I am sitting in the British Airways Club World Lounge at Vancouver International Airport sipping iced water and munching on chilled fresh fruit.
Our tickets for this one flight has probably cost our travel insurance company roughly the same amount as all 25 of our previous flights over the last 366 days added together.
(Why we are flying back business class is a long story for another day, perhaps over a glass of wine.)
During our travels we have experienced so much:
Hospitals/Doctors surgeries in four different countries on three continents.
Knowing the price of cola in 15 different currencies.
17 long distance train journeys (13 Indian + 1 Vietnamese + 2 Thai + 1 Laos)
23 Mango smoothies.
37 free nights accomodation plus 8 weeks staying with our family members.
In under fifteen short hours we will be home after 366 days of travel.
I have mixed emotions:
I am done travelling, for now.
I am looking forward to sleeping in my own bed.
I am looking forward to us four getting back into the rhythm of school/work days and weeks.
I want to live deliberately.
I want to stay grateful for the small things.
I want to do something I love every day.
On our travels I have discovered that one of my passions is writing. I believe that writing books will play an important part in my/our future. I'm going to start by writing about our amazing year travelling the globe; the people we met, the things I learnt and the obstacles we overcame.
I'm looking for a select number of friends to proof read some of my writing, if you'd like to help please let me know.
This week we stayed at the first youth hostel of our adventure near Waitomo Caves in New Zealand. It was a joy to be seated in front of a blazing wood burner , watching the three Hobbit films back to back, while Leo made his legendary Pasta Bolognese in the fully stocked kitchen.
I was talking to a fellow traveller from Bristol, and was reminded that there are many travelling tips that I take for granted that are not universal knowledge. Here is one of them:
As a family of four we were lucky, and skilful, enough to secure three seats each on a 10-hour flight back from Hanoi to London Heathrow with Vietnamese Airlines in December 2016. This means we were all able to lie down flat for our last flight home for Christmas – bliss!
Getting these seats was a combination of luck and skill and was the only time all four of us was able to achieve this, not least because most of the aeroplanes we travelled on were smaller. However, if there was ever a journey that we benefitted from a good nights sleep then this was the one.
We had started the day in Singapore and faced a land border crossing, three flights and four countries to enter before we ended our journey back home in England after a 4-month family adventure around India and South-East Asia.
It was early when we walked to the bus station, laden with backpacks, to buy a ticket that would get us over the land border to Malaysia. We knew it was going to be a long day and, with our devices charges and headphones at the ready we were all prepared for the journey to be what it would be.
The first bus was comfortable and smooth, the land border crossing was not. The border is extremely busy and the queues were long and relatively slow. We had allowed 30 minutes of contingency and the time ticked away as we moved slowly forward.
Once through immigration we were dismayed to discover a series of very long queues looping around the concrete columns of the dark, grey and very noisey bus terminal. Time was ticking, but there was very little we could do other than stand in, what fortunately was, the right queue and cross our fingers and hope for no traffic delays. Bus after bus arrived, our queue shortened and eventually we were on our way again.
With the help from friendly locals, we found the stop for our third bus relatively easily and were told it would be leaving soon, so with 40 minutes until check-in closed we opted to wait rather than catching the more convenient and much more expensive taxi.
Our decision paid off and we arrived at the Air Asia Check-In Desk with 10 minutes to spare. This was crucial because if we had missed this flight to Kuala Lumpur then we would have missed our second flight to Hanoi and third flight of the day to Heathrow. (Why we had to travel via Hanoi is a blog post for another time!)
At Hanoi we had a 2 hour stop-over and when we arrived we sat ourselves at the departure gate. After a short while my youngest son fell asleep on my knee and slept through everyone else boarding the plane which made us the last to board. As we got to the back of our plane, where our seats were located, there were many spare seats and one of the hostesses suggested we sat in an empty row. My original seat was also on a row with no other passengers so my son sat there, put his seat belt on and closed his eyes again and I sat in my own empty row. After the seatbelt sign had gone off my husband was also able to move to an empty row leaving my eldest son with a row to himself too.
Four happy passengers, exhausted after a 4-month epic journey, able to sleep flat on the final leg home.
Our top tip is:
Ensure your seats are at the back of the aeroplane because flights tend to fill up from the front and if there are seats to spare then they will usually be at the back. However, avoid the very back row because, on a budget plane, the seats on the back row often do not recline.
If I am travelling on my own then I always choose an aisle seat in the middle section of the seats, if the plane is large enough.
