Back to Back Package, How Holidays Cost the Same as Living in London

Today, I looked at the Directline Holidays late deals page. Thought it would be interesting, as a vagabond, to see whether joining up back to back package holidays would cost the same as moving house within London and renting. Thus far I’ve successfully (and somewhat painfully) moved my stuff into a locker in London. Aside from clothes, a laptop, and a strangely vast number of plugs, which I didn’t have time to untangle and imbue with meaning.

In some cases you could probably pay just over £1,000 to join up four back to back package holidays. If we take a typical houseshare rent + bills in London at approximately £550-£700 + £80 travel + £80 a month for food + £55 for gym + £120 a month for any pub visits and other luxuries (don’t mention the daily chocolate bar budget) we get £885 for cheap London living each month or £1,035 for those with slightly higher rents. As a freelancer, this means that a choice between back to back package holidays and just living in London actually exists.

Office in the sun - Image provided by Tourism Thailand

Office in the sun – Image provided by Tourism Thailand

Obviously, given my penchant for all things train-related and my dislike of planes and package holidays, it’s not for me. But isn’t that crazy? Isn’t that slap-me-in-the-face-because-I-can’t-bloody-believe-it ridiculous?

Having perched myself in Bristol over the last weekend and become familiar with booking coaches and phoning lovely friends with space to stay, I’m wondering when and how we’re going to sort out the housing mess that is London. Does the government seriously think the answer is for people to become freelancers to help the economy only to move into someone’s spare room and pay their bedroom tax for them? What a monumentally bizarre country we do live in.

At this stage – it means ultimately giving up the freelance lifestyle and returning to the world of full time employment. But I’m incredibly lucky to have that option, I had a good education and writing is a skill people need.

This post was brought to you by Directline Holidays. Clearly.

Sophie Collard on Google+

On Location Independence

Location independence. Sounds so free. When I returned from India a couple of months ago, immediately regretting my decision upon remembering what January and February in England are actually like, my landlady was pleased. She was pleased because she’d decided to sell the house I live in and didn’t want to give me a heart attack by telling me if I was still in India.


I’d also returned to find that part of what I’d run away from was a lack of work. This seems ironic – surely it would have made sense not to spend all my money on running to India only to return to the same problem that was now, obviously, worse. But the reality was, India saved me. If you’d like to glimpse why – watch the film Outsourced.


So now I’ve got a locker in London, which costs £18 a month, and have packed all my things into a 1m x 1m space ready to go in it. I have some contract work that will be fun, but won’t cover the outrageously expensive cost of renting in London. Obviously eventually I’ll build the work up again to a point where I can afford to live – but most people who have successful blogs have a full time job that most certainly isn’t blogging. I earn less than £10k a year copywriting and writing occasional travel articles and have supplemented that with savings. So in all probability I will run home, even though I haven’t lived with either of my parents in a way that either party has benefited from for a long, long time. In the blogging world, bloggers call this ‘location independence.’ Go on, laugh.


But I feel quite relaxed about everything now I have stopped fighting against it. Sometimes you just need to regroup, and have time to pitch to people without deepening the lines in your forehead worrying about £600-800 every month that you just don’t have.

Also – when you spend enough time telling everyone you need work they do hear you, which is nice.

Along the way, I’ve found out about some amazing alternatives to renting. I won’t mention couchsurfing, as unless it’s with my friends I don’t find it that appealing.

The first is The site features thousands of properties all over the world. In most cases, the owners are going away on holiday and need someone to look after their cat or dog. Sometimes they need someone to look after their herd of alpacas. Sometimes the properties belong to people who split their year between two countries.

The second are property guardian schemes. These schemes allow people to sort of legally squat in properties that are undergoing refurbishment or are due to be pulled down some time in the future. The rent is often half what an average rent for the area would normally be.

The third is probably one of the most rewarding schemes – living with an elderly or disabled person and spending 10 hours a week making sure they are alright, by doing the washing up and getting their shopping for them etc. The housesharee again pays half what they’d normally pay for rent in the area, and they are really giving something back at the same time.

So with T-minus 12 days, anything could happen. I’m going to dance about it like this kid:

Sophie Collard on Google+

Diplomatic Workshopping at Barcampnfp

Barcampnfp whiteboard at the start of the day

Yesterday I put my not-for-profit hat on. Joined the good people assembled at Mozilla’s London offices to talk about not-for-profity type stuff and things.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I wish that all industries held workshops in barcamp format.

In the morning, everyone turned up and drank coffee and wrote ideas for sessions they’d either like to host or have someone else host on post-its. A few people had pre-prepared what they were going to say and a few (like me) hadn’t.

Everyone in the room then collectively decided what sessions would go where and at what time on the timetable.

I wanted to host a session about skills sharing hack days. I’m keen to start skills sharing workshops within the travel community, and just as soon as I can secure some copywriting work and a new place to live I’ll get on that.

The first thing to do when you have an idea, is ask people what they think of it. A barcamp is the perfect place to do so, because the pressure of presenting is removed. Everybody sits in a room and each person ia able to contribute. Rather than everyone just sitting in another lecture.

The feedback was interesting. I used the example of content providers trading skills with developers. Some people looked a little blank. One guy appeared to be suggesting the skills developers have are ‘worth more’ than the skills writers have. Therefore, it was impossible for developers to trade their skills with anyone other than other developers. This was refuted by developers in the room, who actually expressed interest in developing in exchange for content. I mentioned Ken Robinson, who often talks about how we as a society give more credit to what Boris once dubbed ‘crunchy’ subjects than to creative ones.

It also became apparent that larger charities wouldn’t use ‘skills sharing hack days’ for innovation, as they have a set structure in place. For them, a better idea might be to offer desk space and a computer to developers in exchange for some development work.

The really interesting place to host skills sharing hack days would be with small to medium-sized charities who could really do with the innovation.

The first stop would be to create surveys of what people wanted, the second would be to find the people who had the skills to bring to the hack. The third to acquire space and possibly sponsorship to run them.

We are starting to change the way we work. I hope skills sharing hack days will become part of that change across all industries.

A list of people who attended Barcamp Nonprofits can be found here.

Sophie Collard on Google+

Weddings in India

It’s coming up to Valentine’s day. I know this only because the Twitter timeline is beginning to fill up with desperate attempts to link travel-related stuff with love-related stuff, resulting in a cataclysm of travel-love ideas like, ‘propose atop the Eiffel tower on Valentine’s day.’ A cold and windy proposal after a three hour queue with a bunch of tourists? Yes please!

Thought a bit of colour and some pictures of an Indian wedding or two would be more fun. This wedding took place in Jaisalmer, which is 17 hours by train from Old Delhi station. The reservation centre by H Nizamuddin station, where the train to Agra departs from, is the best place to buy a tatkal (last minute) train ticket. Tatkal tickets go on sale at 10am the day before you wish to travel.

And this was in Delhi by the side of the road

In India, the wedding season follows directly after Diwali. There are nights where so many weddings are taking place simultaneously, that the processions cross paths. Fireworks are let off in the street (be careful) and bands play. There’s so much life and so much food at an Indian wedding that you’ve never felt so immersed in celebration. Fourteen dishes, featuring seven sweets and seven curries at the one I attended in Jaisalmer. Not to mention the naan breads coming out of the fire billowing from a big steel drum.

So this year, why not skip the awkward dinner and head to India to enjoy someone else’s wedding?

Sophie Collard on Google+

Hotel Pol Haveli in Jaisalmer, Making Friends and Being Looked After

As I sit in my flat in London wondering if I should go out in the snow, which is thicker on the ground than the amount of work I have, my friend Vijay tells me business at Hotel Pol Haveli in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, is bad. I’m reminded that January isn’t good for any of our finances.

So I thought I’d tell you a bit about how amazing it was to stay at the hotel and how wonderful the people are.

This is my friend Manoj modelling the Adobe sunglasses I got at Social Media Week in London. We were sitting on the roof at the hotel. This was before he showed me how to make the most delicious pakoras I have ever tasted in the hotel kitchen.

We went to the nearby cemetery on a scooter.

And drank chai and bought scarves from this lovely man at the Fort.

And wandered around the city. And rode through the desert.

It was lovely to stay somewhere that was less frequented, but for the guys it would be really great if you could go and stay to make it a little more frequented. From Old Delhi train station, the Jaisalmer Express leaves at 5.30pm and arrives at 11am the next day. Stay a week, you won’t regret it.

Sophie Collard on Google+


Travelling In Delhi Alone as a Woman

Travelling Alone in Delhi as a Woman

A young woman died. Most of her intestines had to be removed before she died, because they had become gangrenous following her rape by a group of men on a bus in Delhi.

When I arrived in Delhi it was loud and busy and there were cows in the street and everyone was allowed on the road whether they were walking, driving an auto rickshaw, a taxi, an overloaded lorry, or a scooter. But I wasn’t scared of it. I made friends and we rode on the metro together.

(the lovely Candace Rardon with our friends on the metro)

When I saw that the metro had a women only carriage, I said to my friend, ‘isn’t that great!’

‘Is it?’ she asked.

‘Well yeah, there’s all this space and you don’t get bothered,’ I said.

‘Don’t you think it would be better to educate our men to behave correctly? she replied, ‘I mean, what next, separate roads? Where does it end?’

This was only a couple of weeks before the appalling gang rape and eventual murder of the 23 year-old medical student on a bus in the city.

The best article I’ve read in western papers following her death is the one below.

I met a Delhi-born journalist the Friday before it happened. At this point I was alone, and definitely felt too vulnerable to venture out at night (and while I love Delhi, it really is not like that in London, I don’t feel the need to get pre-paid cabs after dark).

‘Girl,’ she said, ‘you gotta get yourself one of these,’ and she pulled out a small bright pink can of pepper spray.

‘Where did you get that?’ I asked.

