It’s a little known fact that the whole reason I started blogging was a guy I met off Tinder. Although I know many of you will doubt me when I say this, Tinder isn’t always used for hookups. I know, shocking. It can be the greatest tool in your world conquering toolbox, if you use it right. If it can give me a job, it can give you a good night out. If you utilise it correctly.
In August 2015 I arrived in Malaga teary and sleepless, having just days before ending the longest relationship of my life. When it was over, I immediately ran away to work on a beach in Spain for the rest of the summer, because at the time that was exactly how I dealt with my problems. I still do, in a way. I already had tinder installed on my phone, before we had broken up my ex and I had made a bet to see who could get the most matches in a day, which in retrospect was probably a sign that our relationship was drawing to its natural end.
After checking in to my hostel, I immediately fired up Tinder, hoping desperately to find a fellow soul to spend my two days in the beautiful city with. After returning from Guatemala my brother had told me how he had used Tinder to find English speaking tour guides amongst the locals, so I figured I could do the same.
Now, first things first. If I ever use tinder in England, which isn’t often I admit, I tend to get roughly a 50% return on my right swipes. In Spain, I was getting closer to 100%. Secondly, Spanish guys on tinder tend to be a lot more to the point, and half the messages I first got were no more than dirty bootycalls, even though my profile stated quite clearly that I was only looking for a tour. If anything, this openness actually makes it easier to find that one person who you expect might not be an asshole.
Then, something interesting. I met a guy who owned a travel site, and who was looking for exactly the same thing as me. Someone normal to go and get a drink and see the city with. We ended up bonding so much that when weeks later he recommended I start writing down my experiences, I took him up on his word as if he were a closer friend than just a guy I’d seen twice on holiday. We’re even still in contact today.
I still use tinder when I’m travelling, sometimes you just get a free tour of the city, others you walk away with a friend for life. The last tinder date I went on was in Rome this January, and it actually ended up being one of the most enjoyable dates of my life, even if it lacked that special spark which prompts a second date. (Looking back, this may have been because we ended the night in the gay district and my eyes were slightly distracted elsewhere.)
You might hate tinder, you might think it sucks and it’s users are pathetic. Be realistic, the vast majority of young people these days have a tinder account, the chances are that at least one of them is looking for the same thing you are.
So here are my tips for using Tinder as a travel tool:
Know what you want from it. Are you looking for a tour? A local? Other tourists? People to get a drink with? A hook up? Make sure you’re clear in your own mind before you attempt to meet anyone.
Be upfront about what you are looking for. If you’re not looking for a hook up, make that clear. My go-to tinder bio when I’m travelling starts with the sentence. “I HAVE A BOYFRIEND.” That way people know what to expect and can’t get irate when you’re inevitably not interested in taking things further.
Safety first. Most of us know that when we go on a date, especially with a stranger, it’s of utmost importance that someone, somewhere, knows who you’re with and what you’re doing. This isn’t any less relevant just because you’re on holiday. If you can’t tell someone back home, (or if this would be useless), tell your hostel staff. Tell them you expect to back at X o’clock and give them a phone number so they can call you if you’re not. Meet in a safe place. Preferably a place with lots of people about, and a place of your choosing. No, you don’t know the city, but a big square with lots of people in has less danger than the small cafe down a dingy alleyway that no-one has ever heard of has.
Have fun. We live in a world where potential friendships, unlikely hookups or even job offers are only a swipe away. Use this to your advantage and let social media help your travels not hinder them. No, don’t be that guy sitting in the hostel kitchen mindlessly swiping through all the girls on tinder until he finds that one girl on the second floor that he was too scared to talk. But where’s the harm in having a little fun whilst you’re away?
Every so often in life we all find a person, a place, or an idea, that makes us fall so deep in love we are blinded to all of their faults and shortcomings, creating a picture in our minds of complete perfection. This false ideal is unsustainable and fragile, eventually shattering and more often than not, leaving us broken-hearted and lost. For me, that was place was Barcelona.
