As a South African full-time traveller, one of the things that has changed the most in my life since leaving home, is the conversation I find myself engaging in.
The people I spend time with these days has changed a lot. I am blown away by the diversity of people I get to spend time with these days. I have friends from all corners of the globe, and this has been one of the greatest blessings of travel.
When i do get to speak to friends and family back home, our conversations are also very different.
The questions I get asked most often
In this post I’d like to share with you some of these, and I have broken them down into three parts;
- Questions from other travellers on the road
- Questions from people back home
- Those that come from both sides
Questions from other travellers
Is South Africa (SA) dangerous?
This is, by far, the question people on the road from Western cultures are most curious to hear the answer to. We get asked this all the time.
The short answer is, yes. It is dangerous. When we talk to people from, let’s say Germany, for example, they will often be horrified by the stories we can tell.
I wrote an article about South Africans who emmigrate and bash our beautiful country all over social media after they leave. This is not my intention. I never anticiapted how much we would get asked this question about safety in South Africa.
I love South Africa and feel that every country has their problems. And one of SA’s biggest problems is the amount of violent crime.
It seems like, most of the time, South Africans love to hate on our country. They thrive off of the conversation. We haven’t met many South Africans on the road, but when we do, you can count on them bitching about it five minutes into the conversation. They are normally expats living abroad, and not travellers.
If you’d like to read my article about SA expats you can find it here.
You’re from South Africa? But, you’re not…. Uhhhmmm…
“But, you’re white?” People don’t seem to understand that we could be from Africa. Although the minority, we are white Africans.
“But you weren’t born there, were you?” Often, the next question….
The answer; “Yes, i was born in South Africa.” So were my parents. My grandparents were not. So, in my family, I was born as a second generation South African.
A few travelers we sat down with have admitted that they often think of Africa as one, big country. One big country with the same people and cultures throughout. It takes them thought sometimes to realize that there is much diversity between all corners of Africa.
They are shocked to hear about the languages we speak throughout Africa. From all different sides of the continent you could hear anything from Swahili to English, German, Zulu, Potuguese or French.
There is a light bulb moment that happens when people realize the diversity throughout Africa.
Is what we’ve heard in the media true?
The international media loves South Africa.
Although, for the most part they report correctly. Stories are often exxagerated for effect, and the age of social media has blurred the lines between fact and fiction. Many young people think Facebook is where they should get their news from. It isn’t.
Everyone around the world seems to have heard about this… And yes, there are farm murders in South Africa. But, that is not the full story. Pardon the pun, but it is not that black and white.
There is corruption. South Africa is one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
Land redistribution is a real question facing the history books we write today for our country. Decisions our government make now, will determine whether this becomes a big part of our story, or merely that thing the world worried about for a bit. But, never came.
Zuma’s your president, right?
He was. He isn’t anymore. Many people still think he is our president. He was there about 7 years too long. So, maybe the rest of the world is still reeling from a Zuma hangover?
Cyril Ramaphosa is now the president of South Africa. He was inaugurated in February 2018 and is a successful businessman and politician who helped write the South African constitution during the fall of apartheid.
Wow, you speak English in South Africa?
Yes. SA has 11 official languages. But, if you can speak English in SA you could live, work or travel there with no issues.
Another stereotype we have heard is one where people think Afrikaans is spoken by everyone. I grew up in a very English household and went to English schools. I can speak Afrikaans. I can also sing. Neither of them very well.
Questions from home
Is it touristy?
There are more people traveling now than there ever has been. International arrivals across the world continue to grow between 5 and 8ish percent each year.
Henry and I, 30 and 29 respectively, are often older than many backpackers. Sometimes by 10 years.
People are traveling. Wow. If you decide to go on a similar trip, or even just for a two week holiday, be aware that remote places without tourists are harder to find now, more than ever before.
You can find them, and sometimes they are even more magical because you found them. When there are fewer and fewer of them, and you find one, you really found it!
What food are you eating?
Closely linked to the above, I would like to mention that if you want, you can get Western food almost anywhere, if you want it.
We have had everything from traditional Southeast Asian curries and soups, to Mexican, Chinese, Indian and Italian foods.
We generally don’t order western style foods. But, sometimes you walk passed a mexican restaurant selling frozen margaritas for $1,50. Naturally you indulge, and end up having a plate of nachos or a burrito or two.
What are the toilets like?
We do not all do our business in the same way across the world. Nope.
This has been a bit of a difficult one for me to get used to. But, for the most part, I have gotten used to it.
I have only used two squat toilets. i.e. Holes in the floor. They are really good quad workouts. It’s only been when we absolutely had to, in a public place. Once was when we had to wait in a train station for 8 hours for our train. Probolinngo train station on the island of Java, Indonesia. And, the second one was at a free clinic in Savannakhet, Laos.
But, many things are different about bathrooms in Southeast Asia. To start with, toilet paper is much less common. Even when they provide it, they ask you kinldy to please not dispose of toilet paper in the toilet. Yes, you are not supposed to flush your toilet paper. There are always bins provided.
The bum gun. This is a small water gun always connected to the back of the toilets. These are more commonly used rather than toilet paper. Locals will use this high pressure hose to clean themselves and sometimes to flush the toilet. I had to use it once to flush the toilet as there was no other way. It works.
Shower in the toilet. My worst.
This is really what I have had to get used to. The bathroom is often a small room with a sink, toilet and shower all in one small room. There is no separation between the shower and the toilet/sink. No recessed floor. No shower door. So, when you shower, the entire bathroom gets wet.
A pet peve of mine is a wet bathroom floor. Now, imagine a sopping wet and sometimes soapy and/or muddly floor. Wet toilet, wet sink. Ahhh! My shattered nerves everytime i have to use the bathroom after a shower.
Not to mention the fact that sometimes when someone uses the bum gun, they wet the whole seat and/or bathroom.
Too much toilet talk. Moving swiftly along.
How do you guys plan your route, hotels, flights, etc?
This is done for the most part, very last minute. We tend to follow the road, wherever it takes us. We take advice from other travellers and often book accommodation very last minute.
If we like a place, and can, we stay longer. If we do not like a place, we move on.
Just the other day, we checked out of one Guest House on the riverbanks of Don Det in Laos. Only to walk down the roads around the island to ask for a room for that night.
In this case, we weren’t ready to leave Don Det just yet. We only booked two nights so we could suss the place out. By the time we realised we wanted to stay longer, the hotel we were in was fully booked. We had to move. We did.
Having volunteered through Workaway twice, this sometimes requires a bit more forward planning. You can read a post i wrote about our first Workaway.
Mostly we haven’t stuck to any set plans.
Have you met many South Africans on the road?
No. We really haven’t. A couple here and there. But you don’t see many people from third world countries travelling internationally to be honest.
South Africans who can afford to travel will often travel locally. And sometimes a family will go to the same spot on the same South African beach for 10 years in a row with their kids.
Henry and I wracked our brains a moment ago to try remember if we have met anyone from a third world country who was backpacking. We can’t remember anyone.
Germans are travelling. We’ve met many more Germans than any other nationality. They travel young and often cheaply, too. Backpacking trips of normally a minimum of 3 months, and often much longer. We met so many 18-25 year old Germans who were just backpacking.
But, we have also met many French, Dutch and Australian people who are backpacking it. Not on holiday, backpacking. There is quite a big difference between the two.
Questions from both sides; home and the road
How do you afford it?
The short, but cryptic answer is; we chose our priorities. If you want to read the longer detailed answer or you cannot see through the cryptic answer, you can read my post; How we afforded to travel.
You’re moving sort of slowly. Why only 6 countries in 6 months?
The answer is two fold. One, because it kind of just happened like that. We were not set in any plans before we left. We make it up as we go along and we’ve just found ourselves here.
And two, we like to travel slower. Getting to know the locals and their cultures. It’s great getting lost in a city. It’s even better when a week or two later, you realise that you can walk or ride around and know where you’re going without a map.
Have you been to x? If yes, did you like it? If no, have you been to y?
People are always curious how you experienced places they liked. So they’ll ask you if you have been to them, and if or why you liked them.
What’s your favourite country/place so far?
Maybe I left this for last because it’s one of the hardest questions to answer. Each place has its own magic. Each, its own culture you can appreciate.
I can tell you that Bali and Dusseldorf have been two of my least favourite places I’ve travelled to.
I would say, if I had to, that the below definitely make an appearance on my top 10 places. So far…
The river island of Don Det in Laos
Peaceful. Local. Backpacker’s paradise. The best sunrise AND sunset I have ever seen. You can bicycle around the entire island in an hour or two. Cheap. Amazing food.
The Indonesian island of Java
Cheap. Lovely locals. Underrated beauty.
George Town, Malaysia
Street art and history. It is amazing to walk the streets there. A real unexpectd gem.
A melting pot of different cultures. Music and Street art. Freedom of expression.
I spent my first ever Northern Hemisphere (cold and white) Christmas in Munchen. This place holds a special place in my heart.
One of the most special places….
One of the greatest gifts of travel is not the places you explore, but rather the people you get to meet along the way. Below you will see me pictured with one of the brightest souls i have ever had the privilege of coming into contact with.
This brings me to close off with a link to one of my most recent articles in which I try to express what makes travel special after 5 months of it.