Cheapest Month to Travel

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

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

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

Naturally, it got me even more excited.

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

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

Beach, anyone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern Travel is Simply Amazing

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

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

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

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

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

I need to stop looking up flights.

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

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

What would you do?

Have you found any unbeatable deals lately?

Anyone want to meet in Goa?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Burrito

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

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

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

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

Why was I laughing?

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

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

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

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

Havana Palolem, Goa

This Is The Important Thing…

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

We need to be our true self at all times.

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

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

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

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

Don’t Worry, You’ll Be Okay

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

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

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

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

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

Luckily, I’ve remembered it again.

Final Words About Happiness and Burritos

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

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

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

Who’s ready to meet?

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

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

With much love,

Posted in Everything Else, Personal Stuff | 193 Comments

Confidence to Travel
You’re ready to travel. You even bought a backpack. You told your friends that you’re taking off within the next few months. You have a general itinerary and you can’t wait to get on that airplane.

But you also know that your travels probably won’t happen in the end. You’re fully aware that despite the excitement of travel, despite your desire to get out there and see the world, you just don’t have the necessary confidence to actually do it.

I remember it well. I remember telling everyone I knew that I was leaving to go traveling for 3 months back in 1999. I also remember, right after telling someone about my plans, thinking to myself, “Oh crap, how am I going to explain it when I don’t actually go?

I thought this because I also lacked the necessary confidence to travel, to turn all of the plans in my head into a reality. Just the thought of traveling on my own, the thought of showing up in a foreign land without my friends, my family, a familiar language or familiar food and so many unknown obstacles that I might have to face, and not know how to deal with, was enough to convince me that there was no way possible I was really going to do this travel thing.

And then I flew to Bangkok on Christmas Day of that year.

How did that happen? Where did that boost of confidence come from that enabled me to get on that plane and fly off into the unknown?

I have no idea. All I do know is that I found that confidence somehow, and I’m mighty glad I did. And I also know that there’s no reason at all why you can’t overcome that lack of confidence too.

Now that I’ve traveled for a while, and communicated with so many people who have experienced that very same lack of confidence in their own ability to travel, I’ve realized that there actually are ways to get that extra boost, ways to ensure that your excitement about travel is not left to waste.

After all, what a shame it would be to really want to see this world first-hand, and to then tell others about your goal, but to end up not following through.

We can’t let that happen. No way.

So don’t give up. Try a few of these ideas instead:

1. Someone loves your idea. Find them. – Surely there must be a friend or family member, or maybe several, that supports your decision to travel. Get them on the phone, write them an email and communicate with them often. Discuss your ideas with them and observe the confidence they have in you, while understanding that they know you best…and if they think you can take on such an adventure, you should think so too!

2. Heck, we support you. – If you can’t find friends or family who support your travel ideas, or even if you do, you can always turn to the community of travelers online to gain that extra confidence. Considering that everyone finds their own way to achieve their travel goals, surely you can connect with people who were in a similar situation as yourself, whatever that may be. Write to travelers, ask for advice and listen to what they have to say, all the time remembering that if so many of these other people have managed to make travel happen, there’s no reason why you can’t make it happen as well.

3. Why do you want to travel? Figure it out. – Think about exactly why you want to go off and travel and then narrow it down to one or more specific goals. This will allow you to take real steps so that you can see your travels develop right before you, instead of having no clue how to proceed. And taking real steps leads to increased confidence. Just saying “I want to travel” doesn’t really lead you in a particular direction so how can you gain confidence when you don’t know where you’re headed? On the other hand, if you know you want to learn about religion in Asia, for example, figure out which religion, then figure out which country and region you should visit to find that religion and once you’ve done that, you can communicate with others who’ve been to that destination and ask them questions, find out where they stayed, whether they have any contacts, etc.…now you’re rolling, taking actual steps, creating a comfortable structure to your trip and gathering information to help guide you.

4. Just buy that ticket. – You could just get online right this very instant and book a flight ticket to somewhere you want to go. And if you’re looking for the cheapest fare possible, that ticket will also be non-refundable, which in this case is simply…excellent! Buy that ticket and you have no choice but to find that extra confidence to travel because in a certain amount of days, you either get on that plane and start traveling or lose a lot of money.

5. Be a traveler, right now, at home. – Find the closest town or city to where you live that has hostels and book a couple of nights at the most popular one. Go there on your own, maybe for a weekend. This easy experience will put you right into a travel environment and it will also show you exactly why you’ll never be alone, unless you choose to, when you travel overseas. Talk to as many of the other travelers there as you can, hang out with them and listen to their own travel tales. I’m certain that after one weekend of this, you’ll be completely ready and more than confident to proceed with your international travel plans.

6. Start with a group. – Maybe you just don’t want to travel independently, and that’s perfectly fine. Your answer might be joining a small group tour so that you can still experience a destination without needing all the confidence you would need to travel by yourself. That’s exactly why I started offering my own unique small group tours, so that everyone has a chance to visit certain destinations that they otherwise might not visit on their own. And I can’t tell you how many people have joined one of these tours and then gone on to travel to other destinations by themselves, with more confidence than they ever imagined possible.

Really, try a few of those ideas above. Then let’s see if you still have that ‘No way am I really going to do this’ thought in your head.

Also, just remember…I’m out here. I’m writing this post from Bucharest, Romania, and it looks like I’ll be in a few more countries over the next couple of months as well.

And of course, I’m not the only one! Just have a look at these travelers. They are all out here in the world right now or have been out here or get out here into the world as often as they can. They all faced the same obstacle as us at one point as well – that lack of confidence – and they all overcame it…and I’m positive that they are all so utterly and absurdly thrilled that they did.

Don’t you want to be that thrilled?

What’s your experience with gaining the confidence needed to travel? Was it easy? Did you struggle?

Posted in Travel Tips & Advice | 54 Comments

Reason to Travel
Yes, you can read about the world. You can even see the world, too. But what about feeling the world?

That’s my reason to travel. To feel.

