Things you learn when volunteering on the road, or, I cleaned up puke today but I’m still insanely happy

I’ve been off the grid for a little while in terms of writing, mostly because I’ve been bopping around Spain doing very exciting music projects. More on that story later. I’m also preparing to make my first return to the UK since before Christmas, so stay tuned for a very grumpy British post complaining about the weather and general hooliganism of my native country (have you heard by the way? It’s coming home…apparently).

For the past few weeks I’ve been living and working in Barcelona, the city that started this whole escapade. I visited for the first time two years ago and they’ve been trying desperately to get rid of me ever since. It’s truly a unique city, equal parts beautiful and completely batshit. For me there’s nowhere like it, it’s the place I found myself (HORRIBLE Millennial cliche but it’s true).

In 2016 I was a horribly drunk, recently single human nightmare bopping around the bars and occasionally taking in some of the culture. In 2017 I was based here for three months, volunteering in a hostel which enabled me not only to meet lots of extremely attractive people, but also to learn about the city and Catalan culture. It’s 2018 and I’m back bitches. I’m spending July volunteering in a hostel in the Poble Sec neighbourhood, part of an amazing group of hostels dotted around Europe which really enhance the traveller experience, sometimes by helping people get super drunk.

Even though I’m going to be extremely poor for a few weeks, I cannot recommend this way of life enough to travellers. Whether it’s for a couple of weeks during a short trip or for a few months in the middle of your gap yah, it’s a fantastic experience. Here are a few things I’ve learned during my time volunteering in Barca:

People are super interesting

I love people. Probably a bit too much if my dating history is anything to go by. Volunteering in a hostel, you see people come and go all the time from all corners of the globe (disclaimer: I know the earth is round, Columbus fucked this saying up for us years ago but I’m still gonna use it).  You make friends almost instantly and meet all kinds of people doing amazing and interesting things in all sorts of places and there’s something really cool about all these people coming together to be drunk and ridiculous.

On average people stay here for three days, so there’s a lot of turnover which means lots of new friends. In my current place of work, people tend to have so much fun that they extend their stays, which also means you get to know them better. Free crashing space WORLDWIDE.

‘Age is just a number to keep the authorities happy’-my grandad, 2004

When I dropped out of the rat race at age 26, I was convinced I’d be too old to bop around the globe. Imagine my SURPRISE when I checked into this very hostel and found out I was one of the younger guests at that time. As a perpetual child, this made me extremely happy. You really can up and leave at any time, travelling the world is not just for the pre-university backpack set. Hostels are not just for vodka-blind 18 year olds on their first jaunt away from home. We’ve got guests here who aren’t yet 20 and guests in their 40s, and sometimes beyond. It’s not about age, it’s about the experience of exploring a new city and sharing insight, wisdom, and probably gin. Age really ain’t nothing but a number (Aaliyah said that one, not my grandad).

Who needs cash anyway?

Volunteering typically means you get accommodation, food, and often other perks in return for work which is more fun than probably any job I’ve ever done, aside from DJing. If you’re travelling for a long time, it’s an ideal way for you to get to know a new place while saving money. Even in a more pricey city, you can reduce your outgoings significantly, enabling many more months of travelling and loving life in general.

Don’t screw the crew (unless you’re prepared to deal with the consequences)

I get it, everyone’s super good looking and not a pasty English person. I’ve already broken this rule about 506393 times, so this is less of a rule and more a musing/observation. If you’re young, free and single, get on it by all means, but be aware that if you’re getting jiggy with another volunteer, you’re going to be in close proximity to this person A LOT. So if you get bored of each other, make sure you have an exit strategy so you don’t accidentally walk in on them boinking the cute new volunteer from Sweden. CURTAINS PEOPLE.

It’s a lot like babysitting at times

Adults really are just large drunk children. The part of hostel life which facilitates partying and a good time will always be an integral part of your experience – my current hostel gets the balance between culture and cocktails just right – but be aware that while this is everyday life for you, it’s vacation for people staying here. People are going to get WASTED. I can’t count the number of times I’ve cleaned up puke, half-carried people to their beds, warded off comical unwanted advances using only a broom. It’s part and parcel of the gig and it’s very entertaining – well, until someone poops their pants (as one of my colleagues found recently).

We’re pretty much all the same (take note Mr Trump with your racist ginger ass)

The beauty of this lifestyle is the diversity – every day you meet people from different parts of the world, with different backgrounds, languages, cultures, outlooks on life. But one thing you realise is that we’re all basically the same, we all want to be happy and experience all the good things life has to offer. And sometimes boink the cute volunteer from Sweden.

