Lesson Learnt – Assume Nothing

With a couple years of travel experience under my belt, there are some things I like to think I’ll always get right. But today I learnt a valuable lesson that proved me wrong.

I was in Rome and travelling to Berlin. Always looking to minimise costs, I booked a budget airline that had a flight leaving at 7:10am. I searched up the best way to get to Fiumicino airport, and the Leonardo Express came up. Right from their official website, this is what it says: “With trains departing every 30 minutes Leonardo express non-stop train service takes you – every day of the year – from Leonardo da Vinci Airport to the centre of Rome in only half an hour.”

Let me just paraphrase that for clarification purposes: “Our non-stop train service runs every 30 minutes every day of the year”.

Naturally, my assumption was that the train service was 24 hours. After all, it says non-stop every 30 minutes. Also, when I bought the ticket from a staffed service desk the day before, the attendant told me it runs every half hour; at 20-past and 10-to.

So you can imagine my anger to arrive at Termini at 4am, to find the station in lockdown mode with people sleeping outside the doors. Fan-fucking-tastic.

The information I had came from the official website for the Leonardo Express. I double checked the website. There is no timetable because a timetable is not required; the train runs every half-hour, simple. But that little bit of extremely important information – the bit about it not being 24 hours, and the time of the first and last trains – is not available on the official fucking website. After some post-purchase searching, the first website to indicate first and last trains is a hostel website, followed by other tourist information websites. But not the official site.

I walked around Termini and luckily found an airport bus stop. I asked around and found out the first train was at 5:50am, way too late for me. So I was forced to take the bus or miss my flight.

The mistake I made was assuming that the official website would provide the correct information, and in turn assuming that I wouldn’t need to check alternate sources. I was wrong on both counts, and from now on I’ll be triple-checking transport modes before I buy tickets. For no matter what I do for the rest of my life, I’ll never get back the €15 I paid for the Leonardo Express ticket I couldn’t use.

Suddenly, I’m in Europe (again)

It was a cold week in the late fall of Melbourne. After summer went on for longer than it should have and the warm days didn’t seem to have an end in sight, I was almost surprised when out of nowhere the rain started and I was no longer able to leave the house with a jumper.

After 6 months of living back in my hometown, this is what drove me to get out. When the rain started, I wanted to be anywhere else. Ironically this lead me to a place with even more rain, but we’ll get to that later.

6 months really is the magic number. When I was originally travelling Europe, 6 months marked the point where I had really had enough – but I pushed through another 7 anyway. 6 months in Melbourne was enough to let me have fun, get into a comfortable routine, and realise that a comfortable routine gets incredibly boring after a short period of time. In the summer it was great, leaving the office when it was still beautifully warm, driving home as the sun sets, and spending a lot of the weekends outdoors. But heading into winter changes a lot – it’s pitch black by the time I leave the office, I’m driving home in the rain, and not a spot of sun hits my skin for weeks on end. Gross.

Unfortunately I don’t seem to have the balls I had when I first started travelling. I opted for the safe & comfortable route; Europe for the second time. I like Europe because it has so much culture packed into a small area, I feel physically safe here, transport between nearly anywhere can be had on the cheap, and wifi is everywhere which makes it easy for me to continue working. Central America was a great experience, but I spent 90% of my energy just trying to avoid getting robbed, ripped off, gringo-taxed, catching wrong buses, dodgy border crossings, dodgy currency conversions, and melting my phone with DEET. I did not find it comfortable, safe, or pleasant. Unlike Europe, where I feel I can settle into life and live like a local in basically any city I choose. So, here I am.

Landing back in London was a strange experience. Although I’ve not been here for 8 months, I had the typical Feels Like I Was Here Yesterday™ experience. Didn’t have to look at a tube map to figure out where I was going. Knew exactly where my hostel was. Knew exactly where to go for coffee. Knew exactly where I could get some work done. For all I know I didn’t leave at all. Of course the same could be said for Melbourne when I left for 13 months and nothing seemed to have changed (except I had Peninsula Link). It scares me a lot to think of life this way. When time passes and nothing seems to change, am I really moving forward? Am I really that different from the guy who’d never even left the country 2 years ago?

Who the hell knows. I don’t feel different, but people tell me I am different. I find it hard to reflect back on the past versions of me and try to understand that I didn’t always think the way I do now.

I guess that’s the whole point of writing these blog posts, innit?

Fuck you Panama Border Control

Anyone who keeps up to date with my blog – all 4 posts a year – probably thinks I hate travelling. I only blog about the bad times I have, so it’s easy to make that assumption. It’s not true, but the funny thing is that when I have an awesome time I struggle to put it into interesting terms. I meet some amazing people and have an indescribable experience, which when written down just doesn’t seem interesting to anyone who wasn’t there. Perhaps I’m just not a good writer, perhaps it’s because I’m a pessimist, or perhaps it’s because it’s genuinely harder to write about those kinds of feelings. But when the shit hits the fan, I have no problem writing about what happened and how it felt, and I think it’s an interesting read for everyone.

So let’s get to the point: another shit-filled story about why you should not take the San Jose to Panama City bus.

It all started on a rainy Saturday in San Jose. My trip in Central America was coming to an end with only 6 days to go. My travelling buddies Fay & Olivia left me in San Jose, but I decided that I wanted to go a little further south to check out Panama City. I already had a flight leaving Panama the following Friday, which ensured that I’d actually make it down.

I went to the TicaBus ticket office to get a ticket for Sunday. Frustratingly, the guy at the counter spoke no English, so when he said there were no tickets it made organising an alternative difficult. I compromised on the Monday, which only left me 2 days in Panama. I really wanted more time, but I had to take it. That night I had a cheeky look into flights, which were $350 booked the day before (excluding taxi’s from the airports) and took 1 hour. My bus was $60 and took 16 hours. I debated it for a while but decided to stick with the bus. I wish I hadn’t.

10pm on Monday, Luigi (my Costa Rican friend I met in London) drops me off at the TicaBus station. The bus leaves at 11pm and is scheduled to arrive at the border at 6am.

I try to get a bit of sleep, but it’s average. The driver legs it to the border and we get there at 4.20am. Being ahead of schedule is usually awesome, unless you’re woken at 4.20am to stand in line at the border control that opens at 6am. Here’s a hot tip for TicaBus – everyone would rather stay on the bus and sleep than stand in a queue for 1.5 hours waiting for border control to open. That really sucked, but we watched the sun rise as we queued bored-shitless and ended up getting through on time.

I was aware that Panama required proof of leaving the country – it seems common in this region but Panama seemed no worse than anywhere else according to my research. Unfortunately for me, my research was wrong.

I walked through no-mans-land, got to the border control at Panama and the officer didn’t speak English. This wasn’t a problem until he started yelling at me in Spanish when I showed him my flight out of Panama on my phone. Someone next to me chimed in after they heard me saying “no intiendo” like a broken record. Apparently I needed a printed copy of my flight out of Panama. I also needed a printed copy of my flight back to my home country (thank fuck this was just a small trip and I actually had that flight booked). I also needed proof that I had money, in the form of a credit card (which sometimes they’d turn away for no reason), or a printed bank statement. None of my research gave any indication of the second 2 requirements, although a lot of other people knew (or just so happened to have the relevant information).

I just walked away confused, thinking “what now”?

The majority of the people on our bus got through, but there were about 6 of us without the required documents. One of the helpers on our bus managed to inform us about an internet cafe, but we had to wait half an hour for it to open. This is when I started to stress. There’s no way in hell I wanted to sign into my email account on some random computer in no-mans-land between Costa Rica and Panama. Let alone my fucking bank account. Somehow we managed to get our helper dude to open up a wifi connection through his phone, and I managed to get the required documents and forward them to an unused email address, ready to print. I felt a little more confident at this point, and at least other people were in the same position. I thought I was home free.

The internet cafe opened and we piled in to start printing our stuff. We got it ready pretty quick, but it took the lady about half an hour to get the printer working. With every passing minute I worried a little more about whether the bus was still there or not. When I finally got my stuff printed, I ended up with 9 pieces of paper with random shit everywhere. At this moment I felt that I finally had everything I needed, so an hour late I went back and tried to get through border control again.

I watched as everyone else was accepted and boarded the bus. When it came to me, they took my piece of paper for my flight leaving Panama, then stood me to the side while they tended to other people. I waited about 10 minutes, then they finally got back to me and told me that my flight didn’t exist. They were adamant that it was bullshit – they even said they called American Airlines and they were told that the confirmation number didn’t exist.

