What stops you from travelling?

What stops you from travelling?

The only limits to travelling are the limits which we impose on ourselves.

travel broadens the mind

People have jobs, mortgages and  loans.  Children and dependents and a life.  Most people are more than happy with their lives but some feel a constant itch and a desire to see new places, and a few of those people throw up barriers to travel.

Yes, you need a certain amount of money to set off – but I have met people who have worked three jobs around the clock in order to get that money in the bank. I have met people who use their talents and skills to earn a living while on the road, whether it is by offering language lessons, making and selling artisan products or playing drums or guitars and busking in bars and in the streets

 

fundiing the trip

I know of families who are travelling with their children, and this, in my mind, is one of the best educations that you can give a child. I firmly believe that education is the key to raising a society out of poverty and ignorance and raising standards of health, but I do believe that too many of our children are forced to follow a curriculum which is irrelevant and contrived to keep them subdued and off the unemployment lists.

education is key

And you need good health. But I have met people who have been travelling whilst dealing with or recovering from some horrible illnesses, who have chronic conditions such as asthma, epilepsy or diabetes or who are in daily pain but they don’t allow that to stop them from getting out on the road.

 

I can’t remember who was already seated at the wooden table in the shady courtyard of the hostel in Cartagena, but I do remember that when I saw Mor I knew instantly that I would like her.

a leafy coutyard

We began chatting and I wasn’t disappointed. Mor was funny, kind and interesting. She was from Israel and I was really interested to find out about life in the Kibbutz system in Israel and the (almost, but not quite) compulsory military service.

We went out and about together for drinks and a meal and we also met up on the beach at Playa Blanca where we spent the evening chatting on the soft white sand with the Caribbean Sea rippling just a few feet away from us.

chatting on the beach

Mor was travelling with Tina and the two of them were a pair of the smiliest people that I have met. They had been travelling in South America and had gone to some really cool, out of the way places. Nothing unusual in that but what was unusual is that Mor is in a wheelchair and Tina is her enabler. But no way has Mor allowed that to stop her from getting around. She has to consider the logistics of her travel a little bit more than other people do but when we were out together I noticed people falling over themselves to accommodate her.

I like to think that this is because people don’t see the chair – they simply see the woman with her big smile and big blue eyes and then they are more than happy to lift her chair or move furniture around. She was so excited because she was due to go home in a few weeks and she would have a new, adapted car waiting for her and she would be able to get around her town a lot easier too.

Mor – smiling as always

Martin is from Britain and has epilepsy. I met him in Mindo while he was travelling through Ecuador but he is currently settled in Cusco where he is teaching English. However a few times Martin has woken to find himself in a foreign hospital where he has to attempt to explain his situation, but luckily he has always been helped to a place of safety by strangers when he is in trouble and unable to help himself.

I met Martin while watching humming birds

I also met Heather who is from the United States and who spoke no Spanish – she was also deaf and read peoples’ lips. How hard must that be when you are travelling and you come across people who have different accents and different languages. She didn’t speak terribly clearly herself and I had to concentrate to understand her speech – but she didn’t allow that to hamper her. She simply strode into any situation, turned on a massive smile and introduced herself. I last saw her heading out of the hostel at two in the morning with a group of girls on her way to the night clubs.

I asked Mor and Martin to tell me of any difficulties that they may have encountered and I asked them what drives them to travel.

Click here to find out what Mor has to say

and click here to find out how Martin is faring in Peru

So there you are. The views of just two travellers that I have met while out here in Latin America. And what I love is that they have both responded the same to the final question – JUST GO!

The next time that I wince as I struggle to pass my rucksack up onto the roof of a jeep or I battle to get my stuff in and out of a cab I will think of Mor.  Stumbling over a broken or sandy pavement is nothing compared to dragging a wheelchair across a beach. When I get frustrated because I can’t understand or make myself understood I will think of Heather who faces problems with communication every single day. When I can’t find a pharmacy to sell me something that I need I will remember Martin and his necessity to always have a supply of his drugs available.

I have always advocated that the only limits to travel are the limits which we impose on ourselves and I hope that the above article will convince you of that too.  And in the words of Mor and Martin – just get out there and go.

