The Reality of Us As Travellers, Then and Now

After writing my recent review of our Air Asia flight to Bangkok, I thought about how we often view a situation as a result of our life circumstances or past experiences.

“You and I do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.”
― Herb Cohen

This is why opinions should always be taken with a grain of salt; everyone’s values systems are different, as are their goals and comfort levels.

I try to be as objective as possible when writing a post. Sure, I will always tell it from my point of view and the experience we have, but I also like to add ways in which it may suit different people.

I thought it might be a good idea to give our background as traveller’s so others may come to an understanding of how that might impact the way we view a new travel experience.

Our Budget Backpacking Lifestyle

I first started backpacking overseas in 1997, three days after I graduated from University – from one budget lifestyle to another. First stop was Indonesia on my way to moving to London.

Two memorable moments from that trip were experiencing sunrise over Mount Bromo in Java:

Sunrise over Mount Bromo in Java
Sunrise over Mount Bromo in Java

and discovering what it feels like to be the only white person in town, on Nias Island, Sumatra:

In Nias Island in the back of a pick-up truck
In Nias Island in the back of a pick-up truck

I arrived in London alone without any money and an infected foot. It was scary and I was out of my comfort zone, but I embraced the working holiday path and will never forget my two years teaching in London.

The working holiday strategy, moving to a country for up to 2 years, working and enjoying a new culture, proved to be one of our best strategies for SLOW travel.

I’d budget travel in my holidays and then hit the long-term travel in between international re-locations.

Craig joined me in this lifestyle in 2002. From budget to budget to budget. Budget uni student, budget female solo travel, budget couples travel and now family travel.

Celebrating Craig's 30th birthday at the Brazen Head, Dublin
Celebrating Craig’s 30th birthday at the Brazen Head, Dublin

Living in Dublin for a year in 2003 is still one of our fondest memories.

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Budget Accommodation

When it comes to budget, Craig and I know all the cheap tricks. We’ve slept in cars, people’s couches (friend’s and strangers), we camped for 5 months in Africa for on average of $1-$2 per night and slept on beaches and mountain tops.

Campsite overlooking the escarpment in Malawi
Campsite overlooking the escarpment in Malawi

I camper-vanned around Europe for 10 weeks with 5 girlfriends. We had to take it in shifts to sleep in the 4 beds. That meant for two nights you would be on the floor or stretched out across the front seats with the gear stick up your butt!

Not a good position to be lying in half naked, with a Roman police officer banging on your window at 7 am to move your illegally parked car, on the main road of Rome. (Read: In my undies with a policeman on the streets of Rome)

Craig and I decided the only way we could stay in expensive Miami was if we partied to the wee hours on South Beach Street and then pass out in the back of our van in the carpark for the night  (Only cost $13 in parking!! Budget accommodation at its best)

On our honeymoon, friends gifted us three nights in a beautiful hotel on the beach in Koh Samaui, Thailand. After that, we moved to what we affectionately called the Dog Kennel up the beach. It was budget from then on out baby! We wanted our cash for more whiskey buckets!

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Budget Food

My girlfriends and I lived off 2 minute noodles for most of our stay on an isolated, untouched island off the coast of Nias Island in Indonesia.

Many of our meals camper-vanning around Europe consisted of Doritos sandwiches and tuna pasta cooked in the van at our latest free parking spot. (Plenty other budget travellers to keep us happy, it’s where the party was at!).

I could be found anywhere there was a happy hour, drinking cheap goon, taking shots of disgusting rice wine whisky, and playing all manner of drinking games with cider or beer as it was the cheapest and fastest way to enjoy the party.

A highlight was the Munich Beer Fest in 1997:

Enjoying a few Steins at Munich Beer Fest with my mate Patto
Enjoying a few Steins at Munich Beer Fest with my mate Patto

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Budget Homes

In my London house my meals usually consisted of jacket potatoes and baked beans.

I lived with anything up to 25 other foreigners fighting for a space on the carpet for sleep. Fighting for space on the carpet was way preferable to fighting the carpet you stuck to in the bathroom after a cold shower. Icky icky icky. ( Who stole all the hot water btw??)

And then there was the converted school office Craig and I lived in for 6 months in Bangkok with just a bed, a couch, no TV and no hot shower! As a bonus we had packs of wild dogs in the alley below keeping us awake all night.

