Wednesday, 29 October 2014

See Something - See Slovenia

Jonathon Cusack - the winner of The Big Blog Exchange 2014 who is coming to Slovenia in the end of October. If you read his blog See Something, two thoughts pop into your mind:  of course he won the blog writing competition because his writing is just that good and how can I be him?  Traveling around the world for 10 years, he is living the dream of every traveller and I asked him a few questions to figure out how he managed to do just that and to give you closer look of our future guest. 

How did your traveling story begin?
I have always travelled; I can't remember ever not having a passport. My parents helped me developed that sense of adventure by taking our family abroad as much as they could. As soon as I graduated from University my own journey began. I moved to London to join the nearly half a million other Australians living in the United Kingdom. London is a city which throws you into a trial by fire; if you emerge successful then you can truly be considered a traveller. Being in London was an encounter with the other side, a fantasy with an open ticket to the world’s greatest amusement park, you're anonymous and a million miles from home. After several months of enduring the city and finally making a place for yourself you become aware that it’s this anonymity which puts you in charge. You can change, and become someone entirely different and whom-ever you wish to be. It was never going to be a place I could call home, regardless of the amount of time I stayed there. Everyone will have their own unique story of living in London but they will all tell you the same thing, it’s not their home, but it is their city.

What is it that most attracts you to traveling?
Everyone at one stage in their lives will leave their home to seek something new, something unknown. We've all got that inherent desire to explore. In the beginning my reason was the drive to just see something. At home things make sense, we can predict how each and every day throughout the week is going to run. We plan on a calendar where we're going to be for months, we have a schedule we've got to keep otherwise everything will fall apart. I love waking up and not knowing how the day will be, that I can explore somewhere I've never been before. I am under no illusions though, I am incredibly lucky to be able to live this life compared to the vast majority of people in the world. Although, in comparison to everyone I grew up with, it was just a choice I made. It's not always glamorous, there are tough times [I broke my leg in Bolivia on Death Road in June] and there is a lot of time spent on planes, trains and automobiles. All of this is entirely surpassed by those special moments be it in the desert, a rainforest or in Times Square where you stop and take it in. A chill goes through your spine and in that moment you realise just how amazing this world of ours is. [One of these moments was in Petra, Jordan.]

What kind of traveller are you? Are you a man of plans or do you go wherever the wind takes you?
This year I began travelling the Pan-American Highway. Each day a different part of the 48,000km network of roads across the Americas is a place I call home. It's an immense journey from Argentina to Alaska so I spent six months planning the journey prior to setting off. Things never run according to plan though, places are better or worse than expected, planes are missed, buses never arrive and somewhere along the line you end up falling in love. I never consider more than a week down the road, everything beyond that is a draft in a general direction. The best part of travelling is discovery and if you're following a path too rigidly then you lose that freedom. [This is that trip along the Pan-American Highway]

One of the main components of traveling is money. How do you go about it? Do you save up or do you work while you travel?
Travelling doesn't have to be expensive. It's always going to be more expensive than you think it's going to be, but costs don't have to blowout. If you travel for an extended period of time then you're going to have to find a job somewhere along the line. I have taught English in five different countries and the pay has always been just that much better than working in a bar or a hostel to be able to save enough so you can travel onward from there. There are some places that are going to require a bit of savings before you get there, Scandinavia, London and even back home in Australia.

If you worked while traveling, can you share some experience and wisdom for young travellers? (Should they find work before traveling or is it easier and less risky to find it along the way?)
Working in foreign country is an entirely different way of travelling. When I was working as an English teacher I got to know the people, I understood how they grew up and why a nation was pointed this way or that. This was because the majority of English teaching is talking about yourself or expressing an opinion on something. Sometimes they would become more counselling sessions than English lessons. There are places in the world where it's easy to get a job; English teaching opens far more doors than any other potential job as it's always in demand. However, when I lived in Finland, it was nearly impossible for me to find work because I didn't speak Finnish. It was one of those places that if you didn't speak the native tongue then you chances of getting a job were very low. It's not really a risk to go to a new country without a job organised first, but you should of course always research your options.

In your opinion what are the best ways or your own tricks/tips about traveling cheap?
There aren't a lot of guide books that are going to tell you the honest truth about budgeting while travelling. This truth is that when you are travelling in your twenties your biggest expenditure is always going to be alcohol and partying. You can spend half your time waking up and wondering where all your hard earned savings went. If you've got a limited budget, then you need to limit the huge nights. Also, don't drink moonshine just because it's cheap, the inevitable punishment to your body isn't worth saving a few dollars. Outside of this, I think the best advice is to not travel too cheap. It's easy to find a budget hostel or restaurant, the Internet is full of guides and hacks for any destination. I've learnt through so many mistakes though, that a terrible place can sometimes ruin your journey. I just recently escaped a place in New Orleans after only spending an hour in there. It was a halfway house for drug addicts sold as hostel, I ran from it and spent a bit more just so I didn't have to deal with the basic stuff like security and cleanliness. What happened in the end? I had a really good time in New Orleans! [Here is the article that I wrote about it]

Do you have a favourite and least favourite destination or a trip?
You can have a bad trip anywhere you go, usually if you're staying in a horrendous hostel then it's tough to have a good time. It is, however, hard to have a good time everywhere. For me, Salvador in Brazil was stunning, but it's the only place that I have felt truly unsafe. Every single person in the hostel I was staying at had been mugged at some point in the town. This was despite the fact that there was a designated squadron of tourist police on each corner. Even then, there were people on the streets watching my friends and I pointing at us like we were targets. This wasn't a favela, this was just 8pm in the Old Town. It may sound strange now when I say Moscow is my favourite destination, it's even more dangerous. I lived there for over a year. I adapted to the quirks of the Russian people and knew the roads to not go down. After a few months of 'struggle', Russians always have to struggle, it was the most incredible experience of my life. [I wrote a book on it]

A lot of people have issues with traveling alone. In your blog you write about how as a traveller you meet a lot of people and even if you travel by yourself, you are basically never alone. Do you prefer to be a lone traveller and is it something you would recommend to other travellers? Have you ever had any bad experience?
It's hard to travel alone, as in it's nearly impossible to be alone. There are times where I begin a journey solo, but very rarely do I spend that time alone. More often than not we travel along backpacker trails, we meet people who are in the exact same situation as us and we become friends. From Bolivia to Egypt to Vietnam, there are always amazing people in hostels with their own story. Eventually you'll meet and go for a coffee or a beer. If not then you would miss one of the most important aspects of travelling, immersing yourself in a completely different group of people from those you call friends back home. It's something that you grow into and adapt to as a traveller. Setting off by yourself forces you into those situations where you if you don't make new friends, or approach a local or join a drum circle in Tel-Aviv then you don't really experience the true idea of travel.

You have been traveling for 10 years now. In this time, how has traveling changed?
We've entirely lost the possibility to be disconnected. When I first started travelling, there were only two, barely functioning PCs in the corner of a hostel. They were still the days when Lonely Planet ruled as king, when you really needed those extra kilograms in your baggage so you could carry it around. Now, I carry a connection to every single person I've ever met in my pocket. I can forward book an entire world trip in ten minutes. I don't need to explore anymore because everyone has been there and written an infinite number of opinions about it. This doesn't mean it's a bad thing, it just means that travelling is really easy these days. So much so that there is no excuse to leave and see this incredible world we live in. I grew up with my parents and older cousins telling me stories about how they were truly in the middle of nowhere. The only foreigners for one hundred square kilometres and more, these kind of experiences are very rare to come by these days. These are the ones that make travelling beautiful, the true unknown.

