My greatest moments of freedom

My best friend told me 10 years ago that the primary force in me was hunger for freedom. It’d difficult and probably misleading to try to explain what freedom means to me.

Rather, I try to give an account of my greatest moments of freedom. (You might have realized that the last articles were very personal. I have been writing a book about my own life experiences and these articles will be used for it. It’ll end relatively soon. You’re stuck with the very personal stuff for now though.)

Freedom from love I can clearly remember the moment when I first felt free. A simple walk from home on the same street I’d take every day. And yet another sunny day with my 15 year old body suddenly becoming hopeful, healthy – and as easy as a feather taken by the warm spring breeze.
All of it happened inside my head but I finally let love, suffer, depressive and suicidal thoughts levitate away. Finally, I could define myself a young, positive, conscious teen, ready for life. That walk was a true beginning of a new era.

Freedom from home: travel – travel has become a synonym for freedom. And while traveling is freedom from the everyday routine, you often choose other, limiting ideas: (company, guidebooks, highlights, tick off places / countries from some imaginary list, etc.): because really being free from all constraints is just frightening. It’s a serious moment alone with the universe. Most people would pay plenty to avoid this.
But travel still holds way more chances to experience freedom than being at home. I remember biking in Transylvania, not sticking to the group on a perfect summer day, admiring the landscape. I didn’t think of the past or the future, just immersed fully in the present. One of those moments when you exactly know that you are at the best place at the best time in the universe.
Another moment was crossing the Polish-Lithuanian border by bike, alone. Lithuania was a place back then that none of my friends have ever been (or considered going). Lithuania was very far from Hungary. And I made it there alone, by bicycle, riding for more than 10 days North. It was a beautiful sunset that I couldn’t enjoy because of masses of mosquitoes. Being one of the 3 nights out of 37 when I bothered to set up my tent, on the top of a small hill and getting down to write my diary remains one of my purest experiences in life.

Freedom from parents’ and friends’ expectations – a couple hours before moving from home, I didn’t know I’d go ahead. A month after my 18. birthday with the catalysator of an unimportant argue with my parents I’d just leave. It was a long dream coming true and the feeling of being powerless and passive never returned to my life. A similar (though rather sad than triumphant) feeling came when we broke up with my girlfriend. A similar great emotion had such effect on me that I had to hit the wall until my fist bled when a friend made me realize I didn’t have to spend more time with my classmates: because there is better company out there. Or the several. Se-ve-ral occasions of getting tipsy and drunk was another important moment of freedom, no joke.

Freedom of body – not matter what they say, humans are animals. Developed animals that think with their brain (most of the time) and listen to their instincts too. Animals, that are alive as long as their body functions: by definition. It would be unwise to say that our body does not have everything to do with our moods, thoughts, ideas, feelings: let it be hunger or freedom. And our body can give us enormous freedom. Let it be a morning exercise, running 30 kms or having your first orgasm. Don’t tell me you don’t remember it. Wasn’t that properly relieving? Wasn’t that at least a moment of complete freedom?

Freedom of together – I used to have a strict theory in which individuals were able to reach freedom while 2 people together were already regarded “society”. And I’d think: society is full of sin, murder, dirt while an individual is always right and sacred. Later I’d come to the conclusion that the basic issue (call it original sin if you wish) is in every single individual. There is not one person that can live in harmony with himself and the world. Two or three neither.
But getting over your own self can be something liberating. Freedom from loneliness in cases of company of drinking partners, a best friend, a romantic relationship and to extend your personality beyond yourself – by having children, to feel part of the universe or any other way you choose. For me, apart from being a friend, a husband, a father practical aspects like volunteering and charity (becoming free from my own earnings’ grip) have worked.

 

What are your greatest moments of freedom?
Let us know in a comment, on Facebook or in an email: drazsika@gmail.com

All that I’ve learned from traveling (part 4 / c) /the last one/

2014, 2017 – South East Asia: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Bali, Myanmar, Vietnam
Stepping outside the airport in Bangkok in winter, 2014 changed my view of the world more profoundly than any lecture, movie, book or person did before. It was the heat (coming from cold winter), the smells (they really are terrible), the dozens of antipathetic touts yelling into my face, the traffic (in-cre-di-ble) and everything else that unfolded the next weeks: religion, behaviour, poverty, architecture, smiles, friendliness, openness next to ridiculous and constant scams, prostitution, constant bargaining (sometimes quoted prices were 100-fold (!) of the price of a competitor!), etc.
The cultural shock was even bigger because we thought this was the one and only long trip of our lives outside of Europe. We thought we were the only ones who were able to get away this long (hehh: we were asked all the time: why only 4 weeks?!) and we wanted to make the best out of it.
All that I learned during this travel was burned into my body thanks to a tough tropical illness called amoebiasis. The tough part was over a month with various antibiotics and the complete recovery (being able to drink Hungarian pálinka and other distilled alcohol just like before) took 2 years. Laying at home utterly weak was the first time in my life that I wished to have children. Other than the sickness (and possible my instincts of reproduction kicking in) I was inspired by seeing the families in rural Cambodia that seemed to have nothing but each other. Observing them killed much of my (anyway beaten down) wish for a career per se.

