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When the apocalypse comes, I know where I want to run

I just got back from an idyllic weekend up north with friends and I still can’t handle reading the interweb, or even thinking much about what the hell is going on. So instead I will tell you what I learned far, far away from WiFi and mobile reception.*

  • The Spanish can turn a phrase like none other.
    ME CAGO EN LA LECHE!
  • The Shim Sham can (and should) be done to nearly anything with a beat, but most importantly, Gwen Stefani’s ‘Rich Girl’.
  • The cure for a hangover is the top of a hill and a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer. The jury is out on whether or not hail also helps.
  • Every body of water in Scotland is warmer than Lake Baikal is in December, and this is how I convince myself I absolutely must get in when given the chance.
  • Midges are some kind of award-winning level of awful. (But they’re still better than Nigel Farage.)
  • Economies of scale are for real. I still can’t believe how little we paid for the amount of food and booze we consumed. I guess this highlights one of the only downsides of living alone. More big, communal dinners, please!
  • Watching beer freeze instantly upon opening is better than watching probably 95% of what’s on television these days.
  • 3.30am is a fine time for a walk. I recommend you bring a bottle of port, too.
  • Three words: Slow. Motion. Video.
  • This country. Let me tell you. In any light or weather, at every time of day. Scotland is beautiful.

*Note that this is not nearly an exhaustive list.

I wish we didn’t have to leave our paradise as soon as we did.

HOWEVER. I think my next project will be creating some regular forms of escape for the wider population. If everyone had weekends like we just had – even once a year – the world would be a nicer place.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back to not reading the interweb for a while.

I suggest you do the same.

Yes, I am angry

As an American living abroad, I have been trying for a long, long time to figure out how I continue to help and even relate to a place I have voluntarily left behind. Home is not America for me. Home is Scotland and I am British, and I cannot split myself in two. We have our own problems here, and it’s impossible to devote equal care and action to both places, particularly when one is an ocean away.

But while the pitifully lacking sentencing of a convicted rapist and the mass shooting attack on a community that never gets to take a deep breath are American problems, rape culture and hateful, violent crimes are worldwide problems. They are inequality problems. And they are worth all the fight we can muster.

There’s that thing about the definition of insanity being that you do the same over and over and expect different results. But I don’t think anyone expects anything at all anymore. Not in America.


When I was about 20 and sitting in a hostel in Cesky Krumlov talking to an Australian guy who was on a round-the-world trip, he was telling me he’d love to go to the US but he was too scared. Because doesn’t everyone have a gun? Why are there so many guns?

I firmly reassured him that no way, dude, unless you’re specifically in a rough neighbourhood, on the whole, you’re pretty safe. Guns were around, but in my privileged, white, middle class experience, they were not a thing I worried about. Columbine had already happened, but mass shootings were not yet the norm.

But now? In addition to everything else, there have been incidents with guns at both my high school and, indirectly, my college. Guns ARE everywhere. I am still shocked when I hear news of guns in the UK, but gun violence, including mass shooting, is so standard in the US that as the first trickle of news of Orlando came through, before there were any details, it wasn’t even remotely surprising.

If I had that same conversation with that Australian today, I’d be more sympathetic to his views. Things have changed. They’ve gotten worse. My friends are having kids and they are worried. I do not actively fear being in public when I do go to the US, but I am uneasy in general, in a way I never was before.

Generally it is a good, sensible thing that our President doesn’t have absolute power, but it’s been obvious for a long time how frustrated Obama is about his inability to make effective changes to gun control because they won’t get through Congress.

Meanwhile the government spends so much time and energy making everything BUT getting a gun harder. Making women’s rights and healthcare a total minefield. Making something as everyday as going to the goddamned bathroom into an absolute nightmare for Trans people.

This post started two weeks ago when I was feeling rage about the joke of a sentence Brock Turner got for being a dipshit horrendous rapist. But it grew quickly to be about all of the things the US cannot seem to solve. And while I was still waffling about how to frame it, the senseless hate-fueled violence hopped the pond – last week Jo Cox, an MP who routinely stood up for immigrants, was stabbed and shot on her way home from regular office hours for her constituents. I can only hope that’s not a sign of things to come for this country.


20 years ago, there WAS a mass shooting in the UK. It was in a primary school in Dunblane. On 13 March 1996, a 43-year-old former scout leader shot sixteen school children and their teacher, Gweneth Mayor, in Dunblane Primary School’s gym. He then shot himself. Assault weapons were already banned here, but he used legally obtained handguns.

In a conversation we had just after Sandy Hook, Kristina told me about how fast the gun laws changed in the UK after Dunblane. In 1997, the UK passed laws banning private possession of handguns almost completely. Even the UK’s Olympic shooters fall under this ban and are unable to train in England, Scotland, or Wales.

Since then, there was one incident in Cumbria in 2010 where a taxi driver went on a spree killing. But mass shootings are otherwise unheard of here, and we have one of the lowest rates of gun homicide in the world. Even police don’t usually carry guns.

Yes. That’s right. Even the police don’t carry guns. Do you know how NICE that is?

How it is that a similar change has not already happened in the US baffles me.


I have been told by many, including my own father, when discussing misogyny and the bullshit women put up with, that I can’t get so angry about things. But I disagree. I can get angry. I am angry. I will stay angry.

Women are told all our lives that being angry isn’t attractive or ladylike. Fuck that. Anger is productive. Anger doesn’t make me bitter or horrible or unhappy – it makes me active.

I will stay angry as long as rapists are getting away with it. I will stay angry as long as, as Mali said, it’s easier to buy an assault rifle than a golden retriever in America. I will stay angry as long as people are targets of hate because of who they love. I will stay angry so that I’m not complacent.

Anger and love are not mutually exclusive. I am full of both. What would change without anger? Without love? They the most potent motivators I know.


One of the most frustrating things about being a woman is being told by a man – and this happens ALL THE TIME – that they are a feminist ‘but…’ insert any number of things that are a woman’s fault or that we shouldn’t complain about so much or aren’t we overreacting just a little bit or shouldn’t we just be a little stronger in the face of abuse or a little more conservative in the way we dress and on and on and on.

And trying and trying and trying to make a man realise that they will never understand what it is like to feel an entire movement is resting on your shoulders. To question yourself for hours on whether or not you should speak up in return, because all your life you’ve been told to pick your battles, which is valid advice in general, but in terms of feminism, we really need to pick more of them.

If you think picking more battles makes me a pain in the ass, well, maybe you should examine WHY you feel that way.

And then think of what a pain in the ass it is to always just a little bit fear for your personal safety when you walk home alone in the dark, even if that fear is just sitting in the back of your mind in a corner. What a pain in the ass it is to feel lucky that you’ve never experienced more than low-level street harassment that all women experience.

Let me reiterate that. To feel LUCKY you have never been sexually assaulted or raped. It should have nothing to do with luck. But that’s how I, and plenty of other women, feel about it.

To constantly work against the society ingrained notion that what I’m wearing or drinking or saying is responsible for what happens to me, not the actual person DOING it. To constantly have to remind people that it is not our responsibility as women to fix the system.

To see that somehow, even today, a hateful, racist, misogynist, scumbag of a human being has managed to get as far as the Republican nomination for leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world, and to watch the Democratic nominee constantly take extra shit because she is a woman (historic! Finally!) and extra extra shit because her opponent is who he is.

To know you always have to fight a little bit harder, but that aggressively asking for what you deserve is seen as an undesirable trait for you while the man across the room aggressively asking for what he deserves is seen as strong and effective.

To do all of this anyway and take extra abuse for it in the process. Because if you don’t suck it up and handle the backlash, fewer people will join you in doing the same and nothing will ever change.

And then having men tell you you’re overreacting or taking it too seriously or being ridiculous.

Yeah. That is enough to make anyone crazy, right?

But I’m the pain in the ass.

And that’s just being a woman. You know who takes even MORE shit? The LGBTQ community. To have something as hateful as a mass shooting happen to a community of people who already have to deal with so much fear and persecution. To have the safe spaces they have worked so hard to build for themselves violated in the face of baseless hate. To see them unable to help their community because there are ACTUAL FUCKING LAWS against it.

But, you know, god forbid you take away our right to have an automatic weapon in our home. Because that is helping everyone, isn’t it?


Feminism is equality. Simple. And all of these problems come from some people’s inability to see others as equal. Because of gender, sexual orientation, mental health. We need to fix the way we look at all of these things as a society. Particularly in America.

And what am I doing? I am making noise. I’m writing to representatives. I’m talking to everyone who will listen and even some who won’t. I’m donating time and money and love. I’m being an ally. I’m being a woman.

Stop asking me what I’m doing and start asking what you can do.

My life is awesome. The lives of my female and LGBTQ friends are also awesome. But the standard, inbuilt obstacles associated with being who we are regularly exhaust and frustrate the best of us. We can’t just DO something – we have to navigate the bullshit at the same time. But we are all on the same team. We don’t stop working or fighting. We have productive anger, and we have endless reserves of love.

It is easy to be an ally. All you need to do is acknowledge what it is like for someone else. Don’t diminish them by competing with your own problems. Don’t try to one-up or match. If you feel your own problems relate, then use them as a way to understand that sure, it is hard for you sometimes, but it’s harder for someone else.

Listen. Think. Believe them. Fight WITH them.

Flawless Plans

Just a short one today, because I feel compelled to point out my friend’s fantastic blog, Flawless Plans, that everyone should be reading.

For someone who writes a travel blog, I don’t really read a lot of travel blogs. I tend to hate them. I find single entries really useful for planning things but I don’t like a lot of the writing I find enough to add travel blogs to my regular interweb reading roster.

Then my friend Mali, who I went to college with, started tracking her family’s drive across the US and eventual flight to New Zealand to live and work for a year. And I am so in love with it. I have been reminded again how talented the people I went to school with are, especially in the writing department, and that makes me really happy.

It’s hard work keeping a regular post schedule going. To do it while traveling is even harder. And to do it with two small children to take care of, and do it WELL, is incredible and commendable, and has been producing on-point and often deeply hilarious results.

I have been able to relate to a lot of what Mali is writing even from a completely divergent life path. This may be partially because she is my friend, but I think it’s mostly because she is (and always has been) blisteringly honest and willing to deal out some pretty personal, internal stuff in a beautifully-written way.

I won’t ramble on more about it. Just do yourself a favour and go read Flawless Plans. It is genuinely fantastic.

A love letter to Lindy Hop

It’s Frankie Manning’s birthday today, and also World Lindy Hop Day. And since dancing has done so much for me in such a relatively short period of time, I’m going to gush for a minute.

Perhaps a lot of these positive personal changes are a result of age and experience, but I’m pretty sure Lindy found me at the exact right moment, so there’s something to be said for the perfect storm.

