Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Importance of Saying No

Turns out being a yes person isn't all it's cracked out to be - The Importance of Saying No | Todd's Travels Travel Blog

Recently, things have been hectic. Work has been busy and when I get home from work, I'm on the computer doing freelance gigs.

I'm a people pleaser (guilty as charged) and I hate saying no to projects that come my way. But all I've been doing recently is work, work, work.

All work and no play makes Naomi a dull girl.

And even though I knew exactly what was going to happen, I headed on auto-pilot to burnout. Big time.

It's funny because I've constantly said I want to be a yes person, I want to seize every opportunity that comes my way and I don't want to turn down opportunities that could potentially be life-changing, enrich my life etc. etc. you know the whole self-improvement stuff and to basically be the embodiment of, dare I say it, YOLO (I'm dying inside writing this).

But then when I was saying yes to everything that came my way, I was drowning under all my newly-gained commitments. Time management nor organisation have been my strong suit and I was failing big time.

It all came to a head when I over-ambitiously said yes to a project that in no way, shape or form did I have the skills for nor did it interest me in the slightest. Then when it all went tits up, I was all over the place. I couldn't sleep, I wasn't thinking straight and I could barely focus myself on other work commitments.

I then managed to get a standard mammoth cold. I know, I know, hardly the biggest problem, but I'm melodramatic and it made a big impact on my mood.

To say the least, I wasn't a happy bairn.

It's at these times, fate comes into play and it's almost serendipitous the sequence of events that make you have an epiphany.

In my case, it came in the form of coming across this great blog by the Middle Finger Project: How to Say No to your Clients without being a Bitch (which applies very much so outside of work too) and this TED Talk, The Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer:



I'm a big reader of self-improvement blogs(in the misguided belief that I, one day, will improve myself) and mindfulness is a regularly recurring word at the moment.

Being open to new ideas and opportunities is very much something I'm an advocate of. However, the big thing I've learnt recently is knowing the opportunities and ideas that you will never want to do is equally as important.

Whether it's going to a particular destination, a new venture, relationships, work, social gatherings, knowing when to say no will make saying yes all the easier and all the sweeter. 

Saying no is seen as a negative action in many other ways than purely grammatical, but knowing when to say no is a positive step for yourself and your well-being. Saying no is in some ways saying yes for you and being selfish in a good way.

After all, in the wise words of The Middle Finger Project's founderWhen making business decisions, it's either fuck no, or fuck yes. Anything else is a waste of your time. 

I think the same applies outside of your work life too.

What do you think - is saying no always a bad thing?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Gift Ideas for Travel Lovers


Before the 1st December, I am the biggest Grinch in the world.

I hate the ridiculously early pre-Christmas anticipation, the excessive amount of poorly executed Christmas ads on the TV (Monty the Penguin, what is that all about?) and of course, the worst bit of all?

Christmas shopping.

Or at least, the fact whenever you go into town from mid-November onwards, it is packed. And if you dared to venture out last weekend - how did you even get out of it unscathed?

But then December comes around and I feel it's perfectly justifiable to melt the ice queen exterior and (slightly) give into the 'Tis the Season to be Jolly malarkey.

And no doubt, probably around the 19th/20th December time, I will realise I have yet to sort out ANY Christmas presents.

I never learn.

But, naturally, I've already thought out of the sort of presents I would ideally like to give (and be given, WINK WINK) were my budget not so restricted.

And some of you may be running low on ideas to buy for your very own travel lover whether it's your brother from another mother, an actual blood relative or the love of your life. So the good person that I am, I've decided to share some of my Christmas gift ideas and maybe some of these will take your fancy.


So without further ado, my Christmas gift ideas for travel lovers.


The Colombiaphile

I had the pleasure of trying these tasty little morsels of chocolate covered Colombian coffee beans (that's one hell of a mouthful) by Amelia Rope at the Colombian Food Fest in London last week and considering they're made in Colombia, it's nice little touch to the usual chocolate-based present idea.

The Wanderluster

For ridiculously photogenic inspiration with words that will have you chomping at the bit to book the next flight, a subscription to AFAR magazine (you can get it digitally if you can't get the print copy) is ideal reading material for those who've been bitten by the travel bug.

The Journal Keeper

My Dad gave me a Moleskine notepad many blue moons ago and ever since then, it's still a special occasion, to sit down and write in it, admittedly when I do actually find time to do so (when I manage to sit down for more than two seconds). I've been meaning to regularly write a journal since god knows how long but for those who do write a diary religiously, you can't go wrong with a Moleskine.

The Coffee Fiend

For those who need their caffeine fix in the morning (or afternoon or evening), these cute DIY coffee pods make a nice gift with a personal touch.

The Book Worm

Being able to sink into a book when travelling is synonymous with that holiday feeling. For Christmas, why not add to their book collection with these suggestions?

For a classic, the iconic On the Road is a good start, for a laugh out loud and poignant in equal measures travel journal, Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island and for the language lover, Lingo: A Language Spotter's Guide to Europe by Gaston Dorren sounds right up their street (definitely up mine).

If you're feeling particularly flash, why not buy a Kindle. It may sound like sacrilege to those who love having an actual book but for travel purposes, it's less weight and more reading material - what more could you want?

The Shutterbug

For the snappy happy friend, other half or family member, something to add to their photography collection is ideal.

This cute little bottletop tripod for point and shoots means you never to wrestle with a massive tripod again.

Finally, it's not just iPhones that are having all the fun as Olloclip now does detachable lenses for Samsung too.

And if you really want to push the boat out, ONA camera bags are the solution for a stylish but useful camera bag that doesn't scream that there's an expensive DSLR in it (one day, I will get my hands on one of these).

What are your Christmas gift ideas?


Friday, November 28, 2014

5 Must-Have Items for Backpacking in Colombia

5 must-have items for backpacking in Colombia | Todd's Travels - a little bit out of the ordinary.

The countdown has begun and it's time to get excited for my travels to Colombia (not that I wasn't already). And whilst packing my bags is still a long way off, it's already on my mind. Packing is serious business.

Especially when there's a few cheeky trips in the pipeline to consider.

Luckily, I have past experience to fall back on.

Or in other words, I've made plenty of packing mistakes, bringing way too much stuff as well as ruing the day I was born by forgetting must-have items that were costly mistakes. But, hopefully I've been there, done that, got the "What I will do differently next time" t-shirt.

And now I can impart my (little) wisdom and you can benefit from it.

And on that note, here are my 5 must-have items for backpacking in Colombia.


1. Backpack
Backpack - 1 of the must-have items for backpacking in Colombia

I run the risk of being Captain Obvious here but your backpack can make or break your backpacking experience.

Size does matter (cheeky) but in this case, the smaller and more compact, the better. My 60L backpack has served me well but there are times that I wish it was a little smaller as it means I buy way too much stuff and it weighs it down  big time.

If I were to buy a new backpack, I would seriously consider one that opens up like a suitcase - makes finding things so much easier rather than turning your entire backpack inside out, just to find one thing that just had to be right at the very bottom.

2. First Aid Kit and Medical Supplies
5 must-have backpacking items for Colombia - a first aid kit from Gap Year Travel Store

I'm always so surprised that not enough people have a first aid kit with them when they travel. I know it's not as exciting or crowd-pleasing as a pack of cards (UNO, anyone?) but they are so, so useful, especially for someone who seems to come into harm's way more than they'd like to.

Make sure you have a good amount of dressings and bandages (double the amount if you're a Calamity Jane like me), a first aid kit like this is a good start.

Then, medical supplies: Paracetamol, Aspirin, Anti-Histamines, Imodium, Rehydration sachets like Dioralyte and for the bugs on the Caribbean Coast, Deet insect bands are a lot more effective than the spray. Malaria tablets are also needed on just about all of the coast apart from Cartagena, so make a visit to your travel clinic before you go.

And last but not least, at the risk of sounding like your inappropriate mam, for the love of God, bring condoms. Even if you're not planning on having sex, you never know when you might need them, so for peace of mind and no nasty surprises when you return, take them.

Stay safe lads and lasses.

3. Tech Kit
Notebook and good camera - a few of the must-have items for backpacking in Colombia

Now the health and safety is out of the way, the fun(ner) stuff. If you want to completely go off the grid, ignore this step.

But if you want to keep lifelong mementoes of your unforgettable travels and let your nearest and dearest know you're live and kicking, this lovely lot is essential:

Good camera (phone) - I love my compact system camera.
Go Pro - If you're making a stop in adventure sports capital, San Gil, it's a nice investment but obviously not completely essential.
Tablet/Notebook - basically something lightweight and compact
Kindle (or cheaper alternative, try Nook or Kobo) - it was a devastating loss when I left mine in a hostel bed (lesson learnt)
Adapter - Colombia plugs are type A/B.

4. Jeans
Jeans - one of the must-have items for backpacking in Colombia.

This goes against all the usual backpacker advice but if you're going to Colombia, bring some jeans.
For one, in Bogotá and the highlands, it's fairly mild so jeans are a staple.

But even if you're on the coast, where it is hot and humid with temperatures reaching 40 degrees, EVERYONE WEARS JEANS.

If you want to try to blend in, these lightweight jeans make a good compromise so they won't take up too much space or weigh down your backpack but you will look fairly swanky too.

5. Lots of layers

Yes, you read correctly beforehand, despite all assumptions, Bogotá and the highlands are mild and cold at night, but then the coast, Cali and the Amazon are sweltering hot. And then you have places like the Coffee Zone and Medellín, which are a sort of in-between climate.

The result? You need clothes for all weathers, which presents you with the worst backpacking predicament ever seeing as you already have little space in your increasingly smaller backpack.

My advice to packing light(ish) but packing for all weathers is sticking to colours that complement each other (black and white are always good too) and lightweight clothes that layer up easily as well as not being too bulky. There's nothing worse than not packing the right clothes and clothes in Colombia are surprisingly expensive, so don't make this mistake.


So, there you have it - my 5 must-have items for backpacking in Colombia, what are yours?


Disclosure: This post was done in collaboration with Gap Year Travel Store. Whilst this post was sponsored, I only agree to work with companies that I would wholeheartedly recommend and are of use to you lovely lot. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Am I selfish because I travel?

Am I selfish because I travel? Todd's Travels Travel Blog - A little bit out of the ordinary.
So I'm gearing myself up for galavanting off to Colombia for 6 months and the usual anticipatory feelings have started cropping up:

The excitement, the nauseous "What have I done" feeling, the constant procrastination, looking up new places to explore and the, what I call, the "eject button" reflex, where I feel like I should cancel all my plans and keep living the usual, cozy life I'm currently living in Northumberland.

Just the usual suspects.

But this time around, a new emotion has come into the fold - guilt.

Whether it's the fact I'm leaving my nearest and dearest behind, the fact that I'm missing a few monumental milestones in certain people's lives or the fact that I'm risking future prospects by not settling down and getting a 'proper' job (whatever that may be).

And it's making me doubt myself.

You constantly hear about how travelling makes you a better, well-rounded person who returns with a worldly view and received a 'real' education of the world.

Does the travel bug, however, make you selfish?

Before I feel the mob sharpening their pitchforks, lighting their torches and turning against me, this is solely my personal experience and this post's sole intention is to serve as a way to put my personal thoughts down onto (digital) paper.

Because obviously I could talk about the many, many benefits of travels and the advantages without doubt outweigh the few and far in between disadvantages.
Train track on Bolivian Salt Flats. Todd's Travels Travel Blog - A little bit out of the ordinary.
Just me and the road, again.

But writing this blog makes me very aware of falling into the trap of the me, me, me monotony.

Then there's the upheaval that I impact on my family, with my constant comings and goings and occasionally giving them mini-heart attacks when I accidentally go off the grid without telling them.

And the fact that travelling solo is my preferred choice because I love the freedom of coming and going and doing as I please.

To top it all off, when I'm out and about travelling, I get so much out of the experience without much thought to the locals, how I could give back etc. I go in head first, enjoy the travel experience and don't think much about the consequences.

I suppose you could say I do have selfish tendencies in that respect.

But at the same time, we should all be a little selfish. 

Now, I'm not advocating selfishness bordering on narcissism. But, if we always lived our lives the way our families or our friends wanted then we'd a lot less happier.  Being selfish in some respects is a positive trait - it can enhance our travels, our relationships, our friendships and most importantly our happiness.

Because sometimes the only way of making yourself happy is by putting yourself first.

And for me, that's going to Colombia.

And for you, it could be getting a new job, moving out, travelling to SE Asia, not doing the responsible thing and refusing to settle down, the list could go on.

Maybe being selfish is underrated.

Next time you have a big decision to make, give yourself a bit more thought, it might just be the right decision.

Now the floor is yours, what do you think, is selfishness a trait that comes with long term travel or am I completely wrong?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Useful Language Learning Apps for Budding Linguists

Language apps such as DuoLingo, Memrise and WeSpeke can help you master your language of choice.

I hear you, learning languages are no easy feat.

And once you find yourself floundering with the grammar, the vocabulary and pronunciation, the joys of learning a language are lost.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

Thanks to the ever-evolving app industry, learning a language is almost as easy as a flick of a switch.


OK, slight exaggeration.

But, these cheeky little apps will help you get you on your way to mastering the language of your desire. So enough of my waffling and more of the good stuff, here are some innovative language learning apps that will have chatting away to your heart's content in no time.

DuoLingo

At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, DuoLingo is the best all-in-one language learning software out there.

And it's free.

Say whaaat.

It goes through all the different components of language: reading, writing, listening and speaking (although you have to talk to yourself!) and is a similar standard to Rosetta Stone, so you get plenty of bang for your (free) buck,

Languages offered: Spanish (Latin American), French, German, Italian, Dutch, Brazilian Portuguese, Danish, Irish and English for non-native speakers.

WeSpeke

An online language partner forum, as long as you practise a bit of caution, WeSpeke is a great way to put all your hard work into practise and actually speak the language itself.

You find yourself a language partner by choosing your interests and following a similar concept to that of speed dating, you have a certain amount of timing speaking in one language before swapping to the other.

Cracking.

When you're short of money and can't go to the actual country itself to immerse yourself in the language, WeSpeke is the next best thing.

Languages offered: The world is your oyster.

Word Reference

Forget Google Translate (as useful in emergencies it is) Word Reference is the daddy of online bilingual dictionaries.

Thanks to the online forums and users input, you get a better insight into how particular words and phrases are used. You can also use the Legal and Business dictionaries or look up trick verb conjugations in the conjugator tool too.

Languages offered: Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, Russian, Polish, Romanian, Czech, Greek, Turkish, Chinese (no specification as to which dialect), Japanese, Korean and Arabic.

Linguee

For those fleeting times when Word Reference sadly fail you (it happens), Linguee is your next resort.

You sometimes need to take it with a pinch of salt as certain translations are dodgy but the beauty of Linguee is that you can look up words and phrases and the search engine will find it used in context in a variety of online sources.

Languages offered: Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Polish, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Czech, Romanian, Hungarian, Slovak, Bulgarian, Slovene, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, Maltese

Memrise

Learning vocabulary is probably one of the most arduous tasks when it comes to grappling with languages.

And remember all that talk at school, when we were told we had to harness our learning styles (ie. visual, audio, kineasthetic ring a bell?)

Well, if flashcards were your bag, then Memrise takes all the work out and has flash cards handy for all your vocabulary predicaments.

Sorted.

Languages offered: French, Italian, German, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Zulu, Japanese

The key is finding your learning style when it comes to mastering a language


I am throwing out all the clichés in the book here but once you find your learning style, you will find learning a language, and everything else under the sun that you have grand plans to learn, will be a (relative) doddle.

How do you learn languages? Do you use language learning apps or do you have other methods?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I'm going back to Colombia! And other travel plans.

Great news, I'm off to Colombia in 2015!

Whilst I eluded to it in my previous post, it's officially set in stone. 5th February, I'll be jetting off to my home from home for six months: COLOMBIA.

La mona está de regreso.

And obviously, I'm pretty excited about heading back to Medellín (as demonstrated in the dashing photo above).

I've always said I would be going back to Colombia, so now I've actually booked my ticket, the planning begins.


But now I find the usual pre-departure anxiety has already started to set in.

To say the least, my plans aren't quite set in stone. I've got a return ticket 6 months later, but apart from that, I've no idea as to what to do money-wise, accommodation-wise, basically anything-wise. And I've started worrying about whether going back will ruin how I feel about Colombia.

It helps that I've been before and have friends there but the anticipation is a killer.

Luckily, I've got a few travel plans in the sideline, which should hopefully keep me busy and help me get the blogging back on track.

Colombia seems to have set a precedent as next month I'm making another return to...PARIS.




I haven't been since my year abroad so it will great to go back and see the old stomping ground for a cheeky weekend, to practise a little bit of French and eat as much delicious things as humanly possible as well as seeing my girl, Emma.