So if you’re considering taking a break from sleeping on train floors to settle for a month or two and volunteer in a hostel, DO IT. I promise you won’t regret it, even during your worst hangover.

 

 

I reject your suggestion to grow up

*two years ago at a family party*

“I’m serious though,” said my grandmother, side-eyeing all four of her granddaughters at the same time, “One of you has to get married before I die”. Cue awkward silence while my younger sister and our cousins attempted to avoid eye contact with their respective partners.

I looked at my date for that particular family gathering, a wheel of cheese that would have fed a small town for a month. “NOT GOING TO BE ME THEN IS IT HAHAHAHA EVERYONE AMIRITE,” I practically screamed into the conversational abyss. A surprising amount of people looked like they were about to nod in agreement.

Cue awkward silence, broken most likely by my dad saying something hilarious. He always has my back.

*several months later at another family gathering – we like to party apparently*

“Moving abroad, eh?” said the old dude who was apparently a great uncle of some description. “Won’t that be tough on account of all the foreigners?”

I hadn’t even started teaching yet and I was about to school someone. Before I could open my mouth to educate and promptly disown him, he followed up with this absolute banger. “Well I suppose you’ll be alright if you’ve got a nice fella to look after you. Must be engaged by now, no?”

Unfortunately it wasn’t acceptable to say “Bitch WHAT” at this particular event (my other grandmother’s 90th birthday piss up) so instead I pretended I had forgotten how to speak English and wandered off to the gin.

*one year later*

My sister buys a house with her boyfriend. My friend buys a house with her fiancee. I buy another hat.

*now*

Peter Pan Syndrome has been rife amongst my generation for some time – thankfully I don’t mean wearing green spandex and hanging out with small boys. Because we’re living longer and, sadly, working for longer, we’ve got more time to enjoy our youth and extend it for as long as possible. This isn’t always viewed as a good thing, but as someone who has always been something of an overgrown child, I am fully in support of living in a state of perpetual adolescence.

It took me an extremely long time to realise that there wasn’t anything wrong with me – when I graduated university, I watched people who had once been the biggest wreckheads on campus getting engaged, moving in with their partners, buying houses, and I wondered aloud why I didn’t want that too. When I ended a four year relationship because I was scared of passing the aforementioned milestones, I panicked that I was abnormal. When I quit my job and became a semi-nomadic little creep, I worried that I was destined to be the oldest dude at the party. Sometimes I am, to be fair, but that’s ok.

The way I see it, we have a huge amount of time to be grown up and responsible. The rush to settle down that our ancestors were faced with is disappearing, or at least being pushed back several years, and I for one think that’s a great thing. We have the luxury now of having the time to discover ourselves, learn exactly who we are and experiment with that – and if we decide we don’t want to settle down in the traditional sense, we’re no longer social pariahs.

I am fast approaching my 28th birthday *vomits uncontrollably* and am single, have no children that I know of, and I own literally one piece of furniture. I consider myself successful but I am not a CEO of anything and I’m making a damn sight less money than I was when I was living the PR gal life in London. Despite the fact that I’ve grown up emotionally an awful lot since I was 21, not a gigantic amount else has changed. I still wear pyjamas as daytime wear. I still don’t really know how to work a washing machine. I became a DJ because I literally did not want the party to end. And I am ridiculously happy.

To be fair, I have excellent role models in my parents who, despite being married and owning a house and doing adult things, still know how to have fun. Like, A LOT of fun. When my mum was my age, when her friends were popping out kids like confetti cannons, she said ‘eff this’ (probably in a more polite manner) and moved to the States. And this was the ‘80s. My point is, my parents taught me to enjoy your youth for as long as possible and that there’s no specified time to do things. Take your time and enjoy being young and ridiculous and focusing on yourself, because once that time is gone, it’s gone.

As someone in my mid-late Twenties , I’m nowhere near doing the responsible thing. I’m not bashing people who are taking this path in life at all, but for me, it’s a long way off. I don’t want a boyfriend, I don’t want to get married, I have no interest in owning properly and the only kids I’m interested in are the ones I can give back to their parents at the end of class. I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to settle down in the traditional sense, to be fair, and –  despite protestations from my grandma about impending weddings – I’ve made peace with that.

 

 

 

 

 

Staying healthy abroad, or, PUT DOWN THE AIOLI YOU’RE A DISGRACE

I’m an advocate of balance. For example, eat healthy most of the time, but have twenty burgers at the weekend. Drink lots of water, but also lots of gin. Work out consistently but also sit on your butt and watch terrible TV (MTV’s ‘Are You The One’ has gotten me through a lot of hangovers). Don’t smoke (crack). Look after yourself but also indulge where it’s appropriate. You get the idea.

Keeping the balance can be difficult when you relocate to a new country. In London, I was fairly good at keeping healthy. I ran (sometimes from the cops, but sometimes marathons), practiced yoga and meditation, ate various green items and kept my blowouts to the weekend most of the time. When I moved to Barcelona earlier this year, the balance tipped very much in favour of being a massive lad and drinking buckets of gin, eating buckets of aioli (a friend describes it as the younger, hot cousin of mayonnaise) and being a disgusting mess. I was only living in the city for three months, so all efforts to keep healthy went out of the window alarmingly quickly.

Now I’m a little more settled (for the next year anyway), I’m still working out the balance. So, for anyone who’s wondering why mid-travels, they’re starting to resemble a Christmas ham (*Peter Griffin voice* GUILTYYYYY) here are my tips for attempting not to die during your time abroad:

Don’t deny yourself the good stuff

Accept that every new destination comes with new local delicacies to try. Get involved and don’t beat yourself up for having a few extra treats, especially in the beginning. I tried doing this in my first month in Salamanca, when I decided to go vegan for a month, literally because someone bet me I couldn’t. Living in the jamon capital of Europe, I was utterly miserable. BE NICE TO YOURSELF YOU DICKS.

(NB the same rule goes for alcohol and/or recreational drugs. Do your thing, but recognise that your current situation might not be entirely in the ‘real world’ and practise moderation)

Don’t overcompensate

To make up for months of self-abuse (no, not that kind) in Barca, I started working out multiple times a day when I first arrived here. Unless you are a professional athlete, or training for a competition of some kind, you probably don’t need to be doing this. On a vegan diet which I hadn’t entirely figured out, I ran out of energy very rapidly and ended up making myself moderately ill. Small steps are key to keeping healthy and also much easier to fit around your travel schedule – nobody wants to miss one of the modern wonders of the world because they had to do sit ups.

Find a workout routine that works for you

When you’re abroad, especially if you’re backpacking, there’s no point in locating a gym in every new location, however exercise shouldn’t be neglected. Endorphins got me through my first difficult through weeks in my new city, plus my recent breakup. Find something that works for you that doesn’t involve a pricey membership. For me, it’s yoga – I cannot recommend enough the amazing Lesley Fightmaster, a US-based instructor who has several free programmes on her channel. Currently on day 59 of her 90 Day Yoga Fix and I love it!

Join a Zumba class

Seriously. I used to think Zumba was for trophy wives and old people. Now it’s my favourite Saturday morning activity. You haven’t truly experienced it, in my opinion, until you’ve been to a class entirely in Spanish. Minus the good old British reserve it’s about ten times more fun. If Zumba’s not your cup of tea, classes in general are great for meeting people and having a laugh while simultaneously practising self-care.

Balanced diet people!

I’m 27 and I’m only just starting to realise the impact food has on your overall health, both physical and mental. I’m lucky in that my metabolism is fairly unchanging – I don’t really lose weight, but I don’t really gain it either. That said, I’ve adopted a mainly plant-based diet, sticking to vegan food during the week. I feel more energetic, healthier, and actually, happier. It’s not easy to keep a specific diet going when you travel a lot but making small changes helps – for example, I sacked off cow’s milk in favour of soy milk and gradually phased out cheese. Much easier than going cold turkey (cold tofu?) and feeling super sad all the time because I can’t have cheese, my one true love.

Meditate

My doctor back in the UK recommended meditation to help with my general anxiety issues during a particularly stressful time at work. I’m not very good at being consistent but I can honestly say that meditation helps with so many things. Particularly if you move around a lot, it’s a great mental exercise to keep you centred and balanced and help you to deal with things like big life changes. Headspace is my favourite app, with programmes for everything from depression to pain management, self esteem to gratitude. Calm is another good choice if you like to have soothing rainforest sounds in the background when you’re trying to switch off

Take time for yourself

Once a week (sometimes twice) I stay in, cook something usually a bit trashy, watch awful TV and do horribly stereotypical girly things like a manicure or putting weird pink colours in my hair. I’ve always done this and, while it can be tempting to go out and be a big lad every night if you’re in a hostel-type setting, or living in a notorious party city, PACE YOURSELF

Disclaimer: I AM NOT A DOCTOR. I’m not even friends with any doctors. These are just some ideas I’ve collected during my own travels which seem to work well for me – I pass my wise owl wisdom on to my fellow nomads. Be happy and be well (and have a few gins too).