Crossing borders: Poipet (Thailand-Cambodia and vice versa)

It took hours of consideration before I was brave enough to decide that I would do it, I would cross the border from Thailand to Cambodia over land. Whilst searching for information I had come across many horror stories: from simple scams and long lines to serious blackmailing, threats and robberies, plus the fact that getting your visa on arrival would be an enormous hassle that would eat away your time. None of this is true.

There are multiple ways to find your way into Cambodia over land, one cheaper than the other, but none of them dangerous or unacceptably difficult. Here is how I’ve done it:

IMG-20150715-WA0003
IMG-20150715-WA0002 Sleeping at Hua Lamphong Station – Bangkok

The adventure started off as a night spent at Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok. This is an unnecessary step in the process, but our train would leave at 5.55am and our couchsurfing adress was a fair while away from the station. Bangkok being such a vibrant city, we probably would not have had to worry about finding a taxi at such a time, but we decided to sleep at the station, just to be sure. The train leaves daily at 5.55am from Hua Lamphong Station (or at 1.40pm, but if you choose the latter one it is unsure if the border will still be open when you get there). Tickets can be bought at the station on the day of departure (earlier is not possible).

Be very careful with the (tour)bus!
Many tour companies claim to bring you directly to Siem Reap, prices range from 300 – 800 baht (€7.80 – €20,-) and tickets can often be bought at Khao San Road (but sometimes elsewhere at tourist offices). What seems too good to be true usually is. Keep in mind that these tickets are only sold in touristic areas, locals won’t use them, meaning that they are mostly meant to get money from tourists one way or another. Even if you managed to score a 300 baht ticket, your trip won’t costs you only 300 baht.

One of the issues is that Thai bus companies are not allowed to enter Cambodia, likewise, Cambodian buses are not allowed into Thailand. A “direct bus” is therefore your first rip-off. You will need to get off the bus at the Thai side of the border and hope that another (Cambodian) bus will pick you up on the other side. This often takes hours (if it comes at all). Additional scams involve, but are not limited to the fact that many buses stop at a restaurant or shop and won’t leave until everybody has purchased their (disgusting) food for a certain price or that the bus will not leave untill all seats are sold. Tourbuses are also well known for taking you to an illegit “visa office” to buy your visa at an overpriced rate. These offices are official looking, but not trustworthy!

Lastly, the worst rip-off is that the bus will stop somewhere in order for you to have something to eat (or they pretend to have a flat tyre, or another problem that requires you to get off the bus). Whilst you eat or whilst they “fix” the car, they actually have plenty of time to go through everbody’s bags and confiscate anything valuable you’re carrying. Don’t leave your belongings in the car under any circumstances.

Not all buses do all of this obviously, but none can take you directly for sure! Buses to Poipet instead of Siem Reap are useally better, but taking the train will most likely save you a lot of time, money and verbal fights.

IMG_0528

Train to Aranyaprathet

IMG_0538 IMG_0545

Step two would be the train. When I saw what the train we would be going on looked liked I fell in love. The train looked like one that had ran away from a Charles Dickens story: old, windowless and incredibly nostalgic. Not to leave out any information, the train ticket is going to cost you 42 baht (€1,10) to travel all the 248km to Aranyaprathet. That is €0.004 per km, crazy isn’t it?

The train is an experience. After having boarded, the conductor instructed us to rearrange to a different seat several times, with no apparent reason. However, we ended up having two private benches for the two of us, so that was alright. The trains are made of wood, so don’t expect any comfort. You will spend six to eight hours on this train, at one point not being able to stop wiggling around, because you don’t know how to sit anymore. It is not so bad as it sounds at all, I liked the train and it was perfectly managable. I absolutely loved my nostalgic train ride.

The thing that people on planes miss out on is included in your valuable train ticket: amazing views of the country side and untouched farm villages. Moreover, the trains don’t have the horrific airconditioning that makes all the tourbuses feel like you ended up in a snowstorm rather than in tropical South-East Asia. If you are fond of luxury though, the train might not be for you.

IMG_0550
tuk-tuk to Poipet

Once arrived in Aranyaprathet, it is still a small distance to Poipet, where the border is. This is the part that some people might consider as “tricky”. The tuk-tuk drivers are all gathered around the station when you get off the train, they know where you want to go and they will overprice the ride, this is not unlike any other tuk-tuks in the country, so don’t let this put you off. A fair price for this ride should be 80-100 baht for the whole tuk-tuk. The two of us found two other people to share the ride with and the driver started off by charching us 100 baht per person. We bargained down to 30 per person, which is not too bad.

The next trick is about the visa. Obviously, your driver will have some friends around the corner that are happy to sell you a visa for twice the price as the official office at the border. Your driver will get a good comission for it and not be so dissapointed that you “only” paid 100 baht for the ride. This scam is not too expensive, but I’m sure you have better ways to spent an additional 40 US dollars and it is easy to avoid. Just tell the tuk-tuk driver that you already have an (e-)visa* and he’ll see no point in bringing you anywhere else and bring you to the border without a hassle. Also, think wisely, you don’t need a visa for Cambodia in order to leave Thailand, so make sure you pass the passport control first (get stamped out of Thailand) before looking for the actual office where you can get your visa. The visa is $30, nothing more. Don’t pay more.

