Returning home to South Africa after an action-packed 18 months of traveling around Europe and Asia, I can easily say that it’s been the most amazing 18 months of my life. The decision to pack up and leave initially wasn’t easy. In fact, making the choice up front was by far the hardest part, but once that decision was made everything else just seemed to fall into place. Life works like that.
Leaving day – May 2014
As I sit back in beloved South Africa, with all of its beauty (and it challenges) – I think back to some of the “fears” that held me back for so long before I made the choice to head out on what was supposed to be a six-month “holiday”.
1. Friends and family will think you’re weird.
For all of our lives, we are conditioned by social norms. Things that we believe are the “right way” of doing things. Where we should live, the job we should do, the type of person we should settle down with. Packing up your “important” possessions and going back-backing for six months, goes against the grain. It’s unconventional. Once I’d decided to travel there were a few people who, when I explained my plans to them, would say “That’s a wonderful idea”, while their face immediately gave away their not so convinced opinion on the choice I’d made.
Eighteen months later the same people say things like: “You’ve had the most inspirational experience” and “More people should do what you’ve done, and follow their heart”.
New friends watching the Tour de France in the French Alps
2. There’ll be a gap on your CV
Many people consider a break in employment or a “CV-gap” a problem when they one day return to the workplace to look for a job. While traveling I met people of various ages and from various backgrounds, from Wall Street traders to full-time hippies. Many of them had come from a corporate world and some had plans to return. As long-term travel becomes more common, people start to see the benefit and personal growth that come from visiting other parts of our planet, and meeting and experiencing other cultures. If I was in a position where I was required to employ someone and they explained that they had spent a few months traveling – they’d have a definite edge over their fellow candidates for the position.
Rock jumping tidal pools in the Philippines
In addition to the above, travel often gives perspective to other areas of your life: personal relationships your ideas around what is important and what you’d like to accomplish with your time on this planet. So while you may miss a few mornings of traffic, lengthy boardroom meetings, and your next performance appraisal – you might find that you learn quite a bit more about yourself.
Another bucket list item – Taj Mahal India
3. The world is a dangerous place
I come from a pretty dangerous country. I live in a city with some of the highest crime rates in the world, so this was something that I was expecting and didn’t concern me that much. What I wasn’t expecting was to find just how peaceful the places I traveled to really were.
When I left South Africa I had no plans to travel to India. “We have enough poverty and poor people in South Africa”, I thought. I ended up spending five months in India and is one of the best places I’ve been to. India has a population of about 1.2 billion and most of them living in absolute poverty. South Africa has poverty but it doesn’t compare to India. Despite this, not once did I ever feel unsafe in India. We walked through some of the poorest parts of the cities that we traveled to, through the slums and spent time with people who had nothing, and never once felt uneasy. The poorer the people, the more friendly they seemed to be.
One day in the Philippines after getting lost, we asked some locals for directions. We ended up chatting to them and they invited us into their house and insisted that we shared their food with them – despite them having very little. A phrase I heard on this trip – “a person’s happiness is inversely proportional to the size of their house”
4. Full time travel is expensive.
I am in a fortunate position where I have some investments in South Africa which pay me a modest return each month. I used this money along with some savings and some work along the way to fund the past 18 months. I have also learned some good travel hacks which make long-term travel more affordable than people think. (I’ll cover these in another post). Since being back home I’ve spent more money (without having to even pay rent) catching up with friends and family than I did while I was out on the road. You learn to live with only the things that you need and you spend money on experiences rather than on “things”. I often joked with people who asked about how I funded my travels – that I couldn’t afford to come home!
In India around this time last year, I organised a 4 bedroom house, which we rented near the beach. We stayed there for almost 2 months. Four of us each had our own room and bathroom and it cost us about $200 each per month. (A 2-hour yoga class with a proper Indian yogi was $3 per class)
Simple but sufficient – our house for 6 weeks in December 2014 (Varkala South India)
Creating a stir: An Indian Christmas – decided to surf in Santa outfits on Christmas day, it took us almost half an hour of photo taking with locals before we could get into the sea
In July this year I spent four months living in Thailand, my rent for my apartment in Chiang Mai was $100 per month (plus electricity), and scooter rental $80 per month. I spent more than my monthly bike rental on drinks with friends back in Johannesburg last Friday night!
The view from my bungalow in Ko Phangan Thailand where I spent 6 weeks – not bad for $330 per month.
5. You’ll get sick from the food
There isn’t enough space to list all the strange, different and amazing food I’ve eaten on my travels. All I’ll say is that from the basic but tasty BBQ street food in the Philippines, to the fresh and fragrant curries in the South of India and the rich and creamy curries the further north in India you go – to the outstanding selection on offer in Thailand – I haven’t gone hungry. (Despite what some friends and family think – I’ve lost about 10 kg since May last year).
Asia has some truly amazing food and all of it cheaper than you think it should cost. Fresh fish in Sri Lanka, Dhal Bhatt in Nepal, and exotic fruit in Thailand – experiencing food is one of the best parts of travel. Of the 16 countries I’ve been to, I’ve not worried about the location nor the food that I’ve eaten and I’ve been sick only once, and it might have been from too many beers. I’d probably have been sick from food more times if I’d stayed at home.
Amazingly fresh street food at the Sunday Night Market – Chiang Mai Thailand
Pad Thai – an awesome fried noodle dish – Thailand.
Raw and fresh spring rolls from a street food market in Pai Northern Thailand.
6. You won’t be able to communicate with local people
I speak 2 languages: English and Afrikaans, and neither of them very well. Afrikaans is very useful when traveling outside South Africa, if:
- you know another South African,
- if you’d like to say something that you don’t want locals to understand, and
- if the other South African can speak Afrikaans.
This meant I was down to one language. Fortunately for me, and you (if you’re able to make sense of the words on this page), the world speaks English. Yes, there were times when getting across exactly what you wanted wasn’t easy, as you spoke to someone who didn’t understand English, but sometimes that was half the fun – (aaaaah the Russian girl I met in Goa). People are intrinsically good-natured and want to help, even if their command of English isn’t 100%. And if you battle at times, end up in the wrong place or don’t get exactly what you ordered – hey, that’s all part of the experience.
If there are other reasons that you think you shouldn’t take a few months and go and explore somewhere that you’ve never been before reply to this email – I’d love to chat to you about my journey.