We met in the center of Prague, in one of the cafes on Národní třída. Our meeting could not have had a more symbolic introduction. “Nice to meet you too,” I heard him saying goodbye to a female reader who had come to greet him while he was waiting for me as I arrived.
“Sometimes people approach me, but it doesn’t happen that often,” he modestly commented on the situation. But damn it, he’s been selling out around eighty travel lectures a year for many years.
You became famous as a walking traveler, later you supplemented your walking with cycling due to a sore knee, and finally you hitchhiked around the world. Why did you buy a car for trips around the Czech Republic? Was it related to your previous experience as a hitchhiker?
When I make a trip, I always try to adjust the transportation to get the best experience of the country. I decided to go around the Czech Republic in the year when the first covid holidays came, and there were problems with public transport then. I was worried that I wouldn’t get infected somewhere and spread the coronavirus throughout the country. For the same reason, I didn’t like hitchhiking either. I thought it was time to finally use my driver’s license and buy my own car.
The Nissan Cube is quite a strange car. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him before.
I do not either! It looks strange to me too, its angular shape reminds me of a washing machine! I not only wanted to visit as many places as possible, but at the same time I was also looking for a way to people. And having a funny car is a good way to bond with them.
But at the same time, I wanted to buy something that works, because it is definitely not my passion to solve a problem every now and then.
Cech traveled halfway around the world. He was most fascinated by Africa
Will you no longer travel on foot?
I didn’t want to stop walking, but that didn’t mean I was done with her. I felt the pressure of readers’ expectations that I would continue to walk, but I told myself that I mainly wanted to write interesting books about my travels, so it was also an emancipatory decision. Besides, I also like to surprise people. On the next trip, I will probably hitchhike again or maybe take the train.
Your car makes you smile for one more reason. You chose the word “sorry” as your license plate. Are you that bad a driver?
Hopefully it has improved a little… I like humor in the streets, and Czech experts are in it. For example, in Brno near the main railway station, I recently saw a lamp on the cracked lower part of which someone wrote Space X, turning it into a well-known stray rocket – and hundreds of people laugh at this joke every day. People often laughed at my short hair too. She helped me make contact with them many times because they were curious about what I was.
But it is not a matter of purpose, as it might seem. It is very important for me to maintain the ability not to take myself seriously and to make fun of myself. In addition, I recently turned thirty and of course I perceive that with maturity comes responsibilities that a younger person is not used to, and with them also responsibility. But that doesn’t mean that I have to lose a certain childishness because of it – by which I mean a child’s joy in the things around me. I care a lot about that too.
Before, you liked to travel abroad without a map and only with a general plan. How did you meet this need of yours to improvise at home, in a country you know well?
My basic plan was to go all the way around the Czechia. I had people on social networks recommend lesser-known, but somehow interesting places, local curiosities. By the way, I have included five hundred of these recommended places in the map, which is accessible at the Internet address www.zibura.cz/vylety.
First, I sailed from Prague to my native České Budějovice with my Dutch friend, and then from Budějovice I went west. Every morning I looked at the weather, then at the map and decided where would be the best place to go that day.
I always wanted people to know my name rather than my face
I also have a habit that has already proven itself in other countries: I consult with the locals. So, for example, I stopped at the pump, had a coffee, and asked the pump lady if she had a place she liked in the vicinity. People are usually pleased when you are interested in their region. I really had a lot of nice encounters.
Did they know you? Like today for example…
Not much, and that’s just great! I always wanted people to know my name rather than my face. I’m on social media, but I don’t make YouTube videos, so I don’t cater to that on purpose. Besides, I use illustrations in my books, not photos… So when I talk to people, I’m mostly just a curious person on the go.
Do you think you learned more than if they knew in advance that they were talking to a writer who was about to write a new book?
I sure do, but it’s definitely not like I’m traveling undercover and trying to do something behind their backs. I showed the text to the people I wrote about in my book and had it authorized.
Rather, I just took advantage of not having a familiar face. It’s good if only because people don’t choose a formal tone. Because I like Czech, I am fascinated by the seemingly casual, common, non-literary language, which is actually very tight… A lot of the comedy in that book comes from it. I just love it, and that’s what I set out to do.
So to sum it up, in my latest book I draw on my experiences from abroad, how to talk to people so that it doesn’t annoy them, and how to have an adventure at the same time. You don’t have to drive halfway around the world to find him, it’s just a matter of attitude and state of mind.
Did your trip to the Czech Republic have another goal?
I also went to places connected with Czech history, I often somehow reconstruct those events, and I look for an answer to the question of what is the soul of the Czech nation, what defines our country.
Of course, the reader should find out for himself, but I focused on phenomena such as recessionary projects or observation towers, DIY, the Czech desire to travel…
I have spent a tremendous amount of time talking to people, and I have selected the most interesting ones, and the reader can enjoy them without having to go through the same thing and overcome their shame. This is how I do it with each of my books.
Do you have to overcome shame too?
