Wednesday, 23 November 2016

life update

I'm now on my eighth week of uni, and with another lab report to write, thought I'd let my procrastination take the form of a blog post. I am loving uni. And I am shocked. It honestly feels like one big sleepover with loads of great people. The work aspect isn't my fav but it's not terrible!

I am SO sleepy tho. I don't tend to sleep until 1ish because there's just too much to do and too many people to see. And with most of my lectures being after 1pm I get decent lie ins, but somehow still require a long nap.... To be fair I've massively reduced and stopped having them almost every day (lol) to approx once a week, but like it makes me feel approximately 2 (or 90).

I am not used to having no money! Since I was like 16 I've had a job and so a steady income, but now my bank balance looks like I've taken a jump off a steep cliff. I don't think Christmas is helping either; I am currently waiting for 6 different parcels..oops. I did return the majority of some online stress shopping though, so that wasn't too bad. The student discount is just too tempting, and I feel like I need to reward myself every time I focus on work for more than about 5 minutes.
hmmm another reason i have no money.. club entry here is expensive!
I've got a proper nice group of friends. To be honest my entire floor are great (though I haven't seen some of them since freshers) but we also have a laugh in our kitchen and pre drinks before a night out is always fun! I haven't actually been drinking as much as I had anticipated which is definitely a good thing for my liver! But when I do go out it's with a 'go hard or go home' attitude, so it's wise not to do it too often.
post food shop. Tinned and frozen goods are my speciality
My job as a student blogger is so fun! I've written 3 posts so far, and used the job as an excuse to do a cafe shop tour around campus which was great and meant I felt I could justify buying a daily coffee (which my budget definitely doesn't allow for). Being able to get to both starbucks and costa without stepping outside is wayyyyy too tempting, and I'm amazed I haven't actually set up a bed and moved in there.
lara on one of our coffee shop trips
The actual work part isn't too bad. I mean, I'm saying that now knowing that in a couple of weeks I'll probably be crying in the library. I handed in my first essay 2 days before the deadline and got a 2:1 which I was pretty happy with. I'll be getting my first lab report back next week though so I feel my grad average may be rapidly declining. My first year doesn't count but I'm a bit of a perfectionist and also want a good placement so I need to do well which is a lil bit stressful but not the end of the world.
a cute photo from halloween
So yeah. Currently trying to juggle the whole getting a degree thing, cooking, washing clothes, exercising (often sacrificed ngl) and currently house hunting for 6 of us. My participation in societies and extra curricular stuff has rapidly declined (read: i'm doing nothing) but I'm on top of work (ISH, a massive ish) and I'm happy. So yeah. Things could be a lot worse.

Laura x

Sunday, 16 October 2016

down it fresher

3 weeks into uni i feel it's time for an update. it's pretty bizarre for me to type this but i really like it here. (((okay this is weird because i applied to be a student blogger and wrote a blog post practically identical to this))) but for real man i am loving it! i was queen of reluctance and even begged my dad to turn around as we pulled into the car park (always one for being melodramatic) but full of curly fries and vegan burger with a cutely decorated room i eventually warmed to it. it's scary af when you realise that you've moved to a new city and have to actually speak to the people on your corridor. i kept smiling nervously at the girl in the room opposite and my mum kept whispering to me to say hi but i felt like if i kept arranging photos on a cute little washing line somehow the inevitable speaking and making friends aspect of uni would go away. It did not. But after a week of vodka fuelled pre drinks and freshers' events the people on my floor are like a strange, dysfunctional second family. There's been many marks on the chunder chart, many drunken 3am toasties, the loss of half an eyebrow and an incident where someone's urine was consumed but hey, i wouldn't have it any other way (mainly because it wasn't me who drank the wee).

Right, first thing's first i wanna show you how cute my room was when i first moved in. It has quickly descended into something much less instagram worthy (ever vomited out of your nose all over the floor of your bedroom? It kinda loses its charm) but yeah it's still pretty nice. My room is smaller than the ones on the other side of the corridor but regardless I feel like we got very lucky compared to other uni rooms I've seen which resemble actual prison cells, though we're above the student's union so i guess it's kind of a compromise.




the people on my floor are incred. like i'm not just saying that in case they read this, they are all so so nice. i am particularly talented at making 0 friends (when i first started at my old job lotsa people got my name wrong and i didn't correct them for several months) but they are just all so normal!!!! I had expected to be housed with some absolute freaks because i just have low expectations of everything but everyone is nice and so tidy!! so so tidy!!! my flat mates cleaned our entire kitchen the other day for no reason whatsoever???? Thank you universe for bringing us together. It is fabulous. our pre drinks are always my fav thing ever though i think we have played just about every drinking game imaginable. I hadn't known what to expect of freshers' but it didn't disappoint at all. Some of the events were a little shit but every night ended up being fun regardless and dressing up (lol guess who didn't realise that every single bloody event was fancy dress and brought no costumes????) was entertaining.

I have since obtained the inevitable freshers' flu; i had it mildly the week after freshers and couldn't understand why some people were acting like they were dying until i got it properly last week; i'm currently acting like i've got the plague. I hardly leave my bed as it is but this has taken it to a new level and i went nearly 48 hours without leaving the flat before forcing myself outside in fear of getting rickets. the grounds and city are beautiful though so it is very worth leaving the flat. It's a bit surreal drunkenly strolling past the abbey and roman baths on nights out (and i do like to wander round- bad habit) but the city is lovely! Walking up the hill is not.



