Friday, 30 May 2014

Missing a flight

Another vulnerable situation I found myself in was almost a year later when I missed my charter flight off of Zanzibar island. I had to get a connecting flight in Dar es Salaam up to Nairobi and from memory, there wasn't much time in between the two flights. What was even more annoying was the plane was still on the tarmac when I arrived and after both myself and my guide talking (begging) with the airport staff in their little shack, and me indicating I could just run across and hop on (surely), it was no good and the plane left without me. The male airport staff were laughing at me when they asked for a further 50 dollars to secure my place on the next flight off the island, so I paid up (lucky I had enough cash, these were the days when I didn't carry a credit card) and then it was an excruciating wait of two to three hours in the tiny, hot, airless departure lounge where I wondered if I really was on the next flight out. I sat and as each minute passed, I tried to work out if I was still going to make my connection in Dar with time to spare. My guide had long gone, I think he'd left for another tour even before I'd paid for a new ticket, so I watched the lounge fill up hoping I would be flying out with these people.

In hindsight, I can see that everything was going to be ok, but at the time I was new to travelling on my own and I didn't have a clue what was going on and didn't like the idea of "winging it" as much as I do now (because now I see that's actually the fun part of travel... not knowing how things are going to turn out). And even when I eventually got to Dar, I was still clueless and dazed as to where I should be going within the airport. In fact, as I walked onto my next plane, I asked the flight attendant whether this was the correct flight just to be sure. Luckily it was, but by then I was so out of sync, I didn't trust myself to get anything right!

What I learned from this experience is first and foremost, don't always rely on your guide to get you where you need to be with plenty of time to spare. The majority of guides I've encountered are excellent and efficient, but watch out for the laid back, unsure ones, especially if they've been entrusted with getting you on a flight.

I still don't know whether I was paying for a new ticket or whether I was paying a bribe to get me off the island. The way they were laughing at my misfortune makes me think the latter. Always carry a credit card to get you out of financial shtook, plus if your card is cloned, it's better it's a credit card rather than your bank account card - more to come on this topic. 

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Trapped in a carpet shop!

If you travel a lot, you'll know that being trapped inside a textiles and / or carpet shop is a common occurrence.

This particular incident in India began innocently enough. I decided to catch up with emails when we arrived into Agra early evening and, after settling into my room and making plans to meet the rest of the group at 8 for dinner, I wandered outside the hotel to the rickshaw rank and asked one of the drivers to take me to the nearest internet cafe. We bartered, agreed a price and then we were off. There was something niggling me about this chap, nothing sinister, just that he'd mentioned a carpet shop and I only had a couple of a hours to spare, so I paid more attention than usual to the route we took just in case I needed to abandon my rickshaw and walk / run back to the hotel.

It made sense when I realised the internet cafe was in the back of a textiles shop, so I logged on and got busy with emails and must have been at it for a good 45 minutes when I noticed my driver along with the shop owner were now talking with a few more men who had come inside for a chat. Nothing unusual, just friends getting together after a day's work, but still. Alarm bells started going off inside my head and I wrapped up my work and made to leave, but I totally knew what was coming. I never got anywhere near the door before the hard selling began. After several futile attempts at saying "No thanks" and tapping my watch, I caved. No big deal, I did want to get some presents, but I ended up buying something from each of them, except my driver. I gave as good as I got and bartered hard, which is my first bit of advice - however "wobbley" you feel, don't show it. Satisfied, I was then allowed to leave the shop, but I noticed my driver was excitable and, as soon as we were back on the road, he started to babble about his Manager's carpet shop and lo and behold, that's where we were going next. I was told I must buy something otherwise his Manager would punish him. I mean, this guy was either a great fibber in line for some great commission, or extremely and sincerely desperate. The more I insisted he take me back to the hotel, the more he begged and pleaded.

We ended up driving by his Manager's place because he wouldn't take my multiple "NOs" seriously and his Manager came out and was shouting at him, so there I am caught in the middle of this dispute. What would you do? For me, annoyance and anger crept in (time was ticking along and it was getting dark) so I got down from the rickshaw and started to walk in the direction of the hotel, refusing to pay my driver. He obviously feared going unpaid more than he feared his Manager's wrath because he came after me and took me back to the hotel. I did have to make an empty promise I'd check out the carpets the next morning, but once inside the safety of the hotel and back with my travelling companions, I didn't have anything to worry about.