If we are travelling as a family of four then we tend to play it safe and book a 3 and a 1, in the penultimate back row, which ensures that at least one child gets to sit next to a window and both parents get to sit on aisle seats.
I learnt this tip when travelling backwards and forwards from London to Dubai on the ‘Red-Eye’ when I was returning to the UK for long weekends and needed to get a good night sleep both ways. (On these Emirates planes there were actually four seats in the middle of the plane, so I could even stretch out my legs too).
This one tip had seen us get at least one spare seat between us on 30-40% of all the 20 flights we have been on together this year and often we get two or more spare seats to spread out into.
Note: We don’t pay to reserve seats on any airline. Most long haul airlines let you book seats at the back for free online, well before the departure date. With budget airlines I have discovered that you can either chose seats during online check-in for free, or you can ask the staff at the check-in desk which seats you have been allocated and ask them to be changed accordingly. Sometimes they can, sometimes the plane is just too full to accommodate changes
Bonus Tip: Arrive for check-in at least an hour before it closes means that there is more seat choice (if you haven’t been able to book a seat online for free beforehand) and that the check-in staff are more amiable.
On one AirAsia flight I, unusually, hadn’t bought the checked-in baggage allowance we needed for our return flight and the lady at check-in allowed us to buy it from her for the web price, i.e. the price it would have been if I had bought it when I had bought my ticket. In fact I actually paid less, because I hadn’t realized that I could buy baggage allowance for just one person and use it for multiple bags, which means that we now just buy the 25kg we need rather than the 40kg we were buying when the minimum per person is 20kg!
I’ve just spent our unexpected extra day in Flores (grrrr no ferry grrrrr) sewing up two pairs of trousers, a bra that was losing its underwire again and reinforcing the fastening on my daypack that had started to come away and fray. One of my essential travel items is definitely a couple of needles, strong black thread and a small pair of scissors.
I have also used this thread to lovingly sew up two of the three pairs of trousers that I carry when the toll of being worn for days on end starts to show.
Indonesia has been a mix of experiences so far.
Yesterday was a story of extremes.
Attending a circumcision party (a lot like a family buffet after a christening) which we were almost late for the pick up because the restaurant we wanted to eat breakfast at was closed
Discovering Leo has a small rash on his face and neck we have seen before when he slept on mouldy pillows
Getting back to our room and discovering that not only were all our pillows mouldy but there was a thick layer of black mould around the mattress cover on the floor which actually stuck the fitted sheet to the wall. Then when I moved the mattress out I discovered a live cockroach looking/sized insect between the mattress and wall.
Oh and to rival my day for most ickiest part, was finding an ants nest in the linen cupboard on the clean fitted sheet complete with hundreds of eggs (spiders I can handle because they keep themselves to themselves but ants bite and are everywhere we want to be [shudder])
Buying brushes, disinfectant and new pillows (we are staying in an Australian friend’s very basic holiday house – but are unlikely to spend another night here!)
Meeting the young, entrepreneurial travel agent who has been arranging our transportation in Indonesia, visiting his village, low ropes assault course and house. He gave us some traditional Indonesian cuisine and I helped him get on TripAdvisor.
Coming back to our room just as a torrent of rain started so Leo decided to change into his swimming costume and dance in the pouring rain (the rain was so heavy on our metal roof that we had difficulty hearing each other speak and it rained in and off all night)
Filtering and packing our bags for a 4 day boat trip that starts this morning
Watching half a film (Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo Di Caprio) with Leo while I got a Mothers Day head itch.
…and 12 hours later we have woken up after an ‘interesting’ nights sleep and it is still raining heavily
Today was an interesting day because we went from this…
6 hours and a mini bus + ferry + horse and cart journey later.
We are staying in the holiday house of an inspiring, genuine and all over delightful Australian lady we met in our travels last year. All she wanted in return was us to buy a gift for the family who live in the same compound.
I had a good idea of what the conditions might be. However Leo wasn’t expecting the very basic accomodation which resulted in a small melt down.
After we got settled I went out for provisions and Leo was back to his smiley self when I returned even before I brought out the Snickers Bar!
Note to self: Leo needs me to describe in detail multiple times any big changes coming up, particularly if it means a reduction in living standards.
I think Leo will enjoy the routine that a regular school day will bring again (although getting up in the mornings might be hard, for both of us, at the start).One of the joyous things about our days at the moment is that we can sleep as long and as often as we like.
There are some early mornings, often transport imposed, or here it is yoga. But there is always time to catch up on that missed sleep.
