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Do you guys want to be let in on a little secret? 

I love India.

LOL! Not a secret. Sorry if you feel betrayed, I’m a beast. I just dangle that carrot in front of the donkey’s face and swoosh, whip it away as quick as it was put there in the first place.

But yeah, I love India. It’s one of if not the most incredible countries on this planet, and I’ve never shied away from openly gushing of my deep, deep affection for the country which often treats its cows better than its people and whose government will occasionally just get bored and think “LOL, I know, let’s cancel all the money, won’t that be funny?“.

I love India equally as much as I love Dairy Milk buttons, slightly less than I love cookies and a little bit more than I’m currently crushing on The Greatest Showman soundtrack (and cast – Hugh Jackman, yes puhlease). And if that’s not the most exact representation of my heart right now, I don’t know what is.

Despite all of the above, despite my years of pining for an authentic street samosa and chutney, and despite throwing my heart and soul into spreading the online word that WOMEN SHOULD NOT BE SCARED TO GO TO INDIA ALONE, the one aspect I just couldn’t wrap my head or my heart around was, quite surprisingly, Goa.

The Holy Grail for all things digital nomad, hippy, and yogi 

Despite being none, but at the same time all of the above, when I first visited Goa back in late October 2016 I almost immediately got a sense that it just wasn’t my kind of place. In hindsight, this may have had something to do with how we’d driven for what felt like 8 days all the way up from Kerala, myself in an almost permanent state of unconsciousness for all but 2 hours of the journey.

And when I say a state of unconsciousness, I don’t mean I was sleeping, I mean I was unconscious. Genuinely. The last of my rabies injections had completely wiped me out to the point that I had to be physically shaken to wake up for our food stops, forced to eat a few handfuls of chana masala before being led back to the car where I would very attractively let my chin loll onto my chest and fall unconscious again, mouth open, catching more flies than a jar of honey. I remember at one point we had to stop at a state border, and I could hear the policeman asking who I was married to and where my passport was. But no matter how hard I tried to open my eyes to be all “Hey, I’m alive, they’re not kidnapping and/or murdering me, I swear“, I couldn’t.

The only way to describe my mood on arrival in Goa was cranky. Like that scene in Rugrats: The Movie in the hospital where all the babies are singing and peeing in the sky, and then they all cry in unison at the end. Those babies are me. I am those babies.

Based on what I’d heard from others, and based on what I’d seen on social media, I was expecting pristine beaches, colourful smoothie bowls and cheap thalis, and quaint little huts on the beach. You know, paradise.

coconut trees on the beach in Goa

What I got was crowded and quite dirty beaches, an endless supply of restaurants offering the oh-so authentically Indian ‘chicken nugets and french frys‘ and more British party-goers than you’d find in Cardiff Queen Street on student night but, believe it or not, wearing fewer clothes. If that’s even possible.

Calangute and Baga, where we were based for most of the trip, was how I imagine Ibiza to be at the height of party season, but with cheaper alcohol and more Bollywood music.

It wasn’t all bad

I’m really selling Goa right now, right?

As shit as I’ve made that trip sound, I actually had a really bloody fantastic time. But I will say it was more the company than the surroundings that made it what it was. I travelled with four (maybe five, possibly six, I’ve lost count) really good Keralan friends.

We visited some of the nearby beaches, went go-karting in tin cans, got matching tattoos and ate out every night (food is always a winner in my eyes). At some point, we acquired a motorbike from somewhere and I was finally able to live out my long-awaited dream of driving through palm trees on the back of a bike, singing on top of my voice and letting my hair fill up with bugs. We watched a few gorgeous sunsets, ate some corn on the cob on the beach and most of the guys took advantage of the readily available alcohol (Kerala is an almost-dry state so it was an absolute treat) while myself and my best bud took advantage of the readily available Appy Fizz.

Is it possible to get drunk on apple soda? Because I think I did.

All in all, it was a really lovely trip. I just didn’t like Goa. To me it seemed less of this off-the-grid, digital-nomad safe haven and more of a cheap and cheerful, let’s get so off our faces that the dirty beaches look pretty kind of place swarming with foreign and local tourists alike. It seemed lacking in culture, lacking in pretty views and lacking in that certain je ne sais quoi that makes you fall in love with the place. If you weren’t interested in partying, drinking or doing yoga, there wasn’t much for you.

I didn’t get the appeal, and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t go back unless I was already in the area.

