so you think you’ve had a bad date?

I’m sure everyone’s been on a bad date. Up until the start of this year, I hadn’t really had any bad experiences – or rather, after a few bad boyfriends, coupled with a tendency to get anxious around strangers, I had managed to avoid letting any boy come within 5 metres of me. The comfort zone is however there to be challenged, so I’ve been through a string of what you can only call ‘interesting’ experiences (a banker offering to pay to take me home was one of these highlights), which really peaked with a boy who slid into my dms a few weeks ago. Looking back, it is entertaining, but I also want to show how dangerous the influence of social media (particularly Instagram) can be, and how fake everything we’re idolising online really is.

Like I said, I’m always apprehensive when people ask me out and usually do my best to make excuses and get out of dates. Not to be swayed by pretty people, the boy in question was a 9. A 9.5, my housemates were shrieking, and declared that there was no way they would let me out of this one. He’d asked me to gym with him, which turned into a walk in the park, and later some food. He was admittedly as beautiful as his pictures in person, as an ex-topless Abercrombie door model, and general underwear model. 

Straight away, he told me his goals were to travel the world for free as an influencer, and to document it on Instagram and YouTube. I didn’t think much of it; everyone has big dreams. He also loosely mentioned he had a foot fetish, and with all my recent marathon training, my toenails are looking a bit questionable – so I stuck a bunch of fake toenails on before our second date.

He’d offered to make me protein pancakes after I had dinner out with my friends (is there a better way to win me over?!) When I arrived at his house, he was making the pancakes – topless. Despite being perfect and chiselled and very gym-honed, it seemed very staged and fairly cringeworthy. Whatever, I was getting pancakes. Halfway through watching a film, he turned and stared at me, all wide-eyed, before putting one of his vlogs on to ‘show me what he does’. (I pretended like I hadn’t avidly researched him and watched it twice already). He then asked if I knew of Jay Alvarrez and Alexis Ren. Who doesn’t? The power couple took the internet by storm in 2016, posting couple travelling vlogs, making us all lust after their dreamy life; beachy, summer sun and extra sexual. It was at this point that I realised that I wasn’t even really on a date, but more of a business interview.

He next pulled out his modelling casting book, and I had to leaf through the pictures of him, ooo-ing and aaaa-ing to try and feign admiration, although I was incredibly confused and a quite put out by this level of narcissism. He forced one of the pictures of himself upon me, despite my attempts to refuse, and insisted on signing it (who leaves a date with a signed picture of the other person?) He proceeded to tell me that he had discovered me on Instagram, and that I had a lot of POTENTIAL, but wasn’t quite there yet. He repeated that I had the potential to be a ‘strong powerful woman’, but was at this stage not quite good enough, just a ‘baby’ – albeit ‘cute’ one. I was told several times that I inspired him, that I resembled Natalie Portman (not complaining), but that I would have to lose the fake tan (not happening). A ticket to Bali in two weeks on time was on offer; I didn’t have to pay for anything, just bring myself, and I guess whatever brand I represent.

After playing Jay Alvarrez and Alexis Ren’s vlogs, nodding away enthusiastically, (he gave me a sly sideward smile and said that I could do their sex scenes too – if I wanted to), he put on some of the Victoria Secret models’ workout videos. Whilst in no way skinny-shaming, or body-shaming in any form, these girls are incredibly thin. It has taken me years to build up self confidence in my shape, and I am fairly open about my past with body image and eating disorders, yet I was completely taken aback at the suggestion that I needed to be thinner. I just sat in silence, watching these models work out whilst the boy was grinning away and telling me how together we could achieve this look. These videos were briefly interspersed with an old video of Rihanna’s; the grin turned into a frown, and he said that she had become ‘horribly fat’ nowadays. A little too shell-shocked to say anything, I ‘suddenly remembered’ that I had to be up early, collected my things, and called an Uber. I closed the door on calls reminding me of the flight to Bali in two weeks-time.

It’s safe enough to say that two weeks have passed, and I am not in Bali. (My fake toenails have also popped off). Maybe some girl somewhere would have taken him up on his business proposal, but the thought of travelling with someone I’d met a week earlier, who’d sourced me as a business project, and repeatedly told me that I needed some improvements, filming intimate footage for money, is pretty sickening. I guess I was inadvertently groomed in a strange, new, 21st century version of profiting out of girls, thanks to our obsession with social media. I have come away laughing – eventually – and my skin is pretty thick, but after being sourced and unknowingly interviewed to be an insta-wife, I take this as a lesson on being aware of how fake, staged and fictitious the lives of your favourite Instagram stars are. 

