Disconnecting in Morocco: Fez, Chefchaouen and Meknes

It’s almost a full year since my backpacking adventure in Southeast Asia came to an end, and I’ve just wrapped up another incredible 2017 trip. Actually, if I thought moving to the UK would significantly reduce my travelling opportunities, I’d have been wrong. This year I have been all around the globe, to Mexico, Australia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Croatia, Portugal and Morocco. YUP. And I still have Malawi to look forward to.

Working in the travel industry means I get to travel a fair bit. This year I was lucky enough to score some extra weeks overseas which were 100% circumstantial, but I was not complaining. That said, working on the road is not easy. I came back from 7 weeks in Oz and SEA and I was wiped. I got sick, and I crashed.

Luckily, I had a sneaky week in Morocco booked with my bestie and we headed out to Fez on a budget flight. I quickly picked up with the temperature and we had an awesome week. No emails, no pressure, no ties, just sunshine, tagine and the occasional donkey!

We landed in Fez and checked into our Riad in the medina in the middle of the night, waking up a few hours later to the mosque’s call to prayer. Getting out and exploring the tanneries and souks, interspersed with cups of peppermint tea, this was all the therapy I needed.

Chefchaouen, Morocco’s less well known ‘blue city’ was our next stop, just a 4 hour CTM bus ride north of Fez. I could have stayed there for days, in the amazing Riad ‘Dar Sababa’, relaxing on the roof terrace with a pot of peppermint tea and a book. YES PLEASE. Not to mention that GOATS CHEESE is a local treat, give it to me, every meal (that actually happened one day and I do not feel bad about it).

From there we took a bus to Souk Al Arbaa and the train south to Meknes where we enjoyed one last day of wandering. Morocco was so good for the heart and mind, with the soul food of tagines and cous cous (if you’re ever in Meknes, eat at Aisha’s, you won’t regret it), and only tea to drink, it was a detox, a break and everything I needed.

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5 months home: Understanding the importance of time

Time permeates every aspect of our lives. It has been an integral facet in my own determination of my success throughout the relocation back home. I judge myself on my ability to utilise time efficiently. I become anxious if I feel that I am wasting time or using it unproductively, and unnerved by the apparent portion of my life I dedicate to activities that are essential, but not of my own choosing.

I am however learning to comprehend the importance of my focus on time and how it impacts upon my happiness and feelings of self-worth. My perception of time is closely linked to my need for balance in different areas of my life. As such, I manipulate my office hours which are, thankfully, flexible, to maximise the output of my day. This is how I am adapting, and offers me what I need to meet my goals and feel successful.

I am also, by contrast, growing to understand that detracting my focus away from time is a good thing in some situations. On a sunny Sunday in the park I don’t need to feel concerned with how long I’ve been idling over my book. Instead here I need to live in the moment and feel content with the happiness and contentment it brings.

In a broader sense, by acknowledgement of time for adaptation and adjustment purpose is fostered. With every month that passes I am a little more settled, a little better prepared for the next challenge that life flings at me, and a little further from dreaming of the days that went before. This is a slow process that cannot be rushed, and time is central to its success.

When I apply this concept to my plans for the future it can be further escalated. My senses of progress and success are closely linked to one another. When I think about my dreams of independence and self-sufficiency, and I understand that I don’t need to achieve them tomorrow. I need to learn patience, to judge my progress in appropriate intervals and to set reasonably time-constrained goals. It’s OK to live as I am for a few years, so long as I am moving towards the upgraded version as I go.

It’s not how fast you get there, it’s that you are becoming closer that matters.

How I plan to fund my 2017 adventures!

As 2017 get’s off to a flying start (really, how is it March this week already?!), I’ve already managed to cram in a week in Mexico, and let me tell you, it was an excellent start. Aside from that, my current travel plans for this year will hopefully feature all or most of the following:

  • A weekend in Dubrovnik, Croatia with my Mum (booked for May)
  • A long-weekend in Lisbon, Portugal in early July with a friend who is visiting from Australia
  • A week on the beach (anywhere) with my bestie this summer
  • A week in Malawi visiting friends
  • Two weeks somewhere I have never been before on an adventure (current contenders for this are Peru, India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines)

