Traveler Instinct
During the three days I spent in Istanbul earlier this month, something didn’t feel right.

Sure, I followed the general routine that I usually follow, and have enjoyed greatly, during my earlier travels to this city. I booked a private room at the friendly Cheers Hostel, I returned to my favorite eateries scattered around the back streets and lanes of a variety of neighborhoods, I smoked shisha at my favorite nargile cafe located in a beautiful 300-year old ex-school-turned-market situated behind a small cemetery, and I spent time each day admiring some of my favorite sights.

But on this occasion, as I did all of the above, I didn’t feel as comfortable as I have felt on those previous twelve or so visits. I couldn’t get in my travel groove for some reason and as a result, I wasn’t enjoying everything I was doing as much as usual.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly was different about it all, but I can say for certain that I noticed something, and it bothered me, and to an extent, worried me too.

As I took my evening walks through very familiar areas, I found myself looking over my shoulder more often and choosing my path a lot more carefully than I normally do in that city, than I normally do anywhere in fact.

At one point, I even commented to another traveler I had met, as we walked through the park situated between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia, that the lack of a police presence in this most touristy section of this well-traveled city was bizarre considering how much of a target this area must be. This observation only added to the heavier-than-usual atmosphere I was feeling.

Everywhere I went, this city which I love very much and have so many incredible memories from, felt more and more unfamiliar with each passing hour.

Traveler Instinct - Istanbul

And as a result, after a short three days, my gut starting telling me, quite clearly, to get out of town.

Deciding to trust what I consider to be my well-honed traveler instinct, on my third night in Istanbul, I booked a flight to Bucharest for the very next morning. I woke up early, took the tram and metro to the airport and off I went to Romania, a short one hour flight away.

The next day, the attack happened in Sultanahmet. Ten tourists were killed, a mere 400 feet from where I was staying, at the exact spot that I had walked across far too many times to count during this three day visit alone.

Is The Traveler Instinct Real?

The idea of a traveler instinct is an interesting concept.

As someone on my FB page recently commented, this ‘instinct’ can sometimes be attributed to confirmation bias, where we have our preconceived notions about a particular destination and the people who live there, and as a result, we interpret all that we observe in a way that fits those already-held ideas.

While I agree with that to an extent, and I’m sure it’s sometimes the case, I don’t think it’s the full explanation.

I certainly had completely opposite ideas of what my time in Istanbul would be like on this occasion, based on all the overwhelmingly positive experiences I had in that city over the past ten years. From the moment I booked my flight to Turkey, I assumed that I was going to return to a place that always emitted a positive vibe (at least to me as a traveler) and that always gave me a positive travel experience.

One could also say that since I was looking for such a positive experience, anything that didn’t fit that mold could be seen as stranger and more negative than normal. Perhaps, but in my opinion, it’s unlikely considering that I’ve certainly learned by now that things don’t always go according to plan and I generally accept whatever comes my way without much disappointment.

Besides, this isn’t the first time I’ve noticed my traveler instinct.

Hagia Sofia, Istanbul

Catching a Pickpocket

I’ve now caught three people over the past five years who were trying to pickpocket me. The first time it happened, I was walking down a busy street in Mumbai and suddenly, I had a feeling that I should turn around. Sure enough, I caught a man with outstretched arm reaching for my back pocket where I happened to have left some money.

And it’s not as if I had been turning around every two minutes thinking that everyone around me might be trying to steal my stuff.

There was no indication that anything was happening except for a gut feeling at that very moment. Maybe I subconsciously saw his shadow, maybe I heard footsteps more closely than normal behind me, maybe I noticed a sudden crowd around me and realized the increase in risk that a pickpocket would operate in this area. I have no idea, but the point is, I felt something that made me turn around, and that feeling turned out to be right.

So there has to be more to it.

How We Develop A Traveler Instinct

The more we travel, the more experiences we have (obviously!), the more situations we find ourselves in, the more people we meet, the more we learn, the more we observe, the more we interpret. All of this then helps us make sense of the future experiences we have, the future situations we find ourselves in, the people we meet in our next destinations. We quickly scan our past experiences to see how these ‘new’ experiences compare and we make an assessment based on that information.

Of course, we are not usually aware of this process. We are only aware of the end result (the instinct) which tells us that a certain situation is normal, safe, unsafe, strange, or anything else, so that we can act accordingly. Suddenly we just know what to do, we make decisions on the fly based on our fine-tuned instincts.

This is especially true when we travel to the same destination more than once. The collection of data we have in our brains about how things are supposed to be in that particular location is obviously greater the more times we visit and the longer we stay, and that helps us interpret everything around us more quickly and, probably, more correctly.

This is what I felt in Istanbul, a city I know very well. I had so much previous experience to compare everything I was now seeing and feeling to that I was even more confident in what my gut was telling me. That’s why I left when I did.

Kurtulus, Istanbul

Who Needs Real Proof? Not Me.

Of course, maybe this is all nonsense in the end. Maybe there’s nothing to this traveler instinct idea at all.

Is it just luck?

It’s not as if I have much in terms of real proof.

It’s not as if I have a long list of tragedies or robberies or attacks that my own instinct has helped me narrowly avoid over the years. That’s not the case at all.

The reality is that it’s quite difficult to know exactly what this traveler instinct has done for me since I generally rely on it to make sure I don’t end up in trouble, not necessarily to help me get out of serious trouble. What it has helped me avoid is something that there is no way for me to be aware of.

But after all of this travel, I really do feel a traveler instinct within, one that seems to improve over time, and one that seems to be working quite well. By paying attention to this instinct as I’ve navigated the world over the past sixteen years, both myself and my possessions have remained remarkably safe in such a wide variety of destinations and situations.

And after this recent Istanbul experience, it would be difficult to convince me that it’s the result of something other than this traveler instinct.

Has your traveler instinct helped you at all? Do you believe this concept is real?


Posted in Personal Stuff, Perspectives | 37 Comments

TSA PreCheck
When I traveled to Las Vegas ten days ago, I forgot to do one important thing when I booked my flight.

And the result of this momentarily lapse was a long, forty minute wait to pass through security at Orlando International Airport.

Normally, when I’m at a US airport I pass through the TSA Pre✓® lane – the speedy security lane for pre-screened passengers. But this time, I could only watch the speedy lane from the chaos of seven long regular security lanes merging into one, creeping slowly along as the frustration of those around me grew with each minute.

Why was I in the regular security lane this time around?

When booking my flight, I had forgotten to enter my Known Traveler Number into the reservation. Simple as that. And with my Known Traveler Number, the words “TSA Pre✓®” are printed across my boarding passes, allowing me to zip through the dedicated TSA Pre✓® lanes at all airport security inspections in the US.

With the TSA Pre✓® lanes, the lines, if any, move quickly. The wait, if any, is never more than a couple of minutes in my experience. Shoes don’t need to be removed, laptop and liquids stay in my carry-on bag, jacket and belt stay on as well. It’s quick and hassle-free.

My airport experience is easier and I have more time to roam the terminal before my flight (which I like to do in order to stretch before boarding the plane). Just not having to wait in the long lines, take off shoes and take out my laptop makes it well worth it to me.

But alas, this time, en route to Vegas, I was back in the normal security lines, only able to watch the TSA Pre✓® passengers pass straight by me. I think it was only the second time I forgot to enter my number in the past two years.

For US citizens, nationals and permanent residents who travel a decent amount (even a couple of times per year would make sense) you can apply for TSA Pre✓® directly.

The process is quite straightforward, involving online pre-enrollment by filling out the TSA Pre✓® application, visiting an enrollment center near you (there are over 370 centers to choose from) with the required paperwork and paying the $85 fee. Once the process is complete, you should receive your Known Traveler Number by mail within 2-3 weeks and it will be valid for 5 years.

And with that number, you’re good to go. Enter it every time you make a flight booking (there is a box for Known Traveler Number when making flight bookings on any website these days) and your boarding pass will automatically say “TSA Pre✓®” on it, allowing you to head straight for the dedicated, and speedy, security lines every time you fly.

Do you already have TSA Pre✓®? Are there similar programs in other countries?


Posted in Travel Tips & Advice | 16 Comments

Travel and Life
If you dare me to do something, I’ll do it, whatever it involves. I might not like it but I’ll show zero emotion whatsoever, pretend that nothing could possibly bother me at all and I’ll face the challenge at hand.

If you told me I won a two month trip to the South Pacific, to bounce around from island to island, all expenses paid, I’d probably nod once and say, “Alright.”

If you told me that my leg is broken and as a result I can’t travel for a year or more, my reaction would also most likely be, “Alright.”

Many people tell me that I’m a mystery, that they have no idea what I’m thinking at any time, what I’m feeling or what’s going on in my head. They tell me that I don’t display my emotions and that I react the same – or don’t react at all – to any kind of information or situation.

They also tell me that while this behavior is all somewhat intriguing, it’s also somewhat annoying.

Thank You, Travel

I think travel has done this to me. I’m quite sure of it actually.

But it’s not exactly what you might think.

Some might immediately conclude that after so many years of travel and life experiences, of memorable sights and activities, of meeting people and learning about the world, travel would just get boring to the point where I no longer react because I literally don’t have any reaction.

Perhaps I’ve ‘seen it all before’ and suffer from travel monotony, so nothing excites me any more.

However, I don’t think that’s the case.

I’m more inclined to think that this constant equanimity is a survival instinct of sorts.

It is something travel has taught me to do – without me really knowing it – in order for me to wander the world in a way that I think is best in terms of having the kind of travel experiences I want to have and also in terms of safety.

When I travel, I generally prefer to ‘fit in’ than ‘stand out’ as I really enjoy observing and interacting with the local culture in a subtle, non-fabricated manner. For example, walking around a random neighborhood, talking with a few local people, going into a small cafe, just being present in some ordinary part of town in order to get a glimpse of how life might really be, is something I try to do often.

Being somewhere without standing out too much, in my opinion, yields some of the most interesting, rewarding and educational travel experiences possible.

And so, as I’ve traveled over the years, I figured out the best way for me to try to fit in when in a destination where I clearly don’t fit in was to go around as unnoticed as possible.

How does a foreigner in a foreign land go unnoticed?

I keep my reactions even, always appear as if I know what I’m doing, always give the impression that I’m confident and that I’m supposed to be exactly where I happen to be at all times. I show no confusion. I show no fear. I pay attention to what’s happening around me, always.

This way, I’m not immediately labeled as an outsider that simply wants to have general tourist experiences, something that can create a barrier between travelers and locals, limiting the types of interactions that can be had as a result. Instead, always maintaining an outwardly confident, unemotional appearance in any setting breaks down some of those barriers, allowing a traveler and local to interact as mere human beings, not as a tourist looking for photo opportunities or a ‘cool’ experience and a local who simply needs/wants something from the tourist.

Old City in Sanaa, Yemen

As a bonus, when it comes to safety while traveling, keeping my reactions equanimous and giving the impression that I know what I’m doing at all times, makes me less of a target, less likely to be taken advantage of. You don’t attempt a scam on or try to rip off someone who looks like they know what’s going on around them.

In fact, in 15 years of travel, I’ve only had my wallet pick-pocketed once (my fault though) and have rarely fallen victim to any major scam or been ripped off beyond the usual ‘foreigner paying a little more than locals’ type of rip off. I could probably list the number of times I’ve been truly taken advantage of as a tourist on one foot, even if I count my two webbed toes as just one toe.

Life Without Reactions

All of this ‘training’ has impacted my life in general as well.

By not outwardly reacting to situations that occur, I don’t give anything away. I can blend into any setting and I can fade out of any setting quite easily too. Nobody can figure me out, nobody can gain an upper hand (so I think, of course) if they don’t know what I’m thinking or feeling.

The additional benefits, in travel and life as a whole, are interesting. I’m able to remain calm at all times, to see things clearly even in the middle of a chaotic and difficult situation and to overcome obstacles simply because I won’t allow myself to appear as if I can’t do something.

I also tend to believe that everything is possible and I venture out into the world with an outward confidence that helps me navigate even the trickiest and most uncomfortable of situations. Again, by not letting myself appear unconfident and incapable, I have no choice but to be confident and capable.

Driving a tractor in India

Downsides also exist of course. I won’t pretend they don’t. This ‘wall’ I put up ensures that few people can get too close to me. That’s something I’m well aware of. Also, my excitement, sadness, disappointment, happiness and on and on are often all internalized, only for me to know about, giving the appearance that I don’t actually experience excitement, sadness, disappointment, happiness or anything else, at least to those who don’t know me well.

Hence the reason why so many people tell me I’m a mystery, which is usually accompanied by a semi-frustrated shaking of the head and a sigh, as if to say, “Well, I have no time for this.

The reality though, is that I most definitely do react to everything. I do find myself in awe as I wander the planet, staring out at the Himalayan Mountains or finding myself in the middle of a fascinating cultural experience. I do find myself dealing with frustration and thrill and fear and attachment and all of that…it’s just happening in a place that nobody else can see most of the time.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying all of this is healthy. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. I just find it to be an interesting result of my life of travel and how my brain has handled and adjusted to the situations I’ve faced over the years. It has undoubtedly brought me benefits and helped me tremendously to experience and learn from this world in a way that I want to experience and learn from it. But it’s also a bit odd, I understand that.

And in the end, I’m neither happy nor unhappy about it, or so I outwardly say.

How do you handle your emotions when traveling and in life? Do you try to display an outward confidence in certain situations to help you through? I’d really be interested in hearing your thoughts.


Posted in Perspectives | 65 Comments

Most Memorable Life Experiences
Have you ever created a list of the first 50 or so most memorable life experiences that pop into your head when you think back over your years?

I woke up this morning and felt the urge to do just that. This is what I came up with…

Taking a shower in a small wooden closet down a tiny alley in Kabul every morning during my stay. It was a local hamam where most of the residents in the area bathed each day.

Finding everyone I met in Tirana to be so welcoming – from waitstaff to the hostel staff to strangers in the street to shop owners. Especially the shop owner who not only let me charge my phone in his shop but insisted that I go eat at his favorite restaurant nearby while my phone was charging. He even called the restaurant to let them know I was coming and to make sure they took care of me. I loved Tirana.

Being convinced by some other travelers to enter a local salsa club in Bariloche, Argentina and, despite the fact that I rarely dance, I didn’t want to leave the dance floor all night and ended up staying there until 5am.

Trying to sleep under the stars in the middle of the desert near Alice Springs, Australia, telling myself I would close my eyes after seeing just one more shooting star…and repeating this over and over again until I spent almost the entire night staring at the star-filled sky.

Eating the largest schnitzel I’ve ever seen with two good friends.

Spending a day on a private island in the Bahamas where I was really loving my job as a Tour Manager on a cruise ship.

Being kidnapped in Dhaka, Bangladesh by the most inexperienced and useless kidnappers on the planet (thankfully).

Istanbul graffiti

Meeting and becoming friends with some incredible local people in Barbados, spending days driving around the island, visiting the beaches, eating good food and enjoying the great company.

Walking around Mostar for a day with several other travelers, randomly ending up in a well-known crepe shop where we ate a lot of yummy crepes while having a superb time interacting with the locals around us for a couple of hours.

New Year’s at a house party in Sofia.

Drinking local draft beer with endless Burmese at the many local, open-air bars scattered around Mandalay, Burma. It was hard to walk by one of these bars without being invited inside for a beer by those already in there drinking.

Angkor Wat! Where it all began…spending the Millennium at this unforgettable site and realizing for the first time that a life of travel was what I really wanted to achieve in life.

Attending the wedding of one of my best friends in Vancouver, getting a chance to spend time with him, his family, his other friends as well as another good friend of mine in this beautiful city. Eating sushi everyday, walking along the water, working in some unique cafes…

A friend and I being the only people in a tiny, back lane cinema in Osorno, Chile where the woman at the counter found it hilarious that two foreigners wanted to watch the latest Harry Potter movie at this most random of theaters.

Stumbling upon the fantastic Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb.

Walking around in complete awe during my first day in Cesky Krumlov, a fairy-tale town that quickly became one of my favorite destinations on the planet.

The Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo. I could have spent several days in there.

Ending up in a dive karaoke bar for about 5 hours right in the center of San Salvador where a friend and I were welcomed with open arms by the local crowd that proceeded to ensure we had plenty to drink all evening. We then did what you’re not supposed to do there…walk back across the entire city late at night to our guesthouse.

My routine in Southampton every time the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship that I worked on would finish a voyage. The routine involved an hour walk to the center of town, a coffee in the park and an Indian buffet lunch at Namaste Kerala Indian restaurant, just me enjoying some alone time…I must have done this 20 times at least.

Ending up in a local, unnamed bar located behind a black door that led into a basement in Tallinn’s old city where I spent an evening with several extremely hospitable Estonians who wanted to show me a bit of their underground nightlife.

Tallinn Old City view

Stopping in Fiji en route to my study abroad experience in Australia, my first real night of traveling on my own. I went for a quick walk through the town of Suva that first day, hired a taxi to drive me around the main island, ordered a chicken sandwich and french fries to my room and sat on a small balcony shyly watching life go by. I had no idea what I was doing.

Staying at the Bengkstar Lighthouse, located in the Archipelago Sea some 25 kms from the coast of Finland, for a night where I enjoyed the complete isolation (I was the only guest), spent time in the sauna, ate delicious home-cooked meals and hung out with the two staff working there. This is one night I will never forget.

Going sledding in Annecy, France over New Year’s and actually having an absolute blast as I tumbled and crashed for several hours despite my extreme dislike for cold, snow and any activity that involves either cold weather or snow.

Quetzaltenango. Arrived in this northern Guatemalan city and didn’t want to leave. For some reason I really connected with this town and I could have sat in the main plaza for hours and hours each day watching the life around me.

Going on a road trip from Budapest to Lake Balataon to Split to Dubrovnik to Cavtat with a local Hungarian friend in a tiny 1970s Fiat.

Standing in the town of Isafjordur in the northwest corner of Iceland, wondering how on earth I got there, talking with some local teenagers and finding the completely quiet and calm atmosphere to be quite eerie, yet quite appealing at the same time.

Somehow ending up visiting India so many times that I know it better than any other country in the world. This is not something I would have ever expected when I first started traveling.

Waking up every day for a week in a village along the Amed coast on the island of Bali, feeling as if there was nowhere else I would rather be.

Amed, Bali

Finding myself completely surprised by Venice. I thought I wouldn’t like it at all but I loved every minute I was there, especially wandering through the lanes late at night, without a plan, getting lost for hours at a time.

Smoking shisha with my good friend Anil from Foxnomad.com in a local shisha cafe in the town of Sulemainiyah, in Northern Iraq, as if this was a completely normal thing for us to do.

Walking around the Old City in Jerusalem for the first time.

Getting off the cruise ship in Ocho Rios, Jamaica where I was always greeted by the most outgoing, hilarious, crazy group of tour operators in the world who would put a smile on my face from the first second I saw them until the ship left at night.

That first glimpse of Petra.

Petra, Jordan - first glimpse

Having a chance to visit Fanning Island in Kiribati at least 20 times where I would spend the entire day on a remote, white-sand beach that was, in my opinion, as close to true paradise as there can be on this planet.

Creating an unlikely friendship with Tamara, the lovely and most generous guesthouse owner in the small, unassuming town of Tamga, Kyrgyzstan.

Smoking some local stuff with a fellow traveler, peeing my pants and then walking across an island in the middle of the Mekong River in southern Laos in order to catch a glimpse of the Irrawaddy Dolphins.

Being followed by an extremely mysterious and sketchy guy one day in Beirut, Lebanon. I’ll also never forget the knafeh that I ate at a roadside knafeh shop in southern Lebanon, where the shockingly exquisite sweet cheese pastry put me in such a trance that tears nearly fell from my eyes. No joke.

Meeting up with a family in Skopje, Macedonia that was friends with a friend of mine and having them take me into their home for several days, invite me to a huge family gathering/party and so graciously show me all over their city.

Eating some of the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten at the food stalls in Georgetown, Penang in Malaysia.

Waiting in a long line at a tiny, yet extremely popular, local sandwich shop in Valletta, Malta in order to buy their most popular sandwich – two pieces of thick bread filled with cheesy pasta in between – before sitting on a wall with some other locals, eating our sandwiches and staring out at the fortress walls across the water.

Walking through the streets of Valladolid or Izamal or Oaxaca or San Critobal de las Casas…never finding a destination in Mexico that I didn’t become quite fond of.

Dubrovnik in Croatia

Sitting in a cafe in Chisinau, Moldova only to have several people ask me why I was in Moldova and then invite me to hang out during the day and at night, giving me a better insight into the country than I could have ever imagined.

Renting a perfect little apartment with my girlfriend in Ulcinj, Montenegro and getting into one the happiest and healthiest routines I’ve ever been in, one that was very hard to leave.

Traveling by bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu only to find a landslide had blocked the road halfway through the journey. Everyone on the bus got creative, turning the bus into a makeshift guesthouse so that we would all survive the cold night, passing the time eating and drinking together and catching a few hours of sleep.

Renting a car with a friend in New Zealand and driving around the North Island for a week, sleeping in the car, using the public bathrooms and showers around the country and becoming completely fascinated by the spitting mud we witnessed all over the place, shooting straight out of the ground in the most unexpected of places.

Running through the streets of Managua, Nicaragua after finding a ‘famous’ bayonet located in a very mysterious small park (in an area that every guide book said to absolutely avoid due to extreme danger from gangs) and then, naturally, noticing a gang on BMX bicycles on a cliff above me following my every move…I took off so fast and just kept running until I eventually found a taxi, jumped in and told him to drive off as quickly as possible.

Witnessing the Norwegian fjords by boat, hiking and bicycle while also traveling all the way up to the islands of Svalbard.

Standing in the back of a jeep with a bunch of other people as we traveled for two days along a dirt road from the Pakistani town of Gilgit to the remote mountain town of Chitral, located near the Afghanistan border. Never in my life have, or probably will I, see such breathtaking natural landscapes.

Hindu Kush, Pakistan

Taking a most memorable road trip all over Romania with my girlfriend, complete with a friend’s wedding, visits to castles, old wooden churches, painted monasteries, a merry cemetery, a park located in an old salt mine, a stay in a remote mountain village and a journey across the Transfagarasan Highway.

Walking for hours around Singapore, slurping up a bowl of noodle soup every time I needed a break.

Singapore skyline

Going to the Piestany Spa in Slovakia where I ended up completely naked en route to my mud bath while a group of teenagers on a school field trip walked by. The mud bath was quite nice though.

Meeting so many wonderful people in Ljubljana that I quickly reached the conclusion that this was one city I could live in for a long time.

Attending a most memorable football championship in Durban, South Africa where the focus of the tens of thousands in attendance was much less on the game itself than on having the largest party possible. Every single person in that stadium was dancing to the blaring music all evening long, with a huge smile on their face, regardless of what was happening on the field.

Visiting a friend in Vasteras, Sweden for their Midsummer holiday and the huge festival that accompanies it.

Repeatedly extending my stay in Syria upon discovering that it was one of the most interesting countries I had ever visited, and after having made so many local friends in such a short period of time everywhere I went, from Aleppo to Homs to Hama to Damascus to Palmyra to Qamishli. (Of course, this was before all the current craziness.)

Living in Chiang Mai during the days when it was just a simple, local town with almost zero foreign influence.

Bucharest, Romania

Every visit to Istanbul involves such a long list of memorable experiences – baklava from Gulluoglu Karakoy, concerts and nightlife, long wanders through random neighborhoods, ferries across the Bosphorus, meeting up with friends, mehane dinners and endless structures and views that impress no matter how many times I see them.

Staying with a local family in the mountains of southern Ukraine.

Taking the ferry to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay and without knowing it, arriving during a major festival that turned out to be one of the best times I had during my South America travels, staying out all night in a neighborhood where people danced in the streets among vintage cars that had somehow been transformed into mini-gardens.

Traveling around the mainland of Yemen, a true highlight from all my years of traveling this world. And then flying to the ‘needs-to-be-seen-to-be-believed’ Socotra Island, whose remote and stunning existence managed to blow me away even more. This is the country that I am most thankful for having seen.

Finally, having an opportunity to organize and lead tours to various countries around the world. Never thought this is something I would ever be doing but I’m loving the experience tremendously.

This has been my life.

And when I read that list, I do feel happy. I smile widely and I feel satisfied with where my life has taken me.

I’m not saying that I’m 100% ecstatic about everything of course. I’ve done plenty of dumb things, made plenty of terrible decisions, have had plenty of issues, peed my pants more than that one time in Laos and missed out on a long list of experiences that people who have taken a different path have been fortunate to enjoy. That’s life, as they say, no matter what route you choose.

I wrote the above list because I genuinely wanted to see if the experiences I’ve been through have been sufficiently fulfilling, if the decisions I’ve made over the years have been worth it overall.

Travel itself does not equal automatic happiness. It’s what those experiences mean to each of us, how they match with what we hoped to gain from life.

There are plenty of really unhappy travelers out there in the world and there are also plenty of incredibly happy people who have never left home!

The Goal of Life

For a long time now, I’ve been a firm believer that the goal of life, regardless of what path you choose, is simply to be able to smile when it all comes to an end, when we are forced to reflect upon everything we’ve done.

I’m also a believer that it pays to stop often and make sure that we are indeed following a path that will ensure that final smile. It’s so ridiculously easy to veer off course, to end up in a rut, doing things that don’t make us happy at all, and if we don’t pay close attention, that rut can drag on for a long, long time.

Taking a few moments to check on ourselves is truly vital if our goal is indeed happiness. Again, that’s why I made that list above.

Are you ready to check on yourself?

If you were to make a list of the 50 or so experiences that pop into your mind when you stop to reflect about where your life has taken you…

what does that list look like and how do you feel when you finish reading it?

Do you smile? Is it time for a change? Or is it full speed ahead for now?


Posted in Perspectives | 47 Comments

Wandering Earl Tour to India - Taj Mahal
My journey to Morocco begins in about 12 hours, with a 4:30am flight from Delhi to Doha, followed by two more flights that will eventually take me to Marrakech.

Never been to Morocco. Naturally, I’m quite excited.

And while my stay probably won’t be too long, I’ll make the most of it as I have some unique activities planned, a little bit different than the standard trip to Morocco I think. One of the reasons for this is that I’ve been receiving a lot of requests to put together a Morocco trip as part of my Wandering Earl Tours project, so I want to go there and see what kind of interesting itinerary I can create.

On a different note, I can’t believe it’s already been 3 years since I offered my first tour…it’s craziness. In fact, yesterday, I actually finished leading my latest India trip which consisted of another excellent group of people and another excellent list of experiences that we all shared together. Such a truly rewarding trip once again!

And every time a tour ends and I start getting the feedback, I really need some time to simply sit down and take it all in, ever so happy that these trips continue to be so positive for so many people. That was certainly my hope when I started them.

Of course, none of this would even be happening if it weren’t for the continued, and growing, interest from so many of you. I’m absolutely honored by how fast the word has spread about these tours. It is something I never could have imagined at all. I can only thank you wholeheartedly for coming on these trips, telling family and friends about them and simply emailing me with your ideas and suggestions for future adventures!

It is this growing interest that keeps me even more motivated (incredibly motivated!) to continue offering the kind of unique, small-group experiences that these tours have come to represent, to create new trips based on your suggestions and to ensure that your expectations are always met and hopefully exceeded as well.

And now, I’m happy to announce the Wandering Earl Tours for 2016:

India
Thailand/Cambodia
South Africa
Romania
Vietnam
Kyrgyzstan
Mexico
Iran
Thailand/Malaysia/Singapore

In order to keep things more organized, I’ve now moved all of my tour stuff over to its own website: WanderingEarlTours.com

The new site has all of the details for each trip offered, complete with itineraries, maps, photos, feedback from previous participants and more.

Wandering Earl Tours

If you happen to be interested in possibly joining one of these trips, I invite you to have a look at the new site, explore the tours on offer and as always, let me know if you have any questions at all!

And that’s it for now. It’s not my intention to spend too much time talking about these tours here on the blog but of course, I did want to mention next year’s offerings in case some of you would like to join.

Time for me to get ready to leave India….Morocco posts coming soon!

Enjoy the rest of your week!

Posted in Wandering Earl Tours | 10 Comments

Travel Habits
Before getting on an airplane, I always re-tie my shoelaces.

During a layover, I must sit at an airport cafe for at least ten minutes, but only in a chair that faces away from the counter where I placed my order.

And I always look at the details page of my passport a dozen times or more right before I begin to travel.

I’d like to say there’s a good reason for me doing all of the above. But, in reality, those first two are just examples of my inexplicable travel habits. The last one? Well, I do that simply to make sure nobody has stolen my passport and replaced it with an exact replica, in terms of outside appearance and the stamps inside, but that now has somebody else’s name and photo on the main page.

So far so good…if you can believe that.

The point is that travel involves so much more than just waking up and heading to your next destination. It’s a process, one that involves routines, bizarre beliefs and on occasion, those odd travel habits, of which I’m sure we all have our own. Or so I hope.

The more I travel myself, the more I notice my own process and perhaps by sharing what I go through whenever I travel from one country to another, it will be useful in some way…or else it will just make me sound a little wacky.

Deciding to Go Somewhere

Depending on where I am, and where I decide to go next, the process of moving on might be as easy as booking a train ticket, heading to a bus station or simply walking across a border. However, in many cases, of course, it involves booking a flight. And in those situations, this is what I do:

  • Flight Search – One after the other I pull up my favorite flight search engines and, when possible, I enter a variety of origin and destination airports and various sets of flexible dates until I find a suitable fare (the flight search engines I use are google.com/flights, jetradar.com, kayak.com, skyscanner.com and cheapoair.com).
  • Book a Flight – I’m usually a little hesitant to book my flight right away, so I generally continue checking the above websites for a few days to see if there are any changes. Who am I kidding? I book flights almost always a few days before I actually fly out. Somehow, despite this, I usually find a pretty good fare, in terms of price, duration, route and preferred airlines. Based on experience, if you search long and hard enough, you’ll almost always find a suitable fare. Eventually, I book it.
  • Frequent Flyer Details – Since I can be quite forgetful at times, I always make sure that I enter my frequent flyer details when booking my ticket or immediately after. If I don’t do it right away, it’s almost a guarantee I won’t remember to do it at all.
  • Aisle Seat – Sitting in a window or middle seat is about the same as sitting on the airplane toilet or just right on top of the wing to me – uncomfortable. Being able to stretch my legs in the aisle and to get up whenever I need to without anything in my way, is something I cherish immensely, especially on long-haul flights. And I’ll always try to get a seat as close to the front of the plane as I can, simply because upon arrival this allows me to get to immigration before most of the other passengers.
  • Dancing and High-fiving – Upon booking a flight, I dance a sweet dance of celebration and I’ll high-five anyone around me. Of course, some might call my dance more of a wiggle and often times I end up just high-fiving myself. So it goes.

Travel Habits - Book a Flight

Pre-trip Preparation

This one is easy. There’s really only three quick steps involved.

  • Passport – Make sure I have my passport.
  • Pack – Pack my stuff about 2 hours before I need to go the airport.
  • Passport – Make sure I still have my passport and that the details on the details page are still my own. Sometimes this requires between 15 – 20 checks to be certain it’s still me. (Why my university psychologist told me, way back when, that my OCD had been solved is beyond me.)

Departure Time

When the time comes to actually head to the airport, I quickly fall into what has become my very standard routine…

  • WiFi. Check. – Given the importance of internet for my work, I double-check to make sure I have my Telecomsquare mobile wifi device and charger in my carry-on bag. I might even triple and quadruple check this one.
  • Give Me Water – I down a glass of water before heading out the door of wherever I’m staying.
  • Precise Timing – Generally, I aim to get to the airport 2 hours before my flight departure time.
  • Good Karma – If I take a taxi or shuttle bus to the airport, I will always give the driver a larger-than-normal tip (assuming nothing sketchy took place). My thinking is that by doing so, my last action in that particular country is a positive one, so surely that will send some good karma my way, perhaps for my upcoming flight, my adventures in the next destination or if I ever return to the same place again. It’s still a working theory though.
  • Flight Check-In – Normally, I just check in. However, my goal here is always to make the airport check-in staff smile. They rarely do. If I try to say something funny, the chance of them smiling is even lower.

