How to create an international entourage, even when you’re a bit of a dick

You know the feeling you get when you meet someone for the first time and instantly you know you’re going to be friends? The feeling that you’ve known this person for ages, the excitement when you think about all the awful decisions you’re going to make together?  When you’re a child, this happens pretty regularly, especially if you’re an over-friendly loudmouthed little lunatic like I was. Your standards are much lower, granted, but you’re not a grumpy old bastard yet and therefore you’re more open to conversing with anything that stands still for long enough.

The older you get, the more difficult it becomes, however. They say that most adults can count the people they consider true friends on the fingers of one hand. These guys sound like losers to me to be fair, but you get what I’m saying. When you leave school and start doing grown up things like paying taxes and eating ice cream out of bowls instead of the container (or the floor, sorry mum), creating a new circle can become more difficult.

This is especially true if you’re someone who travels or moves around a lot. I tend to accumulate friends easily (Lord knows why) that doesn’t mean it’s not difficult for anyone travelling or moving to a new city. So here are some not remotely expert tips for creating an international entourage of friends if you’re the travelling type, because free accommodation on your future trips is more precious than gold:

If you’re travelling for an extended period, get on the volunteer hype

I did this when I first moved to Spain, mainly because I didn’t want to leave the awesome hostel I was staying in. I cannot recommend this enough; it’s fun, it’s great for travelling on a budget and you meet literally hundreds of wonderful interesting people from all over the world. The best thing is that most of them only stick around for a few days, long enough to create a friendship but not long enough for them to notice how weird you are, so they’ll always think you’re cool

Say yes to everything

Except incest and folk dancing. Go to everything you’re invited to, even if you’re exhausted. My first month in Salamanca I played ultimate frisbee (which incidentally, I was shit at), went out for so many dinners I lost the ability to walk, went to endless language exchange events and played horrible drinking games at various botellons. I aged about ten years in those weeks but it was worth it.

Don’t just hang with other people from your respective homeland(s)

The phrase ‘going to a brothel for a hug’ springs to mind. What’s the point in travelling or living elsewhere if you’re going to spend all your time with Brits abroad and roll around in large groups asking for ketchup at every eating establishment? NOPE. Diversity is key, not just for the aforementioned free accommodation. Broaden your horizons, people.

Talk to anyone and everyone

Break through the shyness barrier and introduce yourself to anyone who looks vaguely normal. Doing this in Barcelona introduced me to some wonderful people from all over the world, many of whom who I’m still in contact with today. Doing it drunk in Croatia gained me a very cool American friend who I’m still mates with two years later. I did it on a bus in Salamanca with carrot sticks (during my first week of attempted veganism) and met a group of excellent Irish people without whom my experience here wouldn’t have been half as good. Trust me, as stupid as you might feel approaching complete strangers, you’ll feel more stupid if you miss out on meeting some amazing people.

Get jiggy with someone local (OPTIONAL)

About a week after I split up with my most recent boyfriend, one of my housemates suggested I get myself what roughly translates to a ‘bed dictionary’. I’m not here to give y’all relationship advice but, you know, it might help you pick up more of the language wherever you are.

Be a good friend once you have established international entourage

Always do what you say you’re going to do. Show up to things you’ve committed to, be a good friend and keep feeding these friendships. Again, FREE ACCOMMODATION. But also yay, friendship.

Don’t change yourself (NOT OPTIONAL)

DON’T BE A TERRIBLE GAP YAH PERSON. Just be yourself and someone will probably be cool with you, even if you’re a bit of a dick.

Things I occasionally miss about London

Usually very little, to be fair. This past (almost) year I’ve been having way too much fun most of the time – creeping around a new country, speaking terrible Spanish and avoiding mirrors because excessive gin consumption has left me looking like Keith Richards. I miss the obvious things of course. Family, friends, Jaffa cakes. Other than that, 90% of the time I’m enjoying my new semi-nomadic life.

Today is one of those days where I’m missing London. It doesn’t happen very often but this week my city had one of its three annual days of rain. Instead of being moderately depressed I actually enjoyed it, because it reminded me of home. My other home, where Tesco plastic bags run wild in the streets, queues are a way of life and if your house doesn’t have a six month supply of tea bags, are you even really prepared for the apocalypse?

I didn’t grow up in London, but it was home for several years and I consider myself, for the most part, at least half a Cockney. So without further ado, here’s a mini love letter to some of the things I miss about the Big Smoke:

The Underground

Not even joking, I used to enjoy the Tube because, being a bike wanker who cycled everywhere, I only took it once or twice a week. I love the anonymity on the Tube, the way nobody wants to make eye contact. I love when, during rush hour, somebody gets stuck between the doors and pretends like nothing happened. I love targeting manspreaders by ‘accidentally’ putting my hand/bag on their leg. When I briefly lived in West London, I used to stay at friend’s houses in East and enjoy my hour-long, hungover journey back to Fulham with coffee and usually some terrible music to keep me company. Say what you want about the Underground – strikes and delays aside, it’s pretty cool.

