Staying healthy while travelling.

Staying healthy while travelling.

Solo travel can be difficult whether it’s working out how to use a squat toilet complete with a full backpack or wandering into the dodgy side of town because your map was upside down. 


Your mental health and travel

 

Coping with stress, loneliness, anxiety or mental health problems can be extremely challenging however you shouldn’t let this stop you from heading out into the world.

I have gathered together some stories from fellow bloggers who want to share some of their ideas with you and which will show you that staying mentally healthy while travelling needn’t be too complicated or difficult.

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Overcoming negative thinking

One of the main worries that many travellers have before they even book a flight is how to cope with loneliness, fit in with other travellers and make friends.  These fears are magnified and can get blown out of all proportion when you have no concept of what the travelling world is like, if you are naturally quiet or introverted or if you have problems with anxiety.

If you want some support with your self-belief and you want to know how you can deal with negative thoughts prior to booking your trip, please contact me.  I am a Mindfulness Practitioner and a Life Coach that specializes in self esteem and guiding people through problems.  I have also written a book and there are more in the pipeline… Click on this link to contact me for more information

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Becoming stronger through mindfulness

Loneliness

To combat loneliness, Taylor of The Things My Eyes Have Seen  approaches travel in a very similar way to myself (although I  use Workaway to find my work exchanges).  Taylor writes: 

I’ve spent years travelling the world alone. Every time I set off on an adventure, I find myself with feelings of excitement and nerves. I never anticipate experiencing loneliness, but it is something I have felt in countless countries around the world.

My favourite way to solo-travel and avoid loneliness is to participate in work exchanges; working for room and board (such as HelpX or WWOOF.) It is a good way to give yourself a sense of purpose, make friends, and feel a part of the community you are in.

When I found myself lonely in Greece, I was desperate to relieve myself from it. I asked my host family to join them on outings; picking up the kids from school, going to sports practices, and accompanying them on errands. I also decided to focus on learning new skills.

This is something I now do on every trip, choosing a skill or a healthy habit that I want to work on. I have; learned the basics of local languages, journaled, practiced yoga, or read. When I was living in Ireland, I began to meditate or went on walks along the coast when I felt alone.

Loneliness usually visits when I have downtime or feel ‘forgotten’ by my friends and family. I’ve learned to nurture the relationships that really mean a lot to me and to not be afraid to reach out to people first. Remind people you care for them, then find something to do with your free time.

Don’t let the fear of loneliness stop you from creating the experiences you desire. Follow what calls to you, even if it means going alone. Loneliness will happen, get yourself a cup of tea, grab your camera, go for a walk, or find people you enjoy spending time with.


Ayngelina from Bacon is Magic understands that it’s important not to ignore the feelings of loneliness when they strike and she makes a conscious effort to recognise and deal with them in a proactive way.  This is her advice:

Travelling long-term can be difficult, especially travelling solo. Loneliness is just one of the realities of travelling on your own. It comes and it goes. 

Travelling solo doesn’t always mean you’re alone, it’s much easier to make friends. And I always reach out when I see another solo traveller, I’ve made life friendships this way. But at times, I’m on my own. Sometimes it’s for days and other times it’s for weeks. Some days I may only speak to waiters at a restaurant or museum attendants. It can be really tough at times.

In the past I would just push through it and not pay attention to the growing sense of loneliness. And then all of a sudden I would have a meltdown over something silly. But it was because I wasn’t listening to my own feelings. I didn’t want to acknowledge that it was tough going through the day without any meaningful interaction with people. 

That changed when I started meditating. I try to make an effort to do it each morning as it helps ground me. If I’m starting to feel lonely or sad I recognize it sooner rather than just having a breakdown like I would before. I love the Calm app as there are thematic meditations and always a new recommendation each day.

That’s great in many places. But I have the additional challenge that I’ve been based out of Havana, Cuba for the last year. Not only am I less connected to the world because wifi in Cuba is not available everywhere but I’m in a different culture speaking a language that isn’t native to me. I need the app the most and luckily you can download meditations to your phone, so whether I’m in Havana or on a plane it’s always available.


My friend Alice from Teacake Travels draws upon her experience as a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist to cope when problems with low self esteem threaten to overwhelm her.  Alice says:

I have always been sociable, yet social anxiety definitely got the better of me in the past. I used to be worried about what people thought of me and always tried to please others. I feared about accidentally making other people ‘unhappy’ – and therefore sometimes sacrificed my own wants and needs for others.

Going travelling allowed me to completely put myself to the test. It gave be many chances to meet people from so many cultures and put my needs first for once. The experiences have been exhilarating and life changing.

My first experiences as a solo traveller certainly did put my social anxiety issues to the test. I wanted to challenge myself and travelling solo is certainly one way to do it.

I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand and booked myself into a hostel. Pretty straight forward, right? Until my mind started playing its usual tricks. I started to worry about if I had anything interesting to say. ‘Will they like me?’ I thought. ‘What will they think of me?’ 

I used to be a cognitive behavioural therapist and helped many people with their anxieties and low self-esteem. This was the time to put into practice the very strategies I’d given countless times to my clients.

I reminded myself to be kind to myself. To relax. Breathe. And when that pesky voice of self-doubt rears its ugly head, I encourage you to ask yourself: ‘Is this factually true? Do I have evidence to the contrary?’ Part of my solo female travel journey has taught me to love myself and not worry so much about what others think of me anymore.

I know what I want, what I can do, and what my best (and not so best) qualities are and I’m very happy with that.

If you’re struggling with low self-esteem and anxiety, I recommend learning some strategies to manage your mood and feel much better.


I can certainly relate to the above from Alice because the challenges raised with solo travel from the basis of my self help course and set me along my own journey to become a life coach and mentor to people with low esteem. Becoming Stronger through Mindfulness

book cover - Becoming stronger through mindfulness
Becoming stronger through mindfulness

Caring for your mental health while travelling

Ben from Horizon Unknown tells how he immersed himself in temple life in Japan which ‘reset’ him and taught him so much more.

Ben from Horizon Unknown and temple life

Staying healthy while travelling can mean a variety of different things for each traveller, but unwinding and relaxing is a great way to stay mentally healthy while on the road.

One of my favourite experiences is Taiyoji Temple. Staying overnight at this beautiful and peaceful Buddhist Temple helps disconnect and relax. Not only does becoming closer to nature hit a sort of reset switch, learning about Buddhism and the lessons it teaches helped to create a healthier traveller as well.

Asami is the sole monk living at Tayoji Temple, 2 hours outside of Tokyo. This secluded and quiet temple nestled within mountains is a big contrast to the bustling city just a couple of hours away by train.

Asami teaches guests how to meditate and the principles of Buddism. These teachings helped me forge a positive outlook not only on my travels throughout Japan but in life in general. Asami told me to spend time and learn from nature. To Asami, nature is an amazing teacher with lessons to teach us all.

Taiyoji Temple is a great way to experience traditional Buddishm fundamentals and learn from the kind and gentle monk, Asami. 


