Think this is gonna turn out to be a fairly different kind of blog post from my previous ones. Rather than rambling on with silly lil anecdotes and highlights of what I’ve been up to, I think I’m gonna go rogue and give you a lil insight into the not so good bits about travelling. Who knows, maybe I’ll even drop you a couple of hints and tips amongst what I’m sure is probably going to turn into a bit of a rant, just in case you ever find yourself in a similar position.
So travelling is heckin brilliant and I bloomin love it. But there definitely are some negatives that people may not always realise. Rather than spamming you with my thousands of pictures capturing the best bits, here’s a bit of a reality check about the good, the bad and the damn right disgustingly ugly, praying never to be seen or heard again (will explain below), truths associated with backpacking.
The (lack of) exercise
Before I came away I was exercising 5 or 6 times a week and I bloody loved it. Whether it be rugby training, interval training on the exercise bike or lifting weights, it made the endorphins flow and made me feel great. Having worked my arse off for a fair while, it really is quite soul destroying to see your lil gains slowly disappear. I miss the way it made me look but more importantly I miss the way it makes me feel actually doing it.
In attempt to combat this, I have found myself turning pretty much anything into some kind of workout. Be it running up 6 flights of stairs repeatedly and trying to beat my time each round, using a pedlo to isolate each leg as I cycled, sprinting up sand dunes with the remaining 15 minutes before having to get back to the bus, or simply using my almost 20kg backpack instead of weights.
I have thankfully also managed to squeeze in a couple of trips to the gym, along with various workouts in my dorm or hotel room. I cleverly brought a couple of resistance bands with me that have just about kept me sane. So here we go, here’s my first set of top tips for keeping active while away:
- Walk as much as possible. One of the bonuses of sightseeing is that it often requires you to be on your feet. Don’t take that tuk tuk, walk there instead.
- Stairs. As mentioned, stairs can be your friend. Sack off the small, cramped and sweaty lift and take the stairs instead.
- Take a couple of resistance bands with you. They’re incredibly light and take up basically no room. I found this little gem of a workout, which seems to work pretty well.
- Body weight HIIT in your hotel. Try 1 min of working with 30 seconds rest and repeat, using various exercises. My favorites are: squats, lunges, step ups onto the bed, glute clams, hamstring curls, leg raises, Russian twists, reverse crunches, tricep dips and plank. If you’ve got a big rucksack, use it! I do sumos, lunges and deadlifts with my rucksack and it really does the trick. I use my wash bag for Russian twists, day bag for single leg RDLs, and basically anything I can find. Yesterday I actually contemplated using the kettle, but decided that was a step too far.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love sampling the local cuisine and wouldn’t change that for the world. Getting a fresh whole Tuna for £3 and 20+ Scallops for £2.30 is an absolute dream to say the least. However, I really miss cooking and creating. I miss the freedom of making exactly what I want, when I want it! I love eating around my training in order to give my bod what it needs most. I miss my weekly staples. I miss my eggs and avo, cooked the way I like it, the protein porridge I top with goodies, the banana and Greek yogurt I dive into for pud, and especially the accessibility and reliability of clean fresh veg. In India, I found the food incredibly delicious, but I’ve also never eaten so many carbs in my life, so little fresh veg and so much grease.
As we all know, it’s 80% about what you put in your mouth, and 20% what you do with your bod, which doesn’t sit too well when you want to try ALL the food. For the first couple of weeks, I treated it as a holiday – I’d eat anything and everything and it was great. But I soon realised that I definitely could not sustain that for 7 months without feeling (and probably looking) like absolute shit by the time I got home. My tummy simply isn’t used to the food I’ve been eating, and I ended up taking a lil trip to the hospital in Laos after having a fair few days where my tummy was super sore, because it wasn’t getting the foods and nutrients it’s used to. I have however found a few tricks to help me out:
- Get that veg in while you can. I’ve bought veg from the local market or local shop a fair few times, and enjoyed it every single time. I did however proceed to grate a carrot with a tiny plastic spoon, while in a truck surrounded by new people we were trying to make friends with. They probably thought I was bonkers but at least they were impressed with my innovative spoon grating skills (one guy even took a pic of it. Just call me Bear Grylls).
- Muesli. I found a bag of German muesli while in Laos and it has been my knight in shining armour. Fair dos, it did cost me about £4/£5, but it’s lasted me about a month and has made me more happy than muesli ever should. I’ve been able to add it to plain yogurt bought from a local shop, as a cheap and reasonably healthy breakfast, or sprinkle it over fresh fruit to supplement an otherwise shitty hostel breakfast. Not sure what I’m going to do when it runs out. I have a feeling the tears may flow.
- Probiotics. If you’re anything like me whose tummy is massively effected by what you eat, get yourself some probiotics. Not gonna lie, I’m not entirely sure what they do but I was recommended them by one of my best pals, as well as the doctor I saw in Laos. I managed to buy some after finishing the ones from the hospital, but they were rather expensive. My latest alternative has been to buy Yakult, which although contains a fair amount of sugar, it has that healthy bacteria that my tummy seems to like.
- Make your own meals. Unfortunately there are hardly any hostels in Asia that provide kitchens for you to cook in. But if there are, they are a great way to save money and allow you to cook what you want. I can’t bloomin wait for NZ where I can cook my first meal in ages! I did however manage to find an absolute gem in Dalat, Vietnam. Big C, a huge supermarket unlike any we’ve seen in Asia, does ready meals, but they’re basically meals they cook on site and package up for you that day. I managed to find a bowl of rice, fresh fish, egg, broccoli, green beans, red cabbage and carrot , all for about 80p. I dreamily finished it off with half a 16p avocado, and I had myself a healthy, hearty and filling meal for under a pound. None of those pot noodle type things in sight.
- Snacks. Try and avoid them where you can. In India, I found myself buying loads of snacks, basically just because everyone else was! I finally realised that it’s a bit different from home, where I usually eat every 3 or 4 hour ish to fuel my exercise, and have now come to terms with the fact that most of the time at the moment, I actually don’t need any snacks. Fair dos if I’ve got a long journey I may grab some, but a lot of the time my next meal is just around the corner. When I do buy snacks, I try to avoid the standard biscuits and crisps and chocolates etc. When I do buy chocolate, it’s normally peanut m&ms. This is because 1) they don’t really melt and 2) ever since I was little I’ve been a hoarder of sweets (I used to hide them in a tin in my Baby Born wardrobe), and would save them for weeks without eating them. Lucky for me this now means I’m pretty good at making my chocolate last. I can open my little bag of m&ms and eat a couple a day. I’m aware this may seem mad and unachievable to some (that’d be you, Mummy), but it works perfectly for me. As for other snacks, I can often find nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Annoyingly they are often more expensive than the bad stuff, but hey, it makes me happy and feel good so it’s worth it. I also treated myself to a jar of peanut butter. Just because.
- Treat yourself every now and then. There’s no point avoiding all bad things forever and ever, it simply isn’t going to happen. I treat myself to the odd ice cream, a Vietnamese egg coffee (coffee, egg yolk and condensed milk) or crepe from a street stall. I eat chocolate fairly regularly. But as usual, it’s all about moderation. Yes I’m probably eating these things more than I would at home, but hey, I don’t see an 80 year old women cooking me mini pancakes on the high street at home.
FOMO (Mummy that means Fear Of Missing Out)
Obviously being away for 7 months means I’m not at home for 7 months. This means there’s 7 months of birthdays, pub trips, summer evenings, dog walks, rugby socials and general celebrations that I’m missing out on. FaceTiming your family on Easter Sunday while they are surrounded by delicious food as you sip on a chocolate milk because half your face is numb due to an unfortunate trip to the dentist and can’t eat anything else, simply ain’t that much fun.
I miss being part of my rugby team. I miss the stupid banter that happens at training. I miss the highs of winning our first ever match and the lows of not performing as well as we’d hoped. I miss not seeing my teammates at least twice a week to have a chuckle and let off some steam. I miss playing the game I absolutely love. I miss talking about the game I absolutely love. I miss it a lot.
I did however manage to stream updates of the Aviva Premiership Final and my mini rugby ball has made its appearance a couple of times, keeping those withdrawal symptoms somewhat at bay. I even stumbled upon an absolute gem in the shape of a sports bar. I asked the owner to kindly change the channel so I could watch the England Baa Baas match, and I sat there on my own with all but a pint for company and it made me ridiculously happy. I watched the match with a bloomin’ great big grin on my face and now I CANT BLOODY WAIT FOR THE LIONS TOUR! I know I’ll get my rugby fix when I get to NZ and Fiji, so I just gotta be patient til then. It is 100% going to be worth the wait.
Unfortunately there isn’t loads you can do about missing your friends, family or special events. WhatsApp, Snapchat and FaceTime definitely make staying in contact easier, but you really can’t beat a face to face meeting. And nothing can beat a cuddle with my favourite thing in the world, my beloved puppy dawg, Tia. If I’m honest, sorry dearest family, but I actually do miss the dog more than you all (yes I did just admit I miss you a lil bit every now and then), not because I love her more than you (obviously I love you equal amounts 😉), but because I can’t WhatsApp or Facebook message her, and as much as I try, I can’t have a conversation with her over FaceTime. Although the regular pictures and Snapchats I receive of her definitely do help (please keep ’em coming!).
