We get some funny responses when we tell people what we do on holiday. I’d be a rich man if I had a fiver for every time someone says, “Oh I’d absolutely love to do that, but the wife would never have it”. Yeah right. You see, yes we’re a certain age: closing in on retirement I suppose you could say, but the freedom of backpacking is for us among the best thrills that life has to offer. There’s more on this on our “about” page, but our aims are to find the soul of places, find the real character of a place and its people, joining them in their own habitat, knowing all the time that virtually every penny we spend, certainly as much as we possibly can, goes directly into the local economy and not to international operators.
We got together as a couple in 2011; married in 2013, and set off to find new experiences, seize every moment, say yes now, get out of our comfort zone. Michaela had some backpacker experience, Greek islands only, I had none. It helped that one of us knew the drill, though we quickly found that arrival on an island by ferry is only an introduction, as on those occasions you can guarantee to be met by room hawkers, but it’s a different experience pulling into a one horse town in deepest Albania where no one has a word of English and start looking for a room. Never mind unwinding, once you’ve entered a town, hunted around for a bed, tackled the first challenges of your holiday, you have put significant barriers between yourself and your ordinary life back at home. You’ve unwound without trying.
Basically, if you don’t get met by hawkers, go find a map, get your bearings. Find where the bars are concentrated. Where there’s bars there’s rooms. If nothing is obvious, go in a bar or cafe and ask; chances are they’ll have a “cousin” who has “beautiful rooms”. Be relaxed: something always turns up, it always works out. You might need to be resourceful, you might even need to be clever, but it all helps to put ordinary life behind you. Once in, you’ll talk to your new landlord, find out where the locals eat, where they drink, tell them you want to experience their country properly. We are yet to go anywhere where this doesn’t work. People are good, you know. They want to help you, they want you to enjoy their country. Tell them you want to experience the real country and they will give you every assistance. People enjoy doing it, they like that you want to. People are good.
But let’s not pretend every night is a luxury seafront apartment for 25 euros. It does happen, but don’t expect it everywhere, it’s not like that. Our phrase is, travel like you’ve been there before. What does that mean, you ask. Well, at home, you have a friend or relative whose house is not too tidy, you go in your pub and you no longer notice the less than perfect deco, you no longer see the bins you walk past to get to the shops. So familiarity breeds comfortable acceptance, and that’s what we mean. Travel like you’ve been there before, don’t be sniffy about imperfection, accept that it’s part of where you are and love the good things. Don’t let one single bad thing cloud your opinion of a place; you can always find a better room if you like a place, if you have to.
You know, those fabulous rooms at 25 euros do exist too, you’ll find them. And then get out and do the real business and get amongst the people; eat their food, drink their beers, learn their culture, learn their history, understand what makes them what they are. You’ll find good people, not least the one inside yourself.