‘Oh, they sell them in all the chemists.’

And so the next day I went and bought one, for 300 rupees.

(I liked the woman with the sword).

But as much as much as it made me feel safer to carry pepper spray while alone in Delhi, and on the overnight train to Jaisalmer, the idea of having it with me in London makes me feel safer too. Even though it isn’t allowed. Because you know what, women get raped every day in London. And although London is safer, before I left for India, a friend of mine was assaulted in a near empty carriage on a train headed for London. And while the police were really good about it, other people were shockingly unsupportive, even asking if it was her fault. And a week after that, I was in a shop in North West London and overheard a woman talking about intervening when she saw a teenage girl alone with a group of boys being assaulted. Worse, when the person who intervened asked if she was okay, the teenager shrugged it off and looked embarrassed.

I don’t think you can compare rape statistics between India and the UK. Our police are different and the number or reported rapes don’t equate to the number of actual rapes. But I do think it is important the media everywhere talk about rape everywhere. Loudly.

The outrage the case has sparked in India is really important for India. There have been multiple protests as well as worldwide media coverage. Nationwide mourning. The five men and one juvenile who raped the 23-year-old will be in court Monday morning. Forensic evidence links them all to the victimA protest with a difference is scheduled for the end of this month. Krav Maga self defence classes every Sunday in January at 11am in Saket. And fingers crossed a turning point.

Sophie Collard on Google+

Making Masala Chai

Making Masala Chai

A cup of five rupee train chai. Mmm, train chai.

As it’s Christmas and those of us who have come home for it might be a little jet-lagged, I thought it only appropriate to write up a post for my friend Pei who runs the Chaya teahouse in Notting Hill. If you haven’t been you simply must go, it is a very special place and Pei is a very excellent chef.

Before I left for India, I went for tea at the Chaya teahouse with some of the London contingent. Pei asked me most enthusiastically if I could find someone who would give him an authentic recipe for Masala Chai. He explained that every Indian he had asked had always said it was their grandmother’s or mother’s recipe, and it would be impossible for him to replicate.

So I asked my friend Manoj to explain,

‘Two cups of water, one cup of milk for the two cups, if you want it strong, two spoons of tea leaves, if weaker one spoon of tea leaves, add sugar to your taste, boil together until you get a browny colour, then put ginger or cardamom in and that’s it.’

Of course Indian milk is thick and creamy, so perhaps you’ll be wise to get real cow’s milk if you want to get it right, but that’s it.

Sophie Collard on Google+

The Train, the Train – Thoughts Before the Night Train Delhi Jaisalmer

The Night Train Delhi Jaisalmer
I’ve finally worked out how to use WordPress from my iPad. I, er, downloaded the app. I know it’s a bit late, but then India is one of those places where you are lucky if you can get a couple of hours peace. Happily, I spent last night in the gorgeous French-run Rose in New Delhi, where peace is everything.



So I now have a good couple of hours to update my blog and bring you the sights, sounds and smells of India, one post at a time. I hardly know where to begin and whether I should work backwards, forwards or at random. India is like my brain, it goes off in tangents constantly. One moment you’ve accidentally picked November 25th to visit the mosque, which wasn’t what you were looking for anyway, and 11-year-old boys are walking down the street throwing water and weilding swords you think might fly out and stab you in the face, and a thousand people wrapped in colour stand up together on the steps to watch. Because it’s a Muslim festival. Another moment you are meeting the editor of a luxury Delhi-based magazine and talking about your rates and where to order more business cards (they are far cheaper over here, everyone).

Tonight, I ride the night train Delhi Jaisalmer.

I hope to see more of this.


But am equally aware I might have a rat pushed toward my face again by a small boy who has initially put it on the back of a puppy and watched as people waiting for trains take photographs on their mobile devices, but gotten bored and offered it up to my face instead.

I also look forward to arriving and seeing my friends. The ones who cooked mutton for my friend Clare and I in the desert and boiled masala chai, the ones who took us to a wedding where I ate my own weight in approximately fourteen dishes. The ones who drove us home on a scooter and made me feel 15 again.

And I look forward to seeing these guys too…


Because riding a camel is like riding a dinosaur. And if you haven’t tried it yet, you simply must. You too can hear silence in a way you have never heard it before, crisp and clear.

The Rose New Delhi is in Delhi’s trendy Hauz Khas Village. It costs about £40 a night, which for a beautiful room in a serene space is worth it. Plus where else can you get great French food in Delhi?

An Indian friend managed to get me a 3rd class ‘bench’ bed on the night train to Jaisalmer by booking through an agency, but if you want to secure a ticket yourself, either go to a reservation centre well before you go (tickets can be purchased 120 days in advance now) or buy an Indian SIM card for your phone and register for an account on the IRCTC site.  Sound like a struggle? Get used to it, you’re in India now. Alternatively, head to a reservation centre for 10am the day before you wish to travel and see if you can get a Tatkal ticket. These are whatever’s-left tickets. First come, first served.

Sophie Collard on Google+