Carina Prager is from a small place in Austria – but in the past decade she has spread her wings to all corners of the world. With an unusual travel style and background, Carina is one of the greatest travellers under 30 from her country and shares her experiences with us today.
Carina, tell us something about your early life and how your love for travel developed.
I originally come from the calm and very relaxed countryside in Austria – a place where you wouldn’t expect somebody starting out from there and ,conquering’ the world. My parents never travelled including my dad never having seen a plane from the inside. One exception clearly stood out and that was my uncle. I inherited the passion for travelling from him. He lived in our house and always told the best stories from his trips despite him travelling to not so far places. But his dream was to visit America and he talked about that very often. So, with him I developed this dream 20 years ago and that’s how it all began. 12 years ago – back in 2009 – I fulfilled my dream and flew to California for a month. I booked the trip with EF language schools. California – the place to be, a place which most people only know from television. From that trip onwards I wanted to attend more language schools, because I liked the feeling of being taken care of in the hands of host families and the schools’ team. In 2011 I finally became an ambassador for EF – a program where your work is rated by points. The more points you have the more you can travel to EF schools and until today I am still number 1 ambassador with the highest scored points in Austria (international no. 29 out of more than several 10.000). Later I also took part in international roadshows which were covered by Austrian news.
I never made a plan to reach more and more countries and make a competition out of it but in time maybe five years later I started to count them with nice tools like virtual world maps and then all of a sudden it started being fun – ticking off countries. My craziest travel dreams are diving to the wreck of the Titanic, hiking in Antarctica and flying to the moon. But my plan for now is to become the first woman from Austria to visit every country in the world.
“Oh, you are on holiday again?” “It’s not a holiday!” I say
People usually think going abroad (car/train à airport take off & land à hotel and vice versa) means holidaying – even with the paradigm shift (taking the plane once a year was 20 years ago!!!) having happened a long time ago. And then I’m telling them that what I do is not holidaying, it is a full-time-job which means incredible tough work and thus sometimes stress for your body. In 2015 I suffered from travel burnout (a term that surprisingly DOES exist in Google), a hard time not being able to enjoy new places or even places I always wanted to go to. So I realized that I had to do something about it. I intensively started trading cryptocurrencies in 2016 and kept myself busy with IT-work sometimes up to 15 hours a day.
Making money on the internet instead of spending it on Hawaii – You can see there are two contrasts clashing together. That’s how I found my healthy balance again.
Chale island, Kenya
So how do you plan your travels?
Sometimes I travelled up to 300 days a year with fixed itineraries every year – trips with friends – in the winter and in the summer. Besides those special dates I travel to whatever country I like and that can also be a spontaneous decision but it mostly depends on good offers. I always go for the best credit cards designed for travel purposes. Never underestimate the possibilities of good credit cards. With credit cards you can find ways to finance a trip through manufactured spending.
If I do not use credit card offers, planning a trip can be a quite a task but still easy if you know how it works. You always have to keep literally everything in mind. If I get a good offer to a new country and this offer lasts for three hours, I can’t take three days and plan before I decide. Let’s say Air Caraïbes has a special offer to French-Guyana in South America, I immediately have to know if I have time on the given dates, what to do there, if I can take a ferry to the Caribbean or which ID I need, is it easy to cross the border to Suriname by bus or should I take a plane etcetera. Suriname is a UN-country so I consider visiting. Bear in mind that South America doesn’t have budget airlines like Asia so flight tickets can be an additional 2000 Euro just for hopping between the countries.
Or do I want to wait for the next good offer from Europe to another South American country? If I know that, sometimes I can have flights from Portugal to Brazil for just 170 Euro return, then it is better to wait. That is why I spend a considerable amount of time on planning beforehand. Year-long travel experience, knowing how the branch works throughout the year and immediately scanning 193 countries in the head in advance you can easily make the right decision in the first minutes the offer pops up and therefore save you a considerable amount of money.
Rasnov Citadel, Romania
What kind of traveller are you?
In general, I never travel longer than five weeks before returning back to my home base which is either Vienna or the countryside. Travelling to such an intensive extent like I do means you are always limited in time. I.e.: I somehow managed to go through whole Central America in only 18 days, the same goes for South America. Here I should definitely apply for the Guinness World Record �
Which accommodation I choose depends on where I travel and with whom I travel. If I am just by myself and I travel to typical backpacking countries I go for the cheaper options: Travelling is about interaction and you should always look for other young travellers’ opinions on what to do and where to go next especially if you don’t have a fixed itinerary. You might find friends and travel buddies for life. One of them convinced me to register with NomadMania three years ago.
If I go skiing or to summer hotspots or on a beach holiday, I prefer hotels or apartements because that is my base for the rest of the trip. Overall, I can say, I slept in free tents at the highest mountain in Albania, the Golem Korab, and I also stayed in high-end luxury hotels like The Setai in Miami Beach. I like to stay at luxury hotels when they have an amazing history like the Beverly Hills Hotel in LA and the Waldorf Astoria in NYC. For me, a hotel’s history is the ultimate unique selling proposition (USP) when I decide on the upper-class accommodation. It is not about the hotel only, it is about its history and my favourite hotel is The Beverly Hills Hotel.
When I took the Tran-ssiberian Railway from Moscow to Ulan Ude in 2015 there were 4 classes on the train – seating class to first-first-class with your own department + shower and washroom and caviar for breakfast. I tried out each of the four classes to figure out the comparison and to be able to deliver more travel stories afterwards. That’s how you widen your cultural horizon. Here you can also see: It’s not about the 5 stars only. It’s about experience!
My personal signature journey is the gourmet trip. Once in a while I go on eating trips with my best friend Sissi. At first we choose a city which has a lot of Michelin-starred restaurants. Our main focus are the restaurants during the whole trip which means we are going to see the sight which is located nearest to the restaurant we just had lunch or dinner at. We’ve done that in Barcelona, Copenhagen and New York City so far.
Ta Phrom, Cambodia
To what extent do you believe that your country of origin has influenced who you are and your perception of the world?
Austria is a country of freedom where you can freely share your opinion and human rights and democratic values are highly appreciated. My generation has been raised with the you-can-do-whatever-you-want-attitude and pretty much every door is open for everyone in terms of education, feelings, religion and culture. That THIS is not the case for other countries – this is something YOU as an Austrian have to learn and understand. The process of learning is different each time. Especially on my trips to less touristic places in Africa or the STAN-regions in Asia. As an Austrian passport holder, it is a lot easier to travel. Before I started to travel, I did not know how lucky I was until I met others complaining about bureaucratic work they have to handle before they want to go somewhere. Being from Austria is something I have to appreciate.
Al Ain, UAE
Are you very active on social media in terms of your travelling? Why or why not?
I have used Facebook for twelve years now (full name Carina Prager) and Instagram (wandering.fever) for 3 years. Every few weeks I post something but for every day activity I am too lazy to create content. Since there is a lot of potential in Instagram, I should definitely do more on it. On Facebook my friends have followed my updates since 2009, so that is the most interesting and active part of my travel-life for now.
Skiing in Lech, Austria
Have you met many other travellers on your travels? What similarities and what differences have you found across the travel community?
The less visited the country, the crazier travellers you will meet. In Timor-Leste, a country not many people know of, I met somebody who crossed Afghanistan with his motorbike. The main big difference to most other travellers from the ticking-off-country-type and me is that they usually want to stay longer in every place and are more interested in the people of each country. I go more for the scenery.
Cape Town, South Africa
Do you believe it is easier or harder to travel alone being a woman? How do your experiences show this?
If you go to North Korea, they will put you in prison“, „No they won’t“, I said.
I never had any issues as a female solo traveller. Issues I mean which are believed to only happen to women. There is a saying You attract what you fear most and for now I am not afraid to go anywhere in the world. But I did have one creepy encounter which can easily happen to anybody regardless of colour, sex and age. My cousin and I almost got shot in South Africa, one of the few places in Africa you would NOT expect to get shot. That taught me it happens when you do not expect it. One funny fact on the side is that on Zanzibar Island in Tanzania I got so many marriage proposals I did not even count them.
People believe what they consume from the media and the media only presents you negative perspectives. As a traveller and not only as a female traveller you always have to fight prejudices and our job is to crack the stereotypes. One of the next trips will lead me to South Sudan… better tell them when the trip is over.
Of the countries you visited, which one surprised you most, positively and negatively?
Negatively Moldova: I feel sorry to say this now because I really hope this country will succeed in the future in terms of tourism. Tourism money will be much needed there. I am a passionate wine drinker and Moldova is famous for its wines. They even use their wines for advertisement. So I went in 2017. Having arrived in Kishinev I went out for dinner at Moldova’s best Michelin-starred restaurant (which did not count as gourmet trip :D). You can’t compare the prices to the rest of Europe. A Caesars’ salad cost around 2 Euros. I wanted to enjoy some wine from Moldova and was confused because it tasted like beer or a mix of wine and beer. The following day I went wine tasting – on the way the police almost crashed my rental car during a car chase – to Moldova’s most famous winery but I only found a sign saying that it had been closed down the day before by the police because of hygiene issues. The next day I left Moldova. Maybe I will come back one day for the scenery lol.
Positively Vietnam, I never thought a country could turn out to be so nice. Vietnam is so different from all the other South-East-Asian countries. I loved the beautiful markets, the landscape, the history, the busy streets and I even ordered the first beer in my life (can’t compare it to this Moldovan beer) in Ho-Chi-Minh-City. Vietnam is one of the few countries in which I will spend many more weeks in my life.
But generally, I go for the maxim never expect anything before you go and just let it happen. If I didn’t expect Moldova to have good wines, I would have enjoyed the country more without the expectation. On the other hand, if I do not expect to get killed, who knows..
New York City
Tell us a couple of travel stories which have really stuck in your mind.
Africa creates the best travel stories. Not just the chance of getting shot makes it great but also other ways to die and further encounters like meeting people from tribes and shepherds during treks. I have so much passion for Africa.
