Maldives (duh) has been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 56!
The Maldives is not commonly included in most travelers’ backpacking trips; it is not known as a budget destination. The smallest country in all of Asia, the Maldives is an archipelago of islands located in the Indian Ocean. It is known mostly for its numerous tourist resorts, most of which take up their own island. The country offers very little in the way of budget accommodation, and mostly serves as a place for expensive vacations and honeymoons. Nonetheless, I happened to be in the area (roughly a one-hour flight away), and decided to take a much needed vacation from traveling.
The idea of taking a holiday during an extended trip may seem laughable at first, but I promise you, it is much deserved. Constant travel can be extremely tiring and taxing, especially in a country such as India. Roughly 10% of my nights have been spent without a bed: either in an airplane, bus, or train. It is not always easy to find decent accommodation, and noise and grime can really be a nuisance. I’ve been ill more times in the past few weeks than I’d like to count, probably due to a constant spread of bacteria, caused by a crowded environment. Seriously, sometimes you just need to get away for a while.
It’s truly time for me to take a “real” vacation, one spent at a tourist hotel on a small atoll in the Maldives. While this excursion is definitely the most expensive of my entire trip, there are things I’ve done to lessen the damage. For example, I pre-booked accommodation online, and managed to get a wonderful hotel rate of $25-30 per night. While this is way out of my usual $3-10 price range, it is considered very cheap for the Maldives. Flights are inexpensive from here to Sri Lanka (my next destination), so it is the perfect place to stop off along the way. I’ll only be staying here only one week, so the price won’t make too big of a dent in my budget. It is an extremely small country, so I have no qualms with spending just seven days here. Most of the country’s islands are uninhabited and inaccessible, making this one of the only places in the world where the “true” way to see it, is to stay at a tourist resort. Ah, but that’s what they want you to think.
Thank Heaven I got to stay on a residential island (Hulhumale) for one night before going to my hotel, because the Maldives completely shocked me. I arrived at the international airport, and saw the bluest, clearest ocean water I have ever seen. Seriously, it’s like something out of a fairy tale. From there I took a ferry to the capital city, Male, which is one of the smallest capital cities in the world. I was immediately impressed with the calm and laid back nature of Maldivian people. Because tourism tends to be limited to expensive hotels, the country has none of the taxi driver hustling or scams that I’ve grown accustomed to. Everything just seems so…calm. I would love to live here some day. Food is delicious and fresh, the beaches are glistening white, and the water (which I already mentioned) is amongst the most beautiful in the world.
Maybe I was expecting Maldives to be all dive resorts and five-star hotels, but I was wrong. After all, there is a population of people living here. The prices, while much higher than anywhere else I’ve been recently, are not as bad as I’d assumed. In fact, if one were to live on one of the residential islands (by renting an apartment) it would be quite affordable by Western standards. It is a shame the country has no backpacker culture, because more people should come see the Maldives. There is currently not much in the way of budget hostels and guesthouses, but I can see the country eventually developing into a more “backpacker-friendly” destination.
I am proud to pounce on another stereotype: that the Maldives is just an expensive resort country. If you come here and look in the right places, it can be a rewarding place to stay, even for the casual backpacker like myself.
Last month was spent partially in Vietnam and Singapore, but mostly in India. It's by far the cheapest country I have traveled to, and certainly the most challenging yet. Right now I am in the state of Goa, a very tourist-friendly region. However, the rest of the country (so far at least) has been quite the adventure. You never know what you will see in India. I've eaten some of the best food I've ever had, stayed at some of the worst hotels, and have gotten ill more times than I'd care to count. The country manages to be both frustrating and rewarding at the same time; it is not a place I will be forgetting anytime soon.
I'm going to give you a brief sneak peak of the upcoming month. In roughly a week, I'll be taking a hiatus from India, by spending some time in the Maldives and Sri Lanka. The Maldives is an extremely expensive country, and is mostly filled with tourist resorts; it will likely be my most expensive week of traveling ever. Both countries are islands, and are situated within one or two hours' flight from India. After the excursion, I will fly back into India, and travel in the middle and northern regions. The country is so densely packed, there is no way I'll be able to see everything in a few months. Nevertheless, I plan on doing my best, and making the places I do go to, count.
The three currencies I used during my fifth month: Vietnam Dong, Singapore Dollar, and Indian Rupee. The latter stretches quite far. In fact, if I would have only been in India this month, my total costs would have been even less. Nevertheless, this was my least expensive month yet. Here's a breakdown of costs, by category.
Accommodation - $142.24. Average of $4.74 per day. Unlike in Southeast Asia, there are very few dorm rooms in India, so I've been staying in private rooms the entire time. Even so, the costs are very low, with a night's stay usually ranging from $4-7. Even in Singapore (a relatively expensive country), I didn't pay more than $20 for two nights' stay.
Food and Drink - $172.28. Average of $5.74 per day, or $1.91 per meal. This is one of the areas where India truly excels at being a budget destination. In most places (besides for Goa), a meal will cost you about 50 cents. A large meal, including juice and/or Chai tea runs you no more than $1.
Alcohol - $16.81. I've not had much beer in India, but is relatively affordable. A large bottle of Kingfisher is about $1. I didn't drink in Singapore, but I've been told it's extremely expensive. Once again, you can get local brew in Vietnam for as low as 15 cents in some places.
Transport - $67.81. I cannot stress how cheap it is to travel by Indian rail. I've taken a ten hour train ride for as low as $1. Obviously, the price will go way up if you opt for an air-conditioned or luxury car.
Miscellaneous - $86.55. Includes things such as toiletries, laundry, ATM fees, etc. It also includes the price of an Ipod cable, a haircut, and some internet cafes.
Total amount spent - $485.69. Average of $16.19 per day. This was by far my cheapest month yet, and my first under $500. If I had only been in India, it would have been even less. Like always, this amount does not include international flights or visa fees (which will all be tallied in a separate post some day).
Once more, thank you to Simon and Erin, the creators of Trail Wallet. Their app continues to be my #1 budgeting tool. If you feel so inclined, check out their journey at neverendingvoyage.com.
There’s a man who follows me around while I travel, creepy as that might sound. He rides the rickshaws with me, eats at all the same restaurants as I do, and sometimes, sleeps in my room with me. When it’s been awhile since I've met another traveler, he makes me feel lonely. When I’m on a long train ride (as I am right now) he tells me I’m wasting my time. He says I should have stayed at home, because there is nothing to be gained from being overseas. He makes me doubt my own actions, ambitions, and feelings, and laughs at my naivete. The man makes me downright miserable.
Yeah, yeah you get the picture. No, depression does not go away just because you’re on the road. In fact, it can be at its worst. Travel forces you to face your vulnerabilities, opening the path for your inner demons to strike. In the long run, this may be a good thing. It allows you to discover yourself: what makes you happy; what makes you sad; what sets off your emotions. Heck, maybe you’re even still figuring out what your emotions are. However, in the moment, depression is no fun. It can put the damper on an otherwise boisterous occasion. I understand that.
Travel won’t cure your anxiety. It won’t cure your laziness. It won’t cure your self-doubt. It most certainly won’t cure your depression. Whether you’re visiting a temple or riding an elephant, the man can strike at any time. Keep in mind, travel cannot cure ailments, be they physical or mental. Know your limits; know what you’re getting yourself into. Don’t wait until you are miles from home to face your problems. Treat every traveling day with self-love, just as you would back home.
To all you travelers, who suffer from depression (and I know I can’t be the only one), I salute you. Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re not alone.
I must admit, I was very skeptical about going to Goa. India’s smallest state is well known for its beach tourism, and I was trepidatious that would be overpriced, overcrowded, and no fun. Well, I’m glad to say that I was wrong. Perhaps it’s because I decided to go during off-season, but this is the most relaxing, enjoyable part of my Indian experience yet.
I decided to head to the small town of Benaulim. Compared to other parts of India, there are miniscule amounts of people here. Everything is clean, quiet, and tourist friendly, albeit slightly more expensive. I’m renting out a gigantic double room (with refrigerator and kitchen sink) for $6.50 per night. There are dozens of great restaurants and shops nearby, plus a beautiful beach.
