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What do Travellers do all Day?

Going to Rome or Marrakesh figuring out what to do is pretty easy. It usually goes like this: Sightseeing at day, a nice meal in the evening before drinking the night away. But what does one do in Western Sahara?

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Welcome to Western Sahara

Welcome to Western Sahara

I’ve seen this question asked multiple times. In novels, on television and online. It has always been kind of rhetorical. It is often answered with “seeing the world,” which is both inadequate and a cliché. Now that I’m here in Western Sahara, where typical pastimes such as sights, good food and alcohol are non-excising, I figured I might try to give a decent answer to what travellers do all day.
Generally, it’s possible to divide my travelling time into five categories: planning, actually moving from a to b, killing time, meeting people, and meta-travel (blogging, editing pictures, etc.).

Planning

Travel planning

Travel planning

Travel planning distinguishes itself from preparing for a vacation. It’s much more low-tech. Hostels don't exist in Western Sahara and those five hotels with online booking is way, way out of my price range. Planning is done on the ground and is more a matter of improvising. Having arrived somewhere, the first thing I need to do is to find a place to sleep and to offload my backpack. I usually head to the primary market – these are more often entire neighbourhoods than actually makeshifts markets. This is where the cheap hotels tend to be located. It usually takes a bit of shopping around to find one that isn’t full, cheap and clean. Leaving any destination also requires some preparation. Hotel staff can sometimes assist with departure times, but most often it’s necessary to head to the bus or train station itself. Booking ahead requires an extra trip to the station, but can be necessary if there're limited options to my next destination. The alternative, to just show up before departure. Once the ticket is secured it’s a waiting game as transportation is always delayed. Then there’s the ‘I need to get a new pair of socks or ‘my headphones broke’ shopping that takes ages because it includes figuring out a decent price, quality and the fact that I have no idea about where the electronic stores are. This quickly takes a couple of hours every day.

Moving between destinations

Standard Western Sahara Road

Standard Western Sahara Road

Then there’s the process of travelling itself, that is, moving from a to b. Distances are wast in Western Sahara; neighbouring towns are – at least – a three-hour bus ride away. (This is a country larger than the UK with only half a million inhabitants). However, arriving at a new, unknown destination is one of the joys of travelling. So is being on the move. You sort of has to like this bit. At least if you don’t want to have a miserable time on your travels. Yes, the landscape outside the window has been impressive, but dull dessert for the past three hours, but I’m moving. That feeling of progress is after all the essence of travelling. Though the rally-like driving down here makes it a rather nerve-rigging feeling too. On days where I’m moving between places, this takes up no less than three hours of the day. It can easily take up an entire day if waiting times are long or if it’s an eight-hour trip. Don’t even get me started on those 20 or 36-hour rides. Luckily, those are rare and yet to come.

Killing time

Weirdest. Sculpture. Ever.

Weirdest. Sculpture. Ever.

A sort of sightseeing is possible in Western Sahara, but sights are of a different kind. You might have learned about a few tings from fellow travellers or the guidebook. A lighthouse, a market or whatever. Those are usually crossed off the bucket list rather quickly. From there on it’s a search for new interesting tings to do. It usually takes a few walks around town, but once in a while, you strike gold. I’ve come across the weirdest statue I’ve ever seen, an idyllic harbour and a girls football match with all female spectators at the local stadium. When nothing comes up, my usual retreat is the tea-houses, where numerous men are hanging out killing time on their own. I join them. Smartphones and Wi-Fi reached Africa years ago, so many places give me time to catch up on the world, read (I’m becoming a big The Guardian reader) or have a chat with friends back home. This is not a vacation and time is not limited, so I can enjoy that ‘making the most of it’ does not require a constant rush. These breaks also give me a chance to check in with other travellers online. Is there’s something I’ve missed in town? The best gems are often hidden, and I just might need help finding them. If there nothing online, I’m have the options between another walk around town or another cup of tea. If I’m not moving between destinations, this can take up the entire day and no less than a couple of hours are spent in this fashion.

Meeting people

Meeting the locals

Meeting the locals

These are the spontaneous moments that for most travellers make it all worthwhile. Especially if they don’t like that whole moving from a to b part. These meetings are always spontaneous and once they’ve happened you simply just have to push everything else aside to enjoy it. Most travellers are more concerned with meeting the world than seeing it. These encounters are not solely a matter of the locals being friendly. I can help them along. A general greeting when I enter a café. By offering the person next to me on the bus some of my snacks. Or engaging locals with simple questions – like yesterday when a question of when the boats were coming in resulted in a tour of the harbour and tea with the workers there. These are the meetings that can lead to invitations to local homes, new friends and a better understanding of the country. I just hope they happen as often as possible.

Meta-travelling

Blogging on the road

Blogging on the road

Any travel blogger will tell you the same. Travel blogging is a lot of work. Two hours every day is a low estimate. Writing drafts, dismissing drafts, editing and proof-reading – all takes time. So does photo editing (a painstakingly lot of time) and uploading them. And I’m not even spending the time, that I probably should, on promising my blog around the web. For those living off their travels it’s a full-time job – they just always get to decide where their office is. I’m just happy that alcohol is so hard to come by. That leaves plenty of lonely nights to meta-travel...

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Posted by askgudmundsen 15:44 Archived in Western Sahara Tagged travel planning sighseeing blogging how_to what_do_travellers_do meeting_locals western_sahara Comments (0)

Preparing for a Year of Travelling

How much did I actually have to prepare for leaving my life for a year to go travel?

