Ivalina Nenova, Maria Angelova and Marina Garbeva are the gentle driving force behind the book 203 Travel Challenges – three girls from Bulgaria who live to travel and love to take people out of their comfort zone with fun challenges.
Their book is the best random adventure tool you can take with you on your next trip – just open it to a random page and complete the challenge you find there. Ivalina, Maria and Marina share stories of their own inspiration and talk about how they challenge themselves in this special interview for 203challenges.com.*
* What started as a blog for the book has now grown into an independent website for travel challenges and exploring secret places – 203Challenges.com.
How has your participation in this project changed you?
Ivalina: I don’t know if this is a coincidence, but after we decided to create this project the challenges started coming like snowflakes in my personal and professional life. This project has helped me to face all problems in my everyday life as challenges, to become more patient and to clear my vision of what I want for myself and for my company. So, be careful if you use “challenge” in the name of your product or service :) It may lead to some surprises.
Marina: This project was a resurrection of my imagination. It reminded me how much I enjoy taking part in creative challenges and brought a full-color rainbow of happy moments to my daily routine.
Maria: I was self-inspired to incorporate more fun into my travel life. Working on this project has reminded me that life is nothing but a joyous game.
What is your favorite travel challenge from the book and why?
Ivalina: Challenge 202: Give up on something. This reminds me that we cannot have everything at once. To deny ourselves something actually means to devote ourselves to something else.
Marina: Challenge 160: Print a photo of a friend who can’t join you on a trip. It is so much fun to carry around a printed friend (or in my case when I was doing it, my brother) and take pictures with him in all those funny poses he’d never agree to. Like, for instance, under the shirt of a cute bartender in а bar in Berlin (I never asked for that; the barman offered, I promise! :). But why do I love this challenge the most? Well, it reminds me of the dear friends who told me about it while we were having the time of our lives in Copenhagen a few years ago. (Special thanks to John from Australia who shared the idea for the first time!).
Maria: Challenge 32: Spend a night in the wild on a weekday. I added another condition to this challenge: sleeping in a hammock. I imagined it to be a lot of fun (which it really was), but I could never predict how many nightmares a girl sleeping alone in the forest can experience in a single night. Especially the one where the fox took away my sandals and I had to hike back to the city barefoot. Aside from that, the experience will be a good story to tell around the fire for years to come.
Why exactly 203 challenges?
This is one of the most common questions we get asked, and it’s explained at the beginning of the book: “This is not another ‘101-beautiful-places-to-visit-in-your-life book’. It’s not about the number, it’s not about the places, it’s all about you. We poured all of our souls, experience and inspiration into this guidebook. When we were done, there were 203 challenges in total. The number was odd and somewhat arbitrary-looking but it turned out to be lucky (we consulted a Buddhist monk about it!). We know you won’t complete all challenges, and we know you will think of your own, and as this is meant to be a personal book, the final number actually depends on you.”
What’s your favorite guilty pleasure when you travel?
Ivalina: I’m on a special diet that prevents me from eating gluten, milk, eggs, sugar… almost everything. It’s very difficult to stick to this strict diet while traveling, and unfortunately it means I shouldn’t try the local cuisine most of the time. But, you know, rules were meant to be broken… which is why my travel guilty pleasure is eating whatever I want on vacation, even when the trip lasts for three weeks!
Marina: Wine! I always pack two 1.5 water bottles in my suitcase to make sure that I have room for wine on my way back (and that my luggage won’t exceed the permitted weight). I replace the water bottles with three or four bottles of wine and… Voila! I have the perfect cure for post-travel depression!
Maria: Rooftop views. It’s one of the first things I research before setting off and it’s usually my first stop: a gorgeous vantage point looking over the world below.
The best way to experience a new place is to…
Ivalina: Sit in a local cafe and just observe the people, the atmosphere, the sounds. Let your mind follow this new reality and become part of it. This way, you can create really vivid memories once the journey is over.
Marina: Let yourself go while you’re there, and follow your inner needs and wishes. Simply ignore advice like: “You haven’t been to Rome if you haven’t visited the Colosseum”, and do what you feel like in the moment. If you feel like exploring the nightlife of Santorini instead of trying to light a candle in as many churches as possible (there are more than 600 and most of them are private, so you don’t really have a chance with this challenge, believe me!), just go on a club-crawl in Fira and dance your holiday away. If you’re searching for the ultimate new-place experience, here’s another tip: forget about your comfort zone and meet new friends, preferably locals. Not only will you have the best advice on where to eat, drink, eat, shop, etc., but you’ll also have the company of insiders to share those fun moments with. Priceless.
Maria: … get lost. I’m a map freak (because the thing I do best is getting lost without wanting to) and the mere thought of not knowing where my hotel is drives me crazy. Staring at the map all the time, however, has proven to be the best way to experience nothing in the place I’m currently visiting. So I’m learning to take it easy and keep the map in my pocket from time to time in order to let chance be my guide.
What’s the most challenging part of your day?
Ivalina: The moment when I want to stop what I’m doing because it’s hard, but I can’t because it has to be completed. But after I put all my effort into it, the satisfaction is even higher than if I had have refused to do it. After all, challenges are for making us better, aren’t they?
Marina: Waking up in the morning. I simply adore my beauty sleep. Of course, there are a few things that can drag me out of bed with a sleepy smile: good music, a juicy kiss from my love, or knowing it’s summer and the beach is just a stone’s throw away.
Maria: When I lose my writing inspiration. When that happens I head out and just roam the streets, trying to empty my mind of the frustration.
If you have to share one inspiring thing with everyone reading this, it would be…
Ivalina: I’m currently reading Radical Honesty by Brad Blanton and I would like to share with you one inspirational paragraph from the book: “The people in this world are waking up from a long sleep. We are all helping. This is a great time to be alive because compassionate people are coming into their own power. All these people, and many more you and I don’t know about, are growing beyond the cultural limitations of whatever culture they were born into. I have mentioned just a few leads to contribute to the network that is hooking up all over the world. We will come to recognize each other as time goes on, and when we do, we will change the world.”
Marina: … a gentle reminder in the form of a quote by the Uruguayan journalist and writer Eduardo Galeano: “We are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass of wine.” My personal advice when it comes to wine and kissing: Drink responsibly >>> Kiss irresponsibly. 🙂
Maria: Say ‘yes’ more often and your life will change enormously!