 

It’s Launch Day!

If you are reading this message then hopefully you have been diverted to my revamped website. It has a new title – Scarlet Jones Travels – which incorporates the journey and adventures of Scarlet Jones with a feast of new travel features and advice.

The beating heart of the site is still the blog but, given time, I intend to upload many new features and factsheets. Do have a nosey around the site and let me know what you think. You can either comment publically at the end of this blog post or send me your comments via the comment tab.

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Thank you for taking the time to follow me and I really hope that you enjoy Scarlet Jones Travels – www.scarletjonestravels.com as much as I am enjoying living it.

Reasons to Travel

early morning mist rises over the mountains

There are a lot of different types of traveller and I probably encountered most of them whilst I was on the backpacker circuit.  I am going to chat about backpackers here rather than the travellers who prefer to stay in AirBnBs or co-living spaces as they tend to be a different breed.

As there are different types of travellers there are of course many reasons for travelling and each traveller is out there and following their own different route and experiencing life in a very personal way.  The standard expectation is that most of the backpackers will have taken time out from college or university, taking a gap year (or two) and are they are galloping around as much of the world as they can, before heading back to where ever they call home and settling  down to study or start their working life.

There are the adventurers who often travel by motorbike, bicycle or who hitchhike and who push themselves to cover as much ground as they can whilst earning money by busking, fire juggling or working on farms. These are often hard core and they can be found bungee-jumping, parascending off the sides of volcanoes or mountain biking down the Death Road in Bolivia.

a wibbly wobbly ancient railway bridge in Colombia

Another subsection of backpackers are the people who want to learn while they travel, whether it is to learn how to salsa, how to cook, how to do a martial art, yoga or who want to to learn to speak a language.  Lessons are generally much cheaper in South America or South East Asia compared to Europe or the US and if you want to learn to salsa then where better than to learn in a country where even the three year old children appear to instinctively know the moves!

Then you have the potential ex-pats who are roaming around and hunting down suitable places where they can one day put down roots.   There are sub-groups within this pack which include those who simply want somewhere cheaper/hotter/cooler to retire to, and those who are beginning to resent the rat race or the economic or political situation in their home countries and who want to escape with their money and their sanity more or less intact whilst they are still able to.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that backpackers are all in under the age of twenty five and are only out to party every night either.  You will find people of all ages; some may finally have the time and/or money available compared to earlier in their lives and others, like the elderly man from Japan that I met in Malaysia, simply cannot afford a good quality of life in their home country compared to a life of slow travel on the road.

Some travellers, myself included, work whilst moving around, living a semi-nomadic lifestyle.  Some put down tentative roots whilst they volunteer for an NGO, teach a foreign language or work in hostels.  Others are write books or are travel bloggers.  There is a whole realm of work that can be done digitally and supporting websites are popping up all over the place, and more so now since the pandemic changed how the workplace can operate.  Writers, programmers and even virtual admin assistants are out there pitching for projects and working.  I even came across a lawyer from the US who worked remotely from a hostel room in Medellin.  Paypal and the new generation of online banks come into their own too as earnings are paid into bank accounts where they can easily be accessed via the ATMs in the local currencies.

I can’t count how many people that I met over the seven years whilst I was travelling, but it amazed me how few began their journey from a starting point of privilege or ease.  Maybe it was because I usually preferred to use backpacker hostels rather than staying in plush hotels but I met all sorts of people from all walks of life, many of whom were, like me, travelling with some sort of emotional baggage.  I met a lot of people who were recovering from broken relationships or bereavements or who were travelling and coping with issues such as social anxiety, depression or mental health issues.  Following my divorce, experiencing loss and with absolutely no belief in myself when I first set out I found comfort with and I could relate to so many who, rather than remain in the safety of their home communities had decided that the only way to thrive was to do something incredibly difficult and jump right outside of their comfort zone.

These were certainly not people who were running away (as I believed myself to be doing at this stage) but these were people who dug deep and found a strength and power within themselves so much more than many others would ever dream of doing.  Many of us were not simply travelling to fill in a gap year but we were travelling to find truth, freedom and knowledge.

My own journey would take me through more than fifty countries where I would experience some fabulous things, but my biggest takeaway of all was of self belief, acceptance and pride in my capabilities.

How did I keep busy whilst travelling?

700 plus steps but the view was worth every one

I wrote a travel blog but it wasn’t all wall-to-wall pleasure and fun.  Well, it was for me but it may not be the sort of pleasure and fun that you might welcome or enjoy.  In exchange for free or discounted accommodation and other benefits I wrote reports or included links on my blog.  I took these seriously and they could be very time consuming, so rather than doing touristy, interesting things, I may be found chained to a desk or a table somewhere.  Granted, I usually tried to find a table with a view or preferably a hammock, but I still needed to knuckle down and produce some quality (I hope) articles.

I also engaged with various kinds of volunteering work which tied me into a place and, shock horror, a timetable!  To date, I volunteered and worked for three months at SKIP in Peru where I was teaching English.  I have worked in a hostel on the beach in Ecuador, I lived with a family in Cali where we all learned about our different cultures (and I hope that I went some way to helping the daughter of the family who is at university to improve her English), and I spent five weeks working on a perma-culture farm and teaching English to children in the local school in the countryside close to Medellin.

…and this was the view!I supplemented my feeble attempts at learning Spanish with formal lessons when I could find them cheaply enough – and I have also took some salsa and yoga lessons, although apart from one dance lesson from an amazing professional dancer in Cali, these were all free of charge, given via other travellers in hostels.

And then I have to factor in the travelling.  Getting around in Latin America for instance is relatively easy with its amazing network of buses, BUT for me, at any rate, who is not fluent in the language, travel can sometimes be quite traumatic.  First you have to find the Terminal Terrestere – the bus station.  Then you have to identify which is the correct and the safest bus from a swarm of touts who yell and push you around, and who do their best to part you from your rucksack.  When you do choose your bus you generally get on and sit and wait whilst it fills up, and once it is finally underway the next problem is trying to work out where you are supposed to stop and get off.  Then there is always more trauma while you run the gauntlet of cabbies when the genuine and the scammers all look the same, dodge potential hi-jackers and find a hostel.

So why do I do it?

Even after you factor in the air fares you can live so much more cheaply outside of Western Europe or the US.  Money goes a long way and generally saved more than half of what I was spending to live day to day in the UK – which was just as well as because I wasn’t one of the lucky lottery winners.

sunset over the Pacific Ocean

I enjoyed my last job in the UK, but who wouldn’t choose to be their own boss and to work for themselves?  You can decide what projects to apply for and, contracts permitting, when to move on.  If you have a day with no deadlines you can weigh up whether to get a bus up into the mountains, laze around in a hammock chatting to other people or you can take yourself off to a coffee shop and watch the world go by.

I saw sights that I only ever dreamed of such as Machu Picchu and sights that I never even knew existed such as the Quilotoa crater lake.  I learnt a foreign language, I practised yoga at sunrise, I slept in mixed dorms and courtesy of some very kind hoteliers I stayed in some very nice hotels.

even with a storm looming, the world is a beautiful place

The distance from my home country was a double-edged sword.  On the one hand I missed my friends and family with a vengeance but on the other, the distance made my loss slightly less painful.  I didn’t set out to travel because I don’t care about those that are left behind, but sometimes when you have nowhere else to go you have to move forwards.  Every so often I would have a major melt down when I thought about my children and I would have loved to share my life and experiences with them; but the sheer scale of the continent and the totally different way of life, language and cultures, not to mention jaw-dropping spectacular landscapes enclosed me in a bubble that suspended reality and cocooned me.  It nurtured me and gave me strength and a determination to find peace.

I can’t count how many people that I met over the next seven years whilst I was travelling, but it still amazes me how few began their journey from a starting point of privilege or ease.  Maybe it was because I usually preferred to stay in backpacker hostels rather than plush hotels but I met all sorts of people from all walks of life and what really struck me was that so many were, like me, travelling with some sort of emotional baggage.  I met an unbelievable number of people who, rather than remain in the safety of their home communities were travelling and coping with social anxieties, low self confidence or emotional issues such as depression. These were not people who were running away (as I believed myself to be doing at this stage) but were people who dug deep and found strength and power within themselves to jump much further out of their comfort zone than so many others would ever dream of doing.  Many of us were not simply travelling to fill in a gap year but we were travelling to find truth, freedom and knowledge.

