I got caught in a conversation the other day about money, urrrgh. I can travel because I’m a rich white westerner. I don’t deny that is true. Only the other day I was thinking, what are the best things about living in England? One of the many thoughts I have while cycling. For me the best thing about living in England is the freedom it gives me to access the world, to be accepted in almost every country, sometimes at a cost of course for visas, but I can afford it. Second comes the humor, but that might be because I’m from England. There have been countless occasions when I try to break out the witty, dry British humor abroad. Only to be confronted with a blank face and look of confusion, Mayu often reminds me, ‘Elliot you can’t say that here, it doesn’t make sense’. Luckily there are lots of Brits on the road, so we can all exercise a bit of our dry wit once in a while.
So I get caught in this conversation, something a don’t really care to talk about, but now somehow. I’m here writing about. A lot young people I’ve met along the way have really good access to the internet. Too much access really. Although the internet is a wonder in many ways, its also seriously deluding our sense of reality. For us, travelling is definitely less about the bungee jumping volcano trekking 4×4 lion safari and more about having just a simple cultural exchange with people. Just a slow roll through life, having a friendly giggle at each other. This is cheap travel, and this is the travel that I believe is actually accessible to all of us, no matter where we are from. (small islands not included, as it helps to be connected to a big land mass)
In these conversations I’ve been asked to shed some light on celebrity travel bloggers, people that post on the internet very frequently talking about all the amazing, exotic locations they go to. Jet setting all over the place and telling their audience that anyone can travel like this, ‘you just have to get out there and do it!’ I know little about this type of travel, but I wanted to have a peek on the net to understand what message is being put out there to the masses and why so many young people idealize this way of life. What are the popular blogs and how do they advise people to live the dream etc etc. The first thing I see is how professional the websites are, the amount of content they create and who the target audience is. I can search different countries, what the top attractions are, guide books on just about anything. It looks like a lot of work and for the reader a lot of time in front of a screen.
If I was to write a guide book it wouldn’t take me very long, it would include just three points and would cover the whole world. 1 Eat well. 2 Sleep outside. 3 Meet people. And with simple advice creativity is born and self confidence is built.
When I get asked, how can I travel like these blogging people on the internet? The short answer I give is you can’t. The only way to take all these selfies on the beach, in these exotic travel locations, is by funding it ourselves. All these bloggers have tools, they are very business minded, have an eye for photography and keep a sharp looking website. And most importantly have a lot of money. Or at least access to well paid jobs in the west, to get at least £10,000 for one year of travel and start their dream business. Travel Blogging. And there is a ton of it, budget bloggers, backpacker bloggers, travel food bloggers, beach life bloggers, adventure bloggers. I guess I’m under the category of fuck blogging blogger.
I suppose if you can afford it, these blogs can be useful to put you on the same trail as the blogger, but the unfortunate flip side is thousands of people sit there in front of their phones and computers being told they can access what they can’t so easily. And then we meet these people and they have a negative view of themselves and their situation because they aren’t a rich white westerner travelling from Fiji to Iceland in the same month. This is really sad, especially when they are not spending this energy discovering what is on their own door step or in the country next door.
In Turkey we got introduced to instagram live, which is basically a live video feed from who ever is filming it, usually with their phone. Not sure if this is happening in the UK but its definitely a step in a strange direction. There have been a couple of occasions where we have been subjected to being fed live to I have no idea who and I have no idea why. But people just type endless comments whilst the feed is live. On both occasions it completely killed the ‘real’ social situation and eyes became fixed on the screen waiting for new comments, from again. No idea who. This is a serious step to living the life of someone else. Through a screen. I didn’t think I would see this becoming a reality so soon. Linked with endless blogging there is really no need to leave the comfort of ones own phone.
Since I have been spending the day flicking through popular travel blogs, hopefully it will be the last time I do this. But now I feel more prepared to talk about the subject and hopefully understand a bit better what popular travel looks like on the internet. Also we can explain in the future that not all travel is about hostels, temples and binge drinking. Travelling the way we do is fairly cheap, but I can understand that it can look very unappealing to a lot of people, but none the less its accessible and that’s what I want to focus on. Better to give an alternative than none at all I feel. Ignoring all family restrictions, dogmas and educational commitments. I would like to focus on the cost of travel. I also want to leave out the cost of travel equipment. Similar to housing, I have seen mud huts and million pound mansions. Both serve as a home and that goes the same for travel gear.
If Mayu and I were to spend the next year without earning, the cheapest place for us to be is the road. Our goal is Japan, undoubtedly flying is the cheapest way to get there, but spending the following 364 days living in Osaka would be very costly. This is why I want to mention the daily cost of travel, what we spend on average in a day, not including visas as this depends on your nationality and where you are going, a lot of the time there is no cost. And I will leave out the cost of travel insurance, as I’ve met a lot of people that can even afford it but chose not to have it. It’s been a little over 2 months now on the road. Instead of travelling from our front door we decided to take a flight to Istanbul. It was £45 one way per person and £20 for each bicycle. Mayu has been very dedicated in recording all of our spending since then and on average our daily spend has been £2.20 each. Still I understand that in some parts of the world that is not cheap enough, but its more realistic than what I have been seeing on popular travel blogs.
Nearly all of our money is spent on food, since leaving Istanbul we have spent a total of £14 on accommodation, the majority of the time we sleep in our tent and the rest is being hosted by the kind people along the way. I feel we eat and sleep very well. We cook most meals on our stove or in our hosts kitchen and generally eat vegetarian food. Buying the cheapest veg as it usually means its either local or from neighboring countries. I recently discovered Iranian dates, this was quite a discovery for me, so much so that I consumed 1.5kg in 3 days! Currently I’m having a break from dates, trying to find alternatives whilst we take a rest in the capital Baku.
This type of travel is not to everyone’s liking, but I really want to believe its possible for all demographics. Admittedly there are some sacrifices that need to be made and skills to be learnt, but the more a sacrifice becomes a habit. The less it becomes a sacrifice. For instance our personal hygiene has taken a bit of a nose dive, I smell reasonably bad a lot of the time. However as its getting warmer. I have more motivation to have a bed wash in the evening. With half a liter of water and a small cloth we can scrub ourselves clean to take off the sweat from the days cycling. This makes a huge difference for me to get into my sleeping bag feeling cleanish. On sunny days we find taps in various places to give our pants and t-shirt a quick wash and dry it on the back of our bikes. To be comfortable with these habits I have to stop worrying about what people think of me and respect local customs as much as I can. But generally no matter how conservative a country, people get that you are on a journey and help you out the best they can.
So with daily costs as a guidance, anyone can decide how much they have to spend, to work out how many days can be spent on the road. Again ignoring any personal or family commitments. The reason why I have left out the cost of equipment because it varies from person to person, what someone can afford and the level of comfort they want. I met a homeless man in Osaka that walked to Tokyo and back just for the experience. If walking is only what can be afforded and you are keen on being on the road then that’s what you’ll do. Most of our equipment and clothing is quite pricey, but we were fortunate enough to have sponsorship, but this tends to be very competitive and takes a lot of time and effort to organize. These items give us a lot of comfort, it means we are waterproof, warm and lightweight. But before these products were invented, intrepid travellers would go with all sorts of heavy cumbersome gear the first person to cycle around the world was in 1884. Which makes me believe that passion and drive to travel is the most important part of equipment.
I want this piece to be dedicated to motivation. There is a possibility that Mayu and I have been gifted with confidence or ambition more than others, but its also clear when we look at humanity that there are so many people far more confident and ambitious than us. Its all a sliding scale, and everyone has a back story. So next time I find myself in that conversation about glossy round the world backpacking with someone that will struggle to afford it. I will urge whoever is doubting themselves and their finances. To stop trying to follow someone else’s path. Get realistic and make the most of what you have.
What does your ethnicity have to do with your ability to travel?
It shouldn’t, definitely. But just as an observation, I have met a lot of white Westerns that travel. I’m a white westerner, Mayu is East Asian. And we meet more people from Europe than anywhere else. But the article is trying to encourage that it doesn’t matter where you’re from or how much money you have, if you have the urge to explore don’t let popular travel blogs tell you it’s for one type of person.
Very thoughtful l blog. A rare blog of discovery and the joys of being where on finds themselves. I agree with you. The pampered western ‘adventure travellers’taking their toys and noise everywhere can be disheartening. Personally, I avoid them like the plague. I’m planning a north-south trip to Vietnam and watch YouTube videos to see where I might go. One sap fascinated me. Talked every video about his ‘journey of self discovery’ and complained of traffic,customs being different,lack of gluten free vegan food (didn’t look celiac intolerant) noise, and keeping schedule etc. not one word on the culture. Not one word of the stunning beauty I saw in the background, nothing of customs, people or a sense of joy to be free on a bike in a strange land. Dismal. Your blog is wonderful.
Keep it up. please.
Kind words thank you Robert. Encouragement keeps me writing. Enjoy Vietnam