A pretentious meditation on travel
Hallo! I write to you after visiting Europe for the second time in my life.
As you can already tell, this trip drastically changed the way I say Hello. I say it like Germans say it now. How cultured am I??
To drive home the answer to that rhetorical question, all of my emails from now on will start with “Hallo!” so I can continue to flaunt how well traveled I am to all people at all times through all mediums of communication.
Like how when someone goes to Costa Rica and they suddenly start signing off their emails with “Pura Vida.” Ok Brad, enjoy the fantasy world you live in where I don’t make fun of you behind your back for doing that.
BRAD: Will get that to you soon! Pura Vida, Brad
ME (behind Brad’s back but in front of fellow coworkers back): *said in obnoxiously high pitched voice while gesticulating frantically in a masturbatory motion near my schlong* “Meh meh meh I’m Bradley Pura Vida”
No one likes you, Brad.
Anyway. Back to the purpose of this post.
Having been to Europe twice, it is at this point in my life that I need to come to terms with what a world traveler I am. I get humanity. Ergo, I am now a travel blogger (though to be honest, I prefer the term “wanderer”) for the next few thousand words.
Also, since I am really pompous, I am going to call this a “meditation.” Which is a fun thing to call your piece of prose if you are trying to brand yourself as a know it all.
So why don’t you go ahead and grab some popcorn as I share my worldly wisdom with you ungrateful and most likely uneducated masses.
Now that I have sufficiently insulted you and a hypothetical guy named Brad, you are most likely dying for my tips and insight so here we go.
Table of Contents that I will vaguely follow
- Unfiltered thoughts on traveling
- Rules of traveling
- My phone/thoughts on technology
- Eating in foreign lands
- Drinking in foreign lands
- Sleeping in foreign lands
- Useful Traveling tools and tips
- Closing Remarks
WARNING: A lot of this is going to come off as “bitching” which is, quite honestly, exactly what I am doing. There is a good chance that the only “value” you personally might get from this is reading section 9 about useful traveling tools. So if you want to skip to that section, I won’t be offended. I know you don’t have the time to read through all of this because you have a really busy day of watching WorldstarHipHop’s Instagram updates. No one would fault you for wanting to get back to that revolving door of videos of apparently famous people with tattooed faces doing things to strangers that are clearly not appropriate. We live in a weird world.
1. Unfiltered thoughts on traveling
Oh the places you’ll go…and wherever they are I hope you don’t quote Dr. Seuss because you are better than that.
In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to take a second to give my unfiltered opinion on traveling.
*BEGIN UNFILTERED, INCOMPLETE THOUGHTS ON TRAVELING*
Traveling is dope. However, I have a fundamental limit for the amount of time I can do it consecutively. At a certain point, I start to feel like I have no sense of routine in my life. This lack of control is unsettling for someone who likes to control what he can control. (Which probably says something about me and how I deal with uncertainty. But don’t you dare psychoanalyze me. You don’t have the credentials and you know it.)
Maybe that’s because “traveling” to me is going to a place and going to see a bunch of different sites. So I am in constant transit which gives me a lot of anxiety that stem from questions like:
- “Am I going to make my flight?”
- “Do I have my passport?” (Also, a passport is a weird thing. Like someone claims ownership of you. Feels bizarre. I don’t really get a say in the process.)
- “Are we on the right train?”
- “For fuck sake, are we human or are we dancer?”
I know other people consider traveling to be like going to Bali and being alone with your thoughts at a five-day meditation retreat. But that’s not me because:
- That sounds terrifying to me. No internet? How would I advance my brand without Wifi? Do they at least have a physical copy of Good House Keeping to jerk off too?
- I do not totally buy meditation and mindfulness as a panacea to all of my problems. Maybe because I am a low key narcissist that can’t fathom a world in which I am incorrect. But it is most likely because I am right and it is not a solution to everything wrong in your life.
Also while we are on the subject of traveling, I think it has been sold as a tool for self-exploration/discovery to everyone now a-days. In my opinion, there is a bit of truth in that, but also a lot left out.
