Why should you go on a Pilgrimage

This guest post was written by Rebecca Brown, an avid traveller from Ireland.

 

Do people even go on pilgrimages today? Really? In the age of the Internet and all that?

Odds are, we are further from God (if there is a God) than we have ever been. And I’m not trying to belittle your belief system, I have one of my own too. However, I never imagined myself as the kind of person to go on an actual pilgrimage. In the sense that I will be walking the same road hundreds of thousands of people have walked since the Middle Ages, a road where people died, and which they traversed to feel closer to their deity. Turns out, it was one of the best experiences of my life.

Admittedly, before we took the trip last year, I visited my mother’s homeland (she was born in Eastern Europe). Seeing where she came from felt like a spiritual homecoming, and that’s putting it mildly and overemphasizing it at the same time. When my husband suggested the Camino de Santiago, I was on the fence to say the least. However, he talked me into it, and the five weeks we spent walking across France and Spain were some of the best of our lives. That’s where the inspiration for this piece has come from, and all the people whose faces I am not likely to forget, but who will remain anonymous in the next page or two.

In a nutshell, here is why you should be going on a pilgrimage:

You are either rather young, or rather old

I know it sounds idiotic, but it’s true – we’ve met many young people out looking for adventure. They were in it for the walk, for the miles, for the nights by the campfire, for getting soaked in the middle of nowhere and chasing after a bus, (knowing that riding it is not the true Camino way, but nevertheless caring more about being dry than a true pilgrim). Not all were believers, and not all wanted to come, but I met one of them at Santiago de Compostela, who said it was the best vacation of her life.

On the other hand, we met an older gentleman from York. He has been walking a different Camino each year for five years. He told me he needed the time to spend in his own head, and that nothing can get your brain working like moving your legs. He’d been a top level executive for ten years, and now that he was one no longer, he wanted the time and the space to reflect on those years, the failures and the big wins. No better way to see yourself more clearly than to walk five hundred miles, he said. I’m thinking he’s probably right.

You (don’t) believe in God

Of course, there are those who take pilgrimages to feel closer to God, even today. There are also those who don’t quite believe, but would like to. The devout are some of the most interesting people to talk to on the Camino – they are calm, collected, and they can absolutely motivate you when you are about to chuck your shoes in the ditch and fly home. There are amazing heartfelt conversations to be had while you walk along. You may often find yourself questioning your own views of the world, and I don’t just mean your spiritual beliefs.

You want a challenge

This is admittedly me. I wanted to challenge myself physically and mentally – and see if I could do it. Turns out I can, even if I did want to quit three times. Let me warn you, there will be blisters. There will be rain and wind. There will be annoying people bugging you, but you can’t avoid them anyway. But you will have time to think, you will have time to breathe (I can’t stress this enough) and you will have the incentive to open your heart just a bit more. By the way, I am a terrible cynic in my everyday life, but something about the Camino has changed me. I have not only traveled from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela, I have learned more about life and people in those 800 kilometers than I thought I could.

If this short rant has sold the Camino the Santiago to you as well, here are some of my expert tips:

  • Choose a reliable tour operator. We went with Follow the Camino, based on a recommendation, and we were never once sorry.
  • Choose even more reliable shoes. I finally bought these Hanwag Trek Light ones, and they were great – after I paired them with the right socks.
  • Choose the most reliable socks. The socks are the most important part of your gear, don’t underestimate them for a second.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Upping your water intake will help you feel and walk better, no question about it.
  • Leave the prejudice behind. Simply enjoy the walk and the air and the company. That’s what you’re there for.

Have you ever walked the Camino de Santiago? Would you like to, and if yes, what are your reasons? If these eight hundred plus words have not sold you the idea of trekking eight hundred kilometers, let me know why you are still unconvinced!

 

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How to Pass Time on a Long Trip

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Sometimes, while travelling for a long time, the hours just seem to drag by. If you get easily bored on a plane, bus or train, why not try some of these tricks to pass the time and arrive fresh and ready to explore? 

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Catch some Zs

Travelling is a great way to get some extra sleep and pass the time. Although it can be a little uncomfortable for the legs, sleeping on a bus or a train accompanied by the rhythms and the sounds of traffic is hands down the best way to sleep. And don’t hesitate to splurge on a sleeping compartment when on the train. There you can stretch your legs and back, close your eyes and just relax as the train lulls you to sleep. If you have some valuables with you, such as a laptop, camera, phone and money, make sure to keep them close to you while sleeping.

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Shoot photos

All professional travellers always carry their camera with them, and so should you. You’ll get to shoot some beautiful nature scenes, cities, villages and people you don’t get to see every day. Your photos are actually one of the most valuable things you can take home from your adventures, and most people cherish them forever. So, have your camera at hand at all times and who knows what kind of masterpiece you’ll create.

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Watch movies

If you happen to fly, most of today’s flights are equipped with an entertainment system, so you can catch up with the movies you’ve missed in the cinema. However, if you’re travelling by bus, you can take your laptop or tablet and fill it with TV shows and movies to pass the time. They are also good airport companions, especially on long layover flights. 

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Make new friends

Travelling alone is perfect for meeting new people and making new friends. Look for other solo travellers who look bored like you, or start a conversation with your seatmate. Who knows, you might meet some extraordinary people, your future BFF or even your soul mate. However, don’t be pushy, as some people just want to enjoy their trip in peace.

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Bring some cards

No matter if you’re travelling with your friends, family or alone, you should always make some extra space for a deck of cards. This way you can play a variety of games with people and even alone. Solitaire, anyone? Cards are also an amazing way to break the ice and start talking to other people. You can also get one of those travel chess boards with magnets and play a game or two.

Enjoy some music

One thing a traveller mustn’t forget to bring is an iPod or an mp3 player. When you’re down and exhausted, music will pick you up and give you the energy to push forward. It will also relax you and fix your mood. Music is also a great way to tune out conversations, crying babies and loud sounds of the plane or train. But if you just can’t ignore the noises in the background, you can get noise-cancelling headphones such as AKG headphones that will completely isolate you from the rest of the world.

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Read a book

Before, it wasn’t so easy to carry two or three books with you at all times, but today, that’s not difficult at all. Even though you might be a fan of the “real deal”, e-books are much more practical for travelling and they can almost fit into your pocket. Any time is good for reading, but if you’re stuck on a plane or a train, it can really save your life. However, it’s not recommended for people who suffer from motion sickness. 

So, remember these, and next time you go on a trip, you won’t be bored or lonely. Bon voyage, traveller!

8 Ways to Learn A Language As You Travel

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Sitting in the departures lounge with a phrase book and no idea how to say anything?

It happens to the best of us!

English speakers are, of course, utterly spoiled when travelling. So many people speak our language around the world that it can be tempting not to bother with the memorizing.

However, the rewards from learning a handful of phrases can be huge, and we aren’t just talking about the practicalities.

Making the effort to speak the local language will enrich your experiences, allow you to discover the best hidden gems off the tourist trail and it demonstrates a respect for, and genuine interest in, the culture you are exploring. At the very least, if you muddle through and get a smile, then your efforts will be worth it!

Check out our list of tips for language-learning as you travel, and try not to be shy. The world awaits!

1- Pack Light

As tempting as it might be to pick up a big grammar book at the airport, that style of learning is unlikely to help you out in-country. Aside from the fact that you have far more exciting things to do than pore over a book, you also need to remember that you are literally surrounded with the greatest source of language-learning information: people!

The kinds of things you can expect to pick up in an hour on the go will be very different to the things you would typically learn in an hour on the books. However, both of these approaches to language suit different environments. When you’re already in country, too many books will just distract from people and the words around you. Get out there and learn!

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2- Set Goals

This is an important point which came up in our previous post about language learning (https://markstraveljournal.me/category/language/). Goal setting is essential whether you are learning for 3 months or 3 hours over the course of a weekend away. Without goals, it is too easy to fall short of the final part of learning a language – attempting a few words!

As you are travelling, it is likely that your goal will relate to talking with a person. Recognizing signs is fantastic, but difficult to measure as a tangible goal. Examples of the kind of thing you could set as a daily challenge would be: ordering a meal, or a ticket for something; talking to the staff at your hotel or hostel; even just saying hello and goodbye in the target language.

3- Choose the Target Language

Listen in to tours, go to the cinema, listen to the radio. Make a concentrated effort to hear the language as much as possible.

Going shopping? Write your shopping list in the target language. In fact, write as much as possible in the target language.

This is so much easier when you’re in-country, so make the most of it!

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4- Play at Word Association

Don’t be afraid to make up slightly bizarre mnemonics to remember things. These will often be unique to you, and they help. One example might be Hungarian for hello – Szia – which sounds like See Ya. So I think of the Beatles song ‘Hello, Goodbye’ and the lyrics – “you say goodbye and I say hello”. For anyone else, this might seem like a convoluted approach, but if it works for me, then it’s perfect!

5- Ask for Help

Depending on your personality, this can be easy or impossible. Years of language-learning have allowed me to worry less and less of what people are thinking when I ask for help, but I know this isn’t the same for everyone.

The more you get used to approaching strangers and asking for help with language, the easier it will get. However, try to make the most of speaking to people you meet. Ask the waiter in the restaurant how to pronounce the word for your favourite dish. If you’re feeling especially brave, ask if they would mind you recording the phrase on your phone. You’ve got new vocab and a permanent reminder, all at once!

Memorize how to say “how do I say this?” and don’t hold back. 9/10 people will be delighted to share their language with you, I promise!

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6- Pack your Post-its

If you’re staying for a few days, then this tactic is slightly wacky but it works. Label things in your accommodation with post-its, and the word for them in the target language. Of course, maybe don’t try this if you are staying in someone’s home or they might get a little annoyed. Otherwise, you’ll pick up words for everyday items far quicker than if you weren’t seeing the word every time you used the object.

7- Use what You Have

If you have a smartphone, take photos of things you want to remember the word for and rename them with the word. Fill your notes with vocabulary, or record yourself reciting key phrases and listen to it as you sit on the bus.

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8- Enjoy Yourself!

This style of language-learning is meant to be done in quick chunks. Don’t fret about verb conjugations, and not having a clue how to reuse words. If you can only remember key phrases but you get the chance to use them speaking to a real person, then that is a huge achievement.

We’ve talked about setting goals, but don’t feel bad for setting them low. Whether you’re travelling for business or pleasure, the whole point of learning the language is ultimately to enhance your enjoyment of your trip. You will not be taking exams, and no one you talk to is going to be testing you. Relax, and enjoy it!

 

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If you have used these tips, or have some more to suggest, then please comment on social media and let us know!

Bio: Global Language Services (http://www.globallanguageservices.co.uk/) is a Scotland-based translation and interpreting company committed to providing speedy, efficient and accurate service no matter what. Please get in touch or check out our website for more details.