Not seeing Donald, Alfie and my friends is hard but I think Donald and Alfie have it harder in that respect. We have new and exciting things to balance against the feelings that the distance creates. However I do think that both Alfie and Leo are enjoying being only children for a few months.
Just having Leo with me is proving to be fantastic for his social and emotional growth as I hoped it would be.
For example: Leo is not a natural independent problem solver often calling me in to help before he has tried to solve the problem himself. I get angry and frustrated when there were many things Leo could have tried before calling in me.
Yesterday Leo decided he wanted to cook, chose the recipe from a children’s cook book. In an unfamiliar kitchen I helped him to get started but then sat just outside in earshot. I was able to resist many of my urges to respond to his “Mum I need your help” which forced him to problem solve on his own. The result was a delicious meal that Leo genuinely prepared and managed almost entirely in his own, with simple problem solving encountered enroute.
For me my learning is grounded in gratitude and I have an unwritten quest to learn what I genuinely enjoy across all aspects of life.
We will think and act a little differently as a result of our adventure!
To me the amount you learn has been about aptitude and motivation and much less about opportunity and availability. I spent my whole education life working my way through the British state school system and because I was intelligent and hard working I excelled at every level.
My experiences of South-East Asia are reaffirming how grateful I am to to be given the opportunity to attend school until I was ready to leave rather than being forced to leave school to support my family, parents or because education got too expensive to sustain.
Coming face to face with the realities of the availability of education for girls in Laos has been a shock, that I wasn’t expecting. You can have intelligence and aptitude but because you are female you leave school not being able to read or write. How unfair and economically limiting is that!
In Laos I had the privilege and pleasure to spend 3 weeks over a six week period teaching english to different groups of Laotian people. The contrast between an all male and an all female team, I worked with, was particularly interesting:
The male team could all read and write Laos, but over 3 weeks struggled to remember and recall less than 20 words in English.
Only one of the ladies in the all female team could read and write, however this team had remembered 20 words after the first week and were using them correctly in a sentence to tourists by week three. Two members of the team showed particular aptitude, however the whole team were clearly working together to share the words they had learnt and practice them together.
In my naivety I assumed that girls with aptitude would automatically stay on at school long enough to at least learn the basics of reading and writing.
The sad thing was that the all female team were the Kitchen Team and, as such, worked very long hours starting work before breakfast and finished after the evening meal; this meant that there was little time or energy left to squeeze in any formal english lessons.
My recommendation was that two of the ladies from the Kitchen Team should be given the opportunity to learn english at night school over the summer, when the number of clients reduced and their workload dropped off to a manageable level.
I have an automated email that pops into my inbox every Monday.It is actually an event reminder in my calendar with the subject “Read me…” and that I configure to say what is important for me to keep in mind.
Right now it starts with the sentence:
“say ‘I love and respect myself exactly as I am'”
I rarely change the reminder so I get the same message week in and week out. I always read it and over time it appears to work because my brain starts to believes the words more reliably.
Today I have felt compelled to add a (mis)quote for the first time:
“Show me a woman who makes no mistakes and I will show you a woman who doesn’t do things” Theodore Roosevelt
I managed to leave the power pack for my laptop in Laos 🇱🇦, something I only discovered late at night when I was 2.5 hours away from it, along potholed roads you only drive during the day, and we were catching an early plane the following morning.
Thankfully it is an Apple laptop and there was an Apple Affiliated concession amongst the duty free shops at the Kuala Lumpur Airport yesterday. Therefore, remarkably, I was able to buy a replacement before the charge in my laptop had run out.
I was very frustrated I hadn’t done final checks everywhere we might have left stuff like we have grown accustomed to doing when leaving anywhere. My mood even tainted the experience of an airport we have loved passing through previously and I was irritable, unsatisfied and my inner critic was having a field day picking off every piece of low hanging fruit she could find to torment me with.
It felt good to have resolved the power pack issue, however it wasn’t until I saw the quote above, on a tv screen I was passing, did I really start to feel significantly better in myself. I think it also helped that I saw this quote as I was boarding a plane and could literally leave the words my inner critic had been saying behind me.
I thought my inner perfectionist had softened her “I must be whiter than white” rule of life but I’m not sure I ever wrote down the new and improved version.
So I am using this blog post to reflect and pen my new way of living which now reads:
“Doing things can be messy so chose an attitude that allows for mistakes and wear it with pride.” Hannah Jones
I’ve also just added this to my weekly reminder message along side Teddy Roosevelt.