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Interview with Paulina Rubia

We are delighted to host a traveller from one of the smallest European countries - Luxembourg. Pauline has just hitchhiked by boat across the Atlantic - an adventure truly worth hearing about!

Tell us something about your early years and, background story and Pauline the non-traveller.

Hola, thank you very much for having me!

In my years before travelling, I happily grew up in the tiny country of Luxembourg. But already for my studies, when I was 18, I left my country. Studying abroad is quite a common thing in Luxembourg as the country is very small. As Luxembourgish people are fluent both in French and German, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to universities.

I decided to head to Brussels, where I lived and studied for 3 years. While residing in the Belgian capital I explored the surroundings as much as possible: Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp... I really had a weak spot for the Flemish cities.

After Brussels, I decided to do my Master in a German-speaking country, thing of getting to know the German study culture better. My studies took me to Passau, a cute, pretty town in Lower Bavaria. As it’s nestled between the Czech Republic and Austria, a whole area of unknown towns and hiking trails opened up to me. The triangle of Passau, Linz (Austria) and Krumlov (Czech Republic) is a natural gem and I can only recommend it for laid-back holidays amidst nature.

My Master’s program in Passau included 6 months with their partner university in Malaga.  I met my present fiancé during that time. I decided to pause my studies for half a year and moved with him to Madrid. That’s when I got hooked to life in Spain. I finished my studies, moved to Barcelona as it was super hard to find a decent job in Madrid at that time. After all, these were the years of Spain’s worst economic crisis.

After a few months in Barcelona, I finally found a job in Madrid and could move in with my boyfriend. I was working in tourism and finally, I had something that I could call “a base”. Madrid is a great city for expats and boasts many day trip excursions and hiking options in its close surroundings. Toledo, Avila, Chinchon, Segovia… all of them are a picturesque little town with an impressive medieval, Roman and/or Moorish heritage.

After 2 years in Madrid, we decided that it was about time to see something new. We decided to try our luck in Luxembourg: professional and salary perspectives were much more attractive than the ones that we had in Spain at that time.

But before moving all our stuff to Luxembourg, we decided to do something a bit crazy:hitchhike a boat and cross the Atlantic ocean.
 

Tell us a story from your first travels that has a great impact on that who you are today.

I didn’t get to travel a lot while I was a kid…

I think I got my passion for traveling from the side of my mother. Her father, thus my grandfather, was a diplomat and he used to work in different European cities. That’s when he and his family got bitten by the wanderbug. My mum ended up traveling a lot:  Egypt, Israel, San Francisco etc. and I noticed her passion when she talked with us about her travels. Suddenly she became much more alive when talking about her experience as a female traveller. She passed away a few years ago, just when she was making plans to travel again and see all the things she could never visit when she was raising me and my sisters. Since then, I noticed that my desire to travel became stronger: you need to make the most of your days!

You are the author of ‘Paulina on the road’, tell us more about that.

I started the travel blog while I was looking for a job in Spain. People often reached out to me, asking me about restaurants to eat out, day trips from Madrid, things to do in Malaga etc. On top, I travelled so much during these days, that I started forgetting names of places I visited or restaurants where I had the most delicious lunch ever!

In order to fight oblivion and help other travellers out, I created “Paulina on the Road”. “Paulina”, the Spanish version of my name, combined with the English “on the Road”, should evidence the fusion of the English and Spanish language. Indeed I am still writing in English and Spanish.

During the first 2 years, I was writing short stories about every city I visited. Now, I focus much more on my niche which is slow & sustainable travel in less known destinations. The process of finding my niche came slowly and nowadays I only write about things that are respectful to the environment. Thus loads of articles are about hiking, sailing, traveling off-season...

Do you prefer solo travelling or with someone else?
I like both! But I definitely don’t like to travel in large groups… unless you can agree on having loads of free time and meet up during the evening to share experiences.

I love the freedom of when you’re travelling solo. You’re so much more aware of your surrounding. Some situations and encounters only happen when you’re travelling solo. It’s also a great feeling to do just what your gut says. My favourite solo trips were a road trip through Portugal, hiking on Sao Miguel, Azores and a trip to Bosnia.

But I also enjoy travelling with my fiancé. He’s definitely the best travel mate I could wish for. He’s as passionate about traveling as I am and I love how he pushes me to overcome my limits. Without him, I would never have finished some of the 7-hours long hikes we did in Cape Verde. 

I especially appreciate traveling with someone when it comes to food. I hate eating alone!
Tell us more about boat hitchhiking.

The boat hitchhiking thing was only a crazy idea at the beginning. I read about it on some travel blogs. And I couldn’t believe that this would be possible. But dreaming is about making the impossible, possible.

We started taking sailing lessons and learned all about sailing seasons, where the main marinas are etc. There were definitely a lot of things I ignored about the world of sailing boats.

We spent 1 month in the capital of Tenerife, looking for boats to cross the Atlantic. Finally, we found one to sail over to Cape Verde. We spent almost 2 months on the archipelago before sailing out with a French-Canadian couple and their cat to Barbados. It definitely was the experience of a lifetime.

It took us a lot of endurance and conviction to find a boat to cross and once you’re on the boat, you’ll learn a lot about human interaction. Imagine being in the middle of the ocean with 3 people you never met in your life before!

It also made me realize that I can travel with the bare minimum (1 backpack for 6 months) and that I want to pursue my dream of sailing.
 

What was your most embarrassing travel moment?

Hmmm… difficult to say, as I always try to push those experiences to the back of my mind. I am a very good displacer…

When I think of my most embarrassing travel moment then it’s probably that day we lost the key of our rent-a-car in Costa Rica and had to rely on the help of the locals. We probably lost the key during a swim in the ocean and then we had no access to our backpacks. Thank God, los Ticos, the people from Costa Rica, are so warm-hearted. The lady from the rent-a-car arranged dinner and accommodation for us . Of course, we paid everything back to her as soon as we got our backpacks back. But we’ll always be in her depth.

What is the oddest place you have ever spent the night?
I have 2! Does that count?

First was a very cheap hostel in Mindelo, Cape Verde which apparently also functioned as brothel… We didn’t know when booking, but you’d hear the noises all night long!

The second one is definitely when we crossed the Atlantic ocean. Never did I see so many stars, all so bright meanwhile the fluorescent krill is following out boat.
If you were condemned to one country for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?

Oh, that’s such a hard one! I am hesitating between Andalusia and Trinidad & Tobago. Both have fantastic people, the best, fresh food ever, an impressive cultural heritage and gorgeous beaches.

Finally, our signature question - if you could invite four people to dinner from any period in history, who would you invite and why?

Oh, I never got asked that question...

  1. Michelle Obama: Role Model. I’d try to convince her to run for the presidency
  2. James Dean: so handsome and dauntless
  3. Walt Disney: a pioneer, a visionary
  4. Malala Yousafzai: despite her young age and her tremendous past, she’s a fighter and campaigns for the key of success: the right to education.
The photos in this interview are from Paulina's personal collection and we thank her for sharing them with us at NomadMania!