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Russia: Behind Enemy Lines

Russia: Behind Enemy Lines

Travel lesson #32342: The trip you think you’re taking is never the trip you actually take.

I’ve been back from Russia and the World Cup for about a month now and still am having trouble finding the words (rare for me) to describe the experience.  While I remember Russia and the World Cup vividly the thing that has stuck with me when thinking back on it is how different traveling with a group of girls is.

Before we get into that let me say that Russia was incredible and is one of my favorite places in the world.  To put it in context, of the 35+ countries I’ve been to, it’s in my top 5. I won’t go into too much detail about specific highlights in this blog (that will be coming in the World Cup: Cliff Notes blog next week) but I’m still surprised by how much I liked Russia and its people.

Granted Russia is huge and we only spent two weeks there, but it still had a completely different vibe than I expected.  We visited St. Petersburg, Sochi, and Moscow and I remember thinking at each place “this one will be my favorite” and then I always ended up liking the next stop more.

Russia found an uncanny way of giving us exactly what we needed, without us knowing it was what we needed.  Regardless of if it was good luck, coincidence, or divine intervention it left a lasting impact on not just me but everyone in my group.  Russia surpassed all my expectations.

As incredible as Russia was (highly recommend you go if ever given a chance) what took this trip to a whole different level was the people.  I’ve traveled quite a bit over the past 5 years, this includes working on a cruise ship in the South Pacific, backpacking Europe, living in Melbourne and a small Czech town, 30+ days backpacking in Southeast Asia, a solo trip to Costa Rica, and take my word for it, this trip was a lot.  Believe me, I don’t use that phrase lightly. I’m not sure if it was the “White Nights” (the sun didn’t set when we were in St. Petersburg), the copious amounts of drinking, the random “daddys” the girls met, or a combination of the three, but regardless by the end even I was exhausted and a shell of my former self.

It was the definition of a “you had to be there” kind of trip.  The number of random moments I could never have planned are too many to write about and are something that Seif, Meghan, Sims, KB, Mina, Z, and the others will share for the rest of our lives.

That’s one of the coolest parts of traveling, the lifelong memories and unexpected bonds forged throughout a trip.

Going into the trip I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Afterall, I had assembled a group of people who outside a Facebook group chat had never met or interacted (other than with me).  As odd as it may sound, I was never worried about everyone getting along. I also never considered the difference between a trip when the majority of the group is guys vs girls.

Seif and I were outnumbered an easy 5-2 for most of the trip which is the complete opposite experience I’ve had most of my life.  For example, the Southeast Asia trip was all guys + Priya (who’s basically a guy at this point after being with Zoran for so long).  Before leaving for Russia, I imaged what the trip was going to be like and the girl to guy ratio wasn’t something that even crossed my mind as important.  As silly as it may sound, I didn’t think about how the demographics of the group would shape the trip.

I’m used to traveling alone or traveling with other guys which means I’m used to doing my own thing, going at my own speed, or leaving people behind and not worrying about them.  I haven’t exactly been known for my patience in the past, but that wasn’t an option in Russia. Being more patient and less selfish is something I’ve been working on, and Russia gave me plenty of changes to practice.

Let me be clear, none of the girls slowed me down by any means, I just felt a level of responsibility for each of them that I haven’t felt before when traveling.  For example, KB had never been out of the country before so ensuring she had fun and was safe became important to me. It forced me to be a little more reserved and aware than I usually am when I travel, but seeing KB grow and change over the course of the trip was more worth the sacrifice.

Quick Tangent:

My biggest regret is not giving her very good advice when she asked me what type of clothes to pack and she ended up coming to Russia with no heels, can you believe that? All the other girls brought “Vegas” outfits and poor KB was stuck trying to make what she packed work all because she took fashion advice from me and I’ll be honest, I drastically underestimated the types of outfits she needed for the trip.  Sorry again KB!

Everywhere we went we were the center of attention and I’ll be honest, it wasn’t because of Seif or myself.  We would walk into a bar or restaurant and most heads would turn in our direction. Within minutes someone (usually a guy) would be coming up to chat up one of the girls in our group.  Before I knew it, our groups would combine and we would be at some fancy hotel or riding around in a limo checking out different bars and clubs, things that tend to happen to attractive girls not so much me.  Each one of the newcomers doing their best to show why they were special and deserved the girl’s attention. While the girls dealt with all the attention, Seif and I sat back, had a few drinks, and watched the show.

Part of me was fascinated at getting to experience how the other half (when I say other half I mean women) lives.  I’ve been single af for the past couple of years so my exposure to girls and what goes on in their world is minimum, but this trip quickly caught me up.

I had a front row seat to see what really goes on during “girl trips” and heard more girl talk than I would have thought possible.  I was amazed at the amount of effort and time put into getting ready, finding the perfect angle for a “boomy” (a boomy is a shortened version of Boomerang and is a short looping video), the night time face masks, avoiding creepy guys, getting free shit, love of the words “perf” and “daddy” and the importance of Snapchat filters opened up a whole new world to me while, at the same time, making me feel like I’d been living under a rock for the past few years.

For example, I always thought I was a pretty good photo taker, you know, willing to go the extra mile, but Sims pulled my photo taking privileges by day 3 because apparently I “don’t understand angles” enough to “post on the gram.”  I may have gone to Russia for the World Cup, but I ended up taking a crash course in 20 something-year-old girls.

I was replaced as the photographer early on in the trip

What did I learn?

That being a girl (especially one traveling) is a lot of work.

When I think about a trip, what to pack, what to do, who to talk to, or even where to go there are so few things I have to take into account.  A lot of times I just pick a place and figure it out as I go with very little prep or concern.

As a 6’ 4”200-pound white guy I rarely think about my own safety. I rarely worry about starting a conversation with a complete stranger.  I never think about someone slipping something into my drink or being taken advantage of. I don’t really think about what clothes I’m going to wear or if by wearing a certain thing I’m opening myself up to unwanted attention.  Honestly, these are things I’ve never really had to think about…until Russia.

Russia was my first real experience seeing what girls go through while traveling on a day to day basis.  Before the trip, I always scuffed when someone would ask if traveling alone as a girl was safe. I’d say “I’ve been doing it for years and never had any issues.”  I assumed my experiences were the same for everyone else. But after traveling with such a diverse group of people I understand now more than ever the need, especially for women, to be constantly alert to what is going on.  That I should be more conscious of what decisions are being made and where they might end take me. There were a few situations we got into that could be described as “sketch” at best, but luckily everything worked out fine.

 

When I’m traveling I hate saying no because I’m constantly wondering “where will this take me” and worried that if I don’t do it I’ll miss out on some life-changing experience.  The key is learning to balance that side of me with this new more aware side. After all, one decision can have a life-altering effect.

If my trip to Russia taught me anything it’s that the world is a great and fascinating place, but as great as it is, it’s vital to be aware of your surroundings and that’s true whether you’re in your hometown or the other side of the world.  Going forward I’ll do a better job of keeping the group numbers more even, but I can’t imagine that trip with any other people. Each girl gave me a glimpse into her world, one very different than my own, which is something I will be eternally grateful for and will only make me a better traveler and person going forward.

The best way to keep up with my adventures is to follow me on Instagram- Todds_Tales.

Stay Gold

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