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Have family, Will travel

A high tech backpacker

Here is an article I have sent to the budget airline, AirAsia, in the hope that they will publish it in the ‘Readers Stories’ section of their inflight magazine.

“To many people I am a high tech backpacker. I don’t travel with the very latest gadgets however I do travel with a smart phone in a water proof case, a slimline laptop and a Kindle. I get a data sim card in every country I visit for more than a few days. I also enjoy using Facebook to feel connected to family and friends at home and WhatsApp to connect to people I hope to meet on my travels. I travel for freedom, for fun and to make new connections.
So far my family and I have been travelling for seven months and we have six months left to enjoy life together on the road. My husband and I and our two pre-teenage sons aged 10 and 12 have travelled extensively across India and South-East Asia.
It is important to me to ‘give’ as I travel and I much prefer to give my time, expertise and knowledge rather than purely money. I am a professional coach with 20 years experience bringing out the best in adults from all walks of life and supporting people to make their organisations and businesses thrive.
I love to share my knowledge and passion for technology when I travel and, my husband and I have done this by supporting businesses and individuals we meet to overcome usability obstacles and understand the importance of their presence on social media sites such as TripAdvisor, Facebook and their own blogs or websites.
The planning logistics of travel has changed so very much over the last few years and although we do use digital versions of guidebooks we get a buzz from discovering new sources of information online, perhaps an improved way of locating accommodation at the best price or saving hundreds of pounds flying to a particular destination.
I get excited when searching for flights. I am not sure if it is the promise of future adventures or of the instant reward of grabbing a bargain that draws me most. There is something so compelling and almost addictive about the sensation I get from mastering a particular flight search website or bringing up the same search on several different sites to compare prices and schedules.

I prefer to search on a computer rather than on an app on my mobile phone, however I have found apps to be most convenient when it comes to storing our flight information ready for check in or when we need to show our onward flight details to an immigration officer. (With an app I usually don’t need the internet to access the information I need in that instant, that is as long as I have opened the app to store the information on my phone beforehand.)
Out of our 14 flights so far we have flown with Air Asia eight times and we have five more flights booked with Air Asia over the next two months as we fly between Laos, Thailand and Western Australia. We usually have flexibility of dates when we travel and being able to see the prices of flights across a range of dates on both the Air Asia Website and App makes pinpointing the cheapest date to travel enjoyable and easy.
The Air Asia Mobile App has even got me out of a tricky situation when applying for visas to Myanmar because we needed to book our flights while sitting outside the Myanmar Embassy in Delhi, but only had 40 minutes to do so.
Last week, when my flight aggregation site of choice, Skyscanner, told me that the cheapest way of getting from Perth in Western Australia to Balikpapan in Indonesia and then onto Auckland was to go via Jakarta. A quick search on Air Asia instead revealed that I could get to Bali with Air Asia and routing via Bali would save us hundreds of pounds, we booked immediately.

Technology enables my family and me to improve the lives of local people and travellers we meet and it allows us to travel with ease to destinations we never dreamed we could afford to visit.

Sharing a podcast in Sleeper Class, India
Reading a book above the clouds in Darjeeling India

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Bye Bye Land of a Million Elephants

Today we leave the Elephant Conservation Center (ECC) in Laos for the final time after being lucky enough to spend a week as part of the ECC family in Sayaboury and a few weeks helping out at the ECC’s visitors centre in Luang Prabang.

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We have been living along side 40 Laos, 1 Belgian, 2 Spanish and 2 French staff, many of whom I would now consider to be friends.

Leo’s learning here has majored on ‘what to do when you are bored’, Spanish lessons and ‘how to weald a machete without cutting yourself’ (plasters have been required!). He has learnt how to tend a bar, make a tasty lemon juice, riffle shuffle a deck of cards and ‘how to cut off grass roofing tiles with a machete while perched on a roof six meters above the ground’!

Leo has also started to learn how to and how not to play card games. In January I taught Leo to play a two player card game that we call ‘Slam’. It involves two players sitting opposite each other across a table and one deck of cards equally divided between both players. The aim is to put all your cards in sequence onto the two middle piles before the other player. Both players play simultaneously and the faster you can play with accuracy, the more cards you can get out. When both players have similar cards there is a cause of conflict because both players want to put cards on the same pile, often at the same time. It is also a game that gets the adrenaline pumping – spot the potential for tears and frustration.

Leo has been discovering how to teach others to play, how ‘going easy’ on his new opponent means they are more likely to play again and what happens when he accuses other people of cheating. It is still a work in progress however Leo has been blessed with lovely opponents who have taught him much about social interactions and resilience.

