Travel Advent Dec. 22: Why I Travel Most in Winter

Beyond the obvious fact that Danish winters are disgustingly rainy and dark and offer none of the fun of white winter snow that other nordic destinations get, I feel winter to be the best time to explore the world. But not the toasty sides of the world. Winter is the best time to visit other disgusting cold places in the world.

I get out most in the winter, almost to the point that I am out of Denmark in the winter more than I am in it. Yes, because the weather is garbage, and now that I’ve been experiencing Danish winter for 2 months without getting out I’m already going crazy. I don’t go to Spain or France or Morocco…I most often go to Poland or Lithuania or some other cold dark place. There are plenty of reasons for why this can be a great time.

  1. Fewer crowds

    As long as you stay away from beachside destinations like Spain or Greece where other Northerners are sheltering away from the cold, pretty much anywhere cold you go will be devoid of international tourists. And if you do find international tourists, they’ll likely be other crazy people like yourself.

    When I went to Kosovo in January of 2019, I froze myself to death. My hotel room was colder than the outside, so I opted to be out more than in when I was exploring the capital Priština. This gave me a great opportunity to meet some other people, ones who made for a unique Priština experience.

    I went on couchsurfing and the only 2 people online were a French wildman backpacker and a Kosovar local just looking to hangout. The three of us met up in the only town square and went out to a bar. There aren’t many bars in the city, so the bar we chanced upon happened to be filled with Kosovar politicians. For the entire evening we got to rub elbows with the upper echelon of Kosovar policy makers, one of whom was the cousin of our local Couchsurfing friend. I got to pick their brains, learn about Kosovo’s plea for independence, and enrich myself in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise.
  2. Stumble Upon Gems

    Since it’s most certainly cold enough to freeze your giblets, you have to plan when and where to take inside breaks, and take them more often. This often leads you in to more free art galleries, artsy movie theaters, concerts, libraries, bars, cafes, and random boutiques than it would if you were exploring in warm weathers.

    When traveling Vienna on the same expedition that eventually wound up in Kosovo, I would spent three days in and out of places I wouldn’t have ventured to in another season. I went ahead and bought the big museum pass, and spent hours seeing every last piece of artwork Vienna had to offer. I took late night yoga classes with a friend, toured as many antique bookshops as possible, went for late night movies at artsy boutique movie theaters, all in between expeditions to enjoy the architecture in the cold.

    In the summer, I would have spent all my time outside enjoying the parks and architecture rather than enjoying the indoor activities — which is pretty special.
  3. Cheaper Accommodation

    Off season travel is also the most affordable, especially in Eastern Europe. You can easily rent yourself an entire apartment for the cost of a hostel bed in a 16 dorm room in Paris. I love being able to socialize with random hostel folks, but I also love my alone time. Other backpackers know, it can be hard to find alone time when couchsurfing or staying in hostels. So the alone time afforded in a $10 apartment or simply spent reading a book for hours in a warm cafe are welcome times for introspection and thought should a travel experience get too hectic or overwhelming. And when you do crave human interaction, you’ll be driven in to a bar or other cultural location to break in with the locals.

I guess where I’m getting at is travel in deep winter can create some really unique human interactions. By couchsurfing or going to bars where everyone is stuck with each other in side, you’re given the chance to focus on them without distraction. Social cohesion is somehow easier when you enter a large public place quite obviously an outsider. Locals haven’t seen one of your kind for a while, and have spent long weeks weathering the cold darkness without much interaction from the outside world. So when they find some form of hope, some word of reminder that there is indeed a world outside of this dark little bubble, they welcome you with open arms in a way that they do not in the summer.

And I’ve always told myself, if I can love a place in the winter then I’ll love it even more in the summer. When is your favorite time to travel?


Travel Advent Dec. 21: El Hombre con su Casa a Cuestas

Había un hombre que caminaba llevando su casa como una mochila. Sé que estás pensando — ¿y qué ? no es raro ver un mochilero con su casa a cuestas, — pero no era una mochila con una bolsa de dormir y una carpa —. Esto era una casita, como una casa para muñecas, que llevaba el hombre. El hombre, el cual se llevó su casa a cuestas, estaba caminando fuera de toda la civilización, dentro de un bosque misterioso y oscuro. Estaba caminando, y su barba larga flotando en el aire fresco, caminando encima del musgo esponjoso. ¿Dónde caminaba? no sé. Pero sabemos que el hombre cuya barba estaba flotando alegremente, era libre.

  El hombre caminaba dentro del bosque durante un rato que se sintió más bien como meses. Pero se centro emocionadamente en ser libre, y no se preocupó en las cosas fuera del bosque. Un día, estaba caminando cuando olió el fuego en un hogar. Lejos de él, pudo ver una casa roja con humo escapando de la chimenea. Caminó cerca y golpeó por la puerta vieja, un niño abrió la puerta llevando unos pantalones de cuero y una camisa de franela y un humo de fuego y olor a pan nuevo saliendo de la puerta. 

“¿Quién es usted?” cuestionó el chico. 

“Soy el hombre que camina con su casa a cuestas, el cual puede ver hasta el futuro. Estuve caminando en el bosque por meses y necesito una cama y un baño para refrescarme. ¿Están sus padres aquí adentro?”

“Solo vivo aquí con mi padre y él fue al río para colectar hongos. Pero el va a volver en un ratito y puedo darle una sopa y un té para calentarse.”

“Me parece perfecto comer un poco. A cambio, puedo darle “echar un vistazo” a su futuro.” El chico dio un paso y el hombre con su casa a cuestas entró en la casa. Había un hogar cerca de una mesa muy antigua y encima del hogar había las cornamentas de un ciervo enorme. Todo estaba muy limpio, y el hombre se sacó sus botas para no llevar barro a  la casa. Sacó la casita fuera de su espalda con hombros y brazos fuertes de un hombre el cuál llevaba mucho tiempo diambulando. Esos  hombros que llevaban el futuro de todos… 

El hombre dejó su casita encima de la mesa, y se sentó mientras el chico calentaba la sopa encima de la estufa. Cuando el fuego se encendió y la sopa estaba calentándose, el chico vino con una silla y se sentó cerca del hombre. El hombre miró al chico y dijo, “A ver, qué está pasando en su futuro, amigo.” Con dedos gordos y fuertes, abrió la puerta de la casita y el chico puso su cabeza cerca de la puerta y miró con un ojo cerrado, desde la puerta de la casita. “¿Y qué ves, amigo mío?” 

El chico era bizco, pero después de un momento pudo ver qué estaba pasando en la casita. “¡Vi un hombre, !” dijo el chico. “¿Quién es él…soy yo? No puede ser. El es muy alto y guapo, además llevando traje — y tiene una castaña en su mano. ¿Qué haces con esta castaña, chiquito?” El chico apartó de la casita, y miró que el hombre con su casa a cuestas tuvo una castaña en la palma de su mano.

Travel Advent Haiku’s #3

The Hong Kong Series. Written in Hong Kong, Fall of 2018.

Who is this lady?
Something is not right with her
Maybe she a ho…

For music that makes toes TAP
But we found a ho…

Red Junk glides harbor
Bumpshy beats in my bones
Full moon sees it all

Lily was my first
Girl love deep and beautiful
You have ruined me…

Travel Advent Dec. 19: What Could Be

Coronavirus fucked a lot of shit up. But it’s given me a lot of time to look at my life, and what I could be doing right now.

This time last year, I had two identical offers on the table: be the new Community Manager for Be My Eyes and stay in Denmark, or move to Costa Rica with my friend and be a chef in a hippy yoga commune. I don’t regret taking the first option, even though working an 8-4 is sucking me dry and Denmark is no longer the place I want to live. Rather, it was the perfect opportunity for waiting this whole thing out. I’ve been afforded the ability to work at an interesting company that does legitimate good for the world, while developing my professional skill and saving some money for future adventures.

But there is always the sound in the back of my head, wishing I could be in Costa Rica. My friend is still there, so it’s interesting to see how we always want what we can’t have. I’m currently freezing every day, dying slowly of a vitamin D deficiency in the repulsive Danish winter. My friend is deep in the Costa Rican jungle, living in a shed with her boyfriend picking banana’s and working remotely part time. I wish I could be somewhere warm and work less, she wishes she could be somewhere with a bit more certainty.

If roles were reversed, she could be in Europe working a day job, slowly being drained of life and ambition — while I could be deep in the Costa Rican mountains, weathering the rains and writing nonsense for pocket change. Would either of be happier? Probably not, and we’d both desire the lives of the other for a time. So while it’s easy to wish I were in a banana hut in the Costa Rican mountains rather than freezing my giblets in Denmark, I’m trying to find the positives of this situation.

Yet still, there is that voice that wishes I could leave — wishes I could be in Costa Rica. So why is it so hard to be happy with what we have? Why is it so difficult to enjoy the moment, and be completely in the place we are in the moment?

Travel Advent Dec. 18: Learning Languages

Why is it that people coming from countries outside of our Western realm of schooling can speak so many languages? The wandering traveler in Morocco can experience a taxi driver with little education that can speak well in six languages. A rambler in Vietnam can encounter a child who speaks at least three languages, hocking books on the side of the road.

Yet, children coming out of most of our Western schools can hardly speak their mother tongue properly (me included). For a lot of people, the story is similar. Something along the lines of, “I studied French for eight years and didn’t learn a thing,” mentalities. This of course isn’t the case with everyone and every country, but let’s just see if we should rethink how we learn languages in schools.

Nelson Mandela once said something that stuck with me, being: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” This statement has fundamentally influenced how I travel. I can only speak English, Spanish, and Danish to a proficient level, but I always try to learn at least the basics to get around where I’m going. Usually, I can do quite well and make some strangers smile in the process.

I stopped looking at language as a thing that can be studied in books. Rather than seeing language as a flat, two-dimensional being existing merely on a page of some textbook, I see it as a flowing, emotional, ethereal form of connection. Before traveling anywhere, I try to focus on the basics of the language that will connect with a local. When going to remote places with contextually exotic languages such as Albania or Georgia, I always make the effort to learn a bit. And for them, when they hear a foreigner just attempting to speak to their heart, they react with an embrace of your soul.

A few months back, I had the privilege to give a presentation to a Mexican blindness organization and a hundred of its members. My Spanish is nowhere near fluent, but it’s certainly not like I’m speaking Swahili. I presented for an hour, which is hard for me to do even in English — and when the presentation was over I felt such warmth from them even though I made countless mistakes throughout the presentation. For them, it didn’t matter that I made mistakes. What mattered was that this big gringo from the other side of the border came to speak, in their language, about something important to them.

The look on someone’s face when you speak their language is always one of the most genuine representations of bliss and connection that can be attained these days. Even over a Zoom call, when I said “salam alaikum” to a potential partner in Saudi Arabia, they paused several moments to laugh and reply with gratitude.

So perhaps the secret to learning a language is to take it more freely and understand that many of us will not be Ph.D. Spanish Students. We learn languages in school with all of the grammar rules, all of the conjugations and tenses that are important but presented incorrectly. It’s kind of like how I spent so much of my time in high school splitting hairs trying to pass Physics, Chemistry, and College Biology even though I haven’t had to think about any of those things in great depth since. Can I speak confidently about any of those subjects? Kind of, but I just vomited the information I had crammed the night before onto the exam so I could pass. It was all too much, too impractical. I wasn’t learning anything that would be directly related to my current life. I don’t regret learning those things, but perhaps it was just too much.

The same can be said for language. To learn these languages, we must simply listen and read and approach them with curiosity. Language is not flat, it doesn’t exist on the pages of a book. Learning a language just became another thing that we needed to study, another thing that we needed to vomit onto a page to get a certain grade to pass. Perhaps if we looked at learning language as a way to connect rather than a thing holding us back from graduating, we’d have a larger population of polyglots. I think teachers try to promote curiosity in the language, but at the end of the day, curiosity has to come from the student rather than the one holding the power to pass or fail. For me, the satisfaction of being able to approach someone in their own language and see them smile is more than enough to keep me learning new languages. What drives you?