Category Archives: Active Traveling

Family In The Middle East vs Sweden

“How big is your house?” was a very common question we received in the Middle East. Time after time we answered that we don’t have a house, we live in an apartment and it’s only one room, 30 square meters big. Or small, if you like to think so.
“Really?” They said, perplexed and confused. Thinking we must be rich, traveling around the world, and here we are telling them that our home is a one room apartment! It doesn’t fit in their picture of a rich person. What they don’t count in though, is that Swedes rarely live the whole extended family together, as they often do themselves. Of course they need a bigger house than we do, we’re only two!

When two people are getting married in most Middle Eastern countries (and they do it like every day), the bride moves into the groom’s house with his family. If the family has many sons, they will expand more and more as each of them is supposed to get married and have children. Only the families with many daughters might shrink, since the daughters move out.

In the Middle East, people simply see no reason for a person to move out before he or she gets married. So unlike Sweden where many teenagers already live on their own while studying. It sometimes happens that bride and groom move to a new home after the wedding even in the Middle East, if the father of the groom wants to buy them a house. If he can’t give them a house, he might buy them a car, “at least”, as a friend in Iran said.

Let us assure you, we’ve written these facts down carefully to teach our parents the proper way of treating young lovers. Just as carefully as we’ve noticed that every person out of the 500-1500 on the guest list in a Middle Eastern wedding must bring an equal amount of gold as a gift.

This is a sort of life insurance for the young couple. Zarah, a young mother who we met in Kurdistan explained, as she flicked through the 3000 photos from her wedding (one with each guest): “Here in Iraq, we love gold, very much!” Of course we let all our friends know about this important tradition as well, as soon as we got home ;) …

That couples in Sweden can live together and even have children without getting married, has been very hard for our Middle Eastern friends to understand. Same thing when we told them we only see our parents every now and then, not on a daily of even weekly basis.

Male friends in Pakistan told us they prefer their mother to find them a good girl to marry, since the relationship between the mother and the bride is more important than his own relationship with his wife. Because the bride and the mother will spend a lot more time together. We learnt in Pakistan that a man’s worst nightmare is to come home from work and find his mother and wife quarreling.
So the mother simply shows a photo of a nice girl, and asks her son if he would like to speak to her on the phone. “Then we speak, sometimes two of three times, and then we agree to get married.”

Marriage based on love is considered very unstable and weak, since love can come and go. “And if you already know each other, then what’s left to discover? Nothing!” This is very difficult for us Swedes to understand. We can’t think of any friends who would marry somebody after just speaking on the phone a few times. Most couples would live together for at least a few years first.

But the family situation in Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan has really inspired us. How highly valued the family is, and how close people stay together! We actually try to meet with our families more often since we came back to Sweden. Except for the father-of-the-groom-paying-for-the-new-house and the every-guest-has-to-bring-gold-to-the-wedding-traditions, we probably found the importance of the family our most important lesson from the Middle East. It’s well worth to think through. Now – time to go to grandmother’s over Easter.

Get Over Your Comfort With CouchSurfing

Let’s talk about comfort and what it does to your mind.
As long as you’re out on the road, you are constantly driven by very basic survival instincts. You’re looking for somewhere to stay the night, something to eat and new sights to thrill your already beating heart. You care for your visas, your rare Internet connection or for your stomach adjusting to the new food. All this helps you staying hungry for all the comfort you can get and all the new friends you can potentially meet. Everything is valuable.

But once you’re back home, having a fixed shedule day by day, you run the risk of loosing your interest in new things. Luckily, we have the best idea for those who want to stay hungry and not fall into boring routines.
We’ve said it before and we’re saying it again: Join CouchSurfing!

Our first guest, only a few days after our arrival in Sweden (which was by then still a frozen country of ice and snow) was Breno Cola. Breno is our Brazilian friend who we met through this blog, and who later on started his own journey and ended up in Sweden. We had a great time together, eating dinner, driving around Gotland and sightseeing in Stockholm with Breno, who was fascinated by the beaches all white and cold and beautiful. We never thought it was funny to walk over an ice covered beach, but Breno opened up our eyes. Brazilian beaches are hot and filled with tanning ladies in bikinis. All of a sudden we saw the wonder that Breno saw.

