After last season where I hardly took any photos, I’ve been trying to remember to take more this time. There’s definitely something to be said for being in the moment when you’re travelling instead of seeing everything through a camera lens, but I did regret not having more pictures when I got back. So, I thought I’d share a few, particularly our balcony – the black hole of doom. It’s a great space, unless you’ve got plans to actually do something with your day. It’s one of those places where you sit and then forget the world around you.

But I’m not complaining.

Ok, so I’ve been very, very lax with my updates, but it’s hard to keep in touch when you’re busy chilling out all the time. Actually, that’s a lie. I’ve not been chilling too much. I’ve had deadlines, patchy internet and moved house. I think I’ve been to the beach three or four times since I’ve been here. Ho hum. In any case, I’m back in Arambol and having a major case of deja vu.

I guess it’s a pretty special place, in that there’s a core community of people who come here year after year, in some cases, the last two decades! So I’ve not been surprised to see so many of the people I met last year. In fact, I was banking on it. But, like most things, life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

The people I hung out with last season are not the same people I’ve been hanging with this time around. I’ve seen them, spent a little time with them, but that’s about it. I suppose it’s a important lesson not to have any expectations of anyone, or plan around people too much. In the upside, I’ve made a bunch of new friends who have kept me thoroughly entertained.

And the deja vu? Well, I’m back in the Purple House, the same one I stayed in last time. But this time, I’m sharing with two awesome guys, German yoga teacher, Simon and Aussie surfer, James. And as of yesterday, German contact dance teacher, Anir. That is where the deja vu ends though. Even though I’m technically sleeping in the exact same room I did last year, most nights we’ve all slept on the balcony (pictures to come soon). Unlike last year, we’ve decorated it with mattresses, cushions and wall hangings and most of the time, we hang out there. Even though the surroundings are the same, the feelings are much, much more different.

I guess it all boils down to the saying that’s so prevalent throughout Asia. Same, same. But different.

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So, last week, we met Adoki and you guys showed him a lot of love. I had readers as far afield as Singapore and Australia hitting that post, so here’s another.

Julien was one of the musicians I met in Uzes last year – the musicians who were pivotal in my decision to head to India, so its only fitting that I feature him next. He’ll also be out in Goa for the season and it’ll be so nice to catch up! I’m hoping to get his bandmate on for a joint Q & A soon…but for now:

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Who is Julien?
I’m a musician from France and I started playing jazz/improvisation at 9¬†years old. I quit school when I was 15 because, for me, it wasn’t interesting. At 16, I made my first voyage to Africa for 4 months and then when I came of age, I went to India. I lived in Varanasi for 5 years where I studied classical Indian violin. I also developed a passion for alternative jewelry related to esoteric science. I design custom¬†jewelry for people and¬†what they need.

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Tell me a bit about your music and what inspires you
I play a mixture of¬†Indian and improvised music which is very appreciative of L. Shankar and L.Subramaniam. I believe we’re in an age where music no longer has borders and is accessible for everyone.

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What was your ‘aha’ moment? (i.e. the moment you decided you wanted to hit the road)
When I was a teenager, I saw a documentary about Varanasi (Benares) and I think that was my ‘aha’ moment! It spoke about the River Ganges and sadhus (holy people) in this spiritual city where people go to ‘cleanse their karma’. A city where grand masters of Indian music lived and where the art was very appreciated and well developed.

Where’ve you been so far?
I’ve been to Africa, India, Bali, Taiwan and Europe.

What’s the best thing about being a travelling musician?
Well, it’s a real means of communication, a way to connect with people. There can be a language barrier with people but music is a language people of all ages and origins across the world can understand.

And what’s the worst thing about being a travelling musician?
It’s always too busy!

Where are you planning to go next?
I¬†spend every winter in East Asia/India, but if I have the opportunity I’d love to discover Laos and Burma.

What are your top 3 tips/advice for anyone considering travelling?

  1. Always follow your intuition
  2. Try forget your old ‘shemas’, or habits and conditioning
  3. Be in the moment!

Big thanks to Julien for featuring on the blog. Julien, je te vois à Goa!!

You can connect with Julien and check out his music and jewelry here:

Jewelry: Etsy | Facebook –¬†Shift Of Elements

Music: Julien-Moretto.com | Facebook РJulien Moretto Violinste | YouTube |  SoundCloud | Bandcamp

One of the cool things about travelling is meeting other people – something that’s surprisingly easy. It’s a great way to find inspiration about where to move onto next or even to take the leap and head out with a backpack yourself. So, I’ve decided to get some of the people I met on my travels for guest posts and hopefully inspire others to get out there and explore!

Back in April, towards the end of my trip in Chiang Mai, I switched guesthouses and met Michael, an American traveller who was staying in the same place. Like a lot of other people, he’s documenting his trip but what’s cool is that he does his via his podcast Walking The Earth, and I even got to be featured on an episode.¬†I’m stoked to have gotten him on my blog for a quick Q & A. You can find details of his podcast¬†and social media links below – so¬†say hello!

Episode 21 no textWho is Michael Margolies?

I’m an American backpacker who is finding his way in the world! After working as an engineer for 5 years, I left my job in August 2013 to travel for an extended period and eventually try my hand at entrepreneurship. For almost a year now, I have been solo backpacking, learning about myself and the world around me. During my trip, I have also been keeping myself busy hosting a travel podcast.

A podcast you say . . . tell me more
Walking the Earth-1
Walking the Earth Podcast is a show about the backpacking experience. In the initial episodes, I share my personal journey via Skype calls to my childhood friend Justin Cassel who is back home in the US. The show has since evolved to feature guest appearances by a diverse array of fellow travelers and locals who share their stories and perspectives. One guest I had the pleasure of bringing on the show was you Natalie! (For folks interested to hear, you can check out that episode at: wtepodcast.com/2014/05/01/episode-21).

What was your ‘aha’ moment? (i.e. the moment you decided you wanted to hit the road)
I can point to a few key moments. In 2009, I took the full 2 weeks of vacation my employer gave me to travel Europe. That was the first time I met people who weren’t simply on vacation for a couple weeks, but were traveling long-term as part of their lifestyle. From that moment, I said to myself, “One day that’s going to be me!” A few years later, I found myself having what you might call a “quarter-life¬†crisis.” I was “successful” with a “good job” (i.e., making good money), yet I was still unhappy. In September 2012, I took a trip to Peru and participated in several ceremonies with the psychedelic medicine ayahuasca. In those ceremonies, I had many revelations and “moments of clarity,” but one of the big ones was that I was living my life backwards. I was living a life where my highest priority was my career, the conventional wisdom being that career advancement will lead to higher salary and therefore more opportunities to do what I want and be happy. But in fact, I realized this was the “tail wagging the dog” and I should be taking the reverse approach: what do I want to do, and how much money do I need to achieve it? I wanted to go long-term backpacking. And turns out, I already had enough money to do it. It then became strikingly obvious to me that I should do precisely that, instead of listening to the fears implanted in me by my family, society, etc. We speak in depth about ayahuasca in episode #28.

Where’ve you been so far?
I began this trip in India, spending a total of 4 months there. Since January, I have been exploring the countries of Southeast Asia — Thailand, Laos, Cambodia,¬†Malaysia, and currently making my way through Vietnam.

What’s the single best thing about travelling?
Meeting so many wonderful people! It’s kind of funny, but while backpacking, it’s actually easier to meet people than back home. Not only that, but I also find that most of the people I meet are extremely like-minded in terms of values and life philosophy. I can meet somebody for the very first time, from a completely different country, and within an hour, I will often make a deep connection that I rarely share with people back home, even those who I have known for years. Meeting the locals in all of these countries also constantly opens my eyes to new perspectives.

And what’s the single worst thing about travelling?
Saying goodbye to so many wonderful people! As a solo backpacker, your relationships are inherently transient. In the beginning, it didn’t bother me as much because I was always meeting new friends. But now that I have been backpacking for almost a year, it has started to feel somewhat lonely. It is still very easy to meet people, but I know the relationships are temporary (and the intro conversations can become repetitive!).

Where are you planning to go next?
I never have plans – I have trajectories! I’m figuring it out as I go along, but based on some of my current feelings I just described, it seems I might need a little bit more stability. I don’t intend to move back to the US just yet, but I am thinking I will most likely “settle down,” at least temporarily, back in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Chiang Mai, of course, is the same place we met and recorded our podcast episode together 3 months ago! I just relistened to that episode, and funny enough, I even alluded to this vague plan back then, and we talked about all the reasons why Chiang Mai has everything you could want in a place to live!

What are your top 3 tips/advice for anyone considering backpacking?
Don’t plan. There’s a tendency to research and figure out exactly where you are going to stay, what you’re going¬†to do, etc etc. Don’t do it. It will only cause you to miss out on opportunities. Go with the flow, follow your gut, and you will find even better experiences than you could have possibly planned! (Another topic we touched on in our episode)

  1. Don’t plan. There’s a tendency to research and figure out exactly where you are going to stay, what you’re going¬†to do, etc etc. Don’t do it. It will only cause you to miss out on opportunities. Go with the flow, follow your gut, and you will find even better experiences than you could have possibly planned! (Another topic we touched on in our episode)
  2. Bring as little as possible. There’s another tendency to overpack, which kind of falls along the same lines as overplanning, because you want to be prepared for every possible case scenario. But in fact, it’s better to forget something than to bring too much. If you forget something you urgently need, you can probably get it wherever you are, usually¬†for much cheaper. But if you bring too much, you’re now stuck lugging around on your back a bunch of shit you aren’t even using.
  3. Be independent. Go alone or in a small group (the smaller the better!), and be willing to split up and re-converge sometimes. Everyone has different priorities, and you should not have to feel like you are missing out on an experience or forced into something you don’t want, just because of your travel companions. There are also certain experiences that you simply cannot have when you restrain yourself to always operating within a clan.

Big thanks to Michael for featuring on the blog, I’m not at all wildly jealous that he’s still exploring the world! You can find his podcast here:¬†wtepodcast.com

Go natter with him and Justin at: @mikemargolies | @WTEpodcast | facebook.com/walkingtheearthpodcast

Listen at: SoundCloud | iTunes | Stitcher | RSS Feed

I love trains. They’re probably my favourite mode of transport after driving. If I could take a train to Australia, I so would and in fact, I read somewhere that China have started building some kind of tunnel for a train to go all the way to the states. How cool! Now, I’m not an actual trainspotter, that’s not my bag, but I appreciate what they do. I appreciate the way they look, and how they’re infintely more comfortable than, say, planes, which make me feel like I might drop out of the sky at any given moment, so I thought I’d dedicate this post to the awesomeness that are trains and how I’ve fared on them so far when it comes to travelling.

France

Yes, that place again. In 2012, I was constantly on trains going to Marseille from London. A 2.5hr journey on the Eurostar, followed by about 3.5 hours from Paris to Marseille. Now. The Eurostar. I first took it around 2005 and was a bit unimpressed. I’d imagined something like the Orient Express (now that I would love to experience) but it was a bit shabbier than I was prepared for. Apparently, you need to travel first class where you get champagne and foot massages and all kinds of wonderful things. In France itself, I was blown away when I saw their double decker metro trains. Why don’t we have them in London? Think of how much roomier the commute would be! And it’s fun, being able to walk upstairs on a train (or is that just me?). Yes, some are dated and shabby, but who cares? Too cool.

The TGV’s were double decker too and I just loved the approach into Marseille, one of my favourite cities in France. Stepping off the train into blazing heat and knowing I’d travelled from London to practically the mediterranean…do it! You must! If only to experience the sing song announcements from the French train information centre.

Japan

Oh, what to say. Where to begin? Possibly the best trains I’ve ever been on. The train from Tokyo Narita airport was awesome, simply for the fact that the seats all turn around so everyone is forward facing. No backwards travel sickness happening there! The metro I was a bit disappointed with, mainly because it was older than I expected and despite staying in the business district of Shinjuku, I didn’t get to see that crazy business – you know, the ones filmed on YouTube where people are literally shoved into the carriage. What I did like though, was that the drivers wore white gloves and proper uniforms, with hats. Very tidy.

But, by far and away, the best bit of the entire trip was the bullet trains. If you’re a foreign national, you can get a Japan Rail pass that basically allows you unlimited train travel for a set period of days. You can only get it in your country of origin, so you need to sort it out before you leave, but it is sooooo worth it. Not only were the trains beautiful, but the g-force was pretty cool. I remember bouncing along when I went to the toilet, it was that quick. Plus, the views on the way west towards Kyoto were awesome, including a close up of Mount Fuji.

India

It just has to be done. India is bloody huge and it’s expensive to fly from destination to destination as opposed to the train. A 1500km trip cost me ¬£7 -bargain! Ok, so it’s not luxury. At least, it wasn’t in sleeper class, but it was fun. I was scared out of my pants if I’m honest, having heard a million nightmare stories, so I genuinely didn’t know what to expect. Apparently, I was lucky both times because it was relatively quiet. Busy (some people sleeping on the floor) but quiet.Well, apart from the girl who spent most of her time vomiting out of the window, bless her socks. A few tips:

  • In sleeper class, you get to choose between a lower, middle or upper berth, and I would recommend you take an upper berth, reason being that during the day, the bottom berth is used as a seat and the middle one is folded down. The upper one is left well alone, so you can chillax to your heart’s content.
  • Take a pair of shoes/flip flops you don’t care about, same goes for clothes, cos it’s not the cleanest of places
  • Take some kind of blanket, better yet a sleeping bag liner. My silk one came in handy because at night, it was bloody freezing, and like I said, it wasn’t all that clean
  • I’d go for a fan carriage than an A/C one. Yes, it’s hot during the day but the windows are fully open and there are no doors on the train, so fresh air usually circulates
  • On the subject of air, take some fragrant smelling essential oil to dab on a scarf or something because, man alive, there are some sections of Indian countryside that hummed to high heaven for a good few minutes. And you know its bad when the Indian’s themselves are covering their noses
  • Try the food. It cost something like 70p for a biryani and it was one of the best I’d tasted
  • Take some toilet tissue. Because there just isn’t any
  • Book your ticket well in advance. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait til the day before to get a ticket through the thadkal system (think I’ve spelled it right) which involves queuing for ages in the hope of getting a ticket in a specially held quota for foreigners to where you want to go.

Thailand

After India, the Thai train system was an absolute dream. I used http://www.seat61.com for all the info I needed and never looked back. They were so unbelievably clean and with two berths instead of three. Again, I chose an upper berth and I slept a full 8 hours. There was a mattress with real sheets! And a real pillow! And a real blanket! And a curtain for privacy! You can see why I was excited. Other great additions were dedicated spaces for your bags that you can secure with a chain, and the toilets were all super clean with about 5 basins with SOAP. Heavenly. The only downside was that they come and turn the upper berth down and the lower berth into two chairs, so you pretty much have to be awake for that. It didn’t bother me, but if you’re someone who’s going to go and get wasted in the restaurant car, be prepared for an awakening. Speaking of, I’d highly recommend taking dinner or breakfast in the restaurant car instead of in your berth. It’s nice, usually with music or a film and obviously, you meet people too. In fact, I found that I met more travellers on the Thai trains than in India. Oh, and try not to be too rigid with your travel plans because they were horrifically off schedule every time. Apparently a 4 hour delay is quite normal – luckily mine weren’t quite that bad!

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Man, I love trains. Might actually look at inter-railing, I’ll be in heaven! Have a nice weekend all!

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