I get asked about this more often than most things, as my adventure all around this big ol’ world rolls onwards and upwards. At times, it is a real challenge to answer, when I am spending days on end researching alternative travel methods to no avail. I’d far sooner be out exploring whichever glorious country I’ve found my way to. The dark temptation of a €10 Ryanair flight is rarely far away, and it’s certainly nothing more than my absurd, blind determination not to fly that keeps me away from the airport.
One such conundrum presented itself back in Estonia in December, at the end of my Scandinavian chapter of my Busk the Globe tour. I’d dillied, dallied and daydreamed in Finland, enjoying the culture the vibrancy and the company of a dear old friend in Helsinki. Arriving, finally in Estonia I found myself just as bowled over by life on the other side of the Baltic Sea. A country no larger than Wales, no more populous than Birmingham, pulled and tempted by Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Russia and now the EU, yet still able to retain its distinct culture. These foreign tinkerings have shaped the country hugely, and the effects differ from region to region: The irrevocably Russian eastern counties; Tallinn with its medieval Germanic grandeur and throngs of British tourists; And Tartu – charming and intelligent, quite international with all its students yet, I feel, very “authentically” Estonian. What diminishing travel time I’d had left, earmarked for the other Baltic states was promptly guzzled up by the country and I had only a few days remaining to get back to my dear family and friends back home in Brighton for Christmas. The Ryanair flight, of course, was €35 and it took all the soul searching in the world, combined with the impeccably astute musings of my dear old mum regarding the topic to remind me that the flight home would negate everything I’ve been working to achieve in these years of self sustainable travel around the globe.
And so, one 4am bike ride, two 6 hour bus journeys, 10 miles by bike in gross sludge-snow, an eighteen hour journey at sea in the company of chain smoking Lithuanian truck drivers, no fewer than seven connecting trains and 30 miles pedalling along the Normandy coast through endless sprawls of Dunkerque dockyards was what it took to get me on that ferry to Dover! Bizarrely, I boarded as a vehicle, much to my amusement and that of the stewards who led my folding bike through lanes of motor traffic, politely waiting in line to come aboard. Now, ask me if that crazy adventure was worthy of the small temporal and financial sacrifices I had to make, if you feel so inclined? I was spat at in a Latvian market for attempting to buy just one banana; befriended a Lithuanian doctor over an avocado topped veggie burger and a fine craft beer (that’s right – the hipsters have infiltrated the Baltics too!); told off for stealing “free” bread from the buffet on board the ship; bowled over by the forests of wind farms along the Polish coast and of the mindblowing fact that we sailed past six different countries, each of these with distinct cultures and ways of life despite their overt geographical proximity. I visited a German Christmas market in Hamburg, and bollocked Deutsche Bahn for missing my connecting train (so much for German efficiency!). I cycled the gorgeous streets of Den Haag with a friend, marvelling at the almost Orwellian Dutch parliament building and its neighbouring traditional Flemish townhouses. What’s more, I was able to earn back my travel costs by busking in Bruges, and even found time to consider the lives lost in World War One at the Menin Gate in Ypres with a fellow Couchsurfer.
Or I could have fought my way into a cramped seat with lots of other miserable passengers having been terrorized for, God forbid, bringing my violin into the cabin, to be charged a small fortune for a truly dreadful sandwich whilst breathing in false air and being shaken to pieces during turbulence.
I am ever more passionate about sticking with my stubborn embargo, based on my experiences in the Caribbean these past few months. The public transport infrastructure here is, for all intents and purposes, nonexistent, and thus I’ve had to frenetically hone my resourcefulness, rampantly network and prostitute out my skills as a violinist to beg, borrow or steal passage on sailboats from island to island. It’s been challenging, mostly testing my patience and flexibility, but has now taken me to most every single island in the Leeward Antilles and beyond. Boat hitchhiking is proving to be quite the crafty endeavour, a hell of a lot more complicated than simply sticking one’s thumb out by a roadside. But goodness me, the rewards have been copious. It is only too easy to feel the self-indulgence of travel after so much time on the road. Friends of mine have mostly found their way into jobs now and are contributing their bit to society, and it is easy to lose sight of the value of what I myself am contributing: Sustainably travelling and moving people over the world through the power of music. Though this is by no means always the case, and in those stationary days void of music, there is a palpable feeling of productiveness when getting out hustling, sourcing the next boat I’ll be sailing on.
So much of my trip is shaped by my desire to meet people and share perspectives with those all over the world, but constantly putting myself out there can get exhausting. The quintessence of friendly faces all around to enable me to continue on my mission spurs me on with this though, and I’ve adored how social my time in the Caribbean has been. I’ve needed constantly to meet people as a way to survive: to find my next ride, or to find performance opportunities. Travelling musicians in Europe have it far too easy – the pedestrian streets to play in, the train station and an abundance of hostels are laid out on a silver platter. None of this backpacking infrastructure exists here in the Caribbean. Interisland flights are laughably expensive and unreliable so the only way to reasonably backpack this fascinating part of the world is by boat! It is a huge hassle, though I may not have formulated such a rewarding experience, digging so deeply into a relatively inaccessible part of the world, had I zipped through just a couple of the islands via expensive, awkward flights. Four months in and my skills on board a sailboat have rocketed from 0 to a genuine level of competency (though I’ve still got a long, long way to go). This has opened up a whole new aspect of my life, marine career prospects and a vibrant social network of likeminded, enterprising and inspiring travellers across the globe.
Now, there are times that the 21st century trips me up, absolutely forcing me to board a Boeing, be that due to my commitments as a professional musician, sheer geographical inaccessibility, or in the case of the immediate future, despicable bureaucracy at the US border, prohibiting me from entering the country via a private vessel based on my visa status. These things I have to take in my stride, as it is not worth the premature ageing it will cause me to kick up a fuss, or flat out refuse to come aboard – our lives are all rife with hypocrisy, and sometimes you have to swallow your ethics to take your medicine.
As every chapter of my tour passes I learn yet more about the nuts and bolts of long term, sustainable travel, and of my own priorities in life. My passion for exploring only grows, and for the sake of “good travel” and a true connection to the journey (arguably the most poignant aspect of travelling) – the kinesthetic energy and movement from one place to the next – I continue to avoid flying, to opt instead for the adventure. I elect for an ethical way to traverse the earth, powered by wind, the power in my thighs, and the music that drives my trip. I choose to support the local public transport industries around the world, as we all should, to enable this planet to live a long and happy life. So come, join me – hop on a ferry, a Eurostar, or hitchhike your way across an ocean, and lets make some lovely music, and with any luck subsequently, some smiles!
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