Looking back at this now, I know I made several mistakes - taking off on my own at that time of day, not remembering to tell anybody where I was going... but I also made some good moves like tracking the internet cafe so I knew how to get back to the hotel and remaining firm but fair throughout the whole thing. If I was going to have to buy from each of them before being able to leave the shop, I was going to get the wares for a decent price. What happened here is a regular element of travel and part and parcel of travelling the world, so I didn't feel like I was compromising any of my values or principles. If you do make a mistake, as I did, take back control of the situation as soon as you can - and stick to your guns. You're always going to come up against locals looking to get as much money from you (the tourist) as possible.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Travel scenarios

In my next set of posts, I'm going to be reliving some of my most vulnerable travel experiences and how I dealt with each scenario.

I've had everything... from the wandering hands of a Vietnamese rally car driver on a long haul flight (who unfortunately I was sat next to for 14 hours - yes 14 hours!) to being trapped inside a carpet shop, being robbed during varying stages of my trips, having my identity stolen and the ramifications, being taken off alone on a camel into the desert to reach our camp before sundown, and always always always coping with the unwanted attention from some of the shady characters I've encountered along the way from their desire to get out of their respective country to romancing to even beyond that.

Travelling should be fun, whilst exercising caution and common sense, but I was extremely green when I started at
the ripe young age of 18. I've always believed and trusted myself and I've always had that confidence in myself that I will act in the strongest manner possible when confronted with an unsavoury situation, but often you are so caught in the moment, you very quickly lose your head letting the trickster take advantage. And it happens so fast, it leaves your head spinning.

But don't be alarmed, there are things you can do and precautions you can take before, during and even after
if you still have worries and concerns. We will be exploring these over the coming weeks leading up to the release of my new, free e-guide "Safe Travels".

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

When writing is there to save you

There is a lot of advice out there about how to write around the day job and the other daily pressures of life, but what happens when unforeseen circumstances introduce themselves into the mix, like long-term illness, and you immediately find yourself involved?

I'm going through something along these lines at the moment and I can only describe it like this: one minute you're juggling all the little pebbles in life that make up everything you're used to, when all of a sudden you see a big boulder hurtling towards you. You manage to catch it but it keeps dragging you further and further away from what you know and love.

Everybody copes and manages in different ways and we each have varying levels of patience and tolerance. There are days when I envy the people without responsibility. I don't have any solutions to share, but I just wanted to connect with fellow writers going through something similar. This is the first time in almost a month I've been able to sit and write fresh material, freely and without any pressures to be at the surgery or the hospital or run to the pharmacy - and this, in itself, is a tonic.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Nella Last's War


I love wartime literature so this book was definitely for me. Nella Last's account of everyday life back then is fascinating from the cost of things, to the rationing, to her opinions of the country's leaders... and to write the way she did with bucketfuls of empathy, humour, sadness, contemplation and beautiful nostalgia is truly captivating.

This is the diary of Nella Last, Housewife, 49, which she kept religiously during the Second World War for the Mass Observation project. Charles Madge, a poet and journalist, and Tom Harrisson, an anthropologist set up the Mass-Observation project in 1937 to "record the voice of the people". Nella Last was one of 500 people from all over the UK to take part in this extraordinary national writing project.

I connected with her entries across the decades because she's writing from her perspective, not only as a housewife, but as a woman during those years. She's a go getter who comes into her own during the war years and she likes to balance that positive attitude with a peaceful, stable home life. Unfortunately, she does live with regrets and unfulfilled dreams because of the world she lives in, but she's someone who makes the best of everything, always. Creative, resourceful, never wavering. Despite suffering with terrible nerves, regularly feeling depressed within and not forgetting what she's living through (Barrow-in-Furness suffered terribly during the Blitz and was often overlooked), she's outwardly a comedian who finds the strength from somewhere to entertain the people from day to day and keep their spirits up.

I am very much looking forward to reading her Post-War Diaries now "Nella Last's Peace".

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Being a travel writer

Here are some tips for making your travel content interesting and relevant. These don't really differ from any piece of writing you do. The principles are the same.

  • Target your feature to a specific market so you can tailor the content accordingly and write in the correct style and tone for the publication

  • Find a fresh angle

  • Write about what you know because that will make your piece credible

  • Answer these - What? Where? When? Why? How? Who?

  • Know what the point of your article is and emphasize this throughout

  • Write a great introduction

  • Keep the content tight - no flowery prose, no cliches, no unnecessary, complicated words, and show don't tell

  • Be accurate with your facts  

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Starting out as a travel writer

Here are some ideas for how to establish yourself as a travel writer:

  • Competition for the magazines you see on the book stands is intense, so start with submitting online articles and fillers.

  • Build your portfolio through a website or blog. Articles, fillers, photos and videos should all feature.

  • Find your niche and own it. By owning it, I mean sharing your stories on social media, blogging, interacting with other blogs and participating in online forums.

