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According to Plan

During my senior year of high school, and after a great deal of debate, I eventually chose the university that I would attend for the next stage of my studies. I chose a university in Atlanta, Georgia. However, when I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree some four years later, I had not only attended that university in Atlanta, but I had also attended a university in Melbourne, Australia and a university in my home state of Massachusetts as well.

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When I first started traveling back in 1999, my plan was to travel for three months. I even had a return flight back to the USA, for exactly ninety days after I touched down in Bangkok. Go figure. I ended up traveling for 14 years…so far. I’ve visited countries I never imagined I would ever visit, I’ve had experiences that I never even knew were possible and I’ve met people whose existence and culture I had been completely unaware of.

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Furthermore, when I decided to try and travel indefinitely, I quickly reached the conclusion that the only way to make this happen, to fund my travels, would be to teach English around the world. Fast forward to now and I’ve used a combination of English teaching, working on cruise ships and working online to help keep this traveling lifestyle going.

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In about two weeks or so from today, I’ll be launching a new website project that I’ve been working on with a friend of mine. And I’m extremely excited about this project, even though the project that will be launched looks absolutely nothing like the original idea we had started with a few months ago. There’s almost zero resemblance.

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The point of all this is that every stage of my travels, every stage of my life actually, never ends up being what I thought it would be. I go in thinking I’ll attend one university, I come out having attended three. I go in thinking I’ll travel for three months, and now I feel as if I could travel forever.

And you know what? I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

In fact, I’m a firm believer that nothing should ever go according to plan. Nothing. If something does go exactly according to plan, the chance is high that something is wrong. How can things go exactly as planned when there is no way for us to know exactly what will happen once we start to put that plan into action?

If we’re open to new ideas, and we welcome the chance for our ideas and goals to constantly evolve based upon new experiences we have in life and new information we receive or learn, it would only be natural that our plans should change often as well.

That Includes Travel Plans!

If it’s travel we’re talking about, it doesn’t matter if you’re going on a two week holiday to the beach, a three month trip around Asia or South America or a one year round-the-world adventure. It should never go according to plan in my opinion.

Of course, that’s up to each of us. The opportunities to disable our original plan and head off in a direction we once would never have conceived of instead, will always be there. Such opportunities will appear all the time. It all comes down to whether or not we embrace those opportunities and see where it takes us, even if it takes us far away from our original plan, or if we choose to ignore them instead.

When I traveled to Romania for the first time back in 2011, I was on the tail end of a two month Eurail train journey around Europe. And my plan for Romania was simple, to get a quick glimpse of the country over the course of one week and then hop on the train to Istanbul where my European adventure would come to an end. Well, that didn’t happen. Before I knew it, I was enjoying Romania so much that I made a sudden decision to abandon my original plan and change course completely. Soon after, I had set up a ‘base’ in Bucharest, I had started traveling all over this country and I began spending more time here than I would have ever guessed I would spend in this land over the course of five lifetimes.

And I’m so very happy I made that sudden change of plans. In fact, I’m so very happy that I made all of the above changes in plans over the years and that as far as I can remember, I’ve never completed anything major in my life according to the original plan. For me, the result of being open to spontaneous, unexpected change is a life more in tune with what I truly want to gain from each day I spend on this planet. And that certainly seems worth it to me.

So here’s to change. Here’s to a fuller life. Here’s to welcoming the notion that what might be our plan today, could very well be crumbled up, tossed away and replaced by an even better plan tomorrow.

Are you open to change? Do your travels/life situations usually go according to plan or do they end up being different than what you originally expected?


Posted in Perspectives, Travel Tips & Advice | 80 Comments

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Around the World
Who would have thought that sitting on a stone wall in the middle of the jungle would play such a role in my life? It was 1999. It was Angkor Wat, Cambodia. It was the location where I first decided that a life of indefinite travel might be the life that I was looking for.

And as that random idea slowly became reality, and the years of wandering around the world passed by, I made sure that I never forgot that stone wall. I made sure that I never forgot the mesmerizing, ancient temple that was in front of me at the time or the dense jungle, the first jungle I had ever seen, that surrounded me.

While I always talk about the people I meet being the most rewarding aspect of a life of travel, let’s face it, sometimes people can truly ruin our day. Since I started traveling, I’ve been vomited on, spit on and hissed at. I’ve been peed on, yelled at, chased down the road, pickpocketed, threatened, shoved and hit by a car. I’ve been ripped off, tricked, cheated and just absolutely screwed over.