Something I want to quickly mention is how bloody expensive being alive is. Like for real. My rent is £1800 ish and my loan is £1200. A girl i know said in a really patronising way 'oh are your parents going to be supporting you through uni?' and like if they weren't i'd legit have moved out of accommodation and set up a bed in the library. I worked all summer but my savings are not going to last me the year!! I'm trying to budget £50 a week which i thought was reasonable, but here i am on a sunday night having just spent £42 on my food shop after a £3.30 gym class off to a £3 dance class knowing full well that i'll go out at some point in the next few days. So that's £1.50 to last me the week I guess x

The strangest aspect of uni so far is that i've kind of forgotten why i'm here. after freshers' there's this moment where you're like ??? degree ??? and then you remember that you're not actually paying £9000 a year for the sesh. Which is a real shame. My lectures are pretty good and interesting but a year out has definitely sacrificed several of my brain cells and i struggle to concentrate on anything. hopefully it just needs retraining! i've also joined some societies but not many; i'm off to latin and ballroom in a minute. Me! Who can't even dance in clubs. I also do yoga and zumba and amnesty international (if you don't know what that is have a quick google because it is great) and the gender equality society. The only issue is that i keep forgetting to go to the meetings or an actual classic was last week when i eagerly set off to amnesty international on my own, got lost and couldn't find where it was being held so ended up heading back to my room. Classic. Ah well, there's always next week!

Laura x

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

uni time

I finished my last shift at work yesterday (5 and a half hours early- that 0 hour contract life) and so it has struck me that my gap year is well and truly over. In a slightly fragile state (work leaving drinks never do my liver any favours) I had intended to do a blog post documenting the things I am taking with me to uni, but, sat here in my pyjamas looking at the piles of belongings among which are a milk frother, garlic crusher and enough tampons to supply a small country I have realised it probably wouldn't be that interesting. Oh and I can't really bring myself to move from this spot.

It hasn't quite sunk in that on Saturday morning with a car overflowing with the contents of my life I'll be going to Bath for something other than a day trip. The room I'm given will become as much (if not more) my own room than the one I sit in now. The city won't just be a nice place to visit but in fact my new home- one I may work in and will spend my nights stumbling drunkenly around en route to clubs and browsing the shops for food and clothes.

Despite going a year later than most of my peers I still don't feel ready to move out. It's not so much the aspect of living 'alone'; cooking my own meals and doing my own washing etc, but more the prospect of living with a group of strangers in an unfamiliar city and being forced into structure and routine. Full time work gave me a break from routine; my hours varied weekly and every day was different, and I'm not particularly eager to give that up. But hey, stuff has to change for progress to be made. If I don't go to uni I can't get a degree and if I don't get a degree I can't do a phd and if I don't do a phd then I can't be a clinical psychologist. But then again, maybe my dreams of being a clinical psychologist will change too. I could wake up tomorrow and realise that I want to a midwife. Our choices aren't fixed. Our personalities are constantly changing. What I want to be right now might not be the same in 4 years, or in fact, 4 minutes.

I don't have high expectations for uni, much to the annoyance of my family who seem disappointed that I'm not ecstatic to go. I guess other choices don't come with a £27000 price tag. But I figure that this way I'm less likely to be disappointed. I'm sure it will be fine. I expect my house mates will end up my close friends, my course will be interesting and I'll enjoy seminars and lectures. The freedom of uni life will be an experience and it will all be worth it in the end, but I also expect that during my first term there will be nights where I wish I was surrounded by my colleagues having a pint after work, where there'll be awkward silences with new friends who I don't have much in common when we run out of conversation topics to discuss, moments where I want to cry with frustration because I do an assignment wrong or forget to do my washing and have no clean clothes. But it's all character building, right?

And anyway, 10% of uni students drop out, so worst case scenario I became one of them.

Laura x

Monday, 22 August 2016

Voluntourism


You can pretty much guess what it is from the word. And a big fear of mine is that I acted as a voluntourist.  So this is probably an attempt of justification, but also advice for what you should do if you want to volunteer abroad.

I went travelling around south east Asia and Australia for 3 months on a gap year. I can practically hear the sighs. Yep. The most middle class thing to do , right? But fuck it, I wanted to see more of the world than the 4 walls of my student halls before committing to 4 years of study, so off me and 2 friends went. But after 3 months I wasn't satisfied. We'd been to 7 amazing countries but thanks to the lack of responsibilities my 19 year old self has and the fact that I had essentially sold my soul to my gap year job (12 hour shifts, 50+ hours a week- this wasn't a daddy funded trip) i still had money to spare.

After a geography project in year 9 I was borderline obsessed with the idea of visiting India. I'm not sure of the appeal, it just seemed to have everything. Like a sensory overload. I'm a pretty independent person and travel definitely helped this, but my parents weren't willing to let me go on my own. After googling it and being shocked by quite how many websites, professional and personal blogs, advised strongly against solo female travellers. Even seasoned travellers I encountered who'd travelled south America (which I considered to be like the epitome of danger)  laughed at the idea of a 19 year old girl going to india alone.  I'd heard the horrific story of the girl raped on a bus, and so, rather reluctantly, I gave up on the idea.

Then, one night in Malaysia I noticed a girl I'd gone to school with had visited india. I scrolled through the photos and could hardly contain my jealousy, and messaged her asking who she'd gone with. Her reply couldn't have been better.  She not only told me the name of the organisation she'd gone with to volunteer but that she then travelled alone for 2 weeks. She was 17! I stayed up for hours looking at the organisation (Plan My Gap Year)'s website and trying to convince my parents.

After a couple of days of disjointed emails (time differences are not easy) my parents were warming to the idea of me going to India, but only with an organisation. So, essentially, I was going to volunteer for selfish means. Like, to put it blankly, that's why I ended up volunteering. And that's bad, I know. A lot of stuff had inspired me to volunteer but I'd simply given up on the idea. There are soooo many scams. Cambodian orphanages where the children's living parents are simply being paid for the children to go there as a tourist trap are not unusual. We've all seen slum dog millionaire; they use children for begging because it gets sympathy. As much as I wanted to "give something back" after some of the horror and poverty I'd seen I just didn't think it was feasible. And from an ethical perspective i'm still somewhat undecided.

Anyone confused, voluntourism is a big problem for so many reasons. I mean, we've all got friends on Facebook whose profile pictures show them surrounded by some children in Africa or somewhere in a school they've built. But have you considered whether these people are skilled at building? Why would someone like me, whose building skills barely extend to Lego, be able to build a house? And what about people in the community who are skilled? A load of white kids coming in to get something for their cv our stealing jobs from people who need them. In this situation I just think a donation is the way forward.

