I board a bus headed to Pristina, Kosovo, and as the vehicle rumbles to life, I plug my ears with headphones and cue “America” by Simon and Garfunkel. It breaks down, and the drivers pull of some wizardry, because I cannot explain how they got the wheels replaced with, and I’m not joking, no tools or lifts or anything. Magic. What a way to Leave Serbia.
Nostalgia: this one word can accurately sum up the after effects from my time at Goodbye Lenin Hostel. Like a dream that I’ve just woken from, I wonder, “Did all of those things really happen? Is it possible that I could have met so many people, and have done so many things?” Of course the answer is yes, but sometimes it feels as if my life is completely fake. Am I really this adventurer, or am I somehow a child playing Make-Believe?
In any case, my plan has burned down to one priority: Escape Winter. Life has become a larger version of Hide and Seek- me hiding, and Winter finding everyday; it bites at my fingertips and toes. If only these roles were reversed, I would feel no guilt playing the bully that leaves the Hider alone forever. Can you believe that it can get down to -35 degrees celsius? Cold enough to die, seriously.
With this in mind, I have put both hitchhiking and camping in the garbage bin of activities until my world, and my body, thaws out in spring; this leaves me the duty of finding refuge for 3-6 months.
Bad news: I have been going over my budget consistently for the past months. I plan on putting to use some strategies to quell my spending and get back on track… We’ll see.
More bad news: I got a workaway in Romania, but it turned out to be terrible! So I left because, hey, I’m traveling dang it! And I can do that sort of thing. Peace out! Shout out to the other two amazing volunteers Faith and Beverly for keeping me sane in that spot.
Good news: finding work in the Balkens is easy. Sort of. And I also purchased a full size Guitar- zero self control, but I feel so remorse or regret!!! Actually, I went into the guitar shop and saw this beauty. A friend was with me, and he asked the owner how much it cost. I was sure it would have been 300-400 USD, but to my complete shock it was 90.00. I thought it over the night, and decided to get it. the price was lowered and when I asked my friend Illia how he got it down, his reply was,
This is Ukraine, you can do this sort of thing.
I flew through a few more countries: Ukraine (not as scary as I was led to believe), Moldova (the poorest country in Europe), Romania, Serbia, Kosovo, and now I am volunteering in a beautiful hostel in Albania. I certainly underestimated the challenges that Winter brings, but certainly this has been a learning experience.
Speaking of experiences, I’ve been able to help out a little at the LGBT center in Kiev, I’ve been followed by numerous stray dogs for hours because I pet them a little, people have thanked me in Kosovo because I am American, and I climbed up cranes in an abandoned theme park. So! Just letting you all know that I’m still kicking, and hopefully I can go North slow enough for Spring and Summer; I’ve got my eyes on the National Blue Trail in Hungary!!
“It’s dangerous for a woman to go traveling alone! That’s why I don’t travel. Sure, you can travel the world, but that’s because you are a man!”
I have heard this sort of phrase from so many people; it seems to be the ultimate justification to live a life that does not fulfill one’s dream. They let this common myth decide where and how they go- but that’s all it is: A myth. While couchsurfing in Krakow, Poland, I met the inspiring and admirable “Cindy.” She was a nurse living in Korea and decided one day to travel the world to get a break from her “heavy” job. “Working everyday and seeing people die was very hard for me,” she says. And so, she took a break. A very long one: two years. She travels very similar to the way I do- Hitchhiking, couchsurfing, walking, carrying all her belongings in a backpack and experiencing everything there is to experience in this world. She has traveled throughout East Asia and Europe, and now says she is ready to go back home.
When asked how she would assimilate back to a stable and routine life, she replied, “I don’t think I am done traveling. I will go again.” Cindy recalls only once when she had a bad experience hitchhiking. But even then, she did not feel in danger- the guy was just a little creepy, asking for “Favors.” There is no doubt that when you travel there will be dangerous situations, obviously. Nevertheless, we need to remember that there will dangers around the corner of our neighbor hood, perhaps more severe than those on the road. I’ve been reading a book about Jessica Watson, the 16 year old Australian girl who sailed solo around the world, and in it, she stresses these exact same points: You can’t let fear of danger stop you from living an extraordinary lifestyle. John A. Shedd says,
“A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for”
Yes, it’s scary to go out of the Harbor. But Shedd wisely points out that we were made for more. Cindy is now finishing her first journey, and I couldn’t have been more excited for her and her adventures. Let us see these women for what they are: Powerful, but utterly and completely human. Normal, weak just as we all are. Even so, they still decided to take the “risks” (which are no more risky than staying home) and they both regret nothing. Cindy would like readers to follow their dreams, take into account the consequences and dangers, and then travel. As she says, “You will not regret it.”
