to the same city more than once, to the point of not only neglecting my family and friends at home but also forgetting to create new ties in the place I was in. Given the chance, I would have rather gone to check out the cool castle, or wandered down to the beach to watch the sunset by myself, than spend time with the other guests in the hostel. It wasn’t until now, sitting in my cold and uncomfortable student flat, that I realise how important those social experiences were. They’re the part I miss most.

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Although when there’s no people, the views tend to be better

Looking back, I could talk for hours about all the beautiful things and incredible places there are on our planet; about waking up with the sunrise on a beach in the south of France, finding an isolated and abandoned church in the middle of the mountains, or getting lost in a seaside Spanish town; about watching the lightning storms in Sri Lanka, seeing the awe-inspiring view over Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain, or the delicately carved patterns of the Alhambra. I could tell you all of that: the adventure, the thrill, even the fear, and it wouldn’t explain the best feeling you get from travelling, the part which always gets left out when we call back home. As a traveller, and especially as a solo traveller, you have this incredible opportunity to meet people from every corner of the globe. The chance to talk to people of all ages, from all walks of life. These people might just become your new best friends.

Of course, I’m not saying that you should trust blindly. When you’re travelling, your gut instinct is your most important asset. Do not go home with strange people, and DO leave if you suspect your couchsurfing host to be developing inappropriate feelings for you. (Pro tip for couchsurfing hosts: Please do not text your guests who are twenty years younger than you saying ‘you look so beautiful when you’re sleeping.’ No, really, stop it.). When you’re alone in another country, you definitely have to put your safety first because no one else will. But if you never take any risks at all then where will all the fun memories come from? The freedom you feel when you’re in another country isn’t an illusion: you really are free, and you just have to decide which memories you want to create.

The point is that as a traveller, you have an amazing opportunity to make friends across the globe, the chance to hear stories from people whose lives one simply cannot comprehend. Of course with the internet, it’s quite realistic to be able to start talking to somebody on the other side of the world at a moment’s notice, but it’s just not the same. I would never have heard what is was like to grow up in the Netherlands during the second World War if I hadn’t taken a chance on a hostel-friend in Faro and taken an unexpected detour to Lagos. Some things you just can’t plan for.

In my first two years as a wanderer, one of the most important lessons I have learnt  is that everybody has their story to tell and is just waiting for their opportunity to do so. In normal, day-to-day life, it can be hard to really open up or have fun with someone you’ve just met, especially when you know it’s only going to be a two-day relationship.

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Hostel friends are friends for life

I wish that I had fully taken advantage from the start of the wisdom and stories from the people whose paths intersected mine whilst travelling because so many people I did give the chance to ended up changing my perspective and giving me new dreams.

Written and edited by Beth Naylor

Originally posted on the Wayfaring Student

To read another story about how travelling can change your view on society, check out Sarah’s post about discovering real poverty in India.

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