Month 37: Travel Summary and Statistics


Mussels on the beach

The past 30 days have been full of surprises, with the biggest one being my arrival in the UK!

Summer in England: always a pleasure
Summer in England: always a pleasure

But let’s backtrack a little first.

At the end of my previous update, I had just arrived in Chiang Mai and was settling into my new apartment. Like all of my visits to my Northern Thailand home, I soon found peace and routine like I can nowhere else in the world. My month there was all about getting healthy.

I joined a gym and went five times a week. I worked less and hung out with friends more. I explored cute coffee shops and overhauled my diet, cutting out all drinks but water. I stopped eating candy and fried food. I tried working at a stand up desk. I treated myself once a week with a pizza and wine date night.

It worked. I left Chiang Mai feeling better than ever, even with a hectic freelancing schedule that saw me writing something like 15,000 words in a week.

And then it was time to relax.

Sri Lankan train ride
Sri Lankan train ride from Galle to Colombo

Sort of.

From Chiang Mai, I flew to Bangkok, where I spent the night in an airport for the first time. I don’t know how I managed to make it this long on the road without pulling an overnighter!

It turns out I wasn’t missing anything exciting. We found a sleepworthy area of the airport (head down to the lowest level where the trains leave from — it’s darker and quieter at night) and settled down for some uninterrupted snoozing.

Then the snorers came.

I’m usually a very calm and laid back person, especially since I started travelling — it takes a lot to give me rage. Not being able to sleep and screaming kids are the two main ones. As several of the people sleeping close to me began to snort and wheeze like asthmatic megaphones, my anger bubbled up inside me. I stuffed my fingers into my ears, I wrapped a scarf around my head, I coughed loudly, and I punched the back of the chair where they were sleeping.

In the end, though, I used the free Wi-Fi to complain on Twitter about not being able to sleep.

I’m British. Anything to avoid confrontation.

My first view of Sri Lanka
My first view of Sri Lanka: the train station outside Colombo airport.

I’d place Sri Lanka in my top five countries in the world. What a wonderful place!

Galle Fort was our first port of call, and it was somewhere I fell deeply in love with. It was gorgeous! Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site it reminded me an awful lot of places like Penang and Hoi An in Southeast Asia. The colonial buildings were crumbling and haphazardly placed along narrow alleyways. The gleaming white lighthouse and mosque along the water stood out as the main focal point and was where we spent most of our evenings.

Galle Fort was incredibly touristy and it was also incredibly expensive — as you would expect. But I loved it for its beauty and didn’t begrudge having to spend twice as much money to explore it.

Lighthouse in Galle
Lighthouse in Galle

Next up, it was time for me to see some of Sri Lanka’s famous beaches. Our first stop was Mirissa, a laid back beach town that’s famous for its fishermen on stilts. Now, however, those fishermen are all a bit of a sham to extort money out of tourists.

In Mirissa, we spent our mornings eating enormous Sri Lankan breakfasts, our afternoons sunbathing on the beach and eating seafood at one of the nearby restaurants, and our evenings eating cheese, tomato and avocado rotis. So, so good. We didn’t do much in Mirissa but there wasn’t that much to do. It was all about the beach, which always makes me happy.

Beach in Mirissa
Beach in Mirissa

Our original plan was to head inland to Ella to hike in the tea plantations but we soon changed our minds. Getting there and back to Colombo in three days was going to include a lot of travelling for me — including a 12 hour train journey followed by a 10 hour flight — so I’d much rather return in the future to do it justice.

There was a cricket match taking place in Galle and I had been longing to return since we’d left. Meeting another couple in Mirissa who were headed back that day helped to convince us to do it. We returned to Galle.

Monsoon in Galle
Monsoon in Galle

Over the next couple of days, I immersed myself in the old town of Galle once more, soaking up everything I’d loved the first time around. I even developed a love of cricket, and spent several hours a day in the cricket grounds watching Sri Lanka Vs. Pakistan. It was free to get in, which meant that we could wander in for a few hours, go grab lunch and then head back for some more cricket fun.

Sunset in Galle
Sunset in Galle

It was with a heavy heart that I left Galle behind, with Dave waving me off before returning to watch more cricket. I boarded a train back to Colombo, and began my journey back to the UK.

Unfortunately, I had a scammy experience that meant my final moments in this beautiful country were soured by a taxi driver. I’ll be writing about this in more detail soon but to summarise, he pulled over half-way to my guesthouse, when it was dark outside and insisted I had to pay him double the money or he’d push me out of the taxi and onto the side of the highway. I shouted at him in return, amazed at how quickly I forgot my passive, quiet roots when faced with someone trying to take advantage of me. I yelled until he backed down, and when we finally arrived at my guesthouse, he took my money out of my hand and raced off without giving me the change.

Asshat.

I'll miss you, Sri Lanka!
I’ll miss you, Sri Lanka!

I then boarded a plane home in an attempt to pull off the biggest surprise of my life. I’d had flights booked back home for my mum’s birthday since May, and I’ve been trying to throw her off the scent for months. I kept pretending to forget where she was going to celebrate (Cornwall) and how long she was going away for. I sent her detailed itineraries of my time in Sri Lanka. I told her I’d be on a train journey and without Internet for the 24 hours before her birthday in the hope she wouldn’t get suspicious.

And then I was at Heathrow.

My sister picked me up from the airport and drove me back to my parents’ house. I fell straight asleep thanks to jetlag, and the next morning took a five hour train journey down to Cornwall.

My mum had no idea.

I stepped off the train and onto the platform and could see her mind trying to process what was happening. I carried a bunch of flowers and a Coke bottle saying “share a coke with mum”. I wrapped my arms around her while my sister videoed it and my dad stood there with his mouth wide open. There were tears and laughter and it made everything worth it. I was so glad I decided to go home.

Lauren and Karen
Happy I flew all the way home for my mum’s 50th birthday. Hoping I look as young as she does when I’m 50!

Thrilled that I managed to pull off such an elaborate plan, I finally allowed myself to stop worrying about logistics and start concerning myself with being in a beautiful part of the UK.

Like many people, I’ve been shockingly bad at exploring my home country. I was one of those Londoners who rarely left. I’ve never been north of my London. I’ve been to the English coast when I was a kid, and a couple of trips to Brighton when I was a teenager, but other than that I’ve seen so very little of my homeland. I’ve never even been to Scotland, Ireland or Wales. And I’m part Welsh!

So I was looking forward to exploring Cornwall and seeing a part of the UK that looked nothing like London. Cornwall was beautiful, and actually reminded me a lot of the The Catlins in the New Zealand. It was all rolling hills and rugged coastline.

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Based primarily just outside of Padstow, I loved road tripping along the Cornish coast for a full week. We visited adorable villages, ate delicious cream teas, I devoured approximately 3191 mussels, and we wandered across dozens of beaches.

Of course, being the UK, it was far too windy to sit and sunbathe on any of them — and it felt very strange to be wearing a hoodie and jacket on most of them — but they were still surprisingly pretty. I’d always assumed that the UK was kind of unexciting.

Mussels on the beach

In my 2014 travel plans, my original itinerary would see me heading to the Kerala region of India for two weeks after Sri Lanka. I’d heard that getting an Indian visa was a nightmare, so I made sure to prepare. I spent a day in Sri Lanka filling in my Indian visa application form, and collected all of the documents I’d need. I made sure that I could mail my application to the Indian embassy on the day I arrived in the UK. All I’d need to do is spend my first morning in the UK finding somewhere that took Indian sized passport photos, and then mail off my passport to the embassy.

It was on that morning that I happened to see something on the Indian embassy website saying that tourist visa applications take a minimum of 15 business days to process. I was in the UK for 10 business days! However, I still wasn’t panicked — I’d just find a company that offered an expedited visa service. I’d used one for my Russian and Chinese visas before I first left the UK and it hadn’t been too expensive.

Well, it turns out that it’s very expensive to get an expedited Indian visa — it costs £175 to do so. When you add that on top of the £90 visa fee for UK citizens, I was looking at £275 ($450) for a visa when I’d only be spending 10 days in the country. (It’s surprisingly tough for UK citizens to get an Indian visa — for comparison, Dave, as a Kiwi receives a visa on arrival for $60.)

Because we were heading to India for Dave’s birthday, I let him make the decision. If he wanted to go then I’d suck it up and pay the fees. If he wasn’t all that fussed about going to India specifically then we’d take a look at going somewhere else. Maybe spend some more time in Sri Lanka? Maybe head to Malaysia? Or Cambodia? We weighed up all the different options and came to an unexpected decision.

We were going to the Maldives.

Onto the statistics for the month!

Month 37 travel map

Countries Visited: 3

Sri Lanka, Thailand, United Kingdom

Cities Visited: 8

Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Colombo, Galle, London, Mirissa, Negombo, Padstow.

