George Town, Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Do you ever find yourself torn between utter travel snobbery, looking for budget solutions and the burning desire to chase the most well-known tourist attractions everywhere you go? I do.
Refusing to ever get on a Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus falls into the travel snob category. Why would one ever take part in an accessible, affordable, well run and fun experience that has been so successful it is now enjoyed in over 150 cities around the world? Ridiculous idea, right?
When I lived in London for almost ten years, red buses filled with holiday-makers must have passed me by at least 20 times a day. I had zero time for them. Just like I had zero time for Madamme Tussaud, and now that the waxy clones of Harry and Meghan have been separated from the rest of the inanimate the royal family I am utterly gutted I never got to see them together. Royals aside, even when I moved to Sydney – hands down one of the most beautiful places to admire from the heights of a double-decker bus – I had no interest in joining the ride. I guess I was way too busy running away from spiders, avoiding snakes and refusing to get into the ocean because of sharks?
So, of course, I had no intention to use those services during our round the world trip. I wasn’t going to all these new destinations to jump on a bus and bypass ‘the real’ experience.
How could you try Bangkok’s delicious street food from the top of a double-decker? Would Turkish coffee taste the same inside of a bus in Istanbul? And would Warsaw’s Palace of Culture look as impressive through a plate glass window?
Guess what? While I would not recommend drinking a scorching beverage during a bumpy bus ride, I soon found out that Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus was fantastic for pretty much everything else. Yet, I had to go all the way to Cape Town to realise that.
There we were, in this stunning location too big to tackle on foot – and not exactly accessible on public transport either. After venturing on a massive walk on our first day in the Mother City, we made a controversial decision: not willing to spend too much money on Ubers, cabs or car rental, we had no choice other than to go with a Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus.
I was in full mourning over the authentic South African spirit we were clearly not going to experience now that we chose this globalised, homogenous and un-authentic mode of transport. And even as a die-hard public transport fan, buses were never my thing. I have always been a train kind of girl. And so I didn’t expect much from an ordinary bus ride filled with a bunch of travellers who didn’t know any better, ourselves included.
But what a joyful experience it was. Convenient, informative, mind-expanding and fun.
A very affordable ticket got us all-day access to the tour. The journey had four different routes around the bustling metropolis, with a bus stopping at evenly distributed stops every 15 to 20 minutes. Onboard, we got two sets of headphones, and as we marvelled at the city and broader Cape Town area, we listened to immersive and fascinating facts and stories about the region.
Stops covered not only the most central part of the city – with the Table Mountain cable car being one of the leading destinations. The route takes you all around the beaches, Kirstenbosch Gardens, Constantia wine region, Imizamo Yethu Township and Haut Bay. It makes broader Cape Town’s diverse arena incredibly accessible.
We had a lovely time learning about the area from atop of the double-decker. And it was so freeing to give a boot to the inner snob and fully embrace the touristy character of the ride.
Wrapped in a colourful kikoy, with a sun hat planted on top of my head, I clutched a printed out city map as I pointed at things we cruised past with enthusiasm. Needless to say, all the photos I took during the trip feature either the back of somebody’s head or the railing of the bus.
I never even went up Table Mountain because I liked the new tourist bus perspective so much. Let that one sink in. I still find it pretty shocking myself.
Of course, nobody should ever skip a trip up Table Mountain during their time in the Cape. Still, everyone should add the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus experience to their next trip itinerary. And with the Capetonian winds reaching speeds of up to 120 kilometres an hour, you might want to grab one of the stunning kikoys to stay warm on the open roof top-deck.
Before we venture out to Miami, Central America and California, we’re enjoying a holiday break in my home town, in Poland. No snow but the Christmas lights didn’t disappoint!
Zebras we encountered in Pilanesberg National Park, a few hours away from Johannesburg, South Africa. Their lovely formation fully made up for the lack of lions.
It all started with choosing destinations for our around the world ticket. ‘Pick three continents you want to go to and seven destinations within those, and you’re good to go!’ said the travel agent cheerfully, making it sound like the easiest thing to do. I, on the other hand, noticed a tiny seed of dread starting to develop in the pit of my stomach.
What do you mean, choose seven destinations out of the whole wide bloody world? A mild case of choice paralysis set in. And that was only the beginning.
The amount of decisions we face in today’s society is overwhelming. From your local supermarket (do you also get to pick from 17 types of olive oil?) to health insurance (you better be lucky enough to afford the premiums) and a mobile plan (plus a phone to go with it). Long-term travel doesn’t take this away. It takes it to another level.
Before I left, I had quite an established routine in Sydney. Having a bit of a fixed rhythm to my day-to-day was predictable, but it helped in alleviating several choices I had to make. The fact that some of the decisions were automated meant I could make better or more informed decisions in other areas of life.
