For me, a holiday should be about doing something crazy, not going abroad to read the same newspapers you would at home but with a different time zone. It is easy to travel in Europe, except if you are a refugee.
We don’t need visas and pretty soon you won’t need passports to travel by plane between countries. If I wanted to, I could relocate to anywhere else in Europe and it would be the same as moving to a different city in Ireland.
I guess that is why Europe is boring to me now. Don’t get me wrong, if I was offered a holiday to Amsterdam, Berlin or even a some small village in Slovakia, I would take it. The difference between European countries for me is the language barrier, and even then it is easy to get around. Germans love to practice their English on you like a one-trick pony.
If I had my choice of a trip, I would want to go to places a bit off the beaten track. If your holiday is relaxing, you’re doing it wrong. Going on holidays to relax is a weird thing to do to relax. The stress of booking flights and hotels is enough to make me think twice about it being relaxing. Then once you are going, you have to plan ahead about flights, parking, arrival and the transport to and from the airport, local currency and of course everyone’s favourite diarrhea. Going on holiday to relax is fucking idiotic, and it is a lot worse if you have kids.
My greatest regret in terms of travel was not taking the time to visit North Korea when I had the chance to when I lived in Beijing. A 7-day trip cost $600 and I could have flown from Beijing to Pyongyang and seen the Hermit Kingdom. Knowing my luck, I would probably find myself serving 15-years hard labour for stealing a banner.
For the last few weeks I put a lot of thought into where I want to travel. The 40-minute commute to work is perfect to daydream, especially when I’m passing through some of the countryside. I am interested in visiting the capital of Zimbabwe, Harare. I have a friend there that I met in Beijing. Visiting him in Harare would be top of my list in terms of a trip, although it would probably be more likely we would find our paths meeting in China at some stage in the future. He might once again accompany me to confront a second rate computer repairman who fucked my laptop up more when he repaired it.
Another trip that I have been contemplating a lot about is hitching a ride on the Trans-Siberian railway for at least 2-3 weeks. I would opt to go south to Beijing instead of Vladivostok. I have a romanticized view of traveling by train. When I was a kid I traveled by train a lot. Today you can’t do that, trains are ridiculously expensive and the only difference between traveling by train and bus is the rail and road you travel on. The trip would be expensive because I would prefer to have my own room to sleep in. I don’t care if it’s the seize of a small cupboard, I don’t want to share a room.
Tehran is also hot on my list for destinations. Unfortunately there are no Airbnb rentals, and I might have to splash out on a hotel. Then again, there is nothing more embarrassing as having to shit in a strangers toilet and stinking the place out. I like Airbnb because it is cheap, but I hate it when you are staying with really awkward people. Like Paris, Tehran has a Bobby Sand’s Street that I want to see.
What got me thinking a lot about traveling recently was the 2004 documentary series ‘Long Way Round’, in which Ewan McGregor and his less famous actor friend went on a motorbike adventure from London to New York. They took the road east through slivers of Europe and boldly made their way through remote regions of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia’s infamous ‘Road of Bones’ and finally through Alaska on route to New York for a finale.
In my typical fashion, I binged watched the whole 10-hour series. I felt weirdly overly envious of it all. Bribing officials, shooting bears (Weren’t any Gorillas to shoot) and seeing their difficulties progress as a result of their perseverance was déjà vu for me. It is easy to go on a motorbike trip around the world when you’re famous. Most of us can only dream of doing something like that. It was annoying at times to see them moan about aspects of their trip. It was even worse when they went from Scotland to Cape Town in the ‘Long Way Down’. I swear, most of the trip was them complaining about how crap their trip was being.
If you are traveling and find that everything is going smoothly, you’ve probably wasted your time. Difficulties are a great part of traveling and they add the grit to a trip. They aren’t something you can plan for, and even if you do, plans rarely ever help anyway.
On the Long Way Round, Ewan and his team had a fixer. These were people who know how to bribe their way through a checkpoint. If you’ve never had to bribe someone, listen up. It is stupid to simply put forward the idea of bribing the person in charge. You have to maybe suggest ‘what is the fine for this sort of thing?’ or offer gifts like cigarettes or alcohol to make the process move along. One trick that is good is to know the favourite local brand of cigarettes and make sure to offer some to the pigs that stop you on the road.
Jumping the gun and outright stating you want to bribe an official without the song and dance of treating it like it is everything but a bribe is how you land yourself in trouble. Officials are seen to be in a position of power, and for people to pretend to respect that, they have to be seen as taking ‘fine’ or a ‘gift’ for their part in the tango of bribery. It is superficial, sure, but it is a song and dance you need to go through for the ego of the people in charge.
I learned that from experience and being able to collect yourself to confidently to propose a gift or fine isn’t easy when you are close to evacuating your bowels out of fear you will be deported or put in prison for trivial paperwork.
That is probably a real extreme. Ordinary challenges range from having clean clothes, knowing where to eat and where to sleep. This one is quite simple to solve, unless you are in a really remote place (but even then locals are more than willing to help you because they realize how screwed you are). For most other places that aren’t so ‘Deliverance’, here is a tip that works.
Have a photo album on your phone with pictures of things like a toilet, bedroom, food and a taxi. Waving your hands around with weird actions will only make your point less clear and if there is a language barrier, good luck. There is the off chance the photos will freak people out. It isn’t everyday someone approaches you on the street with a photo of a toilet on their phone. I would assume they are very proud of their toilet and they were going to show me their latest bowel movement.
Another important thing about travel is knowing when to take a photo. For me, the rule of thumb is two a day. Why? Because a trip is not about the photos you bring back to show people, but the stories you lived through. I would rather take in the sites than worry about taking a picture of them with a filter that best suits my personality. People like this are what ruined ‘The Scream’ for me when I visited it in Oslo last year.
Traveling definitely doesn’t broaden the mind unless you put yourself in the deep of it. Go without a tour group and venture off somewhere. If you are in a modern city that has a subway (not Dublin anyway), close your eyes and pick a stop at random and just go there. Don’t think about it too hard, don’t worry about the availability of public toilets because even if someone judges you for shitting yourself, you’ll never have to see them again. Isn’t that the beauty of travel?
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