Celinne da CostaCouchsurfinginterviewInterviews

Tips on how to Use Your Social Community to Journey the World


Celinne da Costa posing at a temple
Considered one of my favourite web sites is Couchsurfing. This web site permits you to join with locals overseas and get a spot to remain, a buddy to point out you round, and native info. I bear in mind I used it once I was first touring and stayed at this beautiful residence in Athens. I’ve grown to find it irresistible much more since they’ve a “who’s close by” function on their app, which I closely utilized in France final 12 months.

Celinne, alternatively, created – and used – her personal private social community. She traveled the world solely staying with mates and mates of mates. She reached out on the net and located strangers will to open their residence to her. Not solely did this assist her decrease her journey prices, it allowed her to satisfy great, fascinating, and sort hearted folks. To me, journey is in regards to the human connections we make – and he or she discovered a option to make some nice ones. Right here’s her sharing her story, what impressed to do that, and what she discovered alongside the way in which.

Nomadic Matt: Inform us about your self. Who’re you? What drives you?
Celinne da Costa: My love story with journey dates way back to I can bear in mind: I used to be born within the coronary heart of Rome, Italy, to an immigrant Brazilian mom and a German-raised Italian father. Since leaving Italy, I’ve gone from residing within the quintessential suburbia neighborhoods that American goals are made from, to frenziedly exploring Philadelphia whereas balancing my research at College of Pennsylvania, to adventuring my method by means of each nook and cranny of New York City. Final 12 months, I left behind my company promoting job within the metropolis to design my dream life from scratch. I started with a journey all over the world, through which I harnessed the ability of human connection and kindness to stick with 70+ strangers in 17 nations throughout 4 continents.

Eighteen months later, I’m nonetheless touring full-time and writing a guide about my expertise circumnavigating the globe by couchsurfing by means of my social community.

What fuels your ardour for journey?
Journey accelerates my private development and challenges me to change into the perfect model of myself. There are such a lot of stunning locations on the earth, however after some time, they start to mix into each other. What really makes journey beneficial is the teachings it may well educate you, if you’re prepared to be current and take note of your atmosphere.

Journey has helped me develop the humility and goodwill to study from those that I meet alongside the way in which. It has pushed me to know my insignificance on this planet, but nonetheless take actions that can positively affect others. Most significantly, it has challenged me to open my coronary heart to others and stay within the second. In the end, journey shouldn’t be a matter of what I see, however who I change into alongside the way in which. I don’t have to see your entire world. I simply wish to really feel it run by means of my veins.

Inform us about this lengthy journey you had been simply on. How did you consider it? How lengthy did it final? The place did you go? What did you do?
I didn’t wish to simply give up my company 9-5 job on a whim and journey the world and not using a plan. I needed to make travel into a lifestyle, not a sabbatical, so I made a decision to design a mission that might 1. incorporate my major passions (journey, writing, and making connections with fascinating people) and a pair of. create alternatives for a life-style change as soon as I used to be accomplished. I challenged myself to design my dream life, try and stay it out for six months and re-evaluate as soon as I received there.

That’s the place the thought of my social experiment got here from: I circumnavigated the globe by couchsurfing by means of my community. I needed to reincorporate actual human connection again into my life. I by no means used the Couchsurfing website since everybody who hosted me was related to me by some means (mates, mates of mates, folks I met on the highway).

I ended up being on the highway for 9 months for this mission, and having 73 hosts in 17 nations throughout four continents: I handed by means of Europe, the Center East, Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the US.

Celinne da Costa skydiving in New Zealand

How did you truly discover hosts to host you? How far forward do you know the place you had been going to sleep? 
There have been no web sites concerned! Solely sheer human connection. All of the interactions had been initiated by me and had been enabled by my telephone (texting, voice notes, calling) and social media (largely Instagram and Fb).

I reached out to everybody I knew telling them about my mission and asking whether or not they knew somebody they may join me with. I stored shifting from one connection to the following till I discovered somebody prepared to host me. As my mission grew and other people began discovering out about it, hosts began to succeed in out to me by means of Instagram.

I solely had a one-way ticket to Italy (the place I’m initially from) booked – every little thing else was on the whim. I had a basic trajectory of the place I used to be going, and I might add or subtract locations relying on my internet hosting state of affairs. There have been locations I needed to go to it doesn’t matter what, so there have been typically instances once I was right down to the wire and didn’t discover a host till tremendous final minute. Different instances, I had hosts lined up months forward. It at all times labored out – I used to be solely left and not using a host as soon as, in Dubrovnik, Croatia. I ended up renting an inexpensive room final minute, however fortunately, I did make some native mates on that journey so I’ll have a spot to remain if I return!

What was the furthest reference to a number that you just stayed with? How did that occur?
My furthest connection was seven levels in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was: my mother’s buddy’s girlfriend’s consumer’s consumer’s co-worker’s buddy. It was loopy the way it occurred. I stored struggling to discover a place, and every particular person would move me alongside to another person they knew till ultimately, somebody was out there and prepared to host. This occurred a number of instances throughout my travels – I additionally had loads of five- and six-degree connections. I used to be stunned by how devoted folks had been to discovering me a spot to remain.

Did you ever meet somebody on the highway and stick with them? Or did you strictly stick with mates of mates?
Sure, on a regular basis! There was by no means a degree once I had all my hosts lined up – I often had my subsequent couple of locations deliberate, and every little thing else up within the air. I used to be consistently assembly and befriending vacationers on the highway, and upon listening to about my mission, a overwhelming majority would supply to host me with out me even asking.

Celinne da Costa posing with some locals

For instance, I met an older gentleman for all of 30 minutes as I used to be leaving a meditation retreat in Nepal (which, humorous sufficient, was additionally a part of my mission: my Kathmandu’s cousin labored so I used to be his visitor). Regardless of understanding me so briefly, he provided to host me in Tasmania. I ended up visiting his and his spouse’s farm (situated in the course of nowhere) six months later with one other host, and it was wonderful. 4 full strangers ended up spending a whole night sharing tales about our travels and philosophies on life over a feast of freshly caught crayfish and greens picked from their backyard.

Inform us a couple of host tales that fully stunned you if you had been on the highway.
If there may be something I discovered from assembly a whole bunch of individuals throughout my travels, it’s that there’s a lot greater than we might ever fathom happening beneath the floor of a human being. It’s our nature to categorize issues. With folks, it tends to be by tradition, race, geography, faith, and so forth. When you make an lively effort to place these classes apart, sit down with locals, and exhibit some fundamental curiosity of their lives and tales, you’ll discover that every particular person is their very own universe. In actual fact, essentially the most unbelievable nuggets of knowledge I’ve gotten got here from individuals who didn’t even notice their very own brilliance.

Considered one of my favourite encounters was with Maung, an older gentleman that I met who was a lodge supervisor in Myanmar. After some dialog, I discovered he smuggled cows to Thailand for a residing when he was youthful, and was a commander within the guerilla preventing motion towards the oppressive regime alongside a monk who later grew to become well-known for his humanitarian efforts in the direction of orphaned kids. What a narrative!

Then, there may be Adam, the Italian-American host I fell head-over-heels in love with (spoiler: we broke up). We grew up lower than an hour away from one another within the US but I discovered him whereas he was residing in Australia.

Lastly, I’ll always remember asking my host Anna in Bali whether or not she knew of a non secular healer and her telling me that she lived with one. That week, I spent most of my evenings sitting on their porch in an Ubud village, discussing the that means of affection and happiness as they proceeded to highschool me on life with their clever Balinese philosophy.

What challenges did you’ve got couchsurfing all over the world? How did you take care of them?
I might by no means predict the consolation or location comfort of my lodging, so I actually needed to learn to go with the flow and never set any expectations. I’ve stayed in penthouses with my very own non-public room, rest room, and maid, and I’ve additionally stayed in cots on the ground of a village with a gap for a bathroom. It’s humorous as a result of a few of my most “uncomfortable” internet hosting lodging ended up being my richest and finest experiences, and vice versa.

Celinne da Costa and one of her hosts

Additionally, “studying” my hosts was a problem. Their causes for internet hosting me had been so totally different: some needed to pay it ahead, others needed to actively present me their metropolis and decide my mind, others had been solely providing a spot to remain however didn’t essentially wish to socialize. I needed to sharpen my folks abilities so I might keep respectful and intuitive to folks’s boundaries (or lack thereof).

