Flores, Guatemala

  • Stayed February 2019
  • Accommodation: Hotel Isla de Flores. If you are looking to treat yourself whilst staying in Flores then this is the place for you. This beautiful boutique hotel was a delight to stay in. The main attraction for us was the outdoor pool overlooking the lake and the rooftop bar perfect for sundowners. Our room had a balcony and super comfy beds. The staff were all friendly and polite. We absolutely loved our stay and cannot recommend this place enough.

Flores is a lovely little Guatemalan town located on an island within Lake Peten Itza. Cute and compact, you can walk around the entire Island within an hour or so. Most people come here to explore the Mayan ruins of Tikal, and my friend Meghan and I were no exceptions, however Flores itself is very charming so come for a night or two. It is picturesque, there are some nice bars and restaurants situated along the waterfront, and it rocks a low-key vibe.

Getting to Flores is easy. We took the overnight bus which entailed a shuttle collecting us from our hostel in Antigua, Barbara’s Boutique Hostel, and other travellers from various hostels around the city, and then being dropped off at the bus station in Guatemala City to catch the night bus. We took the Maya de Oro first class bus at 9pm which meant we had reclining seats, a blanket, and a toilet on board. I didn’t get any sleep as I can’t sleep when I travel at night but at least I was comfortable. Unlike the first class buses in Mexico, snacks or drinks were not included so remember to pack what you will need for the journey. Our bus arrived in Flores at 5 am, earlier than the scheduled time of arrival as there were no traffic hold-ups, and a shuttle was waiting for the passengers, ready to drop us off at our accommodation. Luckily our hotel was very welcoming at that hour, letting us rest in the foyer and leave our luggage until we could access our room. They had originally said that our room would be available at 11 am but seeing how tired we were, they kindly let us into our room at 8.30 am. 

Our schedule

  • Day 1 – we explored the town and caught up on sleep.
  • Day 2 – we had a much-needed relaxing pool day at our hotel and an evening meal in the hotel’s restaurant, Achiote.
  • Day 3 – we visited Tikal National Park.

Visiting Tikal

Tikal is one of the premier sights for travellers exploring Guatemala. The UNESCO site states that Tikal National Park is, ‘In the heart of the jungle, surrounded by lush vegetation, […Tikal is] one of the major sites of Mayan civilization, inhabited from the 6th century B.C. to the 10th century A.D. The ceremonial centre contains superb temples and palaces, and public squares accessed by means of ramps. Remains of dwellings are scattered throughout the surrounding countryside’. See the site for further contextual information https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/64

Tikal can be an expensive experience. Tour operators in Flores you quote you various prices for guided tours. Shop around for the best price. We were not interested in having a guided tour so we managed to get a transport-only deal with a tour operator for 80 Q (return). We were told to wait by the Peten sign for the bus at 12 noon and the bus arrived on time. The journey time was around an hour and 20 minutes. When we arrived at the park, we all had to buy an entrance ticket for 150 Q (remember to bring your passport with you as you need this to buy the ticket). To see either sunset or sunrise at Tikal, you have to pay a further 100 Q.

There are limited food options at the park. Your cheapest option is the cafe that sells lacklustre sandwiches for around 20 Q. Bring your own food if you can, especially if you have special dietary needs.

The park itself was bigger than we expected. A guide would obviously be able to take you round the main sites and give you information about everything but were able to see the key things we wanted to by ourselves and were happy with that. Tikal is an impressive set of ruins and well worth a visit.  There are accommodation options at the Park (The Jungle Lodge Tikal, The Jaguar Inn Tikal and The Tikal Inn) but a day trip was fine for us.

Some Flores foodie recommendations:

  • Achiote – located in our hotel – we enjoyed breakfast and a delicious evening meal here (with muchos red wine!).
  • Cool Beans Cafe – super chilled place with hammocks to snooze off your post-food coma. We enjoyed a lunch here.
  • Maracuya Restaurant – vegan/vegetarian restaurant – so lovely! Tasty food in a lush setting.

*Budget accommodation option – I hear good things about Los Amigos Hostel. You have to book direct on their website to reserve a bed.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

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A Taste of Antigua, Guatemala

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love my food. My hobbies include breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s not uncommon for me to be thinking about what I intend to eat for dinner whilst tucking into lunch. If I don’t eat I get ‘hangry’ so it’s best to keep me fed at regular intervals. I don’t cook but I have an appreciation for those who do and the way to my heart is definitely to cook for me or restaurant-hop with me, sharing delicious classics taken from cuisines around the world.

