Travel blog focused on lessons learned travelling. The blog focuses less on the destination and landmarks and more on the journey itself. Posts aim to provide, besides travel stories, lessons, advice, tips and travel inspired literature.
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I never really understood mental illness.I always thought of it in extremes. I thought you were either sane or insane. I never truly believed there was something in the middle. I thought depression was another word for sadness, that could be easily ’sucked up.’ If times were hard, you just had to man up, face […] The post Making Sense of Mental Health appeared first on Mr...
I never really understood mental illness.I always thought of it in extremes. I thought you were either sane or insane. I never truly believed there was something in the middle. I thought depression was another word for sadness, that could be easily ’sucked up.’ If times were hard, you just had to man up, face them and stop bitching. After all, there are plenty of other people out there with way more serious issues than you and you don’t see them crying. What I failed to understand is that not everyone has the same emotional composure and I only came to understand it when I collapsed emotionally.
It wasn’t sudden. That’s the problem with mental illness. It creeps up gradually, builds up over a period of time and then it hits you when you least expect it. And it comes in so many forms that it makes it be difficult to trace and by the time you do trace it, the damage could already be done.
I don’t really know what point in my life I could trace my emotional collapse to. But there are definitely certain events that might be indicative. And I think it’s hard to attribute a single cause, and I would say it was most likely an amalgamation of things: heartbreaks, work stress, social circles disappointments, society/community attitudes etc.
What I am certain of though, is that all of these feelings started making their way inside of my head and settled there. While initially I would only get upset by ‘more serious’ things, my attitude gradually changed and then even the smallest things would start bothering and hurting me.
So, in order to repress that pain, I turned to what had usually worked for me in the past: smoking, alcohol and cannabis. And it did work for a while. I didn’t feel the pain anymore, so I quit alcohol and cannabis, and was only enjoying a cigarette from time to time. However, thinking about it retrospectively, something changed inside. I became more cynical and more pessimistic. Instead of believing the best in people , like I used to, I turned to believing the worst in them. I distanced myself from many of my friends and social circles. I stopped making an effort to meet new people and I stopped opening up to pretty much anyone.
And then it hit me hard. Out of the blue.
It was my last week at my previous workplace and I was just getting ready to hand some files to my manager. All of a sudden, I felt a stabbing pain in my chest and then a hard to explain feeling gripped me. I felt an uncontrollable fear rushing through my whole body. It originated in my stomach, but I could feel it everywhere: in my arms, in my legs, in my heart, in my eyes. I felt my heart racing, my ears ringing and my vision become blurry. I found it hard to breathe and I felt confused.
Later, I found out that what I had felt was a panic attack, something I had never experienced before. I remember being perplexed at the situation and then telling my manager something is not right and that I felt unwell. She dropped me off at a walk-in centre where I had a general health check-up (blood pressure, insulin level etc ) and got sent home with some prescribed antacids for stomach ache.
I dismissed that episode as just a stomach ache due to unhealthy diet and irregular sleeping times so I started taking medicine which helped for a while. After about a month, when I stopped taking the medicine the pain came back viciously and hasn’t stopped ever since. The panic attacks continued but I eventually learned to get over them. They would usually come at times when the pain was really bad. Most of them happened in the middle of the night when they would wake me up and I would shake uncontrollably for about half an hour. Some happened during the day, at work, and then I had to excuse myself, lock myself in the bathroom and wait for them to go away.
Every day felt like a living nightmare. Constant pain, from morning to night. And them some more in the early hours of the morning. My doctor sent me for several tests but all came out clean. I was diagnosed with Acid Reflux and prescribed some over the counter antacids.
I was somewhat relieved with the outcome of the results so I pushed through the pain. I found in sports and travelling a perfect escape from the pain. Travelling helped me cope with suicidal thoughts while sports helped me keep the pain at bay, by replacing my stomach pain with muscle ache.
However, sports soon became an addiction. I started training 6 days a week, most of the time up to three times a day. Besides gym and running I also practiced Kickboxing, Boxing, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and Aikido. Any time I cut down on my training time, my pain would come back, so I had to keep it constant.
Because I rarely took any breaks, I suffered several muscle strains and ruptures, 2 broken ribs on 2 different occasions and damaged one of my knees to the point I could not run anymore for over a year. Yet none of this bothered me. I actually preferred it to my stomach pain, which I could barely feel anymore.
However, all that I was doing was repressing the symptoms, not the cause. Any time I would have an argument that affected me emotionally, the pain would come back, sometimes in different forms : stabbing head ache that lasted for about 6 months, nerve pain in my foot for about 3 months and the worst, globus sensation, (lump in throat feeling) which feels it’s lasted for an eternity.
Last year, on one night I was deeply upset, I swallowed two pills without water and fell asleep shortly after. In the morning I got up with a terrible pain in my throat. The two pills had gotten stuck in there and had caused a burn in my oesophagus (the lower part of the throat) My doc told me that this would heal and I was just unlucky for it to happen to me as it’s only a very small chance of it happening and blamed it on the Acid Reflux. However, that pain in my throat never subsided. It seemed to just be another addition to the stomach pain.
I went to a few private doctors which told me there was nothing wrong with me and the pain was in my head – they called it nerve pain. They explained that the acid was so strong that it had affected my nerves both in my stomach and oesophagus. But still, weirdly, no antacids worked against it.
The pain in my throat would get so bad that I would wake up at night feeling I can’t breathe. I felt that there was genuinely something stuck in there. And then the panic attacks came back. I stopped seeing friends as often simply because the pain in my throat was too much to cope with. After one day of faking a normal life at work I couldn’t do the same with my friends as well.
This was not easy. I didn’t have anywhere I could go and just rest or take time to heal. I had to pay rent and bills. I thought about going back home to Romania but in the end decided against it. Firstly, I was embarrassed that I was so weak. Second , I didn’t think there was any other available help apart from what my docs here had already recommended. Third, I didn’t want to worry my friends and family.
It felt I had gone back to ground 0. That all the sports I did were for nothing. I was down again and suicidal thoughts came back – my only super-power, to simply end it all in minutes. I lost faith in doctors as they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.