I’ve heard it said that a person is never their true self unless they are sure they are alone; if this is true, then I must truly be a lunatic.
I have found myself, when walking in fields completely absent of others, reciting and reenacting whole musical scores such as “Jack’s Lament,” from The Nightmare Before Christmas or “If I Were A Rich Man,” from The Fiddler on The Roof. I leap from fences and logs and stumps, thrusting my hands to the sky, becoming quite animated- which made it all the more embarrassing when I walked right past someone I hadn’t seen. C’est la vie.
The Netherlands was a fun country. Rotterdam was cool, Amsterdam was overrated and smelled like tourism, marijuana, and sex but it was the ghostly sound of Dutch that seduced me. I love the way they say good morning, sounding like “Huda Morgen,” with a windy whisp of the throat and tongue on the R. And oddly enough, I thought I could understand them, even though mentally I knew that I didn’t. Such were the similarities between our respective languages.
It was in Amelo, far east, where I met someone that ended up more than a traveling acquaintance. Linda became my friend, and I actually spent more time at her place than I planned!! A first for me, as I am usually constantly moving. She introduced me to her Italian friend, and I cooked spaghetti with my homemade vegan recipe. Frederico said it was perfect, a great feat apparently, that a real Italian enjoyed a traditionally Italian meal prepared by an American.
As I live and breath, my favorite part of traveling is meeting new and interesting people who are willing to share their life with me. I have felt this multiple times with many, a sort of vulnerability that makes possible the great connection I feel- like a secret knowledge we share together. This is still somewhat of a mystery for me, however, and maybe I can understand it as I grow.
I have felt the first pangs of loneliness while sitting in a campsite in Amsterdam. I knew they were destined to come sooner or later- you can´t expect to uproot one`s entire life and not feel even the least bit lonely. But come the morning, I felt quite alright, and ready to take on the world once more. I regret nothing of leaving. I truly feel alive, a little anxious, but blessed all the same. Solitude is a gift, and I recieve it gladly. But it is still okay to miss people now and again.
I walked across the German border and took a train to Munster. Not sure where I should stay, I began walking towards a green splotch on my map (a possible Forrest?) and took a small break in a thrift store; I hoped to find a book in English, as the one I had was almost finished. In broken German, I tried to ask for one when a woman of about 50 or 60 spoke. “I have a book in English in my home if you’d like. It’s one of Steinbeck’s, but it was too complicated for me.,” she said. Of course I accepted. I made myself comfortable and waited for her return. A bad smell lingered on my clothing, and my thoughts were filled with doubts- “where would I sleep? It was getting late. What would I eat? Where can I clean my clothes” and so on. Upon returning, the woman gave me not Steinbeck, but a small collection of short stories, and then offered me a bed for the night.
“I invite you in because you have a good energy in you, and I hope that somewhere someone will help my own traveling son as I help you,” she explained. This isn’t the first time I’ve been told I had “Good energy.” A French man asked me where it came from and I honestly didn’t know what he was talking about. The woman gave me beer, cheese, bread, and other food that night. She helped me clean my clothing, and I slept like a baby.
Hannover was amazing: I met a group of couchsurfers and found a place to stay there after my CS plan fell through. Tip for anyone wanting to use it: Make sure you confirm everything so you don’t misunderstand like I did. All of them were interesting, to say the least. Garret, the guy who helped me, had hosted hundreds of people. There was a Frenchman who, “Didn’t know why he was in Germany.” He was quite hilarious, with a snarky and sarcastic sense of humor. Rebecca, a German shoe maker who invited me for tea the next day was an intelligent and kind woman. Upon meeting her she said, “You’re English is very good!” Which gave us all a laugh because I should hope it’s good- it’s my native tongue!!