I still love people of course but man, I must admit that I’m also grateful for those special places out there, those spots and locations around the world that have provided me with some time to just be alone with my thoughts, those spots and locations that have etched themselves into my memory or have changed the course of my life forever, for one reason or another.

That wall, that temple, that jungle at Angkor Wat, Cambodia, back on December 31st, 1999, is one such example for me.

This post is to celebrate the locations that prove so meaningful to each of us during our adventures. And it doesn’t matter how well-known or unknown a particular place may be or what other people think of the place either. All that matters is that a single spot on this planet had a major impact on our life at some point in time.

My Favorite Spots Around the World

It’s not every day that I find myself in the middle of nowhere, in Yemen, standing on a massive rock jutting far out over a valley below, with a view so appealing that I could have spent one month right there without moving or ever closing my eyes. Why would I want to close my eyes when I had such a sight before me?

Bokur viewpoint, Yemen

Luckily, however, I didn’t spend one month there in the end. If I had, I would have missed the opportunity to stand in a location that even fewer people will ever get a chance to see, a place so spectacular that even six months after my visit, I still had a difficult time believing was real. The only reason I know it wasn’t actually a dream is because I still have a piece of my boarding pass from my flight to Socotra Island

Qalansiya, Socotra Island, Yemen

Other locations have forced me to realize how lucky I am to be traveling, how lucky I am to be in a place that I never would have known about had I not thrown that backpack on my back and taken that first step into the world…

Magura, Romania - hiking

That might be the Piatra Craiului Mountains above, in the heart of Romania or surreal Fanning Island, Kiribati, an island of 300 people way out there in the middle of the South Pacific, both of which have helped shape who I am…

Fanning Island, Kiribati

There’s no way I can explain the feeling I had when I spent a couple of days along the too-gorgeous-to-be-real Napali coastline on the Hawaiian island of Kauai or when I drove from Darwin to Broome, straight through the most absolute nothingness I have ever seen, up there in the northwest of Australia, or when I just sat under the trees in the zocalo of Valladolid, Mexico, listening to the sweet tunes of a mariachi band, all while observing, and welcoming, the thoughts, the questions, the answers, the inspiration, the clarity, that those surroundings provided me.

And as I stated in my last post, you can call me a tourist for visiting, and enjoying, Las Vegas. Well, you can also call me a tourist for stating that I’ll take that touristy cable car up to the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa any day, or that I’ll gladly contemplate life while looking out over the magnificent New York City skyline from 88 floors above the ground.

NYC from 88th floor

I’ll also always remember, as a younger, more naive traveler, crossing that rickety foot bridge over the Hunza River, just outside the small village of Passu, Pakistan. I remember stopping for a few moments half-way across, wondering if I was still on planet Earth as I stared at the magical Karaokaram Mountains, and knowing full well that after a visit into this remote, unchartered land, my life would never be the same again…

Passu, Karaokaram Mountains, Pakistan

So, as I sit here today and allow my mind to wander through the years behind me, I instantly recognize that, from the Geirangerfjord in Norway to the Gros Morne National Park outside of Cornerbrook, Newfoundland, from the brilliant views of colorful Bundi, India while high up on the hill above town to my stay at the remote Bengstskar Lighthouse in the Archipelago Sea some 25 kilometers off the coast of Finland, I have repeatedly been inspired by so many remarkable places that I have visited during my travels.

Geirangerfjord, Norway

Bengtskar Lighthouse, Archipelago Sea

And these are the kind of places that, for me personally, didn’t simply make for good photos. These are the kind of places that had such an impact on my life, both due to the location itself as well as the period of my life that I happened to come across them, the kind of places where I distinctly remember a change, maybe a change in my way of thinking or in my beliefs or maybe a change in my goals or dreams.

Yes, I love the people I meet every day during this adventure of mine, but heck, I sure won’t forget many of the places I’ve been to either.

And I’m certain that every traveler would say a similar thing.

What are some of the special places that have had a major impact on your life? For those who have yet to travel, what are some of the places you absolutely can’t wait to experience?


Posted in Perspectives, Travel Tales | 93 Comments

Love Las Vegas

I love Las Vegas. I love it so much in fact that I made sure I included a visit to Las Vegas on the itinerary for my recent road trip around the Western USA back in December.

That itinerary also included visiting a good friend of mine in Los Angeles, a couple of days wandering around Santa Barbara, a drive along the California coast through Big Sur, a stop in beautiful Monterey and some days in San Francisco. It was a very nice trip, and I enjoyed every destination, but when the trip was over, the destination that stood out the most was Las Vegas.

