10 years of the BudgetTraveller: Rethinking the meaning of influence and wanderlust in a digital age

Happy 10 year anniversary to me- here's a picture of happy me dancing in the lobby of the Casa Gracia Barcelona hostel when I first visited the place in 2012.

The BudgetTraveller celebrated 10 years in April. Crazy how time flies. I wasn’t in a very good place when I started this blog 10 years ago. I look back at my former self and marvel how far I’ve come both as a person (a tad wiser to be honest) and also professionally. I’ve travelled far and wide, seen some places I thought only existed in Tintin comics or a BBC Wildlife programme. I’ve been lucky to have met some truly wonderful people who continue to shape my life in many ways. I’ve tried to document and shared some of this crazy beautiful journey along the way on the blog. When people ask me what my greatest achievement from blogging is, it has been always sharing the journey with you and maybe influencing it in some form or manner. Some of you have been kind to take the time and acknowledge that through comments or emails and I treasure each of these emails and comments. It always makes me so happy (I am one of those who constantly seeks validation…I know. Help me) to know that one of my tips or a hostel I recommended had a positive influence on someone’s journey.

The word influence has become a bit of a dirty one in this day and age. Not a day goes by when I read about some horror story of someone abusing their influence and screwing up. This post is not going to be about questioning if these people have influence or about how the world of influencer marketing has changed over the last 5-10 years. That’s a topic to be discussed over a few pints of beer for another day.  What I wanted to focus on today is to take a step back and rethink the word influence and what really influences our wanderlust.

I find some of the seeds of my wanderlust were sown a long time ago during my childhood years.

I don’t know about you but I wasn’t so well travelled in my childhood years. I had a simple but happy childhood growing up in Kent. Holidays during my childhood would mean the odd day out in London or wondering the medieval streets of Canterbury – that’s as exotic as life would get. Flying was the preserve of the middle and upper classes. There was no Ryanair or easyJet. Coach travel was still quite pricey. The car was our best friend. We often spent our summer holidays with our cousins in Birmingham. I loved and treasured my time with them. It didn’t matter that we were not on a sunny beach or somewhere exotic because the imagination of a child is a fertile playground and where you can travel anywhere really. Thanks to books of Enid Blyton, Tintin and James Bond movies, I managed to form a rich picture of the world around me.

Monet’s ‘View of Vetheuil-sur-Seine’.Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin

Then there was art. We had two prints- Constable’s Hay Wain hanging in the living room and Monet’s ‘Poppy Field near Arguentuil’ in the kitchen. I don’t know whether it was the curiosity of a child or the boredom that often defines childhood but I spent a lot of time looking long and hard at both those paintings. They always drew me into their bewitching, hidden world, a world of light and memory, of everyday nature. The countryside of Sussex , the coast of Normandy and the suburbs of Paris – these artworks were my window to the world. I’ve followed Constable and Monet since then and been privileged to see their works across many outstanding art galleries. Since moving to Berlin a year ago I’ve been a frequent visitor to the Alte Nationalgalerie situated in the city’s Museum Island. Their collection includes a number of Romantic and Impressionist masterpieces from artists like Casper David Friedrich, Édouard Manet, Gustave Courbet and yes you guessed it, they have a few Monet’s and Constable’s like Constable’s ‘ Admiral’s House in Hampstead’ and Monet’s ‘View of Vétheuil-sur-Seine.’

Constable’s ‘The Grove, or the Admiral’s House in Hampstead’ goes back to the time when he spent his summers in Hampstead. It is a very evocative picture- the texture of the clouds, swirling trees and the typical English chimney stacks standing against them. I looked at it and immediately wanted to jump on a plane to London and visit Hampstead to know if the house still exists. Great art does that. It moves you. Piques your curiosity. Makes you dream. Just like Monet’s ‘Summer’ and his ‘View of Vétheuil-sur-Seine’ paintings. Both sun-drenched shimmering images of the rural idyllic bliss of Vétheuil and Giverny really transport you instantly through time and space to a different world. A world of your own. Where imagination and reality can sit side by side. I sometimes think I am privileged to have lived in a world before the internet existed. Or maybe I am wrong? Maybe we are living in the golden age right now. The digital age of zero boredom where we swipe through multiple sources of inspiration. Pretty much anything you want to know about a place, is online.  The only negative side of living in a world where information is online and easy to access is that I think is that there’s not much left to the imagination….which I think is important to nurture when it comes to travel. It is great to have all these amazing source of information at our fingertips but there has to be some mystery in life.

The Monk by the Sea, Caspar David Friedrich. Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Going back to the theme of how art influenced me to travel, it got me thinking of how the artists of yesteryear were the original influencers of travel. Back in an age when there was no social media, no Instagram, people would come to art galleries like the Alte Nationalgalerie to form an opinion, an image of the world around them. The 19th century and the romantic period preceding it was a glorious era of travel when artists like Caspar David Friedrich (his haunting ‘Monk by the Sea’ in picture) went into nature to seek the meaning of life. Fuelled by their wanderlust to discover and document the unknown, artists like Caspar David Friedrich, Monet and Van Gogh would travel long distances, often by foot to document the many worlds that exist within this world.  Plus there is also the other journey that we often don’t talk enough about in travel – the journey within us, the way travel changes us inside and makes us grow. These artists focused on their inner journey too. That’s a journey that I think we’re forgetting in this ever connected age of the internet and social media. Phones are important, blogs help people travel better and Instagram is a beautiful waste of time but we need to take time to disconnect and space to relax. 

So. Next time when you are deciding where to go, feel free of course to check my blog for ideas of where to go next. However, do take time to look away from your phone or computer screen. Close your eyes. Delve back into that forgotten world of childhood memories. Look through old photo books of trips past. Go through your parents old travel magazine collection. Pick up a book you loved based on a place or city and maybe plan an adventure retracing the footsteps of the author. Dust off the video tapes and re-watch a movie that might inspire a trip.

True influence like happiness comes in many forms, shapes and sizes. Influence is not dead – we just need to remember what the word really means and re-examine the way we use the word. We need to look beyond those perfectly curated feeds we follow online. We need to strip back the layers of time and value more imperfection in life – remember the boring and mundane childhood holidays of past which for some reason were filled with more meaning and satisfaction. Try and remember a life before blogs and how you travelled. Plus don’t forget that previous life where words and art filled your imagination and allowed you to daydream.

10 years of the BudgetTraveller: thank you for being part of my journey. If I have influenced or made a difference to the way you travelled in the past, let me know! This post was not sponsored but definitely influenced and inspired by a project I did last summer with the Museum Island in Berlin and Google Arts and Culture. If like me, you are curious about what Monet’s Waterlilies or Van Gogh’s Starry Night looks like up close, then please download the Google Arts and Culture app. Also if you are visiting Berlin, do spare some time to visit the magnificent Museum Island where you travel several countries and lifetimes in one place-I love it.


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