All the mistakes I made when I first went travelling

Guys! I’m back from India for near to two weeks now, and every time someone asks me how was it, I give them the (very polite) eye and say that it’s a long story, but actually, it is. I have so many stories left to tell and a few ideas what to post about, and hold on, they are coming – but first I wanted to write this one. Number one reason probably is that I still miss Australia. I have come to terms with the fact that as it was the first big trip I ever made – and completely solo, too! – it will always be there to haunt me with sentences like “that time I was in the Oz..” slipping out of my mouth in situations where people are probably sick of my stories from the road already. But to me Australia is like a first love, and a girl never forgets her first love.

near Julia Creek
Cow that has probably made some mistakes in Melbourne

Second reason why I wanted to write about this topic is because I think that a lot of travel blogs (am I labeling myself as a travel blog now? Whelp!) don’t go deeply enough into the troubles of travelling. I suppose if you were browsing through my blog casually, you would shy away from the seeming negativity of it all – after all, I’ve only had the blog up for a few months and I’ve already written about scams, dislikes and hostel hells quite openly. It might seem like I am trying to scare people away from travelling so that I could have the whole world all to myself! (If only that would work. Sigh.) However, I write about all those things because those are the realities of travel, and for me they haven’t always been easy to face, so I feel like if I can send a fellow globetrotter out there with a bit more awareness up their sleeves, my job here isn’t completely wasted. I love travelling for the good moments, obviously. But the bad moments make good stories, too.

I also feel like it is important to look back and see how much you’ve grown. I look back now and I feel like roundkicking my 18-year-old self in the face with a table, and in three more years, I will probably feel the same way about my almost-22-year-old self. I made all the beginner’s mistakes you could possibly imagine. I mean, if you’ve ever found yourself complaining to a fellow traveller about an annoying thing your hostel compadre does, you have probably complained about me. I left for Australia fresh out of upper secondary school and straight out of eighteen years in a town of twenty thousand people, and yet, barely of age, I thought I knew everything. And boy was I wrong.

Innes National Park

Mistake #1: skimping it up

As the departure date was closing in on me, I was counting my pennies and was pretty proud of the barely five thousand euros stacked on electronic piles on my bank account. I had heard the saying take half the baggage and twice the money but somehow I ended up doing the complete opposite and virtually lived on cold noodles and white toast for most of the trip. The culinary highlight of the nine months away were Saturday nights in that Irish hostel I stayed at, because that was when the downstairs bar carried up all the pastries that could not be sold at the bar anymore. I still dream of those apricot muffins. In truth they might not have been all that delish, but to me they marked a rare occasion of a feast.

And if I’m completely honest, there isn’t much I could have done differently before the trip. Postponing it was never the option – I felt like I had to go, just then, or I never would. The summer before my departure I worked in three different odd jobs because they were the only ones I could find for short periods of time as a fresh graduate, and naturally, they all paid me peanuts. I was still living with my parents, I wasn’t a prodigal partygirl, and I didn’t have a fancy for flashy clothes, so probably there wasn’t anything I could have saved from. I remember being vaguely worried about my budget before I left, but I reassured myself by what everyone had been saying – that getting a job in Australia would be like snapping your fingers.

And maybe it was like that a few years back, but now backpackers are flooding the departure gates and competition is harder than ever. At one point I hear a rumour that there were five million Germans on a working holiday visa, which as a number was so ridiculous the hearsay could not be true on any account, but I can tell you, there were endless streams of backpackers looking for work. Like a children’s version of Grapes of Wrath. I know a girl who literally landed a job offer just walking by the place on the street, not on one but two different occasions, so I guess you need luck, too. I was down on mine. I tried some time in Sydney, then gave up and thought to give it a new go when I reached Melbourne, where I ended up soldiering on by an odd fifty or seventy dollars I could scrap off a trial or working at the hostel bar some evenings. I only managed to get my first proper job in December, two months into the trip.

Wine tasting – deffo not a mistake near Adelaide

Mistake #2: taking all the baggage
Back then I enjoyed delusions of living a somewhat steady life in one place, then moving my life to another location. Please try not to bury your head in shame as I tell this, but I was seriously concerned whether I should ship stuff from home in order to survive – and I’m talking about lamps, curtains, rugs, that kind of stuff. You get the drill. I guess when you’ve only got a vague idea of what a backpacker is, it feels somewhat scary to think that you will have to get by for a year with only what you have in one little bag.

Well, one humongous bag. Or a few.

