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?
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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.
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.’
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.’
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.
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!
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’.
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.
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.
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.
I knew next to nothing about naturism in Catalunya until I began setting myself personal challenges. I had never taken off my clothes off in public but I felt that I needed to give it a go. I am a mentor to people with low self-confidence and low self-esteem helping them achieve self belief through a series of personal challenges – and as it’s only right to practice what I preach I am always looking for ways to stretch myself.
Luckily I have the perfect challenge partner in Debs who is often even more up and ready for things than me and so the other summer we decided to push our boundaries and discover how much self empowerment we could achieve. Click here to read more on self empowerment
Make sure that you continue reading to the end of this article for the tale of a very funny incident that happened on the nudist beach at Playa del Torn in Catalunya last summer!
Getting naked at Playa del Torn
The first challenge that we set ourselves that summer was to visit a naturist beach.
Playa del Torn
Close to the town of Hospitalet de L’Infant on the Costa Dorada in Catalunya there is a large naturist resort – i.e: naked people as opposed to a naturalist site where you go bird-watching and such-like. It is important that you do not get the two words confused!
This resort, complete with pools, restaurants, and campsite attracts naturists from all over Europe and it’s on a wonderful position up on the cliffs behind a long stretch of soft golden sand. Playa del Torn (or Platja del Torn in Catalan) is a large public beach with a lively xiringuito (beach bar) down on the sand where people from the local area mix with the campers. During the summer months a little gazebo is set up on the beach where you can get a fabulous full body massage from Albert who normally works in Barcelona and the occasional beach vendors wander along selling artisan jewellery or sunglasses. The beach has a lovely friendly family atmosphere in the locality of the campsite and the beach bar whilst further along the beach is gay friendly.
Debs and I parked the car near the beach of Playa del Torn and we set off along the cliff path which runs next to the campsite. We had not taken more than 10 steps when a woman came out of a gap in the low hedge from among the camper vans and walked along in front of us wearing absolutely no clothes and carrying a loaf of bread under her arm. Walking past the caravans and the tents I could see that everybody was carrying on their daily business – playing cards, standing and chatting around the barbeque, reading or cooking BUT the majority of them were stark staring naked. Toddlers chased each other around yelling enthusiastically and groups of teenagers hung around looking cool (most of the teenagers were wearing bikini bottoms or swimming trunks for modesty.)
I suppressed my giggles as we walked down the steps to the beach where a volleyball game was in progress, feeling like I was in a Carry On film. Reaching our chosen spot with as much space around us as possible Debs and I stripped off our clothes – and I promptly lay down flat and stayed flat for as long as I possible.
As the day went on I progressed to swimming in the warm sea – what a fantastically liberating feeling that is with no bikini – and I had a massage from the wonderful Albert. The massage was a piece of cake after the trauma of booking my session with him.
Tickets needed to be bought at the bar in the xiringuito – and my personal challenge was to buy mine without covering up and wrapping a sarong around my body. All well and good and I was feeling quite pleased with myself as I crossed the hot sand – until I wove through the tables to the bar (it was lunchtime and busy) and it dawned on me that my bare bottom was head height to the diners faces. Of course there was a queue at the bar and I had to wait there, standing with my naked bum just inches from a poor man’s dinner and feeling the insides of my stomach curling up with embarrassment!!!!
I managed to relax later on as Albert kneaded all of the knots out of my tense muscles whilst I lay in the shade of his gazebo. He told me that he worked as a masseuse in Barcelona but that he decamped to the beach for his work during the summer. When I confessed to Albert that it was my very first visit to a naturist beach he replied how brave I was to actually have a massage (naked) right out there in the public eye and I realised that I was beginning to enjoy myself.
Personal challenge achieved I felt great as Debs and I returned to the car – in fact we returned to Playa del Torn many times throughout the rest of the summer and we progressed to drinking in the bar and then making friends with groups of both campers and locals. It was idyllic standing and sitting around chatting as the sun went down and the moon came up over the horizon and looking back, it was always gratifying to realise how relaxed I had become with my own body image.
A naturist beach is a great leveller. Without clothes on people usually soon realise that not even the elegant couple who turns heads as they walk across the beach lives up to the media driven image of perfection once they remove their clothing. Cellulite, flabby bits, scrawny bits and dangly bits are everywhere. Bodies are decorated with both tattoos and scars, boobs may be missing and piercings glint in the sunlight. It all seems less important somehow. Smiles, facial expressions and laughs become what define beauty and we can all wince together at sunburn in delicate places.
Scarlet Jones naked at Playa del Torn
Snorkelling in the dark
My second personal challenge that summer was to attempt a night time snorkel.
I am not at all confident out of my depth in water and I am terrified of waves in the sea. Debs and I had already spent the day snorkelling around the rocks in the little bay of Sant Jordi d’Amalfa on the coast of Catalunya and the sea was lovely and calm as we made our way up to the beach hut at dusk where Plancton have their base.
We were given our equipment – a wet suit, snorkel and mask, an arm band with a flashing light and a waterproof torch while the instructors told us how we should conduct ourselves and pointed out some of the things that we could expect to see. And we set off BUT we turned left instead of right and walked down to the next bay where the sea was anything but calm.
I had already told one of our instructors how nervous I was and she (Eli) stayed by my side as I got into the water. I was only waist deep but the waves were crashing over my head, and whilst terrified I pushed through beyond the breakers until I was out of my depth. The rest of the group struck out for the sea while I attempted to sort out my mask which kept on leaking. Eli took my hand and we swam slowly out – and then I panicked. I had a vision/premonition/past experience – I don’t know – but I KNEW that if I continued I would surely drown. I can swim but all of a sudden I lost the ability to keep my head above water and I just had a dreadful recurring feeling that I was going down under the waves. I panicked even more as I noticed Eli backing away – I could hear a little voice from my swimming lessons as a child saying that you keep your distance from a drowning person – but Eli pushed the dive float to me and waited patiently while I got my act together talking calmly to me, but I knew that the overwhelming fear that I was feeling wasn’t going to go away. I had to get back onto dry land immediately or I would be feeding the fishes.
Clutching the float as if my life depended on it we made our way back through the crashing breakers. I was so relieved to be back on the damp sand and promising Eli that I would now be fine she went back to join the others while I sat and watched the shooting stars above me in the dark sky and thought about my experience.
Had I failed at my personal challenge? No. Of course not. I had pushed myself to get into the rough water in the dark in the first place and whilst I had failed to snorkel in the dark I had given it a go. Would I do it again? Probably not! I had tried my best and I can see no real reason to attempt it again.
Driving on the wrong side of the road
I was initially nervous about driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road in Spain, but it didn’t take long before I was zooming around everywhere. I got lost plenty of times (no surprise there) but I enjoy driving and it’s a dream in Catalunya because apart from in the town centres there is very little traffic.
