I can’t believe I’ve been away a month. I feel like I blinked on the plane to Singapore and somehow ended up here. This means I only have 10 or so weeks of this journey left, at which my first reaction is panic. Of this incredible life changing journey that I spent years thinking about and months planning and weeks in denial about and moved out of my flat for… That’s all there is?! I can’t believe there was ever a moment I wished any of this time away and the realisation of the speed at which time rattles along has made me even more determined to savour every minute. Maybe even the shitty bits, which I’ve now taken to referring to as ‘another story for the blog’.
Backpacking has changed since 2005
The last time I went backpacking for more than few weeks was 2005. To contact home you had to queue up outside an Internet cafe and use payphones or send lengthy CC all emails. It’s also when I discovered MySpace and indeed I think Lara and I once spent an entire day in an Internet cafe using web cams to take our profile photos wearing matching Von Dutch caps.
Booking a place to stay online was a luxury, so we generally just rocked up to each new place and walked the streets desperately in search of a room with a fan (air con was not a given then like it generally is now).
Everything seems much easier now – partly because I’m travelling a county with a fairly decent tourist infrastructure, partly because I’ve got more wits about me and partly because of technology. I’m on the other side of the world but carrying my friends and family with me in my pocket and able to show them what I’m doing as I’m doing it. How marvellous is that?
I have changed since 2005
Well, you’d hope so.
Last time I did this I was 19. It was a wonderful leap into the world of independence and I’m so glad I did it, but I was mostly concerned with drinking buckets, dancing til dawn and meeting boys. I was in a permanent state of culture shock, which I never really adjusted to because I’m not sure I ever tried. There was very little attention paid to self discovery or really understanding and appreciating the culture around me.
Perhaps more to my advantage then, though, I was fearless. I threw myself into everything I did with abandon and very little scared me. It was extremely freeing and it was wildly chaotic.
Sometimes it worked in my favour, and sometimes it didn’t; I ran out of money after one month of a five month trip. I got blood poisoning because I went trekking with infected cuts on my feet. I smoked opium not realising what it was. I walked home alone drunk in the middle of the night, shared tuk tuks with strangers and once woke up in the penthouse suite of the Shangri La hotel in Bangkok surrounded by random men and women in various states of undress (parents panic not, I had just fallen asleep at a party, not an orgy).
This time around, I have found that while I love nothing more than to let my hair down over a few too many proseccos and tequilas at home, I can take or leave partying while away. It’s just not what I’m here for – I don’t crave it and I don’t feel like I’m missing out when I don’t do it. I know I’ll get dressed up in sequins and drink g&ts and have a helluva party when I get back to London and that suits me just fine.
In contrast to 2005 Ceri, who sort of ploughed through the trip much like a bull in a china shop, I have found myself slowly and constantly looking around me to absorb every detail of my surroundings; I’m not sure that when I was younger I quite appreciated the wafting scent of Asian spices mixed with heady frangipani flowers and undertones of drain (anyone who has been to SE Asia will know exactly the smell I mean) in a way that now I do, or would stare at the ocean in complete awe and then realise an hour had passed, or would find myself on the verge of tears while snorkelling with turtles because nature is just SO WONDERFUL.
Yet I have found, travelling at 31, that fear is abundant. Im a more anxious person now than I was then. I have more to lose, I treasure the life I have built at home immensely. I value – and worry about – my health. My parents are no longer an annoyance I’m glad to escape for a few months, they are everything to me and I wish I could share this with them. I have read more and researched more, the internet keeps me constantly up to date on the risks around me, such as the fact that this KILLER VOLCANO COULD ERUPT ANY SECOND. Naturally, then I feel more cautious and end up agonisingly weighing up most decisions I make, almost to my detriment. I’d like to throw more caution to the wind on the remainder of my trip.
Oh also, disclaimer – I really like staying at nice places in my older age. I don’t mean luxury, I just mean I will pay slightly more for a hot shower and air con and a pool and no cockroaches, and sometimes even a big double bed all of my own. I’ve worked hard for this trip, so I will bloody well enjoy the places I stay.
I like to travel slowly
I’m a big fan of slow travel. I am categorically not a box ticker. I love seeing the sights and doing the things but moreover, I love wandering. And looking, and being still. It took me a couple of weeks to realise this in Indonesia but on reflection, I’ve always been like that.
