How to arrive in Moscow without getting ripped off

Moscow seems like a scary city to arrive in. It has four airports, Domodedovo, Sheremetyovo, Vnukovo and Zhukovsky airport. You will probably arrive at Domodevdovo or Sheremetryovo. Throughout the years I’ve read many horrifying accounts of how people were confused or ripped off when they arrived into the city.

I’m going to tell you exactly how to avoid this.

Passport control

Russian customs can be quite daunting for someone who doesn’t speak Russian and who isn’t familiar with Russian’s naturally moody faces.

*As soon as you exit the plane, follow the signs in English to passport control. When you get there remove your passport from it’s wallet and wait in line.

*If you are unsure what line to join simply show your passport to one of the attendants and shrug your shoulders. They will soon point you in the right direction.

*Take your glasses off when you reach the counter and wait patiently until they let yo through the mechanical gate.

Collecting baggage

The baggage carousels are close to passport control and they will say in English which carousel the bags for your flight will be on.

*Simply grab your bag and head out of the door to customs. They also have free trolleys available if your baggage is bulky or heavy.

Customs

Russian customs is similar to anywhere else. They randomly stop people to search or X-Ray their bags. Luckily I have never been chosen.

Russian customs has the same rules as most other countries except you cannot bring more than 50kg of luggage into the country. When I arrived I had near to the amount and was terrified that I would be checked, luckily I was just ignored as I confidently walked through.

Ordering a taxi

Now comes the part where you could easily be ripped off. If you follow one of the many men shouting ‘Taxi, taxi!’, you can be sure to be ripped off and probably for an obscene amount. I took an unregistered taxi once for a short journey and they tried to charge 4000 rubles, approximately £54! When we wouldn’t pay it he became violent, locked the taxi doors and tried to keep my friend hostage.

Do not take an unregistered taxi in Moscow.

You have three choices.

*Buy a sim-card from one of the vendors on the floor. Download Uber, Yandex taxi or Gett taxi and order a taxi to take you to your address. You will be given the registration of the car and the colour and wait outside to try and spot the taxi. It is usually extremely busy but after a while you will find each other. If you can’t find the taxi driver simply order another one. This is the way I get home after a flight. It’s a bit chaotic but hey, you are in Moscow! It usually costs 1100 rubles (£15)

*The second choice is to order a taxi from the yellow taxi counter. This usually has a fixed price of below 2000 rubles (£27) to take you to your accommodation. Personally I’ve never tried this way but many of my friends have and they state that it’s safe and effective.

Russian taxi drivers don’t normally talk to the customers so you don”t have to worry about the language barrier. They also don’t expect tips but do appreciate a small one of 50-100 rubles.

*At the baggege carousels there are computer screens from Gett where you can order a taxi. Last time at the airport they weren’t working, I did arrive at 4.30am though so maybe they are only operational during office hours?

Tips

*Have your hotel address written on paper or your phone in Cyrillic and English. Simply show it to the taxi driver if there is any confusion.

*Stay confident and calm outside the airport and don’t talk to anyone who tries to engage you in conversation. Some men hang around outside offering to help people with their heavy bags or into taxis.

*A small number of Russian taxis don’t have seat belts.

*Please don’t take an unregistered taxi!

Arriving in Moscow shouldn’t be a scary process. Just stay calm and relaxed and you will get to your hotel safe and as fast as possible.

 

 

 

 

Living in Japan and Russia, a comparison

When I look at my timehop app on my phone, I see a recurring theme. Although I had a lovely boyfriend in Japan, lived in a 2 bedroom house (Anyone who has lived in Japan knows how rare it is to find and afford one!), lived an hour from Tokyo and spent free weekends travelling around this beautiful country…

I was lonely.

Lonely at work, lonely at home. I had a few friends but I couldn’t see them as often as I could. I longed for connection with people which can be extremely hard to find in disconnected Japan. Couple this with a long distance relationship and many days brought dread rather than joy.

One day I just realised that although I loved many aspects of Japan, it just wasn’t where I was meant to be. It was stifling me and I needed to be free. A friend from home once talked about living in Moscow, a place I found exotic and intriguing. I found out I had been offered a job as a kindergarten teacher and snapped it up. Even though I was leaving an awful lot behind in Japan.

Settling in to work

I arrived in Russia a week before I was due to start work. The weather was hot and sunny and I enjoyed walking around the seemingly empty city, gawping at the magnificent architecture and trying to read Cyrillic.

Work started and it was a baptism of fire. In Japan I taught the same lessons day in, day out. I felt like a performing seal rather than a teacher. Although it was easy to plan, it lacked creativity. In Russia I was given a brief theme for each week but expected to plan a challenging curriculum for the children teaching maths, English, phonics, science, fitness and physical skills. At first I was overwhelmed but I soon grew to love the freedom I was given and excelled in creating creative and interactive lessons that the children loved.

Soon I had many Facebook messages offering me extra tutoring or English classes. Unlike Japan people actually wanted to learn English and it made me feel important and in demand. I turned down the majority of tutoring and teaching jobs to focus on getting higher paid clients. It was one of the best decisions that I made.

Learning Russian

Prior to arriving n Moscow, I tried to learn the Cyrillic alphabet. Although not perfect, my skills enabled me to identify words that were similar to English. I watched many YouTube videos, and used the duo-lingo app whenever I could. After I gained some confidence I started going to lessons, and suddenly found out that my level was low and I didn’t even know the alphabet properly.

This knocked my confidence. I now knew the basics but the language seemed to get more complicated the more I learnt. I started practicing with a Ukranian Skype teacher but as my work hours increased my motivation decreased.

Now I can read the alphabet, know key phrases and words. At the moment it is enough for me. Next year I will hopefully have more free time and be able to practice more.

