Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Biggest Side Effects To The Traveling Lifestyle

I'm a good conversationalist and usually people like talking to me. Why? Because I have stories to tell, and I'm saying this with only an essential amount of arrogance. They like to listen to me not because I'm a better person than others. Quite the contrary: I'm a basic bitch that has limited interests, no hobbies and a mediocre willingness to chit chat. What I do have, however, is an infinite number of stories that I can whip out at any moment because very few things haven't happened to me yet. No, I didn't beat cancer or had my heart broken, but I moved a lot. When I say "Momma's been around!" I don't mean I've slept with fifty guys, but that I have went many places, and in the process I have become numb to the feelings of normal, secure and stable. Now I'm no supergirl or world conquerer, but I've done what people call the Nomad lifestyle for a few years, at least to an extent, and get a lot of interest because of it. "I wish I could do that", or "It must never get boring for you" are among my favorite bullshit sentences that people confront me with when they hear how I currently live my life. Let me tell you now: It's not just fun and games. It actually really, really sucks to live like a Nomad. I'll tell you why...

The Obvious: No Money!
Oh Lord, I'm broke! I mean, I could be rich if money had ever been a priority. Instead, I chose to focus on growth, experience and making myself happy. I genuinely doubt I would be any happier if I had money but fact is I have like none of it, with limited prospects of that changing any time soon. It's not because I blow my money on travel. My last one month Eastern Europe trip cost me 500 Euros because I hitchhiked and couchsurfed. Even a month in Egypt costs me that much! The problem is that, to have a life that includes moving and uprooting all the time, you obviously barely get the chance to climb the money ladder at a job. I make good money now but its hardly a career knowing that I will hopefully leave again in a few months to go to Grad School. So even when I have money it won't help me build a life.

The Annoying: No Comfort!
I have been homeless for almost half a year now which I'm sure nobody would be thinking of as a good thing. ;ost people, when they hear me explain my homelessness, find it inspiring, as I'm not out in the cold without shelter. I have friends that put me up, and here and there I have a couch or bed to crash on that's more comfortable than anything I could afford, but I have not had a place to call my own. My name is on no letting agreement, and as a result I have not been able to "come home" in a long time. There is no bed in this world that feels like "mine". I have no possessions I can arrange to make me feel cozy. Coziness, what was that again? So yeah, I'm free and not tied down by anything which people for some reason find really awesome, but does this really sound good?

The Inevitable: Loneliness!
I make friends, sure, but I don't stick around to keep them. They say that if a friendship lasts seven years it will last forever. Seven years ago, I didn't even know any of the people in my life right now. Changing places, changing faces, all the time! I managed to stay friends with a select few in Germany who were around in 2008 but where are they now? On a different continent. Their friendship exists but it can't have any of the benefits friendship usually comes with, most notably giving one the feeling of not being alone in this world. When I go through a tough time, my friends are at the other side of the world unable to help me. The few people you know around have not been around for very long, so a person like me usually doesn't have too many close people around. It blows big time!

The Super Negative Side Effect: Numbness!
A few years ago, some things were actually hard for me: going to live abroad wasn't something that I took lightly. It caused excitement and fear inside of me. I felt proud or disappointed with experiences. Today it's become all the same. After Egypt, i really don't think anything can get more uncomfortable and harder in terms of settling in and adjustment. Going to a new place really doesn't do that much inside of me anymore. Of course I still feel blessed for my opportunities, and I haven't become numb to my graces, but the butterflies are largely gone. Newness has become the habit and is no longer what it should be anymore.

The Underrated Loss:  No Stability!
Nine to five jobs, steady incomes and long weekends sound so banal to some people who have them. All they want to do is break free from their rut. Oh my, how I wish I had a rut. I enjoy getting up early, go to a workplace, enjoy an after work drink, go to sleep and do it all over again, unless it's the weekend I have been looking forward to when I do something extraordinary because I have the funds to do so. What is wrong with a life with limited surprises? Surprises, one has to understand, are not just fun all the time. Negative surprises happen, too, and I wouldn't say no to a little bit more down time for my brain. Maybe I have more free time and room to grow, but my mind never turns off. In a stable life I could at least just stop thinking sometimes...

The Consequence: Tired all the time!
When you have to start over, even a 12 hour day can seem like a lifetime. Making friends, smiling all the time, trying to navigate through an unknown place, not understanding anything and having your senses overloaded by all the impressions works better than any sedative. Now that I am in Egypt with limited language skills even tasks like going to the supermarket have become chores for me as I can't read price tags, can't ask for help and don't know most of the products on offer. And then you go to a party because you do need friends, and you have to tell your life story for the hundreth time and still smile to make a good impression. Settling into a new place is hard enough as it is but if that place is in a foreign country it gets so much worse. By the end of the day you are tired, and the energy doesn't come back for quite some time.

The Painful Part: Goodbyes!
I will never in my life be able to live without missing someone or something again. When I'm in Egypt, I miss rain. When I'm in Britain, I miss Californian burritos. When I'm in Germany, I miss all of my friends and the fun I had abroad. And worst of all, I constantly had to say goodbye to aspects of my life I really cherished. When I left Egypt I wasn't scared I'd miss the hassle and smog, but I did live there for a year, and I was permanently saying goodbye to wonderful memories and people I will never have back in my life although I was back here just a few months later. I have been gone from Scotland for over two years and I still miss the green of the Highlands and the Garlic Chicken Pizza from Iceland. Goodbyes are indeed some of the hardest things to do in life, and I have had to become an expert on them. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Trouble With My Heart

In the last few days I have found out that I have indeed become a writer, and I don't care how much I annoy people with saying that. I write more words than I speak because I simply don't know how to express myself in any other way. Last week, I had an four hour conversation with a friend who at this point knows more about me than anyone else in Egypt and despite telling him something about my recent and earlier struggles I did not feel better until I had written it down. Now I could write chronicles about all of my struggles, what I learned and how they affected me, and one in a hundred people might actually find it useful, but if I'm being honest with myself I know I only write for myself these days, and this blog is no different. Talk about soul searching...

There are people in life that beat out all the others to make it into your heart. I am very fortunate to have a heart that has room for many, but I'm equally fortunate to only have a few spots occupied. Making friends has been the hardest task of my life, and that is for a fact a struggle nobody would guess I have. And because it's so hard I have had a lot of people walk over me just because I was scared of losing them. I'm not the best with letting go of things or people, so I've made bad experiences, and some are harder than others. I have previously been sold by friends for 200 British Pounds, been lied to excessively and one of my boyfriends just appeared on social media with another chick halfway around the globe. I'm not stupid enough to want these people back in my life but I never let go easily.

The predominant thought I have when such things happen is a "Why?": why did they do that? Why did they feel like they wanted to do that to me? Why was I so wrong about them? In the end, I always just wish it never happened although, one could argue, I'm definitely better off not sharing the love with people who would steal my money or lie to me. It might be one of life's bigger issues for me to believe in the bad in people and apply hate where I should but I seem to be incapable of that. I always wonder what I did to make people do things that disappoint me so much, and I almost always seek the fault with me when my head knows it really wasn't mine. I go to my friends and say "Good thing I saw people's true faces", and I mean it, but I'm secretly wishing I never saw those faces.

I have taken a lot of small but very painful jabs from someone in the last few months and was unable to refuse to take it anymore because I knew he didn't mean to. My love for that person made me be their scapegoat for everything, and I took solace in the fact that I'm being there for a friend in need and that it's probably a temporary thing. People tell you not to do that for anyone, but those in my heart will always be able to get that from me. So I never told anyone. His intention was never to make me feel that way, but intentions are secondary to actual actions, at least in a right world. I, however, can't walk away. When I finally did his apparent indifference towards me turned into hate. And here I am now, knowing that person better than most people and wishing I could still be there for him. Sounds like that person who gets beat by her husband but defends him, doesn't it?