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You simply need a god hat!

You simply need a god hat!

I like to tell myself that I did not need to prepare anything before heading to West Africa for a year. That is, of course, a lie. However, besides spending two years saving approximately 12,000 Euros while finishing my education, I probably prepared less than many thinks – and less than many others would have done. The truth is that it actually does not require a lot to go travel, not even for extended periods of time. A passport, a sense of adventure and enough money for the duration of you trip… and preferably a good hat!

Everything in a 28L backpack

Everything in a 28L backpack

Specialised gear (including camping gear) can be rented in most capitals, so all you need are some good shoes and a decent backpack. The amount of money clearly depends on your level of comfort and travelling style. The hat is a personal preference, but this is honestly all you need. You have clothes in your closet, and the sense of adventure will take care of everything else – just keep telling yourself that.
This is the bare minimum and for comfortable travel, you need a bit more. I have been blessed by past trips. That is, I already had a good backpack, a travel towel, lightweight and fast-drying clothes and an idea about just how little ‘stuff’ I need in order to travel. Most people bring way, way too much stuff with them. Hence, the cliché travel advises: “Spread everything you want to bring with you out on the floor in front of you. Then leave half of it behind.”. Just to give you an idea of how little I am bringing with me have I added the complete list at the bottom of this post. It might seem like a lot in list-form, but those 12 kgs it combines is not a lot for a whole year.

Other than what I already had, there were a few things I needed to check off before I left. I was running out of blank paged in my passport, so I had to get a new empty and boring one. I had to order another credit card from my bank, so I would have a backup in case I lost my current card. I had to get two expired travel vaccinations refreshed. I also bought a guidebook, stash up on Euros and Dollars and got some new travel shoes. Lastly, I stacked up on medical supplies. I am going to be far from Western hospitals and a basic first-aid kit, and some antibiotics and penicillin are handy to have at hand – though I have never had any use for it myself. Instead, I have been able to help out fellow travellers in need and once acted as a doctor in a Madagascan village I passed through.
Once you got everything and if you are leaving for a long trip, like I am, you probably need to get rid of your apartment, find a place for your stuff, unsubscribe newspapers, newsletters, insurances and other things you do not want to pay for at home, while you are not there. Then again, most of this can be done once you are already on the road. Realising that you are still paying for that expensive data package for the phone you are not using usually helps such things along.

Then there is the mental preparation. Leaving the safety and comfort of your home. Leaving friends and family behind. That is often the hardest part of any trip. I have found from past experiences that the less mental preparation I do, the more enjoyable will my trip begin. You really cannot prepare yourself for the travel experience. It is better just to roll with the punches. If it gets too much, you can always take a break from everything by checking in at a five-star hotel and spend a couple of days in luxury. Spending too much time saying farewell is not advisable either. It will only make me sad that I am leaving. It is far better to treat the farewells like a bandage. Rip if off quickly. Only do the essential farewells in person. Maybe, have one big party where your guests do not realise that this will be the last time they see you for a long, long time. In that way, there will be fewer tears to shed. Sure, people will miss you, but long farewells will only add to that. By not saying goodbye you should buy everybody a month or so before people actually realise that they miss you. Alternatively, if you do not have any friends, consider that as one less thing to worry about.
This is everything - complete list below the picture

This is everything - complete list below the picture

Packing list
Essentials:
Backpack (28 liters)
Travel shoes
Lightweight tent
Light sleeping bag
Hat

Clothes:
Four pairs of socks
Four boxers
Four t-shirts
Two trousers (identical brown one’s – fuck anything stylish)
Two shirts
A hoodie
Surfers/swimming shorts
A tank-top
Long underwear
Fingerless gloves
Warm socks
Scarf
Belt
Glasses
Sunglasses

Toiletries/first aid:
Toilet pack (doubles as day pack)
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Shampoo (better than soap for clothes washing)
Deodorant
Lotion
Shaving machine, plus charger
Nail-cutter
Lipstick
Sunscreen
Insect repellent
Condoms
Water purifier
Metal mirror (does not break)
Small travellers first-aid kit
Bandage
Antibiotics and penicillin
Clothesline

Paperwork:
Passport
Yellow vaccination card
Int. driver’s license
Danish driver’s license
Guidebook
Three maps over different parts of West Africa
Ten passport photos
Notebook
Book: Just and Unjust Wars (pick something you enjoy, but won’t go through too quickly)
Point It booklet
Two credit cards
Student card (good for the rest of 2016)
Diver Maser certification card
Blood Donor card (with my blood type on it)

Electronics:
Camera plus charger and extra battery
Two SD memory cards
Old Nokia plus charger
MP3 player plus USB-cable
Notebook laptop plus charger (for blog-writing and picture editing, otherwise leave the computer at home)

Others:
Bag padlock
Two wallets
Torch
Tent-lighting
Knife
Deck of cards
Lighter and matches
Compass (essential when arriving late at night at dark bus/train stations
Silk liner
Two carbines
Two pens
Some rubber bands
Whistle (for attracting attention in case of emergencies)

And lastly: two toy animals because I have friends, who apparently thing I will forget them while I on the road :)

In addition to that have I bought a washcloth while down here and a fellow traveller left me some clothes soap as she was flying home.

Posted by askgudmundsen 03:42 Archived in Morocco Tagged travel packing hat prepare how_to travel_preperation long_term_travel Comments (0)

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