Unlike the rest of India, which was colonized by England and (partially) France, Goa was colonized by Portugal. As a result, the state feels significantly different from the others I have been to. Christianity is more prominent, and the architecture is unique for India. Goa is sort of the “Florida” of India. Located on the country’s coastline, it is lined with beautiful palm and coconut trees.
Seriously, Benaulim is just what I needed. I’d been moving around nearly every day, and figured I would find a place to rest up for a while. This town is absolutely perfect, and is one of the highlights of my trip. I’m sure Goa gets crowded and hectic during tourist season, but right now it is Heaven on Earth.
The best experiences, in my opinion, happen off the beaten path.
It was morning I arrived in Mangalore, a fine, albeit standard Indian city. I walked about for a couple of hours, eating and checking out various guesthouses (no, I didn’t eat the guesthouses). After a while, I had an idea. Why not move on to a smaller city? Usually I would stay a few nights in each place, but as of late I’d been getting sick of big cities.
I chose a city at random: Kasaragod. It was in the state of Kerala, and took an hour by train. I disembarked and…meh. Once more, it was a fine city, but not one I felt like staying in. So I had my second brilliant idea of the day. I was going to hike to a nearby town. I hit the road, with absolutely no idea where I was going. With just a backpack and nerves of steel, I trekked for the good part of an afternoon.
Midday, I found myself in a residential neighborhood. It was fascinating, as I had not yet seen the suburbs of India. The big cities have many slums and apartments, and numbered houses are something of a rarity. So here I was, the only person on a long and winding street; it was an extremely calming, peaceful experience. The sheer number of citizens in India can be enough to drive you mad. You are constantly surrounded by people, so good luck ever finding some alone time. There’s a good reason I mentioned that I’m sick of big cities; it’s because Indian crowds are stimulating in all the worst ways.
So here I was in a moderately remote area, possibly the first white person to ever be there. A few residents were tending to their lawns, and gave me incredulous stares. As I passed by, I noticed something interesting about the houses. Some of them were absolutely beautiful: huge and polished, with a couple of cars in the driveway. However, their neighbors would often be small, disheveled, dusty-looking shacks. I have a separate article planned about the class divide in India; let’s just say for now that it’s very “in your face.”
Right as I was getting ready to throw in the towel and head back, a kindly man and woman invited me to rest by their house. I took them up on the offer, and chilled outside their humble abode (it was one of the “shackier” houses). The woman brought me a cup of water, which I pretended to drink (foreigners aren’t supposed to consume tap water). Neither of them spoke English, but we managed to communicate with a few broken words. The man, whose name I don’t remember, was an electrician. He told me of a nearby Hindu temple, and offered me a ride.
After Thailand, I’d considered myself all “templed” out. So this was the first time I had been to a temple in India. It was interesting, with many beautiful paintings of Hindu gods. We stayed for about five minutes, and then he dropped me off on the side of the road. I bade farewell to my new friend, and continued my trek.
In the end, I met another cool dude who was working at a roadside restaurant. He gave me a ride to the train station, and I ended up going…back to Mangalore. That’s right; I spent the entire day trying to escape the city, only to arrive there again at night.
Moral of the story? Hit the road, bud. Guess how much fun I would have had if I’d stayed at a hotel in Mangalore? I’d be willing to bet, zero. When in doubt, move on. You never know who you will meet and what you will see.
Ethiopia has been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 55!
I recently shipped home two of my artistic outlets: my guitar and my camera. I’d had enough of trudging around with the extra weight, and decided it would be best to ditch the items. Sometimes, to travel you have to temporarily give up things that you love.
I’d had the guitar since Bangkok, where I purchased it to replace my old, broken one. Many a hot afternoon was spent practicing, writing, and messing around. I started an (unsuccessful) Kickstarter campaign to record an album with my guitar, and even wrote two original songs with it. However, as of late I’ve been too busy to play every day, and the instrument doubled the weight I had to carry around. In three years of musical dedication, this will be the longest break I have ever taken from playing guitar.
I’ve shot over a hundred rolls of film on my trusty Pentax K-1000 camera, and had hoped to continue my photography overseas. In Thailand, it was no problem. I shot a couple of rolls and had them (shoddily) scanned for me. Unfortunately, film did not prove easy to find in other countries, and processing labs were rather rare. Due to the inconvenience and high costs of shooting film while on a budget adventure, the Pentax had been lying at the bottom of my bag for a few months. To lessen the weight of my backpack, I shipped it home as well. I’ve been shooting all of my pictures with my IPod, but will go back to film when the trip is over.
With a heavy heart, I brought my items to the post office, where I was directed to the packing room. A man sewed together a wonderful fabric sleeve for my guitar case. As I watched him work, he pointed to some signs on the wall, which showed he had been recognized as a professional in his craft. In a morose sort of way, I found it interesting that he was getting ready to send away my crafting tools. I brought the finished package back to the shipping room, paid $65, and was on my way.
On the walk back to my hotel, something dawned on me. I was a lucky guy. The majority of people in India could not afford a $200 guitar or $50 camera, or have the luxury of traveling the world. So what was I doing, complaining about a mere few months’ inconvenience? The pit that had been forming in my stomach suddenly disappeared. It was ok that I had to temporarily give up my artistic pursuits, because now traveling would be easier and more enjoyable. Sometimes, giving up the things you love actually makes you love something else even more. With just a small backpack to carry, I can now focus more on the task I have at hand: seeing the world.
While trying to find a guesthouse in Bangalore, I came across not one, not two, but three dead rodents…within the span of half an hour.
Let me backtrack.
After spending three marvelous days in the experimental town of Auroville, I decided it was time to move on. I set my sights on Bangalore, capital of the state Karnataka. The idea was to head back to Pondicherry (a very busy city), then catch the overnight train to Bangalore. Unfortunately, I had some trouble booking a train at night, and ended up having to stay an extra night in Pondicherry. The next day, I booked my very first overnight train in India.
For those of you who don’t know, India has a world-famous railway system. It’s efficient, comfortable, and inexpensive. One of the things I was most excited for about the country was to ride its trains. I purchased the cheapest kind of ticket (sleeper class) for my destination, and boarded what was to be a very uneventful ride. The trip took ten hours, and I must say: I definitely prefer the trains to the buses! Not once during the trip did I assume we were going to crash. The traffic in India is ridiculously congested, so road travel can be something of a frightening experience.
I arrived in Bangalore at five in the morning, and began walking. Unfortunately, I don’t sleep very well while being transported, so I wanted desperately to find a guest house. While hiking through a neighborhood, it became apparent to me that guesthouses wouldn't open for another hour or two. I decided to set my bag and guitar down, and chose a street corner to sit down on.
It was then that I saw the first rat, lying dead on the ground.
OK, so no big deal; I've seen plenty of dead animals before. I thought nothing of it, and watched the sun rise. Across the street was a stray cow, poking her nose in a pile of garbage. I amused myself for a few minutes, until the cow realized nothing of value was to be found in the heap. She trotted away, and my eyes snapped back to the morning light.
Suddenly, a crow flew by, a rat trapped in his beak.
I must admit, it gave me a little shock. I hadn't been expecting a bird to fly right by my face, let alone one brandishing a rodent. With a chuckle, I leapt to my feet. It was prime time to find a guesthouse.
I had walked only a few meters when I saw it: the third dead rat.
What I got out of that morning, has very little to do with the deceased animals. Rather, the scenario caused me to reflect fondly about the country I was in. In India, you can never be sure what you will see. In a couple of hours, the street I was on would surely be bustling with crazy sights and sounds. The precious half-hour that I sat there was the “calm before the storm.” The “calm” involved a cow poking through trash, and three dead rats.
God, I love this country.
One of the first things they teach you as a kid is “Don’t talk to strangers.” Well, throw that out the window if you are traveling; it’s neither the time nor place for such foolishness.
Part of the beauty of travel is that you have to learn to trust random people. Note: trust does not refer to being stupid. You must always use common sense and discretion while traveling: even more so than you would back home. There are plenty of people out there looking for tourists to scam, rob, and do much worse to. If you are not yet familiar with a place, you become prime candidate #1: a lost tramp who is just itching to be parted with his/her money. Always do research prior to visiting a country. Read about crime rates, local scams, and areas that should be avoided. Don’t take a ride with a shady person, just because they offered it. It is generally bad news if someone approaches you on the street and tries to give you something.