TOP 10 THINGS I LEARNED FROM LIVING IN HOSTELS FOR 6 MONTHS

I tend to forget that I lived in hostels for 6 months. I’m kind of a creature of habit (in case you hadn’t realised). I do like a good routine. The barista where I go to get coffee every morning knows my name, as does the candy shop owner where I mass buy watermelon flavoured bubble-gum on the regular. I’m pretty easy to track down in daily life – which is pretty surprising in contrast to the year I spent living out of a backpack. Nonetheless, I still remember the tips and tricks I learned from hostel-hopping across the world.

  • Do your research. I wasn’t really intending to backpacking, or definitely not for quite so long when I started off. The first proper hostel I did stay in was the Arts Factory in Byron Bay. Have you seen The Inbetweeners movie? You know when they arrive at their hostel in Australia and their faces just drop? That’s the one. I probably would have loved it a lot more had I now returned to stay, but it was just a little overwhelming at the start. I chose it off Hostelworld because the pictures looked quirky. Quirky to say the least. A cockroach fell on me whilst in bed. A man with a cockatoo (big white bird) toured around the communal kitchens and played the didgeridoo. I woke up to someone passed out in the toilets. I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been fun, but a bit of background research (or rewatching The Inbetweeners) would have meant I probably wouldn’t have chosen such an intense hostel for my first stay.
  • Choose mixed dorms. They are so much more fun! Admittedly this worked well until I was semi harassed/assaulted twice whilst trying to sleep in Cairns (and reluctantly stayed in all girls for a few weeks thereafter) but mixed dorms generally have a much more upbeat and enthusiastic vibe. Everyone tends to be more keen to mingle and go out and explore (not saying all-girls are boring…).
  • Get people to add you on Facebook. Maybe you’re not as bad at names as me. Faces I can recognise, but names go completely over my head no matter how many times they’re repeated. I spent a whole week in Ho Chi Minh with this guy whose name I don’t just not know now, but really didn’t know at the time either, and became too painstakingly awkward to ask for it (this proved awkward upon multiple occasions of the week). If you meet any cool travellers, you can hunt them down to explore via social media whilst also having a sure-fire method of not forgetting their names.
  • Expensive isn’t always better. Especially if you want a good atmosphere. Some of the best hostels I stayed in were in Vietnam for between $1-$5 a night. 
  • Check the amenities. I’m not trying to sound prissy, but aircon became my best friend. I spent a week in Sydney in a hostel without aircon whilst it was 40c and the hottest week of the year, and never again. Sleeping wasn’t really sleeping, but rather profusely sweating away in my bunk all night, and having mild arguments with the girl below over which way the fan was to be turned. I also ended up sleeping outside on a mattress (with a bug net), surrounded by stray cats on Gili Air by accident after not researching properly, so I can’t stress this enough. 
  • Bed bugs! I’m now a self-declared bedbug expert after having two infestations in 6 months. I know it’s kind of irritating – when you first get into your room, you want to throw down your bags, whip out a change of clothes and head out to explore with whoever you’ve found – but a quick once over glance at the sheets prevents a horrible aftermath. Bedbugs leave small squished blood trails on the mattress. I was asked twice in Seminyak what skin condition I had after being bitten all over, and had to pay £30 (a LOT in Vietnamese money) to have my backpack and all my clothes steam pressed.
  • Facebook groups. If you haven’t met anyone to explore with in your hostel, or have particular areas you want to go with further afield, every traveller’s city tends to have a backpacker’s Facebook group. My favourite was the one in Bondi. I traded in my suitcase for a backpack. People used to post what they were about two escaped pets, two very vibrant and rainbow coloured parrots who were incredibly tame – weekly posts on the Facebook group showed that the parrots actually belonged to a known someone, and whilst they might trespass on your balcony for a bit, they always returned home (this made spotting the two parrots all the more exciting).
not one of Bondi’s infamous free parrots, but a parrot nonetheless
  • Don’t sit down in the shower. Admittedly, this one is pretty common sense, but I like a good sit down to think things over, and consequently came home with ring-worm all down the backs of my legs. (Ring-worm isn’t a living creature, as ominous as it sounds. Think more of an exotic eczema).
  • Hostels almost always have a lost and found. Benefical for when you want to save money, and nothing quite as exciting as a half-used tub of aloe vera.
outdoor mattress in bali
  • Occasional breaks from hostels are okay. After sharing a dorm with 40 people for a while, I stayed in a cheap villa by myself in Bali for a week. I was heinously excited, and it was great for a night (a double bed becomes such a luxury), but surprisingly enough, I ended up kind of lonely and missed the cacophony of 40 snorers. Nonetheless, a break here and there is still good if you need some private space.

