Monday, 30 March 2015

Why plan your summer now? What can you do at this stage?


My article, also featured in the Warwick University paper 'The Boar'.

Example of my tripline route for this summer.
Why? PRICES! If you book this early ahead flights are significantly cheaper. This year I managed to bag a return to Rio De Janerio for only £515! If I had left it to the last minute I was looking at £900 and upwards. Flights are definitely cheaper booked far in advance, so planning now allows you to save those hard-earned pennies. Not only flights, if you are on the e-mail subscription for hostelworld or hostelbookers, they often have great sales this time of year, allowing me to save 60% on my first 3 nights accommodation in Rio.

What can you do right now? Plan! Grab the nearest Lonely planet and hit up those travel blogs and get researching. Again, this can help you to save money as research in advance will allow you to find out the cheapest ways of getting from A to B. Not only that, it allows you to see how long you can have in each place. I always write down the main places I want to go and use tripline.com to plan my route. I then pencil in rough dates and the minimum time I could spend in each place to work out how many ‘spare’ days I have. ‘Spare’ days are useful for when you fall in love with a city and aren’t ready to depart just yet, these let you know how long you have to spend there before you really must leave. Planning your route in advance also gives you a rough idea of budget. In Lonely Planet there are often bus length times and a rough estimated of prices. This year, for example, to go through South America I have worked out my bus and train fair will come to around £400. Assuming roughly £10 a night for a hostel too, I have worked out how much I need to approximately save which means I know how many hours on average I should be working a week.

If you a travelling independently, or want to add more people to your existing group, planning in advance may also be of benefit as you can connect with other travellers to the same destination. Planning in advance is also particularly useful if you are going in peak season to avoid disappointment from a lack of hostel space such as during the Full Moon Party in Thailand or Carnival in Rio. This may also give you time to find a contact on couchsurfing.com to hook you up for the duration of the stay and giving you a chance to get to know them beforehand.

So there we have it – plenty of reason you should plan ahead, and what you can do now to enjoy your summer to the max and on the cheapest of budgets!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Backpacker Essentials!

All items I am talking about can be found below, and I have used these on my travels - highly recommended :). Unfortunately if you have ad-blocker on, you won't be able to see the items I have linked so just right click on your ad-blocker to disable it for this page.
  • Travel towel - Convenient, compact and quick to dry! Saves you having to pay a fee to borrow towels at every hostel, or even having to go without when none are available.

  • Sleeping bag liner - Although places will pretty much always supply you with bedding, we found these came in handy on long journeys when the air condition was on too strong and we lacked a jumper. Also, in the really dirty hostels it was nice to have something else to sleep with.

  • Wet wipes - A saviour when you accidentally have the green label from the sprite bottle rub off all over you! (Yep, that happened to me, stained everything green!). They always come in handy, even if to wipe away that lovely sweat at the end of the day!

  • Torch: Really useful when running back from your hostel around 2am when you've finished partying because you're scared of wild murderers... Also, when you're trying to find stuff in your backpack when everyone is asleep and you can't turn on the light.

  • Adapter: Travel adapter is obvious but often forgotten. Try to make sure it's relatively small as it's hard to cram loads of complex travel adapters into one small extension chord in hostels. The one listed below is great because sometimes not all plugs are the ones you would assume in those countries. It's hard to find out on the internet and so this way, with an adapter for every country included, you can rest assured you'll be able to charge your essentials.

  • Bank pin sentry reader: This sounds like a silly thing to bring, but it is impossible to see how much money you've spent unless your bank is available in that country. I found out the nearest branch was the middle of India... totally useless! The entire trip I had to roughly guess and keep a close eye on my expenses. I forgot my pin sentry reader so couldn't log onto online banking to find out.

  • A padlock: This is required in many hostels if you want to lock away your possessions, if not, you'll have to carry them on you at all times! Also, a numbered one is best because you don't have to worry about losing the key for it.