Once upon a time … in the Serengeti in February 2015 I took an armed-forces-tent (a tent used in wars) with me and stayed in the middle of Tanzania’s desert. After dinner I went to ’bed’ but then I realized I had to pee and the washroom was located 200 meters away from my tent-spot. Suddenly Ms. hyena came out of the nowhere and placed herself right in front my tent. Ms. hyena kept on telling me good-night(mare)-stories for hours. She just would not stop. I think she fell asleep after much woo-growl-woo time but of course I did not want to check that. Maybe she awakes and keeps following me to the washroom. The following day I read in a travel guide book that hyena sometimes bite-off sleeping beings’ faces in the night. What I finally learned from the trip was: Always bring a bucket for inside-tent-emergency-cases! That was probably the funniest travel-tale in my life.
But getting back to being serious: travel stories usually stuck in my mind when there is sentimentality. I am an incredibly sensitive traveller and try to make the most out of every moment. I like to cite Lin Yutang “No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” That’s right but there are a few travel moments when exactly this REALIZATION takes place the moment it is being lived. Those moments have been very rare so far. I had them when I landed on Palau Island (’16), when I went past Kotor bay in Montenegro and entered Sveti Stefan (’13), when I drove through the scenic Banff National Park (’11) and wild East-Maui (’17) and when the sun rose on the Arlberg Mountain in Lech, Austria (’18). These are the stories I keep on telling people and hopefully make them want to experience the same.
What can you never travel without?
My phone of course – for pictures, boarding passes, navigating with google maps when you are lost or dialling emergency numbers when you are completely lost.
And my trolley… oh my god… I could never travel without my trolley. I know the best techniques to get everything I want inside it and therefore avoid suitcases. Checked-in baggage costs so much time and nerves and I can get really aggressive at the airport when I am asked to check-in luggage (which might cause travel burnout again) – there are also tricks that can be played to avoid this worst-case-flying-scenario.
Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar
What are your travel plans for the following few months?
Due to the pandemic, I do not have any specific plans. I also have to follow the schedule at my university if it is online or offline, so my decisions on where to travel are also dependant on my studies. I wanted to go to Afghanistan or Iraqi-Kurdistan for one reason: they do not have strict entry requirements.
In January I travelled to Egypt and the Sudan. In those two places I met people who were like me. Egypt is extremely interesting and easy to enter. Above all it is cheap and there were literally no tourists around in a place where over-tourism is a hassle. First I travelled to Hurghada for one week, later I joined a Nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor and went all the way back. Egypt was my base for study purposes as well. I never before focused so much on my studies during a trip. Usually I travel in February and not in January. I got my visa for Sudan at the consulate in Aswan within one day which was not part of the plan. I wanted to go to Cairo for the visa, but the hostel-owner in Hurghada helped me to arrange the visa in Aswan. I was limited in time though and had to go back end of January.
In Africa you should always consider procedures to take more time. So I was very lucky that I got the visa for Sudan within one day. In 2021 another obstacle is added to your travel itinerary: the COVID-test. One I kept in mind, the other one I missed out… but more later. Then the trip to Khartoum started. It took me 28 hours from Aswan to Khartoum to get there, the bus stopped after the border because there are no street lights in the desert. My only goal was to visit the beautiful Meroe Pyramids in the north of the country. Sudan is very expensive and this country does not accept international payment options, only US-Dollar. So when something interrupts your trip and you have to stay longer you need to get money somehow. I stayed at the Greek-owned Hotel Acropole and the owner helped me pay for my expenses. They provide their guests with Greek bank accounts to ease a trip. Everything is a little chaotic in these times and no one exactly knows the requirements of each country or airline 100 % so the confusion started when I did not have a yellow-fever certificate when boarding the plane back home. I was sent back not for the missing covid test at first but for not having a yellow fever certificate. When they found out that I did not have a covid test either I was sent back to the hotel at 03:00 in the morning : -)) That is why I could enjoy Sudan one more week.
Finally, our signature question – if you could invite any four people from any period of human history to dinner, who would you invite and why?
There are so many, … Roger Ver, he lives the life of a libertarian bitcoiner, who ,does not know’ borders. When you travel, the most annoying (and also challenging) thing is how to cross a border and that is a huge burden. If there are no political borders, you can travel freely to every place you like.
Alexander Humboldt – the greatest scientific traveller and one of a few universal men. He was a genius and covered a lot of interests especially in South America. Exactly what I feel like sometimes – wanting to know everything!
Michael Flatley – the inspiration of my youth. In May 2000 I visited his Irish-dancing-show in Vienna. He said: If you are willing to work for it you can have everything you want. So, I held on to my dreams.
David Livingstone – one of the greatest explorers ever who set foot in Africa. He was so obsessed with the continent that he did not even feel any sign of fear of the unknown and went into the darkest parts of it … provided it be forward. Livingstone used to say: If you have men who will only come if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them… If you follow his steps as a globetrotter you will be able to tell more stories than others and this is how you can make a difference in the end.
Stingray City, Cayman Islands