Category Archives: Life Lessons

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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Staring At The Ceiling: Navigating Depression On The Road

My first couple weeks in India, I spent an inordinate amount of time in bed, door locked. Sometimes I had power, sometimes the fan would slowly revolve to a stop and the heat of the day would wrap itself around me like a thick, stifling blanket. I slept a lot. Went out only long enough to get food. Ignored well-meaning people knocking on my door.
When I got to Peru, a similar thing happened.
The same thing happened when I lived in Washington.
It wasn’t the travel that assaulted me, though being in a new place, with strange customs and a painful distance from friends and family, did contribute to my feelings. What is unchanged in all of these scenarios is me. Sometimes, the only viable option is to stay in bed, shades drawn, quietly pretending like I don’t exist. Not even to myself. Because the reality of existence weighs too much, and I’m not always strong.

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It reminds me of physical exercise, in a way. Some days I work out hard, really pushing myself, for a few days stretch. By day four or five my arms are shaking, my legs feel like bruised rubber, and the thought of a push-up is enough to start the waterworks. Emotions are like that, too. Carry around that heavy stuff for too long, and fatigue sets in.
Except, it’s harder to put down emotions than a free weight, and, when travelling, taking that day (or three) to sit in the dark and recharge doesn’t seem like an option. There are places to go! Food to eat! Adventures to be had!
All of which can be loosely translated as: If I’m not out there DOING, I’m wasting my time, wasting my opportunities.
It’s a hard balance to strike. I knew I didn’t want to go home and say, yeah, I spent all my time looking at the ceiling. However, I knew that pushing myself too hard would just whip around and smack me in the face. So I figured out some things that helped, even a little, and started from there. Maybe they can help you, too. Whether you’re darting around SE Asia, or studying at university, or moving through daily life in your hometown, taking care of yourself is always a priority.

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Music
The single most important factor in feeling okay with the world has been music. When I was in Rishikesh, I could not stand walking through the bustling streets with all the people and the noise and the vendors shouting at me. I told myself I had to do it that way, or else I wasn’t really experiencing the city. Which, I had a point, but it was making it so I didn’t go out at all. Then, I plugged in my headphones. Instantly, the world became a whole lot easier to tackle. Find something that feeds your positive emotions. As tempting as a good Bright Eyes marathon might be, see if you can resonate with an artist who sings about beauty, truth, and love. Not just heartache.

Movement
Yoga has served as a major sustaining practice in my life. Through a divorce, being fired for the first time, losing one of my cats, and on and on, yoga has been a place I can turn to when the noise of the world gets too loud. It is a home that I can take everywhere with me. Developing some kind of mindful movement practice can help you settle more deeply into your body, and in this present moment. I’ve found that when I am truly focused on right now, the fact that I am alive and breathing and in no imminent danger, helps to make those clamouring sirens of oh-my-god-I-can’t-do-this fade away a bit.collagefriends (1).png

 

Asking For Help
I’ve never been great at making friends, and keeping them has been challenging, too. At least, that’s what I’ve told myself. My first night in Delhi, I had a meltdown. When I took to Facebook and posted a plea for help, I was surprised at the response I got. Not my boyfriend, not my family, not the friends I thought I’d grown close to before I left. Almost immediately I received a message from a guy I’d met at a festival, weeks earlier. He became my lifeline that night, and many more times in the following months. Reach out. Keep reaching out, especially when it hurts. Love comes from directions you may never expect.

Take excellent care of yourselves. Be kind. Be soft. Be love.

 

Written by Sarah Hirsch

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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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Searching for Home

I am going home in nine days. There are nine days left before this five-month-long adventure comes to an end. Nine days left of hostel-hopping, mountain-climbing, and beach-bumming. Nine days left before I have to contend with that most terrifying of words: stillness.

I will arrive back in England to rain, Christmas time, and the ever-enthralling job market. For purely mundane, practical reasons (namely being dead-broke) it will be several months before I can jump on a plane, train, or automobile and go off exploring again. I’m trying to be positive. I have started a list of things to look forward to about my imminent homecoming, at the very top of which (naturally) is seeing my cat again, followed by seeing family and friends, rediscovering the joys of a hot bath, and inhaling a decent cup of coffee. Yet every time I add something to the list, a niggling little voice in the back of my mind matches it with ten things I will miss about travelling.

Hove beach, my favourite place in England
Hove beach, my favourite place in England

Way back at the end of August, I remember talking to two backpackers about when, if ever, they were planning to return to their respective European countries and families they hadn’t seen in several months. Both had been travelling for a year or more and both baulked at the question. I couldn’t understand, then, their apprehensive expressions at the use of the word ‘home’ and the restlessness suddenly visible in their body language. Sure, I didn’t particularly want to go home either, but back then I was more secure in my understanding of what that word meant.

My sense of home has warped and changed over the last few years. Not only was I moving from place to place with each year of university, but everyone from my best friends to my parents were moving to new houses, cities, and even countries. I learnt to feel at home in a handful of places in addition to the house I grew up in. Yet over the last five months, even my more flexible definition of ‘home’ has begun to crumble. I now understand that confused apprehension that comes with the idea of leaving all this behind. When your new ‘normal’ consists of a backpack, and an ever-shifting cast of friends against an ever-changing backdrop of vibrant cities and stunning landscapes, the idea of ‘going home’ becomes weighted down with the knowledge of all that you are leaving behind.

 one of my many temporary homes this year
One of my many temporary homes this year

‘Going home’ has taken shape as a shadow hovering on the horizon, creeping closer each day, pressuring me to squeeze as much as I can into my final days. Every decision I make is clouded with doubt. I feel I need to ‘make the most’ of every minute – a completely arbitrary idea which never bothered me before and only makes me feel vaguely disappointed in myself every second I am not taking in a beautiful view or visiting a famous tourist site. My problem is that I have ceased to conceive of ‘home’ as a place, filled with people and things that I love and miss, and think of it as merely a date. A departure time on my flight schedule; a ticking time bomb marking the end of the best few months of my life.

Finding a piece of home on the Bolivian Salt Flats
Finding a piece of home on the Bolivian Salt Flats

Halfway through writing this very article, I was sifting through some old journal entries when I stumbled upon one I had forgotten about, from almost exactly a year ago.

“When I’m lonely or homesick I’m not missing a place but a moment in time. I hope that as I grow up I will learn to leave parts of myself in places in time and space and be at peace with that, but I also hope I find people who make me feel at home even when I’m someplace unfamiliar […] I hope for happiness that doesn’t come from a screen and isn’t borrowed from a song and I hope that one day I’ll be able to look around me and say this, this is home.”

Reading that was like having a bucket of ice water thrown over me. I realised how far I had come, from that miserable girl dreaming of the end of university and barely even able to imagine how it would feel to travel the world. I realised, reading those final lines, that I have had that feeling, countless times while travelling. Of looking around me and feeling so grateful that I get to call this my life. It is not feeling at home in the way it felt to push open your front door as a kid after an exhausting day at school, but it’s still a feeling of joy and peace that comes from the knowledge that whatever you are doing is right for right now.

I have been spending my final days in paradise
I have been spending my final days in paradise

The negativity I have been feeling about going home stems from the assumption that it is akin to going backwards. I have constructed a dichotomy in which I think happiness and freedom exist purely within the ‘travelling’ chapters of my life, and going ‘home’ necessarily means a return to the mundane and the dull. But going home is not going backwards. I may not feel that returning to England and pushing open that familiar front door is going ‘home’ in the way it used to be, because I have left parts of myself scattered all over the world. It doesn’t have to be an end. It can become a part of this ongoing sense that whatever I am doing, for whatever reason, is right for right now. The ways in which I continue to change, to learn, and to grow do not come to a screeching halt as soon as I step off that plane.

Written by Isabella Millington

If the idea of going back home at the end of your great adventure is still causing you stress, check out a similar article ‘Exhausted Thoughts’ 

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At the Intersection of Poverty and Grace

“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are.” – Samuel Johnson

There’s something about traveling that makes my eyes open wider. When I’m continually confronted with scenes, people, and approaches vastly different from my own, I can’t help but to see myself more clearly. I can’t help but to see the whole world more clearly. There’s no single factor where I’ve found this more true, than when I look at my concept and understanding of poverty.

It’s not a very popular subject, poverty. We don’t like thinking of children starving, men and women forced to beg for a few scraps of food, or people lying in the streets because it’s the only place they have to rest. I freely admit that when I first arrived in India I had to close my eyes. The pain I saw on the faces of old women and toddlers alike broke my heart.

But my eyes could not remain closed if I hoped to grow.

When I started looking, really looking, I saw far more than desperation. I saw hope. I saw love. And, most surprising of all, I saw unending generosity.

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Growing up in the United States I learned to be very careful with my money. I know that not everyone receives and buys into these particular messages, but for me the idea that I had to keep what I earned, and only spend it on myself, was pretty strong. There was a brief time in my life when I wholly depended on the kindness of strangers, but other factors got in the way and instead of letting their generosity sink in and change me, I pulled back and hardened myself.

I may have been able to keep that barrier between me and the people I met in India, but it was already crumbling by the time I boarded my outgoing flight. After my initial culture shock wore off and I was able to walk around Rishikesh without my sunglasses on and headphones plugged in, I started watching. My shell kept on cracking.

Blogs and news articles warn people of the dangers of Indian hucksters. The games they play are notorious, and I’m not about to tell you any of that is wrong. However, it’s not the whole picture. What they don’t tell you is that the same man who tries to sell you a necklace for five times what it’s worth is the same man who will give you a ride on his scooty if you’re stuck on the side of the road. The woman who asks 100 rupees for a single banana will ask you back to her family’s home for dinner if you have no money of your own.

image Continue reading At the Intersection of Poverty and Grace

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Stop telling me to be afraid

“Oh but of course, dont go there alone.” I stare at the woman in disbelief. She has just spent the last half hour regaling me with tales of her own adventures in South America several decades ago. She goes straight for the most dramatic details, the stories that are so fun to tell you forget how terrible they were to live through. Her eyes have lit up in the endearing way most people’s do when they recall their travelling adventures. I listen with interest and amusement, until her happy expression falls.She fixes me with a stern look. “No. I definitely wouldnt do it alone.” She nods her head, as though we are in agreement. I stare down at my empty coffee cup and wonder vaguely if there is a polite way to tell someone you are definitely going to disregard their unsolicited advice.

Isabella on the prettiest steps in the world
Isabella on the prettiest steps in the world

I’ve grown used to this kind of response. To telling people my plans to travel South America solo and patiently listening while they rattle off a list of all the things that could go wrong, or regurgitate the latest horror story they read about tourists getting mugged or contracting Zika. At first I would listen, allowing their doubts and fears to become my own. After several weeks of this, with my desire to escape only increasing, I was getting pretty sick of the negativity. “You have to do things that frighten you,” I would say to the latest family friend who was expressing their concern for my safety. “You cant live in fear.” More often than not I was met with that expression adults love to roll out when they disagree with someone younger than them; the half-pitying, half-amused raise of the eyebrow which suggests you are Just Too Young And Naïve To Understand The World.

My main issue with this is that I do not think I would get the same response if I were male. People do not question why a man would want to travel solo, because (mostly cis, straight, white) men are not taught to be afraid of public spaces in the way that women are. Women learn early on that to go out alone is to put their safety at risk. When we are told to be careful walking at night, to carry keys between our fingers and have male friends walk us home, what we are effectively being taught is that public spaces have not been built to accomodate us. That the outside world does not belong to us and we’d better scurry home quick before our reckless behaviour gets us attacked.

Anya travelling solo in Iceland
Anya travelling solo in Iceland

When I was 15 I sat and listened with burning jealousy as my older, male cousin told me stories of his travels. He made getting lost at night in dark alleyways in strange European towns sound glamorous. He told me about the time a friend of his ended up severely hurt after they were motorcycling down mountains in Vietnam and it still sounded like more fun than I could ever imagine. I was amazed that he’d actually been hitchiking like the characters in my favourite novel, On The Road. While I dreamed of travel in a vague way, he made it seem like a tangible reality. “I can’t wait to do all that,” I said, enviously. “Yeah… but you’d have to be more careful,” he began tentatively. I already knew what was coming. “Because you’re a girl.”

I know I’m a girl. I know girls are not expected to travel alone because the world is a fucked up place and most cultures have found a way to benefit from our continued oppression. But nothing is going to change if we meekly sit at home and wait to be given a pass of Guaranteed Safety TM before we venture out into the world. Just as I’m not going to stay at home on a Friday night fearful of having to make my way back from a bar alone, I’m not going to stay chained to my hometown simply because travelling alone carries more complications and insecurity than travelling with friends or a partner. The reality of life is that I could be attacked in my own town, hit by a car crossing the street I live on, or robbed in my own house. I could put my dreams of travelling on a shelf in my mind and resign myself to staying at home, yet not be any safer than wandering around South America on my lonesome. I refuse to let my life be governed by fear, and I refuse to ever let “because I’m a girl” stand in the way of anything I want to do.

Beth leading a river Trek in Nerja, Spain
Beth leading a river Trek in Nerja, Spain

The long and short of it is this: I’m going to do whatever  I want. When I tell you what I’m doing, I don’t really care if you think it’s the worst idea since brexit (I went there, not sorry), keep it to yourself. Besides, it is generally considered impolite to tell someone their plans are terrible and their dreams impossible. I’m going to make my own decisions and, yes, probably my own mistakes, and I’m going to figure it out as I go along. Just like everyone else my age, whether they’re travelling, working, or standing in line at the job centre. I’m going to travel to every corner of the world I can find and I’m going to do it whether you pat me on the back and wish me well, or offload your own fears onto me. Your advice is not going to make me change my mind or turn me around. The most it’s going to do for me is give me a heightened sense of fear looming over me like a shadow as I go. Where will that fear get me? How will being suspicious of every new place and all the people in it broaden my mind? What will you achieve by making me anxious?

Stop teaching girls that they cannot have the same experiences as men. Stop reminding us to live within the limits laid out for us by society. Start teaching us to go out there and claim the space we deserve.

Stop telling us to be afraid.

Comquering two fears: mountain biking down the World's Most Dangerous Road and braving organised tours on her own!
Comquering two fears: mountain biking down the World’s Most Dangerous Road and braving organised tours on her own!

 

Written by Isabella Millington edited 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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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.

hitchhiking
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.

spain
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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