Saturday, 31 August 2013

Travel tip: don't travel without doing it...

In my experience the best trips I have taken have involved extensive research before, during and after departure.  Everyone will carry out research differently, but I don't recommend travelling without doing it, or you will miss out or potentially not have made the most of your trip.

For example, the majority of my fleeting visits to a number of cities during 2012 had been very last minute and often unplanned. I ultimately became reliant on whatever info I could collect at an airport bookshop, or on arrival at the hotel or local tourist office. 

These sources were all still forms of research and I managed to get by, but I was terribly uninformed and ill prepared with limited time to spend reading as well as experiencing. It also found me in Helsinki on the first day of Midsummer - see my post: Everything is shut!

Today, social media and the internet make information more accessible and immediate than ever before, so we really should take advantage of it.

Admittedly, my current travels; having quit my job and rented out my home, allow me the time to take advantage of all sorts of sources of reading material, advice from friends/family and fellow travellers. But even with limited time everyone can do a little research into their planned destination before they arrive.

Choose what works for you and what is feasible. At the very least, use your travel time wisely, not to just catch up on that perhaps much needed sleep; but to read the highlights page of your guide or the wiki page you downloaded or printed. There are so many sources to consider:

A guidebook - Pick one up on Ebay. It's great for second hand bargains. Borrow from friends and family, who have been there before, or make use of your local library. Even out of date issues contain most of what you need to know about a place - it's just the prices will be a little old! Side tip: plan ahead, don't leave it until the day before to obtain one!

Ebooks - I've more recently become accustomed to ebooks and am now almost completely dependent on my handheld tablet device, which allows me to flick from book to book. It also means not limiting yourself to what you can carry, as books are not a light travel companion. You can carry them all with a kindle, tablet or other handheld device. Side tip: another best not left to the last minute. Make sure you have downloaded an e-reader onto you device as well as a selection of reading material and ensure it is fully functional offline.

Friends/family - Of course, although guidebooks and ebooks provide a good point of reference, these days we want immediate recommendations, word-of-mouth information passed on by friends and ordinary people like ourselves. We want to experience the fun we see others having, or activities which appeal to our individual tastes, and not just the masses.

Call up a mate and pick their brain for advice. Everyone always has highlights to share from trips they have taken and they will be pleased to reminisce with you and give advice.

Social media is slowly becoming a significant communication line and often a great way to get an up to date response and/or opinion, and to reach a much larger audience and quickly. For example, just posting about a trip you are planning and requesting advice on Facebook will inevitably pull up a response from someone, or someone who knows someone, who has been there.

The web - A wealth of information is at your fingertips, and with gadgets or apps such as Pocket it's just a case of clicking and saving the information for later. Travel forums such as Thorn Tree, and review sites including TripAdvisor, are a good place to go for more detailed information on specific places or sights. Even just researching your accommodation will bring up links to nearby sights, using the latter.

I have found that Twitter, despite my reservations at adding another social media application to my collection, is extremely useful, if used correctly. It's my favourite source for real-time information as well as a place to ask for help and advice, plus you can often find discounts or offers here applicable to your destination.

Travel blogs - There are many bloggers out there wanting to make it a career. Often they are an excellent source for "how to" information, collated whilst right out there in the thick of it. I personally feel like they’re in the trenches of travel with me, experiencing unique places and in a similar style to me. They are to me, the first source I turn to when in research mode. Side tip: A Google search actually calls up travel articles, written by bloggers, tending to rank the most information-packed and some what instructional articles first, versus “Here’s me on my holiday ...” types of posts.

So, whatever your plans are, I urge you to start your research as soon as you can. Don't be the traveller who arrives at said destination to find it's a National holiday and there's no obvious place to go to eat!

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Real travel: it's not always all great

Everyone thinks travelling is great, even when it’s not always that great. It must come from the majority of people working all year just to escape the daily grind. So when they do, a day or two battling with other tourists, sweating from every pore, getting ripped off or any other not so positive experience will soon be shadowed by the 'escape' factor.

When travelling for an extended time, there will be the inevitable low periods which result from the above and immersing yourself in other lives and cultures. Of course there are plenty of highs that only travel can offer, but there is no gain without some element of pain.