  • Strong mosquito repellent: I 100% recommend this repellent. Although it does rub off things like nail polish and paint, the reason it does is because it is very strong and will certainly keep them away! Warning though, you are left greasy afterwards.

  • Money belt: It is really small and subtle and will fit easily under any clothing, even a tiny pair of fabric shorts. It is made to be really discreet. Any larger and it's easy to tell you're wearing one. You need these for the cities as we heard of many people who had their bags stolen of their shoulders by people on motorbikes and lost their money as a result. Sometimes I even carried my passport in it. It also doubled up nicely as a bag on a night out. Instead of carrying one around, I just shoved my money in here.

  • Rain cover, coat & dry-bags: 
    • Make sure your rucksack has a built in rain cover, or you have bought one to fit round it. Ensure it is the same litre as your pack, else it won't fit properly. 
    • It rains a lot in SE-A, so it also makes sense to have a really lightweight raincoat. Problem is, it is still VERY humid, but you will get soaked and just feel sticky all over.
    • Dry bags are perfect for putting all of your belongings into your backpack and keeping them safe if you do happen to get your bag very wet. They also double up as a place to put some valuables when you're going on a trip involving water. Just make sure first that they are secured tightly else water will ruin your valuables! It's also useful for finding things in your backpack if you buy several smaller ones of different colours - this way you don't have to open every bag to find your clean underwear for example!
     

    Friday, 27 March 2015

    Planning a trip to Amsterdam? Personal Budget for 3 Days/ 2 Nights.


    Tips/ Advice
    • Central Station Hostel is an amazing choice, very cheap and in the best location possible (right by Dam Square, the centre of all activities). My main criticism is that it really lacked a social side - so if you're travelling alone may want to consider the Downtown Flying Pig Hostel - considerably more expensive but buzzing atmosphere.
    • Attractions, in general, are very expensive such as National Museum, Ice Bar, Dungeons, Madame Tussauds, Artis Zoo, Heineken Experience etc. were all between €17-€30, not really great for a backpacker budget - may be best to stick to similar attractions as I did below. 
    • Note: Amsterdam Museum and National Museum are different, and the former is considerably cheaper but great.
    • If you plan on going to Anne Frank's house, remember to book in advance, they sell out up to two months in advance.
    • You cannot smoke tobacco inside any venues including coffee shops, so, if you want to roll a joint, most offer a herbal alternative... However, lots of people just hide the tobacco and add it in - this is frowned upon though despite the fact pre-rolled joints include it.
    • Avoid buying pre-rolled joints because they know tourists will buy these and so do not have much cannabis in them.
    • Don't bother buying a tram pass, once you're in the centre, it's easy to walk around or bike. 

    Own Experience
    Transport
    - Megabus return to Amsterdam: £40
    - Return from Colchester to London Victoria (including underground): £27
    - Tram for 1 hour into centre: €2.90  (£2.15)
    - Tram for 1 hour into centre: €2.90  (£2.15)
    Overall spent on transport £71.30

    Spending money
    Accommodation
    Central Station Hostel per nights: £15
    Overall spent on accommodation: £30

    Attractions/ Museums
    Red Lights District Museum: €8
                   (4 out of 5 stars - Interesting background story to the industry).
    - Erotica Museum: €7
                   (1 out of 5 stars - Expensive and over-rated).
    - Sex Museum: €4
                   (3 out of 5 stars - Good value for money, bit too graphic).
    - History of Amsterdam Museum: €9 (Student)/ €12 Adult.
                   (5 out of 5 stars - Good price, very interactive, interesting for everyone).
    - Nemo Science Museum: €7.50 (Student fare)/ €15 Adult fare
                   (3 out of 5 stars - Great if you're a child, or to bring out the child in you or remember things from your past).
    - Anne Frank House: €9
                   (2 out of 5 stars - Queue was too long, not a lot to actually see at all).
    - Cannabis College: €3
                   (2 out of 5 stars - Educational and friendly people)
    - Amsterdam Red Light Bar Crawl: €16
                    (4 out of 5 stars - It wasn't busy enough but the number of free drinks made it worth the money.)
    Overall spent on attractions: €63.50 (£46.55)

    Other
    Amount spent on alcohol for one night (excluding price of bar crawl/ free shots): €24 (£17.58)
    - Coffee-Shops: €10 (£7.33)
    - Food & Drink: £43.54

    Overall for 3 days, 2 night
    Spending money (£145) + Transport (£71.30)
    Overall Trip: £216.30

    Wednesday, 25 March 2015

    Science & Sex Museums.

