Watch this space

Acclimatising back to England is taking a while, but in the meantime I am planning to turn this blog (and my Bookworm site) into something bigger and better.

Even though I’m no longer travelling full time, there’s plenty I want to explore a little nearer to home, plus a lot of thoughts about how your perception of places can change completely.

I’m very excited, so just a note to say thankyou for reading so far, and stay tuned!

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Home sweet home

There’s a lot of truth in the idea that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone (or in this case, an ocean away).

England is like a new place and it’s hard to understand why no one else is giggling at all the details. My town looks so English. Our currency is beautiful. The weight of a pound coin in my hand, the accent, the familiar orange of a train ticket; I want to bundle all these up and never forget them.

I know where everything is here, I turn down streets and I know what I will find. There’s something immensely comforting in that.

And of course seeing the people I love again is best of all.

When I was asked what was most different about being home, it’s that the sky is free of towering buildings, and the people walk slowly.  Supermarkets delight me, and pedestrians, and roads that are exactly the right size.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses coming back; I had pretty horrible jetlag and I still wake up not knowing exactly where I am. But I’m very glad to be home.

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Six months of travel wisdom

OR: Things I learnt. Some of these are really trivial, others are more meaningful. I am proud of every single one.

How to choose and book Greyhound tickets really efficiently.

How to keep track of my possessions

To be happy in my own company, at a restaurant,  bar, or show

To be (more) patient

To contort my body into the prime comfort position on bus and train seats

To not (completely) lose it when things go wrong

To spot a postbox at twenty yards

To determine someone’s level of craziness (and potential danger) within ten minutes

To act accordingly to maximise my own safety

What kind of people I want to spend my time with (not you, hostel drunkard!)

To speak and understand basic Spanish

To haggle (just about)

To take better photographs

To describe in words some of the most wonderful things I’ve ever seen

To make good meals out of limited ingredients, sparse kitchens and the deadline of checkout to keep in mind

To complain less (or at the very least to realise that my complaints will be ridiculous to someone else) NB. Perhaps not having someone always there to complain to also helped.

To navigate my way around new cities and use local transport

To calculate currency conversions in my head

To budget effectively

To ask for what I want

To do what I want, when I’m worried about what other people think

To challenge my beliefs

To try new things; recklessly and relentlessly

To curb my materialism and think about the things I genuinely want to own

To read amazing books that inspire me to think in literature

To not get burnt!! Yes, it only took 24 years.

To realise what sort of place I want to live in

To meet people who completely change my mind

To shed a lot of inhibitions and concerns about privacy

To pee off the side of a boat,  behind a rock in the desert, or in doorless cubicles.

To sleep on buses, trains, floors, hammocks, a boat, airport and in tents and a luggage rack.

To carry everything that I need

To throw away the things I don’t

To treasure the parts of home I respect the most

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Changing my mind

Before I left for my six month trip, I was incredibly excited. I’d been reading a lot of travel blogs and wondered whether I, too, was cut out for a nomadic lifestyle; moving from place to place for long periods of time. Spoiler: I’m not.

I had (and still have) dozens of niche career ideas that lit me up. See: sailor, trapeze artist, adventure sports guide, etc. Many of the things I thought that I could do or be have been discounted. They’re just not right for me. It’s been interesting to discover this, and luckily I have enough of these ideas that some getting rejected doesn’t leave me bereft of identity.

Spending time travelling alone made it much easier to see the things I really value, believe in and enjoy – even and especially when this involved changing my mind.

But given that my optimum length for a trip like this is actually more like four or five months, tops, why didn’t I just come home early?

Honestly, I really only considered it once. Even though the last few weeks were hard, I felt like I learnt more accurately that six months, for me, was too long. If I’d have left after 4, I might have always wondered. Plus there really weren’t any of the places I decided to visit that I would have been happy missing. I wanted to be excited about returning home, rather than sad that this adventure was ending, and I am.

On balance, my missing home wasn’t going to detract from the experience as much as leaving would. The reason the trip was so long in the first place was because there was so much I wanted to see. And I’m completely glad I got to see it.

As wonderful as travelling has been, I now know that I absolutely couldn’t do this indefinitely. Homesickness, which still seems to me childish, nevertheless means that to be happy, I want to stick in one place. At least for a few years at a time.

I also firmly reject the idea that to travel (whether short term 8f long term) makes you better (any changes it brings are due to trying and to enjoying different perspectives, rather than travel in and of itself). While I really enjoy it (at least for sub-6 month stints), I appreciate that it’s not for everyone. This came about from meeting a rather snobbish professional travel blogger and realising to my distress that I used to share some of his views.

That’s what it’s all about though, I think, trying enough things to actually know what you think. To allow yourself to change your mind.

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Month six: Pretending to live in New York

Places visited: Washington DC, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), New York (New York!), Massachusetts (Boston)

I’m squishing Boston into this post, even though technically it happened in Month Seven.

Favourite things: Spy museum in DC, Eastern State Penitentiary, seeing Manhattan for the first time, meeting Tom at the airport, the High Line, Brooklyn Botanical Garden, the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, cycling around Central Park

Worst things: My credit cards. Bane of the trip.

Modes of transport: Car, taxi, bike, ferry, bus, metro, plane!

Books read: A little house binge! Little Town on the Prairie, Those Golden Happy Years, The First Four Years. Also Dark Tower 4, 5 & 6, The Circle, A Walk in the Woods

Best/weirdest food: Knish! Love it. Also more exquisite ice cream flavours, pretzels, roasted vegetables (I was so pleased with this that as I sat eating it, watching Masterchef, I was smugly convinced that it would beat any of their creations).

Things lost:

Things bought: Books! Presents, deoderant, magazines

Injury/illness: Mild nausea, mild sunburn, stomach pain.

American restaurants/shops visited: Dunkin Doughnuts, Pats (philly cheese steak staple), Wendy’s

So that’s that! Although, not quite. I’ve got so much more to say about this trip, and there are a fair few more list – type posts in the pipeline. I’ve always enjoyed writing more reflective pieces than the typical ‘this was Place A and all the things I did there’ ones, and what better time to reflect than after half a year away from home?

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Downsides to living the American Dream

There’s countless things I love about America (although I am trying to count, I have a list) and a few that drive me crackers. Here’s the downsides:

1. Tipping culture
If you ever want to see me enraged, just ask me about tipping taxi drivers

2. Being rushed out of restaurants

3. Widespread fervent religion
Sometimes this is quite nice, but often it is a tad scary

4. The gun thing
For most of my time here I have managed to consistently and deliberately forget that guns are common and in use. But it still sucks

5. Obsession with cars
But that’s a story for a whole other post

6. International ignorance
Not always true, but I have been asked if Wales is actually its own country, rather than a suburb of England

7. The range of ready meals available
I like to cook, okay?

8. Border control/security
My experience wasn’t even extreme, but it was unpleasant and very unwelcoming. The level of security and paranoia is downright ridiciulous – I’d known that was a stereotype, but not that it was true.

9. Cockroaches
*shudders*

10. The tendency, nay, prediliction, for oversharing
Too much! Too personal! Too soon! I don’t want to hear about your sister in laws’ sexual health problems! I don’t know you!

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Museums of Manhattan

This week has been a big shift from traveller to tourist – Tom and I have been visiting famous attractions from Times Square to the Public Library, taking pictures and eating ‘New York’ foods (hot dogs, pretzels, bagels and frozen yoghurt).

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I’ve actually gone above ground and seen the sights I’ve been travelling beneath on the subway (Grand Central Station, for example, is gorgeous.)

Art, both modern and ancient, has taken centre stage. We’ve seen both the silly (lego exhibition) and the serious (I forgot how excited I was when I discovered Futurism as a teenager).

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Discovering great restaurants is more fun with someone else, as is trying to decide which is the Chrysler building and which is the Empire State.

Seeing the UN headquarters was a particular highlight. ..

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And getting to play with the sailboats in Central Park seems like something straight out of a film.

There’s still so much left to see, but not so much time. I’m beyond glad that I left such a large chunk of my trip in this city.

Photos courtesy of Tom Mason

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