Sometime in the summer of 2013 when I was finally coming out of a pretty dark place, Duncan showed me a Movits! video that had some of the Harlem Hot Shots in it (SO MUCH CHARLESTON). I immediately fell in love with a random Swedish hip-hop swing band in a way I’d not fallen in love with a band since I was a teenager, and the ‘oh-swing-dancing-is-a-THING-and-wow-it’s-kind-of-awesome’ wheels started turning.

It took 9 months (and my friend Kate mentioning she’d been thinking about trying swing dancing while we were eating ice cream) for me to go to my first lesson. And another 6 months to the tipping point, when I was considering giving up, but the perfect combination of circumstances and people landed me in ESDS, and something clicked.

I met, and continue to meet, some of the best humans I have ever known. I have incredible friends – family, really – that have come from dancing. I discovered a worldwide community where I’ve been welcomed with encouragement and enthusiasm. I now know such a huge variety of instensely intelligent, introspective, strong, and talented-in-all-kinds-of-fields people that I may have never known if we weren’t all doing this crazy dance together. How lucky is that? On its own.

But there is so much more. For one thing, body image. Lindy is for everyone. You don’t have to be some model perfect looking human being to be a good dancer, you just need some rhythm and an ability to have some fun. People of all shapes and sizes and ages do this dance and they all look awesome because they are freakin’ enjoying themselves. It’s a nice big ‘fuck you’ to the imagery we’re constantly bombarded with about what’s good-looking and happy.

And personally, after dancing for a while and realizing my body could do all this stuff I never thought I’d manage even a year before, my self-image got a lot more positive. Of course I have days where I’m like, oh my god, I hate all my clothes and I feel like garbage, but for the most part, I feel pretty damn good. I am the same size I’ve always been, I’m just stronger, healthier, and happier about it.

After my first full weekend event (ELX 2015), I felt so badass, I went out and bought the first bikini I have ever owned. (I did need a new bathing suit, it wasn’t just a random decision.) I was 31. I never, ever thought I’d feel comfortable enough to wear a bikini in my life. Then I christened that sucker in Lake Baikal.

So the confidence boost in general is pretty transformative. I mean, in addition, if you had told me a few years ago that I’d regularly be going up to strangers asking them to dance, I’d have looked at you like you were an alien from a strange and distant universe. I am so not that person. It’s still pretty hard to be fair, but I do it all the time. I’m constantly amazed at this. (And at the fact that I can do Suzie-Qs, which is like some kind of disconnected foot magic.)

I also know that mustering up the chutzpah to do the whole quitting my job and finally going on this massive trip I’d thought about for so long thing had a lot to do with the nerve, direction, and general belief in myself that was not previously present in such high doses.

(Also also, I bought a bike, which I’d never have done if I hadn’t started dancing, but that’s a whole other life-massively-improved-by-self-reliant-transport story.)

All of this from just going out and dancing 2-3 times a week. It has been better than any gym or therapy or medicine you could ever offer. I am still the same person and I have as many shit days as anyone, but I bounce back faster, and my good days are even better. And I’m only ever a day or two away from being able to swing out and forget any stupid thing that’s bothering me, even if only for 3 minutes at a time.

So. I am relatively certain, in a way that I am not often about many other things, that, barring injury or illness, I will be doing this for the rest of my life.

Frankie said that if the whole world danced the Lindy Hop, there would be no wars. Obviously that’s some wishful, utopian thinking. But a big part of Lindy is connection, and if you can connect to another person long enough to enjoy a swingout, a circle, and some quality lindyface, you can think a little further than your own wants and beliefs. That’s a damn good start.

Where to next?

Before I even got back, people were asking me this question. People continue to ask me this question every day. So here! By popular demand. A short list.

In 2016

Somewhere in Scotland (or northern England)

We’re due a group camping trip this summer. So at some point, I’ll dig out the totally loud but amazing tent Kristina gave me, load it into someone’s car, and we’ll trek off to the highlands or the Borders or the Lake District and tromp around and have a grand old time, even if it rains sideways.

We’re also definitely going back to Newtonmore in September. Ain’t no party like a Lindy Hop party in a quiet highland town.

Swing Summit, Ferme Les Costes, Ardèche, France

I’m going to Swing Summit (yaaasssssssssssss!) with friend and dance partner extraordinaire, Chris. It’s an intense, week-long camp based on super-focused teaching in small classes for Lindy technique nerds in the gorgeous mountains of southern France. There’s outdoor dance floors and a pool and a dog and they sort all your food for you. It’s going to be difficult and fun and exhausting and flippin’ AWESOME.

AND I intend to have a ridiculously huge French lunch in the 5 or so free hours we have in Lyon before flying home.

New York & Delaware, USA

I have promised I will hit the US sometime before the end of the year. Hopefully in the Autumn. This will involve family time and bagels and Dogfish Head and hopefully some mother-effing hot apple cider. And I still haven’t danced in the states, so I will take care of THAT while I’m over there.

Hamburg, Germany

To visit Felix, of course! It seems like a really cool city, so I’m excited to get the local treatment. It will be relatively easy to do, as there’s a direct Edinburgh-Hamburg EasyJet flight, so I’m really hoping I can swing it this year, financially.

Wish list

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Because food and music. Those should really be the only reasons I need to cite. I can’t eat anything involving crawfish unfortunately, but there is plenty more to be getting on with. And I have a serious weakness for New Orleans and Dixieland style jazz. Plus I have seen relatively little of the US, and it will be nice to go somewhere different over there.

Herräng, Sweden

Obviously.