An American couple behind me said they’d been trying to get through this border for 2 days. 2 Days. At this point it was looking pretty clear that I wasn’t going to get into Panama. I couldn’t communicate with anyone because no one – not the border control, not the bus drivers, not any of the staff – working anywhere in the vicinity spoke English. You’d think that with the importance of tourism in this region English would be a pretty important part of border control, yet, nothing.

Their advice through translation was to call American Airlines, but when I asked for a phone I got no response. How can I make a call if I don’t have a phone? I don’t know why, but these guys really didn’t want to let me into their country.

I really started shitting myself at this point. I’d kept the bus waiting for 1.5 hours. How much longer was it going to wait? I couldn’t even ask the driver. And what if it leaves? Do I have to go back to Costa Rica? What happens to the flight I booked? Do I have to forfeit that, lose all my money, and book another flight from CR to NY? People have travelled Panama before, why was it so fucking impossible for me? My mind was racing trying to figure out a solution if it all went pear shaped.

I started getting angry at border control because I just couldn’t believe this was happening. It’s so frustrating when no one understands what you’re saying and you don’t understand anything anyone else is saying. Especially when it’s going to fuck with your shit. I hate it when my shit gets fucked with.

A guy from TicaBus came up to me to try and figure out what was going on. The border staff explained it to him, he thought for a minute, and then took me to some old lady with a mobile that could make international calls. I spent 10 minutes trying to get through to American Airlines, and when I got through to a person, it hung up. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. I tried again, then I got through to someone, who confirmed my booking details and flight. What a fucking surprise considering I booked and paid for it and had a confirmation number. I took the phone straight to the border control, and gave the phone to the guy that could understand a bit of basic English. By this stage I was shaking and I could barely speak a word (English or Spanish). I couldn’t even put together a sentence when people tried to ask me what was going on. I didn’t think it was going to work, but after a couple of minutes he gave me the phone, nodded his head, and stamped my passport. Thanks for doing your job properly in the first place mate.

I took my bag – the only bag still sitting outside of the bus – to customs and as I walked there I passed an older couple from the bus who were also having problems. They asked if I got through, I said yes, they seemed stressed too. Customs was a breeze. I boarded the bus, the doors closed and we left. I guess the other couple couldn’t make it.

I sat for the next few hours in disbelief. What the fuck just happened? What a mess of a situation. I couldn’t believe that I got through. How did I do it? It felt surreal. Somehow, a million small things aligned to work in my favour, despite the big picture working against me. I couldn’t believe my luck.

Never in my life have I had such trouble crossing a border. Next time I’ll fly into Panama.

How to keep your belongings safe in hostels

I’ve been travelling and living out of hostels for over 10 months, and in that time I’ve spoken to countless people who’ve had their belongings stolen by proper thieves, or worse, other travellers. I’ve always considered myself careful, but listening to stories I’ve come to realise just how cheeky some people are – and how vigilant you have to be – even in the safest of places. So I’ve put together a list of steps you can follow to ensure your stuff stays as safe as possible.

  1. Always book hostels with lockers. Hostelworld/hostelbookers make it easy to find hostels with lockers. Booking a hostel without lockers is a double whammy – not only are your belongings left out in the open, but other people are also aware of this fact which makes it doubly as easy to take advantage.
  2. Try to book hostels that require ID on checkin. This is harder to follow than the above tip, as it isn’t always clear whether hostels do this or not. But a hostel that just lets anyone in off the street without as much as showing a hint of ID is asking for trouble.
  3. Always lock your valuables in your locker when you aren’t using them. Quite often I see laptops, phones, and chargers just sitting on people’s beds in empty rooms. It’s just not worth the risk, even if you’re only gone for 10 minutes. This even includes when you’re asleep – people have been known to sneak into open bags at night and take things.
  4. At night, keep your phone under your pillow, not next to the bed. And don’t leave it on charge overnight or when you aren’t in the room. Don’t even leave your charger in the room, lock that away too (they’re expensive to replace and easy to steal). As a little side note, I like to put my phone on Airplane mode at night to avoid EM radiation being emitted 5cm below my head all night. There’s no real proof that it causes cancer, but then again, I’m not using the phone at night anyway, so I’d rather be safe than sorry.
  5. Keep your clothes in your bag/backpack at all times, and keep it locked. People do steal clothes when left lying around (both on purpose or just by accident when frantically trying to gather belonging before checkout), and people do go through bags looking for stuff, so it’s better to keep it locked than to find out your favourite shirt (or anything else from your bag) is gone.
  6. Keep your shoes out of sight. Similar to the last point, people do often steal shoes, although no one knows why. So if you’ve got nice shoes, keep them under the bed or out of sight at night.
  7. Don’t ever let someone into your room without the code/card/key. A common tactic thiefs use is to knock on the door until you open it, and use an excuse like “my card isn’t opening the door” or “I left my key in the room”. They come in, take a bed, wait until people are gone, and go searching for things to steal. Unfortunately this plays on your sense of guilt, because the longer someone knocks on the door, the worse you feel if you just ignore it. But don’t feel guilty. If they have a problem, they can just go down to reception and get it sorted. If they’re genuine, they’ll appreciate that you’re keeping the room safe by not letting strangers in. If they’re dodgy, they’ll eventually give up. The easiest way to face this is just to avoid opening the door until they’re gone, that way you don’t have to awkwardly deal with someone pressuring you into letting them into the room.
  8. Don’t be afraid to talk to reception. If something feels wrong or you don’t trust someone in your room, don’t be afraid to talk to reception to see if you can move to another room. Your safety should be your first priority.

