After graduating from university last July, I spent two months in Berlin and then…I went home. Things were bearable until I made the decision in the New Year to travel and went into hard-core saver mode.
So, after working hard and trying hard not to play, finally the end is in sight.
April will see me off to South-East Asia for a month, before I return for a pit-stop and continue my global travels. This entry is about my attempts to prepare myself for such a lengthy trip away (cue internal screaming).
I had no idea where to begin, hence my last-minute plans and so I ventured a glance at a map to at least pin down where I wanted to go.
I stared at the map for hours. Maps are fascinating and made me want to visit every city and town on every continent (with a few tiny exceptions). Unfortunately, I’m no Rockefeller and so I limited myself to SE Asia (to begin with).
Being pumped full of inspiration following a meeting with STA Travel, I met up with a friend to encourage her to leave her job temporarily and come with me. She was very hard to persuade.
“So, you wanna come to Asia with me?”
And then I began to actually make preparations. I scared myself by reading the seemingly endless travel lists online and therefore decided to focus on vaccinations first (oh joy). I found the website www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk really useful and luckily I could tick a few off the list. That still left me five (but that’s okay, it’s not like I have a needle phobia or anything…oh wait). I had two at my local doctors and the rest I am getting at Nomad.
My first visit to Nomad, a travel specialist store/clinic, was over a week ago. I opted for the intradermal rabies vaccine (given under the skin) to reduce the cost, instead of the intramuscular (straight into the muscle). As I’m not clued-up enough to hazard an explanation on the differences, here’s a link to the WHO website, www.who.int/ith/vaccines/rabies/en.
I lied about my needle phobia and after the nurse administrated the vaccine, she ran to grab a tape measure and explained that the raised lump the injection caused had to be at least 7mm. My lump, of course, had to be right on the cusp. The nurse asked whether I would mind if she did it again. I was like, Suuure, go ahead, I love being jabbed full of needles.
What a difference my second appointment was in comparison! Once again lying about my needle phobia (which, in my opinion, is improving – I think my problem lay in the fact that I forget to breathe during injections), I am led into a small clinical room. Immediately the nurse starts talking, asking me about my travel itinerary and vocalising every comment that popped into her head.
“So, you’re starting in Vietnam?”
“Right, right. And you’ll be in Laos?”
“No, we decided we didn’t have enough time.”
“Oh yes, yes. I remember you saying.”
We were discussing whether I should take anti-malarial tablets with me.
“And you’re only travelling through high-risk areas for a couple of days at a time. Well, not even for a couple days – you’re not exactly going to be walking!”
No, I am not going to walk from Bangkok to Siem Reap.
And then she gave me my second rabies jab.
“Yes, if you could slip your arm out of your top, that’ll be great. Oh and remember you need to get sassy.” I placed my arm on my hip. She then proceeded to sing stingy, stingy, stingeeeeeeeeeeeey as she gave the jab, because it obviously needed a commentary. “Oh, what a lovely full moon,” she comments on the lump, which was sufficiently big this time. Yippee.
Following the appointment, my mum and I went upstairs to browse the travel accessories and started talking to the brilliant sales assistant, Megan. Hailing from Australia, she has been travelling for seven years and she willingly let us pick her treasure trove of a brain for travel tips.
While showing us a backpack, Megan mentioned that the daypack had a handy pocket for water bladders. My mum looked intrigued and asked, “What’s that? Is it where you can pee?” Unperturbed by the question, Megan replied, “Uh no, it’s a bag to store water to drink. Surprisingly, we don’t sell catheters here”. Almost as if she were testing her, my mum then asked about feminine hygiene. Megan immediately recommended a menstrual cup (such as the brand, Moone Cup – so named because most women menstruate on the full moon), due to how practical, easy and eco-friendly they are. She even got one from the shop floor and illustrated how to insert it (“I find squatting makes it easier.” She added, “There’s a lot of squatting in Thailand”).
While Megan showed us the cup, I stood there with a backpack on, loaded with 8kg of weights. Eventually, I remembered to take it off (which Megan offers yet another tip about; before swinging it on/off your back, place it on your knee first), and bought it.
I’m starting from scratch with backpacking-style travelling, without owning so much as a pair of hiking boots. Therefore, when I came to look at backpacks, I became seriously overwhelmed. Online, I read that 60L was a good size backpack and with that knowledge, off we went to hunt for one. Now, both my mum and I are quite slight (mum being 4,11 and myself reaching 5,2), and being presented by a wall of beastly shells, so-called backpacks to normal folk, we were a little worried.
My mum tries one on first and it swamps her. I laugh and she promptly tells me that I’ll look just as ridiculous. I bet her it won’t and, trying it on, I pretend I’m a foot taller than I am. Mum suddenly grabs the straps and shakes me, shouting, “But is it mugger proof?” We attract the shop owner with our howls of hysteria and he stands over us like, “Who let these amateurs in”. He proceeded to recommend a 40L pack and baffled mum and I with his claim that people actually manage to fit months’ worth of clothes in such a tiny bag.
Nevertheless, enter Megan who cuts straight through our confusion by recommending a 55L Osprey bag, compact and unisex, that was perfect for me.
Further Megan tips included having a sarong with you (which you can soak before bed and lay it on top of you to cool down), showering with your clothes on (a time-saving laundry trick) and using citronella oil, mixed with a base oil like almond or coconut, as a natural mosquito repellent.
I’m no way near as organised as I should be, with only a month or so to go, but I’m getting there. It’s not easy, being in hard-core saver mode. The only person I’ve hung out with these past few months has been my mum (hence her presence throughout this entry), and I’ve often become lonely, but I’ve persevered. The thought of travelling, of meeting new people and exploring magical places, has pulled me through the slowest periods.
Some of my friends have full time jobs, with corresponding full-time partners. Some are still figuring out what they f**k they want to do. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you’ve decided to do it and that means not waiting around for the “right” time or for any one person. I’ve often been put down by other people asking me when I’m going to start society’s success ladder, such as getting a “proper” job, an apartment and a boyfriend. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m never going to fit reassuringly under society’s alleged success categories. This is a fact I’m proud of, because success to me means being physically and mentally strong and independent.