About two weeks after Breno left, we invited our first “real” CouchSurfers, Katrina from Poland and Michaela from Romania. It’s so easy to think that it is going to be tiring, or too crowded to squeeze in two more people at our 30 square meters. Why does it seem so different from when we’ve been the ones sleeping on couches all over the world? Well, the perspectives changes as your lifestyle changes. It’s perfectly logical, it is probably very normal and common too, but it is just as easy as everything else to change by one simple step. JUST DO IT.

Bring people into your home! You don’t need to do it too often. Just give it a try, and find that it can be the greatest boost for yourself. Having CouchSurfers staying over really makes you see your own life through new eyes. We rarely feel particularly grateful for the drinkable tap water in Stockholm, but our guests from Poland made us aware of the fact that this is a privilege. We don’t notice how clean the streets are, but our foreign friends are amazed! It takes us two days back in Sweden to forget how rare it is that cars stop for you in a capital city, or that the air feels fresh, or that having supermarkets and bars and parks and our offices nearby are also luxury benefits. We would not ever visit all the interesting museums in our city if it wasn’t for our CouchSurfers.

This actual exchange is in fact so eye opening that our minds are full of new ideas when the week starts over again. We’ve been traveling all weekend without moving. And the fear about our own comfort and privacy is far away since the very minute our guests enter our home.

Is you apartment really too small? Or your schedule really too busy? Or is it just your comfort that is too high for your own mind to grow? Give it a try, invite a CouchSurfer, or put yourself available for coffee or a drink. Making new friends keeps your mind fresh, and you will find overwhelming appreciation from your guests. Plus when you eventually DO move, there will be couches waiting for you in other countries.

Here you go once more: CouchSurfing.org – the easies way to fight your own comfort and let your heart grow!

19 Hacks to Improve Your Hitchhiking Experience

Hitchhiker with a sign saying "Freshly Shower'd"
(Sign, love and photo by Peacehead)

Here are some tips that will improve your results while you’re hitchhiking:

  • Bring a girl (if you’re a guy) or a guy (if you’re a girl)

    If you’re a guy you’ll get much better results with other men if you bring a girl.
    If you’re a girl, it will be easier to dismiss the wedding proposals if you have another guy with you.

  • Smile, laugh and sing – no begging please

    Show the drivers that they’d have a much better time if they were with you.
    Convince them by being that missing piece of their experience.

  • Look the drivers into the eyes, seek rapport

    In this way they’ll feel forced to give you some sort of answer.
    If not, you’re just part of the scenery.

  • Wear whole and clean clothes (depending on what kind of cars you want to attract)

    We want to attract new and secure cars.
    Therefore, we dress fashionable and properly ;).

  • Know your way, or be prepared to ask for it

    Say you want to get to city D and you are in city A. Then it’s good to know the name of city B and city C as well.

  • Use a sign (paper or cardboard)

    Your sign is a way of saving time. Write the closest town that you want to get to, or the furthest depending on your situation.
    If nobody has stopped, then you might want to skip the sign. If everyone stops, then you want to make it very specific.

  • Write the sign using the native alphabet

    For example if you’re in an Arab country, get a friend or stranger to write it for you (unless you speak/write in Arabic)

  • Be humorous with what you write on the sign

    When we’re failing to get a good connection with the drivers, and we feel unmotivated we usually just pick up the “INDIA” sign.
    This has a very good effect: The drivers starts to smile, laugh, and often points at the sign while their mouths falls wide open.
    This makes us laugh and smile as well.
    Some people just stop to figure out what’s going on, and if we’re really going to India.

  • Use the crowd effect

    Humans are social creatures and they are attracted to – social happenings.
    If a car stops and the driver talks to you because of your humorous sign,
    then that will make it harder for the drivers that comes afterwards to not do the same thing.
    Nobody wants to miss the fun, right?

  • Never hitchhike on a “green road” or motorway – more often than not it’s illegal

    It is very difficult for the drivers to stop and it’s also dangerous for them to do so.

  • Offer the car enough space to stop

    After the point where you’re standing there should at least be a few meters for the car to stop at.

  • Stand in the brightest spot possible – you want to shine

    It doesn’t matter if the source is the Sun or a street light, the important thing is that the driver can see you properly.

  • Give the driver enough time to see you, make a decision and stop

    Make yourself as visible as possible, give them time to understand what you want.
    With this in mind, the best spots is where the cars drive slow.

  • Don’t hitchhike when it’s dark

    Don’t take this too seriously.
    The main reason for not hitchhiking when it’s dark is simply because it’s harder for the drivers to see you.

  • If you’re in a hurry – avoid trucks as they only drive top 90km/h

    Truck drivers are often really friendly and nice persons. The only problem with trucks are that they go really slow.
    So if you’re in a hurry or want to be somewhere at a specific time, it is best to avoid the trucks.

  • Remember that you’re in control – you choose which driver to go with and how far you’ll go with her/him

    When you’re hitchhiking, you’re the boss. You choose if you want to step into that car, or if you want the driver to stop it.

  • Stand as close to the cars as possible – walk down from the pavement to really get “in their faces”

    In order to get a good contact (rapport) you want to be in the drivers faces. Get out on the road and make contact!

  • If you don’t speak the same language as your driver – be prepared

    Lack of language is not a communication barrier! You can draw, make gestures and sing international songs together.

  • Connect with your driver if you like her/him

    Exchange email addresses or Facebook.
    Share a gum if you have one.
    Show pictures from home.
    Connect in some way, and you might have made a friend for life!

There you have it.
19 hacks to improve your hitchhiking experience.
Do you have any tactics or strategies that you’d like to share?
Write them in the comments!
Happy hitching :) !

Authentic traveling – Skip airplanes

Skip the airplanes.
They are fantastic inventions, in many ways. The world doesn’t seem as big when you fly. Like nowhere is actually far. The world becomes more accessible.

But what does it do for cultural understanding?
Think about it!

You get on the plane.
You take a seat, you have a drink or you watch a movie to entertain yourself during your flight.
(You can NOT bring knitting needles on board. Dangerous stuff, you see. Same with walking sticks and razors. No wonder people get the idea that hitchhiking would be equal to risking your life!).

You are allowed to bring shampoo enough to wash you hair two or three times or so. Fair enough maybe, flying takes you so far in such a short while that it might be all you’ll use anyway.

Then after a while, you land somewhere completely different.
Let’s say you fly from Canada to Japan. Or from Germany to Ethiopia. Or from Sweden to India, for example.

While going from one continent to another within a few hours, you miss one important point: How the culture changes more and more the further you go. When you get off the plane, you are not prepared for whatever happens. You are not used to the people, you are not used to the climate, you are not used to being used to these things.

You missed everything that happened hundreds of miles below while you had a whiskey and fell asleep up in the clouds.

You didn’t notice that different habits, different needs and different values appeared.

You get off the plane. Someone might insist on carrying your bag, and you don’t have time to realize that this person wants money for it. It often ends up in confusion and disappointment, and in huge amounts, this is how an unhealthy tourism grows.

Many people go back to their home country with the idea that they cannot trust the people in a certain country, etc, instead of seeing their own part in the conflict. They don’t think of how they help this vicious circle to grow, as they keep increasing the gap between themselves and other cultures.

While traveling overland (especially when you’re hitchhiking), you see every inch of how the world changes along your way. And you will change, too. Your perspectives will change. You sense a different mentality long before you reach your destination. It helps you understand. It makes you appreciate.

You’re skin slowly gets a different color. Your clothes get a bit worn out. You improve your language skills.

People will presume, just from a quick glance at you, that you are experienced. They probably won’t insist on carrying your bag. They might not even bother asking you. Or if they do, you’ll be prepared to answer. You’ll know whether you’d pay for it or not. But you will be prepared.

Traveling overland makes you more open-minded, more ready to inhale the air of your destination.

Rather than saying “this air is bad”, you’ll say “this air is different than the air at home”.
Rather than thinking that the local people are trying to rip you off, you’ll understand how to avoid it, and you’ll evaluate your part in the situation and try not only to consume, but to participate in something.

Also, you’re allowed to bring your biggest bottle of shampoo as well as your knitting needles. As long as you can carry it, that is. You’ll be aware of the actual weight of you backpack, and you’ll get to know yourself and your own comfort limits more than well. That is an invaluable lesson in itself.

We’re not saying that flying always destroys cultures. But if you’ve never tried, here’s our advice:
Skip the airplanes – and get an authentic experience!

Authentic traveling – Help Exchange

The term “volunteering” is often associated with working at an orphanage or with projects against poverty. There are plenty of agencies organizing incredibly expensive trips for volunteers all over the world. Unfortunately.
Maybe this is, money wise, an easy way to market and exploit poor countries, since many people in the Western world wish to find a way to help people in need.

You don’t have to pay to get access to work!
Being a volunteer literally means that you work for a certain cause without payment, but buying an organized trip means you usually pay a lot more for your own work than your boss would ever do at home. Fair? We don’t think so.

Luckily there are cheaper and more direct ways for those who want to work as volunteers!

HelpX is a great network for all sort of volunteering.
It could be everything from walking someone’s dog, teaching English or constructing houses.

Even temporary projects like repainting a house or assisting at a specific event are available. Joining HelpX means you pay a sum (different prices depending on the type of membership), then you can create your own profile which is where future hosts can see your personal information and references.

A normal schedule would include around 4 hours of work a day, but this obliviously depends. You should get food and accommodation in exchange.

WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities of Organic Farms, connects volunteers with organic farms with the same basic ideas as HelpX. WWOOF is limited only to organic farming, and you pay for each country to get contact information for that country. So figuring out where to go might be a bit more expensive through WWOOF, but the network is well spread and most volunteers chose to go from farm to farm.

Doing direct work is a very rewarding feeling!
Rather than paying money to an account without being sure about who’s pocket it will eventually end up in, you get the chance of just doing the work yourself.
This form of volunteering is also the perfect learning experience for those that dream about running a self sufficient farm, opening their own guest house, etc. It is a chance to get inspired, or sometimes just to realize that it is not actually what you want.

Many times it includes lots of physical work.
No gym needed, and guess what? You’ll sleep better than ever – for many reasons.

Help Exchange and WWOOF – another authentic travel experience worth checking out!

Read more about authentic traveling:

Authentic traveling – CouchSurfing

No matter if you like hitchhiking or not, there are other ways of authentic meetings, while finding a place to stay the night at the same time! Hostels are nice, but the people you’ll meet are usually backpackers with as little knowledge about the place as yourself. This is why Couchsurfing rocks!

The CS network is worldwide and extremely popular. Signing up is free but donations are always welcome to keep the organization going. The community also serves locals , and in many cities meetings are held every week.
There are other exchange networks similar to CS (for example BeWelcome, Hospitality Club), though CS is currently the biggest one in the world.

Renting a room never gives the same experience as staying with people in their home.What you give in exchange is for most people something more valuable than money. You share yourself with them! Your hosts are not depending on you to make their living, they have chosen to meet you because they want to. They will still go to work, make dinner, go out, see their friends etc, even with you sleeping on their couch.

We’ve had great meetings with our hosts in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania and are looking forward to host travelers ourselves when we’ll have a place to invite them to! (We just can’t fit more people in the tent at the moment :) ).

In Poland our host Jarema brought us to one restaurant, one pub, and one teahouse – all of them places that we’d never found without him. But most importantly: We would probably not have found such a open minded person if it wasn’t for CS!

In Slovakia, Martina brought us to a wine festival that we had never even heard of. Through her we met plenty of people in our own age living in Bratislava.

In Hungary we got a private guide tour through the capital with Joacim, who showed us his favorite places in one night.

In Romania, Andra taught us how to make pottery, told us plenty of things about Romanian history and modern culture, and Razvan showed us how to become better photographers. No hotel receptionist ever did anything like this, no matter how service minded and friendly they have been.

We have been invited to stay with complete strangers as well, and it has been a pleasure. But we cannot walk around hoping for them to pop up around the corner asking us to come to their place. Through CouchSufring we can contact people in advance, read about them, see their references and find out if it is a good and interesting match for us.

CouchSurfing gives an authentic travel experience!

Read more about authentic traveling:

Authentic traveling – Hitchhiking

Do you want the most unique experiences when you travel?
Here’s the key: Stand by the road and stick your thumb out.

Plenty of travelers all over the world are searching for the “authentic moment”. They bring their guidebook when they take off to meet with the origin tribes living in the jungle, with the ideal scenario that no one else ever went there. Though the regular truth is there are no native, unexplored tribes listed in Lonely Planet.

Neither are there many places in the world where you’re far away from electricity or even from the Internet. Still, many people picture this as very exotic and romantic.
Searching for “the authentic” is usually the least authentic experience you’ll ever get!

Hitchhiking has exclusive features that are not comparable with any other sort of transportation. It is not always the most comfortable way, but there are different thing that makes the life of a hitchhiker very rich.

The value of the meetings taking place on the road is special. You feel a big respect for the people that pick you up. You take part of their real daily life. They would have driven down that road no matter if you were there or not, compared to any commercial business built up for tourists.
And, it’s for free.

So what is to prefer: Paying a masai family to show you how they “make traditional fire”, or actually meeting people in their own action?

Hitchhiking – Very authentic!

Read more about authentic traveling: