Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Reflections From Four Months On the Road

I left England in mid January to set off on my indefinite travel adventure and whilst I'm only four months in my notebook is overflowing with thoughts and ideas and reflections and I thought I'd throw some of those reflections out there in what is probably going to be an outburst of oversharing!

Beach time in Ko Samui, Thailand

I am 100% sure that Nick and I made the right decision to leave England and to travel until we want to stop. With the election coming up my Twitter feed serves as a constant reminder of the things I hate about the UK although I am gutted not to be able to help re-elect Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavillion. I am voting, obvs, I just have to vote somewhere else now. It's a safe Tory seat so my vote will hardly count but I would never skip out on voting no matter how pointless it may seem. Even if you just show up and spoil your ballot paper you have to freaking show up to be counted, it doesn't register as a protest if you just sit at home like all of the apathetic non-voters. It's also important to vote for parties like the Greens in seats they have no chance of winning because if they get 5% of the vote they not only know there are people rooting for them but they also get their deposit back which is extra important for smaller parties.

Anyway, leaving the UK was an A+ idea. As well as seeing the world Nick and I are getting to spend so much quality time together. It's so much fun! I feel like our lives are now being buoyed along by a constant undercurrent of excitement rather than being punctuated by work stresses and pointless holidays - and when I say holidays I'm talking Easter not a week long trip to the Andalusian coast! Our plans for the rest of the year include 5 weeks in Austin, I can't believe how soon Vida Vegan Con is and I am so sad about it being the final one that I have pushed it to the back of my mind because I don't want to think about it. I'm speaking about my Adventures in Vegan Travel Blogging on Sunday which I am beyond excited to talk about and I'll also be making an appearance on the Feminism and Veganism panel on Saturday morning which is sure to be both awesome and empowering. After our time in Austin comes to an end in mid June Nick and I will be spending summer living in a van which is like my actual lifelong dream come true, I have been talking seriously about living in a van since my early twenties and it's going to be the coolest way to explore Eastern Europe. Plans are forming for Autumn / Winter 2015 but I currently have no idea what 2016 holds. Knowing that the choices are ours and there are a million opportunities we'd like to grab is both overwhelming and exciting. We're currently looking into volunteering in Japan and pondering whether we could somehow afford to spend three months living in California.

Exploring the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam

I don't want to paint a totally idyllic, perfect picture of life right now though; there have been many challenges and there are definite downsides to travelling for as long as we're planning to. Our plans at once make seeing friends harder and easier. I miss the people I spent the most time with in the UK but this is balanced out by how excited I am to get to spend more time with my friends in Austin. I'm also getting to spend more quality time than usual with my BFF Tabitha this year because Nick and I are staying with her for a week when we swing through Brighton and we have a week of punk festival fun and city eats lined up for Slovenia this summer. I'm also making the effort to send postcards and stay connected whenever possible, I don't want my friendships to fade away. They're all too important.

Heath care is also challenging, we've both experienced being sick on the road in situations where it has been obvious that we needed to seek medical advice asap but, what to do about those smaller niggles? I am so used to having the privilege (and I absolutely recognise it for what it is, a privilege) of having a GP whom I can visit whenever I need that not having that there as a safety net is an odd feeling. This year we're swinging through the UK twice so things like dentist check ups and the filling of repeat prescriptions can be fitted into those slots but how can Nick get physio for the wrist he injured months ago when an NHS referral will take months and we'll likely be away once the appointment rolls around? What happens when I need my IUD replaced? Do I need to go to England to do that? What do I do when my colitis flares up aside from quitting fruit for a bit? This throws up it's own challenges when you're in places where fruit is not only delicious but also the best vegan option available. I would love any answers y'all may have to those questions by the way because I really have no clue!