I used to be very afraid of heights until my year in South America. In Peru I eventually got used to careering around the Andes in chicken buses with the drivers high on the coca leaves that they chewed, both to stay awake and also to counter the altitude sickness, but I was still very nervous the first time that I had to negotiate a truck down a narrow track from the mountain in Spain where I was staying. In fact, I put the trip off for ten days until I ran out of food. A friend offered to deliver me supplies but I stubbornly declined – this was just another challenge which would prove to me that I was capable of coping by myself.
So early one morning I set off down the mountain. Nope, not in the truck but on foot! I wanted to see for myself where the ‘dangerous bits’ were as well as the passing places. Because I could take my time and look where the dodgy bits were I began to relax although it did take me nearly two hours to hike back up to the house.
To celebrate my epic hike in the heat I opened a bottle of wine – which of course also had the effect of postponing the inevitable until the following day – but I am pleased to say that I eventually made it down the hairpin bends and now I hammer up and down the mountain like a rally driver!
Since that summer I have also ridden my motorbike over to Spain crossing the English Channel on a twenty four hour channel ferry and riding solo down through Spain during an epic storm. On that journey I was so glad that I had been perfecting my Spanish because I got horribly disorientated in Bilbao and I needed to ask directions. My phone had stopped working, the name and address of my hostel had disintegrated and my map was in soggy pieces. I squelched into a bar where half a dozen men leapt to my attention and helped me before sending me out into the rain again, this time in the correct direction.
Facing my fear of heights in Catalunya
Immersion in a foreign language
Catalan is the first language of the majority of the people in this region of Spain which is great for me and others who are learning to speak Spanish. Because Spanish (Castilian) tends to be the second or even the third language here, people often speak slower and can use simpler vocabulary.
I loved speaking with Andres who farmed close to the place that I was living that summer. He was extremely patient with me, rephrasing words or acting out verbs so that the conversation flowed as best as it could although I did have one hilariously epic language-fail one evening.
I was a bit flustered as I answered the door and invited Andres to sit and wait while I finished up my conversation with a technician in the States. My laptop was open on the bench as I was in a ‘live chat’ with the other guy. In my best Spanish, or so I thought, I explained to Andres that my website was broken but there was a man in the States who was going to look at it and mend it remotely from his end.
I didn’t really understand why Andres abruptly stood up and shot out of the door mumbling something about going to check on his plum trees in his field however I returned to my conversation with the expert on the other end of the chat window. Twenty minutes later there was a tentative knock at the door and Andres hesitantly poked his head into the room. After assuring him that I was finished and my computer was now functioning perfectly I got on with the business of cooking dinner, wondering why Andres kept giving me strange looks.
Halfway through our meal Andres began to chuckle as something obviously dawned on him. It turned out I had mispronounced the word for webpage. I had put the stress in the wrong place which totally changed the word and therefore the meaning.
I had apparently informed Andres that my VAGINA was broken but there was a technician in the US who was looking at it down the camera on my computer – and I just needed Andres to wait for fifteen minutes whilst it was mended!!!!!
It’s always a bit daunting when you don’t speak the same language and you need to communicate. It is the easy option to only mix with people who are the same as you and avoid difficulties; but we also communicate via body language, facial expressions and sign language and the results when you make the effort can be so rewarding. Learning another language is another way to stretch your comfort zone.
the Catalan countryside
If you would like to know more about how you can receive a personal challenge that is emailed to you every fortnight, drop me a message and we will arrange a free call and I can explain more and while you are about it, sign up for my email list and get regular updates and more of my stories sent to you.
And now for that funny story that I promised you.
Our friend Toni and his partner make lovely artisan jewellery from natural products that they sell at Playa del Torn and we have got to know them over the last couple of years. In keeping with the naturist element of the beach they wander up and down selling their products whilst wearing no clothes.
One day after spending some time chatting to Debs and I, Toni and his partner continued walking along the beach – Toni was holding a tray with some little shell anklets on it.
A sudden gust of wind blew the jewellery into the sand – with one piece ending up between the butt cheeks of a guy who was lying face down and asleep.
Toni was in a quandary. Everybody watching held their collective breath as Toni made several attempts to pick the anklet up from the guy’s crack. He decided to go for it but just as his grip tightened around it, the guy woke up and rolled over onto his side.
A dozen or more of us who were watching collapsed with laughter at the frozen tableau. As the guy rolled over his bum cheeks had gripped the anklet tight – he froze as he looked up and saw a naked guy bending over him and holding whatever was trapped between his buttocks.
The guy’s wife was also laughing too hard to explain to her husband straight away as Toni backed away and his own partner was creased with laughter as she collected up the rest of their jewellery.
If you would like to know more about my time in Catalunya you can read some of my other posts here:
Exploring the Ebro Delta in Catalunya
Cat Fishing in Catalunya
The Catalan referendum: an opinion piece by Scarlet Jones
This article has been updated since it was first published in September 2015
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Playa del Torn, Catalunya. Getting naked and other challenges
getting naked & other challenges
This article has been updated since its first publication in October 2016
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
This week’s blog post has me worried. It’s not quite in the same league as sitting on a ski lift in a blizzard and nowhere near as terrifying as snorkelling in the dark, but I am very nervous about posting it. So please be kind. I am hoping that you will find it interesting, informative and that you will understand why I am announcing that I am a survivor of domestic abuse.
It’s so scary because this is an extremely personal post. So bear with me and let me explain why I am posting this now and why it is somewhat different from my usual posts. I normally bring you nice travel stories from Laos or Colombia, I sometimes subject you to my opinions such as in this article about diversity and occasionally I will sling in a post which hints at the reasons why I am now travelling.
I have been travelling for more than 3 years but the biggest and hardest part of that journey has been the personal one….
Grab yourself a cup of tea, settle yourself down somewhere quiet and read on.
I am a survivor of domestic abuse.
I was married at the age of 20 to a man that I loved and who loved me. We had two wonderful children and we lived a normal life. We had a nice home, we took some great holidays and we each had a good job. We made plans for when the children would leave home; we had a good social life and……………..STOP!!!!!
Rewind and let’s take off those rose tinted spectacles.
I was married at the age of 20 to a man that I was in love with and who I believed loved me. We had two wonderful children. Just about the only time that we weren’t arguing was when we were away on holiday.
My first job was in a bank. I LOVED that job but I grew to hate it because I was always walking on eggshells. In the good old days of banking all staff had to remain until all of the cashiers balanced their tills. Every single day from about 3.15pm my guts would start to churn as I worried that I may be late home. Each time I was late home I would be met with disapproval and unhelpful comments such as ‘just walk out’ or ‘you should be here with me’ or ‘tell the boss that you are not staying late anymore’.
Each and every part of my life became dominated by having to second guess my husband. But he would change the rules. Often! I could never win.
I will give you one example below but there are thousands to choose from. Individually they sound weak, I sound weak, but collectively they grow to something enormous, until they have the power to change your entire behaviour, your thought processes and your self esteem.
