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?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How to keep up your running routine when travelling

Maintain exercise routine whilst on the road | Todd's Travels

I'm a bit of a running freak. I always have been. I was that massive keeno who could not wait until school's annual cross-country. I just loved the mud, the cold, bitter weather and of course, THE MASSIVE HILLS. Running has always been an integral part of my week.

I run because I want to stay healthy. I run because heck, I'm vain and want to look and feel good in a bikini/birthday suit (cheeky). I run because every now and then, I need to clear my head and and those feel-good endorphins are a nice side effect too.

Running is actually my idea of fun and I even travelled to Nice for a casual half marathon (the lovely scenery and old town weren't bad either).

This isn't even said with a hint of irony, I kid you not.

But when I toddled off on my gap year, I let my exercise routine slide - big time. And when I returned, albeit happy and tanned and brimming full of memories to brag about to all my nearest and dearest, I came back with a bit of extra baggage. None of my clothes fit, I avoided being in any photos and the post-travel blues hit me hard there and then.

When I went off travelling at the end of my year abroad, I was defiant I wouldn't have a repeat performance. Whilst I enjoyed the local treats, various ice cream breaks and may have indulged in some of the local licors, I managed to keep up my running routine. And with some of my handy tips, hopefully you will be able too.

First things first
I may sound like a massive fun sponge but safety first. Have you seen people out running? Are there parks nearby or are there outdoor gyms (the best thing ever for a budget traveller)? If in doubt, ask at your accommodation to find out if it's safe or not to dash out for a run.

Find your route
If you see people out and about running, find out where they go. Like said before, parks are usually a runner's paradise so see if there are any nearby. Beaches are also great running tracks plus if you run barefoot on the sand, it's a more intense workout meaning more calories burnt off.

Use apps and social media
Especially if you're travelling solo, meeting for a cheeky jog is a great way to see the city as well as meet people. Meetup is great for finding running meetups and if you're stuck finding running routes, find other runner's routes at MapMyRun.

Make time to run
As sacrilegious as it sounds, making time to get up a bit earlier and getting your running stuff ready the night before sets you up to run. It's surprisingly easy when you're in a non air-conditioned room in a tropical climate, no lie-ins past 8am for you. But if you can't bring yourself to get up early, why not try a sunset run instead? You get to enjoy the sight of the sun setting on another day as well as having the chance to clear your head whilst out on a jog.

What are your top tips to keeping up your running routine when abroad?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Top 5 destinations to go back to sooner rather than later



There are certain places I have been to, that whilst I've had a good time and I love to travel, I would not be devastated if I didn't go back there ever again.

But then there are some that you fall hook, line and sinker in love with and you know you have unfinished business. So when I was nominated by Neil from Backpacks and Bunkbeds (check it ouuuuut) to give my Booked.net - Top Destinations to Go There, it got me thinking.

I share the same apprehension as Neil - you don't want to go back and find things aren't quite the same. Things will have changed, the same people may not be there or you could have poor luck and it will all go tits up. The problem with returning is that it may ruin those lovely, happy memories first time round.

But there's that niggling 'what if' that is constantly on my mind especially when it comes to travel.

What if it's even better? What if I love it even more? And the biggie, what if I want to move there? 

And I'm all about the here and now - or at least as much as my bank balance permits - so there is no better time than the present to head back and refresh your memory as to why you loved it so much first time round.

Trying to be an eternal optimist and what not.

Enough of my nattering on (as per) here are those 5 top places that are at the top of my to-go-to list:

Copenhagen

It may have something to do with the fact that I have a slight obsession with Scandinavian crime dramas (The Bridge anyone?) but I absolutely loved my time in Copenhagen. It's the least capital city capital city I've ever been to, there was less of the usual passive-agressiveness you find in a city (apart from in the bike lane) and everyone seemed to exude an understated chicness that made me so jealous - it may have been to do with the fact that EVERYONE IS SO PAINFULLY BEAUTIFUL - and to top it all off, they were bloody lovely too. I could go on but one thing I do know is that I'm not finished with Copenhagen yet.

Rio de Janeiro


I think I was a bit too young for Rio last time round, I went there on my gap year, a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and naive 18 year old, and whilst I loved my time there, I think I was intimidated by how big and bright and bold and crazy everything was (I was there during Carnaval, may explain it). This time round, I'm ready. Ding ding round two.