However, one of them changed that by indirectly suggesting a pre-anxiety disorder as opposed to acid reflux. Whilst I was telling him that sometimes the pain is so bad that it causes anxiety and panic attacks, he asked me if I ever thought that the pain could have been caused by anxiety and not vice versa.
And it was such a simple question that I felt stupid. Stupid that until then I had never considered that my emotional state affected my health. This was 2 years after having been in constant pain.
So, for about 6 months now, I’ve tried paying attention more to my emotions and how they affected my pain. And noticed that they did increase it by a lot. And even one episode of anger or anxiety could flareup my pain for a few days. And the problem was that even the smallest things could cause anger, anxiety or sadness. Ridiculous small things like cancellation of a plan or childish arguments I would have with others would be enough to completely bring me down for the rest of the day, both emotionally and physically. And they would not get out from my head. I could not express them in any way and that’s what I felt was killing me on the inside. I tried crying to release them but it didn’t work either. I felt I was out of tears, although I had not cried in years.
The more I started reflecting on the emotions and their triggers, I realised how much more I became prone to being affected by random things. To my surprise I found that I had become more easily affected emotionally, be it by anger, sadness, jealousy or stress. And repressing them was not effective, as they came back even stronger after a while. And it’s scary. These feelings were no strangers to me but I’ve never felt them so intense. They never actually hurt physically like they do now.
I tried talking to some of my friends about it but most of them didn’t take me seriously. Some laughed at me when I told me I thought I was depressed, others told me I suffer from a disease that’s not real. That it was all in my head and I could stop it any time I wanted to, but I just had to grow a pair.
I wish it was that easy. I find it hard to trust people anymore, even the ones that are closest to me. I don’t feel I’m a priority for anyone, despite me prioritising so many. And I know I’m the only one to blame for having expectations of others. I am jealous of narcissistic and selfish people. I sometimes wish I could be like them and only care about myself and not be affected by anything else. Sometimes I wish I had no feelings. I wish I was a programmed machine, with a clearly defined purpose without the ability to feel anything. I sometimes despise I am human. I have no idea how to fix myself, but still, sometimes I get the confidence and hope that it is within my power. I sometimes despise people around me, but sometimes they prove me wrong, reminding me of the optimist I once was. And sometimes I feel happy to be alive. And I try to cling to that feeling as much as I can, as I know it doesn’t last long.
Meditation helped. I did it every day for about 3 months and my stomach pain reduced by 80%, without the need of repression via sports. However, the throat pain still remained strong.
I asked for my doc’s advice, and he suggested I tried a small dose of an antidepressant called amitriptyline. The dose is not high enough to treat depression (which he does not believe I suffer from) but sufficient to help me with my nerve pain. Ever since I started taking it, I’ve felt an improvement of around 40%. However, powerful negative emotions such as stress, anxiety or anger would override its beneficial effects and throw me back to ground 0.
I found swimming helps as well. There’s something about having my head underwater for the longest I can hold my breath for and then coming out for air. Sometimes I think about just not coming out at all, but I always do, desperate for a breath of oxygen. Maybe that’s an indication of how much I want to live.
The pain is still there, fluctuating ‘in harmony’ with my emotions and some days I am a lot better. Today was not one of them. Before getting home I sat on a bench in the rain for about an hour pondering why I felt so sad. For the first time I actually enjoyed the cold rain cooling off my hot head. I am crying as I am writing this. Still crying as I’m re-reading and editing it. Now I understand why people do it so much. Maybe it hasn’t been such a bad day after all.
The Young and the Communist A few weeks ago I was walking through the main square of Nottingham when a small group of young activists drew my attention. They had a stall with pamphlets, Cuban and Venezuelan flags and were speaking out against capitalism. I was intrigued so I went to check them out. They […] The post Cuba – The Failed Promised Communist Paradise appeared first on Mr...
A few weeks ago I was walking through the main square of Nottingham when a small group of young activists drew my attention. They had a stall with pamphlets, Cuban and Venezuelan flags and were speaking out against capitalism. I was intrigued so I went to check them out. They told me they were part of an organisation (Rock around the Blockade) that supports socialism in Cuba and Venezuela and campaigns against the US blockade and imperialism.
While myself am quite Marxist in thinking, I did agree with them on American imperialism and economic sanctions issues but disagreed on their portrayal of Venezuela and Cuba as ideal examples the ‘UK should follow.’ They reminded me of myself, when I was younger and reading about the utopia socialism and capitalism could lead to. However, When I told them that Venezuela and Cuba fail to provide for universal human rights, and are failed communist states, the young activists got very defensive.
One of them was so vehemently convinced that Cuba was a perfect example of democracy that he started spitting out ‘facts’ about how many elections the Cubans have had and the importance of the new referendum that gave a voice to all people. ‘If that’s not democracy, what is it?’ I was aggressively told.
First of all, I asked the young man, ‘Have you ever been to Cuba ?’ ‘No’ he told me but ‘a good friend of mine that I trust 100% went and told me how free Cuban people are. Plus, there’s s YouTube video of eyewitnesses reports you can watch and see for yourself’ (which I did when I got back home)
‘My advice to you is go there and see for yourself.’ I replied. ‘But independently. If you go on an organised tour, you will only see what the organisers want to show you.’ I continued.
‘My friends went there, and I can assure you they saw no lack of freedom’ he continued and then added some more ‘statistics’ on the people’s content with socialism. ‘Where do you get your statistics from?’ I asked. ‘From independent organisations’ he replied. ‘Which ones?’ I continued. ‘I don’t know’ he admitted but ‘I trust them.’
‘As I said before, go to Havana yourself, and strike random conversations with locals on the street, and you’ll see what will happen.’ ‘What?’he answered already irritated. ‘You’ll see how the police will take these locals away, I’ve seen it with my own eyes.’
He started laughing in disbelief. At this point I got a bit irritated and replied a bit harshly: ‘See, that’s exactly my point, you’re laughing because you find it inconceivable. You come from a privileged society and take your rights for granted. The very right you have of shouting out loud whatever crosses your mind in this square does not exist in Cuba. If you do it you will get arrested.’