And another issue, a massive issue, is the costs voluntary organisations charge. Thousands of pounds. For you to work?? It makes no sense.  I found a seemingly amazing project; visiting rural areas in india and educating women about menstrual and sexual health and distributing reusable sanitary towels. It seemed legit, worthwhile and just amazing. But it was £1200. For 2 weeks. I was very sad.

Now, I'm about to be a massive hypocrite. Because prior to volunteering I would have completely ridiculed this too. But when I went to india I visited an orphanage. Orphanage volunteering is perhaps the most problematic kind, and when i signed up i outright told myself I wouldn't do it. I love kids, I knew I'd enjoy it and probably get attached. But so would they. There is loads of reasons volunteering in orphanages is wrong. Like I said, in loads of countries the children aren't even orphans. Their parents essentially sell them so that a big country can bring in rich foreigners to help clear their consciences by playing with children for a couple of hours. That's just fucking sick. And a couple of the children I met weren't orphans. But this is the thing. One of the children in the orphanage of 8 was the only girl. Her behaviour could be a little challenging, she seemed desperate for our attention. It turned out her mum had remarried and the new husband didn't like her. So her mum gave her daughter away. This little girl, who was 8, was given away by her own mother, who was perfectly capable of looking after her, just chose not to. And one of the other children; Exceptionally bright, cheerful, his English was amazing and he was so bright. But he had a birth defect which meant his limbs hadn't formed properly. His dad was alive, but he was an alcoholic. He couldn't look after him. So he lived in the orphanage. A couple of the others left one weekend to visit relatives. In a country like England you'd expect children to live with any extended family rather than entering the care system. But in india there's so much poverty. So so much. On the 1 minute walk from our accommodation to the orphanage we passed a massive slum. You stop even noticing them as shocking; it's just like people are camping all the time. But for the kids at the orphanage, they had a roof over their heads. They went to school every week day, they'd do their homework and have a nap. They had trips to the park at the weekends. One boy at the orphanage had watched his dad set his mum on fire when he was 7. A couple of weeks later the roof of their house collapsed on his alcoholic father and he died. The boy was 15 now, confident, happy and always making jokes to his friends. I tried to see the problematic side, but it just seemed like it was better than the lives these children had escaped, and the lives of the children we saw begging in the streets led.

Another issue with volunteering in orphanages however, one that is harder to escape, is the issue of attachments. Theres some research we studied in A level psychology, I can't remember the name (possibly Rutter??) about Romanian orphans. Their attachment types were studied after being exposed to loads of different care givers, and a massively high percentage of them had developed disinhibited attachments. This basically means that they were given loads of caregivers, or in the case of my comparison, volunteers. They'd come in, the toddlers got attached, then they left. New ones came, but the result of the constant separation meant that their ability to form meaning relationships in the rest of their lives was damaged.
And this is the part I find most difficult to justify. But I'll put it like this. I went to the project to teach English to women and help them to make and sell clothing/bags to get their own income. But that was 3 hours a day. And 1 minute from our accommodation was an orphanage, run by the same Indian couple who ran all of the local projects, with 7 boys and 1 girl. Who had summer holidays. They had a permanent member of staff, not sure what her title must be, who acted as like the orphanage mum, providing appropriate discipline, helping with their homework, coming to the park etc. But these children were pretty bored. And it seemed like spending an hour or so a day with these children, aged 6-15, playing board games and cards, letting them use snapchat filters on my phone and watch a you tube video or two (they were obsessed with spider man) wasn't going to hurt. They were all much more keen chatting to each other than to me. They were completely normal kids, not crying over their pasts or anything. More concerned by when we'd be having another "samosa party" or discussing their favourite Bollywood actor.

Perhaps it was wrong. Perhaps it's better for them to just spend time with their main orphanage mum (I've decided that's her title) and long term volunteers. Perhaps on my first day I should have declined going to visit the orphanage with the two long term volunteers who were leaving. But I didn't. And, maybe I should, but I don't regret it. I didn't leave thinking I was a great or better person. The children were lovely, sweet and intelligent, but naughty, and normal, real children. This wasn't an advert. At the slum school I taught English at I'd catch the children copying each other's answers, some of them pushing in to get to be the first to write on the wall. These children were just like the ones I met doing work experience in England, they'd just been born into lives different to mine. One where a little girl at the slum school having worms in her brain wasn't shocking. One where someone with TB coming to the slum clinic wasn't unusual.
It's a completely different world to one we live in. But every time I see an article about voluntourism the comments are the same. People mocking the volunteers, saying a donation would be so much more worthwhile, making jokes about middle class teenagers, and I just think, how many if them actually donate to a project like that? How many send over clothes or toys? And how many are just grabbing the opportunity to mock and judge. And in some ways, why is sponsoring a single child in a community the best thing to do? Yes, it helps that child, but does it help the community? They're all living in poverty and just one kid gets to go to school? Dunno, it just doesn't seem all that sustainable.

Maybe this blog post just seems like a massive attempt for me to clear my conscience. But I did a ton of research. The organisation is based in England and operates in loads of countries, but where I was, in Faridadbad near Delhi, the programmes are run by a couple, Vishy and Kranti. Vishy is a doctor but has set up the orphanage, a school for disabled children, a slum school, a clinic and a programme which I volunteered at, teaching women English and also to make and sell clothing and wash bags in order to earn a salary. All of these employ local people as their permanent staff. A CRB check is a requirement to go on the programmes.

No, what I did was not perfect. I'm sure many people will read this and still disagree with the concept, and I understand that. I never thought orphanage volunteering could be justified until I did it. "Orphanage" is such a bleak term with solely negative connotations, but the children were happier than most of the ones I've grown up with. I'm not a qualified English teacher. And I struggled, I'll admit. Honestly attempting to teach the conditional tense no one could grasp when it was 38°c really got to me. But if we weren't teaching these women English, who would? I helped out with the slum school English classes, and the teacher was in fact one of my English pupils. So the better her English became, the better theirs would become. No, I'm not a qualified English teacher, but in the 2 short weeks I was there the more advanced women pretty much mastered the past tense and the beginners were excitedly shouting the names of colours they'd just learned.

If you want to volunteer abroad, research a lot. Plan My Gap Year had a fee breakdown so you knew what you were paying for and where it was going. Vishy reiterated it for us too. We lived comfortably and were transported around safely without it being luxurious. I don't want to say I grew as a person or anything like that but india exceeded my expectations. The 16 days I spent there were incredible, the voluntary work an aspect of that. It's rewarding to help people, though I couldn't really see the impact in such a short time, and the other volunteers were among the nicest, most easy going people I've met. The experience wasn't about me, though. My motivation was about changing the lives of the women I worked with. Gender inequality is still a massive problem in india and that's mainly why I chose that particular project. All other issues aside, if I helped to tackle just a tiny aspect of the gender inequality by helping these women, who relied solely on their husbands, to gain some independence and skills of their own, I feel like it was worthwhile. So while my issues with orphanage volunteering are ongoing, I think helping the women, at least, was sustainable and worthwhile.

Laura x

Monday, 1 August 2016

Life post travelling is pretty sweet. Idk. I hoped I wouldn't come back having found myself, a head full of dreadlocks and ready to get rid of all my possessions, and I didn't. Ish. I have a new found appreciation for things but it's so hard to keep that in mind in every day life. We all know we're privileged and fortunate. It's not a secret that a lot of people around the world live in poverty, and seeing it first hand did make it way more real but im still detached from it. It's like seeing a homeless person in the street; as sad and sympathetic as you might feel you don't go home and start kissing the walls of your home with a new found appreciation.

I do find myself caring less about money. Okay, so last night I had a massive shopping spree on asos but I'll whack out my card for a charity donation, tip my waiter even if they were kinda shit and buy a round of shots on a night out (and subsequently lose my card lol). It is definitely easier to live in the moment when you've seen people who dont know how long they have left.

My problems also seem smaller.  Obviously I see stuff through a sort of first world filter and my 50 hour working weeks, however horrific, are nowhere near as bad as faced by so many workers in Asia, and while I still complain I do so less. And I smile more. And I say yes to more plans, I let things go. I run, I eat, I sleep. But not too much. Spontaneity and flexibility make life more enjoyable. Who cares if something might make you tired? You might not wake up tomorrow morning. Fuckin take the risk.

I don't know what I hoped to achieve with this post but basically everything is okay. The world is still pretty great even in rainy England, there are still great people to meet just down the road. Toxic habits and people aren't worth your time or energy, and perhaps travelling was a wake up call for me. I still have problems, things aren't perfect, but they won't ever be. This is life, someone once said "Nothing is perfect. Life is messy. Relationships are complex. Outcomes are uncertain. People are irrational"

Laura x

Sunday, 17 July 2016

travelling guide

I have already been asked many questions about travelling so thought I'd do a post dedicated to answering common questions and hopefully help people planning a similar trip:-)

How much did the trip cost?

After some rough calculations I think the entire trip, 4 months in 9 countries, was £6000. So not cheap! This included:
-flights london-bangkok, singapore-melbourne, bali-london (£1200)
-travel insurance (£305)
-malaria tablets (£65)
-contiki 9 day Thai island hopping tour (£600)
-all internal travel within SE Asia (£676)
-volunteering in India (£369 for 2 weeks)
After my initial costs in england (booking those 3 flights, insurance, malaria tablets and booking the contiki tour) everything else was booked or paid for out there, contributing towards around almost £4000 worth of withdrawals while I travelled.

Is this the best way to book?

I dont think so and I won't book this way again. We used STA to book flights and i regret this as i'm sure we could have got them for cheaper. The contiki tour was fun but unnecessarily luxurious and I would have preferred to save a couple of hundred pounds and stayed in less nice hotels.
 

Were you on a spending budget?

Yes, we budgeted £30 a day whilst in Asia and £60 a day for Australia. I somehow spent under budget despite going on approximately a million day trips and doing things like scuba diving. On our first day in Bangkok we booked £676 worth of night buses, trains and a couple of flights (I think we were ripped off but hey) and so reduced our budget to £15 a day for our first 2 months of travelling. We managed it! Hostels in SE Asia are an average of £4-6 per night for either a dorm bed or one bed in a triple room. The rest of our money went on food and day trips which we booked out there- it's so easy.

How did you book accommodation?

I booked our first night in Bangkok back in England but from then on in we used hostel world, checking for confirmation on trip advisor. We'd usually find a hostel we liked the night before arriving somewhere, get a tuk tuk there on arrival and then get a room if they had one as it's often cheaper to do that than book online. No disasters!

Is travelling dangerous?

No one's actually asked me this but it was a big concern of mine before leaving. There are plenty of horror stories but personally aside from being subjected to a couple of minor scams where I lost £1 or £2 nothing went wrong. If you stick to the typical tourist trail like I did for most of my travels the locals are used to seeing tourists so although obviously you're still a target for sales and scams you don't get that much unwanted attention (apart from India which is a different story..) the other travellers in dorms are in the same position as you so while you should have your wits about you and not take any unnecessary risks I didn't feel scared or paranoid which I expected to.
Most dorms have lockers do you don't have to carry your passport etc all the time and while I was careful with my stuff when out I didn't feel link my guard needed to be up particularly any more than in England. I even left my passport in a hotel and got it back and got lost alone on the way back from Delhi and nothing went wrong. There are horrible, dangerous people everywhere but as long as you are as careful as possible you've done everything you can (apart from spending your life in your bedroom) to avoid disaster.

How did you travel from country to country?

This wasn't particularly fun but also one of the most memorable parts of travelling anmake all the best stories. If you have the budget I wouldn't blame you for flying and a couple I spoke to had opted for this, figuring they'd rather spend a little more than deal with another night bus. Night buses aren't great. We did one from Thailand to Laos, Laos to Vietnam, Vietnam to Cambodia and Bangkok to Phuket. And then I also did one within India. it's never going to be the best night of your life. It's an experience and it saves you money so practically they make sense. But you're usually in some kind of bed (using the term) loosely and driven recklessly through the night before being woken to buy a visa at a random point of entry.

Where did you need visas?

Thailand- no
Laos- on arrival
Vietbam- on arrival
Cambodia- on arrival
Malaysia- no
Singapore- no
Australia- yes, purchased a tourist visa through STA
India- yes. If going for 30 days or less you can apply for an E tourist visa. This is a little complicated with lots of questions but I was accepted within 2 days and just needed a printed copy of the confirmation email at the airport.
Bali- no

You need to carry US dollars to buy the visas on arrival, which I think were about $20-$30 each. We took $150 to be on the safe side, as well as a few passport photos. I think only one country actually asked for a passport photo but it was useful having them.

What vaccinations did you get?

Just go to your travel nurse (mine was just a nurse at my local GP surgery), tell them where you're going and for how long and they'll advise you on what to get. I had Hep A (requires a booster 6 months later), hep B (requires 2 boosters before you go) and typhoid. I was also prescribed anti malarial tablets to take within some of SE Asia, I think in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. If you are prescribed them GET THEM FROM THE ASDA PHARMACY! I tried a different pharmacy and they tried to change me £130, but they were £60 ish from asda. Don't pay more for the same drug. I also took them every day at 9pm in order to sleep through any side effects.
Hep B usually costs around £150 but for some reason I wasn't charged. Not complaining! You're also offered a rabies vaccination, cholera etc. I opted not to have these but that's your own choice. Rabies only buys you more time if you are infected. You basically need 5 shots in total if you contract rabies, and the vaccine is the first 3. I figured if I was bitten I'd rush to a hospital which could administer all 5 and I'd rather incur the £150 or so cost there than beforehand just in case.

What did you pack?

This is my most asked question.  If you're going to the same countries as me my advice is simply pack the thinnest clothes possible. You accept sweating as just a permanent state that you've entered into and I'd given up trying to dress well by day 2. No denim, no even vaguely thick tops, they're just taking up space and making you carry unnecessary weight. Your thinnest cotton to shirts and skirts/shorts will be fine, and just buy out there. Honestly the classic hippy elephant trousers are a God send and I wish I'd packed nothing and just bought loads of pairs on arrival. They're not the best quality (both my pairs had ripped by the end of the 4 months) but for £2-3 a pair I can't complain. Paired with a thin cotton to shirt you're good to go. I also bought a dress as a Thai market which was perfect. These people live their all the time so their clothes are best for the climate. Oh and to blend in in India I bought some traditional Indian clothing beforehand. I was in KL, Malaysia and visited their Little India to get a Punjabi suit and long sleeved top. This wasn't essential but I liked to fit in a bit more.

I really didn't take much clothing as we were washing our clothes out there. 3 tops, 2 pairs of bottoms, 3 pairs of underwear, a pair of pyjamas and a swimming costume is definitely sufficient and there are markets everywhere where you can stock up. If I go travelling again I will definitely adopt a 'less is more' policy!

Apart from clothing I took standards like shampoo, conditioner, suncream, insect repellent, a hairbrush, tooth brush and tooth paste, deodorant, tampons (very difficult to get in SE Asia, you can get sanitary towels but bear this in mind if you're going!), hand sanitiser, plasters, dehydration sachets. I'd also suggest immodium which basically in the nicest way possible stops you shitting yourself if you have diarrhea. Not pleasant to think about but so necessary. Don't ignore that. You can buy everything out there if you're not somewhere too rural but it's good to just have a little emergency supply. I didn't go full on first aid kit though.

I also took a travel towel which was very useful as not everywhereprovides them, a padlock (same reason), a print out of my travel insurance details, some passport photos (we were told we'd need these for visas, I think I used 2), a diary, a packet of cards, 3 phone chargers (can't be too careful), 3 pairs of headphones (same reason), a travel charger for my phone (a life saver. Mine was £15 on Amazon and sooo useful), a spare phone battery (bit of a theme here) which I didn't actually use, my camera, 2 other lenses, camera charger, a little adaptor thing to connect my camera to my phone and running stuff. Which I used a handful of times. Asia's hot. Heat and running don't mix well. I carried all if this in one massive rucksack and a little one. I hated the big one so much that my friends took it home with them 3 months in. No regrets.

Where was your favourite/least favourite place?

I loved so many places but my top three were:
Vietnam. It's so cheap, busy, there's loads to see and do. The cities are modern enough for it to feel almost comforting but it's still got its own strong culture. We went to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and did a lot of day trips and it was great!

India: also amazing though I was volunteering there. I dont know how I'd have felt if I'd just travelled there, and I wouldn't have done alone. Nothing bad happened to me but I saw potential for it. It's so vibrant, colourful, noisy in Delhi and on public transport, but places like Dharamshala where I visited were peaceful, green and mountainous. We were treated like celebrities because we're white which was almost comical, posing for photos constantly, and fortunately everyone was nice, friendly and helpful. It's not for everyone and it's really bloody hot but I loved it.

Ko Phi Phi/Gili T: one's in Thailand and one in Indonesia but they're both luxurious, beautiful travel resorts. Honeymoon style places, both really chill and cool. A little more pricey than the rest of the countries as they're notorious for travellers but so worth it! Scuba dive in Ko Phi Phi and snorkle with turtles in Gili T, they're great.

My least favourite places come to my mind immediately, and I  met a girl in Bali who'd been to the same places and agreed which was a blessing because I thought I was the only one who didn't like them!
The first was VangVieng in Laos. The only appeals of this are tubing (going down a really long river in a rubber ring-fun for about 20 minutes, not 2 hours), and getting drunk/high. I just couldn't really see the appeal of the place unless going across the world to have a joint in a restaurant appeals to you. It all seemed a bit dodgy, the couple I spoke to's hotel room was robbed and I would personally just give it a miss. Luang Prabang was lovely though.

