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May 29, 2010 | by  | in Online Only | [ssba]

The life of a budget traveller

Stranded Pilots and Spanish Brothels: The more intrepid way to travel

It’s 4am and sleep continues to evade me. There’s no spare benches left at Gatwick airport, especially since the arsehole over there has taken up two to himself. I have it in good mind to wake him abruptly with a lecture on basic courtesy but I’m too exhausted to make the effort, plus it’s every man for himself in here. Instead I have attempted to squiggle into the very narrow gap between the arm rests on a row of wooden seats. It’s going to be a long night at the airport, but such is the life of the budget traveller.

The budget traveller is willing to don five layers of clothing and towels as scarves in order to avoid having to pay for a check-in bag on Ryanair, and is easily distinguishable by their jandals, hoodies and general jaded appearance. After having spent an unfathomably large amount over Easter, particularly thanks to the inconvenient interference of an Icelandic volcano, I have decided to embrace the low-cost, airport sleeping approach to travel. I’ve booked the cheapest hostel in Istanbul that doesn’t look like I’ll be mugged in, and am planning to take full advantage of free breakfast as sustenance for the entire day. It’s hardly glamorous, but I’ve already played the “I promise this is the last time I’ll ask for money” card with my parents one too many times.

This stone-cold and back-breakingly uncomfortable wooden bench, however, does have a silver lining. It’s all part of one great adventure, or at least I tell myself. Certainly, some of the most memorable moments of my travels thus far have been born out of financial desperation or a radical divergence from plans. I never, for example, would have imagined that I would spend an extra week in Italy staying with only stranded airline pilots for company in a small Tuscan village. Nor would a chance to learn Serbian, or be introduced to the custom of home-distilled rakia shots if we hadn’t been forced to take refuge with an extremely hospitable family near Torino while the ash cleared.

One particularly unforgettable experience involved a dingy old brothel on a highway in the middle of a chillingly cold Spanish night. This, for the record, was not a desperate resort to prostitution, but rather the terrifying result of a failed hitchhike attempt. In an attempt to avoid the twenty euro cab ride from Hotel Morzabez, supposedly the “best hub from which to see Salamanca”, into the city we—ingeniously we thought at the time—decided that it would a great idea to hitchhike the twenty kilometre journey.

Setting out in the early evening, buoyed by naive optimism, we were soon to discover that no one wants to pick up Kiwis and Australians on a Spanish highway, let alone four of them. As we walked along the precariously narrow verge it grew progressively darker until we were more likely to be hit by a car than offered a ride. When finally lights in the distance punctuated the darkness, we pushed forth with renewed vigour. As we neared, however, the lights appeared distinctly neon, and it became apparent that this was more than your standard ‘hotel’.

So here we were, a group of girls standing outside a Spanish brothel, with seedy old men standing about in the carpark, miles away from any civilisation. Luckily for us, there was just one other building nearby, an old folks home, who, after I found the “we’re lost” phrase in my Spanish dictionary, kindly ordered us a taxi home, which, very ironically, still cost us twenty euro.

It’s moments like these, above any excursion you plan, or museum you visit, that constitute the real character-building stuff. Spontaneity is a wonderful thing, and although I certainly don’t recommend paying late-night visits to Spanish brothels, the best travel memories are the ones that deviate from the orthodox tourist path. They’re the ones that you learn most about your friends in, and certainly the ones that you can, at least in hindsight, laugh about. So, as much as I would love to trade these hard wooden seats for the comfort of a five-star bedroom, I look forward to the challenges of my travels to come. If I end up singing for my supper in Croatia, at least I can return home having seen a lot more, and a much more realistic picture of our world. Of all the discomfort and even danger these actions have put me in I have never ever regretted them. I think the greatest mistake anyone can make in life is to never risk making them.


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  1. Peggy says:

    to all parents of intrepid travellers, “be prepared to tranfer some $s”, they’ll pay it back , and what better way to invest in your child’s education.

  2. Superior Mind says:

    I have a good “unexpected brothel” story from my travels too. You’ve got to love this mode of travel for that very reason though, you find yourself in unexpected places and situations that make great stories later on.

  3. A special and unforgettable experience associated with a shabby old brothel on a road in the middle of a painful night Spanish cold. This is for the record, was not a desperate resort to prostitution, but rather the result of a failed attempt frightening.

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