    Having to check out at 10am meant we had to entertain ourselves till 9pm when megabus picked us up. Firstly we went to get breakfast, did a little shopping and then waited for the other two girls to get ready before heading off to Nemo Science Centre (€7.50 for students). It's clearly designed for kids, and somewhere I would have absolutely loved at 6 years old. In fact, I went to a similar museum in Boston when I was little. There were lots of fun activities to do and primary school children everywhere. Even a little sex section. 

    Have some facts:
    - About 20% of boys have their first ejaculation at night time, 60% while masturbating and 15% during love making.
    - When you come, sperm leaves your penis at a speed of about 45km per hour
    - An adult man has about 4 to 5 erections every night during his sleep. The average night time erection takes about 45 minutes.


    The almighty boat dreams are made of.

    Nemo science centre.

    Bubbles around me.

    Attempting to pull myself up with one pulley... not happening at all.

    Lifting myself up with 3 pulleys - no problemo.

    Me at 60 years Old apparently... Worrying!

    Quote of the Day

    Don't forget lads.

    On our way back to the hostel, we stopped at the sex museum (€4 each). It was actually very graphic and sickening at points. They had many graphic photos of women urinating over men and just general debauched behaviour. I know sex is natural, but it was very grim to look at! An hour passed and we left attempting to find another coffee shop in the area. They all appeared to be closed by finally found one called City Hall Coffeeshop and sat there for a few hours to kill some time. We all had dinner then chilled out in the hostel room on the floor and eventually ran to central station to get the tram to the bus station. Unfortunately, we left it very last minute and we even went past the stop we were supposed to get off at, and so the time turned to 9:02pm... With our bus supposed to be departing at 9pm, Lizzie was panicking like mad... Fortunately, I've become so accustomed to travelling that it didn't really phase me as I know at the end of the day, you get unlucky sometimes and there's always a way to solve it. But, it was great because we got there about 5 minutes late but it had been waiting for us. Usually I would NEVER leave it that last minute to get a bus, but because Lizzie gets so cold, I didn't want her to be standing around.

    We got off the ferry at 4am, got into London at 8am, got to Liverpool street for 8:30am, had a quick McDonalds breakfast and was home by 11am, perfect! Nice little trip away.

    Goodbye coffee-houses.

    Tuesday, 24 March 2015

    Our own walking tour of Amsterdam

    After waking up at 11am, and finally getting out of bed around midday we went to the best baguette shop, it was three doors down from Starbucks on Dam Rak. After a bit of shopping in Forever 21 we decided to walk down to the National Museum, about a 30 minute walk - simple to find though. It was a shame because entry was €17, there was no student option. Also the area was very busy, but got our classic 'Iamsterdam' photo before strolling back to the centre. 

    Classic clog photo


    Tram Life.

    Heineken factory

    More beautiful parks

    National Museum



    Cheese shop

    After stopping back at the hostel, we decided to go to the Amsterdam museum (www.amsterdammuseum.com/tours - €9 entry for students). We strolled across it by accident whilst browsing the high street shops. It was actually a great museum and was made really interesting by the fact it was highly interactive and they had short video clips to sum up the area you were looking at. For me it was very useful as a take a module on the European World from 1500-1750 and I am revising global transactions in this time - Amsterdam was a major port and at one time hub to the rest of the world. It was good to cement these ideas in my head and see what products they specialised in. Also it was interesting to learn more about the revolt against King and Church in Amsterdam as they rejected Catholicism in 1578. With this, abandoned allegiance to the Spanish King Philip II in a somewhat revolution. In more modern days, Amsterdam has been at the forefront of change, for example the Netherlands was the first place to allow gay marriage in 2001. 

