It’s a Traveller’s life – our backpacking routine

Women waiting at a bus stop, Turkmenistan

“Oh, have you found the yoghurt?” “No, I think this word means “fat” – 28% can’t be yoghurt… I guess it’s some sort of sour cream… But wait, this one ends in ‘–oni’! Matsoni is yoghurt, isn’t it?” Our life as travellers is not always easy.

We spend hours in supermarkets pondering over contents lists in strange languages trying to figure out if there is gelatine in the yoghurt or beef extract in the vegetable can. And that is supermarkets. In Central Asia we usually had to start by finding out where the Green Bazaar (the food bazaar) was. Where are the three shops with refrigerator that might sell cheese? What is the normal price for a kilo of apples in this town? Could we possibly buy less than a kilo of salt somewhere? Shopping is one of the things that take more time than we thought.

Natascha in the kitchen of a rental apartment in Tashkent during our life of constant travel

Other time-consuming activities are:

  • Editing photos
  • Finding an open post office that sells stamps
  • Writing a travel diary
  • Staring at the map in the guide-book trying to remember the layout of city XY (never try to find a hotel with the Lonely Planet in your hands, or you forfeit your bargaining option and are prey to every tout and taxi driver.)

How to get hot water in hotels

In the Soviet style hotels in Central Asia, every floor has a floor lady who guards the keys and may or may not hand out toilet paper and extra blankets, depending on her mood. One morning in Taraz, Isa ventured into the floor lady’s room to ask for hot water to make us some coffee (well, instant coffee). The rusty old kettle was not on, but another hotel guest, a lady with a single hair curler in her fringe, was just walking away, presumably fetching water for the kettle. After a short while she came back with a shiny new electric kettle and gestured towards Isa to fetch water. Meanwhile, a stout woman in a morning gown appeared with her cup and a used tea-bag. She turned out to be one of fringe-curler’s room-mates who wanted an extra cup after the group had returned the borrowed electric kettle. [….] 20 minutes later, when our coffee was ready, we knew all the guests on the second floor.

Natascha eating in a simple hotel room

Some travel hacks …

The next day, we bought a tiny immersion heater “made in Taiwan” that takes just over two minutes to make a cup of hot water. It cost only 60 cent and is an addition to our luggage we don’t want to do without anymore. Ok, we now sometimes spend our time holding a cup of water close to the only socket in the room that is high up in the wall.
Some other things in our traveller’s life that we came to like or find very useful and that now fill our backpacks:

  • “Islamic Architecture” by Robert Hillenbrand, an extensive (and heavy) book about medieval Islamic architecture that makes visiting mosques and madrasas a delight
  • A pink clothesline, 5 pegs and a bar of curd soap (cleaner and easier to use than washing powder)
  • A box of mosquito coil
  • Red adhesive tape to seal open food packages or cheap envelopes without a self-adhesive strip
  • One of those typical German cotton bags (“Kiepert – Bücher für alle“)
  • Leather wax for our hiking boots
  • Ziploc freezer bags for our tea and coffee
  • Salt and pepper, oat meal, raisins and nuts (for breakfast in hotel rooms).
Traveller's life: Natascha with washing line in a hotel room in Almaty

What we like less about our traveller’s life

Although we love (almost) every day of our travel, there are of course a few things we do not like about travelling. We miss to cook our own food (and compromise by self-catering a lot) and yearn for good conversations with other people. Many of the travellers we have met tend to talk about how cheaply they managed to stay, where, and for how long. “And the people were so friendly!” We earn astonished looks when we mention corruption, dictators, or political discontent that may not be immediately visible. Perhaps we do miss political science, after all (although not work!).

Unlike travellers during the 19th and 18th century who could load their travel library on five camels, we had to think about different solutions for our traveller’s life. We had prepared some books and photocopies to be sent poste restante to post offices along the way. So far everything has arrived.

For the first part of the journey (China, Central Asia, and Turkey) we have taken a lot of articles and excerpts on file. In addition, we download information from the Internet about the sights we are going to visit or we have visited. When there’s a chance to buy an interesting book (rare enough so far) we do. And again the backpacks get heavier. So, again, we start looking for an open post office to send one of the read books to Germany…

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