Making friends

The expat scene in Japan was weird. Many people were just there to get with Japanese women or were ‘Otaku’ and obsessed with the Japanese culture. I made some amazing friends but I couldn’t bond or empathise with the majority of expats. They just weren’t like me. Thee expat scene was really snobby too, many foreigners would snub other foreigners and try to talk only to Japanese people. Everyone bragged about how much Japanese they knew or how many years they had lived in Japan like it was a competition.

Japanese people can be extremely closed off to people. Do you know that I never once went into a Japanese persons home? Although I had a few Japanese ‘friends’ I felt that many tried to keep me at arms length and I never formed real friendships with Japanese people that hadn’t travelled outside of Japan.

Moscow couldn’t be more different. It has a diverse and friendly expat scene and there are so many events happening throughout the city where you can meet new people. When I first arrived I met up with people I met on Facebook groups and at language events. I accepted every invitation and as a consequence I started to know more and more people.

Now I have a fantastic social life and am friends with British people, Australians, Russians and Americans. I have genuine friendships and we are all there for each other. I have been inside many Russian homes and have been made welcome. I go to new and exciting places each week and have a cosmopolitan lifestyle. I am truly happy.

Japanese countryside vs Russian super city

When I moved to Japan I was actually excited about living in the countryside. After a month or so I felt suffocated and trapped. I had no car and my world was extremely small. Trains didn’t run until late so I was pretty limited about what I could do after work and at the weekends.

Now I live in one of the biggest cities in the world in an apartment on the 16th floor. Worlds away from my life in Japan. Moscow has no shortage of exciting and interesting things to do. I’ve done something new every weekend and have still not run out of things to do or places to go. Although city life can get overwhelming, I absolutely love it.

Travel

One of the best things about living in Japan was the diversity and beauty of the country. During my time in Japan I was lucky enough to travel to many places such as Fukuoka, Sapporo, Sendai, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Tokyo, Yokohama and even climb mount Fuji. Travel is convenient and safe although it can be expensive.

Moscow is such a big city that it can take hours to travel from one side to the other. Trains are generally slow and because Russia is the biggest country in the world, cities and towns are extremely spread out. Since I’ve lived here I’ve travelled to St Petersburg, Sergiev Posad and a small village in the South. It’s a lot easier to go back to England or visit other European countries. Next month I’m renting a country house in Suzdal, a small but beautiful town about 3/4 hours from Moscow. I don’t feel the same urge to visit as many places in Russia as possible because I feel theat I will live here for many years.

Conclusion

Life in Moscow can be hard. I work long hours but for great money. The city is overwhelming but there’s a vast choice of things to do here. Although I miss Japanese food and hospitality I’m extremely happy in Moscow. I have a great job with prospects, I’m inundated with private students and I have a great social life.

I have a feeling that I will live here for quite a few years, watch this space!

 

 

Why I had to breakup with Japan

It’s weird to move to a country you’ve never visited isn’t it? Let alone one on the other side of the world with a unique culture and one of the worlds most difficult languages. The differences just made the move seem all the more exotic and exciting. Like any great love story mine starts with high hopes, craving for adventure and a little naiveté.

When I arrived in Japan I instantly fell in love. It was completely different to any other country that I had ever visited and was an enticing mix of old and new. After the blur of Tokyo I was whisked back to Narita to start training for my new job. Training was strenuous and difficult, but after years of doing the same thing day in, day out as a podiatrist my brain relished the increased cerebral activity.

On the shinkansen to my new home of Nasushiobara I gazed out of the window and saw the city scape slowly escape until all I could see was fields, rolling hills and low-rise buildings. Suddenly the landscape changed and I was greeted with towering snow-capped mountains slowly creeping closer. My heart filled with joy at the beauty of this site and skipped a beat when I realised that this was my station.

This was my new home.

The first few weeks had their ups and downs but even the mundane mutinae of daily life was fascinating. Supermarkets were scaled down, combikis sold everything imaginable and were located on nearly every street corner and shops played quirky music and jingles constantly. It sounds cheesy but in parts it felt like I was in another world.

Locals were friendly and smily and seemed so relaxed. I felt so safe and could walk around my town at night in the dark.

I settled into my tiny apartment, made friends with other English teachers and settled into my role at school. I was new to teaching and I absolutely loved lesson planning and teaching. After years in a strictly controlled profession it felt great to have freedom in what I did. I was happy.

I spent many weekends in Tokyo and travelled across Japan in my spare time. As the summer break approached and I sat at my sweltering desk at school, some of the magic began to fade.

I needed to get away to somewhere both exotic and familiar so I headed to Thailand. Whilst  there I got into so many scrapes and had so many near misses that I breathed a sigh of relief once my feet touched Japanese soil. “Maybe Japan isn’t so bad after all, at least it’s safe…’.

Autumn came and went and it was now winter in Japan. After paying for my flight back to England for Christmas I was low on funds. My apartment was freezing and only had heating in one room. I sat there on my floor sofa, shivering because of the cold. I felt lonely and life in a small town had begun to lose its shine. I’d been to every local bar and restaurant, walked in every park. Without a car I felt trapped.

Despite my best efforts I just couldn’t grasp Japanese. I found it confusing and it was impossible to find someone to explain it to me. I tried local classes taught by grannies who meant well, but It just confused me further. The only lessons I could find were over an hour away by train. I found my lack of Japanese embarrassing and was sometimes shocked by locals lack of patience when dealing with me. I felt like I couldn’t connect with co-workers or other Japanese people I met. Even other foreigners with perfect Japanese felt the same.

Conversations with locals seemed empty and superficial. On most encounters I was asked ‘please teach me English’, they never meant it though. I found it hard to make local friends and I found it impossible to work out who liked me or hated me since everyone treated me the same. It was hard to tell what was genuine and what was fake.

