Mini Mozambique Cycle Tour

Camping in a laundry, breaking my finger and getting harassed by police…

Day 1

I’m on my way to Mozamboogy festival in the sleepy coastal village of Ponta de Ouro, Mozambique, near the South African border. I’m coming from the north though, so I enter via the Komatipoort border post between the Kruger National Park and Swaziland. With only a few hundred kilometres to Ponta de Ouro, I should make it within two days.

I get through customs without any issues but the town on the other side is a typical border town – poor, rough, and with dodgy characters hanging around. It’s getting dark now so I cycle off quickly, hoping I find somewhere safe to camp for the night. The air is cloudy with smoke from fires that villagers are cooking on, creating a moody feel reflecting the rays of the setting sun.

Within a few kilometres, I come to a roadside motel and enquire about prices. It’s a bit out of my budget though, at 3000 Mozambiquan Meticals (MZN) for a room – the equivalent of 600 South African Rand (ZAR). I ask if I can camp around back for the night but the owner isn’t around and his employee is not comfortable making a decision. He tells me to try another place further down the road but instructs me to return if I have no luck because it’s not safe to camp on the roadside here.

At the next place I’m greeted by a friendly man who offers me a room at a similar price but I can tell he thinks its a very cheap offer. I explain that I’m cycling around the world and I’m very low on cash so I carry a tent for camping on the roadside. He’s seems a bit confused at first but then suddenly becomes very sympathetic and says I can camp for free in the back garden. He shows me where I can get water and offers me use of the shower and toilet facilities. I’m very grateful and give him ZAR50 for his troubles as I don’t have any Mozambican money yet.

After setting up my campsite in the lush garden next to the swimming pool, I go to watch TV in the bar area at my host’s request. He gives me some free peanuts and I desperately want to buy a beer but feel that wouldn’t align with my ‘poor traveller’ sentiment. I settle for tap water, which unfortunately is warm. After watching some old 80’s movie dubbed into Portuguese (the local language), I head off to spend my first night in the tent that I carried around the whole of India and never once used.

Day 2

In the morning I wake early to a dewey morning and pack up while the sun rises. By 6am I’m on the road, heading direct for the capital, Maputo. The road heads towards the coast so it’s slightly downhill pretty much all the way, with no real wind to speak of. As a result I cover the 100kms to Maputo before lunch time. The road is long and boring with nothing but fields on either side until I get close to Maputo. Just before the city there is a smaller town called Matola which appears to be a busy trading post for vehicles heading north and south and delivering goods for the capital.

It’s horribly busy and the dusty streets are packed full of trucks weaving around the half-finished construction works. I pass through a toll booth just before Maputo and instead of letting me simply pass around the boom I’m told to go back and join the pedestrian route. Seems a bit nonsensical but I comply anyway. The last few hundred metres into Maputo are uphill and I arrive sweating in the midday heat at Base Backpackers.

The original plan was to stay the night here but since its only lunch time I decide to only stop for lunch and hopefully do some work using their wifi. The receptionist kindly agrees to look after my bicycle while I head out to draw cash, buy a simcard and grab some lunch. Then I head back and offer to buy a beer or two in exchange for use of the hostel wifi.

At around 3pm I decide I better head off as I still need to catch the ferry across the Umbuluzi river and then cycle the last 40 kilometres to Bella Vista. I thank the staff and promise to return and spend a night on my way back.

Heading down to the ferry I’m exceptionally careful not to break any road rules after a warning from the receptionist that police will try get money out of me for any silly reason. I arrive and the ferry is busy loading, so I quickly cycle on amongst the throngs of fishermen, fruit sellers and vehicles.

Presently, the ferry departs and starts the short 20 minute cruise across the river mouth. It provides excellent views of the new bridge that is being built to cross this section of river and connect Maputo with southern Mozambique via a brand new highway. The bridge is the last section to be completed, meaning I’ll have a fresh tar now all the way to Ponta de Ouro.

Nobody comes around asking me to pay so it appears I get a free ferry ride! I disembark on the other side and have to cycle over some rough dirt road with sandy patches before the tar begins. I slide out in some sand while passing a biker and say “Oh shit!”. He laughs and tells me I’m going to have quite a few more “oh shit” moments. Maybe the road isn’t as complete as I’ve been told?

Eventually after a few bumpy kilometres I reach a brand new section of tar road and pick up the pace, heading south. It’s after 4pm now and the sun sets at 6pm so I’ll need to cycle flat out to avoid the dark. Fortunately, the brand new road has a clean, wide shoulder so I can move quickly and avoid traffic. Unfortunately, there are some sections that aren’t complete so several times I have to take a slow, dirt road detour around unfinished sections.

Although I can’t quite see the ocean, the scenery and vegetation around here is more coastal than the farmland coming into Maputo. It’s mostly green bush with the occasional palm tree and a mild breeze that keeps me cool despite the intense sun.

After two hours I’m exhausted, I still haven’t arrived at Bela Vista and its starting to get dark. I check the map and it seems further than it should be. On changing Google Maps to satellite view I realise the reason – despite appearing in satellite photos, the new road hasn’t yet been added to the main map. The satellite photo shows it winds quite a long way inland as opposed to the old road – meaning my route is actually about 10kms longer than indicated to me.

I briefly toy with the idea of just camping on the roadside but everything around me is very dense bush and I haven’t got any food since I didn’t plan to camp. I eventually just decide to push on through the dark as it should only be another half an hour or so and traffic is slim. By the time I arrive in Bela Vista it’s very dark and I turn off the road to head into the main town which is on the coast. Loud music is coming from the end of the road and it seems to be quite crowded with people, which seems odd for a Tuesday night.

I stop at a guesthouse and explain my story, asking if there is anywhere safe to camp off the street. The owner seems uncertain but invites me inside, asking if I’m sure I wouldn’t like to take one of his rooms. Again they are out of my budget and I offer to pay him something in exchangefor camping on the grounds. We eventually agree on R150 (about $10) for me to camp in the laundry room which includes my own private toilet, so as long as I leave early in the morning. I assure him I’ll be off at 6am.

After setting up my tent on the rather hard concrete floor, I head down to the bar area to get some food and drink. I can’t say no to their 50 meticais beers (less than $1 US) so I have two while getting some work done.

DAY 3

I’m up with the sun at 5:30am and packed and on the road by 6, as promised. On the way out I pop into the bar to see if I can get a coffee but the staff direct me to another room. There I find a few people having breakfast. I sit down and ask for a coffee which is promptly delivered along with a breakfast of bread, cheese and salad. Apparently this is included with the rooms, although I’m not sure the kitchen staff realise I’m not an “actual” guest. I keep quiet, eat quickly and head off before anyone says anything.

Today is a short day of only about 70kms which means I should make it to Ponta de Ouro with enough time to find a lift to the festival and setup camp before dark. The last few kilometres to the festival site on the beach is entirely sand and accessible only by 4×4.

About halfway, I reach a game reserve which is gated off but the entrance isn’t closed or manned by security, although it does have a sign warning of some wildlife, including elephant and crocodile. I guess not a lot of people cycle this road but there is no other route south and I figure the animals will likely avoid the main road, so I head in.

I keep a keen eye out but don’t see any animals and the few cars that pass don’t appear to be concerned with my presence. After a few kilometres the park ends and I exit onto the main road and continue south through sandy, coastal grasslands. At around 12pm I arrive at an intersection and turn left towards the Ponte and the ocean. After a few more kilometres the road ends in a construction site and I continue a bit further until the dirt becomes sand and I have to start pushing my bike.

After pushing a short distance throug the blazing heat I reach a small wooden bar and decide its beer time. I grab a cheap quart of beer and join some locals on a log outside. They’re very interested in my bike and as usual can’t believe I’ve cycled so far. We get chatting and I mention the festival which they say they are also attending. We make introductions and I tell them I’ll see them there, before continuing on through the sand.

Eventually I reach the centre of town, grab a beer and begin hitch-hiking at the intersection, hoping someone will take me to festival. Within a few minutes a guy stops and says he saw a post I put on the Facebook group asking for a lift – what a stroke of luck! We grab a few more beers, pile my bike into the back of his 4×4 and head off.

We get chatting along the way and by the time we arrive we’re best mates and he invites me to camp with him and his crew, which turn out to be a huge contingent of festival goers from Durban in South Africa.

The festival goes down well except towards the end when I slam a thorn through my finger while trying to make a fire. It gets stuck between the knuckle of my middle finger and I have to yank it hard to get it out, tearing through the flesh and joints. I manage to patch up the bleeding but by the next day it’s very purple and swollen.

As a result, I end up spending a few days longer in Ponta de Ouro than expected, during which time I chill on the beach and strip and clean my bike as best I can with diesel. Eventually, about a week after arriving, I’m ready to head back. I leave very early Sunday morning with the plan to cycle all the way to Maputo, about 110kms.

Again I have to go through the game reserve and this time I am lucky enough to see an elephant quite close to the road. I stop for lunch at a tiny roadside stall and have a conversation with some friendly locals who again can’t believe I’m cycling all the way to Maputo, which at this point is only 50kms away!

I reach the end of the tar by about 4pm and once again have to brave the sand and dirt to the ferry port. Unfortunately, this time the shaking wobbles a screw free from my pannier rack and I can’t find it in the dirt, so have to improvise with a cable tie – the cyclists lifesaver! I join the queue for the ferry and have to actually pay the 30 meticais fee this time.

Once across, I disembark and start cycling back to the hostel. Along the way I stop on the roadside to check my Google maps and a sneaky police car that I didn’t notice, stops and calls me over. Here we go..

The police ask for my passport and then tell me I owe a 5,000 meticais fine for stopping in the road because it’s ‘dangerous’. There’s no way I’m giving these clowns 5000 meticais so I show them a 100 meticais note and tell them its all I have. After some resistance, I insist they can take me to the station and I’ll pay a fine there. Of course, as usual, they eventually give up and send me on my way.

Back at Base backpackers hostel I check in to a dorm room for R180 (about $12) and grab a much-needed beer and shower, in that order. I think this is the only backpackers in Maputo and its clearly popular as its quite busy with a mix of travellers from Germany, the UK, the States and various other places. One guy said he’s been staying there for over a week!

My left crank is loose and has been giving trouble, so the following day, after getting some work done, I head off in search of a bicycle repair shop. I find one and they simply tighten the crank and send me on my way. Seems to do the trick.

Back at the hostel, I get chatting to a cool British guy who’s been traveling and working throughout Africa, in places like Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. I tell him of my plans and he gives some recommendations on places to visit. Then we head out to dinner with an American girl and grab more than a few beers at a pub afterwards.

I haven’t got too far to go on my final day, assuming it will only take a few hours to the border, as before, so I awake late and only leave at 11am. Unfortunately, I didn’t account for the mild uphill and a gale force headwind. The initial 10kms is okay but once I turn with my back to the coast I have to fight into a wind so strong I might as well be walking. Eventually, at around 4 pm, I stop and wave down a taxi to take me the last 20kms to the border – I’m finished!

Cycling Africa – Days 5-8: Swaziland

Day 5 (cont): Swaziland border to Nisela

I continued on past the border post with the aim to reach Nisela Game Reserve, 40km’s away. The tour guide I had met at the service station in South Africa told me it would be a good place to camp.

I was fairly tired by now so stopped for a half hour rest at the border town and bought some water. I had another funny chat with a local guy who couldn’t understand why I was doing this, and then got back on the road.

The roads are equally as nice as South Africa along this section, well paved and with a wide shoulder. I was surrounded on all sides but what must be sugar cane fields, as loads of broken bits of sugar cane filled the road.

The locals walking this section didn’t appear to be as friendly as in South Africa, often not responding to my waves or greetings. They were likely just confused as to what I was doing.

After about an hour I took refuge in the shade of a bus stop and rested for awhile to cool down. By now I had cycled over 120km’s and was quite exhausted so the last slog to Nisela was a tough one. I kept checking my Google Maps, wondering how I’m not there yet!

Eventually, a sign for Nisela appeared around the last corner and within a few minutes, I saw the entrance come up on the right. I cycled into reception, sweaty and exhausted, and checked in for a camping spot.

They had a function on in the main bar and dining room that evening so I had to quickly shower and get food before 6pm. I had a beer and sandwich and then ordered another beer to take away.

While sitting by my campsite two park rangers came up to me and for a moment my guilty consciounce assumed I had done something wrong but they just wanted to borrow my bicycle pump.

Seeing as there wasn’t much else to do, I took a photo with a zebra and then got to bed very early, around 8pm.

Day 6: Short cycle to Big Bend

It was Monday now and I needed wifi to work but Nisela only had these ridiculous vouchers that give you 15 minutes of Internet with 100MB data limit.

I was still exhausted from the day before and didn’t want to cycle too far but luckily discovered that there was a backpackers called Entsabeni only 30km up the road near Big Bend. The receptionist kindly called them for me to confirm that they have wifi before I headed off.

As I’ve since learned, Google Maps is not very accurate in Swaziland so I missed the turn-off and ended up in a small village settlement where the backpackers was reported to be.

I really didn’t want to waste the day looking for the place so I decided to cycle back to a place called Lismore Lodge I had passed a few km’s back and see if they have wifi and a cheap bed. On the way I thought I’ll quickly check one more side road and to my luck I discovered Entsabeni.

Unfortunately, Entsabeni is not actually a backpackers but more of guest house, with only private rooms. They did have fast wifi though and I couldn’t be bothered to check elsewhere so I decided to spoil myself (and my budget) for one night.

I was the only guest so I had the entire place to myself and spent all day catching up on work. Around about 3pm they told me they would be closing the kitchen for the night, so I ordered dinner to be kept for later and at 4pm everybody went home, leaving the entire house to myself.

I hadn’t watched TV in months and they had sattelite, so I ate and watched stupid sitcoms until eventually getting to bed a bit later than planned at 10pm.

Day 7: Uphill to Lobamba

Nodoby was around when I awoke at 5am but I had already paid the evening before so I packed had some coffee and got back on the road by 6am.

I knew today would be difficult because it was 100km’s, almost entirely uphill. It began off fairly calmly with a cycle through Big Bend and a minor incline that steadily became steeper throughout the day. It was still early morning so the first few hours weren’t too hot.

Around about 10 am it began to get hilly and hot, so I stopped to get some breakfast at a small roadside shop. I bought three cream donuts, water, energade, chocolates and biscuits all for only R40 ($3).

After a half hour rest and feeling re-energized, I got back on the road. Quickly the hills began to come in succession, one after the other with each getting bigger than the last. It was now only 25km to Manzini, my planned lunch stop, but it was also 38 degrees Celcius and I was forced to stop at the rise of each hill and find some shade to cool down.

It took me almost two hours just to do 15km’s and get within the final, huge hill before Manzini. Here the shoulder was almost entirely gone and what was left of it was often filled with sand or scrub from bushes. As a result, I was often having to cycle in the road a little bit.

Around here many people stand on the road waiting for taxi’s, which hoot to indicate they have space to pick you up. Unfortunately, trucks also hoot when they don’t have space to pass you and need you to get off the road. In one case I didn’t move off the road, think it was a taxi hooting, and very almost got killed. The truck passed me so close it’s trailer scraped along my arm but it made no effort to slow down. I wobbled off the road briefly into some sand but didn’t fall and continued on.

From there on I was being very cautious to stay within the shoulder which at times wasn’t possible. I often had to stop and wait for a gap in traffic and then cycle quickly through sections that had no shoulder.

Eventually, a friendly guy stopped and offered me a lift, saying that this section is too dangerous to cycle and anyway, it’s far too hot. I didn’t argue. He even offered to let me stay at his place that night and take me into Manzini the following day. I should have accepted but I really wanted to try to get to my planned destination of Lobamba today as I was very short on time, needing to get home for Christmas.

As we drove he asked if I had seen any other cyclists in Swaziland and after thinking, I said no. He said that’s because nobody cycles here and as a result, the drivers probably don’t think to look out for cyclists. There aren’t even any scooters or motorbikes, so he makes a good point. He told me I was the only cyclist he had ever seen in all his time in Swaziland… and that I’m definitely crazy.

He took me about 10 km’s over the final huge rise into Manzini and went out of his way to drop me on the other side of town so I was closer to Lobamba. I thanked him profusely, gave him the address of this blog, and then headed off to find somewhere with wifi to have lunch and do some work.

The nearby KFC didn’t have wifi so I cycled a bit further and found a bar called Saltees. Although it showed up as having wifi on my phone, none of the staff knew the password. I stayed for one beer anyway and spoke to my waitress about my trip. Again, as with everyone, she struggled to believe me and told me I was crazy. She kindly helped me out by calling a nearby backpackers, Sondzela, to see if they had camping space and wifi – both of which they said they had.

I continued on in an effort to get to Sondzela but stopped along the way at a small, touristy looking restaurant since I was now starving. I ate a bacon and avo salad, drank two much-needed cold beers and since they had wifi, got some work done. Eventually, at around 5pm, I headed off on the last 3kms to Sondzela. However, upon arrival, the gate staff told me I can’t use that entrance unless I have a pre-booking. They said apparently there is another entrance around the other side, 10km’s away, that I must use!

I told them it’s getting dark and I don’t have lights (although I do) but they wouldn’t listen and sent me on my way. I couldn’t believe the stupidity of it – Sondzela was right there but I must cycle around to another entrance for no reason? Needless to say, I wasn’t going to give them my business and won’t be recommending Sondzela to anyone. The most annoying part is that the route I took is the only route that Google Maps shows to get to Sondzela – the route they described doesn’t appear anywhere on the map that I could see.

Fortunately, my friend had just told me about another decent backpackers called Legends that she stayed at previously but was a fair distance away. I had no choice but to push on through and luckily it was mostly flat until the last few hundred metres, so I arrived before dark.

The backpackers offered camping for R100 ($6) so I checked in and set up my tent in their very decent, shaded campgrounds. I cooled off in the pool for a bit and then grabbed dinner and few beers from the nearby store before heading to bed, exhausted.

Day 8: White water rafting

After checking some maps, I realized I wouldn’t have enough time to cycle through the mountainous regions of Swaziland and still make it back to my family home in South Africa in time for Christmas.

Since I was now in a relatively popular tourist area, it would be one of the few places I could potentially catch a bus from over the worst of the mountains and back into South Africa, so I decided to do that.

It was unfortunate, because the mountains look lovely and I’m sure there are some amazing cycling routes, but the time of year was also not ideal – with high temperatures and flash storms. I chose to spend a day exploring Lobamba before heading off and resolved to return to Swaziland to explore further when I had more time.

I firstly arranged for a bus to take me and my bicycle to the nearby town of Nelspruit the following day, and then decided to do a half-day white water rafting trip .

The trip was decent and well organized although surprisingly short considering the R1,000 cost ($70). We only did four rapids, of which only one could really be considered a graded rapid (3+). The first two ‘rapids’ were essentially just fast flowing water and the second just a sluice down a weir.

We then reached the final rapid which was impressively big and my
paddling companion and I were thrown out of our raft, with me smashing my elbow into a rock fairly hard. Despite the pain, I was glad to have had the opportunity to face a rapid that was an actual challenge.

Afterwards, we had lunch and beer provided by the tour group on the riverside and then headed back to the town. As an introductory taster course it’s probably acceptable and the drinks at the end were a nice addition, but I still felt it was a bit over-priced for what it was.

Cycling Africa – Days 1-5: South Africa

Day 1: Mtunzini to St Lucia

I awake at 4am in the campsite in Mtunzini. I’m camping alone and nobody else is up at this time but the sun is rising and its light enough to see. I use the campsite ablutions and then slowly begin to pack up my stuff. I see no point in showering as I’ll be covered in sweat again by 6am.

I sort all my bike stuff out as best I can and strap it all on in various ways, take one last swig of last nights whiskey and head off into the slowly brightening day. I would like to cycle the N2 freeway to St Lucia as it’s the most direct route but there is a toll-booth coming on from the Mtunzini on-ramp and I’m uncertain they will allow me through. I choose to cycle through with confidence as if I do it every day and nobody appears to notice, although after about 50 metres I hear a muffled shout – oops, too late.

Technically, cycling on the freeway is illegal but I’ve been informed by some people on cycle forums that police are unlikely to pay any attention to you unless it’s within a city. I forge on fearlessly, 18-wheeler trucks zooming past within inches as the road’s shoulder varies in width from a few metres to a few centimetres.

There are lots of roadworks on this section of road so I spend the next two hours squeezing between construction barriers and piles of sand. Eventually, a newly-paved but as yet unutilized road appears on my left, so I take the chance and begin cycling on it, hoping my tyres won’t sink into the tar at any point. I pass a few workers and construction vehicles and nobody seems to mind so I continue, enjoying an entire four-lane highway to myself. Unfortunately, my luck runs out eventually and the tar road turns to unpaved gravel. I decide to test cycling in the stormage drain, which works fairly well but at various intervals, it disappears and I need to rejoin the crazy traffic.

By 8 am I reach a service station with a Wimpy and decide to stop for breakfast. For safety, I hoist my bicycle over the fencing of the outdoor seating area of the Wimpy so I can keep an eye on it from inside. Upon entering, I see a man wearing an official-looking shirt step outside and eye my bike. I ask him if it’s okay that its there, thinking him to be a manager, but it turns out he’s just a customer admiring my bike. A cyclist himself, he offers to buy me breakfast and we take a table together. It turns out he’s a land surveyor heading along the same route as me and even offers to give me a lift but I decline, explaining that it would defeat the object.