More Travel = More Freedom = More Choice
I thought travelling long-term promised more spontaneity and the chance to break free from the shackles of structured and well-organised life. And it has. But it has also brought an unexpected complication. Because what I didn’t consider was the fact that being freer effectively means having more choice.
The moment I decided to go travelling – and go all rogue – the number of decisions I had to make grew dramatically.
Suddenly, I had to consider where to spend the night, where to have dinner and what to eat. Where to go next and how to get there? What to plan for the new location I was heading for? Having left a 9-5 (or more like 8-8) job behind, I also found myself with a very different amount of time on my hands. Now I got to decide how to spend the time previously filled with a busy job! It was fantastic and, of course, I had hobbies I wanted to focus on. I just had to decide which ones I wanted to pursue and how I was going to go about it during my travels. Before I knew it, ‘the tyranny of choice’ was ruling the itinerary.
The Tyranny Of Travel Choices
The term tyranny of choice, used by the American psychologist and author of ‘The Paradox Of Choice’, Barry Schwartz, refers to the challenging effects of the culture of choice. It’s the notion that, logically, more comprehensive selection should make us happier because it allows people to select precisely what they want – but research indicates that abundance doesn’t give happiness.
Whether you’re a traveller or not, ‘choice fatigue’ might sound familiar. It means that having more choice makes the decision more difficult. And the multitude of options, rather than being an agent of freedom, can be paralysing. Anybody else spent days ploughing through the ample resources of the worldwide web reading all possible reviews about all possible accommodation options in Istanbul and found themselves utterly incapable of making a decision? *puts her hand up* A casual search for a two-week stay in Istanbul in May returns 2,637 properties on Booking.com.
But that’s not all.
According to Barry Schwartz, we not only struggle to make a choice in the first place, we’re also probably quite unhappy with the choice we’ve made because of the imagined alternative. If something we’ve chosen isn’t perfect, it’s easy to think there must be a better alternative. I believe it’s what us, Millenials, refer to as FOMO and I am very partial to it myself. “Opportunity costs subtract from the satisfaction that we get out of what we choose, even when what we choose is terrific. And the more options there are to consider, the more attractive features of these options are going to be reflected by us as opportunity costs.” – says Barry in his TED Talk. I mean, now that I have decided to go to Mexico over Argentina, Chile and Venezuela, I am absolutely convinced that any of the other options would have been a much better choice. Even if I’m not entirely sure why.
And because there are so many options, we generally have much higher expectations of things we’re choosing between – it has become increasingly hard to get pleasantly surprised by anything. And because our standards are so high, in general, we feel worse. I went to the stunning Pilanesberg National Park and spent two days driving around, watching – in awe – zebras, giraffes, elephants, rights, hippos, impalas and other gorgeous African animals. But I wasn’t fortunate enough to spot the lions. The whole trip ruined, right? Wouldn’t have happened in Kruger Park, that’s for sure.
How about leaving your whole life behind in a brave effort to embrace the unknown roaming the world and just be cool with that?
Expect Less And Be OK with ‘Good Enough’
Lowering expectations is one way to be happy. I will go even further. When travelling, it’s great to have no expectations at all. That is difficult in a world in which social media creates a very vivid, enviable, saturated and often untrue image of the world around us – but it’s possible with a lot of work and goodwill. Following on from Barry’s advice on how to aid the tyranny of choice, here are some thoughts on how they can relate to long-term travel:
- Set ‘good enough’ standards and abandon the idea of finding the best option. If you find something that ticks the most important boxes, don’t spend any longer looking for the next best thing. If you’re always after the best option, finding the needle in the haystack of 2,637 accommodation options will take a lifetime. If you’re OK to settle for something good enough, you are likely to find something sooner – and perhaps be just as satisfied as if you were if you’d picked ‘the best’ option.
- Restrict your option choices. Looking for a bar for a nightcap in the new city? Reference only two websites that list information on the local entertainment scene and try your luck.
- Make an effort to get FOMO out of our life. Over and out. Appreciate the positives about the decisions you made and don’t ponder on what the other choices could have meant.
- Be OK with any outcome and accept that none of them it better or worse. Fine, perhaps Bali belly isn’t a good one. But otherwise, not every dish you have during your travels will be a MasterChef quality one – far from it. Fine! You might land a room in a totally dead area of town. So what? No lions on the safari? How cool was cruising so close to the zebras though? Take it all in as part of the experience – because that is precisely what it is. And it is yours and nobody else’s, and that’s what’s special about it.
- Lastly, put agency behind your choices and use them to make a statement about who you are. Make choices because of the person you want to be through the decisions you make. Rather than comparing destinations, experiences, places to each other based on an objective set of qualifiers, exercise your own individuality in the shape your travels take as a form of self-expression.
By no means have I got it all figured out. In fact, as I pack for the next leg of the trip, I struggle to keep the choice paralysis at bay because, believe me, it really comes to life in the process of packing.
Six friends + six ice creams = summer. In the midst of European winter, I miss Africa’s warmth.