St Petersburg

Hanging out with Putin's interpreter

Many a moon ago, I learnt Russian at school and the lucky beggars that we were, we went on a school trip to Moscow and St Petersburg. We saw the sites, may have slightly overindulged on the cheapest vodka we could lay our hands on and casually had PUTIN'S interpreter as a tour guide (true story). Moscow I wasn't overly enamored with but St Petersburg was another story and I would love, love, love to brush up my rusty Russian and head back to St. Petersburg in the summer for the White Nights.

Edinburgh


The Fringe Festival is basically my family's annual pilgrimage and with good reason, there is no place like it. The feel-good atmosphere is everywhere, the rain is embraced and everywhere you go, there is passion, inspiration and talent (some places more than others). Even when it's not festival time, Edinburgh is a great day or weekend trip year round and I would love to go to Hogmanay for a good old-fashioned knees-up to see the year in too.

And of course...

Colombia


Out of all the places in the world, Colombia is the one place that I yearn to go back to and have the most apprehension about returning to in equal measures. I could talk until the cows come home about how much I love Colombia but I will save you the spiel. Colombia is effectively my travel version of 'The One' and the fact that if things aren't quite the same, the break up could be messy. Regardless, it's a risk I am more than willing to take and furiously saving up all my hard-earned pennies to return.

I pass on the baton to...

Alex at Backpacking Brunette

Ed at Rexy Edventures

Rebecca at Creative Nomad

Tom at Journey Tom

Lizzy at Nomad Notebook

Get cracking lads and lasses.

Now the floor is yours, where are your top 5 destinations?

Friday, September 26, 2014

The many benefits of learning a foreign language

Image via Gina

Happy European Day of Languages!

I'm always nattering on to friends, family, anyone will listen, about how amazing learning a foreign language is but I feel it's been a much-neglected topic on the blog. And what better time to right that wrong than European Day of Languages.

It is such a massive bugbear of mine when people tell me that studying languages is a waste of time and "you might as well just go abroad for a year and learn it there".

I totally understand the logic behind the latter point but for the majority of us, learning a language in its native home is quite unfeasible. And don't even get me started on the first point - learning a language is in no way, shape or form a waste of time.

This is particularly a mentality shared in the English-speaking world and I really wish I could somehow get on my soapbox (as per), have a massive audience and change all these misconceived perceptions.

Being able to talk to someone in their own language trascends so many barriers. It gives you a direct insight into a history, a culture, its people, allowing you to understand why people are the way they are. My great international relations idea is that politicians on the international stage should do away with the interpretors and try negotiating amongst themselves, without any middle men.

Obviously, this is why I'm not involved in politics, but maybe if they take down the linguistic barriers that they themselves put up, negotiations would take an interesting turn (although, there would probably be a hella lot of mistranslations).

But learning languages is not just about communication, it is that and so much more.

It's the process of problem solving that comes with languages on a daily basis. Encountering language barriers and trying to overcome them gives your brain a new challenge to deal with and an opportunity to solve it in different and creative ways.

Ironic coming from me but learning a language sharpens your decision-making. Making snap, split-second decisions are easier when you've had to contend with deciding whether a verb should be in the imperfect or preterite, all whilst having a casual conversation with the shopkeeper.

Weirdly, you get to know yourself better. Now I'm not about to rattle off the whole 'finding yourself' malarky but learning another language brings out parts of your personality you didn't know you had. This may make me sound completely crackers but I swear I am a lot more blunt in French and even louder and more confident in Spanish.

Learning languages make you smarter, or at least means you can ace certain rounds of University Challenge. French nouns that have different meanings in the masculine and feminine form COME AT ME.

You have that awkward "Weird/Random Fact about Me" icebreaker sorted. 

Speaking of which is it just me or are multilingual people just instantly more sexy?

But in all seriousness, learning a foreign language helps you master your own language. There is so much I didn't have a clue about in my own native tongue that thanks to learning other languages, I had that lightbulb moment everyone talks about. Because if you're going to nail any language, it may as well be the one you're born with.

Have I missed off any benefits of learning languages? Any language learning hacks?