I've also got various trips to London in the next few months, first one being tomorrow for World Travel Market, if anyone will be there, get in touch! I find London grows on me everytime I go.

January, I'm making plans to go somewhere for a cheeky weekend, or more likely, mid-week trip (pub problems) maybe Ireland, maybe Wales, maybe further afield, who knows?

But apart from that, it's time to save as much as possible and whittle down where I will travel to this time round. There just seems to be more and more places to add to the list everyday.

And hopefully, I will stay true to my word and Be More Tourist in my own local area, although trying to juggle work with freelance assignments means my horrendous time management skills need sorting out.

I'm not even going to bother about saying how much I'm looking forward to going to Colombia, as I know how quickly these next 3 months will go past. Needless to say, I've got enough to keep me occupied until then.

So, the floor is now yours: What are your travel plans and if you've been to Colombia, do you have any recommendations?

Monday, October 20, 2014

My 5 Favourite Places in Colombia

5 Favourite Places in Colombia | Todd's Travels

You may have noticed that I've had quite a lot of time for reflection recently.

And I've been in a sort-of melodramatic (completely unnecessary) existential quarter life crisis (as much as I cringe to use the term).

But I've finally made a decision.

I'm going back to Colombia in February and nothing will stop me from doing so.

I've raved about it so much, craved going back so much and talked to anybody who will give me 5 minutes about how much I love the place so much that it seemed to make sense.

Obviously I've not bought the ticket yet but it's on the cards as soon as I've saved up enough money.

Anyhoo, it seemed natural, as I've finally made a decision, that I should talk about my 5 favourite places in Colombia (so far).

And whilst I may not have explored every corner of Colombia yet, whittling it down to 5 destinations was a hard task.

But despite my chronic indecisiveness, I did it so here they are, my favourite destinations in Colombia.


1. Salento
Salento, Colombia. My 5 favourite places in Colombia | Todd's Travels.
Salento is one of my favourite places to spend a weekend trip. Slap bang in the middle of the Coffee Triangle, you could quite easily spend a weekend wandering through the quaint, colourful town going from café to café. But then you'd miss out on Valle de Cocora (see below) and the nearby coffee farms. Café-hopping was one of my favourite activities so for the best coffee shops, my personal favourites were Jesús Martín, which has the best cake selection (priorities) as well as excellent coffee (it goes without saying) and El Tejadito de Salento, which often has live music from local musicians.

Guatapé
Guatapé, Colombia. My 5 favourite places in Colombia | Todd's Travels
Another colourful example of Colombia's pueblos, Guatapé warrants at least a day trip. The highlight is of course climbing up all 649 steps up La Piedra del Peñol to be treated with views at the top such as the above, well worth the exertion. But don't forget to explore the brightly painted town too, it's worth a wander.

3. Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira
Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira, Colombia. My 5 favourite places in Colombia | Todd's Travels
It's a trek to get here (from Palomino it was a bus to Riohacha, then a shared taxi to Uribia, then a jeep to Cabo de la Vela) but the mammoth journey is instantly forgotten when you arrive.  It's back to basics here with limited electricity and little running water but you can live it up with cheap seafood (lobster for breakfast anyone?) and incredible landscapes such as El Pilon de Azucar, you won't find anywhere else like it in Colombia.
 
4. Valle de Cocora
Valle de Cocora, Colombia. My 5 favourite places in Colombia | Todd's Travels.
If you're going to do any walk in Colombia, the Valle de Cocora trek has to be it. Get there early (jeeps leave Salento from half 6ish onwards) to ensure the best weather and be prepared to feel tiny as you walk amongst the giant wax palm trees.

5. Medellín
Medellín, Colombia. 5 favourite places in Colombia | Todd's Travels
My home from home, Medellín is one of my favourite cities in the world. It's a thriving, innovative, crazy and it's so hard to put into words how much I love the place. Simply put, it's incredible, very liveable and I can't wait to go back.

Now, it's time to decide which places I need to go to this time round. Should I give Bogotá another chance? Will this time be the time I finally do La Ciudad Perdida trek? Or will I venture to Chocó to see humpback whales in their own stomping ground?

Where are your favourite places in Colombia? Do you have any suggestions where I should go next time?