As an extroverted person who thrives on personal connections I felt myself slowly atrophying. Kind of losing my personality.

After Christmas I had made my decision. I was going to move to a different country. I applied for jobs and was accepted for one near Chiang Mai in Thailand.

And then….I fell in love. It always happens when you least expect it doesn’t it? I decided to scrap my plans to move to Thailand and give Japan another chance. Maybe if I moved closer to Tokyo I would like it better?

As the weather started to warm up I moved to Ushiku, a small town just an hour away from Tokyo, I rented a whole house with a tiny garden and honestly thought I had found happiness. My work was uninspiring and my colleagues barely acknowledged my presence. I felt like a ghost when I was at school, kind of present but outside looking in. My boyfriend moved to Northern Japan so I was even further away from him. When we were together I loved Japan because I saw it through his eyes. When I was apart I was lonely and irritated by the constant micro-aggressions that many foreigners face.

I tried to buy a fuse in an electrical shop and all of the sales attendants literally ran away from me. In school they would constantly try to give me a fork to eat my school lunch with and comment about every ingredient, discussing amongst themselves whether I could eat it. On a packed train the seat next to me would remain empty. I was constantly stared at wherever I went. I used to love wearing 50s style clothes and dresses with red lipstick. It was my signature style. Whenever I wore something different I would get stared at even more and lots of comments with hidden meanings. Slowly my style changed to be more toned down and casual. I couldn’t handle any more sly comments.

These seem like such minor things but when they happen day in day out they really begin to affect you. They all remind you that you are a foreigner in this country and different to everyone else.

It made me realise that I would never be accepted into Japanese society. Even if I was fluent in Japanese, married to a Japanese guy or if I had a Japanese child. I would always be different.

In Japan they have a saying, ‘The nail that hangs out the highest gets hammered down’. I feel that’s what these micro aggressions did to me. Slowly hammered me down until I couldn’t recognise myself when I looked in the mirror. I was fed up of conforming, fed up of following thousands of written and unwritten rules.

I just wanted to be me.

So that’s how I ended up in Moscow, a place that’s the antithesis to Japan. Life here isn’t easy and It has its own challenges but I’m allowed to feel like myself. Life in Japan wasn’t all bad. I made some amazing friends for life (Both foreigners and Japanese), experienced hundreds of unique experiences and was eased in slowly to my new career as an ESL teacher.

Japan is an amazing country. To be honest I’m still in love with it and even dream about it. But, it was ultimately an unhealthy relationship.

Japan just isn’t the right guy for me.

 

Celebrating Songkran in Bangkok

New Years-eve in the UK usually consists of either a house party, paying an extortionate amount to drink at a bar you go each week or freezing to death outside whilst watching fireworks tumble into the sky as the clock strikes 12.

Pretty tame eh?

When I was travelling on my RTW trip, I was so excited to see that I would be in Bangkok during Thai New Year (Songkran). A few days prior I had holed up in a smart hostel in Silom, a place where I’d heard would be the centre of the action. I met a travel blogger friend at the hostel and on the first day of Songkran we walked outside the hostel totally unprepared for what was about to happen.

Cold water rushed up my nostrels and in my eyes the second I went outside. As soon as I gained my vision I could see three young Thai children all aiming at us with big, powerful supersoakers in their slender arms.

So this was how they celebrate New Years in Thailand?

Songkran is a three day holiday from April 13-15. It’s essentially one big water festival and the streets of Bangkok hault to a standstill for three days whilst young Thais have the ultimate water fight. The water represents  purification and the washing away of sins and bad luck.

However for many Thais and travellers it’s just three days of Chaos!

And no-one is safe! 

I saw a family check into a hotel across the road. As they struggled with heavy bags they were soaked from all angles and a cheeky boy even ran across and smeared thick clay across the fathers face.

I’ve never seen anyone look so angry!

Songkran is not the time to get pissed of at people soaking you with water. Be prepared to be soaked for three days straight so make sure you check in to your hostel at least the day before to avoid unwanted attention.

If you are prepared, you will have an incredible time. One you will never regret and a chance to bond with the funny, cheeky and smart Thai people.

Super soakers

The first thing to do is choose your weapon. We chose the biggest and most expensive super soakers we could find and I think It’s a sound investment. Having a big water gun means that you can soak people far away. Handy when people are squirting you from moving motorbikes, buses or pick up trucks! (Yes I don’t think there is any health and safety in Thailand!).

An adorable Thai boy with his massive super soaker!
An adorable Thai boy with his massive super soaker!

Clay

Many people in Thailand wear clay on their faces daily as a form of sun protection. During Songkran it’s tradition to wipe a small amount of clay on peoples cheek and wish them a ‘happy new year’. My first encounter with clay was when an extremely attractive Thai guy slowly smeared the cool clay across my cheek in Silom. After that I was hooked and would wipe clay on any attractive passers by!

Covered in clay and absolutely soaked = a sucessful day of celebrating Songkran
Covered in clay and absolutely soaked = a sucessful day of celebrating Songkran

Buckets

Oh the dreaded buckets! In Thailand buckets are usually associated with drinking large volumes of alcohol at night in Khao San road. During Songkran some cruel souls pour whole buckets of ice cold water over unsuspecting victims. In the heat of the day this can feel heavenly but as the sun sets it feels absolutely horrible. Just remember to get them back with either your supersoaker or clay bucket.

 

Khao San and Silom

Khao San Road and Silom are the epicentres of the celebration . The roads close and the areas become unrecognisable for three days as thousands of revellers pass through the streets. There is such a party atmosphere, loud dance music plays and there are stalls selling alcohol and water top ups at the side of the road. In Silom there were Thai girls in skimpy outfits performing on stage (They still got soaked!) and a Thai fire truck absolutely blasted gallons of water everywhere in the street.

