So that's it. Our advensha is over. I'm writing this while sat in my mum's living-room back in my hometown of Liverpool. We have been back for exactly one week now and it still doesn't feel entirely real. Every time I pick up my phone to message or call someone I do a little calculation in my head to figure out the time difference and whenever I look at the price of anything I halve it (thanks Australia).
It is taking some time to get a 'normal' sleep pattern back - I'm averaging about 5-6 hours of sleep at the moment but it is increasing every night.
It actually feels like we've only been away for a long weekend - mainly because nothing has changed back in Manchester and Liverpool. Actually that's probably a bit unfair; 3 of our friends have had babies, but aside from that, everything else is just as we left it.
I think it's going to take a little bit of time for us to really appreciate what we've done and where we've been. It's all a bit of a blur at the moment.
I've just re-read my 'The night before' blog post and it feels like I wrote it a lifetime ago. I said I was feeling numb, and to be honest, that's kind of how we feel right now too. We're in limbo - tired, confused, apprehensive and lost. We've been going through boxes of our stuff with a fresh and ruthless eye. After all we've been living out of a bag for 6 months so our definition of NEED has narrowed greatly.
I'm afraid I don't feel able to write a comprehensible 'conclusion' to our advensha, so instead I've done what I do best, formulated a list...
Best and Worst
Aisha - India
Lauren - India
Aisha - Bagan, Myanmar or Penang, Malaysia
Lauren - Udaipur, India or Penang, Malaysia
Favourite street food:
Aisha - Poh piah (Malaysian)
Lauren - Gobi manchurian and bread pakora (both Indian)
Favourite restaurant/café food:
Aisha - Annen Hoi in Hội An, Vietnam did the most amazing tomato tofu. Hui Yuan vegetarian buffet in Melaka, Malaysia was by far the tastiest buffet I have ever had. Also Capitol Satay, again in Melaka was both delicious and fascinating.
Lauren - The first place we had Thali in Jaipur, India. Also Millets of Mewar café in Udaipur, India.
Aisha - Myanmarese
Lauren - Myanmarese
Aisha - Being sat in the sand dunes of Pushkar, Rajistan while watching a dance show, magician and the setting sun.
Lauren - Trekking through the rainforest of the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia.
Aisha - In the crystal clear waters of the Andaman sea off Koh Ngai island in South Thailand.
Lauren - In the Arabian sea off Patnem, Goa, India.
Aisha - Jungle House in Vientiane, Laos followed closely by Tordi palace in Rajistan, India.
Lauren - Luna Villa Homestay in Hội An, Vietnam closely followed by Old Town Guesthouse in Melaka, Malaysia.
Favourite religious/spiritual site:
Aisha - Swedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar or Ta Prohm in Angkor Cambodia.
Lauren - Wat Ounalom in Phnom Penh, Cambodia where one of Buddha's eyebrow hairs lives (ahem).
Aisha - I loved the Indian sleeper train from Ahmedabad to Mumbai in India. It was cramped, dirty and public but it was a great experience.
Lauren - The private transfer from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong (Thailand to Laos) in an air-conditioned, swish people carrier.
Aisha - Otres in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
Lauren - Patnem in Goa, India
Aisha - The scary stray dogs in Ayutthaya and my camera breaking for a second time in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (it's still not fixed).
Lauren - Our experience in Mali Mali Guesthouse, Langkawi, Malaysia (pervy man).
Aisha - Our hotel in Mumbai, India that had no windows, a toilet that didn't flush, a strong smell of petrol and there were ants everywhere. BTB Battambang hostel was pretty awful too - no security, really dirty and rude incompetent staff.
Lauren - Mali Mali Guesthouse in Langkawi - dirty (fungus growing in between tiles in bathroom) and unsafe (bedrooms were accessible from the main strip).
Aisha - Jaljeera juice in India - which was basically curry flavoured juice and the 'pork satay stick' on Vietnamese train which was covered in wiry hairs and was probably a week old.
Lauren - The poh piah in Kuala Lumpur mall food court that was drenched in sticky tamarind sauce.
Aisha - The double-decker bus we took from Bangkok to Surathani with the crazy drunk lady and her boyfriend who ended up getting thrown off.
Lauren - The journey from Sihanoukville to Battambang on which poor Lauren was vomiting throughout.
What We've Learned
One of the main things we've discovered is that we both love animals much more than we thought we did. Wherever we were in the world we always seemed to find a cat, dog or bird to cuddle and coo at.
That we love each other - a lot! We have spent 24/7 with each other for 6 whole months. We've not had to text/call one another for 6 months because we've always been beside each other. We've been together 2 years now so for a quarter of our relationship we've been travelling. And, aside from a handful of very insignificant arguments (usually due to hunger, exhaustion or being lost) we've loved every second with each other. And of course we've grown stronger as a couple as a result of all the experiences we've shared.
That although we do really enjoy architecture, history and art, we mostly love people - talking to them, learning about them and seeing things through their eyes if only for a short time. We definitely enjoy a good balance of high and low culture and there's also no denying that we appreciate our creature comforts and time to ourselves.
About each other:
Aisha - Lauren is far braver than she lets on and although she can be softly spoken and avoid confrontation, when she feels it's right she will stick up for herself and for me.
I already knew that a hungry Lauren was an angry Lauren but this has been cemented during the trip. Excessive heat also doesn't make for a happy Lauren; but to be fair sometimes the temperature was pretty unbearable even for the locals. Thanks a lot El Niño!