Before I travelled to Guatemala I had been warned about safety and told that the food wasn’t very good there. Numerous blogs I’ve read, and fellow travellers, praised the culinary scenes in North America’s Mexico City and Oaxaca but their Central American cousin Antigua is a burgeoning foodie heaven not to be overlooked. When I returned to Antigua, needing to base myself somewhere for a couple of weeks to invest time in developing my not-for-profit travel community the Artbird Network (you can read about this project here https://uncagedartbird.com/artbird-network/), I embarked on a culinary journey of the city with similarly gourmet-minded friends. I have since left Antigua but carry with me lovely memories of the meals enjoyed and good times shared.

*Whilst in Antigua, I stayed at Barbara’s Boutique Hostel – my Antigua home. The hostel is beautiful, with the loveliest staff who really took care of me. The rooftop has a great view of Volcan de Agua. The free breakfast gives you the perfect start to the day with pancakes, scrambled eggs, fresh fruit etc. The luxurious bunk beds have comfy mattresses, privacy curtains, a mini fan and night light. I loved my stay here and will definitely return again!

Here are some foodie recommendations for you:

Apetito – a wine bar and craft pizza restaurant in a lovely courtyard setting. The salmon appetiser is incredible!

Caoba Farms – a 20 minute walk from Parque Central, Caoba Farms Restaurant is a farm-to-table organic experience. Very popular with the ex-pat crowd on a weekend, you will find live music, a farmers market and delicious food on Saturdays and Sundays. On weekdays it is a quieter place, perfect for enjoying breakfast or lunch in rural peace.

El Viejo Cafe – offers traditional Guatemalen cuisine. Go to enjoy a good breakfast whilst sitting in the courtyard.

Frida – As a massive Frida Kahlo fan, this bar and restaurant was a firm favourite of mine. Happiness is a glass of sangria and shrimp tacos at Fridas…

Hobbitenango – visitors come here to see the hobbit-sized eco cabins and the spectacular view but you can actually tuck into an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast or lunch on Saturdays and Sundays as well as enjoy fabulous cocktails in the bar. It’s a bit of mission to get to but well worth it.

Kombu – the best ramen in Central America. Trust me. I ate here so many times!

La Bruja – cute vegan and vegetarian cafe located in the same courtyard as Apetito. Prepare to be dazzled by the build-your-own burger selection and the size of the portions.

Panaderia y Cafe Santa Clara – lovely bakery offering the tastiest pastries in Antigua.

Por Qué No? Cafe – super tiny but super cool bar and restaurant. You will queue here every night it is open (Mon – Sat) but you will be grateful you waited. The food is divine and you must leave room for their famous chocolate brownie.

Rincon Tipico – a budget-friendly option. Popular with locals and backpackers, this restaurant is a good place to try Guatemalen food. Expect to queue for a table. My roasted chicken and potatoes was so good.

Sobremesa – this is the place you go if you want to treat yourself. A fine dining restaurant/art gallery showcasing the work of owner Alex Ferrar. The food is great but go just to chat with the owner as he is a real character.

Toku Baru – another budget-friendly place popular with backpackers so you may have to queue for a table in the evening. Toku Baru offers full and half portions of curry dishes etc and their falafel comes highly recommended.

One for coffee lovers: Union Cafe (two locations) – phenomenal dirty chai latte! Serves certified organic Guatemalen coffee.

For a ‘Mayan hot chocolate’ head to the ChocoMuseo. You can sample all kinds of chocolate for free here, or sign up for their chocolate making workshops.

If you are just after some good drinking places, you can’t go wrong with these suggestions:

  • Antigua Brewing – huge range of craft beers, good live music venue and a hidden cocktail bar.
  • Cafe Sky – THE place to watch the sun set over the volcanoes of Antigua.
  • Cafe No Se – candlelit dive bar offering live music – do not go here unless you want to get very drunk, You have been warned 😉

My earlier post on Antigua with suggestions of things to do and some other recommendations can be read here: https://wp.me/p9u5hw-1n1

Selection of pictures from my stay:

Turtles and Trolls

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Love the message in the picture above. I’m posting this in response to the vile person (and all trolls in general) who decided to message me to rip me to shreds in the week my father died. This is what they said: ‘Like everything else on your blog, [the post] ‘Daddy’s Girl’ is a fiction, part of a carefully crafted image you have created for yourself online. Everything you’ve written screams “I’m a poor victim of a cruel world”, and the worst thing is, you actually believe it, but the reality is very different.’

This is my response to that bullsh*t. Tearing me down just makes me stronger. Thank you. I hope it made you feel better. If you think I have a ‘woe is me’ attitude to life then you do not know me at all. That’s absolute nonsense. I have made mistakes but I always own my sh*t and take responsibility. I always pick myself up and move forward with a positive mindset. Always surviving, never a victim. I have lived, loved, learned and grown. I write with honesty about my experiences and my flaws. I write about my life experiences to help others – to show them that sh*t happens in life but you just have to keep going, keep trying to be the best person you can be, keep being the little turtle trying to reach the ocean. I have written negatively about past relationships and exes to help others to recognise that they may be in similar toxic/emotionally abusive relationships, to encourage them to find the courage to leave, and give them hope that there is life after such relationships. I write about my Fibromyalgia to promote awareness of what life is like for those of us living with the condition. I wrote about my Dad in ‘Daddy’s Girl’ https://wp.me/p9u5hw-Rg as a tribute and a way of coming to terms with that inevitable loss – criticising that post was unnecessary and cruel. I am as proud of that blog post as I am of all that I have written. Speaking the truth is not always easy but it is brave and an essential part of my desire to live an authentic life. I am also proud to be the woman I am; I stand by the choices and decisions I have made in life, and my blog reflects the real me.

Encountering trolls is the downside of blogging and my choice to make aspects of my life public. I accept that and am strong enough to deal with any inevitable negativity. Those people who feel the need to criticise me should perhaps concentrate on creating more happiness in their own life instead of focusing on me and denigrating my work. If my blog inspires someone to positively change their life, to seek healthy relationships, to go explore the world, to live the life of their dreams, then its purpose has been achieved. How to deal with trolls? Ignore them. Remember that they don’t know you so their comments are irrelevant. People who feel the need to negatively comment on your life clearly have very little positivity going on in theirs so feel bad for them. As fun as it can be to engage with them, to wind them up and respond, don’t waste your time. Just rise above it all and recall Oscar Wilde: ‘There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.’ If you are receiving comments then you must be provoking thought, emotion and reaction. Isn’t that the point of blogging?

💕 Peace & love 💕

Lisa

 

#TravelLoveShared

#travelloveshared

At the start of this year I had a vision. Don’t worry guys, it wasn’t hallucinogenically induced. I haven’t yet turned into a new-agey peyote-tripping baggy pant wearing traveller (no judgement for those who have…) since I quit my old life, sold my possessions and set off with my wheelie suitcase – as a traveller with Fibromyalgia I can’t wear a backpack anymore – in search of a simpler, healthier way of being. My vision was this: I wanted to create a travel community that shares recommendations, helps each other out and basically wants to pay it forward (defined by the dictionary as responding ‘to a person’s kindness to oneself by being kind to someone else’). Hence why the Artbird Network was created but I’ll come back to that. First an anecdote.

In March 2018 I treated myself to a ‘cultural week’ in London and Amsterdam, two of my favourite cities. It was my school’s Easter holidays and it was a relief to escape from my stressful life as a teacher in Dubai. I booked concert, theatre and museum tickets to indulge my arty sensibilities and the week away gave me a delicious taster of what my life was going to become once I left Dubai for good, finally plucking up the courage to live my dream of travelling full-time. I watched the amazing theatre show ‘Hamilton’ in London and remember writing on Instagram afterwards, ‘How beautiful voices sound when blended together in harmony, free from discrimination and prejudice’ (cheesy I know – I was full of emotion and had had a glass or two of bubbly ha ha). After a tough couple of years, I felt truly happy, excited about the future and benevolently wanted to share that joy and gratitude with the significant others in my life. I was in this state of mind when I arrived at Mr Jordaan, the boutique hotel I had booked for my time in Amsterdam http://www.mrjordaan.nl

