I was pretty hapless when I booked my first ever six month solo backpacking trip. Carried away with visions of casually strolling through the streets of Bangkok, lazing on the white shores of Goa and maybe managing a trek through the Himalayas all on my own, meant I had little time to think about what the reality may be like.
Like the fact that unless you take ear plugs and an eye mask there’s no way you’re getting any shut eye in a dorm full of snorers or late night revellers. Like the fact that being a solo female traveller will mean A LOT of male attention, some of it very unwanted and irritating. Like the fact that a stupid amount of time will be spent planning your next steps, booking transport and reading reviews of hostels where you can sleep the following night that don’t resemble Bates Motel.
When we think about travelling we tend to see the world through rose tinted glasses, musing over the fun and exciting adventures ahead, the incredible photos that we will take and the cultures we will soak up. This will all happen but I’ve now learnt that pre trip and post trip thoughts differ wildly.
I now know that being classed as an ahem slightly older traveller (anything over 25 years old and you suddenly feel like an OAP at a teens disco) meant I couldn’t hack it like the young ‘uns. Just saying young ‘uns already shows my age. My liver, already knackered after my carefree uni days, stubbornly refused to let me get down with the kids, or if it did then I would pay for it the following day. Being hungover in scorching clammy heat with no Netflix or greasy all day breakfasts to cure this self-infliction is not big or clever.
I now know that you will develop an alter ego who bursts out of you Hulk-style during frustrating situations. Being meek and mild mannered most of the time will only get you so far, but a feisty new you will emerge when you’re haggling fares with tuk tuk drivers, putting your foot down as politely but persistently as you can telling your tour guide that no you don’t want to visit his second cousin’s jewellery shop, and sticking to your guns that you’re certain you don’t want to buy a naff souvenir from an insistent beach seller.
I now know that style goes out of the window when on the road. You can forget your matching outfits, pretty hair accessories and *gasp* even makeup, when you travel comfort is king. That and finding confidence in leaving your room with unwashed hair, unshaved legs, a wet wipe shower and a spritz of eau de mozzie spray knowing that no one will judge you.
I now know that you need to enjoy the actual travel time. The process of getting from A to B can be full of delays, cancellations and uncomfortable crossings but you’ve just got to sit back and try to enjoy the ride.
I now know that when you return no one will really care about the emotional journey you’ve been on, the things you’ve seen and your stories you’re desperate to share. For your friends and family the novelty of having you back will quickly fade. Life goes on. And that’s when the travel bug bites and you jet off again feeling confident that you’re now a pro backpacker (until you realise you will never stop learning about travel, and won’t want to).
On Saturday I reached another milestone in my #100runs100days challenge … the three quarters we-are-almost-through-this point. However, the celebrations for this mini achievement have been put on hold and put into perspective by the atrocious Paris attacks that happened just the evening before. We had planned to commemorate by running a 10km race in a nearby small French village on Sunday but this was quickly cancelled as the country entered three days of mourning.
Strangely though since the news from the Capital all I’ve wanted to do was run, to have that freedom, space and time to silently pay my respects and think about what has happened just two hours away from where I live.
They say that running is meditation in movement, a way to clear your mind and work through whatever it is that is bothering you as you put one foot in front of the other.
That’s what I’ve been doing.
Over the weekend I ran and thought about those poor innocent people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, I ran and thought about nothing, I just ran and ran.
I now rely on this form of fitness not just as a way to manage my weight so that I can guilt-free eat what I want (or so I tell myself) but because it gives me the time to just pound the pavements and let my mind wander. To think about everything or anything.
As the days go by on this challenge I am slowly getting what this running lark is all about. And I have to say I’m becoming a convert. Gulp.
Like everyone else I was glued to my phone and TV over the weekend watching the horrific news unfold from the French capital. As the days have gone on I’m still struggling to get my head around how and why this atrocity has happened just two hours down the road from me.
The scariest thing is that it could have been you or me: out on a Friday night for drinks, excited to see one of your fave bands playing and spending an evening with family and friends relaxing over dinner in a small restaurant. Any one of us could have been doing that.