In Barcelona, I loved visiting La Sagrada Familia and marvelling at Gaudi but even more, I loved the day I spent hopping around tapas bars and local markets, fasnicatedly people watching, and navigating the winding streets of the gothic quarter. In New York, I really loved doing THE SIGHTS – Grand Central Station moved me to tears, guys. But more than that, I loved it when we spent an entire day wandering around the West Village, in and out of bakeries and delis and shops and along the Highline and then found ourselves accidentally getting daytime drunk on expensive wine on the rooftop of the Meatpacking District before tipsily meandering home via the jazz musicians in Washington Square Park. In Venice, we bypassed the museums and the galleries and St Marks Square throngs to get totally lost in the winding back allies and do nothing but eat slices of pizza and scoops of gelato with our feet hanging above the canals. You get the picture. These are the memories that stick for me the most. These are the moments in which I feel most immersed in a place and enthralled by its people.
In Bali, the same applies. I’ve been happiest when taking my time, without an agenda or a sight to see or a boat to catch to the next destination. I leave a place feeling like I know it, rather than that I’ve seen it. It means I’ve probably ticked less off the average travellers’ to do list (see more below on the mountains I haven’t climbed or the dives I haven’t dived) but it gives me a sense of calm I can’t really describe. To begin with I felt really guilty that I was spending so much time reading books by the pool and compared myself to fellow travellers who were always on the go and ticking the next box. I have nothing against people who travel in this way and are more active, and I definitely have the luxury of time on my side. Now I don’t give a shit, because I’m doing what makes me happy and I’m comfortable with the kind of travel that suits me.
I love people
In my previous blog I reflected on solo travel and how I have learned that I thrive off the company of others.
I’ve met some brilliant people in my first month of travelling. I’ve noted down each and every one of their names in my daily notebook as I don’t want to forget any of them, even the girl I chatted to for all of 10 minutes on a boat or the guy I swapped stories with over night market food in Gili T but will never see again.
I love being around fellow travellers and hearing their advice, experiences and life histories. In one short month i have formed friendships I believe will last a lifetime and met people who have opened my eyes to the world and its wonders. Also, at a time when the world is pretty shit as a place generally, meeting these wonderful people has helped restore my faith in humanity a bit.
People will offer opinions (whether you’ve asked for them or not)
I’ve also met some real characters. One of the most common is the opinion oversharer; these are the people who have an opinion on what you’ve done, what you’re going to do, where you’ve been and where you’re going.
Sometimes this opinion is deeply valued; most of the accommodation I’ve stayed in has been on recommendation, as well as many fantastic restaurants I’ve eaten in and places to visit off the beaten path that I would never have known about otherwise. My friend Valerie, who I did yoga with in Canggu, sent me the most brilliant list of recommendations for Ubud which I am beyond grateful for.
But sometimes these opinions come in the form of “wait, you’re spending a month in BALI? What on earth are you going to do with a MONTH IN BALI?” (Quite a lot of everything and nothing all at once, actually mate). “You really can’t go to Lombok and not climb Mt Rinjani.” (Oh, but I can, and I didnt, and it was still amazing): “You’re not diving?” (If I had a penny for every time a diving enthusiastic has pressed me on why I don’t want to dive, and told me how much I’m missing out,I’d have enough money to extend my trip for another month). “You’re staying on Gili T and not drinking?! But everyone comes here to party” (oh, but I did remember? And it landed me in hospital, so I’m fine with my smoothies and early nights thank you very much).
I’ve found myself excusing my choices and behaviour more than I’m comfortable with, even though I think a lot of the statements above actually come from a well meaning place. But the more I do it the more I feel certain in my choices and the more conscious I feel of never being an opinion oversharer to other travellers who, like me, are simply trying to figure all of this all out in a way that works for them.
London is home
Six months ago I was doubting whether London was for me. It can be a tiring, and sometimes lonely, place to live. It takes an hour to get everywhere, the commute is horrific and sometimes the people are really, really grumpy. So, the idea of living somewhere just as fun but less stressful, like Bristol or Brighton, did – and still does – appeal.
However some time away from the city has made my heart grow even fonder of the life I have made there. I’ve met so many travellers who don’t know where home is or are dreading going back to their ‘real lives’ or are at a crossroads in their lives with difficult choices to make.
I feel quite lucky that I can say it is with absolute certainty that I know going back to London and resuming my PR career is right for me – maybe not forever, but at least for the moment. Those of you who read my first blog post will see that I had the best summer of my whole life there this year and, while I wouldn’t exactly say I’m pining over the place as much as the people, being away from it has affirmed that I’m there to stay for the foreseeable future and that it has truly become my home.
PS ask me how I feel about London on a drizzly grey February morning when I’m packed onto the Northern Line with a million other sardines and the answer you get may well be different 😉
NEVER, EVER DRINK CHEAP LOCAL ALCOHOL
And that is all I have to say on that matter. It’s beer or bottled Smirnoff Ices all the way from here on out, kids.