Barcelona. One of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, the home of Gaudi and his brilliant architecture, the capital of Catalonia, and one of the most interesting cities I’ve encountered in Europe. From the wide open beaches of the Barceloneta and the gleaming high buildings of the Port to the rambling cobblestone streets of El Quarto Gótico and the fairy tale gingerbread houses of Parque Güell, the city is full of magic and mysticism. Barcelona is not simply a modern, fun, and vibrant city, it also has a long, mysterious, and incredibly interesting past.
When I first went to Barcelona I was 13 years old. My family stayed in a small flat in the gothic quarter, I remember feeling terrified as we entered through the graffitied and barred door in a dark and silent street. I had just finished reading ‘The Shadow of the Wind’, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, which to this day remains my favourite book of all time, I reread it at least once a year. The book, set in post civil war Barcelona had ignited a passion for the Spanish culture and history in me and I hold it solely responsible for my degree choice. The four days I spent wandering in this incredible city did not quench the fire inside of me, instead, fed it steadily until I made it a life ambition to live there one day.
The following summer, my family hosted a language student from San Vicente, a town very near Barcelona. We became friends and I visited her once a year for the next four years. Every time, I would spend a few days in Barcelona, simply walking and watching, breathing in the city. My favourite method of seeing a city is to in one direction until I hit a red light, then turn down the available route. The grid system of Barcelona is perfect for this. Forward, Stop, Turn. Forward. Stop Turn. Rinse and repeat until done. Now you’re in a place you’ve never seen before and have no idea how to get back to where you started. At this point, have a beer and contemplate life, before guessing your direction again, and heading back home. These were the times I lived for. I would spend all year waiting for the next time I could go back, not even thinking about other places because my goal was Barcelona. It still is, in a way.
During my A level studies, my school offered the chance to do a week of work experience in Rosas, a small but beautiful coastal town north of Barcelona. At that time, I was working on a project on Catalonia, essentially a detailed political, cultural and historical assessment of whether Catalonia should be independent. In Rosas I had the chance to interview several of the people I worked with, and the week taught me a lot about the history of Barcelona, embellishing the sheer respect and understanding that Zafón had already instilled in me. It also convinced me that if I wanted to live in Catalonia, I would have to learn Catalan.
The year after, I went back again. This time with my best friend, to visit my friend in San Vicente, and a girl who had au paired in Bath, and ended up staying at her house in the final weeks. This experience opened me up to a new part of Barcelona, the nightlife, restaurants and shopping which before I had stayed away from.
After a few months of travelling and volunteering in Europe the year after I finished school, my sights turned back to Barcelona. The plan at the time, was that I’d move there in April and work a volunteering job until I have managed to find a stable job and flat, and to remain there the following three years for university. This however, was when my plan began to fall apart. I was travelling with a friend, and we had secured a workaway position in ‘The Hipstel’, a hostel in the centre of Gracia. Our flight from Venice, where we had spent a romantic weekend getting lost in the narrow backstreets, landed at midday. Within an hour, we were on the airport bus into the city centre. The fare had doubled since last time I had been and we found ourselves struggling to find cash for lunch as the heavens opened as we arrived in Plaza Catalunya. Our hostel did not remember us. They had no idea about the dozens of messages we had been sending back and forth, and could not offer us a job. We would later find out that this happened at least once a fortnight.
Eventually, we were provided with beds and a job in a partner hostel, two minutes away from Plaza Catalunya. Within a two weeks I was forced to find a second job, as the hostel did not provide food as advertised, and the meagre 30 euro salary a week for 40-50 hours work could not even begin to cover the costs of life in the city. Being a not very unattractive British female, who could speak Spanish, I was offered four interviews within two days and accepted a job offer on the Barceloneta. 70, Carrer de Sevilla. Bar Celoneta. What a wonderful place, what an original name. The increase in income meant we were able to live better now, and my experience there taught me how to make 14 different types of sangria, something which has never been relevant since.
Yet again, this time the city failed me. Finishing work most nights after 2am meant that rather than an easy metro journey, more often than not I had to walk home 40 minutes through the port and up Las Ramblas. Every single night, without fail, I would be harassed by drunk men, usually tourists, who wanted to know ‘what a pretty girl like you’s doing out so late at night.’ It got the point within a couple of weeks that I was so sick of having to bat away the advances of idiots, that I would instead latch onto the closest looking normal person when I left work, and make them walk me home. This, whilst wearing long skirts or jeans and high-necked tops, I can only imagine how bad it would have been were I not dressed so conservatively.
There was one night which convinced me I would never be safe living in the city alone. I was talking to two young men after work one night, I had told them I could speak Spanish earlier on in the night but they had forgotten, and we’re addressing me in poor English. Luckily, this meant that I could easily eavesdrop. That’s the story about how I ran home, after hearing two young men discussing how they would be able to take advantage of me.
I left Barcelona two years and six months ago, after trying for several months to make it work and being struck down at every attempt. The night I left, £500 worth of valuables were stolen, including every single photo I’d taken travelling. I’ve only been back once since then, for two hours.
Barcelona is a difficult city. There is a darkness which lurks under every doorway, behind every corner. A thick smog of shame and secrecy hangs over the city, a city where so much has happened, and no one ever talks about. I love it, and I hate it all at the same time. I am ashamed that it bested me, and I know that one day I will go back, and that that time it will work.
One of the most common question that those of us with tattoos are asked is -‘Why did you do it?’ Here’s why I did it.
As anyone who travels frequently, either on soul-searching adventures or daily commutes will know, music is the food of the road. How else can you block out the screaming baby behind you, the arguing family on the metro or even the unwanted noise from the bed two feet away? Two hours into my second twelve-hour bus journey in two days, with no phone, no music, and no more books, I began to ponder this question. For the next couple of hours until daylight departed I rambled on in a newly acquired notebook about the subject. Now let me tell you how music is a life saver.
Firstly, finding someone with a shared enthusiasm for your music is one of the quickest ways to form an intimate bond with a stranger. You can never underestimate the importance of this. When you consider your friends at home, there’s a high likelihood that at least some of you have similar tastes in music. The same happens at a gig, you instantly become best friends forever with the people around you due to the combination of good music and alcohol, which is also the atmosphere of a good hostel. There really is no difference travelling.
To give an example, I doubt I will ever forget the afternoon I spent driving through the Tuscan Mountains with my couch-surfing host, both singing out hearts out to Gong, a band I had no idea anyone except me and my Dad still listened to. This led to wine filled evening singing and playing Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Guns n’ Roses. (We couldn’t keep up with Gong.) Another one of my best memories from travelling took place in the summer I spent working in Sevilla with my best friend. Ten minutes of conversation led to a six-hour dancing, singing, andguitar night, on the riverside of Triana, which only came to an end when the increasing morning heat reminded us of a flight to catch back home.
P.S The band are called Triana Paraso Fiscales and are getting quite popular. Perhaps I should have accepted that 4am marriage proposal from the cute guitarist
P.P.S Alejandro if you’re reading this, I never forgot you, and as I no longer have EU citizenship…. hit me up.
Secondly, I grew up with music. To this day, my favourite bands are still the ones my parents introduced me to. I remember driving through the welsh countryside standing on the back seats, my brothers and my heads sticking out of the open roof of the 2CV watching the convoy of those beautiful but terrible cars stretch out in front of us. ‘Knocking on Heavens Door’ was playing I think, but maybe I made that up, I have been known to have an overactive imagination. After abandoning violin because neither my parents nor I had the patience to put up with the screeching until I got better, I began to play clarinet with the promise that if I got on with it I’d be allowed to learn the saxophone, like my hero Lisa Simpson. (I’ve also tried Veganism, Buddhism and being better than my brother too but it didn’t really work out.) Throughout school, I played in three bands and two choirs, and as soon as I had a job saw live music as often as I could, probably contributing towards my minor case of tinnitus these days. When my saxophone needed to be fixed during my A levels whilst I working towards a still unachieved grade 8, I lost a big part of myself and didn’t really realise for at least a year. It was actually my Grandparents who encouraged me to get back into music in the last year, and I’ll always be grateful to them for that, especially my Grandad, who very recently passed away. He was probably my biggest inspiration musically growing up, always singing and encouraging all his grandkids to practise their instruments. Even a few months ago I remember playing my new saxophone to him over skype, and how proud he looked.
Thirdly, music is really, really cool. In much the same way as taste and smell, important songs, small melodies or even a certain key change can fire us back into the past, as we remember the first time we heard that song on a night out, or when we first kissed our partner to that song so long ago. Every time I listen to the Mary-Anne and the Grave Diggers album by Regina Spektor I am transported to Sri Lanka, staring with excitement and disbelief out of the window as my brother’s head annoyingly hits my shoulder every five minutes as he drops off to sleep for the fiftieth time. I can see the colours, smell the trees and feel the shaking of the bus. Bebe’s ‘Siete Horas’ takes me to Rosas Spain, my first real experience of freedom, when my friend and I realised how much it annoyed another friend so decided to play it as much as possible. When I hear that song I develop a slight hangover. Rudimental’s ‘Feel the Love’ reminds me of my best friend and every great weekend we had over the years in London, pre-drinking and wondering aloud if we’d get served that night. Anything from the Kill Bill soundtrack or Pink Floyd ‘The Wall’ instantly reminds me driving to school with my Dad, whilst Coldplay’s ‘X and Y’ album reminds me of my mum working in her studio and ‘Wires’ by Athlete reminds me of the months after my brother was born fourteen weeks premature.
I will never be able to listen to ‘St Christopher is coming home’ by Frank Turner without remembering that evening in Rome when I realised how much I missed all my old friends. Being on the road a lot is really tough. You leave your friends, family and safety nets behind, any friends you make whilst on the move are usually (but not always) temporary ones, and it can be really hard to feel yourself when no one you’re with knows the real you. Music which reminds you of old and new friends is one of the best ways to feel in touch, even if you really aren’t.
So, as previously said, music is just tops. I love it. I need it. Having said all that, one of the worst things to happen to me travelling also involves music. Now, I’m the type of girl who can barely walk in a straight line without some kind of beat to keep moving, and the selection of music on my (already cracked and therefore worthless) IPod was a collection I’d spend 6 years building up. Through no-ones fault but my own inability to wake up even during an earthquake, one early dawn my IPod, camera and laptop were stolen out of our tent near Barcelona. Three months of travel photos and 6 years of music, gone. I hate to admit it, but that really threw me. Due to spend the next month walking through mountains and fields, how would I cope without music? Well as it turned out, I treated my (very understanding and very gentle with criticism) travel buddy to 40 days and 40 nights of Broadway renditions.
It wasn’t until three months later walking across a bridge in Rome, after a couple of months of disillusionment and confusion, when I realised what I had been missing. Singing along to ‘Jet Lag’ by Frank Turner and having the wobbly moment about travel and leaving people behind that the song induces, I suddenly felt a complete peace. I worked out that I had barely been listening to or doing any music, explaining my feelings of loss. I think it was maybe 2 days later that I got my first tattoo, a small heart on my wrist made up of a treble and bass clef. In doing this, I conquered three of my biggest fears.
1) Wrists. I’m not sure how normal this is, but I can’t stand wrists. I think they’re fragile points of weakness in otherwise well-designed bodies. Veins? Don’t get me started. They are definitely not something which should be visible, let alone raised! However, rather than beginning to shake and hyperventilate when the sweet talking Italian begin to gently sterilise my wrist, I pushed through, even watching him work the design into my skin. I only got lightheaded once, despite his clever little joke about this being his first tattoo as well when I told him it was mine.
2) Permanence. From Ice cream flavours and pen colours to degree choices and relationships, I think it’s fair to say I’m not the greatest at making decisions, although some people wouldperhaps phrase that with stronger words. More often than not I’m the one who still hasn’t decided when the waiter comes and ends up just ordering the first thing they see when they look down. Important decisions have been struggled over for months, only to inevitably be decided through a coin toss, game of darts or on my better days, a long page of pros and cons. To choose my degree, I applied for five completely different courses at five completely different Universities and then just went with a prettiest campus when the day came. (Spoiler Alert: I dropped off that course after a week.) Sometimes the decisions you make in a rush don’t ruin your life forever, hard to believe I know.