Travel Habits - Check-In

  • Airport Security – Now I’m no George Clooney in the film Up in the Air where he buzzes through security as if he was a robot built specifically for going through airport security lines at an incredibly fast speed, but I’m no first time flyer either. I can pull off my belt while taking out my laptop at the same time, empty my pockets in less than 2.3 seconds and I never forget anything that causes the metal detecting machine to beep. Sure, I might hit the guy in front of me in the back with my belt as I try to whip it out (doesn’t sound good, I know) and I never put my liquids in a plastic bag but so far, nobody’s punched me in the face or ever cared that my liquid items were all over the place.
  • Immigration – Try making the immigration officers smile. I try, every time, but they obviously went to the same school as the airline check-in staff. When I’m called up, I’ll usually smile, then I’ll remove my smile when they look at me with such a serious face. Then, as the officer struggles to have my passport read by the scanner, I explain that, well, my heavily-used passport has a difficult time being read by the scanner at every airport, so it’s nothing personal.

    Usually, I’ll also memorize the page where my entry stamp was placed when I first arrived because, now that my passport has had 60 pages in it for a while, this saves everyone a lot of time. Finally, on a more serious note, if the officer asks me any questions, I’ve learned to keep my answers short and to only answer exactly what they asked. Going into long explanations or providing details they never asked for often leads to more questions, suspicion and even less smiling if you can believe it.

  • Departure Lounge Routine – Upon entering the departure area, I first find a seat near a window that offers a view of the runway. That’s where I spend about 20 minutes just staring off into space, watching planes take off and letting the thoughts flow, thoughts about my time in the country I’m leaving, thoughts about my next destination, thoughts about the effectiveness of voodoo and whatever else pops into my head. After that meditative session comes to an end, I head to the bathroom to wash my hands and then over to my actual gate, trying to show up just a few minutes before boarding time.

    Once boarding begins, I like to remain seated at the gate as I’m one of those people that waits until most of the passengers get on the plane before boarding myself. I see no point in standing in line when we already have assigned seats and the plane isn’t going to leave until we’ve all boarded, unless I fall asleep in the gate area like that one time in Oslo. (Thank you to the gate agent who woke me up at the very last minute!) I’ve never really understood why airplanes make people so nutty…that mad rush to get on the plane, as if only the first 10 ticket holders will actually be allowed to fly, would make for a good study in human behavior.

  • Re-tie My Shoelaces – I just do it.

Travel Habits - Boarding the Plane

The Flight

On my trip a few days ago, my flights were from Bucharest to Dubai and then Dubai to Delhi. I flew with Fly Dubai airlines. And for me, it was a pretty standard flight in terms of what I did while on board…except for the bathroom incident.

  • Sleep – On most flights, I sleep plenty. I have a ‘no work’ policy while in the air so it’s either sleep, read or watching movies. Normally, I do a combination of them all, but sleep seems to take up the most time.
  • Movies – Comedies. Even bad comedies. I have trouble watching any other kind of movie while on a flight. I’d watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 over The Shawshank Redemption every single time.
  • Bathroom Time – I drink a lot of water while flying and so, I must use the toilet on board. I’m also quite particular about not having food in my teeth, so I like to check after every time I eat as well. Usually, the bathroom experience is quite uneventful, apart from when I find a huge piece of spinach covering my front tooth. On occasion, though, such as during my last flight from Dubai to Delhi, I enter the airplane bathroom only to find an absolute disgusting mess – the toilet, toilet seat and some of the floor is completely covered in piss. I naturally wonder if it was the woman who just left the bathroom, but I’ll never know. And now the person after me (there’s always someone waiting right outside the door when this happens) will probably assume it was me who peed as if I had a sprinkler system attached to my crotch. Again, so it goes.
  • Seatbelt Ritual – My seatbelt stays on during the flight but for some reason, as soon as the plane touches the ground, I take it off. Yes, while still on the runway zooming along at several hundred miles per hour. It’s a ritual I started about 10 years ago as I have this strong belief that doing this brings me good luck. I know it doesn’t make any sense, and if I do end up on a plane that has a real nasty landing, good luck is probably the farthest thing from what I’ll experience. I am aware of this. But it’s a difficult travel habit to break.

Travel Habits - Aisle Seat

Layover Between Flights

I don’t mind layovers, as long as they’re not longer than about 5 hours. On my trip last week, my layover in Dubai was a perfect 2 hours, giving me the right amount of time to complete my layover routine.

  • Wander the Airport – After sitting for so long, I need to walk and I’ll walk for around 20 minutes, all over the departure area. But if there’s any duty-free shops, I avoid them at all cost as I believe that entering one, unlike taking off my seatbelt while in the middle of landing, will bring me bad luck. (Until I started writing all this stuff down and reading it over a few times, I really thought my habits and beliefs were just the wisdom of an experienced traveler. Silly me.)
  • Cafe Break – I find a cafe. Usually, I’ll order a cappuccino or some juice if they have it. Then I’ll find a seat facing away from the counter where I placed my order and I’ll drink my drink, sitting there for at least 10 minutes. If I’m running late to catch a flight, I still make sure I sit there for 10 minutes unless they’re calling out my name over the speaker system, telling me that if I don’t show up immediately, I’m not going to Bali after all.
  • People Watching and a Game – After my coffee or juice, if it’s not time to board the flight, I’ll brush my teeth and then have a seat at the gate, where I just observe the people all around me, enjoying some good old fashioned people watching. I love trying to guess where everyone is flying to and I must say, I once considered myself quite skilled at doing so. That was until I realized that people are usually going to the destination listed on the screen at the gate where they are sitting. Go figure.

Arrival at My Destination

Finally, I’ve landed at my destination. My seatbelt is off right away of course and then I try to figure out if we’re heading to an actual gate or if our plane will park in the middle of no man’s land and we’ll have to take buses to the terminal. If we take buses, then my entire plan of sitting near the front of the plane backfires because, for some reason, I always end up being one of the last people off the bus.

Travel Habits - Arrival

Here’s what happens next…

  • Arrival Airport Routine – As I head through the airport towards the immigration inspection, I always avoid using the people movers or escalators. I just walk and use the stairs, although, since my goal is to arrive at immigration before the majority of people, I have to walk a lot faster than I would like. But, the reason why I avoid the people movers and escalators is, as you might have guessed, a very sound one. If I use the movers and escalators, I’ll become lazy for the rest of my life and I don’t want to become lazy. Yes, these two things are the key to avoiding laziness, no matter what else you do.
  • Immigration (Round 2) – Back at immigration and this time, it doesn’t matter to me if the officer smiles. Normally, I walk as far down as I can, to the last line of immigration, based on the idea that the other passengers are lazy (yup, they took the people movers!) and they will just enter the first line or two and avoid having to walk more than that. Not every immigration has several lines of course, but if they do, you can find me all the way at the end. Usually, this is faster. And when it’s not, well, at least I wasn’t lazy.

    Then, I just hand over my passport and wait there until it’s given back to me. I do check the stamp in my passport and the date on that stamp right away though, because on one occasion in India, the immigration officer stamped me into the country on September 24th, 2010, which would have been fine. The problem was that I had actually entered the country on May 5th, 2011.

  • Luggage and Customs Inspection – I’ve had good luck with this. In all my travels, never has my luggage been lost. My backpack did arrive on the carousel in Rome once all cut up, the work of Austrian airport police who had sliced it open in several places with a knife looking for drugs apparently. But apart from that, I normally just wait a few minutes and out comes my luggage. With the customs inspection, I just look straight ahead, put on my most confident face as if I know exactly what I’m doing and have been to this destination dozens of times before and, apart from one time in Sofia, Bulgaria, I’ve never been stopped at customs in any destination outside of the US.
  • The First Twenty Minutes – Once I enter the arrivals hall, here’s how I spend my first twenty minutes in this new country. It basically involves taking it very slowly by first sitting at a cafe in order to get my bearings and avoid making any major travel mistakes such as getting ripped off. It works every single time.
  • Into the City I Go – Rested, with sound mind and a better understanding of where I’m going and how to get there, I gather my belongings, go to an ATM to take out some local currency and head to the taxi stand, shuttle counter, airport train or metro station or whatever it is that will take me into the city, just like any normal, sane traveler.

And so my adventures in a new destination begin…and with it, an entirely different set of routines, beliefs and inexplicable travel habits.

I won’t even try to explain why I feel the need to stand, while shifting my whole body weight from one leg to the other every few minutes, for the entire journey to my hostel, hotel or guesthouse, even if there are plenty of empty seats on the bus, train or metro. All I’ll say is that it has to do with a tai chi class I once took 18 years ago.

The rest can most certainly wait until another post.

Any interesting routines or habits – strange or not – when you travel? Any odd beliefs or superstitions you care to share?


Posted in Personal Stuff, Travel Tips & Advice | 37 Comments

Travel Friendships
Her name is Tamara.

And because of her I shed a tear.

Back in 2014, I wrote about this woman who lives in the small, simple town of Tamga, near the banks of Issyk-Kul Lake, in Eastern Kyrgyzstan. I met her completely by accident and I randomly ended up staying at her guesthouse, the Askar & Tamara Guesthouse, for a couple of nights.

You can read the complete story here: My Experience in Tamga, Kyrgyzstan is Exactly Why I Love Travel

To make a long story short though, Tamara was an exceptional person. She was so willing to share the tales of her life and teach me about her culture. She was also passionate about learning how people live in other parts of the world and she loved communicating with foreigners, even though very few passed through her town.

Without a doubt, Tamara was one of the most welcoming, kind and generous human beings I’ve met during my travels and we quickly became friends. In fact, I knew right away that this would be one of those travel friendships that would not end once I left the country, even though it was almost impossible for us to communicate.

And that’s why, when she told me about her desire to have a popular guesthouse so that she could help more travelers discover her hometown and the area where she had spent most of her life, I wanted to do something.

After leaving Tamga, I decided that I would tell anyone and everyone that I could about Tamara and her guesthouse. I wanted travelers to visit the town, stay there and have the incredible experience that I knew they would have, with Tamara as their host. So, that’s what I’ve done…I’ve told travelers who were planning on going to Kyrgyzstan and even travelers who had no plans to visit this country, that they must pass through Tamga at some point.

I even had my Wandering Earl “Wander Across Kyrgyzstan tour” spend a night at her guesthouse this past June and according to the feedback from the group, it was one of the highlights of the trip (I was not on that trip myself unfortunately).

But of course, apart from my group, I really had no idea who was actually going to Tamga, or if anyone was going at all. Tamara doesn’t have email and, as I mentioned, there was no real way for us to stay in touch.

A Major, Major Surprise

Last week, I received a note from my friend (and brilliant photographer) Kym Pham, saying that she had a little message for me. She included a link. It was a link to a video. I opened it and watched…

And perhaps it’s not possible for anyone else to understand, but that video is what made a tear drop from my eye.

I’m not fully sure why, but it did.

Maybe it was from hearing about the success that Tamara has had and all the travelers that are now coming to her place, putting Tamga on the map.

Maybe it was because the video made it seem as if I was right there, in the remote mountains, chatting with an old friend.

But maybe it was the simple reminder that the interactions we have while traveling are so often more than just a fleeting moment of idle chit-chat. Those conversations and the time spent with new people we come across, however brief or lengthy, can actually change lives in a major way, including our own.

And if a person who grew up just outside of Boston and a person who grew up in the remote mountains of Kyrgyzstan can create a bond that crosses the planet, pays no attention to the differences between them and impacts each others lives in ways that each could never have imagined…

…it really is difficult to argue about the value of travel.

Do you have a story about someone you’ve met while traveling and how your interaction impacted one or both of your lives? Please do share!


Posted in Kyrgyzstan, Perspectives | 20 Comments

travel blogging
I’m a travel blogger. Wait. No I’m not.

As I like to say, I’m just a blogger. I happen to be traveling most of the time so I write about travel most of the time too. Maybe that makes me a travel blogger, I don’t know.

I also write about other stuff as well, including the tough times I face, and the occasional, yet very real, mental breakdowns I’ve gone through.

If I don’t have anything to say at all, I’ll even write about that.

What I won’t write is stuff that makes you, the reader, get a false idea of travel. I’m not going to tell you that travel is just flower gardens and ice cream sundaes. I won’t tell you that, without any effort at all, you can be bouncing around the world as you like, living out all of your travel fantasies. I’ll never tell you that the travel life I’m living is so unbelievably amazing that any other lifestyle you choose is just a waste of time, a waste of life.

I’m not going to tell you that everyone with a blog is living it up on the beach either, working 2 hours per day, filling our time with non-stop activities and experiences that the rest of the world can only dream of. And I won’t tell you that you can have that lifestyle too if you just snap your fingers. You can try, and you’ll probably get pretty darn good at snapping, but it just ain’t true.

As many of you know, I’m going to tell it like it is, as best I can. Travel and blogging, while it’s often incredibly enjoyable for me, is not always good times and I have no problem stating that.

Long-term travel is really just another lifestyle. Blogging is really just another job.

For me it has some great benefits but it certainly isn’t the only way to live, or the most rewarding for everyone.

Here’s where I’m going with this…

-When Blogging Becomes Fake-

First, it’s without a doubt an interesting time. There are more and more blogs out there every single day. It’s an exciting time, with so many people wanting to share their adventures, their knowledge, their advice with others.

And the great thing about blogging is that there are no rules. Everyone’s free to try it out, to blog as they see fit. I love to hear from new bloggers who are eager to get started and enthusiastic about where their efforts might lead. That kind of energy is exactly what helps motivate others to figure out what is important in their own lives and to make the necessary adjustments towards a happier existence.

But like with any field, sometimes that initial enthusiasm, especially if things maybe don’t go according to plan right away, can turn into something else. Due to an inaccurate image that long-term travel is often associated with – the nothing but constant flowers and ice cream sundae image – it becomes tempting to insist that the lifestyle we dreamed of is exactly the lifestyle we’ve created, even when it’s not.

One thing leads to another and before long, blogging becomes a bit, well, fake. The lives and travels being talked about are not the lives and travels that are actually taking place.

The thing I don’t understand is that it’s perfectly okay for things to not work out the way we imagined. And it’s also okay to let our readers know about it instead of trying to maintain the image that we’re living the dream each and every minute of each and every day.

Being holed up in a hostel for 18 hours per day working on a laptop, earning a couple of hundred dollars per month and trying to write about travel experiences that you actually don’t have the time or money to partake in, is fine. We all go through that stage.

Just tell it like it is. It would be far more useful than trying to claim something that isn’t actually happening.

Of course, there are many, many extremely genuine bloggers out there. There are a ton of great people working hard to maintain their traveling lifestyles, people who are honest about their work and what they go through and what’s involved with creating a life of travel.

-Disappointment-

It’s just that the more I discover how many stories out there don’t actually match a person’s reality in any way, the more disappointed I get.

The reason I’m writing this post is because this morning I heard about yet another travel blogger who is living a life that is so drastically different than the dream life they describe on their blog. The life so full of endless, wonderful travel experiences, and very easy money, that they tell people over and over again can be achieved so easily, is not what they are living. When I found out that this person actually rents a tiny studio apartment, is barely able to afford food, almost never ventures outside and basically does nothing that could be labeled ‘travel’, I couldn’t believe it.

Some bloggers spend months in a destination without actually getting to know the place at all, while writing about it as if they were out and about exploring every day, and having the time of their life. The reason they aren’t really out there is because, again, they are often working on their laptops all day so that they can afford a few more meals or their next train ticket.

Like I said, I’ve been through it all myself.

It’s a perfectly fine lifestyle of course and there’s nothing wrong with it at all but, again, it’s no automatic dream.

It’s a job, with a routine. It’s just like many other jobs that any of us do.

So why can’t we admit it? Why do we need to maintain this image?

-Reality Doesn’t Sell-

What’s happening is that there are so many people traveling and writing about it these days that everyone wants to be the ones living the ideal lifestyle. Few people want to show the negative side of their own travels or what they’re really going through at times because they don’t want to be the ones who couldn’t make it.

