As any avid traveller will know, no matter how organised you are, how many checklists you write, how much research you do – inevitably, things don’t always go according to plan…
Wind back to early 2008, having just broken up with my first love, I was ready for a change of scenery and eager to pursue my lifelong ambition of travelling the world. So, I did what all level-headed 21 year olds do, I quit the job I loved – working for a PR company in my hometown of Manchester, and started planning my first real travel adventure.
I headed on down to my local STA Travel and booked a ‘round the world ticket’;
(you’ll see in a later post that I didn’t actually complete the journey as I was supposed to – my inability to leave Australia kind of got in the way!)
I then set about researching places to go, what I should see and of course, where to stay. I booked my first few nights in Bangkok and then left the rest of my trip open as I didn’t want to be tied to a set plan. Luckily, I had read somewhere that hostels in Oz get completely booked up over Christmas and New Year (prices also go up around this time), so I also booked a couple of weeks at the Bondi Beachhouse YHA (more about this amazing hostel in a later post) and one week in central Sydney over the festive period.
After which, I tried to put all thoughts of the trip out of my mind in a strange attempt at combating my nerves, until November 28th loomed large.
So, it’s the day before I’m due to head off on my big adventure – first stop Bangkok, and plans begin to go awry…
Mum – Lauren, have you seen the news?
Lauren – No mum, I’m packing!
Mum – I think you might want to see this..
Lauren – (turns on tv to footage of the Bangkok riots) F$%k!!!!
Shortly after I received a call from the airline to say that my flight would no longer be going to Bangkok and was being diverted to Singapore instead. Singapore?!! I knew nothing about Singapore! Cue an afternoon of frantic research, booking hostels and general panic. This was it though, I was ready to go and riots or no riots, nothing would have stopped me getting on that plane.
This is what I mean about things not going to plan, sometimes it’s something small like being delayed, other times it’s something that feels a little more panic-worthy, but inevitably it all works out- you end up meeting someone you would have never met, seeing something you wouldn’t have seen and experiencing something you hadn’t even dreamed of. I think they call it fate!
After a very tearful goodbye with my mum and dad, my very good friend Zhana joined me at Manchester Airport, along with a little collection of letters that she had created for me to open throughout my journey, the first of which I was to open on my first flight (think P.S. I love you, thankfully without any funerals). By this point I was wracked with nerves and was mostly just trying to keep a brave face on whilst thinking, what the f$%k am I doing? I’ll be home in a month at this rate! But it was too late to back out now…
I’ll skip the boring flight details, nothing monumental happened (apart from the fact that I got upgraded to business class whoop!)
Singapore – I have arrived!
Crazy tired and feeling very overwhelmed, I grabbed a cab to take me to my new home (and very first hostel) The InnCrowd Backpackers in Little India. Luckily, during my frantic research the day before my travels, one of the interns at my old PR company had come to my rescue and recommended the hostel (thank you Mairead) and so my first hostel experience was rather a good one. After putting my bag in my room, (my childhood dream of bunk beds was finally a reality!), I headed down to the ‘living room’ to make some friends. Now I’m not a complete introvert but walking into a room full of (what feels like) novice travellers can be a little daunting but I swallowed my nerves and started chatting to a boy called Nathan (who was actually just getting ready to leave Singapore for Thailand, damnit! – but you’ll hear more about him later in the story).
But, enough about me for now, what’s Singapore like?
Well, I would say it is probably the cleanest city on earth (that I have visited so far), slightly humid – in November at least, but overall a great place to start your journey if you have never travelled before (and when I say travel, I don’t mean a package holiday to Greece). There are lots of cool little food markets, selling everything from ‘fish eye soup’ (I didn’t try this) to delicious fruit salads of kiwi, star fruit and melon (delish!) as well as an abundance of temples. Now, as breath-taking as they are, I will admit, you do kind of get bored of these after a while. The botanical gardens, however are a must-see! In hindsight, I think Bangkok would have been far too intimidating a place to start my journey and so I am glad that I was eased into Asia’s culture through Singapore first.
I’m not going to dwell too much on the details of Singapore (or my next stop, Kuala Lumpur) as they were more stopovers as I made my way up to Thailand (and frankly, it was 2008 and I don’t remember all that much about them!)
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the first part of my journey, next stop…Thailand..
Pro-tips when planning your travels:
Luggage – If you’re not going to be trekking through a jungle or travelling somewhere that doesn’t have roads, my advice would be to opt for a holdall with wheels rather than a backpack. You may laugh or think me high maintenance, but I met many, many people on my travels who ditched their backpacks in favour of a suitcase after realising just how unpleasant it is to lug them around with you, especially if you are of a small build, like me!
Go it alone – although it might be tempting to book onto an organised tour, if you’re going to Oz/Thailand or anywhere on the typical backpacker trail, I would always recommend going it alone instead – the tours are expensive and you are tied to someone else’s itinerary. While it might seem daunting to rock up at a hostel in a city you’ve never visited, this is where you are likely to meet the most amazing & interesting people and hear about the places that are off the beaten track to the usual tour-group hotspots.
People are better than books – as much as I love buying a Lonely Planet or other such travel guide when I visit somewhere new, there is nothing better than the recommendations you will get from other travellers when it comes to places to stay and where to eat. (Plus, I’m a little sceptical about whether these guides are just paid adverts to be honest!)