Tuesday, 31 May 2016

General Advice!

Having visited several countries now, and with an increasing number of people asking me for advice, I figured it'd be useful to put together some things I've learnt to do along my travels!

ü  Label your valuables: Forever the optimist, I print tiny little labels that have my name, e-mail address and phone number on then sellotape them onto the back of my DSLR and Ipad. Oh, and I take a photo of my address and have it as the first photo on the camera. My logic behind is that if somebody found them, and wanted to return them, chances are they wouldn’t even be able to find out who the photos belonged to for example and thus wouldn’t feel as guilty about taking the items. However, with a contact method attached, the guilt of knowing they could be nice and return will hopefully eat them up and I’ll receive a message in my inbox!  

I need to print a new one of these! With an international dialling code too... Yes, it's currently slightly covered by my DSRL Easy Cover Silicon Skin. Probably the best thing I've bought to protect it from wear and tear!
ü  Carry US Dollars: Yup, I always take around $50-100 cash on me as back-up and in case of an emergency. I find typically, if people are going to accept any currency, it’s going to be USD. It came in handy in particular when I was stuck in Malaysia and my card wasn’t working. It was 11pm at night, a bus had dropped me off at the wrong time and I was stranded in a terrifying location. While the nearest motel was not happy to accept it, after some tears and convincing, begrudgingly she accepted them at an over-priced rate. I was just glad to have somewhere to sleep! Oh also, if you’re in Argentina you can get a terrific exchange rate on the blue dollar (but they're trying to fix their economy so may not be as good as it once was).

ü   Book back seats on planes: For some reason, people always book near the front – in hope of getting off quicker I suppose! But at the end of the day, everyone has to wait for their luggage anyway. What I’ve found with choosing the back of the plane is that often it doesn’t fill up and so if any seats are empty, it’s at the back. I often bag whole rows to myself!

ü  Carry around toilet-roll: This is especially true for South America and South-East Asia. Most places you either have to pay for it, or there is only water to wash yourself – which, if you’re not versed in the practice is not ideal!

ü  Wear a (waterproof) watch: When your phone dies at 4am, and you’re due to get off the bus around 7am you can’t sleep for fear you’ll miss your stop. Get a watch with an alarm clock on to help soothe the worry.

ü  Universal Adapter? I’m slightly torn on this one - Again, with South America and South-East Asia, the plugs are very unpredictable and vary hugely country to country. In fact, even within the country they can vary! In South America no plug I had got online could have covered the amount of different ones we encountered, some I didn’t even know existed. So, while you may want to bring one with you, most of the time you can pick adapters up super cheap at the market so don’t worry too much.

ü  The Sleeping Bag Liner: Yes, something I could not live without it. I urge every traveler to get one of these! Rarely do I actually use them in a hostel if it’s dirty for example (though I had to in Cambodia, grim), instead they come in handy on long bus journeys, sleeping in airports and on flights. I always keep my valuables in my smaller backpack, thus while my big backpack is stored in the hold, I don’t know where to put the small one while I sleep. With a sleeping bag liner, I put it in the bottom and then get into it after. While I’m sleeping, somebody would have to wake me to steal my things! I also always wrap the bag around my foot, just in case somebody decides to slit the bottom and try to run off with it.

Waiting to greet my mum in Singapore!

Well, I hope you learnt something new today. Leave me a comment if you have any questions, or just want to give me advice too!

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Six Reasons to Travel with your Ex-Boyfriend.

Round-the-world Adventure.

Every now and then I get asked who is Matthew? Yup, Matthew, that tall blonde haired young man that ventured with me through South America and Italy. The simple answer is that he has been my best friend for the past five years since we met at Sixth Form. The answer that evokes the weirdest looks, however, is that he is my ex-boyfriend. We dated for a while in Sixth Form, but ever since then, other than when I've been travelling solo, in the last three years there probably haven't been more than five days consecutively that I haven't seen him as we go to the same university and have the same friends both at home and at university. 

Isn't that awkward? I hear you ask. Most people recoil at the thought of spending 8 weeks with an ex, especially when we bicker like an old-married couple. However, as I said, we get along well still (I say 'well', we have our moments!), and honestly, there's many things to love about travelling with an ex. 
  1. They can pretend to be your boyfriend when it suits you, and it seems very believable because as everyone you meet will always tells you, we bicker like an old married couple. A creep coming onto you at the hostel bar? "Oh Matthew, I love youuuuuu, you're so cute sometimes!" (Pah, if only). 
  2. Voice it. Yup. That weird or awkward thing that's happening - from stomach upset to period pains, just voice all the strange and gross things that come to your mind and remember they've probably heard it all before. It comes in handy when you have to explain why you'd rather not get on that 32-hour bus journey or why you're feeling particularly moody and hangry.
  3. Unlike travelling with a friend, they've seen you naked before. It's thus fine to sleep however you like. More conveniently for me, however, it came in handy in the hospital when I wasn't allowed to put my arm in the shower due to the drip but needed to wash vomit out of my hair... He leaned in the shower and shampooed my hair for me. Similarly, at the hot springs in the Atacama, I was able to help dry him/ prep all of his clothes to avoid him dying from the cold!
  4. Unlike travelling with a boyfriend, you don't have the pressure to keep the relationship going - Breaking up with a boyfriend, or seriously falling out, feels a hell of a lot worse than a tiff with your best friend. This can be a downside though, as it also means you can outright tell them when they're pissing you off without worrying about the consequences. Certainly, there have been a few times where I was going to leave him behind and go on by myself!
  5. You don't have to worry about finding private space to 'woohooo' (to borrow the phrase from the Sims), because none of that goes on. Also don't have to worry about offending people with too much PDA - some of the couples you see out and about travelling sicken me! Pleaseeeee.
  6. They already know everything about you - what annoys you, what food you do and don't like, what channel you'd rather watch etc. When they're popping to the shops and you're fast asleep, you know they can still bring you back something you might want to eat! (I mean, unlikely, but sometimes nice gestures do happen)
I mean, be warned though, it's not all fun and games! On the one hand, who knows, you could always re-kindle a lost flame! However, one thing I can guarantee you is that you will argue. In fact, in our situation, the little things we argued over made me realise why we broke-up in the first place, and why perhaps we weren't the most compatible. He may also turn out to be more of a dick than you remember in the first place! 

Also, and whether you're together or not, travelling with the opposite gender, especially when you bicker so much, people will undoubtedly assume you are. Be prepared for all the "but you make such a good couple" comments! I mean, while it's generally not a problem, when there's a hot guy in the dorm you've had your eye on, or he sees a girl he likes in a club, it becomes a highly frustrating scenario! 

Overall though, it was a enjoyable experience, and I'd say the advantages certainly outweighed the disadvantages in my situation. I wanted to travel South America but was worried about my safety solo, and so sought a male companion. Next time you're wondering who to invite travelling, don't forget that person that once knew everything about you and whom you spent a significant portion of your time with. Yup, your ex-boyfriend! 

Monday, 23 May 2016

Where will the world take me?

I'm off to Thailand not this Thursday but next Thursday - do you think I'm ready? Oh god no. Oops! I have 0 plans. I just finished my exams on Saturday, so haven't had a spare moment to think about it! Honestly, exams didn't go as well as I would have liked, and I don't think I'll have actually made the grades I need for Oxford, but right now I'm not all that bothered if we're being frank. They've messed me around so much with accommodation and college options, and have been so unhelpful about pretty much everything. They expect you to know how everything works without having been there. Also, I'm not even sure what I actually want to do my dissertation on yet and spending £9,200 on tuition, at possible the ugliest college possible (google St Anthony's!) I'm just not sure it's worth it - so, perhaps I'll revert back to my 3rd option and instead of taking up the offers I've got at law school, go travelling for a year then work out what I want to do!

Anyway, I digress, back to present problems! I really wanted to go to Nepal but just couldn't afford it. At 21, and having travelled a lot, I know this sounds completely snobbish but I am so done with the Thai islands. Yes, they're beautiful, and yes, they're a lot of fun, but it doesn't really feel like you're in Thailand due to the lack of local people and culture. Yes, there's lady-boy shows, and some Thai people on the islands, but they're vastly outnumbered by Western tourists. Increasingly it is becoming Kavos for rich kids - and I'm not saying you shouldn't go, or that I wasn't like that when I first went - the islands are a lot of fun if you like partying and soaking up the sun, but I just feel like there's so many more places I should visit!

So, I thought to myself, where can I go to relax, won't burn a hole in my pocket, and meet lovely locals? Well, Burma/ Myanmar of course! I absolutely fell in love with the country when I last visited and feel there's so much more to explore before it becomes the next Thailand. I still wanted a beach destination though as I've just finished exams and I'll be city-dwelling the whole time I'm in the US (a part from California). Anyway, Dawei or Myeik seemed like a perfect choice. The problem, however, is that Southern Burma has only opened up EVEN TO LOCALS in the past few years, and so the infrastructure just isn't there and after hopelessly trying to explore into it, it seemed I had arrived at a dead end. It was likely to be more expensive than visiting Nepal as you have to charter private boats to get out to the islands which are only run by a very few companies offering huge prices. Hotels were also sparse and hard to reach. It seems like it would be the perfect retreat into the real Myanmar, however, at 21, travelling solo, and low on cash, it's frankly too dangerous - else I'd go and just try meeting locals and staying with them! Sad times.

This left me pondering where to go. I decided instead to focus on activities I've always wanted to do, and realised that while I'm in Thailand, the world's cheapest place for this activity, I've always wanted to get my open water scuba diving qualification. I have been to so many places that are supposed to be amazing for it, yet haven't been able to do it as I haven't had my qualification! If you remember, two years a go I delayed my flight so that I could go and learn in Koh Tao before returning home, however, after being bitten by a spider, and covered in numerous infected bites, after a trip to a hospital in Burma I was told I should afford water as it would only inflame though. Thus, my dream of scuba diving was once again dashed. Now, with spare time, and no clue what to do, I think this is when I'll do it!! I don't have the money, but at £160 it's the cheapest I'm ever going to find it.

We'll see when I land though where I feel like going or what I fancy doing. Leave it to chance!
Most likely Koh Tao then... another place I suppose? I'm not sure I can deal with all the alcohol and partying haha. My God, I think I'm getting old!

Snorkelling in Koh Tao 3 years a go!

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

'That' Tattoo, two years on! My Kuala Lumpur adventure.

I love Oli Sykes. 
When it comes to being rebellious, I topped it is a teenager. I won't get into the ins and outs of it, but I was a wild child. Beyond having a sassy attitude, I loved to be the first one to do everything. As a result, being the hip scenemo moody teenager that I was, I loved to collect odd piercings. 

I had my septum pierced twice (not at the same time obviously), my belly bar twice (actually, both at the same time - the top and bottom of it),  my conch, rook, nipples, cartilage, nose etc etc etc. I even had my hips pierced at 13 (much to the dismay of my mother). They actually rejected within 3 days and was left heavily visible scars up until 17 years old. I still, however, refused to learn my lesson and take advice from my wise parents. You get the picture though, I loved a good painful experience and something new. 

So, when I turned 18, having got as many piercings as I had ever wanted, and realising I'd have to start taking some out if I ever wanted to become a lawyer, I sought something more! And well, fourteen-year-old me inside was screaming for a tattoo. With an upcoming trip to Asia in the summer of 2013, I figured there was no time like the present. BUT, for once, I was actually wise and decided there was nothing I wanted on me forever so wouldn't act upon my desire. 

The same, however, could not be said for the following summer. Spending ages pondering different ideas and quotes, from T.S. Elliot to a phrase used by Jonny Depp in the film blow, I had settled upon the quote for my tattoo. I told myself I didn't want anything over-used, like 'wanderlust', or an aeroplane, however, I still somehow ended up settling for the cringiest quote ever! Admittedly though, I haven't seen it on anyone else... but it still makes me cringe having to tell people what it says.

Anyway, one sunny afternoon strolling the streets of Kuala Lumpur, I decided it was time to get it. It is a relatively modern city and the people were friendly, why not? Least I wasn't drunk on Koh Phi Phi getting tattooed by the same dirty needle as the five other drunk brits that night... Though sometimes, I wish I had been drunk so least it wouldn't sound so terrible! 