What are your suggestions for people who find themselves impressed by your story and wish to do that on their very own? What are some nice assets you recommend to make use of?
Establish what you might be obsessed with, and attempt to construct your travels round what works for you. My mission was profitable as a result of I tapped into my strengths and passions. When you’d prefer to create a mission round your travels, I recommend you customise it round your preferences: if you’re an introvert and hate speaking to folks, for instance, spending hours a day chatting with folks and asking them to host you might not be the perfect concept. Make your journey enjoyable by catering to what you realistically really feel comfy and completely happy doing, and be sure you do some planning forward of time.

My finest useful resource was fellow vacationers who had additionally accomplished round-the-world trips. After I was eager about doing this journey, I reached out to full-time vacationers on Instagram, requested mates in the event that they knew individuals who went on lengthy journey journeys, and did lots of “weblog browsing.” I had so many Skype calls with strangers who had simply completed round-the-world journeys earlier than I left for my very own. Speaking by means of my doubts, fears, and confusions – and being reassured that I might be okay – made me a lot extra comfy with leaving.

Particularly, my journey was impressed by one in all my mentors Leon Logothetis, who’s the creator of guide (and now TV present) The Kindness Diaries. He traveled the world on a yellow bike counting on folks to supply him fuel, meals, or shelter, to show to himself and to others that humanity was type. Different books I additionally learn that ready me for the journey had been Vagabonding by Rolf Potts, The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton, and A New Earth: Awakening To Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle.


Celinne da Costa and two of her male hosts

How do you make your cash final on the highway? What are a few of your finest suggestions?
My prime suggestions for folks making an attempt to make it work financially on the highway:

  • Know your weaknesses, and plan for them. I’m horrible at numbers and by no means budgeted earlier than, however I knew I must if I needed to make this work financially. I created an excel sheet and for the previous 18 months, have been documenting and categorizing each single expense so I can monitor the place I would like to chop down if obligatory. I additionally knew I’d go loopy if I didn’t often deal with myself to one thing I preferred however wasn’t obligatory, so I gave myself a month-to-month “frivolous stuff” allowance.
  • At all times bear in mind you could barter or negotiate. Touring and negotiating on the highway taught me that forex shouldn’t be solely financial – it’s social as nicely. I didn’t have ample funds, however I did have a skillset: I’m a model strategist by commerce, in addition to a author, social media influencer, and content material creator. When negotiating with didn’t get me anyplace, I might supply my companies in change for items or companies of comparable perceived worth. In lots of areas of the world, folks reply favorably to a favor change. If advertising isn’t your skillset, that’s completely okay too! I’ve seen folks barter all types of abilities for experiences of locations to remain: for instance, exchanging farm work or teaching English for room and board, serving to a small enterprise with coding a web site in change without cost excursions, and so forth. The chances are infinite!
  • Embrace the minimalist way of life. After I’m on the highway, I stay a really minimalist way of life. I solely journey with a carry-on to maintain my belongings to a minimal, I hardly purchase souvenirs or garments, I stroll or take public transportation at any time when attainable, and I purchase most of my meals on the grocery retailer. I usually don’t pay for tradition and history-related actions or excursions; I e-mail locations forward of time, inform them about my mission and that I’m a author (along with having my very own social media following, I additionally write for some main publications… each which I achieved by creating this social experiment). Since I stick with locals, I don’t pay for lodging, which helps tremendously.

Have been your loved ones and mates supportive of your touring journey?

Surprisingly, sure. I used to be initially nervous to tell my family and friends about my plan to quit my job to travel around the world by sleeping in random folks’s properties – I actually anticipated them to attempt to speak me out of it. Though a handful of them did, the overwhelming majority had a response alongside the strains of “Sure! You might want to do that!”

I used to be overwhelmed by the assist, how a lot they believed in me, and the way they supported me alongside the way in which, emotionally in addition to by connecting me to potential hosts. I couldn’t have made it with out them!

Celinne da Costa and a new friend

What’s in your bucket listing?
Oof, am I allowed to say each nation on the earth? If needed to slim down to 5 locations that I’m itching to see, they’re: Peru, Bolvia, Antarctica, Japan, and the Philippines. Now I simply want to search out hosts there!


