27 Oct Travel Companions, Exhaustion and Thailand
Our trip to Thailand didn’t get off to the best start.
After an exhausting but incredible three weeks in the Philippines we bid a sad farewell to our mountain retreat in Sagada and headed back to Manila; excited at the prospect of meeting our friends and family in Thailand in just a few days’ time. As we settled down in our Manila hotel for a day of badly needed rest Andrew received an email from Tiger Air: our flight to Bangkok had been put forward to the early hours of the next morning and what’s more, we were due to leave from Clark airport – not Manila.
Yes, that’s right – we were in the wrong city.
Going back to where it all began: Arriving in Thailand
Instead of resting, as planned, we spent our final day in the Philippines rushing around trying to figure out how to get to Clark in time for our flight. Rather than getting a good night’s sleep and jetting off at a reasonable time the next day, we ended up getting a bus to Clark at two o’clock in the morning and arrived in Bangkok absolutely shattered. I love it when airlines change your flight times at the last minute.
As tired as we were, however, we were excited to be back; our first trip to Thailand four years ago was the spark that ignited our passion for travel and set us on the long road towards the life we’re now living. Walking the streets of Bangkok again, which were cleaner and less chaotic than I remembered, was a surreal experience. I couldn’t help thinking of all we’d achieved since we last visited; back in 2009 we were penniless, clueless ex-students with no idea how to make long-term travel a reality and today here we are, living a life of indefinite travel.
Greeting our new Travel Companions
A few hours’ later things got even more surreal as we greeted my friend Jo and Andrew’s sisters; Sarah and Claire, in our hotel. We were overjoyed to see some familiar faces and began to excitedly plan the next few weeks of our trip together. After a whistle-stop tour around Bangkok the next day we caught the night train to Chiang Mai; a journey which should have taken 15 hours ended up taking 21. On arriving we were joined by two of Claire’s friends and our group of eight set out to find accommodation, food and organise a trek for the next day. While our guests stayed on in Chiang Mai Andrew and I headed back to Bangkok just two nights later to meet my parents.
Exhaustion was beginning to set in.
By this point Andrew and I had been travelling for six solid months; we’d been to six countries and moved onto a different place, on average, every two nights. After getting sick and taking on some of the toughest physical challenges I’ve ever faced in the Philippines I was physically drained. All the sleepless overnight journeys, the rushing from one place to the next and the sensory overload of seeing so many new places had also left me emotionally drained. Travel burnout is tough – when you hit the wall of exhaustion, you hit it hard. In hindsight we should have planned in some rest time to ensure we were fully rejuvenated before our travel companions arrived. To prove this point, in October Andrew’s parents also came out to visit us and we had a much more chilled-out experience with them because we’d spent the few weeks prior to their visit resting and working in one place.
Despite our exhausted state, however, Andrew and I still had a great time with our travel companions. Travelling with my parents was an absolute laugh-a-minute and I think they gained so much from staying in small guesthouses with us, meeting local people, trying unfamiliar foods and taking local buses and trains; they even hitched a lift in the back of a local’s pick-up truck! When my parents arrived in Thailand they were scared of catching internal flights and even getting a taxi from the airport to the hotel on their own but by the end they were travelling with ease and had realised (I hope) that you don’t need to book package holidays because independent travel is actually very simple and satisfying.
Andrew’s sisters, who are possibly the most cheerful and energetic people I’ve ever come across, fully embraced backpacking and squeezed so much into their three-week trip. It was also great to see my friend Jo in Thailand; one of the things I’ve missed most about my old life in London is the evenings we used to share together in the pub, drinking pints of Peroni and talking endlessly about work, writing and our plans. We had a good chance to catch-up properly again in Thailand and it seems that the trip allowed Jo the space to write and reflect on her future plans; since arriving back in London she’s decided to go back to University.
The Challenges of Travelling with Others
I have so much to write about the amazing adventures we had with our travel companions in Thailand; from a dangerous zip-lining experience to learning about the plight of Thailand’s elephants to exploring war history in Kanchanaburi and relaxing on some beautiful Thai islands. After months of travelling alone, however, Andrew and I did find travelling with others presented some challenges:
– Hectic schedules – since a lot of our family are teachers we knew that their visits would coincide during the school summer holidays so we ended up with a pretty hectic schedule which only added to our travel exhaustion and put extra strain on our budget. First we zipped up to Chiang Mai with Andrew’s sisters and Jo for a couple of days before meeting my parents in Bangkok and travelling back up to Chiang Mai with them. While I spent the next few days in Kanchanaburi with my parents and Jo before seeing my mum and dad off in Bangkok, Andrew made the long journey to Koh Phi Phi to meet his sisters. After a final couple of days back in Kanchanburi with Claire and Sarah before they went back to England, Andrew and I journeyed down south to meet up with Jo again. Confused? So were we!
– Planning – while I’d more or less planned out my parent’s entire itinerary with them in advance so they’d feel better knowing where they were staying and what they’d be doing while they were in Thailand, we had no such plan with Andrew’s sisters. Although Andrew and I have both gotten used to unplanned travel during the last six months, I really feel that for short trips it’s good to have a rough idea of where you want to go before you arrive. We wanted to make sure that our guests saw everything they wanted to see during their trip and felt that those times when we were floundering about trying to plan trips and decide where to go ate away at their precious holiday time.
– The weight of responsibility – we’d invited people out to visit us on the promise that they’d love Thailand so we both felt responsible for making sure everyone had a good time while they were there. I was particularly worried about my parents, who probably wouldn’t have ventured over to Asia at all had I not persuaded them to visit us but everyone seemed to have a great time (even though Andrew’s parents kept comparing Thailand unfavorably to St Lucia!).
– Budget battles – even though Andrew and I promised ourselves months ago that we’d never become the budget fanatic freaks we were at the beginning of our trip, we found it hard to reconcile our frugal spending habits with those more lavish budgets of our travel companions. Whereas our friends and family were on holiday and could afford to splash out on more expensive accommodation, meals, drinks and plenty of day trips, Andrew and I had to be more restrained with our spending which was difficult to negotiate at times.
Despite all this, it was great to share a taste of our travelling lifestyle and hang out with some of our favourite people for a few weeks – I can’t wait to write about what we got up to.