22 days on the road: Thoughts on the longest trip I have taken so far
2 continents and 7 stops in 22 days. Usually my trips are 3 to 6 days long so this was the longest one by far. These are some of my takeaways for next time.
Usually I try to see as many things as I can. I am only there for a short time so its only reasonable that I make the most of it. But sightseeing gets dull very fast. You go to a place, take a picture of it and then with it and then move on to the next place. I noticed this during my previous trips so I left what I felt was more time at each stop this time. But it was still too short. I ended up doing too much and getting completely exhausted after a few days. Normally this would have been fine since my trip would have ended by then. Not this time though.
So for the next time, I am going to try and spend at least a week at each stop. I would only make fewer stops this way but I would definitely appreciate, immerse and relax, which is the entire point of a vacation anyway.
By many people’s standards, I am a light packer. Like many of my travel habits, this began in Malaysia when I set off on a weekend trip to Langkawi with only my trusty backpack. Since then this has been my formula whether I was travelling across India to Bodhgaya or to the north of Sweden and that wasn’t going to change this time. The only difference was a small upgrade to the largest bag that budget airlines still be considered to be hand luggage.
What I realised is that for a multi stop trip like this, I only needed enough clothes to last me for the length of my longest stop (which in this case was 4 days). Then I can wash up right before I depart or after I arrive which are days I won’t do much else apart from resting and traveling anyway. Worse case scenario, I could reuse my clothes for a bit and no one has called me out on that yet.
If there is any regret I have with this trip, it is that I planned and paid for everything in advance. Every accommodation, bus trip and flight ticket was non-refundably booked and set in stone. This meant that whenever I discovered something interesting to do outside of my itinerary (which happened many times), I had no way to fit it in. To some extent, I felt imprisoned which is not the best description for a vacation.
My solution for this in the future is to only book the arrival and departure and then book everything else as I go along. This is probably going to be more expensive but that is the cost of freedom.
Speaking of planning, did I mention that I have the tendency to fit too much into a day? So when my planning self booked the transfers between cities, he booked the earliest departing trip figuring that it would leave some time in the afternoon for something. But when the human me had to take 3 early transfers within 5 days, he was stressed, sleep deprived and cursing the planner.
I usually use kiwi.com to get some cheaper deals on flights and they have saved me some ‘korun’ in the past. But when I saw a price much less than the rest, I knew there had to be a catch and there was. I had to change airports and they were 120KM apart. Worse still, there would only be 4.5 hours to do it. This felt sketchy but my inner optimist prevailed and I booked it. But I couldn’t stop getting cold feet. Being a developer, I knew it was possible for the kiwi developers to not take the distance between the airports into account in their algorithm. So I wrote to their support to make sure that they were aware of it. They said it would be fine. They were wrong.
On the exact day I had to make this transfer, Paris decided to have the largest public transport strike they have had in 12 years which caused the traffic to go berserk. The trip that was supposed to take “1 hour and 21 minutes” took almost 3 hours. I arrived at the airport 1 hour before departure but it was too late. I was now stranded in Paris with nowhere to stay and the rest of my trip in US completely booked without me to take it. In desperation, I called kiwi for help but now that they had my money, they didn’t want to give it back. They claimed “Force majeure”, stating that traffic is out of scope for their guarantee. Eventually, I was forced to admit that I was on my own now and I painfully departed with a large chunk of my budget to book a last moment flight. Never, ever again. Only same carrier or same airport transfers for me.
Exhausted and alone after a day of long bus rides in LA, I found myself asking this question. Why am I doing this?
I thought back to the first few trips I took, the times when I explored Kuala Lumpur or set off to Langkawi by myself. Back then I was curious, I wanted to understand what traveling was about and why people got so hyped about it. What I found was excitement, amazement and stories that I would tell for years to come. I was testing the limits of what I can do and trying everything I didn’t get the chance to before. But with each trip, I become more comfortable and eventually it became this game of dazzling people with the number and variety of places that I have been to. Digging deeper, I realised that I valued any experience on my own less than one I shared with someone else. I realised that I was looking for someone’s reaction to confirm that I am actually doing something impressive or worthwhile.
If I am looking outside for something, it usually means I haven’t thought about it enough on the inside. So I set about defining my own reasons for why I should (or even not) continue to travel. I had no doubt that my travels made my life much more interesting so that could be a reason in itself. My travels could be my way of escaping my rigid routine and a way to reflect back and plan ahead from a distance. Perhaps it could some sort of creative retreat where I split my time between exploring and then cozying up somewhere with my laptop to share or create something. (I do like the sound of that)
Another reason I liked to travel was due to glimpses of different cultures I got along the way. The different experience of life in each place fascinates me and I would really like to know what it like to live in a certain place, about the different conditions and beliefs and how history shaped all of that. So on most of my trips, I try to meet as many locals I can through meetup.com and Couchsurfing and break out of the tourist bubble. From my experience, it is not the place that matters the most when travelling but the experiences you have while you are there and to a large extent, this is through the people you spend time together with. So perhaps, I need to ditch the sightseeing and dive into the events. It will be strange saying that I haven’t seen this or that iconic landmark but I know that I will cherish the memories and the connections more than pictures of me in front of various landmarks.