He got very angry and replied ‘I know I’m privileged and don’t take it for granted.!!’There are people arrested all the time in Market Square!’ he replied huffing and puffing.
‘But not for the same reason! You go there and you will see for yourself’ I repeated.
At that point as he was already extremely irritated he said there was no point continuing the conversation and walked away.
I was a bit disappointed he didn’t allow me to further explain these things to him. If someone had told me 2 years ago that locals would get taken away by the police on the street in Havana I would not have believed it either. ‘When Cuba is making efforts to improve tourism, why would they do that?’. I would have posed the exact same question and scepticism just as the young activist did.
But the complexity is far greater than this. If Cubans do not have a license that allows to engage in tourism activities, they are not allowed to interact with tourist. It’s happened to me on 3 occasions, when locals I was speaking to got taken away by the police for the simple act of speaking to me. That is not the freedom we are used to in the West.
Me getting a bit harsh on him did not help either, I guess. Deep down I really wanted him to be right so when I got back home I watched the YouTube video he had mentioned.
Sadly, it was exactly what I had assumed in the first place. Interviews mostly taken from state officials or state affiliated organisations. All of these interviews portrayed the perfect state with absolutely no criticism of the system.
There is even one journalist that mentions the freedom of speech Cuba has and gives as example the online publication CubaDebate.cu , where people have the right to comment whatever crosses their mind. I’ve had a look and he’s right. People say whatever they want, except anything against the party, which is taken down. (As all comments are moderated – censored in other words)
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a Cuban NGO not recognised by the state recorded over 5000 arbitrary detentions in 2017 for example. Some concrete examples : DR Eduardo Gardet Concepcion, who criticised Fidel Castro in public got a 3 year sentence in prison; Yulier Perez , a graffiti artist was harassed and eventually detained for expressing himself through his art. Danilo Machado was imprisoned in a maximum security prison for writing ‘Se fue’ (he’s gone) on a wall when Castro died. Again, this is not what we consider Freedom in the west.
I’ve had a look at the new constitution as well and I agree. Some things are getting better and improved (potential legalisation of same sex marriage, commitment to environmental protection, further provisions for people with disabilities, ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its first two Optional Protocols) but they are nowhere close to western standards democracy, freedom of speech and human rights. Yes Cuba has a great culture and great happy people because they learned how to make most of their situation and make compromises regarding certain freedoms.
For example Article 95.h protects artistic expression, but only when it conforms with “socialist values”. On the one hand, the text proposes the “democratisation of cyberspace”, but on the other it condemns the use of the internet for “subversion” (Article 16.l). Human rights guarantees are restricted to what is already established under Cuban laws, many of which are contrary to international law and international human rights provisions.
Most independent human rights organisations continued to be denied access to the country and to its prisons. Cuba is under scrutiny for human rights abuses by several human rights organisations amongst which most notably Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN. Cuba remains the only country in the Americas region to deny access to Amnesty International.
A true exercise in democracy and human rights would be for the state to genuinely allow people a choice of the form of government. However, Cuba remains a one party led state that will silence and suppress any opposition.
Many of these young activists praised Cuba’s healthcare system, which is free for all. While it’s true in some particular cases, overall the Cuban health system has failed to provide equally all people with access to the same facilities. Only a number of hospitals to which only the privileged have access actually have decent conditions. The rest lack many medical facilities, lack sanitary conditions and necessary medicine. I have a Cuban friend in Nottingham who always sends her mom aspirin, because there’s always a shortage of medicines in her area. The below video gives you a glimpse into the failures of the Cuban health system.
As I come from an ex-communist country, I understand both sides, especially as I sympathise with Marxist thought. However, I’ve seen what communism did to my native country, Romania, and how long it took to recover. Communism simply did not work on any level. On a moral level, communism should promote equality amongst all workers. Workers would only receive the necessary amount from the shared wages and any surplus would be equally distributed. This did not work on any level, as obviously, everybody has a different concept of what ‘necessary needs’ are. So, the people in power kept all the wealth, similarly to the bourgeoisie in capitalism, while depriving the working class of the same opportunity. In order to protect their privilege, the higher up functions repressed any movement of disobedience. On the other hand, the workers that could not access the surplus, resorted to other means of making money, capitalistic means, by operating on the black market. In essence, that meant stealing from the government and selling on for profit.
Needless to say, it was not long until people realised communism as a system did not work and they brutally ended it in 1989. However, the same corrupt structures stayed in place for at least another 15 years and have only started to crumble a decade ago. Those very structures left a long lasting impact on people’s mentality which I witnessed growing up. People still stocking up water or tinned food ‘just in case’ there will be a shortage like it used to be during Communist times; people being wary of speaking in public or over the phone against the current government out of fear of being persecuted by the police or secret services who used to tap phones and monitor any anti-governmental movements; people being scared of peacefully protesting due to fears of them losing their lives as in the case of the post communist peaceful protests of 1990 and 1991 when over 40 peaceful protesters, mostly students, were killed and several hundred injured. Or even the most recent protests in August 2018 when the government suppressed a peaceful protest with water cannons, tear gas and police brutality. These are the structures that never really dissipated and still plague the Romanian society almost 30 years after the fall of communism.
When I went to Cuba, I could see many similarities to the Romanian case. Just as Romania, Cuba is another example of failed communism. Its economy has creative massive voids which in turn have created massive discrepancies and gaps between social classes where only the privileged few can have a decent livelihood. It’s also made its citizens dependent on the black market (a capitalist construct) to obtain necessary goods. It’s definitely made improvements here and there but I think it’s a long way from achieving Marx’s utopia. I’ve previously written about Cuba’s Street Economics but you can also watch the video below, which exemplifies how people get around communism’s harsh conditions employing capitalism to aid them.
I love Cuba, its culture and its people’s resilience to make the most of their situation. And I think we have a lot to learn from its situation. However, I can’t say the same about its government. On the other hand, we also have a lot to learn about why communism would not work in our western democratic societies.
In case you do get involved with such organisations, please do your research before choosing to support them and ask yourselves if you could live in the regimes that are portrayed so perfectly by them. The best way is going there and seeing the reality by yourself. But don’t go on guided tours, organised by institutions. Go independently, and do independent research in the communities. And then the harsh reality of what Cuban socialism really means will hit you.