In the end, travelling is less down to where you’re staying, and more the people you meet. Hopefully, with these few tips and tricks from what I personally learned and the mistakes I made, you can hopefully quickly learn to love life out of a backpack!

BERLIN

Good evening! I’m always amazed at how much time seems to fly between blog posts – I‘ve managed to go since August without writing anything which is dreadful but in my defence, I have spent most of this university calendar year with my nose in one book or another, and finding time for extracurricular writing is a challenge, alongside 3+ novels per week for a single module.

Weekend getaways are however seemingly not a challenge, as I spent the last few days in Berlin thanks to post new-year spontaneity and the delights of Ryanair last minute flights. I’m going to warn you now that the 6am Sunday flight back was a big mistake, particularly as Berlin Schoenfeld is severely lacking in adequate 4am drunk snacks and places to sleep.

brandenburg gate

I try to remember to snap pictures of restaurants, landmarks or (much to the displeasure of anyone who accompanies me to dinner) food, to get back into the swing of reviews. Unfortunately, I didn’t do quite so well on taking pictures of landmarks, mainly thanks to the sub-zero weather conditions and numb fingers.

checkpoint Charlie, with ‘checkpoint curry’ avaiable at the nearest takeout

With flights at £50 return, only a few weeks in advance, and an Airbnb around £50 a night for a decent apartment, or slightly more upmarket flatshare, Berlin is certainly one of the more affordable European destinations. Whether it’ll be accessible or not in the future is debatable – the first question I was faced with by any and every German was my thoughts on Brexit (pitifully little, I’m not the one to be asked when it comes to politics). We crammed a lot into 2 days, whereas 3 would probably be a better choice to experience more of what the city has to offer.

Tourist attractions such as the Brandenburg gate, Berlin Victory Column, Reichstag Parliamentary Building, Checkpoint Charlie and the Holocaust Memorial architecture are all within walking distance – albeit more 30 mins. The latter is certainly impassive and eerie, interpretations widely debated but generally suggesting the grey, sobering abstract cubes to suggest the unease of a mass graveyard, and a sense of entrapment.

holocaust memorial

Food wise, the aptly named A Never Ending Love Story offered a basic but appetising brunch of pancakes and avocado toast, boasting neon lights and bubble-gum coloured walls as expected to draw in brunching millennials. Food is overwhelmingly cheaper than in London (surprise surprise), and dinner at Saigon Green boasted cheaper meals and a more vegetarian friendly menu than I found in Vietnam itself. Berlin is increasingly heralded as the most vegan-friendly city in Europe, so meat free options can be found on every corner. Even the infamous post night-out doner kebab shop offers numerous vegan options. On the topic of nightlife – I have absolutely no idea where we ended up out, but it was duly underground somewhere, in some abandoned warehouse building. Entering the elusive Berghain was not attempted on this occasion.

avocado toast, but abroad

After spending a continuous year living out of my backpack and traipsing between hostel dorms, I still haven’t returned to the joys of sharing a room with 40 strangers, so have been using more of Airbnb as of late. We stayed in Humboldthain – a little north of the direct centre. Public transport makes all of the suburbs very accessible, and is easily navigated, although unfortunately not contactless. 

My German is a little rusty round the edges at the moment. I can still understand everything, but sometimes I’ll go to speak and it feels as though someone has packed my mouth full of cotton wool, or my voice being 5 seconds behind my brain. Luckily, the German education system means that students excel at foreign languages, and pretty much everyone can speak English better than our basic equivalent of GCSE French or Spanish. So you can bring your pocket guide and put your best Guten Tag and danke and zwanzig Euro on show, but you’ll often find yourself met with a slightly amused English reply.