Do you’ve got any recommendation for those that really feel like Couchsurfing is one thing harmful that they may by no means do?
Sure! The primary rule might be the toughest to internalize: you must belief folks. We stay in a world that’s consistently inundating us with information of what horrible people we’re, however that’s not the case in any respect. I discovered all around the world that most individuals are good, and wish to assist. I’ve sufficient tales about individuals who went out of their method in kindness for me to fill a guide (and that’s why I’m writing one!).

In fact, there are exceptions, and that’s the place my second piece of recommendation is available in: belief your instinct. Western society significantly values thoughts over coronary heart, and that’s one thing I discovered to query throughout my time in Southeast Asia. It’s vital to make use of rationality and logic when shifting by means of life, however there’s something about instinct that simply can’t be quantified. Take heed to what your intestine tells you – if one thing is off, take away your self from the state of affairs, no questions requested.

Total, I’ve surfed over 100 couches previously couple of years and I’ve solely had one dangerous expertise which I rapidly eliminated myself from earlier than it escalated. Statistically, that’s a 1% weirdo fee. Imagine that individuals are good, and that’s the world that can manifest for you!

Celinne da Costa left behind her company promoting job within the metropolis to design her dream life from scratch. She started with a journey all over the world, through which she harnessed the ability of human connection and kindness to stick with 70+ strangers in 17 nations throughout 4 continents. Observe her journey at The Nomad’s Oasis in addition to Instagram and Facebook or decide up her guide of brief tales, The Art of Being Human

Develop into the Subsequent Success Story

Considered one of my favourite elements about this job is listening to folks’s journey tales. They encourage me, however extra importantly, in addition they encourage you. I journey a sure method however there are a lot of methods to fund your journeys and journey the world. I hope these tales present you that there’s multiple option to journey and that it’s inside your grasp to succeed in your journey targets. Listed here are extra examples of people that overcame obstacles and made their journey goals a actuality:

P.S. – I’m having a meet up on January 23rd in Queenstown. You’ll be able to signal for that by clicking here! Come be part of the enjoyable! Location TBD!

The publish How to Use Your Social Network to Travel the World appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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Cheap FlightsInterviewsScott's Cheap Flightstravel hacking

The Secret Sauce Behind Scott’s Low-cost Flights


Scott Keyes posing with his dog
“Have you ever heard of Scott’s Low-cost Flights? Ought to I take advantage of them?”

When family and friends far faraway from the journey hacking/low cost flights house ask me a few web site, I do know its mainstream. Whereas there are a lot of whole lot web sites on the market (The Flight Deal, Secret Flying, and Vacation Pirates are three of my favorites), Scott’s Cheap Flights appears to have damaged by the place others haven’t. Over 1 million individuals get his every day flight offers electronic mail. I’m a giant fan of the web site and their skill to typically break airfare offers (I used considered one of their alerts to fly to South Africa). It seems Scott is a fan of my web site too so we sat down for an interview the place I obtained him to spill the key behind his web site:

Nomadic Matt: Inform everybody about your self. How did you get into this?
Scott: Once I graduated school in 2009, I knew two issues: (1) I needed to journey the world and (2) I used to be by no means going to be rich. So if I wasn’t going to let #2 forestall #1, I knew I must determine some artistic methods to journey with out spending my life financial savings. I started studying up on flight pricing economics, spending hours on numerous flight search engines like google, and studying numerous airfare patterns. Earlier than lengthy, I discovered a web-based group of fellow journey hackers and cheap-flight aficionados who take pleasure in not simply journey but additionally the joys of getting an excellent deal on flights.

The place did the thought of this web site come from?
Scott’s Low-cost Flights has a bizarre origin story. In 2013, I obtained the perfect deal of my life: nonstop from NYC to Milan for $130 round-trip. Milan hadn’t even been on my radar as a spot to go to, however for $130 round-trip, there’s no means I wouldn’t go. And it turned out to be wonderful! I went snowboarding within the Alps, caught an AC Milan match, hiked Cinque Terre, frolicked on Lake Como. It was divine.

Once I obtained again, phrase unfold amongst buddies and coworkers in regards to the deal I obtained, and dozens of them started asking me to allow them to know subsequent time I discovered a fare like that so they might get in on it, too. So relatively than attempt to keep in mind to inform George and Esther and Aviva when an excellent deal popped up, I made a decision to begin a easy little electronic mail listing as a substitute so I may alert everybody directly. Scott’s Cheap Flights was born.

