The year is 2014. I had left my office at trivago headquarters in the middle of Friday to welcome our newest roommate, John, who had just arrived from England to Düsseldorf, Germany.
After meeting John, I gave him a few minutes to settle down and freshen up after the journey before I would take him to the office. It was Friday, after all – when you’re part of the happy trivago family, Friday means fridges full of beer, multinational crowds around the pool and foosball tables, pizza deliveries, loud music and partying until the sun rises again.
I grabbed two beers from our fridge and cheered. Welcome to Düsseldorf, John, you picked the best possible moving day.
After a few minutes, we were already walking towards the office. Half an hour is more than enough to share a few stories about yourself.
John mentioned his travel blog, which was called Continental Breakfast Travel at the time, nowadays known as John the Go. “That’s cool”, I thought and recalled the first blog I wrote when I was living in Spain a few years earlier.
The blog was called Saana in Spain. The amusing story behind the name is still today the most important lesson to teach to anyone considering starting a blog: before deciding, always type the name in Google and see what comes up. I didn’t do so.
I’m still not sure who was the most surprised after my friends started arriving at my blog via Google. Instead of my blog, they discovered a bunch of adult videos made by another Saana whose life in Spain differed a lot from mine.
But now I was living in Germany. As soon as John and I reached the office, I had made up my mind: I would start a new travel blog.
The name of the blog didn’t require much consideration. Once again, I had followed my dreams and moved abroad.
“Live now – dream later”, I typed to Google’s search field. The results suggested a band of some sort. Just in case, I took a glance at their music videos— no sign of adult entertainment. Perfect, I can totally live with this.
Hence I rushed to a domain shop and spent one dollar to purchase my new address livenowdreamlater.net.
The uncrowned queen of low-budget adventures
I was working at trivago with a half-a-year trainee contract. The salary was next to nothing of which the German tax authorities and the rent of our shared apartment ate the most. Yet, I wanted to see much more than just Düsseldorf. I was a travel blogger now, remember. My fingertips were itching. All I wanted to do was to travel and write.
Instead of foosball and beers, I started spending my Friday afternoons in front of the office waiting for my next low-budget adventure. One of the first ones was a weekend trip to Belgium, where I drove through Holland together with my designated driver found from a carshare app. I would first explore and Couchsurf in Antwerp. Then, I’d take a train to Bruges where I’d stay with another Couchsurfing host. After the weekend, my new carshare pal would drive me back home to Düsseldorf. Total costs of the trip: 38 euros.
I got fascinated by the fact of how inexpensively I was able to travel. Thinking afterwards, I started on the right foot. Besides Belgium, I travelled by land to Switzerland. It all felt exciting. Travelling by low-budget bus companies gave a real taste of adventure. Sometimes all I tasted was a bitter disappointment. Especially that one Midsummer when I spent the night at a bus stop waiting for a ride that never arrived.
I fell in love with low-budget travel. Unfortunately, after returning home to Finland, I chose a nasty way to implement my passion.
Too cheap flights
I loved moving back home to Finland, but I also loved to leave. Now I loved it even more, as I was able to come and go with my boyfriend who had stayed in Finland while I was living in Spain and Germany. This time I’d be away only for a few days, and we’d leave and return home together.
Low-budget flights weren’t new to me. While living in Spain, Ryanair used to fly to Málaga from my nearest airport which allowed cheap visits for both, for myself when having holidays in Finland as well as my friends who wanted to visit my Mediterranean home.
Only now the number of low-budget airlines had multiplied, and new tools for finding super cheap flights appeared online faster than ever before. At the same time, the bus routes and schedules got crappier, and carshare apps were non-existent in Finland. And train travel… Well, passenger trains disappeared from Rauma around the same time I was celebrating my 4th birthday.
Yet, all I wanted to do was travel. As much as possible, as cheaply as possible. And it was possible; I was able to fly and spend a long weekend almost anywhere in Europe for less than a hundred euros. The world was open, and I got to enjoy it. Inexpensively.
A few years ago, it didn’t even occur to me who’d pay the real price for the choices I made.
Counterbalancing the getaways abroad
Even though I love travelling abroad, I’ve always loved Finland. Living abroad for a few times has made my love grow stronger. And I’ve let it show on my blog since the early days, too.
I’m sure my mum and late dad are the ones to thank for my love for local travel. They bravely dragged my brother and me around Finland, summer or winter, no matter how much we fought and made them suffer.
And I’m confident they are the reason why I’ve always found true peace in nature, too. The best (and quickest) getaway possible. It can be a running trail in a nearby forest, or my secret mushroom spot full of chanterelles that no one else knows about. It can be an overnight kayaking trip in my local archipelago or a 5-day biking trip in the neighbouring county.
Nature has never required schedules, passports or security checks. It always keeps giving but never takes or demands. And considering the costs, it always beats even the best low-budget offer abroad.
The change of attitude created a conscious traveller
It happened little by little. The older and more experienced I got, the wiser I became. Or maybe not. There are times when I don’t feel wise at all. But I did gain new information, and the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn.
I soon realised how selfish I had been. It was ME who wanted to travel as much as possible, so I did. As I tried to travel as often as I could, I wanted to do it as inexpensively as possible. So I could soon travel even more.
Besides flights, I chose my accommodation by price. I didn’t care who owned the hotel or whether the employees enjoyed a reasonable salary or not. I didn’t care what kind of shops I stepped into, as long as they sold what I wanted to have. I guess I don’t need to explain how I chose the restaurant where I dined. How about the problems at my travel destination? Nope, I had no clue about them. And therefore, I had no idea whether my choices made them worse.
Now I know a little better, and I’d like to say I’m a conscious traveller. Yet, I feel like I know nothing. But I do want to know, I want to understand, and that’s why I try to learn more every day. To share the things I learn with you, a fellow traveller.
Because perhaps you’re the kind of traveller I used to be not so long time ago. I wasn’t a bad person; I just didn’t know how bad decisions I made. I didn’t think of the people who had to live with my choices. I didn’t think of the local guesthouse keeper who can barely support his family and is in danger of losing his business and his home. I didn’t think of the poor children who had to switch their childhood to slavery work. And for sure I didn’t think of my own home, the one you and I share, or the damage I caused to it with my short and numerous low-budget flights.
Perhaps you haven’t either, but you’d be open for a new way of thinking?
Could I be a conscious budget traveller?
I know the English side of my blog doesn’t update as often as it should. The only reason for it is the lack of time. Despite the slow posting, perhaps you’ve noticed the change of angle on my blog. The blog that used to dedicate to travelling as cheaply as possible is now concentrating on responsible and sustainable travel.
Instead of low-budget flight offers, I now explore the prices for Interrail tickets. Instead of the cheapest hotel, I now search for experiences of local guesthouses. Before the trip, I glance through the guided walking tours available in my destinations. I google the names of the best local dishes and restaurants, dig information about their most significant problems, and try to find answers how they’d want tourists to behave when they come – if they even want more tourists to arrive.
The change of angle, attitudes and the way I think about travelling has brought up lots of questions that remain unanswered. For more than a year I’ve struggled what to do with my travel blog. The blog that is full of tips I wouldn’t recommend to anyone anymore. What should I do with them? Should I erase them? I can’t change my past by deleting a few pages from my blog, can I?
I can’t deny it; the little low-budget traveller is still living inside me. I notice it daily when I compare the prices for train tickets, book buses and hostels for my work trips in Finland or drive around with my van and memorise the fuel prices on the gas stations I pass.
Lavish and luxurious life just isn’t my thing. I couldn’t care less about limousine rides, infinity roof-top pools or fully equipped three-floor hotel rooms with a personal servant. It’s not how I define luxury.
Could I be a conscious budget traveller? Or is it something that can not exist?
As mentioned, many questions remain unanswered, but I’ll figure them out with time. Once I do, I promise to share them with you, whether I end up deleting my old budget tips from this blog or not.
We shouldn’t worry about the past, because life is ahead of us all; me, you and the locals who will have to live with the choices we make in the future.
So let’s make sure we choose as well as we can.