The fact that I’m writing a book helps me. I feel that this legitimizes my questioning. Of course, striking up a conversation with someone on the train is no problem, but going up to someone just because I’m curious is already weird.
I’ll give an example – one gentleman built a “skylight” out of the recession. If I was in his village just on a trip, I would definitely be shy to ring him, but since I was preparing a book and I was interested in lookouts, I couldn’t miss him.
After the pandemic, I somehow traveled. I am also driven by the vision of the family, it will not be so easy with children
In addition, the fact that I write books has also opened several doors for me. After all, I probably wouldn’t be able to just write to hop growers out of the blue if they didn’t spend two hours telling me something about cultivation, because I’m interested in it.
At the beginning of the holidays, you went to Slovakia to the Tatras. Will it also become a book? And would you dare to explore the Slovak nation in the same way as the Czech one?
Better not, Slovaks are more hot-tempered than Czechs! I don’t write about most of my travels at all, I often only travel privately, and I’m not planning a book about Slovakia yet.
How many private trips have you taken this year?
Now I’ve somehow traveled, after the pandemic… Besides, I’m driven by the vision of my family, after all, it won’t be so easy with children.
Are you expecting a family with your girlfriend?
Not yet, we’re just talking about it intensively. Around the age of thirty, a person begins to think about starting a family, of course, if he has someone with him. That’s why we try to travel as much as possible now, while we can.
When one learns to travel a little, which is a skill like any other, one learns to travel cheaply
In addition, Covid opened up new opportunities, there were significantly fewer people in a number of places, which we also tried to take advantage of. So at the beginning of the year we went to Iran, then to Slovakia, during the summer holidays to Canada, and in October I’m going to Namibia with my dad. That was always his dream.
I think you were already in Nepal with your parents. You once gave them a joint trip as a Christmas present and attracted them to travel.
Since then, my parents and I go somewhere together every year. Someone might say that it’s not that easy and that they couldn’t afford it, but if you learn to travel a little, which is a skill like any other, you will learn to travel relatively cheaply. So a certain paradox arises: the more a person travels, the more he travels! (Laughs)
I know a lot of people who don’t have above-average incomes, but they love traveling so much and know how to skilfully save money that they always save for it.
What do you save the most on when traveling?
I am a big fan of cheap accommodation and I always take the cheapest one.
As long as one lives, one should enjoy life, says the patient in the wheelchair. He went all the way to Chernobyl on it
Have you ever run into this approach?
No, I don’t care at all. My eyes are closed when I sleep!
True, I remember that you also sleep in a concrete pipe.
I’m already used to a very modest overnight stay, so when I come to a nicer hotel, I feel like it’s a pity for me.
In Namibia, we are going to spend the night only under a tent. Besides being cheap, it’s still the most romantic option.
You’ve accumulated quite a lot of private journeys now. Does this mean you are not going to write a new book?
Anyway, I already have a topic. I am going to write about my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, where I walked for the first time at the age of eighteen and ten years later I set out on the same route again. So I have a plan, and that’s why I can travel in peace just for myself.
Are private trips any different from those for books?
Fundamentally. People usually assume that traveling for a book binds me, restricts me, but it’s not true. On the contrary. It always excites me, so I look around me even more and take a much more intense interest in things.
It’s very time-consuming, because I’m doing something from morning to evening, and I’m continuously downloading information about everything I observe, and in the evening I sit down and write notes for two hours. I don’t get much sleep, but those trips are extremely effective.
You are quite active on social networks. How much does it contribute to the popularity of your books? Is the Internet important to you?
It’s not important to me personally, and I think that lately I’ve been on the networks less than before. As for success, you’d probably have to ask the readers, because I can’t identify this at all.
I would say that it will probably be a combination of several factors. I already have five books and each new one always supports the sale of the previous ones. It is probably also important that the travelogue has a relatively broad target group. It certainly helps that we pay attention to details. The books are printed on nice paper and with beautiful illustrations, which makes them a nice gift.
And as I know from talking to readers, the pinch of humor they find in them is probably also important. When you look for humorous literature in a bookstore, you will find Saturninus, Three Men in a Boat, and The Last Aristocrat. Little is produced, yet the demand is high.
My travel lectures, which I have been giving for eight years, will also be of considerable importance. Before the pandemic, there were about eighty of them a year, and there are places where I have already been five or even eight times.
Anyway, I’m glad that my readers are loyal to me, and that’s why every time I publish a new book, I go to the Albatros warehouse to see the entire load, so that I remember how many people I’m writing for. It motivates me and also leads to humility.
You are an author – a humorist, of whom there are few. Would you be tempted to leave the travelogue genre?
It was tempting. When covid started, I didn’t want to sit with my hands in my lap, so I thought I’d try a humorous novel. I wrote eight pages, but then I opened Saturninus, read two chapters, and rather shut down the computer and never came back to it.
In time, I may have no choice but to leave the travelogue genre, but I have no reason to do so yet. I still have a lot of ideas – and there are so many countries!