And it had nothing to do with gambling. I did not win big. I actually barely gambled and in the four days I was in Vegas, I think I lost about $100 USD on the slot machines and never really had an urge to gamble any more than that.

So forget about gambling. What stood out the most for me this time (I had been to Las Vegas twice before) had more to do with some interesting lessons that I learned from my visit, lessons about myself and about travel, lessons that helped me understand how a person who spends most of their time traveling in the developing world, visiting countries that see very few travelers and writing about the benefits of such travel, can enjoy such a touristy city.

I realized these lessons, not during my actual stay, but in the midst of that five and a half hour, trance-like drive through the quiet ‘high desert’ from Las Vegas back to Los Angeles, when I had plenty of time to just stare straight ahead and think. And this is what I realized…

Sometimes we should visit destinations that don’t fit our normal travel style.
You might be surprised. As I mentioned in a recent post, you might actually discover that you do enjoy something or someplace you never thought you’d like. The only way to find out is to do things and travel to places that you normally wouldn’t! It really is as simple as that. (I know several other travelers who love Las Vegas even though they typically prefer locations that offer a much different experience.)

Destinations are not always what they seem.
We often think we know what to expect in certain places but unless we actually travel there for ourselves, we’ll never truly know. This is why we travel in the first place, to see the world with our own eyes. And to ignore a certain destination simply because we think it will be too touristy for us, and therefore not provide us with the kind of experience we prefer, seems to go against this core goal. As for Las Vegas, most people naturally assume that a visit to this city must revolve around gambling when that’s not exactly true. Excellent food, impressive shows (I did catch a performance of Cirque du Soleil’s “Zarkana” – very cool!) and an abundance of beautiful natural surroundings to explore could easily keep you busy for weeks. Throw in a stroll along Fremont Street in downtown Vegas, a drive through many of the neighborhoods far away from ‘The Strip’, a visit to the ‘Pinball Museum‘ and possibly catching a wedding at the famous “A Little White Wedding Chapel” (either your own or someone else’s, and no, I did not participate in this activity myself) and this city may very well prove to be much different, with much more to do, than you had assumed. And this is generally the case for just about every super-touristy destination out there in the world.

Water Fountain at the Bellagio in Las Vegas

There’s no shame in visiting touristy places.
There’s a reason why touristy places are touristy. There is something to do or see that draws people in. In the case of Las Vegas, it is without a doubt quite a sight to see. There is no other city on the planet quite like it and I believe that a full day’s walk along the Las Vegas strip, while ducking in and out of the various casino properties in order to witness the bizarre, over-the-top attractions, such as light shows, musical water fountains, statues of Greek gods coming to life, polar bears made out of roses, gondoliers singing loudly as they paddle their gondolas through narrow waterways, the insane rides that hang you over the city from the 108th floor of the Stratosphere Hotel, the random singing, the random dancing, the costume-clad women on stilts, the superheroes on the street corners, the varied architecture and ridiculous themes and on and on, is well worth the experience, at least once. Again, where else can you see such craziness?

And the fact that Las Vegas is so unique makes the argument that some travelers are ‘better’ than others simply because they avoid touristy spots when traveling, seem a bit silly. What’s wrong with visiting such a unique destination? I personally don’t care where anyone goes and I’d happily travel to a touristy location such as Las Vegas or Phuket, Thailand or Playa del Carmen, Mexico myself in order to experience what they have to offer and to see why so many people flock there. Maybe I’ll like the place, maybe I won’t, but I don’t mind finding out on my own. And I certainly don’t look down on anyone else who wants to do the same, or even those who only travel to such touristy locations.

The point is, there’s no shame in a visit to Las Vegas, or any touristy location, no matter what kind of traveler you happen to be or what kind of traveler others believe you to be. Oh, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying your visit either!

It’s up to us to create a rewarding adventure.
After all, we have some control over how much we gain from our travels, regardless of where we go. Whether we travel to Cancun, Mexico or Brebu, Romania (not quite as popular as Cancun!), we can always meet and talk with local people, find new activities to try, discover new foods to eat and ultimately, have a fun, educational and rewarding travel experience. While in Las Vegas, my father drove down from Utah for a couple of days to meet with me and while he’s not a local, he spends a great deal of time there for work. As a result, he had some recommendations of things to do and places to eat that I absolutely would never have found on my own. From a tiny, and excellent, Vietnamese Pho shop far off The Strip to a restaurant that serves a delicious sesame glazed banana that is prepared at your table, from beautiful, quiet mountain locations with magical views to a few small casinos that have some very interesting history attached to them, I can say with relative certainty that 99.9%, or more, of the travelers visiting Las Vegas, don’t make it to any of these places. So even in touristy Las Vegas I did a few very non-touristy things, and I loved them all.

