Jo: the Aussie Full-time
Czech Republic: Prague
I remember meeting Jo in one of the beer cellars/stony basements of a hostel in Prague. It was an old building, like most of the remaining pre-war ones were, crumbling to pieces but also managing to stay completely in shape at the same time. It smelt musky, and the exposed brick walls and low ceilings, archways and multiple rooms felt as if you were in four different people’s living rooms combined. In the kitchen there was a table flanked by a couple of benches in the corner, where people sat after grabbing a beer from the basement’s bar and/or any food that was being served that evening. It sounds grimy, but it was actually super cosy and the small space was quite intimate. At the time it was an Easter-related Czech national holiday, where the beer was the striking (and somewhat concerning) colour of absinthe (see below). It felt easy to get to know everyone down there because it felt like you were in someone else’s home. Some people I remember most vividly meeting include an Oregonian named Joe, an English guy called Michael and Jo, a lovely Australian gal I caught up with recently.
“We would sit in the communal kitchen, in a stone basement, in the evenings. Mostly just drinking and socialising with people that would come in and out, laughing about our conflicting accents, and the crazy drinking habits of American college boys.”
I remember Joe specifically showing us how it’s done (please see above). I think he did something like 5 vodka shots in a row without flinching and we all sat there, gaping, cheering him on.
The dorm rooms were huge, with triple tiered bunkbeds and heavy squeaky doors, high ceilings, old scuffed wood floors with a wide space in the middle – so they were perfect for partying.
“We were stuffed into a no smoking dorm room with a bunch of people smoking, just there to hang out in that great way that you can do in hostels, and we started chatting.”
I wasn’t going out that evening – which I kind of regret. There were quite a few people in that room which can get a little overwhelming when you aren’t partying yourself, but getting to know Jo I felt more at ease. We were respectively swapping details of our trips and I told her about my time in Australia. The conversation started flowing naturally and it felt like we’d become instant mates! I think Jo herself describes it best:
“There is something uniquely fun about people you meet while travelling. Maybe it’s the quick intensity of going from strangers to immediate bunkmates and travel partners in minutes. Those kinds of friendships are worth keeping, despite the distance.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. When you’re travelling, sometimes this ‘click’ happens with someone and any personal boundaries you’d have in your day-to-day life dissolve. You’re so much more open to new people and you bond so much faster. It’s such a beautiful thing. I suppose while travelling you can feel a bit lost – and that feeling is universal to everyone on the road. But meeting good people can make you feel right back at home again, wherever you are.
I miss that level of connection that just isn’t really a thing anywhere else and happily, I found that Jo feels the same way:
“The other travellers that have become roommates, drinking buddies, co-conspirators and friends [are the most special part of travelling]. I particularly treasure some lifelong friendships I have made. That being said, I will also always remember the characters I briefly encountered along the way too. Shoutout to the American veteran in a small Mexican village that spent hours telling me about the government microchips in all of our heads, and who gifted me a special rock upon my departure. I still have it.”
I asked her in more detail about her travelling route, which has spanned over a pretty impressive and admirable amount of time and distance:
“I started travelling right after my University graduation with a one-way ticket to Argentina. I zig-zagged my way through most of South America on buses for seven or so months and loved it (although if I calculated the time I have spent sitting on a bus, squished between strangers and arm rests, I would probably never be the same). From there I have travelled for nearly four years through more of the Americas, Britain, the Balkans and whatever other place I can get on a bus to! I have stopped for a few months in various places to work, and regain my stamina, but I’ve only returned home to Australia now due to travel restrictions. So TBD on that final ‘end’ date!”
Respect. I asked her if there was a place that had particularly impacted her along the way:
“[A country] that stands out is Bosnia and Herzegovina. It has such a recent and awful history, many of the fresh scars are plainly visible on the streets of the cities, and still with remaining great political and social divides. Yet, it was bright, and colourful, and proud as were the people. Confronting and beautiful all at once.”
…And of any experiences that particularly shaped her:
“In Peru, I was really on my own for the first time after having left a group after driving through Brazil. I decided to make the journey to Machu Picchu, of course! Having always loved ancient history when I was a kid and seeing it in textbooks a million times, it was a bucket list item, like it is for many travellers in Peru. I signed up for a five-day hike to get there.
“The first time I had embarked on that long a trek, and the first time I had no one joining me! The trek was insanely challenging, given my lack of training and entailed everything from humid jungle, to rocky endless inclines, and breath stealing altitudes. However, it was so rewarding that it sparked a love of hiking that has motivated many journeys since. When people cite the cliche ‘It’s the journey, not the destination’, I think of this first trek.”
I asked her if there was anything she misses about travelling:
“The possibility that every day can mean new places, new people, something to be discovered or enjoyed. I never thought I would miss looking at bus schedules so much.”
Touché. Equally, I never thought I would actually miss 12-hour rickety bus rides cramped with strangers and the odd cockroach, yet here we are. Lastly, I asked in her vast experience on the road what her 3 most valuable pieces of advice she would share:
- Wear good shoes. “Hiking boots are the only way to go, wear them always. In the Peruvian Amazon, walking the cobbled streets of Colombia, pub crawling in New Orleans, or in French galleries, proper shoes are always a good move.”
- “Download on an offline map app (MAPS.ME is a good one). Once you download the city, you can use it to find anything from an ATM to a cafe, or your hostel when you’ve just arrived.”
- Spend more money on experiences rather than things. “Do the things you will only get to do once, make the memories and embrace the journey.”
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