Lauren - Aisha was not as fussy or meticulous as I thought she would be. She was quite happy for me to make decisions about what we were doing or where we were going.
Aisha's also the best person in the world (besides my lovely mum Joan) at looking after me - my physical, emotional and mental well being.
We always managed to form some semblance of a base or 'home' for ourselves. I reckon this is part of our human survival instinct - to feel safe and secure. I (Aisha) was a little concerned that on days when I might be feeling down that I would struggle because I couldn't go 'home' to lock myself away, but thankfully this was never an issue. Our hostel/guesthouse/homestay always became our temporary 'home' wherever we were and, as such, we always felt snug.
Things we would have been lost without:
- Keen sandals - Even though they gave us the most ridiculous Croc-style tan lines, these comfortable, waterproof and durable sandals were amazing and I must say, after a while we even grew to quite like their appearance too,
- Stolen shampoo - If we were ever in a hostel that had shampoos in a dispenser in the bathroom we were straight in there with one of our empty tubs filling them up. I count it as a small victory that we didn't buy shampoo once in 6 months.
- Pens - I found two mini biros before we left and put them in our passport wallets and they were invaluable.
- Oats - Most of the breakfasts we had while we were away consisted of porridge oats with some local fruit and/or seeds and nuts that we made ourselves. Of course when free toast / pastries / yogurt was available we made the most of that too but we always made sure we had some oats and soya milk with us (neither of which were hard to find).
- CEX laundry bag - The large drawstring plastic bag I got when I bought my mini laptop from CEX in India served as our dirty washing bag throughout the 6 months and, whenever we handed it over to launderers we always made sure we got it back.
- Bench dress - Lauren brought a light cotton dress by Bench with her and it served as a brilliant nightie for when we were in private rooms without an en suite and needed to go to the toilet in the middle of the night. As it was so hot whenever we had the opportunity we slept naked which posed a bit of a problem when we were sharing a bathroom. This dress was the perfect throw-on item.
- Tiger Balm - This wonderful potion (which was invented in Singapore) was an amazing for a whole host of skin ailments - insect bites, rashes, itchy bits, spots, blisters and even worked as a decongestant when we were bunged up.
- Google Maps - As much as I hate to admit it, the internet, specifically Google Maps, saved us many times. Every traveller will tell you that getting lost is an inevitable and accepted eventuality and, without the help of Google Maps I'm positive we would have ended up stranded on more than one occasion.
Things we didn't end up using/needing:
- The majority of the first aid kit - To be honest, this isn't exactly a bad thing, it just means we didn't have any major health issues. It's now going to live in my car.
- Cable ties - I do think we used one or two of these along the way but, for the most part, they weren't that useful for us.
- Pliable camera tripod - We should have realised that we weren't going to be attaching one of our expensive cameras to a random wall or pole away from us - we would have been asking for it to get stolen.
- Travel notes - In the run up to the trip Lauren had handwritten some notes on places of interest and transit information for various countries we were visiting. Unfortunately these notes ended up packed deeply away in Lauren's backpack only to be found after we'd already visited the countries that the notes were on.
Things we wish we would have brought:
- Sudocrem - The wonder-cream. Luckily we had Tiger Balm as a backup but I would have loved some Sudocrem too.
- Dental floss - I did actually bring some of this but it ran out quite quickly. A lot of the foods we were eating had lots of 'bitty bits' in them - herbs, spices, veggies, fruit, meat etc so dental floss was a bit of a necessity to avoid tooth decay. I ended up buying a packet of toothpicks as dental floss was ridiculously expensive in Asia.
- A proper hairbrush - We'd bought a small travel hairbrush that unfortunately broke after a few months leaving us with crap plastic combs we'd gotten free in a hotel. Thank god I'd had my hair cut short.
What We'd Do Differently
We wouldn't beat ourselves up as much about feeling fed up and bored sometimes. Losing momentum periodically is inevitable and not the end of the world. We've learned that it didn't make us ungrateful or dull - just human.
I (Aisha) do wish I'd have bothered to do some diving. We were in some of the most well-known diving spots and with hindsight I should have splurged on doing my PADI. The upside is that I'd now realised I'm interested in it and so can pursue it back at home and when I next go away.
There are also quite a few things I wish we could have done in Australia. We weren't really tourists in the country as we were mostly visiting people not places. If we'd have had more money (our budget only allowed $80 per day which is approx. £40) we'd have definitely visited the North of the country and seen the Great Barrier Reef. But this has at least given me a thirst to return and this time, in their summer!
Lauren wanted to add that if she could have, she would have gone around Southeast Asia when it was slightly cooler - but I do think it was a fluke that we were there while El Niño was throwing its weight around.
Have a look at our travel stats here: http://www.travellerspoint.com/stats/advensha/
As a final thought I want to express my thanks for everyone that had joined us on this journey by reading this blog and/or watching our videos on YouTube and looking at our photos on Facebook. I'm really proud of myself for starting and finishing this blog project. It has helped to build my confidence in pursuing a creative/media career in the near future.
I also hope that we have inspired one or more people to at least think about taking the leap to quit the job you hate and go see some of the world. We haven't regretted our decision for a second and as much as being unemployed for the first time in my adult life is fucking terrifying (especially for an overly sensible gal like me), I know in my gut that I've done the right thing - whatever happens.
For now we're going to give Bristol a try and see how it suits us. Thank you so much for reading and I hope you go on to have your own advensha!