+ Young and Unemployed - You're Not Alone

Levels of young people unemployed are now at a level not seen since the last recession, according to Sky News. In February of this year, the Local Government Association published a report warning that the UK risks a 'lost generation' of young people whose careers have been affected by the recession.

We know from previous recessions that groups most at risk of joining the long-term unemployed are the middle aged and young people - LGA

Not only are young people at a high risk of joining the long-term unemployed, it seems they are also at risk of being exploited by various companies, particularly in the journalism industry. In fact, as I spend my days sifting through the jobs listed on websites such as Monster, Gumtree, Reed and the Jobsite, I am certain that more and more unpaid internships are being offered for graduates. It might be cynical of me to say so but I believe that these unpaid internships (where you get travel expenses and lunch paid if you're lucky) are often positions that before the recession would have actually paid a salary.

We all know that companies are striving to become more cost-effective in the face of the recession by cutting back on recruitment, but is it moral for so many companies to offer unpaid roles to graduates in roles that might have normally been a paid position? There is a growing wave of blogs and websites set up in the name of standing up for the rights of student and graduate interns, for example Interns Anonymous and Unfair Internships.

At the time of writing this article, Unfair Internships features a post which brings to the forefront a very big issue for interns. When applying for internships during a recession, they are not only competing against fellow graduates and students, but more experienced professionals who have been made redundant and are offering themselves for an internship.

Picture this; a manager is faced with choosing an inexperienced graduate or someone who is offering their experience in the industry for free, it is not hard to understand why they would ignore the applications of younger people. So what can a young person do when even the Plan B of taking an internship over a paid job ceases to be as easy as one would hope?

The government is well aware of this growing army of struggling young people who cannot get jobs or training and instead have to rely on the dole to survive. From March 2010, all 18 to 24-year-olds who have been on jobseeker's allowance for a year will be guaranteed a job, training or a work placement. For the time being, there is a new initiative for 2008 and 2009 graduates, named the Graduate Talent Pool. Let's hope that some of these internships lead to full-time jobs for graduates and not just back to square one.

Recent articles about unemployment in young people.

+ The Guardian shares the views of unemployed young people in Bristol.

+ Telegraph warns that one in three young people are unemployed.

+ Totally Money on the Government's Backing Young Britain campaign.

+ My Sydney Travel Experience

My Sydney travel experience (just three days) taught me a few lessons! The first lesson is one I keep learning time and time again – booking the cheapest hostel I can find on Hostelbookers might be good for my bank balance but more often than not defeats the object of travelling. Staying in the shittier hostels often means you meet hardly anyone and so your time in a city is spent depressed in some manky dorm.

Coo-ee Backpackers in the King’s Cross area of Sydney was the cheapest hostel at just $11 per night in a dorm. As soon as I get out of the shuttle bus to and attempted to walk into the ‘reception’ (an area of the street drunks actually use as a toilet), one guy accosted me saying I will regret staying there and should go with him to a nicer place. I knew the place wasn’t going to be amazing so I just said I wouldn’t mind how bad it is because it’s so cheap. I spoke too soon... For those who don’t know, the Kings Cross area of Sydney contains a 200m playground for prostitutes, druggies and all sorts of characters. I found out very soon that the rooms either side of my dorm were simultaneously the workplace for the local prostitutes. When I would run to the bathroom I’d bump into a different lady of questionable vocation, and the glazed-over eyes gave away how much crack she’d just done!
I thought, hey I’ll be safe if I stay in the main part of the hostel, maybe I can take advantage of the amazingly rare free internet?! NO. Their internet would take ten minutes or so just to load your Facebook home page, and heaven forbid you want to actually send a message to someone. So with my laptop in hand I scurried to the Macdonald’s further along the road which offered free wifi. That was an experience in itself; it resembled the drop-in centre of a horror movie gone wrong! One guy was fishing into the bin to find a drinks container (so that he would be able to disguise himself as a customer and thus sit his arse down on the comfy seats!), one lady was trying to perform a miracle by turning twenty cigarette-ends into a new rolly, and another guy was sheepishly pouring whiskey from a paper bag into his drink. There was also what can only be described as the roughest set of prostitutes you’ve ever seen - discoloured skin, scabs on their faces and their desperation summed up as their whiny voices call out to male customers “You want a girl tonaaht?”