We get chatting about cycling and it turns out he’s good friends with a cycling blogger I follow called Blonde on a Bike – a woman named Bridget whom, he informs me, is, in fact, South African and lives in the nearby town of Howick. We eat together and I tell him of my plans, show him my blog and we swap Facebook contact details. I stupidly ordered a second coffee, thinking Wimpy still do free refills, and ended up costing him a bit more on breakfast than he expected. Kindly, he still refuses my offer to split the bill.

We go our separate ways and I fill up my water container before heading back out on to the road. The next section is far quieter, once I pass Richard’s Bay, and the road becomes a simple, dual lane bi-directional road with a very wide, comfortable shoulder. This is a big industrial logging area, lined with endless rows of tall gum trees and a never-ending stream of huge, logging trucks zooming past to collect the days wood. I still cycle in the stormage drain whenever I can just for added safety but it mostly feels like a nice country road out here.

As the day wears on, the heat increases exponentially and I begin to run low on water. Checking my map, I can see that there is a turn off slightly earlier than my intended turn off that weaves past a lake. I decide to get off the freeway here and hope to find somewhere to get water, if not from the lake as a last resort. I cycle on down a deserted road through what appears to be conservation area and eventually stop at a small guest house that advertises a stall. I don’t have any cash to buy water and tragically, their pump is not working. The guy also informs me that the only route to the lake is down a steep, dirt road – something I’ll undoubtedly struggle to get back.

I discard the lake plans and check Google maps. There appears to be a small safari resort up ahead and down a side road, so I head in that direction. It takes me along a very bumpy, sandy dirt road and I have to push my bike at sections, but I eventually arrive. There is nobody around but one of the farm hands point me towards a tap. I’m sure it’s borehole water and can’t be certain its potable but at this point I’ll take what I can get. I fill up and relax in the shade of a tree for a bit before heading back out.

It’s peak sun now at midday and I have to continue along a horrible, bumpy dirt road for a few kilometres before the tar starts again. On reflection, I should have just stayed on the freeway until my turn off – now I’m stuck in rural farmland. Just before I reach the tarred section a local guy on an old, rickety bicycle passes me and I decide I really need to up my game, so I start pedaling hard. Unfortunately, this shakes my bag free from my pannier and it crashes off on to the ground. Luckily, none of my stuff is broken, especially my laptop. I try to strap it on a bit tighter but I’m missing a bungee cord so it’s not very stable.

Eventually, after one more rest stop, I reach the tar road and plan to stop for lunch and a much-needed rest at the Spur steak restaurant in a nearby town a few kilometres ahead. I reach the Spur a sweaty mess and they kindly let me keep my bicycle safely inside the door while I eat. I decide its a good opportunity to do some work and fortunately, their WiFi is working for once. I order the cheapest thing on the menu, a chicken mayo sandwich, and get to it.

After two hours of work and copious glasses of water, I feel I’m rested enough for the last 30 kilometres to St Lucia. I figure it should only take two hours at most but little do I realise there is an endless stream of rolling hills between here and the coast. Despite my rest and feet, my legs are still broken and I’m pretty much drained of energy. More so, with each kilometre I head away from the freeway and towards the coast I become increasingly aware that I have to do this all again tomorrow in reverse. I figure I’ve come all this way, though, and it would be sad to miss out on St Lucia.

Eventually, after what seems like a hundred hills, I arrive in the small town of St Lucia and head towards a backpackers my friend has told me about. Unfortunately, they inform me they don’t have WiFi because there is a problem with the Internet across the entire town. I figure since I can’t work anyway I’ll just camp somewhere cheap and head back to the Spur in the morning for breakfast and work there. They direct me to another backpackers down the road that offers camping for R100 ($7).

When I arrive at the backpackers, the camping section is under construction so they kindly offer me a bed in a dorm for the same price. It’s only a two-bed dorm and nobody else is there so I basically get my own private room for R100. The backpackers looks like it recently burnt down and so facilities aren’t great as most things are in various stages of reconstruction. I don’t mind though as I’m so tired I feel ready to go straight to sleep. I decide to have a brief look around town, quickly grab some food and then head to bed.

On my wanders, I come across a seafood restaurant that has half-price sushi on Wednesday nights. Despite it still being out of my budget, I can’t turn down a sushi special and there doesn’t appear to be much else in the town so I eat three small plates of various sushi rolls and drink two beers. Around about 8pm I walk back to the backpackers and fall asleep before my head hits the pillow.

Day 2: St Lucia

I decide to spend day 2 relaxing my legs after a hard first day. After getting to sleep at 8pm, I awake very early and have a coffee while doing some work. I then head off to Wimpy for breakfast and to try find some Wifi, but unfortunately, theirs isn’t working either. Instead, I just write content for some blogs I’ve been meaning to do while eating bacon, eggs and chips with tea – like a true Brit.

Eventually, I discover an internet cafe with a semi-decent connection and get the majority of the rest of my work done. I then head back to the hostel to check out and get my stuff. After a bit of deliberation, I decid to check into Monzi Safari’s backpackers rather than cycle far out of town to the caravan park. It’s a bit more pricey than I would normally do, at R220, but turns out to be a good choice.

Monzi’s has an incredible setup, with two lush swimming pools surrounded by beautiful, shaded loungers and well-equipped kitchen and BBQ area. They also do a free, albeit small, breakfast and allow guests to bring in their own alcohol – even offering fridge space!

I grab some much-needed supplies from the nearby shops, including bungee cords, a new cooking pot, bicycle lube and a knife for protection. I also grabb a six pack of beer and then spend lunch relaxing by the pool drinking for a few hours.

In the early afternoon I decide to use my spare time wisely and explore the surrounding beach area on my bike. I cycle down to the coast and investigate a few beaches, encountering some guys who have gotten their 4×4 stuck in the sand and then promptly driven into a tree. I offer to try tow them with my bicycle but they just glance at me and then get back to the car.

I then head south towards the Boat Club which takes me along a 4×4 only road that crosses a section of the beach. Despite my best 4×4 cycling efforts, I have to push my bike for a bit but am rewarded by an awesome wooden path through a nature reserve in the St Lucia estuary.

Coming out the other side, I discover the Boat Club where I chill for a bit and have a beer with a plate of chili poppers and test whether I can work purely from my phone. Turns out it’s not too hard.

I then head back to the backpackers for one last chill session and a few more beers by the pool. There doesn’t seem to much happening at the backpackers or in town so I decide to get an early night. Just before bed I receive a message from a friend warning of a potential riot blocking the route I need to take tomorrow. If the riot happens, I not only might not be able to get to my destination but could get caught up in the violence.

I decide to sleep on it and see if I can get more information in the morning.

Day 3: St Lucia

I awake at 6am and have an early breakfast, still uncertain about whether I should risk the ride into a potential riot. I’m not too concerned with actually getting caught up in the riot, just that it’s 30km to the N2 highway and if I get stopped by traffic police there then I will just have to cycle all the way back. I don’t really have time to wait a few hours for the protests to be over otherwise I won’t make my next stop before dark.

Eventually, I decide to wait it out one more day, which is unfortunate as I’m already a day behind and want to spend the weekend in Swaziland. Now, I’ll be lucky to get there by Monday, which means I might miss a day or two of work – money I can hardly do without. Unfortunately, with cycle touring it’s best not to plan to be somewhere on a specific date as you will almost certainly be late.

Fortunately, Monzi backpackers is lovely so I’m not too upset. I spend the morning getting as much work done as I can and then cycle out to explore the Cape Vidal nature reserve. Upon arrival at the gate the woman guarding says I can go in with a bicycle, however, she fails to mention that about 500m down the road there is another fence that clearly states “no bicycles allowed” and has a picture of lions, elephants, hippos and leopards. This gate isn’t manned or closed though, it just has one of those grids that animals can’t walk over, so I figure if there really are lions in here they would certainly have better security.

I cycle in a short way and briefly consider just ignoring the sign but in the end I chicken out, not wanting to be that idiot cyclist who gets eaten by a lion on the third day of his trip.
I cycle around the part of the park that isn’t fenced off along some pretty hairy sand roads and see some zebra and impala. Then I take a side road and discover a horse riding school with a pen full of beautifully kept horses.

By now it’s hot and lunch is calling, so I head back and decide to have a braai (BBQ) and see if any guests would like to join in. I buy some meat, beer and wood and head back, only to be told by the staff I can’t make a wood fire. Luckily, somebody has left some charcoal, so I make a small fire and begin to cook my food. Nobody is around to join, though, so I eat and drink alone and have enough leftover for dinner and possibly even breakfast tomorrow.

Then I just spend the rest of the afternoon lounging by the pool, drinking beer and doing a bit more work. I also finish my long overdue blog about sailing Australia. Although there are a few people hanging about the hostel, it’s mostly couples, unlike in South East Asia where most people are single and traveling solo or in a friends group. As a result, I don’t see any opportunities to link up with a group to go out with and decide to just watch a movie on the communal TV and get to bed early.

Day 4: St Lucia to Hluhluwe

Finally, it’s time to head off, so I awake early, pack my stuff and grab some breakfast. I’m done and on the road by 8:30 am.

Things begin fairly well, even though I have to cycle out along the same rolling hills I had come in on. Fortunately, I don’t have the headwind this time and with fresh legs, it takes half the amount of time it took coming in.

I fill up my water at a gas station just before the turnoff to the N2 and chat to the security guard who can’t believe that I live in a tent and am cycling to Tanzania. He says I’m crazy. I agree.

Once I get on the N2, the cursed headwinds return and for the next two hours I fight into them, moving about 5 km an hour up and down hills. Eventually, they recede somewhat and I manage to pick up the pace a bit.

After about 30km, I reach a fairly populated area that goes on for miles and has a wide sidewalk away from the street. This makes for an awesome cycle path and I ride along it for hours saying hi to all the locals I pass. They have little stalls selling pineapples and tea which remind me a lot of India but don’t have any cash on me so can’t buy anything.

Eventually, at around 1pm I arrive at a service station just outside Hluhluwe. I stop for lunch and have a nice discussion with a woman who is a tour guide in the area and kindly offers me some good advice about the hilly areas and where to stay in Swaziland. After a burger and coke, I refill my water and head off to do the last 6km to Bahati campsite. This takes me along a fairly bumpy dirt road which isn’t too bad but when I eventually arrive at the campsite, it looks closed. I decide to try continue on to a backpackers I can see on Google Maps called Bushbaby – closer to the centre of town. Unfortunately, after 4 more kilometres of bumpy dirt road, I reach a very deserted, rundown town and a sign for Bushbaby pointing back the way I have come!

Annoyed, I cycle back and ask some guys in a truck if they know where it is. We get into a discussion of my travels and again they can’t believe what I ‘m doing. The one guy even says “you are lying, you could not have cycled from St Lucia”. Haha, it’s not even that far!