Las Vegas, Nevada

Call me a tourist, I don’t care.
Tourists, travelers, again, it doesn’t matter to me. Call me a tourist for liking Las Vegas, I’m perfectly okay with that. I’ve never liked the ‘tourist versus traveler’ debate and Las Vegas only makes me dislike the debate even more. The thing is, as I’m walking around Sin City, I’m interacting, whether it’s a conversation, a handshake or a simple nod, with people of all kinds, from the husband and wife wearing their “My Name is Dave” and “I’m Dave’s Wife” t-shirts who are having a genuine blast on their once-in-a-lifetime trip, to the European tourists laughing and shaking their heads at the sight of it all, to kids and adults of all ages and nationalities mesmerized by the musical water fountain in front of the Bellagio Hotel, to the party-goers living it up like never before, to the newlyweds, the families, the sightseers and everyone else in between. And there’s no way I’m going to tell any of these people that the smile on their face, that the excitement in their step, that the memories they’re creating are worthless because they are just tourists who like to visit touristy destinations.

To me, they are all interesting people, all with their own stories, all with their own reasons for coming to this city, and I myself love the energy created by such a diverse mix of travelers, or tourists, or whatever they are. Who cares? Throw in the Las Vegas natives, as well as the staff at every casino, restaurant and shop, many of whom are from countries all over the world, and the mix of people becomes even more interesting. Couple all of that with the diversity of sights and of sounds and of atmospheres that Vegas offers, however touristy, superficial or ‘American’ it all might be, and you get a destination that allows visitors to have as unique, rewarding and fun an experience as they want.

So, instead of avoiding touristy places, why not join the masses and see what those places are all about every now and then? Why not forget about tourists and travelers and just enjoy the experiences together? We’re all just human beings, we’re all just tourists, we’re all just travelers and by realizing this, we can avoid labels, both of people and of destinations, and instead, just focus on what’s most important – meeting new people and seeing the world, every corner of the world, with our own eyes.

That’s right, meeting new people and seeing the world. Thank you Las Vegas for teaching me that any destination can be a destination worth exploring, a lesson that was certainly well worth the $100 I lost at the slot machines.

Have you visited Las Vegas? Have you visited other touristy destinations? What kind of experiences did you have? Tourist versus traveler, do you care?


Posted in Perspectives, Travel Tips & Advice, USA | 87 Comments

The One Thing I Love To Do

It’s the start of the year and I’ve been sitting here for awhile trying to come up with the perfect topic for my first blog post of 2014. And I’m a bit worried because the idea that has so far stood out as much better than all the rest involves me showing you a video of my slightly webbed toes.

Oh heck, let’s see how it goes. Here, my friends, is a video of my slightly webbed toes, aka “duck feet”:


(If you’re reading this post via email, you’ll need to click here in order to watch the video directly on the blog itself.)

Fascinating, right?

Anyway, moving on…

The most likely reason why I have such a lack of ideas at the moment is the amount of travel I’ve done in the past two months and the exhaustion that the constant moving around has led to. And now that I’m back in Bucharest, finally able to rest, my brain has shut down somewhat, refusing to do too much thinking until it has a chance to adjust to one time zone and get into a normal rhythm.

Hence the reason why my mushy brain is unable to come up with anything better than a webbed toes video.

Of course, I could just go the more traditional route and write about my New Year’s resolutions for my first post of 2014, but the problem is that I don’t have any New Year’s resolutions. I’ve always believed that if there is something I want to do in life, the best time to start is immediately. Waiting for the New Year to come around to make changes in my life doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. The longer I wait to start something, the less of a chance there is of me actually following through.

So there won’t be any resolutions from me.

On the other hand, and this has nothing to do with it being the start of the year, I have had something on my mind lately, something that I definitely want to accomplish more of in the coming months. And no, it does not involve participating in swimming events so that I can take advantage of my webbed toes.

It’s actually much simpler than that.

I just want to meet more people.