Back to the point - I googled a few places and there were plenty of good reviews for 'Zoo Body Tattoos'. Looking at the photos, their work looked good and so I popped in for a quote. They asked for £100 despite the fact it was only supposed to take an hour - with no knowledge of the going rate really, and prepared, I sheepishly agreed and paid the deposit after giving a vague idea of what I wanted. 

Literally a 5-year-olds handwriting.
Why I went back the next day I don't know. Well, I do, I mean... I'd paid the deposit I may as well get it right?! But once I saw the tattoo, I hated the font and generally despised it overall. I asked him to change one of the letters, but just left the rest - too embarrassed to say anything. In hindsight, I was so stupid, like... that's on my body forever and I was too pathetic to ask for something else haha. 

The tattoo itself was the just the most agonising pain I have ever been in! I had my jumper with me and literally shoved the whole thing in my mouth to stop me from crying at him to stop haha. I also had to put heavy metal on my ipod headphones because the noise of the tattoo machine grinding against my ribs was just sickening. I've had my septum re-pierced through scar tissue, which most say is the worst piercing you could have, but this was 100% worse. Anyway, after an hour and a half, it was over and I walked out the shop annoyed at myself.

A lot of people ask me now if I regret it - but honestly, I don't even notice that I have it and nobody ever sees it! I live in the UK, it's cold and raining all the time, when would anybody get the chance? Also, before I got it done what I told myself was that tattoo removal has gotten so much more advanced in the past 10 years, no doubt it'll improve more in the next ten after that! So whoever says these things last forever... well... tell that to technology fifty years from now! I do consider getting it covered up, but honestly, it doesn't bother me enough and I don't know what I'd want there anyway as it's an awkward place. I also loved the city of Kuala Lumpur and it reminds me of the fun I had there. Though I find the quote cringey, I still live by it every day. It's something I had always wanted to experience too so you know what, fuck it: Die with Memories, Not Dreams! 


P.S. Check out my posts from Kuala Lumpur while you're on my blog anyway (http://www.nevertooyoungtotravel.com/search/label/KL) and leave a comment! 

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Top 5 party hostels you'd be mad to miss!

5. Siem Reap Downtown Hostel, Siem Ream, Cambodia:

Siem Reap is visited primarily as a hub to reach the renowned Angkor Wat. But, who wants to visit the heavy crowd at Angkor Wat when you can go drinking at Angkor WHAT?! Yep... What people often miss out from on reports of Angkor Wat is how great Siem Reap is to party in. They have a whole street dedicated to drinking - known as Pub Street. Our favourite bar was called Angkor What, as I'm sure you may have guessed. I have to admit, the rooms in this hostel aren't particularly the nicest I've ever come across, but the pool area is great, and the staff were so friendly. It was A-Level results night and Olivia and I were feeling a bit low, decided just to call it a night and sleep. However, at 3am we decided you know what, screw it. Time to venture out. The hostel bar was just shutting but there were still plenty of people around, including the bar tender, wanting to hit Pub Street. We partied until the early hours of the morning, and ended up stumbling back before spending the day once more hungover in the pool sunbathing.

4. Spicy Pai, Pai, Thailand.
Pai itself is a magical little town. Everybody will tell you this, and when you ask why, they can't quite put their finger on it. You begin to question whether it's worth the sickening 3 hour windy venture up into the mountains from Chiang Mai. And I'll answer that for you. 100%. Do it! It's such a cute hippy little village and a perfect escape from the hectic nature of Bangkok. The place, however, is made all that much better by staying at Spicy Pai hostel. Be warned though, it books out weeks in advance and is in hot demand given it's practically the only hostel in the village. The whole place is just a series of farmer huts made from wood, bamboo and leafs. It's a very unique structure and in a breath-taking location too. Situated in a field surrounded by mountains, chilling in a hammock in the main reception area is made that much more enjoyable - a breathtaking place to watch the wild storms too!

Be warned though, you may be eaten alive at night-time as all the critters easily get in through the sides of the hut. Oh, and the frogs drive you CRAZY at night with all the volume they produce from the rice fields! But, a trip to Pai wouldn't be this fun-filled community. Every night everybody congregates in the main hut, and those that aren't fortunate enough to get a place to sleep come and join anyway. Expect a ton of drinking games and trips to 7/11 then spending the day hungover exploring waterfalls and learning to ride a moped into the mountains. Honestly, my favourite place in Thailand! Whatever you do, don't miss a chance to explore the area and this wonderful hostel. 

3. Miami International Hostel, USA.
If you're looking for a place to party every night, and love the planned-fun type of evening, this is the place for you! The hostel is rather pricey but includes all meals (only 1 option mind you), but is right next to the beach and has a great vibe. Wifi doesn't reach the rooms, which is a pain, but that means you can ALWAYS meet people just hanging out in the lobby, or while waiting for food. The hostel always has activities planned every night from beer pong and flip cup tournaments to bar crawls, it usually ends up in the busiest nightclub that you reach via a pumping party bus. The nice thing about this hostel too is that they try their hardest to cater for under-21s. While you can't just go to the clubs without ID, or with a photocopy, they have a few left-overs or try to ask other guests for you too. Honestly, there's not much to do in Miami other than drink and sunbathe, and this hostel is perfectly situated to do both! 

2. Downtown Reggae Mansion Hostel, Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia.

Beautiful and huge 'mansion' hostel, just as it says! Again, there's two of them, so make sure you get the main centre location. The hostel has a fantastic rooftop bar with pumping music and views over the city, including the Petronas Towers as a bonus. The people I met here were just amazing and lovely too, and I'm still in contact with several of them - a rarity for me!  We ended up wasting our nights away drinking from classic South-East Asian buckets, and smoking ridiculous amounts of shisha discussing our adventures for the following day. The hostel runs a great and worthwhile tour of the City that I thoroughly recommend and I genuinely don't have a single bad thing to say about the place! I ended up spending a lot longer here than I intended as I was waiting for a Burmese visa, but the hostel kept me entertained. One day with bad weather and stuck for what to do, we used the in-hostel cinema (has around 20 seats and charges about £1 a movie), to have a horror-film fest and just chill out. On a side note, if in KL don't miss out on the Escape Room game! Find some mates in this hostel (a very easy task) and drag them along, great way to bond and have fun outside of alcohol for a change haha.

1. Hanoi Backpackers, Vietnam.
Ah, my future city of choice! I inexplicably love the vibrant and chaotic nature of this metropolis and I believe my stay at Hanoi Backpackers contributed to this! It was by far the cleanest hostel I have stayed in while in South-East Asia. I should note first, make sure you stay at Hanoi Backpackers 'the original'. There's two of them, however, we found the second one was just too big. In a way, this one was more intimate and allowed for a greater connection with the other travellers. However, when it comes to bar crawls, you meet up with the other larger hostel anyway so you get the best of both worlds in the end without the blaring music disrupting you when you eventually decide to grab some kip. 

First arriving at the hostel I was freaked out by the location, but that was more a reflection on Vietnam than the hostel itself as it turns out it was perfectly situated and within walking distance of the main attractions we sought to visit. They also do a smashing free breakfast with a wide range of choices. For a party hostel, receiving a free beer on arrival too was a pleasant surprise and a welcomed one too - after a 32 bus journey to reach it! Every Sunday they have free beers from 3pm-4:30pm, and during the week they have happy hours with 2 for 1 vodka mixers at the equivalent of a pound! There's also events on throughout the week - I should add, our team smashed the pub quiz. I would, however, advise you against their Castaways Island tour if you're on a really tight budget - it's really expensive compared to what you can find a mere few doors down. We formed a group with some people we met in the hostel and set off and made our own party. The problem with that, however, is there was a miscommunication over the ability to bring your own alcohol, which led to a chair being thrown at a member of our group... which I guess wouldn't happen with castaways! haha. But you get what you pay for I suppose. All in all, top hostel, great staff, and perfect location to party. 

(Read about Hanoi: http://www.nevertooyoungtotravel.co.uk/search/label/Hanoi or Ha Long Bay: http://www.nevertooyoungtotravel.co.uk/search/label/HaLongBay)

Where is your favourite hostel? 
Leave a comment! xoxo