Pokemon Trainers as People is a column in which Chalkey interviews well respected pokemon trainers in the community, but with one rule: they may talk about anything but the Pokemon VGC. Read about your favorite trainers as they talk about other aspects of their lives, and learn something new!
This week, we spoke with Rushan Shekar (Firestorm), an accomplished trainer who was a moderator of Smogon’s entertainment boards within eight months of his tenure there, going on to be a general mod and then eventually moving on to be an administrator on Nugget Bridge. Read on to hear about an adventure that rivals many VGCs: a backpacking trip across Europe.
Chalkey Horenstein: To start things off, what was the main motivation behind the decision?
Rushan Shekar: Travelling was something I hadn’t actually been super interested in for much of my life. When I was younger I had visited Sri Lanka with my parents and not particularly enjoyed it. I’d also visited Europe with them when I was 14 and don’t remember too much of it being paritcularly enjoyable either. I think it was really only at the end of university when I came to appreciate getting away from everyday life and experience another city. It was something I got the chance to do just before graduating when I was living out east for a co-op, and it was something I just wasn’t done doing.
After I graduated, I just took a few months off as I’d worked and studied without a single break for 5.5 years. I had a bunch of money from having worked full-time for 8 months the previous year and I wanted to use some of it to travel. The four things I was most interested in doing were going to Japan, doing a cross country trip across Canada, jumping on busses and trains across the United States bumming floors to sleep on off Pokémon friends, or backpacking across Europe.
I decided to go with Europe because the Canada and Japan trips were things I think I’d rather do with friends and because I found killer prices on round-trip airfare to Europe. I actually only booked my flight two weeks before I left. It was very last-minute.
CH: So as a small followup question, what would you say made you come around to traveling?
RS: I think there’s two primary reasons for my change of heart. The first is that when you’re a kid, most of your travel is with a parent. Might be different for others, but I was always obligated to visit family I may or may not have known I had for dinners and whatnot.
The other is that the daily grind seems to get to you more as you get older. Work and school follow you home more and more and an entirely different change of scenery where you don’t have to be in the same state of mind at home can be refreshing. I used to think travel was a bit of a waste of money. “Why spent $600 that’s gone in an instant when you can buy some material thing that you can keep?” But now I’ve learned how valuable those experiences and memories can be. They’re an amazing way to take a break from life and come back feeling so much more refreshed!
CH: Could you give an itinerary of your trip? Where did you go, and what did you do?
RS: I had more of an interest in Western Europe so I stuck mostly to that area. I’ve always had a bit of an interest in history — especially 20th century history and the 2nd World War — and so Berlin was somewhere I’d really wanted to visit. I also loved learning about Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece when I was much younger (Ancient Rome miiiiight just have had to do a little with Asterix comics) so those were on my list as well. Unfortunately I had to cut Greece due to the financial crisis stopping many of the trains in the country from running and an overall lack of time. I also wasn’t able to make it to Spain. I wanted to take in as much as possible without feeling too rushed while also making it back to Canada in time for my graduation ceremony.
I landed in London on May 6th, which is actually my birthday. I had a really weird birthday where I think I became 24 somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. I really wasn’t sure. I’m always confused as to what day it is when I haven’t slept and the time zone change didn’t help. After a few days there I went to Paris, then Amsterdam, Hamburg, Berlin, Vienna, Venice, Florence, Rome, and then took a plane back to Paris to fly back out to Vancouver. I took small day trips as well. While in Paris I went out to Versailles for a day. In Rome I took a day trip out to Naples and Pompeii. In Florence I took a day to go off to Pisa and then the Cinque Terre — a chain of five mountain-side towns linked by a beautiful hiking trail each with their own distinct features. I hadn’t even heard of it until I had two separate travelers I met tell me how great it was. Decided to make time to see it and was glad I did!
I had cousins in London, Paris, and Hamburg to stay with as well as a friend in Amsterdam which helped with costs a lot. I really enjoyed staying in hostels and meeting fellow travelers though!
CH: For those who don’t know, talk a bit about hostels, and the travel from one country to another, and how that works.
RS: It all turned out to be easier than I’d thought. For hostels, finding reviews are really important. Thankfully I had friends to ask for help on. For every city but Venice and Florence, I booked hostels based off my friends’ recommendations. Otherwise I used HostelBookers.com and HostelWorld.com to look for reviews to judge what I wanted. You book them very much like a regular hotel. I found them to be pretty safe. You check in, go to your room and usually have a locker (locks aren’t always provided so bring your own) to store your valuables in. Normally I found that after I met all my temporary roommates I got a lot less worried about security.
Traveling from country to country feels a little scary at first but gets easier after you do it once. I used trains to travel. I purchased a EuRail pass before leaving and booked my travel between countries with my travel agent before I left. I don’t know if they have them in the US, but Travel Cuts is an awesome student travel agent that should be on most campuses and take no commission. My travel agent really helped me get my head around traveling across Europe because the train system confused the heck out of me. With my passes booked, all I had to do was show up to the train station on time with tickets in hand and show them when asked on the train. There are no borders or anything to worry about in Europe like there is when I go between Canada and the United States. It was always exciting to get on a train and know that once you got off you’d be in a new country with a different culture and language! Also it was useful to use that time to read my travel book because I normally didn’t know what I was going to see there until then. I was not kidding when I said I planned this last minute.
CH: The comments about the locks and travel books bring me to my next question: if you could do it over again, what would you tell yourself to better prepare or get a better experience? Was there anything you wish you knew before you started traveling?
RS: Well I definitely wish I knew that everything in Vienna was closed on Sunday and public holidays. And that the Monday I would be there was a public holiday. I arrived Sunday morning and left Monday night.
I think what I realized I really should have brought or at least purchased early on was a small travel bag to put my travel book, water bottle, and small things like that in. I really, really hate carrying things and usually just stuff what I need into my pockets but a water bottle or ability to carry a reference book around would have helped. I ended up taking pictures of important pages and maps with my phone. However, my phone seemed to die incredibly fast so I always had to be aware of that too. I was almost stuck in Naples — the mafia capital of the world — with an almost dead phone and no place to sleep due to my absentmindedness which would have been bad. Nothing inspires as much panic as a dying phone while you’re in an unfamiliar space!
CH: Before we wrap up, is there anything you’d like to say about the traveling experience in general?
RS: It’s so worth it. I found that many of the people I met near the end of my trip had followed a similar itinerary so were also at the end of their trips. They had similar thoughts to me. It can be incredibly exhausting and I was definitely ready to go home and sleep in my own bed and use my own shower at the end, but I am so happy I did it. The ability to just get up and decide what you want to do that day and what you want to see is incredibly freeing. You can approach it any way you like. I did the hyper-condensed version of backpacking where I filled every day with walking tours and sightseeing. Others I met took a very relaxed approach with a lot more time in fewer cities where they’d just sit at a coffee shop and read. It’s something you get less and less opportunity to do when you get older due to commitments like family and work, so I think I did it at exactly the right time.
Also, how else would you try all the different food McDonalds serves all around the world?