While in Portugal, I had the pleasure of attending a little known organisation called “The Travel Club,” which recently re-branded it’s travel house concept as “The Travel School.” The Travel School is a place for travellers to meet, share tips, stories and learn. It changes location every year, and this year it happened to coincide with my cycle tour through Portugal, in Aveiro.
The Travel Club is a concept that originated and grew in the Slavic countries. It is the number one go-to travel website in ex-Yugoslavia and has recently gone international. Because of this, most of the content on their website is in Serbo-Croatian, but they are currently working on an English Language version.
What is The Travel Club / The Travel School like?
The concept is pretty much like we are flatmates together, and each day there is a different travel related topic, a “workshop” which could be on anything from saving money to cartography. There are four or five budding volunteers helping out and around 10-12 travellers from all around the globe staying at any one time. Though the days I was there it was a little quieter. The Travel School is essentially a rented apartment for a month or two which changes location every year. And the entire project, from the website to the sugar for the coffee, is paid for by donations or by the efforts of volunteers.
My time at The Travel School
What can I say? My time at The Travel School was a definite highlight of my cycle tour in Portugal. I was warmly welcomed and introduced to the team upon arrival: a group of Slavic people from the Bosnia-Serbia-Croatia-Montenegro region (what a mouthful!). The flat was spacious, modern and had all the necessities. As their newest “flatmate” I spent the night socialising with the other travellers and listening to a mix of accents about their own trips around Europe.
The sleeping arrangements were on the floor; about 7 people today huddled together and lazing around with sleeping bags and mats until all the chat dried up and we slept.
The dynamic nature of the club means people are coming and going all the time, so a few travellers left and a few more joined the following day. It’s similar to a hostel environment but you don’t get those annoying teenage groups that stay up drinking all night. There is an atmosphere of respect rather than of carnage. And unlike a hostel it’s free.
My first workshop – and it’s mandatory that you attend at least one – was on saving money whilst travelling. I found it pretty useful, though in some ways I felt like the expert in the room. I showed around the little drinks-can stove I made earlier and pitched in some ideas while we all sat around in a circle on the floor absorbing top-notch cheapskate info.
That night many of us went out for drinks in the town of Aveiro, the fish market being the night-life hub, a faint smell of fish tainting the plastic cup beers everyone was drinking whilst listening to tonight’s funk-rock band. It’s a fairly regular occurrence in the Travel School, where so many travellers get together from different nations to chat about life over a beer. And we even teamed up with the local Couchsurfing gathering to form a super-posse of different nationalities.
In true travelling style, the guests are of course encouraged to make good use of their time in the location. And so the following day I went around with one of the volunteers on his free walking tour of Aveiro, which he had just launched. Aveiro is a small, quiet seaside town with a strong culture – painted walls and benches, artwork hanging from the sky and this previously derelict and ruined building that some people came along and converted into a chill-zone…
And I finally found out why there are so many tiles on the outside of houses in Portugal! It’s to stop the moisture in the air seeping into the buildings!
For the rest of the time at the travel school – which you can only stay at for three days (but I somehow blagged four) – I spent some time at the beach with (great) new friends I made through the school and attended another workshop, this time on “what we learn while travelling.” The workshop really encouraged us to go deeper into the meaning of it all. I still never came to a solution. But the reason I think I’m embarking on such an epic journey is to discover who I am a little better. And as I was paired with another cycle tourer, travelling the length of Spain and Portugal, we both came to the conclusion that the challenges and freedom provided by strapping bags to a bike and pedalling off into the unknown is a pretty good way of finding that out.
I can’t wait to hear more about this inspirational project, and I’m sure it’s gonna go far. I leave you with a quote from their website:
“We see travel as a tool for building a culture of solidarity and understanding; an instrument for developing attitude and sensibility; a key to gaining an intimate understanding of our common planet and creating personal bonds with the world; a means to fight against prejudice, stupidity and hatred, against borders around us and within us. The creative drive of an artist, the joy of an explorer, the passion of a cartographer who draws her own unique map adding mountains, seas, ships, fish, instruments, houses, satellites, horses and people.” – The Travel Club