I made my way to Berlin to meet with Claudia, one of the coolest, most chill persons I’ve ever met in my life. Actually, she reminded me of my dear friend Alex, and I told her as much. She took me to “The REAL Berlin,” where tourists don’t often go… Ever. This tour included three spots: Tippie Land- a homeless community where you can set up a tent and stay in, Kopi- a punk rock squat, and Yaam an African hang out. Kopi was amazing. The sign on their door read:
“We will not tolerate Facists, Racists, Sexists, Homophobes, Tourists, or Cameras.”
There was a drunk Italian man, fat, with a head too large for his body equiped with a winter hat way too small for his head. Other memorables would be the loud American girl, pierced to the nines, who sleeps in graveyards for their cheap and peaceful qualities, and a Finnish rock musician traveling around Europe.
After playing music with Claudia the next morning, swapping the guitar back and forth, I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore and bought my self a small guitarlini. Decked me 130€ but if I play on some city streets… 😀
I gathered by things and made my way to Karstadt, where, after missing my train twice, I met my first workawa hosts! They took care of six horses: Santos, Argus, Akazie, Arik, Abbe, and Aiva. I spent the next two weeks (ish), shoveling horse crap into buckets, painting doors, cleaning stables, and antagonizing the pet dogs (Not really, but come on, faking fetch throws is classic). One of the dogs, a black and white poodle named Nemo, seems to have taken a liking to me; whenever I would play the guitar, he would find a way to stroll over and lie down next to me. This, as you can imagine, made me feel quite cool. The other dog, Mahjo, was far too cool and highclass for my rugged ways. But after sneaking her some delicious treats, she warmed up to me.
At one point, I was playing the guitar and this huge, fat cat waltzes right up to where I am. It looks at me, and I look at it, and this must have signaled the creature. It jump upon the table in front of me, and steped right over the guitar and found its way comfortably resting in my lap, purring loudly, rubbing its head against me. Thanks a lot, cat. What did I do? The same thing any one who has been chosen by a cat does- pet the crap out of that thing and earn more purs. Teddy was his name.
Steffi, the daughter, works with training horses via positive reinforcement: a system of training that I can definitely support, with no beating, whipping, or otherwise painful wazs of mistreating the animals. She uses a clicker strategie and took the time to give me some basic lessons. I now feel quite confident that I can teach a horse (or any other animal) that a click means a treat, and a treat means I liked what you did, which then causes the action to resurface again and again. I learned so much from this workaway, that I am quite excited for the next ones. You can see her website here. Its in German so beware.
I am back in Berlin, spending a few days here before I head towards Poland and the Zakopane mountains. Packed up my bag again, ready to hit the road once more, only this time I am a little more musical, and know a little bit more in this world of endless knowables. Till next time, share this post, subscribe, comment below.
Planning. And more planning. And if you aren’t planning and would rather be uber spontaneous, guess what? You’ll end up spending more than you would have if you had thought it through. I am learning this first hand.Take for instance my water filter. I hadn’t thought to much about it and naively purchased the Life Straw.
It’s light, its effective, it’s going to save me from the terrors of the Hershey squirts– Seems like a good choice, yeah? Wrong actually. Turns out that the Life Straw is only good if you have a constant supply of water! And if you bring a bottle, the opening must be long enough to fit the straw through, however bottles like that are often heavy or expensive.
I have since changed my stance and purchased what’s called a Sawyer Mini. It lets me screw on the filter to a variety of multi purpose bottles, or just a plain old plastic thing that you get in water packs. Point being: you should really consider planning your gear way in advance. What if I had already gone to Africa with that other filter? I’d be screwed, that’s what.
With this in mind, I took to the woods with my friend to test my rain gear. True to it’s claims, my rain cover protected my precious cargo on my back, and my lightweight coat and pants shielded my body. It is always a good idea to test your gear before you need it. My own backpacking checklist has changed at least 4 times! I ditch things that I don’t need, I add more on, I weigh and reweigh (new word?) until I am perfectly satisfied. I book my flight in advance, waiting for the cheapest options to save money (So I can travel further), and I can save cash, time, and headaches simply be planning.
Here’s the moral of this story:
Be spontaneous in your travels, but always plan your gear far before you leave.