Monthly Archives: December 2008

Christmas in Laos

One year ago today I made the decision to quit my job and travel for a year. The desire for travel had been slowing growing for some time, accelerating ever since my first proper backpacking trip to Mexico & Guatemala in 2007. That desire had always remained in the realm of ‘some day’ though…until Laos. The first week of my trip was a revelation – I’d been nervous about my first solo trip, but from day one I began making friends, and I was lucky enough to be in a truly special country.

All my thoughts and feelings about travel crystallised into a firm decision thanks to Christmas day, which definitely goes down as one of the best days of my life. It wasn’t a day visiting historical sites. It wasn’t a day admiring beautiful scenery (although that was certainly a part of it). It certainly wasn’t a particularly culturally sensitive day.

Nope, what I did on Christmas day last year was float down a river on an inner-tube, wearing a santa hat, with a beer in my hand, and with a group of friends from around the world. And it was awesome. I’d started the week worrying about being alone and ended up exchanging secret santa gifts with a group of new friends with more sincerity than I’ve previously managed with colleagues I’ve known for years. This more than anything else is what really helped me make the decision. I love the way travel forces me to open up and meet new people, especially people from outside of the narrow circles I normally mix in. I love the way it challenges my preconceptions, takes me out of my comfort zone, and shows me why that’s a good thing. Sights, scenery, places are so often the focus of travel, but in my experience it’s the interaction with people that’s just as important, and can help create the most special memories.

I know next year I’ll see so many special places, and I’m really looking forward to that. What I can’t forecast, and what excites me most, is the unexpected experiences I’m going to have with people I haven’t even met yet.

Christmas morning in the pool with my travel buddy Chris, with the beautiful limestone mountains of Vang Vieng in the background

Christmas morning in the pool with my travel buddy Chris, with the beautiful limestone mountains of Vang Vieng in the background

(and no, I’m not sad enough to be posting on Christmas day. I’m probably slumped in front of Christmas Top of the Pops right now, as it should be. This is a post-dated post, obviously)

I’ve booked my ticket

It’s been 360 days in the planning so far, and I’ve finally booked my ticket. Here’s the plan:

Monday 30th March London – Mexico City
11 weeks in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras: Aztec & Mayan temples, colonial cities, lounging on Pacific beaches, climbing volcanoes, catching up with mates in Guadalajara, learning Spanish & diving in the Caribbean.

Friday 19th June Tegucigalpa, Honduras – Miami
If I have to go through the hell of clearing US customs to get from Honduras to Colombia, I figured I might as well make the most of it by spending a weekend partying in Miami.

Monday 22nd June Miami – Bogota, Colombia
5 weeks in Colombia – a country I’ve been reading about on lots of travel blogs lately, and is rapidly becoming the country I’m most excited about.

Sunday 2nd August Bogota – Lima, Peru
Incan ruins, hiking in the Andes, salt flats and the Amazon jungle.

Friday 9th October Santiago de Chile – Easter Island
Getting to see the Moai up close on one of the most isolated islands in the world.

Tuesday 13th October Easter Island – Santiago de Chile
1 night’s rest in Santiago for my last night in Latin America

Wednesday 14th October Santiago de Chile – Auckland
Yes, yes, I know a week is not long enough for New Zealand. But a year’s not all that long, I’ll just have to go back another time to see it properly. Will stick to North Island.

Thursday 22nd October Auckland – Melbourne
Two weeks relaxation in Melbourne, waiting for my 60-day Indonesian visa to be processed, and hopefully a little partying in the run up the Melbourne Cup.

Tuesday 3rd November Melbourne – Perth
A quick trip to see a mate in Perth

Saturday 7th November Perth – Ayers Rock
Uluru will certainly be the most unusual (and coolest) place I’ve ever spent my birthday.

Tuesday 10th November Ayers Rock – Sydney
I’ve spent plenty of time in Sydney before, but I still fancy a last few nights before heading off to Asia.

Friday 13th November Sydney – Jakarta
The first half of my trip is relatively planned out – but once I arrive in Jakarta, the last half I’ll just go where the mood takes me, starting with island-hopping across Indonesia. After that who knows? East Timor, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam…

Monday 29th March Bangkok – London
I don’t want to think about this one yet!

The ticket I have is pretty flexible, so any of those dates and flights can be changed for a small fee as I go round (except the Santiago – Auckland one, as seats on that get booked up months and months ahead, I got one of the last available for this particular flight), but it’s a start. Now to get on with the rest of the planning, I have 101 days to go and there’s a lot still to do.

Winter walking in the Lake District

I’ve been rained on every time I’ve gone hiking this year, so I was expecting more of the same when I planned a weekend of pre-Christmas walking in the Lake District. Remarkably enough, it not only turned out dry, but the sun came out as well – in fact we had a completely cloud free day. With around two feet of snow on higher ground, and a sprinkling even in the valleys, it made for the perfect winter walking. With the sun glistening off the snow contrasting against the bright blue of the sky, it made for absolutely stunning views from the top of the hills.

Easedale

Easedale

Easedale

Easedale

A very friendly robin

A very friendly robin

Me at the top of Belles Knot, overlooking Easedale

Me at the top of Belles Knot, overlooking Easedale

Codale Tarn

Codale Tarn

Sheep over Langdale

Sheep over Langdale

I’d even go as far as to say I’ve never seen England look so beautiful. Hopefully I’ll get another chance to go back before I leave for Mexico; it would be too much to expect to have another day like Saturday.

Ho Ho Ho

Maybe it’s because last year I spent Christmas in a hot country for the first time (don’t get me wrong, it was fantastic, just not exactly traditional)

Maybe it’s because next year I know I’ll be spending it somewhere in Asia (most likely the Philippines), away from friends and family again.

Maybe it’s because I’ve quit my job and am therefore enjoying life more already.

Maybe it’s because I know I’ll be getting to spend the day with my two nephews who I know will be very, very excited.

Or maybe it’s just because I’m going soft in my old age.

Whatever the reason, I am feeling SO much more Christmassy than usual this year. I’m normally a bit scrooge-like but not this time. I’m even planning to decorate my desk at work.

In my newfound spirit of enthusiasm for Christmas, I’ve even been getting excited about the emergence of the Christmas lights – and thankfully they are a hell of a lot better than the usual tacky rubbish. Regent Street is covered by nets of lights that look like a giant spider has wound its way down the street casting a huge glowing web over the shoppers. Better still is Carnaby Street, which is full of great big jolly snowmen.

Christmas on Carnaby Street

Christmas on Carnaby Street


Of course I still haven’t actually attempted any Christmas shopping yet. I think I may leave it a while longer too – because it’s normally enough of an ordeal to kill any Christmas spirit I have!