Traveling in Kyrgyzstan - Jeti Oguz shepherd

You know what happens. You’re wandering around some region of the world, happily backpacking along, visiting endless destinations, meeting endless people, enjoying endless activities.

And then one day, in the midst of all your adventures, you suddenly wake up in a new land. You vaguely remember getting on a bus or a plane but the details are a little fuzzy, perhaps due to the exhaustion of traveling around nonstop for a while. You sort of recall checking into a hostel or guesthouse the night before but you’re completely unsure of what city it was located in or with what currency you paid for your room. You hear different languages outside but you’re not familiar with any of them. You really have no idea where you are.

Unsure if this is a dream or not, you stand up, put on some clothes and walk outside, determined to figure out where on this planet you have landed.

I know. I’ve been there too. Travel can get confusing at times.

And in case this does happen to you at some point, you might want to browse through the following checklist so that you’ll at least know if this unfamiliar country where you suddenly found yourself happens to be a small, mountainous Central Asian nation.

Are You Traveling In Kyrgyzstan?

This is exactly how you can tell…

Once you walk outside, what language do you hear? Perhaps some Russian, maybe some Turkish-sounding words? What do you see? A mix of ethnicities everywhere you look?

Are people playing ping-pong all over the place? Seriously, are there ping-pong tables set up in parks and on sidewalks, with people playing all the time, morning, afternoon and evening?

Speaking of sidewalks, are there punching machines set up every now and then where you can pay a small amount of money to see how hard you can punch the machine?

Are you smiling all the time in amazement that the entire country seems to be filled with such genuinely warm and friendly people?

Girl in Karakol

Driver to Altyn Arashan

Girl in Osh

And are an incredible number of people eating ice cream while walking down the street, regardless of the time of day?

Are you quickly learning Russian and how to read Cyrillic simply because you have no other choice?

Jeti Oguz Sign

Do you run into the exact same foreigner a dozen times while you wander the streets as you realize that there just aren’t too many foreigners here at all?

Are people living in yurts over in the mountains and valleys? Is there an odd three-level yurt/museum in the center of town for you to visit?

Three-level Yurt in Osh

When you take a short rest on a park bench, do university students approach you all the time, asking ever so politely if they can sit next to you and practice their English for a few minutes?

Do some of them invite you to their home for a meal and to meet their family? Do some offer to help you find whatever you may need to find in town and to actually walk you there?

As you continue, does it seem that there are far more females out and about than males? But are the men wearing what appears to be some kind of traditional, and quite tall, felt hats?

Traditional Hat

Are hundreds of over-crowded mashrutkas (mini-buses) plowing through the streets every which way, bringing people wherever they may need to go?

Do you come across sprawling outdoor markets selling all kinds of goods, markets in which you can get lost for hours while having a great time browsing what’s on offer and communicating with the vendors?

Osh Bazaar in Bishkek

Does it seem that there are more restaurants than people?

And once lunch time arrives, does any of the following occur:

  • the waitress brings the menu and then immediately waits at your table ready to take your order despite the fact that you are sweating profusely as you attempt to pronounce each Cyrillic letter like a 2-year old in order to form words that you probably won’t understand anyway but that you hope will give you some kind of clue as to what dish is being described?
  • you ask for vegetarian food and you receive a blank stare, followed by a most absolute “Nyet!”?
  • you ask for chicken, pointing to the photo of the chicken dish on the wall, and you receive a blank stare, followed by a most absolute, “Nyet!”?
  • the waitress laughs at you, then smiles, then asks if you speak Russian and when you say “Nyet!”, she continues to explain the menu to you in Russian?
  • you ask, in broken Russian, if this salad has meat and the waitress says, “Nyet!”?
  • you somehow order a salad and a soup, with some bread and tea and the waitress smiles, then walks away as you feel quite proud of yourself at having ordered successfully?
  • a few minutes later, does a big bowl of noodles mixed with a lot of greasy meat and a salad with a few tomatoes, cucumbers and plenty of more meat arrive at your table?
  • do you finally recognize the Russian words for carrot salad on the menu and order one of those too?
  • when it arrives, do you say ‘Spasibo!’ (thank you) as the waitress smiles and then you shake your head as you eat carrots and tea, again?

Lagman

Carrot Salad

Does every interaction you have with every single person you come across end with a smile, handshake, hug or laughter?

Can you see the occasional man on horseback riding through town, maybe rounding up some cattle, or just traveling to his next destination?

Is vodka being sold absolutely everywhere?

Do the streets sometimes seem eerily empty and quiet, even when you appear to be in a big city?

Central Bishkek

When your feet are too tired and you need a ride, are you able to just stick your hand out until the next car that passes by picks you up and then keeps driving, without anything being asked or a single word being exchanged, until you tell them to stop and let you out, at which point you’re requested to hand over a small amount of money for the lift?

Can you see towering snow-covered mountains everywhere? Are there so many spectacular views everywhere you stand that on the few occasions that you are not some place that offers another stunning view of nature, you get disappointed? Are you quickly getting spoiled by the endless mountains, lakes, rivers, valleys and canyons all over the place?

Mountains & Lake on the way to Jalal-abad

Jeti Oguz, Kyrgyzstan (hiking)

Have you discovered that everyone seems quite honest and that nobody has tried to charge you extra for anything, not for food nor transportation nor anything else that you’ve had to purchase?

Do you notice that some cars have the steering wheel on the left and others have it on the right? Do you see brand new Japanese and American cars alongside twenty-year old Audis and Mercedes-Benz, alongside forty-year old Russian Ladas?

Lada

Are you finding it difficult to decide how to spend your time between all of the activities available (hiking, hot springs, horseback riding, camping, biking, rafting, etc.) and just walking around, an activity that seems to almost always lead to the most rewarding moments of them all?

Altyn Arashan, Kyrgyzstan

And every time you get into a taxi and the driver asks where you are from (Otkuda?), and he figures out you speak English, does he immediately pull over to the side of the road and phone everyone in his family and circle of friends until he finds someone who can speak some English so that you can talk to them and have a short conversation where you say “Hello” and the person on the other end of the line tells you to call them at anytime if you ever have any problems while in the country and then you all laugh for a while?

Taxi Driver in Bishkek

When you take a shared taxi to a different part of the country, and the other passengers in that shared taxi find out you are a tourist and that you, once again, speak English, do they call every single person they know to tell them about the foreigner in their taxi before passing the phone to you so that you can have a similar conversation as the above? Does everyone laugh and smile and shake hands and hug at the end?

Do you constantly feel high on life, high from the surreal views, high from the ridiculously long stream of positive interactions with the people you come across, high from the laid-back atmosphere and high from the sense that you’ve arrived in a land that you will never forget?

And do you have that rare feeling that, if all your travels came to an end this very moment, you could stop traveling with a huge smile on your face, fully satisfied with the experiences you’ve had and the lessons you’ve learned and how they have come together to change your life and your ideas about the world forever?

If you answer yes to these questions, my friend, worry no more. You are traveling in Kyrgyzstan, beautiful Kyrgyzstan.

Ready to travel here? Anything to add if you have been here already? Any questions about traveling in Kyrgyzstan?


Posted in Kyrgyzstan | 14 Comments

Tamga, Kyrgyzstan
This is a post about how the world is never as it seems, about how our travels can so often surprise us, about how we never know what we’ll find or who we’ll meet at any given time. And it is also a post about why that ‘unknown’ is, in my opinion, the best travel companion any of us could ever ask for.

There I stood. On a street. A quiet street. No vehicles, no people, not even any animals wandering around.

It had been almost thirty minutes since the mashrukta, the local style of mini-bus, had dropped me off in the center of Tamga, Kyrgyzstan, a small village located some 1700 meters (5600 feet) above sea level between the towering Tian-Shan Mountain Range and the beautiful alpine lake of Issky-Kul. And I wasn’t making any progress at all in terms of finding accommodation for the night. I had arrived without a plan and had only come to Tamga after meeting a local man in Karakol, a town situated 90 kilometers away, who recommended I pay this village a visit.

And now, here was I, just me and my stuff, looking all around and finding absolutely nothing, for quite some time. Eventually, I reached the conclusion that, “There’s nothing to do in this village. I’m ready to leave and find someplace ‘better’.” So I grabbed my bag and started walking towards the dusty patch of ground near the only intersection in the village, hoping to find some vehicle that would give me a lift out to the main road so that I could catch a bus to a bigger town further along the lake.

As I walked along, however, I soon noticed a tiny concrete building, more like a room, on my left with a sign that read “Beauty Salon” in both Russian and English. And out of nowhere I decided to go inside, ever-so-curious about the local price for a pedicure and for a trim of my afro. Actually, I figured that going inside the beauty salon would be my one last effort to find a place a stay and upon greeting the woman sitting at the table, I simply shrugged my shoulders and said, in English, “Guesthouse?”. Expecting her not to understand, quite surprised was I when she immediately walked over to a shelf, grabbed a business card and handed it to me.

It was a business card for the Askar & Tamara Guesthouse right there in Tamga. I called the number on the card, an English-speaking woman answered the phone and before I even had time to realize what was happening, a 10-year old Russian girl on a bicycle was leading me through the village straight to the guesthouse.

We reached the front door and out walked Tamara, the owner, a 60-ish year old Kyrgyz woman with a huge smile on her face. She extended her hand, introduced herself and I kid you not when I say that in an instant, Tamga went from being a town I could definitely live without spending more than five minutes in, to the town that will probably be the highlight of my visit to Kyrgyzstan.

That’s how travel works, and I love it. I love the ups and, yes, I even love the downs. I love the disappointments and the sudden, brilliant surprises that often soon follow. And I love the fascinating people that I meet when I least expect it as well.

A Glimpse Of Tamga, Kyrgyzstan

Let me show you what Tamga looks like.

Here’s the main street…The Main Street in Tamga

Here’s the only restaurant…Restaurant in Tamga

And finally, the only intersection…Intersection in Tamga

Perhaps you can understand why, after only thirty minutes in this eerily quiet village, I was ready to leave. I have a feeling that many travelers would gladly give Tamga a miss based upon first impressions. But had I left town so quickly, never would I have discovered what lies behind Tamga’s empty streets, behind its mix of wooden village homes and handful of Communist apartment blocks, behind the few shops, the empty bazaar, the donkeys hiding behind trees and the occasional Kyrgyz man on horseback riding through town. Just like with any city, town or village in the world, behind whatever leads us to form our initial impression of a place, lies the opportunity to have an unforgettable travel experience. And here in Tamga, this village in the middle of nowhere, in a country that is already quite in the middle of nowhere as a whole, an unforgettable travel experience certainly did unfold.

And again, it all began with Tamara and her guesthouse.

Tamara - Tamga

Askar & Tamara Guesthouse, Tamga

Tamara, along with her husband Askar, owns the kind of guesthouse that you don’t ever want to leave. It’s simple, the rooms are basic and comfortable, but the conversations with Tamara that take place all the time is what makes this place so unique. She speaks excellent English, she loves to talk about all aspects of Kyrgyzstan, the world and life in general, she is very outspoken, her laughter and smile are incredibly infectious, she takes extreme pleasure in cooking delicious local dishes for her guests to enjoy and she goes out of her way to ensure that one’s time in Tamga is as rewarding as possible.

I think I spent half of the three days I stayed in Tamga speaking with her, learning about her country, hearing about the trip to America that she went on a couple of years ago after winning a competition, exchanging ideas about politics, religion and travel, and on and on. I spoke more with her than with any other Kyrgyz person on this trip and I could have talked with her for a lot longer if I had the time.

A Beautiful Lake, Colorful Canyon, A Quiet Walk & Some Great Food

On my first day in the village, after expressing an interest in heading down to the shore of the Issyk-Kul Lake, Tamara walked me over to the beginning of a path near her guesthouse and, with that standard smile on her face, began excitedly giving me directions on how to get there. I had to hold in my laughter as her directions kept going and going and going while her genuine love for her village and for the lake became more and more apparent. She was excited for me to see this lake and after hearing how to get there, and remembering almost none of the directions, I was excited as well.

So, off I went, trying to play over in my mind the directions she had given, which went something like this:

Walk straight down this path between the trees until you pass two new houses, then find two more houses and walk slightly to the right around them before heading straight for some time until you reach the 120 steps. Go down the 120 steps and you will soon enter the large forest. Continue through the forest between the hills and eventually you will find a gate. Enter the gate and turn left, walk down, cross the stream and climb up the steps to the hanging bridge. Walk across the bridge until you reach the main road and turn left again. After walking for some time, you will look for the building with the blue roof, maybe it’s a green roof, and then look for a path that heads to the right. You will come to another gate. Enter that gate, turn left and soon you will reach the entrance to the beach on the right, down some steps.

Somehow, about forty-five minutes later, I found the beach and the lake, and was able to witness a remarkable scene of clear blue water with the massive snow-covered mountains in the background.

Issyk-Kul Lake with Mountains

Issyk-Kul Lake Swim

After an evening that involved more conversation with Tamara, some of her homemade pilaf, pickles and compote, I slept well in silent Tamga, waking up the next morning eager to see where the day would lead. And over the course of that following day, I ended up having a local man by the name of Bik take me over to the spectacular Skazka Canyon, located down a dirt road, with not a single other person around for miles. We hiked around for about an hour, soaking up brilliant view after brilliant view.

Skazka Canyon, Tamga

Skazka Canyon, Tamga (2)

Me and Bik, Skazka Canyon

Upon returning to the village, I went for a long walk through the fields, along the paths and into the tiny villages around Tamga itself, finding plenty of empty space, the kind of surroundings that made clearing my head so very easy, helping me to contemplate everything that I’ve been experiencing and what I can learn from it all.

View from Tamga

Fields Near Tamga

There was also a fifteen-minute ‘conversation’ with a drunk Kyrgyz man who must have hugged me more times than I’ve been hugged overall in my life. And I then spent considerable time waving and smiling to all of the people I passed, almost always receiving a wave and smile in return, whether from the men on horseback, the women chatting in front of their homes, the elderly man walking down the street with his cane or the children playing around.

Dinner was had at the only restaurant in town, with the two beautifully friendly women staff providing a most ideal meal of chicken soup and salad. And as I ate my meal in that empty, one-room, Soviet-style eatery, slurping up my soup and occasionally talking to the staff in a mix of my horrendous Russian and their limited English, I could not believe how much Tamga had grown on me so quickly. Had I not been pressed for time, I knew that I would have stuck around this village for many, many additional days.

But the next morning, after a leisurely breakfast of fresh mountain eggs, homemade pancakes and some hot tea, the time unfortunately arrived for me to leave. I went to my room, packed my bag, paid my bill, had one last conversation with Tamara, one last conversation so full of stories, of laughter, of insights into the Kyrgyz people and their culture, and then just like that, I said goodbye.

And moments later, there was I, right where the minibus had dropped me off a few days before, right where I had been looking around wondering how on earth I was going to find a way out of this dreadful place and reach somewhere ‘better’. But now I could only smile, feeling as happy as one could possibly be at having not skipped town that day, at having allowed the unknown to take over yet again.

And all I needed for this to happen was to simply remember that we never know what lies around the next corner when we travel, or in this case, we never know where a visit to a tiny concrete beauty salon in a remote mountain town in the middle of nowhere, might lead.


ASKAR & TAMARA GUESTHOUSE (Tamga, Kyrgyzstan)
Address: In Tamga village, directly next to the Bazaar
Website: www.askartamara.com
Email/Phone: askartamara@mail.ru / +996 394625361
Price: $16 per person (home-cooked meals for around $3-$4)
(Tamara has no idea how the internet works but if you’re in Tamga, be sure to tell her Derek sent you. It will blow her away as she loves how people all over the world can be connected through this internet thing that she doesn’t understand!)

Is Tamga your kind of destination? Have you ever had a similar experience, while traveling or at home, where everything changed for the better in one quick, random moment?


Posted in Kyrgyzstan, Perspectives | 51 Comments

After a bit of thinking recently, I realized that the time has come for me to….eat more pickles. I love pickles and it’s just a shame that I haven’t been eating them as much as I would like as of late.

Oops…sorry about that. The pickle thing was for another post I was planning on writing.

What I meant to say here is that the time has come for me to…integrate more video into this blog. That’s right, more travel video to go along with all of the written posts I publish.

I reached this conclusion a few weeks ago but it wasn’t until I was walking around the town of Karakol, Kyrgyzstan a few days ago that I realized there was no reason why I couldn’t start a new video series right away. So I did. Just like that. And the new series is called:

Wandering Earl: Live From Here!

While I admit that this first episode is a bit unpolished and very much non-professional (major understatement!), I was extremely excited to get this first travel video made and test this new idea out. It’s basically me yakking away in front of the camera, talking a lot of nonsense as usual, but also talking about the destinations I’m visiting and what I’ve been up to. And this first episode happens to take place in a very cool mountain location here in Central Asia.


(If you’re reading this post via email or RSS, just click here to view the video on my blog.)

I actually wanted to show this video back on April 1st, the day that I filmed it, but that didn’t happen. The main reason is that, here in the middle of nowhere, it has taken me two and a half days to upload it. The video finally finished uploading about an hour ago, just in time to get it up on the site today.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it and if all goes well, I plan to add a new episode every few weeks. Either way, thanks for watching!

Any plans to visit Kyrgyzstan? Do you want your very own local Kyrgyz slippers?


Posted in Kyrgyzstan, Live From Here!, Videos | 124 Comments



This post involves something I’ve never done before – it is written by a guest writer. And the reason I decided to publish this article here is because the author, Darin Rogers, is a super nice guy who has taught me a great deal about photography over the past year or so. What I like best about his approach is that everything he teaches is simple, can be learned quickly and can immediately improve the photographs we take. That’s why I’m confident you’ll find his advice to be useful as well!

If you’re planning a travel adventure this year – be it a long-term, multi-country, round-the-world tour or a just a one week vacation – the experience may be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, culminating what may be years of planning and preparation that you’ll want to remember with some great images. Unfortunately, many people come home from their travels disappointed with their photos.

Although it may be tempting to invest in a new or better camera before you go, thinking that will improve your odds, taking good photographs has little to do with what camera you use. All too often, too much emphasis is placed on megapixels and the latest wiz-bang technological wonder designed to take any thought and effort out of the photographic process. So here’s some steps you can take that will begin to help you get the most out of whatever camera you may be using.

1. SLOW DOWN

If your travels consist of rushing from one tourist attraction to the next extreme sport activity and then hurrying to meet your friends for beers, you’re probably not going to be getting a lot of compelling photos. Photography is about seeing, and seeing requires time and intention. Good images don’t just happen. Slow down and make a conscious effort at becoming aware of your surroundings. Find a place to sit and just watch for a while and see what happens.

Morning Reading

Slowing down in Oaxaca, Mexico

If you’re traveling with others who may not share your photographic interest, slowing down may be difficult. You may need to be willing to head off on your own occasionally, even if just for an hour or two.

This of course isn’t to say that you shouldn’t do that bungee jump (and that might be a great photo-op for some action shots). Everyone has different travel priorities and most people aren’t traveling just to take photos. But if one of your priorities is to take better photos, make an effort to slow down occasionally and focus on seeing.

2. GET CLOSER

One of the things I like to encourage is, after getting your standard tourist postcard shots, look closer for the details. You’ll often find that these details and vignettes can evoke a greater sense of place than will another snapshot of the Sydney Opera House. Take that snapshot; these are important reminders of significant events for us, but then look deeper.

Image 2

Postcard shot of Liberty Plaza, Taipei, Taiwan

A member of a flag ceremony team.

Getting closer at Liberty Plaza, Taipei, Taiwan

The things to look for are infinite, anything that may tell a story or help describe a place and the people who live there. One of my favorite subjects is doors, but the range of subjects could vary from fruit stacked at a market to street art and graffiti to, well, anything that catches your eye.

Opera House - Sydney, Australia

Opera House detail, Sydney, Australia

Getting closer doesn’t necessarily have to mean physically close. It can also be about finding a different or unusual way to present the same subject. This could mean finding an unusual or unique angle or perspective, or including some interesting element in the foreground, such as with the Taiwanese military officer in the above photo.

3. ENGAGE

This is not an easy one for many people, including me. However, getting over our fear of interaction, whatever that fear may be based on – rejection, embarrassment, language barrier – can lead to some rewarding experiences as well as some great images. Personally for me, my own fear is not so much about asking to take someone’s photo and being turned down, but rather being told yes and then wanting to make sure I do that person justice artistically.

Interaction doesn’t necessarily need to be a full-blown conversation. It can be as simple as a smile with a non-verbal acknowledgement that a photo is acceptable. But it can also be worthwhile to forget about the camera now and then and spend some time getting to know someone. Sit and watch that temple ceremony. Get to know your tour guide. You never know what photographic opportunities may arise from stepping out of your comfort zone.

Children are often quite willing and eager to pose for photographs. Despite that, be mindful of cultural practices and if someone, regardless of age, declines to be photographed, respect their wishes.

Image 6

Children posing in a rural Philippines village

4. TAKE A DIFFERENT PATH

Two women walk through the otherwise deserted and quiet streets of Mitla, Mexico.