Siam Reap in Cambodia: Cambodia has a horrifically sad history that I was completely unaware of, and learning about this in Pnomh Penh is heartbreaking but I feel very necessary. Siam Reap however I'd give a miss. Its attraction is a large series of temples, the biggest called Angkor Wat. they were nice to look round but we'd seen sooo many temples and it was really hot. I think we visited in record short time. Apart from that there's not a lot to do. There's a lot of poverty in Cambodia, loads of scams and from what I've read online some kind of large scale Mafia organisation operating. There are a lot of children involved in the begging, babies who are supposedly drugged etc. We were subject to a floating river scam which wasn't the end of the world but annoying.

Melbourne: This is purely my experience and I know a lot of people love it! We stayed in an area called St Kilda which was just dodgy. A large group of homeless people congregated outside our local supermarket who all either had mental health problems or were on something or both, and would shout to themselves or each other. We were asked for money a few times including by a girl who looked about 15 who came over to where we were sat eating dinner. A guy who worked at the hostel said there was "a crackhouse down the road with deaths every week". It was just a bit of a dump. We were also staying in a 16 bed dorm with a lot of quite rank teenage boys which was dirty and horrible despite costing double what we'd paid anywhere in Asia. The city centre was alright but was just a city. Definitely wouldn't hurry back.

Any advice?

Barter like crazy. They're taking advantage of you being a tourist and the locals are paying a fifth of what you are. Whatever they see, whether a tuk tuk driver or a market stall owner, laugh and then firmly say half of their price. If they disagree either say something slightly higher or start to walk away. Honestly they'll be calling after you to come back.  You do have to remember that a lot of the people you encounter are living in poverty and so need the money you give them, so find a balance. If they're asking for 50p more than you know you should be paying, sometimes you just need to think 'it means a lot more to them than me'. But don't go crazy and splurge on everything, unless your budget allows I guess!

Look up the currency before you arrive, just to have a rough idea what a pound is worth. I think it's Vietnam where 30,000 dong is £1, worth knowing when you're withdrawing cash on arrival. In Cambodia the ATMs withdraw US dollars- I didn't realise this was entering '100,000' as the amount I wanted to withdraw. Oops

Get some kind of card that's good for travelling. I have one made by MasterCard which is supposedly the only one not to charge additional fees when withdrawing cash abroad. The ATM will still charge a bit (usually about £1 but in Cambodia $5) but this was supposedly the best option. And remember that a lot of ATMs give you the cash then the card! I had walked away from a machine before being called back by some English guys to say I'd left my card in the ATM. Saved my life.

Ask to look at your hostel room before paying. Even these prices are negotiable, and don't make our mistake and manage to agree to a room with no curtains or bathroom door which turned out to have a rat in it...

Try not to get scammed! A lot of people are friendly but if money's involved be wary. People aren't "giving you a good deal" to be nice. If you're in a tuk tuk and they claim the place youve asked to go to is closed they're lying and will take you to a shop they're getting commission for. You'll only lose a couple of pounds but it's annoying af. Be firm, keep your wits about you, and to quote the real hustle, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

And finally; go with the flow. You might find the culture change a shock, you might get freaked out seeing whole fish not on ice at the markets, you might find the people offering you tuk tuks or selling you stuff in your face or annoying. But his is just how it is. There's no point getting annoyed or frustrated, this is a different country to your own. Enjoy your time and throw yourself into it because you might not get to visit again!

Laura x

Monday, 27 June 2016

video summary

The title is pretty self explanatory but I summarized my 4 months into a little over 4 months. The song is Happiest Man on Earth by Broken Back

Laura x

Sunday, 26 June 2016

the end

The final day has arrived and I am very sad. A lot of people seem to be ready to go home by the time their travel ends but faced with the prospect of full time work I'm not at all excited. I woke up and packed my stuff, showered and then went to get some breakfast. I had a pancake and then wandered round the island, trying (unsuccessfully) to find the beautiful beach everyone photographs which has swings in the sea. I must have got very lost as I ended up in a field of cows and palm trees with no sign of a beach for miles.

I headed back to pick up my bag from the hostel mid afternoon, said bye to the staff then headed off to get the ferry. On my way I saw the family I'd met the day before and they walked down to the harbour with me (interrupting their lunch plans) and it was very helpful having them there as I got a bit lost and they were able to get me the right directions.

Around 3 I got onto my ferry back to the mainland. It was a strangely luxurious one playing films and was very empty, though nothing can drastically improve a bumpy ferry crossing. I arrived and was transferred to a mini bus with some other people from the boat. The journey took an hour or so and I fell asleep for part of it which was good. I was the last to be dropped off and was going to the airport. My flight was at 12.05am and I arrived at the airport at 7.30pm so wasn't even allowed to check in until 9. I sat in a cafe and had some food and used the wifi and then repeated the process once I'd checked in. Fortunately we boarded at like 11 and it was a very nice flight (well as nice as an economy night flight can be). I slept quite a bit though woke for the classic 1am and 5am meals.

 I had a 3 hour stopover in Dubai then boarded my final flight to Gatwick. I did what I had feared for my final weeks and ended up crying on the plane as I was so sad to be returning. A coach journey later I was home. I definitely don't live in the worst place in the world but after everything I've seen england just seems a little average.

And so that is an end to my travels, if anyone has stuck reading this then thank you it's nice to think people are interested! These 4 months have been the best of my life thus far and I can't wait to travel again.

Laura x

Thursday, 23 June 2016

penultimate day

It's all coming to an end far too quickly! I had hoped to say goodbye to Joyce in the morning but by the me I left to go snorkelling she wasn't awake which was a shame. The short term friendships you make when travelling are quite bizarre. I got a big breakfast (the drinks the night before were too strong) and then met my snorkelling group. We went to three different places to snorkel and it was amazing seeing all the different fish and turtles up really close!! I loved it.