It really was crazy!

Craziness on the streets of Khao San Road
Craziness on the streets of Khao San Road
The streets are absolutely packed!
The streets of Silom are absolutely packed!
Thais selling extra water, and also preying on unsuspecting victims!
Thais selling extra water, and also preying on unsuspecting victims!

What to wear

You will get absolutely soaked the moment you step outside so wear something that isn’t see through and that won’t fall down when wet. Buy a plastic dry bag for your phone and money and make sure that it’s always locked. I have very few photos of the celebration because water is thrown in your face literally every couple of metres. No-one is safe from the fun, even if you are holding your expensive camera in your hands.

Where to Stay

I would reccomend staying near the action in Silom or Khao San Road. The buses run infrequently during Songkran and it’s extremely hard to get a taxi or tuk tuk. If you do end up getting one you will pay an inflated price.

However it’s extremely fun to soak people from the safety of a bus or a tuk tuk, until you stop at a traffic light and everyone turns and soaks you (and the driver!).

Oh Thailand!

In the evening

As the sun sets, less water is thrown but you may still be someones target so still keep your valubles in a dry bag. As the sun set we headed to the Gay area of Bangkok to enjoy a few beers and a cheeky water fight with ladyboys and tourists. So much fun!

Songkran is a must see event for people travelling through Thailand. Although I had an amazing time celebrating it in Bangkok, I hear that Chiang Mai and some of the islands celebrate just as hard! Just remember to have fun and lighten up for three days. No matter what you are doing, you will be a target!

Our friends waving to us from across the street!
Our new friends waving to us from across the street!
Soaked, covered in clay and with my new Thai friend who wears balloons down his top, because, why not?
Soaked, covered in clay and with my new Thai friend who wears balloons down his top, because, why not?

 

 

Have you celebrated Songkran in Thailand? Is so what did you think? Did you celebrate in Bangkok? What’s your weapon of choice?

Having second thoughts about my Travelling lifestyle

My jet lagged eyes struggled to open, it was as if they were stuck together with a viscous glue. I sleepily turned and looked out of the oval shaped window and saw a tall, triangular snow-capped mountain. ‘Mount Fuji’, I thought. This meant that I was finally in Japan.
My heart started to beat fast. This is it. I waited for the crowds to dissipate then slowly walked down the aisle. My feet touched the jet bridge and to my right the pilot was bowing to each and every passenger.

This Christmas I was lucky enough to spend three whole weeks at home. I spent the whole time catching up with friends and family and eating all of my favorite foods (mmmm cheese!). When I first arrived, I expected that I would be bored, but I grew to love spending my time with people who care about me and who can speak not only English, but Northern English. I met a new family member on this visit too, my niece Olivia and I was lucky enough to become a Godmother for the first time!

With my beautiful Goddaughter Olivia
With my beautiful Goddaughter Olivia

 

As I packed my suitcase I just didn`t feel the anticipation that I felt before. I actually felt a bit sad. I was enjoying my time in England and I didn`t want it to come to a close. as soon as I waved goodbye to my Dad at the airport parking and saw a tear in his eye I wondered if I was making the right decision.

 

Was I meant to travel the world when all of the people who mean anything to me live in England? I consoled myself with my traditional pint of Stella at the airport and watched as planes came and went. Suddenly I felt the same feeling inside me that I felt when I set off for Japan in March. I felt butterflies in my chest and an urge to visit every country in the world.

 

I realised that life back home is great but it`s not for me, not yet. Although I will miss everyone there`s a burning desire inside me to travel, and I know that I will only be happy as long as I keep on going. Keep on exploring and living life my way.

 

I’m not saying that life will be easy. Quite the contrary. In the same way that my heart burns for me to travel, I feel a deep void inside me when I’m away from my family. It will pain me not to see Olivia grow up but it’s kind of cool to be known as the brave, travelling Auntie.

 

As I stepped off the plane I made a promise to myself to make 2016 my best year yet.

inspiration

My ultimate U.S.A bucket list

Baadunk, baadunk, baadunk…’. Monday morning; prep day. I was idly watching copies of my worksheet fly out of the photocopier when I looked up. On the wall of the photocopying room is the most beautiful image. An image of a map.

I quickly surveyed the countries I’ve travelled to, the countries I know and love. My eyes then wandered and I looked at countries I want to go to, trying to work out routes from city to city, country to country.

My eyes then wandered to the right of Japan to see the U.S.A. A country I’ve never really given much thought, until now. My colleague is American and one of my favourite ways to spend our breaks is asking him about America whist holding a cup of exceptionally strong coffee. The country is so big yet has such a small population compared to its size. It’s so big that different states have different laws and rules. The North is different to the South, The East is different to the West, and the centre is different to everywhere.

It sounds like a mystery and it got me thinking about where I would like to explore in this vast country.

New York

Sex and the city, cosmopolitans, fashion, upper East side and Central park. New York is the eponymous metropolis of America. The pace of life is fast and the buildings tower in the sky. I would love to visit New York with my Mum, treat her to a shopping spree in Macy’s and ride through Central park in a horse-drawn carriage. After we could watch sunset from the towering Empire state building then go for cocktails in a swanky bar, patronised by groomed goddesses and Don Draper like men in suits. One things guaranteed, New York is a city that could never be described as boring!

New York city

 

San Diego

Miles of beautiful beaches, year-long mild weather and a laid back Californian lifestyle, San Diego sounds like my type of place! I love Mexican food and I hear San Diego is home to the worlds best burritos. San Diego zoo is one of the largest in the world and home to more than 4000 animals. It even has a pair of pandas like Ueno zoo in Tokyo. San Diego is a place I could relax, eat sunbathe and maybe even try my hand at surfing.