I think the phrase ‘A home away from home’ gets over-used these days to make properties sound enticing and welcoming but in the case of Mr Jordaan, it perfectly described my experience. From the moment I arrived to the moment I left I felt taken care of and able to relax. You very much feel like you’ve been invited into Mr Jordaan’s home when you stay. It is cosy, during my visit all the staff were genuinely lovely, happy to engage in conversation, to make recommendations for things to do, places to see etc without being obtrusive, and this little boutique hotel really connected with my heart. What the staff didn’t know, and it wasn’t their business to know, was that my heart was broken during my stay. Two days into my visit, there was a shocking moment of realisation that the man I loved had done something deliberate that he knew would hurt me – unfortunately not for the first time. It was the final straw. I immediately ended what had been an emotionally damaging toxic relationship. Full of grief, I cried and barely slept or ate or properly functioned for the rest of my stay. Broken hearts mend eventually though and travelling the world has replaced sad memories like this with happier experiences. What I haven’t forgotten is the fact that, at a sh*tty time in my life, the hospitality of the Mr Jordaan hotel family brought me comfort. Smiles from the staff when I returned from exploring the city. Free flow hot drinks to warm me up on a rainy day. It all made me feel better. When I checked out, I was very touched to receive a care bag of treats, things to make my onward travels easier such as mints and a mini can of deodorant, and a promo code to use when I returned. This thoughtful gesture was much appreciated and really made me think about the differences between good and exceptional hotels/hostels. I should make it clear that I have not been paid or rewarded in any way to endorse Mr Jordaan. I promote them as a thank you for providing comfort at a time when I needed it and because they deserve it. I am paying it forward. They also helped inspire the creation of the Artbird Network and I am grateful to them for that.

At the start of this year I found two business cards that I had forgotten I’d been given, one from Mr Jordaan and one from a hostel, Chillout Hostel Warsaw. Both cards had promo codes on giving me 10% discount when I want to return and book direct. This sparked an idea. I started thinking about the amount of money I could have saved since I began my round-the-world adventure in June 2018 if I had been able to book more hostels/boutique hotels that had promo codes. I also know that many hostels/hotels prefer guests to book direct as third party booking sites tend to charge 15% commission. This is when my vision and my idea collided and the Artbird Network was born. All travellers I meet like to share hostel/hotel recommendations. Word of mouth and reviews left on sites are incredibly important. I wanted to provide a list of hostels and boutique hotels around the world that are willing to offer discounts to travellers so they can save money as they travel with the assurance that the properties on the list are quality places to stay. I began reaching out to hostels/boutique hotels, explaining that I wanted to help travellers and to help them, and the response has been so positive. I’m over the moon.

launched the Artbird Network three weeks ago and the Artbird Network page on this blog https://uncagedartbird.com/artbird-network/ currently has 45 quality hostels/boutique hotels worldwide listed with more properties joining the network daily. As one hostel manager explained in his email to me today, booking hostels/boutique hotels direct using the promo code details given on my blog means that travellers get a bed or room for 25% less than if they booked with a third party site (10% promo code discount plus saving 15% commission). In the true spirit of paying it forward, the Artbird Network does not charge any commission for sharing promo codes on this blog or the Instagram @artbird_network https://www.instagram.com/artbird_network and it feels good to be able to create a community that helps both travellers and hostels/hotels.   

The larger the network grows, the more beneficial to all, so I hope to encourage as many people as I can to share the travel love i.e. let friends, family and fellow travellers know about the Artbird Network, ask them to follow the Instagram, and tag posts with the hashtag #TravelLoveShared when they stay at one of the hostels/boutique hotels from the network list, using the promo code given.

Let’s support each other. Stop over-paying for accommodation. Book direct to make savings. Travel cheaper to travel longer. 

Have you shared the travel love yet? 😉 Happy travels!

Take care,

Lisa.

📧 uncagedartbird@gmail.com

Click here to access the full list of Artbird Network properties and other travel promos https://uncagedartbird.com/artbird-network/

El Paredón, Guatemala

Click here to access the full list of Artbird Network properties and other travel promos https://uncagedartbird.com/artbird-network/

  • Stayed January 2019
  • Accommodation: Paredon Surf House – love this place! Cannot recommend it enough! For $28 a night you can get a bed in the 10-bed ‘Group Loft’ dorm with fab views of the ocean, with breakfast and dinner included. The beds are comfy and come with a mosquito net to keep the pesky critters away while you sleep. Going to sleep to the roaring sound of the nearby waves is pure heaven. If you don’t fancy staying in a dorm, you can choose to stay in a beachfront bungalow, a seaview suite or a casita. The pool is clean and cool, so provides a great place to escape the heat. The bathrooms have no ceilings so you get to shower outside which is nice. All the staff are lovely. The three-course family dinner each night gives travellers an opportunity to get to know each other and make new friends, like I did. I originally booked three nights but extended my stay twice and felt sad to leave. I will definitely return one day!

Looking to stay in Paradise? Look no further. Get yourself to the sleepy fishing village of El Paredón in Guatemala. A blog reader suggested I go (thank you Bar, who blogs on http://www.bwildnfree.com) and I’m so grateful for the recommendation. I spent eight blissful days there and didn’t want to leave. Largely off the beaten track for most tourists coming to Guatemala, you will probably find that you have the beach to yourself. The unspoilt black sand beach gets incredibly hot between 12 and 4 pm so take some covered shoes with you if you want to walk on the beach during that time period otherwise save your beach walk for the early morning or evening. Most people come here to surf, lie in a hammock and relax so El Paredón is the perfect place to come to escape the outside world and de-stress.

With a population of around 1,500 people, tourism is only just beginning to impact here which is part of the attraction of visiting. There is not much to do in El Paredón but in the village itself you will find tiendas (small shops) selling snacks and toiletries, and a couple of eateries. Everyone is friendly and welcoming and there is no pressure on you to part with your cash unlike in more developed beach resorts. The one not-for-profit organisation La Choza Chula does excellent work to ensure that the local community benefits from the growth in tourism by training local tour guides to run various tours for tourists. With them, you can go fishing in the mangroves, learn to cook traditional Guatemalan food, learn how to make bracelets, or visit a sea turtle feeding ground (you can also release baby turtles if you visit in season). The tours contribute to the conservation of the local environment as well as providing an income for the community. There are no souvenir shops but you can buy locally made t-shirts, bags and bracelets at the La Choza Chula shop. There are no ATMs here so make sure you bring enough Quetzales with you. There is however an internet store – the majority of accommodation does not provide WiFi – though you may prefer to have a digital detox and unplug whilst in El Paredón.

That said, Paredon Surf House where I stayed has strong WiFi and could be a great place for a digital nomad to base themselves for a while. I’m working on building a worldwide network of quality hostels and boutique hotels that offer discounts to travellers (see my Travel Promos page for details https://wp.me/P9u5hw-1lC) and it was lovely to be able to work when I wanted to whilst also having plenty of opportunity for downtime when I needed it.   

Though El Paredón is a quiet village, you can party daily at the Driftwood Surfer Hostel on the beachfront. I personally would not choose to stay there as it’s a party all day hostel and there are nicer places to sleep elsewhere but all are welcome at the Driftwood and it’s a fun place. Go there if you are looking for a good time.

Suggested Eateries in El Paredón:

  • Yoli’s – behind Paredon Surf House. Some of the best value food in town.
  • Priscilla’s – the place to go for fried chicken apparently.
  • Sandra’s – offers breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Soul Food Kitchen – Thai and Indian food.
  • El Tiburon (in the Pacifico) – pizzas made in a brick oven.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

 

 

Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Click here to access the full list of Artbird Network properties and other travel promos https://uncagedartbird.com/artbird-network/

  • Stayed January 2019
  • Accommodation: La Iguana Perdida – a warm and welcoming hostel with a cracking lake view. Loved it so much I extended my stay twice. Eco-concious. Not the best showers for the dorms (lukewarm water) but if you pay more for a private room, you get a piping hot shower. I paid for a private room for my last night as I got a 24-hour bug and needed rest and a bathroom to myself. The family meals are great – an opportunity to meet other travellers and the food was always delicious. All of the staff were lovely and really helpful. They have dress-up Saturday nights which is fun – guests can help themselves to anything in the dressing-up cupboard and anyone who dresses up gets a free shot. Highly recommended.

Described as the closest place to Eden on Earth, Lake Atitlán, the mystical and mysterious lake that fills a large volcanic crater in Guatemala’s Southwestern highlands is considered by many to be the must-see destination of Guatemala. The lake itself is vast, with a luminescent beauty that can calm the soul of some and evoke weird dreams in others. It is certainly a peaceful place that provides an opportunity for travellers to unwind, contemplate life and reconnect with themselves if that’s what they’re looking for. Amongst the tranquility though, travellers can also find a good time in a few well-known party hostels. The lake is surrounded by villages that offer different experiences to travellers so consider what you want from your visit before booking your accommodation.  Most travellers will arrive by shuttle into Panajachel, a busy town with plenty of places to shop and eat, before travelling on by boat to their chosen village.

Here is a summary of the key villages to help you make your choice:

  • Santa Cruz La Laguna: This was the village I chose to stay in and was by far my favourite of those I visited. Two hostels are based here and both offer excellent views of the lake. Both provide family dinners (a three-course meal for a fixed price) as there are limited eating options in Santa Cruz. Iguana Perdida, where I stayed, has better accommodation options though, with dorms and luxury private rooms available. Free Cerveza has a treehouse dorm and tents for ‘glamping’ but a friend stayed there and showed me pictures of black mould in the tent he stayed in. Not nice. Free Cerveza also has an age restriction for guests – no over 40s allowed. As their name suggests, they give you a free beer on arrival and two hours of free beer between 5 and 7 pm if guests sign up for the family dinner. As attractive as free beer sounds, I’ve been told that it is common for travellers to spend a night at Free Cerveza and then move over to the Iguana. Other food options in Santa Cruz include Cafe Sabor at the top of the hill, run by local students and providing good food with a spectacular view; Holy Tortillas which does a tasty breakfast; and Arca de Noé which is next to the Iguana. All three places have WiFi which is handy as the Iguana has a no WiFi policy (but does have a computer room for guests) and Free Cerveza charges for WiFi.
  • San Marcos – this hippy Mecca consists of yoga retreats, holistic centres, and cafes/restaurants catering to the gluten-free vegan crowd. It has one main street leading up from the dock with some pretty street murals. In San Marcos you can partake in a cocoa ceremony that claims to open up hearts, enhance meditation, give energy and encourage creativity. Circles Cafe has lovely but expensive smoothies and I hear it does good food. I thought I would like San Marcos more than I did – I personally found it quite pretentious.
  • San Pedro – the party village of the lake. Travellers come here for a good time. There is lots to do here so if somewhere like Santa Cruz is too quiet for you, then San Pedro might suit you better. Its view of the lake is not as nice as Santa Cruz though.

Taking Boats

The main way to get between villages is by boat. There are public and private boats. Public boats run fairly regularly until 7pm – so keep that in mind if you head to San Pedro to party but have accommodation booked in another village. Don’t ask the boatmen how much the boat costs when taking the public boat because you will end up paying more than you should. For example, the boat from Panajachel to Santa Cruz costs 10 Q but I have heard of travellers being charged up to 25 Q for the journey. Santa Cruz to San Marcos should be between 15 to 20 Q and Santa Cruz to San Pedro should be between 20 to 25 Q.

*Just a note if you get seasick. Make sure you bring your medication with you. Most of the lake crossings I made were fine but one day the lake was very choppy even though it was a beautiful sunny day and I had a very rough ride to San Pedro and back.

Activities

The hostel I stayed in in Santa Cruz can arrange Spanish lessons, weaving and cooking classes, hiking, yoga, kayaking and has a dive centre for those looking to dive in the lake. It is a cheap place for beginners to learn to dive but perhaps not the easiest place to do it for the first time. Many divers come to the lake for altitude diving. Other than that, the lake is a great place to hang out in a hammock, enjoy a beer and watch the sun go down. 

Selection of pictures from my stay:

Journey So Far…

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Before I set off round the world in June 2018 I wrote the blog post Nomadville to share what I’d learned and experienced during ten years of travels in my work vacations. I was excited to finally be in the position to live my dream of travelling full-time but also nervous/terrified about what might lie ahead and concerned about how I would manage my Fibromyalgia whilst on the road. Over six months on, I am still travelling – I’m writing this from Guatemala – and intend to continue for as long as I am happy and in good enough health to do so. The journey so far, from London to Guatemala, has had its highs and lows and as we are now in a new year, I thought it was time for a post to reflect on the last six months to perhaps give those who are thinking of pursuing their dream of long-term travel this year an idea of what they may be letting themselves in for… 

WHAT I’VE LOVED

  • Having the freedom to go wherever I wanted when I wanted.
  • Being able to be flexible with my plans and not restricted by work schedules – I will often extend my stay if I really like a place.
  • A stress-free life – my only daily decisions tend to be what do I want to do that day and what do I want to eat. 
  • Meeting some fabulous people who I have shared genuine connections with and will be friends for life (see above pic).
  • Having some unforgettable experiences – seeing the hot air balloons at sunrise in Cappadocia, hiking Pacaya Volcano, staying in the Banksy Hotel in the West Bank, watching quick-footed sensual dancers strut to live bands in Cuba, paying my respects at Auschwitz etc.
  • Learning about different cultures, eating local food, and learning new languages.

WHAT I’VE NOT ENJOYED

  • Some truly rubbish dorm mates. There are people who think it is OK to not silence their phone, to press the snooze button multiple times, to have loud conversations or use a hairdryer in the room when others are sleeping, to take up all of the space, to ignore people they are sharing a room with, to repack their bag in the early hours, to have noisy sex despite dorm mates being in the room… the list goes on. The selfishness of others never fails to astound me.
  • Exhaustion. Long-term travelling is not the same as being on permanent holiday and it can get exhausting travelling from place to place, not always getting enough sleep especially if you always stay in dorms to keep the cost down. To combat this I get a private room every few weeks to catch up on sleep and try to stay in places for longer than three or four nights to give myself some rest time. Having fibromyalgia means I have to make self-care a priority and I avoid travelling through the night as I don’t sleep and lack of sleep can trigger a flare up.
  • Being ill on the road. Getting ill when you are travelling really sucks. It can be hard to get the medication you might need to get better and difficult to properly recuperate when going from place to place. It can also make you feel quite low and lonely. When I developed bronchitis in Banff it took me weeks to get over it and made travelling a struggle. Luckily I was able to buy antibiotics over the counter in Mexico and I eventually made a complete recovery. 
  • When things go wrong. Despite being cautious about when I use my bank card abroad, my debit card was ripped off when I was in Jordan and I was not able to get the money back as I use a banking app rather than a standard bank account. You will lose things when travelling and things will be taken from you. A girl I met recently was unfortunately robbed of her phone and purse when counting down to the new year in Antigua as she had let her guard down momentarily. Another traveller I know of was robbed when getting off a bus late at night in San Miguel de Allende and his hand was injured with a machete. Sh*t will happen. Your resilience will help you cope and other travellers can be very supportive when things go wrong.
  • Unwanted male attention – it is what it is. The worst incident was being called a b*tch by a young local man as I walked around Amman, Jordan, despite minding my own business and being dressed very modestly. Most attention has been complimentary though and I just say thank you and don’t engage in conversation. If I want to explore a place undisturbed I will put headphones in but not play music. People think you are listening to music so they leave you alone but not listening to anything actually means you can pay attention and take in what is going on around you in peace.

I was chatting to a fellow traveller recently and she said that there are loads of travel blogs out there but no one ever writes about the dark side of travelling. She explained that everything she reads tends to glamorise long-term travelling and make places seem more exciting than they are. She made a good point. Unless you are fortunate to be staying in luxury accommodation during your travels, there is nothing glamorous about living life on the road. I live out of a medium-sized wheelie suitcase. I try to do laundry once a week but it can be tricky in some places and hand-washing is not always possible so I sometimes end up wearing things far longer than I would have done in the ‘real world’. Hot showers are a luxury and I have gotten used to having cold showers. I am a smellier and less put-together version of my old self. When I set off, in my toiletries bag I had a day and night moisturiser, cleanser and toner to remove make up and eye cream. Now I have a pack of face wipes and a tub of Nivea. It’s easier to travel with less and quite liberating to not worry so much about my appearance. In my old life as a teacher in Dubai I never would have left the house without putting on foundation, eye liner and mascara. These days I usually bumble around with just a slick of mascara applied. Long-term travelling strips away all the unnecessary stuff, makes you realise what’s important and what’s not, and that’s a positive.

What did my travel buddy mean by the dark side of travelling? Well, she meant some of the things I mentioned in my ‘What I’ve Not Enjoyed’ list. The difficulties and the downers. The endless round of ‘Where are you from? Where have you been? Where are you going?’ conversations can get mind-numbingly repetitive. Sometimes I just can’t be bothered and don’t always feel like being sociable. When I’m in that mood I keep myself to myself and watch a movie, write or listen to music. It can be hard work spending time with people you don’t click with but at the very least you can be polite. The tough ones are the cling ons who want to spend all of their time with you but you’re not feeling it. I’ve had a few of those during my journey. I don’t like being impolite so I tend to do the typical British thing of being non-committal, e.g. ‘sounds good but I’m not sure of my plans yet…’ and hope they take the hint. One of the things she meant was the competitiveness that some travellers seem to feel – they like to boast about the places they’ve been and make you feel inferior when you say you haven’t been there yet. There is a thin line between giving other travellers tips and advice and being a smug know-it-all. I think the worst ones are the wannabe Instagram influencers. My Instagram account is essentially a hobby – I love sharing the pictures I’ve enjoyed taking and try to convey a sense of the places I visit – but there are some travellers who are so obsessed with getting the perfect Instagram pictures they forget to actually ‘be present’ in the place they’re visiting. I have heard of travellers doing activities that they didn’t want to do just to get a cool Instagram picture. Each to their own I guess. When you are travelling for a long-time you can get a bit over it – church and temple fatigue is common – which makes travellers sound ungrateful but you can get spoilt seeing so many amazing sites as you travel the world. Travelling at a slower pace and making an effort to digitally detox periodically can help with that. Ultimately travelling can be whatever experience you want it to be and people go on round the world adventures for all sorts of reasons.         

When I set off round the world I was looking to mend a broken heart. Walking away from someone you love because you know the relationship is damaging you is akin to setting off with your feet in opposite directions; contradictory impulses need to be reconciled in order to move forward and travel has given me distance and clarity, enabling me to process my memories/emotions and put the past behind me. Bruised by a tough couple of years, my mantra became ‘healthy body, healthy mind, healthy soul’. Before I went travelling I was the sort of person who liked to plan everything and be in control. At the start of the trip I would book accommodation for the month ahead, to feel secure, but now I am happy to book a few days at a time. I’m enjoying living a more flexible life and I am more relaxed and spontaneous these days. Six months on, I am not the same person I was. Any anger I felt about particular people and situations that had made my old life toxic diminished months back and it all feels like a different lifetime ago now. I entered 2019 with peace, gratitude, pride in myself for how I coped with the radical changes of 2018, and a stronger sense of who I am, my values and beliefs, and what I want out of life.

People often ask me what it’s like travelling with a chronic medical condition. Fibromyalgia generally makes life more difficult on a daily basis so it’s not easy managing it on the road. Since coming off Lyrica in May 2018 I haven’t taken any medication except for Ibuprofen when I need it for pain management. I try to make sure I get enough sleep and take rest breaks and rest days when needed. Two years ago I was struggling to get out of bed and maintain a normal life so I am amazed at just how much I am able to do – for example, horse-riding in Viñales and hiking. Sometimes though I pay a price for pushing myself. I fell over in Mexico City when I went out sight-seeing on a day I was feeling wobbly – which was instant karma for laughing at a guy I’d seen fall over days before and his trousers had fallen down, exposing his arse to the world. Poor guy. After a day of bike-riding in Valladolid I had lower back pain for three weeks afterwards which made it difficult to sit for long periods so I think bikes and I have now parted ways. I get excruciating pain in my left shoulder and arm when I’m over-tired but other than that, I’m doing good. I generally know my limits and don’t give in to peer pressure. If I don’t feel up to going out partying then I don’t. When in Antigua, lots of travellers told me I should do the overnight volcano hike to Acatenango but after doing the Pacaya day hike I knew the longer hike was going to be too much for me. I don’t like not being able to do everything I would like to but that’s life with Fibro. I’m grateful for my current state of good health and daily self-care means I am living a quality life that would have been unthinkable for me a few years ago. If you have a chronic illness too, don’t let that put you off going travelling. If you really want to do it, you will find a way and may find that being away from the stresses of work, relationship or family pressures etc, improves your health, like it did for me. 

If you are thinking of taking the plunge and travelling long-term this year, then do it! It’s not always easy but the rewards are great. You learn so much about yourself, other cultures, and the world; you will be changed in ways you cannot anticipate – hopefully becoming more open-minded, compassionate and tolerant along the way. Travel makes you braver, takes you out of your comfort zone, and you get to try/do things you may not ordinarily consider. There have certainly been lots of positives for me and travel life seems to suit me. In 2019 my travel journey continues and I wish everyone who reads this all the best for the year ahead. 

Take care, Lisa.

📧 uncagedartbird@gmail.com

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