South America

I realise that’s a wide net to cast, but it’s the only continent I’ve not hit yet (aside from Antarctica, which, well, after the cold of Siberia, I don’t know if I’m running down there anytime soon). I just want to go everywhere. Bolivia (salt flats!) , Argentina, and Uruguay are all on my radar as excellent options. I have mixed feelings about whether or not I should go to Galapagos. In any case, this will probably be the source of my next major travel adventure, but it’s going to take a while to get there, and it will probably look very different from the last trip. Much slower, for a start.

Mongolia (in the summer, please)

I’ve said it was my favourite and I’m not lying. I’d really love to go back in the summer for 2 or 3 weeks and go out wandering, camping, riding lovely horses, and EATING yes please. Preferably with a wee group of friends.

The things I’ll never get to

It’s Record Store Day.

It’s Record Store Day and I have this sourdough starter I took on as an afterthought staring me in the face every time I open the fridge. And I’ve been thinking about the X-Men since last night when Tessa mentioned her daughter was getting way into them.

These are tied together by the fact that they’re all part of the long list of things I have not, and may not ever, get to. The sourdough will probably happen. At least once. But I’ve already secretly deep down come to terms with the fact that I’m probably not going to be a constant artisan bread maker. But. But! I am a baker! Of course I’ll bake bread!

It’s unlikely that it will happen with the regularity needed to keep a starter alive though.

And while music is pretty much half my blood and I lust over Kristina and Yann’s impressive vinyl collection and absolutely amazing turntable every time I’m in their flat and I miss the high school thrill of hanging out in Record and Tape Traders even when I felt not nearly cool enough to be there, Record Store Day is probably not a thing that will ever happen for me either. I hate to say it. I’ve been listening to 6Music talk about all the lovely events and shops around the UK all day and thinking, well, that could have been my life. I could have been queuing since 4am geeking out with my fellow music nerds.

But it’s not. There are just too many great things I have to be getting on with to allow myself to add even more.

This is how I feel about comic books and theatrical set design and stage management. It’s how I feel about curling and archery. It’s how I feel about the massive store of bookmarks pointing to cool project ideas sitting in Firefox I never look at again and all the books on my shelf I still haven’t got to.

I have dabbled and I have turned my back. I love a lot of things I have to turn down. I can’t throw myself full-force into every single cool thing I’ve ever done, though believe me, if I found a way to do so without dying of exhaustion and insanity, I absolutely would. I mean, when JK Rowling chucked that Time Turner in there, I was RIGHT THERE WITH HER.

I get so into the things I DO stick with that they have their own nested priorities. My to-do list grows at an exponential rate. My Lindy Hop Trello board alone is an incredible exercise in ambition and daydreaming.  Even my ‘ways to get some freakin’ actual paid work’ plans have grown far beyond my abilities to carry out.

I have to tell myself at least 3 times a day: ‘No. Stop. What is the one thing you ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO DO right now? OK DO THAT THING. But I could just also maybe… NO. (Also: eat something, then do it. (Also also CLOSE THOSE FUCKING TABS.))’

Because trying to do ALL THE THINGS is the number one way to send my anxiety levels right up to danger zone and I’ve been trying pretty hard to train myself to keep them out of there whenever possible.

There’s definitely an element of Fear Of Missing Out in all of this, but it’s like, self-FOMO, which isn’t even what that shit is all about.

Since I got back from the grand adventure, this has been a bigger problem that I ever expected it would be. For someone so underemployed, I am crazy stupid busy. It’s all great stuff I’m busy with, so that’s fine, but I have been writing this post in my head all day and I’ve probably lost the best of it because it materialised this morning while I was moving boxes and I have not had a single moment in the past 12 hours to sit and even jot a short, undeciperable-later-on-but-made-sense-at-the-time list of the ideas buzzing around up there. I’ve just had to try to remember it all because it’s far more important to me than any writing that I am fully present when thanking people for moving and storing my shit, and drinking coffee and learning what the deal is with kefir, and sewing an exciting resurrected tailoring project and (badly) playing football with the world’s best puppy.

And even if it wasn’t, I forgot to bring my notebook with me when I left the house anyway.

There are a million and nine things I’d like to work on this weekend, but I keep needing to get them in line. And the back 90% of that line needs to know it’s getting turned away at the door, because I am well past sold out before I get anywhere near considering leaving the house to go to a record store.

Europe in a single-serve pot

I had Nutella on my toast this morning, which in itself is not a rare or remarkable thing. But it came from this wee pot Miriam brought back from her hotel in Berlin, and with it came a flood of happy food and travel nostalgia.

The first time I ever had Nutella was in Germany. I was about 13 and my father had decided to bring his parents and me and my sister and mother over for a holiday so we could see where my Grandpa’s family came from and where he grew up when they lived there. My Grandpa was actually born in the US, but his brother was born in Germany and they went back there to live in Lichtenfels for a while when he was young.

Anyway, the idea was for him to get to see it again one more time, and for my Grandma and all of us to see it for the first time. It was also the first time my sister and I had been out of the country, so there was the whole exciting business of passports and wondering what a trans-Atlantic flight would be like and trying to learn bits and pieces of German (Mom says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ first, of course, we were too young for ‘beer’, but it sounds the same anyway).

We spent 2 weeks buzzing around southern Germany in a Fiat minibus with the most uncomfortable hard seats I’d ever experienced in a car up til that point. We marveled at the speedy efficiency of the Autobahn. We almost instantly turned the German word for ‘exit’ into a fart joke. We stayed in small European hotels, the like of which don’t exist in the US and so are that much more novel, specifically to a 13-year-old suddenly experiencing The Simpsons and Walker, Texas Ranger overdubbed in German on the TV and meats and cheeses at breakfast.

