Friday, July 25, 2014

TRAVEL REGRET #5 The Blue Bad Boys of Zagreb

So I come from England. Now, when you picture that rain-blessed island known as God’s green land, what comes to mind?

Well, I think I may have already influenced your opinion one way or another by including the word rain in my question. But, what other things?

Tea. The queen. David Beckham. Football. Kilts (well, they are Scottish but same difference). Lobster like skin. Heart attack inducing breakfasts. Warm, flat beer. Funny accents. Castles.

To be fair the above is not too far off the mark. Though I have to say not many of us talk like the Queen, David Beckham is more American than English these days, not all of us burn when in Spain and very few of us eat a full English breakfast unless we are either very fat or very hungover.

Anyway, what is the point of this cultural exposition?

Well I wonder how many of you think of skinheads, hooliganism, and the grand football firms of the 1980s? Not many I suppose. Unless you happen to be a skinhead from Zagreb that is.

Yes, my latest travel regret takes us to the capital city of that surprisingly expensive yet nonetheless magnificent country, Croatia.

I travelled there alone in the summer of 2009, a trip that took me through Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Bosnia as well as Croatia. Now, that trip itself has quite a few regrets, chief among them the fact that I spent most of my time drinking way too much and eating Forneti, a diet that was to have dire consequences once I returned to Sydney and attempted to adjust to normal life.

Anyway, my first stop in Croatia was the capital, Zagreb, a wonderful place which boasts the kind of jaw-dropping architecture left by the Austro-Hungarian Empire that generally makes most of the cities in that region somewhat indistinguishable from each other.

I had settled into my hostel with a guy I’d met a week before in Bled and then bumped into on the train. We picked up some other random traveller as you do and, after leaving my bag in a private room that suspiciously looked like a grandma’s apartment complete with doilies, family pictures and a room that I was told never to enter, we set out to get some drinks and discover the city.

What we soon discovered was that people in Zagreb are fantastically friendly. In fact, no sooner had we arrived in the main square and taken up our seats around a fountain with some Ozujskos (local beer) than we managed to attract two rather funny looking fellows. Both had skinheads and a slightly aggressive way of expressing their enthusiasm. Either way, who was I to say what’s what in a foreign country? As such, I adopted the mantra of all travellers, “when in Rome” and conversed with them about a variety of topics until, when they realised I was English, the conversation turned rapidly to football.

In no time at all the larger of the two, a man who could strike fear into the heart of anyone, started to exclaim in a state of such excitement that I can still picture his jerking limbs and exploding smile how much he loved English football and especially the hooligan firms of the 1980s.

He proudly then informed me that he belonged to one such firm in Croatia and, with a chest that both swelled with pride and threateningly sought my approval, he added that his firm modelled themselves on those violent shadows of England’s past.

Well, what was I to do? Tell him I came from a town which was plagued by such hairless idiots and as such I’d been brought up ever fearful of their violent ways and senseless love of kicking the shit out of anything that slightly resembled something beyond their thought capacity?

Of course not. Instead I just went with it, much to the frowning and somewhat pale-faced disapproval of my American friend. He, sensing that it was best to simply adopt a façade and go with it, told our two new chums that he too was English, something they didn’t even bat an eyelid at even though he had such a Californian drawl that one constantly assumed he was stoned.

I should add here that, contrary to that awful piece of American propaganda, Green Street, football firms in England and elsewhere don’t really take too kindly to Americans owing to both their awfulness at football and the fact that they never seem to know anything about it.

So, when does this story become a regret? Well, reduced now to just myself, the American and these two bulky, violent and no doubt very unpredictable English hooligan loving locals, everything went decidedly pear-shaped when we all agreed on getting a tram somewhere in the city’s North to check out the best graffiti of the Bad Blue Boys, the group of interest sharing short-haired gentlemen that we had managed to get ourselves mixed with.

Looking back, it was a stupid decision. But, in my defence I was no doubt already half-cut as well as under the influence of being as open-minded as possible.

To be fair, the trip actually went quite successfully, though as I began to sober up it did begin to dawn on me that I had no idea where I was and that I was with two men who increasingly showed their violent nature as they got more and more inebriated. At some point a third, equally skin-headed, person joined us and that was when things turned truly sour. He and one of the others began to wrap arms around each other and shout in Croatian. Now, I should point out that they were enveloped in that strange, semi-homoerotic touchy feelyness that some violent men seem to develop when they get drunk and as such it was apparent that they were not going to vent their building need for blood out on each other.