    After eating dinner, we went to the Anne Frank museum. We had to wait for 50 minutes in slight drizzle, huge queue and very irritating having people push in. The queue was huge and you have to book about two months in advance as there are very limited tickets available. Personally I don't think it was worth the wait or money but maybe that's because I don't follow the Anne Frank story enough. But the reality was, you were looking round an empty unfurnished house with quotes from the book on the wall and the occasional video - all of which you could have easily seen online. But each to their own!

    Amsterdam museum.

    Queue for Anne Frank museum 

    In the evening we went out with the two girls from our hostel to a few coffee shops along with these two Portuguese guys we had met. We just had a few drinks, chilled out and had a quiet night before going home (with the best chips ever of course €3 for heaven! Their mayo is weirdly amazing) at 12:30am.


    Naughty! 


    Best chips I've ever had and best mayo...

    Monday, 23 March 2015

    Sex, sex and more sex - Amsterdam of course.

    We left London Victoria at 9:30pm, got on to the ferry for about 1am, curled up underneath a staircase with my sleeping bag liner (very uncomfortable but better than the bus) and took a sleeping tablet for the rest of the journey. It wasn't very powerful though so continually woke up, not a good journey but didn't feel too awful when we arrived at 10am in Amsterdam. Walked to the end of the coach station and there was a tram - get on board and pay €2.90 for an hour pass. We got off at Central Station and switched trams to Dam Square, although turns out you could easily walk it - since we had the hour pass anyway and our bags, thought we may as well.

    We dropped our bags off at the hostel and set out for lunch at Starbucks and McDonalds (so cultural). Then took a trip around the Red Light District. I was really surprised to see that even during the day there were prostitutes at the window. It was so unexpected just turning around and seeing women wearing thongs and a small bandeau to cover their nipples slightly. Imagine taking your kids to Amsterdam! I went when I was little and can't believe this doesn't stick in my mind... How provocative.

    We went to the Red Lights Museum and learnt about the trade. A few factors for you:
    - The average length of time with a prostitute is between 6 to 15 minutes. 
    - On average prostitutes with a full-time job use 1,970 condoms a year. 
    - Successful prostitutes entertain up to 16 customers per 8-hour shift.
    - Women can visit female prostitutes and its not uncommon for a man and women visit together, its up to decide whether she wants to co-operate.

    You could sit in front of the window and pretend to be one too, it was extremely uncomfortable having everybody staring at me even though I was fully clothed. Being a prostitute takes a lot of confidence - it's sad though as I read that most of them are trafficked into it, up to 90%. You think because it's legal they'll be more protected - they are from STD's - but not from pimps who take most of their money. Also, it costs €150 to rent the window for 8 hours because there are limited number available, how expensive. During the day I definitely noticed the prostitutes were a lot... er... uglier than the evening ones, very... 'sizeable'. I can't imagine they make much as I never saw anybody go in, whereas at night the doors was constantly open! 

    After a stroll we went to the Cannabis College (www.cannabiscollege.com) to learn a little about it:
    - Cannabis is NOT legal in the Netherlands, but they are tolerant. 
    - Only licensed coffeeshops can sell it to people above 18 - it cannot be smoked on the streets. 
    - The Netherlands actually have one of the lowest consumption rates in Europe with only around 5% of the population using Cannabis regularly. 
    - Smoking a join only uses 10% of the weed whereas vaporises use 90% (and is far healthier) - Vaporises are also known as Get High Without Fire.  
    - AVOID buying pre-rolled joints as these are mainly meant for tourists and of low quality. 



    Red Light Secrets Museum 

    Practising sitting in the window.

    Oh I definitely had a few confessions I could have submitted! I did write one though.
    Update: My sister found it when she went! See if you can spot mine... haha!

    The Dutch love their weed.

    Beautiful canals.

