Even though I was born in Ireland, I went to university in a variety of countries in Europe, like the Netherlands, Italy and France, as well as the US. In the US, I gained a Masters in International Relations and specialised in the former USSR where I became really interested in the region.
I had extensively traveled around Western Europe, Asia and the Americas but had never ventured truly eastwards across the European continent. I felt so confident as I had so much experience with traveling in general that after returning to Europe to work as a lawyer, I decided to take my first solo trip to Ukraine.
That first trip turned out to be a watershed in my life. Upon arrival in Lviv in western Ukraine I felt profound cultural shock. I didn’t speak the language, I couldn’t read the alphabet properly, my surroundings were unfamiliar and I was completely unprepared for the differences in culture.
This was in spite of the fact that I knew the history and politics of the country really well thanks to my studies. This, however, did not prepare me for the day-to-day grind of traveling through the real east of Europe.
The Real East
Notice that I wrote the ‘real’ east. Countries that are sometimes described as ‘Eastern Europe’ are really in Central Europe (like Hungary, Slovakia and Poland). These countries are a very different travel experience and much easier for a newbie to navigate.
A lot of bizarre and at times scary things happened to me on that first trip. To list just a few I was drugged for 36 hours, interrogated by border guards for traveling on a ‘fake’ passport, had my phone robbed by a chick in a club (which I miraculously got back) and I got completely taken to the cleaners by an unscrupulous taxi driver (3 times the real price on a 100 kilometre journey).
These problems were a direct result of my unfamiliarity and naivety about the region. I suffered from shyness in my unfamiliar surroundings and at times fearful. I couldn’t understand Russian more than the very basics. This added to my sense of isolation.
In spite of these teething problems, I was determined to return and conquer the region (metaphorically speaking, of course). I began to deeply analyse my experience. What was it that attracted me to the region? How could I avoid the pitfalls that I and so many Western visitors had encountered in Ukraine?
Now you might be asking yourself, why would I go back to such a region after my first dramatic trip? Was I a sucker for punishment?
Plan of Action
I had left pretty philosophical about what I had just experienced. I recognised that the region was one wild adventure and a huge fiesta. I was willing to take the chance and I recognised the key elements that had gone wrong during the first trip. For me the potential rewards outweighed the risks.
I made a plan of action. I began taking private tutoring in Russian (via Skype) to fit in with my work schedule as a lawyer. I started to mix with the Russian-speaking community in Brussels where I was based. In short, I developed a deep understanding of the people of the various countries and their cultures.
Next time was different. No dramatic druggings, robberies or interrogations … just a fantastic travel experience. There were still many things to learn and progress to made with Russian but none of the cultural shock that I had experienced on the first trip.
Forearmed is forewarned and I developed behaviors to make me more streetwise. I researched extensively and emphasised logistical planning and situational awareness. I grew to feel extremely comfortable traveling countries like Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and Romania, even to smaller towns which typically receive few visitors.
Over the last decade or so, my regular trips have brought me on remarkable adventures, allowed to make close friends and have romantic encounters with beautiful women. I started helping my friends who wanted to come with me on my trips. Many of whom you can see in the videos on my YouTube channel.
And now lately, I’ve started coaching my YouTube followers privately so they too can travel Eastern Europe like a tsar!
You can apply for coaching by sending me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I also have a FREE gift for you – a 3-part video series where you will learn how to ‘Survive a trip to Eastern Europe’.