Instead it became startlingly obvious that my American friend and I were being drawn into something that would equal a far worse regret than the one I am currently writing.

Sensing impending doom, my American friend and I insisted we all head back to the city. To mask our fear I adopted my best hooligan chants to keep the two hot-blooded skinheads happy and, once on a tram, they stood away from us somewhat while the third of their number, who had grown quieter as the night wore on, stood with my American friend and I.

He stared at us and we tried to look away.

I think the expression, ‘what the fuck!’ may have flashed through my thoughts as this gentleman stood and stared.

My friend and I exchanged looks, neither one of us wanting to voice what we feared was rapidly becoming a reality.

Darkness surrounded the near empty tram and it was late, much too late to be lost in a foreign city with only some drunk local football hooligans to guide you home.

Eventually the one next to us, the starey one, broke the silence with a slurred voice little more than a whisper.

“They want to rob you”, he said before following quickly, “they are drunk and they will rob you and steal everything.”

I smiled, more from fear than anything else, and looked over at the other two who, like the whole thing was planned and merely part of a movie, were staring at my American friend and I with faces that no amount of football chants would help to turn into smiles.


“You need to get off soon, this is near where you are staying. I will come with you. We wait for the doors to almost close then we jump,” the now friendly hooligan said. How he knew where we lived I have no idea but there are many mysteries to that night.

“Why… why do…?” I began.

“They are not my friends, I don’t know them. They are bad,” the skinhead who had proved to be something of a lamb in wolf’s clothing said to us. A few questions popped into my head but before I could answer them the tram stopped. The doors opened. They stayed open.

“Now,” our new friend declared and we all jumped off just as the doors closed and the tram rattled away with only the red faces of the two other skinheads in the windows watching us.

“Come quick, they will come soon.”

I wasn’t going to argue and to be fair I was so scared I couldn’t even think. My American friend and I ran with the Croat’s shaven white head before us. We dashed along streets that were empty and down an alley that finally ended in the main square where we had met that day. From there it was a short sprint to our hostel.

We stopped outside. He looked at us, we smiled and thanked him.

“Those guys are bad guys, I’m not. Give me your number, we can hang out tomorrow,” he said.

I gave him my number with absolutely no intention of calling him and my American friend and I retreated to the safety of our hostel, shaken but thankfully not in pieces down some back alley with empty pockets.

Recently I told some friends that I spent all my time in Zagreb sitting in a hostel drinking beer and eating Forneti. They laughed and took the piss out of me. Now perhaps they’ll know why, for after that first night I was convinced that the two skinheads who’d been left on the tram would be looking for my friends and I, stalking the streets with chants lingering on thirsty lips.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

TRAVEL REGRET # 4 Camping In Amsterdam

You know what, don’t you all just love camping. Man, what a great way to save a bit of dinero when out on the road.

I mean, is there better feeling than knowing your place to sleep for the night is strapped to your back? That once your tent has been erected and the zip zipped up, that all around you then is your personal, movable space.

Take a moment. Think about it.

There are no annoying 18-year-old American princesses jabbering loudly in the middle of the night about how amazing that last nightclub was. No Scandinavians turning the lights on in order to pack their bags at arse o’clock. No Brits comparing shades of red nor Aussies chaffing down more cheap wine than your average wino consumes in a year.

No, instead it is just you, your backpack, and whatever little else will fit in that cramped and sweaty 
space with you.

Let’s cut the crap shall we. This blog is all about regrets and at the moment I sound more like a tent salesman or some cheesy beer commercial than a man possessed by such travel demons that he feels the need to exorcise them on these pixelated pages.

Instead, let’s all admit the truth shall we: Camping is a mixed bag, great fun when done in small quantities (like tequila) but a shocker when strung out over a week, a month, or, dare I say, any longer than three months (again, like tequila).

We’ve all seen serial campers. People who have lost the will to shower, whose hair has become a matted mess that sneaks off and murders kittens in the night, whose breath is the thing of Game of Thrones legends. (Forget dragons and winter, one whiff of a serial campers breath and no amount of spear wielding mountain looking half-burned people will save your face from peeling off and dressing itself up as a kitten in the hope it will be killed of by some matted hair in the middle of the night.)

Furthermore, let’s debunk a few camping myths shall we:

a. Camping gives you your own wonderful space = Bollocks. Go travelling for more than a month and that cramped bit of a canvas lined privacy becomes nothing more than a medievally reminiscent trap designed to ensure you never escape that bear like monstrosity that your backpack has become. I mean, am I the only one who finds their backpack takes on an inverse Marry Poppins’ effect? Namely that it looks massive but you can fit bugger all into it?

b. Camping means you get closer to nature = Codswallop. Those nice, comforting sounds of animals that sing you a lullaby as your drift off to sleep become horrifically magnified in the middle of the night and, throwing in an element of half-awake madness, you become convinced that there is a wolf/panther/yeti/serial camper out there just biding its time before it slashes through your ‘waterproof’ tent’s outer layer and eats your cold sweat covered flesh like a drunk Aussie with a free kebap on George Street passed midnight.

Anyway, you get the picture. Camping is not always good times.

One example of which from my own regret filled history comes from my first real travelling adventure.

It was 2008 and, having finished my studies in Sydney the year before, I had slaved away in various language schools and managed to save up enough for that right of passage of all Australians: the Euro-trip. Now, back in 2008 I was quite the penny pincher. So much in fact that I pretty much lived off goon, a terrible boxed wine that anyone who has spent longer than a week in oz would have encountered. As you should all know, goon tastes much better when mixed with lemonade, cherryade, greenade, yellowade. Any ade basically. I, however, was so cheap I wouldn’t even spend the 50c a bottle of fizzy sweetness cost. Instead I ever opted to get as much goon down my gullet before I could really taste it through the wonders of the paper/scissor/rock drinking game. (Other great goon games include: Edward Goon hands, Goon-of-fortune and ‘av-a-go-on-me-goon-baby.)

What all this equates to is that, when I was planning my great Euro adventure, I realised that if I were to book ahead things would work out much cheaper. Well, I kind of got carried away and one week later I had an Excel spreadsheet outlining every hostel that I had a reservation in (thank you, every train and bus I had a reservation with (thank you and and every sight that I was due to see (thank you Lonely Planet).

A bit over the top you might think? Well perhaps I should add that such planning was for an eight month trip so… yeah, it’s safe to say I got a bit carried away.

Anyway, the first stop on this extravaganza was to be Amsterdam, a city whose mere name can conjure up all manner of regrets I’m sure. Well, I wonder how many other people’s regrets involve camping in minus 5 on the edge of the city near a motorway surrounded by mushroom tripping fellow travellers who spend the whole night declaring, ‘I. Am. Your. Friend’ with a stutter that makes their declarations the equivalent of a machine gun in the misty faded expanse known as sleep deprivation.

No one? Well, just me then.

Anyway, my trusty Lonely Planet had told me that this was a cheap option for those travellers on a budget. Considering the fact that I used to steal cheese in order to cut down on my food shopping I would say that this category was definitely the one for me.

Such a decision began to appear to be erring on the side of foolhardy the second that my tram ride out to said campsite took me passed scenic canals and leaning buildings into modern streets and suburbs before finally guiding me through an urban wasteland that, when I look back (with a slightly less than perfect memory) looked like something from a Mad Max movie (I will admit that my imagination can get the better of me in such recollections). Either way, the fact that I was taking advantage of the European honesty system soon became the least of my worries.

Finally, with an empty tram as the witness to my impending sense of both doom and regret, the driver stopped, opened the doors and shouted something at me that could have been ‘campsite’ but sounded more like ‘idiot this is where you get off and get killed, ahahahahaha’.

So, obeying his blurted commands and putting on that ‘I know what I’m doing and where I’m going’ face that a giant backpack and ashy white features dispel, I determinedly headed off with no idea at all where I was nor where I was going.  

Now, back in 2008 we had Google Maps, but we didn’t have smart phones. Or at least I didn’t. So instead of being able to check a map in the palm of my hand I had to rely on that trick of all men, bravado and sheer arrogance

‘I know where it is,’ I declared to myself even though I had no idea if I was even still in The Netherlands.

Trekking onward with a vast bypass making its presence felt to me through screaming traffic punctuated by searing silence, I did in fact manage to find the campsite and, well, it had goats so I thought to myself, ‘It can’t be all that bad!’

At this time I was still, no doubt, warmed by the tram and high somewhat on excitement. As such it was only after, having found the check-in office to be not only closed but also the kind of place used by teenagers to practice their glass smashing skills, I found myself a nice patch of grass and looked around at the three or four other tents that lay silhouetted in moonlight around me. About this time I realised that, with the onset of night, it had gotten bastard cold. Cold as a badger’s arse in fact.

Now, as I was embarking on a massive travelling adventure due to take me from The Netherlands to Greece via Eastern Europe, I had taken the executive decision not to pack too many clothes and furthermore not to pack anything too heavy.

Heavy also equals warm, I might add.

Well, having thought that May is warm in Europe (ten years in Australia had erased by childhood memories of May in England), I was quite shocked therefore when I noticed that my hands had turned blue, by feet were numb, and I was beginning to rock uncontrollably in such a teeth-chattering manner that, in hindsight, I might well have scared off some would be serial campers whose matted hair was no doubt already eying up my shampooed barnet.

What does one do in such a situation? Put on each and every item of clothing in your backpack of course. This I did, adding as well some newspaper to complete my attempts to retain even a fraction of the heat that remained deep in my core.

Did any of it help? Did it bollocks. Especially because, as well as the cold, no sooner had I started to drift off into what might be somewhere considered a slight relative of normal sleep than some drug-addled Englishman began to declare that He. Was. My. Fr-Fr-Fr-Friend!

Not the sort of thing you want to hear on the edge of a foreign city surrounded by motorways and industrial sites and populated only by a few shabby looking tents that could well house: a. murders, b. thieves, or c. murdering thieves. Call me a pessimist but I’d rather err on the side of caution thank you very much.

So, such was my first night in Amsterdam and the first night of my European adventure, a night in which I slept no more than a few winks and one which left me so cold I could barely move come morning.

If that wasn’t enough, when trying to cook up some life-giving porridge the next morning on my handy Trangia, a gaggle of local ducks came over to have a gander. Thinking them friendly little feathered fellas, I was soon a prisoner in my own tent when it became obvious that, unlike the guys of the night before, these ducks cared little for friendship. Quacks and snapping jaws made me retreat while my porridge oats were ransacked.

When I finally did manage to get myself ready and limber enough to walk I ended up spending the whole day basking in the sun of a city park desperately trying to not only stay awake but also inject an ounce of heat into my stone cold bones (I was on too much of a budget to consider going into a café or something of the like).

The tent fiasco was to continue for a few more days until, after trying tin-foil and all other survival like materials to keep warm and finding that I was missing yet another European city (this time Brussels) due to my waking dream like sleep-deprived state, I packed in the tent and splashed out on a hostel.

Luxury that proved to be.

Now, looking back, as I am want to do with these regrets, I have to ask myself what lessons I learnt from that experience?

Well, for one, planning is all well and good but from time to time it pays to check the weather.

Camping is great unless it’s minus 5 degrees (English degrees that is).

And finally, if you happen to be cooking up some porridge and a gang of ducks wanders by, best just to do as the French do, throw up your hands and declare, “I surrender!”

In order to avoid making the same mistakes as myself, I would recommend checking out some of the following prior to your trip to Amsterdam:

If you enjoy reading my Travel Regrets, have any of your own to share, or simply can’t decipher my liberal use of English and Australian slang, feel free to send me a tweet at:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

TRAVEL REGRET #3 Italian Police

Oh, Italy!

What a magnificent country: beautiful, welcoming, charming, and full to the brim of annoying tourists. Now, I can’t say too much here as I have just spent all weekend walking around Prague with a massive camera hanging off my neck while trying to sneakily look at my map so I don’t look like a tourist. I know, I know; the pale pasty British skin would give it away in a second.

But man how I hate other tourists.

Not travellers mind you, aside from Australians with Southern Cross tattoos who spend all their time either getting pissed, talking about getting pissed, roping others into getting pissed or recovering from getting pissed. Nor do I like those fancy travellers who claim to be backpackers then have the most expensive bags possible, stay in the most expensive hostels, eat out in restaurants (not just scoffing down bread and butter with some local cheese so you can claim you tasted the local cuisine), and generally flaunt their cash in a manner that says, ‘I’m roughing it so when I go home to daddy I can tell him how the other half live.’ Nor do I like dreadlocked travellers, people who go to India once then spend all their time talking about enlightenment and wearing loose fitting clothes, 18 year olds who act like they are the first people to do everything and… and… and…

Calm down! My word, if you let me I’ll be here all day going on and on about all those people who get my goat. I’m sure you all have the same: certain travellers you encounter who drive you mad.

Anyway, we are not here for all that, we’re here to hear about Italian policemen and just what it is that occurred in Rome one hot and steamy night that has caused me enough regret to write about it.

Well, one night back in 2008 a group of us who had partaken in a few cartons of red wine (only the best for this traveller, though it was Italian at least …) decided that it would be marvellous to go and have a look at this Trevi Fountain we had all heard so much about.

Once we arrived, we further thought it would be even better if one of our number went for a little dip in said fountain. It was, after all, very hot at the time. Oh, and he was Australian so of course he was a little worse for wear.

Low and behold however, but who should appear the second my friend’s feet were submerged in the fountain? The very Italian policeman who this whole post is devoted to, of course.

(Now, what you should know before I continue is that I had just gotten back from travelling around Eastern Europe, where one of the warnings I had received was that there were many fake police accosting tourists and issuing false on-the-spot fines.)

‘Hey you, get out the fountain!’ the police officer bellowed at my inebriated Aussie chum.

Clambering out my friend and the rest of us all laughed until I, with a keen eye for detail, noticed that the policeman’s uniform was the not the same as those of the other police I’d seen all over the city.

The officer approached my friend and, in a rambling monologue of Italian with scattered English thrown in, he informed us all that it was illegal to swim in the fountain and as such my swaying companion would now have to pay €40 right then and there or come with the officer to his official lair.

At this point I gallantly stepped in and informed my cross-eyed and slurring pal that this man was no policeman, but instead a con-man, out to take his hard earned cash right from his shaky palm!

Well, as you can imagine the policeman didn’t much like this and so I zipped off to try and find a ‘real’ policeman to come and save the day.

Low and behold there was one on the other side of the fountain, a carbon copy of the other officer save for his shirt being a much more police-like blue.

‘Officer’ I said. ‘You must come quick. There is a man pretending to be a policeman and issuing fake fines to my upstanding friends.’

The blue clad policeman gave a knowing nod and hurried along with me. My friend at this point was standing somewhat hemmed in by the fountain and a high wall and I unwittingly went to join him, unaware of the trap that awaited …

The two policemen nodded to each other in a manner that I will never forget. They then turned to my friend and I, smiled, and, after conferring somewhat in Italian, informed us that we would both now have to pay a fine.

As it dawned on me that these two men were not in fact con-artists but simply two officers of the law from different departments, it also occurred to me that the only way out of this situation was to let loose that weapon all Englishmen and women are born with: the gift of the gab.

Well, to cut a long story short my attempts to argue, assail, flee, bargain, dictate, harangue, debate, flatter, and generally seek a verbal form of escape all failed. Soon enough another car arrived to whisk my friend off to our hostel and collect our passports. Somewhere in all this malarkey word must have gotten out for in no time at all there were, and I am not exaggerating here, about twenty members of the Italian police force surrounding us and the fountain.

There was at one point even a chief of some kind, drawn to the spectacle perhaps due to a very, very slow night in the office.

At some point my passport vanished and I was told that in order to be able to claim it back I would have to appear before a European court in the morning. As it turns out it is illegal to claim that an Italian police officer is not an Italian police officer.

Who knew?

Well, the ground at this point was sinking away from me as I determinedly stuck to my guns and blabbed away about embassy this, national scandal that, European rights whatever, until the police all got thoroughly bored, told me I would have to report to the police station in the morning, and then sank off to bed. With my passport.

By this point I was alive with indignation and righteousness and so, surrounded by my thoroughly bored and tired friends (this ordeal had taken us to 3am), we trooped off in search of the British Embassy.

Now, I’m sure that we all have had moments where we envision going to our embassy and having the doors open wide, a cup of tea placed in our hands and rock solid security surrounding us till we can be whisked away in a helicopter.

Unfortunately, as I found out, that was not the case. The British embassy was closed, dead, empty. I called the emergency number and it was, of course, disconnected.


Never fear however for I am a lucky individual and also have Australian citizenship. Off we went then to the Australian embassy where I expected my antipodean brothers to open their arms and hand me a chilled beer before once more making arrangements for my immediate departure by helicopter.

It was closed as well.

Yep, the Australian Embassy was also closed.

Well, what I would have given then to be an American and know that all I need to have done would be tap my heels together and a team of navy seals would have emerged to help me storm the Italian police headquarters and seize back my passport.

Instead I admitted defeat and trudged back to my hostel, the whole way haunted by what awaited me in the morning and just how I would explain to my parents why I had to appear before a European court whilst hiding the fact that it was all down to some drunken silliness.

In the end the whole thing was solved miraculously and rather anti-climatically. Accompanied by a young Brazilian who by chance had been studying law in Italy, the next morning we honed our arguments on the march to the station, the whole time practicing Law and Order like scenes of courtroom magic in which my innocence would be professed. We arrived at the station, some words of Italian were exchanged, and then my passport appeared and I was sent on my way with even so much as a slap on the wrist!

Now, I know they say that Italians can be a passionate bunch but to this day I have no idea what happened that night to quell their tempers so much that, instead of going to court and spending my years alongside Foxy Knoxy, I instead was granted my freedom. Perhaps they had been awed in delay by my verbal ability? Perhaps it had all been some kind of elaborate joke? Who knows!

At the end of the day I did learn a valuable lesson that night, well, a few in fact:
  1. Don’t swim in fountains.
  2. If someone looks like an Italian policeman, chances are they are.
  3. Embassies are a waste of time.
  4. Cheap boxes of Italian red wine more often than not end in regret.

Maybe next time I should pay more attention to the following:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

TRAVEL REGRET #2 - Ko Phangan Tattoo

Ah Thailand... How I love you so! I could write about you for days, for weeks! Noting here all the regrets I managed to chalk up while exploring your seedy cities and beautiful shorelines. In fact, I love Thailand so much that I have a permanent reminder of my love affair ingrained in my arm.

No, it's not the name of some Thai-lady boy I mistakenly sojourned with after one to many bottles of Chang, nor is it the name of my favourite Thai whiskey carved into my arm with a shard of glass after... well, you guessed it, one too many whiskeys.


Wait a minute, just wait one minute. I'm sure that, seasoned travellers that you all are, you are more than familiar with what a Ko Phangan tattoo is; that indelible sign that you have not only braved the roads of that tiny Thai island, but also done so on a vehicle unstable enough (or simply drunkenly driven enough) to crash into some object or another and find yourself with a nasty, bleeding and ultimately permenant graze, cut, slice or wound.

Yes, that is my Ko Phangan tattoo: A big scar on my right arm left there after I managed to crash a motorbike into a brick wall. You may think that is not so interesting, that this in fact manages to happen to people all the time, especially in Thailand where all you have to do to rent a motorbike is wink and nod while handing over a paltry amount of baht (an amount even more paltry when you think of how much a new arm or a week in a coma might cost).

So, why is this regret then worthy of being on my list? A list, might I remind you, that aims to not only outline all my travel regrets, but offer as a guide to others to keep them from making the same mistakes as I.

To answer that perhaps I should give you a bit more background into this fateful crash.

Starting with the beginning, or at least the beginning as far as I remember it, I awoke one morning in my tiny steaming Haad Rin cabin with the kind of headache only a whole day drinking Chang and buckets can provide. Staggering to the concrete-floor-and-tap-in-the-wall room that passed for a bathroom, I found that my right arm was covered in blood. Upon casting my heavy, hungover mind back to the night before, I recalled, among other scattered memories such as a friend stealing a bottle of vodka from a bar, myself jumping through a flaming hoop, and a rather lacklutsre pool party, I also recollected having a motorbike at some point.

No small wonder when you consider the fact that it's pretty hard to crash a motorbike without one.

The only thing is I hadn't had a motorbike. None whatsoever.

Returning to my room and to my equally hungover travelling partner, I told them of my recollection at which point they replied:

"What, you don't remember?"

'Obviously not' I thought to myself with a puzzled look as my only verbal reply.

"You stole a motorbike," my friend replied. "And then drove it into a wall five metres away. After that we had to dump it in a jungle then you vanished."

Three words: What. The. Fudge.

Then, like a song from the 80s, it all came back to me...

This is a country, let's not forget, that imprisoned an Australian woman for stealing a bar mat and here I was guilty of not only stealing a motorbike, but also being intoxicated enough to crash it into a wall five metres away!

I can still remember it now - the bike was sitting there, the keys in the ignition, the alcohol in my blood and the devil in my veins.

Zoom Zoom Bang Crash!

Such was the origin of my Ko Phangan tattoo.

A regret? Well, not really. I'm actually quite proud of my scar, even though I do think about the poor man or woman who left their house one morning to find their motorbike had gone missing and no doubt thought it something a bit more sinister than simply being the victim of a drunken joyrider's poor driving skills.

Still, for me what makes it a regret is that is symbolises my whole time on Ko Phangan, a time when, instead of seeing what the island had to offer, I instead spent most of it drinking the day away and then awaking the next day too hungover to attempt the lone street leading out of the town nicknamed 'death road', a name bestowed upon it due to its steep hills, dangerous curves, lack of cliff-side safety barriers and trucks full of Thai construction workers overtaking you at any and all opportunities.

In hindsight I should have a spent a couple of days off the sauce and seeing a bit more a country that is so much more than confusing young men, ping pong balls and buckets full of who knows what.

But that is a regret that I am sure we all share, the regret of spending too much time partying and not enough time exploring the country, the city, the street that we find ourselves.

I like to think I will learn from this experience... but as you will all see from regrets to come, I didn't.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

TRAVEL REGRET #1 - Planning


We should probably start with the one travel regret that gets all of us, the one that haunts our dreams on long bus journeys across dusty or rain-soaked landscapes, the one that sneaks up on us as we realise our time is running short, the one that we fight ourselves over: Should I? Shouldn't I?

Eating something bad? Forgetting something important? Waking up to remember you stole a motorbike in Hat Rin and now have a Ko Phangan tattoo? Well no, but more on that later.

No, none of the above in fact. Instead my opening Travel Regret is a lack of planning. That's right, when you try to take it easy and end up missing all those places that those down the road tell you were their highlights.


I think I've probably missed as many great things as I've seen and all because I never really took the time to plan out my trip.

Now, there are those who will tell you, 'Hey, don't plan! Just go with it!'

Those same people tend to be the ones with no food in the hostel fridge, dreadlocks, and who appear to be 'going troppo', all a ruse for the fact that they don't know where to wash their clothes.

They claim they see more and experience more. Well, you try going to a Serbian village and engaging in compelling sign language with the locals in order to ascertain what and where you should visit, all in the pursuit of a purer form of travel.

I know, I know. It's not cool, you tell me. It's not hip to plan, man.

Well I am sorry. I don't have a beard, I don't eat obscure types of nuts because they had them at the farmers market, I don't eat quinoa (well, I do but not because it's cool). I'm no wanna be hipster. I'm an old fashioned planner, a scheduler. I love because it tells me what time trains depart from stations in deepest Moldova, I love Excel because I lets me map out my journeys to make the most of my limited travel time and money.

And most of all I love Lonely Planets.

By now I imagine all those cool kids with beards full of nuts have long since stopped reading, so we should all be free to admit the worth, the joy and the pleasure that a good travel guide can offer us.

Me, nothing signifies the start of my trip more than heading to my local bookshop and getting the Lonely Planet of the country I'm going to. I read it on the plane/train/automobile (I travel on automobiles) when I'm on my way; I read it in the hostel as I eat cheap crap to save money and I read it at night to cut down on having to carry a book.

I look at the maps sneakily so no one can see I'm a tourist; I go to the bars it recommends and imagine the person who wrote the recommendation by looking at the clientele.

In short, I follow.

I am no leader, let the cool kids lead and pave the way while sleeping on toilet seats and eating leaves.

I'm no luxury traveller. I'm no cool kid. I'm no hipster.

I'm a Lonely Planet traveller.

And you know what, if it helps me avoid a few regrets at the end of my trip then there goes my status as I am who I am.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Travel Regrets - Our Mission Statement

So, we all love to travel, right? But let's face it, we don't always get to do everything we planned. Plus there is always that person one stop down the road telling you what you missed in the places left trailing in your dust!

There's always next time right? right?

Well not always, not for us. But for others there is, and that's what we are here for. Let's come together as a travelling community and share all our regrets, passing on to others the knowledge that our past endeavours have brought to us so that they may one day be able to be that person one stop down the road, looking back and knowing that nothing was left undone.