It is true that I meet a lot of people already, that’s for sure. But I must admit that the amount of random people I meet has become less and less lately. I’m talking about striking up conversations with waiters and waitresses, shopkeepers and bakers, bus drivers and police officers, soldiers and tailors, students and retirees, entrepreneurs and any other stranger I come across, everywhere I go, with the sole purpose of exchanging stories, learning from each other and creating as many human connections as I possibly can.

That’s what I love to do. That’s why I’m traveling in the first place. So now it’s up to me to make sure I’m on track and still doing what I love.

If you read this blog, you’ll already know how much I believe in the benefits of human interaction, especially cross-cultural interaction, in terms of breaking down barriers and misunderstandings that could potentially, and needlessly, lead to hatred, discrimination, war and more. And all it takes at times is saying “hello” to a person standing next to you on the metro or smiling at the person you pass in the street or asking a question to the person at the next table. The effort required to connect with a fellow human being is so minimal, yet the potential benefits are huge, for everyone involved.

With that said, I do know very well that closing my laptop right now, heading outside and talking to random people won’t exactly “change the world”. It won’t put an end to any wars, violence or widespread hatred. I’d be foolish to think it would.

But, but, but…such an interaction can change a person’s day, it can change someone’s week, it can bring happiness, it can alter someone’s views, it can create friendships and teach us life lessons and so much more. Even if the only result of interacting with a stranger is an exchange of smiles, I personally feel that makes the brief connection more than worthwhile. Such an interaction certainly brings me more happiness than just about anything else in life.

That’s why it’s time for me to focus on meeting more people wherever I go, as of this very moment. I’m genuinely excited about where this will lead, who I will meet and what I will learn as a result.

And this way, I will also be able to promise that the next video I put on this site will highlight one of these interesting random interactions from my travels, something that sounds so much better than my other idea – a video of me cutting my toenails.

Do you talk to random people when you travel? How do you benefit from random human interactions? Any particular goals you have set for yourself right now?


Posted in Interesting People, Personal Stuff, Perspectives | 106 Comments

Sledding Champion of the World

I positioned myself, grabbed hold of the handles, tucked in my legs and asked for a push. And off I went…

While I’d like to say that I zooomed down the hill on my sled at maximum speed, slicing and dicing my way through the snow, hitting jumps and gliding through the air with such beauty and grace and consequently impressing everyone around me, the actual version involved a great deal of unplanned twisting and turning, a bizarre amount of time spent moving backwards, flying through the air in such a painfully clumsy mess, nearly taking out several small children along the way and eventually crashing into, and breaking, a mesh fence or two.

If there’s one thing I told my friends before arriving in Annecy, France for New Years was that I would not be partaking in any outdoor activities. After all, cold weather is not my friend and I truly cannot stand to be outside for more than a few minutes when it is less than 0C/32F.

Of course, on my second day here, after a few glasses of wine and some heavy nagging from my friends, I somehow ended up agreeing to go sledding. Before I knew it, I was in a car that was driving over the Forclaz Pass in the French Alps, climbing higher and higher towards the snow. My friends were all energetically chatting away during that ride, completely prepared with their snow pants and waterproof boots, with their ultra-warm gloves and heavily-insulated jackets. And there was I, horrified at spending time outside, stuck wearing my 10-year old, worn-out sweat pants, the most non-waterproof hiking shoes on the planet, and a ‘winter’ jacket I picked up in H&M for $30 bucks and that protects me from the cold as much as wrapping myself up in lettuce would protect me.

Nonetheless, I soon found myself standing at the top of a hill, fully dreading the fact that I would soon have to get on a sled. And before I knew it, I was indeed on a sled, slowly accelerating as I immediately veered far away from my intended path.

Yes, I crashed. Yes, I rolled through the snow. Yes, ice went into my pants and soaked my rear end. And yes, I was frozen like never before as I laid sprawled out at the bottom of the hill.

Oh, and yes, I forgot to mention that I absolutely loved it all. I loved it just as much as I did when I would go sledding as a kid on Chemung Hill, a good-sized hill located right behind the elementary school I attended. I loved this sledding session so much in fact, that I kept going down that hill, and the several other hills we visited yesterday, over and over again, despite the cold, despite my wet pants (from the snow!!), despite icicles hanging from my nose and despite the sub-freezing temperature of the air.

My friends and I had a genuine blast as we continued to crash and roll, to set speed records (at least in our own minds), to fly through the air, to compete with each other, and to be the only adults on sleds for miles around, screaming and laughing the entire time. Each time I finished a ‘run’ down the hill, I would stand up and give a few high fives, pump my fist in the air and wave to my imaginary fans, all while feeling as if I was indeed the sledding champion of the world.

