Featured Traveller - Raffaela Milner


Let’s start out with some quick facts about you…

Age: 26
Belt: Purple
Profession: Retired physicist, current martial arts instructor
How many years in BJJ: 5 this summer
Other martial arts: Since I started martial arts because I wanted to become a well-rounded MMA fighter, I’ve been training in all areas: striking, wrestling/judo, and ground fighting. My main stand-up style is Dutch kickboxing and Muay Thai. I’m definitely better in wrestling than in judo, but I’m learning! The ground game is where I feel most comfortable and where I have my main fighting experience, but I’ve also had 6 MMA fights and done a few kickboxing tournaments.
Where do you live: Nowhere and everywhere, since I don’t really have a home base right now. I’m just traveling to different places where I can teach and train for a while.
Where are you originally from: I was born in Offenbach am Main (Germany) and grew up in Germany. My parents are from the Republic of Moldova.
Other fun or curious information you’d like to share: I’m not Russian, but I speak Russian; I’m not German, but I am a German citizen; I’m not American, but I played American football; I’m not Brazilian, but my life revolves around Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Tell us what inspired you to travel and train?
I used to travel a lot while I was still at uni. During the semester breaks, I would work for a month and then travel for 6 or 8 weeks. After getting my degree I was either too busy or too broke to travel, and I was really missing it a lot. Once I started martial arts I only ever traveled to fight MMA or to go to tournaments or camps, but that never really gave me enough time to actually explore the places I went to. Last year I had a knee injury that took me off the mats for a while, and I decided that I will give my body a break from competing until I really feel like it again. Taking that break allowed me to travel. As soon as my knee healed enough to train again, I hit the road.

I’ve always been interested in learning new languages, getting to know people, exploring nature, and discovering cultures. I am happy to combine that with training and teaching martial arts.

Tell us about your most recent trip and your upcoming trips – where have you been and where are you going?
Right now I’m in Asheville, North Carolina in the US. I’m training BJJ and judo at Open Source Jiu-Jitsu, and was teaching there and at another gym in town. Open Source is one of my favourite places ever. The atmosphere is great, the owners Bobby and Amanda McMasters are awesome, and it attracts a lot of very cool people. Also, Asheville is known for its breweries and the magnificent nature around it. There are lots of beautiful hikes about an hour away from here. I’ve been to Mount Pisgah, looking at the Blue Ridge mountains off in the distance. I saw some waterfalls, and my favourite place was Max Patch where I had one of the most surreal views ever.

Before I came to Asheville I was in the Netherlands, where I trained at Apex Jiu Jitsu in Enschede. Despite the obvious reasons why it’s cool to hang out in the Netherlands, there are also a few good BJJ gyms and many really good kickboxing gyms. The forest in Enschede is also really beautiful, and I loved just walking through the woods.

I’m not exactly sure where I’m going next. On my list are Portugal, Estonia, and Ireland. When I get back from the US, I’ll be in Germany for a few weeks and will help a friend out with his gym, since he just had surgery. After that I’ll go to one of those places I mentioned above, or another country in Europe. For the next big trip in 2020 or 2021, I plan on going to Japan.

What are the things you enjoy about traveling?
Meeting interesting people and making friends, learning about history and culture, training at different places and learning martial arts from and with so many different people, eating local food, being invited to teach at different places, exploring nature and hiking, learning new languages or getting to speak the ones I can.

Can you give us some examples of experiences you had that makes it worth traveling and training?
Most of those experiences are manifestations of how friendly and welcoming most people are.

In Enschede (Netherlands), for example, I was hosted by one of the Team members of Apex Jiu-Jitsu for an extended period of time.

And I was asked to teach at three different places in Asheville. It was very cool to see how people appreciate having a female purple belt and MMA fighter around. I got the feeling that people in the US are really excited about having a female instructor, and getting more women on the mats in general. That is a very different impression from what I experienced in Europe most of the time - although there are of course many places there where people are excited about having a female instructor as well.

Another beautiful thing about traveling and training is making your own experiences. That might sound trivial, but I think sometimes the most obvious things are the ones that have a big impact. What I mean is that people talk a lot about other fighters or academies or cultures, but at the end of the day it’s not possible to know how it would be to live or train somewhere or to live in another country without trying it. Who knows, maybe you can find a place that feels like home?

Coming from Germany, I’d heard all sorts of cliches about Americans, and I have to say that they are not true at all. In fact, most people I met (not only in the gym, also just random people) have been very ready to help and quite eager for a casual conversation.

And last but not least, I love martial arts. And it’s great to meet so many different people with different styles, and see what works against which style and what does not. I’m thinking about running a gym at some point in my life, so seeing how other people do it interests me a lot.

What has so far been the most surprising experience for you when traveling?
A recurring theme for me when I travel is finding some mind-blowing place in nature, often completely unexpectedly. If I just go somewhere to train or to be in a city, I still always seem to find a little place in nature or a forest that’s just stunning. And even when I go somewhere specifically to experience nature, I’m still usually surprised at how it’s even more beautiful than I imagined.

For example, when I came to Ashville I knew that it’s known for its nature, especially the Blue Ridge Mountains, the waterfalls, and the colorful trees. Nonetheless, I’ve been here for almost 10 weeks and still manage to get surprised by the views and by the blooming trees. I’ve never seen so many different colors in nature at the same time, and it is for sure one of my favorite places now - I had no idea when I came here!

Are you a budget traveller – and if so how do you plan for a cheap trip?
I try to either stay at a gym, a friend’s place, or to find a host. If that doesn’t work out, I stay at a hostel or an Airbnb. Eating out is usually one of the biggest expenses on the road, so I always try to stay at a place where I can use a kitchen to cook for myself - and also for my host if I have one. I try to find places where I can matsurf in exchange for teaching. Before this trip, I saved up some money in advance by working at a university and by minimizing my living expenses at all times - not only when I’m traveling. I also try to have some jobs that I can do online, like writing math problems and their solutions for school textbooks.

If you were to pass on travel advice to your fellow Globetrotters, what would it be?
Plan your trip just enough to have some orientation, but don’t plan too much, since that opens up the space for many opportunities and surprises. Stay open-minded, and don’t fixate on a particular outcome in all the decisions you have to make along your travel - things usually work out fine! Enjoy the present moment, and try to be in nature as much as possible!