Today I feature a pair of travel bloggers who were caught up in a police raid in Warsaw. To find out why read this interview with Amanda Derocher and Matt Dewald of Linguists On The Loose.
What is your name?
Amanda Derocher and Matt Dewald
Which country do you come from/call home?
The United States, more specifically, we are Michiganders.
Are you a backpacker/long term traveller/business traveller/live and work abroad?
We are all of the above depending on the trip. We enjoy backpacking, but we love to settle down abroad to really explore a country and its culture. Working and studying abroad are some of the best ways to travel slow for us.
How do you fund your travel (savings/work whilst travelling/other)?
Depends on the trip. Our European travels were funded by scholarships, student loans and our personal savings. We have spent the last year working sucky jobs (construction, landscaping, substitute teaching) and diligently saving our money to take off on a long trip again. We came back to Michigan to finish a dreaded math class so we could get our undergrad degrees, now that we have them, working abroad (i.e. teaching English) is our plan for the foreseeable future.
What is the first international trip and how old were you?
Amanda- When I was 15 I had an incredible opportunity to spend a month traveling the Mediterranean (Malta, Sicily, Mainland Italy, Southern France) as a People to People Student Ambassador. It was a completely life changing experience for me. Looking back, it was definitely the catalyst for my future interests in languages and linguistics.
Matt- An exchange student I was close friends with invited me to come visit her in Germany. As soon as I stepped off the plane, I knew that international travel was going to be a huge priority in my life, and I started pursuing careers that could facilitate it. I was 19 the first time I went overseas.
Have you been anywhere which turned out to be totally different to how you imagined? If so, how?
Everywhere! One of the most beautiful things about travel is that it is never just like you imagine! Even if you think you have a vague idea of what it will be like, there are worlds within worlds, and details you could have never dreamed of.
How does traveling en couple affect your travels?
I am super organized and Matt is super zen. He keeps me calm when I feel like everything is going wrong, and I keep him from forgetting important things. Like the time we got off a bus in France and I looked at him mortified and asked where his camera was…. the nicest French bus driver ever let him back on to pick it up off the seat where he had accidentally left it. 🙂
How does your education in Linguistics help you with your travels?
Language can be an intimidating factor for people when they travel, the inability to communicate, or inadequately communicate keeps a lot of people we know from living out their travel dreams. Having a good handle on IPA (international phonetic alphabet) allows us to understand what sounds comprise a given language and how they are produced. I rarely go anywhere without a print out of Omniglot.com’s overview of the language, this give me a good idea of how diacritics are used within a language and a rough idea of how to pronounce things. Sometimes this backfires, you learn to pronounce a few words perfectly and people think you speak the language, and then you have to resort to the deer-in-the-headlights look! Overall, we know not to be intimidated by language, we understand how languages function and know we could learn any given language if we wanted to.
Have you had any bad experiences whilst travelling?
We have had the occasional night where poor planning or travel delays left us without a place to sleep for the night. Food poisoning is never fun either. But happily, we’ve never had a really negative experience traveling such as getting mugged.
Do you have any funny travel stories?
Of course, who doesn’t. Here’s one that comes to mind:
We were with a Polish friend in Warsaw, she said she heard that there was this free concert thing going on in an empty building on one of the main streets, so we decided to go. Before the music had started we looked down onto the street from the second story windows, and the building was surrounded by cops, like, 100 cops. All of a sudden there is Polish blaring on a loudspeaker, we don’t understand a word. Matt got a couple pics of the cops surrounding the building before I got paranoid and told him to put his camera away, not knowing if they would confiscate it or something. The police came and cleared out the building, shuffling everyone outside, the cops stood shoulder to shoulder as to not let anyone get away, they proceeded to check everyone’s IDs, then let us go. It turned out that the building had been broken into by squatters to put on a show. The cops were super nice when we told them we were from Michigan “Hamtramak, you know Hantramak, I have lots of family there.” Funny in hindsight, nearly panic attack inducing when it was happening.
