After being on the road for 4 months I’ve learned a lot about what makes you a good traveller. Having travelled through 30 countries and counting, over the last couple of decades now, here’s my take on what you should know before you leave.
1. Home Is Where Your Bag Is
Four months ago we packed up our belongings into storage and sold most of our larger possessions. In the time since then my concept of home has changed considerably. No longer do I commute through a city and put a key in my front door to arrive home. Home is now where my bag is (and husband in my case..). Whether that’s in a Bosnian hostel, in a traditional Albanian farmhouse, in a house in the hills of Barcelona, on a boat (where I’m writing this from!), in the rice paddies of Ubud, Bali, or on a night train to Belgrade. Although I sometimes do miss getting home and being able to relax on the couch in front of the TV, I wouldn’t trade this experience for home comforts and slippers just yet!
2. You Don’t Need As Much As You Think
My life now consists of 10kg in a backpack, carry-on only (hand-luggage for the Europeans). That’s it. After our first stop in Barcelona I ended up donating at least 4 items of older well-worn clothing from this realising I just didn’t need them. Using a one-in-one out philosophy when it comes to packing, I’ve replaced them with a pair of light-weight Mango shorts and a H&M dress for 7 Euros that I wear at least every other day. You just don’t need the 25 pairs of shoes lying in your closet (truthfully of which you probably only wear less than 5 on a regular basis), a wardrobe bursting full of shirts, dresses, skirts, blouses and boxes of jewellery. Buying unique items of clothing along the way also make fantastic souvenirs along with being functional. An example is the beautiful long silk skirt that I bought in Indonesia for $5 that’s perfect for the climate and culture in Asia. I also simplified my travel makeup the day I left, from 3 separate bags to 1 plus a small pouch of 3 travel brushes. Moving from Europe to Asia I’m finding that I hardly wear a lot of makeup, focusing on items such as serum, BB Cream and concealer with SPF. In the heat wearing a lot of makeup isn’t practical and it also lets you start your day a lot quicker!
3. Cultural Open Mindedness
I’ve learnt the importance of being open minded and respectful of other cultures. Be respectful of other people, their traditions, religions and styles of dress when travelling. Sometimes there isn’t going to be a laundromat, or even a dock for the boat that you’re on. You’re going to jump of the boat and walk through the shallow ocean to shore or let someone kindly wash your clothes by hand. Be open minded. Try new food, you might love it! Learn about local history and traditions. We were lucky enough to attend a traditional Albanian wedding with fantastic food that included an entire roasted pig that was brought out to the guests.
4. Meet Locals And See The Country Through Their Eyes
The best way to experience a country is like a local. It’s an experience that we strive for. Little nooks and rituals that you may have overlooked suddenly take on a new meaning. That plain wall with 7 windows in Sarajevo is really the shrine of 7 brothers where every local comes and prays at each window for good luck. History also changes depending on your perspective. This was paramount to us in Bosnia, and hearing about their perspective on the siege of Sarajevo was something we wouldn’t have heard had we not talked to locals, each with a powerful story. Our favourite local host was Oskar in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, who took time to take us to experience fantastic local restaurants every night and even the movies (The Martian on opening night!) from an Indonesian perspective, complete with food service from your movie seat!
5. Learning A Global Language
Smiling and purposeful hand gestures can get you far. Fact. However learning some words of the the local language is an asset. Having a pocket phrasebook was a godsend in Spain, especially as we tried to go to local restaurants off the beaten track. It helps you integrate into a country especially if you’ll be there a while. Alternatively downloading the country’s language through the Google Translate app helps if you take a photo of text and automatically translate it. The low-tech way of a notebook and pen to write down your question when buying train tickets can be effective too! If all else fails smile and be patient!
6. Adapting Your Travel Style
As someone who used to travel with 23kg of luggage plus carry on and stay in hotels, my life being condensed to 10kg and hostels is a big change. But it’s a change I’ve learned to embrace. Your travel style is individual and it may be luxury resorts, but over the last few months I’ve learnt to try new types of accommodation and made some good friends along the way, enriching my travel experience and learning from their stories.
7. Versatility (or Bring Good Shoes)
With a backpack, there’s a good change you’ll be on your feet a lot. The importance of having good walking shoes can’t be emphasised enough. Make sure the few clothes and shoes that you’ve packed are versatile! Versatility is key! The shirt and skirt you can dress up for a night out with black ballet flats or dress down during the day to walk around on the cobblestoned streets of Europe or dusty roads of Asia with walking sandals. Leave your cute LBD at home, or for that matter anything sentimental or irreplaceable. Definitely don’t bring any expensive jewellery or that pretty heirloom bracelet. I’ve brought 3 pairs of shoes including light trainers (sneakers) that are good enough to hike up the hills of Montenegro with my backpack. My black ballet flats are essential (already 5 years old!) along with a good pair of walking sandals from Clarks. Bringing or buying a cheap pair of flip flops is handy for the beach and double as shower shoes. For the boys, Kevin bought 2 pairs of shoes, lace up smarti-sh shoes that double as sturdy trainers (sneakers) and walking sandals. Girls, don’t bring that pretty statement necklace just in case you’ll need it! When you’re walking up a steep hill from the bus station to your hostel in the blazing 2pm Adratic summer sun, you’ll wish you hadn’t. I replaced my old safari shorts, an old summer dress and 2 tops in the first week of my trip for lighter, comfier and importantly more versatile clothing. Inevitably along your trip you’ll want to buy that gorgeous top but the one-in-one out rule is good for buying clothing whilst travelling. Especially when working within the 10kg carry on limit for most airlines in Europe and 8kg in Asia (plus laptop/purse)!
With ~4 months still to go I’m hoping that the first few months have helped me acclimatise to a different style of travel with less needs and fewer belongings, allowing me to experience a whole new part of the world.