Annoucing my initiation as a UK columnist – for the second time

annoucing my initiation as a UK columnist - for the second time

I was minding my own business, reading the paper this afternoon, when I stumbled upon a captivating article.

I suppose I’m a bit biased.  I did write it, after all.

Travel writing is my passion. I am constantly entering short story competitions and knocking on publishers doors.
After a 6 week spread in the Caithness Courier (based in Wick, Scotland) last fall, my next run is on it’s way in Horsham, England.
 So how do I do it?  It’s simple, really.  I ask.
I have a portfolio, including sample works and recommendations, that I am constantly building up.  I have an angle – a brilliant idea that I can sell.  And I simply don’t take no for an answer. It is my unrelenting perseverance and motivation that secures me a position as a columnist wherever I may find myself around the world. One day, you might pick up your local newspaper and find my name. Today, I did.

Something Missing

I had the most incredible day yesterday. After enjoying coffee with a group of older woman, I wandered through Horsham in the heat of the day. I wished for a park, and one appeared next to me—a gigantic green space with constant gardens full of decorative greenery and wooden carvings unfolding around each bend. I lay in bliss with a book, grass imprinting its pattern against my bare legs. I was warm and content, but I knew something was missing.

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I glanced around the park at groups of friends chatting and playing football. Mothers pushed strollers, partners walked hand in hand. With a jolt, I realised that I knew what was missing. Fellowship.

I wasn’t homesick. I was lonely.

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It’s a difficulty solo travelers are often confronted by. You can be in the most beautiful, lively, incredible place in the world, but be unbelievably unhappy or depressed because you have no one to share it with. Life’s special moments—breathtaking sunsets, hilarious happenings, burdening difficulties—are often experienced alone.

Luckily, travelers don’t always have to be alone. Obviously, the best place to meet fellow travelers is where they stay: in hostels. However, if you find yourself settling down and relaxing in a home, as I am, meeting new people and making friends can be more difficult than imagined.

Locals are generally intrigued to meet foreigners and hear their stories (or maybe just their accents). I make friends in church, while working, studying, or shopping; I ask to join a group of friends tossing a Frisbee.  I contact couch surfers and volunteer. I’m not shy—I can’t be, unless I want to spend my entire trip without company. Still, it’s not always easy. Sometimes I am forced to go out of comfort zone to cure my loneliness.

And sometimes, I simply can’t be bothered.

There’s nothing wrong with being alone. Solo travel is good for the soul. You will be forced to spend time with yourself, so you will learn to be someone you like being around. You will grow, change, and learn. If you don’t, you’re not doing it right.

Traveling alone teaches independence. It teaches you to try. It teaches you to reach out to the world in a variety of ways and situations, and feel it reach back. At some point, you need to trek into the world and face yourself, if only to learn you were there all along.

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As I lay in the grass of beautiful Horsham Park, I let myself feel lonely, but I wasn’t sad. The most difficult things in life are also the most worthwhile. I settled into the silver lining on the dark clouds of traveling alone, injured, and uncertain, and let the summer sun kiss my face in contentment.

I miss my friends, I miss daily hugs, I miss the freedom of home. But I’m also delighted to experience life abroad once more—because even though it isn’t always easy, it is good.

Pause, slow down, and rewind—but never stop

There are thousands of things to avoid while suffering from an extreme physically injury.  World traveling, especially backpacking, is probably at the top of the list.  But my doctors gave me the all clear, and here I am: wondering what I’m doing so far from home, and more importantly, the hospital.

Traveling with a broken back is a lot more difficult than I originally anticipated.  It’s not that I thought it would be easy; it’s that things that never bothered me before suddenly mean the difference between a decent day and searing pain.

Beds, for one thing.  Yeah, hostels have shitty beds.  Duh.  But sleep is the one time the overprotective muscles in my shoulders relax, and well, they can’t.  It’s not like hostel dorm rooms are the breeding ground of sound sleep and healthy bodies.

Another thing to look out for, if you happen to be insane like me and travel across the world with broken bones and metal holding your spine straight, is the availability of transportation.  I am staying on a beautiful sheep farm, about a 40 minute walk out of town with a bus that could pick me up 20 minutes in.

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Which would be great and secluded and lovely if I could walk 40 minutes.

Instead, I depend on taxis and my hosts for rides.  I am an independent person.  I hate being a burden.  I can’t carry my own luggage, therefore I can’t backpack alone.  It’s incredibly frustrating and unbelievably humbling.

