For anyone who doesn’t spend their life roaming the globe in search of new, beautiful vistas to lay their sore eyes upon, life has a steady rhythm, a solid ticking. Change is going to come, no matter what you say, and change might seem like a constant. Slow and steady wins the race. But it’s not true, not even for the settlers among us.
The Transient Nature of Friendships
For someone who is always on the move, this becomes all the more apparent. You’re constantly making new friends, and they may turn into your best friends in a very short time. You find yourself sharing your most intimate inner thoughts and feelings with this person who was a complete stranger up until a few short, but eventful, days ago. Then you both move on to the next place, maybe you share the road for a while, but you both know that it will end at some point.
You promise to keep in touch, you make friends on Facebook and you might send each other a message every now and then. But you know even that is doomed. Thank God for Facebook, it has enabled the modern day traveller to record all his new friendships and see them fade away in the distance of the real world. You build a community of virtual vagabonds who all enjoy sharing their hobo-like existence with their friends and family, some are better at it than others, and all in all it helps create a more dynamic feed with the mix of babies born all over the world and the latest shots from Asian backpacker destinations.
When you’ve done this for a while you become tired. Especially when you return and catch up with old friends, realising they’ve all moved on in different directions. Some have great, intense and tight friendship bonds with others, a painful observation to the lonely traveller on the road with no one.
But it’s not all bad. Sometimes you reconnect with someone you used to know a long time ago. Maybe you even find a new friend among your old acquaintances. Things change, and sometimes the change can bring two people together again.
The Transient Nature of Change
In the end, you realise the transient nature of travel is just a quicker and more intense representation of the transient nature of life itself. If you go looking for change, change will come in full force. Nothing is constant, not even change as even change changes. More and less, a baby is more change than a new coffee mug. Some days are almost the same as the one before, others are completely different.
Why is that such a bad thing? Why do we feel the need to only raise the long lasting and steady constant to the sky? A brief but intense moment is not worth any less than all of eternity. We’re not put on this Earth as immortals, we are by our very nature transient beings. We will pass, and so will our experiences and relationships, some more quickly than others.
Instead of fighting to make them last and thereby living in the future, you should embrace the now and enjoy the moment as it happens in time. Extend it if you can, plan for more further down the line. You need to let go and not live in the past. Stroll down memory lane every now and then and smile at experiences gone, and then return to the present. Neither should you live in the moment alone. Even though our current culture seems to celebrate that notion with the juvenile phrase yolo being flung around as an excuse to act like an ass. You can not forget the past and the future, because you’d never learn and you’d never live. It all needs to fit to make a life, because time is an illusion; time is not constant because time is only experienced.
If you learn to embrace and love the intense moments when life is real, no matter how breif, you learn to live life itself.
In the summer of 2011 I came in safely on the Greyhound to Los Angeles from San Francisco and for once the terminal looked like it wasn’t in the dodgiest part of town. So I decided to walk toward downtown, determined not to spend any money on a taxi. A decision I would both regret and praise.
It must’ve been a sunday because everything looked dead and empty. I’d noticed the route the bus took through downtown and over to the Greyhound station a couple of kilometers away and decided the streets looked safe enough. So long as I could just double back along the same route.
I hung the camera bag over one shoulder and my laptop bag over the other, threw my big and heavy backpack on my back and started walking, the skyscrapers making it obvious which direction I should take. At first the streets were nearly empty, hardly even saw any cars driving past me. The weather was sunny, but not too hot, much more pleasant than a month earlier as I arrived in New York City on the end of a heat wave.
Somewhere along the way I must’ve taken a wrong turn. I no longer recognised the buildings and I started seeing more people, poor people, moving about in the street. But as I could still see the tall towers of LA reaching for the sky I kept on walking. More and more people started to appear, I thought nothing of it. It was a huge city after all. Soon I walked past the first movie shoot I was to see that day (2 more later followed). I was excited, but instantaneously the feeling subsided.
I was greeted by the hard truth of the city of angels, the city of dreams: the people that have fallen between.
“Los Angeles Skid Row” by Original uploader was Jorobeq at en.wikipedia – Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here.. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons
The street was filled with people now, but they were not going from one place to another; they were living there. Shopping carts, clothes racks and sleeping bags were scattered all over the sidewalk. I held on to my bags and kept on walking. Avoiding eye contact almost as fiercely as I realised the poor inhabitants of this street were doing to me. Hardly anyone looked at me, and those who did quickly looked away, eyes averted in shame. Their society has told them they are so low that when a traveller from a different country stumbles upon them they are ashamed of their failure to fit in with a country that doesn’t love them. The shame becomes theirs when really it should be the nation’s.