Cuba Debate Online Journal :
Human Rights Watch:
UN Report of the Independent Expert on human rights:
Reflections on Travel Travelling Well is quite a vague concept. Since travel is such a personal experience, it’s hard to find a fit for all model. Numerous travellers have come up with different theories on what the ideal way of travel is. Some, as Ruskin praised trips in nature and the importance of drawing while […] The post On Travelling Well – Making The Most of Travel appeared first on Mr...
Travelling Well is quite a vague concept. Since travel is such a personal experience, it’s hard to find a fit for all model. Numerous travellers have come up with different theories on what the ideal way of travel is. Some, as Ruskin praised trips in nature and the importance of drawing while travelling. Others, such as Humboldt, believed a traveler should study a variety of domains in order to understand the world. History, Biology, Geology, Chemistry and Physics would be the must know areas of education for the ideal traveller.
One of my favourite interpretation is Allain de Botton’s, who refers to Travelling Well as the Art of Travel. Just like Art takes multiple forms, awakens various feelings and becomes a representation of the artist , so does travelling.
Last year, I’ve written on the importance of reflection on the types of travellers we are. Drawing on the same concept, I think it is equally important to be honest with ourselves in terms of what we want to make out of travel.
Here, I will provide an account of what I consider to be Travelling Well. You, or others might very well disagree with my views and that is perfectly fine and normal. We all travel for different reasons, in different ways, and pursue different goals. However, at times, we get distracted by shallow pursuits and are in danger of forgetting our values that push us to travel. The very act of reflecting on those distractions and honestly admitting their shallow nature allows us to begin Travelling Well.
When I first started travelling, my dream was to visit all 195 countries of the world. (or 197 if you include Kosovo and Taiwan) I used to love reading about people who had visited all countries in as little as one year. I had hoped I would once do the same, and would eventually put together a photo album of pictures of me standing next to the most famous landmarks of the world: Eiffel Tower, The Great Wall of China, The Statue of Liberty, The Pyramids of Giza etc as a celebration of my achievement.
However, since I’ve started travelling 13 years ago, my perception on what travel means changed dramatically. Gradually, travel became more than just vacations, and objectives more than landmarks. I’ve started seeing in travel not just relaxation, but a way to learn more both about the world and myself.
I’ve never given up on my dream to visit all countries in the world. However, my perception on how I would do it changed. Although I’ve been travelling for the past 13 years, I’ve only truly seen about 5 countries. I did set foot in another 15 or so, but only seen small parts of them.
I often feel guilty when people praise me about having travelled to twenty countries. Because I know that although technically I am not lying, I’ve only scratched the surface in most of them. For example, I can’t cross the Netherlands of my list when I’ve only visited Amsterdam for a weekend. Or Mexico, when I’ve only travelled in the Yucatan region for a week.
It seems that nowadays, the trend amongst travellers is collecting as many stamps on their passports in the least amount of time possible. Most of them seem to be reducing countries to names, collected in the form of a social media vanity contest. The winner is not the wisest or most knowledgeable but rather the Most Travelled.
The Most Travelled’s raison d’être is Setting Foot in Them All as fast as possible. Once a country has been ticked off as stepped into, the mission is complete. A shallow mission whose primary focus and direct result is feeding the ego. Rushing to see a place only gives you a superficial understanding of its culture and also potentially the illusion that you can tick it off your travel list.
The Most Travelled mentality is, understandably, part of all of us. We all want to be the best at something, and if possible do it the easiest way. I was definitely guilty of it when I first started travelling. So guilty that I even wanted to tick off Russia since I had a stopover in an airport in Moscow.
By boasting of having visited an X number of countries I felt empowered, worldlier. I thought I was wiser, more interesting and happier the more I exaggerated the places I had seen. So, I would rush to set foot in a country just so I could tick it off my list and then pretend I’ve completely seen it.
However, while I had managed to fool the people around me, there was one who never bought my bullshit: myself. Deep down, I knew I was not completely honest with myself and others and hence I felt a sense of guilt and responsibility.
Now, when I think about how much of the world I’ve visited, I think in regions rather than in countries. A free platform I have been using to track my progress is NomadMania, originally The Best Travelled. This platform splits the world into regions, allows you to select the ones you’ve seen and then calculates the percentage of the world you’ve actually seen. I find this a more accurate way of measuring travel, but also a reminder of the long journey ahead.
I would rather spend a few weeks in a country than travel to multiple ones in a short amount of time. Or, if I can’t afford to take a couple of weeks to visit a country, I would rather split my travel into small trips over several months or years.
For example, I really wanted to see Spain but could not afford to take a long time off work to do so. So, in the past 2 years I’ve travelled to Spain about 20 times, every time in a different place. I’ve seen most of its regions and islands, spoken and learned from the locals about culture, languages and politics. And yet, there are still parts I haven’t seen or wish to revisit. Although I think I deserve a break from it temporarily, it’s always going to be a place I will return to.
For me, making the most of travel is understanding and experiencing first hand a different culture. It is only then that I feel fulfilled, happier and wiser as a traveller.
Understanding a different culture goes well beyond observing passively and quickly different customs. It implies actively participating or engaging with the given culture. Asking questions but also looking for multiple answers. Trying out new cuisines instead of trying out new McDonalds. Listening to new music. Dancing on different beat. Learning a different language. Or at least some phrases of a language instead of relying on English for communication. (or on your native language) At the same time, understanding a culture requires time, which can be tricky to manage. If we can’t take our time to experience a culture, lack of time will overwhelm us.
When visiting a place for a short time and find that it offers multiple attractions, many of us try to squeeze in as many things as possible. Ironically, the reason we invoke is making the most of our trip. In fact, making the most of our trip is exactly the opposite.
When we travel at a fast pace, constantly pressured by time, we are limited in genuinely enjoying any of those given attractions. At the same time it also threatens our perception of the places we see. Rushing when travelling only give us a superficial understanding of the places we see. Not only do we get a false idea about our destinations but we also risk completely losing interest in them, especially if we experience unfortunate events in the short time we visit.