My own journey would take me to more than fifty countries where I would experience some fabulous things, but my biggest takeaway of all was of self belief, acceptance and pride in my capabilities.

I spent one year in South America and contrary to my original plan to return to the office, I continued to travel and live a nomadic life until the pandemic forced me to stop.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  I want to take you back to the very beginning, to the months before I caught that plane to Peru.

 

…moving on

As you read this I will hopefully be somewhere in the Andes on a little adventure with some of my friends from the NGO.

I can’t believe how quickly the last three months have gone working with the NGO.  Peru has got under my skin and whilst it would be so nice to stay here for a bit longer that would be the easy option and I have to leave soon.

My next port of call is Ecuador but not before the raucous madness of Carnival, Peruvian style.  Provided the expected route across the mountains goes smoothly you can look forward to finding out what this entails,  but I have heard that water and paint feature strongly.  I have my oldest, most hated pair of trousers with me for that day and the tee-shirt which has been in the swimming pool with me each week during Club Vacacional.

It was extremely hard to say goodbye to the children at the NGO who are all amazing but together with my co-teacher (Danish L) I had the most fantastic final day at the beach with the kids.

Future little gems for you to look forward to reading about will  include a full report on working for the NGO, the time I spoke French during a ceremony with the Peruvian Scouts, and of course my adventures during the next week.

There has been a small mix up concerning my onward travel plans, but all being well, in two weeks time I shall be writing to you from the beach in Ecuador.

 

 

 

Reflecting on 2013

What an amazing year 2013 has been.  I still wake up every morning with a big wide grin. I have had some low points and some scary moments but overall I am having the most marvelous adventure.

I made this happen.  I quit my job, I sold the majority of my possessions and I am currently living besides the Pacific.  I know that I am very lucky and I never forget that much of it is down to my fantastic friends who believed in me and who gave me the confidence to spread my wings. Click here to remind yourself of just how far I have come

I have slept in bunk beds and spent nights in mixed dorms in hostels.  I have slept in hotels, tents and even on a veranda under the stars in Cuba.

I have eaten alpaca, llama and guinea pig (cuy).  I have tasted pigs ears and pigs intestines in Spain, and I love raw fish (cebiche) and trout from Lake Titicaca

I have drunk pisco and mojitos and gallons of tinto de verano (summer wine), danced in the moonlight and taken trains, planes and automobiles in seven different countries.  Here is a very brief round-up of the previous twelve months.

January  

I welcomed in 2013 in Spain, drinking cava and eating my twelve grapes as is per the custom when the church bells strike midnight.

My New Year’s resolution was to not let another year pass by without making concrete plans for my future and booking my flight to Peru.  Little did I know at that stage what adventures were in store for me.

February

Milan Cathedral

Milan Cathedral

I went off to Milan with BF.   The weather was bitterly cold but we warmed up with Apero Spritzers and climbed the stairs up to the roof of the Cathedral.  We came home via the Ice Bar in London and to blizzards in Brighton where  I fell in love with its bohemian atmosphere and the maze of Lanes and the Independent Quarter.

March

Old American cars are everywhere

Old American cars are everywhere

…and I was off on my long-promised holiday to Cuba. What a fascinating county with some fascinating people.  I went on an Explore tour which was full-on but so much fun.  We trekked in the footsteps of Che Guevara and the Castro brothers, visited a tobacco farm and danced salsa until the early hours.  Me and my Scottish room-mate chased, and were chased by giant cockroaches, downed countless mojitos, and we rode through deserted streets on a bici-taxi whilst laughing hysterically most of the time.

April

April was a strange month as I went round and round in circles trying to decide what to do for the best.  To resign or not to resign?  Well we now know the result of that one but I spent the month in limbo.  I knew what I wanted to do, but how should I achieve it. There was the constant worry that I may actually not enjoy travelling once I left although that was never really going to happen was it!

May

This month it was up to London to see the Killers in concert at Wembley and we stayed in a quirky home in West London courtesy of AirBnB.  Decision made, I decided to quit my job and my home and pack up my life as I knew it.

June

If you are going to go to a music festival, then it makes sense to choose one in the sun.  The Optimus Alive festival in Lisbon had a great line up – the highlights for me were Of Monsters and Men, Kings of Leon and Green Day.  We travelled overland on sleeper trains – good training for the plethora of night buses that would be experienced later in the year and rattled around the narrow streets and alleys of Lisbon on the ancient trams.

Lisbon tram

Lisbon tram

July

Me and BF spent two weeks working on a farm in the Algarve, planting sweet potato and lettuce and swimming in the eco-pond, although neither of us quite plucked up enough courage to ‘shwim with ze nature’.  There was a quick dash back up to Lisbon and then I set off by myself again and went house sitting in the mountains – click to read what happened in Portugal

August

Another flight on the smallest little plane returned me back to Lisbon where I met up with family.  This turned into a bit of a gastronomic fest, visiting little back-street restaurants each evening and where I discovered a preference for strong, black coffee.  I  had a brief spell back in the UK and then I headed up to Kent for phase two of my summer adventure

September

Beautiful Toledo

Beautiful Toledo

Back over the Channel – this time to Northern France to take care of my seven golfers in their gite click here to read the blog entry.   I should finally confess that I didn’t do too much cooking and cleaning but I did learn how to play ‘Chase the Ace’.  I then travelled on south to Madrid where I lived with an amazing family for three weeks and met up with several friends who happened to be in the area.  I loved the old towns of Toledo and Sergovia and I was very soon darting around on the Madrid Metro like a local.

October

The Alhambra at dusk

The Alhambra at dusk

As the weather started to cool I dropped even further south to Estepona where I was thrilled to have been invited to attend the wedding of some friends in Gibraltar.   That was followed by a mini road trip around Granada which found me and my mate Coops yomping through the streets in the dark at stupid o’clock so that we could visit the Alhambra

November

After planning for what seemed like forever, I said my final goodbyes to my best friends and family and I got the main part of my adventure underway.  It didn’t begin too well as I spent the first night throwing up in my hotel at Heathrow but a twenty four hour journey eventually found me in South America.  After a few days in Lima relaxing and acclimatising I travelled up to the northern city of Trujillo where I would be working with an NGO for the next three months

December

After three weeks teaching English in the poorest district of El Porvenir, we had three weeks holiday when the schools broke up.  I crammed loads in during this time – I visited Arequipo, Cusco, and Puno in Peru and then I crossed the border to La Paz in Bolivia.  The highlight for me was walking into Machu Picchu at six thirty in the morning and exploring the ancient ruins just a couple of days before Christmas.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

2014

This New Year’s Eve was spent dodging fireworks on the beach at Copacabana in Bolivia, greeting 2014 with BF, a Chilean stand-up comedienne and a copyright lawyer and wondering what the hell the next twelve months will bring.

If the last twelve months are anything to go by, it is going to be an absolute blast.

Meeting People

Meeting people

There is an old folk story of which I am often reminded when I am travelling.  I’m sorry that I don’t know to whom it should be credited, but it goes something like this.

Once upon a time, in a land far away there lived a wise old king.  The king had twin sons but could only pass the crown to one of them.  One of the princes could be arrogant, haughty and rude and was always complaining about people.  The other prince couldn’t be more different.  He had lots of friends and he was always happy and content.

The king was not getting any younger and he soon had to make a decision about which prince should rule over his kingdom once he had died.  He called both princes to them and told them that he wanted them to each visit a distant land and find out what they could about the people there.  They were not to tell the people whom they met that they were princes and they were tasked to report back to the king and tell him what they had found when they returned.

The princes set off in different directions as instructed and were each gone for more than a year.  The arrogant prince was the first to return and the king asked him to describe what he had found.

‘The people of that land are so unfriendly,’ he said.  ‘They went out of their way to avoid me, and if I asked for directions I was usually sent along the wrong road.  They are rude and often charged me far more for my food and lodgings than they advertised outside the lodging houses.’

The king pondered upon this answer and then the happy prince returned a few weeks later.

‘I am sorry that I am late back father,’ the prince said, ‘but the people were very generous and kind to me.  I was often invited to live with people in their homes and the people are always laughing and smiling.  I was very happy to visit their land.’

Madrid Palace

Madrid Palace

‘I have decided who will rule when I have gone,’ he said and then proceeded to announce that he would pass his crown to the happy prince.

The members of his court all cheered as the happy prince was very popular among them. 

‘Father,’ said the arrogant prince, ‘please can you explain why you have chosen my brother over me?’

‘It is quite simple,’ replied the king. ‘Unbeknown to either of you, I sent you both to the same country to meet the same people.  Your experiences were very different but mirrored your own personalities.  When you are open and friendly, people will respond in the same way and will go out of their way to offer help but if you are suspicious or surly, people will close ranks and will avoid you.  I want the next king to be popular and to have the people on his side’.

The above tale is so true in any aspect of life but it is especially relevant while travelling.

I was waiting by the carousel at Madrid airport and I struck up a conversation with the young woman next to me.  In the twenty minutes or  sowhile waiting for our bags I learned that she worked in Madrid but wanted to go and travel around Australia and she was keen to learn about my imminent trip to South America.  Rather than part once we had collected our bags, we went together to the Metro where she explained about the ‘tourist tax’ which I would need to pay before I could exit the airport and she advised me to buy the better value multi-ticket.  We then travelled a couple of stops together on the underground, nattering and passing the time of day.

gateway to Toledo

gateway to Toledo

I was on one of those double-decker tourist buses in Toledo and began to comment on the views with the solo lady who was sat in front of me.  By the time that our tour had finished  we had agreed to wander around the town and take in a few more sights together and then share dinner together rather than dining alone.  We nipped inside a back entrance through the priests’ door into the St Tomo church where we took a (banned) sneaky photograph of a famous El Grecco painting which was hung behind the altar, and then, thanks to Kiwi (yep – the lady was from New Zealand) and it being her last night in Toledo, we were allowed to sneak into one of the synagogues for free as it was close to closing time rather than return the next day.

I once received an impromptu Arabic lesson from a passenger who was sat next to me on a flight and I have lost count of the number of times that strangers have gone out of their way to set me back on the right path or bus.  For a traveller I have an appalling sense of direction!

I have been allowed inside the gates of a cordoned off mosque in Jordan (the King was due to visit the following day) and invited behind the scenes in a restaurant to see an ancient relic after enthusing about the beauty of the place to the owner as I settled my bill.

as one with the crowd

as one with the crowd

There are dreadful stories of travellers who meet a sticky end and innumerable books on how to travel safe, but by being too cautious, stand-offish or aloof you run the risk of missing out on some incredible experiences.  It is wonderful to stand and photograph fabulous buildings or landscapes, but to be handed a baby to hold in India or to be invited into a family home in Cuba for a meal is better.  You can’t beat the human touch; – drinking the local firewater, getting pulled up on stage in a cabaret show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, or have an elderly lady proudly show off pictures of grandchildren whilst talking nineteen to the dozen at me in Spanish.  Standing and perusing the destination board at a bus station, laden down with my rucksack, two men with their own backpacks and carrying the long wooden walking sticks from their pilgrimage to the Camino de Santiago approached and just checked that I was all right.  Just because.

I am always aware of my possessions so that if I am approached and told that I have dropped something (as happened to me), I can confidently walk past the people who are hoping to pick my pockets and they will turn to another victim, but I am happy for people to join me at my table in a bar or a restaurant and share my space.  I will keep an eye on somebody’s possessions on a beach while they go for a swim and hope that they will do the same for me later in the day and I will often approach somebody and offer to take their photograph in front of a monument and then ask them to reciprocate the favour.

Maybe if I wasn’t so friendly I wouldn’t have a phone filling up with the email addresses and phone numbers of travellers, but hey, if I am ever stranded in the city of Medellin in Colombia, I may be very grateful that I met Marcela in Madrid.

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