I want to feel and as a result, to learn from every experience I have in a way that would not be possible if I simply read about a place or about its people.

Did You Feel This?

If you happened to come across a news story last week about the presidential election that took place in Romania, you probably would have learned that the underdog won an apparently tight race. And then you probably would have said “Huh” and moved on to the next story, your life having been affected, changed or altered in no way whatsoever by what you read.

And when I think about that, I find it frustrating.

Those news stories didn’t tell you the full tale. They didn’t tell you about the enthusiasm, the fraud, the hope, the dirty tactics, the fear and frustration, the will of the people, the lies or the passionate belief in a better future. They didn’t tell you about any of these things because perhaps, in the end, they don’t mean anything at all if you’re not actually able to ‘feel’ them for yourself.

As one of my Romanian readers wrote on my Facebook page shortly after the election ended:

Last night was about way more than just politics (which I’m definitely not into). It was about human solidarity, about our rights, about a certain state of mind and spirit that took over so many of us, about hope and so many mixed feelings that I’m sure we don’t experience quite so often.

And one of my Romanian friends also chimed in with:

It’s amazing that the people managed to defeat the system. Because it’s exactly that. The corrupt red party (essentially in power since the revolution, 25 years ago) has everything in this country: government, parliament majority, pretty much all the mayors in the country, the orthodox church (priests actually told people whom to vote for), television [stations], etc. and, of course, millions of dollars. And yet, they lost, despite massive frauds. It really is an incredible moment, because we surprisingly managed to avoid something akin to a dictatorship…now there is a lot more hope.

How can you honestly feel, and understand, all of that, and the effect it has on an entire nation and the world, if you’re not directly involved?

I’ll tell you how. You travel.

The Most Powerful Experience Possible

When you travel, you don’t just read about something, and you don’t just see something either. You feel it.

When it comes to the Romanian election, I felt it.

I felt the horror when my friends showed up at the polling station in Bucharest only to be told that they couldn’t vote because there were no more registration papers left (which all voters were required to sign). I felt the anger when I heard that my friends started demanding that those forms appear and that they be allowed to vote. I felt the victory when, after accepting nothing less than being able to exercise their right to vote, the officials at the polling station finally gave in and suddenly ‘found’ some extra forms.

I felt the frustration when a Romanian friend living in Prague waited in the cold for hours to vote, only to be turned away because the Romanian Embassy was taking so long to process each voter. I felt the urgency when he then called his 90 year old grandmother in his home village back in Romania and begged her to go outside and vote so that his voice could be heard through her.

I felt the burning desire of those Romanians who put aside their studies and their work in order to get online and do everything in their power to bring about change and to ensure that their country had real hope for the future. I paid attention to every Facebook page dedicated to the election, I saw the passionate emails sent, the detailed flyers created and passed out around the country, the loud and energized pleas from so many people to their fellow countrymen and women to get out there and vote.

I felt it so much that I became more caught up in this election than any election that has taken place in my own country. I was right there with my friends, right there with the taxi drivers, shopkeepers and cafe staff with whom I spoke about the election, right there witnessing this event through their own eyes, beliefs and hopes.

And in the end, I felt the victory. I felt the extreme joy when somehow, against all odds, just as my friend wrote above, the man who vowed to fight corruption and change the path of Romania for the better, improbably ended up on top. I felt the genuine happiness and the incredible relief as I watched the major celebrations take place in the streets once the results were announced. (I also felt the utter disappointment by the supporters of the losing candidate.)

I felt it. I felt it because I have spent time in Romania.

I have traveled throughout the country, met and interacted with so many people, made so many friends, learned so much from everyone and everything I’ve done while there. All of that combined allowed me to not just be an observer, but to actually feel this monumental event.

And that experience was undeniably more powerful and life-changing than any news article I could have ever read.

Here’s What We Can Do…

I understand that it’s not possible for all of us to ‘feel’ every situation that takes place in the world, in every single country. I understand that we must read about most things, simply because we can’t be everywhere at the same time and we have other things to do in our lives.

But here’s what we can do.

We can read about the world while understanding that we are not reading the full story. We can be aware of the fact that there are always more details, more perspectives, more factors to every situation that, when missing, leaves us with a very poor outline of what’s really going on.

Of course, we can also travel whenever we can. And when we do travel, we don’t actually have to seek out important elections, revolutions or other major events in order to have a truly educational experience.

We simply need to do more than ‘pass through’ a place.

We need to talk to the people we come across, ask them questions and show a genuine interest in learning what their life is all about. We need to try to understand why things are the way they are, who is affected, what is being done and on and on…it’s all about questions.

The more we ask, the more we learn the real story because it is the real people we are talking to. And that’s how we come to feel a place, to feel a people, to feel another slice of the world on a completely different, and much deeper, level.

You can’t feel that much from a news article because you can’t talk to real people by reading. And that’s as good of a reason to travel as any other I’ve ever heard.

How do you interpret what you read about the world? Do you find a difference when you spend time somewhere and really connect with a destination and its people?

Posted in Perspectives, Romania | 50 Comments

Romania Road Trip

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Remember the chestnut festival I talked about that really didn’t have many chestnuts? That was where the first half of this Romania road trip came to an end.

And while the second half of this Romania road trip also didn’t involve many chestnuts – none in fact – that was alright with me. What it did involve – going deep underground, a stay in a remote mountain village, a beautiful castle with barely any visitors and the 117th highest paved road in Europe that, despite it’s unimpressive-sounding ranking, just might be one of the most spectacular – was more than enough to once again convince me that Romania is one of the most underrated travel destinations on that planet.

Shall we?

Turda (better than it sounds)

Have you heard of Turda? Probably not.

I know, the name isn’t so attractive in English. The name is downright dirty in fact. However, in this town of Turda, we came upon the Turda Salt Mine, which was actually quite attractive and perhaps the most surprising experience of this trip.

This old salt mine, dating back hundreds of years, eventually closed but was re-opened in 1992. It has now been renovated and turned into what has been labeled as one of the “25 Unbelievable Travel Destinations You Never Knew Existed“, which I just learned while doing some research. Not bad for an old salt mine.

Here’s how it goes.

Turda Salt Mine entrance

You descend into the deep tunnel and you walk along the main corridor for some distance. You then enter a room that leads you towards the main cavern. You now have a choice – an elevator or what looked like 6 million steps – to get from this level all the way down to the bottom, where, immediately upon arrival you will find yourself standing in awe in the heart of this massive ‘room’. The awe not only comes from the stalactites hanging from the ceiling and the sheer size of the place but also from the architectural design of the renovated interior.

View of main cavern - Turda Salt Mine

Main cavern - Turda Salt Mine

Oh, the awe might also have to do with the huge ferris wheel you can ride or the ping-pong tables or bowling alley or mini-golf course or billiards tables that you can enjoy while down there as well.

Sound a bit silly and touristy? It does. But when you’re actually there, it’s quite, pardon my American, awesome. The design of the main cavern is simply spectacular and the activities offer a chance to have a very cool (literally, it’s cold down there) and very unique experience. We chose to play ping-pong for about an hour, wearing our jackets due to the crisp air, and getting into quite an intense competition. Some taunting, name-calling and paddle-slamming might have been involved.

Turda Salt Mine ping pong tournament

Ping-pong at the Turda Salt Mine

Turda Salt Mine ferris wheel

Lake inside Turda Salt Mine

We spent about 3.5 hours in this salt mine, wandering all over the place, and could have easily spent more. Next time I could make a weekend out of it, if only there was a hotel inside that thing.

Bulzesti (absolute middle of nowhere)

From Turda, we drove out of town (as I sang my ping-pong victory song of course, much to the disapproval of my friends) towards a destination that you absolutely won’t find in any guidebook or any travel website.

It’s remote. It’s hard to reach. It’s the village of Bulzesti.

And unless you have a friend who is renovating an old house way up here on the mountaintop, in this village of 12 people that can only be reached by 4WD truck along a narrow, seldom-used, muddy track, the start of which is located some 2 hours away from the closest town (called Brad), and which winds up the mountain for 30 minutes, the chances of making it here are slim.

Among a collection of four or five wooden homes, where these villagers live, as if time hasn’t changed in decades, completely isolated from the world below, sits my friend’s house. It was a work-in-progress when we arrived but I could immediately see the appeal – the pure beauty, quiet and simplicity of the real Romanian countryside.

Bulzesti - house

Hiking in Bulzesti

We spent two days up here, cooking meals over a camp fire, enjoying the views across the valley, staying warm with vin fiert and an old wood-burning heater and just having a great time among friends. We hiked up the mountain a bit and picked some fresh blackberries, we drank homemade tuica, we talked about all kinds of topics and we used the outhouse when needed, separately of course.

Bulzesti dinner

And then, before I knew it, we were back in my friend’s truck, heading down that muddy track, back to civilization, sort of. It actually took a couple of hours of driving until we were anywhere with more than just an occasional house along a pot-holed, lonely road.

Eventually, a larger village and then a town. And then we were moving along a well-paved road towards our next destination…

Hunedoara & a Fairy-Tale Castle

Let’s go with this.

Here’s the Corvin Castle (aka Hunedoara Castle):
Corvin Castle - Hunedoara

Here’s how many other visitors we saw: 8

This castle sums up exactly what blows me away about Romania. A 15th century, unbelievably impressive Gothic-Renassaince castle, just sitting there in the middle of the country, such an amazing destination. Yet so few visitors.

We basically had this castle to ourselves. Where else can you have such a castle to yourself? Nuts.


Our castle visit helped break up the journey to Sibiu that day, where we arrived just after sunset. We threw our bags down in a hostel, went for a wander, ate a good dinner at a restaurant located in an old underground wine cellar and then we had a good night’s sleep after our lengthy day. Besides, all of us had already been to Sibiu before, so on this trip, it was just a rest stop before we tackled what was perhaps the most anticipated day of the journey.

Transfagarasan (Just WOW!)

At 10am the following morning, we loaded up the car and we set off for the Transfagarasan.

What is this Transfagara-thingy?

It’s a road. One road. It goes up the mountains. It goes down the mountains. It traverses the highest peaks of the Southern Carpathians.

And it looks like this…

Transfagarasan view facing north

Wait, there’s more.

At the top of the mountains, just before you enter Romania’s longest tunnel, you find a great location to eat lunch, not so much because of the food, but because of the surroundings.

Transfagarasan  lunch stop

Also, at several points during the drive, you can stop at tiny roadside communities where you can buy homemade wine, cheese and other local foods to try. And you can always stop…actually, you’ll want to stop….every twenty meters so that you can admire one surreal view after another.

Transfagarasan view facing south

Stop along the Transfagarasan

What is actually a mere 90 km (54 mile) journey, took us 6 hours to reach the end due to all of the stops we made.

Poenari Castle (complete with impaled people)

Right before the end of the Transfagarasan, we reached the last destination we had wanted to visit, the actual castle where Vlad the Impaler had resided for some time. Vlad is the Wallachian Prince that the Dracula character was based on and while everyone thinks of Bran Castle, a very well-known and preserved castle near Brasov, as his castle, that’s just a tourism stunt and he never really spent any time there. The Poenari Castle, on the other hand, was one of his real residences during the 15th century.

The castle sits atop a cliff, perched in a most improbable location high above the valley. To reach it, you must walk up 1500 steps that wind up the mountain. Here’s four words. Well worth the climb.

Poenari Castle

While the castle itself is mostly in ruins and there’s not much left of its structure to explore, the location, with views out over the valley in both directions, is quite spectacular. The sheer drop on all sides of the castle walls, straight down 1000 meters, is sobering. The silence apart from an occasional gust of wind, the lack of visitors, and yes, the impaled people that greeted us, was even a bit spooky. (He wasn’t called Vlad the Impaler for no reason.)

Poenari Castle - impaled people

Hmmm….I don’t think I should end this post with a photo of impaled humans.

I’ll end it with photos of those of us who partook in this Romania road trip, giving you a glimpse of each of our roles…

1. Me. I drove. And I wore my new favorite hat.Driving to Sibiu

2. Irina. She burned herself while making hot wine in Bulzesti.
Irina - Road Trip Romania

3. Brian. He sat in the back of the car, eating.
Brian - Romania road trip

That completes the overview of this 2-week road trip. Hope you enjoyed the experience!

Have you heard of any of these destinations above? Anyone want to join my next road trip around Romania?

(My Wander Across Romania tour that I’ll be offering next June will actually follow the route we took on this 2 week adventure. Details here: Romania Tour – and more)

Posted in Romania | 30 Comments

Change of Travel Plans

Three weeks ago, I attended my close friend’s wedding on a Sunday night in Vancouver. It was a great time, with great people, great food and just a great atmosphere. Once the wedding ended shortly after 1:00am, I then bummed a ride back to the apartment where I was staying and I went to sleep.

My plan was to spend the next four days exploring Vancouver before flying to the town of Santa Rosa, California for a mini-family reunion with some relatives I hadn’t seen in many years. After some time in California, I was set to return to Bucharest.

And then my grandmother passed away.

The night of the wedding, I ended up going to sleep around 2:00am and for some reason, I uncharacteristically awoke around 7:00am. And as soon as I did, I knew that something was wrong.

The light on my phone was flashing, I had seven new text messages and several urgently titled emails and FB messages from family members. I could only think of one thing, and I was right.

Jumping out of bed, I proceeded to spend the next four hours on the phone and laptop coordinating travel plans, re-arranging flights, renting a car, booking a hotel and of course, communicating with my family. I don’t remember much from those hours. All I know is the day passed by in a haze and just like that, the very next morning at 6:00am, I was on a flight to Seattle before changing planes and flying to New York City. Then, I waited for my sister’s flight to arrive, I picked up the rental car and we drove out to a hotel an hour away (thirty minutes had I not gotten lost of course).

The next morning, we drove to the cemetery for the funeral.

It All Happened So Fast

Interestingly, it wasn’t until I was standing there at the graveside service that I finally felt some calm, that I finally managed to clear my head and actually focus on what was happening. I had rushed around so much that I hadn’t even taken any time at all to think about my grandmother or to go through all of the memories I had of her.

Luckily, that all changed right there. During the funeral, and while with family at different times over the following week, we all thought about my grandmother and we all celebrated her 93 years in the way she would have liked, with plenty of story-telling, laughter and food. My grandmother would have actually loved the atmosphere of those gatherings, with all kinds of people showing up, just to spend time together.

(I could easily go on about the great time my family spent together and about my grandmother’s life as well, but I think I’ll keep those memories to myself. The idea of this post is to discuss how I handled the situation and what can be learned from it.)

And before I knew it, the following week I was on a flight back to Europe and back on my original travel schedule. But as I sat there for a long time in seat 25C, I unsurprisingly found myself reflecting on the previous seven days and the unpredictability of life. Here’s what came to mind…

3 Important Things I Realized

1. FACT. Your plans will change.
One day you, too, will probably wake up and learn that your trip to California or Peru must now turn into a trip to NYC or somewhere else you had no plan of visiting right then, and it must happen immediately. That’s just life, simple as that.

It’s not something to be scared of and it’s nothing you can really prepare for. And while such a change of travel plans might lead you to places you didn’t expect to go or even want to go, don’t panic. Again, this is life. Accept it, do what you need to do, let everything settle and then get back on track whenever you can. The world will wait for you.

Change of Travel Plans - Don't Panic

2. FACT. I should have stopped for a moment.
Barely had I opened my eyes that morning that I heard the news and, as I said, I was already on my phone, calling and texting everyone, running around, trying to make major plan changes, then changing those new plans and making newer ones, over and over again.

What I should have done is follow my own advice. I talk about taking a 20 minute coffee break when arriving in a new destination in order to relax and make better decisions as a result. The same applies here. Upon getting out of bed, I should have put the phone down and kept the laptop closed, and simply taken a seat in a chair. I should have spent some time letting the information sink in, collecting my thoughts and drinking a glass of water. I should have brushed my teeth, meditated for a few minutes or simply stared at the wall.

Instead of rushing into action without a clear head, which wears down the mind and can easily lead to frustration, confusion, bad decisions and even wasted time, it is far better to stop for a moment and get organized.

A calm, clear-thinking person is always a better decision-maker than a person who is freaking out. And when it comes to dealing with difficult situations, trying to avoid rushed and potentially poor decisions should be a goal.

Change of Travel Plans - Sitting

3. FACT. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People will help you.
I’ll admit, I absolutely dreaded the fact that I had to call two different airlines to change around my flights. When the time came for those calls, I prepared myself for an unpleasant exchange with the airline agents and I had already accepted the fact that I would end up paying massive change fees and be given crappy new flights just because I didn’t have the energy to argue right then.

First up was Delta. I dialed the number, waited for an agent and told them my situation. Then, somehow, within a mere fifteen minutes, I had managed to change my original flight (San Francisco to Bucharest) to a new set of flights (Vancouver to NYC and NYC to Bucharest). The change fee? Zero. The difference in fare? A heavily discounted $200. The quality of the flights? The fastest and best flights available.

I was almost shaking from the shock of such a pleasant, seamless experience with the agent on the phone.

Next up, Alaska Airlines. And sure enough, ten minutes later, I had managed to cancel my Vancouver to Santa Rosa flights and receive a full credit without any fees at all, thanks to some crafty assistance by the phone agent. It was, again, all so smooth.

The point? Don’t be afraid to explain your situation. It’s okay to tell others what you’re going through because, after all, every one of us is human, and we’ve all been through some tough times. Most people want to help and they will help to the greatest extent they can when you need it.

Another point? Don’t be afraid to learn. Learn from your own experiences. Pay attention to how you react or handle whatever comes your way. Reflect on it, figure out what you could have done better and how you can improve.

Every situation we face, especially in relation to travel, has the power to teach us many significant lessons, both great and small.

Have you ever had to make a sudden change of travel plans? Any additional advice to share from your experience?

Posted in "How To" Travel Guides, Travel Tips & Advice | 38 Comments

Wandering Earl Tours
It began as a simple idea back in 2012. I decided to offer a tour to India.

Without much planning, actually, no planning at all, I randomly announced that first tour right here on the blog. It sold out in less than 48 hours.

I said, “Oh my”.

Then I spent the next couple of months running around, organizing and planning every aspect of that tour right up until the last minute. November arrived, the tour began in Delhi and just like that, Wandering Earl Tours was in action.

Things seem to have gone well since then as requests for more tours starting coming in. Now I’ve run three trips to India already. Not to mention trips to Romania, Istanbul, Mexico and Southeast Asia as well.

Wandering Earl Tours - Brasov, Romania

And now the plan is to offer even more tours next year, some to the same destinations, and some to a few new ones too.

Keep in mind…these are not normal group tours. They are laid-back, small group excursions that give you an in-depth experience you simply can’t have on any other organized trip. I also focus on offering the absolute best value I possibly can at all times.

The feedback so far has been extremely positive and I’ve even already had several repeat travelers who have joined more than one tour!

It’s time for 2015…


Wander Across INDIA
(my 4th tour to this country, it shall be another incredibly rewarding adventure)

Wander Across SE ASIA (Thailand/Cambodia)
(my first SE Asia tour was such a success, I immediately organized a second one)

Wander Around ISTANBUL
(one full week in one of the most fascinating cities on the planet)

Wander Across KYRGYZSTAN
(few people visit but those that do fall in love with this stunning, friendly country)

Wander Across VIETNAM
(with so many requests for a Vietnam tour, it was time I put one together)

Wander Across ROMANIA
(medieval towns, castles, mountains, traditional culture & more – it has it all)

Some of these trips I will lead myself. Others, I actually won’t. I still create all of the itineraries and work out all of the details for every tour, all based on my own travels. But for some, I happen to know people that would do a much better job leading a particular trip than me.

An example is my recent SE Asia Tour two months ago. I got dengue fever while in Bali and couldn’t lead the trip so I handed it over to my friend Sakai. Sakai is an expert on Thailand and Cambodia, he speaks the languages and has lived there for many years.

And while I was hoping the feedback from that tour would be good, it actually ended up being better than good. Way, way better.

“I use the word amazing a lot to describe this trip. It is the best trip I have ever taken. I believe the itinerary you put together is most of the reason for this. It was a great balance of organization and optional activities. For me, an awesome first trip to Asia!” – Jen. W

“Awe. Some. Enough said. Sakai knows his stuff (local languages; best places away from the super frequented ones). He entertains. He’s helpful. And just overall a good guy. I consider myself lucky to have met him. Does not happen often.” – Paul H.

“Sakai is awesome! Speaks the languages and has a lot of connections, knows big time about history and culture of the area. Also super fun and flexible, but makes sure everything is done, I didn’t worry at all during the whole trip.” – Vanessa R.

You get the idea. Sakai knows Thailand and Cambodia. The tour was awesome. Now, I want him to lead my Southeast Asia trips.

So, here we go. The above tours are what I’ve put together for the first half of 2015. And it goes without saying that I look forward to having you join one of these tours if you happen to be interested.

Have a read of the tour documents (by clicking on the links above) and just follow the instructions inside if you do want to join!

Also, if you have any questions at all, just send me an email. I’ll always reply as quickly as I can.

Enjoy your week wherever you may be and here’s to all of your future travels!

**More feedback from previous Wandering Earl tours…

“What a trip of a lifetime for all…truly outstanding…everything just flowed. I am definitely going on another journey if you’ll have me!” – Albert R.

Wandering Earl Tours - Bundi, India

“I took Earl’s trip to India. It was awesome! If you’re on the fence, go for it.” – Matt D.

“My trip with Wandering Earl was fantastic! We hit the sights I had wanted to see…along with a ton of places and experiences I never would’ve come up with on my own. I am hoping to get on another Wandering Earl tour in the near future!” – Leah F.

Wandering Earl Tours - Valladolid, Mexico

“Traveling with Earl was everything I thought it would be and more! His genuine enthusiasm was contagious, and he went above and beyond to submerse the whole group in as much culture as he could. He quickly became not only my tour guide but my friend, and I’m already planning on traveling again with him in the near future!” – Michelle M.

Posted in Wandering Earl Tours | 19 Comments


Ah, meditation. Legs crossed, hands placed ever so gently on the knees, back straight, baggy cotton clothes flowing perfectly and alas, the look of pure zen on the face.

Well, what if I told you that I meditate sitting down in a chair or lying on my bed, wearing jeans and a t-shirt at times, hands on my stomach or by my side or perhaps behind my head, legs laid out however they end up being laid out.

The look on my face? I can’t exactly see it myself, but I doubt it’s a look of pure zen. I’m sure it’s more like a peaceful, yet disorganized, protest against a never-ending onslaught of absurd thoughts such as ‘when is the last time I’ve had some hot apple cider?’ and ‘what if a q-tip got stuck in my ear while I was eating Oreo cookies?’ and ‘I like the word reciprocate, but not as much as the word yogurt’ that take a long time for me to remove from my mind.

Sure, I’ve attended two 10-day, silent Vipassana meditation retreats over the years, and I took them both very seriously, and they both brought tremendous benefit to my life, but I don’t practice that kind of dedicated meditation too often.

All I know is that I do feel the need to drift away from the noise of life from time to time, to close my eyes for just a few minutes, to try and force all thoughts out of my head and to concentrate only on the light breaths that pass through my nose. You could argue that this is or isn’t meditation but that’s not an argument for me. I could care less what it is. I enjoy doing it and it helps me move through life.

An Impossibly Long 48 Hours

Three days ago, in Bucharest, Romania, I woke up at 7:00am. I showered, ate some fruit, got organized, went for a haircut and then I…

  • drove three and a half hours from Bucharest to the town of Focsani to drop off the car I used for my recent Romania road trip
  • hung out in Focsani for a few hours
  • took a three hour train from Focsani back to Bucharest, arriving at 7:30pm
  • walked straight from the train station to a radio station where I was interviewed for Romanian radio
  • went back to the apartment where I stay, arriving at 10:30pm
  • worked for four hours
  • packed up some of my clothes
  • slept from 4:00am – 5:00am
  • woke up, showered and took a taxi to the airport in Bucharest
  • flew 17 hours to Vancouver, via Amsterdam and Seattle, landing at 2:30pm
  • arrived in Vancouver and went straight to a cafe to wait for my friend
  • met my friend and went to his place at 5:00pm
  • went for a 2-hour wander around Vancouver and ate some dinner

And by 10:30pm, I was finally tired, just like normal, and I went to sleep. I felt great when I did go to bed and I felt great when I woke up the next morning at 7:00am, despite those crazy long couple of days. No jet lag, no exhaustion, no bodily systems out of whack, no nothing.

I was full of positive energy and I was ready to experience Vancouver.

And while I have no actual proof – only previous experience – I tend to believe that it was the ten minutes on the train in Romania, the five minutes in the apartment in Bucharest and the fifteen minutes on two different flights that I spent with my eyes closed, focusing on my breathing and trying to keep my thoughts to a minimum, that made all the difference.

Any time I recognize a need to just slow down or quiet myself down for a moment, this is what I do. When things get hectic or overwhelming, this one simple exercise, even a mere five minutes of it, will eliminate any growing feeling of losing control and not being able to keep up with life in general.

It’s like the travel tip I once wrote about on the blog where I mention the benefits of going to a cafe and having a cup of coffee immediately upon arrival in a new destination. Taking a few minutes to just sit and relax before heading outside the airport and into the unknown allows your body and mind to calm down and ultimately, to make clearer and better decisions, thus reducing the risk of making bad, rushed decisions that you might regret later or that might lead to a variety of issues.

So why not take some time to relax and clear the mind more often, wherever we may be, whenever we are struggling to tackle our busy, up and down, often confusing lives? This applies when we are traveling and when we are not.

A few minutes of concentrated breathing in a quiet place and the decisions you need to make will become easier, your frustrations will become less intense and the obstacles you face less daunting. If you want to take it further and extend the activity for thirty or sixty minutes at a time, go for it. I’m sure it will be even more beneficial. If you don’t want to though, don’t worry at all.

Meditation, or whatever you want to call it, is personal. It’s like travel in the sense that there is no ‘right’ way to do it. Find out what works for you and that’s your ‘right’ way, even if it is just five minutes of eyes-closed breathing here and there, perhaps with a teddy bear on your lap and a party hat on your head.

What matters is that you take some time to focus on yourself and to stay on top of the challenges that life throws at you. It’s more important than you might think, especially if you want to venture out into the far corners of the world and put yourself way out of your comfort zone.

Traveling can be a scary and bumpy ride at times and meditation could very well prove to be your best friend.

Do you meditate in any form? Does it help you deal with challenges in life or while traveling?

For those in New York City, here’s an interesting event you might want to attend: “The Ringstrasse 150th Anniversary Celebration – Join us on a journey through time as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Vienna’s famous Ringstrasse, the gorgeous boulevard at the heart of this beautiful city that is home to its grandest buildings and magnificent palaces. Stop by for a live chat with your new friends at the legendary Café Central in Vienna. Learn about this fabulous city from the locals – we’ll have a live video connection at the Café so you can experience this popular Viennese tradition.

And as an added bonus, you’ll have a chance to win a fabulous trip to beautiful Vienna!

Location: NYC, Grand Central Terminal, Vanderbilt Hall®
Dates: October 14, 12:00pm – 7:00pm / October 15, 7:00am – 7:00pm

Posted in Perspectives, Travel Tips & Advice | 41 Comments

Romania Road Trip
I’m a major road trip fan. The open road, the ability to go wherever I want, to stop in any city, town or village along the way, to slow down or speed up, to visit destinations that would be difficult to reach without your own transportation.

When I pass by a vendor on the side of the road selling freshly made goat cheese or homemade jams, I want to stop and have a taste. I want to stop for that sudden photo opportunity or, better yet, just to take a few minutes to observe my surroundings or walk into that valley that I would otherwise pass right by.

Other forms of transportation have their value too. But if I have a chance to take a road trip, I’ll sign up faster than I would shave my armpits upon arrival in an intensely warm tropical location.

Over the past two weeks, I was fortunate enough to embark on a Romania road trip with a couple of other people, a trip that took me all over this mighty fine land.

And this was by far one of my favorite road trips of all time and it went a little something like this…


It all began with the wedding of some friends, more like acquaintances actually, and probably people who will never talk to me again after my horrendous dancing display when it came time to dance to traditional Romanian music at their wedding. As I was dancing as part of a circle of fifty people, moving this way and that, kicking my feet a little and trying to avoid looking as clumsy as I am, I think I almost caused serious injury to several other wedding attendees. My apologies to any aunt, uncle or cousin that I may have semi-trampled on!

Wedding in Focsani

But overall, this wedding was a major success. Just one of those genuinely brilliant nights full of good people and good fun, a long night (over 9 hours, finishing at 5:30am), but wonderful nonetheless. Great start to the road trip!

From Focsani, the town where the wedding took place, we headed to…


On my Wandering Earl Tour to Romania that I led last year, we visited the region of Bucovina, mostly for its well-known painted monasteries, but since this road trip took us in that general direction, I did not hesitate to head that way again. And I even decided to show up without warning at the beautiful guesthouse in Vatra Moldovitei where we stayed last year on the tour, something that proved to be a highlight of this adventure. The owners recognized me instantly and wouldn’t let us continue without spending a night at their place, enjoying a home-cooked dinner and drinking some of their own afinat, an often-delicious liquor made from blueberries. It was the kind of unexpected, yet perfect, experience that constantly reminds me why I’m traveling in the first place.

