Living Differently, Uncertainties, Stories, and Bookings

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My husband (Chef) was on the phone to his sister. She asked where we were, what we were up to, where we were going next, “Well right now I’m eating breakfast in a hostel in Kuala Lumpur, but tomorrow? No idea”

Yesterday our great-grand-nanna asked where we’d be next week. I said I didn’t know.

“And Alyson, are you OK with that?”


Does that feeling of not knowing where you’ll be, where you’ll sleep, what you’ll do when the visa expires, freak you out? We’re fine with it, it’s actually kinda exciting!

The only thing that bothers me about our constant state of uncertainty is dealing with people who expect me to know where I’ll be a week next Thursday. Really? Normal people think that far ahead? We don’t and can’t.

I’ll be honest, I find having a lot of things planned and scheduled with dates and times quite stressful, I thrive on the opposite kind of existence. I have friends who don’t. I know that it’s a personality trait of mine and that some of you just couldn’t do it in the same way that I can’t live to schedule without free choice at that moment.

I think living in the moment is a part of that.

We’re not living conventionally and we haven’t been in any way predictable since summer 2013 when we picked up our backpacks, kids and passports and headed to Malaysia, ” For a year or three”.

So, to continue the theme of Living Differently, uncertainty is something we need to talk about.

This post is much longer than #1 and #2 in the Living Differently Series, great-grand-nanna tells me to share the stories that have her giggling, so grab a cup of tea and let’s go.

Living Differently: The Uncertainties of a Travel Lifestyle

Long term travel can be planned meticulously with round the world flight tickets and hotel bookings months in advance, or you can wing it, totally, as we do. Most people live their lives with a weekly or monthly wage, we kinda wing that too. When the money gets low, we earn more. We don’t need to earn as much because we’re not into possessions and we spend a lot of time in cheaper parts of the world, living more, needing less.

There are very few certains in our lives these days. At the moment we are vaguely planning backpacking around Africa, a road trip in the USA to include Florida and Disney, skiing through winter in Romania, returning to Chiang Mai as digital-nomads, living in Mexico for a while and finally getting to bucket-list-topper Myanmar.

That idea of cycling through the -Istans is still floating around somewhere too.

All are totally possible but none are planned. We have no idea what we’ll be doing beyond August, maybe September and to be organised that far in advance is unusual for us. That’s because Chef is taking part in an Iron Man event in Wales in the autumn, yes, he manages to train for élite and somewhat crazy events like that on the road. His triathlon bike has journeyed across Europe twice now, by plane and by car, but that’s another story.

When we’re actively travelling we usually have no idea of where we’ll go tomorrow, how we’ll get there or where we’ll sleep when we arrive. We often don’t know which country we’ll end up in next week when the current visa runs out. Or maybe we’ll just extend it and stay a bit longer, shall we?

You know how people worry about having onward flights booked to be allowed into a country? Well, I don’t think we ever have and it’s never been a problem.

Financial Uncertainties

We don’t know how our finances will cope or when (if) chef will have to work again. Blogging doesn’t bring in a reliable monthly wage, although these days we can almost guarantee a growing base income. (Update, 5 years in now, the income is more than enough)

See how blogging makes us an income and how to start a blog here.

People often ask us about financing our retirement, you can probably tell it’s not a big concern of ours, but we have that kinda covered. I’m not planning on stopping earning through blogging and we have a bricks and mortar investment to fall back on as well as some modest pension contributions.

Medical Uncertainties

There are other uncertainties to this lifestyle, will you be able to find medial treatment if the worst happens?

So far that’s always been a yes.

We’ve been to hospitals and visited doctors and dentists in Malaysia, Thailand, Guatemala, and Laos in the last 3 years. The first 2 were excellent experiences.

My husband even had emergency surgery in Thailand.  He got out of a songtaw one day on Ko Phangan feeling like he’d been “punched in the guts” and looking like suddenly anaemic death. He was in hospital a couple of days later and enjoying the most luxurious of private suites with hot and cold running Thai nurses who giggled over his western hirsuteness all happily financed by insurance.

The remote Laos hospital was, interesting, but it all turned out OK. Boo had what I suspected could be Dengue, vomiting, and fever for several days plus a mysterious rash. The Vang Vieng hospital did bloods but after a short wait proclaimed him, “OK, give water.”

child swallowed a ball
The red ball that had me carrying my son to the doctor in Guatemala.

Guatemala was a good one, Boo swallowed a mini snooker ball from a toy snooker set. I panicked of course and rushed him down to the loveliest of doctors in Antigua Guatemala, I actually ran some of the way with the Boo on my back I was that concerned.

He saw us straight away, charged us little, and reassured me that the tiny red ball would appear in a few days with no ill-effects. Let’s just say that a stick and a plastic bag were involved in the hunt and it did indeed reappear.

Flores, Guatemala gave us an emergency dental visit. Chef ended up having a rotten molar pulled rather than mess around with root canals and crowns. It was quick, simple, modern, clean, cheap and problem free.

We find that on the whole, we feel the need to see doctors less when we travel, maybe we just feel better, maybe we worry less, maybe the pain-in-the-butt factor of finding someone makes us reluctant to trouble the docs with trivial illnesses. But I can tell you that there have been no major medical problems.

The Down-Sides of Being Unpredictable

Regular readers will know that we very rarely take up offers of promotional stays or press trips. There are several reasons for that, but one is that we never know where we’ll be and so find it impossible to send all the emails and make all the arrangements that pull these sorts of trips together.

Sometimes people ask us to meet up with them on the road, again, we find that hard. We don’t keep any sort of diary or calendar, we honestly just don’t know.

The only time we’ve really come unstuck through lack of booking or planning was in India. We’d planned to travel north and show the kids Varanasi, Rajasthan, and McLeod Gange (that’s where the Dalai Lama lives). On arrival, after checking out old favourites Mamallapuram, Goa and Hampi, we discovered that all trains heading north were fully booked for weeks.

We had a couple of stressy days while Chef poured over train timetables and stood in queues at sweaty stations before we realised it just wasn’t going to happen. So we spent more time in southern India instead. As always, it worked out.

How Does it Feel to Travel Unplanned? Examples of “Winging it”

In 3 years of travel we’ve only once found ourselves totally homeless for the night and it was my fault (Chef’s really) we booked a hotel for our late arrival in Sri Lanka for the wrong night and were forced to spend a few hours sleeping in the airport.

We coped, it was fine.

We got the kids comfortably set up to sleep and Chef and I kept caffeinated vigil until the early hours ( we laughed at ourselves a lot through that night.)

Next morning we took a tuk tuk to the train station and from there journeyed south for a few hours along the stunning Sri Lankan coastline, feeling glad to be alive and thrilled to be on that train surrounded by local people with the breeze cooling us from open windows.  I took the photo below of Boo, it was a wonderful ride.

We checked into our villa which I had booked for the wrong night too, but it worked out, and had a great day, good food, and a decent night’s sleep. So everything went wrong, but it all came good as things normally do.

The train from Sri Lanka Bandaranaike airport to the beaches
The time we stuffed up and spent a night in the airport gave us this dawn train ride along the glorious Sri Lankan coast.

When we set off to travel we had a one-way ticket to Malaysia. Nothing further planned, nothing at all. We’ve been making it up as we go along for 3 years now. (Update, it’s over 5 years now).

When we arrived in Florida at the end of our USA road trip and visa with no idea where to go next, but we had to be out of the country. We went to Skyscanner, entered all Florida airports and any destination. There were flights to El Salvador at a great price so that’s where we went.

OK, so most people don’t go to El Salvador, it has a reputation for danger, but a quick Google showed us that it was no more troublesome than many parts of the US. We went and had a great experience.

While road tripping the USA we never knew where we’d end up. It was very common for us to book a motel from the phone, often from the hotel’s car park. Booking online in the states always gave us better prices than marching into reception.

When we jumped ship in Singapore from a less-than-great luxury cruise ship, we’d had just a few hours, on limited ship’s internet, to plan our escape next move.

It took us hardly any time to figure out that Singapore wasn’t for us, too expensive, too normal, and that there was a so-cheap-it-was-almost-free flight leaving for Bangkok later that afternoon. From Bangkok, you can travel overland or fly just to about anywhere. On a whim we overlanded to Cambodia for a month and somewhere along the way booked ourselves flights to India and on to Nepal.

When the Nepal earthquake cancelled our flight to Kathmandu from southern India we had to think fast, Skyscanner again, found us a bargain flight to London. It was our best option at the time and lead our love affair with Romania. That’s where we went next through pure serendipity. These days we spend a lot of our time in the remote, traditional villages of Romania. We accidentally discovered a part of the world that we consider “paradise”.

Many of the above links point to our post on using Skyscanner like a pro. It saves us an enormous amount of cash and often makes up our minds for us on “where next?”

Arriving in Town with Nowhere to Stay

We do this all the time. Does that scare you? To us it’s no big deal at all, one of the best feelings is arriving somewhere new, exploring on foot, and knocking on doors to check out rooms and prices. This is how you get the best deals and find accommodation you are 100% happy with. You can’t complain about a room if you’ve seen it before you decided to take it.

It works best in Asia where we regularly fall out of buses or trains and just start walking. It’s not something I’d choose to do in big cities like London, but from Bangkok to Mirissa to Kathmandu, it works out fine.

Sometimes in a bigger town, we’ll tumble out of the station and find a tuk tuk driver happy to take us around a few hotels and guest houses. We’ve never had any problems doing this, these guys know which hotels have family rooms and yes, they get a little commission, that makes your tuk tuk ride all the cheaper. Just remember that people aren’t there to rip you off, they’re there to help you. A different spin can make all the difference to your travel experience.

These days because we have favourite places we’ve used over the years and we know what they’re like and what they charge, we do sometimes book in advance. So, for instance in Bangkok we’ll book Rambutri Village Inn if we want to be near the Khao San Rd, Mile Map Hostel, to stay in a quieter area (both are close to the river, the best way to get around BKK, for us, is by river taxi).

We’ve had some tough days of searching on foot in Bangkok, it’s hot, the bags are heavy and the kids complain, so booking ahead when we know exactly what we want makes sense. I have a list post here of reliable family accommodation in Bangkok, it’s not yet complete, but it’s well on the way.

Sometimes we’ll book ahead just for one or two nights, for instance, if we have a late-night arrival. It’s easier to search for somewhere nicer, cheaper or better located, when you can dump your bags for a while and have a better idea of what’s available.

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Living Differently. The uncertainties of life on the road, wht's it like to head off around the world for a few years of fairly unplanned travel, with kids. Family Travel from World Travel Family.

How do we find accommodation online? 90% of the time we use Agoda. A friend here in London said he’d never heard of them, which surprised me because they’re huge. They are number 1 for Asia and we use them wherever we are in the world. That’s not just because we recommend them as affiliates. We find their website easy to use, you can search for 2 adults 2 kids and insert ages ( this means kids under x years stay free deals are taken into account) and results can be ordered by price.  My favourite feature on the Agoda website is the map, you can zoom in and out, drag the map around with your mouse and find what is available where. This tool often helps us determine where we’ll stay in a particular country, for example when we’re free-form road-tripping Europe. They also allow us to collect valuable points to redeem against future stays and their customer sevice is great. They’ve allowed us to cancel more than once, even when the listing said cancellation wasn’t possible.

So yes, we recommend Agoda and throughout this website you’ll find links to hotels we use or recommend, via their booking site. On the occasions where Agoda doesn’t perform we’ll happily skip to Booking dot com or Hotels Combined.

We often book the day before, or even hours before arrival, it’s no big deal and anyone could do it.

We find that searching every booking engine from Couch Surfing, to AirBnb to to Hotels Combined just wastes our time, we go to Agodaand hope to be done with it, often in minutes.

So the concept I had in mind when I started this post was uncertainty. Our lives are most certainly full of it but modern technology makes fixing that situation in moments entirely possible and that’s part of the way we take uncertainty in our stride.

If you missed them, here are the useful posts:

Using Skyscanner like a Ninja, finding flights to suit you.

Accommodation recommendations in Bangkok ( work in progress, bookmark it)

How to start a blog and first steps in online income.

Want to sign up for more help and inspiration?  Find the box in the side bar.

So guys, tell me, what do you want? Stories from the road telling you what it’s really like? Random anecdotal stories ? I still haven’t told the Prince Harry one ( I have now!) or the ultra scary bus one (likewise)? Posts on how-to do this crazy thing we do? Or, something else? Maybe give me a suggestion for a title? Help me out here, because yet another uncertainty is what on earth I’m going to post about next.

And Great-Grand-Nanna, thanks for your input. You know, the stories are the best bits, the glue that holds families together, the shared laughs and cringes. The more stories we can accumulate on this journey the better. Like the time we broke down in the middle of a motorway somewhere near Prague and were given an emergency ride in a Czech police car, that one is only days ago, but already we laugh. This ride is a fun one and one the kids will remember forever. That’s good.

You Can Access Published “Living Differently” Posts Here

Living Differently: The Secrets of Living Differently

Living Differently: Uncertainties, Stories and Bookings

Living Differently: Owning Less Living More

If you'd like to hire a car during your stay, use this car rental comparison tool to find the best deal!

We also suggest you take a look at this company to get a quote for all kinds of the more tricky adventure or extended travel insurance.

Try Stayz / VRBO for an alternative way to find rentals on homes/apartments/condos in any country!

About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

19 thoughts on “Living Differently, Uncertainties, Stories, and Bookings”

  1. I keep loving reading your posts, Alyson. In the beginning (four years ago!) I was very much tempted to try to give it a go your way … and then my mother got sick and eventually died and after all, I’m glad I was “only” a five hours ride from their home, which allowed me to assist my parents through a very challenging period. Now I try to look after my father – I would love to take him on travel (like Driving Miss Norma, did you follow their amazing story ?!), but his health won’t allow it. As long as my father is there (and I surely hope that will be a long time), I can’t see us going on long term travel, the way you conceive it. But … I love to hear about and find it amazing!

    Our kids have travel bugs, so we encourage them to travel as much as they can.

    We did 14 days of Sri Lanka as empty-nesters (thanks for all the tips) which was not long enough, it was frustrating to come back home with so much of our travel-appetite unsatisfied … and thus we are planning a trip to South or Central America next autumn. I actually enjoy the planning, it allows me to travel-in-thoughts, I love it! And … it avoids terrible panic-attacks once we’re at our destination. If ever we are free enough to go on long-term-travel your style, I’ll try to “unplan”, just to see how I cope.

    • Don’t feel you have to Talitha, whichever way suits you best is the perfect way. Thanks for commenting, it seems these days hardly anybody does and it’s quite disheartening. Cheers.

  2. We’re currently planning a year on the road and while the idea of complete freedom is appealing I just can’t quite figure out how one does it. For example: taxes. If you own property and have investments, how do you plan for paying taxes? Can you do it remotely or do you have someone handling that for you? Do you use a property rental company? How do you plan for the basic upkeep of a property when you’re on the road? And you mentioned medical insurance. Do you have any recommendations? Everything I’ve researched seems to assume that you have a permanent residence and home country with limits on how long you can be away. I know some people go without, but I once had a US $20 000 bill from a three day hospital stay in Hawaii that was completely covered by my $80 policy so there’s no way I’m going to risk going without, especially since we want to see parts of the US on our trip. How do you plan for insurance if you don’t know which countries you’re visiting, or is that not an issue with UK based policies?

    • Our house is rented. 12 month contracts, through an agent. So there’s nothing there we have to even think about. If something electrical breaks,like an air conditioner, they call an electrician, we foot the bill. But the rent covers most things. The tenants are responsible for the garden and so on. We have a pool guy who goes round once every month and keeps that good. The pool pump went in the first year, we had to pay for that. I don’t know what else you mean. The house will be inspected when they leave, any damage or repairs needed and they lose their bond, which is 3 months rent I believe. Some owners get gardeners in, but as I had a nice garden with fruit and veg, trees etc, we got a couple who enjoy gardening and growing food so they take care of it. There are no taxes, I don’t know what taxes you mean. There is only 1 company for open ended travel, World Nomads ( which I will be an affiliate for very soon). For you, just get global cover. The US is the most expensive, we often take cover for everywhere except the US, but as you’re going anyway you may as well buy global. I can’t see any problems at all in all the things you mention above Deanne, all pretty straight forward.

      • Australia doesn’t have property tax or capital gains taxes? (those are the ones I’m worrying about right now). From what you say it sounds like a property management company is the way to go if we don’t want worries on the road. I’ll be sure to check out World Nomads once we get closer to the date. Have you been able to renew passports and other documents without too much trouble while on the road? Can you still use your Australian address on forms without any problems even if it’s rented out? I’m currently renewing the kids’ passports so that will all be okay but I just noticed my husbands’ Canadian driving license will need to be renewed when we’re on the road. Sigh. Hopefully a bit of planning before we go will allow us more freedom once we’re on the road.

