That addictive mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear

That addictive mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear

becoming digital nomad
On a frisky morning of 2009, around this time of the year, I was standing alone in a half empty airport, holding a one-way ticket to Paris. I was moving out of my hometown and of my parents’ place, on my way to my Erasmus semester. It was the first time I ever travelled alone. I was overwhelmed by a mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear. It was supposed to be a short Parisian get away from my otherwise fully Italian education and future, but life had different plans for me. On that frisky morning of 2009, little did I know that I’d never really come back to my parents’ hometown if not for short layovers. That I would have continued my studies in France to then relocate again and again going through 11 houses, 21 jobs and 8 Countries in a little less than ten years. But most of all, I didn’t know that I would get hooked to that one-way ticket feeling for life.

A primal crave for drastic change,
for bigger challenges,
for pressing reboot

 

I’ve seen the same hunger in backpackers and expats, fortune seekers and off the grid hippies, van-lifers of all ages and citizens of the world I met on the road. “There is not only one way” they said “we built our own”.

I’m not sure where this hunger comes from. My family isn’t really of the explorers’ kind. It might have stared on that very frisky morning of 2009, while I was standing at the airport alone for the first time. Or four years later, while I was crossing a much bigger airport clutching a one-way ticket for Australia in one hand and my boyfriend’s in the other. He used to say that I’m a travel-bulimic: always craving for more until it gets too much. I know he’s right, but that’s the best way I know for growing as a human being. Moving, changing, binging on experiences, stories, faces and life in general.

becoming digital nomad

Back home though, some said that it was just a matter of struggling with commitment. Usually these people are those who can’t conceive a different lifestyle from their own. “Ok, you went traveling, but now you’re back and it is time to adjust to real life.” I never got this thing of real life. I fear that many people use “real” because they’re ashamed of using less flattering adjectives. As I see it, for someone with my education, real life usually means spending most of the day at work staring at a computer screen, to then go out and squeeze whatever is left of your life into a 2-3 hours’ window before passing out in bed. Moreover, life in big cities is expensive AF and working ten hours a day barely gets you by. But hey, you got to save some cash to buy yourself a decent car and maybe one day open a mortgage for a nice small house in the suburbs. And don’t be such a fool to believe that someone is going to pay you back when you’ll be retired, so you better start saving for that as well.

becoming digital nomad

Despite all of that freaked me out, I tried. I really, really tried. In 2015, after coming back from almost two years of work-and-travel, I pushed myself in the 9-to-7, steady income, subscription at the gym and to the phone company lifestyle. Of course the cracks were plainly visible from day one, but I tried to push through. Despite I always worked as a freelancer, I still struggled with the amount of time I spent in an office. I cried almost every given morning when crossing Milan on my way to work. Anxiety and numbness came in waves and I never really got to love (or even like for that matter) the city. But hey, you got to adjust to real life sooner or later right? Especially if you’re almost thirty! I got to the point where sometimes I stayed late in the office kinda-working just because I had nothing else to do outside that interested me. All of my friends were still working anyway. That actually scared me out for real. So I cracked. As I always knew I would.

becoming digital nomad

On 2017 new year’s eve I was sitting around a bonfire on a small island of the Philippines with a mixed bunch of people I met just days before. Each and every one of us was in their twenties going thirty and struggling with the rat race. Some of them just jumped out of it, the others were figuring out strategies. That’s when I decided that I would give myself another year to understand if the real life really wasn’t for me, to give love the chance to make up for all the rest, or to find the courage to really go freelancing outside of my comfort zone, to travel extensively alone and to face for another time that mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear that only a one-way ticket can give you.

becoming digital nomad

I spent the year asking myself what it would be like to do that alone, with no boyfriend on my side. This required a lot of peace-making with my infinite traveling-couple souvenirs and to find the courage to take the leap as a solo woman and becoming digital nomad. Strangely enough (or maybe not) I didn’t really meet any real life advocate anymore, instead I kept meeting free women from all over the world that did choose to jump on that train made of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear and were happy with it. Top level marketers that travelled the world and became surf teachers. Airways hostess that quit to surf full time and freelance under a palm tree. I reconnected with girlfriends of mine that have called at least half of European countries their home or explored the world on their own since they were nineteen. And then I talked to my beloved mum, my all-time role model and biggest supporter. A woman that considers even a short day trip outside of her hometown a tiring chore. She said “I’m scared off my mind, but go girl. Go and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t because you’re a woman. You want to be an explorer? So just be it.”

So let be it.

becoming digital nomad
Travel back in time in this 8 wicked locations around the world

Travel back in time in this 8 wicked locations around the world

One of the things that really thrills me when it comes to travel, is the feeling of going back in time. I love the poetry of places that have kept strong customs and tradition for centuries. Those which stay true to their culture, either because of the scarcity of contact with the outside world or for the pride of their people. This is pure travel magic for me.
Today I collected eight of this magical places. Some are easy to reach, while others are hidden corners of rural regions that I found strolling around with a motorbike and that I would struggle to place on a map myself. Or maybe I just want to keep them secret for a little bit longer. But you can read their story and see some pictures further below. So keep on reading and follow me in this very special trip back in time.

 

Places to travel back in time

1. The holy city of Varanasi, India

Varanasi is a place of life and death. India’s oldest and holiest city, it has been sitting on the sacred waters of Ganges since 1200 BC. The ones who get cremated on its shores attain peace, stopping the endless reincarnation cycle. Varanasi is quintessential India: sharp contrasts, devoted spirituality, dirt, flowers, life, sickness, death. Everything happens under the sun: the funeral processions, the chanting and the burning never stop. The codified movements of the low cast wood porters and the experienced acts of the corps burners have been unchanged for centuries. The same goes for the traditional wooden boats, the crumbling temples and buildings, the sunset puja ceremony at Dashashwamedh Ghat, the sadus, the pilgrims bathing just a few meters downstream of the burning ghats, the ladies washing their laundry, the lepers, the wandering cows, the stray dogs and the goats. Everything is timeless.
[SEE ALL VARANASI PICTURES]

 

Places to travel back in time

2. The hill tribes’ villages around Kentung, Myanmar

The small town of Kentung is hidden between the mountains of Shan State, in the eastern Myanmar area known as the Golden Triangle, where China, Thailand and Myanmar meet. A place full of charm and history, once renown for the cultivation of opium and drug trafficking. The surrounding area is the home of more than 30 local ethnicities like Akha, Lahu, Wa and of course Shan. You can spot tribes people at the local market early in the morning, sometimes donning colourful traditional costumes. But the best way to meet them is hiking or biking to their hill villages. One of my biggest regrets is that the day of the hike I felt super sick, so I only have a few poor pictures and I couldn’t really hike a lot. We weren’t hiring any guide; we just went around the area with two local motorbike drivers. We met Akha ladies with black theeths, local men dragging huge logs for construction, armed hunters (with rifles dating back to the 50’s) and we crossed a couple of villages with wooden made aqueducts and every sort of wind chimes. Probably one of my best experiences in Myanmar.
[SEE MYANMAR GALLERY]

 

Places to travel back in time

3. The hidden fishing island of Pulau Weh, Indonesia

Pulau Weh is a tiny island north of Sumatra. It’s the northern tip of Indonesia. Miraculously spared from the 2004 tsunami, Pulau Weh is a fishermen’s island slowly converting to tourism (the enforced Sharia law still keeps the crowds at bay). A mecca for divers, it still holds the feeling of a lost paradise covered in jungle. Riding a motorbike all around the island is an adventure in itself. The winding single track road crosses the thick jungle and the local monkey’s territory. Be mindful if you meet one sitting in the middle of the road staring at you, that’s their home and they’re ready to fight for it!

 

4. Folegandros, the forgotten Cyclade, Greece

This tiny pearl of the Cyclades is a couple of hour boat ride from crowded Santorini and Ios. Probably because of its famous neighbours, Folegandros has been spared by mass tourism. Its bare hills are mostly populated by goats and dotted with white and blue orthodox churches. Almost ten years ago, while hiking there with friends, I heard silence for the first time. Most of the fishermen live downhill, close to the port or in the Chora (the main village), a place where time seems to have stop fifty years ago. The cobblestone lanes are lined with white and blue houses decorated with colourful flowers. The local eateries often display the catch of the day, so it’s not rare to see octopus hanging on a line outside of a restaurant. The dream-like turquoise beaches are usually reachable only on foot, hiking for a good hour. If you get lost, do not fear: ask the local toothless men. Some of them are so old that they can still say a few words in Italian.

 

Places to travel back in time

5. The mountain district of Val Brembana, Italian Alps

The valley of the river Brembo, aka Val Brembana, connects the smooth Bergamo hills with the high peaks of the Italian Alps. This is a wonderful place to go hiking, with paths ranging from mildly steep to vertical ice peaks. The communities that live here are mostly tiny villages scattered on the slopes of the valley. A bunch of stone houses perched upon cobblestone lanes and an old church. The feeling of history and remoteness lingers there all year long, but the best time to visit is in summer, when communities are alive with local Patron Saint festivals, which usually include a Catholic rite, traditional dancing, music and a shitload of local tasty food. Unmissable.

 

6. The lush rural villages in Barisal region, Southern Bangladesh

This is an example of what I mean by not being able to locate a place on the map anymore. I went to Bangladesh in 2014, following my aunt while she was checking on the many projects she built there with her NGO. Southern Bangladesh is a thick jungle full of water and life. Rivers, ponds and lotus flowers are the typical rural scenario there. Following the maze of tracks that cross the rice fields and the fishing ponds, you end up in tiny villages made of straw huts. Their curious people can be Muslim, Indus or even Catholic. I was there just after the rice harvest. The grains were laid out on a cloth to dry in the sun. So were dung patties, used as a stove fuel.
[SEE BANGLADESH GALLERY]

 

Places to travel back in time

7. Hill tribe villages around Tham Lot, Northern Thailand

Another gem of the Golden Triangle is the Mae Hong Son region in Northern Thailand. Bordering Myanmar, for decades now it has been the home of local tribes as well as of refugies from Myanmar. From the lush village of Tham Lot you can start long hikes on the hills, were local families don’t wear the old costumes anymore but still keep their legacy alive, staying in traditional huts and living off farming and the spare cow or chicken. [SEE NORTHERN THAILAND GALLERY]

 

8. Oudong, the former royal capital of Cambodia

I know that when thinking of timeless Cambodia, the mind goes straight to the centuries-old Angkor Wat temples. Which surely is a wonderful display of Khmer history, but it’s also jam-packed with tourists all year long, so that it’s not easy to feel the magic. A lesser known historical site is city of Oudong, the former royal capital of Cambodia, a few kilometers away from Phnom Penh. A complex of temples and palaces from the 19th century, nestled in a thick jungle inhabited by a band of monkeys. Climbing the 509 stone steps to the hill top temple will reward you with astonishing views of the surrounding countryside. That’s the thing, all around there isn’t any touristy infrastructure. Instead, the countryside is dotted with rural villages bustling with life. People going around for their daily chores in old Vietnamese bicycles. Kids going to school in outdated (but super cute) uniforms, chickens running, everyone shouting hello and eventually pointing in the direction of Phnom Penh for you: the dusty red tracks that connect one village to the other have no road signs. [SEE CAMBODIA GALLERY]

Is Ayers Rock and the red center of Australia really worth the trip?

