2015 was the year that I really decided to focus on Airbnb for my trips. I had previously considered the site as a second option for when hotels were too expensive, but now that’s the first place I look.
So far I haven’t had any bad experiences – and you can have truly unique experiences: a view over a canal in Venice and the most amazing riad in Marrakech are among the best places I’ve ever stayed.
Everyone will tell you that the key to booking a place through Airbnb is to check the reviews. But I realised that my experience is also determined by another factor which can only be assessed on arrival: the kitchen cupboards.
The main appeal of staying in an apartment is that you feel like you almost live in the city you’re visiting; you can stay where locals live and relax without any of the formalities of a hotel. And part of that is, of course, cooking your own food.
We stayed in a nice flat in Toronto for five days. In the kitchen I found everything I needed and more: lots of pasta, an incredible variety of tea and spices, and many unopened jam jars. I made sure to reorganise everything – a bit much, I know, but that’s exactly what I’d to at home.
At the other extreme was the very well-located flat in Berlin. We arrived quite late, and after a mix-up with the keys, we got to the flat past midnight. I opened the cupboards in the kitchen to find them completely empty. I’m not saying that hosts should provide fully stocked cupboards, but all that white space made me wonder: what do they do with all the leftover salt?
Surely at least once a week someone buys some salt alongside with some other supplies, and most of that goes unused. Why not leave it for the next guests, along with sugar, cooking oil and maybe some other basics?
As with everything else, it’s the little things that make a huge difference. Sometimes, all you need for good hospitality is being able to make yourself a cup of tea on arrival.
In my first night in Bangladesh last year I ordered a Sprite at the restaurant. Nothing unusual with that, except that I don’t think I’d had Sprite in absolutely ages. Somehow that’s all I drank in every restaurant we went to on this trip.
Thai massages are THE best. I never thought of booking one in London. But when I stay in a very posh (and ridiculously cheap) Movenpick resort in Turkey later this year, I will definitely need to book a massage.
Why is it that we are different when we travel? Why do we create habits which are switched on as soon as we clear airport security?
Travelling is all about doing new things and exploring new places, but I guess we need to create a sense of stability no matter where we are. And travelling allows us to be a bit different from who we normally are – so no one will question your sudden love of crime novels (Jo Nesbo is the best company for long airport waits) if you’re just about to go on a holiday.
What are your little travel habits?
I never read Road Dahl in school. Every so often someone tells me ‘you don’t know what you’re missing out’. But then again I didn’t grow up in an English-speaking country.
Well, I grew up with Monteiro Lobato and many other great writers that many people have never even heard of. So who is missing out after all?
The first time I moved to a new city was when I went to uni. It was unusual where I grew up to move to another city because we had a very good university there. But by then I was already way over it, so when the opportunity came, I hopped on a plane (or an overnight coach) and never looked back.
There is a poem by Brazilian modernist Manuel Bandeira, loosely translated as ‘I will go away to Pasargadae’, about the need to escape to a new and exciting place, the place where you belong, a place which is not only better than here, but a place where you are a better person too. There aren’t many good English translations, but it starts:
I will go away to Pasargadae
There I am a friend of the king
There I will have the woman I want
In the bed I will choose
Full version in Portuguese here.
This poem has followed me ever since I left my hometown for uni (12 years ago – ouch!).
It’s about finding yourself in a new place, where you live your life in your own terms. Sounds good to me!
In the poem, Pasargadae is a representation of an idyllic place. In real life, it’s an ancient Greek city in Iran.
What’s the place where you’re at your best?
(all photos from my trip to Lisbon, shot with this great Lomo redscale film).
There are lots of people out there who have left it all behind to travel full time. Sometimes I wish I were one of them. But I’m not. I work in an office, and fit my little adventures around my job.
I definitely wish I had more time to travel aside from the 25 days I get as a holiday allowance. But I still make the most of it. I travel on a Friday after work and commute back on Monday morning (thank you, Eurostar!); I make the most of bank holidays (even if it means paying extra to travel); and I always make sure I have my next holiday to look forward to (Venice, I can’t wait to see you again!).
After a couple of years of a lot of travelling and a lot of working, I think I managed to find a good balance. I’m not (yet) quitting my day job to go travelling full time, but I am making sure I visit amazing places as often as I can. And when things get a bit stressful in the office, I remind myself that another short break is not too far.
Travelling gives me a broader worldview, and helps me regain energy when I’m tired. Working in an office makes me a very organised traveller, and a practical one too. Weirdly, these two activities end up complementing each other.
I’m sure there are lots of others travellers fitting their adventures around a 9 to 5 schedule (I know a few of them).
Just make sure you fit some travelling in your busy schedule!
When I’m not travelling, I’m thinking about it. I spend a lot of time reading about places, discovering new destinations and making sure I make the most of my upcoming trips. Here’s a selection of sites that I like:
- Flygirl: This is a new travel blog by Jezebel (a great blog which gives me hours of fun). It features funny and amazing tales about travelling, focusing on women. The perfect distraction!
- Revealed Rome: Italy has been on my mind a lot recently, and this blog about Rome is great. It gives you the insider’s view, and it has lots of features about food. Yum!
- Sawday’s: This website focuses on accommodation, but it’s not like other hotel search sites. There you will find the most amazing places, the kind of accommodation that you can plan a whole holiday around. For when you need a relaxing break.
Do you know any inspiring travel sites?
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, tells the true story of a woman who decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail solo. I bought it while waiting for a flight, and it turned out to be the perfect book to take on a trip.
As it’s often the case with long journeys, Cheryl’s leads to personal discoveries and and reflection. And as you follow her steps through the trail, you feel like you too are taking that journey, becoming increasingly more distant from the woes of daily life.
I can’t think of a better book to take on a trip. By the time I finished reading it, just as I returned to London after a weekend away, I felt like I too had just finished a long journey.
One to read when you need a scape from daily life!
- Watch: The book was recently made into a film, and the screenplay is by Nick Hornby (a favourite of this blog). I haven’t watched it yet, but it’s on my list!
The first time I went to Portugal, my friend and I went to this little restaurant that was just perfect. The owner (who was also the cook) and I shared the same last name, and we got talking about it. This restaurant was such a great find, I can’t recommend it enough!
The thing is – I know this place was tucked away in a little alleyway in the centre of Oporto… and that’s really all I remember about it. Unhelpful, I know.
One of the reasons why I started this blog was so that I had a place to store all the information about my trips: where I went, the name of that local dish, how to find the neighbourhood with all the bars. Often, that’s a simple task. I take my notebook with me and make sure to write down the names of places so I don’t forget it later.
But sometimes, it just doesn’t work like this. There will always be places which are forever lost, maybe because I was too busy having fun to take notes, maybe because the name of the place didn’t return any results on Google afterwards.
It seems like the best places appear just when you need them; then vanish as soon as you’re gone. I remember the square in Venice with the kids riding bikes; the cool bar in Belgrade which had the best crowd; the little club in Lisbon with good live music.
And I’m sure along the way I’ll stumble upon many more amazing places like these… that I’ll never be able to find again.