Two years ago, I was on set filming for a movie in Nottingham. There, I met a fellow traveller. She told me she had extensively backpacked through Europe but had had a terrible experience while backpacking in Bucharest. Her experience was so bad that she called off her trip and flew back home. She had never gone back to Romania since and did not have plans to do so in the future.
‘Poor girl’ I thought to myself, expecting a horror story. However, all it was was that a taxi driver tried to rip her off and they got in a heated argument. (as he was demanding more money that she had expected) When she finished her story I asked, surprised : ‘Is that it? Really?;’ To which she replied ‘Yes, it was a horrible experience.’ My response was: ‘ Well, I apologise on behalf of all Romanians but would encourage you to visit again, as these things happen to tourists everywhere.’
She is the classic example of the unexperienced traveller, the backpacker. Backpackers travel at such a fast pace through so many countries that they don’t have the necessary time to understand the culture of the places they see. As a result, they fail to properly interact with the locals and risk getting into conflicts. Then, if they have a negative experience, they generalise and reduce the whole of the country to one singular dimension. In other words, they become trapped in an illusion they themselves create.
Had she learned more about Eastern Europe, she would have understood that many taxi drivers can set their own tariffs, unlike in the West. Hence, if you are not careful and take a black cab, you can end up paying a lot more. That does not only happen to tourists, but also to locals, when they are not careful. The average backpacker mistakenly assumes and expects that things will function the same way they do back home.
While this is a very shallow perspective, it is perfectly understandable. If I only had one day in a country I’d never visited before, and I got robbed that day, I would definitely associate that country with robbery at least for a short while. While to me this woman’s story sounded ridiculous initially, thinking about it retrospectively, I do understand her. While to me, an argument with a taxi driver over a small fare would not constitute a big thing, for other people, it could constitute a major shock. We each develop emotionally differently and as a result react to certain events in very distinct ways.
In a more extreme case, one of my friends only visited Shanghai once and has absolutely hated China since. That is because on the first day in Shanghai, the police mistook him for a criminal. As he didn’t speak the language he could not defend himself verbally so the officers physically assaulted him in plain street. He was pepper-sprayed and suffered wounds to his head, face and body. He was then shoved into the back of a police car and imprisoned. In order to get out of prison, he was forced to sign a declaration stating that he was at fault for not cooperating with the Chinese authorities. While I do understand and can empathise with my friend a lot better, the kind of shock he experienced was the same as of the woman I met on the set. (albeit at a different, higher level)
Both of them have generalised, based on their negative experiences, a country they’ve only briefly seen. They did not have enough time to experience a different, positive side of those places as they were constrained by time and overwhelmed by emotions. This in turn, created a psychological barrier preventing them from having any future interest in the two countries or cultures.
Understanding a culture whether before or while travelling can help overcome such negative experiences a lot faster. And also help travellers refrain from developing poorly founded, negative first impressions about countries or cultures. This is a very complex situation since time and strong emotions can be an impediment to fully understanding a culture. (during short trips) Perhaps in this case, learning about a culture before travelling could help prevent such situations or help overcome them easier.
If you find yourself in a situation that does not allow you plenty of time in a place it is best to choose to focus on one particular aspect. If you try to focus on too many things in a short period of time, you will most likely not have the necessary time to do so. Frustration, tiredness will get to you eventually and any small incident will completely ruin your mood and the image of the place you visited.
As travel involves coming out of your comfort zone, you will need time for reflection and adaptation. If you are in a rush, you won’t even have time to think.
Last year, I went to Cuba for a short three-days stay. Some friends advised me to stay in Havana but go to the countryside as well. Others advised me to also visit the beach resorts or the tobacco plantations. Since I only had three days, I found no point in trying to squeeze in too many objectives so I decided to stay in Havana and focus on one single aspect: people.
So, instead of trying to see as many landmarks as possible and set objectives, I set out a very simple plan: to interact with as many locals as possible and through them learn about the Cuban culture. Visiting famous landmarks became secondary and only happened through the primary objective. So I spent most of the time in the streets, parks, and strangers’ homes, talking to the locals. I told my story and listened to theirs. I learned an incredible amount of things about Cuban culture, history and street economics.
In my first day I got ripped off and in my last day I got robbed. Had I only had one day in Havana and had these events happened in the same day, I would have probably been inclined to put Havana on my black list. However, because I met so many people and had so many amazing experiences in those 3 days, the two negative experiences did not affect me.
Having met so many honest people prevented me from wrongfully categorising everyone as charlatans. And having learned about the struggles of Cuban society made me understand why some people resort to desperate means.
If you only spend short amounts of times in places and focus on doing many things, the odds are that you will not make any connections. Even if you do, most probably they will be connections on a very shallow level. It takes time to get to know and trust people and when you are constantly on the move it’s almost impossible to create long lasting connections.
Looking back at my travels over the course of 13 years I’ve gained over a thousand extra social media friends. But in reality, I’ve only really made a handful of long-lasting connections. So, in the end I ended up unfriending about 800 Facebook friends since we had absolutely nothing in common except for maybe one drunken night. Other travellers that met me probably did the exact same thing.
On the other hand, if you direct your attention on a specific aspect you want to explore, you will be more likely to find others that share your interest and have them join you. (or vice versa) In this case you get the best of both: you fully understand and enjoy that one aspect and you make a worthwhile connection.(or more) If you choose to focus on several aspects you will inevitably have to divide your attention and time amongst several people. And this will decrease your chances of making purposeful connections.
In 2017 I met a German traveller in Bilbao who told me her story in tears. She had initially planned to cycle all the Camino De Santiago from France to Spain but she stopped mid-way through. Whilst she had a good cycling experience in France, when she got to the Spanish side, she had an awful experience and decided to call off the trip.
To my surprise, her story was not what I had expected. There was no major incident or accident involved. She just felt that the Spanish people were quite rude to her and not as friendly as the French. That, in turn, completely ruined her spiritual experience.
In other words, she had great expectations of how how people, strangers would interact with her during her trip. While those expectations were met on the French side, when she crossed over to the Spanish side, they were shattered.
Similarly to the backpacker I mentioned previously, the cyclist obviously had very little travel experience and great expectations. And again, experience is not reflective of the amount of travel done, but rather by the way it was done. However, at the same time, her situation was very understandable. Setting great expectations before venturing in the unknown is bound to be risky in all aspects of life.
I felt the same when I first travelled to Cuba. I had a lot of expectations based on what I had heard from friends or seen in the media. And they were all shattered to pieces.
However, due to my nature and background, it did not affect me as much as it did the cyclist. I quickly got over the initial shock and dropped all expectations. Had she been able to do the same, she could have carried on with her trip.
In this case, the best strategy is probably prevention. If you remove all expectations before your trip, you lessen the chances of inconveniences affecting you and increase the chances of getting over them.
Technology has revolutionised the way we travel and how we share our travel experiences. Gone are the days of post-cards and hand-written letters. E-Postcards aka Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook posts are the most convenient way of sharing travel greetings nowadays. And travel greetings most often come in the form of Selfies.
Nowadays, most popular landmarks are bound to be filled with tourists taking selfies. Camera flashes and different poses reduce the meaning of these landmarks to that of props. Taking a picture for social media has become so mainstream, that as long as something looks different, or aesthetically pleasing, the background of that something becomes irrelevant. Unless of course, it could make a nice picture background.
Everyone wants to be different nowadays, so ‘new’ poses and angles are required for a Travel Instagram Influencer to flourish. However, albeit different the poses of these tourists, they share the same superficial essence. In essence, a Travel Instagram Influencer’s raison d’etre seems not to be travelling, but rather modelling.
Numerous takes to take a selfie, where the centre of attention is the self, always ensuring the outfit and make up are on spot, do not constitute the actions of a traveller, but rather of a model. In this sense, the meaning of travel is reduced to that of simply collecting aesthetically pleasing photos.
In this case, perhaps a balanced mixture of the two, travel and modelling would be ideal. You can always harmlessly flirt with the modelling side when capturing your travel memories. However, you have to be careful as vanity is tempting and can lead you away from the essence of travel. Craving knowledge on different cultures is far more productive than craving attention for likes on social media.
Although I am critical of the use of social media platforms, I am not advocating boycotting them. These are wonderful tools you can use to enhance your experience, capture it and share it. I frequently use them but at the same time I am aware of their potential adverse effects. I am careful to avoid my whole experience revolving around my tools instead of my trip.
As I am quite picky, taking the perfect picture most often takes quite a bit of time. (to find the right angle, composure, perspective etc) And quite a few takes. Whilst doing this, especially if constrained by time, the main focus become the practice rather than the place. Hence, I risk getting caught in the illusion that I am capturing the beauty of a place, without ever actually feeling it. Ultimately, the resulting photo does not inspire any of the beauty I might have been able to feel, and which I didn’t because I was too busy taking the photo.
What I’ve started doing lately is allocating a specific time of the day (or sometimes a whole day) for photography and restricting my use of devices for the rest of the days. This way I ensure I am not losing the focus of my travel objective. By separating the two (exploring and photography) I can focus a lot better on both and reap better results.
On a recent work trip at a conference in Spain I met an elder Peruvian man. As part of the week program , we had some cultural visits around and away the city. Every time we would see something new, this man was either taking pictures or filming. He was capturing them all: paintings, benches, rocks, stairs, houses, kittens. ‘How is he even enjoying this trip?’ I thought to myself. He did not seem to be genuinely absorbing or learning anything new.
At one point we went for a meal and we asked him to join us. He told us he would not be able to join since he had to take some more pictures. ‘Ah come one, stop wasting your time on your phone’, someone told him. (promise it wasn’t me) ‘No, it’s not a waste of time’ he calmly responded. ‘I am taking these photos and videos for my daughters, who are more excited than I am about this trip.’
When I heard his response, I literally swallowed sadness and shame. Sadness that his daughters could not be with him; shame that I rushed to judge an elder man for taking photos for his daughters and not standing up to my expectations of travelling well.
Some of us travel to better our own lives, others, to better that of others. In this case, as simple as it might sound, he made his daughters happy by sending them photos of a country they might never get to see. Had he afforded to take them on the work trip, he would have definitely, since Spain is the European Dream for many in Latin America.
He sacrificed travel time and personal enjoyment for that of his daughters. But yet again I am wrong. He did not sacrifice anything since the happiness of his daughters seemed to be enough to make him enjoy his trip as much as they did.
What I came to conclude is that we get don’t get better at travelling the more we do it. We get better at travelling the more we reflect on it. Reflecting on the reasons we travel for, the way we travel and the outcomes we expect out of travelling can help us find our best version of making the most of travel.
In my case, I found that reducing travel expectations reduced chances of getting disappointed or affected by negative experiences. This, in turn helps me not rush into judging countries or cultures by first impressions. I’ve realised that it is not the numbers of countries that I see give me the most satisfaction; but rather the extent to which I understand and engage with their cultures. Although I like photography, I’ve learned that focusing too much on it might prevent me from fully enjoying my destinations.
Most importantly, I learned to constantly be honest with myself and not judge the people around me. This is my version of Travelling Well. Hope you find yours too.
Mother’s Cold Wisdom Purposefully Painful Slowly Relieves Pain Drying out Drenched EyesFreeing Freezing FeelingsUnchaining the Untameable Mind. The post Prana appeared first on Mr Worldling.
Mother’s Cold Wisdom
Slowly Relieves Pain
Drying out Drenched Eyes
Freeing Freezing Feelings
Unchaining the Untameable Mind.
In a world of souls I set out to find them.They who first must find each other,be each other’s fate.There, on the open road,I gazed into each traveller’s face.Is it you? I would ask.Are you the ones?No, no, they said, or said nothing at all. How many cottages did I pass,each with a mother, a […] The post Worldling – Elizabeth Spires appeared first on Mr...
In a world of souls I set out to find them.
They who first must find each other,
be each other’s fate.
There, on the open road,
I gazed into each traveller’s face.
Is it you? I would ask.
Are you the ones?
No, no, they said, or said nothing at all.
How many cottages did I pass,
each with a mother, a father,
a firstborn, newly swaddled, crying;
or sitting in its little chair,
dipping a fat wooden spoon
into a steaming bowl,
its mother singing it a foolish song,
One, one, a lily’s my care ….
Through seasons I searched,
through years I can’t remember,
reading the lichens and stones
as if one were marked
with my name, my face, my form.
By night and day I searched,
never sleeping, not wanting to fail,
not wanting to simply be a star.
Finally in a town like any other town,
in a house foursquare and shining,
its door wide open to the moon,
did I find them.
There, at the top of the winding stairs,
asleep in the big bed,
the sheets thrown off, curled
like question marks into each other’s arms.
Past memory, I beheld them,
naked, their bodies without flaw.
It is I, I whispered.
I, the nameless one.
And my parents, spent by the dream
of creation, slept on.
Le Mondain (The Worldling or the Man of the World) is a poem written by enlightenment French philosopher Voltaire in 1736. It is a satire of Christianity and advocates for the importance of worldly pleasures as opposed to the promised after-life. Below you have the full text version of Le Mondain by Voltaire, both in […] The post Voltaire – The Worldling (Le Mondain) appeared first on Mr...
Le Mondain (The Worldling or the Man of the World) is a poem written by enlightenment French philosopher Voltaire in 1736. It is a satire of Christianity and advocates for the importance of worldly pleasures as opposed to the promised after-life.
Below you have the full text version of Le Mondain by Voltaire, both in the original French language and the English translation.
English Version (translated)
Others may with regret complain
That ’tis not fair Astrea’s reign,
That the famed golden age is o’er
That Saturn, Rhea rule no more:
Or, to speak in another style,
That Eden’s groves no longer smile.
For my part, I thank Nature sage,
That she has placed me in this age:
Religionists may rail in vain;
I own, I like this age profane;
I love the pleasures of a court;
I love the arts of every sort;
Magnificence, fine buildings, strike me;
In this, each man of sense is like me.
I have, I own, a worldly mind,
That’s pleased abundance here to find;
Abundance, mother of all arts,
Which with new wants new joys imparts
The treasures of the earth and main,
With all the creatures they contain:
These, luxury and pleasures raise;
This iron age brings happy days.
Needful superfluous things appear;
They have joined together either sphere.
See how that fleet, with canvas wings,
From Texel, Bordeaux, London brings,
By happy commerce to our shores,
All Indus, and all Ganges stores;
Whilst France, that pierced the Turkish lines,
Sultans make drunk with rich French wines.
Just at the time of Nature’s birth,
Dark ignorance o’erspread the earth;
None then in wealth surpassed the rest,
For naught the human race possessed.
Of clothes, their bodies then were bare,
They nothing had, and could not share:
Then too they sober were and sage,
Martialo* lived not in that age.
Eve, first formed by the hand divine,
Never so much as tasted wine.
Do you our ancestors admire,
Because they wore no rich attire?
Ease was like wealth to them unknown,
Was’t virtue? ignorance alone.
Would any fool, had he a bed,
On the bare ground have laid his head?
My fruit-eating first father, say,
In Eden how rolled time away?
Did you work for the human race,
And clasp dame Eve with close embrace!
Own that your nails you could not pare,
And that you wore disordered hair,
That you were swarthy in complexion,
And that your amorous affection
Had very little better in’t
Than downright animal instinct.
Both weary of the marriage yoke
You supped each night beneath an oak
On millet, water, and on mast,
And having finished your repast,
On the ground you were forced to lie,
Exposed to the inclement sky:
Such in the state of simple nature
Is man, a helpless, wretched creature.
Would you know in this cursed age,
Against which zealots so much rage,
To what men blessed with taste attend
In cities, how their time they spend?
The arts that charm the human mind
All at his house a welcome find;
In building it, the architect
No grace passed over with neglect.
To adorn the rooms, at once combine
Poussin, Correggio the divine,
Their works on every panel placed
Are in rich golden frames incased.
His statues show Bouchardon’s skill,
Plate of Germain, his sideboards fill.
The Gobelin tapestry, whose dye
Can with the painter’s pencil vie,
With gayest coloring appear
As ornaments on every pier.
From the superb salon are seen
Gardens with Cyprian myrtle green.
I see the sporting waters rise
By jets d’eau almost to the skies.
But see the master’s self approach
And mount into his gilded coach,
A house in motion, to the eyes
It seems as through the streets it flies.
I see him through transparent glasses
Loll at his ease as on he passes.
Two pliant and elastic springs
Carry him like a pair of wings.
At Bath, his polished skin inhales
Perfumes, sweet as Arabian gales.
Camargot at the approach of night
Julia, Gossin by turns invite.
Love kind and bounteous on him pours
Of choicest favors plenteous showers.
To the opera house he must repair,
Dance, song and music charm him there.
The painter’s art to strike the sight,
Does there with that blest art unite;
The yet more soft, persuasive skill,
Which can the soul with pleasure thrill.
He may to damn an opera go,
And yet perforce admire Rameau.
The cheerful supper next invites
To luxury’s less refined delights.
How exquisite those sauces flavor!
Of those ragouts I like the savor.
The man who can in cookery shine,
May well be deemed a man divine.
Chloris and Ægle at each course
Serve me with wine, whose mighty force
Makes the cork from the bottle fly
Like lightning darting from the sky.
Bounce! to the ceiling it ascends,
And laughter the apartment rends.
In this froth, just observers see
The emblem of French vivacity.
The following day new joys inspires,
It brings new pleasures and desires.
Mentor, Telemachus descant
Upon frugality, and vaunt
Your Ithaca and your Salentum
To ancient Greeks, since they content them:
Since Greeks in abstinence could find
Ample supplies of every kind.
The work, though not replete with fire,
I for its elegance admire:
But I’ll be whipped Salentum through
If thither I my bliss pursue.
Garden of Eden, much renowned,
Since there the devil and fruit were found,
Huetius, Calmet, learned and bold,
Inquired where Eden lay of old:
I am not so critically nice,
Paris to me’s a paradise.
