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Why I’m Not Flying

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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Thanks for reading again – If you’ve enjoyed then please support my cause by following/subscribing to my blog (link at bottom of page). Any new articles will be sent right to your mailbox! You can also follow my adventure and listen to my music on all social media @danhoddmusic.

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Here in Paradise, music is just as powerful.

My adventures continue, and have led me deep into the Caribbean, to a charming island named Nevis. It was never my intention to stop here (a recurring theme during my travels, it seems…), and this region of the world was supposed to remain untouched by yours truly for at least a couple of years as I head west around the planet, upon “completion” of the European continent. And no, I’d never heard of Nevis before either. Except for Ben Nevis. But the Scottish mountain is pronounced with a short “e”.

I am privileged to meet countless fascinating and friendly people in my line of life, and one such individual presented herself last summer in the few hours I spent busking in Woodbridge, Suffolk (again, no, I’d also never heard of Woodbridge before!). The former can-can dancer had performed & travelled all over the world but the past 20 years of her life had been devoted to building a successful restaurant out in the West Indies. She wanted to take me across to play there, and being the “yes-man” that I am, I swiftly accepted the offer. I’ve found this trait of mine has brought me (mostly) good fortune & good stories thus far, and can see that the people I meet are receptive to the way I’ll see any opportunity through that comes my way.

This one has taken me across the Atlantic Ocean to Nevis, of St Kitts & Nevis. A former British colony and now the smallest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Armed with the social tools of my violin & new Brompton folding bike – plus the social lubricants of rum & “Carib” beer, both cheap and in abundance here in Paradise – It hasn’t taken long to get to know the island and many of its 12,000 inhabitants. Contrary to the majority of my travels, I have the rare and brilliant opportunity to remain in one place here, during my time performing at the gorgeous & tasty restaurant aptly named “Bananas”! Already, I’ve been able to dig a little deeper into the culture; the way life operates here; the plethora of gruesome local history, of an island raped by early colonialism, pointlessly fought over by the English & French, and all the while repopulated by members of the African populace ruthlessly dragged half way across the planet to cater to Europe’s new found sweet tooth. Discussing the brutality of the Atlantic slave trade is something I hope to cover in a later article during my time here.

However, I put pen to paper today (yes, I still write that way, it’s just a shame I’m left handed so that the ink smudges) in an attempt to put into words my experiences of the day before. I was invited to a goat-roast, a traditional Sunday event on Nevis. While the roasted goat wasn’t exactly my style (vegetarianism isn’t for everyone), the rest of the buffet was simply exquisite, and the setting in an old sugar plantation inn was a window to the past. No more than two dozen were in attendance, and I shared some music with the group prior to eating, in the main wing of the hotel – a striking wooden structure dating back to ca. 1670: the oldest of its kind in the Caribbean.

I’d slightly misjudged the sensitivity of the room at first, and the the Handel sonata I elected to play was appreciated, though did not capture the room as I’d intended. I knew that singing a traditional English folk tune would achieve this, and so followed accordingly. However, the piece was met with more emotional engagement and focus than I could have imagined. I think the combination of the ineffable beauty of the ballad, complimented by the rustic charm of the space, and most importantly the open hearts and willing minds of all of us in the room led to a mutually shared experience that was really quite magical. The children there were entranced by the violin; one couldn’t hold in her excitement and kept clapping! I think that when a musician can surrender their ego (something which can be hard to do, especially amongst artists…) and consider the communality of their performing, of which every individual has an equal role, that something quite special can occur. This undoubtedly happened yesterday, as clichéd or cheesy as it may sound.

The family who hosted the lunch asked if I might play to the mother, an energetic and wonderful woman who has suffered for many years from the merciless & undignified disease of Alzheimer’s. Seven of us, all male, including the father, son and close family friends came to her bedside, where I played and sang a piece for her. Maureen is Irish, and so “Danny Boy” was a fitting song. I’ve come across few songs in my existence that are as heart-wrenching as this one, and yesterday’s recitation was no exception. Music is impossibly powerful, and I cannot stress this enough. Even in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s the music was able to trickle through, bringing a smile to Maureen’s face, and a glimmer of recognition we all know she felt. Though perhaps even more powerful was that the music reduced seven grown men to tears. I think all of us there needed that in a way. As men we are conditioned to quietly cope with feelings as powerful as these (if we’re are permitted to feel at all), and during such busy lives it isn’t often that we give ourselves the time to truly process the deeper feelings that we have to navigate.

The experience shook us all, but we all returned to the main room of the house to find ourselves being soothed by the inviting voice and guitar playing of Pete, another member of the afternoon’s social circle. After sharing a couple of knowing glances, Wade and I (a family friend privy to the heavy emotional content next door) found a space near Pete and each picked up one of the many instruments he’d brought with him. The three of us gave what we could to get some harmonies flowing, and before long, all of us were merrily singing along to gentle Americana: some bluegrass, Peter Paul & Mary, and even the Eagles. It was a terribly quaint experience, which brought us all together. The sense of community & fraternity was infallible, and it is not often I feel such a sense of belonging when travelling as I did there. I think this was another of those first steps for me, in discovering what is most important in my life. The entire day will live with me, as a stark reminder of the importance of music and the way in which it transcends age, culture, race, and even the most unfair and isolating of diseases.

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Perspectives from the rainy window of a Norwegian jazz cafe

I am lulled by the masterful work of guitarist John-Kåre Hansen (who no doubt has listened to a Pat Metheny record or two in his time…) as I swill on a fine “Cortado” – and I consider how funny the diaspora of such disparate, yet complimentary pleasures in life! Jazz, rooted in African rhythm, some Western harmony, and modern technology to seal the deal with its electrification & its capacity for distribution. Concocted in America, argued to have been perfected in Europe; some say Scandinavia. Coffee, that which I am sipping of Columbian origin: Devised in Italy, translated and watered down by Starbucks, tweaked and remodelled Down Under, stolen by the Brits and delivered, at last, to Norway (with a shot of Iberic influence thrown in for good measure).

All of this has led me to reflect on my own journey these past months, the first baby steps of my #BUSKtheGLOBE tour across the British Isles, Spain, Northern France, Benelux, the Rheinland, and now Scandinavia. An album is on its way, I’ve made connections all over the world, and people everywhere are wanting to hear my story. I’ve also managed to get my damn heart broken, have upset the occasional neighbour in towns I’ve played in, and have struggled greatly to understand my own role in this mad world we all call home. I’m just beginning to figure that one out, now, almost a year later.

I have come to see that my lifestyle operates as two concurrent projects, as it were: One is that of an alternative to modern day life, spent learning and evolving via cultural exchange, adventure and constant new experiences. The second, more poignant project, is that of my music, wherein I am attempting to change the world, ever so slightly, note by note. As my street performances have developed, the repertoire and performance style has put the general public at the forefront. I want to connect with strangers each day, in the hopes of having a positive effect on their life. Everything, right down to the clothing I wear when I perform has been considered “under the microscope” in order to maximise the potential to make a connection with someone. This is NOT about making money to survive (though donations are always greatly appreciated!) – it is about catching the attention of an individual in an attempt to move them. My studies in Music Psychology have left me as a more considerate musician (I feel), with a deeper respect of the two way relationship between performer and audience member.

Music is one of the most emotive crafts within human existence, and those of us lucky enough to have developed skills in this domain must be wary of the power they hold. Music has the capacity to heal, to neurally recalibrate and re-animate individuals for whom movement has become a real challenge, perhaps due to age or disability. Music evokes memories like nothing else, and it is capable of reminding some people who may have lost sight of the important things within the madness of their humdrum, busy and stressful lives of the following thing: They can still feel!

I struggle to see the role I play at times, on rainy street corners when “no one is listening”. But then a stranger approaches me and thanks me for brightening that dreary day of theirs, and I realise that even in low moments of mine I am still making connections with people, and doing my job well. We, as musicians – better yet, as humans – hold the key. On the street, I have the power to make somebody’s day just a little better, and I think that is something really quite special. This is harder to achieve on a stage; there is an ineffable sense of disconnect, and people pay the premium to be part of the experience. I provide my service for free, and am capable of touching people from all realms of society, regardless of their status, economy or ethnicity, and I’m damn sure I’ll make my way around this whole flipping planet to ensure my music reaches anyone, everywhere.

My role as a busker is by no means benevolent, however. For every email or message I receive thanking me for easing a hard time someone has had in their life, or informing me that my story or my music has led them to make a change for the better, I cannot help but think of the neighbours I have upset in various towns, intruding on their tranquil Sunday afternoons. I suppose there is a Yin and Yang to much of what we do, but rarely is the equal and opposite reaction as prominent as when a distraught and overworked mother yells at you when you are just trying to create something which to some is quite beautiful. I struggle fully to understand their plight; I’ve never lived in a busy city centre and I’ve not had to deal, perhaps, with far less considerate buskers whom have driven these poor souls to distraction?

No doubt, this is another illustration of the power music has, and a warning to those of us who hold the key to unlocking such powerful emotions, both positive and negative, that we must take care. I’m trying my best – I promise – to be a better busker and a better individual, but I’ve a long way to go, still, on this adventure across six continents. I have at least five continents’ worth of knowledge and experiences still to grow from.

Let me finish by saying that when you next see a street performer, do yourself a favour and stop to listen. If they know what they’re doing, allow yourself to be moved. Allow yourself to think; allow yourself to feel. You’re doing the performer a massive favour in this exchange – it’s what they are there for – and I’ll bet that informing them of the effect they’ve had on your day will mean more to them than dropping a euro, dollar, pound, kroner, franc, zloty or rupee in their hat possibly ever could (but us buskers certainly appreciate the donation as well!).

Puerto Pollença

Puerto Pollença
My own slice of paradise.
Gentle water caresses the coast.
Sunlight twinkles across the azure,
Relentless wet: beating, beating
But only delicately
Contorted; malnourished
By the spectrum of water’s sight.

