Do It Like The Locals – this is how….

We seem to get lucky with this quite a lot. I’m not sure whether we’re good, or have a knack, or it just comes with travel experience, but we sure as hell get lucky. You haven’t travelled if you just stayed in your hotel, you haven’t visited a country if you sat by the pool and ate shit, oh sorry, ” international cuisine “. All inclusive? No thank you. Instead of “hungry travellers” we nearly called this blog, “”

So our aim is always to meet the local people, eat their food, drink their beers, find their bars, understand their history, learn their culture, put money in their pockets instead of into the pockets of invisible corporates. And yeah we get lucky. Like eating in the jungle home of Mangala and his family (see the “about” page), like stumbling upon an entire village partying in the Turkish mountains and joining in (it was a young boy’s circumcision party!), like getting blind drunk in a backstreet Greek bar while the locals sang like pissed uncles at a wedding. And so many great bars, terrific meals, and cheap, authentic food, we’ve long since lost count of how many free drinks we’ve been given.

How do you get this lucky? Well. Here’s our tips…..

Research first. Read their customs, learn etiquette, avoid offending. Know how to behave in that country. Learn where the tourist areas are so you know what to avoid.

Talk to your host. Backpacking takes you into small hotels, pensions, people’s homes, apartments, shacks, whatever. You find your bed through the host, your new landlord. Tell him or her what you want to find and they will help you find it. Ask!

Look and listen. Watch for noisy bars, listen for chatter in the local language, look for music. Look down alleys and back streets.

Communicate. Smile when you speak. Make eye contact. Learn at least a few words in the local language. Just a few mispronounced words makes people smile. At least know how to order a beer. You might want to know the word for “room” too!

Talk to strangers in bars. Ask for directions. Start conversations in shops. Stop being British!!

Don’t show off. Be careful not to offend with jewellery, cameras, expensive stuff. Respect the local way.

Ask bar owners about other bars. Ask restaurant owners about other restaurants.

Above all, genuinely – that’s genuinely- be interested in learning about people, and lives.

Well, that’s our way, anyway. Or at least it’s how we start. It’s what you travel for. Surely.

Malaysia 14 days away

This time in two weeks we’ll be on the Heathrow runway with our next adventure ahead of us. We can’t wait to sample that Kuala Lumpur street food, and all the culinary delights after that. So it’s a few days in KL, then the tropical rain forest where we aim to do the treetop canopy walk; over to the east coast, a night in Mersing then the ferry over to Tioman Island where we live for a week in a shack on the beach. That is, simply, going to be paradise. We finish at Singapore after a ferry back and a long bus ride.

If only we could do this all the time. Retirement is starting to beckon…

London – Part 2

So Saturday night was just about as good as it gets. We absolutely love London; we travel the World but totally love the fact that one of the greatest cities on the planet is just 90 minutes train ride away. The St Pancras railway station building is nothing short of magnificent, probably architect Gilbert Scott’s greatest creation and the country’s best example of Gothic architecture; these days it houses surely England’s most majestic bar. We enjoy some very expensive cocktails, silly money but you have to say it’s worth every penny just to be there. On from there to the Darwin Brasserie and the Sky Garden, 35 floors up in the “Walkie-Talkie” building, good food, good service, utterly magnificent views across London’s night scene. Great evening, great weekend, love everything we’ve done, literally everything, all in the great company of Andy (Michaela’s brother) and his lovely wife Claire.

Sunday sees a wander through London’s green spaces, not so green after this long hot and oh-so-non-English summer. Parched parks, barren dust bowl ground, but we’ve loved the weather. We English don’t get many summers like this!

But what we always have is London; wonderful, vibrant, passionate, entertaining and inclusive city that it is. We love our country, we are very proud of London. Great, great city.

London weekend

Here in London to enjoy, on our own doorstep, one of the World’s greatest cities and one of which every English person should be proud. So Friday night is a couple of Soho pubs and Chinatown; Saturday a trip to the absolutely wonderful and educational Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, such a great museum so cleverly presented, followed by a ride on the Mail Rail. Not done the Mail Rail? Go and do it and find out about one of London’s secrets. Great fun. London in the sun. Love it. Saturday night next…

Countdown to Malaysia – 23 days

Clock is ticking now, 23 days to go till the next adventure and the next new country. Or two. Kuala Lumpur with its stunning sights and extraordinary street food is followed by the World’s oldest tropical rain forest as we head to Taman Negara to see the natural beauty and take the forest canopy walk through the treetops. Then on to the East coast, winding up at Mersing and the ferry over to paradise, or rather Tioman Island; and finally the last leg down to Singapore to lap up another culture. 23 days till we hit the skies…

Freedom takes planning

It might be different when we eventually retire and have endless time available, but for holidays of limited duration you do need to be organised to make the most of freedom. You have to start out with a plan, even if you don’t stick to it. Of course, some things such as flights, ferries etc, are fixed and need to be planned in advance, but for the rest of the trip, you need some sensible planning to sort out distances, timescales and the like. With no plan, you’d end up wandering aimlessly and miss out on the best places.