Following these tips should give you the best chance of protecting your gear, but bad things can still happen. Stay alert and keep your wits about you.

If you’ve got any additional tips or ideas, let me know in the comments and I’ll keep this article up to date with the best information.

When plans don’t go to plan

I wanted to keep this blog in chronological order. I thought It’d make more sense that way. However, considering I’m writing these stories 9 months after they’ve happened, that’s a lot of time to wait if I want to get something out of the way now. And today, I do. So fuck it, let’s see what happens if we mix things up a bit.

I’ve been told many times that I’d encounter tough times during travels and the most important thing is to accept the feelings and stick it out. And yesterday is a complete ode to that advice. This is how the story goes.

I’d spent 3 months in the UK, mainly procrastinating. To kick-start everything again, a few weeks ago (with very little thought) I booked a flight from London (Luton) to Krakow (Katowice). I thought that flying would be a quick way to get me back to Europe.

During the period in-between, I went to Sheffield and decided to stay a bit longer, so I pushed my flight back a week. I had booked an airport transfer through WizzAir, so I emailed them to update my transfer. 5 days passed and I heard nothing. With 2 days to go, I emailed them again, hoping I’d get a response before the day of my flight.

The night before my flight I decided to actually figure out the transport plan for the next day. I hadn’t heard back from WizzAir, so I knew I’d just have to try and get the bus anyway. The flight was at 8.10am. Seemed like a good idea at the time. I had a look at the transfer, 5am from London Victoria. Ouch. No tube options could get me there by 5am. James at Monkeys gave me the good idea of catching a nightbus. Still, I had to get up at 3.45am. Didn’t think that one through.

I barely got to sleep at all that night. I woke up a few minutes early, and thought I may as well just get up and head out. I put my stuff together and walked out the door, and the 207 was already at the stop – 15 minutes before (or after) it should have been there. Happy that I was “early”, I followed my plan, got off at Marble Arch, and walked to Victoria. I ended up getting to the coach at 4:50. If I hadn’t have got up those few minutes earlier, I would have missed my transfer. It was still unsettling to know I only made it due to luck. I jumped on the bus, and of course, my ticket was invalid – I had to buy another. This was a minor inconvenience, but it’s the incompetence of WizzAir that really pissed me off. Wasted money is one of my pet hates, so now I was feeling angry.

I got to Luton before 6am. Boarding closes at 7:40, so I had almost 2 hours – at least I could relax. I sat down and ate breakfast, then it clicked – I was at Luton. I thought it was better to be safe and just get through to departures, so I went to the bag drop, and queues were passed the cafes. Took me over half an hour to just drop off my bag. I then went to security, and again, queues for miles on end. I got to security and they told me I had a liquid in my bag. I racked my brain and figured it out – ah, must be my emergency hand sanitizer. They took it off me and rescanned my bag. There was still something in there. I dug through my bag and found it; my ridiculously overpriced €13 sunscreen from France. I completely forgot. They took that too. I fucked up. Still, I was starting to get angrier.

I barely made it to the gate by 7:40. But of course, there was a gigantic queue and we didn’t even start boarding for another 30 minutes. These queues were getting on my nerves. I found a Foursquare tip that summed it up perfectly: “Best tip for Luton is to try and fly out of Heathrow”.

The flight itself was ok. I landed in Katowice, and went to the bathroom. I found it ironic that the soap was out; the one time I actually needed my hand sanitizer. I went to the info desk and asked them for the best way to get to Krakow. They pointed me outside. There was a little schedule on the stand that said the bus was due at 12:00, and 15:30. It was 11:55. Great! I waited, and waited, and waited, and waited till 12:30. Nothing. I went back inside, and they told me it needed to be booked in advance. Thanks for telling me that when I asked. Now I need to wait another 3 hours? No thanks. I looked on the map and realised how far Katowice was from Krakow. I was not close to where I needed to be. I decided there and then to go to Katowice instead as the bus was at 13:00.

Drained, I just slumped down in a chair for a few minutes, thinking This is too much. I’ve had no sleep and I’ve been travelling for 8 hours. I’ve got another hour and a half till I get to Katowice, and it’s not even near to where I need to be. I burst out crying.

I get angry, annoyed, and upset. I don’t cry. Yet I couldn’t stop this. I felt at the bottom of the world. I felt like staying in Katowice, and booking the next flight home. I felt like ending travelling completely. There was a photo of a frog in front of me. Every time I almost stopped crying, I looked up and saw the frog, and started crying again. Fuckin’ frog. Perhaps that frog doesn’t have to deal with shit like this.

It’s funny looking back on things like this. After writing it all down, I don’t see what the problem was. It was just waiting. I fucked up a few things, which were causing me delays. That’s not a real problem. I wasn’t stranded. I wasn’t out of money. It was just waiting. And it was the middle of the day, so I still had all day to get to Krakow. I’ve been in much worse situations before. But I know how I felt at that moment in time, and I really did feel bad. All the pressures of the day amounted to more than I could cope with, and it got to me.

The bus to Katowice came at 13:00, and it was fine. Looking out the window & seeing I was getting somewhere started to make me feel better. The bus terminated at the train station, which is where the train to Krakow departs. That was a win. It also had a McDonalds and Starbucks. Things were starting to look up.

After my McDonalds, I was feeling much better, laughing at how bad I’d felt just a few hours before. I went to Starbucks and sat my bag down on a bench seat. As I ordered, I noticed someone sit on the seat, about 1 metre from my bag, and do the most awkward lean putting their arm closer to my bag. I don’t like to judge, but this guy looked dodgy. I instantly sat back down, casually took my bag, and picked up my coffee. About 1 minute later security came and started yelling at the guy. I wasn’t imagining things, this guy was out to steal my shit. They grabbed him by the neck and took him outside. Then I felt sorry for him. Still, I laughed it off as a learning lesson, rather than letting it get me down. Had that’ve happened at the airport, I’d probably have been on a plane to Melbourne.

The train to Krakow was supposed to depart from Platform 2 at 15:14. I had ample time and waited until it was due, but nothing was approaching. There was a train on the opposite platform which had been waiting for about 10 minutes. I decided to actually look at the monitor for that train… And it was my train. It had been moved. But it was due to depart now. I ran downstairs, and the escalator was broken, so I had to run further to the stairs, sprinted up, jumped inside the door and it locked behind me. Fuck! It took just over 2 hours to Krakow. I saw heaps of abandoned factories – just my type of thing. That made me happy. I got to the hostel, and they didn’t have my reservation. By this stage I was just laughing at how wrong the day was. Luckily they managed to fit me in, having to move rooms once during my 7 night stay.

Comfortably in my room, I dropped my bags, and went wandering with a bit of evening sunlight to boot. A 2 hour flight had turned into a 13 hour trek. Flying, especially from out-of-the-way airports, takes much longer than you’d expect. Next time I’ll take the bus.

Hello London

My first week in London proved to be a lot easier than I thought it would. Being a bit of a lone soldier by default, the idea of travelling solo didn’t bother me that much. Still, I was interested to see just how long I’d be able to cope on my own. This became instantly irrelevant as I met new people at the hostel every day, and spent most of my time wandering around London with them – exploring the sights and chilling out all night. Since then a lot of people have commented on how difficult it must be to travel alone, and I completely disagree. Everyone’s in the same boat; the majority of people in hostels are very open and happy to chat and hang out with new people. Travelling solo pushes you out there to talk to people and make new friends (or in my case, solve rubiks cubes until people come and talk to you). And they do. Sometimes you make friends just for the day, sometimes you make life-long friendships. But it’s a very rare case if you don’t meet people while travelling.