We would often go out with friends and enjoy ourselves (or so I thought). I would mingle, have my own conversations and laugh and have fun. On the way home my husband would accuse me of abandoning him, of boring the people that I was talking to and of making a fool of myself. In an effort to please him, the next time that we went out I would be attentive to him, stay close and listen a lot. Yep! You’ve guessed it. On the journey home, I would be accused of not allowing him any space, being boring and looking miserable. But not every time. Not often enough for me to call time on our marriage; but enough.
So this became MY normal. We had a home and a dog and our children but so gradually that I hardly noticed it happening I lost my own identity. My life became one of second guessing my husband’s moods. I would try to manipulate events in order to never be late home and I would make excuses for him when he would change his mind or his rules on a whim.
I was instructed on exactly what TV programmes I should record for him when he was out of the house (and lord forbid, I should forget). I was ordered to go and speak to teachers at the school if any issues arose and I was even told that our kids couldn’t have friends over to play if he were home. Not all of the time. But enough.
I didn’t recognise any of these behaviours as manipulation and emotional abuse for many reasons.
- It was MY normal
- I fought back against him, insisting that our children could have friends around for tea, refusing to give up my social life and I began to study for a degree.
- I believed that I had economic freedom; although actually that is not much good if you are in a virtual prison
- I would continue to go out with my friends and I put up with it when I was ‘collected’ early from a night out with them**(1)
- I worked extra hard to avoid confrontation. Sadly I didn’t realise that the increasing pressure that I was putting my mind and body under in order to please him were building up to boiling point.
- It didn’t happen all of the time. But enough.
Why am I sharing my journey as a survivor of domestic abuse with you now?
I can’t say that there has been one pivotal point during the last seven years because each of my experiences have helped to rebuild my self-confidence, however the Loy Krathong festival in Thailand was very special for me – you can read about that here.
I was interviewed for the Humans on the Road site (click here for the article) following which I have had nothing but positive feedback from people who want to connect with me and tell me their own story.
I have recently begun working with a coach (business and life) who is forcing me to face up to my instilled beliefs. Together we are working on old patterns and behaviours which I adopted in order to survive a manipulative partner and I am reminding myself that I AM a good mum**(2).
More and more, people are telling me how much I have inspired them to think about their lives in a different way and how much courage I have shown in the face of adversity, so now is the time to open up and tell you too.
What is domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse takes many forms. Abuse takes many forms. It can be
- verbal or nonverbal (psychological, mental, emotional)
- stalking, cyber-stalking or harassment
- economic or financial abuse
- any combination of the above
The perpetrators can be men or women, of all ages and from all backgrounds.
No one type of abuse is any worse than any other. Cyber-stalking can damage a person just as much as a physical beating. Sadly, too many victims may take what they see as their only escape (suicide) because they can see no other way out.
I was extremely lucky.
I was failed many times by the police and the justice system in the UK, and I hear harrowing stories daily about law enforcement officers around the world who are so dismissive about domestic violence, but I had a supportive network of friends who were looking out for me, and a little later, I was referred onto the Freedom Programme**(3) which was my salvation.
One problem is that, especially in the case of emotional abuse, the offenders are generally excellent at portraying a different side of themselves in public so few people suspect anything is wrong.
After 25 years: surviving domestic abuse
My own situation began to spiral out of control; although it was gradual at first when I began to question our relationship. I asked my husband to attend marriage counselling with me. He refused point blank.
I now know that his pattern of excuses could have been lifted from a text book and that I was never going to win; but I was very naive at the time and I so wanted to make our marriage strong again that I kept on fighting.
The excuses over the course of a few months were along these lines,
- There are no problems in our marriage
- You may have some problems
- I am not going to marriage counselling to be lectured by a do-gooder in a twin-set and pearls
- You are neurotic/menopausal
- You could do with some help
- Why don’t you go to the doctor
- A marriage counsellor will only confirm that you are neurotic
- We just need a holiday
- There is nothing wrong with me
- Find a male counsellor and I may consider going along
- Why can’t you just be like you used to be?
So I went alone to counselling.
And my ‘caring’ husband who just wanted to help me to ‘get better’ refused to discuss or even listen to what had happened in that first meeting.
I went a second time.
And this tiny little elderly lady, who was in fact wearing a twin-set and pearls, opened my eyes. She asked if I were happy. She asked if I had any regrets. She asked me how long I had been fighting to change myself in order to placate and please my husband.
I realised that he would never change if he wouldn’t even listen to me, so to shake him up a little bit I told him that I wanted two weeks – just two weeks apart from him because I needed to think things through.
I planned to find a little country cottage miles from anywhere where I could sit and think. I guessed that I would come to my senses and return (if he would even agree to have me back) and life would continue along the same path as before.
BUT, as it began to dawn on him that he might actually be losing control of me, things began to escalate.
The gas-lighting and controlling incidences began to happen more of the time. And I was now aware.
And then I met another man. He was living his own version of an unhappy marriage and we talked. He asked if I were happy. He asked if I had any regrets.
I began by trying to persuade him to stay with his wife (a colleague of mine) and he began by trying to persuade me to remain with my husband.
But as we talked I realised that MY normal was in fact not normal at all. There were empowering men out there. Men who wanted their wives to stretch themselves and who were not themselves threatened by a strong or an educated woman.
There were men out there who would allow their wives to go away with work colleagues for a weekend**(4) and men who didn’t constantly compare their partners to others or put them down in public but pass it off as a joke.
There were men who wouldn’t throw a tantrum or sulk for days on end if I were to forget to record Emmerdale (oh yes!), or if I wasn’t ready and waiting to open the garage door when he drove up after work.
So me and my new friend talked some more. And I decided that I wanted this sort of a man. Not this actual man but someone who would support me and who would not be threatened by me and who wanted me as an equal. I wanted my husband to be a man like that.
But by now, I realised that my husband would never change. He could never change. He didn’t want to ever change.
You must remember that we had two wonderful children. I didn’t want to tear their home environment apart. I had come this far (I had actually considered leaving 8 years previously when I suspected my husband of having an affair), so I naively believed that if I took a couple of weeks away I could sort out MY problems and return to being the wife that he wanted and behave in a way that I was expected to behave.
So I insisted on two weeks away.
The arguments got more intense and his behaviour became more threatening. Instead of attempting to placate me or entice me to stay he became ever more accusing. He explained that my request was obvious justification for my increasing madness.
Whilst I still hoped for my dream husband to emerge from this creature that I now saw, I guess that deep down I knew that he would never change and so I began to make plans.
I opened a bank account in my own name and I packed a small bag.
And then after a month during which he stood in the kitchen and screamed how he hated our son**(5), when he told me that I had to give up my ongoing Open University degree because…wait for this one…. ‘I was getting ideas above my station’, and he informed me that I would NOT be allowed to use my phone and text in front of him ever again, I left.
I left in the middle of the night. Our son had already been forced to move out of the house and was living in a bedsit**(6), and our daughter was about to go and spend a week in Spain with her friends.
