Archive for May, 2013
Bare with me. I’m going to try a metaphor, and when I say surfing, I mean the board and sea kind, not riding the waves of electrons and information.
Ultimate Frisbee is my Surfing.
Surfers are rarely competitive people. While there are competitive surfers, most surfers just enjoy being out in the sea and riding the waves. Many surfers I know are very chill people and they don’t care if they are better or worse than those around them. They just want to be good (enough) to make the ride enjoyable.
This is probably surprising considering Ultimate is a competitive team sport. The sport definitely attracts highly competitive people who push themselves, their teams, and can’t stand the idea of losing. I’m not one of them. I do want to get better, I do want to win, but the most important thing for me is playing.
You could argue that I have this mentality because I am not very good at it. Good and bad are of course relative, but I don’t have any natural gifts of athleticism, and I’m on the wrong side of 30 to be improving at such an intense sport. I’m sure I can get better, but I won’t be much more than a solid player. Frankfurt has one of the best teams in Germany but I mostly play on the second team which is one of the worst. We’ve lost a lot of games recently, but I don’t really care because I’m just having fun on the field, chasing after a 175 gram disc. There is nothing better than playing a full day of games, taking a hot shower, grabbing a beer, and basking in the setting sun with your teammates.
I think we all have our surfing activities. This could be hiking, diving, running, pickup basketball, lifting weights, rock climbing, skiing, etc. All these things are surprisingly repetitive, but we keep doing it because it triggers an endorphin high. There is no destination, just a journey because there is something gratifying about putting our foot on the ground one at a time.
So what’s your surfing?
Cherish and master the art of getting lost.
Allow yourself to wander and your mind to wonder.
Explore cities without looking at a map.
Order food without asking the details.
Attend events and gatherings you have no idea about.
Befriend people with whom you have nothing in common.
Accept job offers without knowing what is desired of you.
Because only by letting yourself be completely free of bias and expectations can you truly surprise and delight yourself.
I’ve been “backpacking” for close to ten years now. My first major trip was across Eastern and Central Europe for two months after my college graduation in 2004, which coincidentally is when I started blogging. Nine years later, I still travel and stay in hostels, partially to save money but mostly to meet other travelers with whom I can socialize. To be honest, I’ve only done two proper “backpacking” trips, the two month European jaunt and a one month trip across South America back in 2007. These days my trips are much shorter, a function of living the working life and living in Europe, and I don’t even travel with a backpack most times.
A lot has changed in these nine years.
One caveat, these observations are in no ways scientific; no variables are controlled in anyway (like location of travel). Nevertheless, it’s no secret that backpacking has become increasingly popular, new hostels are popping up everyday, and the face of backpacking is changing.
Back in 2004, most of the travelers were traveling solo or in small groups (couples, sometimes a threesome). These days it’s not rare to find a group of six or more staying in a hostel. Solo travelers are actually harder to find, and as a result, it’s become harder to assemble a group of backpackers in the evening for dinner and/or drinks. The kinds of people traveling are changing as well. Back then, most travelers were young and on a shoestring, now you get all ranges of age and economic backgrounds. In my most recent trip to Portugal, I came across multiple retirees and families, which I thought was pretty cool. I also started noticing few years ago girls that traveled with summer dresses and constant makeup. When I first traveled, I don’t remember anything but jeans and cargo pants.
Hostels have also changed dramatically. Back in the day, a good hostel had comfortable beds, a nice common area (if at all), and a functioning shower. If a hostel had public computers so you didn’t have to go to the nearest internet cafe, that was fantastic. Now every hostel has free WiFi and offer a variety of added services such as a bar, guided tours, and event nights. I experienced a chorizo tasting night in Lisbon and it was fantastic, but I also had a slight sense of guilt that my experience was being too shaped by the hostel. Lockers were also a rarity back then, now they are the norm. Reading lights for individual beds are becoming quite common as well.
Staff in the hostels also used to be mostly locals. Now there are a lot of foreign backpackers who loved a city so much they decided to stay for a longer period of time, sometimes much longer.
ATMs have made traveling much easier, but I would argue that the internet has been the greatest driver of this change. For one, the ever shrinking world has made it easier for travelers to keep in touch with their non-traveling lives, may it be through e-mail, Skype, or Facebook. However, the availability and free flow of information has had a profound effect. Once upon a time, backpackers were trying to choose hostels through the few words in Lonely Planet. Now with sites like hostels.com and hostelworld, backpackers can get all the details they want and book their stay. This has gotten hostels to be more competitive, both through prices and features. I haven’t bought a Lonely Planet book in years thanks to the aforementioned websites, TripAdvisor, and WikiTravel.
Sometimes I miss the old days when I didn’t come across a room of backpackers glued to their smartphones and laptops when I walked into the common room of a hostel. Maybe this is how it feels to grow old. At the same time, I like to think that things are getting better, and I’m still enjoying my travels very much. I don’t foresee myself stopping anytime soon. Where to next?
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