I bought a 55-litre backpack for my trip and made sure it was one of those that opened at the sides, so virtually I had about 70 litres on me. Plus my daypack. And the big Aldi canvas bag full of food I carried around because as a poor little backpacker all alone in the world I couldn’t even afford to leave crumbs behind. Oh, and did I already mention I had a 17” laptop with me? I had a 17” laptop with me. In a separate bag.

Melbourne

Of course one of my mistakes was to take a backpack that wasn’t suited for my petite-ish frame – another one was to stuff it like that chicken Tracey and I ate for Christmas that year. So of course it was hard to carry. Good thing is I never needed to go too long with it on my back, but it still didn’t stop concerned strangers from stopping me on the street to ask if I needed help carrying anything. (True story.) Nowadays I travel with carry-on only, which brings on its whole new stadium-sized problems (what do you mean I can’t fit in five pairs of shoes? They’re essential!) but which I’m head over heels for since it sits in my back perfectly and is a natural “whoaaaah, do you really need that?” reminder. It’s never a good sign if you’re surprised at what you find in your backpack. As in, you’ve packed so much that you didn’t remember what you had with you.

questioning some life choices in front of the cowcalypse in Charters Towers

Mistake #3: plans set on stone

I applied for a job at a farm up in Queensland two weeks into my trip. I was tanning (more like shivering, what the hell Australian  September) on Bondi when I got a call from them asking when I could fly in and start. I thought about it for a second, and then, as a little rational voice in my head was sobbing and screaming, declined. My reasoning was that I had made some friends in the city and was reluctant to leave before my birthday which would be in a few weeks, and secondly, I had already bought tickets for a Coldplay show in Melbourne and I thought that if I went north, I couldn’t get back to the south coast on time. Besides, I had got a call from another potential employer just half an hour before, and because the line had been atrocious, I had asked him to call me again and he said he would, so I figured I already had a job in Sydney – so why leave? Obviously the guy never got back to me and by turning down a dream job (they had horses! the voice shouts and starts wailing again) probably cursed myself with bad job-finding karma for the rest of the trip.

Luckily my plans weren’t scribbled in a schedule so tight it didn’t leave any space for capricious changes of mind. In a lot of cities I overstayed my welcome because I enjoyed it there. However, what I was firmly set on was my travel route, and I would not budge. I did see most of the places I wanted, and I am pretty proud of all the ground I covered in relatively short time, but then again I was not flexible enough to follow a new travel friend to another destination, or work at an interesting job for longer, or go see other fantastic places my fellow travellers had suggested I should see. After New Year’s I realised I had to hurry if I wanted to see everything I had planned, so I scurried through Darwin and Perth in two days, skipped the national parks in the north and only knew the popular East Coast by the wave I gave to them as we sped past them on the highway. At the time I was so afraid of missing out on something that I actually did.

Pictured the scarf I lost somewhere in Tasmania. Definitely a mistake. (Fun fact: I have bought two scarves exactly like that after the trip, only in different colours, and lost all of them.)
Sydney

Mistake #4: turning up the telly

I really, really liked the hostel I stayed at for my first month in Melbourne. Every night the party raged on, and since there were only twenty-four beds and most were occupied by long-termers, everyone knew everyone and could help a mate out if they hadn’t prepared with a box of goon for the night. Unfortunately, fun parties result to ghastly hangovers. Too many mornings were wasted in the TV room, buried between rough cushions with a few other ill-looking scallywags that had managed to crawl out of bed before noon. And there I stayed, happily watching one film after another until there was no one left and I started surfing on the channels.

I think relaxing – real, true, proper relaxing – while travelling is highly underappreciated, because sometimes you just need an hour or an afternoon or a day of sprawling out in a place that isn’t sticky with the party, but I have to say I am not completely proud of how little I managed to see of Melbourne in the two months I stayed there. I think I can only blame my natural habits. At home I enjoy not doing anything and I think it’s a valuable thing to bring with you when you travel so that hectic sightseeing and caleidoscopic rush from one destination to another don’t burn you out, but just remember that too much is always too much.

It could also be that I didn’t have any money to do anything fun. Or that I was lazy. I’d like to think it’s the first one.

Magnetic Island
Next time get a photographer that captures the kiss, not the tension before in Magnetic Island

Of course there are plenty of other mistakes I made, starting from major cock-ups like losing my passport (that will be a fun story for the future) to medium ones like getting too drunk on a night out to minor ones like forgetting to ask the contacts of those two German girls you roadtripped for five days joking about crocodiles, and I will keep making mistakes as I go, which I’m not particularly looking forward to. Some people tell you to embrace the regret and learn from it, some tell you to let it go and start clean, and I’m somewhere in the middle. Right now I can think back on how immature and naive I was back then, and I sometimes cringe when I think what my travel companions back then would think of me, but mostly I just laugh about it. One of the hardest and most important things any of us can do as humans – even when we’re not travelling – is to acknowledge when we’ve made a mistake and be able to say, ‘Well, I was bloody stupid, can I do something in the future to change it?’ Some mistakes you will want to keep repeating, although you know that travel flings never work out (plot twist: sometimes they do) or that you can’t find your way to your hostel just by asking locals (but it’s fun to get lost in a sleepy city when it’s brand new and exciting). I refuse to regret some of my mistakes – instead, I look at them as find memories. Maybe you should, too.

Mistake: this Halloween costume. And the hair. In Melbourne

Oh, I forgot my worst mistake. I parted my hair in the middle. For months. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me I’m not Avril Lavigne?

Have you made any “rookie mistakes” when you started travelling or do you still do them? How do you cope with past mistakes?

Hostel nightmares

Hostels are a blast and I’m never going back to hotels. Especially that weird one that looked like a huge industrial hall and whose rooms were so austere there was literally nothing there but a bed, a closet and a plant. (And the closet was more nicely decorated than the room itself – it even had wallpaper!) I’m looking at you, Helsinki.

Anyway. During the past three years I’ve stayed in probably 30+ hostels and cheap hotels and more’s to come, so obviously the experience can’t always be Disneyland. I’ve noticed a lot of travel bloggers seem to recommend booking accommodation based on rating of 80% or higher on Hostelworld or Hostelbookers, but I don’t believe in that. I always rate the results by price (can I make myself sound any more cheap?) and pick the one with free wifi and positive-ish reviews. The thing is, sometimes a hostel somebody else loved is going to be your purgatory, and sometimes a hostel they hated is going to keep you dreaming about the time you had there for years afterwards. (I’m not kidding, I still dream about the free pastries the kitchen sent up every Saturday; the Halloween party that left the bathroom looking like somebody murdered Papa Smurf there; Power Hour with shots of goon the Irish dared me to play at The Corkman in Melbourne. Those latter ones are mostly nightmares, though,)

Let’s face it – some hostels are turds. I’m using nice language here people, appreciate that! In that case, if you’ve had a bad experience you are welcome to blame all&everything on that particular hostel. However, as it often is, sometimes you just don’t click with a place or the people, and it has nothing (or, mostly nothing) to do with the hostel itself. That is one reason I don’t want to give any names here. I mean not out of respect for those pigstalls, but just so that you guys will have to go through the same pain that I did, and then we can commiserate.

Ps. Hostels are very rad and some time in the future I promise to write a post about the most awesome experiences I’ve had in hostels.

The picture I snapped before I noped back to a city hostel. Dirty dishes not included in Sydney, Australia

Sydney, Australia

My experience here might’ve been strongly affected by the fact that it was only the second hostel I’ve ever stayed at and the first one had been so much 5/5 that I had sky-high expectations. I stayed in a 12-bed-dorm, and after this stay I swore I would never ever ever be getting back to a dorm that big. (Ever since I have also slept in 40-bed-dorms and been quite comfy, thank you for asking.)

The dorm was tiny and crammed and as I was trying to make my way in after dark, I kept tripping over the mess of cords and chargers that was bundled up in the middle of the floor. There were no ladder for top bunks, so I monkey’d my way up to my bed and fell asleep. The next day I started my job hunt for realz because eating only rice and beans sucks (but not as bad as only eating noodles and tuna – cold – as I later discovered). I was sitting in the hallway next to a pile of somebody else’s dirty dishes because wifi didn’t reach the dorm, checking out the rather inspired graffiti on the walls. The guy who painted all that must’ve been higher than Empire State. (I am dropping so many song lyrics today it is shameful.) Suddenly a guy bust out of the male toilets yelling: ‘Someone’s shit all over the toilets – again!’

As I finally decided after two nights that I had had enough and needed to nope outta there, they were really friendly about me not extending my stay. They told me that if I gave them a 100% rating, I would get a free night when I came back. Uhm. no. Besides it is shameless trying to affect backpackers’ ratings that way because those ratings are what other visitors base their choice on.

However, they did try. I loved the movie night with popcorn in their cozy movie room, and I met a lot of people there who said they’d stayed there for weeks and were loving it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, umm, comfortableness in a hostel is in the soul of the hostel goer?