 

Grumpy Londoners

It’s raining. Commutes are a bitch. Having to wear grey a lot of the time. House prices. Coffee prices. Cocaine prices (apparently). Nightlife coming to a screeching halt at 2am in lots of places. Tinder. Not having enough cash for your weekly cheeky Nandos. There’s a lot of reasons to be a grumpy old fart in London – I know this because I used to be one. There’s a great quote in Zadie Smith’s book NW, where one of the protagonists takes too long to make a decision in a corner shop and feels ‘the shame of having inconvenienced another Londoner’. Literally everyone is grumpy and in a hurry, but I feel like that’s part of the British charm in general.

 

Diversity

My city in Spain is extremely white. I am an extremely white person myself, even I find this weird. One of the things I love about London is that it’s a total melting pot – like lots of parts of America but with less racism. You can walk down a street and hear multiple languages, see multiple continents represented in just a few steps. My area in East London had sizable communities from Bangladesh, West Africa, Turkey, the Caribbean and Poland to name just a few. Plus hipsters. This was pretty great because of the food options on offer, but also because I felt like I was part of a truly diverse, global community.

 

The parks

Victoria Park in the summer is one of the best things in existence. Hackney Downs comes a close second, followed by Allen Gardens just off Brick Lane, which was always a little bit dodgy. One time I was offered drugs three times in twenty minutes, by three different dudes. They were all very nice though.

The God awful weather

I actually like rain in small doses. Plus the weather gives you something to talk about – it’s a British tradition.

My people

I miss my London friends all the time. One of my crew recently relocated to Bermuda which has made it even more difficult for us to all get together more than once or twice a year. Weekends used to be sitting in coffee shops in East for several hours talking shit about work/people/life, drinking overpriced gin and blatantly ignoring the impressive London landmarks everywhere. The friends I’ve made on my travels in the past year are absolute legends, but I’ll always miss drunk brunches in E8 with a group of grumpy Cockneys.

Bagels

For some reason I can’t find good bagels here.

There’s probably some other stuff too but I forgot. I’m not sure when I’ll be back next, but I’m keeping my Boris bike (or should it be Sadiq cycle) membership well and truly open.

 

Very late resolutions, or, how to live your best life in 2018 while still being a dirty nomadic type

It’s fair to say I made most of 2017 my bitch. I quit my job, ditched a tiresome commute and an overpriced (if wonderful) apartment and moved to a new country. It wasn’t without it’s ups and downs (as various whiny posts on here will attest to) but several months in, I’m having a whale of a time.

I fully intend to keep travelling, keep exploring and keep being ridiculous for the foreseeable future. The nomadic lifestyle suits me. It has, however, made it more difficult to come up with a concrete set of new year’s resolutions. Say what you want about will power and statistics, I’m a firm believer in taking advantage of the new year and setting new goals for yourself. Falling at the first hurdle? You bunch of quitters. Small, achievable steps? NOPE. I go all out every January and this year is no exception. So here, without further ado, or much ado about nothing, are my resolutions for 2018:*

Give less effs

This has been number one on my list every year since 2012 and each year, I’ve managed to care a little bit less about what people think, or about very much in general. Last year, I managed to give very few effs at all when I decided to leave the country and was met with resounding choruses of ‘OHMYGOD YOU’RE SOOOO BRAVE,’ and ‘Woooow I could NEVER give up my life like that,’. EXCUSE ME SHARON but I didn’t give up my life, I enhanced it. This year I vow to continue to give less effs and do me

Take more pictures

I may be a fairly nomadic human but I spend a lot of time wandering around with goblets of gin and not very much time documenting my travels. This year I’m going to do more of that – and also take advantage of my new home country and explore Spain outside of my usual haunts (Poble Sec, Barcelona, I’m looking at you…)

Improve my Spanish

Despite only having studied the language for about three months, I managed to give an entire parent-teacher conference in December without a translator. Thanks to an amazing teacher (shout out to S if you’re reading this!) I’m actually pretty good now, even if I do resort back to English after a few pints of gin, or when I’m with my English-speaking friends. Aiming for fluency by the end of the academic year, let’s get it

Do more music stuff

In the midst of post-breakup sadness last year I joined a band and it was the best thing I could have done. I also discovered I might be the only remotely female person in my current city who can DJ (apologies to any ladies I haven’t discovered yet). I’m using this to my advantage this year and hopefully will be able to make something out of this – stay tuned for poorly edited mixes to pop up on this blog in the near future