Vatra Moldovitiei 2

Yes, we also visited some of the painted monasteries – Voronet, Sucevita, Humor and Moldovita – and those were cool to see again as well. They’re interesting and remarkably peaceful with such few tourists up in the region at this time and the windy roads between some of them are the kind of roads that make you want to stop the car every ten meters for the view.

Sucevita Painted Monastery, Bucovina

Voronet Painted Monastery, Bucovina

(Vila Crizantemaif you’re ever in Bucovina, I can highly, highly recommend this guesthouse!)


This was the heart of the road trip. Ever since I first stepped foot in Romania back in 2010, the region of Maramures, in the north of the country, was on my radar. However, given its location, well, way up in the far north of the country, I never seemed to find the time to travel there.

So when I actually saw the sign, along the remote mountain road leading from Campulung Moldovenesc to Borsa, welcoming me to Maramures county, I nearly drove right into that sign because I started clapping and cheering and doing some kind of weird (according to my passenger) thrusting motion in the driver’s seat. Luckily, I was yelled at in time to avoid hitting the sign in the end, or driving over the edge of the road and straight into the valley below.

Bucovina Countryside

Soon after, with the cool air of autumn descending upon the region on the day we entered Maramures, our first stop was the small town of Borsa. Here is where we prepared for the exciting days ahead, with a hot coffee at a cafe, a few minutes look at our map and a change into warmer clothes.

Then, with winter hat on the head and jacket all zippered up, we continued…

Maramures did not disappoint. The relaxed atmosphere and the traditional way of life, as well as the super-friendly people everywhere, matched exactly what I had heard, as did the wooden churches, merry cemetery and all the rest. And any area that offers endless, and usually empty, country roads to explore is ideal for a road trip. We drove all over the place, without much of a plan apart from choosing where to go based on the signs we passed or choosing random roads from our map.

House in Maramures

Bucovina Countryside near Vatra Moldovitiei

Here’s where we ended up while in Maramures…

From Ieud to Botiza to Rozavlea, from Budesti to Barsana to Calinesti and Surdesti, you would think that after visiting a couple of these wooden churches, one might be a little tired of the activity and prefer to do something else, maybe even hang out with the cows, for a change of pace. But surprisingly, it wasn’t so. I don’t think there was anyone else at any of the churches we visited and even though the signs in front of most of them said they were open from 9am – 4pm, there were so few visitors that we had to call the phone number on the sign and the villager with the key had to come up to the church to let us in. And when you have these unique, 200-400 year-old churches all to yourself, often surrounded by forest or located on a hill overlooking the countryside, religious or not, it’s hard not to enjoy the experience.

Ieud Wooden Church Maramures

Rozavlea Wooden Church, Maramures

Carrying on to the…

Oh yeah, the Merry Cemetery. This was perhaps at the top of my list of places to visit on this Romania road trip and the two and a half hours I spent roaming around these graves certainly lived up to my expectations. In short, it’s a cemetery in the town of Sapanta where a local wood carver creates brightly colored wooden tombstones for the deceased. However, it’s not just the colors that make this cemetery stand out – it’s the carved images of the deceased and the short, often humorous, poetic and ironic, tale of the person’s life that is carved into the wood as well. It sometimes even goes into the details of how they passed away.

Here’s a few examples with the words translated (very loosely, as it’s almost impossible to maintain the meaning with they style in which they are written)…

Merry Cemetery, Maramures - Happy

While I was alive / I was liked by everybody / Just like a baby swallow / I lived 80 years / Here is where I rest/ Pirsoie is how I was addressed / While I lived in the world / I liked many things / To drink and to live well / With a handsome man by my side / May you live dear Darvai / You’ll keep crying after me / For as long as you will live / Because you won’t find anyone like me


Merry Cemetery, Maramures - Horses

Ever since I was a child / I liked horses very much / With horses I worked hard / And I earned a lot of money / I helped my nephews / They didn’t show any gratitude / They didn’t sing nor cry after I died / Didn’t even come to my grave / But my niece Teodosae / May Holy God look after her / Because she put a cross above my head / Buried me next to my mother / And I left life at 82


Merry Cemetery, Maramures - Tuica

Here is where I rest / Braicu Toader is how I was addressed / While I lived in the world / I liked way too many things / To drink and to live well / And with women by my side / Oh how dear was life to me / While I could still kiss / And as I grew older / Those things turned against me / Cause I left life at 73


With over eight-hundred of these tombstones packed into this relatively small area, there are stories everywhere and by the end of your visit, it’s hard not to look at death, and even life, a little differently, a little less seriously.

Who would think that spending such an amount of time walking around a cemetery would actually put you in an overly good mood? I wasn’t sure who to thank…the deceased, the wood carver or the villagers for keeping this tradition going even today. Heck, I’ll thank them all.

Merry Cemetery, Marmures - Bicycle

Merry Cemetery, Maramures - Bartender

Merry Cemetery, Maramures

Onward we drove…

This was the biggest surprise of this portion of the Romania road trip. Having planned to arrive at this museum in the town of Sighetu Marmatiei two hours before closing, we were stunned to discover how large and how well-laid out this place turned out to be. We were equally stunned to discover that the exhibits, full of such detail that made you want to read every single word (or in my case hear each word translated into English), would take far more than two or three or even four hours to cover without rushing through it all.

Memorial of the Victims of Communism

The Memorial of the Victims of Communism is located in an old communist prison and is dedicated to all those who were victims of communism, not just in Romania, but in other countries around Europe as well. It’s a moving experience to spend time here and one that is absolutely worthwhile if you’re in Maramures. Give yourself a few hours, take it slow and try to soak it all in.

After visiting a couple of more wooden churches and driving the beautiful route from Bistra to Cavnic and then on to Baia Mare, we reached the final stop on this Maramures section of the road trip. Baia Mare is the capital of the region and I’ll be damned, there was a chestnut festival taking place when we arrived!

Right in the main square we found a stage and dozens of stalls and quite a celebratory atmosphere. But I’m not so sure what they were celebrating because it sure wasn’t chestnuts.

