For those of you who haven’t come across it (I hadn’t!), the “Liebster Award” is one of those questionnaire-type things that you fill in and redistribute. Back in the 90s I had a rather large number of pen-pals, and while by far the most common similar concept was the ‘Friendship Book’ (a series of scraps of paper stapled together wherein one person would write their name/address/interests in it and then send it on to the next person, so by the time it was returned to the person who started it, it was full of names of people who wanted pen-pals. As a side note, there was a great deal of hatred in the penpalling community reserved for those who ‘hoarded’, didn’t forward, or didn’t return these FBs. I’m not sure how they would ever know …), one of the other similar concepts was the ‘Slam’. Whereas in an FB you just wrote your details, in the Slam you had to answer questions (this being 90s teenagers, they were often along the lines of ‘What’s your Favourite boy-band’ or ‘Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift/elevator with’).
Now we’re in the digital age, such concepts are much easier rendered.
However, this particular one is different from a traditional ‘Slam’ in that here, every person that answers it should change the questions before ‘forwarding’ it on to five (or seven, or eleven, or six, or …) other bloggers. In addition (small print), these other bloggers ought to be ones who aren’t well known (one suggestion is people with less than 500 followers on Twitter, another says less than 200 ‘followers’, on whatever medium). Yes, it is all quite vague … the principle idea behind it being to promote newer and less-well-known bloggers who might otherwise never be heard.
1) Where’s the first place you ever travelled? What are some of your memories from it?
Assuming it means abroad: a couple of weeks after my 11th birthday, my uncle took me to Copenhagen. Denmark might seem an odd destination for a first trip abroad, but he had been there on business trips a few times and he thought it would be good to take me to see the place.
Obviously I was still quite young so I don’t remember things in much detail, but we did go round the Viking museum in Roskilde (where I seem to remember having a big burger!); I also recall being on one of those boating lakes (in drizzle) and being the only person on it.
Rain was also a feature of the day trip we took to Sweden – this was before the bridge so we took the boat from Helsingor to Helsingborg, then the train down to Malmo, and a boat back to Copenhagen. Apart from travelling, we didn’t really do a lot. But I’m still counting Sweden as ‘a country I have visited’! 😀
2) Is there a person that has inspired you to live your life the way you do?
No, I don’t think so; I pretty much plough my own furrow. I mean obviously there are people who have gone before me who’ve travelled the same places in the same manner as I do, and I’ve certainly read travel books, blogs, travel guides, and the like which have inspired me to go to certain places, but I don’t think anyone has specifically inspired me to be, well, ‘me’. I like to think we are all unique in the way we are.
3) How do you feed your love for travel while you’re at home?
Twitter travel chats, occasional updates to my blog, staring longingly at world maps, researching potential future destinations, reading travel guidebooks, daydreaming …
4) Is there a specific moment in your travels where your life changed? Or one that you’ll always remember?
It’s only a small thing, and most travellers would laugh, but it meant a lot to me, personally.
I’ve always been interested in travel, but for many years I rarely had the nerve to do it on my own. An abortive attempt to travel around Italy when I was 26 affected me a little more than it should, and although I went abroad a few times afterwards (including, interestingly, to Italy), it was always with friends or in a group. My problem was (and still is, to an extent) that I’m quite introverted, unassertive, and self-conscious, so the idea of ‘putting myself out there’ scares me.
Fast forward to spring 2012. I had accrued some holiday time from work, and had had a number of conversations with travel-minded friends about a new trip abroad. Mindful of my earlier issues, my criteria were: friendly to foreigners, an ability for the locals to speak English (or French), culturally interesting, relatively easy to get around, and relatively cheap. They all said the same thing: South-East Asia.
Even after researching the potential trip, even after booking the flights, even while on the plane and about to land at Kuala Lumpur Airport, I was still quite worried about the whole thing: would I be able to cope with being somewhere completely new and different, on my own, where it would be difficult to get back in case of introverted breakdown.
So, I landed, made my way through the airport, onto the shuttle bus, through the KL metro, and to the guesthouse I was staying in. All sounds simple, but the very fact I did this on my own proved to me that I could handle solo travel, or at least was more capable of it than I thought. From there on, everything was simpler.
5) Which place could you keep going back to and why?
The nature of my travel plans is that I want to see as much different as possible; this means my wondering why I’d go back to a place I’ve already been when there is so much of the world left to explore. That said, there are places I’ve visited a number of times (Sheffield, Belgrade, Nambour) but primarily because I have friends there.
However, I could quite easily see myself as being a regular visitor to Belgium. It’s a quirky, friendly, interesting country with good beer and chocolate. I have simple tastes really … 😉
6) What would your biggest tip be for people traveling to a foreign country for the first time?