Distance Travelled: 12,424 kilometres

Photos Taken: 663 

Highlight of the Month: Getting to see my mum’s face when I surprised her on the train platform!

Lowlight of the Month: Being scammed by the shady taxi driver in Colombo.

Money Spent: 

Accommodation: 

  • 17 nights in Chiang Mai: $113.39 ($6.67 a night)
  • 5 nights in Galle: $59.90 ($11.97 a night)
  • 3 nights in Mirissa: $52.50 ($17.50 a night)
  • 1 night in Negombo: $24.00

Transportation: 

  • Songthaew from Chiang Mai to the airport: $3.50
  • Flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok: $28.00
  • Flight from Bangkok to Colombo: $200.00
  • Train from Colombo to Galle: $2.00
  • Bus from Galle to Mirissa: $0.46
  • Bus from Mirissa to Galle: $1.00
  • Train from Galle to Colombo: $2.00
  • Taxi from Colombo to Negombo: $30.72 
  • Shuttle to Colombo airport: $11.52
  • Flight from Colombo to London: $368.00
  • Train from London to Cornwall: $100.00

Food: $491.82

Miscellaneous: 

  • Sri Lankan visa: $30.00

Total Amount Spent: $1518.81

The Next Month:

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 6.15.13 PM

I’ll be spending two weeks in total back in the UK — the first in Cornwall and the second in London. My time in London will be spent seeing friends from college that I haven’t seen in over two years, and taking my mum on a magical mystery birthday experience tour.

After my whirlwind visit back to the UK, I’ll be on a plane again and heading back to Sri Lanka. I have one night in Negombo and then I’ll be off again.

Next stop, the Maldives!

I’m incredibly excited to be visiting the destination I was convinced I’d never be able to afford. I’m determined to show you that it’s absolutely possible to visit this gorgeous country on a budget, and that it has lots to offer the independent traveller. We’ll see how it goes!

Looking to follow along with my travels through my monthly summaries? You can read the previous month’s summary here, the next month’s summary here, or head on over to the monthly summary page to read from the very beginning!

56 Comments

  1. September 2, 2014
    Reply

    I’ll be making the India – Sri Lanka – Maldives route at the beginning of 2015 so I look forward to hearing about how you fair visiting the Maldives on a budget! That’s my goal as well. I’ve been looking at AirBnB and been seeing some promising places. I can’t wait to visit there! Have so much fun!

    • September 7, 2014
      Reply

      We booked all of our places through Airbnb and have been amazing at the quality of them — they’re really nice guesthouses! I thought they’d be poor value for money but they’re the opposite.

  2. Haha, I love a good British summer! London is my favorite city and I find myself there a couple times a year but, similar to you, haven’t seen much else of England! I fixed that this summer and traveled to Bristol, Bath, Norwich, and Canterbury. I still have so much more to see, England is incredible. Thanks for sharing!

    Happy travels :)

    • September 7, 2014
      Reply

      Glad you’re getting to see some of England! I’m planning on doing the same when I visit again in 2015.

  3. September 3, 2014
    Reply

    Awwww I’ll bet you absolutely made your mom’s birthday. :)

    And the Maldives! Can’t wait to read about your time there!

    • September 7, 2014
      Reply

      I’m starting writing about it today! :-)

  4. Oksana from Drink Tea & Travel
    September 3, 2014
    Reply

    Oh you visited Sri Lanka! Isn’t it one of the most beautiful and highly underrated countries in Asia? I was there for 2 weeks earlier this year and was definitely sad to leave! Great shot of the train station! Beauty! Think you’ll ever be back? It looks like you only explored a few places along the coast! The hill country is even more beautiful!

    • October 22, 2014
      Reply

      Yes, Sri Lanka has to be one of the prettiest countries in Asia, and I couldn’t believe how few tourists were there! I’m hoping to head back within a couple of years, definitely!

  5. September 3, 2014
    Reply

    such an interesting post.. Definitely adding Sri Lanka to my list after your reading your post! I never knew that getting India visa was so difficult and expensive: a little off-putting!

    I agree about most Londoners being shockingly bad at exploring their own country! Personally, this year I made a resolution to explore so much more of the UK. It is going pretty well so dar: two Scotland trips are comping up this month for me!

    http://wideseanoanchor.com

    :)

    • September 7, 2014
      Reply

      Great! I need to make the same resolution :-)

  6. Great change of plans, Lauren! I’m super excited to hear about how you travel the Maldives on the cheap and I’m already soaking it all in on Instagram :) Also, I think surprising your mom like that was an excellent idea – I bet she’ll cherish it for a long time <3

    • September 7, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks, Miriam! I’m surprised at how cheap the Maldives have been — it’s a similar price to the Thai islands.

  7. Wow what a great month! Your photos from the Maldives look amazing. I can’t wait to hear more about your time there!

  8. September 3, 2014
    Reply

    I’ve been loving Chiang Mai! We were almost going to be able to go to the Maldives on works dime on the way back from our SE Asian adventure but that sadly fell through… Can’t wait to see how your budget works out! If we were to go we’d blow through our budget by diving too often!

    • October 22, 2014
      Reply

      So glad to hear you enjoyed Chiang Mai, Julia! It’s a fun city, isn’t it? :-). The Maldives worked out to be pretty cheap — I paid around $70 a night while I was there.

  9. Mary Akis
    September 3, 2014
    Reply

    Warm greetings from Canada where I am sure that old man winter will arrive early considering we had maybe (4) hot days for summer.

    I always look forward to your monthly newsletter and so very happy that you were able to keep the homecoming for your mum’s 50th a surprise. I wish you and Dave the very best on the next leg of your incredible journey.

    • September 7, 2014
      Reply

      Thank you so much, Mary! :-)

  10. September 3, 2014
    Reply

    how exciting!! i’d love to go to the maldives. You’re right about the Indian visa process.. i just did a post on how to apply step by step for Americans. My bf had to do the expedited one in UK and paid a ton for a business visa, like 500 pounds. yikes!

    • September 7, 2014
      Reply

      Wow! Yeah, the expedited costs are insane. Crazy money!

  11. September 3, 2014
    Reply

    Wow Lauren, The Maldives! I’m very envious.

    Lovely story about returning for your mum’s 50th, I’m sure there were many happy tears and you both look very happy in that photo.

    As a fellow Brit I can fully understand the idea of a Twitter rant rather than confrontation. I sometimes mutter frustration under my breathe; I’m sure it will get me into trouble one day.

    As for that taxi driver, what a jerk.

    • November 26, 2015
      Reply

      Thanks for your comment! The highlight was definitely surprising my mum! :-)

  12. Diana Edelman
    September 3, 2014
    Reply

    How do you get into these situations? I would PANIC if a cab driver did that to me!! Can’t wait to read the full story!

    • September 7, 2014
      Reply

      I think I look so little and innocent that people try to take advantage of me. And most of the time I let them. But this was too much! I knew I was already being ripped off, so trying to scam me further wasn’t going to work. Rage!

  13. September 3, 2014
    Reply

    I LOVE surprise visits home! I’ve done it before, so I know how lovely they are. Glad you had a great time back home, and I cannot wait to read more about the Maldives!

    • September 7, 2014
      Reply

      It was my first time and now I want to do them once a month! :-)

  14. September 3, 2014
    Reply

    Aw, how sweet that you went home for your mum’s birthday! Love that you made it a surprise and actually managed to pull it off :)

    I’m very excited to read all about the Maldives and making it work on a budget. Also still very excited for the big announcement! When can we expect to hear more about what you’ve been working on for the last few months?!?

    • September 7, 2014
      Reply

      Yes! I can’t believe how I’ve had to keep delaying the announcement. It should be within a few weeks — contracts are being drafted up as I type this! :-)

  15. Alex
    September 3, 2014
    Reply

    Love your comment about being British – it’s so true! Just what I would’ve done!!

    And yes it’s so easy to forget how beautiful our own country is! I’m from South Wales (you’ve just gone up further in my estimations for being part Welsh ;) ) and spent this sunday walking along a part of the Gower coastline – so stunning and never used to appreciate it when I lived there.

    Nice story about getting home for your mum’s birthday :)

    • October 22, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks so much, Alex! It was so much fun to surprise her. Heading back to the UK in a couple of months and planning to do a lot more exploring :-)

  16. September 4, 2014
    Reply

    I’m still pretty new here so this was my first of these posts but I loved it! What a great idea, and a brilliant way to sum your month up for your readers. Really cool post, and what a special one for your mum’s birthday :)

    • September 7, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks so much, Rich! :-)

  17. Wow can’t believe how expense it is for UK citizens to get an Indian visa and was surprised to hear that Kiwis can just get them on arrival – that’s good to know as I am heading there next year and thought it would be difficult to get a visa. I bet the Maldives will be amazing! I read an article recently that talked about the Maldives only recently allowing guesthouses so you can actually take an affordable holiday there now, I assume that is what you guys are doing? Can’t wait to hear about it :)

    • September 7, 2014
      Reply

      Yep, independent travel has only been around for four years in the Maldives so it’s not really well known. One of the islands we visited had no other tourists but us!

  18. September 4, 2014
    Reply

    That totally sucks that you got scammed by that taxi driver, but I’m glad that’s all that happened. I think it’s awesome you flew back to England to surprise your mom for her birthday! And the Maldives….I’m loving the pictures you keep posting, it just looks gorgeous! Great to hear how inexpensive it’s turning out to be when you avoid the crazy resorts. Enjoy!

    • September 5, 2014
      Reply

      Yeah, the Maldives can work really well as a budget destination! And because barely anyone is aware of it, there are hardly any tourists here.

  19. September 4, 2014
    Reply

    Such a bummer you were scammed on your last night, but how perfect you got to surprise your mom on her birthday. That’s a dedicated daughter! I’ve never seen Cornwall look so gorgeous as in your photos. Now I regret skipping it.

    • September 5, 2014
      Reply

      I was surprised at how beautiful Cornwall was. I’d always assumed the British coast wouldn’t be able to compete with all the tropical beaches I’ve seen around the world. I was wrong!

  20. September 4, 2014
    Reply

    What a great surprise for your mom. That must have made her day. Looking forward to read about the Maldives.

    • September 5, 2014
      Reply

      I think it made her year! So worth heading back home to see her face :-)

  21. September 6, 2014
    Reply

    Aw, such a nice surprise for your mum! My grandparents used to live in Sri Lanka and it’s always fun for me to see people travel there and posting photos of sites that I have postcards of from the 80s that my grandma sent me!

    • September 7, 2014
      Reply

      Wow, I bet it was very different in the 80s!

  22. September 8, 2014
    Reply

    Sorry to hear you got scammed, but glad you had an amazing experience overall anyway! This reminds me of the time my cousin and I nearly got scammed in Bangkok, but my cousin is not one to mess with and like you, she screamed at the taxi driver until he got so scared that he backed off and did whatever she told him to.

    I’ve always wanted to go to Cornwall — I’ve heard nothing but great things about it. And that picture of you and your mum is so lovely!

    • October 4, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks, Gena! :-) I’m usually a really timid, quiet person but as soon as somebody tries to scam or rip me off, I get so furious!

  23. September 9, 2014
    Reply

    Always enjoy these month recaps. How very cool that you surprised your mom for her birthday. I’m sure it was the best gift she’s ever gotten! Been following your Maldives pictures on Instagram, but I look forward to hearing all about it!

    • September 9, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks, Tiana! I’m excited to start writing about the Maldives in depth :-)

  24. September 11, 2014
    Reply

    Sri Lanka too? On the list. Sorry to hear about the Asshat.

    • September 12, 2014
      Reply

      No worries! Taxi drivers are pretty crappy all over the world!

  25. Penelope
    September 14, 2014
    Reply

    Just another month in the life of a world traveler … enjoy the Maldives!

    • September 17, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks, Penelope! :-)

  26. September 14, 2014
    Reply

    I surprised my Mum in Bali when she was living there in May after 18 months apart – she screamed so loudly that everyone in Denpasar airport looked around to see who was being stabbed…! It was enough of a feat and I’m not a well known travel blogger so hats off to you for keeping it a surprise. Your Mum must have been so chuffed!

    • September 17, 2014
      Reply

      Ah, that’s so wonderful! Now that I’ve surprised my family once, I want to keep doing it over and over — it was so exciting! :-)

  27. September 19, 2014
    Reply

    Stunning photos! Pleasing to see that such a beautiful trip can be done on a relatively cheap budget! I miss Asia travel :) Good luck in the Maldives!

    • September 22, 2014
      Reply

      I always miss travelling in Asia whenever I leave :-)

  28. September 21, 2014
    Reply

    When I was stationed overseas in the Navy I made it a point to surprise my mom at least once with a visit home. She always cried whenever I left, but that was the first time she cried when I came home she was so happy to see me. It’s nice to surprise our mom’s with something nice.

    • September 22, 2014
      Reply

      Aww, that’s so lovely! :-)

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