Learn some tips from a travel veteran

It took an email, a newspaper, a bar owner, a couple of trains, and the arrest of four Americans to get Mike Bown to a huge outdoor music festival with thousands of partying youths and hundreds of police officers. 

Bown received emails from a few friends in the U.K. while he was in Germany, inviting him to a massive free music party in the Czech forest. When he hopped on a train to Prague to check it out, he had no idea that finding his friends would be a wild adventure. He was 36.

Bown is no stranger to wild experiences. In 1990 at the age of 21, the globetrotter left Calgary for an epic world journey and since then has traveled to every country on earth, he says. 

“I originally intended to travel the world…everyone keeps saying, it’s a small world, it’s a small world, so I thought, okay yeah maybe it’s a small world,” says Bown. “I’d traveled for a few years and thought, okay maybe I should travel the whole world, and it’ll probably take five or six years or something,”

That five or six years turned into 24 years of living out of a backpack. Bown celebrated ticking off the final country on his list in Ireland with a pint of Guinness. 

He was the first tourist in over two decades to visit wartorn Mogadishu, Somalia. He sipped red wine during Taliban gun fights at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, lived with pygmy people, dodged rebel Hutu in the the Congo, penguin-watched in Antartica, was detained by the CIA in Pakistan, toured Saddam Hussain’s home town during the US invasion of Iraq, snorkelled with a million jellyfish in the Republic of Palau, met witch doctors in Mali, evaded angry forest elephants in Gabon, and found his way to a festival in the woods to meet some friends.

Bown chuckles as he retells Czech Tek adventure. Bown pictured beside a bus in the city Oglii, before embarking on a 50-hour non-stop ride across Mongolia. Photo Courtesy of Mike Bown

He had travelled from Prague to another city and was about to give up when he noticed the cover of the morning paper. Police in riot gear were beating teenagers with batons. The backpacker found a man who spoke some English and could point him in the direction of the scene. 

On a rickety old train, he came across a group of young American men who asked to accompany him to the party. They came to a stop in the nearest railway town to their destination and entered a pub. The owner of the pub explained that police had blocked all roads to the site, but he could drive them near the woods for a fair price.

From there they hiked around the police and carried on 20 km to the party through the forest. 

“Two new facts presented themselves,” Bown recalls. “First, the police had surmised that partiers might try to sneak around them, much as we intended. Second, these Americans were city boys and had no idea how move quietly and unnoticed.”

Throughout the trek, one by one, Bown’s companions were spotted by patrolling police and arrested. 

“I realized I was down to my last American. I better make him count, I thought.” 

A policeman guarded a small trail through the forest that they had to cross. Directly across the trail was a tree and a few metres past that was a low stone wall. Bown turned and told the man, “I’m going to tip-toe over to duck behind that tree… when I give you a signal, come across and join me as quietly as you can. Once the policeman seems distracted, we’ll try for the wall.”

Once Bown was fully behind the trunk he motioned for the other man, but in the middle of the trail the man tripped and the policeman spun around, blew his whistle and chased after him. 

“Two more police whom I hadn’t been aware of came from over a rise, and all three of them chased this unfortunate American,” Bown recalls. “They were on the verge of tackling him to the ground when I turned away.”

It was a good distraction for Bown, who made his escape. 

He stumbled deeper into the forest, where a drunk French couple pointed him to toward the party. It was night by the time he found a road covered with the dark shadows of party-goers and beams from the party that while bright, were not enough to see by. 

Thousands of people dancing and drinking occupied the open space. Parked RVs and tucks were all over the place. Bown bought a beer for a few euros and pushed through the crowds, searching for his friends. 

In a camp of yurts in Mongolia’s restricted military zone, Bown would rent a yurt and a horse for 10 dollars a day to explore the land. Photo Courtesy of Mike BownBown notes that luck is often on his side. Among thousands of party-goers who spoke very little English, he came across a group of girls speaking English who brought him to his friends. They laughed, surprised that he had managed to get through the police blockades. 

“We danced for a few hours, until dawn, when a massive attack of riot police crunched into the far side of the party, and soon after that, the stink of tear gas wafting in the breeze,” Bown recalls.

The 2005 Czech Tek ended up being one of the more violent of the party’s history, with the standoff between police and party-goers ending in multiple injuries on both sides.

“I always ended up in the most interesting circumstances at these events… just lucky, I suppose. Some other people maybe didn’t have as much fun as me.” says Bown looking back at the incident with a smile.  

Bown is now writing a book on his travels and visiting some family. 

“For me now the world is something where my memories are geotagged onto this idea, like this three dimensional idea, of a globe in my mind,” says Bown. 

“Travelling is something different for me now, it’s going back to see places.”

Helpful tips for travelling Europe

Anne Tseu spent two months backpacking Europe this past summer. She says that her experience hopping borders was “amazing.” 

Produced by Mary Yohannes

Prior to leaving Calgary, Tseu says that she spent months planning and researching the trip. It was at times a bit overwhelming and stressful, but she explains that without all that pre vacation work her trip wouldn’t have been as amazing at it was. She also stresses the importance of not overplanning.

“It’s important to be prepared because little things come up that kind of change your plans,” says Tseu. 

Additionally, world traveller Mike Bown has accumulated a list of travel tips and tricks while on his 24-year journey.  

His biggest piece of advice is to talk to other travellers. 

“It’s pretty important because it’s usually where you get the best information,” Bown says. “Usually the guide books are out of date. Generally in some countries, it’s all wrong,” says Bown. “There’s just so many places where they got it all wrong.”

Bown explains that in some countries, he’d been to the hostel travel books had recommended and it would be in ruins.

“Flights are released 320 days prior to your departure date,” says Amanda Bennet of Flight Centre. “Working in the travel industry, I look at flights every single day. If you’re traveling during peak time, which is June, July, August you’re going to want to book those early. So if you can start booking them in November, December, January that’s when you’re going to get the best deals.”

But before booking that ticket, you have to figure out where you want to go, what you want to do, and how long you want to stay.

Planning a trip to Europe doesn’t have to be daunting. Learning from experiences of others is the best way to plan your own travels. Luckily, there is a lot of information on traveling through Europe. These are a few online resources on that connect travellers around the world.

CouchSurfing.com 

Couch surfing is both a hospitality exchange and social networking website. The site offers travellers the chance to find local hosts in any country to take them in for free.  You can travel like a local, stay in someone’s home, and make new friends. 

Bown with a Sythian glyph in the restricted military zone in western Mongolia. Photo Courtesy of Mike Bown

Most cities have weekly meet-ups where travellers can connect with one another, sharing stories, tips and experiences. 

Around the World in A Backpack

This Facebook group is an open space where travellers can ask for tips on destinations they are going to or planning on going to. You can get advice from travellers all over the world quickly and easily. 

12hrs.net

This is a simple website with short travel guides broken down into 12-hour itineraries. The blogs, focusing mainly in Europe and North America, offers tips on the best things to see, do, and eat for any short stay, incorporating advice from actual locals. 

seat61.com

This blog is a great way to find alternative transportation, be it boats, trains, busses, or planes. Just plug in your start and end points to see what routes and methods are available for your destination. Europe is advanced in terms of transportation, so you’ll easily be able to find whatever method is best for you.

thesavvybackpacker.com

The Savvy Backpacker aims to help future travellers budget their way through Europe. The site differs from a lot of other travel sites because it researches all the little details that go into planning and preparing for the trip, not just what to do and see in the destinations.  

These websites will give you a way to connect with other travellers and figure out what methods you want to use on your trip to ensure your travel experience is ideal. 

Bennett advises that while researching, it is important to not cram too many things into one trip. 

“Europe is amazing,” she says. “There are a lot of countries to see and a lot of things to experience, so I always advise people to figure out their top three things they want to do while they’re over there,” says Bennett. “[If you have two weeks] pick one or two countries, research what you really want to get out of it and go from there.”

Bown agrees, explaining that he’s come across a lot of travellers who try to hit up as many European countries as they could while they were on the continent.

“You’ll only find very young people doing that,” he says. “After, they learn that they would have had more fun if they had just gone to one or two countries and actually tried to do something and have fun.” 

myohannes@cjournal.ca

Thumbnail courtesy of Mike Bown

The editor responsible for this article is Jesse Buchholz, jbuchholz@cjournal.ca