The tiny apartment in Dublin with paper thin walls, and floors, continued the staying awake all night habit. This time it was the loudly snoring neighbour below.

We also had one of those hand held showers that dripped out lukewarm water ( and I mean dripped). The central heating was bogus, so we’d sit under that dripping tap with a small electric heater plugged into the wall, risking electrocution just for a small bit of warmth. (The landlord finally gave into our demands to

Fix the damn shower – this is ridiculous”

Speaking of dripping, there was the dripping roof in one of our house shares in London. That was fun when the central heating broke and all 15 of us sat in the living room with beanies and gloves, huddled under blankets watching the bucket catch the water.

But not as much fun as sitting in the living room waiting for our neighbour, the Drug Lord, to knock on the door at 8pm to collect his marijuana plants we DID NOT steal. We were armed with crow bars and ready for the knee-capping he promised us.

Ah, the lifestyle choices made to save a buck and travel more!

Budget Travel

As for getting around, it didn’t matter how, as long as it was cheap.

Squashed in a van with 25 people in Uganda, a few chickens and anyone else who will fit sitting on the roof – yep done it!.

In the back of a pick up in Cambodia with the entire village, sacks of rice, potatoes, bicycles and having a beautiful African friend next to you saving your from sliding off the edge into the ravine below and from being killed by two handcuffed prisoners- yep done it!

Getting around Cambodia
Getting around Cambodia

Walking for hours with a heavy backpack in Malawi while having a killer argument with your husband because your so goddam tired and fed up, and the wheel falling off this pickup in the middle of nowhere was the BLOODY LAST STRAWdone it!

We share our most memorable and challenging stories from Uganda in this podcast episode.

I could go on and on.

15 years of budget backpacking gives you ample stories to tell, and at the sake of sounding old, travel wasn’t as easy then. I started traveling when postcards were the norm for telling people what you ate for lunch.

(You can read my posts You know you’re a budget traveller when and 23 experiences not to put on your travel bucket list for more trying stories).

The Effects of a Life of Budget Travel and Backpacking

Craig and I are good at making sacrifices. Years of practice has made us sharp experts at budget and finding ways to save.

But do you know what? It has also made us tired.

For the majority of my adult life I’ve been a budget backpacker. I have never brought beautiful things for myself or my home (ah, I’ve never had a permanent home!) It’s always been about practicality and necessity.

We would often stare at those on holidays in mid-range restaurants and luxury resorts and dream how one day that would be us. Comfort and style. We had no idea what it felt like but we knew we at least wanted a taste.

Recently we have been fortunate to taste it, and it tastes nice:

Enjoying the Hilton Phuket, Thailand
Enjoying the Hilton Phuket, Thailand

I don’t ever regret the way we have travelled. It has added so much richness to my life and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

As long as we can laugh and share all we have learned then it’s worth it.

The Reality of Travel with Children and a Business

Fast forward, and now we have two children we love to travel with.

Travel with children is a completely different experience. You have to carefully consider your decisions and you are first concerned with how comfortable, safe and happy they are.

Because trust me, if they are not, you won’t be.

Phang Nga Bay, Thailand
Phang Nga Bay, Thailand

So is long-term travel with children a good thing?

Absolutey yes. Without a doubt. But long term travel is going to mean budget travel, unless you are swimming in Ben Franklins.

For anyone with children who are thinking of travelling budget, you can absolutely do it. We could absolutely do it, but the truth is we don’t have as much stamina for it anymore that you possibly will have.

Think about it. We’ve had 15 years of living a life I just described above. And that is only a few stories. It wears you down. You get tired of the constant challenges, the demands , the uncomfortableness and the slumming.

Humans are designed to take the path of least resistance; the one that makes us feel most comfortable and happy.

There is rarely any comfort experienced as a parent. It’s a tough and demanding gig. Every minute of the day you are on call and responsible for keeping another soul fed, happy, safe, warm and loved.

When you travel those stresses can magnify.

On top of the loss of stamina and the demanding challenges that come with family travel, we now have a travel related business that is as demanding as a third child, if not more.

Travel and work are now NEVER separate for us.

P&O pacific dawn
Work + play on a P & O cruise

Don’t get me wrong, we love it like that, but it does make us more tired and craving more for a little comfort in order to cope.

What Does this Mean for our Travel Lifestyle Now?

It means our stamina reserves for total budget travel have almost been depleted.

It means when we fly Air Asia X we just don’t have the strength to deal with their low-budget options with kids in tow. Does it mean we still think they’re a great option for travellers. Absolutely. And we do our best to let people know how they can suit them.

I am tired of being uncomfortable.

I am tired of having bicycle wheels shoved up my arse while I travel and rocks digging into my back when I sleep.

A person can only tolerate so much and I think after 15 years of slumming it, and I mean slumming it, I deserve a little bit of comfort.

If I didn’t have children or the business, I would still be following the cheapest path to travel.

But I don’t. My life has changed. What I want to experience has changed.

And that doesn’t mean I have to stop travelling.

I can find the balance between comfort and budget. I believe that is what the majority of people want.

They want the travel without the hard core experiences that come with budget. And who are we to say they can’t?

Sometimes I think the more hardcode the traveller; the more they think they are special or chosen. I know I’ve been there. It’s bullshit. Let’s be honest, if we all had the money, the majority of us would all travel in a bit more style.

It’s a human condition; you cannot deny the path of least resistance.

It doesn’t mean we are shallow or less than, it just means we love to embody both.

How Does this Affect our Posts on y Travel Blog?

When you read my posts now, and you think I sound a little tired, it’s because I am. And if I stay at a nice hotel and I am overjoyed, I am, because I’m not used to it.

Shangrila Tanjung Kota Kinabalu Malaysia
A mojito cheers to Malaysia

We aim to present you with a wide range of travel experiences on this blog.

While we won’t be staying in dog kennels anymore, we’ll still be open to budget options like hostel stays, (we loved the Sydney YHA and Yamba YHA) apartment rentals, and camping. (Read more: 18 ways to save money on accommodation)

We’ll be searching for deals to share and offering you tips on how you can best save and make the most of your money while travelling.

We possibly will not long-term travel through South East Asia until Savannah is at least three, preferring easier and more comfortable road trips in the western world.

And we probably won’t fly Air Asia long haul again with kids! But, it doesn’t mean you can’t and we can’t help you.

Everything on this blog is authentic. It is how we, the long-term budget travellers and now business-owner parents, view it. We promise we will do our best to be objective and show you what it is like despite our background experiences.

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what is best for you.

More inspiration

We recorded our story in podcast over 5 episodes. Each episode showcases how we made travel our lifestyle despite many challenges, and not matter what life stage we were in.

Episode 3 is where we dive into the dark times spoken about in this post. All episodes are filled with nuggets to help you see how anything is possible. Pull up a chair and your favorite drink and let us help you keep your dreams alive.

  1. Episode 1: Solo Travel and Working Abroad before we met
  2. Episode 2: Our 5 year honeymoon living and traveling the world
  3. Episode 3: The Dark times and Birth of the girls and travel blog
  4. Episode 4: Embracing Family Travel and our 18 month Australian road trip
  5. Episode 5: Getting a green card and traveling the US (our dream realized)

And more useful nuggets in I want to Know your Secret and You’ve got Time + the end of 22 years of nomadic travel.

How do your past travel experiences impact your perceptions and how you travel now?

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About The Author

25 thoughts on “The Reality of Us As Travellers, Then and Now”

  1. Always appreciate your honesty. The things you did years ago to save a buck just amaze me! I could NOT handle those kinds of situations! I’ve stayed in my fair share of crappy places, but I prefer a little comfort. Not necessarily full-on luxury but comfort. All of us change, our situations change, our perspectives change, we age, and the things we’re willing to put up with change. Even in the past 4 years my travel style and comfort level has changed. You have to adjust for where you are in life now. I love that you travel with your kids, but it’s completely understandable that it changes where and how you travel.

  2. I have always wanted to travel around the world after university. But now that I read how it was for you, I really don’t know if I could live like that. I still want to travel, but I’m not sure if I will be doing it always. I have learnt a lot from your posts, so thank you.