Now that my safety PSA is out of the way, back to trusting strangers. Do it. Residents know more about a place than you do, and it would be foolish to think otherwise. Believe it or not, the majority of people in the world are friendly. If you are choosing to live life on the road, you must learn to trust strangers. Think of it this way: if a random person came over to you in the street and asked for help, how would you react? I’m guessing the answer is not: “Kidnap them and then beat them senseless.” The same goes for everyone else. If you have trust issues, now is the time to work them out.
I had a lot of trepidation when I began traveling. I’d always been a bit nervous about being a victim of crime, and it didn't help that I got scammed on my second day overseas. However, I soon realized that I couldn't walk around suspecting every passerby of malevolence. Such thinking was paranoid, and it fueled a sense of discomfort when moving about my destinations. What is the point of traveling, after all, if one doesn't interact with others?
While you should definitely travel with both eyes (and ears) open, you should also learn to notice human goodness. How can you travel in a foreign land, without relying on other people? Travel definitely teaches you to recognize good and bad character: who can be trusted, and who should be avoided. Sure, sometimes it is out of your hands. Like any adventurous lifestyle, travel has risks. Be aware of the risks before you go anywhere, but don’t let them stop you from having a blast!
Nepal and Rwanda have been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 54!
India is a country that keeps reminding you that it’s India.
Honestly, in the past few days, I've probably had more sensory stimulation than during the whole rest of my trip. This is not a country you can half-ass; I doubt you can just check out a few sites and do the whole hostel thing. I’m sure there’s some sort of “backpacker trail” in India; however, I’m certainly not anywhere near it. I recently wrote about the tidiness of my previous destination, Singapore. Well, India is surely Singapore’s worst nightmare: a grimy, disorganized, loud place, where anything goes.
I arrived in Chennai, capital of the southern state Tamil Nadu. According to Wikipedia, Chennai is rated as one of the twenty cleanest cities in the country. Hmm, if the ranking holds true, I have absolutely no idea what to expect from the thousands of cities that didn't make the list. There is garbage strewn all over the streets, dilapidated sidewalks, plenty of homeless people, and heavy traffic pollution. It’s not uncommon to see cows on the side of the road, and street food hygiene standards are nonexistent.
I quickly left the big city, and headed to Pondicherry, capital of the Puducherry union territory (sort of like a state, but ruled by the federal government). This territory was under French occupation, and thus architecturally reminds me of Vietnam (a French occupied country). However, Pondicherry is still unmistakably India. I was served food with bare, dirty hands, walked through death-defying traffic, and got stared at by hundreds of curious Indians. On my second night there, I got food poisoning. It was the worst pain I have ever felt in my life; I quickly ran to the hospital where they injected me with some painkillers.
As I sat in the filthiest, most run down guesthouse I've ever stayed in, I felt, for the first time like a “real” traveler. I’m so glad that I chose to travel in India after leaving Southeast Asia. Now that I’m slightly more wary, I’m finding it simpler to “ease” my way into this colossus of a country. I can already tell India requires a great deal of effort to explore.
If it sounds like I’m bashing on this wonderful country, I’m not. Sure, it can be an exhausting, sickening, and depressing place at times. However, the rest of the time it is exhilarating, colorful, and friendly. I actually love how there are relatively few tourists here; as a result, I've been interacting more frequently with the local people (it doesn't hurt that many of them know English). Yeah, there are a fair number of people who just want your money. However, the rest have been interesting, kind, and helpful. Upon taking the train from Chennai airport to the city center, a man graciously explained the transit system to me. He then spent the next ten minutes writing me a page full of useful Tamil (the local language) translations. This happened within an hour of arriving in India, and gave me a wonderful first impression.
I must also say, Indian cuisine is hands down my favorite cuisine yet! I plan to eventually dedicate an entire post (or three) to just Indian food. Though I've eaten a number of incredible dishes throughout my journey, Indian food blows the competition away. It’s ridiculously cheap (less than a dollar for a large meal), is usually eaten with one’s hand (even rice), and uses a heavenly blend of spices.
Right now I am staying in Auroville, a beautiful town near Pondicherry. It is a historically diverse place, whose community is comprised of people from over 40 countries!
I’m just beginning my two-month-plus excursion into India. I cannot wait to see what lies ahead!
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write movies and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.