If you missed the story of how I met my wife, let me remind you. I was couchsurfing at her family’s house in Morocco.
Couchsurfing likes to remind people that it’s not a dating site, but in fact, it is a place where I’ve met many of my closest friends and the woman I married.
One of the keys to mastering the art of world travel on almost nothing is learning to trust strangers and let them become friends.
World Travel on Almost Nothing Tip #4:
Make strangers into friends.
One of the things that I love about Couchsurfing.com is that it relies on opening your heart and mind to the hospitality of strangers. Contrary to popular belief, most people on the planet are good and want to help you in this life. If you doubt that, look inside yourself and I’m sure you will see it is true.
I wrote my thesis in college about the fans of the TV show LOST. One of the amazing things I found was that when fans traveled to Hawaii they often found places to stay, free guided tours, and new friends waiting for them. In that case, what brought these people together was a love of a TV show. For the world traveler, you are more likely to come together because of a love of travel.
I’ve made friends just about everywhere I’ve been and in the process I’ve managed to avoid paying for hotels, meals, and sometimes even transportation. I’m not saying you should be mercenary about seeking out and using people, I’m saying that when you open your arms to the world, you often get a hug in return.
While I’ve never been a WWOOFer or used HospitalityClub.com, I certainly have known plenty of people who have. These sorts of communities thrive on the fact that people are in general kind and good natured. If you don’t believe that, then you better keep paying for hotel rooms and guided city tours.
For me, Ghent was just a day trip from Brussels, but if you want to stay in Ghent, here is a complete list of hotels in Ghent with user reviews and multi site price comparisons. Rafael was kind enough to pick up some maps from a very cool tourist office so the next day I took a shorter train trip to Ghent, a very hip, very cool little town.
Ghent has the coolest wallpaper store in the world. Wow.
Sadly, it rained all day, I woke up with a sore throat, and it seemed there was immense construction going on, as a result of some or all of the above, it seemed that just about everything was closed…maybe because it was Monday. Anyway, I brought my dirty laundry and found a laundrymat, then I explored the Gravensteen castle which had an excellent torture museum. Waterboarding, old school style plus a guillateen which was used for numerous executions. Took a lot of pictures, walked around in the rain with my laundry, felt my flu getting worse, had some Belgian Fries and then headed back to Brussels, hoping that I didn’t have swine flu. I didn’t really care if I had it, but I didn’t want to pass it on to Raphael and his daughters.
Ghent also has the coolest ashtray I’ve ever stuck a butt in.
Hard to believe the world is going to end in just a month – or not. One thing for certain though, the world is a big, wide, wonderful place. If you don’t believe me on that, all you have to do is take a visit to the World Travel Market in London or one of the other massive global travel shows that take place in various cities around the world.
My main purpose in visiting the WTM was to research new destinations to write about, find interesting destinations, and to connect with the businesses and tourist boards for those regions so that when we do have writers visit, we can get the best possible information and resources to share with you, our readers. My secondary purpose was to travel the entire world by going to one destination.
I’m happy to report that both goals were met. I was fortunate to visit Trinidad and Tobago – home of the lovely ladies you see here and a fascinating mix of Caribbean, Indian, British, and African cultures. I jumped to Bermuda, Guyana, Costa Rica, and Mexico before discovering the Maya and Inca trails of Guatemala, Honduras, and Central America. In Brazil I was able to drink great coffee and stiff rum and down the road in California, I indulged in some great wines before heading to Vegas to see show girls and Elvis and finally on to Florida for some Disney and Cuban culture.
Tripping around to Asia, I marveled in the beauty of Sri Lanka and felt the spiritual buzz of India’s many regions. I stopped by Japan and then enjoyed some traditional treats in Taipei City before heading on over to the smiling bartender of the Philippines.
I trekked through Nepal, and of course, I had to visit the magnificent islands of the Maldives and the Seychelles before I wandered into the storybook land of the human happiness index – Bhutan.
In Africa I journeyed through the Serengeti witnessed the great migration in Kenya, Tanzania. The spices of Zanzibar, the mystique of Mozambique, and the party life and wild life of sensational South Africa. Old friends were there and I enjoyed visiting Egypt and Morocco with Henna and Pyramids before moving on to the exotic Middle East. Ultra modern Dubai, Iraq, making it’s way back – after all, the cradle of the world. Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, and the UAE – Syria…not there, but my old friend Turkey filling one of the biggest areas of the entire show. Turkey – so magnificent, so big. Everyone is going to go to Turkey.
Australia, New Zealand, and the sparse regions of the Pacific islands – not very settled. Not very present at the show…too far away I think, but the Aussies were serving plenty of cold beer and at times, the entire show felt like Burning Man. Different camps and different parties. Fantastic.
Don’t think that I’ve forgotten about Europe. I spent time exploring the churches, wines, and culture of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan before jumping into Siberian adventures and back into Russia where I was taught to weave and shown the wonders of a land that might be the most exotic of them all in my mind. Then it was onward, Westward…to Poland, Spain, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, and don’t forget beautiful, quirky, lovely little Belgium.
From there, North, North to Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the ice fields, volcanoes, and little people (elves) of Iceland. The cold Atlantic sister island to my beloved Hawaii. Yes, I must go to Iceland…I must feel this place. I must go.
And, the added benefit of leaving each day to be in magnificent London, the world’s best theme park and to have each end of my trip buffered by visits to Marseille and Aix-en-Province in France. My life really is magnificent. I admit it. I’ll be telling you about some of the amazing places I stayed and saw soon.
There were fantastic talks, seminars, and booths and exhibitors who focused on the cutting edge of where travel is headed in the coming years. The Social Travel Market was gangbusters and told me one thing in particular – those that don’t adapt, are certain to die in the age of mobile and social travel. Don’t expect to see many travel blogs in the coming years – a few will survive and most will become relics that die as the owners decide to skip paying the $14 domain registration fees each year. If you want to see some of what I’m talking about, you can watch most of the sessions on the WTM YouTube channel.
In a word, I just have to say, the WTM was magnificent. the chance to meet people from all over the world. The opportunity to meet friends and colleagues – new, old, and future. It was a wonderful opportunity. There were plenty of parties (like this one, photo and drinks courtesy of Hostel Bookers) where we all got to relax and enjoy life.
But all of this leads me to the inevitable conclusion. What did I learn at the World Travel Market in London? Is there a hot list for destinations for Vagobond or that we recommend to our readers in 2013. There is indeed. Here is what we want to see and do in 2013.
Here it is – our hot-list Top 10 for 2013!
1) Tanzania and Zambia Photo Safaris
2) Trinidad and Tobago Cultural Holidays
3) Iceland Walking Tours
4) Honduras Eco Tours
5) Sri Lanka for pretty much everything
6) Hyderabad and Anwar Pradesh in India
7) 7000 Islands of fun in the Philippines – all of them
8) Siberian Tribal Adventures
9) The Maldives – Luxury Travel
10) Armenia – exploring the food and culture of the first Christian land
There was so much more to share…but hopefully, I can share it all in person over time.