4 Reasons Why Travel is Rewarding for Everyone

People travel for lots of different reasons. Whether you’re setting off on your dream holiday, taking the opportunity to go traveling in between studying, or getting some much-needed time away from the everyday grind, visiting another country (or countries) is on a lot of people’s to-do lists.

No matter what your motivations are, it’s an experience you’ll never forget — for all the right reasons. But in case you need convincing, here are four reasons why travel is rewarding for everyone…

You’ll learn about different cultures

Staying in a place which has different traditions, a different way of living, and a different way of thinking to what you’re accustomed to can be a bit of a shock to start with. But over time, you’ll become more open-minded and learn to see and understand life from the locals’ perspective (even if you don’t always share the same opinions).

A particularly vivid memory of mine is when I spent several weeks in Vietnam and had the opportunity to learn the process of growing rice and experience riding a water buffalo. At the time, I wasn’t convinced by the prospect of getting my hands dirty (literally), but afterwards, I had a newfound appreciation for rural Vietnamese life and agriculture.

In addition to locals, you’ll meet new people from all over the world; some of whom may become friends you will stay in touch with long after your trip is over.

You’ll have new experiences and give your brain a workout

Travel can be the perfect way to mix things up if you’re stuck in a rut. New places, new food, better weather (sometimes!)… all of these combine to create something fresh, which is ideal when you need a break. You could even take a class — why not try learning traditional dancing in India or cooking in Thailand?

Furthermore – just like any other muscle – your brain needs exercise. bBeing thrown into a new situation is an excellent way of making it work hard. The pathways in the brain that are used most often stay strong, whilst those that aren’t are more likely to become weaker. Having a break from your usual routine will force the lesser-used parts of the brain to become active, so the more you travel and try new things, the stronger your brain becomes.

You can tailor the trip to suit you

Whether you’re a student on a gap year, a family of four, a traveller with a medical condition or an office worker taking a break, the flexibility of modern travel means your plans can be shaped around your needs. This means that it’s worth doing some research to find deals that suit you.

There are lots of options available. A quick internet search will take you to the most thrifty budget options if you’re cautious about spending too much money or need to book family-friendly accommodation.

Don’t forget; travel doesn’t have to be exclusive. There’s plenty of information online about the best destinations for disabled travellers. Any attraction worth its salt will have taken accessibility into account, with many providing designated tours, guides, and mobility aids such as wheelchairs.

You’ll overcome challenges

Unexpected hiccups happen. It’s part of life, and it’s part of travelling. But don’t let that put you off — you’ll get a confidence boost after you deal with them and you’ll be better equipped for the future.

The day I had planned to visit Ha Long Bay (because apparently everything happens in Vietnam), I was struck with ceaseless bad luck: first I woke up terribly ill. Then my friend and I were given the wrong itinerary and nearly missed the bus. Then I left half of my luggage in the hotel room. Then I had hot coffee spilt all over me. And then – just to top it off – our boat was cancelled and replaced with one not nearly as thrilling as the one we had booked and paid for.

Things weren’t exactly what you would call smooth-sailing (pun intended). Nevertheless, I was left with two options: either let a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity fly by, or chug on. As I wrote in my blog post, despite all of the misfortunes, three shining positives came out of what was set to be a very negative experience. 1) I saw the unforgettable grandeur of Ha Long Bay 2) I gained the confidence that I can take ownership in a sticky situation 3) I unearthed the ability to put a dreadful incident behind me and see it, not as a waste of money, but as a learning curve.

You’d be surprised at what you can do when you need to solve a problem, and there are few things more rewarding than successfully tackling any obstacles in your path.

This article was co-written with Matthew

Matthew has always been a weekend traveller. He is currently finishing his Master’s degree in Forestry and Environmental Studies, and works as a freelance writer for a few travel and pro-environment websites. He has traveled to Europe and North America, and he’s planning to tour around Asia once he’s completed his studies.

Photographs courtesy of Unsplash

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Open Season: Being a Ginger in Egypt

I arrived in Egypt with little expectations about how I would be treated as a white, unveiled and ‘exotic’ (I use that word liberally) female.

As a student of gender studies – and someone who has an active interest in global politics – I was well aware that the Middle East’s relationship with woman is far removed from what I am familiar with in the west. It was to be the first time in my life that I represented the minority, and that thought both excited and scared me.