*Why not get an actual e-visa? For me the reason was because the e-visa is valid for 30 days from the date you apply. Since I did not have wifi everywhere I could only apply a few days before actually entering Cambodia. That is a waste of days on your visa. An e-visa also costs $7 extra.

IMG_0551
Cambodian border – Poipet

And there it is… the entry to Cambodia. It has a miniature version of Angkor Wat on top, just like anything else remotely important in Cambodia. This is what you will see after having exited Thailand officially, this is also where you find immigration, on your righthand side (because in Cambodia you are supposed to drive on the right, as opposed to Thailand and other countries in the region).

As I mentioned before, the visa costs $30,- it is easiest to have this amount in cash in dollars. I was oblivious enough to think that border control would have an ATM accesible, but obviously this is not te case. It is Cambodia after all. I was lucky they let me pay in Thai baht, a price that equaled $34 dollars, but officially US dollars are the only way to go. Also make sure that you can provide a passport photo. Cambodia is very easygoing on visas, people from any nationality can get one on arrival! If everything is present the process won’t take more than 15 minutes.

After you’re done, you can finally enter throught that beautiful entrance port and next up the Cambodian passport control. Congratulations, you officially made it into Cambodia.

At the border and beyond it, massive casino-resorts wil be your only sight. During my trip I had no idea what a mini Las Vegas at the border would have to add to either of the countries economics. However, I recently learned that gambling in Thailand is illegal, the casino strip is just before Cambodian immigration, allowing Thai people to gamble in Cambodia without having to pass immagration. Who would have thought it, as the two nations still detest each other…

http://www.visitcambodia.nl

So unless you are a Thai looking to gamble, or a non-Thai having spent so long in Thailand that you have the urge to gamble at the border, you won’t want to stay in Poipet.

Now from here you have options. There is a free shuttle service bus that can bring you to the international transfer terminal. This bus is legit and it is only a short ride. The problem with it is that once at the international transfer terminal, you have nowhere to go. There are no ATMs, and the buses you can take from here only accept US dollars or the Cambodian riel. If you are stuck with Thai baht you are forced to change them at an unfavourable rate. Plus, I found the buses rather expensive. From the terminal, you can get a bus or minivan to either Siem Reap or Battambang. The buses to Siem Reap cost you $10 US dollars, which is not too bad for a 150km right, but I assume that there is a cheaper option that does not involve a minivan full of backpackers, as we got a cheaper ride on the way back from Siem Reap to the border as well.

The other problem with this bus from the international terminal is that it brings you to the outskirts of Siem Reap, not the city centre. They offer tuk-tuks to finish the right, but they will make you pay for those as well, making your seemingly $10 ticket more expensive. We got mad at the company and demanded to be taken for free, which happened in the end, but others still had to pay.

An alternative would be to look for a bus company in Poipet itself (before getting on the free shuttle to the internatioal terminal). I am not sure if you will find one, because I did it the international terminal way, but it is worth having a look around. Many Cambodians don’t have a car and they too need to get from the border around the country, but you don’t see them in the minivan. I am fairly positive that a local bus company should be present.

Cambodia to Thailand

If you are looking to cross the border the other way around, you can do the same thing vice versa: Take a bus from anywhere in Cambodia to the border, cross it, find a tuk-tuk to Aranyprathet where you wait for the train. Easy as.

There are a few things to remember about this though: first of all, the train from Aranyaprathet to Bangkok only goes twice a day. In this direction one at 6.40 in the morning, the other one around 1pm (check the train schedual at any station for exact times), you don’t want to miss the train or you’ll be stuck in Aranyaprathet, where there is not much to do and accomodation is rather expensive compared to Bangkok. For this exact reason, we decided to go for a more expensive tour bus, that would still save us money, because we could stay the night in Bangkok for so much cheaper.

Secondly, citizens of many nations can get a 30-day Thai visa when flying into Bangkok. Over land, almost all of these get a 15-day visa instead of 30 (except USA, UK, Germany, France, Canada, Italy & Japan). Of course your visa can be extended while in Thailand, but plan this carefully in your travel plans.

I assume this is all you need to know for a safe and rip-off-free border crossing at Poipet. Don’t let horror stories put you off and enjoy!

How not to get lost in Bangkok

Bangkok is an ugly city. Not meaning to be offensive, but it is filthy, messy, noisy, chaotic and full of scammy tuk-tuk drivers. Honestly, if they would only understand that tourists would be so much happier and willing to pay more if they weren’t hassled for overpriced tuk-tuks and taxis with every step they take.

Anyway, with the negativity off my sleeve, it is not only bad words that I have for Thailand’s capitol city. Bangkok is also rich of beautiful temples, friendly locals, delicious streetfood and so much more, all carefully hidden in the mess of the urban jungle. Most of all, if there would be the need to describe it in one word, the city is overwhelming.

