Life Plans on Dive Bar Napkins
What motivates you to travel?
I travel to experience something different and take myself out of my comfort zone.
What has been your biggest adventure so far?
A few years back some friends and I flew into Panama and worked our way up through central America on local buses (mostly ‘chicken’ buses – old retired school buses from America) to Los Angeles.
We had originally planned to visit Cuba and travel along the Caribbean coast of central America but due to some massive hurricanes, we ditched that idea and instead travelled along more of the Pacific coast which attracts less tourists. Changing our travel route and visiting lesser-known destinations was the best idea we ever had.
Why did you decide to take a particular trip?
We had been living in London for a number of years and needed two things – some sun and to travel through an area with a lower frequency of drunk Australian backpackers than the pubs of Clapham we were used to.
When and where did you go?
We flew into Panama and backpacked up through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico up to America.
How long did you stay?
A few months more or less.
Who did you travel with?
A group of friends I’d met in London – and then various other travellers joined us for little periods of time if they were headed the same way.
What was the best part about the trip?
The freedom. We were all in our mid-twenties, had no family or partners to worry about and had all just left our jobs. We had no pre-planned itinerary (other than vaguely heading north). We had time limits on our travels and no obligations.
If we heard of an amazing little beach or village three days travel away, we would just go there and stay as long as we wanted. There is no better feeling in the world than sitting on top of a chicken bus drinking wine on the road to somewhere you have never been, with no idea how long you will stay or what you will do when you arrive.
What was most stressful about the trip?
Managing our budget towards the end of the travels became annoying. The closer we got in Mexico to America at the end of our trip, the more expensive things became. Unfortunately this also coincided with our finances being close to zero.
What lessons did you learn on the trip?
Don’t tell mum you are backpacking through Honduras and El Salvador at a time when those countries are having periods of unrest. Just call her when you arrive somewhere safer and tell her about the trip in retrospect. This avoids her worrying and emailing you every day asking you to check-in and that you are still alive.
Did you meet interesting people or make life-long friends?
Oh for sure. Our Spanish was patchy at best and we travelled with a backpacker from Andorra for part of the trip who helped us navigate our way through El Salvador. He had dreadlocks past his bum and didn’t really believe in personal hygiene, but he could negotiate his way through a border crossing (no easy feat in Central America) with more skill and diplomacy than a career politician.
What funny things happened to you while you were travelling?
We travelled for days to an out-of-the way beachside town in Costa Rica to visit a friend who was studying Spanish. Except when we got there we learned that he had moved on to Mexico and we just didn’t read his email because we thought he was asking us to bring food for him (tubes of vegemite) and we wanted plausible deniability (to be able to say we hadn’t seen his email) for why we didn’t have anything for him.
Did you have a plan or did you wing it?
Totally winged it.
What would you do differently next time?
If I was to take a long trip through central America again, I would go back via the Caribbean coast next time to do the trip we originally planned.
How did you feel on your return home?
Tired and broke. But also it is pretty confronting how little we can get by on and be happy with when you have travelled for a long period with next to no money (and enjoyed it) and then arrive back in Australia where there is just so much of everything and the people around you are no happier for it.
What is your best travel tip?
Don’t overthink or pre-plan your trip too much. Arrive and be open to experiencing whatever the destination has for you, rather than rushing around trying to tick off a whole lot of sites you have seen on Instagram.
How has your life changed as a result of travel?
I’ve made some of my best friends and had most of the greatest experiences of my life while travelling. I’d be a much more boring and less happy person without travel.
by Paul Manser
Paul Manser is a Melbourne-based travel writer who has been published in newspapers including The Australian, Herald Sun, The Courier Mail, MX and The Sunday Telegraph, as well as by international media titles and travel brands such as MTV, Hearth, International Traveller and G Adventures.
Away from writing, Paul is the personal manservant to a grumpy 11 year old sausage dog named Bruno. He has also started four businesses, the majority of which have not resulted in being chased down the street by a reporter from A Current Affair.
Today, you can often find Paul with bags under his eyes, scrolling through his phone absently looking for international flight sales as his young children test the boundaries of physical and personal safety on playground equipment at a public park in Melbourne’s inner-west.