The next two weeks would expose me to a side of humanity that very few things could have prepared me for. It disgusted me; not disgust in the sense that I grew reluctant to venture out of the house without completely covering myself – which, FYI, isn’t even enough to stop men who feel entitled to make women uncomfortable in the public sphere – but disgust in the sense that I couldn’t believe people think that this kind of behaviour is actually okay. The argument from relativity suddenly lost its shine that trip.

Over those two weeks, I was subjected to people stopping in the middle of the street and pointing at me, cars honking as I walked down the side of the road, and the making of rude and unnecessary comments in Arabic as I walked past. At one point, I was in the middle of a marketplace when a man riding a motorcycle zoomed past, shouldered me and nearly knocked me off my feet. When I visited the iconic Great Pyramids, I was surrounded by local tourists more interested in taking pictures with me than the actual wonders. It was flattering until they started grabbing me.

Making friends… us gingers gotta stick together.

All of this was just by existing in Cairo and minding my own business. Whilst I did not veil my head, I was dressed conservatively and respected the culture. None of the behaviour was provoked in any meaningful or justified way.

From my observation, about 85-90% of the women I saw in the streets were veiled. It is also worth mentioning that – compared to their male counterparts – very few women even venture into the public sphere. I counted the occasions I saw people who represented tourists, and the number might amaze you: seven. Just seven – over two whole weeks. Egypt’s tourist economy has plunged from 14.7 million to 5.4 million per year, and it is noticeable. Tourists have become something of a commodity, only fueling the attitude towards them.

The irony of the whole trip was that the occasion on which I felt most comfortable in public was when I visited a nightclub. I remember thinking that there is definitely something wrong with a culture where you receive more unwanted attention on the streets than in a freakin’ bar.

I’m not comfortable arguing that it is easier being an unveiled woman than a veiled woman in Egypt, as other travel bloggers have. There are cultural forces at work there that someone like me can’t even imagine, and it isn’t a competition of oppression. I’m also aware that my experience was far more benign than that suffered by other females. I’m just writing this blog post to share my personal experience so that if you are a woman with intentions of visiting this incredible country, at least you’re not walking in blind.

I never once felt unsafe or threatened whilst I was in Egypt. I think a large part of that is because I mentally prepared myself for the attention and was always in good company. But I can wholeheartedly understand why the experience would be enough to deter someone from the Middle East altogether. It’s a shame, because the two countries I have traveled to in this region so far – Egypt and the United Arab Emirates – left me with rich knowledge and positive memories that surpassed my wildest expectations.

You don’t have to lose all sense of identity in Egypt to avoid harassment. Even if you were wearing a niqāb, the chances are, you would still receive some form of it. After all, studies reveal that 99% of Egyptian women have been subjected to misogynist behaviour on the streets of Cairo (what is being called a ‘moral epidemic’).

But what you can do to prepare is educate yourself on the culture and understand that there is nothing you are doing to deserve this treatment. There is nothing morally justifiable about it. It it simply the result of a lack of education, public safety, poverty and dangerous cultural ideas. The only way it can be challenged is by standing up to it and raising awareness about the injustices served.

 All of the photographs in this post were taken at the Mosque of Mohammed Ali in the Citadel of Cairo.
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In Defence of Cultural Appropriation

About a month ago, I wrote a blog post called Cultural Appropriation (Or Why that Bindi is Racist). Without rewriting the original article, allow me to briefly summarise my key points.

Cultural appropriation is defined as when “people from a dominant culture take cultural elements from a marginalised group without knowing or caring about how their actions affect marginalised people.” I later stumbled upon a slightly more detailed definition that I think also fits the bill: “Cultural appropriation… is a form of oppression for members of an identifiably dominant social or ethnic group to make use of the history, personages and/or habits of another, for the purposes of literature, music, art, entertainment, fashion. In short, for culture.”

Since publishing my blog post, I have shared a number of thought-provoking conversations with friends that have challenged my perspective on the issue. Dissatisfied, I decided to update my opinion — a part two, if you will — and to argue against what I originally wrote.

To begin, I am going to explore the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange. There is a tendency to conflate the two, a misunderstanding which is arguably as dangerous as cultural appropriation itself. Whilst cultural appropriation tends to concern the power dynamics between two unequal groups, cultural exchange refers more so to the sharing of practices between two different yet balanced groups. In many — I’d even go as far as to say most — cases, cultural exchange is criticised for being cultural appropriation. Whilst I myself am persuaded that cultural exchange is justified, cultural appropriation is still something of a delicate matter.

Should we amend cultural appropriation to cultural misappropriation? Maybe it is possible that this whole discourse hinges around semantic specificity. From henceforth, I shall use cultural appropriation as somewhat interchangeable with cultural exchange, and refer to the detrimental kind as cultural misappropriation.

One of the central arguments for cultural appropriation is that it offers an opportunity for people to be educated about the rich diversity of human culture. After all, isn’t a more connected and compassionate society an objective goal? The topic of cultural appropriation also opens the door to what it truly means to own something. In my previous article, I discussed how it’s dangerous because it is as though a dominant group has ‘stolen’ a practice that belongs to a marginalised group. But do practices really belong to someone? Cultural practices are meaningful because of the ideas attached to them — can someone really claim ownership over an idea?

“Cultures are not intrinsically valuable, nor should they be preserved by virtue of their uniqueness. Cultures emerge from different groups of people trying to best navigate the world.”

The author of the above quote also put into words my exact thoughts: “… cultural ‘pride’ is absurd… there’s nothing to be proud of. (Cultures) aren’t superior or inferior to any other. You have nothing to preserve.” This message ties into the flaws of group identity. If you consider major conflicts between different groups of people, you’ll observe that that main source of conflict is the (often symbolic) trespassing of identity politics. We cannot abolish this discord without challenging our relationship with cultural pride.

By maintaining the mentality that cultural appropriation is in and of itself a ‘bad thing’, we are only causing further destruction. Through reinforcing exclusivism, some would even go as far as to say that it is as racist as cultural appropriation itself claims to be. If we cannot explore other cultures through participation, how are we — as a collective civilisation — expected to evolve and develop?

Perhaps cultural appropriation is indeed a positive thing, and participation in diverse cultural practices ought to be encouraged throughout society. Perhaps it’s the most constructive path to a more global, shared culture. “It is not an evil but rather a public good when different cultures are assimilated into the mainstream”, writes J. Wilson.

I have expressed why I believe cultural exchange should be condoned, and (hopefully) no one needs reminding that this should always be done respectfully. We know that malicious intent – whether that be through racism or whatever have you – is never acceptable. We know that there’s nothing respectful about dressing up as a ‘slutty Indian’ for Halloween in a costume you bought from Walmart, and we know that there’s nothing respectful about mockery. The key therefore is to strike a balance whereby different cultures are accessible and celebrated whilst still bearing courtesy and consideration for their history.

To what end does maintaining divisions between people serve? Cultural misappropriation can be harmful and leave devastating effects on persecuted peoples by reducing them to an idea. But cultural appropriation might be the answer to societal segregation rooted in identity politics.

Photographs sourced from Unsplash.

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Face-Off: Couchsurfing vs. Airbnb

My first couchsurfing experience was in Madrid. 12,350 miles from home, I hopped off the plane, caught the metro to a train station in the middle of the suburbs, and waited without a phone for a stranger who was supposed to come and pick me up. Probably not what my mother wants to hear, but nevertheless, it was the case.

Photograph courtesy of Couchsurfing

It was only in January of this year that I finally ventured onto the Airbnb scene. My boyfriend and I were celebrating New Years with a road trip around the North Island of New Zealand, and we wanted somewhere to stay in Auckland – the capital – that was homely and central yet met the demands of our budget.

Photograph courtesy of Airbnb

Both of these experiences were great. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. But I can also sympathise if you’re an Airbnb and Couchsurfing virgin and have no idea where to start when it comes to accommodation. I procrastinated using Airbnb for a long time simply because I didn’t really understand how it worked, and Couchsurfing was a repellent to my social anxiety. But fear not, because I am about to walk you through everything you need to know about these two online platforms so that you can tailor future travel to your individual needs.

Let’s start with the basics.

What the hell are Airbnb and Couchsurfing?!

An Airbnb is kind of like a budget hotel. As an online hospitality service, you make an account and then browse the thousands of listings available from all corners of the globe. You can either pay for a shared room, private room or an entire home, and compared to a hotel, let’s just say your bank account is going to be thanking you.

If Airbnb is like a budget hotel, then Couchsurfing is like a budget Airbnb. The good news? You don’t have to pay a dime. The bad news? Yeah… you’re most likely going to be roughing it. With couchsurfing, you set up an online profile and reach out to hosts in your chosen area. There is no formal process to it; all you need is for someone to agree to let you crash for a few nights, and voilà! Your accommodation is sorted.

I’m going to be rating these two services on price, comfort, reliability, sociality, locality and safety. Let’s get down to it 👊

Like I said in the introduction before, the major difference between these two services is that Airbnb charges and Couchsurfing doesn’t. Assuming that you are traveling on a budget, it’s pretty clear who prevails here.

For some, this difference is the deciding factor. But for others, there is still lingering doubt. If you have the money to spare, then it is completely understandable that you might like to explore different options for accommodation if you are receiving more comfort in return.

Not unlike hotels, Airbnb’s are generally priced according to quality (emphasis on the generally). As the quality increases, so does the cost. It’s immensely difficult to throw some average figures at you, but as a general rule, you’ll be saving your pennies by opting for the latter.

It is also worth noting that although you don’t pay a fee to stay at someone’s house with Couchsurfing, it is always polite to thank them in some way. After all, they are going out of their way to host you. Some couchsurfers like to show their appreciation through shouting their host dinner or buying them a bottle of wine. Although this is not obligatory, it’s a pretty basic courtesy to show gratitude. Your host will certainly respect and remember that.

The Winner: Couchsurfing

Trullo Edera in Ostuni, Brindisi, Italy 

The excuse many people employ to justify their splurging on more expensive accommodation is that it is more comfortable. Comfort can refer to many things – most significantly degrees of luxuriance – but for the purposes of this article, I am going to refer to it in a more social light. In other words: how much does the presence of a stranger impact the ease and enjoyment of your stay?

Of course, if you are renting out an entire home on Airbnb, then you don’t have to worry about this. You’ve got the place to yourself! There’s no need to concern yourself with the whereabouts or judgements of another person. Five stars, Airbnb 👍

But… if you’re renting a private room or couchsurfing, then this factor might be of interest to you.

I’m not even going to be subtle about it: Couchsurfing takes the cake here. I just can’t help but feel uncomfortable when I’m renting a private room through Airbnb; you’re always running into your host but are so unsure of your relationship. Are you obligated to spend time with them? Invite them out for a drink?

At the end of the day, you can do whatever the hell you want. After all, you’re paying them and are entitled to use the space and time as you wish (respectfully, of course). But I still inevitably feel rude when our contact is limited solely to inaudible grunts in the hallway and waiting on each other to finish using the bathroom.

With Couchsurfing, the expectations are clear. It is considered ill-mannered to exploit someone’s generosity in exchange for a free bed. It is anticipated that you will spend time together and (ideally) make friends. If your host ventures to your home country, then perhaps you will even return the favour of opening your doors for them. If this implicit agreement isn’t your cup of tea, then maybe you should be punching Airbnb into Google instead.

The Winner: Couchsurfing

Romantic Suite in Valparaiso, Chile

Reliability refers to two different things in this context: whether the accommodation is actually that which is advertised online, and the likelihood of a host bailing on you.

This first applies more predominantly to Airbnb. I have stayed in a number of houses (thankfully a minority) where what I paid for wasn’t what was advertised online. A common occurrence is staying in a room different to that which is photographed. This wouldn’t be much of an issue if the same facilities were present, but unfortunately that is not always the case. One time, I even stayed somewhere where the entire house had been stripped after the photos were taken, leaving nothing but the bed upon which I was to sleep. But possibly the most frustrating thing to happen when arriving at the listing is to discover that – contrary to what is advertised – there is actually no Wi-Fi 😡 *cue millennial tantrum*

With Couchsurfing, you consider places for the merits of the host, not the house. This means that the quality of their home isn’t going to be of such a huge priority. Furthermore, with Couchsurfing, you learn to roll with the punches anyway. No one is going to be too upset if the bed you were promised turns out in fact to be an air mattress. What matters is that you have a place to sleep.

However, regarding the likelihood of a host bailing on you, it’s Airbnb’s time to shine. Because money is not changing hands with Couchsurfing, hosts are under no obligation to remain available to you. It is not uncommon for hosts to bail the very day you are expected to arrive – hours before, even. Yet with Airbnb, cancellations on behalf of the host get very muddly indeed and are to be avoided if at all possible. You have to organise refunds and then find somewhere else to stay, sometimes at very short notice. Luckily, it doesn’t happen often.

