“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.” ~ Paul Theroux
Life is full of decisions, some huge, some simple, such as what to study in school, who to date, when to get married or whether to wear flip-flops or sandals. Luckily we’re done worrying about the first three but we’re learning that the fourth one can be a really tough decision. There are many factors to keep in mind: How far do we plan to walk? Will we need to remove our shoes often? Will we walk in water? Is the terrain smooth or rocky? Make the wrong decision and blisters appear between your toes or you end up with soggy runners or worse, your feet and shoes become embarrassingly stinky in social situations. All of the above have happened to us on our travels (well, Carol deals more with blisters than smelly feet, that’s Al’s domain). Yes, the travel lifestyle is glamorous! Full of adventures in footwear!
Now more seriously, many people dream of doing what we’re doing – travelling the world with no fixed plans and no schedule to keep – but this isn’t a lifestyle cut out for everyone. Learning how to navigate a country with foreign currency, language and cultures can be daunting and is not for the faint of heart. It’s exhilarating a lot of the time but exhausting too. Simple things, like buying sunscreen or arranging transportation can be overwhelmingly complicated when you can’t read the labels and signs and don’t know how things work. Then there are the cultural differences – don’t touch people’s heads, don’t use left hand to eat, touch your heart after shaking hands, how do you properly eat with a fork and spoon? And there’s the constant worry about being scammed. How much does it really cost to take a cimodo (horse-drawn cart) to the ferry? Are we paying twice as much because we’re tourists? Can we trust this driver to get us where we’re going, if he’s never heard of the hotel? Is the metered taxi going to take us all over town before going to our destination to pad the bill? Is this local guy just offering friendly advice or does he get a commission for sending us to certain hotels, restaurants or shops? Without knowing distances, prices or expectations for tips or rules of haggling, it is a given that we will be scammed at first.
Another Big Decision: Accommodations
We prefer to book rooms online whenever possible because we can pay with our travel points credit card but that leads to even more challenges because, with booking in advance, we have to make decisions based on pictures and reviews. Scouring booking sites and hotel review sites often leaves us with more questions than answers.
Having never stepped foot on an island, how do we know if it is better to book at a cheap place along the main beach strip where everything is conveniently located or in posher digs a ways out where we won’t listen to techno music until 3 AM? We’ve learned that a “quiet, out-of-the-way place” in reviews can mean there will be roosters crowing outside our window starting as early as 3:30 AM (not much better than techno music).
How do we decide how many nights to stay before we’ve gotten a sense of a place? Even though accommodations are cheap compared to North America, how do we know whether to believe a half dozen reviews that say a place offers “good, basic, clean rooms” or the other half dozen that say “it’s rundown, dirty and not worth the money”? It’s a gamble. And it’s a pain in the ass to have to change rooms or hotels because we’ve decided to stay longer but our room has been booked up or we need to move on because the place really sucks.
Sometimes, we choose amazingly well and others, uh not so much…. one thing we’re learning is that, compared to when we were younger, we don’t bounce back as easily from a crappy bed or a shitty night’s sleep! And a place that is only one kilometre out can feel a lot further in the wrong footwear (yes, the perils of that footwear decision)!
To sum up, we’re learning… learning how to take things in stride, learning to read both fantastic and terrible hotel reviews with a healthy shovel full of salt and learning (often the hard way) which footwear is best. We expect we’ll get better at it as we get better at travelling. In the meantime, we’ll keep in mind that great travel stories can come from both good and bad decisions!
Now, learning to always have a packet of tissues, hand sanitizer and to safely navigate squat toilets when we’re a lot bigger than Indonesians? Yeah well, that too takes practice but at least we always remember to wear footwear in there! Flip-flops are preferable…. 😉
We would love to hear how other travellers deal with these decisions. Please share your advice.
Once again, thanks for reading, following and sharing! We look forward to your comments!