I ran on Saturday morning after binging on the news trying to let it filter in, watching the death toll rise and the harrowing photos emerge. I ran as if I didn’t want to stop, I ran like I had this strange lump in my throat imagining those people who had been murdered who would never run again. The rest of the day I was teaching English to classes of French children. We had planned to give them a lesson all about Poppy day, handing out poppies and explaining the importance of Remembrance Day and how we will never forget those who have lost their lives for us. Instead they could witness this first hand by just turning on the television.
How do you explain to children what has happened in their capital city? To give them answers that as adults we don’t know. To play down the rising fear this has caused, to respect the dark shade of grief covering the nation, to tell them that they are safe when the truth is we don’t know if we are. You don’t expect to go out on a normal Friday night and not come back.
I’m sorry if I’m rambling I’m just trying to get my head round it all. I don’t know if I ever will.
I’ve been living in France for the past two years, the French have welcomed me with open arms and double kisses and I am proud to call this place my home. We all witnessed the resilience of the French after the Charlie Hebdo attacks: they are not willing to let this beat them, they will come back stronger and fighting for this wonderful country and its people.
It is times like these where you not only see the worst that human beings can inflict on other human beings but also the best. Heart-warming stories have emerged that taxi drivers were turning their meters off to pick up fares for free and help take people to safety, that the following morning hundreds of Parisians queued for hours to give blood, that hashtags were invented such as #portesouverte offering a safe place to stay and that people risked their lives to protect complete strangers.
Good still exists in this world, it may not feel like it when your brain cannot compute the information flooding in from the news, but there is.
And yes I, like many others, feel helpless.
This morning I went to the town hall where a two minute silence had been organised. We huddled in the open air courtyard, people from all backgrounds and ages standing side by side paying our respects. As the bell chimed everyone started singing the French national anthem, this emotional energy pulled us closer together. I cried, hearing this song and others around me wearing their grief like a winter coat as the heavens opened.
But I guess the only thing we can do is to try and carry on as normal, go about our lives as business as usual, not let the fear overtake us and stop us from living. We are the lucky ones, the ones who can hug our loved ones tight and tell them we love them, crossing our fingers behind our backs that everything will be ok.
I remember in year 9 going to see the career adviser as we all had to have a mock job interview. A scary thought for a 14 year old more interested in boys, make-up and MacDonald’s to have to answer some tough life questions about what you want to be when you grow up.
I don’t know many adults who have been able to answer that question.
However, after quitting my 9-5 job and going travelling I have finally understood what it is I want as a career and managed to make this come true. The skills I learnt from heading off on my solo adventure has changed the way I work.
I am now a writer, part-time English teacher and travel blogger. I get to be creative every day, be my own boss and find so much happiness in what I do which wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t taken that leap and booked that first plane ticket.
Travel helps you to be more confident. You learn to look at the world and really see it. Not what the TV shows you or pretty pictures in a glossy magazine but what it is like walking in the footsteps of those living completely different lives to you.
Travel helps you be more organised. Sounds simple but if you’re not punctual for meetings or even rocking up to the office on time then expect your P45. Improving your ability to multi-task and organise your time is essential as when you travel you can’t afford to miss that flight or train, you need to maximise the time you have in that new city without causing burn-out from cramming too much stuff in. Planning and preparation may sound dull but to make the most out of your trip and without damaging your credit card it needs to be done. Show any potential employer that you can make your way around six countries in five months on a budget and see how impressed they are.
Travel helps you to solve problems, it makes you think on your feet and come up with solutions quickly. You need to get your next flight but the train you’d booked is massively delayed, it’s also a religious holiday that you’d never heard of so everything is closed and you can’t afford a taxi … what do you do? It’s problems like these that are common to experience when you’re away from home but how you deal with them will be a real asset both in the moment and for your life skills.
Travel helps you develop good communication skills, whether it’s bartering in a crowded market or trying to speak a foreign language to understand the simplest of tasks. Interacting with people from different cultures and backgrounds will help you be more compassionate and a better listener.
Travel helps you to stay calm in stressful situations. Boy oh boy backpacking is no easy ride. Take a foreign country, turn up the humidity and heat then add a different language and customs and you’ve got yourself a recipe for stress. But being able to take a deep breath and overcome these harassed feelings is a skill in itself. When you travel you are out of your comfort zone but learning how to handle this will come in useful for work-life stress.
But travel isn’t just a way to think about how you can impress at your next job interview it also gives you the time and space to think about what it is you really want. To change the career path you had found yourself on, to make a bold decision and to come up with a plan on how you can go out and grab that dream job.
Have a cracking weekend everyone!
You may have noticed that things were looking a little sparse on these here blog pages last week. The reason for this mini break was because I had dreaded deadlines looming so everything else, and I mean everything, was put on pause as I worked my butt off to meet them. I locked myself away to finish my second novel Destination India, even missing out on going for dinner in my fave steak restaurant if that’s not dedication then I don’t know what is!
For my first novel (Destination Thailand) I didn’t have the pressure of deadlines to meet so I could take my time, write when the muse struck – side note you could be waiting a loooooong time for this – and basically just tinker with it to my heart’s content. With book two everything changed as I now have my publisher, the incredible Victoria at Harper Colins, waiting for me to submit my work to make sure there are no hold ups for when you guys get to finally read it!
This meant I had three months to write an entire book. Yup. Three months. To do this I knew I needed some writing fuel…
As the story is set in India I wanted to bring a taste of Bollywood and bhaji’s to my desk in France. I wanted to both feel inspired and taken back to when I travelled around the country as a solo female backpacker. To do this I whipped up a batch of sweet, creamy and spiced chai tea that I would heat up and sip as I typed. They say smells are the most evocative sense and once I’d had a whiff of cinnamon sticks, cardamom and aromatic spices I could have been back wandering the dusty streets of Delhi.
This easy to make drink is what keeps India ticking with chai wallahs (tea men) serving up this spicy warm beverage all across the country from trains to beaches to side streets you are never far from someone yelling ‘Chai Chai’ at you. The recipe changes slightly depending where you are in the country, some use buffalo or even camel milk, some strain the hot milk into the cup instead of boiling it together and some drink from a saucer rather than a cup to allow it to cool slightly.
Starbucks sells chai tea latte but for the same price you can buy the herbs you need and make a huge batch of it at home. Perfect for the winter months as the nights draw in make yourself a steaming cup of sweet chai put on your snuggly pjs and wrap up in a cosy blanket. A super soothing hug in a mug.
I reckon Destination India should be sponsored by chai tea as this has fuelled so many late nights hunched over my laptop. It still feels unreal that I have now written two novels – a strange but incredible feeling. so for all of you doing NaNoWriMo out there please please keep persevering as typing the end is SO worth the work. Oh and putting the kettle on works wonders too!
I wanted to share my chai tea recipe so you can have a taste of India too. I like mine quite spicy but you can add less spice mix and more tea if you prefer, this is all a question of personal preferences. You can make chai tea from scratch but there are a lot of individual spices you need to buy so to keep costs down I bought a chai spice mix from the local delicatessen. If you are interested in making it all yourself then check this website out which explains all you need.
How to make Chai Tea at home
Pour a cup of water into a small saucepan and add 2 heaped teaspoons of the chai tea dried spice mix plus 2 heaped teaspoons of loose leaf tea or two teabags and bring to the boil. Your nose will soon fill with yummy spicy smells that is hard for anyone to resist…
Remove it from the heat and pour in a cup of milk and a tablespoon of honey (what can I say I have a super sweet tooth!) Bring it back to boil and stir regularly as you want it frothy but not to bubble over the pan.
Take it off the heat and let it sit as you inhale deeply. Ahhhh. Strain it so all the spices and tea leaves don’t end up in your cup. Pour into a large mug and voila – creamy sweet comforting chai tea. This makes two mugs of tea but trust me you will soon be wanting to double the measurements to get your daily fix.
If this has got you dreaming of India then why not pre-order my novel Destination India to read as you drink your chai tea? Hmm books and tea – a winning combination if you ask me.