3) Losing my music. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever stop wanting to make music again, but it has happened before and I didn’t expect it then. This is a reminder that music makes me happier, stronger and more creative. It’s hard to describe the rush when an audience breaks into applause in a huge auditorium, whilst you are all standing there trying to recover from what just happened. In typing up this article I’ve realised that the worst thing that could ever happen to me would be sudden onset deafness.
Tattoos, although certainly becoming more popular these days especially amongst the younger crowd, are still not entirely accepted. When it’s pointed out to me that ‘tattoos need to mean something, nothing is so important to be marked permanently on my skin’, I tell them how music has made me who I am today and that without it I would be lost. Every day I have a reminder that life always looks better when you give it a soundtrack.
When I started travelling, I was definitely leaning towards the more naive end of the age range. I caught the travelling bug after taking my first solo flight to visit a friend in Spain at fourteen. Since then I’ve taken every possible opportunity to travel, even delaying my start at University by two years because I wasn’t quite ready to settle down in one place. When I started this lifestyle, I was always one of the youngest in the hostel, the one with the least life experience and worldliness. It was a humbling experience. I was desperate, as some of us are, to always be on the road and moving on. Always looking ahead to see new things, I would rarely return to the same city more than once, to the point of not only neglecting my family and friends at home but also forgetting to create new ties in the place I was in. Given the chance, I would have rather gone to check out the cool castle, or wandered down to the beach to watch the sunset by myself, than spend time with the other guests in the hostel. It wasn’t until now, sitting in my cold and uncomfortable student flat, that I realise how important those social experiences were. They’re the part I miss most.
Looking back, I could talk for hours about all the beautiful things and incredible places there are on our planet; about waking up with the sunrise on a beach in the south of France, finding an isolated and abandoned church in the middle of the mountains, or getting lost in a seaside Spanish town; about watching the lightning storms in Sri Lanka, seeing the awe-inspiring view over Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain, or the delicately carved patterns of the Alhambra. I could tell you all of that: the adventure, the thrill, even the fear, and it wouldn’t explain the best feeling you get from travelling, the part which always gets left out when we call back home. As a traveller, and especially as a solo traveller, you have this incredible opportunity to meet people from every corner of the globe. The chance to talk to people of all ages, from all walks of life. These people might just become your new best friends.
Of course, I’m not saying that you should trust blindly. When you’re travelling, your gut instinct is your most important asset. Do not go home with strange people, and DO leave if you suspect your couchsurfing host to be developing inappropriate feelings for you. (Pro tip for couchsurfing hosts: Please do not text your guests who are twenty years younger than you saying ‘you look so beautiful when you’re sleeping.’ No, really, stop it.). When you’re alone in another country, you definitely have to put your safety first because no one else will. But if you never take any risks at all then where will all the fun memories come from? The freedom you feel when you’re in another country isn’t an illusion: you really are free, and you just have to decide which memories you want to create.
The point is that as a traveller, you have an amazing opportunity to make friends across the globe, the chance to hear stories from people whose lives one simply cannot comprehend. Of course with the internet, it’s quite realistic to be able to start talking to somebody on the other side of the world at a moment’s notice, but it’s just not the same. I would never have heard what is was like to grow up in the Netherlands during the second World War if I hadn’t taken a chance on a hostel-friend in Faro and taken an unexpected detour to Lagos. Some things you just can’t plan for.
In my first two years as a wanderer, one of the most important lessons I have learnt is that everybody has their story to tell and is just waiting for their opportunity to do so. In normal, day-to-day life, it can be hard to really open up or have fun with someone you’ve just met, especially when you know it’s only going to be a two-day relationship.
I wish that I had fully taken advantage from the start of the wisdom and stories from the people whose paths intersected mine whilst travelling because so many people I did give the chance to ended up changing my perspective and giving me new dreams.