Travelling light

I’ve travelled a fair bit over the last few years. Monthly trips to London, a few courses and conferences each year, and holidays to New York, Rhodes, Canada and Bulgaria. I love travelling (both the journey and the destination), but I also don’t like having to navigate trains and airports with large suitcases full of everything I might possibly need. What I’ve tried to do recently is to travel as light as I can, whilst still having access to everything I might need on the trip. This is partly about planning what I’m wearing in advance, but also about risk assessment. For example, I used to always take a spare pair of shoes with me when I travelled overnight. I don’t like having wet feet, and it seemed worth it at the time. After a few trips where wet feet didn’t feature I ditched the shoes, and accepted that I may one day need to buy a pair of shoes whilst travelling. So far I’ve not had to, but I can always use a new pair of shoes, and it makes my bag significantly lighter by not having to carry a spare all the time.

I also try and reduce the load by wearing the heaviest clothes I need (generally jeans and whatever jacket/coat suits the weather), which means my bag or case should only have lighter items in it. My holiday packing is mostly shorts and t-shirts, and my business packing is lightweight shirts and trousers, none of which are particularly heavy or bulky.

I think I’m doing quite well on the clothes front, but I still carry a larger than average collection of technology, especially when I’m travelling for work. All of my devices are as light as they can be (Macbook Air, iPad mini and iPhone), but I could probably do with carrying one less device on some trips. I could also probably do with carrying around less cables and adaptors, and I should probably accept that I won’t need to connect my laptop to a projector or a wired network when I’m on a foreign holiday.

Why I’m bad at being on holiday

I am on holiday this week. This is largely because I still had 100% of my annual leave left (it resets in September), but also because I’m going to be in Egypt for a week starting on Sunday, and I wanted to make sure I was rested and relaxed enough to enjoy the trip rather than needing to spend half the week recovering from a fairly long stretch without a proper holiday. It strikes me that I’m quite bad at being on holiday though, because I don’t really know what to do with myself without some sort of structure and routine to keep me focused on the here and now, so I decided this time that I would actually write down what I planned to achieve, and tick things off when I’d done them. So in other words, exactly how I approach the day job and anything else that requires me to exert effort towards achieving predefined goals.

The first thing on my list was to prepare for my week away. I listed clothes I wanted to take, worked out if I needed to buy anything, and then assembled everything in my suitcase ready for sanity checking before I pack properly on Saturday. I’ve also been trying to reduce the amount of cables, adaptors and chargers I take with me, as well as removing anything from my everyday carry that looks dubious or won’t play nicely with airport security.

The second list of tasks revolved around technology. I’ve just bought a new hard drive for my NAS, which needed fitting. I wasn’t sure how long it would take, but actually due to the wonder of Synology it only took a few minutes, after which the NAS was back on line while the two drives started talking to each other and ensuring they were in sync. Again, I’m very impressed with this product, and would highly recommend it. I’ve also updated my 5 year plan for technology buying, and purchased a few other bits and pieces that I was holding off on buying until I was going to be at home for a decent stretch of time. I may write more about this later.

The final list of tasks was not a list of tasks as such, but an attempt to find a way of doing things to reduce the anxiety that comes from having a lot more time, and therefore a lot more choice about how I spend that time. This was dealt with by maintaining my usual routine of sleep, planning my meals and clothes in advance, and pretty much doing everything I normally do except work. I find that routine relaxes me, and that anything that can be automated should be, so that I don’t end up with decision fatigue. I also made sure I kept up my exercise regime, although I’m not quite hitting my usual targets because I’ve spent more time at home and less time walking between places. That said 6km a day is still fairly respectable.

That’s me done for now, although I’m hoping to schedule a few posts while I’m away, and also plan on keeping a travel journal (both text and photographs) so I have a proper record of this trip.

Why it’s better to travel

Astrologically I’m a Cancer. This means I’m meant to like staying at home (as well as water, kitchens, and moving sideways). I do like staying at home sometimes (especially when I need to recharge), but I also find travel very rewarding, and tend to get itchy feet if I stay in Birmingham for more than a couple of weeks. I think part of this comes from the fact that I’ve lived all over the country, and therefore have friends all over the country who I want to visit, but I think a lot of it also comes from the fact that when I’m dissatisfied with an area of my life I generally travel somewhere new, sample the greener grass on the other side, and then head home when I find myself missing things I already have. This in no way makes the travel meaningless or futile – it just contributes to a necessary process of reminding myself that all places have their benefits, and that it would actually take a really good offer for me to leave behind the life I have built up and move on to somewhere new.

It’s not just the destination that is important to me though, it’s also the journey. I find long train and plane journeys to be a good opportunity to catch up on reading, listening to music, and sometimes just thinking. Thinking can be tricky when in economy class or a so-called “quiet coach”, but I do value a journey where I can just lose myself in thought, and sometimes it’s possible to do most of my recharging before I’ve even reached my destination.