I've been travelling now for the longest time of all of my travels, 129 days and counting.

When I left the UK, my best friend had just got married, for the second time; another friend was 4 months into her second pregnancy. I could list numerous other milestones in the lives of those around me at the time of my departure and yet I was embarking on my 6th big trip to escape the daily grind and avoid accepting my life staying how it was for the foreseeable future.

Since then I have travelled through 4 countries, two of which I've visited a number of times before, but which I never took the time to experience and/or accept more extensively.

My initial plan was to be home by now. But the lack of home, and the reality that life goes on without me, doesn't really give me an incentive to return any time soon. Of course, I miss my friends and family, and I miss the creature comforts of sleeping in a familiar bed and having a extensive choice of clean (!) clothing to select from, and that which I don't feel permanently grubby wearing. I miss the ability to sit and rummage through my craft stash when I want [grin :)!], as well as the option to take a class at the gym or just call up a mate and stop by for a coffee.

I struggle most of all with the limited communication that I now have with people that I would normally see, or speak to, regularly. Despite my ongoing efforts to keep people updated via my blog, and the odd email to let them know they are not forgotten, life goes on without me. I appreciate that fact, and that I am not currently a part of their lives.

So, for now it seems, I should make the most of the opportunity that I have created, by giving up my home and my job, and just take in as much as I can, while I can. This travel malarky is, after all, what people think: great..... most of the time. It's just not as easy as perhaps those who haven't done it, or those who forget what it was like, imagine.

I'm in month 5, and have extended my travel insurance until November, so I have options. I have some very loose plans currently.

If you're still following along, thank you. If you happened to delve into this post to catch up on what I'm up to, or just by chance, great. And apologies for the slightly melancholy theme today.

I'm currently taking a break... All suggestions for improvements and/or special requests for future content will be appreciated and considered.

In the meantime, I've updated posts for my recent destinations; mainly volunteering on Tioman island off the East coast of Malaysia, as well as my conclusions on Taman Negara (national park), but also the places along the way.

- Taman Negara, the friendly jungle
- Volunteer life at JTP, Tioman island
- Tioman info
A long hike down, Salang, Tioman Island
- Kuala Lipis, Kuantan, Mersing,

Next stop is Singapore and then possibly, or hopefully, Borneo - there's a collection of 3 countries to choose from there, so plenty to come.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Volunteer life at JTP

One nesting turtle, two nests from boat patrols, 4 nest excavations and several hundred hatchlings, is not a bad return for 10 days of volunteer work! Of course dealing with each of these is part of the life of a volunteer at Juara Turtle Project (JTP) on Tioman island, but you cannot guarantee experiencing all of it, even if you stay for longer.

We were lucky! In addition, I am now, well versed in the work done at the project, and the threats faced by turtles, both on Tioman and around the World, particularly in the case of Green turtles, which were the most common in this area. 

The turtle talks are the main task assigned to volunteers at JTP and of course we were made aware of this before arriving, so had an opportunity to read up on everything beforehand. However, it can still be quite daunting, encouraging visitors to come inside and learn about everything, without them just wanting to see the resident turtle, Jo.

After seeing how it's done by observing other volunteers, it's just a case of getting stuck in, and once the first talk is done and dusted, it becomes much easier. In fact, by the end of my stay I think I must have been talking for too long as I received a lot of questions about where I studied and how long I had been working here etc. It was probably just the ooze of enthusiasm that led people to believe I'd been here longer... I think that stems from volunteering generally, and particularly at JTP where the variety of things to get involved in was so vast whilst we were there. 

Volunteers choose to be here, they make the decision that they want to do something different whilst travelling or on holiday, or perhaps they have a particular interest in marine biology, turtles or animals in general. If you know me or follow my blog then you will know that I always try to do something for charity or volunteering when I travel, and it doesn't have to cost much more than your food and accommodation.

As a volunteer you may get a chance to contribute to all sorts of tasks as well as the daily chores that need to be done. Here is just a taster of what we put our hand to:

Feeding Jo - The resident blind turtle.
Fortunately Jo should be moving to a new home soon, in Japan, where he/she (not possible to determine sex until 15+ years old) will live in an aquarium which is much bigger than the tank at JTP.

Cleaning Jo - carried out every 4 days or so.
It's a big big task involving moving Jo, emptying and scrubbing the tank, getting dirty and wet, refilling with sea water and of course keeping Jo safe, all this whilst dealing with visitors as well!

Painting - the new gas shed. 
It needed a paint job to weather proof it. This was hot work out in the sunshine, beers were well received :).

Monitoring the hatchery - before and after patrol and periodically
Checking for hatchlings mainly, and then recording the data before releasing them.Nest sponsors need recording and sponsors will be kept updated with nest news. 

More painting - often sign boards for nests need painting, so another chance to get arty/crafty. The entrance sign needed a revamp too whilst we were there...

Turtle cookies, for Hari Raya
There are often one off jobs to do, for example the oil spill on the beach - see previous post, and cooking for Hari Raya visitors where we hosted the locals with turtle shaped food and fried rice.

If you volunteer for more than a week then you can request some time off to go hiking in the jungle or to the waterfall or just chill out on the beach or go kayaking. Actually there is quite a lot to do close by so it's an ideal place to combine a holiday with volunteering.

See my Travelpod post for more about Tioman island and more photo's from my time volunteering - Tioman info.

I was extremely disappointed when we had to leave the project and move on, I could have stayed for longer and was enjoying life there a lot :(.

If you would like to volunteer at JTP or just pay them a visit online or onsite then find out more here.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

More islands and a nesting turtle for my birthday

After the turtle conservation project on the Perhentian Besar (big island) last month, we enjoyed ten days or so on Perhentian Kecil (small island), which you can read more about on my Travelpod post here.

Next stop was the Kapas Island, see: more about turtles and the state capital. There was very little to do there so we left fairly quickly, passing through Kuala Terengganu and then Kota Bharu.

It's also been the month of Ramadan so a lot of restaurants and places serving food are closed during the daytime, whilst the Muslim population is fasting, which does make it difficult to find something to eat. Usually locating a Chinatown or Indian community resolves that, see my post: eating during Ramadan.

A week or so ago, we were enjoying a slightly cooler climate, whilst visiting Taman Negara; which is apparently the worlds oldest tropical rainforest. I haven't written the related post yet so do check back for more on this later.

Canopy walk
At the moment I'm volunteering at another turtle conservation project, this time on Tioman Island, and it's so far been even better than the project in the Perhentian Islands. Every day is different and there is so much to do; although there are daily chores such as raking leaves, feeding the resident turtle and carrying out numerous turtle talks to the general public.

Hatchling release at dawn
I celebrated my birthday yesterday, starting with a hatchling release on the beach at dawn, followed by cleaning the turtle tank (a big big task where we have to pump sea water up from the ocean) and then an emergency call out to an oil spill at the northern end of Juara beach. 

Cleaning oil from the beach
There is no birthday present better than spending the day helping saving the turtles/beach etc ;). Except finding a nesting turtle of course! 

Around 11.30pm, two tourists came to the centre to tell us they had found a turtle on the beach. There hasn't been one for over a month so we were very lucky to be here for this, as usually the nests are found on the other two beaches that are checked in the morning. We would have found the tracks during the next patrol, but thanks to the tourists we were able to get there quite early and the mother had only just started digging the hole.

It took over two hours for the nesting process to be completed and for a large amount of time we were just listening to sand being tossed around in the dark, so as not to disturb the turtle.

It was completely awesome to be there for the whole thing. The different stages are quite distinct, with the chamber being created at the bottom of the nest once the turtle has dug deep enough; the eggs being laid; the nest being covered and in this case, a false nest being created before the turtle leaves to go back to the sea.

The eggs were extracted as they were laid. The turtle goes into a 'trance' whereby she can relax enough to lay the eggs but cannot feel anything, so we use this stage to take measurements and remove the eggs to be reburied in the hatchery.

egg collection

Fresh eggs

Taking measurements

We had already extended our stay for another week as it's just great to be contributing to such a worthy cause and there is so much more to do to help.

Hopefully I will find some time to catch up on more blog posts, but for now here are a couple more photos.

Jo the resident turtle

Celebrating Hari Raya