  • As well as networking online, network in the flesh. Go to travel events. Go to travel blogging events. Go to events that fit your niche within travel. Make up some business cards and get them into people's hands.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Holidaying to a budget

You may want to seriously watch your pennies whilst on holiday, or you may like to keep those finances in check on the proviso that the budget is there but you have a little room for maneuver, or even if you're just keen to educate yourself on how, where and when you can save to avoid being ripped off, here are some ideas and things to watch out for:

  • No frills airlines are not always cheaper once you've added extras like hold luggage, in-flight meals, seat selection, oh and an oxygen mask on RyanAir! For example, BA do some very competitive holiday packages and you'll be flying with BA.

  • Always compare package deals if you're thinking about booking each segment separately.

  • Apartments may be cheaper than hotels.

  • Check out what you should be paying for things like car hire and excursions ahead of time. Use price comparison websites.

  • See which currencies are performing poorly against the £ and that's where you'll get a bargain holiday.

  • Go to your local GP for your jabs. Travel clinics are more expensive.

  • Avoid travelling in peak UK periods, unless you're visiting family for Easter or Christmas.

  • When booking, use a debit card rather than a credit card to avoid the handling fee.

  • A la carte menus will always be more expensive.

  • Check out the best way to carry your money whilst in-country.

  • Annual travel insurance policies are amazing value for money, rather than purchasing single trip, even if you don't plan to travel again within the year.

  • Apply for a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) if travelling within the EU. Added bonus and peace of mind to compliment your travel insurance policy.

Travel changes

Looking back through some very old holiday snaps got me thinking how everything about travel has changed so much even just in my lifetime. From researching a destination to booking the holiday to how we capture the memories during and after... and with the changes in Security, I often wonder whether I would've been able to bring back some of the more exotic items I have in the past like spice powders from Zanzibar in unmarked packets and huge quantities of dates from Marrakech. I remember being able to take big bottles of water and whatever size toiletries in my hand luggage including giant cans of hairspray (could be considered a weapon!) and no one batted an eyelid. Now everything is squeezed into 100ml bottles, tightly sealed in a security bag and scrutinized like there's no tomorrow.

But what we've lost in the innocence of travel, we've gained in the speed, efficiency and transparency of the booking process and the communication and knowledge along the way. No hotel can escape the truth of TripAdvisor and if that one excursion you really want to do is no good, you'll be able to get a head's up and make alternative plans long before you set foot on the plane. You can communicate with people who have travelled the same roads you plan to travel, you can find exact timings for journeys, where the likely rest breaks will be and detailed descriptions of what to expect on that one remote bus full of chickens and sleepy locals.

Whilst walking into a Travel Agent's, picking up a brochure, saying I want to go there and then having everything done for you is fun (it is, I've done just that), the convenience of the World Wide Web is pretty darn amazing. It's not just the fact that everything is at your fingertips, but also because the journey from inspiration to research to booking to sharing is an incredible experience if you really and truly love travel. Everyday new concepts for booking a holiday are being created and it makes for an interesting ride. 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Smarter, wiser travel

Here's a post on how to be a responsible traveller in six easy steps:

Which company?
Choose wisely and ask questions of the company you are looking to book through. Let them know you are a responsible consumer. Is the company certified and has it won any awards? What policies have they implemented in-house and within the countries they visit? Ask them how they educate their employees and potential customers like yourself, and whether the tours they offer use local guides, family run hotels and guesthouses, and locally source transport. A lot of tour operators today have the basics of an RT policy, so make sure you do your research and support those companies that are making the effort to educate and promote a better quality travel experience.

Are you taking a flight?
One of the easiest things you can do even before you have left your house is to offset your carbon omissions either through the company you have booked with or independently online. The Climate Care website ( will take you through calculating your emissions and buying your offsets, but more importantly, it will explain why this is such a positive step for travelling responsibly. Ultimately, your offsets are helping fund some great projects such as creating efficient cooking stoves in Uganda and Cambodia, introducing the human powered treadle pump to parts of India where diesel pumps were once used for irrigation farming, and the creation of the Mulan wind farm in China to generate electricity.

Contributing to local communities by using local produce or services is another easy way to promote RT. A responsible beach holiday is not out of the question! If the hotel sources local produce and towels and bedding, even furniture from the market down the road, sells local wares in its shop and organises trips and excursions in the immediate area – these are all the makings of an RT worthy trip. You have a wonderful opportunity to give something back simply by staying at this one hotel. After all, travel is a two way experience – you have a great holiday, see some amazing sights and meet some great people - and all the while you’re helping to support the town or village you’re staying in. What could be better than that!

