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Living the dream but backpacking can be hard

Posted by on February 11, 2013

20130208-153424.jpgI (Peg) realise that many people will think us ungrateful in the extreme, miserable and never satisfied when I say that sometimes (quite often actually), four months in, backpacking can be hard. Afterall, we have, and will, visit some amazing and really beautiful places. We have eaten brilliant food. We don’t have to go to work or worry about stress of our jobs. We get up when we want, we spend most days lazing about. We have met some fabulous people and we are spending truly quality time together. So what’s not to be totally ecstatic about…..?

Well …….

We are on this trip for a reason – to sort out our marriage and to get some space to bring a new energy in our lives after 2 intensely difficult years.  It seems we take it in turns to be down in the dumps. Because we are both assiduously trying to avoid thinking or talking about our longer term future at the moment all we have is the day to day. And when that isn’t working out then it’s hard. Really hard.

Maslow had a point, even in ‘paradise
At the expense of potentially reverting to management consultant type I do think Maslow had a point. If our basic needs – like food, shelter, sleep etc aren’t catered for, then it’s really hard for us to enjoy life. Traveling on a budget really brings this home.

The other day I posted on Facebook: “Finding today hard. 🙁 We are in a place that looks like your homogeneous ‘paradise’ but I’m crying and just want space to be upset….  Coming home is not an option – the changes we need for ourselves and our lives haven’t happened yet. So today ‘paradise’ feels like a cold, lonely, uncomfortable place where I have no control over my life & am just another faceless traveller.”

All my worldly possessions!!

All my worldly possessions!!

Sadly, me and Pat are too old with the kind of physical creaks that start after 40 to enjoy sleeping on terrible beds, sitting on a coach for 16 hours, living off crisps and bad shop cakes and biscuits. For me the food thing is really hard as I just cannot manage my weight. Eating out pretty much the whole time is what we do. Street food is mainly meat so no good for veggie me(and after getting so ill in India I’m scared of it anyway). You don’t realise how good and diverse our food is in the UK till you can’t just go in a supermarket and get whatever you want to cook. After all the pain I went through to lose weight 4 years ago and having kept it off since till now I am once again the wrong side of fat and I can tell you that is NOT conducive to my being happy. Trying to diet is a nightmare, but try I will. Fingers crossed.

Living in dorms as you might guess can be tough, even if your bed is decent. I find it hardest when I just want to chill, or hang out, but there is no privacy or space. Worse still when you want to be upset, or argue with your husband!!

Living in a bunk

Living in a bunk

You kind of get used to having little space for possessions, mostly just a small locker. (Or if none, having to carry all your valuables with you everywhere you go.) Just finding your underwear in the morning is an arse. Then there are the people who talk, turn lights on etc. Your sleeping mates change on a nightly basis. You get used to people and then they leave! My heart sinks when I’m told that two girl friends are moving in. Nightmare – it seems girls are incapable of going to bed or getting up without talking to each other. Mind you, they do snore less….. (Having said that the last 2 nights the worst snorer in the world was in our dorm ….. a woman!!Thank God she left this morning or damage to the person would have ensued…

More tea please….
Little things take on a huge importance. At the moment I am devastated that I can’t get a cup of coffee in the morning, let alone a decent breakfast, my best meal of the day. Honestly, despite it being the 2nd largest coffee producing nation in the world, Vietnamese coffee is undrinkable. Even getting unsweetened milk is a challenge. So I’ve bought a little filter but I’m not allowed to use it so have to sneakily make my morning cuppa in a very tightly managed sly operation! Mind you it was the same in most places we stayed in India, terrible coffee and rubbish breakfast – it wasn’t the case that coffee and breakfast didn’t exist, just we couldn’t get it as we wanted (such as made with boiling water, hot omelettes, toast not left to go soggy in foil). Maybe I am just too western. Or maybe we were spoiled early on in our trip by Asterix Hostel in Goa where you got all these things – clean water on tap, a kettle, a fridge, great breakfast, comfy places to sit and chill. Set up by 2 previous consultants they knew all about Maslow…..

More breaks please….