Strangely I never felt unsafe; there was just nothing there to threaten me. I kept on walking, looking around in complete astonishment as I walked past thousands upon thousands of homeless people. No doubt in my mind that many of these had formerly been members of the middle class who lost everything as the crash on Wall Street 3 years prior had lead to the worst recession the world had seen since the Great Depression of the 30’s.
All of a sudden the congregation abruptly stopped and I was greeted by a police station and a sign that declared that it was a crime to sit, lay or otherwise occupy the streets of LA. I was amazed at the contrast to what I had just seen. Skid Row had ended.
Almost immediately after I passed the police station I saw the second movie shoot of the day as a car came driving past, cameras on cranes and filming the back of the truck where a car was parked. That’s how they do it. When you see a car driving around in the movies it’s really on top of another car, allowing the actors to focus on acting rather than driving.
Downtown Los Angeles
It might seem remarkable and strange that it wasn’t until leaving Skid Row that I was harassed for the first time. A rough looking fellow came up to me while I was waiting on the light to change so I could cross the street. He was asking for money. When I said I had none he refused to take no for an answer. Luckily he must’ve thought better of the situation as there were plenty of people about and he quickly moved on, almost running from the scene which forced me to check my pockets. Everything was still there.
I had just lost my wallet on the Greyhound coming into San Francisco and had only managed to get to LA by the fluke that my money was split between 2 different accounts and I had kept the cards separate. So I was in no mood to repeat that stress, even though I only needed to get to the airport by now, I’d wisely decided on largely skipping LA. The city of angels didn’t beckon me. I had a ticket out and I wasn’t intending to stay.
After a walk down the near deserted ghost town that is Downtown LA after office hours, I bought a carton of cigarettes as I still hadn’t been able to kick that habit back then. I wanted to save money as smokes were more than twice the price at my next destination: Melbourne, Australia.
Realising there wasn’t much more to see I went looking for a taxi. But I couldn’t even find that. Instead I walked past a skyscraper that had a warning plaque posted outside saying something or other about a carcinogen that had been used in the building. A typical American disclaimer allowing the owner of the building to swear off any responsibility on people getting sick while working there. They knew what they were getting themselves into, they had a choice.
Good Bye Mr. America
I finally managed to get a taxi and told the driver to take me straight to the airport. As we got further away from downtown I looked back through the rear window at the experience I had just had. I knew I wouldn’t miss LA, and in a way it was a great last stop on my tour across the USA, coast to coast over land. It fit in with the perspective I had already gained of the huge economic disparity that prevails in the Greatest Nation on Earth. I skipped out on Hollywood as I didn’t feel that it was the real LA. I saw the real Los Angeles that day, it wasn’t pretty, but I am glad for what I saw – the real, hard truth about the American dream: Some people fall between.
Beppe Karlsson, Stockholm
This is the worst part. You’ve set a target, you’ve got goals. You know your next move and you’re really looking forward to it. But for one reason or another you can’t get on with it just yet. You’ve got some old shit to take care of.
Maybe you’re getting a new job, but you’ve got to sit out the time at your current one first. Or maybe, as in the case here as this is a travel blog, you’re waiting to get started on your next adventure. Sometimes you start planning several months, or even a year in advance. The problem then becomes how you survive.
A Walk Into Imagination Land
The goal is always just out of reach, over on the horizon, like some damn mirage, an unattainable dream. Something you want but can’t have. At least not yet. It’s enough to drive you bat shit crazy. You keep on dreaming, spending every spare moment wandering off into the dream, deeper and further you go, it soothes your ache, it helps you get by. Hell, I’d even encourage you to dream: it helps you guide the experience once you get there. Before going to Canada I dreamt about working in an electronic store, meeting new, interesting people on a daily basis. Within 2 months of arriving I did just that: worked in an electronic store and met tons of interesting people.
