I try to keep my expectations low when I travel.
When I first started this trip, I totally knew which countries would end up being my favourites: Croatia, China, Malaysia, Australia. Spoiler alert: none of those countries would even make my top twenty now!
I preferred Slovenia to Croatia, Taiwan to China, Thailand to Malaysia, and New Zealand to Australia.
In fact, the longer I travelled, the more I realised whenever I approached a place with the expectation of falling in love, I nearly always failed. My favourite countries are the ones that were afterthoughts. Filler countries that I was only visiting to get me from one place to the next.
I learned that keeping an open-mind was integral to having a successful travel experience, and I vowed to lower my expectations for everywhere I travelled to in the future.
With Belize, though? That was tough.
I was so goddamn excited to finally step foot in Central America that I was convinced I’d fall in love with Belize. Everyone I’d spoken to about Belize had named it their favourite country in the region. The beaches looked gorgeous, the ruins looked secluded, and even the jungles looked inviting.
I couldn’t wait to get there.
Another lesson I’ve learned from travel is that things rarely go to plan.
It was on the bus to Belize when I received news that the book I’d been pretending to write for several months had attracted the attention of a publisher. Suddenly, my plans for the country seemed daunting and ambitious. How was I going to properly see all that Belize had to offer if I now had to knuckle down and try to score a book deal?
I filed the email away in the back of my mind for several days and pretended everything was still normal. I spent my time in San Ignacio exploring Xunantunich and Cahal Pech, then travelled into Guatemala to watch the sun rise over Tikal.
At this point, I had a 50,000-word stream of consciousness manuscript on my laptop that I wouldn’t even show to Dave, let alone a big time New York City literary agent.
That was the next step.
With the help of a friend who’d had a travel memoir published several years earlier, I began getting in touch with agents while attempting to edit my first few chapters into shape.
I had no idea what I was doing, so I continued to travel. When peering down the gauntlet of a potential publishing journey, travel felt like something I could easily do. For the first time in forever.
Placencia Was My Favourite Spot in Belize
From San Ignacio, we crawled our way to Placencia via a ridiculous travel day that had us travelling onwards at an average of 14 miles per hour.
But once we arrive in Placencia, I knew the journey had been worth it. It was just what I had hoped for from our time in Belize, with its beautiful white sand beaches and chilled out vibe. Our guesthouse was located right on the sand, with lounging spots that were perfect for both me and Dave. Dave would spend his days sunbathing in the wooden loungers by the water and swimming in the sea; I would sit and squint beneath the shade of an umbrella and attempt to turn my travel disasters into a coherent narrative.
In fact, that photo of me up there was the moment I typed the very first words of what would become How Not to Travel the World. I’m fairly certain I opened up a Word document and typed, “help.”
Back then, I didn’t think anything would actually come of this opportunity.
I was just a lowly travel blogger.
Like I’d ever find my story in bookstores around the world.
My First Mistake
As I write this now, I look back on those days in Placencia and roll my eyes. I had so little belief in myself and my writing abilities that it makes me cringe.
I remember sitting on the beach in Placencia and making a list of everyone I knew who I thought was a better writer than me.
And then I decided I would offer to pay each and every one of them to edit my chapters before I sent them off to an agent.
And that is precisely why the agent who’d originally told me she loved the concept of my book passed on representing me.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but I’d submitted a mess of a manuscript that had been edited into shape by multiple people who all had different ideas of what my book should look like, but none of whom had actually ever had a book published.
I look back at this and sigh. I had so little faith in myself that I would have preferred to have just paid people to edit my work for me than to actually have confidence in what I had to say.
Needless to say, I know better now.
My Second Mistake
My second mistake was working too hard in Placencia.
In fact, you could probably expand that to encompass the entirety of my travels, ha.
But in Placencia, I worked especially hard.
Was it a mistake? Maybe. It’s hard to know when looking back. I now know that I spent my time in Placencia putting together several sample chapters for my book when I should have been working on a book proposal, making much of my work not super-helpful. I also know that I shouldn’t have pretended I had a polished manuscript in my hands that just needed a few edits, because that forced me to work non-stop to pull everything together as quickly as possible.
I liked Placencia, but when I write about it now, I realise I don’t actually remember any of it. I don’t remember what it looked like or sounded like. I don’t remember the meals I had there or whether the ocean was warm or cold.
All I remember is sitting beneath that umbrella and writing as if my life depended on it.
What’s Up With Caye Caulker?
I’m convinced I’m the only person in the world to go to Caye Caulker and not like it.
In fact, I just googled, “hate Caye Caulker” and “Caye Caulker sucks” and couldn’t find a single person to agree with me.
But I didn’t get it, guys.
Caye Caulker was expensive. It was busy and chaotic and crammed full of tourists. There were touts everywhere and I was harassed by dudes when I left our apartment alone. There aren’t any beaches on the island, which is unusual for somewhere so popular with backpackers. Instead, there’s the Split: a gap between the two parts of the island that offers the only good swimming spot around. When we wandered down there on our first afternoon, we were greeted by the sight of a hundred-odd backpackers lounging on broken walls and a concrete slab while loud dance music blasted from the Lazy Lizard bar.
Ack, I sound old.
I don’t know, there are plenty of backpacker paradises and party destinations I’ve been to and loved around the world, so I fully expected Caye Caulker to be one of them, but I found myself wondering what all the fuss was about.
It wasn’t all bad, though.
There were a couple of decent food options for around ten U.S. dollars (a good pizza place just beside our little hotel, and Fran’s seafood bbq on the front road), and I made sure to get out every evening to catch the sunset and sip a cocktail, but other than that, I wasn’t really sure what to do on Caye Caulker.
Which was a good thing, because it meant I didn’t have to feel guilty about working, like I had done in Placencia.
Belize: Not Amazing, But I’d Go Back, Though
Well, that post was kind of all over the place! But I wanted to tie a bow around my time in Belize before moving on to writing about the next destination.
So, Belize. Maybe it’s me or maybe it’s you, but I’m left feeling cold whenever I think about the time I spent in you. That wasn’t meant to sound like a bad poem.
It’s hard to summarise my feelings for the country, when I was in such a state of confusion while I was there. Maybe Belize just isn’t the kind of place I’m going to fall in love with. Maybe I need to visit in the future when I’m not struggling to put a manuscript together.
Maybe I should have lowered my expectations before arriving.
(Maybe I won’t have a problem doing that if I return.)