Off the beaten path in Mitla, Oaxaca, Mexico

Following the backpacker highway doesn’t mean you have to come home with the same photographs as everyone else. When out exploring, venture off on a side road. Wander random neighborhoods. Get lost. Take a risk. Life, for most people in the places we visit, doesn’t happen around the tourist attractions, museums, and monuments so get out of the tourist zones and explore the areas where people spend most of their daily lives. Some of my best travel experiences have occurred through random wanderings, like hopping on the back of the motorbike of a young man in Bali who offered to take me to see a cock fight, or being invited into the nipa hut home of a family of dirt-poor Filipino fishermen to share rot-gut liquor and dried fish. To be honest, the photos I took of the Filipino family turned out less than stellar but the memories will last a lifetime. And really, isn’t that why we travel?

Men and rooster at a cock fight.

At a cock fight in Lovina, Bali, Indonesia

Obviously this needs to be done with awareness and caution as it could be easy to stray into a sketchy or unsafe area. Go with a friend. Be aware of your surroundings. Take the usual precautions, but don’t be afraid to take a bit of risk.

5. PUT THE CAMERA AWAY

What? Put the camera away? How will this help you take better pictures?

This may seem counter-intuitive but there are times when I find myself struggling, trying too hard to see and create something new and interesting. For whatever reason, sometimes the inspiration just isn’t there. It happens to the best of photographers. If this happens, don’t force it, you’ll only create more frustration. You are much better off just putting the camera back in the bag and enjoying whatever experience you may be having.

Tlaxcala, Mexico

Seeing again in Tlaxcala, Mexico

Often, by putting the camera away and letting go of the self-imposed pressure to create, to capture that elusive perfect image, your mind relaxes and you’ll start seeing again. Or maybe not. Either way is fine. Just accept it, remember why you are traveling in the first place, and enjoy the experience of being in the place.

Finally…

Following these steps won’t instantly make you a great photographer. As with any craft, proficiency, if there is such a thing in art, takes years of hard work and practice. And with photography, while it may be possible to become technically proficient, it can be argued that the art of seeing is like reaching for that proverbial pot of gold at the end of a rainbow: something every photographer is continually striving to master but never quite achieving. However, consciously following these steps as you go about your travels should at least put you on the path to increasing the number of memorable images you bring home.

Darin Rogers is a semi-nomadic writer, photographer, and part-time civil engineer. He is currently based in the Philippines. You can see more of his work at www.darinrogers.net or follow him on Facebook and Google+.

Any thoughts? How are your photography skills? Any other simple tips you’ve learned along the way?


Posted in "How To" Travel Guides, Travel Tips & Advice | 32 Comments

Animal Aid Unlimited - Animal Rescue Center

On the outskirts of Udaipur, a city of 500,000 people set ever-so-picturesquely along the shores of three lakes in the middle of India’s Rajasthan state, sits a gate, a simple iron gate, midway down a bumpy dirt road. This gate is kept locked at all times but if you wait in front of it for a moment or two, someone will soon approach from the other side, someone who will unlock the gate with a smiling face and kindly ask you to enter.

You take a few steps forward and just like that, you’ve entered a world that you probably wouldn’t expect to find in these parts.

Welcome to Animal Aid Unlimited, an animal rescue center, sanctuary, and treatment operation for mistreated and injured animals of Udaipur. Set up in 2002 by Jim Myers and Erika Abrams, along with their daughter Claire, this operation has treated over 40,000 animals to date, including dogs, donkeys, cows, monkeys, pigs and birds, rescuing approximately 10-15 animals per day from the streets. Some of those animals are treated and released and others live out the rest of their days at the center if they are not able to fend for themselves. At any given time there are around 400 animals being taken care of on the premises.

One of the women on my current India tour had heard about this place in a book she had read and so, a handful of us decided to head out there one afternoon. And we ended up staying for almost two hours, simply intrigued by the entire operation. From the spotless, well-organized grounds to the efficient and well thought out systems in place for grouping and taking care of the animals to the dozens of staff on duty, ranging from veterinarians to vet nurses to massage therapists to foreign volunteers…it was a remarkable oasis in the midst of the desert where animals of all kinds live so incredibly well.

Lancelot the donkey

Upon arrival, Raj gave us a tour of the entire grounds, a tour that took us up close and personal with newly arrived dogs and donkeys with broken legs and open wounds, dogs infected with mange, cows that had been hit by cars, paralyzed animals, monkeys that had been electrocuted, pigs that had been mistreated and on and on. And while you might think that this would all be extremely difficult to witness up close, we all found the opposite to be true. It was simply wonderful to witness so many animals that would have been left to die on the streets, now walking around, laying down, hobbling along, looking and behaving as if they are so happy to have ended up here instead. This sanctuary offers them a worry-free life where they can interact with and receive attention from caring people every day, including any travelers that decide to visit. Animals were constantly approaching us, eager to be played with and truly excited by our presence despite any ailment or injury they might have been suffering from.

Of course, we could not help but ask about every animal we passed and about how they came to end up at the sanctuary. And as you might imagine, there were some brutal stories of abuse to be heard. But as I mentioned, to see these animals living here and being treated so well, created a sense of relief that far outweighed any sense of shock or horror that I might have felt at first.

As you might be able to tell, I was blown away during our visit, especially after witnessing the passion, over and over again, that was so visible in the eyes of every staff member, all of whom dedicate their lives to helping as many animals as they possibly can. Just watching Sooraj, the massage therapist/healer, interact so carefully and lovingly with some of the paralyzed dogs, some of which started to walk as a result of his treatments, was enough to convince me that this is one impressive animal rescue center that deserves some attention.

Treatment for dogs

Yes, I know that there will be some critics who will state that the money used for this program could be used to help people who are also suffering in this country. And that is true. But so could the money we spend anywhere and in my opinion, if the founders, the 40+ staff and all the volunteers at Animal Aid Unlimited are indeed so passionate about improving the lives of helpless animals, then I think that’s exactly what they should continue doing.

I’m certain that one visit here, after spending a few minutes interacting with playful Tony, a dog whose leg was chopped off and whose face was hacked with a machete, or with laid-back Lance, the donkey whose legs had been tied together before being rescued, or with a cow that had been hit by a car but is now walking again, will convince you of the same. On Animal Aid’s website, you can also get an idea of what kind of care this center provides, with plenty of before/after photos of all types of animals who were injured or abused.

Here’s a couple of examples (BE WARNED! The photos are quite graphic, but wait until you see how well each dog looks now!)…

Before after mange

Snitter - before

Snitter -after

It’s simply amazing to see the recovery of these animals in the photos above. Imagine what it must be like to see it first-hand at the center!

India. So much to experience in this country. And if you’re the kind of traveler that enjoys doing things that are a little different to what most travelers get up to, this is an opportunity to do just that when you’re in Udaipur. Whether you spend a few hours, a full day or even a longer period of time as an actual volunteer at Animal Aid Unlimited, you’ll have a chance to be a part of something special, an organization that involves great people doing great things, in this case, for the thousands of helpless animals in this city.

I want to give a huge thank you to Raj, Sooraj and Claire, all of whom were wonderful hosts during our visit…keep up the amazing work!

ANIMAL AID UNLIMITED
Location: Near TB Hospital in Badi village (8km from Udaipur)
Visitor info: Visitors are welcome until 5pm any day of the week and it’s just a short ride by auto-rickshaw or taxi to the location. And of course, volunteers of all ages and backgrounds are welcome as well. The organization doesn’t provide accommodation for volunteers but they do offer a great deal of assistance for those who sign up, helping you find a place to stay and assisting with everything else you could possibly need.
Website: www.AnimalAidUnlimited.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnimalAidUnlimited

Anyone looking for a great volunteer opportunity in India? Any thoughts about the work this organization is doing?


Posted in India | 29 Comments

Long-Term Travel
Do you enjoy being challenged? Would you maintain your sanity if you had to constantly face unexpected situations, surprises, plans that always changed for one reason or another? Could you handle a lack of routine and perhaps not knowing where you’ll be in a week or two from any given moment?

Are you okay with sleeping in different beds all the time, some comfortable, others barely more than a thin piece of foam set upon a hard piece of wood? What if you had to eat different foods, some familiar, others quite different to anything you’ve ever eaten before…does that sound appealing?

Would you welcome a situation where everyone around you thought differently than you do, had different beliefs and customs, practiced different traditions, thought and behaved in ways you’d never seen or even knew existed? Are you okay with being out of your comfort zone, far, far, far out of your comfort zone?

Are you excited about an opportunity to constantly meet new people from all around the world, people from all sorts of backgrounds, people with whom you will share amazing adventures and with whom you will create wonderful friendships? But can you accept the fact that you will often have to say goodbye to all of those new people shortly after you meet them, maybe because you have plans to travel somewhere else or they have plans to go their own way? Perhaps you’ll keep in touch and meet again someday, perhaps you won’t, is that okay?

Do you want to receive an education like no other, an education that only the world itself, experienced first-hand, can teach? Are you open to an education that just may alter the way you view the world?

Can you maintain an open mind at all times while always welcoming, and striving to grow from, the experiences and interactions that come your way, no matter what they may be?

Do you think you will be able to use your travels to benefit others?

Do you have a goal for your travels? Is there something specific you want to gain from seeing the world and meeting its people?

Can you find rewards in the tiniest of things? Can a handshake or an exchange of smiles bring you great happiness? Can you use such small actions to create a cross-cultural bond between yourself and other people? Do you feel that interaction between two people of different cultures, any interaction at all, can be powerful and extremely beneficial?

Are you able to cope with never being truly satisfied as your list of places you badly want to visit grows and grows and grows the more you travel? Can you come to terms with the fact that it’s impossible to see it all?

Are you fine living without a closet or a set of drawers? Does living out of a backpack or a suitcase sound good to you?

Do you understand that travel does not involve a never-ending stream of fun times, that there will be obstacles, tough situations and moments when you might feel confused, frustrated or even a bit lost? But at the same time, do you understand that despite all of those, there must be a reason why it’s so hard to find a traveler who regrets having traveled? Are you ready to find out that reason?

Do you think you have the determination necessary to achieve your goals? Are you willing to put in the effort required?

Can you picture yourself right now at some of the destinations around the world that you have always dreamed of visiting? Can you see yourself actually living the experiences you so often think about?

If you answered yes to most of the questions above, I only have one last thing to ask…

Are you ready to take the first step and start traveling?


Any travelers want to add any questions to the list? Is anyone else trying to figure out if long-term travel is right for you?

Posted in Perspectives, Travel Tips & Advice | 93 Comments

Live Life to the Fullest

We were eating soup at a local restaurant in Bucharest when my new friend seated opposite me, upon learning that I had been traveling and living overseas since I was 22 years old, stated with great excitement, “So that means you’ve spent your entire adult life traveling!

After a short pause, I quietly responded, “I guess it does.

I had actually never thought about that fact before and as I sat there repeating it over and over again in my mind – “I’ve spent my entire adult life traveling” – I surprisingly started to feel a slight sense of sadness as opposed to the joy one might have expected.

Most people spend their entire adult life working and living in one place, unable or unwilling to make the necessary changes that would allow them to achieve their wildest dreams, their truest goals, whatever you want to call them. And by the end, life has passed by and the dreams still remain dreams, and all that such a person can say at that point is, “Oh well. I didn’t do what I really wanted to do during my time on this planet.

On the other hand, some people, and I suppose I fall into this category, somehow manage to flip that equation around. We manage to achieve many of our goals (travel goals in my case), to turn our dreams into reality, to find a way to actually do the things in life that we truly want to do during our adult years. As a result, it has always been my belief that, when the end comes, I will be able to sit there and smile widely one last time, perfectly content, and declare, “That’s right, I did it!

But here’s the shocker…as time goes on, I’m not too sure this will actually be the case. Despite the fact that I am able to travel and travel and travel, I must admit that I still experience some of those very same feelings of hopelessness that those who are not out there achieving their goals often deal with. What I’m saying is that I still don’t feel as if I’m living my life to the fullest at all.

Maybe it’s because the chances are quite low that one individual can actually achieve EVERYTHING they could possibly want to achieve in life, a fact that would lead to a never-ending feeling that we’re not living to our full potential. Maybe it’s because the more we do anything, the more we live one particular type of lifestyle, no matter what that lifestyle may be, the more we start to wonder what life would have been like had we done something different. It seems only natural that our brains would become curious about the decisions we didn’t make, and where those decisions might have led, again, regardless of our actual situation.

In reality, I’m quite happy, I’m more than ecstatic that I did choose this crazy traveling lifestyle and I certainly wouldn’t want to trade my experiences for any other path. I hesitate for not even one second in reaching those conclusions.

All I want to examine with this post is whether or not it is possible to actually live life to the fullest, the absolute fullest, after all? I tend to think that such an ideal is not possible and that we will always wonder ‘what if’ and always think about how our life could’ve been.

And perhaps this is a good thing to be aware of before setting out to achieve our travel goals, or any goals for that matter. I really believe that such a realization would help anyone make better choices in life, to remain flexible at all times, and to understand the need, and the importance, of making changes according to our ever-changing situations, interests, goals, etc.

For example, if we understand that ‘a life of travel’ cannot be the ‘be-all and end-all’, that there is no ‘be-all and end-all’, that none of our goals in life will lead to guaranteed, endless fulfillment, we will feel more comfortable making adjustments, whether simple or major. We won’t feel like we’re quitting on our goals or that we have failed in our attempt to live life to the fullest when we decide to move in a new direction. We should understand that our life is about making any and all decisions that seem best at any given time, about trying as many new things as we possibly can, about focusing on creating a unique and interesting overall story, not on the idea that there is only one perfect goal, or one lifestyle, to achieve. Otherwise, we just may be disappointed.

The night before I flew to India, just a couple of days ago, I was having a quick chat about life with a very close friend I’ve known for 18 years now. We talked about our own lifestyles and discussed the things that we’d achieved and the things that we each still want to accomplish over the coming years.

At the end of the talk, my friend started to shake his head, as if in disbelief. Then he said,

It’s crazy. I’m getting ready, like most people, to go to work tomorrow, to sit in my office for the next week, just like every other week. And you’re about to fly to India to lead a trip for twenty days, while trying to choose between Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Tanzania for your next destination after that, simply because that’s what you want to be doing.

I love that I have this freedom. I love that I can travel like this. I really do.

But as my friend dreams of this traveling lifestyle, I must admit that I sometimes dream of his. I’m not saying I want to work in an office and have a daily routine, I’m just saying that my brain won’t allow me to live without wondering what life would be like had I chosen to do something else. And since I don’t know the answer, and never will, that one thought prevents me from feeling 100% fully satisfied with the life that I did happen to choose so far.

Is it just me? Do you agree? Do you think most, or all, people wonder about what they could’ve done in life, no matter how they are actually living?


Posted in Perspectives | 103 Comments

How I Stay Organized While Traveling & Working

I have two brains.

There is my work brain and my travel brain. And the truth is that these two brains are not the best of friends. As much as I have tried over the years, I can’t seem to force these two brains to get along too well.

The way it works is that, at any given time, I can either be 100% focused on enjoying my travels or I can be 100% focused on my work. As a result, I can’t travel and work at the same time.

Of course, I can travel and work in a general sense but what I’m trying to say is that if I were to go outside today, wander around Bucharest or Delhi or Mexico City or Tashkent or wherever I happen to be, my brain would be in its travel mode. So, if I were to sit down at a cafe later in the afternoon and take a one hour break from my wandering, it’s not as if I could just pull out my laptop and get some productive work done.

My brain would still be in travel mode. It takes time to switch to work mode, a great deal of time in fact, because when the excitement of travel occupies my brain, I can’t just ignore that excitement in an instant and concentrate on work instead. When I’m focused on travel, my brain wants more travel! It doesn’t want to give way to my work brain at all.

And when I spend a good chunk of my day, or even an entire day, working hard on my projects, it is also difficult to suddenly stop thinking about the emails, about the blog, about the websites, about everything and anything related to work and just allow my travel brain to take over. I need time, maybe a few hours, maybe a day, to wind down so that I can make that switch.

This is why, when I travel, I travel hard and when I work, I work hard. I’ve been in Romania for the past two months working very hard on a new project that I’ll be launching in a couple of weeks all so that I can travel to India in March and to some other destinations in April with my travel brain in complete control, not having to worry too much about work.

The point? Yes, it is possible to ‘work and travel’ but if you really want to enjoy your travels to the fullest and you really want to be productive with your work, you need to learn how to separate the two.

I personally feel that it all comes down to organization, or, better yet, finding your own organizational comfort zone so that you can get the most out of each brain. And to give you an idea of how I stay organized with both travel and work (and why I often act like a fool) here’s a breakdown of my two brains…

Travel Brain

My travel brain is quite organized. I generally don’t need many tools or apps or websites to help me stay organized while traveling or when it comes to keeping track of flights, accommodation, destination research, etc. For me, simplicity is best and I often find that concentrating too much on systems designed to help us stay organized, only complicates things in the end. For my travel brain, all I need is a system of email folders and folders on my laptop. Everything has it’s place (flight bookings go into the “Upcoming Flights” folder, completed flights go into the “Past flights” folder and so on), it’s all very clear and simple and I have no trouble staying fully organized with this simple system.

It also probably helps that when I travel, I don’t necessarily have any travel-related deadlines or anything that requires immediate attention, something that my work brain must constantly deal with. My travels are almost always flexible and open to change and I am free to travel how I wish, when I wish and to wherever I wish. As a result, there’s not too much I really need to keep organized while traveling, which is why my travel brain is always relaxed and in a healthy state.

But then, there’s my…

Work Brain

I need to work. Most people do. And one of the major challenges of working while traveling is trying to avoid being stuck in front of the computer all the time. There is always more work to be done it seems!

Once again, for me, it all comes down to organization. My work brain is a bit more of a mess than my travel brain and definitely not as relaxed. My work brain runs at speeds I never thought possible at times and it must constantly adapt to a hundred different tasks, all while trying to complete these tasks from ever-changing surroundings. Let’s just say, it ain’t easy.

When it comes to staying organized with work, I still feel that most organizational systems lead to more hassle than benefit, which is why I prefer my own system for the most part. I know what needs to be done, I do it and that’s it. I don’t like to spend too much time prioritizing tasks, filing things away for later or trying to maximize every minute of my working day. I just prefer to sit down and get my stuff done.

To better illustrate how I take care of my work, the following is what a typical work day involves for me, the kind of day when my travel brain is ignored in order to fully concentrate on the blog and my other projects…

A Typical Day Online

Emails: 3-4 hours to answer an average of 100 – 150 blog-related emails per day

  • The 10 email addresses I have for my various projects all lead to one Gmail account, making it very easy to access and reply to all emails from one location.

Facebook: 1 hour answering messages, replying to comments and putting up a new post

  • Between the normal Facebook website and the FB app on my new phone, I’m able to reply to messages and comments and put up new posts with relative ease, from almost anywhere.

Twitter: 3-5 minutes to reply to questions, promote others’ posts/tweets and say hello to a few people

  • With Tweetdeck, both the desktop version and the phone app, doing everything I need to do on Twitter is quite easy

Blog post: 4-5 hours to write a draft, edit, complete the post, find photos and prepare it all for the blog

  • My posts are written in Open Office, saved as a raw text file and copied and pasted into my blog. I then upload any photos for the post to my SmugMug account, place the SmugMug links into the post, add some other code so that the post looks exactly how I want and everything is set to go.

Blog comments: 30–60 minutes to reply to any new comments left on any of my posts

  • Normally, I check the WordPress app on my phone whenever I have a minute or two so that I can just approve any comments that are being held in moderation as quickly as I can (comments from first time commenters are always held in moderation). Then, when I have more time, I just log into my blog and respond properly to all the most recent comments.

Wandering Earl Tours: up to 4 hours depending on when the next tour will take place

  • Organizing these tours involves research, communicating with my contacts in each country, creating PDF documents with information about the trip for all participants and communicating in general with those who have signed up for the tours. I simply use a series of spreadsheets to keep everything organized and this has worked perfectly.

Other projects: 1-8 hours per day depending on what needs to be done

  • At the moment, I’m working on three other projects, the new website I will launch in two weeks, a new destination website and blog consulting. Sometimes they don’t require much work at all and other times they require a great deal of attention.
  • To keep track of these other projects, I do use Trello, an online organizational platform that is simple and very easy to use, which is why I like it. It’s actually extremely basic and all it really does is help me see everything I need to do on one screen.

In between all of the above, I also tend to eat on occasion, brush my teeth, take several breaks that usually involve going for a walk outside, I reply to my personal emails, have Skype conversations (both personal and business related), answer interview questions, participate in podcasts and read, and sleep.

And usually, I accomplish everything I need to get done, right on time.

But as you see, there’s not much to how I stay organized. Perhaps it has more to do with discipline and knowing that if I don’t sit down and get to work, I won’t earn any money in the end and my travels won’t be able to continue. That thought alone is enough to ensure that I do switch to my work brain whenever I need to, no matter how much I want to be in travel mode.

Being a Fool

Of course, after a solid few hours or full day of work is over, and before I can switch back to my travel brain, I do need to go through a stage where I act like a complete, silly fool.

Some of my friends, and others I meet during my travels, have a tendency to stare at me in confusion when I enter my ‘fool’ state, which I think is the no man’s land between my travel and work brains. Acting like a fool – juggling my socks while singing reggaeton songs, clapping my hands and bowing to chairs and tables, sitting on the floor and pretending to paddle a canoe, for example – seems to help me make a successful transition between those two brains. It allows me to ease out of one brain in a safe manner without immediately having to embrace the other. It’s a decompression zone of sorts, a way to empty my brain fully before changing gears. And for some reason, acting like a fool is the method I settled on and that’s the method that seems to work best for me. Go figure.