And Nutella. Glorious, glorious Nutella. Chocolate for breakfast! How advanced these Europeans were. Every hotel we were in had it as standard. I specifically remember my Grandpa encouraging me to swipe a few of those wee pots in the morning for use later. I was a vegetarian at the time (I know, a teenage vegetarian in Germany – my poor parents) so I lived on pommes frites, afterthought side salads (bad), spaetzle (very good!), and afternoon car snacks of Wasa crispbread with said swiped Nutella smeared on it washed down with kirsch Capri Sun.

It’s curious that I have such vivid food memories of a trip on which I’d given myself limited menu options, but then the adventure of being in Europe for the first time, even while holding up my surly teenage grunge phase business of Totally Not Being Impressed, probably had a lot to do with that. Pretty much everything was new, food or not. Fanta! Milka bars! The Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ on MTV Europe, 6 months before we ever heard it in the US!

Germany was also the first place I encountered the kiwi spoon. We went to the zoo in Köln during some sort of festival where there was all sorts of free stuff, including a Zespri booth pushing New Zealand kiwis. They were handing out kiwi halves with the little plastic spoons stuck in them. If you’ve never seen a kiwi spoon, they’ve got a pointy spoon at one side and a serrated edge on the other so you can cut your kiwi in half and scoff it with the same tool – there are even two different designs! Years later when I was in New Zealand with Scott, we got some in the grocery store. When they broke back in the UK, he was so devastated I wrote to Zespri and asked if I could buy some from them. Instead they sent a wee package of 6 of each type to me for free. How’s that for customer care? I still have a few of them. They’re pretty handy, as bits of plastic go.

German Nutella pot

How many can you cram into your bag unnoticed?

But I digress. What I’m really getting at is how nice it is to be reminded of an entire experience, and of my Grandfather in general, by nothing more than a mini pot of Nutella with a German label. I tend to think of my Grandpa when I have Nutella anyway, but this may as well have been the very pot I slipped into my pocket nearly two decades ago as he slyly encouraged sugar-related mischief, as grandparents are wont to do.

Half the world in a nutshell

A few numbers

12 years (gah!) in the making
3 months in the doing

96 Days
13 countries
21 trains
8 long distance buses (too fucking many)
2 ferries
1 bamboo raft
Numerous metros, taxis, tuktuks, motorbikes, and other local transport
1 pair of hiking shoes
1 pair of sandals
1 pair of dance shoes
10 forms of currency
Temperatures from -39C to +39C
23 hostels and guesthouses
7 locals hosts
1 budget hotel
1 resort
8 Lindy socials
1 weekend dance camp

I don’t know how many kilometers or miles I traveled. I probably should have kept track of the distances as I went, but you can see on the map that it’s a bloody long way. I’m happy to leave it at that.

So what did it all cost?

£715 on new gear pre-trip

I didn’t keep track of what I was spending pre-trip. Some of the things I bought I needed for other stuff (like the hiking shoes for the trip to the highlands) and some things I got as gifts. So this is a rough estimate of the total cost of what I bought new within the past year if I’d had to pay for all of it myself (I probably only paid for about half).

It looks like a lot of money, but actually almost everything I bought is really good quality, was on sale when I got it, and will come in handy for trips within Scotland and just in general, so I’m happy I have it all now. The only thing that I’ll need to replace soon is my shoes I think (the bottoms are pretty worn out).

£230 on clothes, shoes, and shipping in Hoi An

I have kept the cost of the stuff I got made (and shipped home) in Hoi An separate from the main budget, mostly because I want to show what all the normal costs added up to on their own. I did some buying of stuff within the budget, but only little bits here and there that were more like standard travel costs. I’m perfectly happy to tell you what I spent though!

overview£4338.52 spent on the trip

This should be pretty accurate, with a relatively small margin for error. I was obsessive about recording absolutely every expense, down to the 5 Baht or 1RMB it sometimes required to use a public toilet (categorised as ‘health’ of course). What I think I probably missed out on were things like adding extra Skype credit or buying ebooks here and there. So let’s say I could be up to £100 out at most, but I’d be surprised if it was even half of that.

 

A word on the cost of full-time travel

When I compared the daily spending average of this trip to the month I obsessively kept track of for a baseline idea of what my life costs (September 2014), I found it was almost exactly the same. The costs I kept track of included all rent and usual bills aside from my US student loan payments, which I also kept out of this trip’s cost within trail wallet, but saving for 4 months payments was a big part of the challenge of saving for this trip – it added £1200 to the cost of things.

The point is, it costs pretty much the same to live while traveling that is costs to live in Edinburgh. And I know the traveling would cost even less if I hadn’t moved so fast.

It’s nice to see proof that it’s affordable, so if you’re the sort who has a location independent job already, you could definitely take it on the road. But I will not tell you it’s easy to work on the road, and unless you want a whole lot of extra stress, I wouldn’t recommend the digital nomad life if you don’t already have the job you’re going to do before you set off. It’s just as hard to find work wherever you are, and unreliable WiFi connections are more common than not.

I’m not saying any of that is impossible, but it’s also not as breezy as some travel bloggers make it out to be. It’s also not for me.

Breakdown

fullpiechartThe categories are as close an approximation I could get to what the money was actually spent on. For example, a lot of hostels included breakfast, but those costs are still filed under accommodation. Any gifts I bought for Couchsurfing hosts are also filed under accommodation.

Drinks includes all alcohol bought on its own as well as coffee or other random drinks during the day (coconuts!) All water is filed under health. If I bought a beer or glass of wine with dinner, it stayed in the food cost.

Miscellaneous includes gifts, postcards, and various clothes and supplies I needed along the way.

[table width =”100%” style =”” responsive =”true”]
[table_body]
[table_row]
[row_column]Food[/row_column]
[row_column]£876.82[/row_column]
[row_column]20%[/row_column]
[/table_row]
[table_row]
[row_column]Transport[/row_column]
[row_column]£1309.18[/row_column]
[row_column]30%[/row_column]
[/table_row]
[table_row]
[row_column]Entertainment[/row_column]
[row_column]£525.89[/row_column]
[row_column]12%[/row_column]
[/table_row]
[table_row]
[row_column]Accommodation[/row_column]
[row_column]£538.68[/row_column]
[row_column]13%[/row_column]
[/table_row]
[table_row]
[row_column]Miscellaneous[/row_column]
[row_column]£141.66[/row_column]
[row_column]3%[/row_column]
[/table_row]
[table_row]
[row_column]Drinks[/row_column]
[row_column]£222.84[/row_column]
[row_column]5%[/row_column]
[/table_row]
[table_row]
[row_column]Health[/row_column]
[row_column]£475.96[/row_column]
[row_column]11%[/row_column]
[/table_row]
[table_row]
[row_column]Visas[/row_column]
[row_column]£247.49[/row_column]
[row_column]6%[/row_column]
[/table_row]
[/table_body]
[/table]

Daily averages

Entire trip: £45.19 per day

[table width =”100%” style =”” responsive =”true”]
[table_body]
[table_row]
[row_column]Europe[/row_column]
[row_column]7 days[/row_column]
[row_column]£129.78*[/row_column]
[/table_row]
[table_row]
[row_column]Russia[/row_column]
[row_column]23 days[/row_column]
[row_column]£36.46[/row_column]
[/table_row]
[table_row]
[row_column]Mongolia[/row_column]
[row_column]5 days[/row_column]
[row_column]£66.60** [/row_column]
[/table_row]
[table_row]
[row_column]China[/row_column]
[row_column]19 days[/row_column]
[row_column]£49.02[/row_column]
[/table_row]
[table_row]
[row_column]Vietnam[/row_column]
[row_column]14 days[/row_column]
[row_column]£22.78[/row_column]
[/table_row]
[table_row]
[row_column]Cambodia[/row_column]
[row_column]17 days[/row_column]
[row_column]£24.83[/row_column]
[/table_row]
[table_row]
[row_column]Thailand[/row_column]
[row_column]10 days[/row_column]
[row_column]£56.68***[/row_column]
[/table_row]
[/table_body]
[/table]

 

*Includes all my first aid kit stuff and various other bits, but the week in Europe WAS incredibly pricey, thanks to going via Scandinavia.

**High because I basically paid for a private guide as I had no one to split the cost with.

***Deceptively high because of The Big Bang. Thailand was cheaper than Cambodia in terms of food, hostels, and entertainment. And the cost of staying at a resort and dancing all weekend was actually pretty low compared to what it would be in Europe.

Resources

Not an exhaustive list, but the most important and heavily used

Websites

Seat 61
The train bible. This guy is a legend. His suggestion for a planning spreadsheet is also something that helped me immensely.

Legal Nomads
Jodi has a travel prep resource page that is second to none and covers everything you need to think of before you go. She also answered my questions about eating street food in Vietnam with a shellfish allergy, which was super helpful.

Too Many Adapters
I got a lot of my tech advice and ideas from TMA. It also has great reviews of all sorts of gadgets you may be thinking of buying for a trip.

Real Russia
Helped organise some of my rail tickets, provided visa support, and answered all of my related questions. They are fantastic and highly recommended.

Travel bloggers of the world
Numerous travel blogs found through Google searches on various different locations. I couldn’t possibly list them all, but I can tell you that if your Google-fu is strong, you can find info on any travel destination on this earth because of the lovely people who write about their adventures (and misadventures).

Apps

xe.com
Currency converter. Could not live without.

Google Maps
Using offline areas (which stopped working or were unavailable in some places).

Galileo
Offline vector maps.

Trail Wallet
Budget tool extraordinaire!

Whatsapp and FB Messenger
For WiFi messaging and sanity. Whatsapp also works in China without a VPN!

Wechat
If you’re going to be in China you pretty much need to get Wechat. Everyone uses it, and it’s also your gateway into a lot of the free WiFi available.

Skype
With Skype-Out credit for uber-cheaply calling friends, family, and on at least one occasion, my bank in the UK.

Google Translate
I used this mostly in Russia, where the instant offline photo translate was super useful for reading signs and menus.

Couchsurfing
For some absolutely lovely local experiences and accommodation.

Booking.com
How I booked most of my hostels. Although if I’d known about Agoda sooner, I’d have maybe gone with that because it lets you pay in advance by card.

Trello
For planning and pre-trip to-do and packing lists. Also how I organise most of my normal life.

My tech and data safeguard arsenal

Crashplan
Every time I was connected to WiFi, crashplan automatically updated my cloud backup. This meant I worried a lot less about my computer being stolen or destroyed because I knew all my actual stuff was safe.

Find My iPhone
Set up in iCloud before I left for both my phone and my computer. More peace of mind knowing I could immediately wipe either if they were lost or stolen (and include a snarky message to the thief should I so choose).

Flickr Uploadr
I took a lot of pictures and I did not want to lose them! Again, every time I was connected to WiFi and the Uploadr detected new images on my computer, it automatically loaded them to my Flickr pro account privately, so I was never in danger of losing any photos I’d put on my computer (and I was pretty good about doing this daily).

ExpressVPN
On both my computer and my phone, for safeguarding data when using banking, email, etc. Also got me under the wall in China whenever I had a strong enough connection.

Google Drive
Used to store copies of all important travel docs and my itinerary plan sheet. These were also shared with my parents and friends in the UK for emergencies.

Dropbox
Further backup for documents, as well as sharing photos with fellow travelers along the way.

Avast
Free anti-virus software to keep the computer squeaky clean.

And finally

This site is proudly powered by WordPress and hosted on Siteground, with a beautiful theme designed by Anders Norén.

This will be the last post for a while as I regroup and figure out what the future of this blog is (if it has one) or if I’ll start a new project. I have kept this up for nearly two years and it has been an adventure in itself. This kind of consistent writing is an exercise in serious self-discipline. It is incredibly hard work (but rewarding!) and it’s been really good for me. I’m at least as proud of myself for sticking with it as I am for completing such a bonkers trip.

So, know that I will be doing SOMETHING eventually, I just don’t know what yet, and I think I’ve earned a bit of a break in the meantime.

 

Let me tell you that I love you, and I think about you all the time

‘Maybe Tomorrow’ by Sterophonics has been on heavy rotation in my Chill The Eff Out playlist for this whole trip, most likely because it’s used on Long Way Round, so it was somehow already intrinsically connected. But it’s on an album called ‘You Gotta Go There To Come Back’, which is a phrase that’s been bouncing around my brain since I boarded my first train at Waverley in November. I had unexpectedly got to a place I never really considered I’d be, which is, loving the place I live in so much that I missed it before I even left.

It’s not true of everyone who travels like this, but a majority of the people I’ve met along the way have some sort of restlessness with where they come from. Sometimes they’re a bit bored of it, sometimes they’re indifferent, and sometimes they flat out hate the place. Those are as good reasons as any to find somewhere new for a while, but I have no such negativity towards my home. I did not aim to get (or run) away from anything – except possibly my old job, but I could have easily done that without leaving the city.

What’s happening here is more like the fulfillment of something I’ve been thinking about for such a long time that it felt like I’d be doing myself a disservice NOT to go. The idea of this trip felt strange and not necessarily impossible, but so big it couldn’t possibly happen in my normal life. So of course I had to prove that wrong. Now that I’m at the end of it it still feels that way. It’s really hard to believe I’ve just done all the stuff I’ve done in the last three months. Rolling into St Petersburg feels like a lifetime ago. This will all fade into a sort of memory legend quite quickly, and I suspect sometimes it will feel as though it never happened.

But I had to go there to come back. Not many people get the chance to prove to themselves they are precisely where they need to be. That’s not what I set out to do. I just wanted to see some stuff really. There was no big deeper meaning or life changing goal. It wasn’t as much of a why as a why not?

Perhaps I’m a bit more patient in some ways, or slightly more adaptable to difficult situations. Maybe my problem solving or resilience is better. Hopefully I’m a slightly better dancer. But I’m still mostly the same. In a bit of an email chat with a friend the other day, he said that clearly I must be tired of being alone because it means I’ve got no one to kick off to. And I laughed because not 30 minutes earlier, I’d been walking down the street thinking, ‘WHY IS IT THAT EVERY HUMAN BEING EVERYWHERE ON THIS PLANET CANNOT WALK DOWN THE STREET WITHOUT THEIR FACE IN THEIR FUCKING PHONE’ (seriously though, why?) but I had no one to rant to. So it’s true – more patient on the outside I may well be, but I am still quick to call out the world’s bullshit. Some things will never change.

Anyway. If you’ve been reading this you know that I was kind of ready to go home a few weeks ago, but I had this one last weekend to look forward to – my first international swing dance camp. This trip has been powered on many things, but predominantly: free WiFi, the kindness of strangers, and Lindy Hop.

Dancing in the street. (Photo credit to Big Bang Swing.)

Dancing in the street. (Photo credit to Big Bang Swing.)

I have been welcomed like family to so many places just because I dance, and I really don’t think this trip would have been as amazing as it was without that. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end it than The Big Bang. To the point where I teared up when writing a thank you on the Bangkok Swing Facebook page because there is really no way it could have been better, and I appreciated the awesomeness of it all even more because of the low-ish place I’d been in the week or so before. Lindy has not only saved every low moment of this trip, it has turned it around into something joyful and magical. Everywhere I danced was great, but Bangkok was truly the best.

Now I’m sitting in the airport (a novelty!) drinking a very strong coffee to combat my total exhaustion from the weekend and waiting to finally go home. I am. So. Happy. About that.

So. Thank you to everyone who put me up, showed me around, woke up early to call me taxis in their language, made me breakfast, bought me lunch, dropped me off, picked me up, jumped in lakes with me, and ordered local food for me. And of course thank you to everyone who danced with me.

Thanks to my rockstar friends who all provided support from afar via some form of modern technology at some point along the way. Every short message and long chat was appreciated more than you know.

Thanks to my family for trying to understand all this and not worrying too much too openly.

And I end with another thing in my regular rotation. You may have seen this coming. It’s the best song for the occasion.

See you soon, Scotland.

Cambodia

I told myself a few weeks before I got to Cambodia that my beach time would be total holiday from travel time. I wouldn’t do any work. I wouldn’t worry about updating the blog or searching for jobs or organising my life. Nothing but swimming and eating and reading. And then once I got there, it wasn’t really the beach I was thinking of.

Because the thing about paradise beaches is… they’re kind of boring.

I KNOW, I know, what kind of weirdo complains about sapphire blue water and sunshine and nightly beach barbecues and people serving you drinks in chairs and all of that. But if you know me at all, you know that I have a pretty hard time doing nothing. Also, perfection is dull. So I have discovered that while this is some peoples’ idea of the ideal holiday, well. I prefer Delaware. Or at the very least, somewhere with some actual waves. Somewhere a bit rougher around the edges.

So I didn’t end up doing much work due to lack of good wifi, but I didn’t really do that thing where you just sit on the beach for 6 days. Because I CAN’T. And that is a valuable lesson to learn. Now I know precisely what sorts of beaches I can enjoy. I think next time I’ll go somewhere like Cornwall.

It wasn’t all bad. One of the first nights when I was in Sihanoukville, there were two girls from Australia, Tina and Darlene, who were Cambodian. Darlene actually spoke Cambodian so a few of us went for dinner at a super local place one night where I had the best Cambodian food I had the whole time I was in the country. And Tina and Darlene were both like, ‘THIS is home food. This is really good.’ And I never would have eaten somewhere like that otherwise.

But after a week of not really loving the beach like I’d hoped, I moved east to Kampot, which is on a river, and far more chilled out. It’s full of expats and therefore full of amazing places to eat, as well as one damn good coffee shop owned by Australians. It was there that I decided to get all honest about what travel exhaustion is like, and that got a bigger response than anything I’ve ever written. That was weird. I’m not really sure what I expected. It did help me work out how to slow down even more and pick out the things I wanted to do and the things that didn’t matter. It also helped me decide to go to Bangkok a whole week early so I could stay in one place and get to do a bit more dancing on the local scene before The Big Bang.

I also took a day trip to Bokor National Park to see the old abandoned Black Palace and French hill station/hotel/casino. THAT was pretty awesome. Particularly wandering through the maze-like Palace Hotel as the clouds slowly descended on the mountain. There was a sunset river cruise included in the package as well, and then I went to a freakin’ wine bar and had a (really good) cheese plate after bemoaning the lack of the stuff in my life, so it wasn’t a bad way to spend a day.

After a week of chilling out in Kampot the way I’d sort of meant to at the beach, I had a brief stop in Phnom Penh where I was able to meet back up with Stu from England, who I’d initially met in the hostel in Hanoi. This was very good for my whole low social energy thing. It was really nice to hang out with someone I’d already got to know a bit. We had cheap beers and dinner and talked travel challenges. I then used my one full day in the city to visit the Prison 21 genocide museum, which is very well done but obviously a pretty rough thing to take in. After that I had energy for nothing but noodles and iced coffee.

No trip to Cambodia would be complete without a trip to Angkor Wat, and I had marked that as my last true Tourist Thing I was going to do. I took a bus to Siem Reap and sort of gave up on trying to find someone to share the cost of a tuk tuk driver with for my day at the temples. This ended up being a better decision than I’d initially thought. If you get a one day pass to the temples, it allows you in for sunset the night before. So I went at 5pm, got my ticket, poked around the actual Angkor Wat temple when it was much less crowded, and staked out a spot to watch the sunrise the next morning. Because THE THING to do is get up at 4.30am and watch the sunrise behind the main temple with about ten billion other tourists.

So I did that, and it was worth it, but I immediately saw the value of paying for my own tuk tuk driver. Before the actual sun appeared, the clouds made the point of sunrise kind of pointless, so rather than wait with the increasingly restless and jerkfaced hoardes, I buzzed out of there early so I could get to Bayon before the crowds followed. This meant I had the place virtually to myself for at least 15 minutes. The early morning light was incredible, it wasn’t too hot yet, and it basically felt like I was in a movie. It was probably my favourite of the temples.

I went on to the rest of the places in the small circuit at my own pace, hopping back in the tuk tuk when I’d seen enough. By the time I got to Ta Prohm, which is the Tomb Raider temple, it was MAD crowded and I was completely exhausted. There are TONS of temples and you could spend days on end seeing them all, but when you’ve been up since 4.30am and it’s 10am and things are starting to get hot and busy, everything starts looking the same and you become INCREDIBLY happy that the when-to-go-home decision is yours and yours alone. Hooray for that. I was back at the hostel just before 11am, where I had second breakfast and a well-earned nap. But know that Angkor Wat is absolutely amazing, and totally worth the exhaustion. I’ll let the pictures speak for me.

I then had one last long-distance bus ride and one last land border crossing and now I am in Bangkok where I’m spending 6 nights in the same bed for the first time since November. I am dancing, eating, and applying for jobs. I got a haircut. I’m doing arts and crafts in the hostel to make my party costumes for the Big Bang. I went to the cinema to see Deadpool and it was So. Fucking. Good. (Also, fun fact, in Thailand you have to stand for the King’s Anthem before all movies. It was… interesting.) I’m basically in travel recovery doing whatever the hell I want. On the weekend I’ll dance my face off, and then I will fly home. And that is that. I’ll post some wrap-ups and probably something on The Big Bang once I’m back, but for this week, I’m really on holiday. Thanks for sticking with me guys.