How has traveling influenced you and your view of the world?
To travel the world means to open all the infinite doors of knowledge that the world offers. You can quote me on that and put it on a t-shirt, just like the millions of other travel quotes that read just like this. To be honest, self-reflection about how travel has changed me is one of the hardest things I've had to write about. It's only after ten years and nearly a hundred countries that I can begin see the answers. To put it simply, you understand. You stop judging a nation or a people by their policies and politics and begin to understand what it's like to live their life. For example, I have travelled Israel, the West Bank and much of the Middle East. As confusing and perplexing the situation is, after a time you begin to grasp an understanding of all sides of the table. There is never an excuse for the wrongs in the world such as war and oppression. When you witness them first hand they begin balance understanding with an opinion about what is right. Soon enough you realise how small we actually are in this world and that our time here is so short. You're left with drive to just make things better, for anyone and in any way that you can.

Have you ever stayed in Hostels International? What is your experience/opinion? 
Hostelling International is the support network of so many backpacker trails throughout the world. They are always reliable and safe and there is an expected level of service which is always met. Several years ago I was in Bergen, Norway, in the middle of winter. Due to a series of circumstances entirely out of my control I hadn't yet booked a place to stay. I arrived late at night, mid-blizzard and in temperatures well below zero. My credit card wasn't working and I had just enough money for one taxi journey. I took a chance that the HI hostel in town was going to be open and have a vacancy. As the taxi made its way throughout the snow covered streets I knew that there was no Plan B. At the hostels entrance I held my breath and crossed my fingers. I was welcomed, warmly, and I was in luck. Within five minutes I was safely in a cosy room with all the comforts of home.

As a winner of The Big Blog Exchange 2014, what are your thoughts on the competition?
This experience will open up travel for all of our readers. As travel bloggers our biggest fan base is usually our friends and family, they've been loyal with their 'likes' from the beginning. The majority of people in our respective homes, however, still believe that travelling is too difficult. Beyond this, there are still people who are 'armchair travellers'. There are so few barriers to keep us from exploring, but in the beginning there are so many excuses to not leave. All it takes is a single motion, one small event to push us and the shackles are broken. The securities of home are cut loose and the unknown is thrust upon us. The unknown is what is beautiful about travelling, being a stranger in a strange land. This is why we all write about our journeys, to inspire. The BBE Experience will allow us to share it not just with our readers, but the world.

The Big Blog Exchange 2014

You will be visiting Slovenia soon. What do you know about it? Do you have any (specific) expectations?
I've visited Slovenia just once before, it was four years ago and I was circumnavigating Europe. By the time I reached it my cash had nearly run out, but still had so many more places to go. I was living on hostel breakfasts and pasta with ketchup. I only had time to visit the capital, Ljubljana, and was there for just three days. I had a budget of about fifteen euros. On my way through the Farmers Market I passed a lady selling apples. I asked if I could buy just one. She said, 'You only want one apple? My boy, please just take one.' It was the sweetest apple I had ever tasted. I'm going back to Slovenia now, a little wiser, a little older and with a credit card in my back-pocket. I'm going to find that lady in the farmers market and buy a whole bucket of her apples.

Kobarid, Drežnica (Author-Paolo Petrignani); www.slovenia-info
For the end, what wisdom would you impart to young travellers and people who always wanted to see the world and never gathered the courage?
Travelling is an addiction. Don't start big, don't point at the map with no idea where you're really headed and set off. Pick a destination that you've always wanted to go to, one that inspired you as you grew up. It will always be different to what you expect but when you get home the addiction will set in. The four walls of your house will grow smaller and smaller and you will start planning the next adventure. When you do, don't blindly listen to travel tips, be it from friends or Lonely Planet. They are called 'guide' books for a reason, they're not there to give a list of sites to check off, make your own story. A story where things won't always go according to plan, being deliberately lost in the unknown is the most magnificent part of travel. The world is such a small place that at all times you're less than forty-eight hours from home, so disconnect and experience it you don't have to share it. What you see, what you feel and those special moments are yours and yours only. None of this can happen without taking that first step into the world.

You can read more of Jonathon’s travels and experiences in his blog:

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