There were old-school Romanian singers performing, food vendors selling mici (grilled meat in sausage form made from beef, lamb and pork as well as spices) and chicken and shaorma, local artists offering their goods…there were apples for sale, freshly made jams, homemade wine and other delightful foodstuffs as well.

Chestnuts? Not so much. Despite being billed as the chestnut festival, there were only two chestnut vendors who were both very much overshadowed by the other stalls. But as I mentioned on my Facebook page at the time, who needs chestnuts anyway when there is hot wine available?

Chestnut Festival Baia Mare

So, a couple of servings of hot wine, a few hours hanging out at the festival, listening to music and sampling the local products, a superb dinner experience at the Butoiasu cu Bere restaurant a few blocks from the main square and a nice, long night-time wander around town – not a bad day at all before it was time to hit the bed for my final night’s sleep in Maramures.

The following morning, after one more quick walk and purchasing a large bag of apples, and with my jolly mood showing no signs of disappearing at all, I bid farewell to this town and turned my attention to the second half of this Romania road trip…

Romaina Road Trip – Part 1 Route [Bucharest, Focsani, Vatra Moldovitei, Vadu Izei, Sighetu Marmatiei, Baia Mare]

Romania Road Trip – Part 2 Route [Cluj-Napoca, Turda, Hunedoara, Bulzesti, Sibiu and Transfagarasan]: Post coming soon!

Now let’s hear it…tell me about your greatest road trip…where did you go, what did it involve?

On a side note, for those who are looking to get into travel blogging, my friends over at Travel Blog Success are running a big Fall Sale for one more day. You can have access to all of their useful material and know-how for 25% less than the normal price. Just enter discount code TBS25 and you’re good to go!

Posted in Romania | 42 Comments

Fluent in Any Language

Thank you, travel. For it is you who has turned me into a man who is fluent, not in two languages, nor three languages, and not even four languages. Alas, as a result of constantly bouncing around the world, far and wide, for over a decade, I can proudly declare that I am now fully fluent in…zero languages. That’s right, I’m not fluent in any language on the planet.

Yes, at one time I was indeed fluent in English, my mother tongue, but as the years passed by and I spent more and more time in lands where English was not the language of choice, my ability to speak it began to diminish.

There have been oh so many forgotten words and forgotten rules, so many stumbles and butchered grammar and an absurd amount of confused, nonsensical dribble to go along with it all. Just the other day I was talking with three Romanian friends about a wedding I had attended and suddenly, I could not think of a word in English. After struggling for a few seconds and thinking to myself, ‘Oh not again‘, it was my Romanian friend who chimed in with the word I was looking for – bridesmaid.

Yup, that’s it”, I said with my head hanging low. “Thanks Alex.

Rarely do I forget words such as “voluptuous”, “vociferous” or “insatiable”. It’s always easy words that slip my mind, like “sink”, “kitten” and “lightning”, and that’s extra frightening to me.

Fluent in any language - Tamga sign

Don’t get me wrong though. As a result of my travels, I can now get by quite well in Spanish, I can buy bread in Romanian and I can tell an Indian chai vendor, in Hindi, to prepare my tea without sugar. And I can also tell my Thai taxi driver whether to take a left or a right, I can point out a butterfly in Indonesian, order garlic soup in Czech and tell you I’m going swimming in German.

On one hand, it really is superb. All this traveling has given me a little knowledge of many languages, something that has opened me up to an infinite number of interactions and experiences that perhaps would have never occurred otherwise. Even a little knowledge of a local language can really make a major difference in terms of how rewarding your travels can be.

But on the other hand, knowing a little of a lot of languages has its downsides. All this traveling from place to place hasn’t allowed me to actually become fluent in or to gain a better understanding of any of these languages beyond being able to handle the basics or, in some cases, slightly more than that.

Also, when in non-English speaking countries, I tend to speak to those who know some English in a much simpler form of the English language than I would normally speak (back when I could actually speak English). It’s a form that removes many words and grammatical rules that might confuse a non-native English speaker, or at least that’s the idea. We go cafe now, yes? Me like. You honey? No, no, you no honey. Need honey spoon put tea.

And for some bizarre reason, much to the amusement of those who have seen this in action, when speaking this simpler English, I tend to talk with a heavy Indian accent. It just comes out that way, go figure.

When I’m back in the US for my visits to family and friends, they too notice that my English skills are failing rapidly. I’ll say “Thank you much gracias sir” when the guy working in the store shows me which aisle is home to the face moisturizer, um, I mean toothpaste, I’m looking for. I’ll naturally yell out “Skal!” instead of “Cheers” when having a beer with friends and I’ll say things such as “Water more please” that cause people like my mom to frequently remind me, “That’s not how we speak English here.”

I know it isn’t, I really do, but I can’t help it right now. I spoken Travglish – traveler’s English – for so long that I’ve lost my fluency in my own language, which makes me not fluent in any language at all.

Fluent in Any Language - Spanish graffiti

That’s probably why it takes me so long to write my posts on this blog too. I go over every draft at least a dozen times, editing all along the way, always finding errors that need to be corrected.

But hey, I’m smiling as I write this of course. Without a doubt I wouldn’t give up my travels at all for the ability to speak a language or two fluently. And over the years, I’ve realized that the number of languages a traveler speaks or how quickly you learn those languages really isn’t important at all. Go learn ten languages in a month if you want. That’s cool. But if you don’t, that’s cool too.

It’s all about effort, about doing your very best to learn what you can to communicate with those around you as much as possible. If it leads to little bits of various languages floating around your head instead of fluency, so be it. Besides, sometimes the INABILITY to fully and clearly communicate with someone standing before you leads to the most interesting and memorable travel experiences imaginable, or at least plenty of laughter.

Ciao. Sayonara. Flughafen.

Do you learn languages either while or before you travel? Or do you just pick up little bits of local languages here and there? Any others out there not fluent in any language at all? (I hope so!)

Posted in Personal Stuff, Perspectives | 82 Comments