I could go on all day about the dangers and difficulties about what I’m doing.  But instead, I’m learning how to deal with it.  I’m learning to slow down and cuddle up with a latte in a cafe for three hours to rest my back.  I’m learning to let others go ahead while I trod behind.  I’m learning to rest, to slow down, and to speak up when I need help.

I can’t travel like I want to.  Maybe I’ll learn that I can’t travel at all.  But the important thing is I am trying, and I am learning.  I’m not stopping—I’m simply slowing down.

Alison’s Adventures Ultimate Guide to Hostelling

Everyone has their own unique style and method of traveling.

I have tried living in hotels, campervans, and resorts; I have stayed at orphanages, farms, and friend’s places.  My accommodation of choice has always been, and will always be, a really good hostel. Take three 001 Your accommodation will have a large impact on your overall impression of a place.  Hostels are full of people—potential friends to spend your days surrounded by—and as all travellers know, the people make the place.

So how do you find a good hostel, with good peopleRead the reviews.  Take the advice with a grain of salt – outer influences can alter the perception of a place – but remember, these are mostly written by backpackers, like you.  Does it sound like your style?  What amenities does the hostel offer?  Can you live without a movie room, can you handle co-ed bathrooms?  Do you want to?

If a hostel has a bar, it’s most likely a party hostel, guaranteeing you a headache—if not a hangover—from the late-night antics.  It also means you will most likely be forbidden from drinking your own alcohol on site.  (What a great way to make you spend more money at their on-site bar… though drinks are generally dirt cheap.)

Size matters.  Large, chain hostels (such as Nomads, YHA, and HI) will uphold 5-star standards and house hundreds of guests, with new staff lingering at reception everyday.  In my experience, these hostels are generally cold and sterile – clean and functional, but lacking any real character.  Family-owned or independent hostels will have smaller rooms with a cozier, community feel.  The FO/I hostel workers will be more likely to go the extra mile to ensure your stay is fantastic, because to them you are not simply a guest: you are part of the family. edinburgh 061 Location matters too.  A downtown hostel will have easy access to the center of town, but be loud and crowded at night.  A hostel in a small town will most likely have more character, less guests, and more of a family-feel.

Where the heck do I find all this information, anyways?  I surf through several sites: hostelbookers, tripadvisor, hostelworld, and hostels.comBy checking every site, I widen my range of hostels and prices.  Once I find one that includes everything I consider important (namely: dorm rooms, free wifi, a common room, and lockers to secure my valuables), I email the hostel directly.

THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP.

By contacting the hostel directly, I forgo having to enter in my credit card details online and pay a booking fee, allowing me to cancel at any time without penalty.  I also get the cheapest rates by going through the hostel directly—booking sites charge the hostels to advertise, a fee that ends up coming out of your own pocket.

Hostel owners are usually quite willing to be flexible and work around your wants, independent and small hostels even more so.  If I need a bed immediately and can’t wait for an emailed reply, I bite the bullet and book through the cheapest booking site, or show up at the hostel and pray for an empty bed (not advised during the high season, during events/festivals, and in the summer months).  In such cases, I only book the nights I that absolutely have to, and leave the other ones open to change my mind.

Once I decide on a hostel, I find myself some wifi (at a café, library, shop, or another hostel) and pop the address into Google Maps.  I take screen shots of the step-by-step directions, because, with a pay-as-you-go SIM, I don’t have wifi everywhere.

I’ve often had to cancel my booking at hostels.  Generally, 24-hour notice is appreciated.  I’ve also had to leave hostels, paid in full, because I did not feel comfortable.  I switched rooms one night after taking my concerns to a staff member.  People around the world are the same, and you can almost always find someone who is willing to help. P1070660

At the same time, I often find myself pushing my stay back and remaining in a place a lot longer solely due to the incredible atmosphere of the hostel.  I left Doug’s Mountain Getaway in Innsbruck, Austria, only to arrive unhappy at the train station—and turn around to spend another week with my friends.  I lived in Caledonian Backpackers in Edinburgh for a solid month, with incredible friends who had been living in the upstairs long-stay for months—coming on years.

Hostels are incredible places.  Don’t let one bad experience turn you off.  Keep searching for your home away from home.  You’ll find it where you least expect it.

It took me two years of mistakes to discover this method of finding and booking hostels.  It works for me.  Use my tips, perfect your own method, and, as always, happy travels!