Being selective over the people I choose to call my friends has never appeared bad to me: the fewer people you trust, the fewer opportunities there are for pain. Unfortunately we keep falling, and falling, and falling for it again... When some of the chosen ones then secede from your heart though their space is left empty, and the majority of feelings in my body are wanting them to claim their space back, but that would never be possible. Four years after I lost a boyfriend to lies, drugs and other fun stuff I still wish he hadn’t made me expel him, and I would probably still be friends with the guy that sold our friendship for an iphone if the events hadn’t forced an end to those days. But with every such experience it is harder to find replacements and that fear isn’t fun to live with. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Greece: Worst Country Ever?

Being a German, I am fortunate to be in people’s good lists when traveling; Germans are always super popular, I don’t really know why. Every traveler has a cool story with a German, and almost all people who have been to Germany loved it because it’s apparently cheap, friendly and pretty. Have you ever had anyone tell you “now the Greeks are a crowd I’d invite to my party”, or “oh my, Greece is just such an awesome country I will never go anywhere else”? No? Let me tell you, there is a reason you have never heard that, that reason being it’s simply never been said. On my ranking of 30 countries of this world I have visited, I have a new 30th place, and I don’t even know who or what to make responsible for it. Vain and rude people? Underwhelming countrysides? Extortionate prices? Let’s see…

On our first appearance in Greece, we were hitchhiking from a toll station. Before we even arrived at the station, an employee came running towards us, telling us we couldn’t hitchhike here, we’d have to leave the highway with our backpacks and massive loads of stuff. Fine, I said, how are we leaving, man? He obviously had no answer. How does one leave a highway? Walking? So we stayed for two and a half hours waiting for someone to at least take us to the next gas station, only to be ignored or laughed at by hundreds of big cars. After two hours these guys even called the cops on us who showed up and banished us from the highway. Same question, I asked the police officer where I should go. He said, 5 kilometers down the highway we’d find a gas station, so I asked him if he could take us there. The guy’s response is so paradox it’s almost funny: he told me he wasn’t a taxi, and left!

Another time we arrived at a toll station to hitchhike and were immediately banished “for our own safety”. It was pouring, we were two girls in the middle of nowhere but we were not allowed to stay. Instead, we had to walk along the highway in search for the next road. Completely soaked, eventually a truck driver took us to Athens. Ironically, the Highway officer had told us that the only people who would take us at the toll station would be trucks, and that would be very unsafe. Thanks, safety lad, for forcing us to go with what you were apparently saving us from. We eventually made it to Athens alive but certainly not due to the help of Greece’s amazing people. Nobody stops, nobody smiles, and nobody even tries to help. People are apparently scared. Of what? Two soaked girls who are cold? Thanks, Greece.

The next thing that we waited for in vain was to be vowed by the countryside of a country that cost us triple the amount of money the same time frame cost us in all our other destinations. We paid ridiculous amounts to go to the island of Zakythos which was no more than a 4 on the scenery scale. Macedonia, which charges nothing to look at nice views, cute beaches and amazing mountains, cost us zero. Just saying! Sure, there are nice spots, and we’ve seen some, but we’ve also seen more. Not everything that is great is equally great! Athens, out of all places, is the biggest joke. Every street looks the same, and none of them are pretty except for the ridiculously touristy Acropolis neighborhood which all boosts traditional Greek atmosphere. I sure hope that’s not is because I have yet to find someone Greek hanging out there.

Maybe these neighborhoods are too expensive for Greeks who are broke right now, you may think, but no, Greeks do not appear to be broke. In fact, everything is super expensive and every cafĂ© is hosting large crowds, no matter what time of the day. Not having money looks different to me. Good for them! In conversation with Greeks they tell me they reject austerity because it destroys their quality of life which I guess is true considering they’re all spending money like there was nothing else to do. And one person even said he does not understand why he should be paying for the government’s mistakes. Instead, he prefers the Eurozone to pay for it. While the politics of austerity are definitely not a fair business, I may have said it differently. 

