Nicholas Oyler – Slovenia (2011) †

In the Spirit of Exploration

INTRODUCTION
Over the headboard of my grandparents bed hangs a large oil painting depicting the moon-lit harbor of Naples, Italy. A looming silhouette of Mount Vesuvius dominates the background. Closer to the viewer, dabs of yellow paint stand in for the twinkling lights of the cityscape, and black streaks along the shore illustrate ocean waves captured by an artist whose name I never learned. As a young child on visits to my grandparents’ house I would sit on the foot of their bed and stare at the painting in wonderment. Somewhere in the world, far beyond where I myself had already been, existed this city in reality. I envisioned in my head what life was like in this distant city and how its people were different than me, if they were even different at all. The idea that unknown or strange places truly do exist on this Earth and that they could one day be within my reach captivated my imagination. I could not realize it at that time, but those daydreams would lead to a life dedicated to the spirit of exploration.

In the years since, travel to me has become a foundation of my life, not in that I have performed it to any great frequency, but in its importance to my values and identity. Travel to me is a tool for self-discovery and finding one’s place in a confusing and uncertain life. Travel exposes one to new experiences and teaches old lessons repeated throughout time. Travel exists as the best form of education, a continuous cycle of opening the traveler’s mind, expanding his curiosity, and strengthening his urge to travel more. Due in part to this personal philosophy I believe that I am an excellent candidate for the Globetrotter Grant.

MY MOTIVATION
I am currently a full-time student at Texas A&M University seeking a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning, but my heart remains devoted to travel. While during my undergraduate studies I was fortunate enough to study abroad in Germany, an experience that only reinforced my thoughts on travel. When I found time, I took trips around that country and into neighboring ones, but most were short, and, regretfully for me, I often played the role of a mere tourist. I wished for something more authentic then, and I still wish for something more authentic now. I have also wished to share my experiences and love for travel with others in hopes of imparting in them my zeal for life, a priceless gift indeed. To accomplish this, in the last couple of years I have contemplated, and in a few instances actually attempted, becoming a published travel writer, but to no avail. What I propose with the Globetrotter Grant is an opportunity for me to achieve my dream of becoming a published travel writer. With success, travel writing could at least be a side-activity or hobby shadowing a profession in urban planning, or perhaps it could evolve into a full career, but to find out I must first be published.

The problem, I feel, with my most of my memorable travel experiences is that they do not meet the current trends in travel journalism: new destinations and authentic experiences. Americans know Paris, London, and Rome; they hunger to learn about places with unrecognized names. Likewise, travelers, even tourists, have started to seek authentic and less-clichéd experiences off the beaten path. Taking a tour of a winery is no longer enough, for example, travelers want to actually participate in the wine-making process and meet the locals who work in the vineyards. As I mentioned above, I did perform some travel around Europe while studying abroad, and of course my study abroad itself can count as a travel experience, but these trips were mostly to well-known destinations. Additionally, due to time constraints, I often followed the typical tourist itineraries of a destination. As a result, most of my experiences in foreign cities or countries mirror those of other travelers or those found in countless travel guides and magazines. I do not expect to capture a publisher’s attention with such trips. Therefore, as I see it, I need a trip that endeavors to dive deep into the identity of a little-known destination, but one nevertheless rising in popularity.

THE PROPOSED TRIP: THE BACKGROUND
If successful with this application, my received funds will go towards financially supporting my trip to Slovenia during this coming summer. The small but alluring country of Slovenia will act as the main character in an article that I will write to cover my experience from this trip; I can then use the article in querying different travel publications. With the permission of the grant providers, this article would actually also act as my trip report. While traveling, I will dutifully act as a writer by taking notes, casually interviewing the individuals I am fortunate enough to meet, and otherwise documenting my experience (not keeping such records during my trips taken while studying abroad has also prevented me from retelling those experiences in rich detail).

I plan to depart from America on May 25 and arrive in Munich, Germany the following day. I will use this return to Europe as an opportunity to visit with some of my German friends made during my study abroad, and likely even stay a few nights with them before and after my trip to Slovenia. My Master’s program requires that I perform a short internship this summer, and I am considering searching for one in Germany, which would be another great opportunity for me. Because of this possibility I cannot yet exactly say when I would return to America. At the earliest my return would likely be in late June, and at the latest in late July or early August. To maintain a predictable budget, the amount of time I spend in Slovenia, ten days, will not change under any conditions. Should I be awarded the grant, I would be able to inform its providers of a firm return date before I depart.