Is Ayers Rock and the red center of Australia really worth the trip?

Is Ayers Rock Worth it
Is Ayers Rock worth it? Many people have asked me this question during the years. I still remember the day I discovered Uluru’s existence. I was eight or nine years old and I was watching a documentary on TV. I remember being puzzled at the idea of a huge rock placed in the middle of the desert. I also remember the disappointment in finding out that Ayers Rock, as it was generally called at the time, was far, far away from Italy. From the European point of view, Australia is a far and expensive continent to reach, let alone a rock placed right in the middle of the Country’s desert, thousands of kilometers from any major city. I concluded that I would probably never see it. So imagine my astonishment when I finally reached it.

Is Ayers Rock Worth it

Some say they have seen it so many times on postcards, photos, calendars and tv shows that once on the spot they did not seem to find anything new. Others are disappointed because they find it less red than the photographs on the advertising leaflets. Some are moved by its complexity, by the water flowing along its walls and the cool shaded puddles beneath the eucalyptus. I personally belong to those people who when they are in front of an world famous tourist attraction (see Eiffel Tower, Coliseum, Big Ben, Sultanahmeth etc.) are caught up in the Japanese syndrome. I am referring to those people who unplug the optic nerve from the brain to connect it directly camera. But this time I tried to make an exception. I didn’t take too many pictures, as they could never compare to those on books and advertising. I tried to enjoy the place. We saw the rock at sunrise and then engaged in the 10km ring walk around it. Uluru left me speechless. The rock is much, much more than the beautiful pictures on leaflets.

All around it there’s creeks, irregularities, strange shapes on the surface, ponds, groves and caves with rock paintings. Uluru haven’t been the house and the “church” of the Anangu people for tens of thousands of years for nothing! What could have been more sacred ten a ginormous monolith which provides water, food, shelter and refrigeration in the middle of a murderous desert.

Is Ayers Rock Worth it

This was until that William C. Gosse did “discover” the rock in 1891. Open to tourism since 1936, Ayers Rock (Gosse had the brilliant idea of appointing such a geologic rarity with the name of the late South Australia Governor) now hosts up to 1,000 daily visitors. At least since 1985 the rock has been formally given back to the traditional landowners, who renamed it Uluru and are now an active part of the park management. Nonetheless, the Australian government still holds a lease on tourism for the next 70 years.

Even more surprising than Uluru are the treks to Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon. Even if it’s usually framed as “in the middle of nowhere”, Uluru is actually very close (in Outback terms, obviously) to other unique rock formations. Kata Tjuta, where we walked on sunset, right after being regurgitated off the Great Central Road, is a Bornhardt like Uluru.

These are rocks that resisted weather erosion while the world around them collapsed under the force of the elements. If Uluru looks like a lonely mountain, Kata Tjuta (“many heads” in Anangu) looks more like a mountain range. In the midst of its rounded peaks, you’ll find falls and gardens, leaping kangaroos and colorful parrots.

Kings Canyon, three hundred kilometers north of Uluru, also looks like an oasis on Mars. Its steep vertical walls and rocky peaks conceal a verdant gorge and a natural freshwater pool.

I think that what makes Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon unique and inevitably magnetic, is the incredible life that they shelter in such a prohibitive territory as the Australian desert. It is not difficult to figure out why Aborigines consider them sacred since the beginning of time. The presence of water alone, in such dry places, makes them magical. Even nowadays, the journey to reach these rocks, be it by plane, on a bus tour or crossing dirt desert roads, is so hot and tiring to look like a spiritual pilgrimage. Surely the brave nomads that come from the desert score the highest points! And don’t have to pay the entrance fee. So is Ayers Rock worth it? Definitely yes. It’s actually quintessentially Australian.

And what better way to get out of the mystical heart of Australia than taking another dirt road with our Mitsubishi Delica? We came from the desert and we left from the desert. This time we drove off the short but impetuous Giles Road, a shortcut to Alice Springs very far from tourist buses and the giant caravans of the locals. That night we camped in the bush, alone under a blanket of stars, and for once we felt in the center of the world, and above all, thousands of miles from Japanese tourists.

Want more?
Browse my Great Central Road gallery:

GREAT CENTRAL ROAD

Ninja Packing: how to travel with a 6kg carry on

Ninja Packing: how to travel with a 6kg carry on

south east asia packing list

Ninja Packing is a fine art that you can master with time and experience. As a former long-term traveller, I learned the hard way that the less the better, even if travelling for shorter trips. Travelling with a carry on can be more than sufficient for most destinations and will allow you freedom of movement while sparing you a lot of stress.

The priciple of ninja packing is that the less you carry the less you’ll stress. Carrying around plenty of clothes means struggling with the weight when travelling and stressing out when trying to figure out the right outfit. On the other hand, carrying less allows you to have a few stress-free, preplanned outfits that you just have to wash more frequently. Laundry is usually cheap and easy worldwide and, trust me, an extra laundry is better than carrying around plenty of smelly clothes just because you have enough.

Ninja packing is not an exact science though. Wheater conditions, planned activities, sports and the lenght of the trip can make a huge difference. Thus said, over the years I fine-tuned my basic South East Asia packing list (or for warm Countries in general) and I’m pretty happy with my less than 6kg carry on 50L backpack.

south east asia packing list
south east asia packing list

How to choose the right backpack

I travel with a Decathlon 50L backpack with front zipper and rain cover (bought separately). The front zipper is key, because it allows you see the full content of your backpack if you pack it properly. I find the 50L size super flexible. In its full capacity it can be used as a hold luggage for long trips or for journeys that need both light and warm clothes. When used for warmer climates though, it can be filled partially (all external pockets must be empty) and actually fits as a carry on.

I also carry a daypack that can be folded and put away when on planes. This one varies depending on the trip. If I have to hike a lot, I will take a proper outdoor backpack and if I have to carry my laptop I will have a properly padded one. In this case I’m stayng two weeks in Portugal and I wanted something sturdy enough to go hiking and at the beach, but also nice enough to be weared with dress and sandals at night.

Being sure that all your clothes,
shoes and accessories match
is a key point of ninja packing

My South East Asia packing list

Clothes

4 panties + 2 pairs of socks + 2 bras

2 t-shirts

2 shorts

2 beach robes

1 sleeping T-shirt

1 dress

1 long trousers

1 light sweater

1 rain jacket

1 comfy shoes + Birkenstock + plastic flip flops

Personal Care

Travel toothbrush + toothpaste

Bar of soap + mini shampoo and conditioner

Mascara + concealer + pencil eyeliner + lipstick

Mini deodorant

Disposable razor

Brush

Mini SPF + Mini aloe cream for burns + SPF lipbalm

Mosquito repellent (with +50% DEET)

Mini hair straightener

Condoms (they're not so easy to find in SEA)

Travel essentials

Sleeping mask + Ear plugs

Sunglasses

Locker for hostels

Head lamp

Inflatable travel pillow

Moneybelt

Camera / Iphone / Kindle + chargers

Medicines

Maalox (antacid)

Dissenten (anti-diarrheal)

Buscopan (antispasmodic for angry bellies)

Ciproxin (broad-spectrum antibiotics)

Cortisone cream (for insects sting or burns)

Antihistaminic (for allergic reactions)

Paracetamol + Ibuprofen (painkillers / fever treatment)

Disinfectant + Plasters

Beauty and awareness. Why backpacking in developing countries is not just about saving money

Beauty and awareness. Why backpacking in developing countries is not just about saving money

M ost of my longest journeys have been through South East Asia and in the Indian sub-continent. South America is just next on my bucket list. In the backpackers’ world, these two maxi regions are a destination of choice for many. An interesting aspect that they have in common is that they are both characterized by a predominance of developing countries, with large poverty-stricken areas, unstable political situations, scarce social justice and deeply-rooted corruption.

Despite being popular in the backpackers’ world, these destinations can leave friends and families a bit puzzled, if they aren’t accustomed to long distance travel.

  • “Why the hell do you need to cross half the world to stay in hostel with 10 other people in a dorm without a flush toilet?!”
  • “What’s the point of traveling to a Country ruled by a dictator?”
  • “Will you have enough medical support if you get sick?”
  • “Are you ok with seeing all that poverty while on vacation?”
  • “We have wonderful beaches here in Italy, people come from all over the world to see them, and you want to go to the Philippines just for a beach vacation?!”

These are some of the most common objections I get from non-so-frequent travellers and the elders of my family and colleagues.
Of course one of the reasons for the popularity of developing countries is the low cost of life. Food, accommodation and bus rides are way less expensive than in the western world. Traveling for a month in South East Asia can only cost a fraction of a month of everyday life in a major European city.

But being dirt cheap is not
the only reason that leads me,
and many others,
to travel to developing countries.
Here are some more meaningful ones.

 

Southern Bangladesh
Southern Bangladesh

1 – Enjoying Raw natural beauty

Lush forests to dreamy beaches; thick juggles to volcanoes; corals reef and surf breaks. Tropical Countries are a paradise for nature lovers. Some of my favourite places are Bali and the Gili Islands, Thailand Beaches and the Northern Forests of the Golden Triangle

2 – Witnessing a very different culture.

The further you go, the more different will be the traditions, the way of living and the customs. Your curiosity is as big as the locals’, ad you can end up in very interesting conversations or just in funny exchanges of pointing and laughing. By traveling this far you discover that the westerner way of living is not the only one, and for some of us may not be the best. In terms of cultural heritage, the place that struck me the most is Angkor Wat and its temples in Cambodia.

 

Cabo de Rama, Goa
Palolem, Goa

3- Traveling back in time

This is my favourite one. I realized this in India, where it is pretty evident. Traveling in a Country that hasn’t been completely overturned by modernity and technology and that jealously preserves its colours and culture is simply magic! When wandering through the streets of Varanasi, you can sense that nothing has changed for thousands of years. Same cows wandering freely in the narrow lanes, same crumbling buildings, same hustlers, same religious traditions. At a funeral, the family follows the porters crisscrossing through the narrow lanes, keeping the crowd at bay by chanting and ringing bells. Rags covered wood-porters march with their heavy loads to the burning Ghats. The legend says that the flames of the funeral pyres at Manikarnika Ghats have been burning for some 3,000 years. Being able to witness such an ancient ceremony for me is just pure time travel magic. Check out my Varanasi photo set.

4 – Developing awareness of the international social and political issues

Witnessing poverty and social injustice really open our eyes on the world problems. Experiencing developing countries living conditions or listening to stories from the locals is way more powerful and conscience-awakening than just reading an article on the news. Going to see with our own eyes is necessary, considering that these places usually do not make the news in the western world. Learn more about Burma here or have a look at the pictures I took there.

Varanasi, India
Varanasi, India

5 – Acknowledging how blessed we are

Another effect of witnessing poverty and social injustice is gaining perspective on our own lives. It made me reconsider how many things I took for granted. How lucky I am to be born in a country at peace and never having experienced war or sickness. Lucky to live in a democracy; to live in a Country that (at least on paper) consider man and women equal, where birth control pills and abortion are legal, where medical care is good and free for everyone, as it is school; where police and justice is not (so) corrupt. I’m sure that many of my fellow nationals may have a say on this. In some case I may agree with them but, in the big picture, seeing the living conditions of developing countries made me reconsider my daily complaints and sorrows. See my photo series on Rural Bangladesh and my Bangladeshi portraits.

6 – Discovering that, when it comes to the human race, affinities are more than differences

I learned that despite the differences we are all the same people. When it comes to feelings, many things are the same wherever in the world. The love of a mother that feeds his newborn while waiting for a train in India, the worry of a wife in the Philippines when she tells the story of her husband being attacked by a shark, the colourful happiness of kids playing in front of a school in Bangladesh, the crankiness, or the kindness, of old people. Joy, anger, sadness, fear, love: we do feel them in the same all over the world. We’re all humans.

Traveling by train in India
Jaisalmer, India

7- You don’t need so much to be happy

Who doesn’t enjoy luxury, in theory? Staying in an infinity-pool-hotel with an extra-large suitcase, filled with fancy dresses. Well, Asia taught me that being bare foot on the grass, wearing the same three plain outfits for weeks and sleeping in an open dorm with ten other people without flushing toilets nor hot showers is enough to make me the happiest person in the world. Having a laid back lifestyle, waking up with the sun and being surrounded by interesting people and fierce nature is eye opening on how many bullshits our rich Westerner society consider necessary to be happy. Discover my dearest paradise island in the Pilippines.

Things I’ve learned from life on the road during my Australian Working Holiday

Things I’ve learned from life on the road during my Australian Working Holiday

working holiday australia

Twenty-four thousand kilometres of road tripping
Twenty nationalities encountered on the road
Nine months of work
Five States
Four climatic zones
Three oceans
Two lovers
One van

Oh-man, my Australian year was intense! We mostly spent it travelling. In every way that a person can travel. We roamed through forests, deserts, steppes, big cities, countryside, pastures, beaches and mountains. We also worked quite a bit, with jobs that ranged from burning fields to serving tables in a sailor attire, from smashing rocks with a tractor to cleaning toilets, from cooking for a crew of starving cowboys to housekeeping in an ocean front hostel. My first year of long-term travelling teach me many lessons, that’s sure. So here are some of them!

Everything you need can fit in a 50L backpack

While traveling long-term I learned to get rid of the superfluous. Everything that you own has to be carried around, sometimes even on your back. We bought a van as soon as we got to Australia, but even if its storage space was larger than a 50L backpack, it had to be shared with utilities and gear. Living on the road makes you reflect on how many unnecessary things we cumulate in our spoiled westerners lives.

You won’t always love the road

While I loved the ghost towns of the outback, the endless expanses of cows and sheep, roadside sleeping and waking up with the sun, I also hated the endless drives, the humidity in the van when it rained, the broken back, the confined space, the flies, the heat. Long-term travelling can also get boring after a while, I swear! But this will be the subject of another post.

Living on the road creates many more occasions for learning and meeting interesting people than living in one place.

We’ve been surrounded by friends and alone like hermits. We changed five houses, bought and sold a van, a surf, two bikes and a pair of shoes. We dived to see the corals and we searched the sky to spot the eagles. We have seen kangaroos, koalas, goannas, crocodiles, opossum and a whole lot of marsupials of every shape and size. But most of all, we shared the road with such a diverse humanity that we would have hardly ever met otherwise.

We worked with cowboys from Queensland. Lads that in their twenties are already married with kids and leading giant cattle stations. We lived with the nomads of Coral Bay, who sold everything in exchange for a motorhome and a seasonal job by the ocean. We mixed with the Melbourne hipsters, with their festivals, horse races, and trendy restaurants. We talked to Aborigines, either sober or not, and with Australians who never left their island and asked if Milan was by the ocean. But also with other Australians that have travelled the world and worked as agricultural pilots in Tanzania. We met Israeli vacationers and exiled Iranians; Korean dishwashers and Nepalese bartenders; Italians who took the working holiday in Australia for the Erasmus in Spain and, above all, we met many, many Chinese.

Even when the situation looks desperate, remember that behind every defeat there’s an opportunity

In Melbourne I changed five jobs. Each time I had to scout for a new one, I cycled the whole city and its suburbs exploring hidden lanes, ethnic enclaves and outlet districts. I had a laugh with shopkeepers, drank coffee with coffee makers and always ended up finding a job after the other, meeting new people and finally finding myself invited at two Christmas parties on the same day.

No matter how much you know that racism is wrong, it is always around the corner

In Melbourne I worked in a restaurant for a while and I soon learned that Chinese customers where the toughest. Because of the huge cultural difference, they treated the staff in a way that in the western world was considered impolite at best. Chinese table after Chinese table that treated me like a slave, I discovered that slipping into racial hatred is easier than you might think. Staying true to your values can be difficult when people keep calling your attention by snapping their fingers and shouting orders every five seconds.

I experienced what does it mean to be treated as an economic migrant

We moved to Oz in 2013, while in Europe (and in Italy in particular) the economic crisis was still raging. Although we went to Australia to explore (working was just a way to sustain our travels) we were often judged as economic migrants. The immigration policies also started to tighten that year because of the government shifting to the right. I have been reconfirmed that there are a thousand reasons behind migrating but only one behind the intolerance: ignorance.

 

It contributed to define my European identity

I learned that Australia is beautiful but I can’t live there. I missed Europe as much as I missed my family and friends. It is part of my heritage, my culture and myself as a person, and living so far from my loved ones and from my continent it’s not an easy choice. Spending one year in another western country yet so different from my own helped me put into perspective the issues that we have in the Old Continent and to value its culture and beauty. Even if I’ve been back for three years now, I still appreciate Italian and European wonderful scenery and distinctive customs and traditions with tourist eyes (at least most of the time :D). Last but not least, comparing myself to Australians I noticed how closer we are between us Europeans. I spent my childhood and youth being defined as the one from the little village, then the one from Bergamo, then the Italian. In Australia all this regional differences seems to fade away in the big picture.

Travelling is addictive.
You can overdose and get sick about it,
but once you’re hooked you can’t help it.
The siren call of nomad life
will always sing
in the back of your head.

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Life-saving tips to travel in South East Asia by motorbike

Life-saving tips to travel in South East Asia by motorbike

South East Asia by motorbike
This is not a post for people that have never driven a scooter in their lives and decide to give it a try in Ko Phangan to reach the Full Moon Party. Which, by the way, it’s something that I don’t recommend considering that Ko Phangan has probably the steepest roads of Thailand, usually followed by sharp turns. You’ll see plenty of bandaged backpackers there; they call it “the Thai kiss”. Anyway, this post is for the experienced drivers, the ones that are comfortable with bike riding at home and want to travel independently and adventurously. Long distance travel by motorbike in South East Asia is for motorbike lovers, those who do not fear dust, misadventures and a fair amount of super-fast and life-challenging decision making.

If you fit this description, check out my guide for travelling around South East Asia by motorbike!

Getting the bike:

  • Get an international driving licence before you leave home. Not that it’s really needed, but this is just one of the trillions of excuses that a local policeman will find to fine you.
  • Make sure that your travel insurance covers motorbike accidents.
  • If possible, rent (or buy) from a local place that has been suggested to you by fellow travellers (either online or live). This way you will probably find a seller / renter that speaks English and is kinda trustable. Otherwise, if you feel rich, rent from a foreigner business. You will find them in major cities. They are definitely twice or trice more expensive than local business but you will actually get insurance and a customer service.
  • Choose the most common model on the market. In Asia it’s Hondas. Choosing a common model is fundamental to be able to find spare parts easily along the journey (yes, the bike will break down, it’s a matter of fact).
South East Asia by motorbike
  • If your bike breaks down, you will have to pay for the mechanic even if it’s not your fault and you just rented it 2 days ago. Don’t be afraid, it’s usually minor fixies that will cost you a few dollars. Anyway, it’s always a good idea to have the mechanic to call the renter. This way they can agree on the solution to the bike problem and you’ll probably get a better deal.
  • If the bike gets stolen, you’ll have to pay for it. Same for accidents. This is always true, road insurance is almost never included (it never was in my experience)
  • It is normal to leave your passport to the renter as an insurance that you won’t stole the bike. It’s a common practice that everyone requests. Just take a big breath and trust the renter (but carry photocopies on you). If you’re pulled over, the police will ask for your licence but is well aware that the renter has probably kept your passport as a guarantee.
  • Renting from locals is cheap, but you won’t have a big choice of bikes. Usually they rent only 100cc or, when you’re lucky, 250cc up to 600cc (that only happens in the most tourist destinations like Bali). If you’re planning a long trip, rent one bike per person. Please don’t assume that you can travel with your girlfriend behind you just because you do it back home. Even if you rent the biggest and “comfiest” bike, you will still have to secure some luggage behind the passenger. The restricted space, the dust, corrugated or semi paved roads and the hectic traffic will be a little too much if you’re travelling on the same bike of your partner. I tell you this from experience.
  • Always ask for a helmet. I know that wind in your hair is the best feeling ever and that locals almost never wear helmets, but please, do. First, because driving in South East Asia is crazy dangerous most of the time. Secondly, because not wearing a helmet is a popular excuse for police to fine you (even if no one else wears it).
  • On police: avoid them. If you see a patrol on the right side of the road, drive as left as you can. Do not stop unless you really have to (like there’s a bunch of cops on both sides of the road).
South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike

What to do if the police stop you

In South East Asia you will notice that locals travel on motorbikes in a very creative way. You will cross entire families of six on the same scooter, people carrying animals (dead or alive) or transporting massive loads of goods. Sometimes I even crossed people driving with a sick relative behind them, who was carrying a medical drip along. Despite this street anarchy, you will notice that policemen tend to stop only pale foreigners. They will then fine them for whatever tiniest problem they may or may not have (no helmet, no local licence, lights not working, speeding, running a red light, you name it). This happens because fines are a big part of their wages. That’s exactly why you should avoid them as much as possible, but if the police stop you, remember to:

South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike
  • Take the keys out of the bike and put it in your pocket. This is the first and most important thing to do straight away. If a policeman gets hold of your keys he will be able to ask you whatever amount of money to give them back to you.
  • Have a close look on where your documents go if you hand them out to the police (for the same reason of above).
  • Don’t be scared by the random menaces (“you will have to come to the police station with me” / “we will take your bike”). Try to play it cool and negotiate your way out.
  • Start haggling the “fine”. Propose at least half of what they ask and keep on bargaining. Police “bribes” standards vary a lot from Country to Country. In Cambodia, 1 to 5 dollars is considered ok for minor issues, while in Bali they asked us 30$. Just keep it cool and work it out like it was just another market negotiation.
South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike

Unwritten rules of the road

In Asia they honk a lot. But fear not, there’s always a good reason. With so many vehicles doing whatever on the road, honking means “watch out I’m moving close to you”. So it is usually a life-saver used to signal overtaking, turning, sudden U turns or simply that someone close to you is going to do something risky.

South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike
  • Before overtaking, always check that no one is overtaking you already and then honk while you accelerate. While you do this, you may notice that someone else is doing the same manoeuvre in the opposite direction. Try to stay cool, zig zag the least possible and move quickly.
  • Cover yourself up with long sleeved T-shirts and long trousers if you do not want to be beaten up by the strong sun and the dust. For the same reason remember sunglasses and a scarf to put on your mouth when the dust / smog situation becomes too much. Put heavy sunscreen on your hands and knuckles. If you burn them, you will have to buy gloves (not the easiest task in rural Asia) to be able to drive again.
  • Secure your backpack behind you with hooked elastic bands. Don’t carry it over your shoulders or you’ll suffer from back pain for the rest of your life.
  • Always carry a rain cover for your backpack and a plastic poncho that is large enough to cover your legs as well. Tropical rain is sudden and strong.

A SUV that overtakes a bus in the opposite direction
while you’re overtaking a massive truck full of rocks
which is exhaling black exhaust gas will soon become familiar.

  • It’s cool to have a local sim card to be able to use data and google maps while driving, but bringing a good old paper map is a good idea. If you’re lost, ask the locals. In the most faraway places they may not be able to read a map but they will be more than happy to point out the direction of your destination.
  • If you can, refill in gas stations, but don’t be afraid to stop along the road to the local mamas that sell gas in old coca cola glass bottles. It’s a bit more expensive but a life-saver in most cases.
  • Never underestimate distances. What looks like a major state road on a map can turn out to be a super busy, one-lane road used by oxcart, scooters, huge trucks, SUVs, local bus, etc. In Sumatra it took us a good 12h a day to cover 350km.
  • When you park in crowded areas, along with many other scooters, it’s normal to find your bike somewhere else. People will move it in order to get theirs out. Before panicking, have a look around. Top tip: if you just rented the average black scooter, try to personalize it with a ribbon or something that will help you spot it easily.
South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike

In general, keep it cool, travel at slow pace and enjoy the journey. Sometimes you will be driving through horrendously polluted and busy cities. Other times you’ll peacefully ride along jungle roads or close to the ocean. You will end up in places that are impossible to reach with any other mean of transport. You will really eat and sleep with the local communities and you will find yourself laughing together even if they don’t speak a word of English. You’ll break the bike, repair it, and then break it again. You may get sick. Or very sick. And convince yourself that you’re gonna die that night, in the middle of nowhere.

Well, It may not be for the faint-hearted but it’s very, very rewarding. So good luck and enjoy travelling South East Asia by motorbike!

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On splitting up, fear, and solo travelling as a woman

On splitting up, fear, and solo travelling as a woman

woman solo traveller
I often make this metaphor: for me splitting with my long-time partner has been like losing a leg. Suddenly I stumbled at every step. Loosing him didn’t just meant to lose the man I loved, the engine of my adventurous life and the closest person I had, but it also meant losing his family, which I considered as close as my kin, our loving dog and the future that I thought was expecting me. I was heartbroken and terrified, but the leg was gone anyway, and I had to relearn how to walk, even if crippled.

Splitting was like losing a leg,
I had to relearn how to walk,
even if crippled

 

Truth is, you never know how much you depend on a person until they’re gone. I always considered myself an independent girl and a badass traveller. But when he was gone, I realised that he was the badass traveller and I was mostly following him. He was always the one to push me further into adventures. It was his idea to cross the Australian desert on a 4WD, or to travel three months through Asia overland. It was him that convinced me to trek in the middle of the jungle to meet local tribes in Burma, or to ride motorbikes for days across Indonesia. He was the one who teach me how to surf and encouraged me to dive. All the coolest things I ever done, I did because of him.
When I realized that, I was struck with fear. How will I keep doing things I love if he’s not there to hold my hand, play it cool and fix problems?

 

I always considered myself a bad ass traveller.
But when he was gone,
I realised I was mostly following him

 

woman solo traveller

Well, instead of not doing things because I was scared, I chose to learn from our years together and to become the brave one. I made it a point to choose adventure, to travel alone and to play it cool when shit happens (like when I was stranded by a typhoon in the Philippines on my way back home, without electricity nor internet and a blocked credit card).

 

I choose to learn from our path
and to became the brave one

 

I went for my first solo trip, and then for another. It was something that I always wanted to do but I never found the courage for. I chose a destination that I always wanted to visit but never had because he didn’t like it, and just went. I spent 10 days hiking on Norway fjords, meeting wonderful people. It was great. I then took a second solo trip, this time lifting the bar higher. I went to bustling Philippines, a place that I also always wanted to visit but that was definitely out of my comfort zone as a woman solo traveller, and it turned out to be the best holiday ever.

Fun fact: when me and my partner split ways, we took very different life paths. Now I’m the one who’s doing adventurous stuff and kept travelling, and he’s the one working day and night! Isn’t that ironic!?

 

woman solo traveller

It took me quite a while to untangle all the things that loss and failure teach me, and I’m still in the process. That’s why I feel a bit overwhelmed when people underestimate my separation, or that took theirs in a lighter way. Of course It’s impossible to generalize, but I think that it’s how you react to situations and how you choose to deal with your feelings that makes a huge difference. You can choose to avoid pain and walk away as quickly as you can. Or you can choose to start from desperation and to grow from it.

It is the journey that you make
to get back on your feet
that changes you.
Make it count.

 

How to find a job or farm work in Australia

How to find a job or farm work in Australia

How to find farm work in Australia

How to find farm work in Australia? This is still the most asked question that I get even 4 years after I came back. The answer varies depending if you’re looking for a job in the city (say bartending or waitressing) or if you’re looking for regional work to be eligible for a second year Visa.

For hospitality city jobs it works just like in any other city: you look upon the local ads online (in Australia they mostly use Gumtree ) or print a decent CV an you start the tour of the local bar/eateries with a gorgeous smile stamped on your face. By “decent CV” I mean that if you’re looking for a waitressing job try to stress on similar experiences you had in your Country, even if this means cheating a little bit 😉

 

 

For regional work or farming, things are a bit more difficult. Everyone that wants to extend their Visa needs to complete 88 days of regional work, which means farming, mining, pearling, fishing, working on roadhouses in the middle of nowhere, working in aboriginal lands, etc (full list here). Because of the increasing amount of backpackers who travel to Australia every year, decent farm work (or farm work at all) is starting to be scarce. Scams are also very common. Speaking of:

How to avoid scams

  • Never EVER send money to a possible employer to “pay the accommodation deposit” in a farm or to ensure yourself the job. Those are scams. Stay away from it.

 

  • Do not accept to work without a contract. First, farm work can be very tiring and also dangerous if you work with machinery or livestock. No contract means no insurance: BIG NO. Secondly, you’ll need the contract to have your employer to sign the documents to prove you’ve done your regional work.

 

  • Be aware of fake woofers that will tell you that volunteering in their farm will count for a second visa. This is not true anymore, exactly because the existence of these scammers that exploited backpackers promising to sign their regional paperwork in exchange for free work.

 

  • Beware of farmers that offer you to sign your regional paperwork in exchange of money. Those are scammers too and the Immigration Office will eventually find out. This is also true even if your employer is just trying to help you offering you to sign for extra weeks of work that you haven’t done there. Immigration CAN check your credit card movements to see if they match your permanence in the farm. I mean, have you ever seen Airport Security Australia? Those guys know their shit, don’t try them 🙂

Working hostels, a useful help or a scam?

Working hostels are expensive hostels located in rural Australia that offer to look for farming jobs for you and even to drive you there every morning if you stay at their hostel. The problem is that that you will spend way more time in their hostel than working (because of the great number of backpackers on the same hostel/area). Moreover, when you work, the hostel typically takes a share of your pay. I heard plenty of sad stories about people that are desperate for farm work (because they’re running out of time and they still haven’t completed their 88 days) and end up in these sketchy places.

That’s why when I was in Australia in 2013, me and my boyfriend decided to avoid working hostels completely. We started looking for regional work as soon as we got to Australia (that’s where buying a vehicle straight away comes in handy).

 

So how to find work in Australia?

First thing we made sure that at least one of our CVs (my boyfriend’s) was farm-friendly. Which meant that his dad backyard with chickens became an Italian agricultural business to which he had contributed since he was a child. Don’t be scared to “enhance” your story a little bit, farmers will take you for the least qualified job in their property anyway, but a resume with farm related skills will stand out.

We found our first farming job (Farm hands in Western Australia –  you can read about the experience here) scanning gumtree all day long and calling every farmer that put his number in there, until it worked.

The second one was a little bit trickier to find. We were in rural Queensland driving around farmland to look for mango picking jobs, without much luck. Discouraged by the mango fiasco we gave a try to the yellow pages online. And with “giving a try” I mean that in 3 days we called more than 200 numbers under the “farmers” label on the yellow pages website.

As boring as it can sound, we finally managed to talk to a farmer who had a neighbor that looked for workers in his cattle property. We got the job and we drove 400km (100 of which off road) overnight to get there. You can read about the experience, one of the craziest of my life, here.

 

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