Travelling is often the preferred medicine for restless souls – at some point, we all dream of an escape. When I setup awolwithalice.com, I was in need of a change and a three-and-a-half month trip to South East Asia seemed like it would do the trick…
Almost two years later, I am back on the radar and bringing all that I have learned to a new life in London. Despite updating the blog as much as I could throughout this time, in all honesty, I put the value of experience before the urge to record it all. I staggered off into the sunset with my over-sized backpack in the hope of witnessing some mind-blowing, earth moving originality. And I did!
Travelling through South East Asia on a budget
The well-worn path of the South East Asian loop brought my then-boyfriend and I through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. We would have had roughly a month in each country, averaging between 4 and 5 stops in each with ample time to explore – except our Thai experience was to straddle the trip at the beginning and the end. We never made it to the end…
Once we hit Cambodia, after busing-it all the way down through Vietnam, our funds were running low and the unforgiving a.c. had brought on a cold – we needed some down-time. On our second night in the capital, we met a group of Phnom Penh expats who took us out and gave us a glimpse of expat-life in Cambodia. The following day, as we munched through our hangover baguettes and realised we had no commitments tying us down, the decision to stay indefinitely seemed like a no-brainer.
Expat life in Phnom Penh
Ours turned out to be a common story. Lots of people seem to pass through Cambodia and have no desire to leave. It is a late bloomer compared to neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam, so a backpacker’s decision to stay can seem fairly unexpected. It helps that there is, for now, an accessible pool of jobs for teachers (qualified and unqualified), journalists and NGO workers. The visa arrangements are, so far, uncomplicated and inexpensive compared to other South East Asian countries. Although, work permits have now been introduced. One of Cambodia’s biggest selling points is the insanely low cost of living. If you’re smart, you can save in Cambodia.
Six months into our Phnom Penh adventure, our relationship broke down and I became a soloist. I came to appreciate the close-knit expat community and make-shift family we created. Travelling alone was more exhilarating than I could have imagined.
Working in Phnom Penh
Once you start working, you no longer feel like a traveller because you are carving a space for yourself and settling into a community. But living in Cambodia was unlike any day-to-day experience I have ever had before. Where else can you wake up to watch the sun rise over ornate temple roofs as the monks’ chanting filters into your room?
Getting ready for the day in Cambodia required a summer dress, flip-flops and sunglasses. The journey to work meant whizzing through clouds of dust around rush-hour traffic on a moped. The after-work routine consisted of meeting up with friends for 50c beers, cheap dinners or a $1 session in the gym. Come the weekend and you have the ‘Pool day!’ option or short bus trips to the beach, that’s if the karaoke bars and Street 51 didn’t already get the best of you… Hedonistic? Yes!
Life after Travel
A lesson I have come to learn is to trust in your instincts, don’t be afraid to make a decision that feels right for you. This was put into action with the somewhat brutal decision to stay in England after a three-week ‘summer holiday’ this June, 2015. Once again a vacant plane seat crossed a quarter of the world with my name on it. Am I crazy? Quite possibly…
There is a mentality discovered while travelling, that is often romanticsised, but it needs to be embraced in our everyday reality. It involves curiosity, the willingness to explore, consider and accept alternative ways of life. We can travel everyday if we really want. Simply LOOK at the world around you. QUESTION the world around you. GO BEYOND the world around you. CHALLENGE yourself and TAKE-PART. FACE YOUR FEARS EVERYDAY.