Which is the worst place you’ve been to and why?
France. Everyone thinks France is this magical romantic land… and for people with enough money, it might be. The France we experienced was filthy, incessantly rainy, and ungodly pretentious. Before going, a lot of people told us how rude the French are, and bad stories of all kinds, we shrugged them off and figured that speaking the language, we would have a much warmer reception….nope. France fulfilled all the negative stereotypes we had hoped were inaccurate. It also fulfilled the good stereotypes; good cheese, great breads and wonderful wines. The best line I heard in Europe about France was: “it’s a beautiful country, it’s a shame the French are there.” Touché. That said, we did have lots of good times in France, but that was more a result of the friends we had than the country. Maybe we’ll go back someday, but living in France doesn’t appeal to us.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
Matt loves taking time lapses, so sometimes we beach camp in our hometown in Michigan. Falling asleep on an air mattress on the beach covered by a blanket of stars as the lake gently laps up onto the shore is about as serene as it can get. Lake Huron is part of our consciousness and identity; it is something that no matter where we go, we know we have to come home to.
Do you have a bucket list? If so what is on it?
We’ve never had a real bucket list, we have mountains of dreams and goals for our futures that vary wildly and are always changing and evolving. Right now our current goal is escaping winter forever and attaining complete location independence.
Can you imagine life without travel?
Yes, I imagine that it would be desperately boring and unfulfilling, if the last year of saving in preparation to travel is any indication. I imagine you would find other more material pursuits to fill the void, or want to have a family. I can’t imagine what we would do with our lives if we weren’t completely infected with wanderlust.
If you were not travelling what would you be doing instead?
Grad school. We do plan on going, but we haven’t figured out where yet, but we know that it won’t be in America. America is pretty linguistically uninteresting unless your passion is sociolinguistics.
What is the name of your travel blog and the url?
Linguists on the Loose
When did you begin your website?
July 2015. We didn’t use the internet much for the last few years, and honestly, I had no idea about the whole travel blog scene until we started researching our upcoming move to Central America. I had previously only been exposed to blogs that were pretty lame, and had never even remotely considered starting one; travel blogs changed my ideas on that, I was instantly hooked and knew it was only a matter of time before I started one.
Why do you write (for money/connecting with people/therapeutic/fun)?
In the past, academic writing was my forte, I fall into the small percentage of people who love doing research papers. Starting this blog has been a great adventure for me to explore/develop my writing style. At the moment, it is just for fun, but I’m starting to pursue more freelance writing opportunities. I would love to work for a travel magazine.
What makes your site so unique and why should people read it?
When I started stalking other travel blogs, I was often disappointed to find only a few photos of places I was really interested in. Matt is a prolific photographer, walk a block with him and he’s taken dozens of pictures of everything and anything. We have over 50,000 photos archived on our external hard drives that have just been collecting dust so to speak. I wanted to create a site with oceans of photos, maybe more than people really want to see, in order to give a real sense of place.
Do you have any products or services to offer?
Besides travel writing and photography, we have a Society6 shop, where you can buy Matt’s photos as art prints, or printed onto clothing, home decor and lots more. Check it out here: https://society6.com/linguistsontheloose
We just published our first book, and we have several more in the works, you can check them out here: http://www.blurb.com/user/derochera
And being that we both have degrees in English linguistics, we do some private English tutoring as well.
Any other endeavours you guys are pursuing?
We love world music, and are hoping to start an indie record label focusing on world music in less common and endangered languages. We are planning on starting recording some Kriol and Moskito musicians while we are in Nicaragua. I’m sure it will be a while before this is a full-fledged endeavour, until then any recordings we do will be featured on the Language portion of our site.
What has been your most successful blog post to date and what was it about?