Adelaide, Australia

This one though. I did not have a blast in the cheapest hostel in Adelaide (which still, if memory serves, cost me a good 30 AUD per night) and I am blaming the hostel itself. The kitchen was filthy and had about one frying pan and two spoons in it, the bathroom door didn’t lock and the architect had apparently decided to save on AC since the corridors to the rooms were literally outside. I mean, there was a roof, but other than that you could have as well been hanging out on the porch. Which you wouldn’t have wanted to do because Adelaide was freezing that April.

The reception closed at random hours of the day and even when there was someone there, they seemed to not know anything about the city. However, there were people around the reception all day; At all times there was a bunch of Asian kids hanging around at the entrance, and I’m not talking about your regular kawaii-field-trip-gone-amok Asian kids that you see everywhere. No, these were like Yakuza Asian kids. Like Battle Royale Asian kids. They freaked me out.

Not as bad as the long-termers, though. According to other people’s reviews, they had been there before, and I would not be surprised to know they are still there. There was this older homeless-looking guy, who kept staring at the telly in the common room with fixed eyes. (The TV only played one channel which was Russian news, by the way.) His best pal was a woman, equally homeless-looking and twice crazier, for she kept staring at people in the common area (where no one hung out besides me – I wonder why) and muttering something to herself. Like, out loud. That’s when I noped the hell out and locked myself in my dorm.

However, on my last night there a couple of really sweet Asian girls were placed in my dorm, and after they heard I was travelling through the South coast next they gave me tips on where to visit and showed me their pictures of Esperance. So all in all not a completely wasted experience.

Why to travel with friends, reason #1: friends take pictures of everything. Friends also dare you to eat a piece of bread with half of the contents of a Philadelphia jar just because in London, UK

London, UK

Before I knew Ben, I took an almost-spontaneous trip to London with my best friend, and because we were both on the thrifty side we decided to get a hostel. Of course. The thing is, I had real trouble finding a hostel in London that would’ve been both cheap and good. I know, I know – good and cheap don’t go hand in hand and I should not expect them to, but I have encountered that rare combo before so I know it is virtually possible.

Our flight landed after midnight and we had sent the hostel an e-mail beforehand asking if it was OK to make an appearance in the middle of the night and how we should make the booking in that case. They replied that we should book for four nights but they’d keep our reservation for the night we’d arrive and we’d pay for five. Well, what do you know – after a disoriented stroll along the Hyde Park fence we finally found the hostel at around 3 a.m. just to hear that there was no room for us but we could wait in the common room until people started checking out at ELEVEN THE NEXT MORNING. So we’re like nah bro, not cool. Katri had even printed out the emails and was showing them to the guy. What made the matter more difficult was that the guy at the reception didn’t seem to understand English. And I mean this was freaking London.

After a bit of back-and-forth they told they had one bed available and we could share it for the night. Cool as we are, we accepted this offer especially after he told us we wouldn’t need to pay for the night. So we climb up to the highest bunk on a three-story bunk bed construction and giggle about the absurdity of the situation a bit. We catch three, four hours of sleep and dress up in out best tourist gear.

That was not the end of it, though. The breakfast was the first shocker, They did tell us that the breakfast would end at ten, but what they failed to mention was that the breakfast would not only be collected at ten but everybody had to piss the hell out of the breakfast room exactly at ten. OK; well we wolf down the stuff we had got and went out for the day. In the evening we needed to cook up dinner, but surprise surprise, getting food is harder than you’d expect. The closet with kitchen utensils was locked, so we went up the narrow staircase to ask the reception for the key. So they came down to open the door – only thing is, the door doesn’t open. We waited there for maybe about twenty minutes smiling politely like people do when they want to punch somebody, until after two, three guys had wiggled the key in the lock the closet finally opened. When we were having dinner we realised we could’ve used a fork or something, but we let it slide. For some reason.

My favourite moment though was when we wanted to go out for the night but had no clue if Bayswater area was even alive. I went up to the reception and asked about a nice pub nearby where we could have a few pints. Guess where the guy told me to go? Primark. Yeah. To the place where you can get lost for hours shopping for one-pound t-shirts and two-pound shoes. (With those prices, if Primark ever did do beers, I would never drink anywhere else.) I just stared at him very confused and thought that maybe I had said it unclearly, so I repeated that we wanted to get beer somewhere, and the guy started giving me instructions how to find Primark. What made it all the more absurd was that it was about eight o’clock in the evening so all shops were already closed or closing soon.

The story doesn’t end here. Earlier this year Ben and I met some Finnish girls he had got to know last summer on his trip, and as they were complaining about their weird hostel, I casually asked which one it was. It was the same one.

However, as I was on a holiday with my best friend, nothing could go wrong, not really. We had a blast and just laughed about the weird stuff that was going on around us. We also met a really nice Aussie girl there who was starting her job as a receptionist, so maybe, at least for a bit, there was hope for the future guests to be understood.

Lifehacks. Dealing with no mirror in a hostel room as you’re heading out still in London, UK

There are some other weird happenings that you sometimes get in a hostel but which aren’t really worth long sentences; like that old man in a Nuremberg hostel whose bedtime story every night was to watch porn on his phone – which is gross, but what makes it ultimately weird is he was just watching it. Like you know, instead of doing other stuff that you usually do when watching porn. Then there was an older lady in a hostel in Melbourne that seemed to change her name every week, who nicked a mattress out of an empty bed and refused to give it back even when the dorm was fully booked and who liked telling people sob stories about her life which, just as her name, changed every once in a while. Or the showers in Munich that were separated by glass windows, because that is what privacy is like.

I admit though that I have got off easily. At some point karma is bound to strike back and send me living on a literal dump. Until that day comes, I will keep sharing barely-bad hostel stories.

Have you got any weird hostel experiences?

That time I totally ignored Usain Bolt

And did I ever tell you about that time when I saw Usain Bolt deejaying at a club and I completely missed it?

So I was staying at this party hostel in the heart of King’s Cross Sydney. Two weeks previous my local friend had taken me to King’s Cross, patted my shoulder and declared that I was now standing in possibly the most dangerous place to in Sydney on a Saturday night. I looked at prissy girls in heels that could kill small animals and thought that no way anyone could run away from danger in those.  Apart from drunken brawls, this place was as harmless as my home town. Probably even more harmless, since my home town once was in the top three municipalities in Finland with the most violent crimes in relation to the population number. Now that’s something to be proud of.

Two weeks later I switched hostels and ended up in the core of this oh-so-perilous suburb. I was mildly amused. The most dangerous thing I ever encountered there was hungovers and losing my passport to Gangnam Style – but that’s a whole different story.

Sydney, Australia. The longer you stare at the thumbs up, the more it turns into finger guns.

The new hostel was The Cool Thing for The Kool Kids, and they were really, really kool. If you wanted, there was a party every night – and oh boy did I want that! I had been a backpacker for two whole weeks, and I thought that backpackers were the best people in the universe. I was fresh and full of energy. One night we went out to do shots with German people I only met at the bar and whose names I had forgotten by the next tea pot full of green something; the next to a paintball party with pretty much two blinks worth of sleep. (By the way – paint party isn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds if you consider the fact I still have remains of paint in some of my things.)

A regular Tuesday night, or Thursday, or Monday, the hostel crew decided it was time for the World Bar again. The night started out great, until the ghosts of last night’s drinks started to creep up to haunt, and one by one they disappeared, until there were three of us. The last two told me they’d go out for cigarettes, but they must have been smoking Hulk-sized ones since I lost sight of them for maybe the next hour. Well, no problema, I’ll just keep dancing. At some point I was going to make my grande escape, but a great song came up and I went 180° and continued dancing. Remember folks – a good song can save a girl’s night.

Still no sight of my friends, thought, There were a lot of guys on the dance floor and at first I thought it was flattering how many of them wanted to dance with me, but I just couldn’t lose them. No matter where I went, along came an arm to twirl me or swirl me, until two gentlemen in their (rather sweaty) armours appeared from the party crowd and told me they could pretend to be my boyfriends if there was any more hassle. (Which, of course, is any independent girl’s nightmare – to have to play the damsel in distress. But I was a damsel and there was slight distress, so what the heck.)

The World Bar; Sydney, Australia

So these two became my force field under which I could enjoy a night of shenanigans. One of them had a girl’s name and the other a name of a character from Lost and I couldn’t stop bantering them for that. At some point a new DJ was announced, and the crowd went bonkers. The other guy yelled a name at me and after the third time of gloriously failing to hear anything I just tried to look like this was the best thing ever. I didn’t mind the music much – it was all rap, and I’m not a great fan of rap – but there seemed to be a general air of excitedness, people taking pictures and having a jolly good time. So I just went with it.

After the bar closed, we went to another for one more hour for dessert whiskeys like all cool people do, and this is where I finally could properly hear the boys say the name of Usain bloody Bolt. The fastest man in the world just dropped some Jay-Z tracks my way, no biggie. Also, no pictures.

What do we learn from here? A) Do your research and find out who is playing beforehand. B) Learn to recognise famous people. C) Ge better ears.

Also, I swear that deejaying must be a word by now.