 

Accept the things I cannot change

Last year I struggled a lot with temporary expat depression, general anxiety about the direction my life was headed, other very millennial problems, etc. I tried very hard to pretend I was fine when what I should have done was face it head on. Three months later and 75-80% better, it’s time to be more accepting of things I can’t change and embracing them instead. Shit happens, after all

 

NEVER MISS A DAY OF YOGA

Or meditation. These are the things that keep me sane and happy, along with other self care (sorry, 2016 buzz word) methods. My other reliable favourites include: 90s hood movies, dancing, clips of Will Smith dancing on the Fresh Prince and Oreos

Stay single

It has come to my attention that I am about 60% happier without a serious partner creeping around. My life is already complete, thank you very much, I have no desire to go down the matrimony path and no sir, all my problems will not be solved by your penis. To paraphrase the late great Biggie Smalls, ‘Mo Peen, Mo Problems’.

*I am aware it’s January 14th and I probably should have posted this earlier. This is one of the effs I do not give

Let’s smash it.

Some stuff I have allegedly learned since I staged my own personal Brexit

I was putting my life in order the other day and I realised it’s been one year since I made the decision to leave the UK. It happened about twenty minutes after I arrived back from a trip to Barcelona – the first ever trip I took completely solo. I remember being back in London, sitting in the middle of Lincoln’s Inn Fields on my lunch break, getting unnecessarily tearful over a One Republic playlist (joking aside, Native remains one of my top twenty albums).

Eff this, I thought. I’m leaving, and I don’t know where I’m going to go.

That was my turning point, and since then, a lot of crazy stuff has happened, but I don’t regret it for a minute. This entire post exists because I’m coming off about three days of hangover/lack of sleep, but this is meant to be a deep, existential look at all the important life lessons I have acquired during my time travelling and living/working abroad. Or something like that.

Anyway, here’s some things which may or may not be useful to anyone:

Being by yourself actually isn’t terrible
I’ve always been one of those people who hates being on their own. Back in the UK I was constantly surrounded by people and on the rare day or evening where I found myself without plans, I would descend into a pit of existential despair, usually with chocolate.

Ditching your familiar surroundings to creep around the world means you’ll be by yourself a lot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you live in a society based on constant connectivity. It will be difficult – you force yourself out of your comfort zone to make friends, speak in a new language, to do anything. But it’s so worth it in the end because not only do you become a master of self-sufficiency, you also end up liking yourself a whole lot more in general. Which is never a bad thing.

I never had it that bad before

I basically never had problems back in the UK. Worrying about being ten minutes late for work because my bike had fallen apart, occasionally misplacing my keys, wondering which type of gin to buy, etc. Having to navigate literally everything in a foreign language, getting horribly lost, strict budgets, having to leave my fantastic group of friends and going through a breakup, all at the same time, means I will literally never complain about anything again. Maybe.

Things are a lot more intense

See above point. Getting lost in a supermarket or accidentally buying something non-vegan (VEGAN HUMBLEBRAG IM SO HEALTHY) is so much more of an emotional experience. It gets easier, of course.

Things are also a lot more ridiculous

So many stupid things have happened to me in the last few months, probably more than happened in total during my time at university. I won’t disclose everything on here (some things even an oversharing Millennial should keep a mystery) but I did accidentally co-found a possible cult where everyone a got matching tattoos (six people and counting y’all). Personal highlight.

Fuckboys are the same in every language

Literally. I can now understand ‘U up?’ in about seven languages. Initially, the dating pool in a new country is exciting because it’s different, but don’t be fooled by the sexy accents. BE STRONG MY FRIENDS.

Genuine, wonderful people are everywhere

When people travel, sometimes they adopt weird white rasta dreads, take up the bongos and talk overly loudly about how the tourist trail in Southern India is SOOO MAINSTREAM YAH. These people are terrible. More often than not, however, people actually become better, more genuine versions of themselves and you make some truly wonderful friends.

When I was living and working in Barcelona, I was dropped into the middle of an apartment with about 12 other people, none of whom I had ever met before. Literally every single one of them was excellent and even though we came from comically different backgrounds, we became super close in a short space of time. Because everyone was just themselves. This whole experience restored my faith in humanity and also means I have lots of free places to stay when I’m travelling out of Spain (thanks mates!)

I’m a surprisingly good rapper

Unrelated but since moving to Salamanca I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot more musical activity, my favourite thing in the world. This has included numerous rap battles. I’m actually quite good.

