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.
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.
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".
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.
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".
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.
Starting out as a travel writer
Here are some ideas for how to establish yourself as a travel writer:
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:
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.
Blogging is an amazing concept so here I am giving it a whirl. You'll get words. You'll get pics. Sometimes a vid or two. You'll get tongue in cheek, the odd humble opinion and an honest insight into my travels and writing life. Maybe even a few gems along the way. I'll be musing on home turf as I see more and more of the UK and sharing my experiences further afield on holidays and adventurous trips across the globe.