Tag Archives: holiday

What To Do When You’re Too Poor To Travel

When people talk about taking a holiday, does it leave you feeling somewhat jealous? Inadequate? That you should be travelling and having amazing experiences in order to live a meaningful life?


Earlier this year I read an article on Wired.com where our obsession to escape into ‘authentic’ experience and travel aesthetic was highlighted through a fake Instagram account featuring Barbie as its protagonist. Wired called it ‘an endless barrage of pensive selfies in exotic locales, arty snapshots of coffee, and just the right filter on everything.’

But why, why, why? Who’s looking at this stuff? And who cares?

Many of us, apparently.

I want me some of that. Oh hang, on. Really? Now I feel silly. 

We gobble up ‘breathtaking photos of mountains and beaches,’ and long for ‘a day when we can just get away from it all,’ say Wired. We all want to escape our lives, it would seem.

Like 20% of UK families, according to children’s charity Barnados who say that the poorest families have a disposable weekly income of £39 (US$59/$AU80) where even a trip to the beach is considered a luxury.

Or like one of my blog’s readers who left the following comment on my 5 Benefits of Family Holidays post:

i cant afford holidays because im poor as fuck……

Clear and direct, it jolted me into researching and writing this post.

The privilege of budget travel

Here’s the thing: many of the world’s travel bloggers, myself included, might talk about budget travel and how if you work really hard and cut back on daily luxuries (think coffees, lunches out, drinks with friends) you will be able to see the world. How short term pain (think working long hours, skipping coffees and losing friends because you’re obsessed with saving) will only lead to long-term travel gain if you want it enough.

Ahem. Writing this down feels awkward and embarrassing because I know I have told myself, and probably others, this same script. It is, in part, how I managed to make it happen, but there’s more to it, of course.

The reality is that most the people spouting this rhetoric, myself included, have a set of privileges that need to be acknowledged: A solid education. Access to jobs and career paths. Sound health and mind, for the most part. Supportive social and professional networks who encourage us to be ambitious, search out our dreams and explore our talents.

In terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we’re talking highest-level stuff here. Self-actualisation. To not have to worry about all the basics like shelter and security, we are lucky. Very lucky.

In a recent article for xoJane.com, Keziyah Lewis supports the idea that luck plays a big factor and concludes by saying: ‘Budget travel writers may have worked hard to get where they are, but just like me, they’re also lucky. Ignoring this, and the financial circumstances that prevent people from seeing the world, is simply classist.’

‘Budget travel’ as a term is fairly problematic, in any case. It’s all so relative. The ‘budget travel’ discussed online is predominantly relative to ‘mostly white, middle class travel writers’, according to Lewis.

But let’s get back to the core issue: you can’t afford to holiday this year (or ever). Maybe you’ve never been abroad. Put plain and simply, you can’t afford to travel.

Is there really a choice?

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 1.36.36 pm

Change your mindset, says Nomadic Matt (Image from nomadic matt.com)

Nomadic Matt, a prolific travel blogger and budget travel advocate writes in his article How To Change The “I’m Too Poor To Travel” Mindset And Say Yes To Travel: ‘I’m too poor to travel” is a belief that causes many to lack the confidence to believe travel is possible.’ He effectively argues that – for a good handful of people – there is the choice.

And it’s a common argument: we all have the power to make choices in our lives that impact on our experience of life.

Whatever our income (or lack of) our lifestyle choices do determine to some extent our potential to travel. For example I’ve got friends on the dole who spend their income on internet, tobacco and weed. I’ve got friends in high-income roles who do exactly the same. Both could save money to travel if they truly desired.

Can desire, then, play a role in us reaching our goals to travel? Somewhat. It might kick start a process, but there’s no guarantee. Effectively, without money (and time), desire can be quashed as we are pushed into survival mode, which makes it impossible to imagine any other way of being. Travel appears to be something that other people do. Richer people.

So is there a way to become richer that can apply to all? Unlikely. Maybe there are things you can sell, things you can do in your spare time to earn extra cash rather than watch TV. Hell, sell your TV and cancel your cable plan. Cancel your internet service and go to the library instead. Switch your phone to pay-as-you-go. Prepare food at home. Find amazing deals and coupons and vouchers. Every little bit counts; it all adds up.

But maybe you work so damn hard ten hours a day that by the time you get home you’re too flogged to do anything but flake out in front of the TV.

The comment left on my blog made me realise that it’s too simple (and even insulting) to say that travel is just a mindset and that anyone can travel. Clearly not everyone can, at least not in the way that the media talks travel. (To be fair to Matt, he does acknowledge this in his blog post).

So maybe there’s a different way we can think about and approach travel?

Seeing things differently

One person who realised this was a retired aircraft engineer called Bahadur Chand Gupta who bought a decommissioned Airbus A300 and transformed it into a travel experience, The Flight to Nowhere. Charging up to a dollar for entry, Stuff.co.nz explains that it ‘offers people who might never be able to afford to get on a real flight the experience of being on a plane.’

Coming from a place of wanting to share the experience, this flips the whole travel thing on its head. Not only are people getting to enjoy a ‘flight experience’, they’re possibly getting a better – or at least more holistic and fun – flight experience than those people who actually use planes to get from A to B. It’s not the real thing, but it a real thing in its own right, an experience nonetheless.

And it shows the world we live in where a ‘travel experience’ is interchangeable with a ‘new experience’. Thanks also to the internet, we can now ‘see’ and ‘experience’ the world more readily than ever before, without ever leaving our sofa/home/country. Google Earth takes this a step further, in that we can virtually navigate through the streets of a totally new place, pull up at the driveway of a foreign friend and check out their neighbourhood.

But in amongst this mass of information is a whole lot of content curation. The photo you see is unlikely to be the only photo from that collection. It’s just the best one of many. Who’s going to post their worst photo(s)? Who wants to look at them?

Real travel vs. real travel?

A 'travel' photo that I took yesterday in my backyard in Australia. It was 1 of 13 photos that I took (and I didn't even see the bee until when I reviewed this picture).

A ‘travel’ photo that I took yesterday in my backyard in Australia. It was 1 of 13 photos that I took (and I didn’t even see the bee until afterwards until when I reviewed the pictures).

Does this then mean that the travel we think exists is actually a myth and we’re doomed to be disappointed by reality? In his book, The Art of Travel, philosopher Alain de Botton indicates that this may be too pessimistic, and that it ‘might be truer and more rewarding to suggest that it is primarily different’.

Advice across the board seems to be: Keep things in perspective when reading everyone’s amazing travel accounts, mine included. I have barely written about the nastier, grosser and sadder moments of my travels because most people won’t be interested. It doesn’t offer the same escapism as stories with glossy, beautiful backdrops. Keep the view that those pictures and videos too are but one account of that place, one glimpse of much more complex reality. We live in a real world, after all. It’s complex and multifaceted (and surely all the more beautiful for that?).

Darby Cisneros, the artist who created the satirical Barbie Instagram account (mentioned earlier in this post) has now pulled the plug on her experiment. She told Wired ‘I get it, it’s pretty to look at. But it’s so dishonest. Nobody actually lives like this.’

How can this help us? Whenever you feel like everyone else is doing all these incredible things and seeing all these special places because of all the fun, zen, wide angled pictures they’ve posted, realise it’s possibly a load of BS. Or at least a very constructed moment in time.

(The likelihood, anyway, is that during the BEST experiences of your life you will be too absorbed IN the moment to take a photo that does it justice. And it really doesn’t matter. What really matters is that YOU JUST HAD THE BEST EXPERIENCE, right?)

But there’s also the flipside that if you do want to go out and take some amazing photos of the world and your experience in it, do it. Why not? The world clearly craves well-constructed scenes of beauty, scenes that hint at a life of ‘what could be’, whether that’s through city excitement or the serenity of nature or whatever you damn well please. Someone will consume it.

And maybe if you spend some time and care taking photos of where you live and of elements that constitute your life, you’ll look back and realise that your life is beautiful in it’s own right. Landscapes, cityscapes, concrete graffitiscapes, they all have beauty and associated stories. Share them.

Take time out

Sometimes to see that beauty, though, you need to step back and take some time out.

I recall my ex’s mum telling me that ‘change is as good as a holiday’. It’s only really now, after what’s been a slog of a challenging year, that I’ve realised that maybe a holiday is as good as a change, and that some time out might actually mean you don’t have to change, whether that be your job, your life, whatever.

I’ve realised that a lot of the time all I really need is a break. I don’t need to do anything high-adrenaline like jumping out of an airplane, I don’t need to fly anywhere foreign or sit in a car for hours to get to a town up the coast, I don’t need to be hyper stimulated by new sights and sounds or handfuls of new people.

Travel doesn’t have to be about perfect beaches, neon city streaked frenzy or screaming markets stuffed with dried llama foetuses or dyed pink chicks for sale. It can be, but it certainly doesn’t have to be.

Could the answer be to think of travel as something a little more internal? Of giving your mind the space to appreciate where you’re at by taking a break from your busy life?

Travel local and staycate

If you’re craving more than just a break but a bus ticket to the next town is out of the question, maybe consider a full-blown staycation. At certain times of the year there’s an increased expectation to go away, but why?

Image borrowed from thewire.com

Image borrowed from thewire.com

In the last few weeks I have had four people ask me whether I’m going away for Christmas. I didn’t realise it was such ‘a thing’. Feeling slightly inadequate listening to other people’s plans to travel to Brazil, Europe and South East Asia, I’ve since decided to embrace the staycation. If other people come to this area for their holidays, why can’t I holiday here too? I’ll cut back my work hours, pull out my walking shoes and wander where I live. Yes, it helps that my current base is beautiful and exotic but my yearning right now is to (re)connect with this area and (re)discover why I settled here in the first place.

When people travel to your part of the world, what are the touristy things that they do? Where do they go? What are they capturing in their holiday photos? According to life coach Charlene Tops, all too often we forget about what’s on our own doorstep. Her suggestion is to ‘observe the area you are living in with fresh eyes just like an outsider would do. It’s amazing how different we view our surroundings when we look at them as though we have never seen them before.’

Is there a way that you can afford a few days off work to do what you love to do in your locality? Or try out a few touristy things? Walks, waterfalls, museums and art galleries, among other things, are often free.

Volunteer travel

If it still doesn’t feel different enough from your normal life, there’s one further recommendation I have for when times are tight but where you still yearn for that jolt to your routine that travel so beautifully provides. Volunteering.

I remember looking for volunteering options before travelling to South America and being shocked that many of companies I came across were asking me to pay!

Without going into any longwinded detail about why these companies ask you to pay to volunteer your time and expertise, I do now have a basic understanding of the funding that’s needed to run some voluntary organisations, and also how these particular organisations can offer a ‘safe’ first volunteering experience. But, still. Coming from a family where my parents have spent their entire working lives volunteering full time, I’ve seen first hand the value and impact of people being generous with their time and energy. Money doesn’t always have to come into the equation.

So I’m not talking about the type of volunteering where you have to pay for the privilege. I’m talking about opportunities that allow you to exchange your time for meaningful service and experience. In terms of travel this means connecting with new people, places and ways of life.

Two organisations that I’ve tried and tested and would recommend exploring are HelpX and World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).

Both organisations have worldwide presence. Wherever you’re based, there’s a good opportunity to get involved.

Do it your way

The more I explore this topic, the more it seems to come back to the following: Forget feeling like you should be doing anything, or that amazing experiences and personal growth are only gained by long distance travel. Don’t buy into the belief that you have to see the world in order to live a meaningful life.

Travel, like everything else, comes in all shapes and sizes. Don’t go judging on it this holiday season.


Wishing you all some amazing adventures this festive season, whether they be abroad, in your backyard or in your brain. I’d love to connect, hear your stories and see some holiday season photos in the comments below. That way we can all travel without leaving our homes after all. 

And if you’ve found some value in this post, please share. I’d love to reach out to people who might find this of benefit. Thanks! 😃

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What’s in my backpack?

www.travelola.orgPEOPLE HAVE ASKED ME ABOUT a post that I wrote a little while back where I downsized my backpack from an 80 litre to a 45 litre bundle of joy.

How did I do it? What am I carrying?

I wasn’t totally sure so one day in Sucre I laid it all out and took stock. I had bought a couple of extra things, but it still surprised me: it looked like a lot.

  1. Wash bag. This tough bag by North Face is waterproof but although it holds things in snugly, I find it a bit awkward to use on a daily basis.
  2. First aid kit. Everything from antibiotics to anti-malarials and antiseptics. Anti-everything, then. Oh, and some vitamins, plasters/band-aids and a thermometer.
  3. Second wash bag. Yes. Two washbags. Excessive. This one contains items that I don’t use often, such as anti-mosquito spray, make-up for nights out, spare razor blades, that kind of stuff.
  4. Electronics pouch containing chargers and cables. And a converter that works EVERYWHERE.
  5. Sun hat. My third one in the last year. The Inca Jungle Trail claimed one, a bus in Ecuador another. I get sunstroke and sunburnt fairly easily so head protection is a must.
  6. Merino buff®. This works out to be a scarf, hat, muff or whatever you want it to be. I barely used this but it is small, light and has been a blessing during some chilly moments, like in Cuenca.
  7. Zip up tops x3. One hooded fleece, one lightweight base layer and one heavier, lined hoodie.
  8. A RAB down jacket that folds down into its own pocket, and a raincoat. The raincoat was used fairly regularly, and although it took a month and half before I needed some extra warmth, the down jacket was a beautiful cuddle when I visited the glacier in Peru.
  9. Travel towel.  A little bigger than I needed; smaller would have been fine.
  10. Pants/undies/bra x10. There is no point skimping on underwear, I realised, so I stocked up in New Zealand.
  11. Legwarmers x2. Some Bolivian additions that are well loved in the chilly climate.
  12. Socks x4. One thicker pair for walking, the rest cotton. Other than when I went on hikes or travelled in Bolivia, for most of my travels my socks stay have stayed buried at the bottom of my bag.
  13. Eye-mask. Nothing exotic, just a freebie from the airplane but I wouldn’t travel without. Totally useful in hostels or when on overnight public transport.
  14. Shorts x 3. One longer pair, one roll-up, and one short. Two pairs would suffice.
  15. Jeans, combats and zip-off synthetic walking trousers. People say not to travel with jeans. Well I like them, so tough (and I have to carry my bag so I only have to face myself on that one really). I did downsize from proper jeans to skinny legs to save on a bit of space, but actually these are less versatile and only worn in cities or on nights out.
  16. Silk sleeping bag liner. I’ve used this less than I expected but the moments when I need some extra warmth or an extra layer between me and the bed bugs, it is great.
  17. Skirts x 2 and one dress. My skirts are all casual but absolutely adaptable for when I need to glam up a little.
  18. Black leggings and PJs. When I got to Oz I downsized my PJs to a shorty set to save on space. The leggings are great worn under trousers or with a skirt when it is cold.
  19. T-shirts x4: black, blue, yellow and white patterned. Versatile. Nothing fancy.
  20. Belt. Not always needed but was still worth having, either to hold my trousers up when I lost weight after my parasite incident back in Ecuador, or to open bottles with the built in opener (something I only discovered en route).
  21. Bikini. I did start my trip with two bikinis but my favourite set got left behind on a washing line in Raglan, New Zealand. One bikini, realistically, was enough.
  22. Long sleeved t-shirts x5. Mostly in plain, light cotton ideal for layering, these are adaptable to smart or casual situations. One of my favourites for that extra snug hug is my Howies’ merino top (although it has been so well worn that it is now pretty holey. Want to send me a new one, guys?!).
  23. Vest tops x 7. It may sound like too many, but I do use them all. Pretty much. And they don’t take up much space at all. Two of the seven were more going out style tops.
  24. Teva hiking sandals. Brown leather, these can come across fairly smart when I need them to whilst still being totally practical and cushioned comfortable.
  25. Salomon hiking shoes. Dark brown colour is perfect for making these not stand out too much or show the dirt too obviously. These are my go-everywhere shoes that are comfy, have good grip and are Goretex® waterproofed. The only downside is that in some countries I’ve found them to be a little too hot.
  26. Converse casual shoes. I didn’t have a pair of ‘hang-out’ shoes and didn’t intend to get any either as my trainers had doubled up fine for this purpose… but then in Bolivia I decided to buy myself a cheap pair of Converses. Probably fake but they fit and do the job.
  27. Flat, strappy sandals. Super light, these barely take up any space at all. After a backpacker in New Zealand lent me some sandals for a night out, I decided to go girly and get in on the action. And these sandals have actually been well used.
  28. Flip flops. I travelled for six months with just one pair but when I got to Brazil, home of the Havaianas, I couldn’t leave without another! Totally useful, including when using communal showers.
  29. Head torch. Most used item in my backpack, maybe? I keep this close at night and pack it at the top of my bag so that when arriving, for example, into a power cut Villa Serrano late at night, I can still find my way.

It is a lot, yet somehow it all fits into my 45 litre Berghaus backpack. Sure, it’s a bit of a squash but it weighs in at 15kg and is a doddle to carry around. I guess I should mention that I use some roll down vacuum bags. They’re great for packing things down small and keeping similar things together.

And! – I carry a little day pack with my sunglasses, wallet, water, pen, paper, and other valuables that I want close by, including a fake wallet with some old cards and a bit of cash so that if I get mugged, I can hand over something without losing everything. I always carry a photocopy of my passport (in each wallet) and I’ve found laminating them to be really helpful (compared to other travellers’ tatty bits of paper that means they often have to still produce real identification, my copied ID often  gets me past official  check points without any bother).

Looking at the above picture, I realise that I could quite easily prune my luggage a lot further but there does come a point where it’s quite nice having SOME choice.

So, if YOU’RE heading off soon and thinking of throwing in hair straighteners and high heels, just stop for a moment and think about the kind of travelling that you’ll be doing. A weekend in Paris? Maybe. A month trekking and roughing it? Nah. The tousled, flip flopped look will work just fine. Trust me.

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Filed under australia, bolivia, brazil, new zealand, oceania, peru, random, solo travel, south america, travel

Taking a holiday in Arequipa

Most travellers go to Arequipa for the Colca Canyon Trek or the Santa Catalina convent. I did as many Peruvians do and went for a one week holiday. I wanted to hang out with a friend, to get over a bad belly and just relax.

My stay in Arequipa started badly with yet another tired hostel decision resulting in a damp, dingy room in an otherwise empty place. Situated in the desirable area of Yanahuara on a beautiful, tree lined road across from the bridge – Puente Grau – it had so much potential, but inside it was tired and in the midst of a load of building work (a disadvantage of travelling in low season is that hostels do their upgrades during this time so wires and cables and bricks lying around the place shouldn’t come as a surprise).

The next hostel, Bothy Hostel, was closer into town with clean dorm beds starting at S/.18 (£4.31). It was much more of a traditional hostel setup, one which I can imagine in high season is a crowded mass of travelling bodies and flirtation with its schedule of party activities and drink deals. In late November, however, it was nicely populated, enough to be social without the mess. And quiz night and all the other daily activities? Forget it. Nothing to be had in low season. But I truly didn’t mind spending lazy evenings swinging in a hammock on the roof terrace watching the sun set through the haze over the surrounding volcanos. It was more than enough to satisfy my lethargy.

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Views from the roof terrace, Bothy Hostel, Arequipa

Arequipa, the ‘White City’, feels like a big place and it is: the second largest city in Peru (after Lima) with over 800,000 inhabitants. In terms of infrastructure, to my untrained eye, it appears to be somewhere between Lima and Cusco, obviously a city with big roads and high buildings and shopping malls but mixed with some appealing, cultural elements alongside a little bit of rough.

The central area is clean and appealing, two main roads – Santa Catalina and San Francisco – leading up off the main plaza, both streets with appealing architecture and visual pleasantness. Archways into houses spread out into cute little internal courtyards decorated with flowers and colourful paint jobs. These little pockets of prettiness are everywhere. Arequipa, it would seem, works on multi-levels of beauty; look beyond the obvious and it reveals itself to you.

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Arequipa archways

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Santa Catalina street, Arequipa

Up at the top of San Francisco street is the Plaza San Francisco, a small affair where people sit on the steps in the shadows of the Iglesia San Francisco, seemingly just lounging, little other purpose or rush. I did the same, kicking off my shoes and having a drink. A group of young guys walked by and pointed at my feet and wafted their faces, grinning cheekily. (I know I’m travelling but on the subject of hygiene, I’ve found keeping my clothes clean is not that big a deal in South America with plenty of opportunities to get laundry washed and dried for under £1 per kilo).

Plaza de Armas is the busiest of any plazas and parks that I’ve seen in Peru or Ecuador. Heaving with people of all ages at most points of the day, I wish you good luck trying to find a spare bench. Pigeons and people crowd the central area, businessmen take time to catch up on the day’s news whilst getting their shoes buffed and polished, and tourists and kids enjoy generous dollops of rich, tasty ice-cream from nearby Artika and Ice Palace.

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Plaza de Armas, Arequipa

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Catedral de Arequipa

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Social time and shoe shine

I walked south and east of the plaza, down Peru passed scores of little shops spilling out onto the street until I reached San Camillo and the local indoor market with sections for fresh juices and meats and household goods and more. Cats slept cuddled in sacks of pet food, traders scooped out ample servings of caramelised peanuts and police patrolled the perimeters of what is known as a prime spot for thieving. There was very little at the market in terms of artisanal goods, in short, this isn’t a tourists market (there are a few shops around Plaza del Armas and along San Francisco and Santa Catalina that offer the typical Peru t-shirts and llama chullos – woolly hats with ear flaps – and ponchos and postcards).

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Cats having a cuddle and snooze

 

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The start of the juice bars

 

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Fresh(ish) fruit ready for juicing

I discovered a penchant for pedestrianised streets and Arequipa centre boasts two lovely options for lazy strolls. Simon Bolivar runs from up by Puente Grau and right down until it merges with Sucre and reaches Iglesia La Merced. Benches and shops and eateries are scattered along the street but nothing is of significant interest. It is quiet, save for when the school children spill out of the colegio and attempt to practise their English on you. The second area dedicated to those on foot is Mercaderes off of San Francisco and Jerusalen. Much shorter and busier with posher shops and chocolatiers, it was the atmosphere that I enjoyed as people strolled arm in arm and window shopped.

So other than wandering around pretty streets and eating ice-cream and hanging in the parks and plazas and watching the world’s population of Beatles drive by, what else did this lazy holiday entail? I feel a bit of a backpacker travel cheat admitting it, but I also spent time roaming the malls up in Real Plaza and Saga Fallabella up in Yanahuara, and working my way through giant servings of popcorn whilst watching some truly terrible movies. Yes, this could be done in any large city in the world, it’s not a unique travel experience. The way people bought their tickets and watched the film was, well, as expected. Why wouldn’t it be?

It was a ‘break-from-travelling’ trip, a week of passively engaging with the high and low culture of the place,  and a chance to psyche myself up for the long journey back to Ecuador. Arequipa as a place to visit? Absolutely. In terms of activities? No idea.

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Filed under culture, food & drink, peru, places to stay, south america