Belonging in Bulgaria: how TikTok took Tif from outsider to insider
- Adventure is alive and well according to Impala’s Tifani Mabala, after a recent last-minute jaunt to Sofia, which she won as part of an internal competition
After a few years stuck at home, nailing everything from overall destination to tiny details feels particularly important
I’m the kind of traveller who likes to plan every detail of a trip. There’s nothing worse than trip fomo - the worry that the building next door has a better rooftop bar, or that the restaurant I’ve picked for dinner is a tourist trap. I want to experience a place like a local - and that involves a lot of research, getting under the skin of things. After a few years stuck at home, nailing everything from overall destination to tiny details feels particularly important.
So when I found myself at Stansted airport at 5am last Thursday, heading to Sofia in Bulgaria at barely a week’s notice, I was pretty much as far from my comfort zone as it gets. I’d won ‘Ryanair roulette’, an internal competition that our CEO Ben set up to put some adventure back into travel. He posts an internal daily travel question, and because I got it right three days in a row, I won a one-night trip to a random Ryanair destination.
Great travel company
I decided to drag along my cousin Bernie for the ride. She’s always up for a laugh. We’re both happy to get a bit lost, but we can rely on one another to look out for each other. Neither of us had ever considered going to Sofia, and when we told people we were going, we got a few raised eyebrows as it’s not on your typical Eastern Europe circuit. Total research we did before leaving? Basically zero. As the plane took off, the adrenaline and excitement quickly turned into a feeling of “what am I doing and where am I going?”.
Now, I’ve worked in travel for a while, and I know this is a feeling a lot of people get a kick out of. So it’s good to know that it’s possible for them to get their dose of this again. But luckily for travellers like me and Bernie, platforms like TikTok and Instagram have become super useful for travellers looking to find their ‘place’ in a hurry.
Finding my vibe
Searching TikTok for bars, restaurants, things to do and places to stay turns up thousands of results. And in Sofia, it helped us find our feet and have some great adventures in our 36-hour stay. Videos are so useful to get a feel for the vibe of the place, and being able to see the person who’s making the recommendation gives me a sense of whether they have the same taste I do.
On the Thursday night, we left the brightly-lit city centre and wound through a dark park, feeling the area around us change. We were heading to a cocktail bar that I’d found on TikTok, but we definitely felt we were stepping into the unknown. But when we fell into Sputnik, pumping out hip hop and serving chef’s kiss-worthy cocktails, we felt like we’d arrived home. We’d never have found the place without TikTok, but we instantly felt similarity and comfort with those around us.
And for our final meal on the Friday, we found a traditional Bulgarian restaurant. We let the waiter choose our food for us, asking him for a typical local meal - and it didn’t disappoint. I tried to order a gin and tonic, but he insisted I try the (delicious but very strong) rakia instead. The food was delicious. Not what I would have ever chosen, but all the better for it.
The trip was short and sweet. It felt so good to see that travel is truly back. And while TikTok was a great guide, the true kudos goes to the incredible people in the travel industry who make this experience possible. There’s nothing like leaving your comfort zone to show that the feelings of adventure - and belonging - are out there to be discovered.
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