    1. Pleasure Josefina!! I don’t want this post to put you off travelling after Uni. I was a little more hardcore than most people. You can definitely make it work without being so ultra budget!! I think it’s key to find out how you most want to travel and then tailor things around that. Sometimes having a few weeks a year to go to a destination and make it more comfortable is ideal. If that is what you would enjoy more than do it that way. Whatever makes you most happy is key. 🙂

  3. My husband and I backpacked and budget travelled before our son was born, but now we do a combination of mid-high range stays and budget, so that we get a break – from both. Going all budget can be hard, but I think going all luxury can distance you from where you are. One of the reasons we travel is to experience a different way of life. So when we’re in Italy or China or Borneo, we want to get a feel for the country and not just stay in a North American style hotel, with TV and room service. And our son loves to be wherever we are, so he’s happy no matter what our accommodations. Though he does appreciate a good meal!

    1. I really resonate with your comment Michela. I think it is so important to find that balance between budget and comfort. I totally agree that luxury can distance you and you need to make choices that ensures you stay on the ground with the locals. (although a night of luxury here and there is great for anyone’s soul!)

      I feel so empty if I don’t have that local connection and the travel seems kind of pointless to me. Fun maybe but not often fulfilling. I still love my little bungalows on the beach and can handle fans and sparse amenities, just not dog kennels and backs of vans!! 🙂

  4. I also appreciate your honesty. I’ve been writing a post in my mind about why traveling with kids is not easy for months (because travel has changed for me, too), but I just haven’t figured out exactly what I want to say yet. I also feel like I’m getting too old to be uncomfortable on the road and have to think about my kids’ comfort because, as you know, when they are not comfortable, nothing goes well. But I find that they are pretty adaptable, especially as they get older.

    1. It’s so important to keep the kids happy. Kalyra was always really adaptable and we never had to worry about her, but Savannah is a completely different child. She needs a little more structure and comfort. I’m really noticing how different it is with her. I think you have to allow travel to evolve with you and let go of how things used to be.

    1. Definitely agree. Sometimes I think my rough it travel lifestyle earned me the travel badge of Idiocy!! Seriously if I had the money behind me I would have been choosing more comfort. They turned out to be great stories nevertheless.

  5. I know how you feel – I really do. I’ve done the budget thing. As you know, I still think that way. However, the days of cheap hostels and living as cheaply as I can are gone. My lifestyle has changed too. I am not 20 or 30 any more. Where I am at in life has changed.

    So how is my travel perspective different now?

    If I can’t travel as cheaply as I did, I still want to travel simply. I don’t want luxury. I don’t want to be served. I don’t want to be disconnected from the places I am visiting. If I do spend a little more these days to be comfortable, I will try to make even more effort to connect with the places I am visiting.

    The biggest danger in an upgraded travel lifestyle is becoming disconnected from the places and people you want to connect with when you travel. Don’t let money ever be a barrier to truly experiencing travel – regardless of your budget.

    1. Great point Jeremy! I think the more comfort you bring into your travel the more conscious you have to be in your choices to get out and stay connected. On our recent Thailand stay we made sure we did this. I think choosing to not do breakfast in your hotel and get out on the street is a simple, cheap easy way to do this. Catching public transport is another. and then generally walking around the local areas, not where all the tourists are.

      If you can do budget and comfort then you are on a winner!

  6. I think it’s about evolving; it’s what we all must do. We are not stagnant and how we experience the world isn’t either. We also don’t travel rock bottom budget either (not sure we ever did after reading your stories!!) but we are still very cognizant of getting the best we can for what we can afford. Enjoy what you have now and don’t lament how it used to be. The past is to be looked on fondly; the future is to be enjoyed!!

    1. My original title for this post was going to be something like the evolution of travel. I think that’s a general life philosophy as well. We have to allow ourselves to change as we get older, that is the purpose to it all. Embrace the now how it is and never stop looking for those deals either. I think even luxury travellers want to find the best deal.

  7. My husband and I travelled a fair bit before kids but I don’t think we ever travelled as budget as it sounds like you guys did! Even so, as we plan our upcoming six month trip with two young kids we’re planning a very different style of travel. Less places. Longer in each place. Less (hopefully no!) overnight bus trips. More daytime rests. I’m hopeful that these changes, plus the fact that we’re not also trying to run a business while travelling like you are, will make for a trip that we can all enjoy and get a lot out of.

    1. I think it sounds like you have a perfect plan going on Madeline. This is definitely they way to making long term travel successful with kids and a business. As slow as you can with lots of day time naps is the winner!