While learning about Buddhism helps many people, Darja from DeeGees Travel  found mental strength through yoga.  Here is her story:

Half a year ago I quit my job, my job which had become everything in my life. Since I had identified myself with the successes and failures of my career, I was left with nothing once this part of my life was gone. There was suddenly so much growing emptiness and loneliness inside. What if I am no longer wanted, needed, loved? It was terrifying.

To reset myself and do something better with my life, my partner and I decided to go travelling for half a year. Besides seeing the world, one of the main goals of this journey was to get physically and mentally fit again, to reconnect with myself. Having attended some yoga classes previously, I decided it was through yoga that I would try to accomplish this mission.

I did an intense week of yoga (2-4 lessons daily) in Ubud, Bali attending all sorts of classes from slow morning awakening flows through power yoga, breathing exercises and some more esoteric sessions. I have also learned how to set my own home practice. This was a fantastic foundation for everything which followed.

Ever since, wherever I go I look for yoga studios and join classes. In the beginning it was only once every couple of weeks. Although I loved yoga and felt an immense boost of energy and positivity, I was struggling making it a habit. I was embarrassed to do my own practice fearing someone would see me and laugh at me. I had to push myself out of my comfort zone, be persistent and the results started to show. I feel much more in harmony with myself, I respect and accept myself for who I am. I am happy and am attributing a lot of this to my regular yoga practice. 

In contrast to connecting with others it’s also important not to underestimate the importance of giving yourself peace, space and solitude.  Too often we feel that we need to conform and act as many other travellers are, whether that is taking perfect Instagram pictures, being the life and soul of the party and we worry about how we appear to others.


Martha from the Quirky Globetrotter has her own solution to this problem of comparing ourselves to others on social media and FOMO (fear of missing out). She tells us about Unplugging while you travel in her contribution here:

Sometimes the hardest thing to do while on vacation is to put down our screens — our phones, cameras, iPads, GoPros. We’ve become so accustomed to examining the world through a lens. Ironically, these gadgets are prohibiting what travel is meant to do — broaden our horizons. And, news flash, they’re also damaging our mental health.

Every day we are bombarded with what our vacations should like. Beautiful, perfect women with no belly rolls, lounge with a coconut drink in a tropical oasis. They laugh effortlessly as the beach breeze tousles their hair. Then there’s me, a chubby, feisty woman who cannot perfect a selfie for the life of me.

This exact scenario happened to me in Belize. I should’ve been enjoying myself immensely in my own personal tropical paradise, but the unrealistic expectations that social media creates crept in. I obsessed over getting that perfect Instagram photo instead of enjoying the Belizean history and culture that surrounded me. It was toxic. I felt less than and that I wasn’t experiencing Belize properly. That I was a failure.

So, I did myself a favour. The next day, I stowed all my electronics. I sat unplugged and listened to the cries of the Howler Monkeys. The next morning, I watched the sun peek over the jungle canopy. I even dared to leave my phone behind as I snorkelled in the Caribbean Sea.

Over the next couple of days, I took a few moments to truly absorb what surrounded me. Sometimes, I sat with my journal and reflected. Other times, I sat in complete silence and admired the beauty. I began to constantly marvel at how lucky I was to be there.

Now, there’s no self-criticism or shame for not taking Instagram-perfect photos. It’s just me and my perfectly, untarnished travel memories.


In contrast, Rebecca from Innate Moves uses technology to help her connect whilst she is travelling. This is Rebecca’s take on things:

I left my home country almost two years ago to travel. Although it’s thrilling and amazing, travelling can also be a bit lonely and isolating if you let it be. The main issue that I have is the language barrier. I find it extremely difficult to really connect to an area and its people when I don’t understand their language. Travelling as a tourist is one thing, but when spending any amount of time somewhere I begin to really need some sense of connection!

What I have found to help a lot is the internet! So many areas have Facebook groups or websites written by expats that live in the area. These are gold nuggets to really delving into whatever new surroundings you are facing. Without some of the online groups I’ve used, I would feel very different about my travels! I use the Internet when finding accommodations in new areas, when looking for local events and activities, and to seek social groups. I also use it a lot to learn the basics of a new language and interpret others.

The easiest way to use the internet to your advantage while travelling is to search for the area you are in. That may bring up some good sites written in your own language. Generally the site owner lives in the area and is open to being contacted. The second way is to search Facebook for an area. Groups are the best in my opinion. That way you can actually ask people that live, or are familiar with, the area. I’ve made so many friends this way – locals and expats. It’s helped the isolated feelings that can creep in when you’re in unfamiliar territory. Luckily I’ve found others are online for the same reasons and are also thankful to find friends in a new area!


Keep emotionally fit while travelling.

Danni from Live in 10 Countries created the perfect balance when she was in Iceland, by spending time out in nature and interacting with local people.  You can find out how she coped below:

Danni from Live in 10 Countries

A few years ago, without properly planning much or even packing too well, I moved to Iceland and took up a work for accommodation role. Basically, a lot went wrong! To backtrack, I found the position almost a year before I went and kept in touch with my employer, who was a police officer looking for someone to mind her child part time. Then, a few days before my flight, she emailed to say that instead of going to Reykjavik, she and the job were moving to an isolated village on the east coast where most people wouldn’t speak English. It would be many hours from any big cities and wouldn’t have road access. Gulp.

I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity, but it was definitely a lonely time in my travels. I had to work hard to stay positive and upbeat, and to make sure I didn’t end up isolated. I tried the internet first and used Couchsurfing; inviting travellers to come and surf with me for a few days, so that we could bond and share stories. I printed out an ad for free English conversation classes and put it in the local supermarket – again mainly just to make friends. Walks in the countryside through the town became a daily thing, and they really boosted my mood. Free relaxing meditation on Youtube was a great way to relax afterwards and get set up for the day.


Mel from Mel’s Garden halso understands the benefits of getting outdoors as much as possible.  She explores botanical gardens and parks. 

The way I stay mentally healthy when I travel is the same as when I am home – I get outside as often as possible. My favourite things to do in the world are hike, cross-country ski, kayak, and stand up paddleboard and I take those activities with me wherever I go.

Our family spent a year travelling around Europe and I made sure I took a walk or did something else outside almost every day. I discovered that even when we stayed in cities I could find a botanic garden or a park. I’ve strolled through botanic gardens in Edinburgh, Scotland; Ljubljana, Slovenia; Stockholm, Sweden; and Paris, France; to name a few.

The great thing about exploring outside, in addition to the mental health benefit, is that it is an interesting way to get to know the place you are visiting. The Kew Botanic Garden in Edinburgh is different to the Botanički vrt in Zagreb; just as the cities are different.

There are plenty of scientific studies showing that exercise and being around plants is good for your brain, but I also rely on my own experience. Every time I go outside, I feel better.

Dealing with overwhelm while travelling

Sensory overload can be a problem while travelling in a strange environment to that which you are used to. 

Priyanko of Constant Traveller tells us about his experiences in the craziness of Hanoi and how he recognised and subsequently conquered the sensory overload in this article:

Priyanko of Constant Traveller

As an Indian, like many of my friends I was indoctrinated with the idea of pursuing a stable job and not look at travelling as anything other than an expensive hobby. It took me a few years to overcome this one block before I decided to travel solo outside my country for the first time. But that was only the start.

I landed in Vietnam on a rainy July night with nothing except my return ticket a month later. I did not know the language, the customs or how to navigate the world outside of my own country. The simple task of calculating foreign currency took me a couple of days, which is when I realized my xe om driver had scammed me! I quickly discovered Vietnamese coffee (and fell into a lifelong affair with it) but did not know how to ask for it for at least a week. Simple tasks like crossing the road with motorbikes heading in all directions and the fierce smells from the local market were familiar to me to a certain degree but in those initial days, it felt like a sensory overload.

And then when I had to depart from Ho Chi Minh City, I had the biggest block to overcome. I had forgotten to take my passport from my hotel in District 3 that I had booked on my second day in the city; that gave me a panic attack and made me question if I was cut out to be a backpacking traveller.

I loitered in the city for two extra days simply because I was mentally fatigued to decide what to do next. Trusting others, and myself, that I could go from one city to the next without letting my mental conditioning take over my travels was the biggest decision I’ve taken and it has paid me back many-fold through my travels thus far.  


The stories above all highlight that backpacking and travelling solo is not always like the perfect pictures that you see on Instagram or Facebook.  When things go wrong or when you feel lonely it can be tough, but there are ways of dealing with problems.

Before you set off on your travels it’s just as important to think about how you will stay mentally healthy on the road as it is to get your travel insurance and your inoculations.

One benefit however of this method of travel is that you are never usually far from help.  This is why I personally prefer to stay in hostels (check out www.hostelz.com) or I like to volunteer on work exchanges because there are people around who can get you through a low patch.

If you enjoyed this article you can pin the saved image below.

Myself and the other bloggers who contributed would also love to know how you manage to stay healthy while you travel.

(Don’t forget that travel insurance either!!…you can get a quote and apply here if you are in the UK)

 

 

No judgement and mindful travel

No judgement and mindful travel

Learning about mindfulness has encouraged me to approach problems in a different way.

It’s taught me how to look at my negative thoughts from a different perspective but it’s also reinforced what I already knew; that travel is good for me and shows how having no judgement and mindful travel go hand in hand.

I talk about some of these methods in my book ‘Becoming Stronger through Mindfulness’(click on this link for your copy), but in this article I want to show you the similarities between travel and mindfulness and demonstrate how both can help you grow as a person through some of my travel stories.

Mindfulness isn’t simply about meditation and living in the now.  It’s also about being open to new ideas and not being judgmental.

Be open to new ideas

 

One of the best things about travel is meeting new people and being exposed to different cultures and customs.  To get the most from your experience in a different culture, go ahead and embrace the differences.  Be inquisitive about the things that seem to make little sense to you or that previously may not have interested you and learn.

Whilst there are some things that it’s perfectly acceptable to discount out of hand – such as eating cows intestines or jumping off a bridge with an elastic band tied around your ankles – at other times it pays to listen and learn and maybe understand a different point of view.

And if you stay in a hostel while you are travelling you increase the chances of meeting people from all around the world, each person with a different story to tell and a new perspective.

chatting and meeting new friends in a hostel

chatting and meeting new friends in a hostel in Italy

 

Everywhere I go I try to learn something new, and I learn because I’m curious and nosey and open minded.

Having no judgment

 

I already knew that most Sikh men don’t cut their hair but I never knew that the same applied to Sikh women too.  I have learnt how in this modern world many Sikh women have a dilemma between ancient teachings that tell them that they shouldn’t alter their bodies by shaving armpit hair or plucking their eyebrows and wanting to be fashionable or cutting their hair which can actually give them headaches if it grows too long and heavy. It’s only a small thing to learn but it changes how I think in yet another small way.

I have also learnt how difficult it is to be gay in Singapore and how problematic it can be for a Muslim woman to decide not to wear a hijab in certain parts of Malaysia against the wishes of her family.

In rural Borneo I sat on the floor and ate dinner with my fingers from a communal bowl set out on a grass mat with three generations of my host family.  We discussed the death of the rain forest but I also understand a little bit better the contradictions that the local people have to deal with in the face of the large palm oil companies.  It’s all very well to get up on our moral high horses and condemn the practice of large scale agriculture but we must listen to the other side of the story too from the people who live with the consequences.

One of the best places for learning about new things was sitting up on the roof terrace at Ringo’s Foyer Hostel in Melaka. I spent a couple of months volunteering here where it was quite usual for groups of travellers and volunteers to sit and chat into the small hours of the morning.  Over the course of a couple of weeks it became the habit that one person would talk about something that they knew a lot about and field questions from the rest of us.

Just some of the topics that were covered up on that terrace were Irish politics, the Muslim faith in Tunisia, crypto currencies, becoming vegetarian and cycling across continents.  For my part I have explained about my experiences in Catalunya on the day that many people tried to exercise their right to vote, whether it was ethical to visit Myanmar and of course, building up self-esteem.

Behind the scenes in a kitchen in Myanmar

Behind the scenes in a kitchen in Myanmar

 

Whether we practice mindfulness or not we should still be respectful of others and open to the idea that there are not only two sides to every story but many shades of grey in-between.

We must also stop our judgements.  Who are we to decide whether a person is good or bad or a threat to us based on their appearances?

There is a short story of a woman on a train who jumps to the wrong conclusion based on what she sees happening around her.  There is a link between my book and my short course Learning to Believe in Yourself which you can listen to by clicking here. 

This tale is a really simplistic demonstration of how most of us leap to conclusions and things becomes really interesting once you become aware of the judgy thoughts in your head.  When you go a bit deeper and you start to realise why you might be instinctively attaching certain labels to certain people, and you come to understand that it shouldn’t matter how a person acts towards you because YOU have a choice about how you react to them – and well wow – a different world opens right up to you.

When I said that I was going to travel in the interior of Java, along the east coast of Malaysia and into the Kingdom of Brunei which are predominantly Islamic, several people suggested that I change my plans.  They told me that the people who lived in these places were closed and more difficult to get to know.  But you know me; I’m not one to follow the herd so off I went for the east coast and to find out for myself how the culture was.

OK, so it was a bit more difficult and more expensive to get hold of booze and out of respect I didn’t wear my short shorts or skimpy spaghetti strap tee-shirts and I picked my times when to wear a bikini and when to go swimming in my clothes but I had so much fun and most people were so lovely that I certainly am glad that I went.

And just like everywhere else in the world, it wasn’t a homogenous experience.  People were still different and individual and they all know how to have fun.  I got to know a ‘ladyboy’ who was working in one of my hostels who was a very strong character and in the same hostel I got to know a lady from Saudi Arabia who wore a full burkha so that I could only see her eyes.  We had a strong connection due to many similarities in our past and we chatted for several hours – but I wouldn’t recognise her if I passed her in the street!

For a couple of weeks I lived in a small guest house which was owned by an adorable older couple.  Like nearly all houses in these regions there was a prayer room and I soon got very used to tiptoeing past the open door to the bathroom whilst one or both of them were praying and I was very happy when one day I was invited to cook and share a traditional meal with Mama Zeke.

