Have you noticed the desperation in the travel-addicted community over the past year? Out of habit or anxiety, many people I used to follow or still do tried to keep a similar level of talking about travel even when they were forced to stay put by the pandemic. Some shared photos of past travels. Others wrote posts about what they realised about the entire culture of travelling. Yet others shared their dreams and longings, and some still managed to sneak some travelling between constantly changing restrictions. I took some time to view these posts and hold their loss, understanding that many of them were really struggling with the sudden restriction of a habit that was making them happy.
But then, around April I think, I unfollowed all travel bloggers, except those who post interesting things about their country of residence. No bitter feelings or newly found anti-travel ‘wokeness’ here, it’s just that as they were raising social and sometimes economic capital for themselves with these posts and I was still travelling, I used to habitually check them out, maybe compare or get ideas, but as I viewed their posts for the last time in my lockdown shelter, I couldn’t see anything in them that held any value for me. I did not follow many cheery and cheesy ones anyway, but even the nice, reasonable, respectful ones, who could have claimed ‘I am a traveller, not a tourist’ or even denounced this claim because of its divisiveness, no longer felt like they are giving me anything. Instead, I embarked on several non-travel journeys, and I believe many people have, too.
When I thought of what I wanted to do this year and things were still normal, I decided that it’s time to visit Iceland. One of the options was to go with a photography group straight from Malta. One or another way, the pull of this magical island seemed irresistible. But as we know, travel has been disrupted around the world, and I prefer not to contribute to increasing avoidable risks just for pleasure. What about my old dream to visit Iceland? Well, Project Gutenberg came to the rescue.
Numerous blogs, microblogs, magazines, and individual careers are all about travel. Now that travel is so heavily restricted, how does one write about it in a meaningful way?
The first inspiration for this post came from an instagram account that promotes tourism to Malta. Since 21 March, Maltese authorities suspended commercial flights, making leisure travel next to impossible. So if that account is all about promoting consumer travel, should it stop posting, or should it find new ways to keep its followers engaged? The account painstakingly sought out hashtags like #thankstotravel, #moretoexplore, #staycurious and others – and many travel bloggers and ‘influencers’ jumped at them too. Many of them desperately struggle to stay relevant as people ease into the new normal, but these promises of delayed gratification (‘you will be able to consume travel destinations in the future – meanwhile, please, please consume these promises of future consumption’) sound out of place and tone-insensitive.
Still, making snarky remarks about the struggles of these people and businesses to stay relevant as their livelihood is threatened would not be helpful. I believe that amid this crisis, we should use even stronger filters of kindness and helpfulness before we publish or post anything. Social critique of systemic flaws in the travel industry is helpful, because it is necessary for improving our societies, but picking on individual ‘influencers’ and businesses is not. Instead, I would like to invite them to critically reassess what’s helpful and kind in their business model.
Between two listicles in The Guardian recommending Ohrid in North Macedonia as a top holiday destination (2016 and 2017), the price of the newspaper’s recommended hotel seems to have doubled. This tiny detail reveals that the country is basking in attention, and having it on one’s list of places visited is no longer a badge of off-the-beaten-track travel. Thanks to direct flights, many people visited the country and continue singing praises to this day. And why wouldn’t they, given that N. Macedonia has mountains, greenery, water and city life to enjoy?
Click on the images to enlarge them
The sea is pretty much the only kind of wildlife Malta can offer, so spending time in and near the sea is very important for making the most of living on this island. Thanks to my friend M. I had an opportunity to try out sea kayaking, which is one of the most exciting ways to explore the islands from unusual angles.
Last Sunday was the day of 40 birds in Lithuania, which means, according to traditional wisdom, that 40 species return from the South by that day. Some say that due to climate change the list of species changes, but their number remains roughly the same. I trust one of my favourite Lithuanian photographers, Marius Čepulis, for the species count. Meanwhile, I am trying to keep track of bird presence in Malta.
Birds in Malta do not get all the protection they deserve, bird-watching in spring is exciting in Malta, as various species pass by on the way to continental Europe, and, thanks to dedicated volunteers who monitor protected birds against hunting offenses, many survive the journey.
Robin is a common and brave bird. Click on the images to enlarge them
Adapted from the questionnaire used here.
Anti-consumerist travel achievement: fully ditching make-up. This happened way before 2018, but I never blogged about it much. I had never used much of that stuff, but every little item means more space in the luggage and more toxic chemicals down the drain. Using nail polish requires a nail polish remover. Using mascara calls for special fluid suitable for the eye area. Everything is packed in unrecyclable single-use plastics. It’s so much easier without any of these things! When I was younger, I allowed myself to get convinced that especially formal occasions demand following social conventions. I understand that many women also use make-up as a form of creative expression, and that these things help people, especially with less standard looks, feel more confident. Going around without make-up and not using facial cosmetics means exposing one’s skin to a world that is often cruel and merciless for women. Just think of the language in advertising: ‘impurities’, ‘imperfections’… Let’s cut this crap – we don’t owe the world perfection. Leave the cyborg looks to those people who are paid to look like this.
Bucket-list destination visited: Austrian Alps, Sahara Desert.
Cuisine, discovered this year: Ghanaian (in Hamrun, Malta). Emmanuel is not the most organised restaurant, but it’s genuine and low-key. Fried plantain with beans is excellent. Continue reading
As we completed half of our studies, my best friend at the time and I set off to opposite ends of the European continent for our much-awaited exchange semester. We had both been informed that our dormitory rooms will only have the most basic furniture, and we chose very different ways to deal with it. My friend at the time decided to travel with a huge suitcase complete with pans and cutlery. I went with clothes for all seasons and products that I was told were expensive in the destination. This was before Facebook, meaning, before exchange, second-hand and upcycling groups.
Fortunately for me, I found that the dormitory kitchen, shared with seven other rooms, was fully equipped. I also found that the previous inhabitant left a pillow and a blanket, so I didn’t need to look for those. People who stayed in the more expensive dormitories, either because they applied too late or because they preferred not to share anything, had their own kitchenette – and had to procure utensils themselves. Ever since that time I’ve been contemplating this issue – kitchenware is bulky, heavy and, although not extremely expensive, adds to the ballooning initial costs when moving to a new country. How to go about it in an affordable and sustainable way?
In the first post about an essential kit to take along when moving countries, I wrote about an essential wardrobe to go through most of the life situations in one’s new home. I want to make it clear that all of the countries I’ve lived in had plenty of shops for various budgets, but whenever I can, I try to avoid a shopping spree in a new country, because it is neither financially nor environmentally sustainable. It can also feel totally overwhelming in a new place, before I get to know how to navigate it.
The headache of packing a huge suitcase before the trip. The compulsory journey to Ikea in a new location. The equations and calculations – how many clothes, how many decorative items, if any, how many things for daily life… I certainly don’t miss any of those. These were my chores of moving to a new country, and I’ve lived in quite a few – usually for various short-term projects or interships. The stay in Malta is my longest, and perhaps it’s a good chance to contemplate how I would do it differently today.
Moving to Sweden in 2006 and moving to Malta recently are worlds apart in terms of logistics and my skills in moving around. When my bestie at the time and I set off to our Erasmus adventure on the opposite ends of Europe, we dreaded the thought of having to buy various utensils, bed linen and the like. My friend decided to take as much stuff as she could possibly carry, and I thought I’ll freeride on the shared kitchen. When I arrived, I found out that the previous student had left some bedsheets behind, which I happily used. In Budapest two years later, I bought some simple things at Ikea and left a box for a student I knew when I moved out – I was told the box travelled for several years to come from one Lithuanian student to another. Buying mugs, forks and pillowcases in each new country is annoying.
Since then I am continuously working to optimise my luggage when I travel, and so moving into a new life abroad would not be tremendously different from a trip on a low-cost airline. These are the tips I’d like to pass on to movers of today.