“Six weeks!” she said in amazement and awe. “You are staying here for six weeks?”
I knew that she had visions of our next six weeks being spent in surroundings similar to those she had been staying in. She had a vision of 4 or 5 star luxury hotel, with meals at restaurants, and days travelling the country of Thailand and exploring the wonders of Bangkok. Catching taxis to shows, swimming in a cool pool, shopping in all the shops that Bangkok offers and generally having a wonderful holiday.
I never told her that six weeks was just the tip of the iceberg- it may have been too much for her imagination to know that we left New Zealand over 12 months ago and had visited Thailand four times in the last year. She would have been blown away to know we have also spent three months in Turkey, four months in the United Kingdom (visiting three times) as well as staying in Moscow for a month and visiting a few other countries as well. She will never know how much fun we have had staying in people’s homes and looking after their pets, exploring new places to find the fascinating things to photograph, meeting new family and friends, and mixing with people in the new neighbourhoods that we temporarily reside in.
There are no flash hotels- we take the homes that people live in; whether they are large and luxurious, or compact and snug. We shop at the supermarkets where the local people shop, and cook our meals, and live outside the tourist trail. And we love their ‘fur-babies’ and give them the care and attention they are used to. We take walks around ordinary communities and often don’t even visit the ‘tourist attractions’.
At times we must live in budget hotels when we need a room for the night, and we eat at cheap food halls or cook for ourselves in communal kitchens. We sit in little spaces fighting with our laptops to earn a little money at all hours of the day or night; and we often walk rather than catching even the train. All in the name of stretching every dollar as far as it will go.
Every day has become an adventure, as we gradually meet the challenge of making money on the wing, and it gets easier as we have now invested in a better laptop and camera. We have had the excitement of selling our first photograph (25c) and first article for someone’s website ($2). We have been places we dreamt about going for years, and we have been to places I would never have dreamt of going to, as our journey evolves and expands.
It began as a trip to Russia with a few side tracks. With two sons living in Moscow and repeatedly asking us to come and visit, we finally committed, started saving and planning for the trip that we saw would last 2-3 months. After all, when you live Down Under, flights to the Northern Hemisphere aren’t cheap; while on the top half of the World we thought we would try and see all the picks of the places we had always wanted to see.
Then we came up with a plan to expand the stop-overs on our flights. Why land in a country and fly away again without taking at least a few days to explore the highlights? This is how our first trip to Bangkok came about. The question was ‘Which city do we stopover in on our flights from Australia to the UK? Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong or Bangkok? I think my husband used a mental form of throwing a dart and came up with Thailand. Another stopover was to be Istanbul, but after terrorist activity we dropped that out until later in the adventure. Stopovers on the way to Russia were at Riga and Vilnius; two cities I barely knew existed until we were to visit them. However, the biggest stop-over was in the United Kingdom, and we expanded that out to a month, with visits to London, Manchester and Leeds, Scotland and Ireland all planned. We did not purchase flights home again as we thought we may stay in Russia longer than the month we had booked.
Initially we travelled a a normal tourist, spending our savings on meals that were not particularly memorable, and hotel rooms that became a blur. Rental cars and insurance ate a hunk, and every city meant tours and visits to the attractions. We had a ball, but we found that it was the people that were making our journey, not the places. When we visited Northern Ireland and chose to spend the day with newly discovered family rather than see the Giant’s Causeway, our journey took a new dimension. The Giant’s Causeway would be there another day, but an 80 year old Uncle may not be.
Our list of rules began to take shape;
- It’s the people not the places
- It’s the journey not the destination or as a charming Irishman put it ‘Sure getting lost is half the fun’
- Try and take a few days in each place your flight lands. (not always possible if Housesits are close)
- (our new rule) Try not to fly for longer than 4-5 hours at a time. Jet lag is a killer!
When our money was starting to get low, we had an inspiration-an idea we had tried before occasionally, but only locally, never on the international stage- Housesitting or to be more precise- Pet Sitting. We promptly joined a site, found a situation where we could help out and stay for free, and suddenly it seemed that our journey was beginning all over again. What a great decision it has been; no longer do we trail around the cities with every other tourist. We move into a house, fit into the community and get to know the intimate lifestyle of the area.