My First Trip to Israel

How quickly everything changes in this land. From city to desert, from one religion to another, from intense culture to untouched nature…this is a land of extremes all packed into a very small space.

And in order to experience this country, you need to be prepared to process every one of those extremes, and to then rest and recover before you move on to the next. I learned this quickly during my recent trip to Israel, a trip that was far too short to get a full understanding of what a traveler can experience here, but that offered an eye-opening glimpse nonetheless.

Just imagine…

You enter Jerusalem and head over to the walled Old City. In just one small area, .35 square miles / .9 square kilometers to be exact, you will wander around four very different quarters – Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian.

Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Jerusalem

The main focal point is the Temple Mount, or Noble Sanctuary as it is known to Muslims, and it is home to some of the holiest sites in Judaism, Islam and Christianity. The Dome of the Rock, a shrine built upon the Foundation Stone, is the location where Muslims believe Muhammed ascended to heaven. The al-Aqsa Mosque is where Muhammed was transported to, from Mecca, during what is referred to as the Night Journey.

The Foundation Stone, which is the stone from which Jews believe the world was created, is also the location of the First Temple where the Ark of the Covenant was placed. As a result, this spot has extreme significance as the crossroads between Heaven and Earth.

The Temple Mount also played an important role in the life of Jesus as the place where he challenged the Temple authorities and prophesized the destruction of Herod’s Temple.

As is quite clear, this one area is where important events from all three religions have taken place, and it’s all right up here, where, despite a few restrictions, an Israeli armed security presence and the occasional rioting, visitors can wander around in an attempt to grab a peek at the core of religious history.

Surrounding the Temple Mount is a wall, much of which was built as a retaining wall when the Second Temple was constructed some 2000 years ago. In the Jewish tradition, a section of this wall, known as the Western Wall, is now considered the holiest site for prayer given its proximity to the ‘gates of heaven’ and the original temple. Men and women pray in separate sections, visitors are welcome to approach the wall, pray or just walk around and it’s open 24 hours per day, every day.

Western Wall, Jerusalem

Western Wall 2, Jerusalem

Over in the Christian quarter sits the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where you can join the throngs of people from all over the world who have made a pilgrimage to witness the location where Jesus was crucified and thought to be buried. It’s also where Jesus is believed to have been resurrected. Inside you’ll find sections for various branches of Christianity – Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox and more – each of which has certain responsibilities pertaining to the function of the church. Step inside, follow the flow of traffic to each important point and spend as much time as you’d like taking it all in.

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Church of the Sepulchre 2, Jerusalem

It goes without saying that apart from those main sites above, there are plenty of other places to visit in the Old City, such as the markets in each quarter, the rooftop of the Austrian Hospice, with its great views, and my personal favorite, Elia Photo Service, an interesting 3rd generation family-run photography shop in the Christian quarter with some amazing photos that depict life in Israel over the last 90 years.

Again, that’s all in one tiny, tiny area. It’s intense and mind-blowing and fascinating all wrapped together. When you consider the long history of this city (Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities on the planet after all), the importance of this location for Muslims, Jews and Christians, and the fact that this city has been the scene of such conflict over the centuries, you’ll want to stop every few minutes in order to take a moment to breathe, to contemplate, to comprehend it all, or at least attempt to.

Beyond Jerusalem

Of course, as incredible of a destination as this city is, there’s more to Israel than Jerusalem.

Once you venture out into the rest of the country, for example, you may find yourself standing at ancient, fortified Masada, built by Herod the Great high above the Judean desert, situated on a rock mountain. This is where 1000 Jewish rebels committed suicide, along with their families, instead of facing defeat at the hands of the Romans at the end of the First Jewish-Roman War in 73 AD.

Masada

An hour later, you could be as low as you can possibly go on this planet, floating in the Dead Sea, just bobbing around without any effort, giddy as can be, covering your entire body with its salty, therapeutic mud, and enjoying the view of the mountains in the distance, on the Jordanian side of the sea.

Dead Sea View

Kalia Beach Resort, Dead Sea

You could then be in the stunning Upper Galilee in the north of the country, riding ATVs through the countryside, completely surrounded by the inspiring nature and colors of the Hula Valley.

Upper Galilee, Israel

But a short time later, after a drive south, you could also be laying down among the crowds of sunbathers on the beaches of Tel-Aviv or participating in an intriguing alternative walking tour that focuses on the local graffiti and street art scene.

Tel-Aviv Beach

Alternative Tel-Aviv Street Art Tour

One meal you’ll eat such mouth-watering falafel, hummus, ful and labneh at a hole-in-the-wall eatery in the heart of the Muslim quarter in Jerusalem, the kind of local place I could eat at every single day, and for your next meal you may be dining on Middle Eastern fusion cuisine at a trendy cafe in front of a synagogue on the other side of the country, washing it all down with a dark Israeli beer.

Lunch in Jerusalem

There is much to see here. Much to do. Much to take in.

For such a small country, there is a never-ending list of experiences to be had, and again, my trip was unfortunately a short one. Just imagine what you can do with a longer stay.

A Complex Travel Destination

Yes, without a doubt, Israel is a complex place. It’s so complex actually that many people I met, and who call this country home, are just as unsure and conflicted about the situation here as any outsider might be.

A good way to sum it up is a message that an Israeli reader of mine wrote to me shortly after I arrived:

Enjoy this beautiful, conflicted, encouraging, bleeding, amazing country. Peace and love.

Israel is indeed all of that.

And I think that’s part of the reason why, when it came time for my trip to Israel to end, I found myself wanting to stay longer, much longer. I simply was not finished with my experience.

Perhaps, and I believe this also to be true, it’s the kind of country where one’s experience can never be complete. There are simply too many of those beautiful, conflicted, encouraging, bleeding and amazing layers of this land to learn about and to try to process as best you can.

And as every traveler I met in this country seemed to agree, regardless of religious or political views, it is this presence of such extremes in every single aspect of life here that makes Israel a truly fascinating destination to visit.

(There will be more posts to come about the people I met, the food I ate and some of the more specific and interesting activities I participated in while here.)

Have you been to Israel? How was your experience? If not, have you ever thought about visiting?

[Photo of Tel-Aviv beach by Or Kaplan]

*I was invited to visit Israel by the a-political, nonprofit organization, Vibe Israel, an organization that brings international online opinion leaders to the country for weeklong personalized experiences. Nothing at all was required of me in terms of promotion or content and everything I’ve written is, as always, 100% my own thoughts, interpretations and experiences.


Posted in Israel | 42 Comments

Trover Travel Ideas - Chacala

[This post is written in partnership with Trover after using the app and continuing to find it truly useful and worth spreading the word about. I don’t do these kind of posts often – only when I really believe in something and always with opinions and thoughts that are 100% my own.]


You walk by a cafe in your hometown, or perhaps a local bookshop, or maybe there’s a small, but beautiful, beach that offers a perfect sunset view. You smile widely when you think of these places, knowing that they are exactly what makes your town as attractive, as fun, as unique as it is.