Eventually, unable to find Bushbaby I ring the number of Bahati and a women answers. She asks my name and then opens the gate remotely to let me in, describing how to get to the campsite. It must be low season as the entire game reserve and campsite is completely deserted. I cycle past some impala on the way in and then set up my tent and go for a swim in the swimming pool.

For dinner, I try to make spaghetti with a tin of onion and tomato, only to realize that I don’t have a tin opener and have to settle for spaghetti and cup-a-soup. It begins to sound like a storm is coming so I move my tent under a steel cover and spend some time updating my blogs before heading off to bed.

Day 5: Entering Swaziland

I struggle to sleep because I’m camped on a concrete floor under the steel roof, so I awake a bit later than planned at about 4:30am and, after packing up, only get on the road just before six.

I get warmed up along the dirt road out of Hluhluwe and am greeted by local workers as they walk to the game reserves and farms. I reach the N2 fairly quickly and then pick up the pace, enjoying the wide shoulder and lack of headwind for once.

I am passed by the occasional truck and car along this section but otherwise, the traffic is fairly quiet. Eventually, after about two hours of straight roads and minor hills, I reach a slightly more built-up area that has a number of villages along the roadside. To avoid pedestrians walking in the street the council have built a smooth, wide pavement separate from the road that goes on for miles.

Since it isn’t too busy with pedestrians I decide to cycle along this. It gives the advantage of being away from traffic as well as putting me closer to the villages and locals, all of whom wave enthusiastically and shout “hello” or “sawubona” as I pass.

I stop around 10am at a service station in Mkuze and eat a ham and mushroom pizza for breakfast along with a coffee. Then I stock up on water and snacks, since this is the last stop for the next 50km’s or so to Pongola nature reserve where the Swaziland border post is.

After leaving Mkuze, traffic thins out drastically and I sometimes don’t see a vehicle for up to ten minutes at a time. Again the road is straight and long with occasional small hills until I get near to the border. Then it starts to climb steadily and doesn’t let up for a long while. After about an hour climbing I come over a ridge into a mountainous valley with beautiful, twisting roads snaking along the cliffside.

After a brief and thrilling downhill run, I have to climb again for another half an hour or so out of the valley and over the next pass. Fortunately, this is the last one and as I reach the bottom I stop on a bridge to rest and take photos.

It is scorching hot by now but I only have a few kilometres to go until the border so I figure I should get there by 2pm. I don’t account for one final, long climb after the turn off to the border. I’m so hot I can’t make it up the hill so I stop in the shade of a tree and almost finish my water while desperately trying to cool down.

I rest for half an hour before struggling over the last bit of the rise and coasting down into the nature reserve below. I fly over the animal grate and shoot into the park at full speed, noticing a number of impala and kudu skittering away on the roadside.

I arrive quite soon at the border post, which is tiny and deserted, so within minutes I have my passport stamped and leave South Africa. On the way out the security guard is very interested in my trip and chats to me for awhile. At first I think he is suspicious but he turns out to just be curious, tells me I’m crazy, and sends me on my way.

Goon With The Wind: Two Weeks Sailing in Australia

(with acknowledgment to Margaret Mitchell)

I’m in a Dan Murphy’s bottle store near Harbour Town in Australia’s Gold Coast region, just south of Brisbane. It’s brightly lit and cavernous, with row after row of wine, beer, spirits and any booze you could want. Tomorrow, I will join legendary New Zealand powerboat racer Jim Harris on his 42-foot catamaran for a two-week trip sailing in Australian along the east coast.

How do you stock up on enough booze for two weeks on a boat? In my mind, I imagine there may be many long hours with little else to do but drink.

Australia has the answer: Goon.

For as little as 10 Aussie dollars (£7.50) you can get five liters of questionable quality wine, all nicely and securely backed into an aluminum sack safely guarded by a cardboard box. It may not be Châteauneuf de Pap, but at least you can use the bag as a flotation device when you’re drowning.

Make no mistake – this is no South African ‘papsak’, or American ‘box-wine’, no siree – this is GOON. It’s an Aussie past time, a part of their culture. It may as well be on the friggin’ flag.

I buy two, just to be sure.

With the goon and I ready to go, I pack my life into a backpack and prepare for the morning departure.


Day 1

We depart around lunch time, pop open a few beers and sail up the waterways that surround Brisbane. On route, we stop at a services marina to get fuel and water. I learn my first bit of sailing skills – tying a knot off on a jetty pier – it’s a simple case of looping the rope under itself so it pulls itself tight.

That evening we anchor in a small protected bay, still within the Brisbane waterways, and have the first of many drunken dinners on the boat.


Day 2

I awake early due to my bed being located directly over the generator, which needs to be on almost constantly due to a problem with the batteries. By the time I crawl out of my bed we’re already moving and we have breakfast on the go. Throughout the day we gradually make our way out of the Brisbane shipping channel as massive container ships pass us and eventually break into the open sea in the afternoon.

We need to sail throughout the night for the next few days due to there being nowhere to anchor until Lady Musgrave Island, a few hundred clicks north. This means the two skippers need to take turns sailing through the night and we need to take turns keeping them company.

I opt to do the morning shift, so after dinner and a few glasses of goon, I get an early nights sleep. I awake at 3 am feeling relatively good, considering, and join second-in-command Rodney at the helm. It’s utterly pitch black and we sail by radar only, hoping there is nothing large floating out here in the ocean. I stroll out on deck briefly but the wind is howling and I can’t see a thing – if I were to fall overboard nobody would hear me scream.

As 4 am rolls around the sky slowly begins to brighten and I can ever so slightly see shimmering reflections off the waves. The sky morphs from dull yellow into bright orange and red and for the first time, I can see the horizon all around us and no land in sight. We are alone in the ocean and at its mercy – a new experience for me.



Day 3

Rodney heads to bed soon after daybreak and Captain Jim takes over. I make us coffee and begin to prepare breakfast as the rest of the crew stirs. The 4-berth boat has a tiny kitchen that is well equipped – with two gas cookers, a small oven, fridge, and a microwave. There is also a separate freezer to keep meat and other perishables. As we bob from side to side, I try to maintain my balance and successfully whip up some eggs and bacon for everyone.

We sail throughout the day, taking turns at the helm, and Jim teaches me a bit about fishing. He keeps two fishing rods permanently cast out the back of the boat and we need to listen for the sound of the reel in case of a catch. Presently, one of the rods start unraveling and Jim calls me to grab it and shows me how to reel it in. As I’m pulling in a small tuna, a shark leaps out the water directly over my line, trying to steal my catch! I manage to pull it in though and get a further lesson in skinning and gutting it.

By early afternoon we begin drinking, for lack of any other activity, and by early evening I’m ready for bed. After a quick dinner, I opt to wake at 3 am again and head off to sleep.


Day 4

When I awake this time, Jim is behind the wheel. We have some coffee and he teaches me how to read the instruments and navigate the boat. As before, we sail on blindly into darkness putting our trust in the radar. Just before the sun begins to rise, Jim heads off for much-needed rest and leaves me to navigate alone. Fortunately, the boat has auto-pilot so navigating mostly just means keeping an eye on the controls and the horizon.


Soon after Jim leaves, I hear one of the fishing reels unraveling. The cartridge the line coils around makes a loud whirring noise as a fish yanks it out to sea. With no time to wake Jim, I grab the reel and start cranking the handle like mad, pulling in what feels like a whale. Eventually, I get the fish close enough for a good look – it’s a small tuna. I reel it in anyway and attempt to get the hook out its mouth but just as I do so it flops right out my hands and back into the ocean. The one that got away!

A short while later the crew awakens and I regale them with the story of how I lost our dinner, which is met with skepticism at best. We eat breakfast and continue to sail throughout the morning until we reach our first stop of the trip, Lady Musgrave Island.

Lady Musgrave Island is a tiny atoll off the coast of Bundaberg with a large, enclosed coral reef and a small circular island around 1000 metres in circumference. A narrow entrance has been cleared through the coral so that boats can enter and anchor within the reef. We carefully navigate in and find an available buoy to tie up to before lowering the small coastal access boat (called a tender). We all squeeze in and begin chugging off to explore the tiny island.

The island is host to a small diving campsite, a selection of birds and a bizarre amount of sea slugs crawling in and out of the coral. We cross from one end of the island to the campsite in a few minutes and then walk around the circumference back to the boat, exploring a curious lookout point along the way that reminded me of that old HBO show Lost, about the mysterious deserted island.

On returning to the yacht we decide we should set off again and sail through to the Percy Isles where we will anchor for the night. We set off in a northwesterly direction and with autopilot guiding us, settle into a lengthy, boozy lunch. Upon arrival, we dock in a calm, secluded bay just off the Percy Isles and have a relaxing night on the boat.


Day 5

We head around to the main Percy Island in the early morning and dock offshore from the entrance to the lagoon. After breakfast on the boat, we jump in the tender and head to shore. The main island in the Percy Isles features an amazing, decades-old wooden A-frame structure built on the beach which is a popular stopping point for boaties sailing in Australia.

The entire structure is covered inside and out with the names of sailors, their boats and the dates they came to shore – inscribed on whatever bit of driftwood or material that was available at the time. Some of the oldest ones date back as much as 50 years! We explore the A-frame for a few minutes and then begin the two-hour walk inland to visit the 100-year old homestead built high up in the centre of the island by early settlers.

The walk takes us up a relatively steep incline through thick forest before breaking out into a stunning view across to South Percy island. We arrive at the homestead and are greeted by a collection of goats and peacocks. The current occupier welcomes us in and offers us some lemonade which we graciously accept and provide him with a gift in the form of a bottle of wine – something that is, no doubt, hard to come by out here.

After a brief chat about the history of the island, we say our thanks and begin the walk back down along a slightly different route. As we descend, I see a number of small snakes or similar creatures scurry off the path into the bushes. The end of the path takes us to a small inlet that hosts a boathouse and jetty but since its low tide, the entire thing is dry. A few sailboats sit propped-up on the seabed looking like bizarre shipwrecks that somehow didn’t fall over.

Once back I decide to get some exercise and swim back to the boat, which proves to be easier than I expected. I then get a beer and kayak back to the shore to enjoy it in the A-frame before boarding and preparing to head off through the night to our next destination.  

Day 6

We sail through the night again and I join Captain Jim in the early morning as the sun begins to rise. Suddenly the reel starts spinning on one of the fishing rods and I jump up to pull in whatever catch we have. Jim stops the motor so it’s easier to pull in the reel but as a result, the boat begins to turn slightly with the wind. This causes the fishing reel to drift sideways and get caught up in the propellers of the wind generator, which sits high up on a pole at the back of the boat. We watch helplessly as the line coils around the propeller and grinds the entire thing to a halt.

Seeing no other option, Jim climbs up and begins trying to unravel the tangled line while I hang on loosely to the remaining line, the fish having now escaped. While I’m busy pulling in the remaining line to retrieve the tackle, Jim manages to free the tangled line. However, this causes the propeller to spin up again and smash him in the head, inflicting a huge, bloody gash above his eye. He falls on to the deck grasping his head and stumbles off towards the kitchen swearing, but I’m unable to help as I have both hands gripping the remaining line. While frantically trying to get the line reeled in I shout after him to ask if he’s okay but he returns momentarily clutching a wad of tissue paper to his head and swearing like only a sea captain can.

Having sailed once more throughout the night and most of the day, we anchor at lunch time just offshore from another small, uninhabited island. The entire coastline around here is dotted with small islands with varying degrees of habitation, although many are in protected conservation areas and don’t allow any construction. We briefly explore the small beach and I attempt to discover the source of some rustling in the nearby bushes, but to no avail.

The cliffs overlooking the beach appear to be inhabited by some kind of small bird that makes a bizarre sound, almost like a laser gun from an old 90’s computer game. Although we can constantly hear them we never manage to actually see one. Eventually, we retire to the boat for a beer. Since we are anchoring here for the night we can all happily get drunk without anyone having to stay sober to drive.

Day 7

We arrive at Mackay Harbour very early in the morning, before the marina is even open, and have breakfast on the boat while waiting to refuel and get a mooring. Once settled we head out to restock on basic supplies like food and goon. Once in town, I find a Red Rooster with Wi-Fi and get some much-needed work done while eating somewhat dry chicken and chips.

Then we hit the bottle store, stock up on beer, whiskey and wine and head back to the boat. We spend a pleasant night in the marina wining and dining in style on quality fresh goon and the spotted mackerel Jim caught the previous night while he entertains us with tall-tales of his years sailing in Australia.


Day 8

As soon as the tide is right the next morning, we head out of the marina and set sail north for the Whitsunday islands. We set course for Whitehaven beach, a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. Upon arriving we tender to the shore and take a walk down the beach amongst the throngs of tourists. It feels odd to be around crowds of people again after a week of almost complete solitude on the open ocean.

We then continue on to a small inlet where we moor for the night. Apparently, there is a path over the island that takes us to a beautiful viewpoint of Whitehaven estuary but the tide is so low now that we are unable to get the tender to shore. We decide to try again in the morning and settle in for a night of goon, whiskey and loud power ballads, no doubt annoying the surrounding boaties.


Day 9

After a rather hungover breakfast and copious amounts of coffee, we splutter to shore in the little boat and begin the hike over the island. It’s quite busy as a few day trippers have arrived in the morning and chosen to do the same. It’s a lovely walk though and the view is totally worth it, the ocean appearing a spectacular aqua colour from the increased vantage point. We take several photos from the various viewing platforms and then head back.

On the way to the boat, Jim spots a friend and they chat about where the best spots for snorkelling are and he tells us about some giant sea turtles he saw that morning in the nearby river that comes into the bay. We head off to explore and although we see the occasional head, the water is a bit too murky by now to get any good photographs underwater.

We reboard the yacht and head off to another small bay where we explore some old aboriginal caves and then watch dolphins swim around the boat after the sun sets.


Day 10

Today we head off to Airlie to do some shopping and explore the town.  We moor in a bay around the headland from Airlie and catch a bus into town while Jim stays aboard with Rodney to do some repairs on the engine. I need to get some work done, so after a rather lame McDonalds lunch, I chill at the famous Magnums pub while the others go shopping for more goon.

Back on the boat, we decide to head to Hamilton Island where Jim’s wife, Carlene (who came up with the fabulous name for this article), is flying in to meet us. We dock in the exceptionally posh harbour and I proceed to stink the place out because I need the toilet and don’t realise the valves underneath the boat are still open. Fortunately, we don’t get evicted, yet, but I feel sorry for any fish in that harbour. Goon does weird things to your digestive system.

That evening we hire golf carts (standard transport apparently) and head up to one of the highest points on Hamilton Island with spectacular 360 views around the entire collection of isles. There is a band playing old pop covers and a bar serving some kind of pink lemonade cocktail. It’s all very congenial in comparison to the time we have spent at sea drinking cheap bourbon and box wine. After a mind-blowing sunset, we head back down to have dinner on the boat and apologize to the goon for cheating on it.

Day 11

After doing some much-needed washing and a spot of shopping, we explore the island a little further before returning the golf carts and preparing to head out again. This time we are on a mission to find some good snorkeling spots and head off to Haselwood Island, which Jim’s friend has recommended.

Unfortunately, the swell on the main reef is very choppy so we have to moor around the corner in a smaller bay and wait for the wind to die. Luckily we manage to find a fairly decent section of reef along the coastline of the bay and got some good snorkeling in there just before the sun begins to set.

Day 12

The following day we attempt Haselwood bay again but are unable to anchor successfully, so head off to Butterfly bay, which is a popular snorkeling spot. Despite the popularity of it, I find it to be murkier and with less impressive reef than the previous bay. We do manage to spot a few giant sea turtles though before heading back to anchor in the calm waters of the small inlet where we explored the aboriginal caves.

I decide to kayak around another small inlet I had seen earlier to explore for more reefs and discover a beautiful, calm little bay protected from the wind. No reef though but some interesting birds flying about.  We enjoy a final, boozy night on the boat, chilling with cockatoos, polishing off the remaining goon and reminiscing on the past two weeks.

How to Travel Indefinitely

travel

How long your traveling lasts and how much it costs depends fully on your travel style.  I traveled over the course of a year with just under $9,000 hitting 12 countries. If you’re looking for ways to stay in luxurious hotels and fine dining on your journey, this isn’t the post for you. Here’s the best way to travel on a tight budget to guarantee a long-lasting adventure.


Volunteer programs

There are a lot of volunteer programs all over the world that offer free room and board in exchange for your help for ‘X’ amount of days, weeks, months or even years. Not only do you get free accommodation and meals, but you also get an amazing experience with organic farms, Italian vineyards, yachts, teaching abroad, meditation retreats, jungle tree-houses, and the list goes on and on. Here’s a list of a few that you should check out:

Workaway

This is a great, easy-to-use site that you can sign up for that guarantees amazing experience all over the world. All you have to do is:

  1. Pay $25 for one year in order to sign up
  2. Set up your profile
  3. Select the place you want to go

And in three easy steps, you are good to go!

Because of Workaway, I volunteered in the hills of Wales to help take care of a beautiful pack of professionally trained malamutes (1 month/-80 pounds). I helped a screenwriter/novelist bring her garden back to life in Belgium and she even paid me if I put it in extra hours (1 month/+50 Euros), and I taught English in Vietnam (2 months/+$200) They provided me with a motorbike, clinic runs and gave me a single, private room. This was a huge money saver and a great experience.

Tip: Send out a lot of personalized requests, don’t copy/paste. Sometimes I had to send out quite a few messages to get a score, but I always scored nonetheless. Also, when you fly into certain countries, check out their visa requirements.

WWOOF

This stands for “Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms”.

WWOOFing is available in 53 countries, and how long you volunteer is entirely up to you and the host.

WWOOF, unlike Workaway and HelpX, focuses more on sustainable living through a variety of different farms you can choose from, depending on your preference.

In exchange for a day’s work, you get free room and board, and depending on the arrangements you made, you can stay for a week, to a month or even an entire season.

HelpX

HelpX is a similar setup to Workaway, volunteering free room and board in exchange for your volunteering, and you can choose from many different areas. Most hosts have accounts on both websites, so I’d suggest just signing up for one to save more of that tight budget of yours. If you’re not sure which one to sign up for, no worries! Workaway and HelpX both allow you to search through their host database for free, so you can see which one you prefer and then go on about your business.


Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing isn’t a volunteer program, but it’s an amazing way to stay with a local for a couple nights, possibly make a friend and experience the area in a much more authentic flavor.

Couchsurfing is a site where you type the place you’re looking to go, hosts pop up, read their profile and send them a message. No volunteering, just a simple concept of integration and genuine people loving the idea of meeting and sharing stories!

And it’s not sketchy. Each host gets reviewed and rated by the people that visit, so you know if they’re a good fit or not. And as a couch surfer, you get reviewed and rated too!

The cool thing about couch surfing is you can do last minute requests in case something goes off plan (saved me tons), you can use the app to see other backpackers that are close-by, they have events near wherever you are posted on their website/app so you can mingle with like-minded people. It’s great, free and I’ve made some serious connections this way. I stayed in Turkey with an amazing group of college students for over 2 weeks. I can come back anytime!

Peace Corps

The Peace Corps is a good option for those out of university and aren’t sure what to do next or somebody who wants to quit their job to travel but just isn’t sure how to afford it.

This is a more long-term commitment and most volunteer opportunities require college degrees, work experience, and a resume. It’s a little bit more competitive but definitely doable and no more than applying for a job. (Each volunteer program have different prerequisites, go to their website to see what you’ll need)

However, this is a beautiful way to travel around the world, make a difference and help out the communities that need it. They take care of your accommodation and your meals with some other benefits, and if you commit 1-2 years to the peace corps, they reimburse you $8,000 for your time to help you get settled whenever you return home.


Networking

This is pretty huge if you’re trying to travel with a tight budget. This little concept allowed me to jump through 4 European countries without paying anything for accommodation, and I made great friends.

Networking is simply just putting yourself out there and meeting amazing people. If it’s your first time traveling and you’re doing it alone, don’t be afraid to talk to other backpackers, locals or anybody else for that matter. I flew out by myself, but the entire year I was never alone. Backpackers always integrate and join plans, so don’t plan your trip down to the T, you have to leave room for the unexpected.

I can’t tell you how many times I would go out, see an interesting crew and start chatting. Before I knew it, I’m ditching my old plans of doing this or that and then we’d all start on a little journey together for a couple weeks.

I met people from all over SE Asia and the UK that welcomed me to visit anytime, and most travelers have an integrity you can count on, so when it came time for me to go through, I took them up on their word, and it was amazing seeing my old travel buddies in their homestead.

This is a natural process of networking. I wasn’t planning on meeting them, I wasn’t planning on going to Turkey, Austria, Germany or Holland, Wales or the UK for as long as I did, but because of what always happens on an adventure- the unexpected- I was able to extend my trip much longer because of the lovely friends I made.

“You have friends everywhere, you just haven’t met them yet.


Hitch-hiking

There’s a lot of stigma around this travel method, but it’s a great experience and it gets you far without any expense.

I hitchhiked with a few people I met through- ahem, networking – and we went from Vang Vieng to Vientiane, Vientiane to the 4,000 Islands. We then hitch-hiked across the Cambodian border to Siem Reap, from Siem Reap we hitched it down to Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh to Otres Beach. From Otres beach we had to take the bus to get back through the Thai border to Bangkok. From Bangkok, we hitch-hiked to Krabi.

We hitch-hiked around 3,000 KM and didn’t spend a dime on transport (except the one time we had to take the bus). We had no issues, no problems. There were 3 of us, and we still got picked up. You can see my “Hitch-hiking through SE Asia” post here to know more.


Camping

This is a method I definitely wouldn’t recommend unless you’re really wanting to extend your trip for as long as possible, which we did.

By “camping”, I don’t mean paying for a campsite, because campsites can be pretty pricey depending on where you’re at. This is an unorthodox method my friend and I used quite a bit out in Europe.

I suppose I’m sharing this method because I want to share just how “rough” you can rough it if you’re a bit of a nutter like me and don’t mind coloring outside the lines in order to extend your journey.

So basically, we had a tent, and we would pitch it in areas that were kind of off the radar. It is illegal to pitch tents outside of a camping zone in most European countries, but when you travel on a tight budget, survival mode kicks in and you do what you need to do. We made sure we were out of the way, respectful towards the land and out of there by early morning. Sometimes, however, we weren’t out of the way enough and would get waken up by a park ranger of the sort. We didn’t get in any trouble, just asked to pick up and get. It did feel strange to feel like a lawbreaker just for trying to get a place to sleep outside of paying for a hotel.  It’s an interesting controversial topic.

However, there are areas where they implemented a “right to roam” which goes as follows:

   “In Scotland, the Nordic countries of Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and the Central European countries of Austria, Czech Republic and Switzerland, the freedom to roam takes the form of general public rights. The freedom to roam, or everyman’s right, is the general public’s right to access certain public or privately owned land for recreation and exercise. The right is sometimes called the right of public access to the wilderness or the right to roam.”

Which basically means, you can pitch a tent without paying for campsites. We did this in Scotland for a few nights until we met some people – there’s that networking again- who welcomed us to stay with them for over 2 weeks.

We took a bus out every night, pitched a tent near a beautiful stream in the woods, which so happened to be equipped with a fire pit, and lived like kings.


Hostels over hotels

This is a strong, strong recommendation. Hotels are expensive and you miss out on so much!

Hostels are convenient, have great deals, and it’s the best way to meet other travelers. Most hostels throw mingle parties, host free events and offer free meals. Just make sure you read reviews on hostels. I never had any issues with bed bugs or anything else, but other people have.

Also, if you want a discount on the room, visit Hostelworld or get their app, pay for the room online and you get can usually land a discount. Another tip, some hostels aren’t on some of the hostel sites. Most of the time we would just arrive in a city, walk around and see what we could find. We found way cheaper hostels this way versus looking through online booking.


Busking

This is a great way to make some pocket change if you can play a little tune – or even if you’re crafty. We traveled with some guitars, opened our case and played casually for a couple of hours. That would usually feed us for the day!

If you can make any type of art, I’d recommend setting up shop somewhere and see what you can catch. Make a little sign explaining your story, that definitely helps.

If you travel on a tight budget, try some of these tips and you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll extend your adventure indefinitely.

I went to Burning Man Festival in 2014

I arrive at San Francisco airport around midday. Despite an overnight flight from Ireland on which I barely slept, I’m feeling fresh and awake. Must be the excitement – it’s my first time in California.

I clear customs and then head towards the car rental office to collect our vehicle. We’ve booked a Chrysler ‘Town and Country’ minivan to be our home for the next week as we attend Burning Man. I’m a bit apprehensive, having never driven in America before. The car itself is cheap but additional GPS is $100 extra – a luxury I decide not to take. Stupidly, I also decide not to buy a local sim card.

As I drive out of the airport I realize I have no way of navigating. All I have is the address of the house in San Francisco where I need to meet the others. Fortunately, my sense of direction is spectacular as always and after a few hours and multiple stops to ask for directions, I eventually find it.

Bicycle Mission

After introductions and coffee, we all pile into the car and head out to get supplies for Burning Man. The only large Walmart is on the other side of the river in Oakland so we drive off there. We have ordered the majority of our campsite equipment online so all we really need are a few supplies and, of course, bicycles. Now, if you’ve ever been to Burning Man you will know that it has a fair amount of bicycles – pretty much the whole supply of California. We didn’t know this, so all that’s left when we get to the Oakland Walmart are three children’s BMX’s.

What can we do? We need bikes. So we buy them up anyway, grab some torches, batteries, cooking gear and other crap and head back. Naturally, we get completely lost on the way back, drive over the Golden Gate bridge twice, go through some tunnel, end up on an island and eventually get home late that night.

Earthquake!

I wake up and somebody is rocking my bed. Am I drunk? Where am I?

“Stop it”, I protest, groggily.

“Earthquake!” somebody shouts.

It’s dark and the room is moving but I can just make out the figure of a person as they run to stand under a door frame. I want to move but before I can react, it’s over.

“What happened?”, I ask.

“Nevermind”, someone says. “It was just a minor earthquake.”

We go back to sleep.

Road Trip

I wake up and look around. The room has not collapsed.

“I had the weirdest dream.”, I say. “There was an earthquake.”

“Oh no, that really happened.”, a friend replies.

Apparently, nobody else is fazed. Welcome to California.

We pack the car, pile in and head off for our first ever visit to Black Rock City, Nevada

On route, we stop at another Walmart and buy a ridiculous amount of water. For some reason, the girls think we need five liters per person per day. I know there is no possible way we’ll drink even half of it but I don’t bother arguing.  I buy whiskey.

Unfortunately, it means we need to strap the bicycles to the back since the car is now 50% water.

The drive is beautiful and we listen to some ridiculous Jamaican gabba-core and stop for $1 tacos at Del Taco in Reno. On arrival, there is a huge queue of cars – as expected. After a few fun hours chilling out in the car, listening to music and moving a meter per hour, disaster strikes.

It starts to rain.

Desert Driveway

The problem with rain in a hard, parched desert is that the ground soaks it up and turns to thick, solid mud. Driving is impossible. The gate staff walk around between the endless lines of cars and campervans, breaking the news to those waiting in line: we won’t be moving anywhere soon. It’s getting dark and the rain doesn’t look to be letting up, so we put the seats down and settle in for the night.

Morning brings clear skies and sun but our renewed hope is quickly quashed – until the ground dries completely we can’t move. Fortunately, we’re surrounded by a veritable gaggle of party-hungry ‘burners and it doesn’t take long for things to kick off. Behind us, a campervan sets up a sound system and initiates a dancefloor while our neighbor to the left lights up a barbeque and starts cooking some wagyu beef burgers. We dance, drink, smoke and play boomerang until eventually, towards evening, we can finally move.

Once inside we head straight for a friend-of-a-friends campsite. We haven’t actually booked into an official camp but they’ve kindly offered to let us park off in the space behind them. We set up the campsite as best we can and explore our surroundings. Despite it being our first night, nobody is too keen to party. I guess it’s been a long day. After a few drinks in a nearby wooden tower-like structure, we head to bed early.

Day 1 – Drunken Exploring

We choose to spend day one getting associated with our immediate neighborhood. After discovering the bacon stall and getting free breakfast, we find a funky little bar with sofas. We make friends with a funny American guy, have some free mojitos and mess around with an animatronic Santa Claus. Moving on, we discover a make-up stall and proceed to cover ourselves in all kinds of paint and glitter. Typical burning man styles.

The day proceeds with us exploring various camps and bars, getting progressively drunk and eventually dancing the day away in one of the many music camps. In time I find myself gesticulating to techno music in a gay bar wearing nothing but white hotpants and fading makeup.  I watch from my podium inside the pink elephant as a giant set of teacups roll past with half-naked concubines hanging from conveniently-placed windows.

Day 2 – Playa Friends

Time to check out the real Playa. After some coffee and questionable canned breakfast, we get on our child-size BMX bikes and head in to explore the center – towards the very man himself. If you haven’t been to Burning Man, it’s difficult to accurately describe how big it is. Just the surrounding campsite itself is like a medium-size, horse-shoe shaped city, and in the center is a huge open desert the size of about thirty football pitches. Even on a bicycle, it would take an hour to cross. It doesn’t help when there is an endless collection of entertaining structures and artworks along the way.

We end up playing a game of makeshift ten-pin bowling which we have to win in order to use the toilet and then spend a few hours playing piano on a tree made out of mirrors. We take numerous photographs with half-dressed passers-by and climb rickety-looking art pieces that turn out to be exceptionally stable.

The sound of a beat draws us towards Distrikt, a huge dancefloor playing some exceptionally good techno from a bizarre stage setup. As the heat becomes too much we find shelter in a chill area serving free cider and spend the afternoon lounging on pillows as sobriety evades us.

The night is dark and full of color, one dance floor to the next. An octopus shoots fire from its mechanical arms as a neon yacht sails off into the night. Flashing lights, smoke, and explosions come from every direction… a carnival of chaos.

Day 3 – Temples and Castles

We awake in our tents. Somehow we made it back. It’s all a beautiful blur.

The bacon stall is calling but along the way, we get sidetracked and whiskey happens. A passing art car becomes a climbing gym and we get asked to join the naked morning run, but groggily decline. Some new friends have arrived and we join them in their campervan, a significant improvement on our refugee-style campsite. Joints do the rounds and conversation turns to the orgy dome and subtle hints of possible attendance. Someone points out that it would be advisable to go earlier on in the week while everyone is still relatively clean. Silence. Pondering.

Nobody ends up going.

Instead, we cycle over to the main Temple where we wander around inside, quietly reading the many somber notes people have written to those loved and lost. Afterward, we speak of climbing the nearby ‘Embrace’ structure but instead end up getting lost in the desert. A passing pirate ship on wheels materializes like a mirage out of the shimmering heat and guides us back to safety.

As evening descends we stop for drinks at a fancy looking campsite with a red carpet. We are welcomed in through thick, ornate wooden doors onto genuine Persian carpets and offered a seat at a mahogany bar counter.

“What would you like?” a well-dressed barman offers. They only stock the absolute top of the range liquors and everything, of course, is on the house. I take a 12-year old Glenmorangie on the rocks. It’s fabulous.

This is not a mirage.

The walls are decorated with hunting trophies, taxidermy, and original artworks. A chandelier hangs from the ceiling above plush leather sofas and a glass coffee table. I’ve certainly seen worse campsites in my life. We get talking to a couple who tell us they are staying in the camp to which the bar belongs. They paid $2000 each for the pleasure.

Later we cycle back across the Playa to a huge white castle that acts as a music venue. Somebody famous is playing, maybe Diplo or Skrillex, I’m not sure. We dance on scaffolding until the sun starts to rise and then we cycle back into the central area, weaving between artworks, sculptures, stalls and other drunken cyclists.

At a rest stop next to singing spheres of light we make friends with a random stranger who claims to have hitchhiked to the festival alone with nothing but a backpack. He tells tales of a wondrous place that dishes out free mimosas every morning and so we agree to accompany him on his quest.

Presently, we come across a tiny stall sitting smack-bang in the middle of nowhere, offering free hugs. A jovial, portly man in an animal costume emerges and enquires enthusiastically as to which type of hug we would like. Apparently, there is more than one type.

I forget which I chose but I’m confident it was the right one.

Hugged up and happy we continue on towards the rising sun, the promise of champagne and orange juice drawing us along.  Unfortunately, our new friend reveals himself to be less than reliable and takes us on a never-ending goose chase after non-existent mimosas. We eventually abandon the lost wanderer and reconvene back at the campsite, defeated and exhausted. As we flop down to sleep in what little shade our camp affords us we are left wondering if the mimosa stall, or indeed the man himself, ever existed in the first place.

Day 4 – A Sofa, a Sandstorm, and a Robot Heart

The campsite is a mess. Dusty bodies lie sprawled around empty tins of collard greens and beer bottles. The solar-powered lights have long since stopped working. Nobody can remember when they last showered. Hangovers hang on high tensions and short tempers cast long shadows.

Wearily, I make use of the one thing we have an almost endless supply of and boil some water. I have seldom encountered a problem that cannot be significantly improved with coffee and a smoke.

Bodies begin to stir. I’m unsure of the time, or day. Did we sleep through the night? Is the sun setting or rising? The smell of bacon suggests the latter but at Burning Man, one can never be sure.

Bacon is omnipresent.

After a slow gathering of thoughts and suggestions, we decide to abandon the squalor and venture out to discover a new world – presumably one with less dystopian undertones.

Our quest delivers us to none other than Michelle Rodriquez of ‘The Fast and the Furious’ fame (and, presumably, some other movies?) She’s on a Segway.

My friend says ‘hi’.

She says ‘hi’.

I miss the opportunity to make a ‘segue’ joke.

She’s gone.

Sheepishly, we enter the fancy campsite that she disappeared into and try to make ourselves comfortable on some huge, luxurious sofas. People are staring at us. Some of them look suspiciously like Hollywood actors. While nobody specifically asks us to leave we feel decidedly unwelcome. Maybe it’s just in our heads. Maybe not. We leave anyway.

Further down the path, we discover a camp called Sofa King, playing some exceptionally good drum & bass music to an empty dancefloor and the world’s largest sofa. We climb up onto the comfortable sofa and decide this is a vast improvement on Hollywood camp. As the day progresses the weather takes a turn and the wind picks up drastically.

We start heading back towards our home but along the way decide to take refuge in a friendly looking campsite with some beanbags and cocktails. A friend decides she wants to go find a recreational sedative meant for horses that she assures us we will enjoy and disappears into the gathering sandstorm.

That’s the last we ever see of her.

Until later that day when the sandstorm clears.

Sandstorm over and horse sedative unobtainable, we choose to rather go dance the night away at Robot Heart. Oddly enough, I find a man with a food cart gifting hotdogs in the middle of the dancefloor and graciously accept his offer of one while desperately trying to remember when I last ate.

Shortly before dawn, we accept an invitation onto a mutant vehicle that is actually a dragon on wheels heading off into the playa to watch the sunrise. Since we can’t take our bicycles we have no choice but to leave them lying amongst the piles of others at Robot Heart as its thumping beat fades into the distance and gives way to the rhythmic ambient sounds of the art car.

As the sun slowly rises we dance away on the rooftop, the mutant vehicle taking us in a wide loop that connects one end of the horseshoe city to the other. There it stops and lets people off while others come on,  like some bizarre desert ferry. We hop off to look around but there isn’t much in the way of music playing this side and while looking we miss the chance to board the ferry back.

With our bicycles on the other side of the playa, we have no option but to make the long walk back through the desert. Fortunately, the trek affords us some excellent photo opportunities of which I take full advantage.

A few hours later back at Robot Heart, which is now completely deserted, we discover one bicycle is inevitably missing. It’s my favorite one too – the prettiest one, with little pink handlebar tassels and a sparkly green frame. Nevertheless, we grab the remaining one and attempt to give each other lifts back to the campsite.

Day 5 – The Man Burns

We sleep most of the day and then awake towards the evening to prepare for the burning of the man, which is set to happen around midnight. We have hotel reservations in Vegas tomorrow night, meaning I will have to drive throughout the day and can’t really party tonight. On reflection, not the best planning.

However, after five days most of us are fairly ready to get going anyway and decide it would be best to pack up now and be ready to leave as soon as the burn is over  – that way beating any build up of traffic.

We wearily tear down the campsite and pile the car full of dust-covered tents, sleeping bags, and shade cloth. By the time we’re done I’m already exhausted. With the remaining bikes strapped to the back of the car, we embark on the long walk to the man where already a huge crowd has gathered.

We watch the burn, which is impressive but otherwise fairly uneventful, and then make the long walk back to the car and get ready to leave. Fortunately, we are one of the very few cars leaving and have a completely clear road out.

After driving for an hour I pull off on the side of the road to have a nap.

Everyone else is already asleep.

(SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE PICTURES)


 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Solo Travel

Ah yes, solo travel, that thing I never shut up about.  Whoever you are and wherever you’re from, at some point you will find yourself out there on the road alone.  Whether it be a business trip, a visit to the parents, or simply a desire to just get away from all – at some point, everybody must brave the long, dusty road alone.

Let’s look at some of the benefits, pitfalls and general nastiness of solo travel.


THE GOOD:

1. Solo travel is cheaper.

If you’re like me, you will probably find you can travel much cheaper alone. I’m not very picky and don’t mind cheaper things. I can happily eat the cheapest street food without being bothered by the questionable quality of it. If I’m on my own I seldom go to restaurants, I usually just grab some bread or fruit from the local market.

When travelling with other people there is always someone who wants to go to a proper restaurant, someone who is vegan, or someone who wants meat, etc. Unless you are travelling with a person of similar tolerance who is happy to eat basic cheap food, you’re inevitably going to end up spending a lot more than you want to or need to.

I also don’t mind staying in accommodation of questionable safety or hygiene, or in an undesirable location. I don’t mind walking two kilometres instead of getting a taxi. I don’t mind doing a 20-hour train ride in 3rd class on a wooden bench. It’s very seldom I meet other travellers who are happy to sacrifice their comfort to the level I do just to save a few dollars – but those few dollars here and there add up to a lot over the long run.

2. You become more independent and brave.

brave

One of the main psychological reasons that everyone should travel alone is overcoming the fear of being out of your comfort zone. This may seem unnecessary if you have no desire to ever live anywhere other than your hometown, but there are still so many aspects of life that are potentially improved by this experience.

Confidence can be greatly increased simply by becoming aware of what you are able to endure and learning how well you react to certain situations. Your ability to socialise, think quick, make decisions, trust yourself – all these things benefit from the lessons learnt through travelling alone.

“Wandering is the activity of the child, the passion of the genius; it is the discovery of the self, the discovery of the outside world, and the learning of how the self is both at one with and separate from the outside world.” (Roman Payne)

When travelling with other people you tend to adapt and limit yourself, to what they want to do. You project upon them the things that scare you and instead of overcoming them you succumb to them because you believe those you are with would succumb to the same. You don’t test each other, rather limit each other, through a shared belief – or doubt – in each other’s abilities.

When alone you have no choice but to face challenges and frame challenges within your worldview and come to your own conclusions about what you can endure – without any outside noise to obscure your vision.

3. You can follow your own itinerary.

coffee

Travelling alone means never having to do anything other than exactly what you want to do, right then, at that moment.

You can change your mind at will, leave when you want or stay indefinitely. You can sit and watch TV in the local pub all day if it pleases you, or do a marathon visit to ten museums. You can make friends with some strangers and if they decide to do something that doesn’t interest you, you can abandon them with no excuses or guilt.

You have nobody to answer to, nobody to please, nobody to burden. Just you. Alone. In the big, big world.

4. You are more likely to meet people and make new friends.

There’s nothing better than arriving at a new destination with a bunch of mates, dumping your stuff in the hotel room and hitting the beach with a few beers.

But how often do you make the effort to meet other people in this situation, especially locals? Sure, you may have a brief chat with a guy at a local store or another traveller at the bar, but you don’t really develop strong connections because you are always distracted by the ease of conversation with those you feel comfortable with.

The fear of being alone can be an incredible motivator – especially for naturally shy people – to break through the mental constraints you have trapped yourself in and burrow into the reality of a completely foreign world.

5. Reality gets put in PERSPECTIVE.

beggar

This is dependant on where you come from, but let’s assume you’re a spoilt brat like me – because really, at the end of the day, most of us are.

I grew up in South Africa so for me third world poverty was something I was relatively accustomed to from a young age. However, moving to London in my early twenties and living there for ten years clouded my worldly immunity and made me soft to the rough edges of reality. Convenience and comfort can quickly change from things you appreciate to things you expect, and it doesn’t take long to forget your privilege.

Fast forward to the hot and dusty streets of some impoverished nation – amputee beggars grasping at your legs for change, war-deformed children plaguing your dreams, over-population, rampant pollution, nations bankrupt by corruption!  You will return to your hometown with a sparkling new appreciation of law, order and even the most basic of conveniences.

 



THE BAD:

1. In the event of accident or sickness, you’re alone.

This is the real clincher, the one thing that can overshadow all the positive of travelling alone. Nothing sucks more than being sick, miles from home and feeling like you might just die here in this hotel room and nobody would even know.

But you won’t. You will live on. You will survive. Today will be your independence day!

People, in general, are actually very quick to help the sick and injured and it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever find yourself in a position where you are suffering alone and without help. (Do get travel insurance though. For real, that shit’s important.)

2. You will be judged and/or targeted.

sadface

As a man travelling alone you may well be seen as some kind of weird social outcast or friendless loser, but fear not – a confident attitude, clear loud voice and good arsenal of politically incorrect jokes will quickly have you surrounded by a veritable gaggle of other unsavoury characters such as yourself.

Make sure you are well moulded into the group before attempting to drop your best pick-up lines on any fair maidens in the vicinity, as the only thing that will judge your loneliness more than the male of the species, is surely the female. Unless you have some mad good game, there are few things more creepy than a solo male traveller hitting on every girl in the hostel.

As a solo female traveller, you have an entirely different bag of challenges to overcome. A common one is trying to decipher whether a guy is being genuinely friendly or just wants to sleep with you (just to clarify, if he’s not gay then it’s the latter).

On a more serious note though, solo female travellers have to deal with a laundry list of problems so long that I could write an entire website about it, let alone a blog. Men with less than savoury intentions are more likely to target a woman on her own, and even in a safe space like a backpacker hostel or hotel, not everyone is an innocent tourist.

It’s a sad fact, but for women travelling alone life can sometimes be very tough. It varies greatly by country but for the most part even just trying to get a tuk-tuk or taxi can mean possible harassment, or at worst facing real potential danger.

 

3. Lack of confirmable knowledge.

alcohol better

Without anyone to question or get advice from, you must research everything yourself and rely on your own ability to make the best choices. Basic travel advice is always available from books, other travellers or the info desk.  However, some things you don’t want to ask strangers about – like why your poo is green, is porn illegal in this country, or whether that girl is actually hot or you’re just drunk.

If you’re a bad decision maker like me it can get very tiring constantly making mistakes, but then again – it is the best way to learn! At the end of the day we’re all clueless anyway so sometimes you’re better off alone.

4. Some things are more expensive.

money

If you do feel the need for some privacy (which I guarantee you will at some point), then renting a private room is significantly more expensive when you’re alone. Similarly, getting a taxi or any form of private transport will cost you at least double. Even eating at a restaurant can cost more when things like a bowl of rice could be shared.

If you have access to a kitchen, cooking for one usually ends up costing almost as much as cooking for two. If cash machines charge a flat rate to draw money, you can take turns drawing money for each other and save on charges. However, in the long run, I think this cost will be offset by the savings you can make from solo travel.

5. Nobody to share the experience with.

lonely sunset

This one is pretty self-explanatory. A beautiful sunset, while still enjoyable to watch alone, can be greatly improved with some company. Going out to enjoy the night-life can often be difficult to the point of down-right miserable if you have nobody to share it with. Life-changing experiences are often easier to understand when conveyed into words and bounced off the consciousness of someone else.

But in this day-and-age of social media – Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat – are you ever really alone? Just upload that perfect snap, check-in to some exotic country or post a status of how much fun you’re having and watch the likes rolling in – you’ve never felt more surrounded by friends!

Until your battery dies and the digital sun sets on your sad, lonely existence.


THE UGLY:

1. You. You are the ugly. Because you are travelling alone and don’t need to impress anyone, so after awhile basic hygiene and grooming fall to the way-side and you turn into a wookie.

 

For more travel bits and pieces check out : Travel Tips

Budget Travel: Saving Money

money

Income vs Expense

Despite what many people may believe, saving money is actually a lot easier than you think.  The reality is that most people are simply spending far more than they need to, but have become so complacent with their situation that they don’t realise what they could be saving.

The two main elements involved in saving money are:

  • Income
  • Expenses

Well, that clears that up.

In order to save money of any kind, you will initially need some sort of income.  This can be in the form of a salary from your job, profits from your own company, or any other kind of payments you receive, like benefits or support.

Most people will receive a set amount of money monthly, but even if you don’t you should be able to calculate the total average income you receive by dividing your last year’s income by twelve (quick mafs!).

Once you know your average monthly income, all you need to do is adjust your monthly expenses to be lower than your income.

No matter how little or how much you earn, you can always save something.

Ways to Save

Budget, Budget, Budget

budget
If you still don’t save enough, sell your calculator on Antiques Roadshow

Creating a realistic and comprehensive budget is the number one element required in an effective saving plan.  Even if you only do one thing on this list, do this one.

Being able to see in clear numbers your exact monthly expenditure is key to knowing where you are overspending and where you can save.  Bills such as rent, utilities and debt payments are often unavoidable, but everything else such as groceries and entertainment can be curtailed to provide you with savings.

Download a budget app to help you.

Get a Savings Account

money
Are you a drug dealer? No, put that shit in the bank!

Leaving all your money in your current account is a sure-fire way to burn through it every month. Most banks provide a savings account included in your normal account, but if yours doesn’t, inquire about what options they have for you.

At the beginning of each month, pay your required bills and rent and then move all your remaining income to your savings account.  This will encourage you to save because you will be aware of exactly how much you are moving back to your current account each time you use your card. If possible, automate this procedure with your online banking portal.

Pay off your Credit Card in Full

cards
Check this guy with all his cards. So cool.  Until the debt collectors show up!

Always ensure you pay off your credit card every month, in full.  Credit cards are dangerous if not properly managed, but can also be incredibly useful in building a credit score and ensuring you can get loan approvals in future, should you wish to buy a house or similar.

Any debt left on your credit card means you are simply throwing money away in interest fees. Never spend more on your card than the monthly amount you have left after rent and bills.

 

Stop Eating and Drinking Out

clamped wallet
Seems somewhat impractical but hey, whatever works for you!

This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s easier said than done.  Friends, family commitments, business meetings, dates – they can all add up.

To avoid eating out too often you need to be militant with yourself.  Prioritise your monthly engagements and ensure only to attend those that are entirely unavoidable.  Invite friends round to your home, or agree to meet them at theirs, for drinks and other social meetings.

When eating out, avoid alcohol as it’s generally the most marked-up item and can double the cost of a meal.  It can also lead to other “unnecessary” expenses…

rolled notes
I have no idea why they are rolled up officer, they just came out the ATM that way…

 

Check your Utilities and Insurance on Comparison Websites

comparison
Ok don’t go all ‘Rainman’ on me bro, just use the website – it does it for you!

Many people are paying far more than they need to in gas, electricity, phone and insurance bills.  The recent popularity of Online Price Comparison websites has forced rip-off companies to bring down their prices to compete with competitors.

Often you won’t even need to change providers – simply inform your current provider you can get a better deal with someone else and they will almost always agree to match the price in order to keep you on as a customer.

 

Take on a Second Job

arm wrestle
Any work is respectable, even giving other men hand massages.

If you have tried everything else and can’t find any way to reduce your expenses, then the only other option is to increase your income. These days earning additional income online is more popular than ever, and almost everybody will find something that fits their skill set.

Examples of online jobs that require little or no experience include ad-clickers, data entry, website testing and even online jury duty.

 

online jobs
I was devastated to find that this is not how online jobs work!

 

Find out more about all things saving, budgeting and travelling: Travel Tips

 

IFTTT – A Game-Changing Automation Service

“If This, Then That”

I don’t know exactly how old this service is, but there is a PC Mag review of it from March 2016 – which means it’s been around at least two years.  That’s two years longer than the amount of time it should have taken me to hear about it!

Well, I’m certainly making up for lost time, and so should you.

IFTTT
  

IFTTT stands for “IF This, Then That”.  It’s basically a magical piece of wizardry that connects YOUR ENTIRE DIGITAL WORLD together.

I discovered IFTTT while researching how to get my blog posts to automatically post to Facebook.  It’s a simple enough thing but can save a lot of time in the long run – especially if you’re scheduling ‘out-of-hours’ posts on WordPress.

Well, what I discovered was far more than simply automating Facebook shares.  Within a few minutes, I had managed to automate all my Social Media sharing tasks: Twitter, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, Pintrest, Youtube.  One simple click of Publish on WordPress and my new post is shared everywhere.

connected tasks
Just two of my many connected tasks

Even if you don’t have a blog, this can be useful while travelling.  It means less time spent updating social media and more time actually talking to REAL people.

The only thing missing is Instagram.  I was really hoping they had a function to auto-post to a new Instagram story using an image and title text from WordPress – but that’s probably asking a bit much.  You can, however, automate Instagram photos and stories to post to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc.

instagram to pintrest
Insta to Pinterest

That’s Not All Folks

Yes, IFTTT can do so much more!  In fact, it’s functionality seems endless.  Once you start going down the rabbit hole you realise just how interconnected everything is.

It’s a little scary.   There appear to be apps written for almost any task related to the internet – online services, apps, websites, mobile phones – you name it.

Look at these for example:

 

autowifi android
Activate wifi when home. Could be useful, I suppose.

youtube to spotify
Add Youtube likes to a Spotify playlist. That is very cool.

auto snapchat
Automate your Snapchat promotion

ios to google
This one is great if, like me, you have an iPhone but use Gmail

There is also functionality to connect to Google docs and do some very useful admin tasks, like populate spreadsheets and calendar entries.  If you want to really get nerdy, it even has MySQL functionality to automate database maintenance.  That’s where I checked out and went back to the twitter stuff.

spreadsheet
Narcissistic much?

So that’s all great though, but do you wanna really BLOW YOUR MIND?  Check this one:

iss
Say what now?

Yes, you read correctly.  If you have smart Philips Hue lightbulbs (lightbulbs that connect to your wifi) then you can set them to turn purple when the International Space Station passes over your house.  There is literally ZERO practical functionality to this applet, but it’s by far the coolest one I found.  Why are you even still reading this and not on their website!?

Fast and Free

It’s completely free to sign up and to activate applets takes one or two clicks but there is some limitation to how customizable it is.  It also includes a ‘Published by IFTTT’ tag on any post, so depending on how anal you are about maintaining a feeling of ownership to your posts, that might be a problem.

ifttt
So far, it hasn’t bothered me.

It isn’t 100% perfect of course, and I’ll admit while clicking through and adding applet after applet, I did expect some things not to work.  From what I gather, it works with your browser’s cookies or cached passwords.  It’s also open-source and users create and upload their own applets, so understandably there is room for error.

The below failure could simply be because I wasn’t logged into Pinterest at the time:

failed
A failed applet

Brave New World

At the end of the day, it’s not going to make you rich or change your life overnight.  But it’s one of those services that once you start using it, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

If for nothing else, it’s astounding to browse through it and realise just how insanely connected our world has become.   Whether or not that’s a good thing, I guess we’ll live to find out…

..or will we!

 

rain
Never get wet again.

 

 

Photo Editing Made Easy

Most people probably already know this, but if like me you’re a bit slow then the following will be great news for you.

Recently my free Photoshop trial ran out and being the cheapskate I am, I didn’t want to pay for it, nor could I be bothered with trying to get a cracked version.

Since all I really used it for was touching up photos, I figured there must be some free, Instagram-style app for PC that I could download.

Enter: Adobe Photoshop Express.

photo editing

Fast, free and effective.

Now, I must make it clear that this is no Photoshop replacement. It’s super basic. Like, I think even more basic than Instagram. All you can really do with it is give your lame holiday snaps a little bit more pazzazz, BUT for that simple use, it’s great!

It’s quite digital and will add some noise to your photos so I wouldn’t suggest using it on high resolution or DSLR pictures – all it’s going to do is reduce quality. But for simple facebook or blog photos taken on a basic mobile phone camera, it’s ideal.

photo editing

Functions

It comes with the usual generic filters, but like Instagram, it’s best to use the manual corrections tool. My favourites are ‘vibrance’ – to bring out colour and tone, and ‘clarity’ – for giving blurry photos a bit more edge.

Once you get more advanced you’ll find some great tricks, like the ‘white’ and ‘black’ modulation tools which are ideal for fixing over-exposed or blurry underwater photos.

It also has basic crop, rotate and flip functions, and has an ‘auto enhance’ function, which can work well if you’re in a hurry but can also get it very wrong at times.

photo editing

Alternative

During my search, I did also find another program called Aviary Photo Editor.  I don’t think it’s as good, but it has these silly text and picture options so some people might like it:

photo editing

Suggestions?

No doubt there are better apps out there that do the same thing, and hopefully some smart-ass reading this will tell me in the comments section. Thanks, smart-ass!

 

EDIT:  You can technically get Snapseed on your PC, and obviously that would be the best free photo editing software.  BUT, you have to run it through Bluestacks and if you have used Bluestacks before you’ll know it’s a hassle to setup and slows your PC down a lot!