Introducing Ellen, a lovely Swede we met in Playa del Carmen and traveled to Caye Caulker, Belize with. She is one of the most calm and peaceful people we’ve had the pleasure to be around. She is also the only person we know that’s been robbed by a cobra!
When We Met: March 2014
Where We Met: Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Occupation: Social worker for unaccompanied refugees
I think that one of my reasons I don’t travel more is because I think too much. You shouldn’t think too much about it because things sort themselves out anyway.
How did you find yourself in Mexico? I decided one week ahead that I was going here on a two week trip with a friend, so that’s how I ended up here.
And what happened after the two weeks ran out? Yeah, I was going to go back home with my friend and I was thinking a few days ahead that I didn’t want to go back because I didn’t have work for a few months and then just decided on my way to the bus station that I wanted to stay and to not go back. I couldn’t cancel my ticket so I just skipped my ticket and ended up here [our hostel] at Playa del Carmen.
So you just decided to stay? Yes, I decided to stay without knowing where I am going. It feels so good, it feels like for the first time in many years I feel free. I’ve been stuck at work for many years doing everyday from 8-4, it’s like every day I know exactly what I am doing and now every day I have no idea what’s going to happen and I love it.
How long are you thinking about staying now? I’m thinking about staying to the end of April, so two more months.
Do you know what you want to do for the next two months? No, I have no idea. I just know that my best friend’s birthday is in April and I promised to be in Berlin to meet her for her birthday party. So that’s all I know.
What are your impressions of Mexico so far? It’s good, I have only good experiences of Mexico. It’s a bit touristic here but I like it anyway. It’s good, everyone is good and friendly.
So far, in the two weeks you’ve been here is there some were that stands out as being your favorite place? Yeah, for me it was Belize, that was my favorite part of this vacation. Caye Caulker. It was really relaxed. I came here because I needed to relax from work. I took a few months off from work to relax. I was just feeling like I can’t do this anymore, I can’t do the stress, I can’t do everyday working for someone else, so for me it was relaxing to go there. It is more relaxed than here, peaceful and quiet and I liked it.
What is your favorite place you’ve ever been? One of my favorite places is Cape Town, I stayed there for a few months. I like it because you can find everything. You have nature there, you can see sharks, whales, just like 10 minutes away from the city then you can go out partying if you want. You have the culture and the South African history.
What is the longest trip you’ve ever taken? I think that was in South Africa when I stayed there but I was studying and working. I did an internship and worked, I guess that was the longest I’ve been away from home, so it was like maybe 6 months.
Were you there by yourself? No, I was there with a friend from school so we were there together.
Where else have you backpacked? I’ve backpacked through India, Nepal, in Africa through South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland, and in South America, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia and the United States and Mexico.
Have you ever had any really negative experiences while backpacking? No, not really. I had some negative experiences in India. I was sick a lot. From food. I was really careful though. Oh and the one time I was robbed by a guy in India. He didn’t have a knife or a gun, he robbed me with a cobra.
Wait, what? A cobra? [laughs] Yes, he took it out of a box and waved it around, basically forced me to give him money to put it away. I felt like I was robbed.
Wow, well moving on…when you go on trips do you decide what your budget will be ahead of time? No.
So how do you budget yourself when traveling? I have an amount of money and I always try to have more than I need. Almost all of the time I have more money than I have [time] off work. I don’t want to spend a lot so I stay at hostels, eat cheap food, I don’t shop a lot, I don’t do things like that. But it isn’t like I’m always on a budget and I have like 500 [$40 USD] pesos, 200 pesos a day, I just take it as it comes. Like this time if I don’t have money left then I will just go home.
As a vegetarian do you have any problems while traveling? Yeah, sometimes it’s hard but like India was the perfect place to be in because the food is vegetarian almost all the time. But South America is harder.
So what did you have to do in South America to maintain your vegetarian diet? I had to ask around a lot and they had to make special food because they don’t have it all the time. If you ask they almost always will make something for you.
Have you ever broken your diet while traveling? I have tried meat, not because I couldn’t find food but because I wanted to try something. Like in Ecuador I was with a family and they invited me to eat guinea pig and I wanted to try it because I thought it was polite when you are invited to eat it by a family.
What was guinea pig like? It tasted like smoke because they cook it over the fire in a small house and there is no ventilation all so it is really smokey.
Do you have any place you want to see next? Yeah, I have a few places I want to go to. I want to go to the Caribbeans and I always wanted to go to Madagascar, I haven’t been there. And maybe Japan as well.
Do you have a process when planning your trip? No, I don’t plan anything at all. Well, the only think I plan when I’m traveling is how long I can get off work but this trip I didn’t have any work for a couple of months and my friend called and said that she was going to Mexico in few days and asked if I wanted to go so I thought, yeah why not?
So you didn’t do any advanced research at all? You showed up not knowing anything at all? Yeah, like I knew stuff from before and that we were going to Cancun and it was touristic but we didn’t have anywhere to stay.
Do you feel comfortable traveling like that? Yeah, it’s fine.
Any regrets about not planning? No, not at all.
How many pairs of shoes did you pack? I packed three but already threw one away. I have one pair of havanas and one pair of sneakers.
Do you normally travel by yourself or with someone else? I normally travel with friends.
Now you’re here by yourself, how do you feel about that? I feel really good about it. It is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but I’ve always traveled with friends. It feels great to be by myself now though.
Any fear so far? Well, before by myself, I wouldn’t want to go to some of the places I’ve been by myself but here in Playa I feel really safe. It’s not a problem at all.
Can you tell us your thoughts about staying in hostels? Yeah, I like to stay in hostels because you meet a lot of people. Sometimes I miss having my own room so my favorite is to stay in a private room at a hostel if it is possible.
Do you have any advice for people that want to travel but feel like they can’t? Yeah, I think that one of my reasons I don’t travel more is because I think too much. You shouldn’t think too much about it because things sort themselves out anyway. Don’t pack too much, I always have too much. I pack a lot of clothes, too much. Because you can just wash your clothes anywhere you go, it’s easier to just do that than carry around a lot of clothes.