During a massive argument that night the bedroom was trashed. My clothes were swept out of the wardrobe by my husband in a red-hot rage. He tried to wrestle my phone from me but I ran out into the street. Out there, things calmed down as he needed to present a lovable front to the neighbours. But after he had left to take the girls to the airport, and after I had sat and cried solidly for 5 hours amongst the trashed bedroom, I picked up my small bag and I left.
Taking back control.
That was the beginning of another chapter in my life. It was a dark time. At one point I absolutely lost the will to live but with the care and the love of my family and my friends I grew strong again.
No longer able to control me, my husband swung between victim (crocodile tears), to loving father (now he NEEDED our son to be strong and to support him), to threatening myself and my friends. He tried to force his way into a friend’s house, he sent disgusting letters to others and he terrified another friend by rampaging around her garden at two in the morning.
I filed for divorce. It took over three years to be granted and during that time he persuaded our children that they should have no more contact with me. He was the victim in all of this, right?
I was bullied in work and the management stood by and did nothing. Quite frankly they were out of their depth, weak and inept (that is another whole long story which I will spare you from now) but I spent eight long nightmare months being totally ignored by the people in my office.
I crashed and I burned in a total meltdown. I spent weeks limping from day to day in a (prescription) drug induced haze. I came close to checking right off this planet. To this day I believe that a guardian angel was watching over me and it was not my time to go.
I decided to take back control. I made the decision to live. Now I was going to design the best lifestyle for myself that I could imagine. Treating myself as an ongoing project, I drew up the outline of a plan and I worked on myself.
I was going to make the best of a bad situation and I was going to be the best.
I bided my time, waiting for my divorce. Waiting for my children to understand that there are always two sides to an argument and waiting for them to reply to my messages and cards. Waiting for the police to take action and put a stop to the harassment and the stalking that my ex-husband was subjecting me to**(7).
While I was waiting for my divorce to be finalised I began a transformation. The eggshells became less crunchy and I started to trust my own instincts without having to defer to another person.
With sheer will power and determination my own character that my husband had obviously recognised and attempted to crush all of those years ago began to emerge from the debris.
Tentatively at first, but then faster and faster I hurtled forwards. I got my decree absolute, my degree in Sociology & Geography and I quit my job.
I am the first to admit that I was terrified when I stepped on board my flight to Lima. I was convinced that I would never be able to cope and I would be lonely and alone.
And for a couple of weeks I wanted nothing more than to head back to my now long gone little apartment and to curl up and to hide under the bedcovers.
Six weeks after that I was celebrating the start of a New Year by the side of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and three months later I knew that I would not be returning any time soon.
And I didn’t go back. Project Me was a success.
Ok – it hasn’t been 100% successful because my children still choose to condemn me for leaving an unhappy marriage, but I did what I did at the time in order to survive. I have to have hope and faith that one day they will recognise how their father used them as pawns. I don’t want them to reject him but simply to allow me to be their mum again.
I have been travelling for more than four years, mostly solo and thriving on challenges, realising that many people do not find me boring as I was so often told. I have met so many people who tell me that my courage inspires them too and who ask me to help them to move themselves forwards.
And this is my work now.
I run my own business helping people to realise their own value and self esteem. I work with clients who come from all sorts of backgrounds and I inspire them to live the best life that they can. I encourage them to push themselves; because it is only when we step out of our comfort zone that we discover what we are capable of.
I mentor them and we work together so that they can identify their passions and they can incorporate those passions into their own dream lifestyle; and all the time, along the way they are building their self belief.
But I am not ashamed of my life journey and I am proud to stand up and say ‘I am a survivor of domestic abuse’. For every woman and man who will stand up and announce the same, there may be another person out there who believes that just maybe, they can also find the courage to stand up and REALLY live their lives.
Thank you for hanging on in here.
If you have made it to the end of this rather long article, thank you.
I offer no apologies if you would have preferred a post about my experiences in the Cardamom Mountains in Cambodia or hwo to survive the night in a hostel because maybe this article will strike a chord with some of you and it may help many of you who are moving towards your own dreams.
If you want help to become a survivor (not necessarily from domestic abuse, but from whatever it is that’s holding you back), or if you want to share your own experiences with me, please do reach out to me and let’s connect. It’s not that scary. I do understand because I have been there. Opening myself up and sharing this article with you was scary, but now the ‘send button’ has been pressed and it seems that it has turned out OK!
You can leave a comment below or connect with me by email because I would love to hear from you. And please, if you know anybody who could do with a gentle push to make some changes in their life, do forward them this article.
Thank you for listening to me.
My name is Jane and I am a survivor of domestic abuse.
It is estimated that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse at some time in their lives (Home Office 2007)
**(1) I was told that because he cared for me he would collect me from an evening out with friends. Great – or so I thought. But time and time again he would arrive early and insist that I leave with him, even if we hadn’t got as far as ordering the desert after a meal. I couldn’t make a fuss in front of my friends so I would comply because the alternative was unthinkable. He would be moaning for the next week or worse… my fear was that he would ‘kick off’ in front of my friends…so I kept my mouth shut and I did as I was told.
**(2) On my very first night out a couple of weeks after our first child was born I went to a Tupperware party in a friend’s house. I received a phone call and I was told that I had to return home immediately as our son was crying and my husband was unable to settle him. I could hear distressed screaming in the background – so obviously I left quickly.
Baby fed; check. Clean nappy; check. Solution: walk around with baby on my shoulder until he fell asleep. Easy peasy. THAT was just the first and one tiny incidence of millions – but it took me a long time to realise that it came from a position of one person controlling another, and crucially from a person using the children as a weapon.
**(3) The idea for the Freedom Programme evolved from an excellent book called ‘Living with the Dominator’ by Pat Craven. I really believe that this book should be compulsory for all older teens and adults. Click and order the book if you want to know more.
**(4) When I was working for a bank the management arranged a weekend away in a country house hotel for about 20 staff as a prize for our productivity. I was thrilled to be chosen but my husband’s reaction confused me. He initially insisted that he be allowed to come too (WTF??), and next, that I should decline the invitation because partners were not to be included. I had every reason thrown at me by him. He couldn’t trust the other men going, I shouldn’t want to go without him, we were a team and should do things like this together…blah, blah, blah. I did go away for that weekend but I spent my time balancing on those by now familiar eggshells. He promised to phone me at some time, saying that if I had nothing to hide I should obviously be free to speak to him. So I left our evening meal early and instead of joining colleagues I went back to the hotel to wait for his call. Unless you have ever been the one trying to placate somebody like this you are probably reading this and thinking that I was weak but you have to understand how living like this gradually creeps in and takes over your whole life. I wasn’t weak. I was strong and I was doing my best to survive in my own way.
**(5) I KNOW that I am a good mum because I spent nineteen years standing as a buffer between his moods and our children. I spent nineteen years telling our son that he was not stupid despite what his dad said and seventeen years telling our distraught daughter that everything would be alright. Randi G Fine explains all of this rather better than I can
**(6) I am not proud of the fact that I allowed our son to leave home, but I know now that I was getting him to a safe place. If things went badly and I wasn’t allowed to return to my marriage I would no longer be able to protect him from his father’s rages and destructive comments.
**(7) Whilst there are some excellent police officers out there, sadly there are many who don’t understand or who can’t be bothered to learn about domestic abuse. I finally found a wonderfully professional and supportive officer (thank you Officer N – I hope that you know who you are); but sadly not before many who went before her had abused their position. I have several letters filed away from the Chief Constable apologising on several occasions for the behaviour of some of his officers – yet sadly the incompetence and conspiracy occurred more than once.
If you would like to become a survivor of domestic abuse…
You can find out how I now empower men and women to realise their own identity again by working with them to build their self esteem. If you are not sure whether I can help you or somebody that you know, please do drop me an email and we can have a chat.
You can find out more
and you can drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am always happy to chat and offer advice.
Learn more about becoming a survivor
I am passionate that more people learn a lot quicker than I did (it took me 25 years of marriage) about coercive control, domestic violence and the inbalance of power in a relationship.
And don’t forget to check out Pat Craven’s excellent book, and if you are in the UK find out if there is a Freedom Programme running near you
These are my personal views on events during the recent Catalan referendum – written whilst waiting to check in for my flight at Barcelona airport. Travel isn’t all sandy beaches and cocktails. It can be gritty realism and immersion in the lives of real people. I always do my best to understand the history and to understand about the different cultures and customs of the places that I visit and this summer has been no different as I researched and investigated the history of the Spanish Civil War. As a result, the recent events that I found myself in the middle of, held even more emotion for me.
(This post may contain 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)
I cried when I left friends behind in Colombia and I bawled my eyes out as my plane took off from Rio after travelling for a year in South America. On a travel day, I usually sit quietly at bus stations or at airports reflecting on why I feel driven to leave the people that I care for and whom I know that I will deeply miss.
As a travel writer and a blogger I’m very excited to be travelling again, but moving on from a place where I have begun to put down some roots will always be tinged with sadness.
This time the leaving is different. I feel as if I’m abandoning my friends. I’m leaving behind a country that’s very uncertain of her future. I have been here in Spain for more than twelve months (with many side trips around Europe) learning about Spanish history and I’m proud to say that I am becoming quite proficient in one of her languages. I’ve travelled through some difficult regions in the world but this is the first time when I have been a part of a disturbing situation unfurling live and as it happens.
Hopefully things will settle down and quickly, common sense and dialogue will prevail and no side will lose face. But we must all be aware of how seemingly overnight a small disagreement can erupt into a full blown argument followed by hatred and divisions, and even as I write this, the news reports are changing minute by minute.
Without any Latin blood in my veins I can only try to imagine how deep the feelings of mistrust, past wrongs and a sense of national pride can run. It seems whilst all around the world many people want the benefits of a globalised planet, many individuals are turning back to their ancestral roots, embracing languages, customs and cultures and wanting to highlight their self-identity within smaller communities.
My grandmother was punished
My grandmother was banned from speaking Welsh in her school and she was beaten when she was overheard speaking anything other than English. Catalans, under Franco suffered an even worst fate if they were heard speaking their language in public. I understand the need to claim an identity – I am Welsh, British and European but never English – despite having long forgotten the Welsh language that I learnt in school and that my grandmother spoke to me. I also know that to force a people to abandon their own culture and to adopt another is done in an attempt to subdue and to degrade them. It usually only harbours resentment and it can become a ticking time bomb.
the awesome Welsh flag
Over the years there have been calls for Welsh independence but for now those voices are in the minority. Wales is not a wealthy region of the United Kingdom and it receives a lot of European money (I still cannot for the life of me understand why, apart from in Cardiff, the majority voted for Brexit), and the region is better as part of the larger unit. The people from Cardiff which is the capital city of Wales are among the friendliest and most accepting of other cultures that I have met all around the world.
I understand some of the Catalan people’s call for independence from Spain and I understand the reluctance of the Spanish government to let them vote for change. But I will never understand how, in a democracy, a government can instruct its police force or army to turn on peaceful protesters with violence. I was there on Sunday 1st October. I witnessed first hand the feelings of horror, shame and disbelief that shook the region.
The (illegal) Catalan referendum.
On 1st October many of the Catalan people wanted the right to cast their vote for independence. This election may have been illegal in the eyes of the law but the people were putting a cross on a piece of paper. They were not marching in the streets or planting bombs. They were not screaming offensive racial obscenities, burning down banks or looting shopping malls. They were simply entering schools and village halls to put a cross on a piece of paper.
Under Spanish constitution the vote and therefore the result of it was illegal. In the run up to the election, because it was illegal, no proper debates took place. Many people may not have had access to all of the facts BUT at the end of the day, they were queuing up to put a cross on a piece of paper.
And the Spanish government sent in the ‘storm troopers’. Dressed in black they first threatened and then they began beating people indiscriminately. The elderly and women did not escape. If you were in the wrong place at the wrong time you could be beaten with truncheons or shot at with rubber bullets. It might be a slower way to break up a crowd but hey, two strong soldiers could physically lift a woman out of a building without resorting to kicking her or pulling her down a flight of stairs by her hair.
History must not be repeated
I have friends on both sides of the ‘border’. I have friends in Madrid and friends in the Basque Country. I have Catalan friends and Spanish friends who live in Catalunya. People are worried and they have a deep mistrust of the mainstream media which many believe are manipulated by the government. They are starting to remember the past. Modern day propaganda in the run up to Sunday showed images of tanks on the streets in Tarragona. People became angry until they realised that the photographs had been digitally altered. Whilst facts are circulated immediately, false images are just as quickly made and fake news is pumped out. It is hard to guage the level of public feeling unless you get down at street level and speak to the people.
Catalan referendum and the flag of Catalunya
On 1st October I was chatting to an eighty eight year old lady from the Catalan village where I have been living. She had struggled along the road on her walking sticks to go and cast her vote. I don’t know which side she voted for but she told me how worried she was for her son and grandchildren who were sitting outside the fire station which was hosting the ballot and who were all nervously wondering whether the riot police would descend on them and when.
My friend described to me how she was sadly re-living the day when as a nine year old she, her mother and other female members of her family walked to Barcelona – a distance of more than two hundred kilometres. Her father had gone to fight in the Spanish Civil War and she was just one of a steady stream of refugees fleeing the battle zone. She was afraid that things were once again beginning to unravel.
Voting day in the Catalan referendum
On 1st October, myself and my friends felt drawn to the village centre to stand with good friends – both Spanish and Catalan – watching and waiting for the possible arrival of the troops. And standing with people who were not violent or aggressive but who simply wanted the right to express an opinion. Others, higher up on the political spectrum may have had a bigger agenda but in a village of less than eight hundred inhabitants almost half turned out to mark their piece of paper one way or another.
Whilst both sides were spreading their propaganda on the day, most people were getting their news as it happened via social media. As the ‘storm troopers’ got ever closer to our village and the network of informers telephoned and advised us that the Guardia Civil weren’t too far away it was decided to close the ballot box and hide it.
Like a scene from a film people crossed the road and took their places outside a bar opposite the fire station. Drinks were ordered, the bar staff brought out plates of crisps and children played under the trees. Everything looked normal but there was an undercurrent and a nervous tension. The children ran around blissfully unaware but the adults nervously eyed the street from where the Civil Guard could come. The music from the bar was turned up changing from pop music to Catalan songs and the Catalan news channel transmitted scenes of the violence in other towns and cities on the television screen.
It was not thrilling or exciting to be in the middle of this scene. It made me sick to my stomach that this was happening. My friends and I were not there to be voyeuristic but to watch and to bear witness to whatever might happen. Thankfully our small village avoided the wrath of the soldiers. But half of the villagers didn’t turn out to cast their vote. Whether they were afraid to vote, had no interest in the vote or were ‘no’ voters who boycotted it because it was illegal we shall never know. But because of that, the vote cannot count nor should it be claimed to be representative of the majority.
Coming together in solidarity
On Tuesday, two days after Sunday 1st October most of Catalunya ground to a halt. As I understand it, this was not a general strike or action against Madrid, but a day of reflection, a day of solidarity, a day to come together in protest and to acknowledge the heavy-handed violence that had been a feature of the previous Sunday and to try to show the rest of the world that the Catalans wanted to bring about change without aggression.
People swarmed onto the streets; many carrying red carnations (this flower was also the symbol of the Portuguese freedom movement) and waving the Catalan flag. People stood, shoulder to shoulder with hands in the air and the bars that had opened attracted people who simply wanted to come together. Many of the national chains of supermarkets and shops were deserted as people boycotted them in a stance of togetherness.
And now three days on we are playing an uneasy waiting game. Whilst the European Union may not be able to order Spain to allow its regions to vote on the independence issue it could (and should, in my opinion) speak out against a nation that unleashes its Civil Guard on innocent and unarmed people in such a vicious way.
I’m struggling to make sense of this situation and Paul Mason does this much better than me in this article for The Guardian:
I can’t cover the entire political history in this short article. I can’t comment on whether the ‘yes’ or the ‘no’ camps have the answer; but I feel strongly that I should speak out and condemn the violence. There is a saying: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” I remained neutral and I didn’t speak out against situations in my past but I now mentor many survivors of domestic abuse and I tell them to stand tall and to speak out.
I stand up against the violence in Catalunya on 1st October.
My wish as I fly out from Barcelona airport is that the politicians talk constructively and quickly for the sake of this wonderful country and its amazing people. I am not qualified to voice an opinion on whether there should be an independent Catalunya; after all I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that the majority in my country voted for Brexit, but I am qualified to condemn the violence that was meted out to people who were standing or sitting with their hands in the air and posing no threat to riot police armed with shields and guns.
I hope that common sense and calm prevail. I hope that neither side are too stubborn to negotiate. I hope that the Catalan people manage to retain their dignity and their control and do not retaliate and resort to violence. I hope that when I do return to my friends and the country that I have grown to love, you are all unchanged by these events.
For now, adios Spain, adeu Catalunya and good luck to all of my friends that I leave behind.
Paz a todos, pau per a tothom.
For an excellent insight into the history of Spain, its regions and its people, the author and reporter Giles Tremlett has many of the explanations in his book Ghosts of Spain – Click here to order it from Amazon
In this piece from The Guardian newspaper Giles Tremlett adds his own opinion and further down in the article you can see how far things deteriorated with the Civil Guard beating the Catalan firefighters. https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2017/oct/01/catalan-independence-referendum-spain-catalonia-vote-live
Below are some more of the most haunting images and video clips from the Catalan referendum that had an entire region stunned on Sunday 1st October, together with the Catalan anthem – both the original and the modern rock version (the Catalans LOVE their rock music)
And in this next link – attacking peaceful protestors – sickening!
Swimming with whale sharks could be on my bucket list – if I wasn’t so afraid of water – so when my friend Debbie told me that this was one of her biggest dreams I excitedly followed her plans.
I want to share her story with you and hopefully inspire you to chase the one thing that you have always wanted to do. Put aside the excuses and start the ball rolling today – and please do comment at the bottom of this post and tell us your one big dream. (Click on the links in the text to find out more)
Inspirational people – Debbie’s story
- You have just returned from a solo trip to Mexico. Why did you choose to go there?
I went to Mexico because I’ve always dreamed of swimming with whale sharks, and at this time of the year (July) there are huge numbers off the coast of the Mayan peninsular. I went for three weeks and most of my trip was based around the water and snorkelling with the wildlife. You don’t have to get in the water either. I took a catamaran trip and I kayaked too. Mexico and Belize have the second largest reef in the world off their coastline, and I also crossed over the border and visited Belize for a couple of days. However there is more to Mexico than water sports. There is lots of history, ruins and temples – I only went to a small part – Mexico is vast.
- Why did you go solo?
Partly because nobody was free to come with me and swimming with the whale sharks was something that I really wanted to do. In the past I would never have dreamed of travelling solo, not until I went travelling with yourself last year (we backpacked together for 7 weeks in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand), and then I realised that when you stay in hostels you are never really travelling alone.
Travelling with you (and doing your confidence building course before hand) made me more knowledgeable about this type of travel (solo). With knowledge comes confidence and therefore I was confident enough to book this trip solo to a country that is in fact reasonably dangerous.
- Did you ever feel that you were in danger?
There was one episode – when the police were after someone. There was a manhunt for somebody from one of the drug cartels who had killed a police officer. I heard the gunshots whilst I was sitting outside a restaurant drinking the first of my 2-for-1 margaritas. The staff immediately ushered us all inside the building and quickly fixed bars across all of the windows to prevent us from entering.
Were you scared?
I watched the police in the street run past armed to the hilt. Personally I wasn’t frightened although there were people running into the restaurant for sanctuary and many of them were scared and crying. They were hiding behind the pillars. In true British style I ordered my second margarita and waited it out. The only time that I felt nervous was walking back to my hostel through streets that had been locked down and felt like a warzone.
- Why did you choose to stay in a hostel rather than a hotel or an apartment?
Well as I mentioned above, when you stay in a hostel you are never actually travelling alone. It’s altogether a more friendly experience. You can cook and eat with other guests, travel together and share experiences. I would never want to stay in a hotel from choice. I don’t want the restrictions of a hotel (unless it’s for a romantic break!). For more tips on staying in hostels click here
- Did you ever feel lonely?
One day I received bad news from home. I had just arrived at a deserted hostel – not even the owners were there – so I jumped straight on a bus to where the life was and got chatting to the waiter in the coffee shop, but otherwise, no.
If you are not ready to take a trip like this solo, why not take a look at what Explore have to offer? I have travelled 4 times with them and I would highly rate them – Scarlet Jones
- How do you think you would have coped if you had got sick?
I can speak the (Spanish) language which is one major hurdle overcome and I had good travel insurance. I felt quite confident that I would be fine if I were to get sick.
I use Alpha Travel Insurance. Get your competitive travel insurance quote here – Scarlet Jones
- What were the top highlights of your trip?
Swimming with whale sharks! I wasn’t disappointed at all, however, all of the excursions that I did were all great and also the best bit was making new friends. I have been invited to visit a family in Colombia that I met on my catamaran trip and also to Mexico City by a flight attendant!
- And the worst?
After a six hour hot and dusty bus journey I arrived at my next hostel to check in. There was nobody around, just a faded handwritten notice on the door directing visitors to the run-down little house next door. There I found a friendly family who had a key and got me into the hostel. They were very helpful but it turned out that the owners were away and I was the only person (guest or staff) rattling around in the place. This coincided with me receiving my bad news from home. However, despite this, my spirits were lifted when the grandfather of the family next door invited me to sleep in one of their hammocks with his family if I didn’t want to be alone in the hostel. I declined but the thought was there.
Swimming with whale sharks
- Tell me about your experience of swimming with whale sharks
I had been very thorough with my research before I booked my day out and I wasn’t disappointed. I chose to go swimming with whale sharks with the Whale Shark Encounter from Cancun who do a lot of conservation work. We were one of the first boats to arrive at the expected whale shark site and because of that I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in the water with these magnificent fish.
The experience was wonderful – to swim next to a 30 metre long creature, looking into its enormous mouth, seeing its gills and its eyes. You know they are watching you but they are beautiful gentle creatures. I would do it all again
- What next?
I am thinking about going to see blue whales, swimming with dolphins in the wild and I would love to do a 3 day trek and boat trip to see orang utangs in the wild in Borneo. By visiting these animals in their natural habitat in an unobtrusive way with responsible companies and guides can help to provide an income for local people who find it in their interest to protect the environment and the species. For instance, in the case of Whale Shark Encounter that I used in Mexico, all employees are from the local community and the company has the National Geographic Snorkel’s Certificate.
- What advice would you give to anybody who wants to travel but who has friends that either don’t want to go where you want to go and or can’t get the time off work
I would say, just do it. Research it, stay in hostels but don’t be too regimented with your plans. I literally only had the first few days booked and planned and I made arrangements as I went. As long as you have internet access and a smart phone it’s all so simple.
I would also recommend that anybody who is nervous about travelling solo for the first time that they take a course. I initially followed the Smash the Pumpkin Project and then later, I joined you (Jane at Scarlet Jones Travels) on a trip through Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, both of which taught me a lot.
These things gave me the confidence to travel solo and made me realise that I didn’t need to wait around for friends to be free to travel with me.
- What saying or mantra resonates the most with you?
As I was racing across JFK Airport in New York to make my onward connection to Mexico I saw this sign. I stopped briefly to take a picture but it really struck a chord.
‘Live the international life. We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us.’
Inspirational quote from JFK
- I know that you had problems as a result of flight delays. How did you cope with that? What were your initial feelings and was it as bad as you had feared?
I was a little bit disappointed as I had my tour to go swimming with whale sharks booked for the following day and I wanted to be organised and relaxed for that. I did everything in my power to catch the connecting flight but I missed it by minutes (due to delays with the first flight). As I arrived at the gate, staff came out to tell me that they were sorry but the gate had been closed and I had missed the plane, however they immediately directed me to a help desk who organised a hotel and a flight the following morning.
I was nervous but I decided that it was just another experience and part of my travels. I got to spend a night in New York where I met some very friendly people including a man who bought me a cheesecake! I was apprehensive but I knew that the airport staff would fix things so I relaxed and told myself to chill. I also got chatting to an air steward who sat with me on my first flight and explained the layout of JFK and my options should I fail to make the connection – we are still in contact via email, and he invited me to stay with his family in Mexico City. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t missed my plane.
I use Skyscanner to search for and book all of my flights – Scarlet Jones
- Would you return to Mexico
Yes I would and I would recommend Mexico even if you are not into water sports. I would love to visit Mexico City, the north and the Pacific coast and I would certainly love to go swimming with whale sharks again.
- And to sum up – do you have any tips for would-be solo travellers?
If you are in Mexico and you plan to hop over to another country and back, be careful with the taxes that you might be asked to pay when you leave and enter across the border. For instance, if you are due to leave by air at a later date you should not have to pay taxes to Mexico if you pop over to Belize by boat (you will still have to pay Belize customs). I researched this topic from other travel blogs whilst on the way to the border and I subsequently held my ground and (correctly) declined to pay the requested taxes when leaving Mexico. I also managed to get a refund for an Irish couple at the border who had been unaware of this rule and had initially paid up without questioning.
If you are inspired by Debbie’s story and you would like to travel alone but you are still a bit nervous why not travel with me later this year – I am going to Myanmar Singapore and Malaysia
Would you travel solo and take a trip like this? If not, drop me a line below in the comments and let me know what is stopping you – or alternatively tell us about your own experiences when you chased your dream
Useful Links and information:
Travel Insurance from Alpha Travel Insurance
The Smash the Pumpkin Project – build your confidence and self belief
Are you too old to stay in hostels?
Hotel tips: and how NOT to behave in a hostel
Getting sick while travelling in S E Asia
Travel with me in Malaysia later this year
Small group adventure holidays with Explore
Guide books to anywhere from Lonely Planet
Find a place to stay with Agoda
Search and book your flights with Skyscanner
Swimming with whale sharks in Cancun – www.whalesharkencounter.com
Scarlet Jones Travels contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions are akin to you buying me a cup of coffee and keeping me on the road so that I can continue to bring you articles and information. Thanks for reading!
Am I too old to stay in a hostel?
This is a recurring question that is asked over and over again in Facebook Groups and travel forums by would-be travellers. Too often they imagine that hostels are full of drunken eighteen year olds who will party until the early hours, be generally disrespectful and who will go around mocking older guests.
I have been travelling for more than four years and my accomodation of choice is usually a backpacker’s hostel so I can call myself an authority on hostels and the people that tend to stay in them. I can honestly say that in all that time, I have only ever once experienced discrimination which came in the form of ageism; keep reading for the details – but because I love to meet people, hostels offer the best chance of this when you’re on the road – especially when you are travelling solo. Find out how NOT to behave in a hostel here.
Of course I sometimes get aprehensive before I check into a new hostel but that’s to be expected in any new situation. When I worry that I will stick out like a sore thumb that is only my negative voice speaking to me, it’s my past insecurities trying to bubble to the surface, but I stamp firmly on them, hoist my backpack closer to me and I hold my head up high.
I remind myself that I am capable of so much more than I was ever led to believe that I could do, and I have proved this to myself over and over when I was preparing for my life of travel and setting myself a series of challenges. (Find out how you can also do this too).
