By Aaron Waldron
Even though I spend over 1/4 of the year traveling with the LiveRC crew, I've got a pretty bad case of ADD when it comes to sitting at home (unless my dog is on my lap and I've still got unwatched Supercross replays in my DVR). In fact, turning my old hobby into my career is actually what led me to find my new favorite hobby - traveling.
RC racing has taken me to many places I probably never would've otherwise seen, and it seems the more different places I visit, the more I crave increased variety. More than anything, I think It's refreshing to see how other people live - eat the food they eat, sleep where they sleep, and travel the roads they travel. Sometimes the big plaza in town where everyone's lives intersect is more memorable than the sights seen on post cards.
Back on February 23, I bid the RC world farewell for a couple of weeks - marked only by a quick post on LiveRC's Facebook and Twitter feeds. I also managed to - save for using the camera and uploading a couple of collages to Instagram on WiFi - leave my smartphone alone for nearly the whole trip. My equally adventurous girlfriend, Heather, and I had decided to take advantage of the few remaining weeks before a cross-country move and check off a few more countries from our bucket lists. Sandwiched between the Dirt Nitro Challenge and the Cactus Class, we linked together some crazy cheap (if not more than slightly inconvenient) flights and explored the historical monuments, food, and culture of Barcelona and Lisbon.
Every hobby requires saving up and putting together a budget - and these are the kinds of experiences we save up money for. When all you're carrying is a backpack with a few different options to replace the clothes you're wearing, and you're willing to rough it by couch-surfing and sleeping on bunk beds in a room shared with a half-dozen complete strangers doing the same thing, you'd be amazed at how far your piggy bank can stretch. My travel partner's incredible organizational skills and penchant for research consistently unearth amazing flights and hostel stays from obscure websites.
As European travel author Rick Steves wrote, "A tight budget forces you to travel close to the ground, meeting and communicating with the people." After all, isn't that the reason to go in the first place?
Heather was already in Europe when I boarded my first-ever AEROFLOT jet after driving the 110 miles to LAX (because flights are always much cheaper than SAN). AEROFLOT is the national airline of Russia, so I was excited to check it out. Not only were flights totally comfortable with great service, but each of the four segments ended in some of the most pillowy-soft landings I've ever experienced.
I also got to visit Moscow - the airport, at least. I had a four-hour layover on the way to Barcelona and a six-hour layover on the way back to LA - oof. There was some pretty cool food in the SVO airport (I sampled the Uzbeki cafe), however, and everyone was really nice - though there was quite the language barrier. The stopover definitely added many hours and hundreds of extra miles to my round trip, but AEROFLOT is part of the same SkyTeam alliance of airlines as Delta (which the LiveRC crew uses) - so I got a bunch of extra miles.
In between cramming a few hours of sleep on friends' couches or dorm beds in hostels filled with an international mix of college-aged kids first discovering countries with lower drinking ages, we tried to cram as much action into our days as we could. We checked out amazing architecture:
And ate at hole-in-the-wall restaurants and local food markets:
That last one? Grilled cuttlefish. Yum.
We averaged about 6.5 miles of walking and over 20 flights of stairs a day, getting intentionally lost in busy neighborhoods and taking free walking tours.
And we relied strictly on public transit - sometimes quite literally sprinting down sidewalks and through crosswalks to make bus, train and subway connections to visit all different areas of the city with surprising efficiency. I don't understand why this isn't a thing in the United States yet.
We scaled old castles with breathtaking views:
Watched some incredibly talented Portuguese men belt out traditional fado songs in a dark cafe:
Cheered as FC Barcelona beat Sevilla FC 2-1 at Camp Nou for their 34th straight win:
Sipped some local beverages:
I didn't realize how much a photo showing me retrieving a taster of some 100-year-old cherry liqueur recipe for the photographer would make me look like a double-fisting lush. Great.
And made lots of new friends from every corner of the world - even some with four legs:
No, the trip didn't have a single thing to do with RC (that was the point) - but it did point out to me that all hobbies share similar responsibilities and rewards. In fact, I look at traveling the same way many drivers treat racing: constantly trying new things, pushing myself to do more, looking for ways to get the most out of my budget, and trying to shrug off the inevitable stress (a train running behind schedule is like a turn marshal flipping you back upside down - it sucks and there's nothing you can do about it).
Like most hobbies, practice makes perfect. I think we're getting pretty good at it. Say - any airlines looking to sponsor a traveler?
Obligatory 8th century castle selfie.