Getting to Know Me: a Retrospective

Last month when I arrived in Medellin to attempt to be a journalist, I knew my life was about to get busy.

What I hadn't expected was having less than six hours of time to myself per day: six hours that involved getting the bus home from the office, taking clothes to the laundry, buying food, cooking, and eventually passing out before midnight.

So while I get a bit more used to my life here in Colombia, I've decided to use the extremely well-timed 30 Days of Indie Travel Project from Boots N All to keep up with posts on this site for the next month.

Hopefully, by the time May rolls around, I'll be back on track with writing my usual heartfelt articles about lost Doritos and arguments conducted entirely in Spanish.

Hard at work to perfect my Spanish arguing techniques...

The challenge is simple: daily prompts about travelling to make you inspired to create in some way. Sadly I don't have nearly enough time to write a daily post so I'm taking a leaf out of fellow blogger Candice's book blog and doing a weekly round up.

Prompt #1: How has your view of the world changed because of travel?

I can't remember what opinions I held about the world before I started travelling. I know that I wasn't that well versed in geography or politics or the rights of various minority groups. I had no knowledge on the conflicts or movements that had shaped entire countries beyond the ones we studied at school: predominantly things to do with England, now I think about it.

I find now that travelling unequivocally gives me a connection to the places I go. When I hear news reports of women being abused in India it means something more specific, because I travelled there by myself as a woman and know what kind of unwarranted attention may have precipitated those incidents. After wandering through the markets in Damascus in 2008, the atrocities that began ravaging Syria just 3 years later were overtly potent: I'd talked to and spent time with those people whose lives were now being destroyed.

A market stall in Damascus, Syria

I think travelling has opened my eyes to the world in its entirety – to every facet imaginable and more. Who would have thought I'd feel so connected to genres of Icelandic music, Nepalese and Lithuanian orphans, the Thai education system, women's rights in India, and Colombian politics (just to name a few) before I first started to travel?

Prompt #2: your travel origins

I grew up in a very dramatic family. My dad was a director and my mum was an actress – both worked almost exclusively on the stage, and were totally absorbed by the theatrical world for a large majority of their lives, not having me until they were in their forties. They even met when my dad was directing my mum in a play – although he was engaged at the time so nothing happened. Scandalous.

The point is, my parents both lived a nomadic lifestyle – even if there wasn't international travel involved the whole time. Working in repertory theatre in the 1970s meant anything from a few months to a year in one city's theatre with one company doing a few different plays, until the run was over and everyone went on to their next jobs. The promise of better roles were the primary focus, despite being in a myriad of different locations – all over England at first, then into Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

My family in Normandy, France, when I was about 4.

My mum went on tour to Indonesia with a theatre company a few times when I was a baby; finding it difficult to be away from her newly formed family, she eventually took a back seat from it. Although she still managed to litter our house with carved wooden masks and marionette puppets.

My dad directed plays in Athens and Tokyo before I hit double figures; I clambered over the Acropolis in nothing but a pair of shorts at age 5 and devoured as much sushi as I possibly could in a Tokyo Disneyland T-shirt aged 8 – much to the delight of various Japanese businessmen, who bought me 'hot and cold icecream' as a gesture of goodwill.

To put it simply? My parents instilled a sense of adventure and exploration in me from childhood. They made me aware that travelling was something that went along with living; with jobs, with families, with passions. My parents are absolutely the reason that I travel.

Prompt #3: your travel style

The first real travelling I did was InterRailing through Western Europe for a month with my two best friends. We were as over eager as you'd expect three eighteen year olds to be: catching the ferry to Holland the day after school finished for good, and spending the next four weeks racing through five countries, sitting on the floor of train vestibules because the InterRail ticket didn't reserve you a real seat.

Riding the rails in Europe

I've never been quite so budget conscious as I was on that trip. We barely ever ate out: despite visiting countries renowned for their food, we bought tinned fish and boxes of crackers, loaded up on more fruit than we could carry at local markets, and occasionally splurged on an icecream in a park after visiting a free entry museum.

We barely ever slept longer than two nights in the same bed; hitting nine cities in thirty days required a constant sense of movement. So much so that I barely remember what we did each day.

I remember the trains, though. So many trains.

That trip was incredible, but I've always tried to veer away from the way we did it stylistically. Nowadays I take the time to get to know a location before I travel onwards: otherwise it almost feels pointless to have gone there. I don't stick to one kind of accommodation – I love roughing it in hostels or hammocks, but posh hotels never go amiss once in a while – and depending on the place or my mood, I can spend three days reading, writing and sleeping or find myself hiking into a canyon and out again.

Prompt #4: overland travel

In South America, the transport system is all about buses. In India, the vast majority of my journeys were on trains. I've had issues with both kinds of transport – particularly in Bolivia, when I was pretty certain I was going to die on just about every bus – but one of my worst ever overland journeys to date was in Europe.