So, with that said, it’s time to hit the “publish” button on this post, reply to a couple of more emails, close my laptop, take off my socks and sing me some reggaeton.

Do you have two brains – work/travel, work/life, etc.? How do you handle the two and stay organized? Do you use certain systems? Any other fools out there?


Posted in Personal Stuff, Work & Travel | 69 Comments

Travel Questions - Baalbek
An hour ago, I was about to start writing a post. Everything was in place – my laptop, my fruit salad, my glass of beer – until I quickly realized that one thing was missing. A topic. I had no idea what I was going to write about.

My next move was to check my Twitter account and check my Facebook page, and it was there on my Facebook page that I had a thought. I would invite my FB followers to ask me any travel questions they had and I would select one of those questions and respond with a full post.

But then, along came Michelle, a FB follower who suggested that my post consist of brief answers to ALL of the questions that were asked. I liked the idea, a lot. And so, that’s what I’ve done. All of the questions are listed below.

Before I get to those questions/topics though, let me just give a big thank you to Michelle for the idea and another thank you to everyone who asked questions and helped me create this post as a result!

Facebook Randomness

How about stories of being robbed, ripped off or scammed while on the road? Apart from having my wallet pick-pocketed while walking through a market in Delhi one night, I haven’t really fallen victim to many scams, at least none that have cost me a ton of money or really put me in a tough situation. I can be quite stubborn, so if something doesn’t feel right, I won’t give in. With that said, I did get kidnapped in Bangladesh a while back, but they didn’t really get much out of me in the end.

I’d love to hear about how to work or make money in a foreign country over the age of 34. For this, I would direct you over to my post “42 Ways You Can Make Money and Travel The World” as the majority of ideas I mention there are perfectly suitable for travelers of all ages.

Have you been ever in a situation that you needed to stop traveling and return home, maybe forced to because you were tired? And I would like to know if that is something that crosses your mind from time to time. There have definitely been times when I’ve become so tired that my travels started becoming much less enjoyable. What I normally do when this happens is quite simple. I stop. I find a place – a city, a town, a village – that I enjoy spending time in, I throw down my backpack and I rent an apartment or a room for a month, or even two or three months. Then, once I feel like moving around again, I pack up and continue traveling. If you’re feeling tired and you don’t stop, whether it be somewhere overseas or by returning home for a short while, you can easily get burned out and once that happens, traveling won’t be nearly as rewarding any more.

Travel Questions - Tired


Please share your most interesting customs or border experience… Apart from this story, my second most interesting border crossing was probably when I crossed from Bangladesh to India, using a remote border crossing in the town of Tamabil. According to the immigration log book, I was one of only a handful of foreigners that had used this particular crossing that year and when it came time for me to head to India, the Bangladeshi border guard had to give a signal to the Indian side. The reason for the signal, it turns out, was that the two sides were engaged in a long-running land dispute that had culminated into a gun battle. So, the signal was given, the gun battle stopped (the bullets were not being aimed aimed at the actual border, but at positions in the surrounding hills) and I was allowed to cross the 300 meter stretch of ‘no man’s land’ as guards on both sides kept an eye on me.

Can you write about Costa Rica? I could, but it wouldn’t be very interesting. While I’ve traveled to Costa Rica a few times, my last visit was in 2008, and as a result, I don’t have much in terms of relevant information for travelers heading there these days. Sorry!

What are you gonna do when you get old Earl? Keep wandering with a walker? Or do you foresee yourself putting down ‘roots’ somewhere eventually? I state it often on the site…if I were to wake up tomorrow feeling that it’s time to stop traveling, that’s exactly what I would do. Until then, though, I plan to continue doing what I love most. Will I put down some roots eventually? Perhaps. It’s certainly a possibility. But it’s hard for me to say what I think will happen. I prefer to just see where the path will lead. And if I still love traveling when it comes time for me to use a walker, I’ll find a way to make it happen!

Who is the most interesting person you’ve met during your travels? I’ve thought about this question for the past hour and it’s probably the most difficult question in this post. It’s just not possible to choose one single person as I’ve met such an endless stream of fascinating people, including both locals and other travelers from all over the planet. Maybe it’s the guy who was riding a John Deere lawnmower from the UK to India or the Japanese Buddhist nun who constantly walks around the world for peace or the…oh man…it’s not easy to pick even a few!

How many different nationalities of women have you chopped? Somewhere between 1 and 206 :) [that's the number of sovereign states in the world]

How about your romantic endeavors along your journey? Well, usually, I prefer to keep this topic off the blog since, I’ll admit, it’s nice to have some part of my life that I keep private. But I will say that, over the years, I have had a few long-term relationships and as one might expect, I’m meeting like-minded, interesting people all the time. So, romance and relationships are bound to happen along the way!

Travel Questions - Romance

I’d like to hear if you have a favorite destination, and why? At this point, I would say that Mexico (most underrated country on the planet with all that it has to offer travelers) and India (most culturally fascinating) are my two favorite destinations, with Socotra Island (unique, isolated and 100% otherworldly) and Romania (so much to see, do and experience, but so few travelers) right behind.

I’m a young traveller and I want to start travelling free style either by myself or with a friend. My parents aren’t very happy about this and I was wondering if you had any advice on what to do? Many parents aren’t too thrilled by the idea of their children traveling! The best thing you can do is to talk to them openly and honestly but instead of just saying “I want to travel”, make sure you have a more concrete idea of what you want to achieve. Tell your parents why you want to travel, what you hope to gain, how you will fund your travels, the benefits your experiences will give you and where you plan to go. The more information you can provide, the more confident you will sound and the more your parents will realize that you are not just planning on being a ‘bum’ but that you actually have thought things through and you know exactly what you’re doing. You can also show them examples of others who have traveled and who have turned their travels into an actual lifestyle. Often times, your parents will come around but sometimes, they still might not be too happy with your idea. All you can do is stay confident in your ability to achieve your travel goals and start your adventure…once your parents see that you are out there living the life you truly want, that might also help them change their minds and start supporting your decision in the end.

What about discussing the bittersweet reality of constantly meeting so many amazing people only to arrive alone in your next destination? We love making new friends but at times it would be nice to round them all up in the same city! It’s not easy but I tend to always keep this idea in mind: I’ve met so many amazing people but I would never have met these people had I not been traveling all over the world. And while it can be downright painful to move on to a new place and leave such new friends behind, I always know that if I don’t pack up my bags and move on to a new destination, I will miss out on meeting even more amazing people out there. Also, if a true friendship has been formed, I’ve discovered that the bond remains even while apart and the chances of seeing those friends again is actually much higher than I ever would have imagined. These thoughts definitely help me deal with the constant ‘hellos’ and ‘goodbyes’ of this lifestyle.

What is your favorite season and why? In what country or region do you enjoy spending that season, and why? Summer! By far the summer. I love warm…no wait, I love very hot weather. I just feel healthier and more relaxed when it’s hot outside and the sun is shining each day, and as a result, I tend to enjoy everything I do to a much greater extent. And I don’t mind where I spend the summer, any summer in any destination will do for me, as long as it’s 80F (27C) or warmer, I’m one happy individual. Although, being near a white sand beach certainly is a bonus.