Firstly, research two things: how to get in, and how to get to your first night’s accommodation. If you’re flying in, find out how best to get out the airport; where in the airport it leaves from, what it looks like, and how much it costs. Related, possibly, is understanding how the local transport system works; where you get tickets from, how much you need to pay, and where you need to pay it. Knowledge is power/confidence, and knowing where to go and what to do will make your first few moments in the country just that bit easier.
Other than that, it’s the simple obvious things that matter most – get used to the currency, learn the numbers (if nothing else) if there’s likely to be a language barrier – it’s easy to get across the idea that you want to go to the toilet, not so easy to understand that it would cost 1,736 rupiah to do so -, try to map out things to do for the first couple of days, and above all don’t worry; the names might change but effectively everybody the world over does the same things.
7) Do you prefer solo travel or traveling with another person?
There’s something wonderfully free about travelling solo. You can randomly change plans at a moment’s notice, you can decide to visit (or not visit) things on a whim, it’s easier to find accommodation in many countries (certainly as a backpacker, and cheaper too), your trip is defined as you want it rather than as a compromise with someone else, you’re not restricted on where to go because of your travel companion, and I feel you get a more immersive experience with locals – who seem to be inclined to ‘want to look after you more’ if you’re on your own. Or maybe that’s just because of the places I go to and the fact I stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.
There are disadvantages – it can be more expensive (and trickier) to arrange trips off the beaten track, and it’s much easier to end up feeling a bit lonely sometimes. But both of these can be mitigated (depending on where and how you travel) – most of the places I’ve been to have a strong backpacker culture, so while you might ‘travel’ alone, finding hostels filled with other backpackers is pretty easy in places like Central Asia, South America, and especially South-East Asia. That, and good use of travel sites like TripAdvisor to meet up with fellow travellers to arrange meets (as I did to visit the Aral Sea) means that you can easily travel alone in general, and still get to enjoy other’s company at times.
But for me personally, I think for me to travel with someone else for the whole trip, it would have to be someone I was very good friends with, and/or someone who was an independent traveller like me and who didn’t feel any obligation to spend all their time with me.
8) What’s your preferred mode of transportation when traveling and what’s your least favourite? Why?
There is something wonderful about a train. You can just sit there in relative comfort, watching the landscape trawl by, but you’re not restricted to your seat and can move about at leisure. There’s a decent amount of legroom, often a nice table, and the ride’s usually pretty smooth. And sleeping on trains is much easier than any other form of transport – even if you’re not on a sleeper train with a bunk bed, I usually find the seats themselves are softer and bigger than anything on a coach or plane.
My least favourite mode of transport is flying, at least for long distances. I love short flights, where you fly quite low in the sky and you can just gaze out and see the land stretch out below you. Indeed I’d love to learn to fly; those single- or two-seater planes you see lurking around civil airfields on a Sunday afternoon.
Long flights, where all you see is an apparent solid mass of never-changing cloud which affects your perception of speed, in cramped seats and aisles, bad air, and no easy ability to just take a break and stretch (because you’d block the aisles), don’t thrill me at all. I find flying long-haul incredibly boring and frustrating.
9) What’s the funniest or most interesting thing that has happened to you when in a foreign country?
Oooh well, there was the time I got lost in Hebron (Palestine) with only a non-English-speaking local to direct me (and I went down the wrong road and ended up with a Dutch UN solider pointing a gun vaguely in my direction), or the time I got stuck at the Benin/Togo border with no luggage because I lost my share-taxi ride, or the time I wandered into a community centre in Anlong Veng (Cambodia) and spent the next hour being photographed by all the locals …
10) Which festival around the world (ie. Tomorrowland, Running of the Bulls, etc.) would be top on your list to go to? Why?
Hmmm, festivals aren’t generally something that ever interested me really; I have volunteered to steward at one for two of the last three years, but that’s been a small, independent, local, hippy-ish festival in the UK that wouldn’t really be on anyone’s radar.
That said, I think it would be fascinating to be in India for one of the major religious festivals, Holi, probably. Regardless of the specific region, as a culture the Indian people definitely know how to put on a good celebration, and it would fell so much more encompassing in India itself than any Indian celebration here in the UK.
11) If I gave you $20,000 today for travel, where would you go and what would you do?
Everywhere, slowly. But at the time of year of writing this (early August), the first place I’d go would be around parts of Europe I’ve not really explored yet – Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Partly because at the moment they won’t be freezing cold, and partly because they’re even more expensive than the UK and this means I could afford to go there … 😀
So in principle now I have to think of 11 questions (why these things are always odd, in both senses, numbers I will never know!) and find five travel bloggers to forward on to. However I’m feeling distinctly uninspired so I’m happy to keep the same ones. Which I know is bad form, but then conversely what’s the sense of me creating 11 interesting new questions if I don’t answer them myself 🙂 And then to forward to five people, hmmmm, but how do I know they’ll even be receptive. Or conversely haven’t done it already … Maybe I worry too much!
I may think about this later …