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In today’s Why We Travel interview, I speak with Lee and James Scrivener, the couple behind “The Travel Scribes,” a blog full of travel tips and articles related to their travels around the world. From England and South Africa respectively, Lee and James met in Cape Town. Two cats and two more countries later (Germany and the UK), they decided to take the plunge and live life on the road. They’re currently full-time travelers, while Lee tries her hand at penning her first novel and James satisfies his newfound penchant for photography.
Describe your first transformative travel experience.
When James was a tender, naïve 18-year-old, he went backpacking around South East Asia. It was his first solo travel experience and back then it was without today’s creature comforts of mobile phones or Google maps or even online hotel booking sites. It was truly immersive – while you met other travelers lugging their dog-eared copies of Lonely Planet, you were just as often the only westerner on a 16
Why is travel important to you personally?
It’s often hard to put into words why we love to travel. Obviously it’s about seeing other cultures, and new experiences, and all those good things. But we think that for us, travel is a bit of an escape from the ‘eat, sleep, Netflix, repeat’ culture. We like to push ourselves out of our comfort zones and so travel seems a natural outlet to do this. For Lee it’s also because growing up in South Africa, you have a plethora of beautiful places to visit but it’s particularly difficult to go further afield, since the currency is quite weak and the distances very far on the South African rand. Your vision can be quite narrow: of course she knew a lot about the world, but hadn’t experienced it for herself.
Then, in her previous role at courier company DHL, they were great about sending her to far-flung places. Those experiences started broadening her horizons and giving her a taste of what the world had to offer. For James, travel is also about overcoming obstacles. A few months before our current round the world trip, he was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease, Ulcerative Colitis. Essentially it’s a chronic disease of the large intestine which is complicated since it’s not very prevalent in the countries we’re visiting and therefore has limited medical support. We have to be quite careful in what kind of transport we take (long train journeys are difficult), the food we eat (avoiding street food and spicy fare), and need to carry quite a bit of emergency medication.
How would you describe your travel “style”?
We like to call ourselves moderate mid-range meanderers! We both have been lucky enough to experience a lot of premium or luxury travel through our work experience; actually before this current trip, Lee was more often flying business class and staying in 5-star hotels so this trip has been a bit of an eye-opener! We’re currently mixing it up between hostels and hotels: hostels give us the opportunity to meet other travelers on the road (although we always take a private rather than dorm room), while hotels give us the little luxuries that we sometimes miss: some scented shower gel, a buffet breakfast spread or a hairdryer.
As to our traveling speed, we’re definitely smack-bang in the middle. We aren’t slow travelers since we get bored in one spot very easily. That said, we aren’t speedy either since we often meet friends along the way and they are usually 2-3 cities ahead of us by the end of that country tour. We also fall squarely between minimalist and generous when it comes to packing. We both carry quite hefty backpacks with separate day bags so we aren’t very sparing with our gear, but we also aren’t over packers; in fact we have shed a lot of stuff along the way.
What tips do you have for travelers to make their experiences more meaningful?
Don’t do it for the gram! Okay, so this might sound a little hypocritical, considering we are both keen on Instagram and generate quite a bit of Instagram-related content for our blog. But we see so many tourists and travelers spending all their time at large sightseeing attractions, trying to perfect their Instagram shot, or setting up their tripods. Listen, there is nothing wrong with getting great photographs and even taking some time to do it – we’re not judging that. But, memories are more than just an Instagram photograph; who knows if the platform will even be around in twenty years? Be present, enjoy what you’re doing and don’t spend all your time seeing it through your camera or phone lens.
Be smart about bargaining. In most places in the world, bargaining is part and parcel of daily life. Don’t be afraid of it or feel that you are doing someone out of their daily livelihood by bargaining for a few dollars; in some cases, it’s part of the exchange! More than that, use bargaining and alternative tactics to lower the cost of your travel. As an example, you’ll often find a better deal if you email a hotel directly than what you would find on Agoda or Booking.com. Both those platforms have a commission so hotels would rather bypass this. We’ve been able to get 60% off a cruise before just by emailing different vendors!
What are your favorite travel-related books, movies, paintings, poems, songs, etc.?
We both share a favorite book: Shantaram
On the cheesier, more commercial side we both loved the movie, The Beach. It speaks to this unspoken desire to find a deserted beach and live a simpler life. Of course, we know that the movie created an over-tourism nightmare for Thailand but the movie really inspired us to visit Thailand, plus it has some banging songs on its soundtrack!
Well, firstly, we know that we are extraordinarily lucky to travel. We are privileged to be able to afford to do so and the saying that ‘everyone can travel’ is not necessarily true: someone living below the poverty line will probably never have the chance to leave their country, if not their town.
We also have mixed feelings on convincing everyone to get on the road. Travelling has shown us some incredible hidden gems and almost undiscovered places. But it’s also shown us the uglier side of tourism and greed: a case in point our recent visit to Sihanoukville in Cambodia on our way to the Koh Rong islands. That town is suffering under a massive tourism boom where almost 70 casinos and hotels are being built in 2-3 years. There is sewage in the streets, filthy water to your waist and the infrastructure to support the building boom just isn’t there – it made us incredibly sad to see.
So, this might not be the politically correct answer, but we don’t want to push others to travel for the sake of traveling. We would love to promote sustainable travel but seeing the reality of plastic usage and poverty in places like Asia and Africa, we know that sustainable travel isn’t as achievable as we would like.
Get in touch with Lee and James Scrivener
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