For the primary 18 months, although, it was just a bit, enjoyable passion I did for my buddies. It wasn’t till August 2015 that it had generated sufficient natural development that it made sense to consider turning it right into a enterprise.

Scott posing in front of a hilly landscape

You’ve kind of blown up within the final 12 months or so. What do you suppose have been the 2 greatest elements into your success?
First off, thanks! We simply hit a million subscribers — nonetheless laborious for me to imagine. The credit score goes to 2 main elements:

First, there’s an unbelievable staff who runs Scott’s Low-cost Flights. It’s not simply me; we’re as much as 25 of us on the staff now. We’ve got a staff of flight searchers discovering nice offers around the globe, and in addition a staff of wonderful buyer assist of us. On a mean day we get effectively over 700 emails in our inbox, and most of the people get a response inside a couple of hours, if not a couple of minutes. I believe this can be a main purpose why greater than 50% of people that join Scott’s Low-cost Flights discovered about it by way of phrase of mouth.

Second, the startup itself had very serendipitous timing. Proper round when Scott’s Low-cost Flights turned a enterprise, worldwide flight costs started to plummet, fueled by low oil costs and a bevy of latest low-cost airways like Norwegian and WOW leaping into the transatlantic market. Whereas in 2010 it was uncommon to see flights from the US to Europe below $900 round-trip, in 2015 (and thru to as we speak), it’s comparatively widespread to see those self same flights round $400 round-trip, if not much less. We are able to’t drive airways to supply low cost flights, however we’ve been there to experience the wave these previous few years and assist subscribers pay half of what they used to to journey overseas.

Had been there any media hits or high-profile options that actually modified your trajectory? I keep in mind listening to about you a couple of years in the past, however now it appears everybody I do know, even outdoors of journey, has heard of your publication.
There was one particularly: a Enterprise Insider article and I have been taking in the summertime of 2015. It helped take Scott’s Low-cost Flights from a passion to a full-fledged enterprise by bringing in 1000’s of latest subscribers. We’ve had a whole lot of media hits within the two years since then, however as we’ve grown, every particular person one has essentially had a diminishing impression. Maybe a Nomadic Matt interview will give a giant new increase although!

Scott doing a television interview

How does your web site work? How do you discover these offers? Do you have got staff of individuals looking for offers? Is it an algorithm?
One factor that surprises lots of people is that we don’t have a bunch of computer systems operating secret algorithms to seek out low cost flights. All of our fares are searched by hand. The key sauce is tough work. Airfare modifications by the hour, if not by the minute, and the perfect offers don’t are inclined to final very lengthy, so discovering out about them early is the important thing to reserving them earlier than they’re gone. Most individuals don’t wish to spend all their free time looking for low cost flights; we love doing it and being subscribers’ early detection radar.

One other means to consider it’s like this: Virtually all people is able to cooking dinner at residence, however that doesn’t forestall the existence of the restaurant business. Folks don’t all the time wish to put within the effort and time required to seek out low cost flights, so we’re pleased to do it for them.

That appears tremendous time-consuming. How do you resolve what and the place to look? Do you simply randomly plugging in locations and dates, or is there extra of a technique to the insanity?
There’s a little bit of proprietary data that goes into the method, however 95% of it’s simply the sheer legwork, day after day, looking numerous routes and seeing what pops up. There’s extra of a ability facet to the method than I’d’ve guessed 4 years in the past, whether or not that’s remembering sure esoteric routes that periodically go on sale, or figuring out fare warfare out of 1 metropolis probably signifies fare drops in different comparable cities. For essentially the most half, although, it’s only a small staff of extremely proficient and devoted flight searchers scouring by fares all day each day, disregarding 99% of them and skimming off the juiciest 1% to ship to subscribers.

What are a number of the greatest tendencies in flights you’re seeing proper now?
Within the final 12 months or two we’ve seen far cheaper flights than previously to India (earlier than: $1,000+, now: ~$600), Italy and the Netherlands (earlier than: $900, now: ~$350), and Hawaii (earlier than: $800, now $350 from the West Coast, $550 from additional east).

Sadly (although maybe not surprisingly), we’re seeing a continued drought of low cost flights to fashionable locations like Brazil, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand.

As well as, we’re seeing a continued unbundling of airfare: extra low-cost carriers and “price range economic system” fares supplied by full-service carriers that don’t embrace checked baggage, seat choice, or meals.

Scott in the Cinque Terre

Do you employ your personal offers or are you extra of a factors/miles-in-business-class form of man?
Certain do! I’m personally not a business-class kind of man. I’m nonetheless younger sufficient to be advantageous in coach for as lengthy and much as a aircraft can fly. Ask me once more in 20 years — however usually I’m uncomfortable being doted on within the premium part of the aircraft. I’m a easy man. I don’t want a lot.

Will we see extra business-class offers?
Don’t wanna overpromise and underdeliver. Keep tuned!

Do you intend to go world and have extra non-US offers?
Sure! We’ve got a staff of flight searchers discovering low cost fares departing not simply from the US but additionally Canada, the UK and mainland Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia, and the Center East (Sub-Saharan Africa coming quickly!).

You get all these flight offers, however inform me a few of your favourite journey experiences. What’s considered one of your favourite latest journey reminiscences?
Final 12 months my spouse and I took a visit to Belarus to go to her household. One of many days we took a visit to a “park” that consisted of a giant open discipline crammed with previous discarded and retired Chilly Conflict–period Soviet weapons. Suppose machine weapons, missiles, and tanks.

Largely individuals would stroll round and pose for selfies in entrance of those huge weapons, however at one level I noticed a small group of vacationers from Asia hand a park operator some money after which begin to climb on high of a WWII-era tank. I believed they have been simply going to take photographs, however a couple of seconds later the tank began lurching ahead earlier than hitting a cool 25 miles per hour, zipping across the park. These vacationers have been having the time of their effing lives, and it gave me a lot pleasure simply to observe them.

Scott sitting in front of some salt flats

Your deal web site is nice in fact, however what about simply on a regular basis flights individuals have to see Grandma. What recommendation do you have got primarily based in your expertise studying how airline pricing works?
The only finest trick to getting low cost airfare is flexibility. Being versatile not simply together with your dates but additionally your areas. For instance, that NYC-Milan nonstop round-trip deal for $130 I discussed on the high. I wasn’t dwelling in NYC; I used to be dwelling in DC. However for that fare it was effectively well worth the brief $20 bus experience up. I spent the weekend with buddies in NYC and saved myself $650 off what fares would’ve been from DC to Milan.

The best way most individuals strategy getting a flight is that this: (1) choose the place they wish to go; (2) choose their dates; and (three) see what costs can be found. By prioritizing the fare lowest, they typically find yourself with costly tickets.

As a substitute, if getting an inexpensive flight is your precedence, flip the order: (1) see what costs can be found to numerous locations are around the globe; (2) resolve which of a budget locations attraction to you; and (three) choose the dates you want which have a budget fares accessible.

What’s the craziest deal you ever obtained?
Along with that $130 nonstop NYC-Milan deal, my spouse and I lately scored $169 round-trip flights to Japan — flippin’ love mistake fares. And staff members have gotten equally good offers to Hawaii, New Zealand, and many others.

Lastly, what’s one non-airfare-related journey piece of recommendation you’d give somebody?
Learn extra journal articles and hearken to extra good, informative podcasts. I’m a agency believer within the liberal arts strategy of figuring out a bit about all the pieces (versus all the pieces about only one topic), not solely as a solution to be a well-rounded particular person but additionally as a social lubricant. When you can maintain a dialog about something from structure to the inventory market to Asian price range airways, you’re way more prone to meet attention-grabbing individuals and develop deeper relationships.

Scott based Scott’s Cheap Flights in a Denver coffeeshop. Scott is the flight searcher-in-chief, spending Eight-12 hours a day on Google Flights in addition to overseeing every day operations. When you’re on the lookout for flight offers, it’s top-of-the-line.

The publish The Secret Sauce Behind Scott’s Cheap Flights appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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Living Lagom in Sweden: An Interview With Lola Akerstrom


travel photographer and writer Lola A. Akerstrom
Back in 2006, during my first trip around the world, I met a Swedish girl. We traveled together for a bit and the following year I went to visit her in Sweden. Though that relationship didn’t last, my love for Sweden did and, in subsequent years, I learned Swedish and even tried to move to Sweden. I love everything Swedish. And so does my friend Lola. Lola and I met back in 2008 when travel blogging was in its infancy. Unlike me, she’s had success in making a life in Sweden, where she now lives with her husband and son. She’s one of the favorite people in the industry and I love the imagery in her writing and the beauty in her photography.

In her new book, Lagom, she discusses life in Sweden and Swedish culture. Today, I jealously interview her about life there.

Nomadic Matt: Tell everyone a bit about yourself.
Lola: I’m a Nigerian-born, US-educated, Sweden-based writer and photographer focusing mostly on exploring culture through food, tradition, and lifestyles. My photography is represented by National Geographic Creative, and I was recently awarded the prestigious 2018 Travel Photographer of the Year Bill Muster Award from the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).

I actually took a nontraditional path to this new life, as I worked as a web programmer and GIS system architect for 12+ years before the full career shift into the travel media industry.

I’ve always been fascinated by the nuances of culture: what makes us different and what our similarities are. And so this curiosity and acknowledgement really underpins pretty much all my work as a travel writer and photographer.

Lola Akerstrom and a snowy winter scene in Sweden

How did you end up in Sweden?
I met my husband in 2006 while living in the US. After logging thousands upon thousands of air miles, as well as temporary stints in Stockholm, I officially moved over in 2009. It really was an intercultural, interracial, and intercontinental union in many ways. We now have two kids, so Sweden will be home for a while for many reasons, the prime one being that it’s pretty darn perfect for families.

How do you find life in Sweden? Good? Bad?
Life in Sweden is what you make of it, and that’s why I also wrote this book — as a handy cultural guide that can help you integrate and deeply understand Swedish culture and its nuances. Having lived in both Nigeria and the US for extended periods of time, I appreciate living here with a young family. Overall, the quality of life is fantastic in terms of stress levels. There is enough time to dedicate to the family, as well as generous benefits, which we all contribute to through our taxes.

What’s your least favorite part about living in Sweden?
I often say Sweden is the most open society run by the most private people, and I explain why in the book. Sweden does have its dark sides, and I always say the main difference is this: I can be like Oprah Winfrey if I want to as a black woman in the US, despite all the racial tensions. In Sweden, while you’ll be left in a small corner to live your happy life, trying to be a CEO or magnate like Oprah is a gargantuan task. There are people who still don’t get called for job interviews because of the names on their résumés. So overall, while I love living here, no society is perfect, and Sweden has a lot of integration issues it needs to work out.

Why did you write this book?
So, the Swedish word lagom has recently emerged as the lifestyle trend of 2017 and of course, publishers are jumping on it with different lifestyle books — from recipes to interior decor.

People hanging out near blossoming trees in Stockholm

But I needed to put a book out there that was beyond cinnamon bun recipes, because lagom is not a word that is warmly embraced or even liked by many Swedes themselves for various reasons, including the fact the ethos has over time morphed to denote average, boring, and middle-of-the-road. I detail all this in the book, as well as explain why lagom itself is inherently a good ideal as opposed to jante, which is the negative parasitic ethos that attaches itself to lagom and brings the negativity. But it is the key to understanding the Swedish mindset.

I have been living in Sweden for eight years, and writing about the country and its culture for even longer. I am also married to a Swede and have a unique vantage point of observing the culture both objectively and subjectively. So I explain lagom in a way that a foreigner fully gets it, as well as holding up a mirror to Swedes so they see how lagom is expressed in interactions with other people. It can be very difficult to write about something that’s very intrinsic to you in a way that others can fully understand without coming off as patronizing and condescending.

It really governs the Swedish psyche, and individual bubbles of lagom are definitely changing and morphing with each passing generation.

I needed to write a well-balanced cultural book that could still stand once the Scandi-trends wave washed over.

What does lagom mean and why is it important?
On the surface, lagom is often described as “not too little, not too much, just right,” but it’s a lot more nuanced than that and lies closer to “optimal.” It is the key to unlocking the Swedish psyche and governs almost all aspects of life and culture in the country.

It also transforms its meaning in different contexts — from “less is more” in terms of décor and “moderation” in terms of food to “harmony and balance” in terms of society and “mindfulness” in terms of well-being.

If one were to boil down the true essence of lagom to its very core, it means striving for the ultimate balance in life that, when applied to all aspects of one’s existence, can help guide you toward operating at your most natural, effortless state.