Travel Questions - White Sand Beach

How about the country you most identify with now that you have been living outside the US for so long? When it comes down to it, I still identify with my home country the most. While I’ve traveled a great deal and have spent significant amounts of time in certain places, and I’m extremely comfortable in many other countries, none of those other countries ever truly feel like home. My guess is that our childhood/teenage years are just too important and by the time we’re 21 or 22, we have such a connection to our home country that no matter how much traveling we do (unless we move to and stay in a new country for many, many years), it will be hard to feel as comfortable anywhere else.

How about time spent back in the homeland? Every time I come back after months away I have something like culture-shock in my homeland which I did not have during my travels. I understand that reverse culture-shock for sure, although, for me, I haven’t experienced it in many years. These days, I return to the US for around 2-3 weeks at a time and I do that generally twice per year. But the thing to remember is that travel has a major impact on us, from everything you experience, every person you meet and everything you learn out there. So it’s natural that when you suddenly find yourself in your home country, with all of this new information, all of these new ideas and beliefs and friendships and on and on, it will be quite difficult to re-adjust to a place that now seems so foreign. The good news, at least in my experience, is that it does get easier as time goes on and there are ways to ensure a smoother transition. Don’t forget about your travels! Stay in touch with those you met, look at your photos, think about all that you experienced and also, if you plan to travel again, stay focused on achieving that goal. Holding on, at least to some extent, to your travel experiences will ensure that your adjustment at home is not as abrupt. It will help keep your travels fresh in your mind, giving you time to think about ways to incorporate everything you learned on your adventures into your life back at home.

‘Taking the plunge.’ All I can say about this is that if you ask almost anyone who has taken the plunge, whether they took off for 1 month, 3 months, 1 year or indefinitely, and regardless of the experiences they ended up having, you’ll have a very difficult time finding someone who has regretted that decision to just go. That alone would provide me with all the confidence I’d need to take the plunge myself!

How about missing the joys of material items and material living? This was quite easy for me since I started traveling before I had my own place back in the US, so I never accumulated much. And as soon as I started traveling and enjoying the benefits of my experiences, it was quite clear to me that those experiences were worth far more than any material item I might have wanted at the time. And my feeling about that has never changed.

How do you cook while travelling? Do you take cooking equipment with you or do you buy new stuff when you stay in a new place? Do you find that ingredients vary much from place to place and does that mean you have to learn to cook new things? I’ve never traveled with any cooking equipment over the years as I actually don’t cook too much unless I’m staying in one place for a longer period of time. And whenever I find myself renting an apartment or room for long-term, I think I’ve always rented a place that was furnished (and had all the cooking equipment already) or that had a communal kitchen with everything I could need. As for ingredients, yes, they do vary from country to country and I do tend to cook different things depending on where I’m living, but actually, I’m not sure if that has to do with the ingredients available or the fact that I tend to be in a mood to cook Mexican food when I’m in Mexico and so on! (On a side note, keep in mind that in many countries, eating out is so inexpensive that it’s hard to find the motivation to cook. If I can eat out for the same amount of money or less than cooking at home, I’ll almost always eat out.)

Travel Questions - Eating

How to travel as a couple on a budget? Well, I’m no expert on this at all so I’m going to lead you to some couples who have managed to travel on a budget themselves for quite a while: NeverendingVoyage.com and UncorneredMarket.com.

What is the most dangerous thing, person or situation you have ever run into during your travels? Tough call on this one, but I think it has to be the time I spent several hours hanging out with some members of the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan. It wasn’t something I planned at all, it all happened quite unexpectedly and while it did go well in the end, it definitely could have turned into a much different situation I imagine.

Some people think a portable lifestyle and being a digital nomad = homeless. On the contrary. I believe you wrote about this before, but I’d love to read your expanded thoughts on this topic? Yes, I did write a bit on this topic in the post, Everybody Told Me I Was A Useless Bum. Of course, those who are traveling long-term know that such travelers are not ‘bums’ at all but it’s still hard to convince some non-travelers that this is actually the case! I’ll write some more about the topic soon.

How do you find all of the coolest things to visit when you are in an area? The thing is, if you’re in search of unique, cool experiences, destinations, hidden gems, etc. when you travel, the only possible way to find them is to talk to as many people as you can, including both locals and fellow travelers. There’s really no other way. The more people you talk to you, the higher the chances that they will have discovered something very cool and will share it with you. Talk to everyone you come across and you’ll be surprised by what you learn, experiences and places that you never would have been able to find out about on your own.

There you have it. I hope you enjoyed this question and answer session. I had a very good time writing the answers (which had nothing to do with the beer – okay, beers – that I drank over the past couple of hours I’m sure) and I look forward to doing something similar again. For now, though, it’s time for me to sleep…goodnight!

If you have any follow up questions or anything else you’d like to know about, just leave a comment and I’ll answer them in an upcoming post!


Posted in Travel Questions Answered, Travel Tips & Advice | 46 Comments

Wandering Earl Tours - New Trips for 2014

The time has come to announce the next set of tours that I’ll be offering through my Wandering Earl Tours project.

For those who may not be aware of what this project is all about, at the end of 2012, I started offering small group tours to some of my favorite countries/regions around the world, tours that I organize and lead myself. And so far, things are going quite well!

The goal is to offer you something unique, the kind of laid-back, local trip that a major tour company can’t offer. I like to think of it as “independent travel with the support of a small group”, where we experience the destinations, not from behind a tour bus window, but by actually wandering through the streets and lanes, by eating local food from local eateries, by using local transportation and of course, by meeting as many people along the way as possible.

So far, I’ve run two tours to India and one each to Mexico, Romania & Moldova and Istanbul. My third tour to India is coming up in March (which has sold out).

And now, announcement time….here is the next set of trips for 2014 that I’ll be offering:

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Wander Across IRAQI KURDISTAN
Dates: May 4th – 13th
Overview: I mentioned this tour to the semi-autonomous, and safe, region of northern Iraq, a few months ago and it quickly sold out, but two people just had to cancel, leaving 2 spots available. So, if you’re interested in visiting a very off-the-beaten-path destination that will absolutely surprise you every step of the way, this might be the trip for you!

Full Itinerary

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Wander Across MEXICO (YUCATAN)
Dates: June 4th – 10th
Overview: This trip is short and sweet…a one week adventure around the culturally fascinating Yucatan Peninsula, with a couple of days on Mexico’s beautiful Caribbean coast as well. History, check. Culture, check. Excellent food, check. Adventure, check. Good times? Absolutely!

Full Itinerary

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Wander Across SOUTHEAST ASIA
Dates: August 15th – 29th
Overview: Many people have asked me to organize a tour to Southeast Asia, so here it is… This trip will take us through Thailand and Cambodia, two destinations loved by travelers from all over the world, visiting everything from vibrant cities to national parks to quiet villages to historical sights, mountains, markets, temples and more!

Full Itinerary

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You can read more about the Wandering Earl Tours concept, as well as feedback from those who have already participated in one my tours, right over here: Wandering Earl Tours

If you have any questions at all, or if you wish to confirm a spot on one of the above trips, just send me a message and I’ll reply right away.

And I shall look forward to meeting and traveling with even more of you in the near future!


Posted in Iraq, Mexico, Thailand, Wandering Earl Tours | 36 Comments