French (Original Version)
Regrettera qui veut le hon vieux temps,
Et !’age d’or, et le regne d’Astree,
Et Jes beaux jours de Saturne et de Rhee,
Et le jardin de nos premiers parents ;
Moi, je rends grace a la nature sage
Qui, pour mon bien, m’a fait naitre en cet age Tant decrie par nos tristes frondeurs :
Ce temps profane est tout fait pour mes moeurs. J’aime le luxe, et meme la mollesse,
Tous Jes plaisirs, Jes arts de toute espece,
La proprete, le gout, Jes ornements:
Tout honnete homme a de tels sentiments.
II est bien doux pour mon coeur tres immonde De voir ici l’abondance a la ronde,
Mere des arts et des heureux travaux,
Nous apporter, de sa source feconde,
Et des besoins et des plaisirs nouveaux.
L’or de la terre et les tresors de l’onde,
Leurs habitants et Jes peuples de !’air,
Tout sert au luxe, aux plaisirs de ce monde.
0 le bon temps que ce siecle de fer !
Le superflu, chose tres necessaire,
A reuni l’un et l’autre hemisphere.
Voyez-vous pas ces agiles vaisseaux
Qui, du Texel, de Londres, de Bordeaux,
S’en vont chercher, par un heureux echange,
De nouveaux biens, nes aux sources du Gange, Tandis qu’au loin, vainqueurs des musulmans,
Nos vins de France enivrent Jes sultans?
Quand la nature etait dans son enfance,
Nos hons aieux vivaient dans !’ignorance,
Ne connaissant ni le tien ni le mien.
Qu’auraient-ils pu connaitre? ils n’avaient rien,
lls etaient nus ; et c’ est chose tres claire
Que qui n’a lien n’a nu! partage a faire.
Sobres etaient. Ah ! je le crois encore
Martialo n’est point du siecle d’or.
D’un bon vin frais ou la mousse ou la seve
Ne gratta point le triste gosier d’Eve;
La soie et I’ or ne brillaient point chez eux,
Admirez-vous pour cela nos aieux ?
n leur manquait l’industrie et l’aisance
Est-ce vertu ? c’ etait pure ignorance.
Que! idiot, s’il avait eu pour !ors
Quelque bon lit, aurait couche dehors ?
Mon cher Adam, mon gourmand, mon bon pere,
Que faisais-tu dans le jardins d’Eden?
Travaillais-tu pour ce sot genre humain ? Caressais-tu madame Eve, ma mere?
Avouez-noi que vous aviez tous deux
Les ongles longs, un peu noirs et crasseux,
La chevelure un peu mal ordonnee,
Le teint bruni, la peau bise et tannee.
Sans proprete l’amour le plus heureux
N’est plus amour, c’est un besoin honteux. Bientot lasses de Jeur belle aventure,
Dessous un chene ils soupent galamment
Avec de l’eau, du millet, et du gland;
Le repas fait, ils donnent sur la dure :
Voila l’ etat de la pure nature.
Or maintenant voulez-vous, mes amis,
Savoir un peu, dans nos jours tant maudits, Soit a Paris, soit dans Londre, ou dans Rome, Que! est le train des jours d’un honnete homme ?
Entrez chez Jui: la foule des beaux-arts,
Enfants du gout, se montre a vos regards.
De mille mains l’ eclatante industrie
De ces dehors oma la symetrie.
L’heureux pinceau, le superbe dessin
Du doux Correge et du savant Poussin
Sont encadres dans l’or d’une bordure;
C’ est Bouchardon qui fit cette figure,
Et cet argent fut poli par Germain.
Des Gobelins J’aiguille et la teinture
Dans ces tapis surpassent la peinture.
Tous ces objets sont vingt fois repetes
Dans des trumeaux tout brillants de clartes.
De ce salon je vois par la fenetre,
Dans des jardins, des myrtes en berceaux ;
Je vois jaillir Jes bondissantes eaux.
Mais du logis j’ en tends sortir le maitre :
Un char commode, avec graces orne,
Par deux chevaux rapidement traine,
Parait aux yeux une maison roulante,
Moitie doree, et moitie transparente : Nonchalamment je l’y vois promene ;
De deux ressorts la Jiante souplesse
Sur le pave le porte avec mollesse.
Il court au bain: !es parfums Jes plus doux Rendent sa peau plus fraiche et plus polie.
Le plaisir presse ; ii vole au rendez-vous Chez Camargo, chez Gaussin, chez Julie;
Il est comble d’amour et de faveurs.
Il faut se rendre a ce palais magique
Ou Jes beaux vers, la danse, la musique,
L’art de tromper Jes yeux par Jes couleurs,
L’art plus heureux de seduire Jes coeurs, De cent plaisirs font un plaisir unique.
Il va siffler quelque opera nouveau,
Ou, malgre Jui, court admirer Rameau. Allons sou per. Que ces brillants services,
Que ces ragouts ont pour moi de delices !
Qu’un cuisinier est un mortel divin !
Chloris, Egle, me versent de Jeur main
D’un vin d’A’i dont la mousse pressee,
De la bouteille avec force elancee,
Comme un eclair fait voler le bouchon ;
Il part, on rit ;
il frappe le plafond.
De ce vin frais J’ecume petillante
De nos Franc,ais est l’image brillante.
Le Jendemain donne d’autres desirs,
D’autres soupers, et de nouveaux plaisirs.
Or maintenant, monsieur du Telemaque, Vantez-nous bien votre petite Ithaque, Votre Salente, et vos murs malheureux,
Ou vos Cretois, tristement vertueux,
Pauvres d’effet, et riches d’abstinence,
Manquent de tout pour avoir J’abondance :
J’ admire fort votre style flatteur,
Et votre prose, encore qu’un peu trainante ;
Mais, mon ami, je consens de grand coeur D’etre fesse dans vos murs de Salente,
Si je vais la pour chercher mon bonheur.
Et vous, jardin de ce premier bonhomme,
Jardin fameux par le liable et la pomme,
C’est bien en vain que, par J’orgueil seduits,
Huet, Calmet, dans Jeur savante audace,
Du paradis ont recherche la place :
Le paradis terrestre e ou je suis.
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