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Day 2: my stomach is close to 100%

Returning to the region in 4 years was surprisingly great. Rather than losing its charm we could dig deeper.

Bali surprised us as being a bite from Paradise when we managed to get away from the crowds and long, littered beaches. And the locals? You got to be tough, being the only place in a large country that’s not Muslim.

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Sacred source of water & temple, Bali

Singapore felt like the Israel of South-East Asia in the good sense: a living example of the success of controlled & encouraged immigration of professionals (and tax havens, hehe).[BTW: don’t believe about crazy order, police, people not crossing red lights, etc. Much has changed since the ’80s…]

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Supertree grove, Singapore

Myanmar was a sort of continuation of our earlier adventure with even more “third world stuff” and unspoiled / non-touristic moments too.

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Close-to-sunset in Bagan

Vietnam, with its C-R-A-Z-Y traffic, cult of USA, rocket-fuel-filled energy, incredible nature, smiley and grateful people was yet another place I hope to return.

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Hoi-An in the morning

2015 & 2016 – South America
The most surprising things of South America were:
– culture: how extremely European it was (mostly language and religion) – although farther from Europe than SE Asia it didn’t bring anything close to the cultural shock I experienced before…
– nature: how superior it was to anything I’ve ever seen.
– distances: I already began to suspect earlier but it was here that I finally realized how small Europe was (point of reference: Brazil alone is almost twice as big as the 28 countries of the European Union together…)
My favourite countries were Bolivia and Peru.

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Salt Flats, Southern Bolivia

2015 – Iceland
Iceland is a super-sparsely populated place. 300 thousand people (200.000 in the capital!) in an area where 10 million live in Hungary. And it’s not very dense here either. The big learning here was that there are places that are just completely out of the whole game…
No military, no cities or towns other than Reykjavik, 80% of the country is unapproachable, a sunset lasts 5 hours while even the warmest summer days are freezing, people believe in elves and so on and so forth. Iceland seemed more of a different continent from Europe than South America. This was probably our first trip where locals played a key role: we did Couchsurfing as many times as we could and set the itinerary on the way depending on the accepted couch-requests. (I wrote an article about it here.)

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On the top of a warm vulcano

 2016 & 2018 – Middle-East: Israel, Palestine, Jordan & Lebanon
I remember one of the closing scenes of the movie Body of Lies where one says, quite like an axioma: No one likes the Middle-East.
If it had to live there (apart from Israel & Beirut from what I’ve seen) it would probably be pretty terrible.
But traveling is always something different. Apart from ruins of the antiquity (e.g. the largest Roman temple in Baalbek, Lebanon), the fascinating history of the 3 monotheistic religions in Jerusalem (walking in the footsteps of Jesus? No matter that I’m atheist, count me in!), the incredibly history of modern and present-day conflicts within and across borders & meeting those people of whom you hear a lot in your TV: fascinating people.
Hatred, intolerance, passion, enthusiasm, open-mindedness and mental cages: boiling emotions on every corner. I’ll return! (one of my articles was inspired by the night we spent with the Bedouins in Southern Jordan)

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Petra, Jordan

2017 – Hungary
If you’ve read this long you probably know that I’m Hungarian. I come from Szeged, the third largest place in the country with 200.000 people and live in Budapest, the capital with 1,7 / 3+ million people (city proper / metropolitan area).
I’ve experienced little from the rest of the country and when I did, I looked at the place as “It’s my country, I know it well. If something doesn’t fit, it’s an accident. I KNOW THIS COUNTRY.”
As I traveled more and more in the world I grew to realize how little I know about my home country and its people. Last years day-trips to all directions from Budapest, topped with volunteering in a Rroma segregated community, holding lectures (about EU & its opportunities for young people) in different villages, towns and cities and bike-guiding for 10 days with a group of tourists in the countryside made me realize why my country runs as it does. Enlightening moments that I hope didn’t finish last year.

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Botanical Garden in my hometown that I never bothered to visit before

I finish this saga here. It’s hard to draw a line during which travels I gained a “major” or “most important” insight but I have to say I never regretted visiting to a destination or spending money on travelling. If unsure, travel quick and return to the places you fell in love with. I sure am happy that I didn’t spent more than 40 minutes in Lichtenstein but I feel a little bit more complete for having been there.

All that I’ve learned from traveling (part 4 / b)

Here comes the middle episode of the places that had the most effect on my life.

2008/09 – Milan
Living in Milan was one of the “travels” that rather affirmed my beliefs than challenged them. At age 19 I thought I was a counterculture figure and going to a “Western European” city wasn’t a very thrilling option. If the whole stay hadn’t been paid for (by my parents and my sister’s scholarship) I would have never gone for it.
Other than fun stories like begging successfully for a sandwich of an Austrian homeless and some general life experience I learned particularly little from the destination.
The bottom line of my experience was: even if 99 out of a 100 choses Milan, Italy over Szeged, Hungary, it doesn’t matter for me. I’m just different.

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One of those Milan nights (own pic)

2009 – Genoa
Milan itself didn’t do the trick but the “neighbourhood” did.
In late spring I set out to hitch-hike to Genoa. As I was impatient and cars didn’t stop I started to walk. And I walked for 4 days. In mild rain, sleeping by the road and in unfinished houses (once gendarme were called when I was discovered sleeping in a garage – later the older woman who called them gave me a banana).
On the fifth day, waking up on the rocks at the beach the sun was up. Walking through the city (endless kilometers!) made me understand the idea of the beauty of a city. After literature and movies I added another genre: architecture. (Okay, it was probably Italy that started my interest in paintings, too.)
The same process and fascination with Italy’s architecture, art and heritage (Roman and Renaissance mainly) was continued as I visited Siena, Florence, later Sicily, Lecce, Rome followed by dozens of places unknown villages and cities of the North during the next years.

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Leaving for hitchhiking to Genoa (own pic)

2009 – Albania
During the summer of 2009 we set out with my best friend then, Szilárd for a bicycle trip to Albania through Bosnia (and Kosovo at the end). By this time it was the biggest cultural shock in my life. I didn’t care much about the thousands of car washing businesses, the (literally) over hundred thousands bunkers, the uncovered sewers on the streets or  the fact that we entered a (mainly secular) Muslim country. But I desperately missed something. Whether it was the thousands of products missing from the shelves or some form of critical thinking or some remnant of (imaginary) times when the area had leading culture or I don’t know but this was the first time I liked and missed European Christian culture. Because Albania had none of it.

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Arrival back, on day 27 (own pic)

2009/10 – Calabria
While Italy is regarded “West” by Hungarians and the west is the best it became obvious for me that people in Calabria lived way worse than people in Hungary do. Not only the extreme unemployment, the low salaries but the slow pace, disappointment, lack of enthusiasm and people’s “mental cage” too.
Keeping to my values meant few friendships (and plenty of conflicts) both with locals and foreign students. But it meant keeping one very important relationship. Getting together with my future wife & mother of my son.
Calabria mainly taught me that one has to stay different, no matter the price. Not seeing old people for half a year, often partying so long that I wouldn’t see the sun for days and not conforming to plenty of standards made me proud – and happy to leave.
We haven’t returned since.

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One of the farewell parties (own pic)

“Western Europe” – 2011: Southern France, Barcelona, 2012: London, 2014: Amsterdam to Paris 2015: Scandinavia
My counterculture views were eventually challenged by getting to places which were pleasant, beautiful, open and people just seemed happy.
If I had to leave Hungary and had to choose the destination right now I’d choose Cannes or Nimes or Marseille or something around there in Southern France.

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A magical sunset in Cannes (own pic)

2012 – Istanbul
As far as I can remember Istanbul was the first and maybe the only place so far that inspired me to write a short story. By its sheer size, diversity, location on 2 continents and its place as a regional and historical cultural center. (Note that I’ve mostly visited counterculture / periferic destinations before.)

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Doctor Fish (own pic)

Former Soviet Union – 2007, 2013, 2014, 2017 – Moldova, Transnistria, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia
I left Europe first time when we visited Tunisia and Morocco and well, Istanbul: but leaving Western culture behind -it felt for me- happened the first time in the backyard of Russia where one looks like an idiot if doesn’t speak Russian (off all languages!). It was amazing to see a country several times more poor and difficult than Hungary: Ukraine and visit countries that don’t exist in the minds of most people: Moldova and a country that doesn’t even exist on paper (much more in reality, though): Transnistria. Here’s when I learned that Western media lies too – or at least gives you a completely wrong picture (Belarus) and learned that Hungary is not so special by being small and having a language that no one speaks. Georgia and Armenia even came with alphabets that no one else can read…

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Transnistrian souvenirs (2 euro world-class brandy and 15 cent cigarettes)

To be continued soon…

All that I’ve learned from traveling (part 4 / a)

I wanted to use the word “inspiring” – but all I want to write about are places that showed me a really new face of the world. This often meant being inspired: I’d write poems or short stories about a destination. And often it meant being extinguished and losing ideals I had before.

I come from Szeged, Hungary, a border and student town of 200.000 from a small, middle-class, intellectual family.

2004 – Transylvania in summer by bike
It was just the summer when I learned to appreciate nature. And after leaving the completely flat plains and the city behind, boy, was there something to appreciate!?

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Békás-szoros (countrytours)

2007 – Alone in the nature (Hungarian countryside)
Have you ever been outside, alone at night, in a tent? Blindly trusting those few people that saw you to let you sleep in peace?
A leap of faith that killed plenty of fear in me. While during this preparing travel (of 1000 km) I usually slept in my tent, a month later on my 37 day journey I used the tent 3-4 times, only in rain / mosquito land: otherwise falling asleep in my sleeping bag looking at the stars was just enough comfort.

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This is Romania and I’m with friends but I think you get the idea…

2007 – Any village (Poland, Węgierka)
People want to see the must-see things. But is it really life-changing the see the Eiffel-tower or the Big Ben? Visiting a place where no tourist ever stopped before, probably, is a way easier task: I bet there’s a place like this even in the 30 km radius of where you live. I chose a small road to cross a small village called Węgierka in Poland because of it’s name (meaning Hungarian girl, more-or-less) and when 4 elementary school age girls started to wave at me I turned back. Two of them wanted to run away but they stayed at the end and with very limited English we talked some words and they taught me some basic Polish words (left, right, straight ahead). As good as it gets…
Later, we had a very memorable stay in Imyanin, Belarus where the road ended and some agriculture students let us stay at their place for a couple euros that were spent on vodka and drunk promptly.
As one of my best friends put it: “nice to see whatever eiffel tower, taj mahal and shit, but what value does give it to me? almost zero. be able to say say/tick off that i saw this or that piece of stone, inscribed in whatever list? seeing a structure that i’ve seen already in pictures or movies 100 times? having the feeling of being one of millions of other idiots who gathered there to take a picture of that structure, of which there are already billion photos anyway? 😀 everything, completely everything that forms the experience around these places is just copy-paste of any other attractions anywhere else – food, people, their behavior towards you etc

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Imyanin (or whatever), Belarus (or whereever)

2008 – Being the victim
In Chitila, just outside of Bucharest we were robbed: my friend’s bag was taken by force and when we tried to get it back my friend was stopped and “searched” again while I was hit with a big stone by a small kid.
We got the police (never saw policemen being afraid in their own police station before, constantly) and they were as powerless as we were.

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(romanianhistoryandculture) – The incident didn’t make me racist: I’m part of & donor for a volunteer-based educational organisation for mostly Rroma children in deep poverty

2008 – The middle of the night at the middle of nowhere
While biking alone in a forgotten small road in Bulgaria, looking up to the sky I realized how small and unimportant I was. Never happened before and rarely after.

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Part 4 / b, is coming soon 🙂

All that I’ve learned from traveling (part 3)

Extra Hungariam non est vitasi est vitanon est ita – there is no life outside of Hungary: if there is, it’s not like it.

This is a popular Hungarian saying. When it was first written down in 1660 it was probably not very smart. In 2018, however, it is bordering complete idiocracy.

/In the first part of this so-far trilogy I wrote about my ultimate learning from traveling. The second part is about my biggest cultural shocks and big learnings about the world & traveling./

Now it’s the 3rd part and here comes a short summary of my most meaningful personal interactions in connection with traveling.

2002, 2004: Participating on 2 week long bicycle trips organized by my chess teacher. Being among several other students of the same age (I was 13-15) I’ve learned how lonely one can be – and that conforming to the others’ behaviour, ideas and values are definitely not a must. I’ve learned too that I wasn’t not more valuable than others: I shouldn’t take more out from the common than how much I add.

2007: Biking alone in Hungary & then in Central Europe for a couple weeks taught me the big lesson of people: they do not care about me. If they do, they usually help (98/100) and very rarely harm me (2/100). But it’s not because of my actions but because of their set of values and situation. [I couldn’t judge the -probably drunk, young- Poles that stole my phone in the center of Lublin where I slept. Maybe I’d have done the same. Okay, I wouldn’t have. But still. It didn’t (and doesn’t) seem evil.]
I learned that one can find a best friend or a girlfriend even for an hour or half a day and can enter adventures that stay in his mind for a lifetime. I often recall a time when a guy asked me where I was going to sleep while offering me tea and sandwich and when I mentioned “by the road”, he called up his friends to help (he spoke Polish, I spoke German so it was more misunderstanding than communication). His friends happened to be policemen, taking me and my bike in their car off the main road unexpectedly. I thought they’d beat me or rape or kill me but I was taken to a big house where I slept at the end next to a guy in his 60s (who’d mysteriously greet me in the middle night in Hungarian (of all languages!), asking “Sör az van?” / Do you have a beer?). I went to sleep thinking I was in a police station and it took a while (and a free müsli) to find out that I slept in a senior’s home. Awkward.

2008-2011: biking for 2 weeks with my 2 best friends made us get to know each other well. At our destination (halfway), we’d get into an argue and separate. The friendship deteriorated with the one we left behind and the other guy became a real best friend. I learned as well that in time of danger you DO get to know the others. It was probably the most shocking travel experience when a group of gypsy kids took my friend’s bag on the main road in Chitila, outside of Bucharest, Romania. When we started to follow them we’d be attacked, a bit. (A small child found enough strength to throw a big stone on my back that’d hurt for days). Two of us tried to chase the lost bag. The third guy rode the other way.
Bike trips followed the next years and I’d get to know others too. It was twice that a girl joined the trip. None of them ever wanted to do another bike trip.

2009: Living in Milan, Italy did change a lot of perceptions. Living with my sister, only the two of us changed our perception of each other. As well as I found a Hungarian friend with whom we’ve been in touch, on and off, slowly but steadily.

Then Cosenza, Italy, on my Erasmus, bonds that seemed strong at first sight quickly disappeared. I’m in touch with one local, Calabrian person: we’d have a short conversation sometimes & this is where probably the most important voluntary human relation of my life began: I met my future Polish wife there.

2010: Moving to Poland strengthened the relation with her but I’d have little contact with others from Poznan by today. (One would have to presume that maybe it’s not the places’ fault that I didn’t build lasting relations. Hehe.)

2011-2018: Work & travel. Being a tour leader on river cruise ships has been one of the most interesting way to get to know people. I was among those who considered the working days (90 or 130 a year) part of my private life. Even though I didn’t get to decide with which crew on which ship with which colleagues and passengers I’d spend my time. Most of my current friendships come from cruise ships: imagine 11 – 14 days when you see your colleagues 8-16 hours a day and have to cooperate very-very closely while you sleep in single cabins – but just a couple inches from each other. A great recipe for hate – or lasting friendships. I never hated long. As a cruise ended & the anger quickly (okay, sometimes slowly) disappeared. Friendships often last, on the other hand.

2015-2018: We are getting farther from travel and closer to work: I work as a local guide in Budapest and through this colleagues and travelers somewhat connected to travelling have become new friends and acquaintances. I’ve recently organized an event in Hungarian language and noticed that about half of my friends on FB are not Hungarian speakers so I couldn’t invite them. It somehow felt very good.

2009-2018: These past 8 years I’ve mostly traveled with my wife. We’ve met people on travels with whom we still meet or at least keep in touch. They (you!) opened my mind in ways I could have never managed at home.

So, the bottom line: I’ve met my wife and most of my best friends (let them be Hungarian or no) through traveling / travel business. With those old friends who count we’d travel together, sometimes. Even if someone managed to convince me that traveling is not worth it (environment, money, mass tourism, etc.) it couldn’t last traveling directly or indirectly but gave the richest part to my life: the best of human relations…

After all, it’s people who matter, no?

And if you travel to see the best pieces of architecture, the best pieces of art, if you travel to get a business deal done or move to get the best job available, wouldn’t you travel to have a chance to meet the best people?!

All that I’ve learned from traveling (part 2)

I’ve just read that there were probably more than a million travel blogs in the world. It includes our old blog from 2010 with its 20 posts. I don’t plan to revive that one or start a new, one-in-more-than-a-million travel blog. This post is about the most important things I’ve learned during my extensive travels. You can find the final learning in the short, easy-to-read post, the first part.

I’ve spent a large part of my life traveling: about 400 days on private “pleasure” travel in over 60 countries and about 500 days on “business” travel: as a tour leader in 19 countries. One could even add that living for half a year somewhere (I had 3 such periods) can be considered traveling.

1, My biggest cultural shocks were
– cultures are actually different in the world. I came to this realization in March 2014 after I landed in Bangkok. Having visited much of continental Europe, Northern Africa, former Soviet Union but stepping out of Bangkok airport convinced me in minutes that the world is NOT quickly becoming a full-scale Western cultural world led by US and/or Europe.
– getting sick: it was probably Southern Lao contaminated food (and/or the snakes, insects and spiders I ate) that gave me a disease that made me lose 10-15 kgs in a about 6 weeks and it took about 2 years for my stomach to be extra-strong again
– if family’s all you have – you might have it all: cruising in Cambodia made me feel like I’ve traveled a few hundred years back. Yet, they seemed quite the same as I was. Over there it seemed so obvious that career, prestige, money and the rest we do so much about is just unimportant
– life can be really, fucking slow: I came to the realization as we watched the sunset in Southern Jordan in the desert with the bedouin hosts when no one said a word for a couple minutes
– poor people often seem happy. No, I mean really: none of my friends were ever as happy for making 4-500 euro a day as the tour guide was in Vietnam for making 10 euro a day…
– my big revolutionary ideas and voluntary discomforts of simple living, not having shower every day, sleeping on the ground, not wearing a coat in winter, etc. are conditions that that would be a paradise for most people on this planet…

2, I’ve learned about the world that:
– It was a very good idea NOT to believe people about places they haven’t been. They think they know – and they really don’t. [Take a look at pictures of Damascus, Syria from 2017 here]
– things that are obvious in your culture can easily be criminal activities in others: human values are relative, here and now.
– The world is an incredible rich and inexhaustible place. Even if you managed to visit all countries or all regions (it’s practically impossible in a human life) – by the time you’ve got to the last one the first place changed too much… …and anyways, even if you live all your life in a village, you probably still won’t solve its secrets…
– Most people really don’t care about my existence. If they get to interact with me, still, they will be helpful 98 times and malevolent 2 times. (I score very low on victim tests though.)
– People are always fascinating. Let them be from a godforgetten Belarussian dead-end village to New York City (and your hometown!!), people are fascinating.

3, I’ve learned about traveling that
– Traveling is not expensive. But you either need money or time – and if you have none, than you need a lot of determination and a bit of luck too. [my most memorable trip cost me less than 3 euros a day]
– Traveling is the best way of getting to know someone in a short time. It’s like living together, straight to the essence – and often two weeks are enough to really start liking or hating someone
– you can learn about things by being there that you can not learn otherwise. But much of the base knowledge of a destination can be learned from home (let it be history, politics
– Traveling doesn’t mean anything else than living. There are exactly as many rules to
travel as there are to daily life: close to none.
– I like to plan my trips (no drifting), follow a project and conclude it in no longer than 6-7 weeks: as I can not rest on destination (neither at home though) I wear myself out in this relatively short period.
– Nothing substitutes first-hand experiences.

3, I’ve learned about myself that:
– I’m a very similar human being to the others (who often live from close to nothing) thus I don’t need more than very little money to survive.
– Voluntary discomfort makes me stronger: let it be riding 120 kms a day and sleeping outside, climbing mountains in winter with no proper equipment,  or taking the cheapest hostels. And it saves money too.
– Leaving security, a tight safety net, worrying parents and hopes of delayed gratification made me learn how to live in the moment.
– I have as much choice in how to travel as I have in how to live. Neither guide-book attractions nor limits have to stand in the way of a travel mission or idea.

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Sukhothai, Thailand, 2014: local students’ English homework was to strike up a conversation and record it in English

All that I’ve learned from traveling (part 1)

When I travel, especially in a really foreign place, something weird always happens to me—I suddenly become fascinated by everyone. I find myself with the urge to learn about the lives of everyone around me, to ask questions, and to try to understand what life is like in that place. I become a super extrovert. It’s a great feeling.
Then I come home, and I usually snap back into introvert mode, where talking to people I don’t know is boring or tiring or anxiety-inducing. I stop pouring my best self into interactions with new people, I stop asking meaningful questions, and I’m relieved when the interaction is over and I can sink back into the familiar—my phone, my friends, my apartment.
I figured out at some point that the only real difference between a stranger in a shop window on some windy street in Kazakhstan and a stranger at a social gathering in New York is my mindset. Both people are equally interesting, because the truth is, everyone is interesting if you take a second to think about it.” (Tim Urban, Wait But Why)

The main thing I’ve learned about traveling is simple enough to understand but very difficult to live: you can feel a similar fascination with your average Tuesday afternoon as you’d do with one of the most interesting sights of the world.

Traveling is great. But it’s not the only way. Visiting 5 cities in 5 days gives you an overview. You dedicate 5 months for those 5 cities you’ll get a way better idea than most tourists.

Spending 50 years in 5 cities isn’t a travel any more: but it nevertheless gives you more of an overview than most would wish from any city 5 cities.

With understanding that your home is just another place to visit (possibly thousands or millions already spend money & time to visit your area!) it’ll become clear that a good traveling experience doesn’t mean going to another continent (soon enough it’ll be another plant). Your area can easily have things you’ve never considered doing: let it be going for a cruise, elephant riding, hiking in a natural park, volunteer for the homeless or the poor or just relax by the lake.

During your travel you marvel at things. Wednesday Paris, Thursday London, a cheap flight to Brussels, a short ride to Bruges, an hour in Ghent & you end up in Amsterdam for the weekend.
While living at home, committing to a destination you can dig deep, very deep if you wish (let it be helping your mother, learning to be an architect, be a policeman, etc.) and make a difference. It’s an amazing feeling.

But what I’m saying is, simply: you need to travel to appreciate what you have at home. You can not really cut the “you need to travel” part from this. Hungary, for example is a better place to live than 90% of the world, in my opinion. Yet, many Hungarians believe this is the worst / close to the worst place to live in the planet. It’s not gonna change much by reading an article. But it often changes after traveling extensively.

So, well, big surprise: another world traveler is telling you to get up from your ass and travel!

The second part is going to be longer, I promise. See you on Monday! 🙂

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a Vietnamese fuel station (author’s pic)

Positivity or why it doesn’t work without your happiness (my story)

Hungarian society is not a happy one. On a winter afternoon like today when I haven’t seen the sun for almost a week, looking out of my window on the grey streets of Budapest it’s easy to believe that I live in stereotypical Eastern Europe.

But I don’t think I do. Partly because I don’t come from a stereotypical family. Laughter, word jokes and an incredible intellectual interest on topics ranging from the poverty in the Roman Empire’s jurisdiction through the etymology of a random German word to Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s childhood were most usual dinner topics at home.

Yet, my parents had their fair share of depression, almost paranoid fear of authorities, of any kind of change, of losing jobs, of being tricked, even of driving to a chess competition on one of the main roads – and great fear that I’d end up being a trashman, an alcoholic or homeless because I didn’t reach the highest votes in philosophy and biology.

My father, an individual thinker in constant opposition to the new (and the old) political system and elite and – let’s be honest -, to any system, taught me about a fascinating world out there: a world that I should observe critically but shouldn’t really participate in it. Every Saturday, my father would still be distressed about Friday and every Sunday would be poisoned  because of the hardships of upcoming Monday.

My mother, on the other hand, haven’t found much of the outside world fascinating – except if it happened 2000 years ago and one could learn about it at the university. She taught (and showed) me too that most participation in the outside world is close to senseless. She seemed like a happy person in her little world, though.

Being a member of the generation that grew up during democracy in the insecure ’90s in Hungary, raised by people who spent their entire life in Communism where smiling in public was frown upon and the greatest value out there was leading a grey, ultimately secure life, we can easily say that positivity wasn’t part of our life.

It was a book that started my journey in the reign of positivity: James Redfield’s Celestine Prophecy. I’d call this book secretly „the book that taught me to how be happy”. It promoted positivity, personal happiness, a self-centered life, “coincidences of the universe” and it was my window to spirituality: a non-existent idea in my atheist, education-oriented home.

At age 15, you’d find me meditating on our balcony focusing on a tree in the sunshine – and just being happy. Or you’d see me taking long walks alone, watching clouds, marvelling at the river, the two bridges – and even the asphalt of my hometown. These walks remained the synonym of happiness for me.

Walking alone with no needs, intentionally leaving my phone at home because no phone call could make the evening better and concentrating on being – and only being happy: it was a glass completely full.

I deeply believed in the saying: „You don’t have to look out of your window the see the sky.”

Positivity made me believe that life has a meaning: and this meaning is personal happiness. Overwriting all other personal and social responsibilities I believed whatever made me feel good was a good thing. I thought a perfect life meant smiling, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I loved Boris Vian for his quote: “The masses are wrong; individuals are always right.”

It was a strong ideology that easily fit into my smiley, positive, optimistic, self-centered personality. For example I had never read the news before but from this time I could be proud of not reading them, ever.

Positivity changed me a lot. I learned how to be grateful: something I had no chances to learn at home („Let me see your votes. They are all 5s!* Congratulations! I see you got 3 praises too. That’s incredible! You are really the smartest kid in the class! But I think you could have gotten 5 praises if you had really learned more…”).
Being grateful made me stop complaining, consciously. I’d be positive to everyone and I’d avoid any kind of argues (what argue would be of worthy of taking away the most important thing: momentary happiness?) and it made me consciously fight boredom and passivity: life, being the most precious thing available seemed to be betrayed by watching the TV, resting, too much sleeping, etc. Sometimes it was quite radical: I stopped watching TV and never restarted it, in other cases it was pretty simple: commenting on positive and staying silent over negative things.

5 is the best vote in Hungary

Positivity, radiating energy, smiling, being ready-for-a-new-challenge and try to really get rid of my harmful and negative actions: well, it did help me out and gave a good beat to my adolescent life. It didn’t help me in competitive sports (I gave up competitions consciously as I felt one should mainly compete with himself), in standing up what suits we shall wear for our prom (I’ve never had opinion about clothes), being active in politics, being emphatic with people who were hurt or needed help – but I still believe it was one of the most useful lessons I’ve ever had.

This is a lesson that few teach in the Western world – because it’s not good for business. Being happy – just by being and marveling at the world: not at the greatest attractions but at yourself breathing, being healthy, able to walk, able to see stars so far away one can hardly comprehend, able to breath fresh air in, smiling at strangers, taking long walks without a wallet and phone: these are amazing things in life – but none of them are good for business.

Learning positivity came from several sources. Humor from my father, from unfortunate strangers being grateful of all kind of little things I’ve always had, old American passengers, a Thai tour guide, physical workers in Myanmar, black beggars in Milan, a homeless guy who joked about the rising gas prices that didn’t affect him, from relationships, parties, kisses, alcohol, books, movies….

Positivity is not the answer in itself because nothing is. But I never regretted dedicating years to it. Without being able to consciously try to make myself happy I don’t think I would have been able to make a partner, a friend, a traveler or a student happy.

And I still believe, happiness is one of the (few) real purposes rather than means. All that changed is me, trying to stand up lately for the happiness of others – because I’ve received so much already…

A kiss on your lips (or do things really change?)

I was a smart kid in high school but it didn’t stop me from believing that doing certain things would turn my life upside down. The positive way. That doing something would give me some type of superpower.

One of these things was getting a kiss on my lips. I remember watching “A beautiful mind” and I couldn’t understand why the wife wasn’t happy with the weirdo depressed drugged husband when she gets a kiss on her lips every times she says comes home and says “hi”.

I thought those people that give kisses on their beloveds’ lips are happy. I wanted to kiss a girl badly.

“Teen stuff.” Of course. It’s a story makes me smile a bit today. But it’s only because I’d get a kiss (and many more) later. And you know what I got? Well, I bit of confidence. Some experience. But no superpower. Over the course of years I’ve done things that some people believe would turn their life upside down:
– I traveled extensively, alone and with friends
– I’ve been in a long term relationship
– I got married
– I’ve had a child
– I earn a lot of money (compared the the average of where I live)
– I don’t have a direct boss
– I took time off from working and studying for longer periods
– I quit a job from one day to another
– …

And all of these things gave me experiences and added to who I am today. But never superpowers. Never, ever. Not too long ago I thought “what if I’ll once be the mayor of Budapest or prime minister of Hungary?” or “what if I’ll be taken to a prison?” or “what if 3 million people will read this article instead of 3 or 23?”. And I got to the calming conclusion: I’ll always be the same, in a way. /And no matter how global we become “Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment” (and in our body and mind)/

I’m not saying that I’d be the same person if I had stayed in my hometown (or police had taken me every time they could have) and that major life decisions don’t exist. I’m just saying that life is a looooooong journey. And it’s NOT ONE THING that defines who you are. You might get lucky and win the lottery – or meet the best possible partner for yourself tomorrow. Or get a special kiss on your lips without working hard for it. But life is a very complex matter. Even making it to a Nobel prize, a Wikipedia page, political power or religious highs won’t make you a complete, happy person.

Many of us have life missions/plans/projects. We often convince ourselves that they are like my first, non-existent kiss-on-the-lips: if I finally become a lawyer / a millionaire / a huge plasma TV owner / a church-goer fellow, MY LIFE will suddenly make an amazing turn – as it never did before. And I’ll be rich, privileged, prestigious and happy. And my wife and son will love me again, too.

I have bad news. Such kiss on the lips, such one time occasions don’t exist…

As quite appropriately noted by Jim Carrey: “I hope everybody could get rich and famous and will have everything they ever dreamed of, so they will know that it’s not the answer.”

Life’s quite complex and there’s no SINGLE MAGIC SOLUTION.

Humans aren’t very logical creatures and we certainly don’t work by an objective set of values: we are different individuals. And we can only value something we worked hard for (why else wouldn’t the Rolling Stones feel satisfaction when they conquered the musical world after 4 years of playing with its members in their early 20s?).
Man: isn’t it enough for most in their early twenties to have friends, pass exams, get laid once in a while – and keep some dreams for later?! (It sure worked for me…)

I’m sorry for the bad news again but you’re not Elon Musk, Barack Obama, Ryan Gosling or one of these ultra-alpha-male-celebrities. Neither will you be. (Even worse news are to come later, such as you’ll die at the end!)

But there’s good news too.

If you are reading this blog probably you’ve already had a lot of kisses on your lips. You read English. You have internet. Chances are you are healthy. You probably have a safe home. And your house is probably not on fire: otherwise you couldn’t read this. Let go of some of the big dreams for a bit. Still waters run deep. What if you don’t have to do more – just look at the world differently?

What if you’ve got enough big kisses on your lips for now?

Sorry: the prince(ss) never arrives on the white horse…

Many of my friends are in their mid-30s. We talk about relationships.

This is the time when compromises are often made. You want a child now but don’t have the right partner? Though choice!
Don’t want to be single for another year and need someone right now? Though luck!
Looking for “the right one” that never seems to arrive? Hm.

 It’s a story as complex as anything. But there’s an aspect I’ll try to make less blurry in the next few minutes.

 The “MR / MS RIGHT ONE” doesn’t exist yet. Even if falling in love in a second / couple hours is possible (obligatory watch: Before sunrise) it only remains an opportunity – and basta.

It’s like an unborn or few hours old child with the brain of Mozart or Einstein. The potential is there but nothing’s realized yet.

Finding your prince(ss) actually means being in a relationship & working hard. Very hard. To accept, tolerate, compromise, fight and argue, give up and stand tall and try and fail and have radical emotions when it’s the last thing you need and become tempted and become bored and all the rest. (obligatory watching: Before sunset, Before midnight)

 When it comes to the prince on the white horse we talk about a whole great misunderstanding of major life choices. Whole lives are rarely changed by a spur-of-the-moment decision.

Money is not about winning the lottery, finding a great job is not about accidentally bumping into a good ad, writing a book or creating a website is not about finding a good title. And creating a great relationship does not happen at a moment’s notice.

 The thing that one can learn, however is the way of how to take advantage of an opportunity and how to pick your fights: which opportunities to go for. There is not one job, one partner, one apartment, etc. for you to find.

 There is no prince(ss) on the white horse. Sorry.
There is you, however with a conscious decision-making tool you can improve to share your time with worthwhile people & activities. Go for it! 😉

Obligatory watching: Hang the DJ (Black Mirror episode)