Here it is guys!!
My experience of travelling for 2 years has without doubt been the most requested topic so, I thought a 7 part series answering ALL of those questions at once would be fitting as my first blog series!
For this series I’ll be posting 7 articles over 14 days documenting all the hows, whys & wheres I can think of. This is an adventure I undertook with Sean & 2 friends (Eils & Caughal) returning to Ireland 3 years ago after over 2 years backpacking through 14 countries.
There were unimaginable highs & frightening lows but they all came together to weave the fabric that is now the most insane memory of my life…. I hope you guys enjoy reading about it xx
We coincidentally started our travels in February in Brazil meaning we hit the Rio carnival which was great timing! I suspected it to be quite a ‘touristy’ thing to do but in fact, it’s so unbelievably crowded that you see very little tourists there at all. The type of chaos involved in attending all of the street partied was a once in a lifetime experience but, that was what this whole trip was about!
Organizing an Airbnb for carnival instead of staying in shithole hostels charging €60 PN & stacking the bunk beds 3 beds high.
Meeting a random man in a bus shelter who offered us accommodation 1 night into our travelling adventure, we took the risk & ended up staying in a gorgeous little house in Florianopolis that we could only get to by boat… very cute.
The friendliness of almost everyone we spoke to during our month in Brazil.
Discovering caipirinhas, the national (deeelicious!) cocktail of Brazil.
Boarding a bus to head to Bolivia the day after carnival ended only to discover it was going to be SIXTY HOURS LONG. Yes, seriously.
The danger of going to carnival. We were well prepared & kept our wits about us… didn’t drink too much, didn’t bring handbags (on advice the guys kept all of our cash in a soft sunglasses case looped to the inside of the jeans button) but, some people did want to make sure we knew we stood out. We had a few attempted pickpockets but nothing major (well, not until someone got into our apartment but that’s a tale for my ‘weirdest stories’ post in this series).
The price! The more traveled parts of Brazil are more expensive than a lot of other South American countries so we found it hard to keep to our budget while there… particularly stressful as it was the first country of our tip.
Getting to travel to the Amazon, sleep in huts on the water, fish piranhas for our dinner and swim with pink dolphins.
The chaotic but downright amazing clothes ‘markets’ think big pieces of wood piled about 4 foot high with every type of clothing you can think of; an excellent adventure if you’re in the mood!
Cycling the 56km death road despite being absolutely adamant that we wouldn’t do it when we first arrived!
Staying in Loki Hostel in La Paz… an amazing backpacker hostel we met load of sound people in
The unbelievable nightlife that La Paz has to offer, we had a bloody brilliant time going out here!
Getting to visit the beautiful salt plains.
The altitude (bit ironic for a ‘low’!?). We flew into an airport 4000 metres above sea level which left us walking into the airport literally gasping for breath as we’d had no time to acclimatize…. really scary.
Cycling so frantically through a waterfall going through the death road that my handlebar twisted right around & clamped my thigh between it & the crossbar… scary & incredibly painful.
Almost constant scamming like Brazil, the majority of people we met in Bolivia were genuine but ruthless scamming became common place for us which was frustrating & left us somewhat paranoid.
Our flight from the Brazilian border to Potosi; an alarm started going off as soon as the rickety plane left the ground which was cause for some concern! It never went off & we obviously survived but unpleasant all the same!
Political tensions in the city… we weren’t caught directly in anything thankfully but were stuck on a bus for hours after the bus in front of us was upturned & witnessed some pretty hectic student rioting from the roof of a building… nothing mental but unnerving to the inexperienced traveler none the less.
Getting to see visit Machu Picchu (and the more unusual way we got there- See Instagram
The amenities that Cusco provides for backpackers such as private cinema rooms all over the city where you can go on a rainy day… sometimes its the little things!
Going whitewater rafting with loads of backpackers we’d met in our hostel, an amazing experience.
Experiencing how culturally rich the city is just by walking around & taking in the architecture & their way of dressing.
Visiting Hunaachho, a sleepy little beach town after a hectic time in Cusco to recuperate before we went on to Argentina
None specifically that spring to mind!
The amazing nightlife in Buenos Aires.
The unreal food culture we went to La Cabrera, one of Buenos Aires’s best steak restaurants on our last night in Argentina before flying to China for the next leg of our trip… by going early we got 50% off everything including the wine which was a phenomenal (& not too off budget!) way to celebrate our last night in South America.
The arts culture in Buenos Aires… we saw so many amazing installations & exhibitions while we were there.
Booking an Airbnb to save money as we’d heard that the city was expensive & we were getting realllllly sick of eating out for every meal at that point. Sean’s home cooked chicken dinner was a welcome comfort for all of us!
None that spring to mind!
Beijing was absolutely amazing with so much culture to experience & cheap street food.
Getting to visit the Great Wall of China.
Experiencing the Summer Palace & Forbidden city.
Finding funky underground clubs in Shanghai to dance all night in.
The absolute luxury & comfort of the overnight trains.
Having to sleep in separate rooms in our hostels due to policy of males & females not sharing!