On one hand, I agree as I had several brief moments on my trip that had a lasting impact on me. The kind of moments that transcend my deeply ingrained snarky defense mechanisms and make me think about the world differently. Traveling to new places helps me see the differences. Understand myself a little bit better. I found myself while in Germany, seeing subtle things in the German culture that make me say like “oh is that why I do that?” It lead me to actually giving a shit about who smashed their private parts together that eventually lead to the creation of me. Like I might go to Ancestry.com and figure out what the fuck I am if I ever stop making excuses for being too busy.
However, on the other hand, I also disagree about travel as a vehicle for self exploration. I would warn against someone thinking that the root cause of their problems will be addressed by seeing new stuff. You see new stuff every day online and you still have problems. Why is traveling going to be different? In my experience, often the problem is not with the inputs (ie: what you are consuming/seeing/etc) but more with the vessel with which you are consuming inputs (ie: your shitty filters and bias that you see the world through.)
As Mark Twain if he were in a frat would say “Wherever you go there you are, brah.” If you are looking for good self discovery outlets, therapy is probably a better medium for that than travel.
*END UNFILTERED, INCOMPLETE THOUGHTS ON TRAVELING*
2. Rules of traveling
I am fairly new to the concept of exploring other places, but I have three rules that work for me when doing it that seem to make it a lot of fun.
Rule 1: Say yes to basically everything. (This is also generally a great rule for life.) It is a great and easy way to optimize your life for stories. Which is really what “having a good time” means.
- Want to go to a night club in Berlin? Yes.
- Want to eat whale in Iceland? Yes.
- Cliff hike in Ireland? Yes
- Foosball bar in Germany? Yes
- Drink literally every single night of a 10 day trip? Yes
- Want to switch your window seat for this middle seat? Absolutely not. I have standards.
Rule 2: Do your best to experience the culture of the people who actually live there and see the famous spots/”tourist traps” if you haven’t seen them before.
I greatly enjoy seeing the differences in everyday life between myself and the people who live in the countries I am visiting.
For instance, taking public transportation in Munich was an easy way to see a bit more of the countryside that I would not have otherwise gotten a chance to see AND I got to watch two people get rocked with a 60 euro fine by undercover cops for trying to ride the train for free.
Or like when I stayed in a European AirBNB and came to find out that:
- No one has fucking dryers. They legit hang dry everything. Which boggles my process engineering based mind.
- No apartments are open concept. They have zero room to entertain. The Property Brothers would contact faint upon entering some of these places.
Also I feel like a lot of people shit on “tourist traps” without ever actually visiting them. This strikes me as dumb. These monuments are famous for a reason. And some of my favorite experiences were doing the stereotypical tourist stuff such as:
- In Iceland, I hung out at Blue Lagoon which is this dope ass hot springs. Retrospectively, it’s kind of gross thinking about how I was basically sharing a bath with 400 people. But they force you to take a shower before getting in so I guess there’s that? But considering the number of people there and how difficult it is to get to the bathroom, there was for sure hella urine in that thing. Also, for the record, Iceland is the home of the man bun. Highest man bun per capita in the world. Hands down.
- In Germany, I went to see the Glockenspiel. This structure is straight out of a fairytale. Like dude look at this thing. That’s apparently real. And while you can look at pictures, the real thing is actually even more insane than observing pictures of it in your 100 square foot apartment that you got “such a good deal” on.
- In Ireland, I went to the Guinness Factory. Which is literally a beer factory made by Willy Wonka.
Just go to tourist traps.
A really easy way to follow this rule is to do a hop on-hop off city bus tour. City bus tours are an easy way to cover an entire city in two days. And you will get some history of the city which is cool. For instance, one thing that was particularly highlighted in Berlin was the tumultuous history of Germany. Berlin was destroyed (low key leveled) in several wars and was close to being the starting point of World War III. It’s hard to realize when you are reading a history book that this is all taking place in the same city. Pretty wild.
Rule 3: Talk to everyone.
Using this rule, you not only get to meet people who live in these cities, but also people who are doing the same thing you are doing.
For instance, you will meet people who live in Reykjavik year round as well as a guy from Boston who will tell you that the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the World Series in 2003 and really drive home the point in your mind that people from Boston are a fucking joke.
Like right…I forgot that was the rare season where two teams from the American League play each other for the World Series…I also forgot that they beat the Yankees in 2003. Aaron Boone is literally rolling over in his commentator booth.
But yea. Those are some rules that I think will help maximize you having a good time.
3. My phone/thoughts on technology
Why does this get its own section? Because literally nothing is better than my phone. And because one thing that gets driven home when you are traveling is how much tougher life is without the constant connectedness to the answers in the world.
Everyone nows a days wants to romanticize this version of life that is “disconnected” but seems to forget how hard finding a good time is without a phone. Trivial questions like: Where should I go? What should I eat? etc… become questions you have to actually ask a physical person. Ew.
I will mildly say that there are definitely minor benefits to your entire group being on airplane mode. It was refreshing how in the group I was with no one was really ever on their phone in public unless they were taking photos.
But these moments of “mindful zen” were not worth the moments of complete disorientation in foreign lands. This was driven home when we were out looking for food one day. We were honestly aimlessly walking down the street hoping that soon we would come upon a place that looked good. We would have loved to split up to look for food, but when you are traveling with a group where no one has a working phone, you can never really split up because there is no guarantee that you will find each other again.
You forget how much you come to lean on things like your phone until these moments. Next time I go, I am going to get a data plan of some kind. The not having a phone thing is low key an issue. That is why I have an issue with people increasingly recommending becoming a luddite.
Oh you want me to expand on my criticism of these people? Don’t mind if I do.
In my mind there is a clear connection in the rise of mindfulness as a badge of honor and people shitting on technology. Nowadays, “rejecting” technology has become a way to brand yourself as “someone who gets it.” I put rejecting in quotes because these people always seem to fail to note the hypocrisy in what they are saying: they are openly arguing for a rejection of technology using technology. Your message is so important that you broke your digital celibacy to share it with me? Oh is that because the mind messages you are trying to send me aren’t getting through? Guess technology is important. Weird.
Do some people use their phones too much? Absolutely. Am I one of them? Depends on the day. But I don’t think my inability to “be present” (whatever the fuck that means) has anything to do with my phone. It has everything to do with whatever psychological insecurities I have about being alone. Don’t you dare blame my phone for my inability to stop myself from compulsively checking what other people think of me. That’s absurd.
Now. Allow me to present the benefits of having my phone in a foreign land.
Thanks to my phone, I was:
- Able to download an offline Google map for the area I was in. That gave me the confidence that even if I get separated from the group, I would be able to find my way home.
- I had recommendations from all of my friends for each area I visited. They were all in my pocket in case I ever forgot.
- I found out the California Golden Bears beat Ole Miss. Can you believe the SEC is overrated? Literally mind blowing revelation. Oh wait. No its not. Fucking clown conference with one professional team. Cal wants Bama.
- I texted my loved ones at the end of every single day to fill them in on my adventures.
Not a bad set of bennys, am I right?
An unavoidable part of traveling is flying. Unless you are afraid of flying. Which, for the record, is an extremely illogical fear. I don’t have time to make fun of you right now, but know that you are a ridiculous person.
When I am flying through the air, I oscillate back and forth between moments of wonder and awe due to:
- The marvelous engineering miracle of flight
- How awful humans ruin the flying experience
- How inconvenient certain aspects of flying are
First, let us reflect on point 1.
Stop to think about this for a second: Humans achieved flight. That’s an absurd statement.
Worded differently: some group of people figured out how to properly calibrate the wings on an airplane such that the air rushing over the wing will create a difference in air pressure around the wing that will produce a lifting force to get the airplane in the air.
Not only do we fly, we have created jet engines that generate enough power to transport an aircraft carrying 300 people and all their stupid belongings for hours (sometimes even days) at hundreds of miles per hour. Fucking science.
Now, let us reflect on point 2.
Holy shit, I hate people. Here is a general rule of thumb: Flying brings out the worst in people.
Incomplete list of awful people associated with flying:
- The people who cut you in line whenever they can (including boarding a plane. We all have an assigned seat, Cheryl. We aren’t competing.)
- The people who don’t allow you to stand up when you land even though you have an aisle seat.
- The people who talk loudly on flights when everyone is trying to sleep.
- Airlines. Some of these fucking ROCK you with checked bag fees. $90 to check a bag WOW Air? What? (Side note: Are budget airlines actually worth it? I would argue no.) I would honestly like to hear the CEO of WOW Air give a talk about the importance of customer service/satisfaction. It would be laugh out loud funny.
- Morons at the security line. The security line always takes so long because of the incompetent people going through the line. “I know you said I can’t bring 100ml of liquid in, but what about this gallon jug of PCP?” No. You crazy asshole.
- Boarding a plane always takes longer than it should because of someone fidgeting with their bag that just doesn’t fit in the overhead compartment. How’d you get that on here? My friend had to check his bag that was 4 cubic feet smaller.
That just scratches the surface of horrible people you will encounter when flying.
Finally, let us look at point 3.
Can they make air travel any more inconvenient?
Let’s get one thing out in the open: Being 6’4” sucks a gratuitous amount on an airplane.
Shout out to transavia! (Which is the name of an airline. Not a newly coined term to describe gender identity.) My knees were in my chest when I was on your plane. At one point during this flight, the guy in front of me needed to get something out of his pocket. He literally destroyed my knees as he struggled to get 4 euro out of his pocket to pay for his underwhelming cappuccino.
And what about food on these things? Food is a minor issue on the short flights, but food is a huge issue on these long flights. I was living off shitty ham and cheese sandwiches on my 11 hour flight with Norwegian. No one knows my struggle. They only see my troubles.
And finally, why the fuck do they make people with window seats bring up the shade? That clearly doesn’t help and you know it. All it does is put sun in my eyes. Is Icarus flying this plane? Because we are flying way too close to the sun.
5. Eating in foreign lands
I made it a point to try and eat something I usually don’t eat in each new place. I tried to make it as close to a famous cuisine from the area/something I can’t really get at home as possible. I thought that was a fun way to explore new flavors.
In Iceland, I ate horse and whale. I wouldn’t eat whale again, but hot damn, I would put some horse meat in my mouth again (Yea. I said it. Read it back to yourself. )
In Ireland, I ate fish and chips (which definitely isn’t as Irish as I think it is).
In Germany, I ate Currywurst (which was horrible) and donor kebobs (which are so fucking dank and quite literally available on every street corner).
You learn a lot about how little you know about food options when you do this.
I also had a few revelations about the concept of eating as I visited new places:
- For the record, obligatory tipping is fucking stupid. Imagine you were negotiating the price of your car and after you agreed upon a price, you were then expected to pay more than that because the salesman’s livelihood depends on you knowing some stupid unspoken rule. That’s a dumb practice. Just tell me the price to fucking pay up front and let’s be done with it.
- I eat a lot more frequently in comparison to other humans. I think I have an oral fixation or something. Right, Freud?
- Some dishes are just fucking gross. This was my experience with Currywurst. I’m not going to suggest that I got the best Currywurst that Germany had to offer, but I tried it twice from two different spots and both times it tasted like Oscar Meyer wiener hot dogs covered in a jarred Curry sauce that was bought from the local discount grocery store four weeks ago. I don’t often say things like “I could make this at home” but I absolutely could make this. But I wouldn’t. Because it’s fucking gross. But again, maybe I went to the McDonalds of Currywurst.
- Although you aren’t about to see me using fries as edible spoons with a jar of Miracle Whip any time soon, mayonnaise on fries is actually pretty delightful. I think they have tastier mayonnaise in Europe though.
- Stuffed Hungarian Langos is amazing. Basically the best chicken bake ever. Got this bad boy at a little farmer’s market in Howth, Ireland. In case you were wondering how now I am, I go to Farmer’s markets in foreign countries. So yea. I get it.
- America could really use a little concept they have in Germany called: Turkish food is literally available on every street corner. Donors and Durums, oh my. Life changing. If you ever find yourself in Berlin, Mustafas is a great spot. Check that shit out.
- I fucking love food.
6. Drinking and partying in foreign lands
I also had a few revelations about the concept of drinking as I visited new places:
- Drinking at a local bar is an enlightening experience. I thought it was interesting to see the drinking culture in the area. For instance, pub culture in Ireland was awesome and it was totally legal to drink on the streets in Germany. I got the general feeling that people in Europe don’t seem to negatively stigmatize drinking like I generally have seen it neggy stiged in the USA.
- I drink a lot more frequently in comparison to other humans. I think I have an oral fixation or something. Right, Freud?
- It’s unreal expensive to drink in Iceland. Like it’s shocking. $12 a beer. What is that? Cool island country, bro.
- Guinness factory was dope. At the Guinness Factory, they taught us to pour Guinness which is a much more involved process then you think it is. At the end we asked who did the best to which the lady who taught us responded “there is no winner!” Man. You have a lot to learn about American culture, lady.
- Clubs in Berlin were unreal. First of all, getting in is ultra stressful. They turn people away all the time. I got turned away at the first one I tried to get in to. The bouncer at the club told me and my friends “too much cock tonight” and shooed us away. Retrospectively, that is a weird criticism for them to have because these clubs are huge in gay culture. Like if I was gay, I feel like I would be stoked about the amount of sausage in the club. But whatever. I don’t make the rules. Once you get in to one of these clubs though, you are in a world you will never experience anywhere else.
Finally, I went to Oktoberfest. I cannot capture all of that in a nifty little bullet point so I will describe it here.
Granted it is a tourist trap of sorts, it was still cool experiencing the environment of 1000s of people drinking together in tents (which are actually really structurally sound buildings) and somehow not getting in to fights all the time. There are about 5-10 tents and in each tent is a live band. And every single band is amazing.
The bands oscillate between traditional German songs that are (I assume) related to the tradition of Oktoberfest and covers of famous American songs. Literally out of nowhere, they hit you with Sweet Home Alabama or Country Roads by John Denver when you are several metric liters of mead deep (also those videos are not mine, I found them online.) Words cannot do justice to the level of excitement my group experienced when the YMCA came on. (Side note: I am not convinced anyone knows the lyrics to that song outside of the chorus. )
When you go, there are two options: you have a reservation or you do not.
Reservation: First day we had a reservation which was dope we just had two tables and we sat there and drank beer and radlers (half beer, half lemonade) from 12 to 22:30. It was nuts. The crazy part was when I looked up and it was already half past 22! I was like man, wasn’t it just 17?? (Lol what a stupid way to tell time.)
All in all, we did our country proud by following the famous words of statesmen Benjamin Franklin. Whom of course once famously stated “you can’t drink all day unless you start in the morning.”
No Reservation: The second day, I was clearly feeling amazing after consuming sugar and alcohol ad nauseum for 10 hours so I found myself back at the festival around 16. Because if at first you don’t succeed drink more so you feel better about your failure.
This time we had no reservation. So you go to the area where people with no reservations stand. Which is right in the middle of a pit of a thousand hammered people from all over the world. This was a different experience. People were going off. Occasionally someone would jump up on the table and finish their beer to the cheers and/or boos of the crowd. It was a blast.
Except for the fucking waitress. Who was a horrible human being. She charged us an American surcharge. 15 euros a stein. Legit the girls from Holland who were right next to us were paying 11. Then this waitress has the audacity to tell us she’s going to kick us off the table if we don’t tip on top of that. I tried my best, but in the end my inner abrasive personality came out and I got in her face and called her out for what she was doing. Then I got the 12 euro price. I guess it was a lesson that being a horrible person is universal in many cultures.
In summation, Oktoberfest was a lot. Next time I would prob go 4 days. And take a day off in the middle to just hang out.