    Beautiful canals ft. Lizzie's excitement. 

    After walking around for a bit we decided to go to the Erotic museum (www.erotisch-museum.nl) for €7 - definitely wasn't worth the money. Also note opening hours are 11am-1pm Sunday-Thursday and then 11am-2pm on Friday - Saturday. It was all very boring a part from one room. It had a TV screen with a sexual animated cartoon on repeat. It was quite possibly the oddest thing I've seen. A guy was on top of a wardrobe with his wife lying legs wide open on the bed, and when he dropped off the wardrobe onto her, his penis was so big it went through her, came out of her mouth, where he then ejaculated over them both.... Because that's normal! Not... We only spent 20 minutes there before leaving.

    We wanted to do the free Amsterdam walking tour and arrived for it, however the man was very rude and unfriendly so we decided against spending 3 hours with him before obviously having to inevitably pay him quite a bit.

    In case you wanted to see a horny Snow White and ejaculating castle.

    After checking into our hostel and freshening up, we went in search of Anne Franks house. There was a huge queue so we decided to leave it to another day. We ended up having dinner nearby our hostel, it was alright, but Lizzie's was much tastier! I regret my choice.

    In the evening we decided upon the Amsterdam bar crawl (https://www.joinultimateparty.com/en/). We met two lovely English girls in our hostel who had just got to the end of their Inter-railing trip, and so they came with. There is a choice to do the more relaxed chill out and talk bar crawl of the red light district (€16) including a t-shirt for females. There is an alternative one Dance, Drink and Party like a Rockstar in the Leidseplein district which is mostly all clubs instead (€20) including t-shirt for females. We did the former, but with hindsight, I'd have rather done the partying one. 

    Both of them include free shots when entering the bar and a free drinks in each bar you go into (6 locations). I had a great night but the main problem was that we should have pre-drank as the drinks were expensive and we weren't drunk enough until the penultimate bar where they did 10 shots for €20. Also there weren't enough people on it, only like 30 of us, and none of them interacted with us and there wasn't many interesting people if I'm honest! There was even a 60-year old granddad with his family on the crawl... Weird. On the weekends though they have around 150 people, but the hostel was far more expensive then. 

    Open wide and let me pour lots of alcohol down your throat.

    Free Jager shot in first bar.

    10 test-tube shots for €20.

    Clearly far more drunk here, got the scraped back hair look.

    Sunday, 8 March 2015

    The Transitions of Travel by Matthew Robinson

    Foreword: I know the breaks in the text don't make sense, I had to add them in as he sent it as one long piece with no breaks at all, it is just easier to read if I break it down a bit even though it ruins it slightly. I just loved the poem and so accurately could relate to his pleasure & pain.

    My transition to singlets, a seemingly innocuous development, is highly reflective of the open mindedness and unavoidable change that comes when traveling. 
    No longer caught in the confines of home's excepted norms, or our perceived place within them, 
    we branch out to try new things. 
    At home surprises are rare; the roads we grew up on hold scant few secrets,
    and our friends for the most part, are still as such,
    because we know the way they act and find it affable.
    It's why we keep them around. 

    It's what defines and discriminates them from all the other people we meet.

    And by choosing to keep them around, we maintain a status quo in our lives.
    A continuity of comfort in the known.
    By travelling we give all this up. 
    And if it's our maiden voyage,
    were not too sure what were giving it up for.
    When we desire company and our friends are far away,
    we may have no choice but to mingle with the vagavond-ish minstrels and meandering miscreants. 
    The most dangerous part of this meeting of minds,
    is that we might find that the "others" aren't mad,
    and it might be us who's misinformed.
    We get on busses full of strangers and take the free seat next to the only other foreign face for miles. 
    Committing to a long journey next to someone's who's only known similarity,
    is that they also decided to see what lay beyond their city limits.
    In such situations, we may find we connect with people we might have brushed off in the busyness and haste of our routine. 
    Or perhaps people who challenge our veritable views of the world,
    without a vestige of hesitation.
    They know not who we are, nor what we stand for,
    and probably won't be around long enough to reap any consequences. 
    So spare us no pity when saying what they think. 
    As we find our staples out of reach or beyond our pocket,
    we try new foods; ether through our blossoming sense of adventure, 
    which is kindled by our natural curiosity and desire to understand this new world we find ourselves in; or simply because there is no other option, 
    and it's ether stave as a food fearing philistine, 
    or go native and see what the Romans are on about! 
    We also change our styles to assimilate into a new demographic. 
    Straight laced bankers don sarongs and drink exotic cocktails. 
    The rigidity of the iron clad 9-5 grind becomes a distant memory, 
    as does any hope of a regular sleep pattern. 

