25 signs you’ve been travelling for a while (South America edition)

  1. You’re super chilled about things like hostel bookings and buses, and play by ear about 95% of the time – i.e. just rock up and see what happens (also good for last-minute bargains)
  2. You’ve got better at haggling – in markets, hostels, last minute buses, and you might even have an established ‘good cop/bad cop’ routine with your travelling partner
  3. Your daily spend average has been sliced in half by living more like locals – eating in cheap local cafes with set menus, and taking local transport like tuk tuks, ‘collectivo’ buses or trucks that leave when full, cargo boats, hitch hiking or just walking everywhere!
  4. You travel independently almost all the time, and look snootily down your nose at people who take loads of tours
  5. You’re used to every local’s first question being ‘where are you from?’ and you respond to the nicknames ‘inglaterra!’ or ‘gringo!’
  6. You’re used to every traveller’s question being ‘how long have you been travelling’? Followed by ‘where have you been so far?’ Followed by the exchange of stories and tips..!
  7. You find yourself hopefully carrying around random cooking ingredients like garlic and salt, through countries where it’s cheaper just to eat out (we once had a ketchup sachet for over a month)
  8. You or your partner has probably grown a big bushy beard and a haircut Hanson would be proud of. If you’re a girl, you’ve probably stopped shaving your legs (or are doing so sporadically)… And what’s makeup?
  9. Your Spanish has probably become semi-passable and you can now have short conversations with locals on the day-to-day e.g the heat, the fact you’re travelling, you’re not married, and why you don’t yet have any children
  10. The young kids that you see everywhere on buses and around town had gone from a source of annoyance to a source of cuteness, and you actually feel more empathy than hatred towards mums now!
  11. You’re used to saying ‘hola!’ or ‘buenos!’ to anyone and everyone who crosses your path
  12. You’ve realised that most of the time, people don’t want to scam you and often they don’t even want to sell you something, they just want to talk to a foreigner! (Especially true further from big cities and in more ‘dangerous’ places e.g. Colombia)
  13. You’ve got re-packing your rucksack down to a fine art, and know exactly how to make it fit right
  14. You’ve learnt how to handwash your clothes (pants especially) in various compromising places such as sinks and showers with no plugs that you block up with plastic bags then get to work with the washing granules
  15. You’re onto your 3rd SD card in your camera (at least)
  16. You can now sleep on buses no problem (and also boats and mini vans… Basically anywhere with a seat)
  17. You really look forward to the free food on long distance buses and hope there’s free coffee on board
  18. You recognise at least 3 pop songs they play all the time on the radio (and the most popular ringtone)
  19. You’ve started fixing your holey clothes/shoes and broken zips rather than buying new stuff
  20. You don’t listen to the Lonely Planet anymore – they’re usually full of restaurants that have dropped their standards, pricey overbooked hostels, and a mad amount of superlatives. Is that village really the DEFINING colonial experience in Peru?!
  21. You know the South American car alarm off by heart and find yourself singing along through all of its different phases
  22. You also know the South American ice cream van jingle
  23. You can now joke along with locals in Spanish and feel pretty proud of it
  24. You can’t wait to get onto your next outdoor adventure – trekking, wildlife, jaw dropping natural beauty, extremes of deserts, geysers, jungle, lakes, craters, beaches – it all just seems weirdly normal now
  25. You never want to go home. EVER.

Cannot compute!: Is travelling with technology a good or a bad thing?

When we decided to go travelling, over a year ago, I pictured us exploring the world, and documenting it as we went. I knew I didn’t want to be a ‘travel wanker’ on Facebook, constantly updating every other day with pictures and statuses, transparently trying to prove the worth of my travels, or at least, trying to make friends at home jealous. 

But I knew I wanted to write, take photos, take videos, and diarise what we were doing, learning and feeling about travelling, as we went. So, I did what any wannabe blogger would do, and rushed out to buy a netbook. A slimline white Samsung netbook – light enough to carry, and good enough to watch some TV on, during low moments.

However, when we were about to leave England early January this year, I suddenly got cold feet. Not about travelling, but about whether I wanted to be anchored and wedded to my laptop for our 18 months away. I kind of like the liberation of being sans technology, and when me and Sam went to Costa Rica for 3 weeks last spring, I didn’t check my phone once (despite good wi-fi everywhere) and I really loved it. So we decided on a halfway house, of bringing smartphones with WordPress installed, and a bluetooth keyboard, for blogging. And I have to say, I don’t regret my decision at all! 

We have episodes of our fave shows like Community, New Girl and Family Guy, and some films, saved on SD cards to watch on our phones if we want. And if we feel the need, we can Whatsapp, Skype or Facebook message friends from home and new friends from travel. And of course, our Smartphones have become SO MUCH more important, in terms of emailing hostels, looking up bus times, checking Trip Advisor for good restaurants and activities in upcoming cities…

But crucially, there’s nothing I can’t do on my phone, that would merit my laptop. It seems on the surface like a subtle distinction, but I can honestly say I feel freer without my PC. Not only do I not have to worry about it breaking as my bags get chucked around hostels, buses and boats, or stolen on a night bus, but it also means there’s less for me to hide behind.

It’s definitely true that modern travelling has become less social. You go into a hostel now and often people are heads-down on phones, laptops and tablets, not talking. What would once be a topic of conversation is now a question for Google, and what would once be a spare evening to socialise is now an evening to stay in, have a ‘quiet one’ and watch something. I’ve met people who are openly anti-technology, or anti-Facebook / Skype when travelling, as they think it’s sucking up time that could be better used elsewhere exploring things.

I have some sympathy with this view, as I do think it’s tragic that we don’t communicate as much, especially when sharing something as great as traveling. And some of the best impromptu conversations I’ve had, have resulted in shared tips for cities and countries, travel plans borne, and friendships cemented. But that’s not to say there isn’t a time and a place for technology.

Sometimes you need the comfort blanket. The night in watching Forrest Gump under the duvet. The group Whatsapp with your work mates that makes the distance across the globe feel smaller. The voyeuristic status update-checking to make sure your old life is still plodding along at roughly the same pace. Familiar faces, voices. A million books at your fingertips to escape into. The comfort and safety in knowing you can get a grasp on where you’re going next, ideas on what you should do, how to get the best deal as a consumer, and the comforting voice of a thousand reviewers who’ve been there before you.

Sometimes these things come from real voices and people you meet, sometimes they come from online. Either way, I can’t help but think that more information has to mean a better deal for the modern-day traveller; a chance to maximise your adventures. And as long as you don’t use a screen as an excuse to build a barrier between you and the outside world, I can’t see how it can be a bad thing.