This is particularly true when travelling to places I go to regularly. My usual route to London is incredibly relaxing, and I don’t really notice my surroundings because they are at least as familiar to me as most parts of Birmingham. I think I probably just enter a sort of automated state that is similar to my walk to work, and it is during these times that I find relaxing easiest. Of course, if my routine is shattered by delays or replacement bus services then that feeling of relaxation dissipates very quickly, but I am getting better at seeing these things as a learning opportunity rather than a guaranteed mood slump, and I think I am winning in that regard.

I’m also growing increasingly fond of foreign travel, and after a long period of staying in the UK I’ve visited Italy, The U.S.A, Greece, Canada and Bulgaria in the last few years. All of these were very different to each other, and also very different to what I’m used to here. But all of them were sufficiently inspiring that if I had to relocate for a while then they would all be viable destinations. But there again, there are very few places I’ve been to that I can see myself living, and I think I subconsciously try to imagine myself living in every place I visit, every street I walk through, and every house that catches my eye.

It’s great to travel, but it’s even better to come home. That’s probably the lesson of the last couple of years.

Bulgaria – part 3

Yesterday we went on an excursion to the ancient town of Nessibar, which is full of old churches, historic buildings, and the kind of commercialism that reminds me of Venice at its worst. There was a lot to look at, but if we looked too closely or too long then there was the inevitable sales pitch, reeled out a hundred times a day, and as insincere as it was ineffective. I enjoyed looking around the churches, and took lots of photographs, but I do wish I could see places like this as they were in their prime.

The weather has largely continued to cycle between sunshine and rain, although there was no thunderstorm last night. I watched a local football match from the balcony of the hotel, and then drank wine and apricot liqueur until it was time for bed.

There is very little else to do here during the evenings. The days are a frenzy of activity (and purposeful inactivity), but after dark there is little to do but drink, talk, read, and enjoy the warmth and the feeling of calm.

It’s been a good holiday, but I am also quite looking forward to getting home, where I can hopefully reap the benefit of a relaxing week away.

Bulgaria – part 2

Last night there was a heavy thunderstorm and a short power cut. We took photographs of darkened skies that erupted into occasional brightness, and drank wine and cocktails until it was time for bed. This morning there is still a coolness in the air, but it is dry again now, and the sand on the beach is firm enough for walking on.

I am starting to see the patterns of weather now. The days are generally bright and sunny, with the storms only arriving once the sun has gone in and the warm and cool air meet over the Balkans. I suspect the power cut was unusual, although I doubt the storms are, which makes me envious for this climate where such beautiful and extreme weather is so commonplace. In the UK we curse the rain, but here I think it is possibly welcomed as a respite from the heat.

I am starting to feel disconnected from the lives of other people, but without the expected levels of anxiety that are usually associated with these feelings. Having this time away has given me a change to evaluate where I fit I the world and which interactions and connections are valuable to me. I am unsure as to whether this will change anything when I get home, but I thought the feeling was worth articulating.

Despite this feeling of disconnection, I have not missed being online anywhere near as much as I thought I would. I am sure there are things of interest that I have missed, but there are even more things of interest that I have been able to fully absorb myself in. I think there is probably a lesson there.

I also watched Factory Girl tonight. I need to write more about this soon.

Bulgaria – part 1

I am writing this from a table on a sunny balcony in Bulgaria. The journey here was about as good as economy flying gets, which is to say it was draining and tiring without anything in particular going wrong. We arrived at our hotel in the early hours of the morning, which was a lot better than the people flying from other UK airports who had still not arrived 24 hours later.

It wasn’t really possible to make a judgement on the hotel at that time of night, but after more than 24 hours I must say that I am very impressed. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, the food is excellent, and there is a wide array of drinks to choose from. The longer we spend here the more thankful I am that we ended up getting a very good deal on a good hotel rather than settling for the cheapest holiday we could find.

The weather yesterday was perfect, at least until the evening, and we spent most of the day lounging by the pool, walking on the beach, and doing the sort of things people do when they are on holiday. We have two trips booked (an evening out tonight, and a day trip to look at pretty buildings on Saturday), but will otherwise we staying fairly local, and exploring as much of this beautiful area as we can.

Last night there was the mother of all thunder storms which was really pretty to watch, and which took the heat out of the air nicely. We sheltered from the rain in the bar, and sampled the hotel entertainment (including a bingo game which we both came fairly close to winning). I’m not sure the entertainment was to everyone’s taste, but the bar itself was pleasant, and the bar staff were friendly enough. I think we may try and grab a small balcony table next time though, especially if the weather is as good as it is right now.

Also during the last two days I have been reading The Kills by Richard House. I had been meaning to start this for a while, but it is a fairly large time investment so I was saving it for this trip. So far I am enjoying it, although I think I have enjoyed each book a little less than the one before it. Here’s hoping that book 4 bucks that trend. I also have a variety of other things to read, as well as the usual array of music and films if I get bored. But so far I am not getting bored, which is a good sign that I might possibly be starting to relax.

Films, travel, and being offline

I watched a couple of films last weekend which I totally failed to blog about, and seeing as I’m flying out to Bulgaria this afternoon and won’t be online for a week or so, I thought I would write about them before I leave.

18th May – Stoker – The narrative of this film is fairly simple. A man dies, and his brother moves in with his widow and teenage daughter following the funeral. There is a lot more to it than that, but as a basic summary I think that is enough. What makes this film stand out for me is exemplary performances by Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman (who has surprised me in a good way for the second film running), and the fact that there is a genuine sense of darkness, suspense and mystery that runs throughout the film. I enjoyed it, I’d recommend it, and I don’t think I can say much more than that.

18th May (later) – Blue Jasmine – I’m still not sure about Woody Allen, even though I’ve quite enjoyed everything I’ve seen of his. Blue Jasmine is from 2013, and is another film that explores relationships between people in a world of changing circumstances. I didn’t hate it, and it certainly compares favourably to most other Woody Allen films I’ve seen, but there was nothing about it that was particularly spectacular, and as a result I don’t really have a lot more to say about it.

I do plan on taking things with me to watch, although probably nothing too challenging. I’ve also downloaded a few books to keep me entertained – I’m one book into The Kills by Richard House, and I may also finally get round to reading Neil Gaiman’s new book which a lot of other people have raved about.

I will of course be blogging and photographing my travels over the next week or so, but it may be a while before I get round to sharing anything with the wider world.

A tale of two cities

Yesterday we did all the walking in the world, or if not all the walking then enough to result in a huge purple line drawn around several major chunks of the city. We explored beaches and parks, main streets and backstreets, and saw everything from the most opulent parts of the city to the areas which demonstrate a level of deprivation I have not seen for a good while. I always say that when I visit cities I want to experience everything they have to offer, and to try and discover what it would be like to live in them. There are plenty of places here that I would happily live in, but also areas that made me feel very conscious of how privileged I am to be in this city and to have the opportunity to briefly explore areas that the people who reside in them would probably give anything to escape from.

That was just one observation of many, but it is the one that sticks most firmly in my mind.

Other things I noticed were far more positive, and are further evidence that this is the sort of city I feel at home in. I think the main one is probably how environmentally aware everyone is. There are recycling bins everywhere, and sustainability seems ingrained into the culture here. The whole city is very cycle friendly, and I think if I ever return here then I would definitely look at hiring a bike. There is also a decent amount of good public transport, with fuel-efficient bus/tram hybrids, and the sky bus, which is like a cross between London  Underground and a monorail system.

There is also food of every type available, and we have already sampled several delightful cafes, as well as the restaurant at the Four Seasons hotel which was pricy, but worth it for the delicious food and perfect service. Another thing I like to do when I visit a place is to try and eat how the locals do, and I hope to do much more of that over the next couple of days, starting with breakfast as soon as I have finished writing this blog post.

Talking of which, my soundtrack to writing these words has been “Kaputt” by Destroyer. It’s a record I’ve long loved, and one which very much sums up Vancouver to me. I like to soundtrack my travel appropriately, and hearing Dan Bejar singing about Chinatown and Downtown and knowing that I walked those streets only yesterday makes me feel closer to the music in some way, and I am sure that listening to the music in the future will make me feel closer to the city too.

More travel ramblings

(Written yesterday)

I am writing this from a delightful Air Canada plane, where I have lots of leg room and more space in general than I know what do do with. First class was definitely the right choice, and after a very nice breakfast in the departure lounge, I think we will be getting more food shortly.

So far the trip has been remarkably stress free. Last night’s hotel was both opulent and functional, and we dined on very tasty curry and white wine in the hotel restaurant. I didn’t have the best night’s sleep, but still managed a few hours before having to leave, and I am sure there will be plenty of opportunity to sleep on the plane.

(7 hours later)

I was right about getting more food. We were given a 4 course meal (with wine) about an hour out of London, and have been given regular drinks and snacks throughout the flight. I think we are about to get more food before landing, and I have a feeling I probably won’t want to eat much more today.

I didn’t sleep though, and have instead spent the last 7 hours watching movies, reading, and listening to music. I am so glad I bought my iPad on this trip, because it has hit the spot perfectly as a source of entertainment.

Next stop Vancouver, home of some of my all time favourite music, and a place I have long been interested in visiting. I am not sure how many hours I can stay awake, but I want to try and banish as much jet lag as I can early on in the trip.

A brief note from London

I am sitting in the Hilton Hotel at Heathrow Airport, where we are staying before flying to Canada tomorrow. It is a lovely hotel, with free wifi, great food, and a real sense of space and relaxation.

I don’t expect that the next couple of weeks will see too much of this sort of luxury, but I am very much looking forward to exploring Vancouver, and also to grabbing some time away from the stresses and strains of the UK. I hope to post occasional updates and photographs, but certainly have no intention of doing anything that feels like work until I am back in the UK.