I read a lot of things online where people are questioning how on earth anyone affords to spend every vacation day they have travelling overseas, but that’s pretty much my aim, and I get a good number of vacation days!! Here are a few of the things I am doing to achieve it:

  • I don’t have a car, and walk to work and around town all the time, so I save £200-300 a month, and I’m much healthier
  • I shop in low-cost supermarkets rather than buying brands (for most things)
  • I limit my personal shopping and treats like clothes and haircuts to what I really need and only a couple of things in a month
  • I make my lunch and take it with me to work rather than buying ready made food every day
  • I book flights on a credit card so that I can spread the cost over a couple of months salary, but I pay it off within 2 months so that I don’t pay  interest
  • I try not to waste things, I freeze extra food and make salads or pasta dishes with the veggies that need to be used from my fridge

It isn’t anything huge or life changing, I am not living on instant noodles or restricting my life completely. I don’t work five jobs or do any crazy gambling…I just look at what I have, and choose to prioritise travelling, and then I figure out how to cut down on what I spend. I’m always happier with a plane ticket waiting in my inbox after all!!

Vitamin Sea: Same beach, fresh perspective

After three months on the rollercoaster that is UK ‘adult’ life, it was time to get off and take a break (aka I had some vacation days to use by the end of March and I wasn’t planning to waste them). During my years abroad, I always tried to plan holidays to allow for time with family and friends, and to explore new places. This holiday presented a new type of opportunity, a chance to go back to one of my favourite places, hang out with old friends, and return to some of my favourite spots. The sceptical side of me questioned whether it is ever right to go back to something you loved so much at the time, but the logical part was drawn to such an obvious choice, to return to my old home in Playa del Carmen, Mexico whilst one of my best friends was still there.

It might not have been an opportunity for a new passport stamp, but this trip came , without predetermined pressures or goals. I did not spend the week trying to see as many new things as I could, pouring over a Lonely Planet and dashing from one activity to the next. Instead, I spent it catching up with as many old friends as time allowed. revisiting my favourite spots and, importantly, relaxing, something I didn’t do enough of the first time around.

It seems that I’ve found a place in my life for return vacations, serving a different purpose to new explorations. The same beach gave me a fresh perspective on where I was in my life, how much I had grown since I left that version of paradise, and what I was moving towards. Ideal at this stage of my ‘return to real adulthood’!

Vitamin sea is always good for the soul.

10 Travel Quotes to live by

“It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

Life lesson: Don’t become so focused on where you are going that you forget to enjoy the stages you took to get there. 

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

Be proud of where you have been and what you have overcome.

“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill

Quality over quantity – always.

“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey.” – Babs Hoffman

Don’t be perturbed by what might happen, it just as well may not.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller

Carpe diem.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch

But actually, if you don’t try, you’ll never know.

“I travel a lot; I hate having my life disrupted by routine.” – Caskie Stinnett

There is so much beauty in the indecision of freedom.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain

GO FOR IT – YES is usually the right answer.

“The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.” – Anna Quindlen

It doesn’t matter how you got here – your next move is what is important. 

33 Things I learned from 5 years living abroad

 

I spent five years living a life that previously would have been beyond my wildest dreams. Ghana, South Africa, Mexico and Cambodia were my bases but I made it to a further 15 countries in between. I worked in various capacities for volunteer abroad organisations and spent my free time travelling as much as my vacation allowance and bank balances would allow. Now I’m back in the UK I’m finally appreciating some of the many things those years taught me, like…

