sobota, 6 września 2014

Task 21: Go for a badass trip with my nana

Meet my nana. She's 86, raised 3 kids by herself (because grandfather was a lovely guy, but PTSD that some people get in Nazi prisoner-of-war camp kinda limits you in a daily life). As a young girl she decided to get some education. Nobody pushed her, it was her who wanted something more in her life. As a teenager she was enrolled to a tailoring school. Living in the outskirts of Warsaw, going to school in Warsaw city center just after WWII, meant that every morning she had to walk 4 kms to a railway station, carrying her own chair (school didn't have any). For commuting alone she needed 3-4 hours daily. 

She was a skilled tailor and soon became a manager in the state-owned Moda Polska. Even now she can't stand seing people wearing uneven plaid jackets (just don't when you're around my nana). I remember being 6 or 7 and having piles of Matell catalogues with all those pretty Barbie gowns that weren't even available in Poland (and if they were, they costed gazzilion zlots). My granny used to spend hours on turning her scraps of lace, silk and batiste into stunning Barbie dresses. After she retired she started travelling - the grandmother style - which meant visiting every Catholic sanctuary available in Europe (thumbs up for bringing the Virgin-Mary-statue-barometer, the only barometer that would make you go straight to heaven, religious and practical!). She re-married when she was 78, shortly before she bought a super vintage (well, old and probably dangerous) Lada Samara and renewed her driving licence, which raised panic among the whole family. Now she's 86 and for last Christmas she demanded an anti-wrinkle face cream. She also says that she'd get herself a cat once she gets old. 

I'd like to take her for a short trip somewhere abroad, to a high standard hotel with scented towels and little chocolates on pillows, to say thank you for the best Barbie gowns ever made. I had this plan for a long time, but now, is the time when I really can make it happen. Next stop, Budapest!

niedziela, 24 sierpnia 2014

I'm back. Sort of.

So, guys, I kinda orphaned my blog. It's not that I'm lazy. Well, not only. At one point I just felt that I don't need public declarations to make things happen. Also, some of my dreams had an expiry date. Running a hostel? Hm, you mean dealing with puking dudes in bathrooms, annoyed neighbours and robbers building administration? Err... No thanks? Also, playing ukulele is somewhat cooler when you're in your early twenties.

However, what I started two years ago in a moment of the worst idunnowhattodowithmylife, pushed me into right direction. There are still many things that I'd love to do, but in the same time, many things that I didn't even think may happen - did happen. Like... I became a TV production manager for a badass cool TV series about travelling and I'm loving it.

That was my office in mid-August

So, yeah, I'm back. Sort of.

sobota, 14 grudnia 2013

Traveling the world for free? No, thanks.

Have you ever heard of one of these numerous projects aiming to prove how cool and adventurous it is to travel for next to no money? Google gives over 315 000 000 records for "traveling for free", so I assume you have. Because, come on, not only traveling, but traveling for free, this must be some kind of magic, right?

Nope. It's simply wrong, it's wrong on so many levels. This topic was surging within me for some time already, but today I saw one more 'fantastic' project about using people traveling for free and I snapped. Because it's so naive, it's such a worn out concept.

You see, for the past (over) two years I was focusing on my research for dissertation and what's worse, I decided that it's gonna be a damn good dissertation. I spent way too much time reading, interviewing people, researching, talking to backpackers, conducting interviews, researching, reading CS groups and in the end I was told that I have enough material to write a PhD thesis. I'm not writing it to brag, okay, maybe a bit, but you see, I talked to many people about traveling: why they do it, what it gives to them, what's the meaning, when it's easy, when it's difficult. And you know what's the outcome? Surprisingly many people are not very thoughtful about the way they travel,.

Ethical traveling? Reducing your (tourist's) negative influence? Sustainable backpacking? Respect? Forget it. People don't give a crap, they give very noble declarations, but that's all. Sometimes they pretend they do care, but in fact they don't, they just talk about how it gives them freedom and how educative it is. One of the worst things is that so many peopl think that traveling is their right. Guys, you're wrong, it's a damn privilege, it's entertainmnent, it's not a first-need thing. Backpacking is a feel-good tool, it's Disneyland for adults, it's like Prozac, just more expensive. Unless... unless you make it free. 

So, here we go. Traveling for free sounds great, but in fact, for free doesn't exist. Someone is going to pay for the hospitability you use. Water, electricity, shared food, gas. Don't get me wrong, I do hitch-hike, I do couchsurf, but I do it in rich countries, where this hospitability is a small burden for my host.

That's a proof!

But if you're going to travel the world for free, it means that at some point you're going to use resources (money, time, food) of someone, who needs is more than you, but due to cultural taboos is not able to refuse giving a shelter to some spoiled western brat. Because yeah, hospitality is sanctified and traditionally, a wanderer is a less fortunate one, who needs their help. For you, paying for a hostel or paying for food during your trip means one more month of work back home and saving up. Not a big price for not using people, amirite? So, the alternative scenario is that you are putting your trip one or two months off, save up more, come to your dream destination, pay a fair amount of money to people, who are doing great job running their small buisnesses, restaurants, hostels, food stalls, one-man rickshaw services and boosting their countries' economies... how cool is that? 

So, my honest advice: before you go for this illusion, think twice about how much does your traveling for free actually cost.

sobota, 19 października 2013


Last time I told God about my plans, he laughed, so this time I kept it for myself for quite a long time. You know, just not to jinx it. However, the big day is coming and I can't stay quiet anymore, so I'll tell you a secret (imagine I'm saying it with a confidential whisper): I'm moving.

To be precise, I'm moving to Norway, to Oslo and I'm excited and anxious. Mostly anxious, my inner Anxiety Girl is having the time of her life. I've been preparing myself for this step for the past four months, reading tons of articles, discussion groups and books. The good news, is that, apparently, I have some superpowers (or I'm just motivated beyond measure), since in three months I managed to go trough a Norwegian language course, that was designed for a year. So, yeah, if there are some villains in Oslo, I'll talk them to death.

My life is a rollercoaster again. It's Norwegian flashcards scattered all over the place, my mom panicking over the fact that I don't own a down jacket, NRK P2 blaring in the background and me wondering why for every nice international word like jam, sport or jeans, bokmål has a very awkward counterpart, like syltetøy, idrett or dongeribukser (It's like dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Every decent non-tricky international term has its evil twin in this language). It's also buying and re-booking flight tickets, budgeting, sorting things out, making lists and many other things. And imagine that all the fun has just began. Somewhere in the end of this craziness, there is a nice, cozy (probably closet-sized) room in Oslo, job, new friends, old friends visiting every now and then, (because, hey, when you have a chance to save up on accomodation in Norway, just do it, as long as the chance is still there), probably lot of First Price food, Pizza Grandiosa, dugnader, and things that I don't know yet they exist. Okay, now I'm a bit more excited than anxious. 

I feel like I should add some heart-warming illustration, so I'll just upload a
 random picture of a postcard depicting copulating raindeers from
somewhere around Tromso. 

poniedziałek, 26 sierpnia 2013

How to be a Very Good Couchsurfer (in 3 simple steps and plenty of pictures).

Constructive criticism involves both, negative and positive comments, so all right, here we go. Before, long long ago, when Couch Surfing was still a non-for-profit organisation it used to hire volunteers, who'd welcome newbies. I still remember the guy who introduced me to CS, his name was Stergios, he was from Greece and I could ask him any question I wanted. Now there are no volunteer anymore, we just have a really fucked up interface and request system, so we have to deal with it. Here is a bunch of tips of how to enjoy CS and not to damage it from inside:

1. Community. In the past year I went for a spontaneous road-trip to Lithuania with a bunch of strangers, I was skinny dipping in a pond in the night of summer solstice, and a reportage about me was published in a Norwegian magazine Aftenposten. All those things (And many more) happened because of Warsaw community and people I found there. Facebook has users, Microsoft has clients and CS has members, because it's a community. It's called Couch Surfing, so people tend to underestimate the community part, but trust me, it's important. Community develops on local dashboards, and the less spammed they are, the more space for community to develop there is. That's why it's so important not to write couch request at a dashboard. In Warsaw it grows beautifully, we have bridge club, Regular CS Volleyball Games, book club, Alternative Meetings, Dead Drinker Society, Weekly Meetings, Monthly Meetings and the whole bunch of other gatherings. The cool thing about it, is that you can just approach anyone, introduce yourself, make it a beginning of a wonderful friendship and no one is going to give you weird stares.

Here is my tip: find out if there is a meeting in your neighborhood (or organize it yourself) and just meet people. Trust me, at least some of them are cool. 

Summer solstice! (Not enough mead to do stupid things yet)

2. Surfing. On the other hand, yeah. CS is a lot about surfing as well. In the past years it went trough a lot of changes. First of all, it went for profit, then the number of members grew from 2 million in 2009 to 5.5 million in 2013 and then the media started writing about yay, how cool it is to crash couches for free, because, oh my God, people, you can save up 10$ on a hostel!  

Which is just a huge misunderstanding. 

Because CS is a place of cultural exchange. It's a gift economy. The fact that you don't pay with money, doesn't mean you come to your host empty-handed. You come to your host to meet a person, to be closer to everyday life in the visited destination. You come to your host, to give something and to take something. You don't come with money, you come with time, respect, patience and curiosity. And it's not just cliche talking, you don't pay with money, you pay with another currency.

That's why, as a good surfer you don't write come-one, come-all request on a dashboard. A good surfer wants to meet this particular host. A good surfer reads the profile carefully and then writes a personal, non copy-paste couch request. But first of all, a good surfer thinks about what he can give before thinking what he can get.

My tip for you is: before using Couch Surfing, think if you feel like you have enough time and patience. Sometimes you just don't and it's okay, in this case just book a hostel. There is of course a whole set of common-sense guidelines: bring a small gift from your country, adjust to your hosts schedule, bring your own food, keep the place clean, save water and electricity and so on. But first of all, for God's sake, don't write in your request 'I'm looking for a couch, because I don't have money for a hostel'. It's just wrong on so many levels. 

3. How it all works? Okay, I may be naive, but I assume, that there are people, who aren't lazy, just technologically handicapped and they need extra instructions on how to use Couch Surfing, because otherwise they will be posting couch requests on a dashboard, which is, let me remind you, a big no-no. If you're one of them, there is no reason to feel bad, it took me few hours to figure out how to install Facebook Like Box on my blog as well, I feel your pain. Here we go:

Here is the homepage of CS. In the top left corner there is a field where you type your destination:

Let's make it Paris. Click and voila, here is CS Paris community. Click "Plan a trip":

Now you see a simple 3-steps form. It's kinda obvious.Remember to fill all the fields

Step number two is writing a request that will be visible to everyone in the city, including your host. It's called "open request", because everyone who looks for a surfer can see it and invite you. Make it nice, if you are travelling in a group, describe your friends and add links to their CS accounts, write a bit about yourself, about your plans. Use "please", "thank you" and a proper punctuation. Click "continue".

Now you see the list of your potential host. Every host has some additional information:
  • Availability. In upper right corner there is a symbol of a coffee cup (he/she can't host but can meet you), a couch (he/she can host you), a couch with a question mark (maybe he/she can host you) or a plane (he's/she's travelling at the moment.
  • Reply rate. If someone declines most of the requests, he's obviously not a very active host. Look for people with a reply rate close to 100%
  • Reply time. If it takes 6 days for this particular host to reply, you may have to wait for the response from him/her. The shorter reply time, the better. 
On the left side there is a menu that lets you customize the list:
  • You can use the browser to look for hosts (specifying the number of people in your group will narrow down the search only to those who are available to host all of you), other surfers or locals, who can't host you.
  • If you click "Search by map", the browser will display a map, by zooming in and out you can change the list of hosts - the ones who will appear on the list are the ones who live in the area displayed on the map. 
  • You can also use the browser to find people with similar interests ('keyword'), at particular age or particular gender. 

After you click someone's picture, you'll see his/her profile. Read it carefully. Is this person cool? Does he/she have a reliable profile? Does he/she have (a) negative reference(s)? Above the profile picture there is a button "Send a couch request to...". Click it. What you see now is the last form. In the bottom window write why did you choose this particular person, and why he or she should host you. Make sure it's a personal request and it's clear that you read his or her profile. Ask when can you come and don't forget leaving your mobile number. Add your arrival and departure date and how you're going to reach his/her place. Done? Click "Send couch request"

You can write as many requests as you want, but my experience says that 10 nice, elaborate ones is more than enough to find a great host. If you get invitations from two people simultaneously, it's okay to say that you already found a host. Some people like to make sure that you read their profile. My last host in Graz asked surfers to include the name of her cat, hidden somewhere in the text of her profile, to a request. Remember to bring your own food and a sleeping bag, unless your host makes it clear that he has linen for you. Before you arrive, ask if he or she wants to spend some time with you, sometimes the only thing that a host can offer is a couch. After you say goodbye, remember to leave a reference. If your stay was great, just say it out loud, if your host was rude or behaved in an inappropriate way, you can always leave a negative reference.

If a couch request is written properly, it's REALLY the quickest way to find a host and, making your surfing safer, funnier and more enriching.