        • Yes we’ve done all that. Having to get duplicates of birth certificates sometimes because we didn’t bring those with us. No to the above taxes. Yes you can use any address. Hotel even. In Australia we use an estate agent for the rental, the same people who sell them, they handle rentals too. It would be the same in the UK. If we had taxes like that we’d just set up a direct debit. Why renew the driving license if he won’t be needing it?

  3. This article was very helpful in the details of how-to. Another thing I’d like to know is how you deal with language barriers (google translate?) and how do you orient yourself in order to get from point A to B? Like when you left the cruise ship, how did you get to the airport? How do you deal with changes in currency, know you’re getting a good price for say, the transport?

    • Hi Lucy, the only countries where we’ve ever had a language barrier problem are China, parts of remote Romania and Central America. Most of the world speaks English. In China we occasionally had to resort to phrase book, this was long before Google translate! Spanish is very easy, so, although we only know a little, we get by. We’re learning Romanian, slowly, we manage. Getting from A to B, well, maps in the Lonely Planet, maps online, just any basic research. You can Google ” how to get from x to y” and find that information in seconds. In Singapore we used the train/underground, there were maps and a really nice worker helped us buy tickets. He spoke perfect English. Transport price, well you just pay the price, it’s normally fixed and clearly displayed, if you mean trains buses, metred taxis. If you mean flights, well we research on Skyscanner, we find the best price for the best day. If we have to haggle with tuk tuk drivers, we just pay what we’re comfortable paying. Sometimes they have you over a barrel and you get stung, but mostly we do OK. Currency, we mostly withdraw cash from ATMs on arrival. You always get a better rate in the destination country and you rarely need local currency on arrival, the only exception to this, Nepal is tricky. We had to have US$, UKP or Euros to pay for the entry visa. You have to be prepared for that and we almost came unstuck until we found a few Euros we’d forgotten about in the bottom of a bag. Does that help?

  4. I love the insights on how you make it work. It really is amazing to see all the places you’ve been so far. I have to admit, I enjoy planning ahead but it’s nice to be reminded that winging it works too. I just can’t seem to stop myself from organizing things, it’s so much fun for me. Keep the posts coming, I love enjoying unplanned travel through you!

  5. Love reading all your tales…i read them for inspiration as hoping we can do something similar in a few years with our young boys so ‘how-to’ blog posts are great! I guess having a brick and mortar investment/retirement back home is a smart idea. Think we need to get that sorted first. Also would you have a suggested $ amount of savings/emergency fund before embarking on 1year+ cheap travel through SEAsia ? What you’re doing with your family is amazing. Thanx heaps for sharing

  6. Hi Alyson
    I am a mum of 4 daughters (8,6,4,2). I love that you wing it and find myself thinking where in the world would I take 4 girls by myself. There Dad is often away for work. Which country is most kid friendly and safe? Rather then wait for their Dad to be free to travel I feel we just need to wing it but struggle to think of which country would be a good start. We live in Australia.

    I love all that you write. I have said before that I especially like your honesty of the good the bad the uglyas you see it. Alyson I am also curious on your global view of many things you obviously interact with so many different people in different countries what are they like, how do they see themselves, how do you see them. What trends globally are you seeing. I noticed a few times you mention the world schooling movement gaining momentum. I have also felt like the world is waking up a bit to other possibilities on how to live rather just consume.

    Either way keep the stories and experiences coming. I truly learn a lot from your blog. I also admire your spirit and positivity. I expect that you will be one of us who is truly living rather than existing and consuming.

    • I travel without my husband fairly often Renay. Sometimes it’s great, I took the kids to London nd Florida solo, sometimes it has bits I don’t like, I found Malaysia hard and driving accross Europe without Chef is tricky. I’d go to Thailnd, it’s super easy, lots of people of all nationalities, great food, beautiful temples, beaches. Thailand is great and if you get fed up it’s super easy to get a bus/train ( even fly) into Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia. etc. I think when I’m without Chef it’s better for me to have more planned because I don’t have that other adult to bounce ideas off and help with decisions.

  7. Well i have just finished reading this wonderful tale and it makes me want to pack up and head out somewhere.

  8. dont change anything! just keep writing! i love reading it all! as a mum two 5 and 3 year old boys, i love following along! while we most likely will not end up as “uncertain” as your travels, i love watching what we CAN do, if we really put our minds to it!!


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