San Diego beach

Yosemite National Park

Also in California is Yosemite National park. A place I first heard about thanks to Yogi bear. Nestled within the Sierra Nevada mountains Yosemite is a hikers dream. It has such varied landscapes, from imposing cliffs, ponds like glass, beautiful greenery and waterfalls. It’s a photographers dream. I would love to go on a multi day hike and camp wherever I like. Yosemite is so vast and varied that I would have a new landscape to wake up to each morning. One thing I would love to see is a black bear (from a safe distance…).

Yosemite National park

 

So there’s my ultimate U.S.A bucket list. It’s still rather small so let me know your suggestions, what’s on your U.S.A bucket list?

The best thing about living in Japan

For many Japan is a dream travel destination. People love the food, anime, manga, cute girls and unique culture of this beautiful country. The best thing about living in Japan isn’t on this list though. The best thing about living in Japan is…

The amazing feeling of safety

As soon as I stepped off the plane, fizzing with nervous energy, I also felt a weight off my shoulders. Everything seemed so calm and relaxed. On the way to my hostel there was a misunderstanding with where I wanted to go, instead of charging me anyway like many taxi drivers in other countries would, he just wiped the fare.

In Tokyo I spent hours walking around the city feeling perfectly safe. On the Tokyo Metro it was common to see bulging wallets in Tokyoites trousers. People left their phones on tables in restaurants whilst they went to the toilet. There just wasn’t the obsessive bag holding that’s common in other countries. Especially countries where pick pocketing is a problem.

At first I found this feeling of safety perplexing.  After all I travelled solo for ten months and saw my fair share of pick pockets and thieves. Was it a lure to get me to be more lax so I don’t notice is something is stolen? After a while i settled down and started to enjoy this feeling of safety and security.

Carrying cash

I should have guessed that Japan was safe when my employers told me to bring my start-up costs in cash. Cash? In Vietnam I barely carried $20 without worrying and if I did carry $20 it would be stuffed down the side of my bra or in my pacsafe handbag. Now I was being asked to carry thousands of dollars in cash to a new country and just hope that everything will be ok?

Well, yes Everything was alright. At first it felt like such a burden carrying that much cash around but after a while I just forgot about it.

Carry plenty of cash to buy amazing things like Kobe beef, mmmm!
Carry plenty of cash to buy amazing things like Kobe beef, mmmm!

Cash society

Japan is a cash society. Despite being known for its technological advances it’s pretty far behind in many ways! Hardly any stores accept credit cards and the card for my bank can only be used to get money from ATMs, it can’t be used in stores like a debit card in the UK. Cash is king.

ATMs even charge you for getting money out here, this fee changes throughout the day! Most Japanese people withdrawn the majority of their wages on payday and keep it in their purses or at home. Can you imagine this happening back home?

Low risk of theft

Before I came to Japan one of my friends told me that she left her iphone in a club whilst on a night out in Tokyo. Once she remembered where she left it she calmly walked back to the club and her phone was where she left it, safe on the table. Before I came to Japan I found this quite hard to understand. Most countries that I’ve travelled to have had a moderate risk of theft or pickpocketing so I’ve learn’t to be careful over the years.

Since I’ve lived in Japan I’ve got used to leaving my bag at the table in the bar or restaurant when I go to the toilet and lazily leaving my bag open when I’m shopping so I don’t have to keep opening and closing it.

I would never dream of doing this in any other country! When I went to Thailand for my summer vacation I was worried that I’d forgotton how to look after my valubles. Luckily I remembered and didn’t have anything stolen (but I did have many other accidents happen…..).

Thats not to say that theft doesn’t happen here, because it does. I’ve never heard of any incidences of theft since I’ve moved here though and I think that’s unlikely to change.

Tokyo, one of the world's biggest cities but also one of the safest.
Tokyo, one of the world’s biggest cities but also one of the safest.

Japanese men

I find Japanese men very different to Western men. I noticed this in my first few days in Tokyo. Japanese men don’t seem as aggressive and macho as some men can be in the West. Back home it’s common to see men fighting or arguing in the street, sometimes cat calling women. In Japan this rarely happens. Men are masculine but in a subtle, confident way and they don’t seem to feel the need for overt masculinity like some men feel in the West. This means that I can walk past a group of men and feel perfectly safe. In other countries it can sometimes be very scary.

Mens style is also a lot more feminine than Western countries. Most men have a perfectly groomed mop of hair and it’s quite normal for men to carry handbags.

Free hugs from a stylish guy in Shibuya, Tokyo.
Free hugs from a stylish guy in Shibuya, Tokyo.

Teenagers

Oh Japanese teenagers. So different to teenagers back home. Children here have a lot more freedom and so become sensible and independent years before many Western teenagers. Junior high school in Japan is notoriously stressful and time-consuming so you are more likely to see Junior High students wizzing past on their bikes going to their sports club or after school English club. You just don’t see teenagers hanging around on the street.

If I walk past a group of teenagers here they are more likely to smile and say hello than be abusive. They have a lot of respect for Adults and especially teachers who they call ‘Sensei’, (Person born before another).

Once I was riding to basketball club on my bike at night. I saw two teenagers in front blocking the way so I rang the bell just to inform them that I was coming. To my surprise the two teenagers (in school uniform at 8.30pm) stood to the side and bowed deeply in unison whilst saying sorry. I was deeply shocked by this but It demonstrates the deep respect that Japanese teenagers have for others. Can the same be said for many Western teenagers?

A teenager studying in Tokyo
A teenager studying in Tokyo
Safe on the streets of Akihabara at night
Safe on the streets of Akihabara at night

 

All opinions stated in this post are my own, drawn from my experiences in Japan and other countries. I’m well aware that not every Western person reacts the same but I’m just trying to compare the experiences I have over here with experiences I’ve had in other countries. Japan isn’t a perfect utopia and crime does happen, just not as frequently in other countries.

Pearls of Wisdom: How to cope with the post travel blues

Maya bay in Thailand, paradise!
Maya bay in Thailand, paradise!

 

You carry your heavy backpack through the threshold of the front door, nonchalantly throw your bag on the floor and sit on the sofa. At first your surroundings feel reassuringly comfortable. You know where everything is, the toilet is clean and you can make yourself a cup of tea whenever you want. The first few days are bliss. You enjoy hot, long baths and walk the familiar streets eating familiar food that you missed when travelling. At first your friends are so excited to meet you but after a few weeks the novelty wears off. Things are like they always were, boring.

And you crave adventure.

At first coming back from a big trip or even a short trip can feel amazing, as the old adage goes ‘there’s no place like home’. Some of us however are blessed with a wandering soul and start to feel uneasy when we are in the same place for a long time. Normality and routine bores us and we crave new experiences.

Before my big trip I read many blog posts stating that coming home would be a lot harder than actually having the guts to go. It took immense guts to decide to go on a ten month adventure and even more guts to ask my boss for a years sabbatical! Surprisingly I ended up having reverse culture shock when I first travelled from Asia to Australia. This is one of the reasons why I didn’t suffer from culture shock after my big trip.

But I did suffer from the post travel blues.

In beautiful China town in Kobe, Japan.
In beautiful China town in Kobe, Japan.

Nothing changes

Nothing changes at home. Yes your friends may get married, have new jobs and children and a few may even move out-of-town but overall everything and everyone is the same.

The hard thing to realise is that you will never be the same.

Travel changes us. Irreparably. This is one of the reasons why we travel but it can also make us feel like a fish out of water when we eventually make it back home. It’s hard to just slot back in to real life with the knowledge you’ve amassed.

No one cares about your travels either. Yes your friends may ask a few curious questions when you first get back but after a few days they are back to discussing boys or work problems. This isn’t their fault, it’s just hard to understand travel unless yu have actually done it. I guess it’s similar to the way mothers say you never know true love until you have your first child.

We are in an exclusive club whether we like it or not.

The post travel blues affect us all in different ways. One person may spend hours a day poring over their holiday photos, wishing that they were back in an exotic place. Another person may think about the people they met and the experiences they had and crave that feeling of intense connection with a place or person. The post travel blues can cause us to retract from daily life and in severe cases cause depression.

Rather than wallow in self-pity and wonder why your friends and family don’t seem to care about your travels or the ‘new you’, channel your energy constructively. Here are my tips for curing the post travel blues.

Relax and pamper yourself

Before even thinking about jetting off to somewhere new, take some time to appreciate the time you spend at home. Everything at home is familiar and convenient and after a few days of relaxing you may find that the travel blues start to go away. Sleep in your comfy bed, lie in each day without worrying about snorers or people packing their backpacks at 4am and rustling plastic bags.

Just do exactly what you want for the first few days, eat your favorite foods, take naps, watch Netflix all day, just do whatever you need to unwind. Live in the moment and appreciate the small luxuries that being at home brings.

Meet up with old friends

We all have at least one friend who we have known for years. I’m lucky to have a group of friends that I’ve known since we were babies. When you meet with friends like this everything is easy, no matter how long you have been away it always feels like you last saw each other a week ago. Even though they may not be that interested in your travels you can still swap stories and just chat away like the old times.

Meeting new people is part of the charm of travel. You meet people who you would never bump in to in your small town and learn so much about the world, different cultures and different insights on opinions. However making friends can be hard sometimes when travelling solo. It’s quite stressful to have to make new friendships every time you change your hostel bed and sometimes loneliness can creep in. Enjoy the instant, easy friendships that you have at home.

Book a day trip

One of the best feelings in life is the feeling of having something to look forward to. Something to fantasise about and keep your mind occupied in its idle moments. When I get back from a trip I usually plan a day trip for the following week, something that really interests me and excites me. It could be a trip to a new city and explore the museums, a hiking trip in the countryside or visiting somewhere interesting locally. Whatever it is just enjoy it. Not all the best travel moments are experienced far from home.

Curing my post travel blues with a daytrip to beautiful Gunma!
Curing my post travel blues with a daytrip to beautiful Gunma!

Book a holiday

Tried all of the tips above and still feeling the travel blues? Well now is the time to book a trip to a foreign country, something to really whet your appetite. I booked a week in Krakow just a few months after I arrived home from my ten month sabbatical. After starting work again and experiencing a mundane life it was just what I needed to keep my spirits up.

The bad news is that you may start to feel the travel blues when you get back from the trip that was supposed to cure your travel blues. Life sucks eh?

This means that you are officially diagnosed with wanderlust. A rare condition that can strike at any time and most people never make a full recovery. It will also make you skint and cause you to be lonely at times.

As Micheal Palin Succinctly put it, ‘Once the travel bug bites there is no known anecdote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life’.

 

Have you ever suffered from the post travel blues? Do you have any of your own tips on how to cope with the post travel blues? 

I’m now on Snapchat! Remember to add me @pearlsandpassports to stay up to date on my travel adventures in Japan!

 

 

 

 

Hostel from hell: Oh Thailand, what are you doing to me? (Part 1)

When people ask me what my favourite country is, I always say Thailand. Thailand is such a diverse country and you just can’t compare the countryside in the North to the hedonistic partying that happens in the Southern Islands. It has something for everyone which was why I decided to visit it in my summer vacation.

I love living in Japan but it’s a very constricting culture. Most people try their best to be harmonious in all ways which is nice at first but after a while can feel a bit fake and oppressive. There’s so many unwritten rules to follow and it can get exhausting.

So I decided to visit crazy Thailand, land of not many rules!

The first few days in Thailand were everything I imagened them to be. I met a lovely French girl who lives in Tokyo on the plane and we spent the first day pampering ourselves with massages on the street and delicious street food. The second day her friends came and we explored the Grand palace and Wat Pho, places that I’ve never visited before despite staying in Bangkok three times in 2013!

It was bliss.

Just chilling at the absolutely beautiful Grand palace on a sunny day.
Just chilling at the absolutely beautiful Grand palace on a sunny day.
Having fun with my French friends!
Having fun with my French friends!

On the third day I left the blue skys and caught a plane to Krabi. On the way there turbulance rocked the plane and I was greeted by grey skies and rain drops sliding across the small oval windows of the plane.

Oh, did I mention that the plane was delayed for nearly 2 hours?

But oh no, this wasn’t going to get me down. I’m a strong independent traveller and it’s not the destination but the journey, right?

When I was on the plane I saw the clouds below me turn from fluffy white marshmallows to soddon, dirty dripping cloths. I knew the weather on the Southern islands was going to be bad but I wasn’t expecting this…

Dirty, wet dripping cloths...
Dirty, wet dripping cloths…

Lies, all lies

I hopped on a bus to take me to the pier, from my research I could make the 3pm ferry. ‘Sorry Madame, no 3pm ferry, only 4pm today’, the shifty man uttered when I tried to buy a boat ticket at a cafe that the bus company uses as a ‘holding house’ for backpackers like me. I immediatelly thought that he was lying and that he was telling me a later time to force me to buy food fron his cafe. I would not succumb, even if I starved!

I somehow managed to persuade the man to take me the pier for 3pm. I laughed inside as the mini bus drove away, thinking of how stupid my fellow travellers were to believe the creepy guys story. I’m an experienced traveller and no-one is going to trick me, haha!

Unfortunately I didn’t get the last laugh as the next ferry was actually at 3pm. Despite being majorly pissed off I made friends with some fellow English girls and ate a tuna sandwich.

The ferry ride from hell

I travelled on a boat many times during my 2013 sabbatical so I like to think of myself as a kind of expert. I chose a seat near the front of the boat to reduce the chance of sickness.

It made no difference.

The boat rocked from side to side so violently that there were sporadic screams from the passengers. The air changed from musky backpacker to acrid vomit within seconds and I was forced to seek refuge on the top of the boat. All was well until the rain started to pour down and I risked my life sliding across the slippy deck back into the safe but disgusting inside of the boat.

Koh Phi Phi?

Koh Phi Phi was a place of pilgrimage for me in 2013. When I was in my car visiting patients as a podiatrist I would listen to Pure Shores by All Saints on repeat and imagine I was on that beach. ‘One day, you will make it to that beach’, I whispered softly to myself.

Koh Phi Phi felt so far removed from the paradise I remembered. The rain was pouring down and salt from my sweat was stinging my eyes. I was not broken though, no. I was staying in the islands best party hostel and I wasn’t going to let a bit of rain get in the way of my fun.

The dark and dreary beach, a lot different to how I remembered it in 2013!
The dark and dreary beach, a lot different to how I remembered it in 2013!
Koh Phi Phi back to it's beautiful self after the storm
Koh Phi Phi back to it’s beautiful self after the storm

Hostel from hell

I finally found the hostel after trudging across the beach. I had to wait a good 20 minutes before being seen to (Solo travellers don’t seem that cool to hostel staff maybe…). I wish I could say that the room was worth the wait but it was a cramped and grubby room right next to the bar. I had a bottom bunk though so it wasn’t so bad I guess? The one window was blocked up and the pain was peeling from the walls. If there was going to be another ‘Hostel’ sequel I think that this hostel would be the perfect place!

I was ready to party the night away. Rain won’t stop me! I made my way to the shower, got undressed and turned the shower on. Rather than being greeted with a lucious stream of warm water I saw a barely visible dribble of water. It took me a good 20 minutes to rinse my hair but I wasn’t going to let it get me down! I then realised that there was no mirror in the dorm so I had to get ready in the corridor.

Oh no, I didn’t have a lock! I completely forgot to bring one, it’s been a while since I’ve been a backpacker you see. No worries I’ll buy one from the hostel.

‘Sorry, no have’. Hmmmm, no worries I’ll buy one when I’m out for dinner!

I had an amazing Italian meal and met a cool Dutch girl who kindly followed me around while I went on the search for an elusive padlock. I looked in every convenience store and couldn’t find one. The rain was so bad that I give up and decided to go to my jail cell for a rest.

The hostel staff kindly found me a lock, then made me pay 200baht for it, okay….

I hit the bar and treated myself to a large Chang and made friends with a bunch of people. The drinks were flowing, the music was playing, it was a good night. Then I saw a sight from the corner of my eye, a naked man! In a bar! I looked around and saw the staff member who checked me in with no bra and another girl in just her illuninous thong. I like to party and have fun but I’ve never really experienced hedonism like this. I decided to keep an open mind and enjoy the day.

koh Phi Phi
Grainy selfie with a bottle of Chang! If you look behind me you can see people in varying states of nakedness…
Partying in Phi Phi, the night before the Italian incident...
Partying in Phi Phi, the night before the Italian incident…

The next day I went to the toilet and realised that there was writing all over the walls, most of it in red pen so it looked like blood. Creepy. The writing was quite rude with lots of people writing their conquests on the wall ect. ‘Dave fingered Jenny here 2015’….

I wanted another shower to freshen up, I thought I’d be clever this time and check all the showers. Two only dribbled water and the other two had the shower head ripped off! I asked a staff member if there was a shower I could use but he said they were all broken, ‘because you know what people are like then they have a drink eh’, what they cut off a hostels water supply?

That evening I had a beer with the Italian guys in my dorm. I normally stay in female dorms but decided to stay in a mixed dorm since that’s all the ‘best party hostel in Koh Phi Phi’ has. They seemed like nice guys though so I wasn’t worried.

I went out for the night with my friends and had a great night. I went back to the dorm and tried to get changed in the dark. The Italian guys burst in and turned the light on. I sheepishly pulled my nighty on and had a bit of a chat with them before turning over and trying to get asleep.

I was woken up a few minutes later by the smallest Italian screaming ‘I like big boobies’!’ and flinging himself in the bed next to me, trying to kiss me. I pushed him off and sternly told him to go back in his own bed. That’s the reason I try not to stay in mixed dorms…and the fact that men snore more than women.

The next day I demanded a refund. ‘oh is it not your scene?’ the guy said condescendingly.

No, I guess it’s not.

I checked out and moved to a lovely private room with actual orchids growing in the bathroom.

You’ll have to wait until part 2 to see what happened next in my favourite country….

orchids

 

Have you ever stayed at a dodgy hostel like this one? Did you tough it out or check out straight away? As always I love hearing your thoughts on this post!

 

 

 

 

 

Why I’m scared to go travelling after living in Japan

Travel, it’s something that consumes about 40% of my idle thoughts. Where will I go? What will I visit? Who will I meet?

It’s tiring to be infected with Wanderlust.

I have some travel news, I’m heading to Thailand this month! A country that is forever in my heart after spending 3.5 months there in 2013. It’s a country where I experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

It’s a country where I feel at home.

Now you would think I’d be happy to go back to a country I love, but there’s a slight feeling of apprehension that I can’t shake off. I think living in Japan has broke me!

The safety of living in Japan

Japan is an extremely safe country. I sometimes think that living in Japan has softenedme. I now feel like I’m wrapped in cotton wool, I feel safe. Japan is a country where you leave your iPhone on the table when you go to the toilet in a restaurant and a country where men leave wallets hanging out of their back pockets in bustling and metropolitan Tokyo.

Now compare this to South East Asia, yes it’s fairly safe but you do have to keep an eye onyour belongings, especially your bag.  Will I remember how to stay safe and avoid theft or will my guard be down after living in Japan for 4 months?

The street lighting where I live is atrocious but I think nothing of walking home alone in the pitch black at night. I feel perfectly safe here and I’ll often walk along using my iphone, something that I would never do back home in the UK!

The quality of the food in Japan

Every dish in Japan is made with delicacy and care. Food hygiene levels are through the roof in every restaurant and cases of food poisoning are extremely rare. Compare that to South East Asia and you can see what I’m worrying about!

After months of eating food so clean it could be certified sterile i’ll be eating food in places with a considerably lower level of food hygiene. Now I’ve always had a very strong stomach but I feel like after months of Japans extremely high hygiene levels, any bacteria in my gut has been killed off and I’ll fall victim to dreaded food poisoning. I hope not!

thai1

Clean streets in Japan

Nearly every blog post you read about Japan mentions the clean streets. It’s true, the streets here are extremely clean and it’s very rare to see rubbish on the pavement. There’s very few public bins but people just keep hold of the rubbish until they get home (and then recycle and even clean the rubbish but that’s a whole different blog post….).

What I love about Banglok is the vibrancy, the life. I actually like the fact that it’s a bit dirty. I’m just scared that I’ll suffer from a bit of culture shock at the thought of smelling pudrid garbage and seeing rats meander across the street…

Japan’s super toilets

Not every toilet in Japan is a super-duper robotic bidet machine but every toilet is usually clean and tidy, even the hated old style squat toilets. I don’t think I’ve ever faced the sight of an empty toilet roll holder in a toilet here or had to deal with a pile of discarded, used toilet roll at the side of the toilet. There’s public toilets everywhere here too which is great! In Izakayas you will usually find sanitary towels, cotton buds and even floss in the toilet, completely complimentary to use.

The toilets in Thailand are ok, well comapred to some of the sights that I’ve seen in Vietnam and Laos… Once again I’m just worried that I’ll accidentally flush the toilet paper or suffer from shock when I see the levels of cleanliness!

Japanese customer service

I was so shocked the first time I walked in 7-11, went to the counter to buy some gyoza and when the store assistant handed me the money she gave me a deep bow. I had read that bowing was common in Japan but not to the extent that store assistants would bow!

Japanese customer service is second to none. It’s attentive but not annoying like many waiters can be in the UK, asking if the ‘food is good’ as soon as you stuff the first bite of food into your mouth. At first Japanese service is overwhelming but after a while its quite comforting, it’s such a nice feeling to be respected when you are just going about your daily life.

I’m afraid that I will be bowing when I recieve money in Thailand and just stand there waiting for the assistant to bow. I’m scared I may throw the odd ‘sumimasen’ or ‘arigatou gozaimasu’ in too instead of Thai.

The reality is, I just can’t wait!

Despite all these minor worries i’m soooo excited for Thailand! I love nearly everything about Thailand and it will be good to take a break from the sometimes constricting and always confusing Japanese society! I’ll just have to keep my wits about me and remember the skills that I built up when I was taking my sabbatical in 2013.

The next time you see me I’ll have no bones left in my body after hours of painful yet amazing Thai massage. I’ll also be a pecuilar shade of orange after eating far too much mango sticky rice!

Thailand, I’m coming home!

soi