They’re the kind of places you tell your friends to visit whenever they are in town. They’re also the kind of places that few people would ever find if you didn’t tell others about them yourself.

Now picture this…

You walk outside your hostel or hotel in a foreign city, let’s say Istanbul. You wish that somebody would give you some guidance, would help you find those out of the way experiences that most travelers wouldn’t know about. You want somebody to point out those same kind of unique and special places that you would point out to them back in your hometown.

Where are the hidden art galleries? How about a simple restaurant where unbelievably mouth-watering fare can be enjoyed at real local prices? What about a neighborhood where few foreigners ever go or a sight that has yet to make it into all of the guidebooks?

Spend five minutes on Trover and you’ll have your answers.

Trover is an app that I’ve written about before. And what I said the first time, which still holds true, is that I don’t use many travel apps at all, but Trover did manage to catch my attention. This is because it allows me, in a matter of seconds, to discover something new to see or do or eat, something that I otherwise would never have known about, anywhere I happen to be in the world.

It goes a little something like this…

I need travel ideas. I check out Trover. I’m off to something new.

It’s like an on-the-go, random travel experience generator. And as a result, I think it’s an excellent tool.

As an example, by using Trover, I recently ended up discovering…

Agrasen ki Baoli in Delhi, India

Apoxee Trail in Florida

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Cremeria Sette Chiese Gelateria in Bologna, Italy

And I’ll use it when I’m in Spain next week as well. Looks like I need to pay a visit to this little cove

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Try Out Trover

Need something to do right now? Whether you’re traveling or not, give it a try and see what you find…

1. Open the app or website
2. Let it find, or type in, your location
3. Choose a category on the left (Food, Entertainment, Outdoor)
4. Enjoy the discoveries that appear!

You can also search through “Lists” such as “New Zealand Wonders” or “Ideal People Watching Locations”…there are literally thousands of lists out there focusing on all sorts of travel-related themes.

You could even type in an “Interest” in the search bar and it will find places or activities that match that interest right in your current area. Or just click on “Explore” and check out all of the categories available, most of which, when explored, will undoubtedly keep you on Trover for a few more hours than you were probably planning on.

The travel ideas are endless.

I’ll do one right now…

As I’m still in Istanbul, I just typed in “Istanbul”. The first discovery that jumped out at me is “Balat – Istanbul, Turkey”.

Never heard of it. I’ll absolutely be going there in the next couple of days though. Too easy.

And whether you use it to actually help you plan an entire trip or, like I’m using it right now, to discover, as I travel, random places and experiences that I have no idea even exist until a photo of it pops up on my Trover app, I really do think you’ll find this app to be quite useful and enjoyable to use.

And of course, you can also share all of the places you find during your travels, or even in your hometown, with others on Trover so that they may discover these gems as well. Travelers helping travelers!

(Trover is available on both iPhone and Android of course.)


Other Cool Things About Trover

Monthly Scholarships
Every month, Trover gives away a $500 “travel scholarship” to the Trover user who shows the best engagement in the community. They monitor all the usage and if you happen to be the winner, you don’t have to do anything but accept the $500.

Contests
Trover is holding simple contests all the time where all you need to do is upload a photo based on a particular category. In fact, one reader of this site won a Trover contest a couple of months ago, pocketing $1500 just for uploading his photo. It’s always a good idea to check out the contest page to see what kind of things are going on.

Do let me know if you give Trover a try and how it goes for you! And for those of you who are already using it, any tips to share on how to maximize the experience?


Posted in Everything Else, Travel Tips & Advice | 21 Comments

Start Traveling Now
One day we’ll meet up at a cafe somewhere in the world and you’ll tell me your story, your story of how you went from the mere idea of wanting to travel to actually making it a reality. And I look forward to hearing all about it.

It will happen, whenever the time is right. That’s the key. When the time is right.

This traveling stuff is tricky. It messes with your head. You want to travel badly and every single day you dream of all the places you’ll visit when you do get started, but that’s the problem…you don’t know when is the ideal time to take the plunge and begin.

Should you start traveling now? After all, travel is the only thing you think about.

Or does it make more sense to wait and travel later? You could use some extra savings and perhaps you should also get some more work experience first.

(If you’re deciding whether or not to attend or finish university before you travel, here’s a post you might want to read, with plenty of useful comments too: “Do You Need a University Degree to Travel Long-Term?“)

The point is…you want to make the right decision but it’s just not easy to figure out.

I know it’s difficult because I went through it myself and I also receive no shortage of emails from readers who are dealing with this very dilemma as well. We all go through it, everyone who wants to travel, especially those who want to travel long-term.

Back in 2000, after just ten days or so into my very first independent backpacking trip, I decided that I wanted to travel for as long as possible. However, I had very, very little money at the time, only enough to last a couple of months in Southeast Asia. As a result, I debated long and hard about what to do next. As far as I saw it, I had two options. I could return to the US, work for at least a year and save up as much money as I could before getting back out there on the road and attempting to achieve my goal. Or I could just continue my current trip and figure it all out as I went along.

In the end, I decided to not go home and to simply trust, as my guide, my increasing determination and excitement about the possibilities of travel, despite my rapidly dwindling funds. Turns out it worked.

But that’s just me.

I wouldn’t dare tell anyone else to just drop everything right this instant and pack your bag. There are too many unique aspects involved for each of us, which is why the debate of when to start our travels is one that we each need to have with ourselves. It’s the only way to reach the most suitable conclusion or to at least make some progress, or at the very least waste some time thinking about travel.

What I would dare tell you is that you should consider several specific factors that might help give you a better idea of your situation and ultimately, help you answer that question of when you should finally start your adventure.

  • Confidence – Are you confident in your ability to make anything happen? Will you be able to do whatever it takes to find a way to earn money if you need to? Are you the kind of person that won’t let anything stand in the way of your goals?
  • Ideal Savings – Would you be significantly more comfortable with the idea of travel if you had an extra $1000, $2000 or maybe $5000 in your bank account? What is your financial goal? Are you almost there? Is there a chance that you’ll always want more to the point where it stops you from ever leaving?
  • Work Opportunities – What kind of work, if necessary, would you be interested in while traveling? Is that work easy to obtain based on your skills, background, connections, etc. or will it take significant effort and creativity to make it happen? Are there opportunities to earn money in the places you’ll be at about the time your money might start to run out?
  • Travel Style – Do you plan to be a budget traveler? How much comfort will you want? What kind of travel style will suit you best and how much will it cost to maintain that style? Just because ultra-budget travel costs much less doesn’t mean that you’ll enjoy staying in the cheapest hostel dorm rooms, eating very simply and taking the least expensive modes of transportation everywhere. And it’s perfectly ok if that’s not for you. It’s not for everyone. Figure out what is for you and you’ll have a better understanding of how much money you’ll need to make it happen.
  • Sociability – How social are you? Do you need more practice connecting with random people you come across? Or do you already have the ability to start yakking away to those you meet in cafes, in elevators, at the roulette table, on the bus? You don’t have to be a socialite but the more comfortable you are around new people, the easier it will be to interact with other travelers and locals that you encounter during your travels, to make new friends, to discover new opportunities.
  • An Endless Wait – Maybe there will never be a perfect time to break away and start traveling. Will something always come up to keep you at home? What if you wait another 2 years and you end up even more entrenched in your current job and lifestyle that it will be almost impossible to leave, even if you have saved more money? Is that a possibility and if so, how do you feel about that?
  • Torture – Can you wait 2 or 3 or 5 more years or are you so insanely ready to get out into the world that the thought of spending more time at home is starting to affect your life in a real negative way? If you can’t wait to leave, you need to figure things out more quickly before the frustration takes more of a toll. It just may be time to book a flight and jump into the unknown as soon as you can.

Again, it’s not easy. It’s downright hard to figure this out, I know. But you need to start somewhere because nobody else can tell you what to do. Whether you start traveling now, later or even never, it really is all up to you.

Just gather your thoughts, think about the above and make a plan, a plan that really feels good, or as good as possible, given your particular circumstances and goals. Then do everything in your power to stick to that plan no matter what.

I’ll be waiting to hear your story whenever the time is right. See you when you get here!

Have you faced this dilemma? How did you handle it? Are you still trying to figure out when to start traveling?


Posted in Travel Tips & Advice | 52 Comments

Wandering Earl Tours - India

It’s a beautiful morning. I woke up early, went for a walk, ate some fruit and then I even treated my hair to both shampoo and conditioner while in the shower. My hair feels so silky and I’m full of energy, although I did spend five minutes poking my eyeball around, trying to find the contact lens I had just lost inside there, only to discover that I had actually dropped the lens on the floor.

That’s not the first time that’s happened, this month.

Moving on…

Wandering Earl Tours – 2015


To make this morning even better, I’m excited to announce the Wandering Earl Tours that will be on offer for the second half of this year!

As the requests keep coming in for additional tours, my aim with this tour project always remains the same – to create unique, affordable trips that allow those interested to experience exciting destinations that you want to visit, but that you might not want to visit on your own. Or perhaps you just want to travel in a relaxed setting, diving deeper into the heart of a country than you would on a traditional bus tour. Or maybe you just want to jump start your own long-term travels with a small group trip in order to learn the ropes and gain some valuable travel experience. Whatever the reason, these trips are indeed ideal.

For the rest of 2015, I’ve looked at a bunch of options, I tweaked a couple of the existing itineraries and I then added some completely new adventures to the list as well, including the very first Wandering Earl Beach Treat as you’ll see below!

Since November 2012, I’ve now offered 14 tours all over the world and have had over 119 people sign up for these trips. I still can’t believe those numbers. I really, really can’t.

But every time I do think about it, I become even more dedicated to making sure that as many people as possible have an opportunity to enjoy this different kind of travel experience, the kind of travel experience that simply can’t be found on any other kind of tour.

Tours for July – December 2015:

Wandering Earl Retreat (Cocoa Beach, Florida, USA) – July 23rd – 27th
The very first Wandering Earl Beach Retreat!

Wander Around Istanbul – September 21st – 26th
One week, one incredible city

Wander Across India – October 2nd – 18th
There is simply no place like India

Wander Across Indonesia – October 1st – 12th
Bali and the Komodo Islands, anyone?

Wander Across Southeast Asia – November 1st – 15th
New itinerary with a unique focus on beautiful Cambodia

Just click on the links above to read the details about each trip!

Wandering Earl Tours 2015

And as always, these tours include as much as possible, from quality budget accommodation to all transportation to entrance fees and local guides to daily activities to many meals as well. I really want you to be able to just show up and concentrate on making the most out of every single experience, every single day of the adventure, without having to worry about the logistics.

Over on my Wandering Earl Tours page, you can also read feedback from previous trips I’ve offered so that you can get a better idea of what these tours are all about.

I sincerely look forward to hearing from anyone who might be interested in joining any of these trips and of course, if you have any questions at all, just send me an email!


Posted in Wandering Earl Tours | 29 Comments

Romanian visa - flowers

This is a post I wasn’t expecting to write. But I’m writing it because my last post – the one about having my Romanian residency visa refused – certainly went in an unexpected direction.

Let me recap what that post on Tuesday was all about:

I applied for a 1-year temporary residency visa in Romania, the visa was refused and so I left the country.

That was it.

Yet somehow, a controversy was created. The fascinating part is that the controversy was created, not by myself, but by a few angry commenters who seemed to interpret my post in their own interesting way.

I received nasty comments and emails from people who were bringing up points that, not only were incorrect or just absurd, but had absolutely nothing at all to do with what I wrote in the post.

Let’s take a closer look…

Um, I’m Not Upset

At no time whatsoever in that last post did I state that I was upset right now about my Romanian visa situation. Yes, I did mention my initial anger at being told my visa was rejected after I had already been told it was accepted by immigration. But that anger lasted about 5 minutes. After that, I left the immigration office, packed up my stuff and left the country the next day.

In my post, I didn’t complain, I didn’t say it was a crime that I wasn’t given the visa. I don’t expect anyone to be compassionate about this situation. I don’t blame anyone in Romania or the Romanian government. I never talk negatively about Romania as a country or about the immigration authorities or about anyone at all.

I just told the story of what took place.

Things happen, so it goes, no big deal. I’ll survive just fine. I’m really not too upset about it all.

But it’s incredible to see how fired up people get about things I didn’t even say. It’s as if some were waiting for the first opportunity to express their own anger at something, at life, and I apparently, and inadvertently, provided it. And so I think a few things need discussing at this point…and here’s a good place to start.

Break My Legs? Nice.

For some reason, a few of you got the idea (without knowing me or doing any research on my site at all of course), that I just showed up at the Romanian immigration office and said, “I’m a cool blogger, give me residency.

Well, sorry to disappoint you but that’s far from the case. I followed the rules just like anyone. I actually followed exactly what the Romanian immigration authorities told me to do in order to be granted the residency visa. I stood in line for 3 days to apply for my visa, dealing with complete chaos at the immigration office each day. I purchased health insurance, got my notarized documents, had my proof of accommodation, did everything I was told. Oh well.

So, based on all of this, I really can’t understand why one of you would write this comment:

Ohh, a story so sad, I’m very sorry, when back in Bucharest, let me know, we drink a beer together and after I will break your legs, go back where you came from! 😉 That is for your hypocritical story.

As much as that comment made me laugh, it’s a bit, well, absurd? Immature, maybe? I can certainly understand why you didn’t use your real name when submitting that comment. Good call my friend.

Let’s move on to a couple of the other ‘points’ that some upset commenters brought up, often ever-so-colorfully, in response to my last post.

US Immigration

A few people seemed stuck on the US immigration issue, with such comments as:

Honestly, I am really happy that it happened! It is first time in my life I heard an American was refused a visa to stay in Bucharest. It is a good opportunity to remind you that hundreds of thousands of Romanians have been refused a visa by the US Embassy regardless of their status, business, education etc. Do you know the pile of papers one needs to apply for a visa to the US Embassy? Do you know that US Embassy does not speak to you with regard to the refusal reasons as the Romanian immigration officer did with you? Do you know how humiliated Romanians feel because of that?

Sorry to hear about this but don’t forget the fact that for me, a Romanian, getting a US visa means going to an interview, feeling humiliated, gather a ton of dollars to prove I’m not some homeless and more. Which is why US is out of my travel list for good. So I can’t even get to step on American soil for 1 second. Is a great thing, right?

But, why am I so proud, well first of all because as a Romanian I cannot enter USA without a visa and to get that visa I have to humiliate myself: I have to go to Bucharest (6-8h by train) wait in line for another 5-6 hours, pass an interview (which I am not sure I will be able to pass) and so on…This is just to enter the country, eat a big mac and get out of the country, moreover just to pay for my plane ticket I have to work 3 months on minimum wage here in Romania. In other words, the way US gov. treats Romanians, the same way should Romanian government treat you – to humiliate you.

Okay, wait a minute.

First, this comparison is completely irrelevant to my post and to my situation so those things you said above aren’t really things you wanted to say to me. I have nothing to do with US immigration policy (about as much as you have to do with the Romanian immigration policy) so there’s really no sense in blaming me or bringing that into the discussion. But with that said, I think we’re talking about somewhat different scales here as I have a feeling there are slightly more people that US immigration must deal with than the Romanian immigration. There are reasons the US needs to be stricter. Again, I’m not qualified to discuss immigration policy but I think it’s a bit more complex than countries just trying to humiliate other people.

I’m not saying that it’s fair for those who genuinely want to visit and I’m not saying that Romanians want to go and stay there illegally either. But some commenters made it seem as if the US is picking on Romanians specifically. Sorry, but that’s not the case. Most countries in the world have to go through a visa process to get into the US, that’s just how it goes given the circumstances, which are, again, circumstances that Romania doesn’t face in terms of immigration, hence the difference in procedure.

But, and this is purely for discussion sake since it also doesn’t have to do with my last post at all, let’s talk about the “getting a US visa means going to an interview, feeling humiliated, gather a ton of dollars to prove I’m not some homeless and more” and “In other words, the way US gov. treats Romanians, the same way should Romanian government treat you – to humiliate you” part.

I’m sorry, but that’s not true from the information I’ve received. Perhaps some of you have been rejected for a US tourist visa but out of all the Romanians I’ve met who have applied for a US tourist visa (at least 15 people I’ve talked to now that I think about it), they all:

  • 1. Received the 10 year tourist visa
  • 2. Never had to show much paperwork or bank statements or proof of employment even though they brought that paperwork with them (in fact, some of these people were unemployed when they applied)
  • 3. Had an ‘interview’ that consisted of 2 or 3 quick questions at the counter
  • 4. Were not humiliated in any way at all

In fact, while some might complain about waiting for 5-6 hours in line to get your US visa, let me remind you that I waited for three days to apply for my Romanian visa, three crazy days. So that 1 day isn’t so bad considering the amount of applications they process and from what I hear, it’s quite organized inside the US Embassy, something that the Romanian immigration office is not unfortunately.

This whole ‘humiliation’ thing doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. I really can’t find, and believe me I tried to tonight, someone who had a humiliating or extremely difficult experience when trying to get a US tourist visa. I’m sure some of you will say you did, and that is unfortunate for sure, but it doesn’t seem like all Romanians are having a really tough time with this.

Just Because I Have a Blog?

I mean really, you really expected a residency visa just because you promote Romania on a blog?…I really cannot think of a country willing to issue you a residence visa for your motives and purposes.

Actually, I can think of one. It’s called Romania. As a couple of commenters pointed out on the last post, I was already given a Romanian temporary residency visa in 2012 for these very motives and purposes. In fact, I had a meeting back then with the Romanian immigration officials (they have weekly audiences where you can talk to them and ask questions) and they actually told me exactly what I needed to do to get the visa based on being a blogger. I followed their instructions, which involved a contract with a Romanian organization, and I was given the residency visa. So there you go.

No Intention of Paying Taxes

I don’t know why you are surprised that they did not give a visa to someone who has no intention of paying taxes in the country.

Romania has a category of temporary residency visa called “Other” and this is the category that the immigration officers, during my meeting with them, told me to apply for. This category is used for applicants who want to stay in the country but who will not be working or studying there. It’s for, and I quote from the Romanian immigration website, “Other activities which are not contrary to the Romanian laws“.

So, I followed the rules for that category as instructed by Romanian immigration officials, and applied, again, receiving the visa back in 2012 without any issue. Also, during my meeting with officials, it was brought up that I was a good candidate for the temporary residency visa because I didn’t use any government resources and yet I spend a lot of money in the country.

Another Unemployed Man

Also, by writing a blog, you do not provide sufficient evidence that you can sustain yourself in Romania and another unemployed man to sustain is not what we as Romanians desire.

Fair enough, if I was unemployed. However, I am employed (I run two companies) and I earn a good salary and I was actually told, by the immigration officer, when applying for my visa, that American applicants do not need to show proof of income or any bank statements. I had the statements printed out and ready to hand in but the officer handed them back to me when I applied and said they didn’t need them. If they did look at them, I’m quite certain they would have found the numbers to be more than sufficient evidence that I can sustain myself.

Three Final Notes

  • 1. I didn’t approve every comment that I received on my last post. Those with profanity, those that included threats to either myself or others and those that were just extremely rude were deleted.
  • 2. It’s a bit disappointing how people tend to judge so quickly, to form an opinion based on very little information. And sometimes, this comes from the very same people who like to be judged as individuals themselves and not based on stereotypes. Quite a few people were ready to blurt out their conclusion and to be so nasty about it, without ever asking any questions or taking time to learn more about the situation. It’s unfortunate and a good reminder that there are always more angles to every story than what we initially might think.
  • 3. Without a doubt, I still love Romania, I still think it’s a wonderful destination to visit with so much to offer and I still love the people that I’ve met all over the country. Thank you to every one of you who made my time in your country so rewarding and an absolute highlight of my 15 years of travel…I’m sure I shall see you again!

There you have it. That’s my response to the accidental ‘controversy’ created by my last post. And that’s also the last I’ll talk about it since, once again, it was just a story.

It was just a story about what happened to me this month, nothing more.

Posted in Personal Stuff, Romania | 127 Comments

Romania Residency Visa Refused
Peace, I’m out.

That’s exactly what I yelled…okay, maybe I just mumbled it to myself…fine, I only said it in my head…but regardless, it was said as I left Bucharest last week, right after I discovered that my residency visa had suddenly been refused.

The story actually begins back on March 3rd, just after midnight, when I climbed into a van in the Paharganj neighborhood of Delhi, India and went to the airport. My latest Wander Across India Tour had come to an end and so, it was time for me to head to my next destination.

From India I flew to Dubai, changed planes, and continued on to Bucharest, Romania.

Just as the sun was setting the plane touched down at Bucharest’s Otopeni airport and, once inside, I approached the immigration counter as usual. The officer at the counter swiped my passport, looked at his computer screen for a few moments and then said, “You have residency here, where is your residency card?”. To which I replied, “I was told to pick it up in early March so I’m going to pick up the card tomorrow.

All was good. Through immigration I went. It felt great to be back in this city.

Off to Pick Up My Residency Card…

The following afternoon, I was first in line at the main immigration office in the center of Bucharest when the ‘pick up your visa’ counter opened at 1:30pm. I approached the woman behind the counter, handed over my passport and waited while she typed something into her computer. She soon stopped typing, handed back my passport and, to put it simply, told me that my residency visa had been refused.

I explained that it couldn’t be possible since this very same immigration office had told me to pick up my residency card during the first week of March. It also couldn’t be possible because I followed the exact instructions that the immigration office gave me to apply for and obtain this visa.

But, she just repeated that it had been refused and after digging through a box, she handed me a letter. The letter also stated that my visa had been refused and the reason given was “insufficient reason for me to be granted a residency visa”. A bit vague.

Confused was I, especially since they had just let me into the country the day before by noting that, according to the immigration system at the airport, I had a valid residency visa.

So, there I stood. No residency visa.

Not only that, but without the residency visa, that meant I was now in the country illegally since I was well over the “90 days in any 180 day period” that US citizens are allowed to stay. If I didn’t have residency, I had to leave immediately and not come back.

An Explanation Please…

Before leaving the immigration office, however, I needed to have more information and so, with the assistance of a friend who came down to translate, the immigration officer eventually explained the following:

      1. The decision to refuse my visa was made by a team of high ranking immigration officers that only review certain types of visa applications.
      2. Their reasoning was that, since I was trying to get the residency visa based on my blog and the fact that, by writing about my experiences in the country I would help promote Romania, why couldn’t I just promote Romania from outside the country? Why did I have to actually be in the country to write about it?
      3. If Romania needed a blogger to promote their country, they could just go to the unemployment office in Bucharest and find a blogger there who would be willing to write about it.

That’s why they refused my visa apparently. Needless to say, I left the immigration office with my head down.

Off to Italy…

Luckily, I already had a 6-day trip to Italy planned starting the next day and so, after an evening of unexpectedly having to pack up all of my stuff and mentally preparing myself to leave Romania for much longer than anticipated, I flew to Bologna the next morning at 6:50am. Of course, that was after spending a few minutes at airport immigration explaining my whole story so that they wouldn’t fine me for overstaying my tourist visa. In the end, they let me go since they were the ones that let me into the country in the first place, but they did inform me that I would not be allowed back in for at least 3 months.

I then spent 6 days in Italy – Bologna, Florence and Venice – and despite running on fumes at this point, I managed to have a most excellent time.

Bologna, Italy

As that Italy experience came to an end, though, I realized that I needed a plan, but I wasn’t able to think too clearly. So, out of frustration and sheer exhaustion from the previous week’s events, I booked a flight back to the US to visit some family.

Now I’m in Florida.

It’s all a bit of a blur at this point.

India, Dubai, Bucharest, losing my residency, packing up all my stuff, Bologna, Florence, Venice, a short flight to Frankfurt and then a long flight to Miami.

10 Thoughts From the Past 10 Days

What I do know is that ever since I left Delhi just 10 days ago, a lot has been going through my mind. Here’s some of those thoughts:

      1. It’s all about human beings. I’ll repeat it a million times. The main reason I keep on traveling is not because of the sights I see, but because of the people I meet and the interactions we share. When I left for the airport just after midnight back in Delhi, I was expecting there to be two people in that van, myself and one other person from the group whose flight left at a similar time to mine. However, in a never-before-seen act of tour group solidarity, that van was full! The three remaining people from my group, whose flights home weren’t for another day or two, as well as my good Indian friend, Ajay, who helps me organize these tours, all piled into the van as well. Why? They all wanted to spend as much time together as a group as possible, so why say goodbye at the hotel when we could gain another 45 minutes of hanging out during the ride to the airport? I absolutely loved it. How sweet is that? We had a blast on the ride to the airport and waited until we were right there in front of the airport entrance to say farewell. This is what travel is all about.

Wander Across India group

      2. India baffles me. Every time I’m about to depart India, I feel so ready to leave that land, but about 48 hours later, I already start to miss it dearly again and start looking forward to my next visit. No other country has this effect on me.
      3. Dubai airport is the most incredible location for people watching. While I’m not a huge fan of Dubai itself, its airport is the most diverse place on earth, in my experience, by a long shot. In the two and a half hours I spent there a week and a half ago, there was not a single region of the world that was not represented in the terminal and I was only in the relatively small Terminal 2, which is solely for the budget airline FlyDubai. I sat at a cafe and just watched and watched and watched the people all around me. Loved it.
      4. Anger never helps. Getting frustrated and angry at things you can’t control doesn’t do any good. I’ll admit, I got quite angry when I was told that my residency visa was refused and even though the immigration officer spoke no English, I started arguing anyway (my basic Romanian isn’t good enough to argue in). It was useless of course at that point. It only made me more upset, it made the immigration officer angry and it didn’t help the situation in any way whatsoever.
      5. Wizz Air is not my favorite airline. I’ve now flown this budget airline twice and while their fares can be absurdly low, I really don’t understand why they, like other budget airlines in Europe, refuse to give seat assignments. There is always chaos at the gate as everyone crowds around and fights to get on the plane as quickly as possible and then everyone continues battling each other once on board as they try to get a decent seat. Then, the plane takes off with a group of angry, frustrated people when a simple organizational system at the gate or seat assignments would solve this immediately.
      6. Bologna has the oldest continuously operating university in the world. Never knew that. It was founded in 1088 AD. And walking around this university, with its endless number of majestically historic buildings, as well as an air of education and youth seeping out of the ancient walls, was something special.
      7. Venice, wow! I loved Venice, Italy and I wasn’t expecting that. I really hope I have a chance to spend some significant time there at some point as my short visit wasn’t enough at all. Wandering the tiny lanes in all of the different neighborhoods is something I could do for weeks on end. One of the most surprising destinations of all my travels.

Venice, Italy

      8. Life can really, really, really surprise you. Just when I thought nothing could surprise me, being told I didn’t have the residency visa and then suddenly having to change my plans in less than 24 hours, completely caught me off guard. Definitely wasn’t expecting that at all. Never imagined this would happen.
      9. There’s nothing wrong with surprises. Sometimes our lives need to be shaken up a bit and this experience certainly did that for me. I’m now in a different part of the world with a different mind frame than I was expecting a week ago. Time for some thinking, perhaps some new plans, and maybe even a new direction in life. Who knows where this one surprise will take me? That’s kind of exciting!
      10. I guess I need a new home base.