Bangkok-view from Baiyoke Sky Hotel
Bangkok-view from Baiyoke Sky Hotel

Many people only have a few days to spend in Bangkok, to recover from a long flight before moving on to more rural areas, a party island or one of Thailand’s neighbouring countries. If you are short on time, it would be a waste to spend one or two days dwelling around the city, still carrying your massive, overpacked backpack in search for your accommodation. Unfamiliar with the knot of dozens of different systems of transport in Bangkok, that is unfortunately what I ended up doing. With this guide about the transportation in a nutshell, I hope to prevent any future travelers to make the same mistake.

Airport Rail Link: Assuming that you fly into Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi Airport), the Airport Rail Link system will be one of the first of Bangkok’s transport systems that you will walk into. As the name might suggest, this is the line that connects the airport to the city centre and its BTS-line (keep reading). The Airport Rail Link system works well and is great to get to the centre. Whether you will continue by BTS, taxi, rental car or something else from here, it saves you the express highway toll fees, so you can’t really go wrong here.

BTS-line: BTS, short for Bangkok Transport System, is some sort of aerial metro that makes its way through Bangkok. The BTS is cheap* and flies over all of Bangkok’s traffic without a hiss. Many hotels and guesthouses, often the little bit more expensive ones, are located somewhat next to a BTS-station. If this is the case, it won’t be any trouble to find your hotel using only the Airport Rail Link and the BTS. Lucky you.

Airport Rail Link, BTS and MRT lines (www.buzzquotes.com)

Unfortunately, many of the (cheaper) hostels are not situated next to a BTS-station. The cluster of backpackers around Khao San Road can not be reached by BTS (nor can the temples in the same area, even if you are in a conveniently located hotel), not even speaking of hostel located in non-touristy areas. If this is the case, don’t do it. Not on your first day anyway. Do not forget that Bangkok is massive and that what looks like a short walking distance on your map might actually turn out to be a good hour walk. In 30° Celcius. In a humid environment. With at least 10 kg strapped to your back…

*The BTS is not horribly expensive, between 25 and 50 baht (€0.70 – €1.30) depending on distance, for a single ticket. However, if you are going to be using the BTS a lot or going long distances, it might be profitable to look into day- or weekpasses .I only found out about these after my time in Bangkok had passed, because they are not advertised very well, but they are there and can safe you a lot of money! Just ask about them at the ticket desk.

MRT: The reason that most of Bangkok’s metro system is aerial, is because it was built after most of the city was built and it would have been impossible to dig a regular metro tunnel. However, there is one metro line, that in its turn connects to the BTS. This metro line is indicated as MRT and works exactly the same as the BTS, but underground. The MRT can be used to get to Hua Lamphong station!

Taxi: So, if not the BTS, what should you use then? As a Western European, a taxi sounds like a rather luxury and unnecessarily expensive option. However, the opposite is true. The meter-taxis in Bangkok have a starting fee of 35 baht (€0.90) and slowly rises as you travel more kilometres. This is not so expensive and could even turn out to be cheaper than the combination of a bus and BTS if you travel with two or more people!

Bangkok taxis
Bangkok taxis

The great thing about taxis is that they get you where you want to be, without having to change transport or anything. The drawback is that taxis are prone to traffic and the meter can run up a fair bit when your taxi can not move, thus be careful around rush hour!

Also be aware that the express highway from the airport is going to cost you an extra 100 baht (€2,60) or more if your driver takes a more expensive one. Even more so, especially around the airport, be aware of taxi-drivers that are trying to arrange a price with you by not turning the meter on. If it is not running when you get in the taxi, just point at it and ask politely if he can run the meter, any driver will understand. If he refuses, get out of the taxi and wait for the next one, unless you want to pay at least a double fee. There are plenty of taxis around Bangkok so finding one shouldn’t give much of a delay.

Tuk-tuk: when you find yourself in South-East Asia, there is no way your are going to be able to spend your time without running into at least a few tuk-tuks and their obtrusive drivers. I must admit it, the first and second ride in these colourful wagons are fun and I am not saying you should avoid them completely. The thing is, that tuk-tuks, unlike taxis, do not have meters, and they will use this privilige in orde to charge too much. However, when you want to get somewhere on a day-trip out of the city, tuk-tuks are your way to go. You can rent one for a day for an arranged price and they will wait for you at whichever site you wanted to go to. Because you pay for the tuk-tuk and not the amount of people in it, it is great if you can find four people or so to share.

Tuk-tuk
Tuk-tuk

Water-taxi: Despite that I thought this was one of the most fun ways to move around in Bangkok, I only used the water-taxi once. As the name might give away, this is a “taxi” or actually more like a bus (because it is not private) on the water. It speeds along the river and the stops on the banks. Make sure not to confuse the water-taxi with expensive tourist boat services! The tickets are sold on the boat.

As I mentioned before, the temples can not be reached by BTS, however, if your accommodation is close to the BTS-line, I would recommend taking the BTS to Taksin and the water-taxi from there. It will take you straight to the Grand Palace (and all the temples surrounding it) for a mere 35 baht (€0.90) and gives you the great experience of seeing all the tourists sights along the river, while rushing over the water.

Bus: Taxis and tuk-tuks aside, Bangkok’s streets are probably most occupied by colourful, rather old buses. Buses are really cheap, no doubt the cheapest way of transport in Bangkok. Have I saved the best for last? Not really, unless you are planning to spend a lot of time in Bangkok. Buses are namely cheap, but horribly confusing, I haven’t been able to get hold of anything that looked remotely like a bus schedule anywhere, nor have I seen any other tourists using buses.

This observation is probably thanks to the fact that bus stops are blue signposts along the road. The signs let you know that a bus will stop there, but not which one and only God Buddha may know where each bus is headed. Most buses come every ten minutes though, and locals seem to be knowing where they are going, so your best guess is to just ask them and hope somebody understands English.Google maps can help too, but it is not always correct (got me on the wrong bus once or twice). In about five days in Bangkok, I managed to find three usable buses that would take me to almost anywhere in the city I desired and once it works, it works. Plus, all the locals love it when they find tourists on the bus, be prepared to have many seats offered to you when the bus is full!

Update: Additional information from a reader, who found a good website with bus times and schedules. Very helpful!

All in all, there are plenty of choices to get move yourself around in Bangkok. The issue is that many operators are not even remotely working together, one way or another. Having spent enough time in all of them, I think everybody will develop their own preference of transport methods or combination of methods. I personally thought that a combination of bus and BTS worked pretty well and if not I would get a meter-taxi. Most of all, having given you a heads-up about the systems, I hope to have saved you some time and a back ache from walking heavily loaded.

Nevertheless, don’t blindly trust my advice, do your own research and if you find anything outdated or have some additional information about anything I forgot, don’t hesitate to let me know and I will edit!

New discoveries

Exams and a study-related excursion have prevented me from writing lately. Such a shame, as I was already running behind on schedule. I am not mentioning this by means of an excuse as to why I haven’t posted lately, but because the study excursion turned out to be a lot more succesful than I had expected. Not only study-wise, but also environment-wise have I been amazed.

11174213_735951409854810_6386594413167852318_o
Photo by Frank Auperlé

An in-depth review of the trip will follow under the correct country-headers, but I wanted to used this post both as a sneak preview as well as toto express my amazement of how close you can live to beautiful nature without even knowing about it. Because I study applied earth sciences, the trip was focussed on the geological aspect of the things we got to see. However this was combined with walks through the area that I would recommend to anyone with the slightest interest in hiking.

Just briefly look at the following photos. Where would you think they were taken? I am not sure what I would guess, but I would certainly not guess it right.
IMG_0088 IMG_0121
The colour and shape of the rock formations, combined with the contrasting blue sky that we were very lucky to have would never give away that the photo on the left was taken in Luxembourg and the right one (although you might have recognised that from a Dinant postcard) in Belgium. If I hadn’t taken these photos myself I wouldn’t have believed it. The larger picture above wasn’t taken by me, but I was there when it was taken and that one too was really taken in Belgium, despite the alien-like atmosphere it has to it. The region in the Ardennes is eally interesting to rock-climbers too!

We also found volcanic deposits in the Eifel, Germany, ordered as if someone had been playing with coloured sand like this:

DSC_6139
Photo by Robèrt Kroonen

Amazing isn’t it! Okay, I can understand that rock formations might not be the first thing you look at when you’re walking around an area and I therefore won’t bore you with my interprations of how they formed, but these special outcrops are so nice just to look at and would absolutely catch my attention, even I would not be studying geology. Some rocks even contained large mineral crystals that were absolutely beautiful and that you can sometimes buy on those markets, how cool would it be if you found a souvenir like that in the wild?!

Yet another little discovery I made during the same trip is not another rock, or hiking area, but a book. Yep. Not for everybody, as it is in German (I don’t even speak German properly, but I bought it anyway, because it is such a fantastic guidebook, especially for hitchhiking trips). The book contains 24 European countries, complete with maps (not detailed ones, but they have all the highways on them) and descriptions of hotels, hostels, bed & breakfasts and guesthouses on the way. This means that you can look up a nice place for a stop when you’re driving on the highway and will want to stop after +- two more hours of driving. Handy when on a roadtrip, but near essential when your hitchhiking without having a clue when you will get a ride to where and when you’ll need a place to stay for a night.

picture: http://www.amazon.de

All in all you might wonder why I am so enthusiastically speaking about German books and places that are close to home to me, but might be miles away for you. This is because it is not necessarily these places that are so amazing. It is more that I’ve been living only about a three-hour drive away from these places forever and have flown miles to enjoy the wonders of the other side of the world without having ever seen what is just around the corner… It hasn’t been until the last few years that I have taken an interest in visiting countries and places closer to me.

There is so much to discover and for those with little money or time, I guess I want to teach the lesson that travelling and seeing marvellous things is not a matter of getting as far from home as possible, but a matter of opening your eyes.

Have you made any unexpected discovered lately? Please share where you love and what place close to you amazed you.

Tinder: Keep swiping.

No, the subject is not travel-related, although for me it turned out to be. However, I warned you that from time to time I might express my opinion or tell a story about other subjects that caught my attention. If you are not interested, just don’t read and patiently wait till the next update (:
Patience is a blessing.

I am not sure if I have many talents, and if I do I sure as hell I don’t like to brag about them. There are always people that are better than you. However, there is one particlar talent that I have and can be sure of that I must be in the top list of people who have this talent; getting distracted.

Distraction may not sound like a talent to you, and if it is, it’s not a very useful one. Both true and wrong. In everyday life, especially with my studies it can be an enormous pain in the ass to have an attention span of about 15 minutes, before either the ceiling or the mysterious scraps of thoughts that go through my head become more interesting. Despite that, getting distracted has gotten me where I am now. If I had a perfect focus I would not have ever experienced travelling the way I did now, maybe not at all. I would sure as hell not have stumbled upon the most wonderful experiences and people, sometimes by quite literally running into them (or a closed door, a tree, or a lantern post).

When learning for my exams this week, distraction hit soon enough. Facebook, eating something, making tea and replying to a text all come in a very unpractical ratio with actual studying. However, the distraction never seems to be enough. Updating my blog would be perfect, but I know that once I start on that I will accidentally spend hours instead of minutes, so I needed something different. This time it was…. Tinder.

Source: nobullying.com

Tinder is a rather controversial app that matches people by whether they like each others profile pic. If you both like each others photo, you’ll be able to send your “match” messages that will perhaps end up in a date. If the like was not mutual, the person will just disappear in the Tinder jungle, never to be seen again.

Some actual couples are known to have found their significant other via Tinder, however more often the app insinuates many sexual dates and a lot of dissapointment to those who expect more. Not so strange considering the app generates matches based on someones looks, not even that, more on someones photos (that could be photoshopped).

Personally I was not looking for sex or love or anything else that you can find on the app. I was mostly looking for distraction and driven by curiousity, so I started swiping. It didn’t take long before I had over 20 matches. Great, but what now? Less then a quarter of them had started an actual conversation. I tried starting one with another quarter and would leave the rest for now. 20 people is too many to chat with anyways, besides, I had exams to study for.

At first I was slightly dissapointed by the lack of actual text respoonses from people. Whether they’re on there to find their soulmate or to find someone to warm their bed for a night, communication is mostly appreciated. After a while this problem sorted itself out. The interesting people stayed at the top of the list, playing truth or dare, talking about common interests or complete bullshit. It turned out to be a lot of fun. I also met an Italian guy that was on a holiday in the Netherlands for a few days and was looking for someone to show him around, nothing more. Perfect opportunity for me to broaden my foreign network.

Unfortunately him and I didn’t get around to meeting each other, he would go back to Italy in two days, and I was too busy studying after all…

 

Remove this from your Bucket List, NOW

LarrissaHuggard

Plenty of my closest friends, family and Facebook friends have put up awesome pictures of their awesome holidays in the awesome continent of Asia. I myself have not got there yet and until this week one of the major things to do on my bucket list was ride and bathe an Elephant.

Now before you get defensive, it does look like an awesome and fun thing to do, because of course the Elephants are happy right, they’re tame so it means they were brought up this way, and everyone else has done it so it has to be fine! This sheep mentality of western tourists is to blame for the increasing amount of Asian elephants dying from over exhaustion, and maybe even depression.

An elepahnt that has died from exhaustion source: Twitter An elephant that has died from exhaustion source: Twitter

I’m going to keep it short, because I imagine that by now, some people have clicked off this…

View original post 547 more words

Home is where the heart is

Partly inspired by another blogger, partly inspired by the question raised what home means to me, why I have never really felt at home in my home country and where I would be living in another five to ten years, I thought it would be nice to discuss the debatable subject of home. When you’re backpacking, you’re not anywhere near your friends or family, but still most people abroad are having the time of their lives. This poses the question, when you’re out in the world, what is home to you?  I am really curious about what you think.

WIN_20150404_223018
The terrible state of my room

Since I started studying, I have been somewhat settled. I rent a room in a student house that I share with two other students. They are absolutely nice and fun and I feel relaxed at home. However, that itch to go out and about has never left me. So is this home? I guess it is now, but it couldn’t last long.

First of all, my room is a permanent mess, it has been like this since I was a child. Sometimes I can get it sorted and cleaned, but can only maintain it for a few days. Then it starts getting messier, and after a week it will have reached the state shown in the photo. I am not ashamed, I actually think that I found the reason behind this terror is that I don’t belong in a fixed place, it supplies the opportnity to own too much stuff.

If you look at it this way, I just sort of use whatever I have to store things. When this is a backpack, it forces you to make choices and think carefully about which posessions you really need. When you have a car, more stuff fits in, with the result that you will start to collect more stuff. Having an entire room for yourself supplies the opportunity to buy and keep all sorts of luxuries and things that you really don’t need to just scatter all over the place. Imagine what my house would look like if I owned one…. Perhaps this is a sign.
BackpackAnother thing that many people found and still find striking when I’m away, is my “improper” use of the word home. I use it just to refer to the place where I sleep, whether that is a room I rent for myself, a friends house, a tent or a hostel dorm room shared with 16 others doesn’t really matter, when I say I’m going home, I overall just mean that I’m going to go to the place I’m staying, although I can understand the confusion.

The above again proves how my vision of home is very easily adaptable, and I love it. It is funny how the places where I live for a longer period of time often feel less like home than short-term stays abroad. People seem to be nicer and happier around you whenever you’re in the happy environment of being abroad. I also find that in many countries, people are more friendly, open and welcoming than in the Netherlands, or perhaps even Western Europe. This is partly what makes me feel at home so easily, the open-heartedness of others. This and the fact that I don’t think much about the future, I live now, so I better make as much out of it as I can, partly by just seeing it all!

All rights to this picture are owned by Edward Dullard

What does all this mean for my definition of home? I think it can only mean that I haven’t found home yet and don’t know if I ever will. The roads are endless and so is my curiousity. The question of where I will settle in the future remains unanswered, until I have at least seen everything and maybe, maybe still then I might prefer to remain a rolling stone, roaming around the world, not even really looking for a place to go, but just exploring, enjoying.

Home might be about finding a community, a place where you belong and I haven’t really found that place yet, but at the same time I have. What has made me happy so far is changing environment and getting to know new people from time to time. My view obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, but I think many other travellers can familiarise.

Abstractly speaking, home is where the heart is and so to give a concrete answer to the question of where home is to me, I would say that my heart belongs to the world and therefore my home is on the road.

So, to stick with this controversial problem, please tell me what you think about the subject of home and where home is for you/what it means to you.

 

The Solo Experience

One of the most-heard questions and cheesy subjects on travel blogs is:
“Why would you decide to travel alone?”
The question often goes accompanied by arguments such as fear, solitude and boredom. However, quite the opposite is true and I couldn’t keep myself from sharing the readily-exploited subject with you, but for the first time from my point of view.

A few weeks ago, I met an Italian guy at Delft station (close to where I live). He had come here for an internship and I had spoken to him on facebook before, however he didn’t have anything planned for when he arrived. Many people would regard that as ignorant, naive or just plain stupid, but I can familiarise with reckless decisions and just going wherever the wind blows. I decided to pick him up from the station and we spent the entire afternoon wandering around the city in order to find him a how-to-Dutch starter-pack, consisting of a sim-card, a bicycle, an OV-chipcard and hutspot for dinner (a very Dutch dish of mashed potatoes with carrots and onion). With my action I wasn’t sleazily trying to score some karma points, but I just liked to help as well as that it was a great opportunity to get in touch with yet another person from another area.

However, the main reason why I loved to show this stranger around so much is because it reminded me of all the people who made my travels as awesome as they were, of all the people who owned a special place in my heart just by being there and the fantastic feeling I had to know that they were there for me and made each destination special. I would like everyone who goes places to be able to experience the same and this felt like a chance to give someone a small-scale refelection of the hospitality of locals. We still hang out.

Hutspot

Make friends
The reason why I wanted to tell you this story is because it goes to show how easy it initate contacts; locals and non-locals, in a foreign country. This phenomenon mainly occurs when you’re travelling by yourself. The need to ask for directions suddenly seems to increase when there is no one by yourself who you can discuss your assumptions with. You only have your own ideas and resoursces and you certainly don’t want to get lost in an unknown city and a foreign country on your own, so you need to socialise. Sometimes this results in a hurried “left-right-second street left” and a quick smile, but sometimes in a long-lasting friendship.

The exact same thing seems to happen when you’re on a long flight, where you can only spend so much of the time pretending to be asleep on your uncomfortable chair with nowhere to stretch your legs properly. When travelling in a group or with a friend or partner it is easy to start chatting about in your own language, play a game of cards or discuss your travel plans, whereas being by yourself sort of pushes you into conversation with the lucky passenger that you were designated to share your armrest with.
On my journey to Australia, I happened to meet my first true Aussie friend like this, who later introduced me to many more amazing people. I won’t go into too much detail about how we met, but it is quite interesting that the boy that you happen to sit next to on plane flying into Sydney, happens to live in the same city that you are heading to (and is a good three hours from Sydney) and even better that his girlfriend lives in the exact same street as where you will be situated. Perfect invitation for a party and perhaps a little too coincidental, considering the size of Australia…

This was not the first nor the last friend that I met as a result of being by myself and I could (and maybe will) fill an entire post describing all the striking situations in which I met new people that had an influence in my life. If not by accident, then social networks such as meet-up or couchsurfing are the way to go to find like-minded people in your area, but that’s not what this post is about. This is about why travelling solo is such a bless and meeting interesting people is only one of them.

No compromises
Choosing which road to go down is a second one. We all know that people are different. No matter how much you have in common with someone or how good friends you are with someone, there will be things that you will want to do differently and when you’re travelling together, you’ll have to compromise. Compromising is partly self-sacrificing, which is a social thing to do, but it’s the last thing you’ll want to do when you’re away on a lifetime trip. Imagine having spend year saving up money and even longer looking forward to be able to go out and live your dream, but one of the plans you made can’t happen in the way you had in mind, because your travel buddy had a different plan or perhaps not the ability, skills or certificate to join you on your adventure. You might be too short on time to do both and if you want to stay together, both of you might go home not fully satisfied, where you both could have done it all. This might seem a little selfish, and it is, but in some cases, there is no shame in that.

I have obviously had travel buddies and travelling with company is a relief sometimes, but overall I prefer the solo experience. There is an almost-certain probability that you will meet people on the way that will want to accompany you as far as your paths cross without any forced arrangements to stay together. People come and go, that what happens in life and that’s what happens on the road. It works perfectly fine, as it always has done, but nowadays, people are too scared of being alone.

Get to know yourself
Travelling for a year after high-school should be obligatory if it was up to me. Self-knowledge is valuable, not only in your personal life, but also in later business. Travelling in is an experience that changes lifes, views and… people. Seeing different places, different cultures and moreover being open to accept and experience them leads to a completely new view on the worlds. No matter how unlikely it sounds, but this might change you as a person, in a positive way. Knowledge about the world around you might give you some more knowledge about yourself and more tolerance to other people. It will at least make you think twice about what’s really important. And believe me, being prom queen isn’t.

Travelling alone especially will make you more aware of other people around you and their needs, because they need you and your advice as much as you need theirs. You’ll have to share a room and kitches with people (unless have the funds to pay for a private hotel room, but I would still recommend staying in a hostel dorm once, just for the experience. You might hate it, but at least you can say you’ve tried!). Having felt how it is to be alone in a different environment where you want to have fun and want to be accepted, you will realise how important it is to accept other people and help them out. Life is about giving and taking, not for your own good, but for making the world a better place.

Become independent
This goes mostly for young travellers, who are just leaving their safe parents house for the first time in their lifes. Travelling will force you to take care of yourself and will give you the advantage of becoming independent sooner than non-travellers the same age as you.

This doesn’t mean that you’ll instantly become a boring, responsible adult, quite the opposite, you’ll get to be a perhaps responsible, but mostly self-sufficient and open-minded youngster.

Source: http://www.traveljournals.net

Easy to fit in
No matter where in the world you have travelled, if you have tried to stay on a budget, the above picture can’t be anything new to you. The moment you walk into a hostel dorm room and need to figure out which bed in the sweaty room full of suitcases belongs to you. It happened to me once that there was no free bed at all in the room, the mistake of the hostel, they had accidentally overbooked the room. However, even if this isn’t the case, it is often still hard to figure out which bed is still empty, because all of the dorm rooms in the hostel are continously occupied and you can consider yourself lucky that you have even found that bed.

Imagine the same situation, but now being with two or maybe even more travellers. At certain times of the year places can get so crowded that it might not be possible to find two spots in the same hostel, let alone in the same room. If you’re determined to stay together, it often results in the need to find a more expensive and therefore quiter hostel. However those extra bucks spend could also have bought you a beer or another night’s dinner.

Again, the same phenomenon seems to happen in different situations. When participating in an organised tour, being alone can give you the advantage of being able to fill a lone spot in another tour group. If it’s a busy tour, going solo can save you a lot of waiting time, because you can blend in in almost any readily existing group.

Obviously, travelling solo can be a disadvantage at the same time. Some attractions require (at least) two or four people to participate. However, it is usually easy to find people to join you and to form a group of two or four. If not, you can often skip the line in order to help a group of five out when the groups need to be even. This way I got into most of the waterslides at wet ‘n wild at the Gold Coast within minutes, where people had to stand in line for hours!

Wet ‘n wild funnel slide. Source: en.wikipedia.org

Travel cheap
I already gave away a few aspects of it being cheaper to travel alone in the last paragraph. However, there is more than that. I especially noticed this when I started arranging my trip for July. Not often have I had to book a flight for two (or more) people before, but this time I was very excited. It was the middle of the freaking night and I was bored and hoped to find cheap flights and as a matter of fact I did (possibly because no one else in the area was looking for flights at that time). However, I had searched for solo flights and then had the brilliant idea to ask a nice, positively weird and rather impulsive girl to join me. And she did. I have already spoken about my excitement of having a travel buddy before, so I’ll leave that for now.

The thing is, that once I was looking for seats for two people, prices went up by €100- €150. Sad, but logical, as people on their own can fill up whatever random seat was still empty, while people travelling together will want to sit more or less at communication distance from each other at least. This is absolutely something to take into account. If you don’t mind being on seperate seats or in drastic cases seperate flights, you might want to book apart from each other in order to save a few bucks.

Fall in love
Last but not least, falling in love is easier to do on your own. Well, not really, because you need a second person to fall in love with, but I meant when travelling on your own. I could have treated this at the “making friends” bit, but decided that it would be nicer to give love the special place it deserves. Holiday crushes, vacation loves or foreign soulmates, they don’t usually last as a result of at least one of the partners is moving about. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t have a good time with someone special for as long as it lasts.

Falling in love is a wonderful feeling, although in the case of holiday crushes “love” might not be the right word. However, you will meet people that are at least highly interesting to you and when you’re alone, your accesible to speak to or you could just go out and speak to them. Whereas having a friend by your side who might have an opinion or require some more info about the person you are trying to hit on might slow you down.

Besides making you more insecure, you don’t want to leave your buddy hanging when you want to sneaky out for a spontaneous cheeky night out with your new lover. And tell me, is that really something you want to miss out on?

Source: http://www.femalefirst.co.uk

All in all, I am not trying to convince you of anything. Your trip is yours and the most important is that you should live it the way you want. When you’re travelling with your partner instead of a regular friend there will be no need to fall in love, which might change the perspective a bit. However, all the other reasons for travelling alone are still valid. Nevertheless, travelling together can be fun as well. Solo,- group- and buddytravelling might be something to alternate between. Whatever you choose, make sure that you do it for you and not because someone else says so.

However, next time before you’re about to ask someone why in the world they would want to travel alone, think before you speak and consider all these reasons. Besides, they have probably already heard the same question a million times all over again.

The Liebster Award (tag)

This is not going to be a usual blog article. I’m not sure if you are going to like it, but I do feel honoured to have been tagged by my blog-friend Masha and everything needs a try. It might be a nice opportuity for you to get to know me better. Masha is, like me, a Dutch girl with a blog. However, she writes in Dutch and she blogs about books where I blog about travelling. The idea is that she gave me a list with 11 questions to answer and I am actually supposed to think of 11 new ones and tag someone else to answer them. However, I am not sure if I know any bloggers who would like that, so I am just going to post the new questions here, without any tags and who-ever likes it can answer them.

IMG_0316
But before I start with that, I will answer the questions that I’ve been given. As Masha is a book-blogger, not all of them will be suitable for me to answer.

1. Which book will you never read?
Easy! “50 Shades of Grey.” There are so many more interesting, slightly erotic books around that actually have a good storyline and a main character with potential.

2. What was the last book that you purchased, just because you liked the cover.
I don’t think I ever did that.

3. Which country would you like to visit?
Now this is a question for me! Obviously, there is my bucket list, but to tell you something you don’t already know, I would like to visit both Guatemala and Nepal (even though they’re at different ends of the world).

4. Do you have quirks when you read a book?
Not anything that I can think off, except that I might look really concerned, but that’s not really a quirk, is it?

5. What is your favoriete snack?
It doesn’t take me long to think about this one. My favourite snack would absolutely be a “kaassoufflee”, you can wake me up at 4am for that. For the non-dutchies, a kaassoufflee is a deep-fried cheese snack. It is basically cheese, wrapped in puff pastry and covered in bread crumbs, then diep-fried. Sounds yummie doesn’t it? 😉 Picture below!

Source: http://www.pinterest.com

6. Summer or Winter?
Anyone who has followed my blog and journeys knows that I can not often be found in colder countries, and that I am quite fun of the lovely warm sun and its vitamines. This, added up to the fact that my birthday is in summer absolutely answers this question easily: SUMMER!

7. If you were only allowed to read books written by one author, which author would it be?
As I still haven’t found the time to pass more than the first half of the first book of the game of thrones series, I ‘m going to choose George R. R. Martin. At least I’ll have plenty of books to go.

8. How many hours of sleep do you get each night and how many would you like to get?
Being a student, I consider myself lucky when I get 7 hours of sleep. However, I still feel permanently tired and think I need a few more. 9 hours of sleep each night would be perfect. Even thinking about it makes me feel like I’m in Heaven.

9. What is your favourite non-book blog?
This question obviously is not directed towards me, because I hardly have the time to read (even though I enjoy reading). I am talking about reading books now, not blogs. I do have the time for the second form of reading (not really, but hey), because I like to be inspired by other people’s expierences. Three non-book blogs (they are all three travel blogs) that inspire me a lot are:

http://whereintheworldisnina.comJournalist on the run
http://wearewanderers.info/

10. if you wouldn’t be allowed to blog about books travelling anymore, what would you write about?
As you can see, I had to adjust this question to my situation in order not to cheat at the idea of the question. The fun bit is, if I had more time to read and wasn’t allowed to write about my travels, books would possibly be what I would be writing about. That, or lifestylein general, maybe combined with opinion articles about actualities.

11.What is your favourite TV show and TV serie and why?
Believe it or not, but this is by far the hardest question of the list. Why? I don’t own a TV and don’t feel the urge to waste my time watching contentless talk shows. For this reason I have no idea which TV show would be my favourite.

On the other hand, I do have a guilty pleasure concerning TV series: I am hooked to game of thrones and can’t wait till the 15th of April when the first episode of the new season will be released. No need for a television, I’ll watch on my laptop.

My 11 questions to you
This was the end of answering my questions. Thanks Masha for the tag. Now, it is up to you guys to answer my questions if you like:

1. Are you a city or a country person?
2. What is your all-time favourite song on a road-trip?
3. If you won 10000 euros that you had to spend withing a year, what would you do with it?
4. You have to leave for a different country tomorrow. What is the first place that would come into mind?
5. What is the best, most original place that you have ever been?
6. Budget or luxury traveller?
7. Adventure, beach or city-trip?
8. Snow or sun destination?
9. What is your favourite continent?
10. How many countries have you visited?
11. What is the weirdest experience that you’ve had abroad?

Hope you guys like this for a change. Enjoy (: