Admit it. At some point you’ve talked yourself out of a holiday with the painfully sensible line, “Well I could afford the flights but then I wouldn’t have enough spending money.”
Well fuck that.
A week in Spain or Croatia might be a fun way to get fat and happy on rum cocktails, but is that really worth the money? Why spend ages saving just to end up with that same POV picture of your legs by the pool that everyone has? Personally, I’d rather fly somewhere cool, have an adventure for free and leave with pictures of me getting up to much more unusual shit. And that’s exactly what I did.
My most recent adventure was to Estonia. A month ago, asking me to imagine the Estonian moors would have been like asking me to imagine a colour I’d never seen. In my four short days there, I experienced landscapes that I’d never even thought to daydream about. Not because I didn’t think it would be possible to visit them, but because I honestly didn’t know that they existed. So what is it about these uncovered places, like Estonia, that should encourage you to ditch your all-inclusive and be a bit more original with your travel choices this year?
See The Edge of the World
A £7 bus ride from the capital of Estonia is the sleepy town of Haapsaalu. There is a street at the end of the town, and beyond that street, there is nothing. I was mid-sentence when I first saw the street where the world ends. There’s not a lot that shuts me up, but total blank whiteness that defies logic and seems to be reaching up vertically in front of me will do it. My city-girl brain just couldn’t comprehend it. It was like we’d walked too far in a video game and the rest of the map hadn’t loaded yet. Despite being a fully grown woman and despite not being a medieval peasant, a little bit of me really thought that I was about to fall off the edge of the earth.
When we did (unsurprisingly) make it to the end of the street without falling into limbo, we found that we weren’t trapped in a video game after all, but in a thriller film. The whiteness was just the sea. Except that it was frozen solid and covered in snow, stretching back until it reached the horizon and met an identically white sky. In front of us now was just this nothingness and a lone, slightly decrepit wooden pavilion sitting in the fog. Super sinister.
Coming across a completely new landscape as an adult feels slightly irrational. We instantly came out with a frantic list of examples, trying to justify the beauty of it in terms that we understood. “It’s like beyond the wall in Game of Thrones. Or, it’s like the pier in Lemony Snicket. No, it’s like that bit in Batman where they exile people to the ice!” I wouldn’t use the word awe-inspiring lightly, but damn. If you ever get the chance to see somewhere that you genuinely can’t believe isn’t CGI, please don’t let anything stop you.
Couchsurfing (Sans A Joseph Fritzl Type Character)
I was lucky enough to have a local friend to stay with during my time here, so even my accommodation was free. If you, however, don’t have a handy Estonian at your disposal, that doesn’t mean you have to pay for a hotel. You can couchsurf.
Ignore your fears and ignore everything your mum ever said about strangers because couchsurfing really is a legit way to travel. Most people respond to that suggestion with suspicious questions about the hosts. Why would anyone open their homes to a bunch of skint travellers? And the answer they arrive at is usually a sinister one. Generally, the only reason that someone hosts is that they themselves are travellers at heart. So when circumstance (age, a job, children, whatever) has kept them in one spot, they bring the foreigners to them instead!
If your lack of faith in humanity means that you still need a darker motive then it’s usually this – a traveller staying in your home is just a new audience to hear your own travel stories that your friends are sick of. And we can forgive a little narcissism for a new adventure with a new friend can’t we?
Nothing But Nature
My Estonian friend offered to take me to the Moors. She kept asking ‘do you have moors in England? Are they beautiful?’ and I kept replying ‘yeah sure, I guess they’re beautiful.’ But turns out I didn’t know the definition of the word moor. I was thinking of boggy waters and the scary chapters of Great Expectations. Where my friend took us, looked more like a wild African plain if it froze over.
We walked for about a mile, just taking in the sheer openness. As we headed across, there were groups of little trees evenly spread back further than we could see on either side. Behind us was a tall, bare forest and ahead of us was a lake, lined with what I naturally thought of as Christmas trees. It is increasingly rare to look around you in all directions and see no sign of human intervention. No offence to humans, but it’s amazing.
Our final totally peculiar, totally free stop was to an old abandoned quarry (don’t worry, it’s less Stephen King than it sounds). Technically people aren’t allowed on it, but that rule was clearly forgotten by the locals years ago. The site has become a maze of gigantic mounds of limestone which the weather has deteriorated to slippery mud. And you just scamper up them like a kid trying to run the wrong way up a slide. It was tough because the ground crumbled under your feet if you didn’t take a good run at it. But we eventually scrambled all the way to the top. And our efforts were rewarded with the view.
The old quarry shares a site with the old prison. So what we were looking at was a massive frozen lake, but with the skeletons of old-school prison buildings half submerged in the middle. Having had our fill of the view from above, we slid back down the mud and tiptoed across the ice (I tiptoed, the locals stomped around on the lake like it was a dance mat) to explore inside these spooky structures. I got to walk to them, but in the summer you can swim to them and jump off the top. Yes people actually do that!
So nature is awesome, no argument. David Attenborough wouldn’t have lied to us about that all these years. And it only cost me £38 to fly to Estonia and find all of this. So fuck resorts and fuck package deals, go have an adventure instead.
And if you’re in need of a new adventure check out Loot here. The app lets you budget and put money aside so that you can do something out of the ordinary this summer. And when you get there, you can use your contactless card abroad without paying any additional fees. Best summer ever?!
(Photography credits: Natasha Thomas)