It’s not all bad though, my dorm room at Coo-ee had a TV so I was able to watch the Lost finale, and at least because it’s an unpopular place I only had a couple of guys in my room... who coincidentally weren’t actually backpackers but had moved into the hostel while undertaking various jobs in Sydney.
My first two days I busied myself walking around the city, taking some dull photos of the Opera House under an overcast sky, and continually kept getting rained on by a freak monsoon whether I was in Chinatown, Darling Harbour or walking back to the hostel! This is something I would have accepted if I hadn’t known that mother England was experiencing a gorgeous heatwave.

Tired of my shit Sydney experience (made all the more sad considering this was only a three-day stopover anyway), I hopped it straight over to Wake-Up Hostel. I had been recommended this place by numerous friends and fellow traveller and feel a bit stupid that I missed out on a longer time here trying to save a few measly bucks. And what a difference though! It might have cost double the price of Coo-ee but I had twice as much fun, it was hundreds of times cleaner and had great facilities. I had a great set of people in room 101 so finally my Australian experience was getting well under way.

As I visit different countries I like to immerse myself in the culture, so it would have been rude not to drink a stupid amount of goon before our night out. For about £6 you get over 4litres of alcohol – it’s a bit like gone-off wine but apparently is toxic and has fish and eggs thrown into the mix! Goon, drinking games and a bit of choonage got us all in a good mood in time for our night out at Home nightclub in Darling Harbour. Normally the morning after the night before I can recall most of the events of the previous night, but due to a goon overload I can only remember half the night courtesy of my camera.

I guess the moral of the story is that spending the least amount often costs you a lot more in other ways. I think the best advice to give other travellers is don’t choose the cheapest, the most expensive, but try and find a happy balance of value-for-money and atmosphere. What’s the point of travelling if you stay in places no-one else is – if you’re that poor and can’t afford basic quality accommodation then it’s probably more worthwhile to just go home :)

+ Taganga & Parque Tayrona, Colombia

Taganga Bay, Caribbean coast of Colombia
Latino music, fruit smoothies, sand and sea.... what else do you need?! Taganga is a little fishing village which is seeing more and more backpackers arrive on its shores. My first night involved staying in a hostel where they let their staff and young children sleep in the same dorm as you - it felt like we were gate-crashing someone's home!

So after a swift deperature we decided to stay at Bayview hostel, a colourful place with hammocks in most rooms, a TV room, a sometimes-open bar and a SWIMMING POOL. This made me muchos happy because sunbathing on a beach has one big downside - the sand. So I spent many a day topping up my tan and having the odd dip.

I ended up spending nearly a week at Bayview because there was a big group of us who spent the nights by the bar or at local 'club' El Garaje. The club itself isn't much to shout about, but having a big group of people to chat to makes it that little bit more bearable! After the place closed at 3am we all ended up at a beach after-party. and stayed there until the sun came up in the morning.

El Cabo, Parque Nacionale Tayrona, Colombia
One morning we all decided to head to Parque Tayrona, promising sunkissed beaches, palm trees and lazy nights in hammocks! Because there's no ATM in Taganga that worked we had to go into Santa Marta, get money out etc, and I was very nice and accompanied one girl back to the hostel to pay, so that she wouldn't be stuck on her own. The plan was for us to get a boat there while the other guys would get the bus, pay the entrance fee and hike to the planned beach (El Cabo).

But when we got to the bay at Taganga we were told that in fact boats only run up until 2pm, so we had to go the next day. The boat ride was the WORST EXPERIENCE of my whole goddamn trip... I had a bruised arse and shooting pains in my thighs for the next few days because the ride was so rough!