Secret coffee kit in Mui Ne backpackers - took half an hour but worth the effort

Secret coffee kit in Mui Ne backpackers – took half an hour but worth the effort

Some of the tourist and travel companies we’ve used so far – in India, Turkey, here in Vietnam could do with a Maslow training session too. In the UK if you hold an event it doesn’t matter how good the event or how riveting the speakers, if you mess up the lunch or it’s too hot/too cold you’ll get rubbish evaluation. I wish some tourist companies knew the same. Insufficient toilet stops on hot coaches, tours with no breaks for a drink or a pee, standing for too long in burning sunshine, impact on even the most amazing attraction.

Some things more fundamental….
The hard bits aren’t just about toilets and food, some bits are more fundamental. We both struggle with ‘the move’ – the uncertainty of what we will find out our next destination. I don’t think we have managed to not have a massive row in an airport yet. I am petrified often by the journey to the first stop as we have heard so many stories of being ripped off by taxi drivers, taken to the wrong place. Apart from Thailand we haven’t really known at all what to expect anywhere. I wish we are both the kind of people where this ‘mystery’ (the place, the food, the people, the language) is what makes traveling so brilliant. Sadly for me it’s the opposite – it just petrifies me. We have come to realise that for us familiarity breeds content – we only really start to like a place on the 2nd or 3rd visit or when we get to know it. Oh god – not a good trait in travellers!  😕

It’s all about the money….

Keeping mossies at bay is a full time job. Things to burn, sonic plug-ins and phone apps, bed nets, constantly sticky with spray ...

Keeping mossies at bay is a full time job. Things to burn, sonic plug-ins and phone apps, bed nets, constantly sticky with spray …

We are living on a daily budget which alas is far too low. Everything is far more expensive than we expected and people who had travelled only a few years ago told us it would be. It’s a long time since I’ve only had a subsistence income – we can manage basic day to day costs but there’s no spare – no extras for buying replacement clothes, or a hair dye, or day trips. We have to get the cheapest accommodation we can. We can’t afford to do much ‘travelling’ on backpacker routes – the minute you move is when your costs add up, sitting on your arse for days on end is far cheaper! So no Kerela, Hampi, Hanoi and Halong Bay, Seim Reip, Chiang Mai (although the thought of 16 hour bone rattling bus journeys might also have been a factor 🙂 ).

Image is all important…and the hardest thing of all
I wish this were not the case but for me how I look is so tied up with how I feel about me and about life. If I look crap, which I do pretty much all the time, I just don’t feel good. My clothes are just increasingly shabby shorts and unflattering baggy t-shifts. I have no jewellery (we even left our rings at home) or nice shoes and make up is pointless in this heat. My hair is terrible. Staying with so many young people, for the first time, I have become invisible – an invisible, slightly overweight, untrendy middle-aged woman. As someone who puts so much effort into how I look at home, and who was quite wild in her younger years I deal with this badly “Honestly, I’m really funky in real life” I tell them. Mostly I think it just makes me seem even sadder in their eyes!

Just us two and so very surface…
Of course it’s been wonderful to spend quality time with Pat. Our relationship was so so bad before we left its hard to imagine now. Within days of leaving we were back to our best mates/lovers relationship. We are together the whole time – all day every day. We love it. And it shows how much we love each other.



Missing friends and in person conversation though is really hard. We’ve met some amazing people and with a few of them have managed to move beyond “Where have you been? What did you think of it? Where did you stay? How long are you travelling for?” But sadly, despite meeting fab people at times, there’s been far less of that than we had hoped. (We have yet to find another hostel like Asterix where our social life was brilliant). Generally the decent chat been with the older travellers. On bad days we fear it’s given us an impression of many young people today being vacuous, hedonistic, self absorbed and uncommunicative (which obviously we weren’t 20 years ago!!!).

But we stay on the trip…..
Reading this you probably think we should head home straight away. Sometimes we wonder that too!! But we know we have some more amazing adventures ahead of us and actually we don’t want to come home yet. We stay hopeful that some of the more basic things will find a way to work themselves out.