We stopped on one of the other islands, Gili Air, for lunch. I sat on my own looking at the menu when a girl came over and asked if I would like to join her and her family. I sat down and learned that they were from Indonesia but on holiday here. We chatted and ate lunch and they even tried to pay for me but i insisted! We returned to the boat and went for our final snorkel together before heading back. I spoke to an English couple and guy on the boat and then agreed to go for a drink with them when we got back to gili t, with plans to meet the Indonesian family for dinner. Popular times! I spent the afternoon chatting to the girl, Devon, and it's so nice talking to people who have been to the same places as you and felt the same way!

I headed back around 5.30 to shower before the sunset but ended up getting completely lost and kissing it which was a shame, but hey, I've seen plenty while travelling so can't complain! Then I honestly had one of the best nights of travelling/my life. I wandered around, booked my airport transfer and then headed to where I'd arranged to meet the Indonesian family. We got dinner at the night market and they helped me choose the food (so useful knowing what you're eating) and I had a bowl of vegetables, rice and noodles and a delicious barbecued tuna kebab. The tables are communal and were very crowded so the parents moved onto a table nearby, while me, Gabbie and Gabriel sat on a table with some Australians and a couple of guys from new Zealand. They were all very loud but fun and sociable and we spent the next few hours discussing travel, different cultures and all kinds of stuff. Gabbie told us a lot about Indonesia and I didn't realise how unaware I was! Everyone was like minded and it was just so nice to have real meaningful conversation. I started to get very tired so at 10.30 ish I said good night, everyone was waving as I walked away it was so sweet. I







went to say goodbye to the parents and tried to pay for dinner but they refused and both hugged me goodbye. People are so selfless and lovely it's honestly changed my perspective of the world!! I walked back to my room feeling happy and tired, packed up by stuff and went to bed.

Laura x
To Gili T! I checked out of my hostel and got picked up to go to gili t at 11 armed with loads of snacks. It was a one hour bus journey to the port where we had to wait for like an hour and a half for the ferry which was annoying and was then another hour and a half. I finally arrived and hadn't planned where to stay so started to wander round but it's mainly bungalows to rent.  Fortunately I spotted the name of a hostel I'd looked at online and so went to check in. The girl sharing my room was asleep ill so after showering I sat in the communal area in the garden. Pretty soon a girl appeared and we started to talk and she asked if I had plans for dinner. I didn't so we went together to the night market which has a buffet style restaurant (brought back terrible memories of food poisoning in luang prabang) but lured in by the cheap prices I filled a bowl. We sat and chatted and a couple next to us (I think they were German) also joined in. It was fun to swap travel stories and she was in a similar situation me having decided to stay out after her friends left and go to Bali alone.

We got some ice cream then headed back to our hostel where a lot of people were now in the communal area. We chatted to a girl from Colorado and decided to go out together that night and also spoke to some of the guys who worked there. At 9ish we went to a bar they'd been to before butbthe live music wasn't good so after a drink went elsewhere. Here the music was amazing and me and the first girl I met, Joyce from Holland, stayed all evening.

Laura x



Tuesday, 21 June 2016

one of my favourite days

Had such a good day! Woke up at 10 ish and had a banana pancake (the free breakfast here) which was delicious. I decided to go to the monkey forest and im still so scared of being attacked by them despite seeing them so many times! It was so funny watching them climb onto people and steal their stuff though.

Afterwards I got some lunch at a cafe, I had a really nice pepper soup and a vegetable juice made mainly of beetroots (not pleasant, had to make myself down it). Then headed to a yoga class. It was held in a large barn and it was so fun doing yoga for an hour and a half especially as it's world yoga day, I felt so relaxed by the end.







I went to get a massage afterwards which was quite odd as it was done by a man and I wasn't wearing much!! Fortunately he wasn't weird. Afterwards I got a manicure (also done by a man). It's nice that they aren't conforming to gender stereotypes!

Next I went back to the cafe of the yoga barn for some dinner. They had a large vegan menu, a lot of it raw, and i had some wild rice and boiled vegetables with a mustard dressing and some vegan ice cream which was delicious!

Afterwards i headed back to the hostel for an evening of browsing the internet and reading, talking briefly with a couple staying in my dorm.

Laura x

Bali!

I started to worry about my time in Bali as it got closer, purely because solo travelling makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. I'm not scared or initimidated, u just find eating alone and even walking alone a little uncomfortable. There's a stigma around people spending time by themselves and I'm actually very glad to be here and challenging that, because it's so freeing! I can spend the next few days exactly how I want to and it's a great way to end the trio before going back to full time work for the summer.

We landed in kuala lumpur at 7am local time and I resisted the temptation of McDonald's and had a traditional Malaysian breakfast like the ones I'd enjoyed in penang, which was a great way to start the day aside from my lack of understanding of the salt shaker resulting in a dangerous amount of seasoning covering my breakfast. But hey, it was still good.

I was very sleepy and didn't do a lot during my three hour stopover but there was a shower at the airport! Such a blessing as although I'd just been in air conditioned metros, airports and the plane I just wanted a shower so much. And I had my towel in my hand luggage so it was a win win situation!

I boarded my flight just after 10 and took my seat next to 2 Chinese women. I spent the first hour or so sleeping with my towel as a blanket. It was wet so definitely not the most comforting thing!! I then listened to music and consumed a lot of biscuits. Soon we'd landed and I collected my bag and headed to the exit where I was bombarded by taxis. The hostel I booked said that there was a shuttle bus from the airport, I enquired and was told there wasn't one. This was an airport employee but I'm pretty sure he just wanted me to use the airport taxi company!!

Faced with no other confused looking backpackers I didn't want to get a taxi alone for the long journey to ubud so I ordered an uber. This was a dangerous move as the local taxi drivers hate uber drivers and fight them if they see them so getting this uber entailed two phone calls to find a secret meeting place. I thought I should keep my wits about me in the car with a stranger, so obviously I fell asleep. Lol. Fortunately he was not a murderer and I  arrived safely at the my hostel.