  8. I am so relieved to read this post! Lately I have been reading a lot of blogs that basically say that if you don’t slum it while you travel, its not REAL travel. To me that is total bullshit. My husband and I worked really hard for a really long time and our reward is to be able to afford to travel long term with a little bit of luxury.

    Does that mean we don’t have the same life changing experiences as low budget travelers have? No I don’t think so.

    We have been traveling for 13 years (full time only 1 year) and yes, when we were young we did the budget thing (although not as hard core as you guys! Respect!) but I am 38 years old – I don’t want to stay in dodgy hostels or ‘dog kennels’. I didn’t work my ass off to live that lifestyle.

    I get really angry at people judging travelers who like a little bit of luxury. There is NOTHING wrong with it and it doesn’t make our travels any less memorable, life changing or exotic than the low budget travelers.

    Even though I know what these other people say is total BS, it stil made me question our choice of travel method, but only for a brief moment. Because our life, to us, is awesome and I wouldn’t change a thing. My life has been enriched from our new nomadic life and just because I can afford a few nice things, does that make me any less of a traveler? No! No one should judge another person – ever. They don’t know their story, their personal journey, so they have no right to judge them.

    Sorry for the long reply – I feel very strongly about this 🙂

    1. Oh I am so glad this post resonated with you Nicole. It’s great that you can express your opinion here–very important for all readers, I am sure many will feel the same way and learn a few things.

      We are really keen to convey on this blog that travel, no matter its form or style, is a valuable experience for all people. Everyone has different values, goals, dreams, expectations, comfort levels, financial situations and background stories. WE can never know what these are that is why judgement is a waste of mind space, as is thinking your one way is the only way.

      I mean the ultra budget way can bring about some crazy stories but truthfully it sucks during the present moment!!! It’s rarely enjoyable and always uncomfortable. I don’t think that during any of these experiences I had, I was wishing for more of it. I was cursing how poor I was and totally wanting to be like those who could afford more.

      There’s still a lot of the budget stuff I like about travel like camping, the odd hostel and cooking my own meals, but I think these are simple tips that anyone can apply in order to travel more to any style that like travelling in.

      I say go for it Nicole. Enjoy travelling in that style you worked hard to get. You absolutely deserve it and it will bring you so many rewards.

      I think what you said here: “Because our life, to us, is awesome and I wouldn’t change a thing”

      If you can say this then you are showing the naysayers how it should be done\

      Thank you for sharing

  9. I have called myself no star (referring to my ongoing enjoyment of discovering wild places and staying in a tent) or 5 star. I love the good things in life too – and have made many sacrifices as you have over the years. I’m not up for staying in shitty little hell-holes anymore but I think you have to experience the hard stuff to appreciate the good. And since I just camped at altitude for a week in Colombia I can tell you I so appreciate my comfortable bed at home right now.

  10. Great post – really enjoyed reading it. It’s so amazing how much we all change and they way we travel is no different than anything else. I’d say the biggest change I have made traveling is how little I now bring. Haven’t checked a bag in years. This is a far cry from the first backpack adventure I had in Europe, where I seemed to bring EVERYthing possible, not realizing I’d have to cart all that crap around. And koodos to you for not letting kids stop you from traveling. 🙂
    Ligeia 🙂

    1. Thanks Ligeia! IT is amazing how much you pack when you first travel. Completely ridiculous.Although once the girls started travelling with us, I became a crazy packer again. You stress so much about their comfort that you become a just in case packer. You want all bases covered with extras!! You rarely end up using it all. I am learning to loosen the rains on that a bit.

  11. I love the way you write, I think it’s totally fair enough that you are done with all that budget travel. I’m getting close to being done after only a couple of years. I still love it but for a few dollars extra I will choose a sleeper train over a bus. Well maybe….

  12. It’s not the first time I read some of your stories from your hardcore budget travel, and they’re always great stories. I think it’s safe to say you’ve earned some comfort! Yet even without these stories, travel is about living YOUR life to the fullest. In my opinion, staying authentic to who you are and how you change, and carrying that to how you travel, is what will work best for you, and therefore, for your family and business as well.

    1. Spot on Ayelet! I think you have to remain true to yourself and know that who that is will change with each new phase of your life, and sometimes in between!

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