Sunset in Vang Vieng, Laos

One thing we've found is that travelling seems less sociable than we'd expected. I feel like this is probably because we're travelling as a couple so whilst we're taking the opportunities to hang with people when they come up, and have found that making new friends is a touch easier because we both have the time to devote to spontaneous socialising, we already have each other to hang out with so the inherant need to make new buddies isn't there. We've made great connections with fellow vegan travel bloggers and with people we met whilst volunteering but on a day to day basis we pretty much just hang together. I wonder if this has to do with us both a) being a little older than your average backpacker b) not being into drinking and certainly not being into getting dressed up in local "costumes" for a bar crawl and c) being quite fussy about who we hang out with. As soon as someone makes an offhand racist or sexist remark that's it I'm done. I also have no time for people who greet your veganism with an "mmmm bacon"... I think that I'm lucky that I've always made most of my friends through vegan groups or online vegan communities because it means that the majority of my friends would never do these things.

Long term travel also seems to mean subjecting yourself to that feeling where your holiday's coming to an end and you feel super sad about it over and over and over again! Those feelings get balanced out by how great it is that you get to go somewhere new and I am aware that that's a really privileged place to be but I still feel sad when I have to say goodbye to people and places and things. Whether that's the cat you fell in love with at a shelter, the waitress who was amazing at fielding your vegan questions the whole time you were at a resort, the beach you loved waking up by, the food you loved but that you might not get to eat again or even just the general atmosphere of a place. One of the benefits of long term travel is that it's often possible to extend your stay somewhere if you're loving it, Nick and I really took advantage of this on Koh Lanta and in Chiang Mai, as well as a few other places to a lesser extent, but still this is travel not moving house so saying goodbye is inevitable.

Connecting with a new friend at Elephant Nature Park, Thailand

I've also learnt that anxiety doesn't disappear when you travel, I've only had one panic attack since the trip started but my anxiety triggers are the same as ever. I am realising that feeling the sun on my skin every day, watching far less TV and going outside more (I didn't get to do a whole lot of that during my last three months in the UK because there was just so much to do) are conducive to good mental health. I also had a total revelation when I was talking to Nick about how I felt that I just wasn't doing enough activism / writing / all of the other things I want to do and I realised that this feeling comes from me constantly moving the goalposts I've set myself! I wanted to speak about vegan travel but before I'd even done my first talk I was already wondering why I hadn't made a zine yet, now that I approach my second talk and am super close to printing my first zine I'm asking myself why I haven't started my You Tube channel yet. I'm realising that happiness comes when you revel in your successes! You can't just constantly move your goalposts because then it feels like you're never succeeding. Having come from a place where answering the phone made me super anxious doing public any speaking at all is a pretty bad ass place to be and I'm trying to recognise all of those small achievements. I can only assume that I'm realising this stuff now because I have the time and space to think. Whilst travel can sometimes keep you pretty busy what with the constant need to book the next train, organise the next accommodation and research where the vegan food is at, you also have the choice to opt out of that for a few days or weeks or more. You can stop somewhere you're semi-familiar with at any time and just relax or work on projects or whatever. I am quite literally free to do whatever I want to do and it feels amazing.

I didn't necessarily set out on this adventure to "find myself" or to learn new things about myself but now I think that learning about yourself is an inevitable side effect of this type of travel. I had thought I'd learn about the world and discover new things about new countries and people and but I hadn't considered the finding myself thing to be an integral part of the adventure. When I was in my teens all of my friends went off on these big trips, exploring the Inca Trail, volunteering in Uganda or backpacking in Australia so the discoveries for me are different. I'm 31, I already know myself pretty well and my core beliefs haven't changed, although reading both Sistah Vegan and attending some of the Sistah Vegan Conference whilst I was in Thailand gave me a lot to think about in terms of what I consider ethical / cruelty free and how to be a better anti racist ally... I think that probably needs it's own blog post though. I'm enjoying having time to devote to being a better version of myself which I think is something I've always tried to work on but sometimes day to day obstacles get in the way of that, pushing myself outside of my comfort zone has given me the space to question some of my behaviours (or lack of them) and to brainstorm how to work on them which has been awesome. On a more basic day to day level I have realised that whilst I love long distance train travel I dislike travelling by bus. I've learnt that I'm less scared of bugs than I thought I was which is great although I didn't love the overnight train I took where the cabin was crawling with cockroaches. I also hadn't realised that they can fly! What the hell cockroaches?! I learnt that I need to travel in countries where people are going to stare / point / grab at me for a few weeks before having a break - dealing with that for over a month in Vietnam started to grate by the end of our five weeks there. It's made me have a bit of a rethink about how I'm going to go about exploring China although I am absolutely certain that I still want to go.