To close out this section of consuming things in foreign lands, I would also like to mention that next time I do a large trip like this, I am going to plan a few gyms. I felt horrible after not exercising and abusing my body for 10 straight days.
7. Sleeping and living in foreign lands
Hostels: Sleeping in hostels is an interesting experience. Hostels are cheap and a great way to meet people traveling. However they can get loud. And you always seem to get a guy who snores in your hostel. On that subject, if you are a snorer that anyone has ever classified as “one of the worst snorers they have ever heard in their life”, you are a twat if you decide to stay in a hostel. For instance, this one kid legit came home at 3am and proceeded to instantaneously snore like a fucking wildebeest. Think about the way that this man lives his life. He believes that his night of sleep is more important than 5 other people’s night of sleep. Selfish prick. Should flat out have his head put on a spike outside of the hostel to be made an example of. Snorers not welcome is what it would say. My ideal world is really fucked up.
AirBNB: It was pretty interesting staying in someone’s apartment who actually lives in Munich. No one has dryers. All I could think of was how awkward it would be as I scanned his books if there was just like a signed copy of Mein Kampf. But thankfully there was none of that. Instead this dude had 4 paper bags from various grocery and clothing stores taped onto his wall with packing tape. Which may have actually been weirder than having a first edition of an anti-Semitic text.
Showering: When you have the opportunity to shower, take it every time. There is no guarantee you will have the opportunity to again. You never realize what a logistical nightmare a shower is until you are without one for a few days.
Laundry: Don’t expect to be able to do laundry and when you do no one has dryers. So consider that.
Going potty: The bathroom is called the water closet. It is sometimes abbreviated as WC. You are welcome.
8. Useful Traveling tools and tips
Ok. Now that I have finished bitching, I am going to finish this post with an incomplete list of traveling tools:
- Offline Google Maps. Offline map downloads. Here’s something that is interesting, your directions and location finding still works without a cell network. How does it do that?
- Fanny packs. I made fun of the person in my group that had one. Until I had to carry around my passport in my gym shorts on a hike.
- Day backpack. I had my big backpack, but I did not have a little backpack. Made going on hikes and stuff really difficult.
- Running shoes that also look nice enough to go out in.
- A jacket. Being an idiot from California, I did not bring a jacket. This, as you can imagine, was a shortsighted thing to not pack. I would probably get a Patagonia jacket. Something light.
- Lonely Planet travel guides
- Deodorant. Like I said, there is no guarantee that you will be able to shower every day.
- An outfit specifically designed for flight. An airplane outfit composed of lululemon attire would be nice
- Sleeping gear (eye mask, ear plugs) because some people in your hostel snore.
- Sick carry-on bag. Spend $100 on one that fits on all planes and you can save yourself endless checked bag fees.
- Charger converter. Europe has dumb outlets. So bring one of these.
9. Closing Remarks
Anyway, hope this post came off as preachy as I wanted it too.
As a reward for making it this far, I will give you the story of my “checkout the dumb American” moment from the trip.
I was in a hostel playing the Australian edition of Cards Against Humanity (a fun play on the original version where they say Crikey! every now and again to spice it up). The word ‘oestrogen’ was played. And I was like “Umm. What the fuck is that?” This was legit incomprehensible to the British dude who was playing the game with us. And he snarkily said to me “are you serious…” In a lot of ways it solidified his bias that Americans are dumb. And then the Australian guy was like “oh yea I dont think they spell it with an ‘O’ in America. Like female sex hormones.”
Thank you, nice Australian guy. I have only ever seen that word spelled estrogen. Did not know this was another example of people adding unnecessary vowels in to things like “colour.” (And for the record, my spell check is telling me that oestrogen is incorrect and I should correct it so I cant be that off base here.) Haven’t had an experience like this since I was reading a Material Science book in college and they were talking about “aluminium” I was like holy shit when did they discover a new element?
For the record, I won that game of Cards Against Humanity despite being down 4 cards to everyone else when I joined the game. So maybe other cultures have a thing or two to learn about humor. So I hope they all went home that night realizing that despite me being a “dumb American”, I fucking won.
Until next time.
The Enlightened One