How the hell do you to travel so much? (II and final part)

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So let’s continue with the future bestseller (hopefully!): “The Seven Habits of the Highly traveled backpacker ” or, more realistically, the answer to the question: How the hell do you to travel so much?

Check Part I for points 1 and 2. The ones who already have been initiated, without any further introduction, jump with me to point 3. Follow me, backpackers!

3. I descend my quality standards

Just as each person chooses how he/she wants to invest his/her money and what kind of reality he/she wants to live in, everyone choose how he/she wants to travel. And to make such a significant decision, it is important to keep in mind what you need and what makes you happy.

Some people say: “No way. I can’t afford to go traveling. And if I go only with the money I have now, I will have to suffer, to sleep on the street, to eat poorly and be stressed. In that case I’d rather stay home watching TV and that’s it.” In that case, if you think like this, what you need is a vacation. Not traveling. That vacation I take when I return to Costa Rica and I spend hibernating in a cave built by comfortable duvets, sleeping under an unquestionable spell of Sleeping Beauty syndrome.

Or maybe what you have in mind is the idea of the all-inclusive trip, the idea of the beautiful hotel and the idea of eating well, like Barceló Tambor Beach style (no sponsor of my travels, obviously). In that case, what you need is an escape from your reality. Not traveling as I understand it.

All positions are very fair. I also practice this ritual of staying at home watching TV (well, I almost never watch TV, but I sleep a lot) and, while I sleep, I dream a bit too about the trip when you have nothing else to do but stretch your hand to receive a cocktail (although I don’t think I will ever have this kind of trip). I don’t think so, because my trips match with my budget. If I live in Hatillo, it is unthinkable that I will always stay at hotels, eat at restaurants three times per day and go shopping. The consolation that I least have is that in the southern suburbs cable TV works.

When I travel I descend my standards. I sleep in hostels, I do Couchsurfing and if I have to, I already have experience sleeping in parks, train stations, airports, on the street and in public toilets. I eat twice a day: from the supermarket or at McDonald’s (since sometimes this is the cheapest option) and I drink water from the tap wherever I can. And I only buy postcards.

I understand that not everyone is willing to go hungry, to sleep outside and sometimes have a bad day. But I do. Not only for budgetary reasons, but because as masochistic as this might sound, for me, a good trip involves some suffering.

In Slovenia, where everything was so beautiful...

In Slovenia, where everything was so beautiful…

I have better stories to tell when everything has gone wrong. In Slovenia, for example, everything went perfect. Nice hostel, nice morning, nice place. The only thing that went wrong was that it rained in the afternoon with a tropical fury, which I didn’t know it could also have a Balkan passport. In the end, I stayed two days. And so, Slovenia became one of the countries less significant to me. In India, on the opposite hand, everything that could go wrong, went wrong : I crashed in the worst hostel I have ever been (located in the center of Delhi’s main bazaar, with other rooms’ shit coming out of my toilet, a mouse running on my bed, a hole in the window where people could peek at me, anyway, a place which is famous as an urban legend among backpackers, but I KNOW it does exist beyond hell ), I got sick the first week (and I spent two days with fever languishing alone in the room, with no one to help me to go to the hospital), I had the first cultural shock in my travels and the first panic attack in my life. In the end, I stayed four months. India, thus, became the most significant country for me.

It is under these circumstances that you test yourself. That you become stronger. That you discover yourself. And for a writer, the worst decisions always leave better stories to tell. Tell someone about how nice it was to spend a weekend in the ultra fancy Hacienda Pinilla in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, or how does it feel to wake up with the Acapulco beach at your feet from the heights of a hotel is very cool (because I spent a really good time), but boring. Tell someone how I got deported from Albania or how I almost lost an eye in Bulgaria is more interesting (even when I spent a really bad time). (Want to know more? Then buy the novel On the wooden rocking horse and learn some Spanish :p).

It’s very cliché, but simple things fill me. Eat a pot of ordinary rice or a bit of caviar and tell me which of these makes you feel less hungry. I have stayed in five star hotels (ok, you can judge me), due to coincidences of life more than anything else, but it was never as fascinating as the time  I slept on a mattress in the desert. I have eaten in fine restaurants, but it never tasted so good as the tiny shop’s burger at a corner in Belgrade. In my closet I have a pair of $200 boots (ok , NOW you can judge me) but if my house burns down,  I won’t save them. Rather I would save my chest, which is full of insignificant objects, like a scarecrow that cost one euro in El Rastro market.

Everyone chooses his or her own quality standards.

And I have news: simple things are the ones you enjoy the most and with the ones you learn the most (speaking of simple things, what a simple statement, like a Paulo Coelho’s one, but it is so true).

In India, where not everything was that beautiful...

In India, where not everything was that beautiful…

4. I lose the fear

Another question that people often ask me is if I’m not afraid of traveling alone. Money, fear… such curious topics come into people’s mind.

The first time I traveled alone, I went to Belgium and I have to admit that, by the time I got on the train, I was so scared that I felt my body in a state that we could define as “ethereal”. I guess I was so terrified that my soul left my body temporarily and left it alone there, probably protected by an urgency of whoever-who-can-save-himself-go-ahead. Anyway my soul left my body and told it: “So now, dude, you are screwed!” In other words, I felt like a sheet of paper, moved by the hurricane gusts of fear.

Ever since, the phenomenon is repeated each time with less and less degree of intensity (with the exception of India, which breaks all the schemes as the emerging world power that is). I have two theories:

Theory 1: Maybe it’s the fact that, like all learning, you must start first with an easy country to travel, like Belgium (where almost everyone speaks English, the trains are punctual, where is safe, organized and clean) in order to get the backpacking PhD eventually, which for me would be India (where those who speak English do so with their peculiar accent “Yes, madam, du yu nid riksho?”, trains are very complicated, a country that is not very safe for the solo female traveler, that is a chaos and it’s dirty as many sacred cows roaming the streets made it possible).

Theory 2: Maybe it’s the fact that if there is something I’ve learned in my travels is that, out there in the world, there are more good people than bad people.

“I’ve always relied on the kindness of strangers.” The first time I heard this phrase was in All About My Mother. At that time I didn’t understand it, but over the years I have realized that it is true. It’s like when we meet someone for the first time. Most of the times, we are super polite. Respectful. Lovely. We don’t know that person yet and we want to build a good relationship. Over time, this first good purpose often deteriorates itself: as we move on, and problems arise, we don’t give a shit to say to that person what bothers us about him/her, and we are less and less eager to do something nice for that person. Unlike by the time when we met, when the score was 0-0, now we can go 100 to -20. Just think of how idyllic love relationships are at the beginning and you will see what I mean. The same applies to strangers: with many of them, we only live this idyllic initial stage, in which humanism wakes up and empathy pops up every minute.

It’s so true that, in my travels, no one have ever stolen from me (well, once my laptop was stolen, but I recovered it within the same day with the help of many other strangers). But, for example, when I didn’t have a single penny in my pockets and I was deported from Albania, the bus driver paid my ticket and he helped me to find another bus that could take me out of such a migratory disaster.  Nobody ever hurt me. But, for example, when I almost lost an eye in Bulgaria, a random taxi driver was the one who took me on a pilgrimage to several clinics (though he did not even speak English) until we found someone who could help me. Less, much less, somebody has ever raped me. But there have been people who have offered me to stay at their homes without any money in the middle, like a woman who, seeing me sitting alone in a bar in Mozambique without knowing where to go, gave me a room at her home.

In Mozambique.

In Mozambique.

Believe me, the greatest lesson of all my travels has been that: there are more good people out there than we can imagine. What happens is that we all live being afraid of each other.

And if by any chance, fear grips me (because sometimes it happens), I swallow it. I can’t do anything with it. In the end, I always finished sitting at the same table, unharmed, with all those people who let themselves get dominated by the ghosts in their heads and never decided to travel.

And I’ve got news: in the end, MANY MORE BAD THINGS happen in people’s paranoid imagination than in the real world. In short: bad things happen in movies. Bad things happen on TNT. But bad things almost never happen in real life.

5. I set a date

Very well: finally we decided that we are going to travel. Somehow we managed to chock our fears and they are going through the esophagus, we didn’t buy the latest smartphone to give priority to the trip, we have our backpack ready and we’re reading point number five.

Buuut Christmas is coming. Buuut I just got a promotion at work. Buuut maybe I need to save more money. Buuut “black Friday” is around the corner. Buuut I just adopted a dog. Buuut I better start a French course. Buuut…

But nothing! There are thousands of “buts” in the way to convince you that you are not ready or it’s not the right time. I don’t say that in life there are no contingencies or opportunities that can’t justify postponing a trip. Buuut dude: life often throws you to the deepest parts of the pool without saying a word and you have no other choice but to improvise. And, in the end, you survive.

There is never a moment to be 100% ready to go, as I think there is not a right moment to become parents or to die. All these buuuuts come from you brain’s left side: the rational one. All these logical theories that expose you should stay and not go away. Like a new job. Like money. Like responsibilities. The left hemisphere is useful for many things, but it always gets in the middle. Don’t blame it: it wants to protect you and, for this side of your head, protection means send you all the possible signals to keep you within the known. The place where you have found you can survive. Where there is no danger. For better or worse (I think for the better, obviously), this brain guy is not alone inside your head: there, crowded, it coexists with the right hemisphere, which handles impulses, creativity, feelings. Well, it seems fair to me that, given the fact both of them are the same size, the right also has the right (pun intended) to gain power as the legitimate owner of 50 % of the skull’s shares. Solomonic. Give it that chance to come out on stage and surprise you.