The state and measurement of lagom mean different things to different folks. My satisfaction may vary from yours, but we can both be satisfied. Lagom represents the ultimate sweet spot or golden mean in your own life, and more importantly, it encourages you to fully operate within that sweet spot that’s just right for you.

a typical Swedish cottage with a Swedish flag

For travelers to Sweden, how can they detect lagom at work or play?
Many people often describe Swedes (in Sweden, not outside of Sweden) as reserved, inaccessible, and maybe even cold and flippant, but it’s often just lagom’s mindfulness at play. Locals will give you your space and ensure you’re not inconvenienced by their presence. So, Swedes naturally keep their distance from a place of mindfulness, not because they don’t want to be around you. (Outside of Sweden, they are quick to ditch lagom in social settings.)

At work, lagom is always looking for the best solution, so there’s a lot of planning, lots of meetings, lots of consensus, lots of teamwork, you get the gist… to make sure they arrive at the optimal, lagom solution to all problems.

For example: Many foreigners working or doing business in Sweden often lament the amount of time Swedes put into upfront planning and preparation. Agendas are triple-checked, and several meetings are called to plan every single item on said agendas. Plans can take months to put in place before moving to the next step of implementing each item on those plans.

For a culture that prides itself on efficiency, it could seem these inherent acts of zealous planning are counterproductive, and they can be seen as wasting time and resources. However, because lagom craves balance by trimming excess around its edges, it requires adequate planning. “Adequate” is measured by whatever it takes to prune irrelevance, regardless of how long it takes.

To be efficient means to perform and function in the most optimal manner possible with the least waste of time, resources, and energy. This very definition of efficiency mirrors the core of lagom.

So lagom says it is perfectly OK to spend as much time as needed to prepare ourselves and strongly develop our plans, because that’s the only way we can guarantee efficiency.

an aerial view over stockholm

For travelers who would like to date a Swede, how can understanding lagom help them?
Swedes don’t naturally divulge information or overshare, so sometimes it can be hard to even gauge or assess what’s going on in a relationship. And it’s not a culture that overly gesticulates with hands or uses flattering words, so knowing if a Swede is interested in you can be denoted by their unusually prolonged eye contact.

So, when out on a date, always have follow-up questions to keep the conversation going and to avoid your date awkwardly ending at “yes or no” answers. Because they will do so, in an effort not to overshare without being asked.

For someone going on a date expecting to be lavishly wined and dined, Swedes are generally conditioned to split their bills, to always repay favors, and to not be duty-bound to anyone, especially financially, by keeping that scale balanced. So this can come as a nasty surprise at the end of the night if you haven’t discussed it before the waiter brings out the menu.

And if you’re in relationship with a Swede and have issues or questions, just ask straight out because Swedes are very direct. And be prepared for those direct answers!

Why are people so fascinated with Sweden?
I think a lot of the fascination comes from the quality of life and just how progressive the society is. Another more superficial angle has to do with physicality — from people and landscapes to interior décor and architecture. I mean, the city of Stockholm itself is absolutely stunning, and it spreads across 14 islands, which you can view from some nice vantage points in town. Sweden consistently ranks in the top 10 happiest countries, so there are clearly things Sweden is getting right.

What’s the one thing you want people to take away from your book?
Lagom is a mindset that fundamentally battles stress. Having too much or too little causes stress, so lagom tries to find its balance between both with the optimal solution by reducing excess. Not perfection, but the best solution.

Think of it as a scale that always needs to be balanced. Too much or too little tips the scale sharply to one side or the other, so lagom balances itself (“just right”) by trimming excess and getting rid of all sources of stress within our control — from material things to relationships that drain us.

Lola A. Åkerström is an award-winning writer, speaker, and photographer with National Geographic Creative. She regularly contributes to high profile publications such as AFAR, the BBC, The Guardian, Lonely Planet, Travel + Leisure, and National Geographic Traveler. Lola is also the editor of Slow Travel Stockholm, an online magazine dedicated to exploring Sweden’s capital city in depth. She lives in Stockholm and blogs at Geotraveler’s Niche.

You can pick up a copy of her book on Amazon.
(It’s really interesting and I highly recommend it!)

The post Living Lagom in Sweden: An Interview With Lola Akerstrom appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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