The Winner: Airbnb (just)

Balian Treehouse in Bali, Indonesia

When it comes to social matters, Airbnb and Couchsurfing are polar opposites.

As I discussed under the comfort heading, Couchsurfing exceeds all expectations. The very nature of the service is to put yourself out there and make friends with people whom you probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet under ordinary circumstances. By living under the same roof, you can develop quite an intimate bond – especially if you are staying longer than a couple of nights. This is especially desirable if you are a solo traveler and looking to meet people on the road. After all, one of the most efficient and reliable ways to make friends is to stay with them.

Whilst Couchsurfing reigns supreme in the social tiers, Airbnb is somewhat appalling. Some of the loneliest times I have ever felt on the road are those nights spent in private Airbnbs with only myself for company. Of course, this isn’t always a bad thing; lots of travellers – especially those in a pair or group – are simply looking for somewhere to retreat for the night to rest up. The last thing they may want is to be thrown into yet another social situation where they are pressured to slap a smile on their face and make uncomfortable small talk.

But one of the objectives of travel is to meet people, and therefore the ultimate goal with sociality is to make lasting friends. In saying that, we have a champion.

The Winner: Couchsurfing

White Space in Brooklyn, New York

It may sound somewhat picky, but when you’re in a foreign city and relying on public transport, prime location becomes something of a priority.

When you are using the Airbnb search engine, you can filter listings by location. This is a particularly handy tool if you know exactly what part of town you want to be in. Although you don’t receive the actual address until you have confirmed your payment, you do have knowledge of the street where you will be staying. Good enough, I reckon.

Yet with Couchsurfing, all you have to go on is the city. Occasionally you might strike gold and find that the host has written the suburb in their profile, but it’s relatively rare. The mentality behind this is that you’re lucky to get a bed at all, let alone start getting choosy. Although a distant location can be inconvenient at times, I don’t contest this.

I encountered poor location with couchsurfers in Madrid and Paris. In each place, I found myself hosted on the very outskirts of the city. It certainly made for a challenge finding my way there on the metro from the airports with a 30kg suitcase in tow. I won’t lie; Airbnb certainly looked a lot more appealing at that stage of the game.

The Winner: Airbnb

Luxury in Rivo, Lombardy, Italy

Last but certainly not least, we have something that cannot be emphasised enough: safety.

Perhaps Airbnb can afford to be neglected in this part. Statistically, you are far more likely to stumble upon a poor-quality listing than one where your personal safety is under threat. But as soon as you enter the domain of Couchsurfing, it’s a whole new ball game.

To be a couchsurfer – especially a solo female couchsurfer – you need to find the balance between trust and suspicion. On one hand, you need to be able to let a complete stranger welcome you into their home and share your company when you are at your most vulnerable. But on the other, you also need to have developed some good old fashioned common sense, and always keep an eye out for questionable behaviour from your host. Couchsurfing horror stories have not fallen upon deaf ears.

In my blog post, 5 Practical Gifts for Female Backpackers on their Bon Voyage, I briefly discussed some measures you might take to up the stakes of a safe and enjoyable couchsurfing experience. These include…

  • Never staying with anyone who doesn’t have (positive) references
  • Going with your gut instinct; if you are messaging someone and something feels a bit dodgy, listen to that. A lot of people use Couchsurfing as they would Tinder, so take everything with a grain of salt
  • Prioritising opting for verified hosts for better piece of mind

Long story short? Don’t be stupid. When you enter a stranger’s home, you are largely on your own (ooh, that rhymed). Couchsurfing has the potential to make or break a trip. Let’s do everything we can to avoid the latter.

The Winner: Airbnb

Bamboo House in Bali, Indonesia

Drum roll please!

And the verdict is… it completely depends on what you are looking for.

I know, I know. This is that blog post all over again where I refuse to play by the rules and give a black or white answer. But hear me out, okay?

Let’s typecast for a moment and imagine Airbnb and Couchsurfing as representational of two very different travellers. Airbnb is traveling with their partner on a short trip where they can afford to splurge a little on accommodation. They want to be able to spend their evenings exactly how they want, and to not have to bother about the stressful possibility of having to find somewhere to sleep last minute if it falls through. Alternatively, Couchsurfing is a solo traveler who is trying to stretch their budget as far as it will go so that they can see more over a longer period of time. They concern themselves with meeting new people and treasuring those new relationships, and they are flexible about the quality of their lodgings. Given the nature of their trip, they are prepared to accept the risk of unpredictable hosts and bizarre locations, because at the end of the day, it’s all about the experience.

Do you see what I’m getting at here?

I personally prefer Couchsurfing over Airbnb.

But like I just said, that is because I am someone who falls into the second category. I also find that you can predict what service someone will prefer given their age. The older people are, the more they generally opt for something reliable like Airbnb. It also helps that the older you are, the more savings you tend to have.

So, there you have it: the pros and cons of both Airbnb and Couchsurfing. I would love to hear your thoughts on whether one or the other reigns supreme, or any anecdotes you are willing to share on the subject. Comment below!

Photograph courtesy of Unsplash

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Flying Premium Economy with Cathay Pacific… Worth It?

If you’re anything like me and regard flying with a special abhorrence, then there’s a decent chance you have considered paying that little bit extra to buy a ticket in either Premium Economy or Business Class to try and make the long haul just that little bit more bearable.

I’m kidding. It’s not a ‘little bit extra’. On average, upgrading from Economy to Premium Economy costs at least an additional NZD$1500. Do you know what you could buy with that? Another Economy ticket.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to fly Premium Economy from New Zealand to Spain with Cathay Pacific. I wasn’t looking forward to the thirty hour journey in the slightest, but knowing I didn’t have to budget for a return ticket — and considerable family generosity — motivated me to splurge on a deal I had found.

Photograph courtesy of Cathay Pacific

After making my way to New Zealand’s largest international airport, my trip saw me flying from Auckland to Hong Kong, and then Hong Kong to Madrid. Both of these were long-haul flights, and to say I was mildly excited would have been a severe exaggeration. Nevertheless, I was curious to see what forking out for a Premium Economy ticket would add to the travel experience.

For the flight to Hong Kong, I was seated front right in the Premium Economy cabin. For those unacquainted with the layout of airplanes, this meant that I was next to the window with nobody in front of me. This last piece of information is vital; being at the foremost part of the cabin ensured that I had all the legroom I could ever want. The journey felt spacious and light, and I emerged from those first twelve hours feeling optimistic from such luxury, and giddy from the complimentary champagne I had indulged in over the course of the flight. Premium Economy had certainly ticked the box for me.

However, the fight to Madrid did not run as smoothly. A series of unfortunate events foreshadowed the success of the following journey: the flight was delayed due to a busy runway, the plane had to return to the terminal due to a passenger experiencing a medical emergency, and an air hostess refused to give me water during take off despite my choking on a sleeping pill (🖕). None of these had anything to do with being in Premium Economy per se (nor were they all the fault of the airline), but they still didn’t make for an ideal start.

Photograph courtesy of Traveller

Once we were finally in the air, I adjusted to my new quarters. Unlike the last flight, I was now positioned smack bang in the middle of the Premium Economy cabin with passengers in front, behind and to the sides of me. Whilst the dimensions for Premium Economy are somewhat more generous than Economy, I wouldn’t exactly say they’re worth the extra thousands. As someone quite tall, I still experienced the cramped claustrophobia from severe lack of legroom.

I also wasn’t expecting the sheer quantity of children in these upgraded classes. I estimated that roughly 60% of those flying in Premium Economy and Business Class were under the age of ten. I don’t note this because they impacted on my experience at all – they were really well-behaved and I was impressed by their self-control over the hours – but I was nonetheless taken aback by how much it must have cost to pay such money for passengers who likely wouldn’t have appreciated the advantages of Premium or Business class. (If you’re interested in the controversy of whether young children should be admitted to these cabins, you might like to read this arguably contentious debate. I’d be eager to hear your thoughts.)

Photograph courtesy of Cathay Pacific

There was one incident that particularly stuck out for me during the flight from Hong Kong to Madrid. Around three quarters of the way in, I was seized by a sudden need to go to the bathroom. I had been asleep for most of the previous journey, and had not emptied my bladder since arriving in Hong Kong Airport. Disorientated from the sleeping pills, I staggered to my feet and stumbled towards the Premium Economy toilets, only to discover that they were out of order. Great.

Busting, I made towards the Economy cubicles at the very back of the plane. It didn’t take very long for me to realise that a line of probably eight to ten people had formed a queue per loo. Furthermore, the breakfast trolleys were right behind them and lethargically making their way up the plane at a snail’s pace. I worked out that it would take probably forty-five minutes for the trolley to pass before I could even join the queue. Exasperated, I marched to the front of the plane and asked if I could please use the Business Class toilets seeing as they were the only feasible option left.

The Cathay Pacific air hostess physically blocked my path. I communicated that I was in a lot of discomfort and would likely wet myself if I didn’t pee soon, but she just flashed her teeth and explained in a patronising manner that those toilets were reserved for Business Class only. Infuriated, I recounted how the Premium Economy toilets were not functioning and that I couldn’t access the Economy toilets until a) the breakfast trolley had crawled its way up the plane and b) the enormous queue had died down. I also pointed out that there was both Business Class toilets were unoccupied and that a majority of the passengers were fast asleep. The air hostess just motioned aggressively for me to leave the cabin. Fuming, I retreated to the very back of the plane to stand in burning pain for first the breakfast trolley to pass, and then to queue for the cubicles.

I waited over an hour.

Photograph courtesy of South China Morning Post

That was pretty shitty service, Cathay Pacific. I understand that if you pay more for a Premium Economy ticket, then you should be entitled to more privileges than those in Economy. Likewise, I understand that if you pay more for a Business class ticket, then you should be entitled to more privileges than those in Premium Economy. But those standards should only apply when basic services are functioning normally. When the Premium Economy toilets failed, those passengers should have been permitted use of the Business Class facilities when Economy wasn’t readily available, not penalised for something that wasn’t their fault. If the Economy toilets had also broken down, would the airline have made everybody who wasn’t in Business Class wait for the entirety of the long-haul flight before landing in Madrid to access a bathroom? I was rightly pissed at the rules — and the apathy of the air hostess at my physical discomfort — and that incident unfortunately tainted my experience for that second flight.

It would be wrong to deny there aren’t any perks to flying Premium Economy with Cathay Pacific. You have the chance to board first, you have a greater luggage allowance, you receive a complimentary amenity kit and your cabin has its own bathroom (hahahaha). Plus, the vegetarian meals I received extended beyond mere vegetables (I’m looking at you, Singapore Airlines). But all it takes is one negative episode to contaminate the whole experience.

Photograph courtesy of Cathay Pacific

So… was it worth it?

Yes and no.

I know, I know. That’s not the answer you just trudged through this entire article to read. But I experienced two very different flights in Premium Economy, and thus experienced two very different reactions.

If I had the money, I would very happily cough up the extra to fly Premium Economy with Cathay Pacific again if I could ensure I had a front row seat. As I wrote above during my flight from Auckland to Hong Kong, that seat made a world of difference.

However, if I knew in advance that I would be situated in the middle of the cabin, then perhaps I might have wanted to rethink that ticket. Sure, there are perks to flying Premium, but they’re not worth the extra thousands.

At the end of the day, the time is going to pass anyway. Whether you’re in Economy class or Premium Economy class, it’s twelve hours of your life that will eventually be over whether or not you’re sipping champagne.

Photograph courtesy of Cathay Pacific

P.S. I have only ever flown Premium Economy with Cathay Pacific. This review applies only to that airline. Perhaps the Premium Economy experience contrasts with other airlines. I’ve heard Air New Zealand is well worth the money… am I biased? Probably.

Writing this article got me thinking about how airline seating reflects class inequality. Something tells me I’ll be writing an article on that in the near future.

Furthermore, if you have a trip on the horizon, check out my No-Bullsh*t Guide to Surviving a 12-Hour Flight! Or if you want to read more of my uninvited opinions, maybe Why I Hate the Word ‘Wanderlust’ will be your cup of tea.

 

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Why I Hate The Word Wanderlust

If we are going to compile a list of travel words that need to go away, then we can start with wanderlust.

Wanderlust is defined as “a strong desire to travel”. The urban dictionary has felt the need to further define wanderlust as “a very popular hashtag used on Instagram by girls who love to show off in all of their journeys”. No comment.

Before I start receiving hate letters from Pinterest users, allow me to clarify that I have nothing against people who like to travel. In fact, if I were, I would be something of an enormous hypocrite. I have read many intriguing articles written by bloggers who feel that wanderlust preaches inauthentic experience. However, my problem lies in the terminology.

We can collapse wanderlust into two words: wander and lust. While I have no qualms with the former, I do hold serious reservations about the latter. Lust – a passionate desire for something – has the implicit connotation that this object one longs for is not within reach. When men describe themselves as lusting after a woman (or vice versa – I’m nothing if not a feminist), they are generally referring to someone they cannot attain. Lust is unrequited, if you will.

If we apply this unrequitedness to wanderlust, we observe well-intending hash-tagging individuals as people whom consume all their time with pining after that escape but rarely take the measures necessary to turn dreams into reality. Am I generalising? Unashamedly so. But one consultation of Tumblr demonstrates my point.

For most people, travel doesn’t have to be something that exists purely in theory. Saving to finance a trip can be soul-crushing and demands sacrifice, but it’s not impossible. I saved up enough money to travel to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia in late 2016 after ten months of working five part-time jobs on top of full-time university. It was social suicide – and admittedly not the best for my mental health – but it got me those plane tickets.

Wikipedia (everyone’s favourite reliable online source) discusses how wanderlust might “… reflect an intense urge for self-development by experiencing the unknown, confronting unforeseen challenges, getting to know unfamiliar cultures, ways of life and behaviours”.

I like that, I really do. Furthermore, I completely understand where people using the term for this purpose are coming from. But to put it bluntly, I feel like people are abusing the term and using it to make excuses. If you want to travel, formulate a plan and invest your energy into making it come to fruition.

In the words of the Travel Playbook: Start Traveling. Stop Lusting.

Photos sourced from Unsplash.

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This Is Why I Travel

During a philosophy class last semester, I stumbled across a particular term: a posteriori. It means to know something through experience. And as it happens, a posteriori is how I would describe my knowledge of the number one reason I travel.

If you had asked me four months ago why I traveled, the answer to that question would have been simple; I travel to meet new people, to explore new places, to try new food and to learn new things. Whilst that answer isn’t necessarily wrong, there is another reason that now tops that list. I cannot think of one word to describe it; all I know is that I only discovered it through experience.
There we were – my friend and I – strolling through central Hanoi during a walking tour. We had just exited the Ho Chi Minh Museum when suddenly a couple of Vietnamese children who couldn’t have been more than five years old ran smack bang into us. One wrapped his arms around my legs and clung to me like a limpet. I had to shoot my arms out to capture my balance.

“I’m so sorry!” a woman apologised, descending upon us and peeling the child from my legs. My friend and I laughed and reassured her that it was no worries. We made to leave when the woman caught my arm and asked us a question. I didn’t quite catch her properly, but gathered that she was wondering if we would be interested in taking a quick English class with the children. My friend and I exchanged nervous glances; we were predisposed to be wary of scams or getting roped into something dodgy that would result in some form of payment – let’s be realistic, this was Southeast Asia – but in the end our manners got the better of us and we let her drag us across the bridge and to a square where the rest of the group were.

It turned out that she was the teacher of a class of about thirty students from an international language school. The children were all around the age of five and were wearing matching uniforms. I’ll never forget the way their faces lit up when my friend and I walked over. There was another teacher, and she and the first woman divided the children into two different groups and then allocated my friend and I to a class each.

I was given a set of A4 laminated cards, each with different pictures on them, and instructed to ask questions related to the content. The children would then answer in English to practice their language skills. For example, I might hold up a card with an illustration of kids playing outside in a playground, and ask how many ducks were swimming in the pond, or what colour the monkey bars were. The children would collectively shout out the correct answers in perfect English.

The feeling I got from being a part of this short yet valuable activity really made an impact on me. I got a rush of adrenaline every time the children got the answer right and cheered. The teacher asked if they could take a picture with me, and they all scrambled to stand next to me. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face as fifteen pairs of tiny hands reached out to hold mine as we posed for the camera.

In that moment, I knew. I knew that this was why I traveled. I don’t just travel for the people, the places or the food. I travel for those small, unexpected moments where you’re pinching yourself to make sure you’re awake. I travel for those rewarding experiences that inspire you to flip your life upside down. I travel for the exuberance and utter joy that was on those children’s faces as I took my English class that day in the middle of the bustling Hanoi square. I knew very well that for those children, the memory of the girl with the red hair who asked them about ducks and monkey bars would fade in time, but what mattered was the impression I made in those few short minutes.

I travel for the times where – after rendering myself broke to afford a trip – I feel like the richest person on the planet.

All photos of Vietnam sourced from unsplash.com

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