Hospitality - The other way of travelling - Vilnius Lithuania.

Lots of my friends see me travelling many times. Many times I hear, "I wish I could travel that much, too. But, I don't have the money." Sure, all inclusive hotel stays cost a lot of money, with a cozy bed, hot meals 24/7, warm whirlpools and a pool, idyllically located near the beach. To be honest, sometimes I wished I could afford that too. Actually, I could, but then I'd do one trip for the price of 10 trips. Another problem I see with this type of travelling: You mostly bump into other tourists, probably even from your home country. Hence, you get caught up hanging out with them instead of meeting locals. Sure, it is one way of travelling, calming down and relaxing. In my opinion, I do not have to fly to another country in order to experience that. I could simply book a stay at a local spa and do the same things, without having to pay for flights, visas, etc. 


Instead, I use the platform Couchsurfing, an online portal where travellers offer each other to stay at their place. That way, when travelling you have the chance to spend time with a local, get maybe a personal tour through the city with spots you would not find by yourself. This time, when I decided to go to Vilnius, I browsed Couchsurfing for a host that seemed warm-hearted, open-minded, talkative and kind. Also having similar hobbies and interests are recommended. That way, you can easily break the ice and start a conversation. After sending out a few requests, happily Emilija accepted my request. She replied:

"I'd like to host you if you haven't found a host yet :) 
Our interest are similar and I think we'd have a lot to talk about. 
I'd just like to confirm that I live with my family and my house is a bit farther from the city and the closest bus stop is a kilometer away. 
If that's fine with you please come :)

After I confirmed her invitation again, she shared her address with me and I looked it up. Realising it is far away from the tourist sites, most people probably get scared or think it is not convenient for them.She told me actually that already quite a few Couchsurfers declined their request again, due to her distance from the city centre. I instead was very happy about that, as there is no better way of travelling than be accommodated in areas, locals live in. It brings your travel experience to the next level, as you have the unique chance to see the real life. That way you get a much more representative picture of a place and their people. Actually, her place was only a 30 min bus ride and 15min walk by foot from the city centre. And come on, having demands even being accommodated for free would be really a shame.

The moment I arrived there, she warmly welcomed me and showed me that her whole family made space for me, giving up their entire living room for me for 3 nights. That was so generous! I will never forget that. over the next mornings, her father even made me coffee, tea and prepared a double breakfast for me. He offered me everything his fridge had to offer. I was really overwhelmed by his generosity.


To show my appreciation, I brought some Polish chocolate as a gift with me and invited her for dinner and drinks. That way, I can spend money on restaurant food instead of accommodation that I anyway only need for sleeping and showering and she has the chance to pick whatever she wants and enjoy a meal as well.

Over the course of the next days, she was mostly busy which is totally fine. That way, I could explore the city by myself. But of course, when it is freezing cold outside you want to warm up from time to time. Travelling solo also makes you want to talk to people once in a while. Hence, I was tired and a bit bored after a few hours of walking, so when I was stumbling upon a small cafe, the Storytellers Cafe, I decided to enter it, as it was looking very cozy and only one guy was inside. So I was hoping to maybe start a dialogue with him. In fact, the cafe's owner started the dialogue with me which I was very happy about. We talked for more than two hours and he also introduced me to his friend. After a while, we really had a gregarious round of people talking about life, society and travelling. It really cheered me up! In addition, I would like to outline that I probably drunk the best cup of black coffee for several years at his cafe, which made me return the next day again.



That way, you can always find company by travelling alone, save money, meet locals and experience life on a different level. Of course, it is also nice to not always travel alone and to have your companion, but if that person is not available, you know now a way of social solo travelling.

Overall a four-days stay costed me estimated around 80€:
Gdansk -> Vilnius 10€
Vilnius -> Gdansk 10€
Taxi 5€
Busses 15€
Restaurant dinner for 2 people 20€
Restraurant dinner alone
Small snacks + Entrance fees 20€

Isn't that the amount people pay to refuel their car? ;)

Below, you are going to find a gallery of images I took in many different places I just found by walking to my host, randomly through the city and through the countryside of Trakai, a city next to Vilnius.



Instagram is a time slot-machine.

I am starting to wake up. Probably, many of us should.

We all know this small little app with beautiful images in square format on our mobile devices. You figured, I'm talking about Instagram, the social media app that should help us to share our creativity with the world, network and interact with other creatives to potentially find clients and brand cooperations. At least, that's what I thought it was. After one year of extensive use, I made a post called "Goodbye." I became fed up with this app. I wasted too much time already. But let's start from the very beginning!

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Over the last months, I got lots of messages of people telling me: "Your life looks amazing! You travel, you photograph, you do what you love! I'm sure you will be successful" My life was in fact amazing, when I lived in Norway, but that was already more than one year ago. There, I did not earn much and did not want to spend money for 6 months on mobile Internet, as I knew I won’t live in this country forever. So I simply had a phone for calls and messages, which I carried with me for emergency situations. Frankly speaking, my avarice kept me offline when I was outside. And it felt great! I used printed maps, looked up my way at home on my computer and if I was not sure, I just reached out to strangers. I talked to many amazing people. No mobile phone in the world could give you that. But let's take a look at the time after Norway. Let's be honest, my life does not seem so awesome to me. My life is average. I'm a 26 years old single German guy, living in Poland, having a 40 hours job, work in shifts, love photography and Photoshop. I retouch images at work, afterwards I do some sports (Skating, swimming, running, whatsoever), shoot images and retouch them at home. Wow, my life is sooo amazing! Pretty normal, I would say. But that is exactly the point I want to make. Those so called "social media platforms" are not social. They are machines to ruin your social life. In my case, Instagram.

And here is why: We create an online personality, to showcase the best of us and to present ourselves in a way we want to be perceived. No surprise then that people think I am a successful travel photographer, if they see me checking in many times of the year in different countries of the world, see my pictures of all the beautiful places I see. I became a master, of showing how awesome my life is, although it's not. I have other problems. I just cover them, showing only the most awesome side of my life. The reality is that I became a smombie, a smartphone zombie. My life's schedule was dictated by a device in my pocket that I always had with me. And this device was dominated by the usage of one App - Instagram. In the beginning it was fun! I started adding hashtags to my posts and saw how my pictures were sent out into the world and seen by many people. For me as a photographer that is a great thing! Especially, because I got fed up with Facebook, like many other photographers, who built up their audiences for years but could not reach anyone anymore with their posts. That is, because Facebook implemented algorithms to shorten the reach of your posts; as an example: I had 4000 followers on my fanpage, but only 10% percent (so around 400 followers) had the chance to see my posts. For the rest of them, they were invisible. You can change that by paying money to Facebook, so that it gets exposed to more people. I totally understand Facebook, it's a good business. 

But newcomers have no chance. So those newcomers moved away from Facebook to find another suitable platform to promote themselves and found Instagram. As a consequence, to keep the business going, Facebook bought Instagram. What happened then was obvious: They introduced the same algorithms to this platform. But the people who were there before, grew a huge audience already. So those algorithms favour the big ones and harm the newcomers. 

Once again! What a surprise! From a business point of view for photographers, it is absolute nonsense. And that is why I uninstalled and stopped posting at this platform for two days. Honestly thinking about where my clients came from so far, Instagram was not among them, although it consumed a massive amount of time per day. At a certain point, the alter ego we create online determines our lives. I remember myself searching for wifi during my travels, or making weird priorities just to upload every day an image to Instagram, because I heard it's good business practice. I started over-consuming this app, due to the misbelief that photographic business success comes through Instagram. But that is a shitload of crap! 

Instagram is a time slot-machine. 



You think, the more time you spend on and the more money you throw into it, the higher your chances to make the big catch. But no, the opposite is the case! The harder you try, the harder the algorithm puts you down. It’s an endless game, your enemy gets stronger, the harder you try. And in order to try harder, you spend more time on it. Win for Instagram! Yeeeey! And instead of stopping to throw coins into the slot-machine and although you know that it is a programmed machine, you keep on going, telling yourself the next throw will be the big catch. Instagram is exactly the same! As soon as Instagram rolled out the new algorithms, my picture reach decreased. And what did I do? Of course I thought, I need to throw more images into it, like into a slot machine. So I started uploading whole image sets - 3 images per day in the same style. But what did that mean? I had to take, retouch and upload more images per day!  Search for better hashtags, hoping my engagement goes up. How stupid was I?! So now think about my daily routine: 8 hours work per day (as a retoucher), go home, edit 3 or 6 images (takes 1,5-4 hours), upload them to my cloud, download it on my phone, think about a caption, search for hashtags, wait until people comment to immediately reply to it and keeping on checking who watches your content.  Luckily enough, I knew already for a long time that likes don’t reflect the quality of my work. Still, I wanted to make the big catch and upload the perfect image that goes viral. Now you judge:

Was my life really that awesome?!

There are also positive sides of this app, which helped me to motivate myself and keep on improving my content or to keep up my endurance. But to be honest, I am tired of it! Those positive sides were for example that I once created an Insta-Story streak, in which I announced to go every day swimming after work. I mean, who cares anyway?! But Instagram is not about logic.

Anyway, the moment I made my personal challenge public and confirmed it with an image from the swimming pool when checking in, I did not want to look weak not going there. And I remember, the third day I was really tired after work, but still I went there, made some sport and it felt great! I finished my streak and was proud of myself. No one else cared probably, but I was satisfied and knew that Instagram helped me with it. 
I also discovered an amazing community of local Instagrammers (@Igersgdansk). We met weekly in nice locations to just hang out, chat, and photographically explore some cool new places together. And hands down, that is my biggest gain from this platform! Real people, real meetings. Not the virtual life. And that is why I came to the conclusion that I need to stop using this app and just meet people in real life! My online alter ego influenced my offline personality so strongly that I stopped doing things I wanted, in favour of things I thought others want me to see doing. Really stupid of me! If you still think, it's just me who over-consumed this and that it does not affect you at all, maybe watch this video:

Sooner or later, we all fall into the same trap. And I don't want you to go down this path as well.
Uninstall the social media apps you really don't need and spend your time. Have really awesome experiences and enjoy your life. You can take pictures, but don't document everything! :) And yesterday, my day felt sooo incredibly and amazingly long as I did not spend any time on Instagram. I finally had time and energy to do what I wanted: Learning more about videography.

And I don't know how you feel right now, but I feel like going to the kitchen, making myself a cup of coffee, eat some chocolate, do some crosswords and allow myself a break. And over the next weeks, I should go out and get my social life back! 

Peace out!