Martin: the Guy Who Covered 100k+ in 4 Months
Canada: Banff & Vancouver
I remember meeting Martin by the bus stop in Banff, which was tucked into a building by the railway track that separates the mountain town from the highway. If you ever got stuck there while a freight train was passing, you’d be expected to cancel your plans for that day.
It turns out we were staying in the same hostel but never ran into each other, so we introduced ourselves and got chatting. Where we were from, where we’d been travelling, etc. The usual. Except Martin’s travel story was nowhere near usual. I caught up with him recently to ask him again of exactly how much ground he covered:
“I travelled for 4 months from December 2018 to April 2019. I split each month to one continent and visited altogether 16 countries: Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Bali (Indonesia), Australia, New Zealand, Cape Town (South Africa), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Chile, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, USA and Canada.”
I was blown away on that snowy spot where he first told me this and I’m still just as blown away now. Martin was actually one of the inspirations for starting this blog, because I just had to learn more about all his stories he picked up during his action/location-packed 4 months on the road.
“Many travellers I met during my journey were wondering about this kind of ‘Fast Travelling’ style and if I even enjoyed it. Most of them travelled over a similar period, like me, but mostly on one continent. The truth is: I enjoyed every day of my trip and right now I am really happy I made it all, because of all the uncertainty in the world. When will be the next right time to visit South America, for example?
“[But] of course, you cannot immerse yourself in the culture and people as deeply when you compare visiting Asia for one month and for four months [respectively].
“Fun fact: I used the app Polarsteps during my trip and covered all together 97365 kilometres… With the smaller checkpoints added too, my whole trip would be even more than 100 kilometres. Of course, with the help of 37 flights – and luckily none of which were cancelled.”
Over that incredible amount of distance I had to ask for the highlights of his journey:
“There were so many, but I can give it a shot. Skydiving in Mission Beach, Australia, snorkelling with manta rays in Bali, playing football with some kids in Rio, horse riding in Patagonia, NBA/NHL games in Florida, fatbiking in Banff National Park, kayaking in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, surfing (or at least trying to) in Australia and a wine tour of Stellenbosch in South Africa.”
I asked him if he ever encountered any danger; an inevitable (but also very relative) part of travelling:
“I had to be more careful in Cape Town and Rio. There I heard some gunshots in the distance walking to the Copacabana beach in the morning. I also saw the big police commando checking the roofs while standing on the football pitch in Favela, but otherwise everything went well.”
Back in Banff, Martin and I then boarded the busy, cramped bus ready for the 12-hour journey to Vancouver. The bus ride itself was one of the most peaceful ones I’ve ever been on (despite having to sit on your ass for that long). It weaved through the Rocky Mountains for miles, continuing through the flatter prairie lands and some vast spreads of remote landscape. Annoyingly, I only took the below picture:
More recently, I asked Martin about the most epic landscape he’d witnessed on his own trip:
“It has to be the lovely, palmy beaches of Sri Lanka, the 4250 metres turquoise mountain lagoon called Humantay in Peru or the National Park Torres del Paine in Chile. Also, the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina was incredible: you see a piece of the glacier falling down from the height of 70 metres to the lake, which feels like you’re watching it in slow motion ,but in real time. I also liked Mount Aspiring NP in New Zealand, as well as Roy’s Peak near Wanaka. And not forgetting of course the national parks of Canada and USA – Banff, Yosemite and Zion were so beautiful.”
I then asked if he’d had any spontaneous encounters with animals (being the animal nut that I am):
“I have many nice stories with animals. I already mentioned manta rays in Bali, but they look so alien when they are swimming straight towards you and ‘fly’ underneath you in the last second. I was also very lucky to see a wild koala bear at Magnetic Island – a place with highest density of these little cuties in the whole of Australia. And again, with a lot of luck (but in reverse), I was fortunate to not meet any cougars in Patagonia – there are so many of them.”
Once more, when we arrived in Vancouver, it turned out that we were staying in the same hostel again. The following morning, I ran into Martin at breakfast and we decided to go cycling that day. It felt nice to have a travel buddy, because so far I wasn’t feeling Vancouver. I was missing the quiet mountain life almost the second my feet touched the city’s tarmac.
When I caught up with him, we did some reminiscing of our own:
“[I remember] riding a bike to Granville Island in the morning where we found a really nice market. Then we continued to Stanley Park.”
I remember just ogling at all of the food that looked so polished that it didn’t look real. Candy, sweet treats, fresh food all under one roof.
When we got to Stanley Park, we stopped off at one of the parts that had some indigenous art installations: giant, beautifully carved and painted totem poles that towered over you, looking proudly out at the ocean:
“Then we parked the bikes and went on to a pretty long walk through the Lions Gate Bridge.”
As soon as we crossed that bridge leaving Stanley Park, it seemed as if the power source to city life was immediately cut off. We were quite peckish at this point, so we found a pizza place next to a laundromat. They only took cash but Martin would not let me pay!! So he went back to the Wendy’s we passed earlier and ate there, which made me a little sad. I didn’t like that he had to eat on his own unnecessarily.
“When we finally arrived at the Capilano Suspension Bridge park, we found out there was an entrance fee. I was traveling pretty much on a budget, as it was last month of my journey, so we divided there and met again later. I walked all the way back.“
I decided to just go for it. I wouldn’t say it wasn’t worth the money, but it was definitely needed to ground myself in nature after being plopped into a teeming metropolis. Also it was a classic insta-photo opp, the place filled with gaggles of influencers.
“I also remember our walk through the older part of the town with the gas clock, when we found this magic bookstore you liked so much.”
I could’ve stayed forever in that bookstore. But I saved Martin the trouble and bought an old, second-hand Penguin classic and we continued strolling through the city.
I remember seeing the teasing shelves of books outside and mercilessly dragged Martin in with me. (Sorry!)
This Banned Books’ cupboard was especially cool. I wish I’d asked from what period it was from.
“And we can’t forget the live music evening drinking Guinness beer! After that night, I started listening to country music more.”
We went to an Irish bar (the Railway Stage and Beer Café) Martin had found, which was the last time I saw him. We were sat at the bar and we tried a couple of local ales as we watched the live band perform. An hour or so later, we parted ways – I think he had a bus ride to Seattle the following morning and I was heading back to the hostel. It was a really nice few days and considering I wasn’t overly bowled over by Vancouver, I had a great time with Martin.
Catching up with him again, I asked him what his favourite parts of Canada were, and like me, Banff blew most of the places out of the water:
“If I could return to any place from my trip, Banff would be definitely one of them. [It had] such a peaceful atmosphere, surrounded by beautiful mountains everywhere. Sadly, Banff was the place I experienced the downside to my ‘Fast Travelling.’ I needed to move on to Vancouver and the only option was to take the long bus [with you], which was going just once a week. Since I did not want to hitchhike all the way to Vancouver or hop on these long trains, I took the bus from Calgary. So, I got only something more than 20 hours in Banff. Definitely not enough to explore all the beautiful hikes, mountains and lakes in this beautiful part of Canada.”
With so many countries in such little time overall, I asked him if he encountered any hardships along the way:
“Sometimes, when I was moving places day to day, that was pretty hard. I enjoyed [it more] when I stayed somewhere three or more nights and could pack my stuff out. But I became somehow more resilient during the whole trip. No bus or train journey was too long, no hostel room was too small – Asia was a good preparation for the rest of the trip, starting my round around the world in that direction was a good idea.”
I asked him what he was up to these days, if he were still working in sports marketing, as he had been doing when we’d met:
“Since returning from my journey, my ‘coming back to everyday life’ went pretty smoothly. I finally managed to go self-employed and worked as a marketing freelancer with mostly clients from the sports area, but also had some projects in tourism too. However, then came the pandemic, which wasn’t great for my industry, so I looked for something more stable.
“However, I did not give up on the idea of being my own boss somewhere in the future. I launched a brand called Kollball with merchandising for team sports, I sell unique water reactive t-shirts, which will show their printing first after you sweat a little bit.”
Such a creative idea! You can check Martin’s merch out on Instagram @kollball_merch or on his e-shop http://www.kollball.com.
I asked him if he had any tips for when I (or indeed you!) go and visit his beautiful homeland of Slovakia:
“Slovakia unfortunately has no sea or beaches, as we are surrounded by the Czech Republic, Austria from the west, Poland from the north, Hungary from the south and Ukraine from the east. Nevertheless, we compensate for this with our beautiful mountains – the most popular of them are Tatry mountains (someone nicknamed them little Alps). I like them more in the summer, when you can try many different hike paths with stunning views – my favourite hike is to the peak called Rysy, you can spot many different mountain lakes from here. And on the top of cca 2500 metres is the highest located cabin in the country, where you can reward yourself with a nice cold beer.
“Another tip is of course the capital Bratislava, with its beautiful old town. Another charming town is called Banská Štiavnica. We also have lots of fairy-tale castles all around the country – you can see many of them driving on the highway from the capital to the Tatry mountains. But one of the most beautiful is surely in Bojnice – check it out on Insta.”
We followed one another on said ‘gram and I remember seeing some beautiful shots of him paddling in these epic Albanian canyons I didn’t even know existed:
“Many people still think that Albania is dangerous, but their people were really nice, the nature was beautiful and the prices were really affordable.”
Of course, I had to ask where his favourite place was that he’s been:
“Although not from my 4-month trip, I will always say that my top 3 cities are Lisbon, Vilnius and Edinburgh. And I love Portugal, the Algarve in the south is beautiful, I wish I [could] spend more vacations there – just to rent some nice place by the sea for two weeks to keep improving my surfing skills.”
To sum up his experiences, he said the following:
“As you can see, for me traveling was about activities and not about places. I was traveling pretty much on a budget. However, regarding activities, I always spent the money with no regrets, as in the end, those are the things I remember the most from my journey.”
And the golden question – as I’m sure he picked up a whole lot of wisdom during his time on the road – I asked what the top 3 things he learned were while he was travelling:
- Stay Positive: “I did not consider myself a negative person before my trip, on the contrary, I was always optimistic. But after the trip, I try to think positively even more, even though it’s hard sometimes and everyday life isn’t as perfect as when travelling. I loved the motto of Wellington‘s Council: Absolutely Positively. This says a lot about the vibes and mood of people in New Zealand, but also Australia and Canada. In Slovakia, I just can‘t imagine that a public institution would have such a cool motto. Unfortunately, there is a lot of negativity (and conspiracy theorists) in my country, especially regarding the pandemic. So number 1: do not let yourself be beaten down by negative people, conspirators and haters unhappy with their life. Keep smiling and feel the good vibes only!“
- Enjoy every moment: “I loved the total freedom during my journey. It‘s pretty sad to say, but I doubt I will ever be as free as [I was] on that trip. But at least I can try not to be a slave [to] my job, [to] my smartphone, social media or something else. But if I will ever need to decide between more money or more free time, my choice is clear. I simply do not want to work from morning till the evening for someone else (if anything, I want to work for myself). What will you remember, when you grow old? How you spent the whole day in the office and then drove back home in your new Porsche? I doubt it. But this is just my opinion. You do not have to share it and I respect that.“
- Meet the locals! “If I regret anything from my trip, it’s that I didn’t meet as many locals as I wish I had. For example, I lived in some homestays in Sri Lanka, and stayed at a workaway on a farm in New Zealand. Those are beautiful memories, where I met really great and friendly people. Your travel friends from hostels are also great people, but it is mostly the same discussion (at least in the beginning), which starts to be boring after some time. And you get to know their culture, but not the culture of the country, where you are. But it was pretty hard with my travel schedule to set up workaways or couchsurfing. But for my future trips, I promised myself [to do more of those].“
Finally, we talked about where we would go when this is all over:
“There are still some places on my traveling bucket list (Morocco, Ljubljana and Lake Bled, Slovenia, Mongolia, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Hawaii). But first the pandemic must be over – and then the backpack will be packed again.”
Cheers to THAT.
Martin was the first Slovak I’d met in my 11 months of travelling and he made a great impression on the country’s behalf! When life opens up again, I plan to explore more of Europe, where I hope to catch up with him again over some local Slovak beers. If you want to see more of his epic journeys (both future and past), go and check him out and give him a follow @martinkosak18.