25 Dec

Step Out With Our Three Travel Secrets

Our favorite foodie travelers, Forks And Jets, tagged us in a blog challenge to reveal our Three Travel Secrets. So, here are three things that I’ve learned about travel.

Hat Yao Bay View Resort, Koh Pha-Ngan Touts Are Not All Bad. I used to think that touts were all about tricking me into spending more money than I needed to but I have learned that they can actually save me money and get me what I need.

We often land in a place and have not yet found a place to stay. It can be difficult to trek around, with our packs on, to place after place to find a bed. Touts solve this problem by surrounding me with pamphlets, pictures of their hotel, offers of discounted rooms and transport too. They answer all our questions and, if they can’t give us what we’re looking for, they usually know someone who can.

This approach has worked for us countless times and is how we currently find ourselves in a beautiful resort on a white sand beach on Koh Pha-Ngan, Thailand for a price we thought we’d have to pay for a hut ‘within walking distance to the beach’.

Use The Travel Network. There are plenty of ways to get travel information besides the trusty guidebooks.

I follow a number of bloggers who either have traveled, or are currently traveling where I am going. I read their stories and make notes of where they went, what they liked or didn’t like and how they got there – not to replicate their trip of course, but to use what they have learned to help me. Sometimes, if I’m nervous about a place or can’t find enough information, I will email a blogger ‘friend’ and ask them directly. Without fail, they are always willing to help and provide encouragement…as am I when I receive emails – it’s nice to help out.

Many travelers use Twitter, not only to stay in touch back home, but also to reach out to other travelers to get tips and information. Christine, from Almost Fearless, has put together an excellent ebook on Twitter For Travelers – she makes it easy and provides tons of contacts – there is always someone to help.

It turns out that many of my friends from home have done plenty of traveling and many of them have traveled to places we’re now visiting. They told us of their favorites, their ‘hits’ and ‘misses’ and their do’s and don’ts. Some of them have even taken the time to send us emails on the road as we near their travel niche – thanks guys!!

Don’t Be A Budget Slave. It’s no secret that I have had trouble with our budget but I have realized that letting it rule our travel would be a mistake. Certainly there is always a budget and you should save where you can but there is usually a little flex room – we’re just using that flex room. Make sure when planning your budget that you leave this flex – it can make the difference between being a budget slave and being a happy traveler!

There are tons of travelers out there, all with secrets of their own. I’ll tag these five to see what secrets they can share:

19 Dec

Best! Decision! Ever!

There wasn’t any one event that made us leave India early. There was no tragic event, no-one was unkind, we didn’t get robbed or ripped off, we didn’t even get really sick. Sure, in the end, we did both have bad colds that made it that much harder to deal with, but it wasn’t like we had classic ‘Delhi Belly’ or anything like that.

No, it was just a slow build up to realizing that we just weren’t enjoying ourselves. The dirt, the garbage, the smells, the poverty, the noise, the staring, the inability to walk anywhere…all added up to us often not even wanting to leave the hotel room. We weren’t laughing and relaxing and chatting about what we were going to do next, but rather were often convincing ourselves that maybe, just maybe, the next place would be better.

It’s true, travel is not always fun and games, sunshine and white sand…but we felt that we had given it a shot and didn’t want to spend anymore of our precious time not having fun. We’re glad that we went as we would surely have regretted not going, but I’m proud of us for realizing that it wasn’t working and deciding to leave. That was always part of the plan…be flexible, stay somewhere longer if we want, leave a place early if we’re not liking it.

Although we left early, we certainly didn’t leave India without some observations and thoughts…and not all of them are bad.

Chai-wallah, Rajasthan The food in India is very good. We loved the curries and the breads and liked trying new meats such as goat.  Having the car and driver allowed us to stop at some very small, local places where we enjoyed chai and paranthas for breakfast.