 

In closing, I think what I’m trying to say is, if you’re thinking about it, even just a little bit, DO IT. This has been the most ridiculous, traumatic, confusing, stressful, but also happiest time of my life. GET ON IT

 

 

 

The ambiguous traveler, or, why I sometimes pretend not to be English

“So which part of Australia are you from again?” asked the drunk boy from Leicester.

“Sorry, what?” I looked up from my computer. It was five in the morning, I was working the night shift at the hostel and I was pissed. Monday nights were my favourites at that point, not least because the popular Barcelona bar we took our guests to offered an hour of unlimited beer or sangria. I’d spent the night folding laundry, watching Netflix and being grumpy because the boy I liked was out, probably having more fun than I was. The drunk boy from Leicester and his equally drunk friend had returned early from the evening’s festivities and were conducting a perilous expedition to the back of the communal fridge. Both were covered in spaghetti. All I wanted at this point in the evening was to go to sleep and I was contemplating how easy it would be to slip out for a nap when they began questioning me.

“Which part of Australia did you say you were from?” He said, flicking his new spaghetti fringe out of his eyes. And just like that, my evening picked up. Apart from the impending spaghetti clear-up operation, of course.

Despite being almost comically English, I’ve always been able to get away with blending in to a certain extent when I travel, avoiding the dreaded ‘Brit abroad’ label which haunts my fellow countrymen/women/children/pets wherever they go. With the exception of my trip to China in 2013 (for obvious reasons), I’ve been able to move through crowds without being singled out as a tourist, a potential target for overpriced souvenirs, pickpockets and all manner of madness. This is not to say I am in any way racially ambiguous – I’m extremely white, due in part to my exotic Scottish heritage.

When I first arrived in Barcelona, struggling across Sants station with my bags, a Swedish family came over and spoke to me in Spanish, asking for directions. When I explained in halting Spanish I’d just arrived myself, they laughed, and said they’d assumed I was a local. Being not even remotely tanned at this point, I was extremely flattered. In Athens, a cashier in a clothing store once fired off a bunch of Greek at me because she thought I was a local. In Germany I’m practically a local. Once a guy thought I was American ‘because I had nice teeth’ (disclaimer: my teeth, while nice, are not up to the standards of American dentistry). For some reason, nobody places me as English, which is something I’ve come to like and find useful, especially in the current climate.

I have no idea why this happens but each time I feel a sense of achievement at having successfully blended in. In a world of ludicrously dressed stag parties and A Level students projectile vomiting onto a pavement somewhere near the Adriatic, I take it as a compliment. No handkerchiefs tied around the head for me, thank you very much. No complaining about the heat or asking loudly for ketchup. It’s incredibly unfair to place all British tourists in this camp, of course, but I use the unfortunate stereotype here as an illustration. No smoke without fire and all that.

I enjoy this inexplicable ability to become a pseudo-local, even though I can’t put my finger on what it is about my appearance or character that makes it so. Physically I’m tall, blonde, average build (if you discount the somewhat unexpected bodacious rear view which seems to run in my family), reasonably tanned for at least six months of the year. I don’t look particularly anything except white and probably European – I’m not quite blonde enough to fit the Scandi stereotype, my body type is a little larger than is common in the Mediterranean, my dress sense is very much homeless Jesus, gap yah, ‘I’m a citizen of the world daahhhling,’ which could place me as anything from a Dutch exchange student to a lost American. I’m not quite stylish enough to be French. I don’t own a North Face jacket, which rules out North America. I drink gin, I swear a lot and can be found quite frequently wandering around with a large paper map, scratching my head and uttering unmistakably British exclamations like ‘OH BUGGER’. Despite this, however, nobody ever thinks I’m English.

Being an ambiguous traveller can be extremely useful. You’re less likely to get robbed or targeted with absurdly priced taxis. You’re able to go off the beaten track in a fairly low key manner if you wish. It can even keep you on the right side of the law – a Moroccan police officer who thought I was French (thank you, remedial GCSE language skills) decided against arresting my then-boyfriend, who he suspected to be an illegal immigrant.

Seeing as I seem to have fallen into this by happy accident, I’m not sure I can offer advice to my fellow travellers on how to do the same. Speaking the language helps, even if it’s a few words as does your body language – try to look like you know where you’re going. Otherwise, don’t wear a t-shirt that says ‘Lads on Tour’ and you should be alright.

Sitting at the desk during my graveyard shift, I smiled and mentally ticked another country off the list of ‘fake nationalities I can use someday’. “I’m from Melbourne, mate,” I said in a mock-Aussie accent. At that moment, a group of real Aussies tumbled through the front door in search of kebabs, followed closely by my crush du jour (now boyfriend, G if you’re reading this, hello!)

The drunk boy from Leicester said goodnight and exited the kitchen, tripping over an imaginary step on his way out and sending spaghetti flying across reception.