No fear, when we got there it was worth it... beautiful sand (although pretty sharp on your feet!) and there was an exotic backdrop of lush vegetation and palm trees to keep us happy. The only hiccup was the overcast sky and in the evening it rained a little bit.

From my short time in Colombia I get the feeling it is about to explode as a major backpacking destination, and is the complete opposite of the negative press you read about in the media and on the internet. My advice for anyone thinking about going is just go! I have survived Rio De Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Colombia while travelling alone, all allegedly dangerous places. I will definitely return to Colombia another time in my life, and this time give myself more time to seriously see the city! I had to sacrifice the Lost City trek because of lack of time and due to spending money on Machu Picchu, so this is my next plan. One tip - if you go to the Lost City, pick some of the hallucogenic flowers - a few of the guys in my hostel decided to try a cup or two and it was really funny to see the effects of a cup of tea on these guys!

+ Cartagena, Colombia

A colonial building in Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia

After an overnight flight from Lima to Bogota, I had two options - the first was to take a long and brutal bus-ride, which seems to have a load of articles on the internet dedicated to putting backpackers off using it. It was more a case of time rather than the scare-stories that made me decide to fly straight from Bogota to Cartagena, but many many people I met did the 'dangerous' bus ride from Bogota to Cartagena and they were fine!

Woman with fruit on her head in Cartagena, Colombia The people here have a great Caribbean vibe to them, as evidenced by the lady on the left, carrying a tray of fruit on her head! The city itself is bursting with stalls selling you food, jewellery, sunglasses, fake DVDs, mirrors, drinks and anything else you could possibly desire. I was first and foremost struck by how the people were still so unused to seeing foreigners! Everywhere I walked people (particularly old greasy men) whistle, hiss and yell “hello” or “oh my god” at you. It was a bit intimidating, and was even worse than the locals in Buenos Aires and Rio whom I thought couldn’t be beaten in terms of machismo.

I was a bit disappointed that there was no actual golden, Caribbean-style beach here (you have to travel by boat to Playa Blanca, boats that only leave at 8.30 in the morning). However, my visit here was made worthwhile by the beauty of the Old Town. Every corner I turned I was greeted by more pastel-hued buildings, all complete with balconies lushly decorated with flowers and greenery.
The hostel I stayed at was Casa Viena, everyone there seemed happy enough but I found the cramped style of the place really oppressive when combined with the humidity, and when I later returned I stayed at Casa San Blas, a hostel round the corner which has a nice open layout and comes complete with their resident Labrador Billy!

I would recommend spending a day or two here and in fact I did hear the nightlife there can be pretty fun if you go on the right nights with the right people. If not, do what I did and head up the Caribbean coast to Santa Marta and Taganga, where there's more backpackers and more fun!

+ Penguins & Sea-lions at Poor Man's Galapagos

A cute group of penguins at Islas Ballestas!
One of my fave pics ever - a group of the cutest penguins you can find in South America!

Islas Ballestas - poor man's GalapagosI never managed to make it to Ecuador on my travels in South America, so when I heard that Peru offered it's very own version of the Galapagos Islands I couldn't pass up the chance!

I managed to book a trip with my hostel in Huacachina, so for just over a £10 you get transport via Pizco and the boat trip included in your day. The place is called Islas Ballestas, and offers you a close-up view of dolphins, penguins, sea-lions and all sorts of birds that you might see in the Galapagos.

Islas Ballestas
The penguins were so tiny but I'm glad I finally saw some. Not going to Patagonia made me think I was missing out on South American wildlife, so yes I admit I screamed like a 5-year-old when I saw them! The trip itself only lasted about an hour, but to be honest staring at wildlife wears thin after the same amount of time! One of my highlights was visiting the sea-lion beach... the noise of hundreds of sea-lions all guffawing at each other kind of reminded me of the racket humans make when they're on holiday too! It looked like a fun life, just sitting there basking in the sun and collecting a fish or two when you feel the urge.