Travel on a shoestring and extend your trip

I think that it´s time to announce that these 6,5 weeks of travelling were not enough for me. There will be a ´Middle East backpacking-part 2′, in which I’ll explore Turkey and Iran!

 

I’m super excited about this, but travelling is expensive. But is it really?! I once calculated that my 2 month backpacking trip in Indonesia was cheaper than staying in the Netherlands. Time to reveal my secrets, so that you all can keep travelling): travelling on a shoestring!

 

It’s actually very easy: you just need to travel cheapass style. There are many tricks you can do. In Morocco and Turkey for example, many hostels offer mattresses on the rooftop terrace for half of the price (although hostels are also extremely cheap, generally between €4 – €6). In Istanbul, I had a bed from which I could see the Aya Sofya (THE mosque you need to see). How amazing is it if this is the first thing you see when you open your eyes in the morning?! (But bring earplugs, because the first call for prayer is early!). However, now that we’re entering the low season, some hostels might close the rooftop.579

 

Another trick is couchsurfing; I absolutely love it! The concept is easy: whoever has a spare bed or couch, posts it on a website, and travellers looking for a place to stay can contact them. I can hear you thinking; ‘but then you don’t know who you’re staying at’. True, the whole concept is based on trust. References are very important, so you can always read how other people experienced their stay at a person’s place. It’s a perfect way to meet local people and get off the well-trodden tourist path. And where else can you play children’s monopoly at 8 in the morning and sleep between helicopter-toys? I’ve had more than once that I stayed at someone’s house without him/her even being at home, as described in my last blog (‘the key’s under the rock next to the door, enjoy!’). 748

 

Another way to save money, which I use whenever I can, is hitchhiking! But keep in mind that this might not be the most clever thing to do in every country. I’ve been hitchhiking quite a lot in multiple countries, but it was never as easy as in Israel. Sometimes I didn’t even have time to raise my hand (don’t raise your thumb here, this is the sign prostitutes use, unless you’re looking for alternative ways to fund your trip). It generally took 3 cares in rural areas (data are very scientifically retrieved) and about 5 minutes at busy junctions. Haha, although I once got dropped off in the middle of nowhere; the kind of place that has 3 buses a day. I was slightly worried, but even here I waited for only 15 minutes. And the next car dropped me off in front of my door!

 

Besides this, there are common things to save money: cook in your hostel, find a hostel that includes breakfast, don’t book your hostel, but just show up and negotiate a price (not recommended in high season), don’t book trips but just go by yourself (although that one time we shared a taxi in Jordan, the road became a river and it still took us forever),933

use public transportation instead of tourist buses (although these also transport sheep, goats and chickens). I once accidentally booked the ‘chicken bus’ in Morocco. I’m not a person that’s easily scared, but I’m terrified of chicken. Great fun.

And sometimes you just need to pay the full price, like here in Petra, Jordan. But ask others if it’s worth it.  1199

As you can read; lots of ways to save money, and thus extend your trip! Let me know if you have more ideas, because I love trying them!

Israel: What to do when your pants literally fall apart at the beginning of sabbath?

It’s been quite a while, because I was struggling with the topic of this blog. It’s hard to describe Israel without mentioning the ongoing conflict, yet at the same time I still have the feeling I don’t know enough to express an opinion. I’ll just describe Israel experienced as a backpacker, yet there’s obviously much more behind it.
When going to Israel, don’t expect real challenges when it comes to backpacking. Israel is a western country with a good public transportation network, which makes it convenient to move around (and public transport is relatively cheap!) Though maybe this was a bit disappointing me. I like challenges and in Israel, everything went too smooth. I know, this is complaining about nothing ;).
For me, Israel became the country where couchsurfing was taken to a whole new level (couchsurfing is a community where people that have a spare couch offer it to travellers). It happened quite a few times that I got a text: ‘the key is under the rock next to the door, have fun!’ How amazing is that?!
Highlight for me was Jerusalem with it’s impressive Temple Mount (did you know that there’s a ‘Jerusalem-syndrome’? Google it!).

  Another place that I really liked was Masada, the palace of King Herod. It’s in the middle of the desert, overlooking the Dead Sea, and on top of a mountain. Such an idyllic place, that clever guy (though he never lived here, spoilt).

 Nazareth is also a great place, though I loved it because of the people I met, the town isn’t spectacular. And lastly, Bethlehem, which has 2 sides. On the one hand it’s a cute little town that attracts many tourists for the place where Jesus is believed to be born. Yet on the other hand, Bethlehem is in the Westbank, and a place where clashes quite often happen. So check the security situation before you go. The day after I went there, there were pretty intense clashes, so check the news and check with yourself if you want to take this risk. I strongly recommend doing a tour to the refugee camps, because this will show a whole different side of the story than what you generally hear (if you have a couchsurf account, look for events in Bethlehem and you’ll find an awesome free tour. You even get a rubber bullit as souvenir. Quite bizar and can’t recommend taking it through security at the airport. Also, the guide recommended deleting all your pics and sensitive material. I can confirm that the security at the airport is intense, though I could rely on my blonde hair and obvious tourist-look).

  

In terms of people, Israel is like other western countries. People are to themselves, though if you ask them for help, they’re super friendly. However, I just came from Arab countries and kind of missed the screaming down the street to you, the spontaneity, and the hospitality (no hospitality teas at every street corner here). It happened quite often to me that people became angry at me because I was taking up too much space in crowded buses with my backpack. And if the bus turns out to leak as a basket, you need to have someone to be grumpy at. In this case it was me, which resulted in a miserable welcome to Jerusalem (easily made up for by my couchsurf host though). Someone later explained to me that people are stressed in buses, because this is where most attacks take place. I have no idea if this is the explanation, but be prepared to get grumpy or arrogant reactions.
I have to admit that my visit wasn’t at the most ideal time. There’s been quiet a lot of unrest lately. Last week, I arrived at the Damascusgate half an hour after an attack had taken place. Eventually I decided to move to safer places, just because the vibe was not comfortable anymore (Jerusalem and the Westbank are often places for attacks, Gaza wasn’t even an option to go to). Jerusalem already had increased the security, but after these attacks it became insane (instead of 2 soldiers every 10 meter, it became 15 every 10 meter. I sometimes had to zigzag through groups of soldiers. For someone who’d never seen a real gun before, their massive guns made me slightly uncomfortable).
Sometimes you love a country (in my case almost always) and sometimes it’s just not it. For me, Israel was just not it. Nevertheless, all in all, I’ve had a really good time and met amazing people. It’s definitely an interesting country and I hope if you ever go there, you take the effort to hear both sides of the story and try to get a deeper understanding of the difficulties.
Ps, about the pants falling apart. I’d taken extremely old clothes on my trip. But just a week before I went back home, the fabric of my pants had become so thin that it fell apart.

 The problem was that it was at the beginning of Sabbath, meaning that all shops were closed (and not just shops, the entire country shuts down during the sabbath; no public transport, shops, restaurants, and even ATMs are out of order!) So plan your trip well and hope your pants make it through the next 48 hours. I just kept wearing them and prayed it wouldn’t get worse, though it wasn’t very comfortable, knowing there’s a massive tear on your bum!

And now…? Home! Travelling is exhausting, so I’ll just sleep in my own old bed for a while. For a while…

Magnificent Jordan; where being stranded in the desert with a broken car is great fun. 

It was time for a new country. So me and my sister left for a trip to Jordan (it’s always great to have family members who love travelling as much as you do). However, due to its strict border control, entering and leaving Israel is hard and crossing over land is even harder. There are many stories of visa officers who have a bad day or are annoyed by your face and therefore won’t give you your visa or make it an annoyingly long process (for a clear description of how to cross at the Jordan River Crossing, check this blog .http://uneventenor.com/how-to-get-from-israel-to-amman-via-the-jordan-river-crossing/). Flying feels for me like taking the bus, but visa officers still make me nervous. We were prepared for a lengthy procedure, but you know what happened? Nothing! It took us 30 minutes to cross the border. Border officials jumped from their seats (I’m not kidding), stamped our visa (on an separate piece of paper, Israeli stamps make further trips in the Middle East much harder) and welcomed us to Jordan! (I have to admit that the Israeli side is a bit more stressful with many guns and more muscle flexing. I’m actually writing this blog from a local bus with a soldier next to me who casually laid his gun on my leg when he sat down. Israel is a weird country!) Haha the border crossing back to Israel was a lot of fun for me, yet less for my sister. She had to get a body search and had to go to a special room to give a striptease show. And the best part, at the end they told her that it was just a pilot and they had to practise on someone. I don’t think people generally laugh as hard at borders as I did when I heard that!
Ok, back to our trip in Jordan. Jordan is an amazing country! I would skip Amman, the capital, if you’re short on time. Though I really enjoyed going to a place that tourists almost always skip and the road down south is amazing.

  After Amman, there’s only one thing you can do: you go to Petra! Petra is a city built roughly 2500 years ago, yet amazingly well preserved. Because it’s the low season now, there were hardly any other tourists (and to be honest, climbing all these steps is way more comfortable when it’s 25C than the 45C it reaches mid summer). There’s not much to say about it. Just watch the pictures and decide for yourself (more on my facebook/instagram mijke.h).


Petra was amazing, but even more spectacular is Wadi Rum, the desert south of Petra. Most tourists skip this, which is definitely a mistake. Wadi Rum is a desert with both white and red sand which results in amazing colours. And because there were barely any tourists, it felt we had the desert for ourselves.

 But, as always, we don’t plan our trips very well, since we like freestyling (I still don’t understand how people know 2 months in advance where they’ll be. I can hardly plan 1 day ahead). This lack of planning resulted in signing up for a meditation camp. Anyone who knows me and my sister will know that that’s not a good match with our personalities. Luckily it was just a name and didn’t involve any meditation, but an amazing tour and many ‘hospitality teas’ (can we please introduce the word ‘gastvrijheidstheetje’ in Dutch?). Though the thought of 2 days of meditation in the desert freaked us out already.

 

The desert is a place for adventures, and as you all know, I love adventures! So when the tire of our jeep broke off (literally, I’m not kidding), I actually thought it was great fun.

 And even funnier was that the guide walked off without saying a word. We later realised that it was still pretty far to walk to the camp and he wasn’t sure he would be able to reach it before sunset.


So what do you do in the desert without a car nor guide? Yup, you take the board off the jeep and go sandboarding, try how many people fit on one board and shoot some pretty videos for Jamie’s roadtripvideo. (This will be the start of our acting career I think).

 After a few hours, our guide came back with a jeep. Later, after an amazing meal in the camp, we sat around a fire in the cave, watched shooting stars and exchanged travel stories. How often do you sit around a fire in your cave with fellow travellers? Exactly, enough reasons to go to Wadi Rum!
After the dusty desert, we exchanged desert sand in our hair for salty water while snorkeling in the Red Sea near Aqaba. Aqaba is the equivalent of Eilat (Israel), but 10 times prettier. And what’s better than snorkeling in the Red Sea for 2 days, swimming in the swimming pool and just sleeping! Travelling is quite exhausting.

  As you can read, Jordan is a country you shouldn’t miss, even though it killed my budget (don’t expect bargains, life’s just expensive).