How’s your week going? Any visa issues you’ve experienced during your travels or do you have any visa questions?


Posted in Personal Stuff, Romania | 120 Comments

Important Travel Rule
It was simply stunning.

The sun was rising over the holy Ganges River, with the gentle foothills of the Himalayas off in the distance, the town slowly awakening into a soft pink glow. The atmosphere so peaceful, so serene.

I stood there enjoying this sunrise for quite some time, watching the monkeys hop around the rooftops in front of me, smiling at the first sounds of chanting and music flowing out of the ashrams nearby.

I could not have been happier.

About fifteen minutes prior to this, I had been sound asleep in my room four floors below. I was sharing that room with a female traveler I had met the day before, having decided to split the cost of accommodation to save money. The budget guesthouse was nothing special but the bed was actually more comfortable than most, allowing me to sleep quite well.

Until I suddenly awoke at 5:45am. When I opened my eyes at that time, I knew that something was wrong. My stomach was in such pain, with intense cramps, and I was starting to sweat.

I realized that I needed to get to the toilet quickly.

It happens, especially when you’re willing to eat anything while traveling and from anywhere.

Naturally, I could have used the squat toilet in the bathroom attached to my room, but after looking at my travel companion still sound asleep on the bed, and understanding very well what was about to happen, the thought of waking her up with my stomach issues was not something I wanted to turn into reality.

I decided to look for a public bathroom in the guesthouse instead.

With little time to spare, I grabbed my roll of toilet paper, left the room and went to the reception area, clutching my stomach, but there was no toilet to be found. I checked the small restaurant off to the side of the ‘lobby’, but no toilet to be found there either. And since none of the guesthouse staff were awake yet, I had no choice but to continue searching each floor of the building for a toilet, holding on as best I could, quite sure that I wasn’t going to make it much longer.

Again, it happens.

A few minutes later, after having checked all four floors, and unable to hold on any more, I reached the semi-open rooftop. I quickly checked two doors up there but they were locked.

I was drenched in sweat by this point, with my stomach in great pain and so, thinking I had no other option, I started to unbutton and unzip my shorts right then and there.

And that’s exactly when I spotted a large potted plant in one corner of the rooftop.

Perfect. I ran over, down went my shorts and I sat right on the ledge of that deep pot, with my rear end hovering over the plant itself.

What relief, a few minutes of such relief.

After the issue eventually ran its course and it all came to an end, my mind started racing. What if I got caught? What if my travel companion figured out what I did? Did I really just do this? That’s when it suddenly hit me that I was on a rooftop and people on other rooftops next door, if there was anyone awake, could probably see me.

I really hadn’t been paying attention to anything other than my stomach and the pot.

So, while still balanced over that plant, I looked up. I lifted my eyes to the world around me, hoping nobody was staring back in disgust.

Again, I just looked up.

And that’s when I was treated to one of the most beautiful and memorable sunrise experiences I’ve ever had. I remember saying to myself, “Wow”, over and over again, completely fascinated by the sudden transformation of this town from a clump of semi-darkness to a fairy tale setting covered in such magical light. With my shorts still down by my knees, I could not believe how this early morning had just taken such a turn for the better.

Of course, I then saw a woman sweeping on a nearby rooftop and it reminded me that I should probably put my shorts back on and get off of this plant. So I cleaned myself up as best I could, pulled up those shorts and then I walked over to the railing that surrounded the rooftop.

Then I just leaned there for a while, a long while, staying focused on the brilliant experience, waving to the woman on the rooftop and receiving a big smile in return, just soaking it all in.

And I can remember every moment of that sunrise so well, even today, some 10 years later.

The most important travel rule?

LOOK UP.

We should always look up at the world around us. We’ll miss too much if we don’t. And by ‘look up’, I mean really try to notice as many things and as many people as we can, no matter where we are or what we’re doing.

When we’re walking down the street, sitting in a restaurant, waiting at the bus station…look up. When we’re feeling frustrated or lonely, when we’re lost and unsure what to do or where to go…look up.

If we always remember to just look up, to look all around, to notice what is in front of us, what is off to the side, what is off in the distance, everything that makes travel so great will multiply right before our eyes.

When we look up, we see the store fronts, the architecture, the bicyclists, the fruit stalls, the political posters, the flower shops, the long lines at the pharmacies, the graffiti, the snacks people eat, the local fashion, the pace of life.

We see the smiling faces, the curious people, the potential for connection with those around us. We can’t meet many people by looking down.

By noticing everything around us, we gain a deeper understanding of every destination we visit. And at times, often when we least expect it of course, we might even see something so interesting or breathtaking or perhaps life-changing, that the experience will stay with us forever.

Kind of like my surreal sunrise in Rishikesh.

So let’s look up, always look up. Yes, even when we’re on the toilet, or a potted plant if that’s all we can find.

Have you had a memorable experience as a result of suddenly paying attention to everything around you? Could be while traveling, could be while at home?


Posted in Perspectives, Travel Tips & Advice | 53 Comments

Cant Afford to Fail
Four months ago, I received an email from a customer who had purchased one of the eBooks that I have written. The email said…

I can’t download your eBook. Every time I go to the download page, I get a message stating that you haven’t been notified of my payment yet and to check back later. But my payment already went through.

That’s weird, I thought. I checked the system and the payment had indeed gone through. This had never happened before. I concluded that it must be a fluke. So I just emailed the customer directly with the eBook as an attachment. Done.

Or so I assumed.

Later that day, I received another email from a new customer who couldn’t access the eBook. The next day, yet another one. And before I knew it, every single customer who was purchasing this particular eBook, was suddenly not able to download it for some reason.

I had a problem that needed fixing.

For one week straight, I tried to use all of my relevant knowledge to figure things out but I made no progress. I emailed every online service that was connected to my product and I asked for assistance, but nobody had any idea what was wrong. I tried again for another week, spending 4-5 hours every single day on the issue.

Then I enlisted the help of two friends who are experts in solving a variety of digital product problems…but even they, after two weeks of trying, could not come up with any solution either.

So, I just left it. A customer would purchase my eBook, they wouldn’t be able to download it, they’d email me and I’d email them back with the product as an attachment. This went on for three months. Every ten days or so, I would spend a full 7 or 8 hours trying to see if I could come up with a fix but, of course, I never could figure out what was happening.

Flying to Goa

Last week, I suddenly decided to fly from Bucharest to Goa, India, partly because of the harsh Romanian winter and partly because of the very cheap airfare that I found. I boarded my first flight, from Bucharest to Dubai, and I was happy to see that the plane was empty. I had a nice sleep the entire way as a result, all stretched out over three seats.

Upon arrival at the Dubai airport, I entered the terminal building, went to the food court to eat a sandwich for dinner and then sat down at a cafe for a coffee.

When I received my coffee, I had fifteen minutes before my next flight – Dubai to Goa via Mumbai – would start boarding. So I pulled out my laptop to quickly check my emails.

Boom.

The first email I noticed was from the company that acts as the payment processor and marketplace for the eBook I was having trouble with. It was a short email but by the time I finished reading it, my face was burning slightly and it felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach.

The email read, “It has come to our attention that customers are unable to download your eBook once they purchase it. Please fix this issue within the next 12 hours or we will remove your product from our site and it can not be sold through us again.

Oh my.

By the time I would reach Goa, take the 1.5 hour taxi ride to Palolem Beach, check in to a beach hut and try to find strong enough internet…and then somehow fix this problem that neither I, nor anyone else, could fix over the previous four months…more than 12 hours would most certainly pass.

That meant that I had 14 minutes to fix this issue or else I would lose this eBook. Without this particular company, I would lose a great deal of the marketing that has made this eBook popular. And if that were to happen, sales would be reduced drastically and as a result, any income earned from it as well. Just like that.

Now Boarding Flight AI894

I’ll be damned.

It took me exactly four minutes to fix the problem. I then made two test sales and everything worked perfectly.

I closed my laptop, enjoyed the final half of my coffee, shook my head in disbelief for a few minutes and walked to my gate, just in time to board the flight to India.

The Most Reliable Way to Succeed

That’s pretty much how life works. We can always get things done.

But when our backs are not up against the wall, when we don’t have a dire need to make something happen, when it’s not a now or never situation, it’s difficult to summon up the determination and effort we really need to advance towards a particular goal.

We might think we’re putting in the effort needed, but we’re not.

I thought I was doing everything I could to try and fix the problem above over the course of four months, but clearly I wasn’t. When I really needed to fix it, when I had no other choice but to fix it, when I could not afford to fail, I figured out the issue and fixed it…in four minutes.

This is how it goes for travel too. If we want to travel, in whatever form, and we struggle to get there, it might be because we’re too comfortable, we’re not really in a situation that leaves us no choice but to make it happen.

When I decided that I wanted to travel indefinitely back in 1999, I had less than $1500 USD to my name. I just made the decision while traveling in Southeast Asia but I didn’t have a plan at all. And as the days passed, I quickly realized that it was all up to me.

My money would run out soon and if I wanted to achieve this goal of long-term travel, I had to start achieving it, not in three months, not in one month…right now.

I had no other choice. Again, I could not afford to fail.

I talked to everyone I met, brainstormed like crazy and soon found a way to make a little money to keep me going until the next step, a way to make money that I never even knew existed until I had no choice but to find a way…and that’s pretty much how these 15 years of travel have happened. It’s gotten much easier over the years of course, but it’s all possible because I was left with no other option in the beginning.

And without that kind of pressure, I don’t know about you, but I tend to get lazy, I procrastinate, I convince myself that things aren’t possible. Time drags on, I don’t make progress, I get frustrated, and often times, I just give up.

It’s the determination that makes the difference and for most human beings, the most certain way to summon up the amount of determination required to achieve something, is to have no other choice but to succeed. I think it’s also why humans can suddenly lift cars to free someone trapped underneath or perform other amazing feats in intense situations that we ordinarily wouldn’t expect someone to be able to perform.

They have no other choice.

Were you ever in a similar situation? Did you achieve something when you had no other option?

Is there something you’re struggling to achieve these days?

Solution: For those interested, the problem was quite simple. I use a website called ejunkie.com that provides customers with the download link for the eBook. And in my ejunkie control panel, I had entered the link to my download page in the wrong section, something that I guess can be easy to do given how confusing the ejunkie control panel can be. The wording in the two sections is so similar that I can see how nobody would figure it out. But it had been working perfectly before so I’m not sure how the link suddenly ended up in the wrong spot but at least it’s fixed now!


Posted in Perspectives | 46 Comments

Cheapest Month to Travel

It all started last Wednesday when, during an afternoon break from doing some work, I decided to go online and look up random airfares from Bucharest. Always a sucker for the beach, the first destination I looked up was Goa, India.

And the first airfare I found was $340 USD (one-way) with FlyDubai and Air India. I suddenly got excited.

I then decided to continue searching other destinations. Within an hour, I had found airfares to places such as Tbilisi, Georgia ($178 USD) and Male, Maldives ($400 USD) and Warsaw, Poland ($101 USD) and Hong Kong ($505 USD) and Fethiye, Turkey ($115 USD) and Tel Aviv, Israel ($145 USD) and Brunei ($575 USD) and plenty of others, that were, in my opinion and experience, remarkable deals.

Naturally, it got me even more excited.

It wasn’t my plan at all to travel anywhere in January but once the idea creeped into my head during this airfare searching session, I knew it would be difficult to just forget about it.

Then, that evening, I went outside to grab some dinner and despite wearing my warm gloves, I couldn’t feel my fingers after a few minutes because of the -16C (3F) temperature here in Bucharest. By the time I reached the store, whatever had been dribbling out of my nose had turned to solid ice, my face was partially numb and my toes were nearly frozen (the toes problem is admittedly my fault since I’m quite bad at staying warm in winter).

Beach, anyone?

Upon returning to my apartment, I felt as if I had no choice but to continue the airfare search and because I was so intrigued by what I was finding, I also started looking at flights from other locations, simply out of curiosity.

The airfares I soon found would make anyone with even the slightest interest in travel want to purchase a ticket, pack their bags, hand their cat off to their neighbor and get on that plane immediately.

January sure seems like the cheapest month to travel. I never knew.

– NYC to Oslo for $250 USD
– Chicago to Istanbul for $460
– London to Bangkok for $560
– Los Angeles to Medellin for $375
– Paris to Athens for $205

Yes, those are for roundtrip tickets (all found on JetRadar.com and Skyscanner.com). It really can’t get much cheaper.

Of course, I know that last minute travel is not feasible for everyone and to take advantage of some of these fares, you really need to be flexible and ready to leave, well, very soon. But I know that some of you are looking for such a random getaway, some of you have been waiting for the perfect deal to get started, some just want to have a unique international adventure for as little money as possible.

Just think, by next week you could be sitting in a completely different destination, perhaps in Asia or Latin America or Europe. Crazy, right?

I’m not saying you should quit school or quit your job or make some radical decision to leave your current life behind. Nothing like that at all.

All I’m saying is that there are opportunities out there. Perhaps January doesn’t work out for you. Maybe February or May or September will. Keep your eyes open, sit down at your computer from time to time and start typing in random destinations. You never know what airfares you’ll find and one day you just might find the fare that makes sense, the one fare that turns your desire to travel, whether for the first time or for the hundredth time, into reality.

Modern Travel is Simply Amazing

This concept of modern travel still messes with my head. I’ve been traveling for 15 years but when I think about the fact that today I am writing this post from a train in Romania and in two days I could be, well, somewhere else on the planet, maybe India, maybe Italy, maybe Hong Kong, I am just blown away.

Is it not incredible that we can get to the other side of the world for $500 and in less than 24 hours?

And who says you need to go to the other side of the world. Here in Europe, you can bounce over to another country for the cost of a movie ticket.

In my random airfare searches the past few days, I’ve found a flight from Craiova, Romania to Bologna, Italy for $12 USD each way, including all fees. Not bad for a 2 hour flight to a different country. There are flights from Frankfurt, Germany to Barcelona, Spain for $100 roundtrip and flights from Sofia, Bulgaria to Rome, Italy for $110 roundtrip.

Within one country, airfares also border on the absurd at the moment. Flights within Turkey are as low as $20 USD with Pegasus Airlines, within India, you can fly from one corner of the country to another for less than $50 bucks on several airlines. Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Thailand on Bangkok Airways will cost you $51 USD. Nuts.

I need to stop looking up flights.

On another note, today was a bit of a tease. The temperatures here in Romania shot up a good amount and I would almost venture to say that it was a ‘warm’ day. The snow and ice are melting, I could walk around without my winter hat on my noggin and my toes were wiggling around with joy all day.

But man, I keep coming back to one thing – $340 for a ticket to Goa, and I could be there tomorrow, in a nice little hut right on the beach.

What would you do?

Have you found any unbeatable deals lately?

Anyone want to meet in Goa?


Posted in Travel Costs, Travel Tips & Advice | 59 Comments

Confused About Life
Yes, I’m confused about life just like everyone else. I get depressed, I struggle and I feel lost too, more often than you probably would imagine.

In fact, back in August of this year, I had a bit of a breakdown. That might be an understatement. It was actually quite a significant breakdown.

Despite having been traveling for 15 years, despite doing things like spending time in France, Romania, Singapore, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Turkey and more during the first half of this year…when August came around, nothing made sense to me.

I was placing intense personal pressure on myself, I had no answers to anything and every day I woke up with a ‘holy-crap-I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing’ kind of confusion.

And then, while in Bali, I got dengue fever as an added bonus. After Bali, things didn’t get much better and following a couple of more unfortunate incidents that occurred, I was officially more confused, frustrated and distraught than I had been in a long, long time.

When this happened, I just stopped what I was doing. I stopped everything. I flew back to Florida in August, where my family lives, and I stayed there. I could barely sleep at the time so I would just get out of bed at around 5:00am each day and go for a walk. Then I would sit around for hours on end doing nothing at all. Sometimes, when motivation struck for a few moments, I would try to think about every aspect of my life hoping to find some kind of clarity but that clarity never came.

The days passed and I felt as if I was going absolutely nowhere, making no progress at all, still feeling as completely confused about life as ever.

The Burrito

One day, after three weeks of this sitting around doing nothing, I finally made an important realization, interestingly enough, while eating a burrito.

I had gotten the urge to drive over to a small burrito shop, one that I eat at every time I’m visiting family in Florida. I ordered the same burrito I always order, filled my glass with the same sweet iced tea that I always fill my glass with and took a seat at the same table I always try to sit at. The main difference this time was that I was still fighting back tears every few minutes, something that would just hit me out of nowhere during this period of depression, and I wasn’t as eager, given my loss of appetite, to eat my burrito.

While waiting to see if I’d be able to actually eat, I started looking around the room, observing the other twenty or so diners in the restaurant. There were families, groups of friends, pairs of co-workers and a handful of other people eating alone just like me. I watched them all for around ten minutes, looking at their faces and observing their behavior and trying to figure out whatever I could about their lives.

And then I suddenly…burst out laughing. Before I knew it, I couldn’t stop laughing and believe me I tried. I stared out the window, bit my lip, pinched my thigh, closed my eyes and tried all sorts of ideas without any success.

Why was I laughing?

At that very moment, I realized that the ‘answer’ I had been looking for was so simple that I had no choice but to laugh at my inability to have seen it earlier.

All along I thought I was looking for some kind of magical clarity. I thought I needed to find a way to get rid of the confusion and feeling of being extremely lost.

But as I looked around me in that burrito shop, I started to understand that every single human being feels confused and lost as well, over and over again throughout life. Nobody is exempt from these feelings, it’s all a part of the human journey.

So, being confused and lost is not so important, not such a big deal.

Havana Palolem, Goa

This Is The Important Thing…

What’s important is having confidence in who we are as an individual as we face life’s ups and downs. And the only way to be confident in ourselves is to make sure we know exactly what kind of person we want to be and to then do whatever it takes to ensure we act and behave accordingly.

We need to be our true self at all times.

In my case, while in that burrito shop, I realized that I had lost all of my confidence because I no longer knew who I was.

Somehow along this crazy traveling adventure of mine, my life became so scattered that I forgot some of my principles, I forgot some of my strongest beliefs and I definitely forgot about staying true to myself. I was trying to live up to one image one day and another image the next, never even knowing myself which Earl, or Derek, should show up or would show up, when all along I should have just been the one and only ‘me’.

As soon as I understood that getting back on track simply required me to re-focus on the kind of person I want to be and to then make sure I am always that person, my full appetite returned and I ate that burrito ever so quickly.

My motivation to get up and out of the house came right back, my desire to work towards my goals reappeared and most importantly, I felt happier and more confident than I could remember feeling for a very long time.

Don’t Worry, You’ll Be Okay

Let me say this….don’t worry about the confusion you are feeling. Don’t worry about feeling lost and having no idea what to do in life.

Don’t worry if you wanted to travel in 2014 and you didn’t. Maybe you traveled less than you had wanted or your plans didn’t go as expected. Maybe you wanted to quit your job and head in a new direction but you weren’t sure what to do or maybe you couldn’t decide between traveling or going to school. Perhaps you just don’t know how to take the first step towards your goals and you’re worried that you’ll never achieve what you really want to achieve in the end. Again, don’t worry about these things.

Worry about who you are right now instead. That’s where it starts.

Understand what kind of person you want to be as you move through this world, what you believe in, how you want to treat others and what is important to you. Once you figure this out, the rest will come and you’ll be able to handle any periods of confusion, fear, uncertainty or whatever you must face along the way.

The thing is, I’ve always believed that a happy, confident me is in a far better position to achieve my goals than an unhappy, unconfident me. It just turns out that I forgot that for a while this year and it knocked me way off course.

Luckily, I’ve remembered it again.

Final Words About Happiness and Burritos

As part of my final post of this year, I wanted to share this experience above so that you can also go into 2015, not just with another list of things you want to achieve, but with a new confidence and happiness – a result of staying true to yourself at all times – that will help you actually achieve whatever it is you set your mind to.

I don’t want you to be sitting in a burrito shop back home, unable to eat, unsure of how to deal with life and wondering how you’ll ever find your way again.

I’d rather meet you in a burrito shop somewhere out here in the world, swap travel stories and get to know you, the real you, the person you truly want to be.

Who’s ready to meet?

I sincerely thank you for being a part of this blog in 2014, for reading this ramble and my countless others as I discuss what it’s like, and what I learn, from living a life of constant travel.

Without you, this blog does not exist and that’s something I’ll never forget.

With much love,
Earl


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