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.
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.
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)
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.
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.”
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 findig 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.
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. ( updat, 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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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 Booking.com to Hotels Combined just wastes our time, we go to Agoda and 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:
Accommodation recommendations in Bangkok ( work in progress, bookmark it)
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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.