However, be aware of tourist traps!
Dancing bears, dancing monkeys, riding ostriches for fun – whatever it may be – this is exploitation and should be avoided at all costs. Obviously there are touristy hotspots in every major city you pass through which are an essential part of your holiday or tour – and to not visit them would be criminal – but being aware of local people attempting to make a quick buck with mass produced souvenirs, and recognising the difference between a genuine performance and a performance simply to make money, are all ways to ensure you are not being taken for a ride. Search out the local markets or registered cooperatives where you can see the souvenirs being crafted right in front of your eyes. And then barter for a fair price with the person who made it. It makes all the difference in the world.

Respect and observe local customs at all times.
Did you know you could be unknowingly exploiting a person, a tribe or a village if you take a photo of them without asking permission? Sometimes we may feel it is our right to get that perfect snap for our holiday album back home, but these are people who are just like you and me – and we have to respect that. For example; if it is customary to ask the local chief of the village beforehand whether you can take photos, you should do this so as not to offend. Guide books such as Lonely Planet and Rough Guides are essential reading if you want to get a quick precise of local protocol before you travel. Licking your fingers after a meal or touching your mouth in Ethiopia is considered to be very rude, so don’t make that mistake and swot up before you leave!

And finally, feedback is essential especially if you have been travelling with a tour operator. If RT really is at the core of their company, they will appreciate and act on any suggestions you may have. So make sure you have your say and fill in a customer questionnaire. If the product reflects the hype, tell them, and if you feel it doesn’t, it’s probably even more important to tell them so they can get it right next time.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Rewards of travel

If you ever need a reason to shock yourself because things are too samey samey and you feel stuck in life, throw yourself into a travel experience. Dealing with getting from A to B to C to D and all that that entails will quickly absorb your attention, leaving the mundane and boring or whatever else you're trying to escape from to fester on its own for a while. Once you're on the road, you can relax and enjoy everything in the experience that dips, tickles and touches your senses - and watch the real you unfolding right before your very eyes.

Maybe you thought you were cool, calm and collected in the office - I know I certainly did. It was only when I missed the first of three flights to get me home after a trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar that my real temperament came racing to the surface. Panic set in and with panic came anger and frustration. My father had recently passed away. A day after the funeral I was flying to Africa for the first time and while the trip had been an experience of a lifetime, now, at the end all I wanted to do was get home and start my grieving - but I'd missed my charter off of Zanzibar Island. When I eventually boarded the final flight from Nairobi, I wept silently for a good portion of the journey. Luckily I didn't have anyone sitting next to me, otherwise I would've drowned them with my tears.

Now fast forward three years and I've just flown from Lalibela to Gondar in Ethiopia. I'm at Arrivals and there's no sign of my guide or driver. They didn't fly with me, they drove and I'm wondering if something happened. I'm also acutely aware we have a packed schedule ahead of us. Everybody leaves and I'm the last one in the hall. I surprise myself by taking a pew to figure out a plan. One of the porters comes over and we get chatting. He asks me what I'm waiting for and I tell him the situation. He asks around on my behalf and one of the other porters makes a phone call for me. The next I'm hearing, my driver and guide are just doing a spot of shopping for me in Gondar town and they'll be along shortly. Apologies for the delay.

I didn't panic. I didn't get angry. And it all worked out well in the end. So now, I make sure to keep my head.

And that's just one of the many things I've learned...

Whatever travel teaches you - seeing how the other half lives and putting your life in perspective, finding out that meeting new people isn't half as scary as you thought, experiencing new cultures is actually rather refreshing and fascinating, the wonderful sense of freedom is second to none, the stereotypes are rarely ever correct, you had better (or worse) instincts than you realised, or you never knew you could find such a peace within yourself - whatever it is, hang on to it because that's what you'll remember the most when you recount the stories over and over again.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

What travel means to me

I'm going to be blogging a short series on Travel leading up to the launch of my free e-guide Safe Travels and my Travelling Dreams collection.

I think an apt way to start is to tell you what travel means to me and how it’s changed my life.

I think a world without travel would be like a world without people. There would be nothing to challenge you, inspire you or open your mind to. It’s really difficult to not be just another tourist when you’re visiting somewhere new and want to tick off those all important sites and excursions, but the way I’ve found to do it is simply to mingle. Get out there and talk to the locals, sample the food and explore your surroundings.

My confidence has soared since I started travelling regularly and I love the way it’s brought the world to my doorstep. I have friends everywhere now and my network continues to grow.

I recommend travel to anyone - and especially if you're stuck in a rut. Once bitten by the bug, you'll be smitten with the bug!