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My work here has involved bringing English competence and confidence to the local guides, kitchen team, maintenance team and resident biologist. I’ve also been correcting English grammar in online material, pulling together information sheets on each of the elephants and kicking off a crowd funding campaign to raise money to buy an injured male elephant.
With the kitchen and maintenance team we have been working on the basic vocabulary for their jobs: plate, spoon, serviette and pencil, screw driver, nail. With the all female kitchen team it has been a joy to see their confidence grow in front of clients as they say “Excuse me, can I have (your) plate.” instead of being silent shadows in the restaurant. Only one of the five kitchen staff can read or write Lao so everything has been visual and auditory. While the all male maintenance team can read and write Lao, they have picked up words slowly, repetition has been essential and we have played fun games to help the words to stick.

The guides are all confident in conversational English, however there is a big difference between the three guides in their english competence, presentation skills, pronunciation and understandability.

I learnt a lot about the Center and about the captive Asian elephant population from sense checking formal reports and conference notes produced by Anabel one of the two resident biologists.

My biggest challenge was adapting my delivery style from one of ‘what do you want to learn’ to one of ‘I will teach this today’. This meant that we started slowly, with the guides, for instance, because they didn’t turn up to lessons and I needed to learn for myself what they needed to improve and, most importantly, how they would learn best.

I work on the belief that the best learners are those who ‘choose to learn and choose their learning’, however with Laos people this needed refining because I discovered you can wait a long time for someone to approach you asking to learn even when they are told they can. The work ethic is also very different in Laos compared to the world I have grown up in. Learning is not something that has historically been given a priority to many Laotians and fitting something extra on top of your day job feels undesirable or just plain impossible, depending on your role. One member of the kitchen staff, Kham, is driven and ambitious, she wants to learn and even asks to learn but, right now it is high season and she has found it impossible to make the time. On the other hand, the guides have schedules that mean they are working for significantly less hours than the kitchen staff, however appointments to learn together have repeatedly been missed and I will get apologies the following morning about how tired they were or how they had to do ‘this thing’ instead. I made significant progress with one of the guides is the last week of my stay by being very firm and direct about what he needed and what time we must spend together.

After initial frustrations, it has been really rewarding to key into what each distinct group needed from me here. In delivering what they need, and it is working well, I sometimes notice when I am ‘in flow’ and in these moments I am reminded of how skilled a trainer/teacher I am and how useful my knowledge of people is to others.

Life at the Elephant Conservation Center is simple and uncluttered, it has been a wonderful environment to ‘just be’ and I have been able to create a satisfying balance in my life here.

We will miss being at the ECC, a lot, and would love to return for again soon.

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Zipline Trekking and Customer Expectations

We had a super day yesterday zip-lining through tropical rainforests and yet I ended the day feeling a mixture of emotions. Continue reading “Zipline Trekking and Customer Expectations”

Volunteering on our travels

As we have travelled we have given advise to local people we met on using TripAdvisor and websites. As a computer programmer and development manager, Donald has really enjoyed using his expertise to help others get online and attract customers.
We’ve helped a Taxi Driver in Jaipur, India 🇮🇳, a hotel owner in Cat ba, Vietnam 🇻🇳 and a room full of restaurant owners in Nuang Shwee, Myanmar 🇲🇲.
We have also helped out in english classes with both adults and children in exchange for accommodation through the website Couchsurfing.org.

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Continue reading “Volunteering on our travels”

Bored in Laos

One of the things I was most looking forward to in Laos was Leo getting bored.
At home there is always something for our children to do particularly when the television and digital devices are such compelling and instant entertainment dispensers. The members of our family rarely spend hours on end with nothing to do.

However, here at the Elephant Conservation Center, there is electricity only between 6 and 10pm when the generator is switched on and we had previously not had access to any Wi-Fi or a mobile phone data connection. A perfect storm! Continue reading “Bored in Laos”

Adventure Summary

We are a British family of four (43, 41, 13 and 11).
In late 2016 we adventured around India and South East Asia for 4 months.

Travelling long distances by train, bus and boat was a big adventure in itself as was cycling or catching local public transport such as metros and particularly buses. Continue reading “Adventure Summary”

Feeling Blergh

Leo and I arrived in Bangkok yesterday after an 11 hour flight from Heathrow.

The flight was very full and, Leo and I were sitting near the window with a large Welsh gentleman on the aisle seat. When I selected our seats I opted to give Leo the window seat temporarily forgetting how much I hate not being able to get up and walk about without disturbing anyone else, particularly on a long-haul flight.
I’ll not make that mistake again. Continue reading “Feeling Blergh”

The Adventure Continues…

We’re really doing it!
After a month back in the UK, Leo and I are venturing forth to Laos  to start another adventure together.
Heathrow have even put our name in lights…

There was also a new sign to tick off in my airport i-spy book.
It took a while to work out what it was, but when I did I was even more impressed with London Heathrow Terminal 2.
From their mandatory automatic self check-in pedestals, to automated passport scanning before security and even blue water in the toilets.
There is lots here that the people we’ll be meeting over the next few months would find completely alien.

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