The problem is that we think we have time. “There’s more time than life.” Another slogan that I never understood: what is the fucking point of having more time if you will not have life to live it? Maybe it is because often an imaginary death haunts me (because I’ve seen it come close, but it walked away as a passing by fly drew more its attention). But even if it doesn’t haunt you, remember that the only requirement to die is to be alive.

So I set a date and I RESPECT it. It doesn’t matter if I get a better job. It doesn’t matter if I don’t have too much money. It doesn’t matter if they begin to break the seals of Revelation: I AM LEAVING. From that day, the right hemisphere begins its tyranny and it shall never be disturbed by anyone in its almighty throne.

Me, with a bunch of sadhus in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Me, with a bunch of sadhus in Kathmandu, Nepal.

6. I use condoms

I bet that you didn’t see that coming… lol.

But it’s true. Once again we return to the priorities speech. Today, having children is not among my priorities. I am one of those women who are expecting to hear the last bell of the biological clock and, while hearing its tics, I keep traveling and using condoms.

In my perfect future world, I totally visualize myself traveling with my kids. I hear them speaking in several languages. I look at their photos playing with Buddhist monks. I hear them breathing next to me while we are sleeping in a tent.

However, while that happens, I use a condom because first I want to make many other trips that are not for children. Trips that are not suitable during childhood. Today, I can look after myself, but not after my kids, because I know that when I have them, my backpacking style will change.

Once I knew a girl who was pregnant while she was backpacking. She had bought one of those tickets to go around the world, and in South America she got pregnant during a one night stand. She was in Nepal by the time I met her and then, she went to India. I think that obviously back then she didn’t realize that she was no longer taking care of one body, but two. I don’t judge her, but I do not EVER want to be in her situation.

So, I use condoms. To keep backpacking until the clock sets my hour. To keep backpacking so I won’t have anything to regret of.

7. I imagine my life is a novel

The last point is my life’s philosophy, beyond the fact that, since I started with On the rocking horse project, my life has, indeed, become a novel read even by people that I will never meet.

Always, when I’m at a crossroad, I wonder what would be more interesting for my character. What would be worth to be read: A or B? If I’m writing pages that are written with carbon paper, the same ones day after day, then: does anyone would really read such a “conceptual” novel? Is it more important that the character overcomes her fears and evolves, or that she stays in the same place, without any evolution? Because good characters are the ones who change. Good stories are the unpredictable ones. Good literature invites you to turn the page, not to stay on the same forever.

So I travel. I am aware that my life is the most important novel of all the ones that I might write, and that even if you have a lot of imagination, reality is always superior than fiction. I am sure that I evolved more every time I travel, than when I sat down at the desk. And above all, I don’t want any of the pages of my life’s novel begins with the sentence every curse should begin with: “What if… ”

Each and every one of us is a writer of our own novels in which we are the protagonists. And each and every one of us decide what we write, what characters we want to add, what story we want to tell.

The most risky part is that life is not written in a laptop. Each time you write a page, there is no way to erase or rewrite it, because life is not written with a keyboard or with a pencil. Not  even with ink. It is written with time, that never returns.

We don’t really know how much blank pages we have left. I don’t know either. But whether I die tonight, before anyone reads this, or whether I die on my rocking chair in my old age next to you guys, when I will close the book, I do not want a single missed word.

So there is the answer to How the hell do you travel so much? The secret?  In my case it’s simple: I simply refuse to live a life that is not worthy of being told.

At 5328 meters about sea level. Manali-Leh Highway. Himalayas.

At 5328 meters about sea level. Manali-Leh Highway. Himalayas.

PLEASE NOTE: English is not my mother tongue! These ones are rough translations from
the original Spanish version Sobre el caballito.Sorry about the mistakes!

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One Comment

  1. Travelling has always been like this forbidden fruit for me for which I got to go against what is ‘normal’. Your life, what you call stories from your novel answers all my questions about travelling. I think one needs a lot of courage to choose a life like yours. I have more reasons but I won’t mention them because I know you have, I know there are answers to them as well, because I agree, after all it is all about prioritising your needs. No matter how much the unknown fascinates a human being, a normal human being always finds comfort in ‘the known’. That is why I say you need a lot of courage. I want to see the world the way you see it. But I think, no matter how much I try to believe that travelling is all I want from life, I know there are other things I want from life right now, like for instance keeping my promise to my husband that I will always be with him or of seeing my parents happy when they see me doing the ‘normal’ things in life. So till then, till travelling becomes my priority and I muster up the courage to venture into the unknown, I wold choose to see the world from your eyes. Love the way you write, love your bipolar nature, love the fact that you are not shy talking about your insecurities and fear.. In short love the Novel that is being written right now. I am from India. If you ever visit India again, feel free to get in touch for any help you might need or for a simple cup of coffee if not anything else. Inspired. Touched.

    — Bishakha

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