Travelling Like Spam Poetry

We have an anniversary.

In the summer of 2005,
the Chief Engineer and I set out to visit every Austrian village
whose names started with the letter Z.

It was a straight-forward idea given that we lived in a z-village. Our universe of websites contains the virtual equivalent –, a German website chronicling the adventures and musings of two fearless settlers – calling themselves Subversive Element and Irgendwer (Somebody Doing Anything Nobody Wants to Do). These setters are on a mission to discover myth-enshrouded z-village. Today the z-village website is an epic tomb, but we link to it on our blog: punktwissen – Professional Tinkerers and Restless Settlers, tagging it with How it all got started. Perhaps that’s why not every reader recognizes this blog’s business-y nature.

Now, after I have scared everybody off with weird links (…. wait, I forgot to mention that it was the other members of our EPSI circle that suggested this trip!), here is the story:

We used the official list of z-villages from Austria’s statistical service – 247 places in total in a manual approach to optimization: Trying to visit as many as possible in one round trip. In the end, we managed to see 100 z-villages, driving 2000 km in about 10 days.

So the process was:

Try to find the next z-village shown in your print-out of Google maps or referred to in other sources. Most of these villages were small settlements rather than political entities, comprised of houses with addresses like z-village 7, and finding those was like trying to follow a yellowed old treasure map.

z-tripz-tripFind a place-name sign.

z-trip, found sign.Take a weird photo of the sign (Collection).


Take to our heels when local life-forms start wondering. Sometimes it was scary, like Indiana Jones meeting the cannibals. In the north of Austria near the border to Czech Republic  – places typically picked for stereotype dark-family-secret-in-rural-village crime stories – the locals were especially suspicious.

Look, these guys are taking a photo of the sign ????!!!

z-trip, scary place

I realize, it might be hard to see the fun in this. You need to be part of it. Later I proposed this type of travelling to become part of life coaches’ outdoor training offerings. In jest of course, but as usual some people took it seriously.

Via the silly rule implied by the list of names we were forced to travel to places you would never pick for any type of vacation: They were neither advertised to tourists nor intriguing to maverick adventurers. It was like clicking form one hyperlink to the next and having to pick one line for poetry.

In the years before the z-trip our travelling was mainly for business. I mainly saw airports, train stations, motorways, and corporate headquarters. Though it should not have been a secret, the z-trip showed us that we live in a country comprised of fields and forests, of land not completely sealed by the tokens of 20th century’s civilization.

z-trip, as in the bucolic cliché

z-trip, magic well

z-trip, wind farm

We had to neglect some z-villages in the Western, Alpine regions to keep kilometers to a reasonable level. Nevertheless, we saw enough small villages that made us wonder how people can cope with tons of snow.

It was like in these movies portraying New Yorkers travelling to the wilderness of Alaska for the first time, having to deal with harsh weather and raccoons. I realized how clichéd, biased, and distorted some of my views were (… and yet, I use more clichés now to make my point!).

z-trip, wild animals

We both quit our corporate jobs the day after we had returned from that trip.

z-trip, settlers' selfie

Travelling like this was like using the internet in the pre-social-media era: Jumping from one obscure private website – designed by Microsoft FrontPage, with pink marquee taglines – to the next, not sharing and commenting on it.

I crafted my first website in 1997 – with FrontPage, I admit, and for business – but I was very reluctant to enter the interactive social web for a long time. My reluctance was the topic of my very first WordPress post. Since three years I have been exploring Web 2.0, and I am now returning to the z-travelling style of using the internet.

z-trip, mystic river

z-trip, bumpy road ahead

15 Comments Add yours

  1. Hmmm so one of the questions is whether the decision to quit the jobs after that trip was (a) brought on by the trip (b) assisted in-part by the trip or (c) already made; you just decided that would be a good time to announce. my money is on ‘b.”
    …and have there been any regrets. I’m betting on not just a ‘no” but a “HELL NO!”
    On a somewhat related note, we have some distinctly weird place names here in my place.

    1. elkement says:

      Good question, Maurice :-) – I think it was something between b) and c). The decision as such has been made, but we did not embark on the journey planning to tell our managers we would quit immediately after coming back. The trip brought us into that ‘Now or never’ state of mind – I think there is a right moment for anything and you miss it if you mull things over too often. Planning does not get better as you don’t have more data anyway.
      No regrets ever :-) This first step was not even a really radical one as we kept working with many former clients and colleagues – although at the moment we quit this was not settled at all as we had not announced our plans before. With hindsight, it was a perfect point of time to start a business together: Having acquired some reputation in a narrow industry sector, and long enough before the economic crisis.

  2. So, I just read your very first blog post. I think you “suffer” from the syndrome of “I did it before it was cool”. I was also a nerd before it was cool. Now that everybody does it, there is no more appreciation for being a real nerd

    1. elkement says:

      Seems I like to be in the obscure minority! I hope z-travelling never gets popular – although I would not mind if people give me credit for having started a movement :-)

      1. Since I’m not a Zitizen, I’m not likely to do that. I just ride my bike as far as I can. The method is different, but the effect is likely the same: finding out what you really want in life.

  3. Michelle H says:

    Wow. I am reading the subtext (guessing) that this is where you both started looking for what you are doing now. Long journies.

    Also, I can feel that I am also at the end of my social media experience, if I understand your post ending correctly. It is mostly because of the people I have interacted with, and the affection I feel for them, that I am still here, but the medium otherwise, is something we all are outgrowing, I think.

    I realized recently that soon I will have used up most of my account space on WordPress. I have been considering which posts I promised to write, how I will do that and tie off. And then, how to still leave a bit of an internet trail for allowing myself to keep in touch?

    Beautiful post.

    1. elkement says:

      Yes, you guessed right, Michelle – this was maybe the official starting point. We started our company at the end of 2005, but It took some more years though until we really had enough of airports and gradually changed our business.

      And yes again, I spend less time on social media. I am not going to leave any of the platforms, and I will continue blogging … but I think finally that old reluctance of scrolling down ‘feeds’ and ‘chasing notifications’ comes up again. I feel trying to avoid a filter bubble effect and having to take all those decisions (click or not) takes a toll of mental energy … energy I would rather use otherwise. I fully agree with you: I am here for the people, but the ‘platform’ / the ‘system’ is wearing me out.
      I am also thinking about the next phase in the evolution of my other websites, and I am longing for some programming for fun (finally moving away from a totally outdated scripting language) and re-arranging existing content. I feel that always ‘planning for the next post’ – even if you avoid conscious planning – puts you in a state of mind like ‘I still have to do this and that… the existing stuff is incomplete!’. However, I am rather contented now, and would like to re-organize what I have already written, resting on the laurels, haha :-)

      This anniversary in particular reminded me of how it felt normal not to share my images back then, not to think about ‘sharable stories’ at all. Of course it is a bit weird and inconsistent to discuss all this on social media :-)

      1. Michelle H says:

        Recently my husband and I pinpointed 2003 as the start point for our own still-developing business plan. It was the year we bought our farm. The kids were 1 and 3 years old, hardly a point in our life to think about starting a company. Only more recently do we see this as a possibility, as our daughters’ maturing has given us considerably more freedom to think more of our own pursuits in life. We have a few years to wait… I will begin study in science now… but we both will probably go back to study in engineering, hopefully within 10 years. We’d like to focus on architectural engineering and sustainable building for healthy home/building renovation.

        A lot of my blogging has strayed toward houses and construction. I might hold onto those posts and dump a lot of the rest. I am also tired of the platforms. This exhaustion had something to do with quitting marketing and writing as a career, although I also feel that all that was merely a career placeholder, something to do until the time was right to return to study mathematics, something I care for much, much more.

        1. elkement says:

          Now I know why I had to follow your blog, Michelle :-)
          Seems I do it in reverse order – that daily tomato yield every day is enormous, I think I can call it ‘farming’ :-)

          1. Michelle H says:

            Our conversations have certainly done a lot to help clarify what is important and to help set some personal goals. As for farming, I am looking forward to seeing you develop your portfolio over the coming years. What could be next? Potatoes or pumpkins?

            1. elkement says:

              I am considering: Potatoes, onion, garlic, cucumbers, zucchinis, and for fun / experimentation: mushrooms and peanuts :-)

            2. Michelle H says:

              Nice. I haven’t tried mushrooms or peanuts but the others are fairly straight forward tasty crops. Looking forward to seeing what happens with the mushrooms and peanuts. Have you tried harvesting the snails? ( another thing I haven’t done)

            3. elkement says:

              No, I haven’t tried the snails, it’s due to that intermediate step – cleaning – I am not too fond of :-) But I think eggplants, and maybe someday mushrooms, are a very good replacement of that type of meat :-)

  4. Terrific adventure for you guys, trips like that are more good for the soul. I plan to live in such a place after some time away from big cities.

    1. elkement says:

      Thanks, Chris! Though I grow up in the outskirts of a somewhat bigger city (by Austrian standards :-)), I finally gravitated towards the rural places.

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