"Since October?" came the reaction from fellow travellers we met in June. Yes, it was then that we realized this travel life that we'd become accustomed to was actually a significant amount of time.
When we made that big decision to take a sabbatical (shall we? shan't we?), we'd thought about returning to our jobs. There'd be the security. Funny how an unreasonable manager can disillusion you, though. That's when we knew – we'd buy a one-way ticket, and the journey would be open-ended. As long as we wanted. As long as we could finance ourselves. It was a chance to really experience countries and cultures at our own pace.
So, after 14 months on the road, how would we describe our type of travel? When we spotted the blog post "Deine Reise ist nicht meine Reise" (your trip is not my trip) from Florian of Flocblog – a long-time favourite of my Feedly newsfeed – we decided it was a good opportunity to sum it all up.
What characterized this particular Hagemann galavant? How did we travel? Where did we sleep, eat, and get our travel fix? These questions and more will be answered if you read on...
Not your fresh-out-of-uni backpacker
Being in our mid-thirties with a few pay packets behind us, we had more cash to spend than a fresh-out-of-uni backpacker travelling on a shoestring. Let's just say we had certain standards, which we were happy to splash out a few extra euros for. More quality experiences over quantity of experiences was our motto. Then again, we also weren't living it large, you understand. It's surprising how little money you need.
Gone are our days of crashing out in an overcrowded dorm; the mattress is more tired than you, there's the perpetual snorer, you're afraid to lay your head on the suspect stained pillow, and could that itch be the dreaded bedbugs? Sometimes we just needed our own bit of clean – we stress “clean”! - space; whether it be a hostel double in South America, our very own "double" in our tent, or ooooh-so-adorable camper van in New Zealand. Sigh, I'm dizzy just thinking about that baby.
We were happy to pay €15 for a no-frills but clean double room with private bathroom in South-East Asia and Bolivia if it meant we could get a decent night's sleep and not have to dread taking up that skiing pose every time you wanted the loo – you know where I'm coming from? Seriously, one year of that...?! "Cheap," in our eyes, shouldn't necessarily equate with "dirty,” and we were happy to find budget accommodation options the world over that let us sleep easy at night.
Have your own Experience
We can't stress enough the importance of having your own experience. Lonely Planet maps out itineraries, but remember folks, it's a "guide". Don't follow it to the letter, or else you'll discover the planet really isn't so lonely.
Talk to to other travellers, but figure out what's your thing and what isn't. “You have to go to the full-moon party on Koh Tao,” - err, no thank you. In fact, Thailand left us rather underwhelmed. "You have to go to the Perhentian Islands – they're paradise". Maybe in some people's eyes, but not in ours. We hated the Perhentian Islands! - sitting on an uncomfortably hot, humid beach, smothered in a concoction of sun cream and mosquito spray. We'll take the cooler climes and stunning mountain scenery of Patagonia or the Japan Alps any day, thanks! Likewise, I'm sure our multi-day self-sufficient trek wouldn't be for everyone, either.
What a difference time makes
The real beauty of this trip was the time we had, rather than our usual two weeks jaunt – which always left us hungry for more. Time meant we could explore aspects of travel a two-week trip wouldn't allow. And it had a positive knock-on effect on our travel experiences:
We could get off the beaten track more easily than on a two week trip
A more authentic experience In terms of:
- Culinary delights
- Meeting the locals
Let us explain…
With time on our hands, we travelled at our own pace, planned very little ahead, hopped onto whatever local overland transport was available, and only flew when necessary. Maybe we could have taken a ship over the Pacific to keep our carbon footprint down, but we didn't want to go overboard (excuse the word choice!) with weeks spent at sea.
Time let us hop onto two wheels to get off the beaten track and discover the ethnic minority people and colourful markets of Sin Ho in Vietnam, where we were the attraction as opposed to the sights.
In turn, getting off the beaten track let us experience some incredible authentic food, a world away from the tour groups where the guide gets commission. It's how we got frogs instead of prawns, coconuts instead of coke...for us, far more fun than sitting alongside other guide book-toting travellers (yep, admittedly we did that), all drawn to Lonely Planet's "Top Choice".
Getting off the tourist trail also meant that we met some amazing locals. When our trusty Vespa broke down in the Mekong, in no time were we surrounded by friendly faces, invited to drink a sweet Vietnamese coffee, and sent in the direction of the village mechanic – in our eyes, a priceless experience.
Of course, it's not all hunky dory. On the downside, having more time to travel gave us a bout of “sight-saturation”. Anyone else felt “templed out” in South-East Asia? It's a shame when the sights start to merge into each other and you start to lose your appreciation of things.
On the topic of appreciating things...
Ditch the smartphone!
One of the best things we did was sell our smartphones before we set off, which meant we really got to take in our surroundings. It seemed tragic to see people documenting the Borobudur sunrise on Facebook, and social media taking all the “social” out of the equation as couples sat glued to their devices in Singapore. Don't get us wrong, we like a bit of technology, but don't forget to appreciate what's going on around you. In our experience, it doesn't hurt in the slightest to take some time out from that digital device.
Just the two of us
Let's not forget though, people like to travel in different ways. While some people like their luxury all-inclusive break, others like a fully-organized see-all-the-sights whistle-stop tour, or a hardcore take-the-bare-minimum adventure. And that's fine.
This is just the way we like to do things.
Just the two of us...we could make it on our own...ahh, a song comes to mind ;-)
Yep, just me and my travel buddy and super-hubby, R – the best travel buddy I could wish for. Over 14 months, we were together pretty much 24/7. And we're still together. Happily together, if I might mention. If that's not a successful recipe for the galavanting Hagemänner, then I don't know what is.