India is both clean and dirty. The insides of buildings and hotels can be very clean but they just dump all the garbage right outside…sweep it right out the front door. Shopkeepers are constantly sweeping the storefront but, when the floor is dirt, and the stoop is dirt and the street is dirt, I often wondered to what end.

King Of The Road, Rajasthan There really are cows everywhere. Unfortunately most of them do not look very well and can most often be seen rooting through garbage piles for food. They are often in the middle of the road and traffic just routes around them – they don’t even appear to notice.

People in India and helpful and not-so-helpful. A lot of them would come and point out an attraction of tourist office for us…and give us completely incorrect information. At first we thought that maybe they were trying to scam us except there never seemed to be anything in it for them to give us the wrong information. I came to the conclusion that maybe they just wanted to talk to us and so seeming helpful was a way to be able to do that. More than once I ignored a persons ‘advice’ only to find that actually they were being helpful – I went out of my way to apologize when this happened as I probably seemed quite rude.

Jaisalmer Fort-5 Indians are very proud of their country and their towns. We were in the Jasailmer Fort, surrounded by cows and cow shit, people begging, broken down buildings and the unmistakable stench of human sewage running in the open grate beneath our feet and our guide says to us ‘”welcome to beautiful Jasailmer Fort”…seriously, it’s like they can’t see it (or smell it).

Indians like to stare. We’ve been stared at plenty on this trip but never like it was here. It was like dropping a monkey in the middle of a shopping mall at the height of the Christmas rush…everyone staring to see what it will do and unable to take look away. I was the monkey and the staring was incessant. Sometimes I just could not believe it.

We left India shaky and unsure what we wanted to do. We knew we didn’t want to go home but wondered if continuing on our planned itinerary was still going to work for us. Should we just stop and settle in somewhere for a long time? Were we done with being on the move? Should we head to Europe or New Zealand where the culture is familiar and easier?  We felt shell shocked and done with ‘hard travel’. We got on the plane and headed to Thailand planning on spending Christmas on the beach to try and figure out how to spend the next 5 months.

Within one day of being in Bangkok we realized that we had made the Best Decision Ever. We quickly relaxed, we were laughing again, and looking forward to going out to find a bite, or a drink, or to see a sight. We are ourselves again and realize that we can continue with our original itinerary but, now that we have some extra time, we’ll be able to slow it down a bit which will be nice.

And so we are currently headed to southern Thailand to work on our tans and spend the holidays on the island beaches. Best Decision Ever indeed.

13 Dec

The Old One, Two Knock Out Punch

We entered the ring with more bravado than we felt. India in one corner, looming large and wearing her well deserved big, shiny, heavyweight champions belt…us in the other corner wearing our six months of travel like it really mattered.

She took the first punch…Delhi…a hazy, smoggy, smelly, garbage-filled, poverty ridden soupy mess of a city that left us breathless, reeling and wondering what the hell we had gotten ourselves into. Dazed, we wandered into a tour agency and signed up for a 3 week itinerary that would see us through Rajasthan, on to Agra and Varanasi and leave us in Goa in the south.

First though, we would head to Amritsar, see the Golden Temple and recharge in our five star hotel birthday splurge. We came out swinging, sure that our new plan would throw some punches her way and give us some defense from any more of her heavy blows.

It was immediately clear that she was not going to back down…nothing could have prepared me for driving on the roads. All manner of vehicles loaded (and I mean loaded) with cargo and people careening down the roads, passing whenever they like, wherever they like, missing each other within inches. Surprisingly, I got quite used to seeing a bus or lorry hurtling straight for us and pulling in at the very last moment. J and I took to sitting one behind the other on the passenger side thinking that if we did get smoked it would be the drivers side that would sustain the most damage…small comfort, I know.

We were brave though, kept our chins up, our elbows in and our faces covered…we weren’t going out that easily.

But India kept peppering us with small jabs to our middle. Promises of beautiful forts crowning great cities and towns in the desert proved to be great bastions of once-upon-a-time in more dirty cities and un-walkable towns. We defended, finding bright spots in the bleak outlook, trying to make the most of what we had to work with but India is a very, very experienced fighter and she found a way to break through and knock the wind out of us…we both came down with colds.

For a few days we managed to fight on, avoiding the worst of the jabs and sleeping as much as we could but the knock out punch came when we realized we could not go on the tiger safari in Ranthambore…we were both miserable, Jason slept every moment he wasn’t in the car and I had been crying for two days. We looked up from the mat to see the ref holding India’s hand high in the air…another win for India.

We’re leaving. We’re just not having any fun and putting another month in here seems like a high risk investment with a low possibility of return.

As you read this we are on a plane to Thailand. We have a line on a happy place there where we plan on spending a couple of weeks hanging out and figuring out our plan for the next five months. We’ll let you know what we come up with.

06 Dec

Six Month Check In

Hard to believe we’ve been on the road for six months…but here we are in India and the calendar is irrefutable proof that six months have indeed passed since we first left home.

I think we continue to learn and evolve, but I also think that we have caught our stride and are traveling much more assuredly now. Here are some thoughts:

Bon Voyage Cake Time passes very quickly. It is hard to believe that it is six months since we left. Time seems to have flown by and sometimes it seems that I can remember every moment as though it was yesterday. At times I wish for the clock to slow down so that the next six months would pass ever so slowly.

Cresting Again

Time passes very slowly. At the same time it seems like forever since we left. We have visited so many places and so much has happened, it couldn’t possibly be only six months. The end seems so very far away…and there are so many places to visit before then.

Found Eric...AgainIntroverts can act extro-vertedly. We are both introverts but have been doing a much better job of acting extro-vertedly. We are meeting more and more people and are both more willing to start conversations and get involved than we were before. We recognized that we were insulating ourselves a bit and so have been putting ourselves in more situations to interact with others. This usually means tours etc but that also works well with our inherent laziness – we enjoy tours because someone will tell us all we need to know rather than us having to read about it!!

Champagne Welcome, Ista Amritsar Budget be damned. We realized early on that our budget was not realistic for our travel style. We are by no means blowing it out now (okay, we might have for our birthdays) but we are traveling more comfortably and doing the things that will make our trip memorable. I certainly did not want to look back on this trip and wish that I had done things differently.

Beer and Pretzel...Does It Get Any Better I now understand why travelers wear elastic-waisted pants. Some people say they lose weight while traveling…that has certainly not been my experience. My waistline has definitely expanded and I am softer than I have been in many, many years. I don’t like it but what to do…stop eating the fabulous food (and it’s only going to get better as we hit SE Asia!)…I don’t think so. I do dream about being in shape again though, but it will have to wait until I return…in the meantime I bought some elastic waisted pants today…they hide a multitude of sins and allow for expansion…I look quite fashionable as all the girls are wearing them!

Along The Ancient Walkway Are we tired of wearing the same clothes over and over and over and over? Probably not as tired as you are of seeing them in the pictures over and over again! It’s surprising how a limited wardrobe is actually quite freeing. In fact, there are pieces that I don’t wear very often. We left some cold weather clothing behind  as we left the colder areas, I sent some shoes home (I never did wear the ‘cute shoes’), and will be ditching those not often worn pieces as I find replacements that I will wear. We are buying some new clothes too (some are necessary…see above) – we knew we would once we hit India and SE Asia – it’s a different esthetic here and lighter, freer clothes are more comfortable. You’ll have to see if you can spot the new pieces as the pictures are posted.

Loaded Up and Ready to Go How is the equipment holding up? We are pleased with everything that we brought. The bags are still working very well and apart from being a bit dusty are not damaged at all despite all the abuse we put them through. All the electronics and associated gadgets have been great – we love having the laptop to surf the net, play games, write posts etc – it has definitely made life easier. The first aid kit is not often used but still necessary. The water purifier has come in handy – we are not using it as much in India…I  think I have some built in biases that cannot be sanitized and so we buy water here. The sink stopper and laundry line are absolutely necessary – we most often send our laundry out but occasionally it comes back still damp or we have to hand wash – we always have a place to hang it to dry. We did purchase one messenger bag – it hangs over one shoulder so causes less sweating than a day backpack does – besides it looks cooler too!

