21 Jul How Our Travel Style Has Changed
“My name is Amy, I’m from the UK and I just arrived in New Zealand yesterday to start my round-the-world trip,” I told the boat-load of strangers as we took it in turns to introduce ourselves. “Ah, you’re fresh then!” replied the Rock Boat guide as we sailed the paper-flat waters of the Bay of Islands. I nodded, assuming he meant that I was a fresh new traveller, because I certainly didn’t look fresh after stepping off a 24-hour flight just the day before. I looked around at the international collection of tourists gathered on the boat deck; all were at different points in their travel adventures while mine was just beginning, and in ‘fresh traveller’ style I was cramming every second with action.
The Magic of First-Time Travel
I vividly remember those first few magical weeks of travel after Andrew and I touched down in Auckland three and a half years ago. We were like baby explorers in our brand-new backpacks with our maps and carefully-planned itinerary. Everything was new and exciting: picking up a rental car, checking into our trendy hostel in Ponsonby, slipping on our flip-flops for the first time and picking up (ludicrously expensive) groceries from the supermarket.
We walked around with stupefied grins on our faces, marvelling at everything: “Did you hear that Kiwi accent!”, “Check out that weird tree!”, “There’s a volcano!”, “Look at all those sheep!” We were like my two-year-old nephew Alfie who screams with delight at such mundane, everyday sights as buses, ducks and lawn mowers and looks up at you while pointing his tiny finger, expecting you to be equally mesmerised.
On our first evening I remember walking around the harbour in Auckland; boats bobbed on the sea, music and laughter filled the air from bars, lights shone off the water and the Skytower blinked like a beacon in the darkness. Everything was deliciously different, our thoughts were all punctuated with exclamation marks and just being there was an adventure.
The next day on our drive up to the Bay of Islands we stopped at a beach and I scrawled: “We’ve arrived!” in the sand. Our stunned brains, which had just escaped a snowy UK winter, struggled to process the fact that we were now standing barefoot on a beach in bright sunshine quite literally on the other side of the world. After years of saving and dreaming we had finally become travellers.
Travelling at 100 Miles Per Hour
As incredible as that first month was, I’m also surprised that we didn’t collapse from exhaustion by the end of it. Here’s what our first week in New Zealand looked like:
- Day one: touched-down in Auckland after a 24-hour flight
- Day two: drove to Paihia for an overnight cruise of the Bay of Islands
- Day three: arrived in Kerikeri, explored waterfalls
- Day four: visited Rewa’s village, a reconstruction of a Maori settlement, and drove back to Auckland
- Day five: explored Auckland: Mount Eden, Pasifika festival and the national museum
- Day six: took the ferry to Rangitoto island and hiked to the summit
- Day seven: drove to Tairua to discover hot-water beaches and hike to Cathedral Cove
That’s five different beds and about 15 hours of driving in just one week while battling jet-lag, blogging, completing freelance writing projects and sightseeing practically every single minute of every day. The rest of our month in New Zealand pretty much followed the same hectic vein and was filled with high-octane experiences; skydiving and glacier hiking, kayaking and snorkelling, hiking and exploring, taking boat trips and scenic flights. I’m exhausted just thinking about it, but we had one hell of an adventure that I wouldn’t change for anything.
I have a theory that new travellers all have to go through this initial, gluttonous phase of travel. When you’ve been travel-starved for so long you want nothing more than to cram as much into every moment as possible when you finally hit the road; stuffing in new sights and experiences, rushing out to every museum and tourist hotspot, diligently following every suggestion in the guidebook and recording every second of the trip with pictures, videos and words. This type of travel can be gloriously satisfying in the way that devouring an entire chocolate cake in one sitting can be, but do that every day for weeks and you’ll end up sick and exhausted.
