“It all started when I took a trip to see some relatives in Germany and then went to Bulgaria to see some friends. Since then the ‘instinct’ of the traveler awoke inside me. I usually choose places with cheap flights and go. Just like that. I arrive, find a hostel nearby, choose a room and then discover the place.”
Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, New York, Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Serbia, Belgium, England, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, Jordan, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand. No, it’s not an excerpt from the novel ‘Around the World in 80 days’. It could be. It’s an excerpt from the travel quests of Costas, traveller and observer, which are published in his blog Runvel. An excerpt that even Phileas Fogg would envy. I did. We met with him to find out how it all started and why he will continue travelling around the world.
How do you organize your trips?
I don’t. Usually the planning and organization are extemporaneous. I do not consider myself organisational and this is why my trips are a bit ‘sloppy’, something of course I don’t recommend to the people who read the blog.
How is traveling alone? Are there any risks?
In Europe generally, in the capitals I visited, it’s safe. I was in Lithuania one evening in a bar where I met a couple and started chatting. We ended up drinking beers with their friends until morning, talking about Greek culture and playing table football. There was this moment where they asked me: ‘Aren’t you worried about being in a foreign country, going out with some people you just met?’. I said, ‘No. Aren’t you worried about hanging out with some stranger from a foreign country?’ Then we were all laughing. These moments are valuable. You need to be open with people, but not risk too much.
As a traveler what is it that you learn from people’s behaviour?
I’ll answer your question with an incident that took place when I was going from Cambodia to Thailand. Imagine this: a backpack, it’s noon, a deserted road, endless plains and valleys around. What was my aim? To go on foot to the next town. ‘From there you take the bus’, I thought. So I was walking and walking and walking. ‘This can’t be right’, I thought again, ‘there must be something’. After fifteen kilometers of hiking, I realized ‘Ok, there is nothing’.
So what did you do?
I reached a military outpost and showed them the map and the place I wanted to go to on foot. They had a weird look on their faces but they gave me directions. So I continued walking and, fortunately, after some time, a couple with a car stopped.
A couple, again…
Yes, it seems karmic. After they explained that I was in the middle of nowhere they offered to take me to the next town. I jumped in the car. We started talking, as much as it was possible between foreigners. They were simple people, as we would say ‘breadwinners’. They had just finished an eight to ten hour shift at work where they travelled about eighty kilometres there and back every day. They picked up some stranger, saved me from twenty kilometres of walking – that was the distance to the closest city – took me to the bus station, got me tickets and all this without us even speaking each other’s languages. Their help was decisive for my trip. I thank them.
You have traveled to many places in Asia. What is it like?
I’m am fond of Asia, in many ways: the natural beauty, the polite and very friendly people. I loved Thailand. I wish I had more time to see it, not to mention the excellent cuisine.
Do you think that food is part of every culture?
It’s an integral part, undoubtedly. Food is culture, it reveals a lot about a place, about its people. In Greece I own a restaurant with my family where I cook traditional Greek food, so I always try to taste the local cuisine at the places I visit, from a professional standpoint too.
Which places impressed you most in Asia?
Although I am not a materialist, I admit that I was impressed by the level of development in Singapore. A ‘western’ city, very well organized, spotless. The public transport operated within a second of when it said it would. It was very safe. I was also impressed by Amman. Although you can’t compare it to Singapore, it certainly stands out among Middle Eastern standards. It’s a prosperous city with a high standard of living and political stability. And to think that Jordan is the only country that does not have oil. Sometimes oil is a curse.
What would you say to people who are thinking of travelling?
Stop thinking and do it. Put your doubts to one side, don’t fear the costs and get out there. Even women who want to travel alone I would urge them to do so. I remember in Sri Lanka I met a Spaniard on the train coming down from Nepal. She had been traveling alone for months. She carried a huge bag. We got chatting. She said that she had absolutely no idea where she was heading.
What advice would you give to people who are about to travel for the first time?
Consider the climate and the changes in weather where you’re going, choose your clothing carefully, and pack your rucksack with care.
It’s a science right, preparing your backpack?
It certainly is. I believe I prepare it well…by chance.
What do you think trips have offered you as a person?
Travelling opens the mind. I have become calmer. I always return more serene from every trip. I happened to hear some friends talking about things that I’d seen and I knew that it wasn’t like they said it was. I preferred not to speak up… I began to appreciate things. I began to appreciate Greece more… appreciate its natural beauty, not the economical and political scene. I also learned to recognize the shortcomings, the mistakes, and the ‘wrongs’ that exist in my country.
Is travelling a ‘school’?
It certainly is. Travelling educates. You don’t need to go to university to be educated… I mean you do need to, but traveling is another kind of education. It’s a big school where teachers are everyday people; a housewife who will treat you kindly, though you are a stranger, a taxi driver who will tell you a joke and make you laugh when he sees you’re tired. Travelling is something I don’t mind investing money in. One of the reasons I created the website Runvel was that I wanted to record all my experiences, I wanted to make some kind of diary, which will be accessible to all, that I can share with everyone. If I motivate even one person to travel or if someone visits a place and tells me, ‘Yes, it’s like how you wrote on your website’ I believe that I have achieved my purpose.
Do you think about home when you travel?
Yes, Greece is always in the back of my mind. Especially when I’m gone for a month I feel that everything will be different when I come back, but everything is the same. Maybe the Prime Minister will have changed (laughs).
Costas’ next goal – which was revealed after the voice recorder was turned off – is to take a slightly more ‘adventurous’ trip, one which will include a multi-day mountaineering trek (just between us, the name of ‘Patagonia’ was heard). We wholeheartedly hope he gets to do it, that he remains as straightforward as always and that he continues to fill his backpack with pieces of a world waiting to be discovered.
If you want to get a better idea and to have a fuller picture of Costas’ travel experiences you can visit his website: Runvel (coming soon in English).