Last Night In Istanbul Are we still enjoying ourselves? Absolutely!! Maybe even more so now…we seem to have synced up and are enjoying the whole experience. That doesn’t mean there aren’t sucky days or locations but we are better able to manage them than we were in the beginning. I will admit to a tinge of homesickness lately but I actually think it’s because we have been moving non-stop for a while now. We have a stationary week planned in the south of India and I think that will make things better for me.

I can’t believe that we are only half way through this amazing journey…I can’t wait to see what the second half has in store for us. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

01 Dec

Happy Birthday To Us!

The rest of India faded into the background as we entered through the doors. The flowery scent of incense greeted us, pulling us into the calm wood interior.

Checking in was made extra special as the manager was summoned to greet us personally…you see, we had emailed ahead to let the manager know that we were staying at his luxury, five-star hotel to celebrate both of our birthdays (end of November/beginning of December) and to mark the six month point of our trip (already?). He greeted us warmly, told us how pleased he was that we would share this celebration with them and had two attendants usher us to our room.

Ista Amritsar The room was beautiful!! Wood floors, real furniture, a soft (!) bed with real linens (no holes or stains), soft music playing, windows that looked out onto the pool below and a pillow menu…yes, a menu of pillows to suit every sleep style! And the bathroom!! Sheer heaven! All tiled and spotless with a huge, wonderful shower sporting endless hot water, pretty smelling soaps and lotions, and big fluffy towels to dry off with.

Ista Amritsar Welcome But the crowning glory was the young man they sent with a chilled bottle of champagne to accompany the chocolate birthday cake set on the table….oh my god, it was sooooo good!!

Cheers, Ista Amritsar We didn’t leave the room all afternoon, spending all our time cleaning and preening and lounging and enjoying every amenity the room had to offer. We finally emerged, scrubbed clean and smelling like I don’t think we have since we left home, to make our way to the lounge where another kind young man made me a tasty, long awaited gin and tonic.

Dinner was excellent (goat curry with rice and chapati) and, just as we were finishing up, the manager appeared again to ask if we would like a special meal prepared for the following evening. Seriously, a special menu…just for us? How could we say no?

Ista Amritsar Breakfast We slept like angels that night. In the morning we had tea in bed, ordered breakfast to our room and lounged some more until we left to visit the Golden Temple. We returned to lounge around Poolside Lounger, Ista Amritsar the pool for the afternoon. The pool boy took time to show us all around the pool area and then left us to lounge on the way-too-comfy lounge bed poolside. Seriously….a pool boy!

Special Menu, Ista Amritsar Dinner was amazing. All the staff greeted us as we arrived at the restaurant and were ushered to our own special dining room where our private waiter introduced himself  and the manager and chef stopped by to say hello…seriously, private waiter!! There was a printed menu for us – fish tikka, basil grilled paneer, mutton With Chef and Server, Ista Amritsarcurry, chole masala, gulab jamun with ice cream…just to name a few. The meal was amazing – we left absolutely stuffed and more than thankful – when the bill came all that was listed was the bottle of wine we had enjoyed…the chef had prepared the meal as a gift to us!

Relaxing Morning, Ista Amritsar We finished off the chocolate cake for breakfast the next morning and lounged around the room for as long as possible…checking out at the last possible moment, not wanting to leave our temporary slice of heaven.

As a parting gift, the hotel had a car and driver drop us off at our next destination…a ‘normal’ backpacker hotel in the city center. The driver must have gotten quite a chuckle when he saw the hotel that he was dropping us at…but it was back to reality for us.