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, and 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, 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:
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

Travel Products
The year that is 2015 has brought me into contact with what seems like a higher-than-normal number of travel products, travel-related websites and travel services that I never knew about before. From all sorts of travel communities to compact hammocks to online postcards to oddly-shaped travel pillows that actually seem to make sleeping on airplanes even more uncomfortable, new things are popping up in my inbox every day.

If I were to remember them all, the list would be quite extensive.

But just like I forgot to pack my suit pants last week while traveling to a family event on the other side of the country, by this point, I have forgotten many of the websites and apps and products that I’ve come across this year.

That leaves just a handful of things that I do remember, travel-related things that have stayed in my memory probably because of their usefulness and/or the fact that they offer something unique that really caught my attention. As a result, and as you’ll see below, this is some stuff that I would recommend checking out because you never know what might help enhance your travels.

Here’s the short list:

Clothing Arts

A few times over the years I’ve mentioned that I personally do not like, or even understand, the concept of ‘travel clothes’. I’ve always just worn normal clothes when I travel and have never had any problems or faced any situations where I wish I had some specially designed clothes that are made with travelers in mind. And while I still don’t wear travel clothes all the time, I do have to admit that after trying the shirts and pants from Clothing Arts, I found myself feeling a little more comfortable about the idea.

Adam Rapp, the CEO of the company, is about as passionate about his clothes as any CEO has ever been about their product, and when you have that kind of excitement behind the product, the result is often going to be quality. The Pick-Pocket Proof Adventure Travel Pants and the Travel Shirt, which are what I now own, are high quality indeed, as well as comfortable and actually sharp looking in my opinion. You would never know these are clothes designed specifically for travelers and they can therefore be used in all sorts of situations, from informal to formal. I’ve actually worn the shirt while walking around the beach in Spain and I’ve worn the same shirt while at a formal dinner in Istanbul as well. And not a single person commented that I didn’t fit in! The pants are similar, not your normal travel pants at all.

Clothing Arts - travel shirt

The benefit of these clothes is that they are designed to protect your money, wallet, passport and other valuables without affecting design or comfort. There are pockets inside of pockets, hidden zippers and zippers inside of zippers inside of pockets. But from the outside, you don’t see any of this and they just look like normal everyday clothes. When you put your money and phone inside these theft-proof pockets though, there is no way anyone is going to take them from you. Not a bad bonus to good looking clothes.

Clothing Arts:

Many of us have heard of and, websites that allow you to find opportunities around the world to work in exchange for room and board. is a new addition to this concept and it operates a little differently.

First, the database of opportunities is huge. Just check out this map and you’ll see what I’m talking about: Work Search Map

Working Traveller

Second, the opportunities on this site range from volunteer to work exchanges to actual paid positions. So now you can find paid work as you travel. You do have to create a profile and sign up of course but the normal membership, which allows you to access almost all of the features, is completely free. I haven’t used the site myself in terms of finding work, but I have spent a lot of time reading through it all and communicating with the founder. And with the number of opportunities on there, it seems like it would a no-brainer to add this to the list of websites to visit when trying to find ways to extend your travels, volunteer, do some work exchanges or earn money using the skills and knowledge that you already have.


On the Minaal website, the first thing you see is a question: “So, you live on the road?” That pretty much sums up the thinking behind the sleek carry-on backpack they’ve designed. And a year or so after they first came into existence, I finally decided to try one out for myself. This backpack really is unlike any other I’ve used and as a result, it took some time for me to get comfortable with its design and ways to pack it up. Eventually, I did figure out how to maximize its lie-flat packing system and since then, this has been an excellent pack.

Minaal Carry-on Backpack

It has a capacity of 35 liters, can easily be taken on a plane as a carry on, has a very sleek design, comes with a rain cover, is super comfortable to carry, the straps can be zipped away and it keeps your stuff very well organized. I don’t think I would be able to use the Minaal as my only backpack as I wander all over the place at this stage, as I do need a little bit bigger pack these days, but for trips up to a couple months in duration, this thing is as ideal as it gets since I can take it with me anywhere and it will never be a burden. For those who truly embrace the minimalist style of travel, this could definitely be the only pack you would ever need as it is designed specifically with you in mind.

Over on their website they have a great deal of information about the product, as well as videos that show how different travelers have used the pack. Worth checking out if you are looking for a new under-40 liter backpack. At $299, it might make you jump at first, but when you consider this will probably be the only pack you would need for a long, long time, it will quickly sound much more reasonable.


Telecom Square

Over the past couple of years, I’ve mentioned Telecom Square a few times. It’s a mobile wifi hotspot that I’ve been using every now and then. And while the company provided me with a device to test out, the reason I mention them is because I have been repeatedly impressed by how reliable this hotspot has been in countries all over the world (it works in over 90 countries). Wherever I am – India, Israel, Italy, Indonesia – I just turn it on and within seconds I have a solid internet connection.

Telecom Square mobile wifi hotspot

I can take it with me wherever I go (it’s smaller than an old flip phone), several devices can connect to it at the same time and one charge lasts about 5 hours of solid internet use. Yes, it is on the pricey side, about $12 USD per day for a single country device, so it’s not for everybody. (There are a variety of plans and they do have long term discounts that can knock it down to about $8 USD per day.) Some travelers really require reliable internet all the time when they are moving around and don’t want to worry about finding a secure connection everywhere they go. If that’s you, a mobile wifi hotspot could suit your needs quite well.

Telecom Square:


FlipKey is Tripadvisor’s version of Airbnb, and they happened to get in touch with me earlier this year, offering me a chance to try out their service. So I did try it when I went to Italy back in April. The apartment I booked in Florence was amazing, two minutes walk from The Duomo and everything else I could possibly want to be a two minutes walk away from. The interior design, especially the high ceilings and massive windows made me feel as if I was in an Italian palace, even though the apartment was only two bedrooms. I loved the apartment and it was a fair price for the four of us that shared it, compared to booking hotel rooms.


As for the FlipKey experience, well, it wasn’t the easiest. Most of the apartment owners I contacted would either tell me to visit some other website to make the booking (where they didn’t have to pay fees I assume) or the apartment they had advertised wasn’t actually the apartment they had available. Despite having 1651 listings in Florence for under $150 USD per night, it took quite a while for me to find an apartment that I could actually book on their site that was exactly what was advertised. With that said, the reason I mention it here is that I guess it’s worth looking at FlipKey if you do plan to do the apartment rental thing while traveling since the more options you have the better. And as is the case with anything, you could very well have a completely different experience on the site than I did.


Travelers Box

I literally slapped myself on the forehead when I first saw a Travelers Box kiosk next to my gate at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. “Such a good idea!” was all I could think. You’re leaving a country and you have some local currency, bills and coins, in your pocket that you no longer need. Now, instead of buying a tacky $22 “I Love Milan” hand towel at the airport gift shop, just to use up the money, you can deposit that money into the Travelers Box kiosk.

Travelers Box

When you do, you can choose to have the money sent to any of a long list of possible places, such as your Paypal account or Skype account or Amazon account and on and on. There are over 35 options for you to choose from. The money is converted into the currency of the account, Travelers Box takes their cut and the rest is all yours to spend once you get home. And it takes less than a minute to do this. Awesome, awesome idea and I think this will really take off. Right now, the kiosks can be found in only 7 airports in Turkey, England, Italy and Republic of Georgia but they plan to have over 30 more airports around the world added by the end of the year. Keep an eye out for them and soon enough you won’t have to waste your leftover currency when you travel.

Travelers Box:


It’s an interesting idea – buying hotel rooms from people who can no longer use them. When someone can’t go on a planned trip but they’ve already booked their accommodation, they can now sell the hotel room on Roomer and travelers can purchase those rooms at a heavy discount. The seller doesn’t lose all of the money they spent to book their room, the buyer gets a great deal and everyone is happy. Of course, the only way this system will really work is if there are a ton of people using the site and re-selling their rooms or else the supply of rooms being re-sold will be too low.