Shoal battles shoal
Those big, small and smaller.
As the light
Glistening there, left and right.
Somewhat enticing; equally fright’ning
The prismic liquid as confused as was I.

This juxtaposition
Of noise amidst silence.
Of nature, and progress.
This is indeed progress:
A man in the sky – no words
But the engine’s deep cry.
Rude and unobtrusive – a palette cleanser
Once missing, the silence is understood all the more.

The boats sit so politely
In their tranquil liquid silence.
And avast! People
Over there in the distance
Strolling, I question their motive
Though perhaps these souls
Have a skill in devotion
To unlumber their minds
Of such deadly a passion
To plan, form, devise
What to do with their life.

These are holiday makers
And they take in the sights
Of the Pine Walk, the mountains
And at night (I hope!) the stars.

Me, myself
I am the same
Though my world is less frivolous
Despite possessions I claim
Of value and function,
Without disdain I allow
To be perceived as one
Far less fortunate than I.

Though, truth is colour
And learning
And all manner of privilege
Permit me to sit here, sleep here, sing here
And examine this magnificent village.

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Okay, lets begin…

I have no idea how to start this but I’m utterly determined to try. I’m aware of the fairly unique nature of travel I am doing; of the lifestyle I have elected to live, in short, for the next three years. Already, within the first two months of my tour – most of which has taken place in a world unbelievably familiar to me (ie on the street across UK towns and cities) – I have had so many ‘memorable’ experiences which, ironically, have been forgotten. I am not blessed with an excellent memory, and thus documenting my travels accordingly is imperative. I hope that those of you who choose to keep an eye on what I’m up to and take the time to read what I put out there can take something from my adventures, be that simply to follow where I am or what I’m doing; to hear some (hopefully!) interesting stories, or perhaps even to learn how not live your life!

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Dan – I’m a violinist and a singer, and I am touring the whole planet in a naïve attempt to see what the world has to offer, to give my own musical endeavours a little bit of context. I don’t have much money, so this journey is financed exclusively by the tips I receive from performing on the street, alongside any gigs I may pick up along the way. I cannot drive; my ethics declare the ownership of a vehicle to be utterly unnecessary and the environmental impact of flying to be worse still. As my journey has progressed I have become more vehemently against these modes of transport (though I suppport the hitchhiking ideology very much). With these criteria in mind I have made it my quest to ‘busk the globe’ using public transport, boats, hitchhiking and, importantly, my fold-up bike. Not only is this to stubbornly and stupidly prove an environmental point, it is also my own quiet battle for the sanctity of good travel, and of a life which is better lived outside of the 9-5-gluedtophone-stripmall-readymeal-instantcoffee/gratification society which I have grown to detest. The purpose of travel, I feel, is outrageously true to the word itself, yet nowadays so few people recognise the journey as an integral part of a holiday. When flying so many thousand feet up in the sky, it is impossible to get any sense of the scenery or the intricacies of the lives lived down below. However, in meeting a local when hitchhiking, or gazing out of the train window as the procession of carriages meanders gracefully through mountainous vistas with no roads in sight, the adventures are being had right there on the spot: Unique to your own self at that moment in time. These are the opportunities which don’t exist in daily life – but you may not even have to stray too far to find them. For those of you reading in England, ask yourself: How much of your own country have you seen? I asked myself, and the answer was ‘very little’! I felt that before galavanting across the world it might be a good idea to see what exactly I would be leaving behind – plus I reckon that the UK might be a slightly more lucrative place than Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, East Timor or Swaziland for me to get out busking…

Admittedly, I am in fact writing to you all from a tiny village (with a population of 60!) roughly 1200m above sea level in the mountains near the Portugese border in León, Spain. Though i can tell you that I am certainly not finished with the British Isles. I’ve had a good whack at it so far in my life, but I’ve only scratched the surface in reality; this will no doubt continue to be the case wherever I visit. After an entire year spent living in the USA a few years back, and three years of my life spent with the most spectacular American girl (if you’re reading- hi there Alyssa!), I still find myself at times baffled by various cultural idioms, and misunderstood by those from the ‘States. It’s quite beautiful really: no matter how ‘worldly’ you may think you can be, most days life will be no doubt capable of tripping you up and/or slapping you in the face (please select appropriate analogy, or perhaps literal translation here.)!

Anyway, I fully intend to recount my experiences of touring the UK, as well as my antecedent travels across Northern France, Belgium & the Netherlands in December; my recovery after breaking my foot in the USA in November including the fantastic journey which led to such a surprising turn of events…
Future posts will be more geared, I hope, towards busking, travel and my stories, rather than preaching of my intentions and opinions, but I suppose what prose flies from these fingers is a little beyond my control…
In time, I would also like to write about other key experiences prior which shaped me into the person stupid enough to take on a trip such as this. It’ll be a cracking exercise for me (you’ve got to love a healthy dose of self-reflection!) to think back to what led me to street performing in the first place, and how the lifestyle was nourished and developed in its own organic way, paving the future for a potential life as a full time travelling musician.

Cheers for reading guys: get in contact! I’d love to hear from you 🙂
Dan x

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