Freedom comes from changing that plan. Somewhere turns out to be not as good as you expected, so you move on. You get enchanted half way to your next destination, so you stop off for a bit. En route from Ioannina to Volos, we detoured to Papigko in the Vikos Gorge, and fell immediately in love with that gorgeous place. Park the car, find a room, enjoy. You can only do that if you’ve had the courage to go backpacking.

But you need to plan your trip properly beforehand, work out your distances, get a proper handle on timescales, book the fixtures like ferries etc, research transport options. Create a list of places you want to see, things you want to do, the route you want to follow. If hiring a car, you only need to pre-book with a big operator if you want a one-way hire; if you’re hiring for odd days, or returning the car to your start point, then a local operator will be much, much cheaper than the likes of Hertz or Avis. Don’t overlook the joy of public transport though, using trains, trams and buses quickly makes you feel like a local and quickly gives you opportunities to meet people and seek that advice on where to eat, where to sleep, etc.

Don’t plan to do too much, leave yourself space; you don’t want to come home feeling like you never settled anywhere and were constantly on the move. And so the moral is: plan well, before you go. And then enjoy not sticking to the plan. Seize every moment.

Backpackers at “our age”: Why not?

We get some funny responses when we tell people what we do on holiday. I’d be a rich man if I had a fiver for every time someone says, “Oh I’d absolutely love to do that, but the wife would never have it”. Yeah right. You see, yes we’re a certain age: closing in on retirement I suppose you could say, but the freedom of backpacking is for us among the best thrills that life has to offer. There’s more on this on our “about” page, but our aims are to find the soul of places, find the real character of a place and its people, joining them in their own habitat, knowing all the time that virtually every penny we spend, certainly as much as we possibly can, goes directly into the local economy and not to international operators.

We got together as a couple in 2011; married in 2013, and set off to find new experiences, seize every moment, say yes now, get out of our comfort zone. Michaela had some backpacker experience, Greek islands only, I had none. It helped that one of us knew the drill, though we quickly found that arrival on an island by ferry is only an introduction, as on those occasions you can guarantee to be met by room hawkers, but it’s a different experience pulling into a one horse town in deepest Albania where no one has a word of English and start looking for a room. Never mind unwinding, once you’ve entered a town, hunted around for a bed, tackled the first challenges of your holiday, you have put significant barriers between yourself and your ordinary life back at home. You’ve unwound without trying.

Basically, if you don’t get met by hawkers, go find a map, get your bearings. Find where the bars are concentrated. Where there’s bars there’s rooms. If nothing is obvious, go in a bar or cafe and ask; chances are they’ll have a “cousin” who has “beautiful rooms”. Be relaxed: something always turns up, it always works out. You might need to be resourceful, you might even need to be clever, but it all helps to put ordinary life behind you. Once in, you’ll talk to your new landlord, find out where the locals eat, where they drink, tell them you want to experience their country properly. We are yet to go anywhere where this doesn’t work. People are good, you know. They want to help you, they want you to enjoy their country. Tell them you want to experience the real country and they will give you every assistance. People enjoy doing it, they like that you want to. People are good.

But let’s not pretend every night is a luxury seafront apartment for 25 euros. It does happen, but don’t expect it everywhere, it’s not like that. Our phrase is, travel like you’ve been there before. What does that mean, you ask. Well, at home, you have a friend or relative whose house is not too tidy, you go in your pub and you no longer notice the less than perfect deco, you no longer see the bins you walk past to get to the shops. So familiarity breeds comfortable acceptance, and that’s what we mean. Travel like you’ve been there before, don’t be sniffy about imperfection, accept that it’s part of where you are and love the good things. Don’t let one single bad thing cloud your opinion of a place; you can always find a better room if you like a place, if you have to.

You know, those fabulous rooms at 25 euros do exist too, you’ll find them. And then get out and do the real business and get amongst the people; eat their food, drink their beers, learn their culture, learn their history, understand what makes them what they are. You’ll find good people, not least the one inside yourself.