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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.

Dorms….
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.

Aaah!

Aaah!

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….

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