How our Travel Style has Changed
I’m not going to pretend that we’ve completely mastered the art of slow travel because as I type this we’re currently in the midst of a crazy summer of travel, visiting seven countries in seven weeks and our feet already ache from sightseeing every day. I’m not quite sure how that happened but we are having a great time, despite the delirious exhaustion. This type of fast-paced travel has become a lot less common for us though in the last couple of years and our travel style has changed radically since those first frantic months of our adventure in 2013 – here’s how:
We (try to) spend more time in each country we visit – we used to schedule no more than a month in one country. After suffering from travel burn-out and getting sick and rundown more times than we can count, we now try to spend longer stretches of time in one place so that we can break up sightseeing with periods of work and relaxation. This year, for example, we’ve spent three months in Spain, a month and a half in the UK and just over five weeks in Croatia. Last year we spent three months travelling in the USA and before that, ten months living in Vietnam.
We cover less ground – we’re happier seeing fewer areas in more detail than just skimming the entire surface of a country. In the USA we spent two months leisurely road-tripping around New England and our time in Croatia was spent almost entirely in Split. In Vietnam we lived in Hanoi and took short trips to other places in the north. Even in these current hectic few weeks of exploration in Europe we’re sticking to one destination in each country: a week in Budapest, another in Bratislava, a few days in Prague then holidays with family in Italy and Spain.
We establish home bases – we love the freedom of our lifestyle and being able to move around at will, but this does get extremely tiring after a while. So these days we search for temporary home bases, typically in cities we love, for a few weeks or months at a time. This gives us the chance to experience what it’s like to actually live in a place rather than just visit; we can get to know local areas, establish little routines and enjoy a more in-depth experience. We’re super-excited about our next home base in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which we’ll be arriving in next month.
We rent apartments where possible – at the start of our travels we often stayed in hostels, hotels and rooms in shared houses, in Asia we’d normally just rock up in a new place and pound the pavements searching for a nice guesthouse. Nowadays, we prefer the privacy and amenities that apartments offer and we use Airbnb to try and book month-long stays where possible; we recently enjoyed great apartments in Toledo and Split. In Hanoi a local estate agent found us an incredible apartment which we loved and we’re looking forward to finding something similar in Chiang Mai. We revel in small luxuries like having a kitchen to cook in, a sofa, our own bathroom and washing machine, reliable wifi and cupboards to put away our belongings. We also love to house sit when we get the chance.
We like to travel by car – although we do still use buses and trains to get around, we much prefer travelling by car these days. While we used to happily endure long bus journeys in Asia we now relish the comfort and convenience of renting a car to explore a country. In particular, we loved our USA road-trip and felt bereft when we finally had to hand the car keys back to the rental company. Although we won’t have a car when we move to Thailand we’ll probably get a scooter as we enjoyed the freedom of having our own Little Cub when we lived in Hanoi (minus the crash we had in Tam Coc).
We pace our sightseeing – it used to be that we’d arrive in a new destination with lists of things we needed to do and see; each day would be filled with sightseeing and we’d feel bad if we didn’t check everything off our list. Nowadays, we’re much more relaxed, we still make an effort to visit sights that we’re really interested in, but we skip things that we’re not bothered about. One of our favourite things to do when we visit new places these days is find cafes to sit and drink tea in or parks to chill out in; we stagger day trips with rest days to try and keep ourselves sane.
We plan less – ok, so I’m still a serious planner and there’s nothing I can do about that. I love to research places we visit and find out what there is to do in advance but I have learned not to make long-term plans anymore. After we crashed and burned in Madrid earlier this year I’ve finally realised that it’s impossible to plan out every detail of the future – now, I try not to think more than a month or two ahead or pin my hopes on something.
No doubt our travel style will continue to evolve as our journey progresses. In particular, we’re looking forward to getting to Chiang Mai next month which will hopefully become our home base for the next year while we attempt to establish a healthy work-life-travel balance. Looking to the distant future, we hope to radically change our travel style by incorporating a much longed-for dog to our family – that will certainly shake things up!
How has your travel style changed over time?