On Tuesdays, Besudesu Abroad would like to feature another really awesome traveler in various forms. Some Tuesdays may be interviews, while other may feature guest posts, videos and more!
This week we would like to introduce Arianwen of Beyond Blighty. Beyond Blighty is a collection of anecdotes, reviews and advice on adventure activities, cultural experiences and volunteer opportunities around the world. After backpacking solo through South America for seven months last year, followed by a six-week tour of New Zealand in which I attempted to fight my fears with an action-packed itinerary of adrenaline sports, I am currently based in Sydney testing out whether it’s still worth considering the working holiday visa at the ripe old age of 30.
1. What inspires you to travel, and how would you define the word ‘traveler’?
I’ve always been fascinated by the world around me, but the biggest inspiration for my travels was my mum. She passed away in 2008 and had always encouraged me to make the most of every opportunity. With that in mind, and the stark realisation that not everyone gets a second chance to live their dreams, I started to save up for a mammoth journey through South America. It didn’t disappoint.
I travel because I think our generation is uniquely privileged to have access to the technology that makes it possible while being in a position to see the world’s many natural and historical wonders while they still exist. I travel because of the amazingly close friendships you form with people across the world and the wealth of knowledge you gain from experiencing places first hand. And I travel because it’s character building. There’s no doubt that I’m braver, more confident and more willing to take any opportunity that comes my way, no matter how far it pushes me out of my comfort zone.
I define the word ‘traveler’ as someone who is motivated to leave familiarity behind and explore the world. I think a traveler needs to have the independence to sometimes go it alone or make their own plans, and the kind of curiosity that encourages them to constantly have to find out what’s around the next corner. They don’t have to wear baggy pants and dreads or slum it in dodgy hostels, but there’s definitely a difference in my mind between a ‘traveler’ and someone who jumps on a package deal to Corfu every year and spends the whole time on a sun lounger…
2. How do you afford your travels?
I saved up for a year before I went to South America. I was very careful with money in the run up to that trip and I wouldn’t buy material items unless they were a necessity. Once I was on the road, I always chose the cheapest transport, no matter how long the journey (it’s part of the experience, right?), and I slept in hostel dorms, tents or hammocks. I shopped around for tour companies that supported sustainable travel but were competitively priced and I knew where to draw the line (Antarctica and Easter Island will have to wait until I marry a rich man).
More recently, on my tour of New Zealand, I was very fortunate to have the chance to experience a wide range of activities, from bungy jumps and a skydive to flying my own stunt plane in an aerobatic display. I never would have been able to justify the cost of all of this if I hadn’t negotiated a partnership with the NZ Tourism Board and various tour operators. I was glad that the whole experience turned out to be incredible and I didn’t need to slate any companies for poor service! I told it like it was. For example, the Maori experience wasn’t very authentic, but still taught me a lot about their culture, and sailing an America’s Cup Yacht wasn’t a massive adrenaline kick, but if you’re into boats or want a unique way to see Auckland harbour, you’ll love it.
The reason behind coming to Sydney was that I wanted to still have the opportunity to see another part of the world, but I had to go somewhere I could find employment and support myself. Hence the working holiday visa.
3. Where has been your favorite destination? Where has been your least favorite?
Nothing on this planet beats the Galapagos Islands. They have such a variety of astounding landscapes and intriguing animal species that there’s never a dull moment. Sailing the open ocean on board a catamaran, supported by its nets, enjoying glorious sunshine all day and the brightest night sky imaginable was pure bliss. And don’t even get me started on snorkeling with playful sea lions and inquisitive turtles and iguanas.
My least favourite destination was Florianopolis. It had been recommended to me by pretty much everyone I knew who’d been to Brazil and I was excited to spend a week or so relaxing on its beaches towards the end of my South America trip. What I hadn’t banked on was how commercialised the place is. After spending months among the indigenous people of Peru and Bolivia and meeting hundreds of inspired ‘travelers’, I found myself in a mecca for drunken club-goers. I enjoy a night out as much as the next person, but this was night after night of rowdy behaviour, house music and pretentious clubs. People splashed the cash, girls curled their hair and wobbled by on treacherous heels, and it felt kind of soulless.