Coming soon … Much fun in our first month in Thailand – witness protection neighbours, Mancs, football banter and a mysterious man with the best stories….

9 Responses to Living the dream but backpacking can be hard

  1. Sarah

    Good on you for hanging in there – was wondering why we haven’t heard from you for a while! The tough times will pass of course – you are not in this situation forever – and you will soon be into countries that offer some respite to current challenges – though they will obviously present new ones no doubt! You have my admiration for sticking with it and facing everything head on. You will look back with pride in years to come when you think of how you dealt with this time. Always remember that you could come home tomorrow, that this time next year you will be back to the humdrum and this is all just a pasing phase!!!

    And re food – there’s no guarantee re food here either…..apparently beef is now the new horse!!!!

  2. Mike Fulker

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  3. catherine

    You know, we both thought about your feelings and we thought why not cut your trip a bit shorter and spend some money on a decent place to stay, better food and trips out and about. When we travelled we got to know our expectations and indulged a bit more. Worth considering?
    Take care and enjoy
    Love Jane & Cat

  4. jenny Apling

    Improvisation is the key. I see you are doing well. Happy travels. We are heading back to the UK on Wednesday. Even though the weather is bad, it will be nice to be back in our own bed!

  5. Sally Fulker

    I have always enjoyed travelling but you have to know how to get along with yourself first of all. You’ll remember these experiences the rest of your lives and will be able to pick and choose the best places for your standard two weeks off in future 🙂 Here is cold and grim so keep that thought in mind next time you feel fed up, though you are heading for the southern hemisphere winter so I guess you might be cold yet 😉

  6. Claudia Nuttgens

    Hi Peg

    I’m sorry you aren’t having a fab time all the time – I’m worrying about you! I went to India when I was 16 for a month and have never wanted to return (despite in an abstract way knowing that it was a real privilege to be able to go) and, unlike lots of my adventurous friends have never felt the slightest need to travel other than a nice relax in the sun and a look at some beautiful new things. I think your friends Jane & Cat have got it about right…at our time in life we need to take pleasure when we can and knowing what makes us happy is nothing to be ashamed of, even if it that means “boring” stuff like comfortable beds and no stupid twenty year olds. Spend less time travelling and travel in style for a bit seems like a wonderful compromise. Find your way to enjoy it – it shouldn’t be a test of endurance….much love to you both, Claudia xxxx

  7. admin

    How lucky we are to have such amazing friends and family as you all. What fabulous comments and even some music to go with too! My melancholy passed actually shortly after writing this (probably therapeutic) and it’s been Pat’s turn the last few days. But we are taking advice frm you all and Facebook. We think we may be dehydrated so we are going to up our fluid intake (the right sorts of course!), I’ve found a diet I can do here which is showing results already. Plus we are compromising a bit on thaccomodation you’ll be pleased to hear. For our next destination we have gone for a hotel when we get there to help the ‘new places’ stress. we also feel ready to do some volunteering. Sadly the 2 places we have approached so far haven’t come off but that would be great if we can get something in return for some decent accomodation.

    I’m working on the next blog – is going to be far more upbeat you will be pleased to know 🙂

    So much love, keep the comments coming, they honestly keep us going,


  8. Carole

    Have you tried ‘helpx’ someone recommended it to me? Volunteering in exchange for basic lodging…When you get back, the extreme highs and lows of travelling will be what you most remember. But don’t be too hard on yourself. Agree with one of your replies: have a treat night with a proper bed once a fortnight – it will keep you going and if it means a day shorter on the journey, how great will it be. When hitching we were offered a evening to wash up/help serve for a night in exchange for a bed and the bed was on a mezzanine of a pig sty but it was the best night’s sleep we had!! Be kind to yourself but open yourself to opportunity (cautiously !!) love Carole

  9. admin

    Ta Carole.already registered. Hopefully something will come our way soon. Meanwhile. Following advice on here we have really pushed the boat out and booked a night in one of the worlds most amazing hotels – the Marina bay sands in Singapore. It’s 3 huge towers connected across the top by a skypark which has an infinity pool. Just can’t wait!! Go to for pics – its truly amazing!!!