I must admit, I had a really weird feeling about London. The more I wandered around, the more it felt like a second home. I became comfortable with the tube and was flying across the city in no time. While looking for food, I noticed that pre-packaged sandwiches/meals were covering the shelves of Tescos/Sainsburys/etc. You wouldn’t dare eat a pre-packaged sandwich from a 7/11 back home, but here it seemed to be the norm – and cheap for £3 in the meal deal. Then I got addicted to them. Every way I turned, I saw amazing fashion. Everyone looked good.

I started noticing differences in culture, shopping, and the like. People say you should embrace cultures – and I do – but it’s still interesting to note how things change. The notes are paper, and massive. A £20 note doesn’t even fit in my wallet. You can’t order a small meal at McDonalds, and you can’t order a double quarter pounder. Damn. KFC is rubbish (especially the chips), and you can get better tasting chicken from one of your 30 local bargain chicken chain stores (£2.50 for a burger, chips, and drink). As a bonus it probably causes cancer too. Hungry Jacks is pretty much the same, but it’s not Hungry Jacks – it’s Burger King. Pizza Hut still have sit-down restaurants, and their pizzas actually taste good. Drinks are cheap - £4 ($6) for a pint would be expensive. Cheap clothes are everywhere; Primark and H&M sell clothes at big-w prices that actually look good. You can ride bikes without helmets, so the bike hire scheme actually works. Parks are everywhere. Around every corner you’ll find a public park, and they’re fucking amazing. They make you forget you’re in a big & otherwise cold feeling city. The UK does parks really well.

So I spent a lot of time riding bikes, chilling out in parks, and buying clothes & shoes that I soon realised I couldn’t carry. I’ve shipped so much stuff home it’s ridiculous.

I guess people who’ve travelled a lot get used to things like this, but London smelled different. Every day I woke up and it got me excited. I felt more alive. It pushed me out the door to get exploring. And luckily I landed in the hottest week of Summer – a few days of 30 degree weather felt amazing coming out of Melbourne’s winter. I laughed as I got sunburnt.

Time absolutely flew by, and before I knew it I already had to extend my stay at Monkeys for another week. I continued exploring as the weather gradually got worse, and I learnt that a week of high twenties is record-breaking weather. Overcast & average weather ensued as I decided it was time to move on. Next stop: Bath.

Where it all began…

It was a cold and drizzly evening in the heart of Melbourne’s winter. I stood outside, hunched over with my hands in my pockets trying to stay warm. My father waved, said goodbye, got in the car, and drove off. I stood there and watched his car disappear into the distance. And that was the moment it hit me. I put my head into my hands and burst into tears. What the fuck am I doing?

It hadn’t really phased me before. 3 months earlier I’d booked my one-way ticket to London. I’d never been out of Australia, yet I didn’t do much planning, I didn’t organise an itinerary. I had no idea where I was going. I didn’t even look at a tube map. I wasn’t even bothered.

But that moment sparked the realisation that this was the last time I’d see my parents for a long time. My coworkers. My friends. Everyone and everything I’ve ever known. And I like my friends, I didn’t want to lose them. I had good work opportunities coming up. What will happen to those? Will I last? How long will I be gone? Will I be happy? What if I’m not?

In hindsight, it’s almost laughable how I felt. I was absolutely shit-scared. I doubted myself. I told everyone I’d be gone for around a year, but really I had no idea, and I thought it would be sooner. I didn’t know why I was doing it, and I constantly asked myself it it was the right decision. Hell, my doubts even came down to the weather – I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to stand the cold of Europe’s Winter, so I had a loose plan to travel back to Australia for the summer. Of course, this didn’t happen (in fact I love snow, but let’s leave that for another post). These are ridiculous doubts, but you always fear what you don’t know. And I knew nothing about travelling, backpacking, living out of home, and being a foreigner.

I organised to stay the night at Daniel’s place, and he’d drive me to the airport the next day. I can’t even believe it myself, but I actually managed to get a decent sleep. Everything was a-ok, until we got to the departures drop, then we had a couple of tears and parted ways. I turned around, bag on my back, looked up, and tried to figure out where to go. I’ve only been to an airport twice in the past 8 years, and I’ve never flown internationally! I got myself together, lugged my crap to the check in desk, and watched my bag disappear. I started shaking. This is happening. I made my way to security, but before I got anywhere alarms started sounding – it wasn’t a drill. I refused to accept this would happen today, so I stayed put as people started to evacuate. I waited a good 10 minutes, then the alarm stopped, and no one had any idea what happened. But everyone rushed back, so I followed suit, went through security, and boarded the plane.

The 27 hour flight was something straight out of the Satanic Bible. Three 8-hour legs with a few hours inbetween each stop. I watched countless movies, tv shows, and listened to my John Legend discography about 20 times. Luckily I met a couple of awesome fellow travellers, Bill and Natalie. We hung out at both of the stopovers (Brunei and Dubai), and they put my mind at ease. It was such a great relief when we finally arrived in London at 6am, the weather was good even that early in the morning, and good weather always makes you feel better. Considering I hadn’t slept at all, I didn’t feel too bad, but I definitely looked a little worse for wear.

Christian, Bill, and Natalie

My Mum had organised my journey to the hostel all for me, thanks Mum! It was easy. Take the Picadilly line from Heathrow (there’s only one line, going one way) to Hammersmith, and then change to a Hammersmith & City line for 2 stops. Simple. I got on the tube and enjoyed the journey, and I laughed when we exited a tunnel as I assumed the entire tube system was underground. After all, it is called the Underground. But it wasn’t, so I enjoyed the views, which where starkly different to anything I’ve ever experienced in Australia. The architecture was amazing, everything looked so old, and beautiful. I decided to check where I was, so I glanced up and took a look at the map and saw this. Gulp.

tube

What is this cryptic shit? I’m used to a few different lines going in opposite directions, and perhaps a little loop (ah the good old city loop), but not this. If I got this wrong, who knows where I’d end up. But still, I managed to figure it out, and got off at the right station (and let’s face it, I’m a half-pro at the tube now – but again that’s another story).

I walked up Uxbridge road in the beautiful sunny weather (which is rare for summer in London), and I ended up getting lost. I hadn’t written down any directions, and I couldn’t get the internet working on my phone. Shit. I called my mum and tried to get help, but she couldn’t get her maps out in time, and it was costing me a fortune, so I hung up and tried to figure it out myself. I was stressing big time, I’m in an unfamiliar place, a new country, I’m totally lost, and I don’t know anyone. I approached a guy on the street and asked him if he knew where Becklow road was. He loaded up maps on his phone and showed it to me. With a new sense of direction, I made my way to the Greyhound – the home of the Monkeys in the Trees hostel. I met Bart at reception, checked in, and with a massive weight lifted off my shoulders, sat down and did some work.

Writing this 8 months later gives me a chance to reflect on how my attitudes, fears, and approaches to problems have changed since I first started travelling. Nowadays, getting lost in random cities is something that not only happens, but something that I make happen. I don’t just want to see the same sights and do the same things as every other traveller, so getting lost became an integral part of my life. But that story’s for another time, because this story… Well, this story is about where it all began.

Motivation

My last post touched on doing things you want to do without hesitation and procrastination. In theory this idea sounds good, but there’s still another piece to the puzzle. Motivation.

To be able to do anything, you need motivation. Think you don’t have it? Think again. You’re reading this post, which requires motivation. You got out of bed (hopefully), that also requires motivation. But the harder things are, the more motivation you need to do them. And sometimes it can be really hard to get motivated.

While there’s countless ways to get motivated, I’ve found three things that seem to really work well together. It may seem simple, but as we know the simplest answers are usually the best. As a quick scenario so we can apply this knowledge, let’s take an example of someone wanting to start working out and changing their body for good.

The first type of motivator is called a towards motivator, also known as pleasure. This type of motivation lets you set goals targeted towards desirable outcomes. These are things you want to get to. Some goals in our example could be to have a certain level of visible fitness, be able to run a certain distance, reach a certain desired weight etc.

The second type is called an away from motivator, also known as pain. This type of motivation sees you moving away from certain things that cause you grief, so for example, you might want to not be the fat person any more, or you might not want to be the person who always gets puffed out first etc.

Does this matter? You bet. There are quite a few things we need to consider about both. Some people are highly motivated by pain, because pain is such a strong feeling that we as humans tend to remember for much longer than pleasure (and with greater intensity too). So the idea of moving away from pain can really push people. However, towards motivators allow you to set clear & positive goals, which would otherwise be quite difficult and fluffy when using away-from motivators. And when you’re moving towards a clear cut goal, it can be extremely rewarding feeling that sense of achievement when you finally do hit the goal.

But the mother of all motivation strategies is accountability. Accountability means becoming responsible for your actions in the eyes of others. If you don’t tell anyone you want to start working out, you’re only letting yourself down if you don’t (and as I’ve previously mentioned, we’re very good at justifying missed opportunities). But holding yourself accountable, posting about it on a forum, or even better on Facebook, is really going to push you. Because not many people can stand the shame of not even trying after they’ve told people they’re going to do something.

Being accountable might just be the motivation that pushes you over the edge. Post something you want to do on your facebook/blog/twitter/fridge right now. Unless you enjoy letting your friends down, there’s no turning back.

Just do it™

Just do it. Whatever you’re thinking about doing, do it now.

So many people have so many excuses for not doing amazing things. You’ve all heard it before, someone suggests they’d like to do something a little out there, then comes the “I would do it, but…”. “It’s raining”. “It’s too difficult”. “I just can’t right now”. The list goes on, you know the drill. And there you are, thinking that they should do it or shut up and stop complaining. Then you get home at 10pm and say to yourself “Oh, it’s 10pm, probably too late to go for a run. Might just watch some TV instead”. And somehow, in your mind, that’s justified. It shouldn’t be.

If you want to do something, just do it. Don’t ever hesitate. Don’t ever overthink it. Just do it. Want to visit a new country? Just pack up and go. The old you would still be “trying to decide” by the time you get back and put your life back together in better condition than when you left. Planned to go for a run but got home 3 hours late? Don’t sit there and think about whether you still have time, get out there and you’ll be back before you watched 2 episodes of Futurama. Wanted to do Steve Hopkins blog a day challenge in March but you’re 5 days late, it’s 1am and you need to be up at 7? You’ve already missed out. Might as well not do it all, right? Nice try, but you’re not getting away that easy.

Now, I know it’s easy to say just do whatever you want, but when it comes down to it, actually making that choice and performing an action without procrastination is still extremely difficult. For something like packing up and visiting a new country, ok, I understand, that’s not easy. But going for a run? Talking to someone new? Changing your career? Deciding to go to the gym? Why is it so hard to do things that for the most part have positives that massively outweigh the negatives? And what allows us to live with ourselves when we constantly miss out on great opportunities? Well, the answer probably isn’t far off what you’re thinking. Whatever it is you want to do, it’s easier not to do it, and that’s the cold hard fact. After all, we are creatures of habit, so the more often we procrastinate, the longer we do it for, and the more situations we apply it to. Until nearly every task is met with procrastination, and your mind is conditioned to not want to try new things. And after you’ve seen an opportunity, let the procrastination take over, and missed a chance, your mind tries justify the act of not doing it with excuse, “oh it was too late”. “oh the job probably wouldn’t have been that good”. “oh the gym costs too much anyway”. Fluff. Lies that make you feel better, but are still lies. Or at best mistruths, because you truly never know what you’ve missed out on.

What you have to consider is the potential cost of not doing something. I’m not just talking pure monetary value, but an overall cost of lifestyle, happiness, and opportunity. Take a hypothetical networking event where you could be talking to a big name in the industry. You’re comfortable where you are, with the people you know, so you don’t have to do it. The cost of doing it is perhaps anywhere from 5-30 minutes of your time. The potential cost of not doing it is missing out on one of the biggest contracts you have ever got for your business; the one that sets you off on your way to becoming a multi-million dollar company. Or  lets take the simple example of going to the gym. The cost is ~$20 and 4 hours a week. The potential cost of not doing it is being unfit and unhealthy with a less-than-average body, not sleeping well, not being happy with yourself, and not meeting amazing people who are there to make the most out of their body and life.

For most situations a simple cost/benefit analysis will prove to yourself that most things you want to do in life — but constantly make excuses for — have far greater positive outcomes than negatives. You’ll even find that many situations don’t have any real negatives at all, just perceived negatives. This is something I might touch on in a later post. For now, stop procrastinating on all the things you want to do, remind yourself what you’re potentially missing out on, and get to it!