It’s bloomin knackering
I know a fair amount of my nearest and dearest see my 7 month travels as one big ol’ holiday, and to a certain degree it absolutely is, just with a helluva lot of logistics involved. However, when you’re traveling around from place to place and don’t spend more than three nights in one location it does get pretty tiring. There’s a fair amount of waiting around. Waiting for a bus. Waiting for a plane. Waiting for someone to pick you up to take you to your bus or plane. Or in one case, waiting for someone to “pick you up”, so you can follow him on foot with your backpacks on, while he drives in front of you on his moped to take you to a minibus, that’ll take you to your overnight bus (I’ll save the full story for another day!).
Before I came away I often had a spare few hours here and there, or even a whole day to myself where I could chill out and just do nothing. Maybe catch up on sleep, play with the dog or watch some TV.
When you’re travelling you’re constantly around people, which for the most part is brilliant. You meet some wonderful people who you are certain to be friends with long after you say goodbye. However, it does mean you’re never alone, and being a bit of an introvert who likes their own company every now and then, this can prove a bit tough.
Sometimes I look forward to overnight buses because it’s a few/many many hours where I can justifiably sit there in silence by myself, either listen to music, read my kindle or binge watch some Netflix whilst drooling over Cillian Murphy. (NB for anyone who hasn’t watched Peaky Blinders, go and DO IT NOW!). However, the overnight buses do come with their obvious problems. They’re not particularly comfy; the driver constantly feels the need to beep his horn at least every 30 seconds; someone around you has awful farts and is attempting to gas the whole bus; you need a wee for the third time because the AC makes you feel like a dehydrated plum so you drink too much water in an attempt to make yourself feel normal; the Valium you popped a few hours earlier doesn’t seem to want to work its magic, and you eventually end up only sleeping for a couple of hours. See now what I need here would be an early night and a bit of a lie in to sort me out. Those who know me will know that boy I am good at sleeping. However those who know me even better will know I’m an awfully light sleeper. So that big ol’ sleep I hoped for never comes, thanks to the glorious nature of hostels…
You’re in a room of 10 people who come and go as they please, often heavily boozed and unaware that they’ve made enough noise to wake up the whole dorm as well as half of Asia, while casually mentally scarring you for life in the process.
In one particular hostel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, we were in a small, fairly cramped dorm of 8. The beds were in a row basically touching each other, but had a thin wall partitioning each set of bunk beds (see pic). This seemed pretty great at first, as you did get a bit more privacy. However this liberty was swiftly taken away from me, when two couples returned at 4am and after discussing if anyone had a condom, started to have very loud sex. Not gonna go into too much detail because I’m sure you can imagine the vile noises one would hear in such close proximity, but take whatever you have imagined and multiply it by ten. And then add in some direct eye contact with a girl staring at you while doing it doggy style while on your way back to bed in the dark after trying to hold your wee for the last 2 hours hoping they’d stop. Disgusting. Another two couples started having sex a few nights later, but unlucky for the girl but thankfully for me, both guys only lasted about a minute and I managed to get to sleep about 2am…until one of the girls decided to leave in the middle of the night and promptly fell off the top bunk with a loud thud. She managed to hobble out after a couple of “ouches and ows”, but somehow without her shoes and absolutely without any dignity.]
Anyway, even if you get lucky and no one has gone out that night, they’ll be someone else up and frantically packing their bag at 5am, then 6am, and probably a group of Spaniards going on a day trip at 8am who absolutely do not know how to whisper.
However, every now and then Flo and I do treat ourselves to a hotel, so we can have our own room and our own space and it feels like absolute bliss. To be fair, today is one of the few days in almost three months that we’ve actually not done anything at all. Absolutely nothing and it’s been great. Just enjoyed the aircon in our room and non-bunk-beds with proper duvets, enjoyed the wifi that works properly, and the fact that there is enough room for me to do a fairly decent workout, and even a fridge to keep my Yakult cold. Although not gonna lie I have got a bit bored, which is exactly why I’ve turned to writing this post in an attempt to feel somewhat productive.
Living out of a rucksack
Living out of a rucksack gets pretty old pretty quickly. Having to pack up all your belongings every couple of days is SO ANNOYING! Even having to wear the same few clothes everyday gets annoying. To combat the ever-growing hate for packing our bags, Flo and I have found something that motivates us like none other. Mulan. “I’ll make a man out of you” gets played no matter where we are, and provides us with the motivation we need to get our pack on. As for the clothes, going to a tailor in Hoi An provided us with a few new garments to keep us entertained for a little while. And an even heavier bag.
So there you have it. The not so good bits to this incredible adventure. The highs undoubtedly massively outweigh the lows, but I guess it just goes to show kids, although things may look brilliant, and I like to think my insta game is fairly strong, there are always low points to whatever you’re doing. You just gotta turn that Mulan up and crack on.