After working at Getaway for three and a half years, I’ve decided to leave my dream job and embark on a freelance travel writing career (and start a mobile yoga studio).
My assignments for Getaway have taken me on some incredible adventures, from hiking into an active volcano on Reunion island, tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda, overlanding from Joburg to Malawi in a Mini, trekking in the Namib Desert, beach hopping in Mozambique, rafting in Zambia, partying at the best festival in the world, eating my way around Mauritius, Prince Albert, Durban and the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, road tripping in Namibia and riding elephants in India.
In short, it’s been an awesome ride. Apart from the fun stuff, I’ve learnt a couple of things along the way about travel, people, food and packing.
1. No matter where you go, once you get past superficial differences (language, culture, weird food), we all have a lot in common. Sometimes the differences cloud what we share, but it’s always there if you look hard enough.
2. On the whole, people in most developing countries want to help you, rather than steal your stuff. There are mostly good people out there, and it helps to drop the inbuilt South African cynicism (especially when travelling through our neighbouring countries) that many of us have.
3. Amazing places to stay aren’t defined by how much they cost. I’ve stayed in campsites, guest farms, dorms, backpackers and some of the top luxury lodges in Africa, and the ones I’ve liked best are not necessarily the most expensive. It’s all about the people who work there, the effort put in to make the place more than a collection of rooms and the location – whether on the banks of a river, in the wilderness of a game park or on an undeveloped stretch of coast.
4. Food leads you to the heart of a culture. I know I would say this because I am a foodie, but it’s true. Eating lovingly prepared home-cooked food on a Karoo sheep farm, tucking into fish curries prepared by ‘Mummy’ at a homestay in Kerala, India, learning to cook with rooibos in the Cederberg, eating Chinese street food in Mauritius, feasting on bunny chow in a panel beaters’ in Durban and munching dried figs straight off the drying racks on a farm in Prince Albert: these experiences were as much a part as filling my tummy as they were about connecting with people and learning the stories behind the food.
5. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a 4×4 to travel overland in Africa. I’ve driven over 4500 km from Jo’burg up to the top of Malawi, and along the coast of Mozambique in a Mini and didn’t have so much as a flat tyre. Not all African roads are created equal (just do some research before you hit the tarmac in your Citi Golf) but for the most part, you can traverse the southern end of the continent just fine without huge tyres, a water tank and a fridge in your boot.
6. Always have your camera with you (even if it’s just your phone – see point 9). Once you see a good photo opportunity, shoot the pic rather than wait for another chance to get a similar photo, or to shoot it on the ‘way back’. Some of my best photos from assignments are ones taken from the side of the highway – a chance scene or sighting where the light is just right.
7. After doing about 20 trips and weekends away a year for a couple of years, I’ve finally learnt how to pack light (apart from the time when I flew back from Mozambique with mangoes in my suitcase which weighed me down by about 5 kgs). There are a few key elements to attaining proficiency in this magical art: decanting shampoo, buying a Kindle, using leggings and sarongs as an entire wardrobe of different outfits and always taking a multi-purpose towel.
8. On a number of assignments, I’ve left my guidebook at home, relying solely on recommendations from people on Twitter, Facebook and TripAdvisor to lead me to the best spots. Social media advice is current, updated and is based on locals who know their city or area. It’s just not a huge help when you’re lost on a dirt road in the Northern Cape with no cellphone signal.
9. Since ditching my Blackberry, I’ve become inseparable from my iPhone on trips: it’s a camera, notebook, computer and phone all in one. I use a lot of great travel apps (Tripadvisor, Google maps, XE currency converter, iTranslate, Tripit, Seatguru), photo ones (Instagram, Camera+, Snapseed, Diptic) and the incredibly useful Evernote for keeping track of everything. I’ve learned that while a Smartphone isn’t essential (I’ve backpacked with no electronic appliances in my bag and I didn’t die), it does make life a whole lot easier.
10. You don’t have to travel to travel. Reading really good travel writing will teach you more about the world than going on package holidays where you only see in the inside of the airport and your resort.
Photos by me, Joseph C Lawrence and Bradford Keen
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