I can recount numerous experiences like those above but if I were closed or judgmental some of these experiences may never have happened.  So what, I may not recognise my friend in the burkha if she approaches me again in the street (if we were not in a public place she would have removed her covering), but that doesn’t mean that she is someone to be feared or mistrusted.  She is a woman with feelings, wishes and dreams just like the rest of us and I feel privileged that she felt able to share some of her story with me.

 

 

making new friends in a hostel

Getting to know the woman behind the veil.

 

How much damage do we do to ourselves and to others by leaping to conclusions and making ill-informed judgments?  I speak from experience and I can give you an example by looking at something that has happened to me from several angles.

You will know if you have been following my personal story that my children have estranged themselves from me for several years.

I ASSUME that they have chosen to distance themselves from me because of something that they have been told or that they believe is true; because of an assumption that they have made about me.  I KNOW that they have made this decision without knowing all of the facts (and I know this for a fact because they have never approached me for my side of the story).

So herein lies the first point.

They have made a judgment about me without gathering the truth and without knowing all the facts.

Now let’s look at how each of us can make differing assumptions about the same situation.  From another perspective I have spent hours and hours trying to second guess why my children refuse to speak to me and my family.  I ASSUME that it is because of the stories that they have been told and I ASSUME that they don’t care enough to find out the truth for themselves.  But I don’t know the truth either – although in my own defence I have done my best to find out – because I don’t like to judge or make assumptions.

The third point here is that if I try to place myself in their shoes then I am looking at the situation as if they were me.  And as I have never walked in their shoes I will never know the truth unless they sit down and talk about it with me.  I can and I have almost driven myself mad with the endless thought process of trying to make sense of the whole situation and trying to place myself in their shoes and it is impossible.

So to take another leaf out of the mindfulness book I have taken a step back.  I acknowledge my emotions and I know why I feel as I do.  I acknowledge that my children are dancing to a different tune and whilst the situation can make me sad I won’t allow it to make me mad – so I accept it for what it is and I live in the moment.

Of course I think about the past but I am getting better at managing my emotions and of course I make plans for the future but I don’t get hung up about either.  I appreciate and I fully enjoy the present.  What will be, will be!  I know my own truth and I can’t invest any more emotional energy into trying to second guess my children’s’ motives.

And on the plus side, I have the experience and the motivation to support and to mentor other people who may be going through a bad experience.  I believe that the capacity to be strong is in each of us but we can all do with a bit of extra guidance and encouragement to be the best that we can be; which is why I now offer mentoring sessions with people who want that little bit of extra help.

And travel.  For me, travel is what reminds me to remain open-minded and non-judgmental.  It reminds me that each of us is unique and it reminds me to find out the truth for myself.  It proves to me that I am capable of dealing with a drama and reminds me that I can forget the negative beliefs that I carried around in my head for so many years.  It has introduced me to many different people, ideas, food and beliefs and it has helped me to understand how to become grounded in the ‘now’.

If you want to find out more, you can get my introductory guide to mindfulness click here and then read on for another couple of stories from my travel experiences.

book cover - Becoming stronger through mindfulness

Becoming stronger through mindfulness

Don’t jump to conclusions

 

I have stayed in a couple of hostels where everybody was glued to their social media.  Headphones in and absorbed in whatever was playing on their mobiles or laptops people tip-tapped away at keyboards, seemingly deep in conversation with somebody far away yet not engaging with the present.

It has only been my experience a couple of times when everybody behaved like this all at the same time, and because I was ready to socialise and make friends I hated it.  However I very quickly jumped to the defence of this behaviour when it was slated in a travel forum that I occasionally contribute to.

In an online discussion a very famous (elderly) travel writer was attacking modern day travellers who use their phones and social media.  She claimed that travel wasn’t like it was in the ‘olden days’.  She stated that travellers are missing out on the excitement of getting lost, of meeting people and that they had lost the art of keeping a journal or making memories.  She said that they live in their own electronic world and observed that they don’t interact with others.

In many of her travel books she describes how after arriving at her hostel for the night she would often curl up in a quiet corner away from other guests and write up her travel notes.  Well I write up my travel notes – just as she did – but I simply use a different medium – my laptop, and many other travellers keep a journal – they just happen to use a laptop or a tablet – in part because pictures are now digital.

And here are some more reasons why you shouldn’t jump to conclusions and to do your best to have no judgement, or at least, suspend judgement until you know all of the facts.

A lad in Quito once asked to borrow my laptop and skype his family because he needed to find the quickest way to get back home before his granddad died whilst a group of girls were looking up a recipe that they were going to cook for everyone in the hostels communal kitchen.  Other people were simply lounging around and chilling and listening to music through headphones after a gruelling day as volunteer tree planters in the jungle.

And I met a really shy guy who was avoiding contact with others and constantly walking around with his headphones on….but after a chat with him it turned out that this was his method of coping with extreme anxiety attacks.  I told that he was very brave to leave the comfort of his own home town and travel solo – and shame on anybody who was condescending about his coping method.

volunteer tree planting in the jungle

Volunteering and planting trees in the jungle

 

Many travellers take advantage of the wifi in hostels and use the time to upload their photos so that friends and family can know that they are safe and happy whilst others use online maps and timetables to plan their journeys.

The world is changing and it’s becoming more and more difficult to get hold of paper copies of maps or timetables but people still go hiking or visit cities and they still arrange to meet up with friends but they communicate via messages on social media rather than using a telephone.

Here’s another example of making a quick judgment.

 

I was hiking with a new friend that I had met in the Cameron Highlands.  We had followed one of the mountain trails and we had reached the top of one of the hills when we had to make a decision.  It would soon be getting dark so we had to choose between continuing on our circular route (although we had been warned that the path got a little dodgy), or to make the decision and return the way that we had come.

As we stopped to take on water and think about our options we heard voices and loud music.  Just over the hill a group of teenagers were hanging about. just messing about and being teenagers, however I did think how vulnerable the two of us could be in the middle of nowhere with a group of loudmouthed guys especially because we hadn’t seen another soul on our hiking trail all afternoon.

Some of the lads swaggered over to us trying to impress but we excused ourselves and told them that we had to move quickly and continue over the top before it got dark.  As we moved away some of the lads ran after us – my initial reaction was to feel startled and I was on alert – but then they told us that we really should return the way that we had come.  They told us how they had all promised their mothers that they would never continue over the top because the route wasn’t great and they made us promise the same!!

Whilst of course it’s always sensible to be alert and aware of your surroundings, it’s also good to suspend judgment until you know all of the facts and not to assign preconceived ideas to a situation.  In this instance, my friend and I ended up sitting and chatting with the lads for twenty minutes before all taking photos of each other and setting off back down the hill along the safer route.

photo opportunity in the Cameron Highlands

Don’t leap to the wrong conclusion. These lads were so helpful

 

A final reminder of mindful travel

 

One of the best things that you can do if you want to practice mindfulness is to keep an open mind and don’t jump to conclusions.  Remember, everybody has a story and you are in no position to judge others because you are not perfect nor have you ever walked in that other person’s shoes.

If you travel, take the time to connect with others.  Be curious, ask questions and find out what makes other people from a different culture tick.  If you don’t travel, well the same applies to you but in your immediate environment.  Remain open minded and go and approach that somebody in your office who dresses differently or who you assume comes from a different background to your own.  Maybe they have different values and ideas that you could learn something from or maybe you will discover that they are not that much different to you.

Do you have a story to share of a time when you judged somebody or a situation too quickly?  If so, I would love to hear about it and let’s all learn and change the quality of our lives and those around us together.

 

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Self empowerment: First steps to understanding

Self empowerment: First steps to understanding

In this introductory guide to self empowerment I’m going to show you the basics and demonstrate how with some simple changes to your attitude you can lead a more positive and satisfactory life.

Self empowerment means to know what is best for oneself and to act accordingly but there are many layers. I will help you to peel back some of those layers and discover how self empowerment comes with raised self esteem and self confidence plus a more positive outlook and therefore…..happiness.

What are you waiting for?  Read on.

                                                                           It is never too late to be who you might have been.                                                          George Eliot

What is self empowerment?

Definition of empowerment – from the Oxford English Dictionary

  • Authority or power given to someone to do something.
  • The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.

 

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What are the benefits of self empowerment?

Self empowerment is closely linked to mindfulness.  Practicing mindfulness will automatically enhance your self empowerment….. which in turn is linked to self confidence and self esteem – all of which can only be a good thing.

 

6 key points of empowerment

(There are many more but these 6 form the basis of a good starting point)

  • Become aware of your own capabilities and you will understand why and how you react like you do
  • Begin to make more positive choices and take responsibility for those choices.
  • Don’t allow your circumstances to define who you are, what you do or how you feel or react.
  • Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts and see change happen
  • You will develop a heightened sense of awareness and view others objectively
  • You will feel less stress and anxiety and you will be able to deal with dramas and conflict far better.

The crazy thing is about each of the above statements is that if a friend were to ask you for advice you could very probably explain to them why they should adopt these attitudes but they are actually some of the hardest of beliefs to take on board for ourselves.

The good news is that once you do make the decision to actively employ them and follow through, they quickly gather momentum and you will notice changes happening around you.

There are many more routes to self empowerment but these six are a good starting point.  For more information on how you can conquer your anxiety and boost your self confidence click here.

Read each of the key points in more detail below and find out how you can begin to take back control of your life.

self empowerment quote No one can make you feel inferior

 

Become aware of your own capabilities and you will understand why and how you react like you do                                                 Your self-worth is determined by you. You don’t have to depend on someone telling you who you are:  Beyonce 

With support you can understand how events in your past have helped you to form your opinion of yourself now.  Learned behaviours and coping mechanisms that you put into place during childhood may no longer be serving you well.  It is time to move on.  Acknowledge them and understand why you react to certain stimuli and then you will be in a position to react differently the next time.  When your emotions no longer control you, when you no longer allow your emotions to control you; then you are taking the first steps to self empowerment.

 

Begin to make more positive choices and take responsibility for those choices.                                                                                    Trust yourself. There is no one else on earth that is better suited to determining your ideal and making it happen than you:  S.D. Buffington

Maybe you have made a decision in the past that didn’t quite work out as you had planned.  In some cases these experiences can cause us to lose our direction and our self belief.  We believe that we make bad decisions and that can prevent us from moving on.

One way to change your beliefs can be to learn how to tune in to your intuition and your instincts.  You can practise looking for signs and listening to your inner voice – to your intuition or your gut reaction.  Call it what you will, you can learn how to do this and you will find that your self belief grows

 

Don’t allow your circumstances to define who you are, what you do or how you feel or react.                                                             You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down:  Toni Morrison 

There is a well-established school of thought that states that in order to move on we first need to tackle our demons.  Some therapies advocate delving back into our past and focusing on the issues that are now bringing up our anxiety.  This can certainly be beneficial but it’s not always necessary.

You don’t always need to over-analyse past events but you do need to understand that you have a choice about how you react to them.

If you can move from the role of victim to understanding that you are a survivor that is the first step. Survivors are kick-ass.  They do not cower in the corner.  Survivors acknowledge that shit happened but sometimes it’s not necessary to over-analyse why the shit happened.

Shit happened, you got through it and now it’s time to move on.

You can be taught to believe in yourself with positive mantras.  You can learn how to move from a negative mindset to a positive place and with practice you can banish the dark thoughts and beliefs before they gather and take hold in your mind.

You will feel as if a weight has been lifted from your shoulders.  You will walk taller.  You are on the road to self empowerment.

If you are ready for a week long challenge that could start you on this process to making simple changes to your life then click on this link for your free guide: – 7 days to a more confident YOU!

self empowerment quote Happiness is not by chance

 

Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts and see change happen                                                                                            ‘Folks are usually about as happy as they make up their minds to be’ – Abraham Lincoln 

Yes I know, this one just sounds too simplistic right?  But believe me, it really does work. February is usually a tough month for me but this year I made a conscious decision to approach it differently.

Every time a memory that would make me sad popped into my mind I instantly pushed it away and instead focused on the very instance that I was in at that time. I made an effort to find something positive, beautiful or interesting and I continuously reminded myself of how grateful I was to be there in that place at that time of day.

Every time a feeling of guilt tried to creep into my head I would stamp on it, remind myself that I had made the best decision at the time for a very good reason and that I could not take responsibility for other people’s feelings….I would focus on my breathing…and then refocus on the place that I was at right then and there.

I would make a conscious effort to focus on what was right under my nose from the warm sun on my skin, the people that I could watch going about their ordinary business to the nature that was thriving around me.

This technique takes effort but it is worth it.

What really surprised was not that I was simply banishing the negative thoughts but my whole mood lifted to such an extent that my social life blew up.  I was asked what my secret was because I was radiant, I was glowing, I was inspiring others.  But truly in an effort to get myself through February I simply replaced the negatives with positives.

I can recommend a really good book at this point called The Art of Happiness written by the Dalai Lama and Howard C Cutler.  I dip in and out of this book whenever I need reminding of humanity’s ability to cope.  Click on this link to order your copy today.

 

You will develop a heightened sense of awareness and view others objectively                                                                                      ‘If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, even the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher,’ Pema Chodron

Stop for a moment and look around you. What opinions do you have of the people that you see?  On what basis are you making those judgments?  Are they learned behaviours from past experiences or are you projecting your own insecurities onto them?

Whatever the reason you are judging people without knowing them.

Learn to become less judgemental and to put all of your prejudices aside and as you begin to understand how you react to somebody else’s irritating behaviour or cutting comments you benefit in two ways.

Your may amend your own behaviours when you understand how others may perceive them and you will not allow the behaviours of others to impact upon your emotions in a negative way.

You will become more receptive and open and this will attract people to you.  We are social animals and as we connect with others this benefits both us and them.

 

You will feel less stress and anxiety and you will be able to deal with dramas and conflict far better.                                                   If the problem can be solved why worry? If the problem can’t be solved worrying will do you no good – Gautama Buddha 

Do I need to add anything else to the above point?  I think that the accompanying quote covers it.  No ifs, no buts.  You simply need to teach yourself how to stop worrying, but don’t worry – I have that one covered too.

By popular demand I am going to bring you a quick course which is all about learning to believe in yourself.  Make sure that you don’t miss out on the launch by signing up to receive emails – click here: ‘7 days to a more confident YOU!’ or follow me on

 

The 6 points above are just a starting point.  My work as a self esteem mentor is taking me along a fabulous life changing journey.  I have almost completed my training as a Master Mindfulness Practitioner and I now meditate regularly.  I am passionate about supporting others on their own journey of self discovery and acceptance.  The golden rule in everything is that first you need to accept and understand yourself and then everything else that you hope for will begin to fall into place.

As your confidence in your own abilities grow then your problems will no longer look quite so daunting.  You will become a warrior and any new dramas which come along are simply proof that you can cope and will demonstrate how much you have grown and moved on.

If you have any questions or comments on this article I would love to hear from you – either in the comment section below or in a private message if you prefer.

Don’t miss future updates and don’t miss the chance to your own self empowerment.

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self empowerment Pinterest

Online Harassment & Cyber Stalking: charged with stalking but it continues

Online Harassment & Cyber Stalking: charged with stalking but it continues

Online Harassment & Cyber Stalking: charged with stalking but it continues

All bloggers love receiving comments.  It’s their life blood.  There’s that thrill that most creative people crave and the buzz when their work is acknowledged or their audience grows.  Creative people NEED to entertain in whatever medium they have chosen to work.  Sadly online harassment and cyber stalking can be an unwelcome side-product of a life online.  And often, despite being charged with stalking the harassment can continue.

I am a blogger and one day when I was checking my new contacts I felt sick to my stomach.  A name from my past had popped up on the screen in front of me.

A man who had been convicted of stalking and harassment and who had been charged with a LIFETIME non-molestation order by a British court and ordered to stay away from me and who was in addition banned from attempting to make any contact with me had signed up to follow my blog.

Online harassment

Now he hadn’t just typed my blog name Scarlet Jones Travels into his browser.  He had specifically signed up to receive my free guide ‘Things to know before you travel’ which meant that he would now be sent an email every time I posted an article.

That’s not simply stalking.  That’s also harassment.

Why would anybody do something like this after being charged with stalking in a court for his crime?  Research comes up with some possible reasons.

  • It could be because he is arrogant and believes himself to be above the law.
  • I have a totally awesome blog and he doesn’t want to miss a single post.
  • Maybe he is a narcissist and has no empathy or consideration for anybody except himself.
  • Perhaps because he is controlling and manipulative and he is determined that he WILL have the last word.
  • He is a bully who wants me to know that he is still watching me and keeping tabs on me.
  • And/or he hates to think that I can cope without him and I am getting on with my life (yes, I was once married to this man for twenty five years!)

Who knows what goes on in a mind like this, but I could go on all day listing possible reasons as to why he thinks he can stick two fingers up at the British judicial system.

Living with the Dominator

Pat Craven has written an absolutely AWESOME book called ‘Living with the Dominator‘ which explains all about emotional abuse far better than I can.  Pat outlines varies character types and the reasons why some people feel the need to bully, control and manipulate.  In my opinion, everybody should read this in order to understand the insidious creeping strangulating problem that is domestic violence.  You may be lucky and not experience an abusive relationship first-hand but one in four women do.

Could you recognise the signs?  We keep them well hidden you know.

Previously this man who signed up to follow my articles had actually taken the trouble to track down some of the people who had commented on my blog and he sent them nasty and inappropriate emails. He had taken the trouble to contact friends and business associates that I have collaborated with and he had advised them that they shouldn’t be working with me.

Why?

Because I left him!

What to do about cyber stalking?

I am in the business of blogging.  Blogs are public.

I am not able to remove his name nor am I unable to block him from my ‘follow’ list.  He has to unsubscribe himself.  Fat chance of that! (Refer to the same list of possible reasons above)

The funny thing is that when this man was questioned by the police he claimed that I was the one who continued to make contact with him. Hmmm….NO!!  (Note: women will also stalk and harass.  This is not just a male thing)

Whilst I love to engage with my audience, the delivery of my blog articles is fully automated.  I have more than 10,000 followers across my social media sites but I can’t imagine why my stalker is sitting at home and getting excited every time a blog update from me pops into his inbox. Apparently I have ruined his life so why would he be interested in mine?

Other blogger friends have their trolls who follow them and who give them problems too.  What makes my situation different is that my stalker has served a sentence of two hundred hours community service for his crime of harassment and stalking.  Yet still he continues.

I feel NOTHING for him.

And I don’t care about his life.  I don’t care in the same way that I don’t care what the uncle of Joe Blogs who lives in Kansas is doing.

online harassment - a better life

They say that the best revenge is a good success.  I am not out for revenge (I truly DON’T care) but as my arrogant, narcissistic stalker will no doubt be reading this as may your own arrogant narcissistic stalker, I want to point out that I am getting on with my life.

I am living a nomadic lifestyle and working via my laptop I am supporting other survivors of cyber bullying and emotional abuse – the sort that destroys one’s self esteem.  I help survivors believe in themselves again via the Smash the Pumpkin Project.

  • I will not stop blogging
  • I will not close down my business
  • I will not stop writing

I will live MY life MY way

  • I will continue to inspire and to encourage others
  • I will continue to bring you articles about my travels
  • I will believe in myself and not in the crap that I was fed during the time that I was with this man

Stalking Awareness now has its own campaign week allocated to it in the national social calendar along with Quit Smoking and the National Walk to School Week. Domestic violence and especially emotional abuse has been running as a storyline in the British radio drama, the Archers which has raised awareness and the domestic violence laws in the UK have recently been improved..

There is much more understanding about the effects of coercive control and things are slowly improving in favour of the victim survivor.

We, the survivors, are not the ones who should be adapting our behaviours.  We should not have to change our names, or move home or relocate to a different continent.

We can however take steps to protect ourselves – you could carry a personal alarm – this small one fits in the palm of your hand– and you should always be aware of your surroundings.

Can you identify with the issues in this article?

If you are reading this and you are a rational human being do you think that it is fair to subject a person to unwanted and uninvited attention?

Can’t you accept that no means no?  I don’t love you anymore actually means I DO NOT love you anymore. Or maybe you subscribe to the school of thought that says that women invite rape because of how they are dressed or maybe you think that it’s fun to pull the legs off a daddy-long-legs?

And what does your current partner think of your obsession if you have one?  Are they happy with the situation – or perhaps you have also manipulated them and undermined their self confidence?  Are they aware that you have a criminal record for HARASSMENT?  That should be a red flag in anybody’s book.  Leopards don’t change their spots nor can you teach an old dog new tricks.

  • I started blogging as a means of communicating my situation to friends and family when I was too stressed to tell them what was happening in my life.
  • I started travelling because I had always wanted to experience new cultures and traditions and to know what it was like to feel free.
  • I continue blogging because of you, my audience, you who contact me by email, Facebook, personal message or who enter your comments at the end of my blog articles. You – my reader – who asks me what the chicken buses are like in South America or what fried crickets taste like.
  • I continue travelling because I love the lifestyle and the freedom. I no longer have to think up excuses about why I forgot to record Coronation Street or explain why………..!

(And on a travel related note I can fit most of my life into my Osprey Rucksack which I LOVE and fits me so well I don’t feel restricted or confined in an emergency – I can’t recommend this bag highly enough) – you can find out for yourself at this link

online harassment - getting on with life

If you have been affected by online harassment or any of the issues raised in this article; maybe somebody you know has been charged with stalking and won’t stop, then do drop me an email or comment in the box below.

If you are that person who is carrying out the online harassment and stalking – then stop it right now.  For your own sake and for those around you.  Get a life and be happy.

And if you are a survivor of domestic abuse and as a consequence you have low self-confidence or low self-esteem, I will be able to help you with that.

The Smash the Pumpkin Project is a system of support and empowerment which is especially relevant to anybody who is a survivor of domestic abuse (although not exclusively for survivors of domestic abuse – it’s suitable for just about anybody who likes a challenge).   You can now sign up and trial the first month – a donation will be appreciated if you like and benefit from your experience.

Click on the box below to get more details about the course or contact me by email at info@scarletjonestravels.com if you want further information.

The Smash the Pumpkin Project

Smash the myths; live your dreams

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Inspirational people – Lee is helping kids in Sumatra

Inspirational people – Lee is helping kids in Sumatra

 

Not everybody’s dream list contains big travel plans, lots of money or a flash car.   I met a British guy in Melaka who is helping kids in Sumatra, Indonesia and who would be happy with an electric sewing machine!!

It was Christmas Day morning and I was walking along Harmony Street in Melaka, Malaysia when I spotted some bags for sale.

They were hanging up outside a hostel that I had passed many times but I had never noticed them before, and I crossed the road to take a closer look.

The bags were all different and appeared to be made from pieces of old denim jeans.  As I was looking at the bags I noticed a quiet bespectacled guy working at an old treadle Singer sewing machine in the shade in front of the hostel.

When he stood to shake my hand and introduced himself as Lee from England I couldn’t help notice that Lee was struggling a bit to get to his feet.

Anyway we got talking – subsequently Lee invited me for a coffee so that we could chat a bit more and then later for a lunch of redang chicken at his home.

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This is Lee’s inspirational story.

 

Why are you making and selling bags?

 Lee told me that he makes and sells bags so that he can send the funds out to a grassroots project in Indonesia.

The project (the Dian Bersinar Foundation) does volunteer work in Medan, Sumatra and helps to educate and support pre-school children and their families in one of the poorest communities in this Indonesia city.

How did you discover the charity project in Medan? 

Lee said that he had been travelling for many years and was introduced to the charity project In Sumatra by friends that he met.  He stayed for a while so that he could volunteer with them, and now, because he still travels a lot, he supports the group by sending funds over to them.  The money goes towards a small living wage for the teachers, building rent, food (the school tries to provide food or fruit when it can) and school supplies.

The project is a crèche/playgroup for pre-school children and is a safe place for the children to stay whilst their parents are out at work.  It gives educational support to the youngsters – but the group also aims to educate the parents too.

The hope is that by the time the children are of school age, the parents will already be in the mindset that an education is important and won’t consider keeping the kids from school or send them to work or out onto the streets to beg.

The project is also about enriching the lives of these disadvantaged children, for example by giving them a day out to the swimming pool – fun things that they would otherwise probably never get to experience.

 

How poor are the children? Are they street kids? 

They are not quite street kids.  Most of the parents do work, but they are usually working in the lowest of jobs.  Many of the kids are dropped off by their cycle tri-shaw driver fathers. They are actually charged a small fee for attending the project – otherwise they would simply not attend and miss too many days on a whim.

This small fee ensures a level of commitment from the parents and is hopefully building in a sense of value and responsibility.

 

You have been travelling since 2008.  What set you off on that road? 

‘It’s a cliché but I had a life changing moment.  I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and suddenly things in the commercial world weren’t so important any more.  In my previous life I was a construction project manager – my speciality was carpentry but I sold up and I began to travel.

As the disease has progressed I have become less mobile but I am determined not to give in to it.  Working with the charity in Medan is one of my hobbies and my passion’.

And now you are settled in Malaysia? 

Lee told me no, although he does spend the winters here in Melaka.  Usually he heads off about mid-April.  Currently Lee has a van stored in Georgia and maybe he will travel onwards to Kazakhstan before returning to Melaka or maybe go back to Medan in November.

 

Do you sell the bags while you travel? 

It can be quite difficult to sell the bags on the road but in his spare time, if Lee has suitable fabric, he will get out his machine and make some bags on a little table outside his van.

 

Where do you get the fabric for the bags? 

Mostly the fabric is donated, but Lee is always on the lookout for unusual or local fabrics.  He will make bags to order in any shape, size or fabric as well as making IPad and electronic gadget cases.

Lee told me once how he was admiring a guy’s trousers and a couple of days later the man came back and donated them to him so that he could turn them into yet more bags for charity.

 

What other ways can you raise funds? 

Lee told me that he would like to set up an online shop so that he can sell the bags via the internet, but in order to do that he will need to increase his stock.  Currently working with an old traditional (non-electric) Singer sewing machine, Lee reckons that he could greatly increase production if he had an electric machine.

The more funds that Lee can raise then the more children will benefit from the charity project in Medan.

Can anybody volunteer in Medan with the project? 

The charity used to accept volunteers when it was in its original location alongside the train tracks and when it was accepting older school-aged children.  Then, several volunteers lived in Medan and helped the children with their English classes and supported the teaching staff.

Once the project was forced to move buildings it meant that only pre-school children could be supported, although if anybody in Medan is interested in helping, the project would be more than willing to use any skills that people have.

 

How else can people help? 

Share this message and like the Lee’s Facebook page – click here for the link. If you are in Melaka search for Lee (in Harmony Street) and buy one of his bags if you like them.

Lee told me that he also wants to set up a separate fundraising campaign so that he can buy an electric sewing machine that he can use when he is based in Melaka.

 

Summary: Lee is helping kids in Sumatra

You can usually find Lee working in Jalan Toking Besi (Harmony Street) in Melaka, during the winter months at least.

You can follow Lee and his Bags for Kids Project as well as the Foundation via the following Facebook pages:

Bags for Kids, Indonesia

The Dian Bersinar Foundation

Have YOU ever done any volunteer work?

Small things can make a huge difference to another person.

You may not have much money yourself but you will have a talent or a skill or just the time to give to others.

We don’t need to receive money as payment to feel valued.

As well as the benefits to others, volunteer work can boost your feelings of self worth and help you to feel valued.

Even a one-off Random Act of Kindness can make a huge difference to the recipient.  Try it today.

 

More bags = more funds = happier healthy children that are lifted out of poverty.

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Inspirational People – Colin’s Story

Inspirational People – Colin’s Story

How would you cope if I were to tell you that you will never walk again?

What if you wake up from a sleep to discover that you have been in a coma for a month?

Read on and tell me, do you think that YOU could deal with this?

This post contains affiliate links and/or references to our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on or make a purchase using these links.  Scarlet Jones Travels is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

Colin’s story

This is the true story of a man that I met in the Isaan region of Thailand.  Two years ago Colin was knocked off his motorbike by a car which was going the wrong way down a dual carriageway and which proceeded to turn his life upside down.

I was in the North East of Thailand and doing a work exchange with Colin and his wife Wichien on their small-holding.  I had learnt about them via the Workaway website (which I have used many times over the last few years).  I was very quickly made to feel a part of their family.

Colin who is originally from the north of England married Wichien five years ago.  They set up home together and after working in the remote mountains (that in itself is a fascinating story) they returned to her home village and they built a house.

Inspirational people

Wichien is a school director and Colin quickly established an organic farm, selling fruit and vegetables and fish and eggs from his bantams.  And then on the 4th October in 2013 their lives were turned upside down.

The accident left Colin with the 4th and 5th vertebrae in his back shattered, a broken hip, pelvis and femur.  He had four broken ribs, a torn diaphragm and his lungs collapsed several times during his time in hospital.

You will never walk again

While he was in his month long coma, Wichien fought relentlessly to get him the best surgery; spending all of her time either at the hospital sleeping on the floor underneath his bed or travelling to and from her work at the school.

The doctors pinned Colin’s spine back together with four titanium rods and forty screws, but when he finally woke from the coma they had to give him the news that he was a paraplegic and he would never walk again.

Coping with bad news

I asked Colin what were his initial thoughts on being given this news.

He told me, ‘I wanted to do away with myself.  I can’t live like this.  I would have to get someone to do it for me though because I was unable to lift a hand off the bed. I was now a paraplegic with no feeling from the chest down.  I begged Wichien to kill me. Without Wichien I would certainly wish that I was dead.’

inspirational people

Colin and Wichien

Prior to moving to Thailand Colin had a good job in construction in the UK.  He is a master stonewaller and he is the sort of man that can turn his hand to most things.

He told me that his dreams and aspirations prior to the accident were to get their organic farm up and running.  It was just beginning to take off and he was establishing a steady clientele.  Often Thais spray formaldehyde on their fruit and vegetables in the markets to keep them looking fresh but Colin refused to even use weed killer on his land.

And what of Colin’s aspirations now?

Colin said, ‘It’s a hell of of a thing to be told that you will never walk again.  My hopes for the future?  Not that I will walk again because I know that can never happen.  I hope that we both continue to have the good relationship that we have now.  I have no hopes or plans to go anywhere.  I’m happy at home.  I’m in a wheel chair but I never get bored.’

Inspirational people

dealing with the traffic

In the four weeks that I was living with Colin and Wichien I witnessed his determination to continue with as normal a life as possible.  He has designed a couple of hydraulic hoists to enable him to get in and out of bed and into the car and he is adept at catching escaped chickens and planting, weeding and harvesting his crops.

inspirational people

harvesting the crickets

Much of Colin’s vegetables are in a series of raised concrete rings and beds.  My first task was to construct a cement ramp for his wheelchair so that he could access yet more of the garden himself.

It must have been incredibly frustrating for Colin to watch me slowly mixing the cement and trying to smooth the path with a trowel, but give him his due, he was incredibly patient as he explained everything to me.

He did confess that he sometimes takes his frustration out on his wife and he wondered how she ever puts up with him!  He knows that he has become more bad tempered, but consider for a minute how frustrating it must be to find yourself suddenly in his position.

Colin and Wichien go to their local hospital every three weeks for physiotherapy and a check up.  That in itself is a drama as I saw for myself the time that I tagged along.

Firstly, the porters who used to ignore Colin and leave him in the car for ages now virtually run to help to transfer him onto a trolley.  He have had to resort to bribery/tipping them, despite this being a ke part of their job.

The day that I was there Colin had to hang around in the car park on a trolley for ages because several members of staff had parked their motorbikes at the bottom of the wheelchair ramp leading into the physio department.

Even after the porters went and explained the situation, half of them came out and stood around waiting before they could eventually be persuaded to move their bikes!

Amputate!

Colin told me that in the early days after his accident he actually requested that the surgeons amputate his legs.  They are after all no use to him and he would be able to move himself around a lot easier if he didn’t have them – but they refused to do this.

I asked Colin if he is a glass half full or half empty sort of person.  He didn’t hesitate.  ‘Half full’ he replied.

And then I asked him what his biggest fear is.

He said, ‘Previously – none.  Now – losing Wichien.  If that happened I would kill himself.  I wouldn’t or couldn’t continue’.

Colin’s message

And what is Colin’s message to anybody who is reading this?

‘Make sure that you always wear a helmet on a motorbike – or don’t go on motorbikes on Thai roads. (Colin was wearing a helmet at the time of his accident)

And finally – Is there anything that you (Colin) regret not doing in your life now that many doors are closed to you?  ‘No, nothing’.

NEVER, NEVER, NEVER go abroad without buying travel insurance first.  You never know what is around the next corner and the last thing that you want to be doing is relying on family and friends to have the heartache of dealing with an accident from afar.

I use Alpha Travel Insurance who are based in the UK – you can check out their site here and get a quote – Alpha Travel Insurance

Life in the Thai countryside

During my time with Colin and Wichien I worked on the land during the longest drought in that part of Thailand for years.  The temperatures topped 44 degrees every day for a week and there was little respite during the night when I would forgo my mosquito net and drag a mattress out onto the terrace where I could catch whatever breeze was there.

inspirational people

what an idyllic place to sleep

I learnt all about the life cycle of the cricket and how to rear the insects, harvest them and cook them and I learnt how to eat sticky rice with my fingers.

Under Colin’s guidance I learnt how to use an angle grinder and a chisel to remove a bit of old wall and I rebuilt it.  I made friends with the people in the village and I saw scorpions, a snake and a zillion insects.

I learnt so much about the Thai (Isaan) culture and family life from Wichien who cooked every meal from fresh ingredients and not one tree or plant in her garden couldn’t either be eaten , had medicinal properties or couldn’t be made into something.

While this is Colin’s story, it is what it is because of the quiet strength of Wichien.  Educated, intelligent and with a wicked giggle and a beautiful smile, Wichien works tirelessly and with a calm serenity.

She reminded me very much of my maternal grandmother who had more sense in her little finger that many people acquire in a lifetime. Brought up in the countryside she capably caught the scorpions which invaded us after the rain, cooked amazing dishes with spices and herbs and would give alms to the monks when they passed the gate early in the morning.

inspirational people

collecting alms

Live life today. Tomorrow may not be what you expect.

I bring you this story to remind you not to waste your days doing things that you will regret. Embrace your life and try to pack it with the things that you want to do.  It can all change in a heartbeat, no matter how careful you are.

If you want to know more about how you can make the most of your day to day life and embrace new challenges, click here and learn more about The Smash the Pumpkin Project.

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