THE PROPOSED TRIP: THE DETAILS
Slovenia strikes me as mysterious, yet attractive destination. With its name resonates, to me at least, images of the former Eastern Bloc, but actual photographs reveal a land of breath-taking beauty and surprising tranquility. The accounts of Slovenia that I have read describe a vibrant culture and friendly people. No longer a country only for intrepid travelers, Slovenia has started to gain the attention of a more general audience. I have selected Slovenia as the subject for my article because of its obscurity and potential. I will do my best to avoid the typical tourist scene and to venture out to lesser known locations. To help me in meeting the locals, I plan to study the Slovenian language for a few months prior to my trip. Trademarks of the blooming Slovenian tourist industry are natural splendor and extreme sports, both of which I plan to take in. My main goal along the way will be to interact with the locals and to try to see the country through their eyes.

From Munich I will fly into Trieste, Italy, as its airport lies close to the border with Slovenia and usually offers cheaper flights. While in Slovenia I will get around with a rental car, because the country’s rail system is not as developed or efficient as those in Western Europe. I will return to Munich after Slovenia, and fly back to America from Germany.

One exciting possibility is boarding at a small farm outside of Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, thanks to an organization known as World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). Lodging and meals are free so long as guests perform a few hours of work a day. Additionally, farm families in the Julian Alps region often allow guests to sleep on haystacks in their barns for small charges. Otherwise, my accommodations will consist of guesthouses and hostels.

The following is my planned budget and itinerary for my proposed 10-day trip in Slovenia.

PROPOSED BUDGET

Round-Trip Flight to Germany……………………………………………..$1,000.00
Round-Trip Flight to Trieste from Munich…………………………………$175.00
Accommodation (Excluding the WWOOF possibility)………………….$400.00
Rental Car and Gas………………………………………………………………..$700.00
Food…………………………………………………………………………………..$300.00
Attractions………………………………………………………………………….$100.00
Extreme Sports…………………………………………………………………….$200.00
Subtotal………………………………………………………………………$2,875.00

Redeemable Air Miles………………………………………………………….($500.00)
Other Personal Funds………………………………………………………..($1,200.00)
Remaining Expenses……………………………………………………….$1,175.00

PROPOSED ITINERARY

 

Day 1 Fly into Trieste, Italy; Rent a car and enter Slovenia; Follow a guide through the Škocjan Caves; Spend the night in a farmer’s barn near the Julian Alps.

Day 2 Explore the natural beauty around Lake Bled and its less visited sister, Lake Bohinj.

Lake Bled

Day 3 Extreme sports in the Julian Alps, such as canyoning and paraglidin.

Day 4 Head east and discover towns and villages along the way not mentioned in any guide; Potentially arrive at the WWOOF farmhouse.

Day 5 Alternative 1: Drive on to splendid Ptuj, a picturesque small town in the country’s far east steeped in history. Alternative 2: Stay on with WWOOF and use the free time to explore the countryside .

Day 6 Alternative 1: Travel back to the country’s heart and into Ljubljana. Alternative 2: WWOOF, use free time to venture into nearby Ljubljana.

Day 7 Whether still offering a hand at the WWOOF farmhouse or not, use any free time to dig deeper into the soul of the country’s capital and to meet some of Slovenian’s urbanites.

Piran

Day 8 Leave the capital with a heading towards the coast; Visit Predjama Castle along the way; Arrive in Piran, a coastal town that supposedly resembles the look of Venice but lacks the hordes of tourists.

Day 9 Roam around Piran, stroll its beaches, and explore the town’s hinterland; Snorkel at the site of some shipwrecks off the coast.

Day 10 Return to Trieste and fly back to Munich, Germany.

CONCLUSION
My adventure through Slovenia will provide me with an original and authentic travel tale to capture the attention of potential publishers, and, I believe, allow me to accomplish my personal goal of becoming a published travel writer. In so doing, I could reach out to individuals and potentially compel them to explore their world more, or at least revive their curiosity to go a bit beyond the next bend in the road. Perhaps my article would even find its way into the hands of an inquisitive, young boy, who, upon reading my words and seeing my photographs, would close his eyes, sit back, and imagine a place so far away from his reality and yet entirely real enough for him to one day reach on his own. To be the muse for the next generation of explorers, that could be the great legacy of my writing, and I would forever be grateful to the Globetrotter Grant for helping me find my start.

Thank you for your time and consideration, and thank you for supporting the lasting role of travel in the lives of young adults. I look forward to hearing your decision.

(February 2011)

Previous post:

Next post: