Traveling with Phil

I’m from Sweden. I stand in line politely. If I can dodge an awkward situation by being silent, avoiding conflicts, and generally be kind of passive to the surroundings, I’ll most likely do that.

Phil is not from Sweden.

Phil is from Australia-ish. He doesn’t really care for my Swedish approach to traveling. He goes his own way, so to speak. That makes for an interesting travel companion. And overall, a much better travel experience, I must admit.

I recently joined Phil for ten days of island hopping in Greece with only a few days’ notice. As a Swede, this could already be somewhat outside of the comfortable Swedish zone. But Phil seemed to know what he was doing - after all, he did travel quite some distance to get here in the first place. I took a mini-leap of faith and let him take care of stuff.

Letting him take care of stuff meant having him booking flights, and some initial accommodation. We agreed on the general details, budget and such, and then I left for a bachelor party in the north.

And once we both arrive in Greece, a few days later, I am informed that our first accommodation apparently costs more than twice the nightly budget we agreed on. Oh well. Phil says something about the view being priceless. As a Swede, I say ”Okaay, suure, no problem, its fine.” Avoiding conflicts. Off to a good start. Traveling with Swedes as a non-Swede has to be wonderful, now when I think about it.

There are many small things that Phil do, that I as a Swede would avoid. Asking people for directions? I have offline-cached Google Maps - why would I need to talk with strangers? Asking taxi drivers about their favorite restaurants around? Maybe we don’t have the same taste in food, so I should probably not bother.

It’s interesting, really, these different approaches. Take situations when we are ordering food and the crew apparently don’t speak much English, as a typical example:

When I order, I use the meny, I point, and I use very few words, to make sure my order is short, concise and easy to parse. As a Swede, I avoid misunderstandings like the plague.

When Phil orders, he keeps talking with his smooth Australian accent, about pretty much everything. Asks what the servitor would recommend. What he thinks the chef would recommend. Asks detailed questions about several menu items, even though most of the questions are not really understood. He tries to explain how he wants a custom made order to make it gluten free, which isn’t the easiest thing in the world. As a Swede, I sit there, with my order placed swiftly and without possibilities for customization, and I’m really happy I’m not intolerant to anything. That would probably just make me unable to purchase food.

The most impressive thing is probably how he never cringes about these things: as a Swede, I would feel awkward about the conversation as a whole, if communication didn’t flow freely. But not Phil. He just smiles, and tries again. And in the end, we both have food, that we both kind of ordered. Ok, Phil did actually not get what he thought he ordered quite a few times this trip. But I guess that’s the price you pay when you pursue the non-Swedish approach of food ordering abroad.

If I would see a nice shirt outside a shop, I might go in there and buy it - for full price. Most likely, I’ll mumble something about returning later, and that’s that.

Not Phil.

Phil walks in there and returns out with a discounted shirt, some advice what to do on this island during the next day, some tips for nearby islands worthy of a visit, and a new best friend in the shop owner.

If I would try to hitchhike back to the main village, and a stopping car isn’t going there, I would say ”Oh, ok, efcharisto anyways!” and maybe try again. Or walk.

Not Phil.

Phil says ”Oh, you are going to a small fishing village that has cool doors painted in different colors? So are we! Nice! We’ll join you!” And we would find ourselves in a small car, discussing the collapse of the greek economy and how it affects the pensions.

If I would see a deal on for a hotel that would work out well for our next island, for tomorrow, I would book it.

Not Phil.

Phil calls the place, at 22:36, to make some off-the-books deal, that makes us and the hotel save money, since they can skip the booking site fee. And while he is becoming Constantinos best friend forever, he also gets us some complimentary breakfast and transfers.

“We are simply going to knock on the door of a greek house”

One evening, when we are heading for a new island in the morning, he convinces himself that we don’t need to book anything for that island. ”We are simply going to knock on the door of an ordinary greek house, and pay them to stay there for the night!”

As a logical and normal person (and as a Swede), I am totally convinced this would be impossible to pull off, and I tell him so.

”Nah, give me five knocks, or at most an hour, and I am certain I’ll make it.”

The logical normal person tries to point out that the upcoming island is very small (you can literally walk across it in less than an hour), and mostly contains hotels.

But no, no. Can’t blame Phil for trying.

We arrive at the port around 12. I agree that the hour deadline should start ticking from the first knock.

Twenty minutes later, Phils hour deadline starts ticking. Not technically a knock, but a conversation with an old greek man in a garden. Somewhere around this time of the trip, Phil has annoyingly enough started addressing everyone, EVERYONE, with ”Hello, my friend!”.

A somewhat simplified transcript of all the upcoming five (spoiler alert) failed knocks:

Phil: “Hello, my friend!”
OLD GREEK says hello.
Phil: “I want to live in your house. I have money.”
OG looks around at all the ”HOTEL” signs and is clearly confused. Points at the signs.
Phil: “No, no, not hotel. I want to pay to stay in a real greek room!”
OG points again. To all the other signs that say ”ROOMS TO LET”.
Phil: “No, not that. Don’t want hotel, don’t want to rent a room, I want to pay to stay in real greek home!”

I can understand their confusion. The ratio of hotels or rentals to houses was probably 7 to 1. In the end, after we spend the hottest hour of the day walking around in the sun, looking for houses to knock on that looked ”real”, Phil finally give up and we ”sadly have to go to a hotel next to the beach”. Which of course Phil quickly looks up on so he can negotiate a better price. Always something.

Myself, I am kind of happy I was right (I TOLD you this was impossible!), and kind of sad Phil wasn’t right - since it would have made for a better blogpost. Maybe working close to journalists has affected me a little, after all.

Finally, what can we learn from all this? I guess you could make a list of all the different travel hacks my friend Phil pulled during this trip. But in the end, it comes down to two things:

From now on, don’t be so Swedish. Being not-Swedish was way more fun. And also, if you get the opportunity: travel with Phil.