When knowledge of my year-long trip across the world became public, many people thought I was crazy for seriously considering making the jump from NYC consultant to traveling hobo. Voyages like the one I was planning are merely idealistic goals Americans only dream about, but never actually follow through with - what idiot would actually leave their entire life behind to travel? I repeatedly questioned my own sensibility for months on end, but I realize now my travels are peanuts compared to some of the remarkable stories of my fellow backpackers out there. One such traveler, conveniently named Andrew as well, will forever serve as a reminder to push myself to travel off the beaten path.
After spending nearly a week and a half in Lviv, it wasn't until my last full day in the city that I finally managed to get on that damn walking tour I mentioned in my last post! While I enjoyed the tour, my conversation with the guide afterward regarding the conflict with Russia was far more fascinating. For over two hours we sat outside a café in downtown Lviv chatting away as he explained the historical context of the current problem and what he thought should be done. The guide's perspective, while obviously biased toward Ukraine, was passionate, factual, well reasoned, and remarkably insightful. On several occasions he even went so far as to apologized when he noticed he was presenting biased opinions instead of facts and would quickly switch back to a more objective commentary. I've never encountered a person with such levelheadedness in any political discussion and it's all the more surprising to find it in this region of the world! People like this are a rarity and I cherish these talks because they are infinitely more valuable than anything I get from a news program.
After my impromptu crash course on Ukrainian politics, I returned to the hostel hoping to write a little for the blog. At the time of this writing, I still haven't even finished by post on Porto, Portugal and that was EIGHT countries ago! (My god am I far behind.) I found a comfortable little spot in the back of the hostel and settled to finish the post when, like countless times before, another traveler sat down next to me and we began talking. Sure, my productivity was killed for the day, but as always I couldn’t have made a better choice.
My blog is going to remain perpetually behind… get use to it.
Since the conversation happened organically, the two of us talked for over two hours without even asking each other’s names, and I was surprised to find out we shared the same name. The man was originally from Australia and recently finished an epic two-year hitchhiking trip from Australia to Barcelona without paying a dime for transportation! With his journey now complete, Australian Andrew was just floating around Europe looking for his next adventure and wandering through Lviv.
Now at this point you may be asking yourself how did he get from Australia to Asia? There are no bridges connecting the two continents, so how did he get across the water? Simple, Australian Andrew found people flying or sailing through the region and hitchhiked on their planes/boats from one island to another through Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.
Yeah, I didn't think such a thing was possible either.
Australian Andrew’s stories were remarkably intriguing and unbelievably inspiring. The first leg of his trip was through Papua New Guinea where he spent more than a month literally hiking through the jungles on foot from village to village with nothing but a backpack. Since very few people from westernized countries travel through the region, many locals have only heard fantastical stories of these strange “white people” and very few have ever seen them in real life. Andrew regaled me of stories about how the local villagers greeted him with excitement, celebrated his arrival with feasts/festivals in his honor, and begged him to stay for in their homes for weeks on end.
…and to think I was proud of my hitchhiking trip to Denmark.
Sounds incredible right? That was just one of an endless stream of insane stories Australian Andrew had - the man even hitchhiked his way through Afghanistan of all places! I was in awe as he told me of his adventures almost to point where I questioned if he was lying, but damn if he didn’t have pictures to back it all up. I have never felt more inspired to get off the beaten track in my life. Many people back home feel that I am already on the path less traveled in life, but I don’t think I’ve gone far enough yet.
Australian Andrew was incredibly supportive of traveling as far away from the main roads as possible and recommended that I get a map, look for the smallest streets available, and then get to the next town using only those roads. In his experience the best way to really get a feel for a country is by hitchhiking from town to town using the back roads. While there are inherent risks to traveling this way, there is less crime outside the major cities; since there is little tourism, problems like theft aren’t a sustainable way to make a living. In fact, if he ever arrives late at night in a city, he requests the drivers to drop him off outside of town so he can camp because it’s safer. Who is going to steal from you? There’s nobody for miles all around!
Here’s hoping that one day I have stories like Australian Andrew.
Before arriving in Lviv, I was mildly concerned about what would happen if I went to Ukraine, but looking back now I can’t think of a reason why I would not make it a point to visit this great city. Lviv is definitely not the usual vacation destination, and as a result hasn’t been spoiled by drunken tourists or stag parties. The people you come across in this region of the world, both locals and travelers alike, are absolutely fascinating. If you can get over some of the cultural differences, Lviv is a vibrant city full of welcoming locals (although you won’t notice it at first glance), and incredibly adventurous backpackers looking to get away from the usual travel circuits.
Lviv was a remarkable experience that I will not soon forget. While people back home may question my sanity for visiting Ukraine, I can’t say enough great things about Lviv. If you find a cheap flight to the region, I can honestly say that Lviv is endlessly interesting, remarkably cheap, and (as long as you use your common sense) is PERFECTLY SAFE FOR TRAVELERS! As for me, I’m heading further east because I haven’t given my parents enough things to worry about in their life.
Kiev here I come!