On a trip of this nature, one of the most important things to consider is the size of your backpack. Your pack is basically your home away from home: it holds your clothes, your toiletries, medical kit, maybe a journal or some pictures from home. You carry it everywhere when you arrive in a new place, you secure it next to you when you’re waiting for your bus, it’s your livelihood. And if it’s too heavy or bulky, well, you can be seriously hindered.
Like a lot of other travelers, Tim and I are constantly comparing the size of our packs to other people’s packs. It gives us a silly joy to see that our main backpacks are usually smaller than some other people’s day bags. For the amount of time Tim and I are traveling, we have pretty small bags: about 10 kilos in each backpack, with another 0.5 kilo each in our little day bags.
What does all of this have to do with a post about Leeds you might ask? Only this: For 6 months Tim carried a present in his bag for our friends Paul and Caroline who live in Leeds. We purchased it on our third visit to Buenos Aires and were holding it specifically for our visit to see them. And while the present itself wasn’t large or heavy, the point is that space in backpacks is at a premium and you never want to add extra things unless you absolutely need to. So to carry a present with you for 6 months can only mean one thing: it’s completely worth it.
We initially met Paul and Caroline on the second day of our trip, during our first visit to Buenos Aires. Immediately the four of us clicked and we spent several more nights exploring that beautiful city together before going our separate ways. We spent time with them again only a few weeks later, though, in the sleepy mountainside village of El Bolsón. There we spent some glorious days together, each couple in their own private cabin, eating enormous amounts of Paul’s professionally cooked food. And the last time we would see them was in Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina, before they headed to the West Coast of the US to tandem bicycle their way from Seattle to San Diego.
Despite having known them for only a few short hours on that first night we spent in Buenos Aires together, we made plans to visit them in Leeds. We talked about spending several days with them there, Paul cooking up a storm and the four of us spending hours talking together. It sounded like a grand idea. Now, to put this in perspective, I should mention England wasn’t even on our itinerary when we decided to visit Paul and Caroline in Leeds. And so I probably don’t need to point this out, but to add another country (and an expensive one at that) to your itinerary during your trip can only mean one thing: it’s completely worth it.
As the time drew nearer for our visit with Paul and Caroline, Tim and I had to force ourselves not to think about it. I think part of the reason poor Spain got a bit of the shaft while we visited it was because we spent half the time looking forward to seeing the two of them again. (Well that, and Spain was basically South America with some castles thrown in for good measure but five times more expensive! Oh, and my giant pink pig was attacked by an evil child while I sat in a park one day with our bags, but that’s another story entirely.)
Anyway, after having wonderful visits in Essex, East Croyden, and St. Albans the day had finally arrived for us to take a bus from central London up to Leeds. Now, being from the US, I have absolutely no knowledge of English geography. In my simple mind, there’s London…and, well, there’s everything else around London. And, you know, I figured all those “everything elses” were rather close to London. I mean, it’s England after all. How big can it be, right? It turned out I was decidedly wrong. So after having a quick geography review given to us by the bus company, Tim and I boarded a bus bound for the lovely Leeds, located very north of London about 4 hours away.
A quick side note: Prior to purchasing our bus tickets from London to Leeds, all of our English friends – which must be at least half the country given how many English people we’re friends with – warned us that English buses are “rather grim” and should be avoided. We were strongly advised to take the train, although it would be much more expensive to our backpacker budget.
Now, these were other backpackers advising us. Other backpackers with similar budgets. Other backpackers who’ve been on buses in Bolivia and Laos. Other backpackers who have ridden with chickens in their lap, have had tear gas thrown into their bus, or have had an armed guard (holding an AK-47 no less) ride on their bus to ensure it wasn’t taken over by bandits during an overnight trip. And yet they were advising us to avoid the buses of England at all costs because they were “rather grim.”
And so I can say, after riding on quite a few lovely English buses, I have determined all of our English friends have eaten a few too many fish and chips and drunk a few too many pints. But was riding the bus from London to Leeds, possibly risking our lives and god knows what else by doing so, worth it? Absolutely: because the following four days we spent visiting Paul and Caroline would prove to be some of our most favorite days of our trip so far.
If you enjoyed this story, you might also like these ones: