Greetings from Hoi An, Vietnam! 

I’ve spent the past few days celebrating my birthday in this beautiful town in Central Vietnam and I already think it’s one of my favourite places in Southeast Asia. I’ve spent my time relaxing in my hotel’s infinity pool, stuffing my face with delicious cao lau, sunbathing on the beach and picking out hundreds of gorgeous tailor-made dresses.

I think it’s safe to say that this has been one of the best birthdays of my life.

However, my wonderful week in Hoi An comes after many months of soul-searching and deep contemplation. I recently came to the realisation that I’m no longer satisfied with the way my life is heading, which has forced me to make a lot of decisions with regards to both my life and Never Ending Footsteps.

Several changes had to be made and so here’s what I’m hoping to work on over the next few months, including a big announcement at the end of the post!

 

More travel, less work

Being a digital nomad in Vietnam

Sadly, my life looks nothing like this.

Do you know why I decided to quit my job and sold everything I owned? Why I said goodbye to the people I love the most and left England on a one-way ticket?

It was so that I could spend 80 hours a week in front of my laptop in a guesthouse with no windows.

Obviously.

Yet, the sad reality is that this has slowly become my life over the last two years. I recently spent three weeks in Saigon, a new city for me, and saw nothing outside of cafes with fast wifi. I’ve always struggled to find the perfect work-travel balance and it’s clear that I’m failing miserably. It’s tough because I absolutely adore my job and I’m so incredibly proud that I’ve managed to forge a life where I can work from anywhere that has an internet connection.

…But if all I’m doing is spending day after day on my laptop in a crappy hostel then I might as well be at home.

The last few days in Hoi An showed me that I’ve forgotten how to travel — that I’ve forgotten why I chose to leave England in the first place. This week, I’ve barely opened my laptop, choosing to spend my time reading and sunbathing instead. I’ve been to the beach and had dresses made in the beautiful old town. I’ve even ventured outside of a 200 metre radius of my hotel to find food every night.

That’s why I left England. It was so that I could explore unfamiliar places and experience new things. It’s a shame that it’s taken me so long to realise I’m doing very little of either.

Something has to change.

My 80 hour weeks are now going to drop to 40 and I’m going to take weekends off. I’m actually going to venture outside as opposed to working on my travel blogger’s tan in my crypt of a guesthouse and I’m not going to feel guilty about doing any of this.

 

Slowing down the movement

Christmas present surprise!

I know. I’m just as surprised as you are.

Have you noticed that every post I’ve written over the past six months has begun with a statement of how exhausted I am?

As much as I’ve tried to power through, I’ve now reached the point where I can’t keep moving as fast as I always have. I think I probably reached that point a year ago but it’s only recently that I decided to take charge and force myself to stop moving for longer than a week.

New Zealand was the tipping point.

I had an incredible two month road trip in a beautiful country but by the end of it all I could barely function. I had been changing location every two days in a country known for having slow, unreliable, expensive internet — I was trying to see as many sights at possible during the day and then spending all night working.

When I flew back to Southeast Asia I knew that I wanted to stop moving but, as usual, I had ambitious travel plans for the future. I was going to spend a month travelling around Malaysia, I was finally going to get to Myanmar. I was going to take weekend trips around Vietnam for the month I was living there and I was going to spend an action-packed week exploring Japan.

I’ve done none of this.

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur and I couldn’t stop napping. I persevered with my travel plans for a week, dragging myself out of bed to unenthusiastically explore a new city when all I really wanted to do was eat chocolate in an air conditioned hotel room.

I just wasn’t enjoying travelling any more.

I made a decision to stop and I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt so happy. I gave up on my Malaysia plans, instead deciding to hop the border to Thailand, where I spent two weeks on my favourite island in the world, followed by a month in Chiang Mai. Next up was Ho Chi Minh City where I’ll be staying for a month too.

It’s been wonderful and relaxing and I’ve realised that I need to do this a lot more. Much like I struggle to balance work and travel, I also find myself unable to decide whether I need to stop moving and recover or see EVERYTHING IN THE ENTIRE WORLD RIGHT NOW!!!

For now, I’ll be slowing down. I have a month in Portland coming up in July and then I’ll be spending several months in Mexico. I’m no longer allowing myself to make travel plans for the future, I’ll be moving on when I feel like it.

Though I can say with confidence that road trips are definitely off the table for the foreseeable future.

 

No more sponsored trips or activities in 2013

Surfing in Bali

Compared to a lot of travel bloggers, I don’t have all that much of my travels sponsored. I’ve turned down every press trip opportunity I’ve received and I can’t see myself ever accepting one — I’m an independent traveller and a budget traveller — most of these opportunities simply don’t fit in with my travel style.

My recent travels in New Zealand were an experiment.

I chose to work with HostelBookers because they’re a fantastic company that I use on an almost daily basis. I’ve booked 99% of the hostels I’ve ever stayed in through them and have found them to consistently offer the lowest prices. The New Zealand tourism board have an excellent reputation and offered me the chance to take part in their Explore New Zealand programme, which was absolutely perfect for the type of travel I wanted to do. As long as you reach their criteria in terms of audience and visitors, you’re given a huge booklet of activities across the country that you can get discounted or for free. It allowed me to plan out my own itinerary and only do the things that interested me.

While I received discounted or free activities and accommodation in New Zealand, I still travelled exactly how I would have done if I hadn’t received those discounts. We chose all of the hostels ourselves and we picked out the activities that we felt were good value and that we’d do even if we didn’t have the discount.

Most importantly of all, I’ve been 100% honest with my reviews.

I felt like I was doing everything right. 

I was being true to myself and true to my readers… and yet, when I posted a negative review of the glowworm caves in Waitomo — and recommended that you saw them independently instead of as part of a tour, the reaction genuinely surprised me. I received several emails from readers and fellow travel bloggers who were shocked that I gave a negative review to something I’d received for free — and then applauded me for my bravery. I received similar comments on the post itself:

“It would have been easier to just give it a good review considering they paid for your trip but your honesty is really appreciated.”

“Glad to hear, despite being given the tour for free, you’re still able to recommend against it. Good for you!”

This saddened me.

Though New Zealand did end up being extremely expensive, I still could have easily paid for the accommodation and activities I’d had discounted while in the country. All of the sponsored activities I’ve received in the past in exchange for a review — a $30 surf lesson, a $200 hot air balloon ride, a $20 cooking class, a $40 guesthouse — I could have also paid for.

New Zealand was an experiment and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just not worth it for me — I don’t think it’s the direction I want to take my site in.

If the price of getting trips and activities discounted is that I lose some of my readers’ trust and respect — that every time I write a positive review, I have even a few of my readers assuming the review is positive because I received something for free, then I’d much rather just pay for them myself.

And if I can’t afford to pay for something, I’ll head somewhere cheap and work my ass off for a few months until I can afford to do it. 

… Which then leads me on to some very exciting news.

 

I’m writing a book!

Lauren in Rotorua

I’ve been considering writing a book for over a year now but it’s only within the last month that I’ve finally started taking steps towards achieving my goal. It’s now been just over a week since I wrote the very first word and already there has been a hysterical breakdown, regular fits of rage and an almost crippling amount of self-doubt. I’m sure that in a few months I’ll feel like ripping my eyeballs out.

However, this is still extremely exciting for me.

When I first created Never Ending Footsteps, I honestly believed that within a year it would be the ultimate online resource for budget travellers. It was going to have articles chock-full of tips, advice, interviews and more. Never Ending Footsteps was going to be the go-to site for fellow backpackers who were looking for advice on where to go, what to do, what to bring and how much to spend.

And then I actually began travelling.

During my first month, I lost a toothbrush, a hairbrush, a pair of sunglasses, two pairs of shoes, a t-shirt, a bikini, a pair of tweezers and a travel adaptor. During my second month, I ate at McDonald’s nine times. After six months of travel, I’d been sunburnt eight times, I’d lost four pairs of shoes, broken three Kindles and lost $500. I’d been scammed in China and Russia, I’d been attacked by a naked hostel owner in Ukraine and I’d received 38 mosquito bites in one night in South Korea. I’d had my bus abandon me at the Burmese border in Thailand, had a Thai dentist destroy two of my teeth, then I accidentally took an opiate to help with the pain, and I’d been “poked” during a massage in Bangkok.

Oh, and I did I mention that I very nearly missed my original flight out of England?

I think it’s clear to anyone who has ever read my site that I’m never going to be a travel expert and that Never Ending Footsteps will never be a sensible resource site. And that’s okay. I love that I’ve become the travel blogger who messes up on a daily basis, who still has no idea what she’s doing, who always finds herself in the most ridiculous of situations. I’ve learned to embrace my inner idiot and that’s going to be the focus of my book.

And now, I have a confession.

Over the past two years, I’ve been hoarding all of my best incidents and keeping them from you with the aim of one day compiling them into a huge book of misadventures. I’ll be spending the next three months reliving all of my funniest, scariest and most outrageous adventures and doing everything I can to make this book the best it can possibly be.

As an aside, if you’re interested in receiving updates about my book then I’ve recently started a newsletter, which you can subscribe to in my sidebar.

 

…And that just about wraps up what is probably the longest post I’ve ever written! I’ll be interested to see how the rest of 2013 plays out now that I’ve planned to have no plans but still made plans anyway because I can’t seem to help myself.

 

Thank you so much for reading!

-Lauren.

 

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