Traveling is easy. You pick a destination, choose a way of travel and go there. You find a way to pass time on the road; some people talk with strangers, some prefer books or video games and some prefer to stare through the window in silence. In the end it doesn’t matter because either way you’ll get to your destination. Once you’re there you sight see, eat local food and try not to fall into tourist traps.
But there is a difference between being a tourist and an adventurer. A tourist travels to sight see but an adventurer travels to experience. A tourist travels because he’s on a holiday but to an adventurer every day is a holiday. A tourist has a list of sights he “must” see, list of foods he “must” try and a list of souvenirs he “must” buy. An adventurer has only one item on his list: to have new experiences, and he knows all of that sightseeing, local foods and souvenirs will come eventually and naturally.
This is a short story of how I went from being a tourist to being an adventurer in a form of 10 rules I’ve learnt while traveling.
- Take your time
When I was living in Madrid I was planning a trip to visit 7 cities in 7 days: Murcia, Almeria, Granada, Málaga, Gibraltar, Sevilla and Córdoba. Luckily, I mentioned my plan to a friend I met on a language exchange. I will never forget his face screaming of terror as he was hearing my plan.
“No. Absolutamente no.” – he exclaimed and dragged me to meet Rob. He explained him my plan and I got to see my plan bring terror to another man’s face. He introduced himself as a trip designer. You know when you look at organized trips and you have an itinerary which tells you exactly which towns you will visit, where you will stay and what you will see? This guy makes that.
“Look Neven” – he starts – “I know you have a desire to see all of Spain but think about it, that’s not gonna happen. I recommend, professionally and personally to take your time. Córdoba and Granada are probably the two most beautiful cities in the world. Spend at least two days in Córdoba and three in Granada. Remember, it’s better to have two amazing experiences than five mediocre ones.”
And that’s the mantra I’ve been traveling by since then. Which brings us to our next pro tip:
- Sightseeing is cool but people are what brings you new experiences
It was a hot afternoon on a beach in Valencia. I was searching for a store where I can buy sunscreen for 15 minutes before I gave up.
“I’ll just ask someone on the beach, let’s go” I tell to my friends and we spread our towels on the beach sand. Immediately I spot several girls next to us and see they have sunscreen. I swoop in and introduce myself in Spanish. They were very friendly and they spared some sunscreen for me. But I couldn’t help to notice their sunglasses. They had dicks on them. I started laughing and asked for a photo. They obliged. We were chatting and joking around before I thanked them and said goodbye. When I was leaving they yelled in unison: “Hasta luego la polla!” which can be translated to something like “See you later dickman!”
I smiled, waved back and knew I had a funny story to tell.
The moral of the story is that one photo accompanied by a funny story is worth more than hundreds of photos of you standing in front of a monument. So go ahead, ask that stranger where did she buy that beautiful dress, request a song from a street musician or spend half an hour talking with a Turkish salesman about massini macunu, natural Turkish Viagra. Sometimes you’ll get rejected, but most of the time people will be happy to take a photo with you with dickglasses on their faces.
While we’re talking about photos:
- People don’t know how to take photos
In my travels I’ve experienced a lot of different cultures. I’ve seen different religions, stereotypes and heard different stories. But in the end I arrived to the same conclusion as others: people are retarded when they have to take a photo. Here’s an example from my trip to Toledo:
Here’s how I imagine his thought process went: “OK, the medieval city on a hill is nice and all but something is missing… Yes! Maybe I should position the frame so the trash can is in the shot… There, perfect!”
My point is, if you’re taking someone’s photo, take your time and direct the shot. The people who you’re taking the photo of don’t know where’s the best position for them to stand so the photo looks good. You’re the one who sees how the photo will look like. Tell them to move to the left, right, up or down. Position the camera as so to take the best possible photo you can. Trust me, the people will appreciate the extra effort you put to make their photo look as best as possible. They would do it for you.
- Don’t be afraid to learn their language
People usually think natives don’t like when you butcher their language. But it’s actually quite opposite! If they see you trying and failing, mispronouncing and fumbling over simple words, they will appreciate the effort you’re putting in into learning their language.
And remember, adventurers seek out new experiences and knowing more languages will enable you to have experiences you otherwise wouldn’t have!
Some people say that they don’t bother with the language if they’re going to be abroad only for a couple of days. But I wouldn’t let that demotivate me. Brain is a mysterious thing and stuff learnt a long time ago can resurface pretty easily with the right stimulus. For example, I’ve been to Turkey for 3 weeks 5 months ago but I still know all the basics and can order food in a restaurant without breaking a sweat. Also, the funniest thing is that I’ve learnt more Italian in two weeks by socializing with Italians in Turkey than I’ve learnt in 4 years of high school. But to be honest, words and phrases I learnt are mostly curse words. Speaking of which:
- Some cultures frown upon cursing
Imagine one of your foreign friends who doesn’t speak a lot of English replies to your question of what did he do last night with: “I was sucking your mom’s vaginal juices with a vacuum cleaner.” I imagine you would be in stiches.