Who stays in a hostel?
Hostels attract many different people. There are business travellers who want to save their hotel expenses, students who are studying in local language schools, families, groups of friends and solo travellers and they are of all ages, race, nationality and religion.
The one thing that they all have in common is that they have chosen a hostel as opposed to a hotel, apartment or a guesthouse. A quick poll among my friends and fellow travellers shows that the main reason for choosing a hostel is to meet and to connect with other people. (Second and third reasons are for the self-catering facilities or lower prices).
Yes, this IS a hostel
You can check out rates for this hostel or others on the island of Ischia, Italy or any other places at this link
Walking into a hostel for the first time can be daunting. People will often stop what they are doing to turn and to look at you. They ARE assessing you but you must remember and understand that they are not judging you. They see a potential new friend, a possible travel companion or a dinner partner.
They may see a shoulder to cry on, somebody who can show them a new way with pasta or a safe pair of hands on a night out in a dodgy part of town.
Are you too old to stay in a hostel?
I have asked countless travellers what they think of the over 35’s staying in hostels and I usually get a bemused look. What!! There are old people staying here? Where?
It’s all about your attitude. If you are open-minded enough to choose a hostel then you don’t generally care how old or how young your fellow guests are. The older people generally have the larger collection of stories, they can offer all sorts of career advice and often double up as substitute parents or aunties and uncles if someone is feeling a little homesick or overwhelmed.
all sorts of people
The younger people can inject sponteneity, innocence and a naiviety into the procedings, and the dynamics are ever changing as guests come and go. That is what I love about a hostel – they are fluid, interactive and interesting.
Do hostels have an age limit?
More often than not, any age limit if there is one is imposed on younger people. Children are often welcome (staying in family or private rooms rather than dormitories) but it makes sense to monitor people under the age of eighteen as there are rules regarding drinking alcohol, and safety issues around minors travelling in groups or children sleeping in dormitories with strangers.
Some hostels, but very few, actually impose an upper age limit. Some may mention in the blurb that guests are generally under the age of 30 or some people may prefer to find a quieter hostel, but in my opinion, that upper age limit should be the guest’s own choice.
I have nothing against a hotel or a guesthouse. If I am travelling with a friend a shared room will often work out cheaper, and if you are sick then a private room is a godsend: – Getting Sick in Laos
(Sidenote: I never travel without travel insurance and if you can’t afford the insurance then you probably shouldn’t be travelling. I usually buy my insurance from Alpha Insurance which is very reasonable and you don’t have to jump through too many hoops to sign up – get your quote here
And now back to that story of discrimination, ageism and one man acting like a complete pr*ck.
Remember this is just one bad occasion out of hundreds of nights in a hostel; and I never actually made it past reception!
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Somewhere in a hostel in Ao Nang, Thailand
I had been continuously sick when I had travelled around S E Asia so I would be the first to admit that I didn’t look too bright and breezy when my friend and I approached the long-haired guy at the reception desk at an interesting looking hostel in Ao Nang, Thailand; but I was on the mend and I was looking forward to meeting new people and to painting the town red.
When the receptionist, a pasty-faced long-haired guy finally bothered to look up from his mobile I asked him how much a couple of beds would be for a night or two.
‘Ladies,’ he condescendingly sneered in what may have been a South African, Australian or a New Zealand accent. ‘You might be better finding a different place to stay. This is a party hostel.’
‘Ooh good!’ I replied. ‘I’ve been horribly sick but I’m feeling a lot better now and I’m ready to party’.
‘No ladies, this is REALLY a party hostel,’ he said, obviously dying to return to whatever was more attractive that the two ever-so-slightly mature but ever-so-much-fun ladies standing hopefully in front of him.
‘Um, does illegal stuff happen here?’ I asked hesitantly, not too sure what the difference was between a party hostel and a REALLY party hostel was.
Long-haired pasty-faced guy gave up trying to be polite.
‘Listen! There is an age policy in place here. Nobody over the age of 35 can stay here’.
‘Well that’s OK then,’ I retorted. Facebook has me down as 34 so I qualify’.
I had finally recovered from my long time spell of sickness and I wanted to party so this was like a red rag to a bull.
‘What? How old do you seriously think we are?’ I continued. ‘You can’t discriminate against us based on how old you think that we are. And even if we are slightly above the age limit, can’t older people party too? We want to stay here’
I forget what long-haired guy retorted but I know that it wasn’t very pleasant and basically he told us to sling our hook.
Knowing we were not getting past this unfortunate piece of humanity any time soon we accepted defeat and we turned and walked out. Interestingly the website of this hostel in Ao Nang quotes that guests should have…
A willingness to mix with others regardless of gender or nationality
A burning desire to have fun and smile
A respectful, open personality
A strong liver to cope with our head barman!
My friend and I had all of the above – ask the staff at the Vietnam Hostel in Hanoii which really is a party hostel but who also has the nicest staff and the best welcoming, inclusive, non-discriminatory attitude to ALL of their clientele unlike long-haired, pasty-faced guy who was sat in front of us now.
Feeling a bit deflated we stood out in the dusty lane while Mr Ignorant went back to his game or more probably his porn on his mobile. Now, I write reviews for a hostel website so I decided to take a couple of photos of the front of the hostel so that I could submit a warning about the Age Gestapo on the reception desk on the site that I write for….and that is when it really got interesting!
Long-haired guy uncoiled like a serpent and shot out of the hostel screaming at me to hand over my phone (I obviously refused), whilst threatening to call the police (for taking photos in the street?) and yelling at my friend and I all sorts of obscenities whilst snaking his horrible pointy fingernails at me.
Apparently I was breaking all sorts of privacy laws by photographing him and his hostel and he kept trying to grab my phone.
Honestly, the double standards! We were considered too old and too fragile to party but the disgusting language that he was using could have sent us to an early grave.
Scared that he might actually get hold of my phone and smash it to pieces I stuffed it into my bra where I hoped that he would be afraid to delve. Giving him the finger, my friend and I whirled on our heels and insisted that he call the police if he felt the need and telling him to go f*ck himself we marched off.
The room where we were actually staying was only a couple of doors down from this so-called, amazing party hostel and we ended up staying in Ao Nang for nearly a week. Every time we passed by, Mr Miserable was all alone in his bland building and the few guests that we did spot going in and out looked like they could do with a hefty injection of fun!
Where will you stay next?
If you want a challenge, why not try a hostel somewhere near you for a weekend?
Or if you want to travel with a small group of people I highly rate Explore having travelled with them on four separate trips before I became brave enough to set out on my own.
And don’t forget your free 7 day guide to a more confident you by signing up to my website – just click on the link to the homepage and enter your name and address in the box at the bottom. You will be free to unsubscribe at any time, but I hope that you enjoy this and future articles.
Scarlet Jones Travels contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions are akin to you buying me a cup of coffee and keeping me on the road so that I can continue to bring you articles and information. Thanks for reading!