So what changed?

Having said all of the above, and how lacking I found Goa to be in, well, everything you may be sat there questioning why I elected to go back last November.

sweet water lake in arambol goa

The honest answer comes in three parts. The first is that I had some annual leave left at work, had a hankering for some Winter sun, and it turns out that flying halfway across the planet to India works out cheaper that time of year than a few hours across the continent to the Canaries or Greece! The second is that one of my best friends was going to be there at that time, and I am quite fond of him. And the last is that my stepdad was running low on tiger balm so a mad dash to India was well overdue.

All in all, it was excellent timing.

So I got myself a cheap-as-chips multi-city flight with OmanAir from Heathrow to Goa and back from Kochi, packed a few items of clothing into an otherwise empty suitcase (ready to bring back full to the brim with Tiger Balm, Appy Fizz and Good Day biscuits!) and set off on the long and winding road from Cardiff to London.

Doing it right the second time around

In case any of the guys I road tripped to Goa with the first time around are reading this, I had such a good time with you all. But I didn’t like Goa. I thought it was ugly, crowded and a bit pointless if I’m honest. Having grown to love India and all it stands for so much, I was thoroughly disappointed that what is seen as the gold medal of all Indian holiday destinations was such a letdown.

When I knew I was going back to Goa, I was determined to make the most of it and to at least semi-enjoy my surroundings as well as the company I was with. So I went against everything I’ve ever believed in and I actually did some research before heading off.

That’s a huge deal.

I never plan out my trips. Ever. I buy the flights, book the first and sometimes last night accommodation and off I fly.

This time around I Googled the bejeezus out of phrases like “best things to do in Goa”, “pretty views in Goa”, “off the beaten track Goa”, “no alcohol Goa”, spent hour after hour reading up about waterfalls and hikes and butterfly sanctuaries (which I can’t for the life of me find reference to now!), and frantically searched the #Goa hashtag on Instagram, so by the time my plane touched down at Dabolim Airport I knew exactly where I wanted to go.

And it made all the difference.

Instead of sleeping through breakfast every day, retracing my footsteps on the same overcrowded beaches, visiting forts that looked more like concrete car parks (that’s you, Aguada Fort), I was waking up at the crack of dawn (not quite), zooming through the most incredible scenery on the back of my best bud’s moped heading to the most secluded beauty spots and beaches, visiting forts that looked less like a concrete car park and more like a scene from Lion King and feasting my eyes on some of the most stunning coastal views I’ve ever seen in my life.

goa's coastal view looking out from chapora fort

If there weren’t so many tiny little ant people on that stretch of beach I 100% would have believed that I’d stepped through a time machine into the Jurassic era. It wouldn’t have surprised me if a Stegosaurus snuck up behind and took a meaty chunk out of my side. In fact, I would have welcomed it. It’d be a nice change from a monkey.

I’m not a planner in any aspect of my life.

Every Christmas I optimistically invest in a new week-at-a-glance diary, hellbent on actually using it this year as now is the time I get my #@$% together. Without fail by mid-January it’s lost down the side of my bed, nothing in it but my name printed neatly on the first page and a few Bob Marley related dates scribbled throughout. I don’t take a list when I do the food shopping, and always end up coming out with half the snack aisle, five candles and a book about serial killers but no fruit, veg or remotely useful household goods. I don’t write my shifts down, instead choosing to rely on my memory (which to be fair is mostly remarkably good) which of course results in me consistently showing up either half an hour early or late for work.

I don’t plan things. I never have.

But now?

Well, Goa Take-Two has helped me see that planning bits and pieces of your trip doesn’t actually suck away all the fun and spontanaeity of travelling on a whim. In fact, it enhances it. Having a brief idea of what you want to see and do, and when you want to do it is refreshingly brilliant. It takes away some of the pressures you didn’t even know where there when you plan to “take it day by day”. There’s no frantically Googling if the museum you want to visit is actually open on a Monday. There’s no having to skip breakfast and lunch as your accommodation is too far from all the nice places and you have to spend 6 hours a day travelling back and for.

You just sort of wake up and say “Oh yeah, we’re doing this today, remember?and off you trot!

From now on I’m not going to totally relinquish my easy breezy, let’s just fly to a country and see what happens view on travel. Nor am I going to become one of those people (hats off to them!) who plan their holidays military-style from the crack of dawn to the stroke of midnight. But I definitely will do as I did with Goa this time around, and do just a little bit of research before I shoot off. Even if it’s just a bit of scrolling through hashtags on Instagram.

Because it pains me to say, but I could have missed this…

Do you plan your holidays military-style? Or are you more of a take it as it comes type person? OR are you like the New Me, with a nice mix of both?

13 Comments

  1. I’m very much a planner, but I’ve also learned over the years of traveling to allow myself a day or two without any plans, in case something interesting pops up last-minute, and I have the time to do/see it before leaving. Spontaneity isn’t my forte, but I’ve learned to slowly let myself deviate from the planned path if something else catches my eye. Giving second chances to places visited is a good thing to do, as it might surprise you in a good way!

    • rhiydwi Reply

      It sounds like we’re polar opposites! 😀 Both of us starting off at one “extreme” but learning to let the other one in a little.
      Definitely agree about giving second chances! Although to be honest I’ve never really had to before – I just sort of fall in love with everywhere at first sight. Except Buenos Aires, which May deserve a 2nd chance after all..

  2. I like to have a few things planned out, but mostly just wake up and get a feel of what I want to do for the day and do it. I mean, a vacation is supposed to be relaxing and if you’ve planned activities throughout the entire trip, then it won’t be that relaxing now would it!? 🙂 I’m the type of planner that if things don’t go to plan for whatever reason, I stress, so the less I have planned, the less likely the plans will fall through and I become a ball of stress.

    • rhiydwi Reply

      You’re my new role model – I’m gonna try to be more like you from now on! My hesitance to plan in advance has always stemmed from the fear of “what if there’s a strike” or “what about roadblocks?” which is testament of the type of places I normally choose to go really haha.

  3. I also had two very different experiences of Goa, the first time I went to Arambol and a Andrea, both beautiful quiet beaches where I attended a yoga retreat, became a full blown hippy and ditched alcohol as fast as I would an abusive bloke. It was pure bliss. Then I returned a few years later with my husband. Oh dear, in our quest to go somewhere different we ended up in Calangute and I absolutely hated it. Packed, dirty beaches, Indians misbehaving more than Americans on spring break and I couldn’t believe how my paradise had turned into a horror story. I’m still in love with India but next time I’m going to Kerala

  4. Always good to give a place more than one chance because so much can change. That aside.. now I’m dying to know about the rabies shot… there has got to be an interesting story there!!

  5. I plan – and we get up early and stay out late since sunrise and sunset are the best light for photography. Even though I plan, it doesn’t mean we can’t be spontaneous and do x instead of y. But getting up early before all the other travelers allows you to explore with fewer people!

  6. Abigail Sinsona Reply

    I love how candid you were about your first time traveling to Goa. We all had those instances wherein we were let down by the hype and the place was nothing like what we imagined it to be. But I always like to give destinations another chance – and I am glad that you did with Goa. It can be a matter of perspective or timing that affects the overall travel experience, sometimes.

  7. What a great read about your time in Goa – rounds one and two! Glad the second time went much better – loved reading your story! India has that effect on me – I love it and loathe it at the same time. Yes, it’s busy, dirty, crowded and – well, squat toilets – and then, on the other hand, it’s magical, mystical, beautiful and has so much depth. I’m glad you found it better to plan your trip though! I find that when I have even a loose plan, it’s much more enjoyable than just winging it. It’s good to be flexible, but I like to do lots of research now, especially when travelling solo (hello pinterest!).

  8. I am so glad that you discovered the non-crowded bits of Goa. It is actually a lovely state but one needs to do their research on where to go. You get all kinds in Goa. Glad you did that bit and it showed in your Take Two.

  9. We plan out every bit of details before the trip for we would not want to miss anything and also because we travel with our kiddo. Goa a couple of times and we always avoid those crowded touristic beaches. Goa does have a plenitude of hidden gems and quaint neighborhoods which makes it a travelers paradise glad you enjoyed it.

  10. I’m surprised! Everyone I know who’s from Goa raves about how beautiful it is! I agree party-goers would ruin the trip for me too, I like to immerse myself in culture and do local activities, not find a nother country to party in! Rabies shots sound very scary and intense, you be totally put me off from getting one Haha!

  11. So glad you liked your time in Goa atleast the second time. Its really a beautiful place! Like you did little planning the second time, I usually try and research on things to do before I’m off for my trip. It makes things a lot easier while travelling.

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