Today on the Nomad files we are joined by Adrian of A Sabbatical. Adrian is a digital nomad from Switzerland, who has been travelling for the past 2 and a half years around the globe while also working pro bono for social impact organisations. He gave up a well-paid position and his comfortable home base in order to experience the world on the road, utilizing his professional skills to actively help the bottom billion rise out of absolute poverty.

Hey Adrian, thanks for joining us. First off, when did you discover that you were a travel fiend and what was the influencing factor?

My first meaningful solo trip was at the age of 21, when I used my first salary to book a flight to Beijing, China. I had no idea what would await me there, I was following a strong inner urge to discover something unknown. For two weeks, I had no interaction with people I knew, nor people from my country nor fellow travellers. Instead, I made new Chinese friends, dived deep into a foreign culture and made many novel experiences. That was my personal turning point.

Do you have a particular song/video/poem/quote that particularly inspires you to travel?

One of the biggest inspirations for me was the TED talk by Hans Roesling, where he explains how the world has changed over the past decades. In simple words and powerful visualisations, he demonstrates the progress and development some nations have made – and others not. Most textbooks are outdated and the media is portraying a wrong picture. Hans Roesling inspired me to visit more places and see for myself how people are living around the globe. Like him, I also want to inspire other people to acquire a better understanding of today’s world.

Can you let us in on a secret? What is one discovery you have made through your travels that really felt like ‘the road less travelled’?

On my journeys of the past few years, I was driving many roads less travelled. The most impressive discovery I made in Minsk, Belarus, on my epic road trip across Eastern Europe. At the border, I was asked by an official in a harsh tone “What do you want here?”. Belarus is the most isolated country in Europe, not receiving many foreign visitors and being a black box even for its neighbours. In Minsk, I discovered a parallel universe with an open-minded and highly interested young population – pretty much the same as in the European Union. I was happy to see that the software industry brought good jobs and helped improve the living standards. The youth’s highest concern is closed borders and high visa costs to visit their European neighbours.

Is Belarus known for anything in particular?

The country of Belarus is mostly known as Europe’s last Dictatorship, having had the same president since the nation’s founding days. Besides the people, I was mostly intrigued by the architecture. Like most of Europe, Minsk was completely destroyed during the Second World War (or Great Patriotic War as they call it). While Western Europe rebuilt their medieval city centres, Minsk chose to build pompous Soviet blocks instead. It is so close, yet looks so different.

Victory Square, Minsk, Belarus
Victory Square, Minsk, Belarus. By bbmexplorer via Flickr

What did you do there and why do I want to visit? 

Belarus really has a lot to offer. When driving from its westernmost city, Brest, eastwards towards Minsk, there are several old castles to visit. Some were left in complete ruins, while others have been beautifully restored, such as Mir and Nesvizh. Both types are worth a visit.

Minsk itself is packed with culture, from underground nightclubs (like Hooligan) and contemporary Art Galleries, to Museums and Bolshoi Ballet Shows. With its wide boulevards and green parks, the city feels spacious and comfortable to move around.

Mir Castle, Belarus
Mir Castle, Belarus. By Kraina Belarus via Flickr

What took you there and how did you find out about it? 

I went there out of curiosity! Many of my pre-nomadic friends travel a lot but none of them ever was in Belarus. For most of the world, this not-so-small country in Europe is a white spot on the map. That attracts people like me even more. I encourage everyone to go and find out for yourself.

Tell me about the food. Was it different to anything you’d experienced before?

The cuisine of Belarus is very similar to Poland and Ukraine. They tend to cook quite heavy food and they LOVE POTATOES! My favourites are homemade Draniki (fried potatoes) and Blini (some sort of a pancake). What I did not enjoy as much was the cold beetroot soup called Borscht. Besides those traditional meals, I newly discovered fruits like Persimmon and Pomelo. They are much more popular in Belarus than in my home.

Blini pancakes, a Belarussian specialty
blini pancakes, a Belarusian speciality. By Andy Wright via Flickr

What was the culture like? Did you have much interaction with the locals?

Like most places I visit, I was only interacting with locals. Due to the language barrier and other factors, most of my new friends were 20 to 30-year-old. They had grown up in an authoritarian quasi-Dictatorship, they are not as rebellious as in western societies. Pedestrians patiently wait for green light to cross streets (yes, you can get fined for crossing a red light by foot!) and their freedom of speech is somewhat limited. Nevertheless, I found the Belarusian people genuinely helpful, decent and humble. Just don’t call them Russians, which they are obviously not!

Beyond the things to visit, what is your best tip on how to best experience Belarus?

My recommendation is to attend a Couchsurfing or Internations meetup. There you find the best English speaking and most open-minded people. They are well educated about the world and highly interested in talking to foreigners. You will easily find a good friend to show you around and tell you more about their culture. As everywhere in the world, be mindful and show respect to their culture, then they receive you with open doors.

Adrian in Lausanne, Switzerland
Adrian in Lausanne, Switzerland

Last question, where do you live on the internet and social media for us to all come visit?

You can follow my adventures on several channels:

A Sabbatical blog

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