The joy of travel can offer unexpected surprises, each destination with its own hidden secrets, some unexpectedly stunning, some unexpectedly affordable. Sometimes, there is nothing you read about your destination that can really prepare you for what you can discover from a country and its culture! Such unexpected surprises not only help you learn a lot more about a country, but more importantly travel helps your learn things about yourself. And that is why travel is so rewarding. Our former student intern Ellie Meakin has been traveling the world in the last few months and sharing her unexpected travel discoveries with us via this blog.
In the words of Paul Coelho, “We only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen!”
Do your research, and prepare to enjoy the unexpected
Experiencing a country for yourself is so important. However, doing your homework and research before you travel is really crucial too. It can be exciting as well, looking up things to do, the best dishes to savour and listening to other traveler’s tales from around the country. It definitely made me more eager to start my adventure! However, it’s important to be aware that because everything changes so rapidly, especially online, some blogs can be misleading because they are out of date. This is something I discovered on a number of occasions whilst travelling.
It took me a few experiences to realise that the blogs and stories I had been reading didn’t live up to my own experiences of that country. In fact they were often drastically different and sometimes negative towards certain countries and cultures. For example Myanmar, a country with little tourist advice online, as its boarders have only just re-opened again to tourism – meaning that to gain insight into the country, the best way was through other travel bloggers sharing their experiences. However this was where I had maybe read the worst advice, suggesting that Myanmar didn’t have ATM’s. Though this may have been true 10 years ago, it definitely wasn’t when I was travelling in 2016. Through believing one particular blog, I proceeded to withdraw all the money I would need for my adventure there beforehand, a risky move! Although I was trying to be cautious, looking back I was actually doing exactly what my mother had warned me not to do! As soon as I touched down I was shocked to find most streets, even in some rural towns, had access to ATM’s, not to mention KFC’s. The wad of cash, making me feel like a millionaire and somewhat exposed at the time; it was not needed at all and I could have just withdrawn cash on demand like in any other country and felt a lot safer!
I also found that traveling unexpected routes actually helped me change previous misconceptions I had about some countries. The biggest surprise for me was in Albania. After reading many blogs and of course hearing lots of media stories about the country it’s troubled recent past, an impoverished peoples and so on, I tentatively crossed the border with some trepidation. However, I was instantly taken aback by the beautiful mountain landscapes and the true kindness, openness and generosity of the people.
Sitting in a café, unable to understand the menu, the owner took me into his quaint kitchen to show me how everything was prepared – seeming generally delighted to explain and talk me through local dishes and the history behind them. I hadn’t experienced genuine hospitality like this in Balkans before, Albania was the first. Each town I visited in Albania was the same, locals excited to talk to you and offer advice on the best hiking spots and viewpoints. I met a wonderful hostel owner, who described to me the sadness she holds because of Albania’s terrible reputation in the world. Though seeing first hand for me, it was one of the best experiences I had traveling anywhere, maybe because it is so mysterious and every new venture a discovery! I read in many online guides that Albania is impossible to travel, with few road networks indicating that there was no other way to get about than to hitch-hike on those few roads. To my surprise I discovered it had a very reliable bus routes, and failing that the alternative was an ever present independent taxi driver offering to take you for the whole journey, and at half the fare of a coach! Albania was indeed an unexpected surprise. And what a shame that the people lose out on tourism in this country due to its bad rep.
Looking back, my best days were always the unexpected ones. In a hostel I was staying at in India I met a lovely Glaswegian Saxophone player (very unexpected!), who invited me to visit a music school he had stumbled across that day. It was such a wonderful experience, as soon as we arrived we were greeted with open arms and bundled into a small side room to listen and sing with a young blind musician. Due to my lack of music ability I took the role of chief clapper, apparently a very important role! However it was such a unique and special day, the chance to play and listen first hand to classical Indian instruments and songs. An unexpected experience, that I will never forget and something I certainly never predicted I would have done.
I believe that it is definitely the people you meet that create your travel experience. Meeting fellow travelers along the way is the best way to get the most current travel advice! Suggesting certain cities to visit and activities to enjoy, the people I met definitely swayed my path away from my original route, and for the better! One traveler I kept bumping into in the Balkans, suggested I must make my way up into the Montenegro mountains, as they had the best rafting and mountain hiking he had experienced! So after a long and windy bus journey I found myself in a beautiful mountain town of Zabljak. Staying in a great hostel, Hikers Den, the only one in the town, the owner directed me and some others to some stunning hiking routes and of course helped us organise rafting! One evening after a few beers, we all decided we should cycle to the Nevidio Canyon the next day! It was such a beautiful, be it slightly exhausting, unexpected day out. The views were incredible and breath-taking and totally worth the exhaustion, and the sensation of jelly instead of legs after the journey!
Nothing you read is better than when your own actual experience of a country and its culture. No blog or forum can truly describe all the amazing sights, sounds and memories you get from escaping your comfort zone a little bit. I often think this ‘unexpected travel experience’ is a bit like housesitting. You venture forward to try something new, a new location, neighbourhood or country even, and with a few suggestions from people you meet along the way you enjoy a vast array of new experiences. People who housesit are responsible adults who are searching for an alternative type of affordable travel. HouseSitMatch offers police and reference checks on house sitters as well as new and secure ways of initiating and securing contact with other members while retaining privacy until they are ready to commit to a housesit and reveal their identity. Because of this, a much safer and regulated community has been created. This building and strengthening of relationships now means that homeowners are able to leave their homes in the safe hands of new friends.
What ever your travel experience, the people you meet make that travel experience so much richer. From my experience of travel both locally in the UK and across the world I truly believe the best way to experience a culture is to be immersed it! Whether it is the wonderful locals excited to chat to you about the country’s history and their favourite places to go for a stunning mountain view, or fellow travelers sharing and swapping stories and advice. These are the experiences that makes travel so exciting and unforgettable. And of course be prepared to expect the unexpected and more importantly to absolutely enjoy your travels, every surprising turn in the road!
If you would like to try house-sitting register with HouseSitMatch and we can help you find either a housesitter to help you, or a housesit to start your journey!