Lucia is my friend but we haven`t seen each other for almost a year before the interview. She spent 4 months in India in this time and as it seems she has moved on her life path quite far. She is more confident, more open and satisfied.
She was born in Bratislava, Slovakia. We met in Brno where we both lived. Now she works in an HR agency in Prague. She says traveling is a way to herself, other people and common knowledge of the world.
I`m switching off my recorder at the and of the interview, she stops and says: “You know, I`ve almost forgot we`re having some interview…”
You said you feel like an European. Why?
Once I had to answer a question what`s my nationality. In that moment, when everyone said Czech or Slovak, I realised that I didn’t feel like that. And because they forced me to put myself in some kind of box I got the idea of being European.
So do you feel real home somewhere?
My home`s anywhere where I feel being accepted as I am and where I`ve people to share myself with. I feel at home in our family`s flat in Bratislava of course, but Bratislava as the city is not my home at all. When I was out of Europe I again felt Europe was my home. But maybe it was just because it was shown to me by other people. They could recognise me as western in the first moment and the easiest was to say I was European.
When did you start to travel?
When I was a small child we used to go to European countries for holiday. But it was nothing like “normal” family holiday at sea. Of course we spent a few days on a beach but then we went to explore the country a bit. The first time I traveled on my own was at the age of around 15 when I went to Italy. I studied Italian grammar school in Bratislava and so we went to visit our friends from Italy. And last summer I went for a four month trip to India…
What did India mean to you?
Well, I went there mostly because of school, there was kind of bilateral exchange program between my former university and University of Bombay. But even our teachers told us to plan at least one month for traveling around. So we managed to travel nearly all the time. Studying was just an excuse for getting to India in the end.
Thanks to India I realised how culture and history hugely influence the society. The difference between Indian and European way of thinking is totally different. Byrocracy, respecting authorities or human relationships especially between higher and lower castes are not that same at all. Most of people think India is very spiritual country – well, can be – but I think it`s a western cliche. Of course they have sacred cows, don`t kill nor eat them but the way they behave to them seemed kind of strange to me. For example they let them eat garbage (and all the plastics in it)… India is country of extremes for me. You can see it even in food – it`s fuck*n` spicy or totally sweet. Nothing between…
So how did you feel there?
I always wanted to visit the country so I was really grateful that I could do it and I was happy. I think India is kind of a personal mirror – people realise a lot about themselves and can see how they behave in difficult or dangerous situations. I was happy because I was able to be satisfied with myself in those situations. I didn`t surprise myself in the negative way but mainly in the positive. It showed to me that I`m on the right path.
Which of those difficult situations did you experience, for example?
There was a very strong experience for me when someone threw a stone and hit my neck. And it was no small pebblestone, it was a fucking big stone. It happened in a situation when I was not alone – we were just waiting for the third of our group with my friend. We we were standing on a side of a road and because it`s kind of normal to see people sitting next to the road we didn`t realise there were around 20 guys sitting behind us. Suddenly I felt a sharp pain back on my neck and then I saw the big stone falling to my feet. If they hit me somewhere else, it could be really, really dangerous.
I was shocked because of that – especially because I really didn`t know the reason. I didn`t wear any provoking clothing nor we did anything what could be offensive to them… The whole situation was really strange.
We were the only strangers there, they were twenty guys and they could get another million of others around so we couldn`t try to solve it somehow. I event didn`t know who threw the stone. And we had to catch some train from there… I took me some time to recover after that. But I really don`t want this to show India as a dangerous country. It could happen even on some European street…
Can you tell us some really great experiences?
They`re mostly connected to some natural beauty or a town or city. Once we slept in Hampi on the south for example and we found some ruins of a small temple to overnight. It was on a hill, there was no roof at all and we got to sleep after an amazing – really unbelievable amazing – sunset. In the morning I also woke up with sunrise and started to meditate on some strange rounded stones. I could feel a really sanctity of the place.
Other time in other place we again woke up very early and climbed a hill with old jainist temples. The sunrise was really very strong that day. It was that kind of a moment when you feel hugely grateful for your life just because you can experience this. I was also amazed by people in the Himalaya mountains – their kindness is of the purest way, they would give themselves away. When we went to the mountains we didn`t have any place to overnight so they took us to their homes, we got food..
Did you feel any change when you came back?
I guess I was in the “traveler mindset” before but on the other hand I realised a really huge gratefulness. Gratefulness for – as western people think – banalities as warm shower. It`s really a luxury in other parts of the world. Or our freedom to wear anything we want to. Women are here in a totally different situation, we have much more freedom than women in other parts of the world.
I had always kind of known those things but in India I could really experience it. The live experience can’t be replaced. You can read all those articles or watch documentaries about the majority world countries but until you really experience it, it can`t become part of your personality.
But I should say I understand the relativity – what are now banalities for me here can be a big problem for other people, just because they haven`t experienced those situations yet. We all have our own perception of the world and it mainly depends on our previous experiences.
Let`s talk about couchsurfing a bit. When did you first time realise it`s possible to do something like this?
Well, as I told you, I studied Italian grammar school and we did something called cultural exchanges. I went to live to someone`s family and this stranger came to live in my family for some time. Kind of modified couchsurfing. And the “real” couchsurfing as a website came to me at the age of 16 or 17.
First time I used it when I went to Paris with my former boyfriend – for six days, it was quite a long time. It was not like when you come somehere, sleep there one night and move on. We made some relationship with the guy and got to know each other a bit better. It was perfect! The host was a young guy from Pakistan who studied veterinary there and we stayed in an university accommodation with him. Officially it was forbidden to host people there, but he always did it somehow. His room was like 2 to 2 meters but we managed to fit there.
Before our departure we hid some small gifts around the room and even after a month he sent us a message like “Hey, I`ve just found another gift here!” He also took us to their laboratories and showed us puppies he had there… At was really pleasant experience.
Why did you get interested about the idea?
I was taught to explore countries from inside and couchsurfing was just another way how to get to know the country in it`s complexity. Of course it`s nice to sleep for free but knowledge is the most important thing about it I guess.
Do you have any traveling dream?
Australia, South America, Iceland…
OK. Is there any country which is not your dream?
Well, I don`t think so.
What`s your main reason or motivation for traveling?
Knowledge. In general. I think it`s really a very strong motivation for humanity. We wouldn`t move forward without it. To understand the world in it `s complexity is really hugely interesting for me. We`re told since our childhood: “It`s strange.”, “Far away.”, “Different…” But how we travel we realise it`s not strange or different, it`s just some other place. That`s it. People have the same needs everywhere. They`re actually the same. I think people are connected differently – the fact that someone lives 15 thousand kilometres away doesn`t mean he`s not like you.
People asked me if I want to find some environmental job – something in the same field I studied. Well, yes, it would be really nice. But on the other hand it would be really frustrating for me, I need to see the change immediately. Not in 30 years or so. I can`t help anyone who doesn‘t want it.
This takes me back to the thought why knowledge is so important to me. You have to know yourself first and start to love yourself. Then you can spread the love and help humanity move on. I believe it`s the most important – to start with yourself. And traveling is a medium to self-discovering but also for connecting people, cultures and mutual enriching.