What I’ve realized is that the easiest way to bond with foreign men is to talk about women and teach curse words to each other. The speed of how fast you bond is unexplainable. The same can be said about bonding with women, but in that case you bond by flirting with them.
In Croatia, you will probably learn the phrase “Jebem ti mater” (Literally: I’ll fuck your mother) before you’ll learn “Good night” or “Thank you”. We often swear when we joke so we don’t take curse words very seriously. However, beware. Some cultures frown upon cursing so much that strangers would stop you on the street asking why you cursed your friend. For example, my friend was teaching me this juicy one and after I learnt it I said to him out loud on the street: “I will shit in your father’s wine bottle”. That sounds hilarious right? But in Turkish, it’s a really bad insult and my friend was shushing me telling strangers on the street that I’m a foreigner and I’m joking. Countries which frown upon cursing are mostly eastern so make sure you inform yourself before you practice your newly learnt curse on the street.
- Use Blablacar but research first:
Blablacar is a website where drivers announce they’re traveling on a certain date by their private car and that they have free seats. Users can buy those seats for a price that’s usually way cheaper, and not to mention faster, than buses.
But sometimes public transportation is cheaper, especially if you are a student. For example, in Croatia a 300 km trip would cost you around 9 EUR on Blablacar. However, if you’re a student and you take a bus, the trip would cost you 5 EUR.
Sometimes you won’t be able to get a student discount because you’re a student from a foreign country. For example, when I was in Turkey ticket prices looked like this:
-Regular ticket: 7 EUR
-For Turkish citizens: 4 EUR
-For Turkish students: 2 EUR
I asked for a student ticket but the guy who was selling tickets told me I was not Turkish. I replied in Turkish with a bad Croatian accent “But I am Turkish!” (Ama, ben Türküm!)
He laughed but continued saying no.
But I caught him off guard by saying “Come on, you’re the man!” in Turkish (Haydı, adamın dibisin!). His colleagues and he started laughing in surprise and they all agreed to give me the student ticket for 2 EUR.
So in conclusion, remember advice #4 and always ask because you have nothing to lose!
- Absolutely use Couchsurfing
Couchsurfing is a website where people who have extra beds or couches host travellers for free. In return, the hosts get to meet amazing and interesting people, practice foreign languages and hear about their adventures.
The guests obviously have a roof over their head for a night, a place to shower and eat some delicious local food hosts will prepare for them!
Some of my best memories while traveling around Spain are from Almería where I stayed with a local girl I found on Couchsurfing. She showed me the best place in town to eat, she took me to her musical class, showed me the best sights and beaches in the city and at the same time hosted 2 German backpackers and we had an awesome time together.
On the right we are in a tapa bar where you get a drink for 2.5 EUR and choose a pretty big dish for free. The photo with two German guys is in the Alcazaba, Moorish castle. The local girl knew on which days the entrance is for free.
So remember, no one can show you the place better than the local. Use Couchsurfing, meet local people and have an adventure!
- Traveling alone is awesome
Traveling alone is certainly the biggest adventure you can embark on. You will find yourself getting lost in an infinite amount of internal monologues, contemplating what will be the next chapter of your life. You will be able to make last minute changes to your trips. You will have all the freedom in the world to eat, see, drink or do anything you want!
But sometimes that freedom is not enough. Often, you will find yourself saying: “I wish <insert person’s name> is here to see this with me…”
- Sometimes, you want to share the experience with someone you love
That gif of me in #8 is from Barcelona. I’ve been there for 3 days and saw everything that’s “worth seeing”. However, to be able to do that I had to sacrifice socializing because people who were with me in the organized trip didn’t want to wake up early so they could sightsee. So while I saw all the beautiful sights of Barcelona: Gaudi’s park, Sagrada Familia, the fountain of magic etc. the best memory is not of a pretty park or piece of architecture. It’s of a beautiful, half-naked, drunk-as-hell girl who climbed on my bunk bed because she thought it’s hers. And while she was explaining to me that it was her bed, over and over again, I was laughing thinking: “But why would I be sleeping in your bed?!” I carefully transferred her to her bed with a help of a friend and we all laughed in the morning.
So while the trip was awesome, I realized I wanted to see those sights with my girlfriend, to share the experience with her. So I organized a trip through Andalucía and we had an awesome time in Córdoba, Granada, Malaga and Sevilla because at midnight, when a girl was getting into my bed, I didn’t have to explain her it wasn’t hers.
Don’t be afraid to take that first step. Start small, travel to a nearby city in your country. Then even further. Eventually, you will find yourself in a foreign country, having new experiences, meeting new people, learning new languages and, most important of all, having an adventure of your life.
You will be happy
You will be sad
But you will be glad
That over a beer
You friends will have stories to hear.
So go on
Have an adventure
Board a plane, bus or train,
And while eating potato chips
Remember Neven and his 9 pro tips.