Besides, such a reality doesn’t make for the kind of story that will help you earn money from a blog. It doesn’t help sell advertising space or convince a company to pay you good money for a sponsored post on your site.

Isn’t it better to provide a real look at travel, complete with the ups and downs, the rewards and the struggles, so that readers can make informed decisions as to whether or not they want to try to achieve their own travel goals?

Isn’t it better to provide real advice and information, based upon real experiences, so that readers can learn from us in ways that will truly be useful?

Offering up BS doesn’t help anyone.

Yesterday, I also heard about a young guy who studied extremely hard at university, completing his degree in computer science. Upon graduation he landed a job, his first job, with a company that many people in his field would dream of working for. He also volunteers, plays sports and does many of the things that he always wanted to do. Yet he is still quite unhappy with this lifestyle at this point, at age 22, because he suddenly feels the need to drop everything and travel all over the world instead.

Why does he want to do this?

After reading some travel blogs, he felt that he was doing something wrong by taking this ‘normal’ job, by not giving up the standard routine in order to travel. After all, ‘everyone else’ is doing it and making the traveling life look so easy and good, all while telling him he’d be a fool not to do it himself.

Here’s the issue…

-Misleading People Is Not Cool-

Travel is amazing. Long-term travel offers benefits that can absolutely change your life in ways you could never imagine.

But if we as travel bloggers don’t provide an unfiltered reality of what our complete lifestyles are all about, and only focus on some ideal lifestyle that we want others to think we have all the time instead, we’re misleading a lot of people.

When travel blogging is making young men and women feel depressed because they’re not out there doing something that others are saying they must do, that’s not right. Especially when those talking about it might not actually be living that life themselves.

When this happens, travel blogging is no longer serving its purpose. It just becomes more crap in a world filled with plenty of it already.

-Keep It Real & Inspire-

I believe in inspiring and motivating people. After all, there are people out there who are constantly inspiring and motivating me. We all need that every now and then.

So let’s inspire and motivate through what we know, what we experience, what we learn through our travels. We can do that by telling it like it is, by being honest. We’ll be helping a lot more people achieve their travel goals as a result.

I know that I’m not perfect. It’s certainly been challenging keeping up with a blog for 5+ years and while I try my best to stick to my principles, I’m sure I stray from time to time as well. I’m certain that I do. I try to catch myself when it happens and get back on track.

And by no means was this post designed to be an attack on anyone. Like I said, the genuine enthusiasm that most new bloggers display in terms of wanting to help others achieve their own travel goals is admirable and I love to see it myself.

I just think that once things get going and maybe the money doesn’t come as easily as expected or the lifestyle isn’t what we thought it would be, it becomes difficult for some travel bloggers to admit it. Whether it’s competition, image, income goals or something else, some feel as if they don’t have any choice but to pretend as if everything is as perfect as we would want it to be, or even better.

But again, by not admitting it, we’re messing around with our readers and with their lives, and that’s not the idea of travel blogging, at least in my opinion.

Thanks for reading this post. I know it was a long one. I appreciate you reading more than you can understand.


Photo: Linda Gaarder (photographer) / Ricardo Rohr (artist)
Posted in Everything Else, Perspectives | 163 Comments

The Worst Golf Shot

Stepping up to the tee, I was mighty nervous. I was shaking, I couldn’t think straight at all.

It was the first time that the coach of my high school golf team put me in the starting lineup. I was finally playing in a tournament between our school and the high school team of a neighboring town. No longer was I just a member of the worthless practice squad.

I positioned my feet and held the golf club firmly, but not too tight. I stared out at the stretch of green in front of me and took a few deep breaths. I bent my knees and then I looked down at the ball. It was my time to shine.

Well, I swung that club, I most certainly did.

And then I had to duck quickly, along with everyone else in the area. The ball had bounced right off a nearby tree and came flying straight back at us. It zoomed just over our heads and eventually landed about 40 feet behind me.

Terrible, terrible, terrible shot. Most likely the worst golf shot that anyone watching had ever seen.

With nerves rattling even more, and trying to brush off the embarrassment, I quickly settled in for my second shot. But, despite my powerful swing, I only hit the ball ever so slightly and all it did was plop two feet off to the right as a result.

My third shot actually went into the air, but it went right into the branches of another tree and dropped straight down.

I didn’t even finish 9 holes of golf that day. While the best golfers on our team finished 18 holes, I got through 8 before it was too dark to continue and I had to call it quits.

Disappointed was an understatement. During our practices each week, I usually hit the ball well. Nice and straight. I’d been practicing for two years.

But the one time I had a chance to shine, I blew it, in the worst of ways.

How it Relates to Travel

I tried too hard that day on the golf course.

And when it comes to setting off into the world for some travel, we often try too hard as well, with similar results.

We try too hard to plan everything. We try too hard to know every crime statistic, weather pattern, transportation option, hostel dorm room price, street food location, activity entrance fee, potential travel partner, toiletry that we might not be able to find overseas and we try to think about every possible situation that might arise and what kind of gear we might need for those situations…and much, much more.

We want to ‘get it right’.

And that’s perfectly understandable.

But sometimes, getting it right actually involves letting go. It involves stepping back from the thoughts that can actually hold us hostage at times. The thoughts that can put so much pressure on us, that turn our brains into such a mess, leaving us unable to concentrate on just doing what we stepped up to the tee to do.

I can’t tell you what was in my head when I made the world’s worst golf shot. The reason is that there were hundreds of thoughts flooding through my head at the time.

Do this, don’t do this, don’t forget about bending your knees, look straight down, move your right foot back, don’t hold the club too tight, don’t whack the ball, just swing evenly, nobody’s watching, a lot of people are watching, what if I hit the tree…

In the end, I didn’t swing that club. All of those thoughts jumping around my head tried to take control of my swing and, amid their battle, they forced the club down towards the ball. The result was terrible of course.

It’s the same with travel. All of those thoughts that we think are helping us will actually hurt us if we try to pay attention to them all. We can’t figure out everything there is to figure out about travel, we can’t plan everything (nor do we want to plan everything), we can’t remember every statistic, we can’t prepare for every situation. And you know what, they do sell Old Spice deodorant and Colgate whitening toothpaste in Thailand!

We just need to relax and swing. We just need to get on a plane or a bus or a train. That’s all we need to focus on…the main task at hand.

The rest will happen naturally. Your body and your mind will remember what it needs to remember. It will do what it needs to do. It might not be perfect from the start, but it won’t be a disaster.

Thinking too much is what can make it a disaster. It can drive a person crazy, to the point where the fun of travel is gone, where the doubts have crept in so much that we no longer think we can get out there and see the world. We just don’t think we have a good enough grasp on EVERYTHING that we need to know before we get started.

Again, relax.

If we don’t relax and let our minds be free, we’ll often hit a tree, then we’ll barely hit anything, then we’ll fall out of a tree and then we won’t even finish our travels because our coach will tell us it’s time to go home.

And then our coach will never let us travel again. He might even kick us off the traveling team.

Anyway, stop thinking too much and just go travel.

Is over-thinking preventing you from traveling? Did you ever overcome this and finally get out there into the world?


Posted in Perspectives | 17 Comments

Nomadic Matt Interview

Many know him, some might not. Perhaps some of you follow his blog or have at least seen it.

I remember when I heard about this Nomadic Matt guy back when I was starting out and I kept hearing about him for years without really ever interacting with him. Last summer I finally met him in person and since then, we’ve hung out a couple of times, most recently at the end of May while at the TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) conference in Spain.

Here’s the deal. Matt has been blogging and has been involved with travel for a long time. He’s worked on numerous projects, written books and is even working on creating a charity organization called FLYTE that will help underprivileged youth experience the benefits of travel. Travel is his life.

His book “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day” had its second edition released this year, and for $8 bucks on Amazon, it’s a solid investment for anyone looking to really cut costs while traveling.

So, back in May at that conference, while eating some sandwiches at a food truck in Lloret de Mar, Spain (yes, they were so good that we each had to eat more than one), Matt and I got to talking and because we both focus on budget travel for the most part, we agreed to put up a little interview with him on my site.

It’s just a quick, light and hopefully useful chat…

Interview with Nomadic Matt

Who are you, sir?

My name is Matt Kepnes and I’m known as Nomadic Matt. I’ve been traveling the world since 2006. I grew up in Boston and worked in health care after college. Fun fact: I’m also a certified high school history teacher! After a trip to Costa Rica in 2004, I fell in love with travel. I never traveled a lot growing up so I didn’t know how great it was until this trip. I loved the freedom travel enabled me to have. Every day was Saturday. The following year I took a trip to Thailand and after meeting five backpackers one day during that trip, I became very jealous of their lifestyle. But meeting them showed me that I didn’t have to be tied down to my job and that I didn’t need to be rich to travel.

After that trip, I went home again, finished my MBA, quit my cubicle job, and, in July 2006, set out on an adventure around the world.

My round-the-world trip was supposed to last a year but I didn’t come home until eighteen months later. Realizing I absolutely loved travel, I decided to head overseas again and that’s when I started my website, Nomadic Matt. I’ve been traveling and writing ever since.


So budget travel expert…what regions of the world offer the best value?

I think the best overall budget region in the world is Southeast Asia. You get amazing value for your money there. Everything is relatively inexpensive. Some other good places for budget travel: India, South Korea, Eastern Europe, and Central America. If you are budget traveler and low on funds, those would be the best places to go.

Earl: Southeast Asia is great and of course, I’m a huge Eastern Europe fan too!


Name a mistake that you think new travelers tend to make…

Most new travelers over plan and mis-budget their money. When you are new to the road, you tend to plan out your route in great detail and pre-book hostels, hotels, and flights. And that makes sense. When you’re home thinking about your trip, planning it out makes it seem more real but in travel, less is more and it is far better to just go with the flow. Pick a general route but leave the details to work themselves out along the way. You’re going to change your plans when you hit the ground, I can guarantee it, and learn what you like and don’t like as you go.

In addition, I’m always amazed at how often travelers run out of money. There’s so much price information online now that you can find out how much everything costs. Do a little research beforehand and get an idea of the costs you’ll face and then create your budget. Don’t go in blind.

Earl: It’s definitely difficult to avoid planning when you first start out. But if you talk to as many long-term travelers as you can, I think you’ll find that almost all of them will advise against planning too much. It’s something you learn very quickly once you begin.


What’s your biggest budgeting mistake that others can learn from?

I make mistakes all the time but I would say my biggest mistake, one I never made twice, was not factoring in currency changes into my budget. Currencies move up and down all the time and I should have been smarter about this when I first started out with my around the world trip in 2006. I made Australia my last country on that trip and when I was doing my pre-trip budgeting, one US dollar got you 1.30 Australian dollars and I calculated my budget based on that. By the time I actually got to Australia, their dollar was on par with the US dollar. I had 30% less money because of this and, with no wiggle room in my budget, had to cut a lot of activities out of my trip.

Earl: Good lesson. I now set up alerts on my phone for any countries I plan to visit in the near future in order to keep track of the exchange rates to avoid such a situation.

Nomadic Matt


Any memorable experience that puts a smile on your face every time you think about it?

After ten years of travel, I’ve had a lot of great adventures. My days are often filled with so many activities and experiences that are definitely memorable. I would say my favorite was when I spent a month on an island in Thailand back in 2006. A small group of travelers and I spent a month on Ko Lipe, which back then was very off the beaten path. I lost my flip flops the first day I was there so just went barefoot for an entire month. I loved every day I was there and it is by far my favorite travel experience. I know it’s not a crazy story. I’ve kept my travels pretty tame but this was such a memorable time.

Earl: It’s always amazing to me how being isolated on a tropical island, with very little in terms of possessions or signs of the modern world or even money, is such an enjoyable experience. Some of my own favorite experiences also involve being on remote islands. It’s proof that a simple life can certainly bring about real happiness.


What’s the most frightening incident you’ve experienced while traveling?

I almost drowned in Fiji. I was learning to scuba dive and on my second dive, my dive partner kicked the regulator out of my mouth. We were far under and I panicked a bit but I was able to put the regulator back in and breathe. I sat there for a while breathing in and out and calming down before I surfaced. To the credit of my instructor, he was on top of the situation very quickly and made sure I was safe.

Earl: While that doesn’t sound enjoyable at all, I do like to point out that rarely does someone’s ‘worst experience’ involve something that couldn’t happen anywhere. I always stand by my belief that the world is actually much safer than we tend to believe!


Any countries you don’t have a desire to visit again?

Vietnam. I just didn’t like it there. I know lots of people who love it but I had a horrible time. I thought the people were abrasive, rude, and always tried to scam me and my friends. I have no desire or plan to ever go back.

But that’s just my experience. I know people who hate Paris (I think they are crazy. Paris is amazing.) so I would never say don’t go somewhere. Always check it out for yourself first because we all have different experiences of course.

Earl: Good thing you added that last paragraph. I wouldn’t have put this interview up if you didn’t mention that!


In your book, you talk about traveling for $50 per day. That number – $50 – seems high. Why do you focus on that amount?

A lot of people get stuck on that number. Depending on your point of view, it’s either too much or too little. But the first thing to remember is that it is a daily average over a year long trip and it includes pre-trip expenses such as gear and insurance as well as flights. I think when you look at it that way, the number is not so high at all. You aren’t going to spend $50 a day every day – some days will be more, most will be less and it will depend on where you are going. If you are going to Norway, $50 is a good number. If you are going to India, that’s way more than you’ll need!

But more than being just a number, it’s a philosophy. The book is designed to be a guide to budget travel but it is full of real tips and tricks that are actually useful for travel on any budget.

Earl: Like you said, advice on how to budget your travels can always apply to anyone. We are always looking to save money, no matter how much we can afford or want to spend. If I can travel to a country and spend $800 for a month, I’d of course also be interested in learning how to have the same experience for $600 if possible.

Nomadic Matt Book


What is the simplest method you know for travelers to save money?

I think the best thing people can do to save money when they travel is to be flexible. The difference of a day can mean the difference of hundreds of dollars. When you are flexible with time and place, you can capture the best deals that come up. For most people, they can’t be flexible on both so be flexible on at least one because if you have to go to Paris on a certain day, you are paying whatever the listed price is. There’s no magic bullet in travel and there are only so many ways to lower expenses. Sometimes the price is the price.

So I recommend people be flexible when they can. If you’re dead set on Paris, go when it is cheapest. If you can only travel during two weeks in June, go to where it is cheapest. This approach can really save a ton of money in the end.

Earl: This is exactly what I would have said too and I think many long-term travelers agree with this. The more you plan, the more you’re stuck in those plans, and when a different experience or better deal pops up, you’re not able to take advantage of it. It’s okay to plan a little but as you travel, I think most people realize just how important being flexible truly can be.


When it comes to saving money on travel, what’s the biggest difference between when you started and today?

It’s a lot easier to find good deals today. When I started, information was scarce. Now, there are so many blogs, deal-finding websites and travel apps, that travel has never been easier or more accessible. When I started researching my first trip back in 2006, I remember finding one website on backpacking Europe that helped me plan my trip. Now, there are hundreds of websites about every country in Europe that can help plan your trip. Before, if you wanted to find a good flight deal, you would have to spend hours searching routes and carriers. Now, there are websites like holidaypirates.com, theflightdeal.com and airfarewatchdog.com that alert you about deals. They have teams of people doing all the work so you don’t have to do anything but see what deals exist every day. It’s really never been a better time to travel because of all these deals and all of the information that you can find so easily, all of which will help you save money in ways that travelers couldn’t before.

Earl: Ever since I signed up for theflightdeal.com, I’ve wanted to book flights almost every week. For those living in the US, there are some unbelievable deals out there that you probably won’t hear about without an alert from this website. A good example from the alert email I received today: $555 USD roundtrip from Chicago to St. Petersburg, Russia. Who’s coming with me?

For those who aren’t familiar with Matt’s stuff, you can find him here:
NomadicMatt.com
How to Travel the World on $50 a Day
FLYTE (Matt’s new charity)

Any other money-saving tips you’ve picked up on your own travels? Any questions for Matt or about saving money while wandering the world?

Posted in Travel Costs, Travel Tips & Advice | 36 Comments