First beach day of the trip on Koh Yao Noi, Thailand

If this post publishes when it's meant to I'm somewhere in European airspace getting ready to descend on the UK where I'll be hanging with friends in Brighton, practicing my Vida Vegan Con talk in front of anyone who'll listen and eating all of the vegan cheese I can lay my hands on whilst I prepare for the next leg of our adventures and you can rest assured that wherever I am I am pretty damned excited to be there!

35 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing! I've really enjoyed reading about your travels. You're a much braver woman than I am! I'd say public speaking is a pretty big step in anxiety recovery and hope you have a great time doing it. :) No advice on health stuff (I wish I knew!) and curious if you have advice on how to finance long-term travel - but only if it's something you're comfortable talking about!

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    1. I'm really glad you're enjoying my posts Tuuli! I feel like giving advice about how to finance long term travel is really difficult because everyone's financial situations are so different that my advice may not be super relevant to anyone else. I'll think about writing a blog post about it when I've been travelling for a little longer!

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  2. I admire your adventurous spirit! I know I'd never be able to do this. For one, I have 9 fur-baby mouths to feed at home. But I also get super homesick when I'm away for more than 2 nights. Haha! But how cool to get to explore the world!! Can't wait to see you in Austin!

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    1. That's been the hardest thing about knowing I've wanted to do this for so long, I've never been able to adopt a fur family because it would have been super irresponsible. See ya in Austin!

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  3. People get "dressed up in local "costumes" for a bar crawl"? WHAT?

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    1. Yep. The first time I saw it I did a double take because I literally could not believe what I was seeing.

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  4. Great post! You've summed up much of how I felt on my stint traveling. All the other "kids" backpacking always spoke of "finding themselves" apparently whilst in fancy dress and at the bottom of a pint, whilst I felt that learning about myself was just an unexpected, added bonus to exploring new places. And it actually led to big changes in my life because it gave me the confidence to say fuck this, I only have one life and I'm going to spend it doing more of the things that make me happy! I'm excited to see how your adventures will continue. I spent 3 weeks on a whirlwind tour through California this winter, 3 months would be so amazing for you guys if you can do it, that place is vegan paradise, I'm pretty sure I ate my entire top 5 meals there!

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    1. Oh yay, I'm glad someone else had some of the same feelings that I did and I am so with you on the realisation that we only have one life. I try to remember that every day because there are no do-overs, this is it! I did a 3 week whirlwind tour of California in 2013 and loved it, I can't wait to go back. Looking into housesitting to see if we can keep the costs down and make it happen!

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  5. So many thoughts about this wonderful post... so much head nodding and agreement. Long-term travelling is wonderful, exhausting, up-rooted, and full of discovery. I definitely know what you mean about it not being the sociable, especially when you travel in a couple. I love love love traveling alone, for that reason. I loved being in Italy alone last summer (especially since I also speak Italian), and I could just strike up conversations and friendly chit chats during the course of the day. Lately I have wanted more and more to feel connected to a place when I travel there, and not just like a little couple-bubble, walking around and forming our own opinions and impressions based on very little interaction with the society (except commercial exchanges... which are better than nothing). And that old adage "whereever you go, there you are" is just so true, right? When you're gone for a long enough period of time, there's bound to be all the same crap as usual (and some new crap too! ha ha!)... but like you said, being put in new situations is such a great opportunity to reflect and become more aware of oneself. That part is so exciting, even if it's uncomfortable in the moment. And, lastly, I definitely agree that the sadness of leaving and leaving is such a bittersweet part of traveling. All those places I've been, people and animals I've been connected with... there are all these little holes in my heart now! <3 love you, jojo!!!!

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    1. Awww, thank you Amey! Your Italian trip really did sound amazing, I really want to put some time into learning better Spanish so that I can make even more of my time there on future trips.

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  6. Lovely, lovely post. I am so happy for you and proud of you, not that I really know you at all but it's inspiring and wonderful to see someone take the reins of her own life.
    Keep enjoying yrself, keep pondering. I'm interested to hear whatever you have to say about ethical veganism and being an anti-racist ally, whenever you think you can write that up.

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    1. Thank you! And I totally know what you mean, we don't "know" each other but we kinda do! I've definitely got that post whirring around my mind I just need to find a nice quiet spot to write it - maybe in Austin!

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  7. Great post thank you for sharing. I'm in awe of your adventures! You are doing what a lot of us only dream about doing.

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  8. Inspiring! I really hope to travel long term too someday. Really enjoying following your journey : )

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    1. That's so great to hear, thanks Rosie!

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  9. The moving goalposts thing really resonated with me as it was pretty much the first thing my counsellor said to me when I started therapy. In fact we drew a diagram showing how I set rules for myself, fail to meet them and then use that to beat myself up. Eventually, I found letting go of some of it (and using the mantra of "I can only do what I can do") really helpful (but stressful too as It felt chaotic).

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    1. That's super interesting and honestly it's nice to know that other people do that too! I'm happy to hear you're working on ways to let go of that behaviour, that's great.

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  10. Fantastic post Jojo. I've loved reading about your adventures so far. Have a great time back in Brighton. Can't wait to see your zine and you will rock Vida Con. I loved your talk at Vegfest.

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    1. Thanks Caroline! I printed the test print of the zine the day before yesterday and it's looking pretty great.

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  11. I always really enjoyed reading your blog and ALL your adventures- I blame you for my list of places to visit getting bigger and bigger...

    I totally agree with you on the whole voting thing- I hate being told not to bother voting for a party because they don't stand a chance. I'll vote for what I believe in, because if we all voted for the same major parties nothing will change. This will be the first time I vote Green, I've been a Lib Dem voter up until 2010 when they lost all my respect.

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    1. Oh gawd, yeah, how could anyone ever vote Lib Dem again?! Green high five!

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  12. What a beautiful post. I have loved reading about your adventures. I would be interested in reading a post about your experiences with Sistah Vegan, I have been doing some reading and looking up since you mentioned it and it is certainly opening my eyes.
    Travel long term isn't really an option for me because of my girls, which is fine because I would always choose them over anything else in the world (and I miss them terribly when I am apart from them). However, I am very much looking forward to my upcoming trip to the US. And to meeting you. :)

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    1. Thank you so much Susan! It's cool that you've been looking into Sistah Vegan, that book definitely opened my eyes wider and I love that about it. I still have so much of the conference to catch up with whilst I'm in Austin! I am super excited to meet you!!

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  13. Such a lovely post to read on a glum London day. I'm glad it's working so well - doing something you've set your heart on very rarely turns out to be a mistake. I'm loving following your adventures as an armchair traveller!

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    1. Oh yay, I'm really glad you enjoyed it!

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  14. As much as I've loved reading your posts, I'm selfish and I miss ya! Can't wait to see you xxx

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    1. Awwz, I miss you loads too babe! It was so fun to hang out the other day & you know I'll see ya again soon!

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  15. Your trip looks SO amazing! I've loved reading all about it. Safe journey home!
    Caroline Lucas was re-elected by the way ;)

    Lyndsay | Fizzy Peaches

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    1. Haha, I know, I was obsessively refreshing the election coverage every minute in the run up to the Brighton Pavilion result!

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  16. Thank you for this! I've always loved reading about your journeys and this has been no exception.

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  17. You're amazing! Can't wait to see you this summer.

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    1. Nah, you're amazing!! And I can't wait to see you, bring on the onigiri and ice cream!

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  18. The thing about health care reminded me why travelling the way you do now is not a possibility for me. I have to get my eyes checked every 6 weeks and while I think I COULD try to find a different doctor wherever I go I'm really unsure how wise that is. But travelling as you two are sounds so amazing! Oh well...

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