The language barrier! We had some words of rusty Spanish & Portuguese in South America but literally not one world or Mandarin or Cantonese so communicating was really difficult day-to-day in China. At least you can attempt to read words if you recognise the language but carrying around a slip of paper with a few symbols dictating your address as your only means of not getting lost in a massive city is pretty daunting!
Shanghai in general which we just generally didn’t enjoy as backpackers… a really smoggy ‘business city’ with very little for us to do.
Chinese culture believing that public laundry services are unhygienic thus leaving us with no proper access to clean clothes for a month!
There’s so much to see & do it a day-to-day sense in Hong Kong meaning we could keep ourselves entertained by just getting lost around the city.
Amazing night markets full of food, clothes & everything in-between.
Visiting Ocean Park theme park for a day & getting to go to their infamous races.
Going to Victoria peek at night & seeing the whole city from above.
Being a really expensive city meant that we had to stay in an absolute shit hole to try & stay within budget. 2 beds nailed to a wall in a room at the top of a massive concrete market… not the nicest place to wake up!
The majority of nightclubs & social places (even bowling alleys!) being ‘members only’ leaving us with little option of what to do in the evenings.
The gorgeous beaches of Pahang.
Their amazing local cuisine… street food cost next to nothing & was up there with the best food we ate
We spent most of our time in Pahang where they were incredibly religious & I was forced to only leave the apartment in Sean’s company.
India or Bolivia were likely my favourite places we visited if we had to choose and what made India so amazing fr me was just the depth of culture we got to witness on a daily basis.
The food was unbelievably cheap (although there’s no difference between breakfast, lunch & dinner)
Visiting Kerala in off-season meaning we could afford to stay in a really nice place with a pool.
Visiting the Taj Mahal which is just as stunning as we’d expected (although Agra, the town its in is a KIP).
Getting to stay in a houseboat at the base of the Himalayas & just waking up there for a few days! Very surreal!
Hiring a driver to get around the country which meant mental driving & cramped conditions but not having to rely on horrifically unreliable bus times…. we had to sleep rough one night due to a connecting bus just not showing up.
The sleeper trains that are a high just for the pure experience of all the Indian families travelling together & offering you food from the most comprehensive packed lunches you could ever imagine!
Visiting Vashisht, this deadly hippie town where we got woken by laughter yoga & washed with the locals in the natural hot springs.
Having visa difficulties due to Trailfinders wrongly telling us before we left that our only options were to get visas before we flew out of Dublin or to send our passports home while we were away… we could’ve just gone to embassies as we traveled which would’ve allowed us more time in India as their visas are only valid for 6 months from date of issue & we were gone for 4 & a half months by the time we even got there!
Witnessing the level of poverty that some Indians live on a day-to-day basis… very grounding and very, very sad.
Getting accosted almost constantly to buy things in certain parts of India… we even had people come into our rooms trying to sell us stuff!
Getting scouted to be extras in a Bollywood movie when we’d already booked our train for the following day & were too tight on our budget to miss it!
I’ve been to Thailand maybe 7 or 8 times so there are millions of highs that I could note from those several experiences so I’ll just focus on the visit from this trip.
Getting off the beaten track & going to the islands less thronged with pissed gap year-ers & half the population of your high school class… we went to Koh Chang 8 years ago & stayed in a forest tree house for 80 cent a night eating fish the locals caught each night & cooked over a naked flame. Koh Chnag is no longer like that but it’s still possible to find equally ‘off the beaten track’ places in Thailand.
Bangkok! The first time I ever went to Thailand we were advised to get out of Bangkok as soon as possible only staying due to my bag going missing with the airline (disaster!). Thankfully that did happen cause we fell in love with the mental-ness that is Khaosan road and all the shopping, street food and buzz that goes with it.
MBK! One of the best shopping experiences we had travelling… make sure to go to the ‘other side’ where they sell loads of unreal vintage pieces for around €2 each.
Full moon party. Yes, a cliché but undeniably a great awl time!
Renting motorbikes & exploring the islands we were staying on at our own pace. Just be careful not to crash or they’ll expect your first-born and a lifetime’s wage to pay for it.
Working for free drinks! We were 8 months into our experience when we arrived on the Thai islands & running low on cash so we bought jewelry in bulk in Bangkok to sell on the islands beaches & took up work flyering for bars in return for buckets… random jobs like this are always worth trying out if you’re travelling for a significant amount of time.
How overrun with tourists most of the islands now are. Yes, I too was a tourist but there seems to be so many people just going for a piss up without any interest in or, showing downright disrespect for the culture.
Beauty treatments. Needless to say when you’re on the road for that long you miss a touch of ‘upkeep’ here & there but all waxing & massage experiences I had while in Thailand (actually, every S.E Asian country to be fair) were a downright disaster…. I also got pick pocketed by a staff member in a Bangkok hair salon!
The quality of nightlife on the islands… this is kind of double-edged sword because the throngs of people I spoke of earlier are obviously predominantly interested in nightlife but in that way, if the bars have the masses for a massive night life they could invest in semi-decent speakers or more than 1 set playlist!
Working in Q bar, a tubing bar in Vang Vieng. This provided us with free food, accommodation, travel and drinks for the entirety of our stay (working day & night in the bar) & we had the absolute maddest time of our lives.
The beautiful Laos people who were eternally friendly.
Going to the 4000 islands, renting bicycles & cycling through the rice fields, gorgeous.
Their ‘sleeper buses’ where they made 2 people (as in potentially total strangers) share a single bed & 4 share a double. Caughal was gone home by the time we got to Laos so it was just the 3 of us… thankfully Sean would sleep next to whichever stranger we were sharing our already cramped bed with but, yea, weird none the less.
The quality of Laos cuisine which left a lot to be desired in my opinion. I love their way of eating which involves just loads of plates in the middle & everyone tucking in though.
The corruption of the Vang Vieng police who we weren’t unaccustomed to paying bribes to.
We spent 6 months working in Melbourne before we bought a van & hit the road again travelling the east coast. Our plan on the road was to garner our 2nd year’s visa by doing farm work just to have time& money to travel across to the west coast.
Unfortunately that plan didn’t work out when we were a month into back-breaking work & barely affording to eat from the money we were making…. let alone save anything! So we sold the van, flew back to Melbourne for 2 months work & used that money to do another 4 months travelling on the way back to Ireland.
Experiencing the crazy world of couchsurfing because we arrived to Oz with no even enough money to stay in the cheapest hostel (a seeming low when there were 4 of us sharing the floor of a band practice room but a high in hindsight)
Travelling the east coat & experiencing all the amazing things it has to offer.
Living in Melbourne for 6 months… a city full of unreal restaurants & endless arts & culture.
Sleeping in a van travelling through Australia with the peace symbol jewellery we’d sold in Thailand hanging from the rear view mirror… total cliché hippie shit but a great experience all the same.
Picking chilies in insane heat & sharing a bedroom with 12 boys in an attempt to get our 2nd year visas (I was offered my 2nd year by several hospitals but didn’t want to commit to settling & working in one place).
The prejudice we witnessed on a more than coincidental scale from some of the Aussie population… it felt strange to hear people being so shamelessly hateful towards another race/sexuality ect. Of course the majority of Australians we met were unbelievably sound & friendly but a significant portion were seemingly proud to speak their hate out loud.
Melbourne winters which we naively imagined would be tropical… the weren’t… & we’d rented a house with no heating.
The price of going on nights out over there… you’d be lucky to come home with change from €150.
Going somewhere that’s still almost untouched by tourism (well, with over 7K islands to choose from you can choose plenty of untraveled ones)
The gorgeous & crazy cheap Philippino food.
The locals everywhere who were amazingly friendly.
The gorgeous beaches on every island we saw.
Ringing in our 2nd New Years eve travelling on a Boracay beach in the company of 2 friends we met while working in Vang Vieng.
The difficulty & sheer terror of getting from A to B… their tiny boats are grossly overcrowded with locals grabbing whichever life jackets are left as soon as the board; not the most reassuring!
Their lack of amenities for tourists… which is because a lot of the islands simply have little or no tourists!. Laundry services, internet access and even basic accommodation were a difficult find on some islands.
Cambodia is another country I’d travelled before having volunteered in an orphanage there during a college summer 11 years ago so it was interesting to see the difference in that length of time which was absolutely huge I have to say!
Rent bikes & cycling to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise from behind the temples.. breathtaking.
Roaming the chaotic English markets in Phnom Penh.
Getting over my idea that Sihanoukville was a sleepy town & embracing the Dolphin booze cruises… tacky fun at it’s best.
The brilliant nightlife in Siem Reap.
The realisation that tourism had somewhat ruined a beautiful country in less than 10 years.
Getting to experience Jakarta in it’s crazy massive scale city-ness.
Chicken porridge! One of the mental dishes I fell in love with while traveling came from the street vendors of Jakarta.
Getting to visit the beautiful Gili islands with their amazing beaches & peaceful lifestyle.
Surfing every day (or, trying to!) in Kuta.
Sky Garden’s insane evening barbecues in Kuta who offered an unreal selection of food & unlimited beers in a gorgeous rooftop setting with great music & a fantastic sunset view… what more could you want!?
Visiting the night food market in Gili T.. kind of like a food court but open air… and way better food!
Realising that due to delayed payments & very little internet access (therefore very little online bank checking) for the last 2 months we had pretty much no money left and, despite having flights booked to Vietnam we’d have to accept that, this would be our last country of the experience.
Kuta in general which is just a bit of a dive with filthy beaches & constant hawking. If you go to Bali go to the Gili islands or Ubud instead.
Well, that’s it guys! Really hope you enjoyed this post 🙂 Better get cracking on the next one! x
I’m shocked the city the Taj Mahal is in is a kip!! Never knew the extent of your experiences – for such a young one too! Great post Sarah.
Oh its really bad to be fair & the poverty is almost worse than anywhere else we went in India because the very poor go there to try & beg of visiting tourists. The Taj Mahal is such a contrast to what surrounds it! Thanks Mary Cate <3 xx