How to Travel With Your Sibling

This sort of post crops up in the blogging world every couple of years and after two years of living in Belfast with my brother Jack, I feel we are qualified to contribute to the discussion. In fact, we have sibling travel down to a science.

There are five years between my brother and I, a bit larger a gap than I have seen in other sibling pairs. We travelled frequently as young children and my parents knew the woes of a family of five being stuffing into cars of various sizes. Although the getting there was often difficult, memories of enjoying a destination together as a family remain.

When I decided to go back to Ireland, I heavily suggested that Jack should come too. Now he is heading home to New Zealand, and in light of our great trip to Paris in May, I would like to share some tips about how we made sibling travel so successful!

1. Plan together

A bunk in a hostel dorm can often get my thrifty senses tingling. An extra 30 bucks to spend on something else? Whhhhhaaat? Too bad for me Jack prefers private quarters.

Planning together allowed us to cater for our different travel styles. My rule here is err on the side of the most private person. You can get cheap, private rooms in a low budget hotel or hostel. Although that will never be as barrel scrappingly cheap as a dormitory, it is a lot harder to pursuade a private person to share with six strangers than it is to increase your budget with plenty of notice (for saving purposes). Why make someone feel uncofortable? It won’t help the trip vibes. And if the money really is unsavable… well, this sibling journey just isn’t for you, because compromise is the backbone of YOUR ENTIRE TRIP (see point #2).

Key quote: “It’s important to agree about what you are going into so you can have max fun and minimum disappointment on your adventure.” 

2. Be ready to compromise

Very few people get the chance to spend an infinite amount of time travelling. It’s extremely unlikely that you will spend tweleve solid months globe-trotting with your sibiling (and if you are that lucky – I am so, SO envious).

The point is, time is valuable when you are on the road. Neither of you will get to see and do everything you want. Make sure you both get the chance to prioritise something you want to see.

Key quote: “Try making a Top 5 list each and see how many you can work into you trip. You might find you have similar ideas. You are related after all!”

3. Realise each other’s strengths

We were a planner and a non-planner travelling together, which can be a powerful combination! I typically do all the pre-trip bookings, printing of boarding passes – the organisational stuff. Whereas Jack is better navigating the metro. A couple of times in Paris I had to make a concious decision to stop negotiating the stops and directions because I was wrong more than half the time. He was also really great at taking over when I was too hangry to think… see point 4.

Key quote: “Don’t be afraid to step back if your sibling is in their element!”

4. Eat often!

This is a rule for travelling with anyone.

If someone (named Rachel) is getting even a little bit cranky, stop immediately and find food. If you don’t, all kinds of nasty and not meant things will be said ‘in hanger’. This is best avoided.

You can avoid such senarios by scheduling snacks little and often throughout the day. We aren’t talking three course meals which require you to find a trattoria or cafe. Oh no, just a few tasty treats in a backpack and a mutual decision to spend an extra half hour in the park to nom them down.

I can become a very hangry person, I’m not the best when I am tired and sometimes I just can’t be arsed. That’s a pretty special little combination when you mix it with travelling. After two years of travelling my sibling and I have learned that we can and will drop anything for a food stop.

Key quote: “Never underestimate the power of hanger.”

5. Support each other

Sitting across the road from the Eiffel Tower watching tourist after tourist fall into traps. Or standing on the metro and watching a woman get pickpocketed of her passport. Knowing my sibling has my back has been the biggest reward earned from this type of travel.

Your siblings know you best. Jack and I have travelled together so many times that we know what each other’s limits are and when to step in. We have unspoken systems for checking zips, getting on and off transport, and negotiating crowded areas. Not to mention, it’s AMAZING to have an extra set of eyes watching your backpack on a bus!

Although we were always alert, it was reassuring to know that no one was going to be able to grab my arm and force me into an ‘African Friendship Bracelet’ because my brother was with me.

Key quote: “Travelling with siblings is like travelling as secret agents – someone’s scanning the crowds, watching your six, and they are on your side.”

6. Chill

I’ve seen some suggestions about ‘scheduling alone time’. That made me laugh a bit. Excuse me, it’s 6pm, time for my scheduled 15 minutes alone now fek off.

Taking time out doesn’t need to mean going off on a dander, alone for a couple of hours. If you are siblings who can do that, great. As a general rule, we don’t do extended alone wanderings when we sibling travel because neither wants to be paranoid about the welfare of the other.

I think it is more important to be able to enjoy sitting in silence or doing nothing vaguely together. Someone could take their book onto the hotel balcony, for example. Or I might look in some nearby shops while Jack sits in the cafe. In the evenings I would write my blog notes and Jack would check the newspaper. Our own thing, in the same space.

Key quote: “Just because you are travelling together doesn’t mean you need to be in each other’s pockets.”

Tales of People Watching in Paris

sacre coeurAside from one or two pre-agreed must-dos I travel on a pretty tight budget most of the time. In eagerness to visit as many places as possible, I sacrifice that extra spending money and opt to fill the time sheet with free activities. But there are only so many museums one can visit. In Paris, Jack and I ended up spending the better part of our last day people watching.

People Watching
the action or practice of spending time idly observing people in a public place.

People watching was not the plan we started out with when we packed our bottles of water and ham & cheese sandwiches into my backpack. Jack and I set off in the morning on a long looped walk from Père Lachaise Cemetery to the Sacré-Cœur. The walk took most of the morning. Eventually, we crested the top of the hill where the Sacré-Cœur is perched.

I don’t think the idea of laying your jacket on a damp bench appealed to many people. The tourists walking up from the metro were only stopping for the requisite photograph of the steps. After traversing the steps for a while, Jack and I decided to take a damp bench, unwrap our sandwiches and watch.

What we saw was both hilarious and disturbing in equal measure. When we had arrived there had been three bike mounted police at the landmark which meant that the hawkers and scammers had all fled to the top of the hill. Not long after we arrived, they hopped on their bikes and left.

Their place was taken by three people, two men and a woman, navy blue ‘surveillance’ jackets. We tried to work out who they were and what their actual point was. They yelled at a Japanese man who tried to set up a tripod at the base of the steps. The man was startled but complied and he and his very Vogue team of film makers continued on up the steps. At the same time, the hawkers were descending. A small group of men of African descent were gathering around a tourist whose hand was completely entwined in string. This is a so-called ‘African friendship bracelet.’ They didn’t let the man go before a €50 note was exchanged (a €5 having been refused). Yet the blue-jacketed crowed watched, approached but ultimately did nothing.

After the tourist escaped – pockets significantly lighter – the jackets had some kind of conversation with the hawkers. They then moved to the balustrade near where we were seated and remained there. Jack and I then took up a solid 15 minutes of watching people trying, and failing, to avoid being accosted by the men with string. Some people hand their hands in their pockets. Those who did not were grabbed, groped and harassed. And the string me weaseled big note after big note from their victims.

We tried to work out the hierarchy. It was mesmerising and terrifying. Was no one else seriously observing this as we were? The man speaking in an American accent having some serious business conversation on the next bench over seemed to give precisely zero cares. A man skipped passed a string man but his less wary girlfriend was snatched by the arm and it took all of her nervous laughter and wriggling to get away (We were a bit disappointed Mr Boyfriend didn’t grow a bigger set and help her). Another Asian tourist, travelling on his own, was not so lucky. He was cornered by several men at the base of the stairs, arm tied in string, and was not released without money being exchanged. These guys basically had their hands in his wallet.

And then they were running. The string men. They dashed up the stairs and scattered as the police returned on their bicycles. Jack and I found ourselves laughing out loud at the sight. One of the police caught our eye and smiled. Jack gave him a thumbs up. We were discussing the hilariousness of this when something unexpected happened. The police were talking to the blue-jacket guys. Voices started to get raised. A female cop looked at her companion and they got off the bikes. Then it descended into blows! One of the blue jackets and one of the cops trading punches. The female cop was on the radio and within literal seconds an undercover car had arrived and men in civilians were carting off this ‘surveillance’ lad.

If there were ever a time I sincerely wished I spoke French, it was then.

eiffel tower

After the excitement of the Sacré-Cœur the weather started to clear. I begged Jack to go back to the Eiffel Tower for one last photo attempt. He agreed and we hopped back on the metro to Trocadero station.

It did not disappoint. I finally got my blue-skied photo – even if there was construction work that meant I couldn’t stand dead centre. After a million photographs, we decided to have another go a people watching and took up a place on a bench near the fountain.

The ethnic hold over this spot was completely different to the Sacré-Cœur. European hawkers and scammers were set up at regular intervals around the fountain in groups of about five or six. The game here was a ‘find the ball’-type of game. A ball is hidden under one of three cups, they bet a couple of €50 amongst themselves and try to get tourists to watch, think they can win, place a bet and ultimately lose all their money. I named this game ‘Flip Cup’.

Our bunch comprised of an older man flipping the cups, a slightly thicker blonde-died woman, a younger woman in black pig tales and three other men all in jeans. They looked utterly ambivalent going through the motions of the game. That was until a tourist passed. Then they would all applaud to try and draw attention to their game.

They were reasonably successful, too. Umbrella man, teal puffer jacket, asian girls, and couple-now-headed-for-divorce, all lost fifties to this little syndicate.

We were in a bit of an awkward position. We knew these unsuspecting victims were getting drawn into a well-established hustle. Although we would audibly cry, “No, don’t do it!” to each other, it was out of earshot of the circle of cup-switchers. I don’t think those groups of six or more hustlers, scammers and lookouts would let us affect such a juicy spot as the Trocadero. If we caused any real damage to their game we would have been putting ourselves in a dangerous position.

We even identified their pimp or lookout or whatever he was. The man who would indicate for the group to split up or return (we tried to keep track of them as they all walked off in different directions only to reassemble a few minutes later).

There were plenty of other dodgey people at the Effiel Tower it was hard to tell who was genuine. There was a group of three men who asked me to take their photo, which I did with my lookout Jack on guard. That seemed harmless enough, only they spent the better part of twenty minutes taking photos of the tower and asking passers by to take their photo. I began to doubt myself with them. It was too weird.

Even after we called it a day, we left with renewed wits after watching so much money being so easily taken from tourists. Thank goodness we kept up our A game as the Malaysian woman beside us on the metro got pick-pocketed of her passport. A fellow traveller saw it in action, called it out and I think they got everything back.

The strangest moment of all was Jack and I saying to each other how much we were looking forward to going back to Belfast so we could feel safe again. I don’t know if that’s something we would have said thirty years ago.

We Rescued ANOTHER Kitten! And a Campaign for Feral Cats

Ireland, in general, has a feral cat crisis. Northern Ireland has the worst reputation in the entire United Kingdom for abandoning and abusing animals according to local charity 7th Heaven.

You may remember this post from last year about the kitten I caught in a bush. It appeared to be the last of the second litter of kittens to be produced since I started my current job.

Well, it appears to be kitten season again. It also seems that the feral queen producing them did not meet a rubber fate on Portaferry Road as we had thought, but has been prowling the woods thoroughly in season.

When I got to work on Thursday I was told that yet another litter of kittens had appeared; looking very similar to the last two lots with at least one kitten with a splodgy moustache. There seemed to be somewhere between three and six kittens. I have only seen three personally: black & white, ginger & tabby and tortoiseshell.

Two of the kittens decided they wanted to move into a car engine. Even though the car hadn’t been anywhere it was dark, enclosed and sheltered from the recent rain. Car owners using that car park were quickly advised to inspect before driving off. One woman checked her car on Saturday evening and, low and behold, there were two kittens sitting on her engine. This was very quickly deemed inappropriate and a great kitten extrication mission was launched.

A small group of colleagues, including one man from a neighbouring farm who parked his tractor and came to help, formed to contain the feline situation. The farm man dove straight into the engine to try and coax the kittens from underneath it. The little black and white kitten escaped and I, leaving my ‘just in case’ gloves behind, nabbed it as it was climbing the wheel of the tractor. He chomped down on my index finger, puncturing it nicely, but I had him.

While I was being given first aid, the kitten was boxed. Unfortunately, the other one was wedged in nice and tight. We had to call it a night, hoping the kitten would come out on its own. I don’t know if it escaped but have a funny feeling it might have ended up squished on the road…

At least we had one kitten! He was taken to a neighbouring house for some overnight care. After going home and talking to Tiernan I was pretty much convinced that this time was my time. I was going to adopt at least one of the kittens and the caught kitten had basically nominated itself. Perhaps I’ve missed my calling – I should have been a cat lady!

Let me introduce you to Eddie. He is the half or more sibling of Poirot (my esteemed colleague’s cat from a June 2015 litter) and the half or more sibling of the bush kitten from last October. He’s not very happy about this photograph. Well, he’s not really happy with people in general at the moment. But this is the baby picture for the mantlepiece in the new house.

When he does become a little less feral he will be camera ready! Get ye-selves prepared for a new hashtag on my Instagram feed – I’m going to take over #eddieandme

I owned a feral cat in my childhood – much to my parents dismay – and kind of love their independence. At least this little guy will be vaccinated and fixed even if he remains a little timid.

Back to that feral cat problem. After three litters we are more than obliged to turn our attention to the kitten’s mother. The plan is to humanely trap her, spay and return her. I guess I’ve kind of adopted that as my mission now (as much as I love kittens).

Check out Feral Cats Ireland for more information about the Cat Crisis and how you can help.