I do admit that our sampling size of Greeks is too small to make accurate scientific conclusions. We would have loved to meet some Greeks, but all of our pick-ups were not Greek. In the street, people seem more interested in make up or clothes than each other. Even the smallest places looked more like a runway show to me. Worst of all, however, was probably the fact that coffee was so expensive and gross I was having tears in my eyes when I spotted the relieving sight of the Starbucks sign. Two weeks in this country could have just been an unlucky representation but we agreed that Greece was definitely not worth the visit, and I'm pretty sure that I'd rather give every other place a second chance than Greece. Others may disagree, but my list has a new lowlight!

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Hitchhiker's Guide To... Anywhere But Greece!

I am close to perfecting budget traveling, having been to 29 countries thanks to Couchsurfing and still having money in the bank. On our latest travel, my friends Miriam, Olta and I thought about how we could also eradicate those pesky transport costs. The easiest way, of course, would be to just hitchhike, we thought. And once that thought is there, it’s hard to shake it off again because the benefits are ridiculous, and the only disadvantage is that “they say it’s dangerous!” Is it though? Three chicks on the road who have seen a lot weren’t really that scared. Our biggest concern, at that point, were our parents’ opinions. Keeping it a secret at first we made an attempt and succeeded in executing the cheapest trip in the history of trips… until we hit Greece!

Our trip took us to the South Balkans, starting in Skopje, Macedonia. Being one of the cheapest places to begin with the extra two Euros we saved on not getting a bus ticket would really not have made a huge difference at first. But we took about 15 buses, stacking up to a 30 Euro saving we made by avoiding the crappy bus and just putting our thumbs out. Additionally, and probably, even more importantly, almost every single driver was nicer and more polite than any bus driver there is, most likely because drivers take hitch hikers just because they’re nice people and not because they get paid for it. People would occasionally even change their route to take us to our final destination, or a spot we could easily hitch from to the next place. None of them had to, they just felt like helping. How exactly is that really that dangerous?

Yes, yes, I know, there could be a murderer behind the wheel. I agree, there could be. There could also be a WWII bomb detonating adjacent to my house, killing me instantly, or let’s not forget the imminent, perpetual threat of terrorism. Dear Reader, please realize that I’m employing sarcasm. There could always be danger, and if you’re always scared it will find you. Danger didn’t find us, yet. Instead, we traveled around 2000 kilometers around South Eastern Europe without paying a dime. All we had to do is do a bit of small talk and wait by the side of the road for a few minutes. In Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo three girls easily found a ride because people rightfully identified we are not a threat to their personal security. Greeks weren’t that smart.

Now, other than the hitchhiking experience we made in Greece it would probably still be a pretty crap country full of pretty vain and conceited people, but the difference in hitchhiking perceptions really says it all. Until now, two weeks into our stay in Greece, we are still waiting to get a ride with a genuinely Greek person except for one single grandpa who was hoping to take us to a music bar after we arrived in Patras with him. All the others had at least lived abroad if they hadn’t been born and raised there. Earlier today, Miriam and I were standing in the middle of nowhere at 35°C without water, being ignored by every single bypassing Greek car until the rescuing Bulgarian drove by and even took us where we needed to go, although they didn’t have to go there.

But worst of all so far was our very first experience in Greece. We started hitching at a toll booth where every single car that was passing by was guaranteed to be going our direction and slowing down to pay the fee. We were then either ignored or laughed at. One thing was for sure: nobody even thought about taking us. In every country, our average waiting time was two and a half minutes. In Greece, make that hours. Two and a half freaking hours until a pastor realized that two girls and a boy of 22 we picked up in Macedonia would probably not rob or kill him. Well, we could have, but the guy’s trust was too humbling, so we decided not to and just be thankful after we’d been dehydrated and sunburnt.

It is unlikely we were simply unlucky that day, especially since we have pretty much not moved in Greece because we know it’s impossible. Now that there are only two girls again, we were pretty convinced things would get easier but they didn’t. Leaving our hair down or wearing shorts also had no effect. People here tell us that Greeks are scared, and the legitimate question at this point is: what from? What are the odds of two girls trying to rob them as opposed to two girls just trying to catch a ride, Greek people? Have some faith? We now switched vehicles and are mobile on bicycles so that we don’t have to ask Greeks for anything anymore. Ironic, isn’t it???