So it’s August now, which means that I’m about 5 months into my estimated year-long career break. It’s also been about 10 weeks of consecutive travel, the longest stretch I’ve been away from home. As an occasional traveller with a maximum 3-week travel stretch when I was working, getting used to being on the road for a much longer time has definitely been an experience, and I learned a couple of things about myself that I didn’t think I was or would do.
I’m a bit more extroverted than I thought
I’ve always thought of myself as the classic introvert – I need my me-time, i feel rested when I’m actually left alone, crowds drain me like nothing else – Go on a pub crawl with 130pax? Sorry that is a turn off not a selling point for me. I still prefer smaller size groups or one-on-one chats over massive large groups or party people (all these lads in summer, good lord)
But when you’re on the road for a long time away from your friends and family, having people around to talk to and hang out with actually becomes something I look forward to in each new place I visit. Especially since my phone got stolen in Budapest (oh, Szechenyi. It’s partly why I didn’t spend more time in Hungary – felt like a sign to move on… though having to buy a new iphone in Budapest was an interesting experience!), I’ve sorely missed my whatsapp group chats – while i don’t always participate because of relevance and time zone, there was still a sense of knowing peripherally what’s happening back home and being included in things so I’m not completely out of touch when I get back home.
And it’s also true that a large part of your trip is less about where you go, and more about who you meet. I’ve definitely had my most fun times when I meet good people, even if we were in some weird hostel or quiet town. So a large criteria for my hostel choice now goes towards atmosphere, something a little harder to gauge than good location and facilities, and involves combing through the comments for talk about great staff or hostel activities that bring people together naturally.
I can live without aircon, shabby toilets or even with 24 rabbits in my yard (true story), but a hostel without atmosphere is quite the bore. Some of my favourite places so far:
- Belgrade’s El Diablo Hostel – Dragan and team are friendly, knowledgeable and know how and where to have a good time. We hung out on the roof terrace, in the common area and even organised a lake outing or two. The rooms are basic but the hostel is small enough so it’s easy to meet and recognise other people. Also, amazing breakfast included in your room rate at the nearby restaurant. I ended up running into some of these people again further down the road!
- Bled’s A1 Adventure Hostel – they organise adventure tours so that’s one way to meet people easily – I went on a Canyoning tour with some hostel folks and we hung out for dinner and drinks and even went to the lake together. One of them even ended up being my Croatia travel buddy for the next two weeks!
- Mostar’s Hostel Hercegovina – other than the fact that Bosnian people are absolutely friendly and family oriented, it’s a smallish hostel with a nice front yard where you can spend the evenings chatting with other hostelites and the owner who will teach you exactly how Bosnian coffee should be drunk. Also, the 1-day Mostar highlights tour is one of the best I’ve been on and a great way to meet people from this hostel and its sister Hostel Miran. This was where I somehow ended up in a room with 4 other Danish people who were not travelling together, strange but true.
But sometimes you can’t quite engineer these things, and you luck out when you just happen to meet other awesome people purely because you checked in at the same time. And that it also takes some doing on your own part to make that first move to say hello or get things moving. I tend to be a bit passive, but I’m definitely more likely to at least offer a smile and a hello rather than just hope for a friendlier face to come along now… at least I can say that I tried!
I actually quite like spontaneity
I usually like a certain amount of planning and routine – no drama is the best case scenario for me. As an occasional traveller, I loved getting my flights and hostels booked way in advanced so my route is somewhat sorted out and I get good options and prices. But on the road this time I’d deliberately left it very open – my general rules are:
- At least 2 nights in a place if possible so I can actually unpack a little and have time to see/explore. Generally 3 nights for bigger cities and if I like the place, I’d extend accordingly
- Book my accommodation before showing up. Usually this happens the late night before day of arrival, but on one occasion in Split there was a bit of miscommunication with the other girl I was travelling with, and I only realised at the bus station that I had nowhere to go. I sat myself down in a cafe with wifi and got to scrolling, found a decent place and then walked over there
It’s allowed me the flexibility of travelling with other people, or doing things just for the heck of it. I’ve extended additional nights in Budapest, Belgrade and Krakow just because I felt like it, or gone to places like Konjic and Porej just because someone said it was interesting.
I still hate the dilemma of scrolling through reviews and making a decision the night before turning up in a place, but now booking things way in advance makes me a bit nervous because there’s a little FOMO – sometimes the best opportunities just turn up y’know? It kinda sucks when you can’t go with your gut feel because your tickets are already booked.
You don’t need to pack everything from home
If you’ve forgotten it, chances are you can just buy it on the road. It’s not the most environmentally friendly, but it does save you the hassle of packing and flight restrictions, especially when it comes to liquids and carry-on luggage. I’ve realized i like popping into the little shops here and seeing what they have. And while I’ve been travelling light, I’ve had to add on things like shampoo, deodorant, moisturiser, sunblock et all just because my initial carry-on limit was just way too little.
I’m still quite impressed by my packing for this particular leg. I definitely overpacked for my Japan/Taiwan leg, but for Europe so far I’ve been quite judicious with bag space and haven’t had to post anything back home to free up luggage space… yet!
How much i know/don’t know about my hometown and heritage
“Where are you from?” is the most common question you get as a traveller, and the easiest ice breaker to start off with when you are meeting others. In Europe, being Asian and especially being Singaporean is still quite the rarity – many people haven’t met Singaporeans before, so it tends to incite some curiosity.
- “You have a wonderful airport!” – These people usually just stopped over and about half of them have actually seen the city, but all are in agreement that Changi Airport is amazing. I’m more than happy to agree with them.
- “They ban chewing gum right?” – This is when I sigh and say that no one really gives a %^& if you chew gum here for your own purposes, just don’t get caught littering and that you can’t sell it here. It might have been a bit of typical Singapore over-reaction to ban chewing gum completely, but it really isn’t such a bad thing
- “It’s a very clean place” – I definitely think that Singapore’s emphasis on clean and green has definitely made it very clean in comparison to other cities I’ve been in. But I usually say that I think we’ve been very good at paying other people to pick up after us – we’re not properly civic conscious or environmentally conscious as one would expect of such a clean and green city.
- “It’s very expensive” – I think this is actually quite a debatable statement for travellers – I don’t think Singapore is necessarily any more expensive than major cities like Tokyo or London for example, but obviously more so if you are comparing to neighbours like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. For travellers, accommodation is pricier, transport perhaps as well, but food is one area you can definitely save if you know where to go!
It’s been quite the ride so far here in Europe, so far the journey this past 10 weeks has included:
- UK: London, Liverpool, Manchester
- Switzerland: Rapperswil, Zurich
- Slovenia: Ljubljana, Bled
- Croatia: Rovinj, Porej, Rijeka, Zadar, Split, Hvar, Vis, Dubrovnik
- Bosnia: Mostar, Sarajevo, Konjic
- Serbia: Belgrade, Novi Sad
- Hungary: Budapest
- Slovakia: Bratislava
- Austria: Vienna
- Czech: Brno
- Poland: Krakow, Wroclaw, Lodz, Gdansk, Warsaw
UK and Zurich were mostly for a wedding and visiting friends, a slow way to kick off this trip by catching up with good pals.
Slovenia was a great way to start the proper solo trip – Bled was absolutely beautiful. I loved Croatia for its blue, blue coasts and amazing islands, and surprisingly Bosnia for its natural beauty and historical resilience. Belgrade had a great vibe, and Budapest was pretty though it will always be tarred by my stolen phone. Bratislava was a bit of a boozy blur, Vienna was pricey while Brno was oddly macabre.
Poland surprised me – I was going to skip it for the Baltics but many people told me not to, and I’m kinda glad I gave it a shot – it’s pretty and cheap to boot. But it also means I’m going to be speeding my way through the Baltics before I fly into Amsterdam, and then it’s another completely different adventure to Kenya for two weeks, before a whirlwind stopover in Berlin and back home for a bit in September.
I’ve been the world’s worst blogger because it really is impossible to pass up on the chance to do something fun/interesting/strange to sit down and blog instead. Travel is about looking forward, so while I’m on the road, it’s definitely gonna be a lot quieter on the blog. I mostly update my instagram though, and sometimes my Facebook (personal and page) – that’s your best chance of knowing where I might be at any one point!
And another thing about August – this blog has quietly reached its 7th year of existence. Good golly it’s headed to Primary School now in Singapore! I have a TON to write about from my trips of course – definitely a boatload of street art guides, useful pieces for those looking to head to the Balkan region, but I’d love to hear from you guys and see if there’s any place/thing in particular you want to read more on. Let me know in the comments!