Roomer Travel

I recently used the site to book a room for myself and my mom on our recent trip to Oregon, but there weren’t any hotel rooms being re-sold in any of the destinations we were heading to. However, if there aren’t any rooms being re-sold, Roomer also has a normal hotel search engine and I did find a great deal on there for a three night stay. So it worked out in the end but I would have loved to find actual discounted rooms from people who couldn’t use the rooms they had already booked. Hopefully the offerings will grow and this will become easier to do. Definitely a site worth paying attention to.


Allett Wallet

I’ve used money clips, strange rubber contraptions, normal clips and all kinds of wallets, but usually, after a short while, I stop using these money organization things and just throw my money and cards into my pocket without anything keeping them together. So, when I saw the Allett Wallet offerings, I thought that the same would happen. But, as a sucker for money and card organizing contraptions nonetheless, I decided to give this one a try too. It’s now been about 6 weeks and I’m still using it, and I have a feeling I’ll be using it for a long time.

All-Ett Wallet

Its beauty is in its simplicity as they say. The one I chose is the Nylon Sport Wallet and it has three simple pockets – one for the bills, two slots for cards – that’s it. The key is that this wallet is super thin. Even with 10 bills and 10 cards in there, when I put it in my pocket, it’s barely noticeable and I can barely feel it’s even there. That made me a big fan.

This wallet is also super tough which is important when traveling all over the place, and it also only costs $14.95, a decent price point I’d say. There are several other styles and materials to choose from as well.

They can also be found, with reviews, on Amazon.

That’s the roundup. Those are the travel products and travel websites that have caught my attention recently.

I hope you find some of them useful and as always, if you do try anything that was mentioned, please let us know how it goes in the comments below!

Have you already used any of the above? What was your experience? Any other cool travel-related websites, products or services you want to share?

Posted in Travel Gear, Travel Tips & Advice | 10 Comments

The Greatest Lesson I've Learned
I know nothing.

That’s the greatest lesson I’ve learned during all these years of travel.

Sure, I can tell you where to snorkel in Bali or give you a great route for a road trip around Romania or explain where to find a unique spa experience in Kyrgyzstan, but when I really think about all of the issues and situations that the world faces these days, I really know nothing at all.

I read. I meet people, all the time, all over the world. I talk and discuss at length with others about politics, about religion and conflicts and economies and why it’s so difficult to find a good pair of sunglasses that actually fit my head shape.

But the more I read, the more I converse with others and the more I travel this fine world of ours, the more I realize that not only do I know nothing, it’s almost impossible for me to know anything.

Travel has shown me that the very global topics that I am interested and eager to learn about, the very topics that we all read about, are even more complex and complicated than I ever imagined. It has also shown me that no matter how many countries I visit, I will always continue to discover that every aspect of life in every single nation is defined by an infinite amount of different thoughts, actions, deals, motivations, interests and beyond.

Every single person involved in anything has their own stake and as a result, has their own views, desired outcomes, reasons for taking sides and so on.

How can I know what every person involved is doing or thinking, both in the open and behind the scenes (where it gets even trickier)? How can I know the reasons why they are doing or thinking something?

I can’t.

And if I can’t know any of that, I’m just left with media reports and the conversations I have with the people I meet, which does provide some information and access to a handful of perspectives, but certainly not enough for me to claim that I actually know what’s really going on, that I actually know the complete story.

I can say I know what’s going on from one or two angles perhaps, but that’s about it.

Does it even matter? Maybe it doesn’t.

All I know is that over the years, I’ve learned time and time again that what’s bad for some people is good, or even wonderful, for others, that what at first seems to be one thing, so often seems like something else, something so completely different, soon after.

And that’s why it becomes so extraordinarily difficult to give sweeping statements about a government, about a conflict, about any situation whatsoever without taking into account every single person that is affected or that plays a role. But it’s impossible to take into account everyone’s position, which is why it’s impossible to possess complete knowledge about anything.

The more time I spend online, and the more time I spend talking about various issues, the more I realize that the internet has tricked us into thinking that we are ’experts’ simply because we have such access to so much information. We feel more comfortable making broad statements about the Middle East, yelling out our conclusions about poverty or claiming that we absolutely know what is going on with Greece right now because we’ve read 100 articles on the matter. But in reality, we still don’t know much at all because the internet can’t provide us with a completely unbiased view of what every person or every group involved is thinking and doing and why.

I’m Just Naive

When someone writes to me through the blog and tells me that my political views are naive or my thoughts on some global problem are overly simplistic, based on something I’ve written, my response is…


To me, naivety is thinking that we, ordinary citizens, know enough about some situation to be able to claim, with such certainty, that we are right and others are completely wrong. None of us have been in the meeting rooms, none of us have seen the deals made, none of us were present at every conversation or heard the exact reasoning for every decision, none of us have spoken with the very people, on all sides, who are dealing with the issue first-hand.

And while relying on the media might give me an interesting story to read, it is important to recognize that whatever I do read is one small, and usually very biased, perspective. Thinking otherwise can be dangerous. Media is big business and with any big business, there’s always a hidden agenda behind everything. They work hard to try and hide this of course but what we read is exactly what they want us to read, not necessarily what is actually taking place, or at least not the complete story.


This is why you won’t see me talking in-depth about conflict, politics or many other global issues. I’ll gladly share my thoughts and general opinions based on what I’ve learned over the years but I’ll always add a note that I really have no idea what I’m talking about in the end, simply because there is no way for me to really know what I’m talking about.

Make sense? Maybe not. Maybe I really am just naive.

But, I still think it’s better to recognize that we only know a tiny fraction about everything. I still think it’s more useful to realize that each of us has been exposed to different information and therefore, each of us sees things in completely different ways, none of which can possibly be fully accurate.

Realizing these things has helped me try to seek out as many perspectives as possible with anything I want to learn about. It has helped me to hold off on making judgments and reaching conclusions without gathering as much information as I possibly can. It has helped me realize that every situation in the world is much more complex than it seems and that I should always remind myself of this fact.

Thank you, travel. Thank you for teaching me that I am indeed quite clueless. Funny enough, this lesson has actually helped me understand the world so much better in the end.

Do you think it’s possible to be truly informed about something? Am I the only clueless one?

Posted in Personal Stuff, Perspectives | 39 Comments

Israel Travel Recommendations - Port Said, Tel Aviv
During my trip to Israel last month, as is always the case when I travel, I came across some places, some activities and of course, some people, that I feel would help enhance anyone’s trip to this region. I’ve already stated, in my post “My First Trip to Israel”, that my time in this country was short and my experiences limited, however, that doesn’t change the fact that, every day, I found myself doing something that I thoroughly enjoyed and/or found truly interesting.

This post is to provide a small handful of Israel travel recommendations based on my own experiences:


Abraham Hostel (Jerusalem)

It’s a large hostel with 250 beds scattered among dorm rooms and private rooms, situated in a great location just minutes from the all-day-visit worthy Mahane Yehuda Market. The staff are excellent, the facilities impressive and the number of opportunities to meet other travelers and locals alike are infinite with their long list of daily activities and tours. There is always something going on here. The vision of this hostel is to support independent travelers throughout the Middle East by ensuring that you have a chance to experience the city, the country and the region in a variety of different ways.

Details: Abraham Hostel

Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem

Private room at Abraham Hostel


RZR Israel ATV Adventure (Upper Galilee)

When I sat down inside the ATV, my first thought was, “At least this will be over in a couple of hours”. For some reason, the thought of another ATV trip just didn’t excite me as I used to go on ATV trips all the time when I worked as a Tour Manager on board cruise ships. Oh how silly was I. This ATV adventure was unreal. Perhaps it was the bold, yet serene, landscape or the extremely fun-to-drive vehicles (Polaris RZR) or maybe it was the guide, Osher, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy showing visitors around this area of the country. Or most likely, it was a combination of everything. All I know is that I had difficulty deciding whether to stop the vehicle every time there was another perfect photo opportunity or just step on the gas and fly through the beautiful surroundings. Tough position to be in. And that’s why I can’t think of a better way to experience the Upper Galilee.

Details: (in Hebrew but contact details are there)

ATV Adventure in Tel Aviv

RZR ATV Adventure

Alternative Tel Aviv – Street Art & Graffiti Tours

I already talked about this very cool experience in my first post about my trip to Israel and once again, if you’re in Tel Aviv, I highly recommend contacting these great people and joining one of their tours. This was a great find and I could have walked around the city with Yael, our guide and the founder of the company, for 10 hours listening to her talk about all of the street art and graffiti we came upon.

Details: / Alternative Tel Aviv Facebook Page

Flea Market (Jaffa)

This flea market, sprawled out over several blocks in the Jaffa section of Tel Aviv-Yafo, consists of endless small shops offering all kinds of stuff, pretty much anything you could imagine. There are shops selling antiques, furniture, clothes, home products, fruit juice, books, art and more. You can easily spend a day here wandering around, taking a break at one of the many cafes with outdoor seating and then continuing to explore, and I highly doubt you would get bored. I spent 20 minutes in one shop that was the size of a large closet and sold a crazy collection of some of the strangest antique items I have ever seen – bizarre cameras, helmets, forks, record players, chairs, used electrical wires and much, much more.


Tour guide in Jerusalem

Dvir Hollander (Jerusalem and beyond)

His name is Dvir Hollander and while he might not be the kind of guide that yells out with tons of energy about every site we visited, he’s the kind of passionate guide that will make sure your day in Jerusalem is the educational highlight that you want it to be. Laid-back, super kind, extremely respectful and full of knowledge from his own experiences growing up in this city, Dvir seemed to know people in every corner of every quarter of the Old City, all of whom greeted him with a huge smile. I personally could not have wanted a better guide and would recommend Dvir without a doubt to anyone interesting in learning more about this city than you could possibly learn by just wandering around on your own. He’s also a guide for other parts of the country as well.


Alon (at Abraham Hostel)

This guy is a little different and he was the driver/guide for my trip over to Masada and the Dead Sea. Alon was an Orthodox Jew until a couple of years ago when he decided to give it up and now, he doesn’t hide the fact that he’s struggling to figure out his place in the world during this transition. He’s quirky yet incredibly sincere and always willing to share his personal experiences, opinions, inner conflicts and more as related to Israel and the region. At the end of the day, he’s a guy who simply wants peace for everyone and spending some time with him as your driver/guide for a day outside of Jerusalem will surely enhance your overall trip.

Details: Anon can be reached through the Abraham Hostel. Just contact them and they’ll put you in touch.

(Here’s a quick side note…I have no doubt that if you hop on couchsurfing or any other social media platform and connect with a few locals right now, you would find yourself with a bunch of friends before you even arrive in Israel. And when you do meet them in person, it will seem as if you’ve known each other for years. That’s just how it works in this country.)


Port Sa’id

If you’re in Tel Aviv, go here. Please spend an evening at this popular bar/restaurant, eating whatever is on the menu – it changes often – and drinking whatever it is you prefer to drink. The food was amazing, with endless small tapas-like dishes to share. Talk to those sitting at the tables next to you, enjoy the lively outdoor atmosphere and the music selection and you will have one of the most memorable nights of your stay in this country. (The photo at the top of the post is from my evening at Port Sa’id.)

Details: Port Sa’id Facebook Page

Han Manuli

When you’re at the Jaffa Flea Market and you need some food, this little restaurant serving up Arab-Israeli cuisine is an excellent option. The chef, Felix, prepares his dishes based on what’s available at the market, with a frequently changing menu as a result. We had a wonderful meal here and there wasn’t a single thing on the table that I wouldn’t happily eat again…right this very moment in fact. Their kunefe – a thick and creamy cheese pastry covered in sweet syrup – might be at the top of the list.

Details: Han Manuli Facebook page

Lunch at Han Manuli in Tel Aviv

Kunefe at Han Manuli in Tel Aviv

Abu Ahmad Falafel & Hummus (Via Dolorosa, East Jerusalem)

When you’re wandering around the Old City in Jerusalem, find this simple eatery in the Muslim quarter and take a seat. The sign is in Arabic and Hebrew only but just ask anyone and they’ll lead you here. Order the falafel, the hummus, the labneh, the ful, the tabouleh and whatever else catches your attention…the friendly owner and his son make it all fresh and you’ll be treated to a mouth-watering meal at a place you might ordinarily never think about entering.

Details: Abu Ahmad Facebook Page

Lunch preparation at Abu Ahmad

Lunch at Abu Ahmad in Jerusalem


Having a chance to spend an evening with local hosts who will prepare you a home-cooked meal is the reason EatWith is becoming so popular. We used EatWith in Tel Aviv and before we knew it, we were sitting at a large table on a beautiful backyard terrace with six other guests, enjoying great conversation, good wine and an absolutely delicious meal prepared by our talented hosts, Loran and Aviya. It was my first EatWith experience but, as they say, it won’t be my last. Any concept that helps connects travelers with locals is a good one to me and one that involves a high-quality meal is even better. If you’re in Tel Aviv, definitely something to try!

Details: EatWith – Loran & Aviya

EatWith Host in Tel Aviv

EatWith dinner in Tel Aviv

EatWith dinner on a terrace in Tel Aviv

There’s my handful of recommendations. And if you do travel to Israel and end up checking out any of the above, please let us all know how it went in the comments below.

If you’ve been to Israel already and want to share any other recommendations, we certainly welcome those in the comments as well!

[Photos by Or Kaplan]

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

Posted in Israel | 10 Comments

My First Trip to Israel

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

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

Just imagine…

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

Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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

Western Wall, Jerusalem

Western Wall 2, Jerusalem

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

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Church of the Sepulchre 2, Jerusalem

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

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

Beyond Jerusalem

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

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


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

Dead Sea View

Kalia Beach Resort, Dead Sea

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

Upper Galilee, Israel

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

Tel-Aviv Beach

Alternative Tel-Aviv Street Art Tour

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

Lunch in Jerusalem

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

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

A Complex Travel Destination

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

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

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

Israel is indeed all of that.

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo of Tel-Aviv beach by Or Kaplan]

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

Posted in Israel | 87 Comments

Trover Travel Ideas - Chacala

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

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

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

Now picture this…

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

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

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

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

It goes a little something like this…

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

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

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

Agrasen ki Baoli in Delhi, India

Apoxee Trail in Florida

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Cremeria Sette Chiese Gelateria in Bologna, Italy

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

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Try Out Trover

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

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

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

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

The travel ideas are endless.

I’ll do one right now…

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

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

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

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

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

Other Cool Things About Trover

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

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

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

Posted in Everything Else, Travel Tips & Advice | 26 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s just me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Travel Tips & Advice | 56 Comments

Wandering Earl Tours - India

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

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

Moving on…

Wandering Earl Tours – 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Tours for July – December 2015:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wandering Earl Tours 2015

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

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

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

Posted in Wandering Earl Tours | 29 Comments

Romanian visa - flowers

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

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

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

That was it.

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

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

Let’s take a closer look…

Um, I’m Not Upset

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

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

I just told the story of what took place.

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

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

Break My Legs? Nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

US Immigration

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

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

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

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

Okay, wait a minute.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Because I Have a Blog?

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

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

No Intention of Paying Taxes

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

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

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

Another Unemployed Man

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

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

Three Final Notes

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

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

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

Posted in Personal Stuff, Romania | 131 Comments

Romania Residency Visa Refused
Peace, I’m out.

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

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

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

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

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

Off to Pick Up My Residency Card…

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

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

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

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

So, there I stood. No residency visa.

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

An Explanation Please…

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

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

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

Off to Italy…

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

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

Bologna, Italy

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

Now I’m in Florida.

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

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

10 Thoughts From the Past 10 Days

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

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

Wander Across India group

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

Venice, Italy

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

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

Posted in Personal Stuff, Romania | 120 Comments