    They are melted down and transformed, taking on the fluidity of mercury on merry-go-round. 

    At the mercy of a force that knows no conformity to days past, 
    or to what you thought was going to pass. 

    As each new day brings with it a new social dynamic, 

    extroverts may find a quiet solace in introversion, 
    no longer required to fill the part they have grown into and carved out for themselves at home. 
    Introverts may find their voice, on a stage in an unknown land, 
    proselytised they walk the boards with a rewritten script in hand. 

    Our appearance, no longer high on the agenda, morphs, 

    as makeup and accessories are done away with. 
    Replaced by that which delivers practicality and utility in its function. 
    I find myself looking more dishevelled by the day, as my few clothes become flimsy rags, 
    broken down by too much hand washing and late night wringing. 
    Simultaneously I find myself stripping down to the bare necessities as I expunge any extraneous accoutrements. 
    This is most noticeable when couch surfing, 
    as I find myself thrown back into a world of normality. 
    A world where people are clean and clothes wholesome.

    Whilst making our way through these new lands and encountering peculiar people

    we are constantly placed in scenarios so unique and unfamiliar
    that we find ourselves scrabbling for new solutions. 
    Pushing our patience when we are alone in the unknown. 
    Forcing us to fathom what we can't understand, all without the faculty of a home crowd. 
    At every turn we must ether adapt or be engulfed by angst. 

    We must seek ways to incorporate what we find, into what we already know. 

    Often the puzzle doesn't fit and we are left with extra pieces, 
    which we must carry around like a cumbersome souvenir, until such a time that they do. 

    On the most part, adapt we do, as is our nature. 

    We grow to find ourselves at ease in the unknown, and should we travel long enough, 
    it too will take on a sense of repetition when viewed at the macro level.

    It is true that change is the only constant in life, 

    however the rate of this change is very much dependant on the life we are living. 
    At home it's slow and steady, almost imperceptible at times, 
    we lope through our lives at a steady plod. 
    Like a donkey pursuing a carrot on a treadmill, 
    all the while never noticing that as we walk forward the landscape is unchanged. 
    But the clock is always ticking, and the carrot remains just out of reach. 
    On the road our metaphorical donkey is thrown into the lions den, 
    where he must tame the king of the jungle and rise to the challenge, of end up a carrot himself.

    As if all this change isn't enough to compute, 

    returning home brings with it it's own set of struggles 
    as we try to amalgamate our new sense of self into our old lives, where thing feel immutable. 

    We find ourselves different in such a way that we may not be able to relate to our old friends in the same way. 

    We yearn for the people we met in weird places, 
    feeling a stronger affiliation to strangers in strange lands than old friends in our homeland. 
    For they share our understanding of what it's like to leave it all behind and embark on a mission where god laughs at our plans, and we have to stand alone and be bold.
    But should we rise up and feast with the kings 

    and find our own path through this strange world of things, 
    we will feel at home where ever we are, 
    be it in lands that are near or far.

    Wednesday, 4 March 2015

    Summer 2015 - Southern USA

    I was awarded Warwick's URSS (Undergraduate Research Support Scheme) bursary today! That means I have £1000 to undertake a research project I proposed at the start of the year. After I've finished my research, I am going to bus back to Orlando visiting Dallas, San Antonio and New Orleans on the way!