On a bus ride from Bosnia to Kosovo in 2007, the back wheel of the bus inexplicably blew up. Me and the friend I was travelling with were, of course, sitting on the back row of seats; we felt the thing blow directly underneath us, looked out of the window to the billowing smoke, and immediately thought a bomb had gone off. Although it had been years since any direct action between Bosnia and Kosovo, we were too unsure what on earth was going on so immediately decided to forget visiting Kosovo and head straight for our friend's place in Belgrade, Serbia.

There was a problem, however. The bus had stopped in a tiny Serbian village, a few hours from the border. We only had Bosnian currency in our wallets and a piece of paper with our friend's phone number scribbled on it, and it was getting close to a very sweaty midday with no fixed bus in sight. Eventually we begged a call on an old Serbian woman's mobile phone, called our friend and had the woman explain to him where on earth we were and how to get to Belgrade.

Lesson learned: get currency for your next country as soon as you can, and have a vague backup plan in mind in case your bus blows up.

Prompt #5: What else, besides travel, are you passionate about?

Spending the last few weeks writing a personal statement for a masters application (see, told you I was busy..!) has made me really think about the other aspects of my life that I'm proud of.

Stuck in a cave yet amazingly not panicking!

Travelling is obviously a fundamental part of who I am, and being a writer is largely how I present my identity, but over the last year in South America I've revived some other passions too. I've become somewhat obsessed with furthering my Spanish; undertaken some of the most bizarre volunteer projects; challenged myself repeatedly with hikes and climbs and caves I thought I'd never be able to face; and just recently realised that I really want to study writing and literature again.

When you're travelling so much, it's easy to focus solely on your trip and forget that there are a multitude of other things that make up your personality. Lucky I made some resolutions this year to explore more of those avenues…

Prompt #6: saving money for long-term travel

The money situation when related to travel is a difficult one for me. I get a lot of emails from readers who want to know how I budget for such long term travel – particularly when I volunteer so much, which clearly doesn't pay.

The short answer is that less than a year after my mum died, my maternal grandma also passed away. She left a substantial amount of money in her will which should have passed to my mum, but because she was no longer alive it went down the bloodline to me instead.

That said, I'm still hugely concious of how much I spend. When I'm travelling, I always look for the best deals on accommodation; eat local food and shop in markets so I can cook; and I tend to stay in one place for quite a while to cut down on transport costs. I also pick up freelance writing work from time to time, which makes me feel like my travels are influencing writing that in turn pays for more travel.

A complicated circle, sure, but one I'm very happy to keep turning through.

Prompt #7: packing

I might travel a hell of a lot, but I'm also a hoarder who makes emotional attachments to the things I own. To that end, whatever starts off in my backback is going to find it difficult to get out again unless it's lost, stolen or totally destroyed – so I have to be really careful when setting off for a trip.

Packing for South America was particularly difficult because the first thing I did was live in Ecuador for six months. And my wardrobe duly expanded throughout that time. Once I left, I had to downsize my possessions and start all over again – which is probably why I haven't written a “What to Pack for South America” post yet…

Over the years, though, I've learned some home truths that I now stick to.

  • Pack clothes you'd wear at home. If that's jeans, a collection of vest tops, a favourite pair of denim shorts, do it. Don't take clothes you're 'about to throw away so they'll be useful for travelling' because you will absolutely hate taking that horrible jumper out of your bag and putting it on.
  • Allow yourself the luxuries. If you know your hair doesn't cope well in humidity, pack those £10 mini straighteners from Boots and don't guilt trip yourself into not being a 'real' traveller with them. Hair is important!
  • Black leggings are probably the most multi-functional item I have ever packed. Find other things that serve more than one purpose and you'll be very excited when you've run out of outfit ideas.
  • Shoes are the most important thing to get right. Comfort, durability, weight, waterproof-ness: all are key. And you don't want too many pairs, either, so think it through way before you leave and wear in those new hiking boots BEFORE attempting a four day Machu Picchu trek.
  • Actually, screw the shoes: medical stuff is the most important aspect of my packing. After too many illness-related situations when abroad, I've realised it's fundamental to make provisions for the particular ailments you know you suffer from, and buy any medicines before you leave your home country. Ladies susceptible to thrush, I'm looking at you. There's nothing like a familiar Canasten pill when… well, you know.

#indie30: a continuation

The 30 Days of Indie Travel Project has another three weeks to go, and I'm planning on doing three more roundups at the end of each week. Hopefully it'll be a good platform to re-evaluate some of the things I do and think about when I travel.

At the very least it'll help me out with ideas of what to write while I'm getting used to penning articles about Colombia in an office in Medellin. Till next week..!

The 30 Days of Indie Travel Art Project runs throughout April with a different theme each week. If you want to sign up, visit Boots N All's info page about the project and tag your posts on Facebook andTwitter with #indie30.

About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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2 Responses to Getting to Know Me: a Retrospective

  1. Ria April 27, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

    The volunteer work you do is incredible, especially as it’s obvious you do it because you care, and want to help, as opposed to doing it just to say you have. Black leggings, always!!

    • Flora April 30, 2014 at 11:24 pm #

      Thanks so much Ria, I’m so glad my volunteering intentions come across 🙂

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