Some Things I Learned While Travelling in 2016

 

In many ways 2016 has been, for me, the year of false starts, slightly delayed maturity, toned-down drinking, and absolute horror. I had a bath on New Years Eve because I was stuck in Saudi Arabia for work and decided I no longer wanted to work in consultancy. I wasn’t 100 percent sure what I wanted but I knew I couldn’t go on drinking and tindering my way across countries my mother had to look up on Google to prove they actually existed. I left my job within a couple months, travelled, got a serious girlfriend, settled down, decided it didn’t fit, started writing love letters for a potential book, and resorted back to the booze and debauchery. I am pretty happy now in my favourite café in Kyiv, getting ready to visit the last country which I would have died unhappy if I hadn’t been to.

Through this process I kept a list of things that I thought I learned, scratching off things those that turned out to be false dawns, and found myself with a renewed love of travel. Here is my list of things I learned while travelling this year.

 

According to Slavoj Zizek, 2011 was the year of dreaming dangerously. With this in mind, 2016 was the year when we learned that our neighbours have perverted dreams

Not since the times of Thatcher and Reagan have progressively minded people been so unequivocally reminded of how much of outsiders we are within our own communities.

Although neither Brexit nor Trump won by a major plurality of votes, what was so devastating about these losses was that the people most likely to be injured and disenfranchised by both supported them. All the cheap populism that has already engulfed most of Europe has bled into the Anglophone world, where working class people are fed bullshit about Poles, Mexicans, refugees, and LGBT that are pitted up against working class whites. If we’re really honest, it is the same neoliberal chauvinism that is disenfranchising all groups, but now we are more alienated from each other than before.

This year we learned that we don’t want to know what our neighbours are dreaming. We don’t want to be part of the community because a lot of normal people we sometimes love are really, really scary and racist.

Travel isn’t actually always the answer, believe it or not

I spent most of the spring getting pissed up and making sound recordings for an incredibly massive (ultimately failed) project from Tbilisi to Tirana with an American friend. It was rather taxing. I spent the majority of my time hanging out in shit suburbs of cities like Skopje and Kyiv, while trying to avoid getting robbed by gopniks (eastern European chavs), horrifying local friends by getting drunk with the occasional homeless man, and eavesdropping on conversations I didn’t understand. It was draining.

I went home and spent a month with my parents which was so refreshing and the smartest thing I did. However, within a week I booked a flight back to Kyiv, got a girlfriend, stopped the non-stop travelling, wrote crap articles, and was all together really boring. Travel wasn’t what I needed. Sleep, sobriety, solitude, and maybe a gym was.

Sometimes you need a prolonged break of staying in on Fridays, eating your mother’s uber-vegan cooking, and reading Adichie to remember why you actually travel, instead of just booking shit for the sake of it. I finally took a break during a good percentage of the fall and I’m back now to loving travel all over again.

Don’t pretend to be more mature than you actually are

Halfway through 2016 I thought, “Fuck it! I can’t be almost 28 and still be messing around, exploring shitty bars every night, and spending my time writing about post-Soviet culture! I need a girlfriend and a normal career in a country which hasn’t had a genocide in the past ten years!” But guess, what? It didn’t fit. Going to bed at ten was boring as crap. Potentially going on holidays to resorts in Turkey was absurd. Saying that it was okay to listen to Maroon 5 and liking really shit music wasn’t fun.

I want to spend my time around lowlifes, people who find peeing in the street both socially and morally absolute, and those who appreciate the late eighties work of Leonard Cohen and Womack & Womack. All that James Corden shit can fuck off. I don’t have tattoos but I’d rather befriend the guy who I always see on his forehead in every Kyiv bar I go into than hang out with socially awkward surgeons. Pretending to think maturity is somehow intelligent is bullshit. You have to embrace the mess that you are.

I am booking a flight to Bishkek now with the full intention of doing semi-illegal acts that are fun, mind opening, but certainly not racist.

If Europe has any hope then people better start looking eastwards.

Seemingly, the beautiful notion of Europe has become incredibly passé and unfashionable. All the symbols of the 12 stars and those great scholarly institutions that paid us to get drunk no longer cut it. The masses no longer see Europe as a beautiful idea but an outdated pain in the arse.

The truth though is that the major centers of Europe such as Paris, London, and Stockholm have increasingly priced young people out, becoming static, and turned into the playground for rich hipsters and douchebags who work in finance. The majority of Europe has lost any sense of a radical youth culture because those of us that came to maturity during the post-2008 fallout have found ourselves largely working in precarious employment (ha!) while our cities have been transformed to reflect a reality that has nothing to do with us. Thus, much of Western Europe has become static and culturally backwards.

In contrast, we’re seeing a newfound confidence within Eastern European cities like Tbilisi, Kyiv, and Tirana, where young people are utilizing cheap rent, lack of governmental regulations, and cheap booze as a means of re-establishing what Europe is meant to be: a challenge to the American hegemonic wave. In so many ways, these non-European Union centers have looked to challenge their status quo to progress culturally. You see more businesses, art galleries and music spaces in these cities; places that reflect our generation by keeping alive the belief that Europe has to be so much more than just another America with cobblestones.

In the New Year stop writing silly travel blogs

Some may accuse me of being an arsehole here by saying what I am going to say but I’m not picking on the little guy. The magazine I helped found with my favourite person in the world started off as nothing. However, since then neither No-Yolo/Post Pravda nor myself have ever done the following:

– Post a bunch of selfies using a dreaded selfie stick

– Post memes about wanderlust

– Pose on a beach

– Tried to do what a million other people tried to do

Let’s be honest. The world doesn’t need another shit travel blog. It doesn’t need to hear the same story we’ve all heard a million times. If you’re attempting to go viral with your amazing stories of petting mistreated elephants in Vietnam or doing some yoga in Colombia then please stop. You’re not going to get extremely famous. 0.000001 percent of you will make any money. Eventually, you’re going to get bored and give up.

If you’re going to do something about travel then please do something beyond a vanity project where you try to make everyone feel jealous of you and remind them of how fantastic your life is. The sad truth is that anyone with a thousand Euros can book a ticket and open up an Instagram account. Travel isn’t exceptional. It hasn’t worked for thousands of others and chances are it won’t work for you. Instead, actually try to make a unique contribution to travel writing. Write the travel article you wish you had found when travelling. If you do that then chances are you’ll be far more successful than you ever imagined.

The true measure of societal development is when people stand up on airplanes

Economists, sociologists, political scientists, and other people far smarter than you and I have attempted for years to come up with some metric for societal development. Some attempted to measure it using GDP, literacy, average life expectancy, gender and economic equality, and a whole variety of other types. After taking roughly 100 flights this year, ranging from a diverse array of countries, Ukraine to Bahrain to Germany, I think I finally figured it out.

The problem is that countries are full of contradictions. Georgia is poor as fuck but has the highest percentage of university graduates in the world while Saudi Arabia is rich with extremely high illiteracy. How to come up with a pseudo-scientific method to solve this?

My theory is the key indication of a country’s development is measuring the amount of people that stand up after the flight has landed but the seatbelt sign is still on. The theory goes that if the people don’t stand up and listen to the rules then they are more likely to abide by rule of law and believe in fairness. In contrast, flights with a majority of people that ignore the rules are more likely to be more corrupt and unfair. Chances are that if you’re going to have to pay a bribe during your holidays then you’ll notice the local people standing up before the seat belt sign is switched off. I think this is a bulletproof idea to present at a party and might lead to a conversation where I get laid.

People are horrible but our horribleness is occasionally lovely

Everyone in this life is horrible, bar my mother (and hopefully yours as well). We’re selfish, we like to cheat, we’re egotistical, and if the opportunity arises for us to get away with something illegal then we’ll certainly do it. I include myself in this list. However, our horribleness has been nothing short of a lovely inspiration this year.

Existing in all of us is an absolute stubbornness that, regardless of facts or figures, continues to march forward because we believe it is right or we’re in love. Throughout this year, I’ve encountered so many examples of this where I have seen both men and women be confronted with absolutely dire conditions but resiliently push on because love is worth it. There is something amazing about knowing couples of mixed religion or races that refuse to allow that bullshit to stop them. I met gay men in homophobic countries who risk it all to be themselves. I know lovers that refuse to allow distance to be an impediment in their desire to love the person they belong to. It overwhelms me at times.

We need to love our horribleness sometimes because that sense of irrationality and relentlessness enables us to aspire for the best. It will be our horribleness chased by our love that will enable us to move into 2017 with hope. I don’t know a lot of people who think 2016 was the greatest year ever but I know a lot of people that want 2017 to be. I am hoping your horribleness and love guides you throughout the year to nothing more than joy, good Tinder dates, more chances to see your parents, positively negative STD tests, and the occasional first class upgrade.