After settling in I went for a wander around, bought a plug adaptor and got dinner at a restaurant. I headed back to the hostel around 8, and, determined not to be antisocial sat in the communal area. There was no one else there so I eventually gave up and went to bed, but despite the lack of socializing it was a nice day.

Laura x

Monday, 20 June 2016

My time in India has come to an end:( I'm so happy that I was able to visit and that everything went smoothly! I had such a great time here I am already planning my return. I intended to have a lie in after a series of early starts and with the prospect of an over night flight, but one of the maids was cleaning my room early, which was fine as I wasn't tired. I showered and started packing; considering I had no checked in baggage when I arrived it's pretty funny that I've now filled a large bag. Oops! I had some food and then Daniela and I walked down to the market at 11ish. I needed to get some cash out and then we got a juice and looked in some shops. I bought some henna and nail varnish to take back with me (came to a whopping 60p lol) and then we walked back. It was boiling!!

New volunteers arrive today and we met them and had some lunch, then I finished off my packing and the cook and maid helped me put my sari on. They're all so sweet I'll miss them a lot:( At 2.30 ish Daniela and I went over to the orphanage where I spent the afternoon playing with the children and talking. My fav (I love them all but he's particularly cute) made me the sweetest card. I bought some samosas and biscuits for them to have- I wanted to give them something more useful like clothes but couldn't find any. They seemed pretty happy with their samosas though! And then we took a group photo.

I went back to the house about 5 and had a very quick shower as my driver arrived at 5.15! Most people get a taxi to the airport which is about £12 but as my flight isn't until 11pm I decided to get the metro. It didn't take long and wasn't complicated (thank God!). I just kept thinking how sad I was to leave!!

I had a massive problem checking in and had to speak to like 4 different people at opposite sides of the airport but eventually made it in and got through with no problems. It's currently 9.40pm and I won't be able to post this until I have wifi in the morning but I'm waiting for my flight to kuala lumpur then Bali.

Laura x

Taj mahal and a taste of real India

I can't believe we visited the Taj mahal today!! I've wanted to see it for so long and it was a significant reason for me visiting India. the 4.45am wake up wasn't fun but was sooo worth it as by 6am I was already sweating! We got ready (the others elaborately dressed, I wish I'd had my sari!) and then got a tuk tuk the short distance to the Taj mahal. We had to walk quite a bit to get there but it wasn't busy. It was amazing!! The inside is a bit underwhelming as it's a tomb but the outside is stunning! I lost the others and sat outside for a while where i was asked for sooooooo many photos!! It's not a rarity here; we frequently get asked for photos by people on their own or with their children or family but this was crazy!Families kept appearing and at one point like 10 people were surrounding me taking photos! Most of the other volunteers refuse or see it as offensive which i kind of understand but they're not doing it rudely! A lot of them rarely see people who aren't Indian in real life and it's like a strange novelty; they're always complimentary if the comment on our appearence and I just find it funny!




We got a tuk tuk back to the hostel where we had a buffet breakfast which was nice but who really wants spicy curry at 9am?? Then we packed up, checked out and went to a café called Sheroes, owned by victims of acid burn attacks. It was an amazing place; so sad to learn of these women's past but so lovely to know that they'd turned what had happened into something positive. They were beautiful and their stories heartbreaking.

Afterwards we got a tuk tuk to a water park which was pretty far away (I somehow managed to fall asleep despite the awful road surfaces!). We went in and were immediately approached by a member of staff telling us to follow him. He told us we were to be escorted round the park by staff. The others weren't happy with this and said they wanted to go on their own, but i just thought this is obviously happening for a reason and happily obliged. All women wear a waterproof top and trousers so we weren't stared at for being exposed, but honestly everyone acted like we were celebrities. It was so, so bizarre. The men showing us round were nice and friendly but the whole thing was just so funny! There was an open slide with 3 lanes; friends were racing, going down on their fronts or backwards, but when we went we had one of our guards go first to wait at the bottom, then we were allowed single file lying down with our hands behind our heads. It was hilarious, having our own special safety procedures!

People would follow where we went; we went into a room where water came down like rain and danced to Indian music (which was so fun) but when we left so did everyone! We obtained a couple of families who were obsessed with us and posed for entire aquatic photoshoots. While it was funny it was definitely necessary to have the guides; even with the additional protection a couple of men managed to touch me under the water. The water was murky (cute) so the guards couldn't tell quickly enough but a couple of men would touch my leg as I passed them getting out of a pool. It wasn't a big deal but it was very good that the two men with us stopped anything worse happening, shouting in Hindi when they noticed. We also went into a wave pool, usually divided into male and female but not when the waves were on. A huge crowd of men circled us, seeming harmless but it was just a bit intimidating so our men helped us to leave. The park were clearly trying to keep up their reputation, giving us free drinks and offering food which was very sweet. It was just very strange and I wanted to remind everyone that we're no different to them!!

At 5.15 we got a tuk tuk back to the train station, hung out there for a bit where i bought some food for people who clearly needed it and then at 7 we got our train. It was absolutely mental. I can't even explain it and no photo shows it properly. It was so full that people were hanging oUt of the doors but no one got off so everyone was just shoving into the bursting train. We had reserved seats and someone noticed my ticket and tried to help me to move forward which was completely impossible as I couldn't physically move! We finally managed to get to our seats, separately, shouting down the train to work out where we all were! It was so full that people sat on the luggage racks and a guy was sat on my tray table which would have been fine but he wouldn't stop talking to me in English that just didn't make sense. When he asked if I was married I put my headphones in to ignore him. He wasn't a threat; he was about my age and took the hint at that point but he was just so annoying! Fortunately at one station most people got off, through the window I should add as it was too busy to get to the doors. It was great to not be so close to other people!!!


We arrived at the station about 9.30 and our driver collected us and took us home. It was such a good but busy day! I had a bit of dinner, showered then went to bed.

Laura x