Imagination land has one problem though – it is not real. Nothing can ever be as goood as your imagination, never forget that, but use it. It helps you get by, but it also increases your thirst. So you start looking deeper into what you’re going to do, what you want to see. You get into the planning stage. You search the web for images and seem to randomly find your path is crossing with others who have been to your destination, or people that want to go. Some would call it the universe sending signs, or bringing you together. Some would call it chance, or possibly the law of attraction. Maybe you’re subconsciously searching for these chance happenings. You can call it what you want, but truth be told: this seems to happen all the time. Make the most of them, make connections, find friends, and inform yourself. Book your tickets before they become too expensive, solidify your plans, set them in stone.
Embrace Your Life – Just the Way It Is
Soon enough you will find yourself in the insufferable time a few months, or weeks, before you leave. You’re still stuck in the same old routine. Nothing new under the sun, but at the same time that far away horizon has definitely gotten closer. Now you can almost make out the shape of things to come. But not quite yet. This is the tough time. These days all you want to do is go, step outside and wander off into the great unknown. This is when you need to anchor yourself in the daily grind. Spend time with friends and family alike, you never know how long it will be until you see them again. My most recent big trip was planned to span 18 months but ended up lasting over 2 years. People asked me if I didn’t miss my family when I was away for so long. Truth be told I did, but also I didn’t. We all have our own lives, and while it hurt that I couldn’t give my parents a hug at any moment, I am an adult and I live my life just for me and not for them. I wouldn’t say that homesickness was a big issue for me, I don’t think it ever has been.
Now is the time to start tending to practical matters. Sort visas, reach out to contacts and sort out your mail and other boring stuff for while you’re away. It’s all these boring details that will help you get through this part, it will remind you the goal is near and will keep you occupied until the time runs out.
Regretting the Decision
The last couple of weeks, and especially the last few days, is a time for regret. You question why you’re doing this. What you hope to accomplish. You sow fear in your heart, and reap the worries. You wonder if you’ll make friends, or if you’ll be alone. You wonder if you’ll find a job, or end up poor, a beggar on the street, homeless without a roof, cold in the night.
You already start missing your loved ones, even though they are right there – next to you every day. You’re stressing about the little things you’ve left to sort out before you go. You worry you will be detained at the airport, or that you’ll forget to pack some essential item. You worry that some bill will go unpaid and give you a welcome back home after a year overseas with a big fat debt to repay. There are so many things that can go wrong and they’re all playing in your mind right now. Let them, and know that the worst that could happen will still give you a hell of a story to tell, an experience gained and wisdom to never make the same mistake again.
The Soothing of Leaving
No matter all the things you worried about, scenarios dreamt up in your stressed out brain, it will all wash away on that fateful day. The day when you wake up, bags packed next to your bed, a flight to catch or a train to ride. The only feeling that washes over you, immediately as the vehicle starts rolling towards your future, is one of serene bliss. You’re on your way, excitement builds, euphoria explodes and you find yourself feeling more than just a little high. Life is good and nothing can stop you from realising your dreams, the ones you’ve had, over and over in all those hard months past.
The wait is over; now is the time.
Now is your time.
Beppe Karlsson, Stockholm
In the past week I’ve taken my couchsurfers on a tour of Stockholm sightseeing that is a bit off the beaten track.
Södermalm sports some pretty, old wooden houses that stand out in comparison to the average architecture of Stockholm.
The second image was taken on Mäster Mikaels Väg. A road with a grim past. Named after an executioner, this little street now houses a daycare for little children, and at the end lies a little park with a statue in honour of Cornelis Vreeswijk, a Swedish poet and songwriter.
This might be a semi illegal photo of a backyard of one of the old houses on one of the last remaining old streets of Södermalm. The other side of the street had been blown up to make way for a lower level street, making it easier to get around on Södermalm.
Gondolen is a great location for some great views of the city north of Södermalm. At the moment Katarinahissen is being renovated so the only access is from Mosebacke, coming from Slussen (closest Tunnelbana stop) it’s a bit of a climb up some stairs. But once there you may enjoy views like these and the fact that you need to climb the stairs or come the backway from the hill means there are fewer tourists to elbow up there.
All Images were taken in the Katarina-Sofia area and at Katarina Hissen on Södermalm in Stockholm. There are still plenty more hidden streets with these kind of old houses that used to hold several families of the working class under horrible conditions of poverty while being used by the richer people on Östermalm across the water. Nowadays these little houses are cute and picturesque and most of them have been modernised. The problem of people being exploited has been shifted away from Sweden and off to other countries on the other side of the globe, out of sight out of mind. But the problem still remains. That being said I think the important lesson to learn from this is that my very own, nowadays rich western country, once had appalling poverty right in the middle of the capital. That poverty is mostly gone these days, poverty is a cycle that really can be broken. That is the lesson to be learned.
Louisville Public Library, Kentucky
I was tired, sweaty and starting to become desperate. I cursed myself for being as open and trusting as I was. Also, I’d just seen some of the darker sides of the US while travelling from New York City to Louisville, Kentucky on the Greyhound – the poor man’s way of travel in the States.
I had gone to Kentucky on a whim and with a promise by a guy I’d only had a brief conversation with on an airplane. How stupid of me to think the world really works like that; you don’t just meet people that take you in for no reason other than you just got along for a few hours on a flight. My luck was out and I was ready to give up. But first, let me take you back to the beginning.
The Flight – The Meeting
We were high in the sky en route from Reykjavik to New York City, there were three seats on either side of the isle. I had the isle seat and next to me were a German couple… or wait, they were Americans… or what were they exactly? They were switching between English and German all the time, confusing me.
I played the guessing game for a little while longer before I decided to try and sleep.
But the cabin was too bright, the sun was still up and kept both me and my neighbour awake. His girlfriend on the other hand was fast asleep. Eventually we both threw in the towel and decided to make friends. So we talked, and stretched our legs in the aisle, and soon enough we’d really bonded.
My new friend turned out to be an American who had lived in Germany for a while, working as a teacher. His girlfriend was German and now they were going over to visit his parents outside Louisville, Kentucky. When I told my new friend Carl about my loose plans to travel across the US over the course of the next month he extended an invitation for me to come stay on his family farm. The thought of visiting the birthplace of Hunter S. Thompson really appealed to me, so we exchanged details.
We got separated at customs where I was held back as the customs officer seemed dead set on busting me as an illegal immigrant who had come to America to work as a slave for minimum wage. He must’ve never seen the memo: Swedes make more money as bartenders in their own country than your average office worker does working twice the amount of hours in the USA.
But officer Delgado was convinced, and the fact that I was perspiring from a craving for nicotine and his prolonged questioning only served to reaffirm his beliefs. I began to fear that I would be turned away at the airport and not allowed entrance to the country. When he called out for an escort I knew the gig was up, I was doomed. My heart sank and I just stopped giving a damn.
I was taken into a second interrogation room where I waited for a couple of minutes before I was called to the counter to speak to a cheerful customs officer. This new, friendly fellow seemed content when he asked me why I wasn’t going to work in the US. I really wanted to say something along the line of why would I work for breadcrumbs when I am going to a country with a much higher minimum wage. But instead of insulting a proud and nice man I simply told him I didn’t have a work visa and that was why I wasn’t going to work there. He told me he was happy I understood that and stamped my passport. I was through!
After seeing this ordeal my new friends had made it through safely and disappeared. I ended up spending a week in New York City before heading off to Kentucky without a single word in response from Carl so far. I decided to just wing it and thought to myself that worst case scenario I would just get a hotel – there were no hostels in Louisville, not one.
I took the Greyhound to Louisville, had a walk around, found the public library and connected to the internet. Still no word from Carl. Damn. What was I to do now?
You know when you’re in the position when all your plans seem to be falling through. That’s where I was there. But I was too tired to care. I signed up for www.couchsurfing.org and created a profile. There weren’t that many hosts in the Louisville area, and no one was able to take me on at such short notice. Figures!
A friend of mine on Facebook gave me the tip of Airbnb, so I went on the website and found a place. Just as I was about to hit “Book Now” the familiar pop sound of a message on Facebook chimed. It was Carl! He had been too busy playing catch up with family and hadn’t even seen my message until just then. He sent me his number so I called it straight away.
I ended up staying with his family, enjoying the famous Southern hospitality and played a round of golf with Carl’s father and his companions. I saw fireflies for the first time in my life and got a schooling in Bourbon. The experience could never be replaced and I am glad I stayed open and just took the leap of faith in going to Louisville without any guarantees. I even ended up getting a ride with Carl and his girlfriend all the way to Kansas City where I met up with some friends.
That is why my travel tip of the day is to be open and let people and cool experiences into your life, you never know where it will take you. You might even end up with a great story in the process.
Have you had any similar experiences of your own? Feel free to share it in the comments below.
Beppe Karlsson, Stockholm