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Travel

In an earlier post I described how I had found the website Travbuddy and contacted Laura, whose travel aspirations matched a lot of my own. We exchanged some messages, and agreed that we both seemed to click with each other. However “clicking” through the internet (HA, pun not intended) and clicking in real life are two very different things, so we decided that we should meet in Birmingham – the halfway point between our hometowns.

I was a little nervous. However I have people from the internet before, both in travel and dating-related capacities so it wasn’t completely new territory for me. It was kind of like going on a first date.  I guessed Laura and I would talk and get to know each other. Size each other up and determine if we would want to see each other again. Except without the awkward kiss at the end, and the “will he, won’t he call” bit afterwards.

Any nerves I did have were soon forgotten when the train I was on reached Wakefield Westgate. A young couple got on with a baby boy, and the mother sat next to me with the boy on her lap. Almost instantly he started reaching for the magazine I was reading, grabbing my top, squealing in my ear and doing anything else he could think of to command my attention. Following several smiles to each other, and a countless number of apologies on the mother’s part, I asked if I could take him from her for a while. As soon as he was in my lap I started talking to the mother (Elena). I found out she was a PhD student studying in Sheffield and had been in Wakefield for the week visiting family. She came from Russia and had lived in both Spain and France before coming to the UK to study. She told me she loves to visit other parts of the UK regularly and asked me for recommendations. Her husband is an A&E doctor and, though they don’t get to see each other much, they count themselves very lucky to be in the position they’re in. In between these tidbits of information I was trying to stop baby boy from eating my magazine and licking the window. I’m sure Elena was feeding him properly, but I did wonder!

We soon reached Sheffield, and I said my goodbyes to Elena and my new, drooling friend. The rest of the journey passed uneventfully and I met Laura, as planned, in Birmingham New Street. We didn’t have a specific plan and just ended up walking aimlessly, talking the entire time. Stopping off at several cafes, pubs and eateries on our path we found out lots about each other and discovered that we had a fair bit in common. We shared with each other what kind of trips we like to take, the travelling we’ve already done and what we hope to do in the future. I scared regaled her with stories of mishaps on past trips, ignoring the slightly worried expression on her face and assuring her that i’m not cursed…just a little unlucky sometimes.

Before we knew it several hours had passed and it was nearly time to catch our respective trains home. As we parted at the station I think we both knew the meeting was a success and we could move on to start planning the trip. However the obligatory post-meet text was needed, just to confirm. We both sent them to each other almost simultaneously, and from there the planning started.

We ended up travelling to Krakow in early February 2013 (and, consequently, an Easter weekend in Nottingham). I will do a posts on those soon. However it is safe to say that Krakow was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.

I got two things out of the trip to Birmingham that day:

1) Affirmation that travelling by yourself opens up opportunities to have chance encounters with people you may never otherwise bother speaking to.

2) A new Travbuddy!

I’d started that fateful day waking up late. The alarm on my phone thought it would malfunction, and go off without making a sound…which is never handy. Dashing around like a mad thing, I eventually made it to my first meeting of the day on the opposite side of the city, half an hour late. Nobody was impressed, least of all me. Travelling between my first and second meeting on the bus saw me almost get pick-pocketed, and realise I had then somehow gone to the wrong venue. Once again I was late. By the time I was on my way back into the city on my penultimate bus of the day I was ready to go home and never face the world again.

I was at the bus stop in town, sat in a shelter without a roof in the pouring rain. I was waiting for the connecting bus when a car went flying through a huge puddle and drenched me from head to toe. I was as thoroughly miserable as I was soaking wet, and desperately needed a little pick-me-up. The bus wasn’t due for 20 minutes, so my eyes went scanning nearby buildings for somewhere to seek solace. Moving from a florist, onto a men’s clothes shop, I immediately stopped on STA Travel. “Can’t hurt to browse the brochures for a while”, I thought.

Australia has been a dream travel destination of mine for at least ten years. I can’t say what triggered the fascination, nor what made it grow, but it has remained ever strong. I have looked at flights, and explored visa options many times, but nothing has ever come of it. I was browsing flight comparison websites again a few nights before, and found some good deals with Emirates to fly later in the year. I’d filed it in the “to re-visit” section of my brain.

And so, when I was idly flicking through a brochure in the shop, I found myself responding positively to one of the agents asking if he could help in any way. I sat opposite him and began to explain my dream. Despite extensive questioning on his part, I discovered I really had no plans in mind other than wanting to land in Melbourne and be there for the Australian Open. I suppose that made his life easier in terms of searching prices, maybe not so great in terms of selling add-ons. Before I knew it, he had found quotes that beat the flight comparison sites and with amazing routing. He seemed a little surprised when I immediately handed over my card and told him to go for it. I suppose faced with somebody who had extremely vague requirements, the least he would have expected was for me to want to go away and think about it.

The truth is I’ve been thinking about it for ten years. I’ve been talking myself out of it for ten years, and always managing to find reasons to stay at home “for another year or so”. There will always be reasons to stay at home, and delay the trip of a lifetime. There will always be a job where you earn a good salary, or family members and friends who will miss you to bits (and vice versa). However chances to live in, and explore, another country become more and more limited as the years progress. I want to make the most of the opportunities whilst I have little commitments or responsibility.

Stop thinking and start doing.

I had missed the bus by the time I had left the travel agency and returned to my wet spot in the bus stop but, for the first time that day, I was smiling.

I joined TravBuddy – a website with the sole aim of bringing people together who have a passion for travel, and for them to share travel advice/stories/info with each other – a couple of weeks ago. The site has a vast number of members, all with varying levels of travel experience. Some have already been on several round the world solo trips, and have several notches in their passports. Others are building up to their maiden trip.

As well as the usual discussion forums, people can also keep blogs to record their travels. You can gain information about any travel destination; find reviews on hotels, restaurants and popular landmarks/sights; find fellow travel buddies (more on this later) and write your own reviews. There is a wealth of information available on the site, with pretty much every travel-related question i’ve had so far suitably answered by doing a simple search.

There is a strong sense of community in the forums, with everybody getting on very well. I’ve only just joined but have checked out the forums quite extensively and have yet to see any trolls or petty disagreements you usually see on these things. You can always be sure of being offered good advice in response to any queries/wonderments you post, and nobody is judgmental.

As highlighted earlier, one feature of the site is for people to connect and do some travelling together. Whether that be one complete trip, or just meeting up at a given destination and hanging out together for a while. My first post in the forums was in response to a post from a girl who was looking for somebody to travel to New York with in November. Though there’s no way I could do that, I looked at her ‘dream destinations’ list and saw we had some places in common. So, a few messages later, we have decided to meet up in Birmingham as a pre-cursor to a possible trip to Krakow if we feel we get on well enough. I’m looking forward to it.

I am more than happy to travel places on my own. I sometimes prefer it – you don’t have to compromise with anybody else, don’t have to think about anybody else or feel like you have to constantly have to be entertaining for anybody else. That might sound selfish, but that’s how it is with me 😉 However I think if you click with somebody you don’t need to worry about any of that. There is nothing better than having somebody with you during those special moments when you discover a great, unknown restaurant in your chosen destination, or experience an unforgettable sight. To turn to somebody and say “wow”, knowing that they are feeling exactly the same as you at that given moment.

So we’ll see what happens in Birmingham anyway 🙂