Wandering in Warsaw. Thanks to a few Poland tourism pages on twitter who have been kindly promoting my posts on Poland, the most visited part of my website has been my Warsaw post, followed by other posts on Poland. It is more of a love letter to Warsaw than a story, a lot of other travel bloggers talk down Warsaw, but we love it. We have been there a few times and made some amazing lifelong friends during our travels there. Sure, it’s not going to win any beauty pageants, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Warsaw is an endearing city if you get to know it. It is a history book of Poland’s brightest and darkest days, and a beacon for Poland’s future.
What has been your favourite article to write either for your blog or another publication?
I just discovered Blurb and their ebook creation software, we are working on a travel magazine that covers a lot of little details and experiences that haven’t fit into our blog thus far. I am an art school drop-out, so I am loving the artistry of combining Matt’s photography with my writing and design. We are working on several books at the moment, we are hoping to have them up for sale in another month or so.
I think my favorite article I have written for our blog is Surprise Bike Trip! Mostly because it was one of the highlights of our year living in France, and brought back a lot of great memories of time spent with friends whom we greatly miss right now.
What is your favourite mode of transport? (plane/train/boat/car)
Transport is the least fun part of travel. Trains are about the most comfortable way to go.
Where are you headed next?
Central America, specifically Nicaragua. We have never been anywhere tropical before, so we are thrilled to start exploring rainforests, climbing volcanoes and snorkelling in the Caribbean!!!
Do you have any advice or tips for aspiring travellers?
You can come up with a million excuses of why you can’t travel, but if you really want to, make it a priority. I have friends who sit on their iphones and say they can’t afford to travel; I sit at home without an iphone, tv, internet and a whole lot of other creature comforts reading about my next destination. Every dollar that doesn’t pay a bill goes into an envelope. We never (literally never) go out to eat in the U.S.. When you have a destination in mind, and know what the cost are, you can put things into a new perspective: we could go out for dinner and drinks, or we could save that ~$50 and it would serve as a couple days of our budget. That 6 pack of craft beer, that’s two nights in a hostel in Nicaragua. Traveling makes us happy, truly happy, the enjoyment of going out to eat only lasts a couple hours (and I’m ultra picky, I am almost never happy with a restaurant meal, since I always feel I could have cooked it better, so the temptation to go out to eat is low).
Choose cheap destinations. Lower your standards, you aren’t going to melt if you don’t stay in a hotel and eat out at every meal. A lot of people I know have no idea that budget travel exists.
What has travel taught you?
We are both somewhat of introverts, travel forces us to come out of our shell.
Travel also teaches you a lot about identity. People have this perception of you based on where you’re from. US culture varies wildly, and many foreigners just don’t get that, they think all Americans are alike; it’s like if you come from France, and people only associate you with being European, which might be a sub-sect of your identity, but a small one. I consider myself a Michiganian rather than an American because that’s where my feelings of identity lie.
Travel teaches us who we are in relation to humanity, what it means to be an individual, what community means. Travel makes philosophy come alive.
Travel also teaches us about who we are and what we want out of life. The American Dream is of attainment, our dream is of continued exploration, of reclaiming the wonder that your childhood self saw in the world.
And probably most importantly for us, travel teaches us languages. Language immersion is by far the most efficient way to learn a language, we would rather learn a language by living it than spend months memorizing black and white words. Plus it’s a whole lot of fun to barely speak a language when you arrive and slowly feel it inundating your brain everyday as you progress to create new layers of your consciousness.
Travel teaches us that there is always more to learn.
Quick fire questions:-
Favourite airline? Lufthansa (free drinks!)
Favourite country? Poland
Favourite city? Foreign: Warsaw, American: Chicago
Favourite beach? The beaches in our hometown on the shores of Lake Huron (soon to be rivaled by the beaches of Central America 🙂 )
Favourite food? Home-grown tomatoes with mozzarella, basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Favourite language? We’re linguists, we love ‘em all. Right now we’re loving/learning Spanish and Miskito Coast Kriol
Please provide the following:-
Website url? www.linguistsontheloose.com
Twitter handle? @linguiststravel
Facebook page? https://www.facebook.com/linguistsontheloose