We’re currently travelling through Southeast Asia at a time of year when many fellow travellers are keeping well away. The weather is crap, the heat unbearable and humidity stifling. As most overlanders know, the trick to keeping up this luxurious lifestyle of ours (hmm, cough, splatter) for years on end is by camping and reducing accommodation costs as much as possible. Well, as it turns out, camping with temps in the high 30s, humidity in the high 90s and torrential rain is, rather surprisingly I hear you say, not all that enjoyable. Who would’ve thought?!
Staying in paid accommodation is the only smart thing to do but paying for the privilege of a leak-free room, and blessed air-conditioning unit, is bound to cut deep holes in our already holier-than-thou pockets. AND, as if that’s not enough, I am also dealing with a problem which has caused many a motorbike traveller to stop dead on his/her tracks: biker’s arm. Or chronic tendinitis, or lateral epicondylitis or whatever on earth you wanna call this chronic elbow problem of mine that’s been driving me up the wall. I’ve been dealing with it since November last year (yep, 8 months and counting) and although I seem to be over the worst of it (that would have been back in April when I was on about 6 painkillers a day) it still means we can’t ride on. More than a few hours of bike riding a week and I’m out. We have no escaping this blistering season. We’re literally ‘stuck’ here.
So what are we to do?
The way I see it, long-term overlanding is much like life in general: if you persistently look for an ‘out’ rather than a ‘how’, you’re probably not going to get very far.
What’s the only sensible thing for us to do then? Adapt. The one thing which has kept us going for so long and about the only thing you should do if you want to travel indefinitely AND keep your sanity intact. Improvise, put your thinking cap on and find compromises Most importantly, don’t waste precious time looking for an escape. Sometimes there just isn’t one, not if you’re travelling with your own vehicle. Make the most of what you have and, rather than spend your energy on complaining about your surroundings…adapt to them.
Many overlanders go to great lengths to avoid a certain part of the world, at certain times of the year. We meet them all the time: “Oh we must cross this place before the snow comes, or we must exit here if we want to skip the rain season there”. But there is something to be said for braving the worst seasons and living through them, no matter where one is. Travelling through low-season can gift you the priceless chance to experience a totally different ‘life on the road’, as long as you’re willing to change your travel style just a little. Prices are at an all time low, as are tourist crowds. The best activities and sites may be unreachable or not very enjoyable, but chances are you’re probably not out there simply ticking lists off your Lonely Planet guide.
Staying put wherever you may find yourself at the start of a low-season (be it unreasonably hot or cold) and switching your mindset to lead a more ‘stable travel life’ can be incredibly enjoyable. This is what we did back in winter 2013 when we rented an apartment for 3 months in Tbilisi. It has since gone down in our travel-history as one of the most unforgettable experiences we’ve ever had. And we never even travelled anywhere. We shared life with a gorgeous local family (our landlord’s), celebrated Christmas in a foreign country, were invited to social gatherings, concerts and theatre performances. I learnt how to cook my favourite Georgian dishes whilst Chris refreshed his carpenting skills and built furniture. I wrote a book. We both put on 5 kilos and developed a fondness for vodka. We both cried when we eventually set off to travel in Spring, as did our host family. I really shouldn’t have baked so many khachapuris…
There are 101 wonderful things one can experience when one is travelling. Just as there are 1001 other things one misses out on, when one is constantly on the move. You never get to know a country or a culture well, never really grasp a foreign language, never have time to write a book, learn a new trade or volunteer for a favourite cause. Never really make good friends, learn a new cuisine and never have time for proper exercise. Most overlander’s biggest pain is the constant budget restrictions, so now’s your chance to earn some money! Find a job, either in-country or remotely, and get some extra funds in the piggy bank.
Low-seasons were invented for all these things, and more.
With some creativity and open-mindedness the options are utterly endless. So next time those dreaded typhoon rains or snowfalls are headed your way, why not stop? Long-term rental properties are found in every country and can be incredibly affordable (how’s $5 a day sound?), especially if you employ the help of a local. Facebook is brimming with communities of expats who live anywhere and everywhere. Join then, ask them; you’ll be amazed at the opportunities which exist in every country. Pick a country with extendable visas and long-term vehicle permissions. There are at least one or two in every continent. Plan ahead and you won’t be caught out!
Then, once you’ve found your home…join a club, join a gym, study something new. If you need internet and don’t wish to get bored shitless, stay in the heart of a capital city, where options (for everything) are much more varied. We love nature and isolation as much as the next overlander but trust me when I say that living in isolation is amazing for 3 weeks but not so much for 3 months, especially if you’re travelling alone.
We contemplated spending our winter in Kazbegi, a stunning mountain town near Georgia’s borer with Russian. But after a two week stay, we knew that no matter how beautiful the landscape was, there just wasn’t enough there to keep us engaged. Kazbegi has only one decent cafe’and very dodgy electricity. Perfect for two weeks, not so much for three months.
We’ve also found something new to try out this low-season. Aside our work and days off exploring, we followed a friend’s recommendation and joined a house & pet sitting community. We’ve just scored our very first gig. In August, we’ll be looking after Doug, or ‘Doug the Pug’ as he prefers to be called.
Doug the Pug lives on Penang Island (Malaysia) and wants to ‘show us around’ whilst his humans are away on vacation. Doug is low maintenance, has the run of the house and enjoys company, cuddles and walks. I think that could work. We’re absolutely stoked and we are also absolutely not sure if we’ll even like it. I have a sneaking suspicion we will. We love dogs and Doug sounds like an absolute riot. The weather’s bound to still be totally crap but who cares when we’ll be in the comfort of a luxury seafront villa just north of historic Georgetown.
Oh…did I not mention where Doug lives?
So lovely peeps, apologies for not providing much ‘travel entertainment’ over the last few months but we’ve been taking a break from our usual shenanigans. It’s low-season, you see. But hey stick with me, if you will. Apparently Doug loves nothing more than a refreshing sundowner by the pool, silent-but-deadly-farts in the middle of the night and a shoe-chew here and there. Something tells me there will be plenty of adventures still to come.
I hope you also find yours. Somewhere, somehow…