  1. All dreams are achievable (except for becoming a unicorn).
  2. How to open a can of food with a knife
  3. …and to always buy a can opener when you move into a new house.
  4. How to communicate non-verbally in a range of unusual situations (like when you need to buy soap from a market in Cambodia and no one in the vicinity speaks English).
  5. I am stronger than I think I am. I went ahead and tried out a lot of things that I wasn’t sure I was capable of, and succeeded at pretty much all of them. I was right to try, those opportunities lead to some of the most memorable experiences.
  6. I am also braver than I think; I never would have believed I would have had the guts to take the plunge and bungee jump off Victoria Falls…but I did.
  7. #5 and #6 taught me to say yes and challenge myself at every opportunity because you will always regret things you missed out on more than those you tried and didn’t enjoy.
  8. The depth of the friendship has absolutely nothing to do with its length.
  9. You need far less ‘stuff’ than you ever knew back home.
  10. How to cook ‘creatively’ with fewer ingredients, poorer facilities and less equipment.
  11. To say hello and thank you in 10 languages (these are after all the most important things to learn in a new place).
  12. Navigational skills (tip: when you leave your hostel to explore for the first time, always take note of which way you went, and maybe carry their business card, just to be safe).
  13. To eat (aka stomach) curry, or really anything spicy or unusual for breakfast (don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it, chilli comes a close second to caffeine for great ways to kick-start your brain in the morning).
  14. My way around the world’s most unusual and unsanitary bathrooms, and how to pee in the woods (or on the side of the highway when there’s nowhere else).
  15. That every now and then you just need a day off, with a movie and a plate of cheesey pasta, and that is perfectly OK.
  16. If you are travelling, take much less stuff than you think you need (that’s why hostels have laundry facilities) and leave room in your bag for souvenirs.
  17. If you’re moving to a new country, pay for excess baggage and take more than you think you need, because after 3 months you’ll just wind up having things sent over or buying extra’s because you’ve worn the same pair of shorts every day for the past 3 weeks.
  18. Put down your phone and speak to someone. You’ll get much more pleasure from the friends you meet as you travel than by reading about what everyone who isn’t there is doing on social media.
  19. Take lots of photos, they will become valuable memories.
  20. Document the small things that make you happy so you can remember them later: write a journal or a blog, keep tickets and receipts or Instagram memorable moments.
  21. You can buy soap and shampoo pretty much everywhere so stop carrying excess kilos in toiletries.
  22. Makeup will just melt off in the heat and make you spotty, give it up.
  23. Hair straighteners make you sweat, go natural.
  24. You will want to look nice from time to time, so you know, bring a nice dress to throw on once in a while.
  25. High heels…hahaha why bother. Flip flops are the god of shoes, unless you’re going somewhere cold.
  26. To research the weather before packing, no matter how many times people told me it would be cold in South Africa I only took two jumpers.
  27. Budgeting is important, but don’t limit your experiences to save money, there is a line – just try to find it.
  28. It’s OK to treat yourself every once in a while, whether that means a bottle of wine, your own room in a hostel, a nice dinner or an expensive ‘experience’, you don’t always have to justify it.
  29. Souvenirs will be great memories, don’t overload your backpack but do pick up a few of your favourite trinkets on the road.
  30. It’s all about the journey, not the destination – savour the small moments as they happen; dance, smile, connect.
  31. Go into the woods, or up a mountain, or to a remote island…get out of the hustle and bustle for a different kind of experience.
  32. Your trip = your choice. It’s OK to change direction, cut your time short or lengthen it, follow your heart and do what you want to- no one can make those decisions for you.
  33. Finally, go home. Not forever, not at any pre-designated intervals…but go home when you feel that the time is right, because the journey doesn’t actually have an end…it will continue for as long as you want it to.

Just the good, no bad, no ugly: Coming home, 2 months on

If I told you that I had been in the UK for 2 months, after spending 5 years and 2 months overseas, and you asked me ‘how’s it going?’, you might expect me to rattle on for hours about the weather, feeling tied down, the amazing things I was doing 1, 2, 3 and 4 years ago today… We spend too much time dwelling on what we had and what might have been, and not enough time appreciating our own decisions. There is no need for justification, but there is a need to celebrate the highs and be grateful for our circumstances. So here’s to the good, the reasons that I am glad I made this decision.

  1. I have the means to put my own needs first. This ties into the freedom that comes with having a less demanding job (of my time specifically), and the amenities that the UK holds, like supermarkets that stock a huge range of vegetables and a gym 5 minutes walk from my front door. 2017 is all about being healthy and healthy means happy.
  2. I am achieving the things I hoped to. Even just 2 months in I can see myself progressing towards my goals. These are not new aims, but things that were always sidelined by work or play. Life abroad is demanding of your time in so many ways, and I have no regrets for seizing (almost) all the opportunities that crossed my path, but they came at the expense of my time. For me, a huge goal for this year is to write as much as I can, and here we are, January 19 and I have already gotten articles published on 2 websites that I haven’t previously featured on.
  3. I enjoy work, but I have more separation with my home life as well. I am no longer living and working and socialising and everything with the people I know. I am suddenly finding that I can spend holidays with uni friends, weekends with family and vacation with travel buddies. That’s balance, and it’s good.
  4. I can travel to the places that have been lingering at the top of my bucket list for years. I am centrally located, less restricted by my financial situation and well located for Heathrow airport. It’s time to check off some of the long pursued, dream destinations.
  5. I have a home. I have a base that is not just a temporary rest stop but a permanent home, somewhere I plan to be for some time. I can lay down roots without questioning their worth and buy useful things like a can opener without wondering if it is worth it.
  6. I can see the future and all of its possibilities. Although I don’t know where I will end up or what path I will take, I can see a range of opportunities and I am so excited by my options.
  7. I can try all kinds of new things. I can take classes in the evening to develop my writing, my Spanish or practice yoga. I am in a place where there are so many things to try like trampolining dodgeball courts and ninja warrior classes, and I finally have the time and the resources to give some new things a go!

Coming Home: 6 weeks on

So my adventures ended, after a quick jaunt around Inle Lake, a trip on the road to Mandalay and a final feast at the Little Rangoon Teahouse in Yangon, I was on a plane to Bangkok, spent my last 4 hours in the amazing LubD Siam hostel and jetted back to Manchester via Helsinki (where it was snowy and I was in cropped leggings and a hoody).

After 5 years and 2 months of amazing adventures; 4 jobs on 3 continents and a total of 17 countries visited, I made the decision to move back to the UK ‘permanently’ in March of last year. It was a decision founded on a number of things, the need for stability, both financial and social, the need to focus on different aspects of my life and the desire to be closer to family and friends. Most importantly, I had so many goals which were overlooked because I was working long hours, didn’t have the means or simply, geographically, couldn’t fulfil them. I wanted to create a new life, with more focus on me and less focus on work, to spend a couple of years pursuing other goals to see where I would end up.

So I quit my job, the position that had failed to satisfy me through a lack of challenge and a weight of responsibility unmatched by the rewards. But I wasn’t ready to dive onto a plane to the UK, I travelled, in Cambodia with my Mum, and then through Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar, which you’ll know all about if you have read my blog before. During my adventures I was fortunate enough to secure a job in the UK ready for when I got home.

Coming back to the UK has been a learning curve all of it’s own, it is so long since I have lived here that I struggle with basic things like how to manage my utility bills or decipher all of the different broadband package options. It hasn’t been smooth sailing, I struggled to settle on a flat, although eventually ended up in a place I am comfortable, I drowned my new iPhone just weeks after getting it (although it fortunately made a full recovery), setting up a new place with limited funds hasn’t been easy either, but I am getting there now.

What’s next is the pursuit of those goals and dreams, the need to start realising elements of my dreams to make this choice worthwhile. As we enter 2017, I am in a new place, creating my own reality and no longer limited by the complexities of my work or environment. I enjoy my new job but I leave it in the office, and come home by 5pm to take time for me. I am excited about what lies ahead, and certain it will involve as many trips and adventures as possible along the way.

Kalaw to Inle Lake Trek: Blisters, Leeches and Laughter

The bus ride from Bagan to Kalaw was motivation enough to walk to my next destination (8 hours in a minibus that I wish to forget). I came to Kalaw only because it is the start point for the treks to Inle lake, otherwise, it is a fairly non-descriptive town. The trek featured pretty high on my Myanmar bucket list and wanting to maximise on the experience I opted for the 3 days, 2 nights option over the shorter 2days, 1 night. The rain that poured down as we arrived into Kalaw made me question my choices, but some things are simply uncontrollable, so I would just have to hope for the best – after all you are more likely to regret a missed opportunity than one ventured and failed, right?

I chose to do the trek with a company called Eversmile, which my friend had used recently and recommended, and it seemed most of the people from the hostel in Bagan had made the same choice so there were plenty of familiar faces as we waited to start at 8am the next morning. There were a lot of trekkers that day so the guides split us into smaller teams and somehow we ended up with 12 girls in our group, whom our guide Phyo, referred to as his ‘princesses’ for the next three days.

Things started positively on day one as we headed up the mountain in the dry, sunny weather past some incredible mountain vistas. Arriving at lunch early we felt positive about what was to come and tucked into delicious chapati’s and vegetable curry. We had been given the choice to walk either on the mountain road or through the jungle that morning and all opted to stick to the road to avoid the mud as far as we could. We later found out that the jungle also had a lot of green leeches that get inside your clothes by jumping from the trees and were thankful for our collective decision.

The afternoon brought rain which I think we all new was inevitable at some stage, and we walked in colourful ponchos with wet shoes feeling a little more somber but determined nonetheless. When we reached the railway, Phyo told us we would walk along the tracks for one hour, but to be careful as there were a lot of leeches (we hadn’t escaped them entirely), so we all moved so fast that we made it in just over 30 minutes with four leeches joining the team en-route (I’m still thankful that they missed me this time). Shoes checked and tea drank we moved on to our homestay for the night, a beautiful family home with amazing views, buffalo and pigs in the yard and a cute little boy strapped to his grandma’s back! My main motivation for joining the trek was to see the villages and this was exactly the type of experience I had hoped for.

Day two was set to be the most challenging, we left at 7:30am and walked for almost six hours before lunch and another three after. It was exhausting but the weather was kind to us and we passed through so many interesting villages seeing chilli’s drying, bamboo basket weaving, traditional bag weaving and more. The locals were friendly, smiling and returning our greetings of ‘Mingalabar’ as we passed. Each time we stopped for a rest Phyo got us tea and snacks to keep us moving and our meals in between were always delicious. At one stopping point I looked down to see a sneaky leech climbing through one of my shoe lace holes but fortunately got to it before it got to me – there are plenty of things to be aware of in the countryside, you always have to be on guard! After a long day we reached our second homestay, very similar to the first and just about 30 minutes before the rain set in. The conditions were basic with bucket showers, squat toilets and mats on the floor for sleeping, but we had all we needed and were enjoying it greatly!

Day two however had been hard on my feet as blisters started by the rain on day one had opened up and I was concerned about how I would manage the last day with raw heels. As we set out on the final day bright and early I found myself struggling, my shoes rubbing and my patience wearing thin. I stopped to try to bandage them up better and realised that the covers I had put had already rubbed away. Unsure that I could do another five hours I looked to Phyo for advice and he suggested I try to finish in my flip flops…so all that training on previous unplanned expeditions in flip flops finally came to use. I was so incredibly grateful to the other trekkers who helped to clean and cover my sores, and deliriously happy to find I felt no pain at all with the flip flops. So I was able to get to the end of the trek without further problems, leeches or injuries and much more comfortable!

Our three days took us through amazing places, mountains, villages, past buffalo ploughing fields, farmworkers growing rice and chillis, cows, pigs, chickens, interesting bugs, so much life and intrigue that I would never have seen if I had not been prepared to walk. I am so grateful to have had such a fantastic insight into rural Myanmar. The adventure ended with a boat trip across Inle Lake to the small town where I would spend the next couple of days. If you’re going to Myanmar, I highly recommend a trek as part of your trip – such an awesome way to see the country!

 

Bagan: Real life temple run

The theme of this portion of my travel seems to be rain and as I arrived in Bagan after an 8 hour bus ride to yet more of my despised travel companion, I prayed for a brighter tomorrow to allow me to get out and explore the temples.

Staying in the Ostello Bello hostel offered me a chance to connect with lots of other travellers staying in the area whom I would later find myself spending more of the trip with. The first evening was spend prepping for Halloween by carving pumpkins which offered a nice distraction from the downpour and a great way for everyone to get to know each other.

The following morning it was at least dry and I headed out with some of the other guests to see the temples. There are over 2000 temples in Bagan so really you can never see them all (unless you are very dedicated). What’s more interesting is that they are simply dispersed all over the place, so we were able to just stop whenever we wished to see something. It took us a while to get into the rhythm but after lunch the sun came out and we finally found a stupa which we could climb for panoramic views of the surrounds.

One day was not enough for me and I spent the next day continuing my exploration, feeling that I had seen much of what Bagan has to offer but hadn’t been completely templed out. On day two we also headed out onto the river for a beautiful sunset boat ride to appreciate the area even more.

Bagan delivers in a way you can’t describe, it is like a lost world and being so large, with (relatively) few tourists, you can find yourself almost entirely alone in certain parts. The temples are intersected with countryside and small towns as well, so you get to see more of the local culture as you explore.