I actually returned to Florianopolis with a friend I’d met on my travels, to see if I’d judged it too quickly. Staying in a quiet guesthouse, we got to know the owner – a very friendly local woman – and she drove us around the island showing us the various beaches and recommending the kinds of places we were more likely to meet locals and less likely to become part of a rave. It just goes to show that every destination deserves a second chance and sometimes your opinions of a place can be very heavily influenced by the people you meet there.
4. Have you ever had high hopes for a destination, tour, etc., only to be disappointed in the end? Or any travel mishaps?
Travel mishaps? How long do you have?! I had my bag stolen in Colombia; a man tried to mug me in the street in Rio (I screamed so loud I actually scared him off!); a hostel’s glass shower door shattered all over me, cutting my feet; an Argentinian man in a dorm room bordered on molestation before pleasuring himself in the bed next to me; and a roommate urinated all over my backpack in the middle of the night, drenching all of my belongings!
You have to learn to roll with these experiences though. They make you stronger and more patient. And sometimes they’re a blessing in disguise.
In Ecuador, I’d been on a long, uncomfortable night bus and arrived at a hostel at 5 am. The owner said they’d have a dorm bed available at 10 am and I would have to sit in the back yard until then waiting for the sun to rise. By noon, the room still wasn’t ready and I’d been sitting alongside a stoned Rastafarian attempting to chat in Spanish for a few hours. Shortly before 1 pm, I asked again and the owner laughed in my face. ‘Your bed’s been ready for an hour!’ she squealed. I didn’t see the funny side. After unpacking my bag all over the floor and preparing myself for a long-needed shower, four other travelers appeared in the doorway. It was a four-bed dorm. It seemed they had a reservation and there wasn’t any availability after all. The owner just stood looking perplexed. She didn’t apologise or offer an alternative bed. After 8 hours of hell, I got up and left to search for alternative accommodation. It sounds like my luck had definitely been in short supply that day, but it was this change of hostel that meant I met three travelers who have come to be some of my closest friends. Not only did I meet up with them on countless occasions as we travelled the rest of the continent, but they let me stay with them when I first arrived in Sydney and have since introduced me to loads of new people over here. I’m forever grateful to Sol Inn, Puerto Lopez, for being the worst example of customer service I’ve ever encountered.
5. What’s the funniest or weirdest cultural idiosyncrasy you’ve either witnessed or experienced?
Also in Ecuador, I stayed an extra week in a small town called Latacunga because I’d heard that a festival known as Mama Negra was about to happen. For a full day and night, every inhabitant – and I’m sure many from the surrounding villages – filled the streets dressed in colourful traditional clothing and a huge array of fancy dress outfits. In a macho display, men carried huge pig carcases adorned with cigarette packets and bottles of alcohol. Un-PC as it may sound, a man dressed as a black woman led the procession on a horse. But the weirdest moment came when a group of men with sticks circled us, waving their arms around and spraying us with alcohol from their mouths before rubbing our faces with a live guinea pig. Were they exorcising some kind of spirit? It’s the most logical explanation – if logic comes into the equation at all – but I guess I’ll never know!
6. What keepsake do you have to get at all your destinations?
I buy a friendship bracelet in each of the countries I visit. By the end of South America, my wrists were laden with multicoloured ties and I was definitely starting to have that scraggy bohemian traveler appearance. I find that they’re a good conversation starter. There’s a story behind why I chose each particular location to buy them. It also stops a lot of street vendors in their tracks if you can just hold up your arm and say ‘I think I’m good for now!’
7. How about the one thing you cannot travel without?
How did we ever travel without computers? My netbook has made the whole experience so much easier. Obviously I need it for the blogging, but being able to relay my dad’s fears I’ve been kidnapped, book accommodation last minute and even keep an accessible/editable itinerary of my trip is invaluable. Another handy trick I learned was that, if I’d just arrived in a hostel and didn’t know anyone, I’d look much less awkward if I took my little netbook to the common area and got on with a bit of personal correspondence while listening in to the conversations around me. If someone mentioned a place I’d been to, I’d interject with a bit of advice and before I knew it, the laptop would be back in my locker and I’d be having caipirinhas with my new friends. It worked every time!
8. Why did you begin blogging? And how did you come up with your blog name?
I started my blog as a way for friends and family to keep up with my travels in South America. Also, I’ve worked in scientific publishing for the past seven years and wanted to show that I can be more versatile in the subject matter I write and edit. As I met more and more bloggers who became close friends, I realised I was in it for the long haul. My blog has introduced me to so many people and ideas, it’s a mini business now and something I feel I can be proud of. I enjoy helping fellow travelers with their queries and I love that it actually motivates me to travel more and have even more experiences. When I was standing on a bungy ledge in New Zealand 134 m above a canyon, the knowledge that my readers would all know what a wuss I’d been if I didn’t do it definitely helped me jump!
I actually started a blog called Globe Probe, which I’m forever thankful I didn’t stick with! It makes me shudder that I might have had to attend travel events with that written on my name badge. I’d have blushed every time I introduced myself! The name Beyond Blighty started out as one of the sub-sections of that first blog (‘Blighty’ being an English slang term for ‘Britain’ – where I’m from). And who doesn’t love a bit of alliteration?
9. Do you have favorite travel blogs that you read regularly?
I have loads! The list is so long now that I can’t read any of them as regularly as I’d like to. The one I keep up with without fail is Lateral Movements. Lauren is one of the funniest writers I’ve ever come across and she captures the trials and tribulations of everyday life just as well as she describes some of the amazing adventures she’s been on. Despite numerous attempts, we’ve never met. We missed each other as we travelled in opposite directions through South America last year, and now that I’m in Sydney and she’s living up the coast in Newcastle we’re still trying to arrange a meet up. I swear she thinks I’m stalking her!
10. What made you decide to do all these crazy adrenaline-pumping activities? And did they finally get you over your fears?
I was using the phrase ‘you only live once’ long before the hashtag was invented… If I’m travelling somewhere, the world’s far too big to ever assume I’ll have the chance to come back to the same place twice. I feel constant pressure to ‘do everything’ wherever I go. This usually means I cram far too much into a trip, but it makes for some amazing memories.
I took the adrenaline sports to another level when I went to New Zealand. I wanted to plan it as a media trip and, given the county’s reputation and my stupidly competitive nature, the ‘Scared Britless’ theme was a no-brainer.
I can say with certainty that the last scary activity I did had me bricking myself almost to the point of passing out. So, I guess the answer is ‘no’, I didn’t learn to overcome my fears. What I did have, though, was a better sense of what I was capable of. The more times I did something I found challenging, the easier it became to talk myself into something else and the stronger my affirmation that I would be able to see it through. I will never be comfortable with heights, but now I know I’ve got the will-power (or stupidly stubborn self-determination) to take them head on regardless.
11. What has been your biggest challenge as a traveler?
For me, the biggest challenge is deciding what I really want out of life. I’m so grateful that I came to the realisation – before it was too late – that I should follow my dreams and see the world. The past two years have been incredible and I don’t have a single regret. Having said that, I’m 30 now. Am I getting too old for this lifestyle? Should I be thinking about settling somewhere, concentrating on saving for my future and looking for a decent man to start a family with? If I don’t make those changes I could regret it in five years, but perhaps the past two years have permanently changed me. I might never be content with the ‘secure’ traditional lifestyle that so many people aspire to have.
12. What’s next?
I’m three months into a working holiday visa in Sydney. I plan to travel through Australia as much as I possibly can. The Gold Coast and Northern Territory are highest on my list, but Western Australia is also very appealing.
It’s very difficult to know what might happen from one month to the next, because the visa restrictions make it extremely difficult to plan around potential employment.
After Oz, who knows?! If I can save enough money, I might go back to the UK via Asia. I’d welcome any suggestions!
Backpack or suitcase? Backpack
Window or aisle? Window
Solo or group? Solo for long-term travel, but nothing beats sharing wonderful experiences with your closest friends
Tapas or sushi? Tapas. Raw fish? Eyw!
Beach or mountains? Mountains
Want to learn more about Arianwen and her crazy adventures?