Sledding in Annecy, France

Sledding Champion of the World

And amazingly, I now shake my head at the idea that I would have missed out on all this good craziness, and being champion of the world, had I stuck to my original plan of never going outside. What a crappy trip to France that would have been. Lesson learned.


What lesson?

Sometimes you just need to try things you don’t think you would enjoy. You might be surprised.

We all have our set ways, we all have our own ‘rules’, our own likes and dislikes as we move through life. But we owe it to ourselves to evaluate how we live from time to time. Just because I haven’t liked cold weather for the past ten years doesn’t mean that I should avoid it forever. We all change and what we once did not enjoy, or what we once might have thought uninteresting or even unbearable, might one day prove to be quite the opposite. And even if we discover that we still don’t enjoy something, it doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun or enjoy certain aspects of it in the process.

It’s not as if this one sledding experience has convinced me to move to the Alps during winter and then hop down to the Andes Mountains in May each year in order to catch another season of pure coldness. I’m still looking forward to the next time I’ll be on a white sand beach, soaking up the sun, as much as I was the day before I went sledding.

However, by forcing myself to do something I wouldn’t ordinarily do, I managed to have an experience that proved to be immensely enjoyable and memorable, an experience that I now would not have wanted to miss out on at all. And as a result, I think I’ll start doing things I typically don’t enjoy more often. I just might discover that I’ve changed.

Seems like a good lesson to learn on this second-to-last day of the year.

Happy New Year!!

Is there something you usually would never do that you might want to try again? Have you been in a similar situation?


Posted in France, Perspectives | 32 Comments

Gift Ideas - Some Stuff
Everyone needs some stuff. You don’t need a lot of stuff, but it would be quite difficult to go through life without any stuff at all. And while my goal is still to travel with under 10kg of stuff as often as I possibly can, that still means I own at least 10kg worth of stuff.

George Carlin said that “A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.” Luckily, I don’t think that applies to those who live out of a backpack.

During 2013, I continued using some stuff that I have been using for a long time and I’ve also discovered some more stuff that has made my life a little easier or more enjoyable. Again, it’s not a lot of stuff that I own, but it’s some stuff.

And since the holiday season is now here, right here in fact, I figured I would share a quick list of some of that stuff just in case you need any gift ideas for someone you know who likes to travel, which might even be yourself. Certainly we should give ourselves gifts from time to time, right?

I just bought myself a gift here at the Los Angeles International Airport. It was a burrito, one last taste of Tex-Mex food before I board my flight to Romania in a couple of hours. And since it was a special ‘end of the year’ gift, I even paid $1.79 extra for guacamole. Actually, that’s complete nonsense. Well, I am at the airport about to board my flight to Romania and I did just eat a burrito with guacamole, but the new phone below was the real ‘end of the year’ gift for myself. The burrito was just something I couldn’t stop myself from buying. It’s tough being a burrito addict.

Here’s the list…

XShot Camera Extender – I’ve mentioned this brilliant camera tool quite often over the past year and I’m still using my Pocket XShot all the time. And with their new XShot Pro version that’s coming out, which is even sturdier, I’m excited to give it a try and continue taking unique photos (such as these photos from my travels) that wouldn’t be possible to take without it.

Eagle Creek Load Warrior Wheeled Duffel 22 – Here’s the thing…I realized recently that sometimes I need a different type of luggage instead of a backpack for those shorter trips where I don’t really have a need to carry my things on my back. And as I was thinking about that, I was contacted by Eagle Creek, and they offered to send me one of their suitcases to use. So I chose the Load Warrior Wheeled Duffel 22 and it’s turned out to be quite a neat little piece of luggage. It’s lightweight, it can be taken as a carry-on, it has 45 liters of space and it has just the right amount of compartments, at least for me. I’ve used it over the past three weeks here in the US and it’s been quite an excellent travel companion I must say. It’s nothing flashy but it’s practical and that’s exactly what I need. (*I accepted the Eagle Creek luggage on the condition that I would give it an honest review. I would never accept anything if a positive review was either required or expected.)

Panasonic Lumix ZS20 – I haven’t changed my stance on this one. In my opinion, the Lumix ZS20 is a perfect travel camera for those who don’t take photography too seriously. Excellent photos, solid video, small size, 20x zoom, ridiculously low price for what you get…not a bad combination. There’s the newer Lumix ZS30 as well that also gets excellent reviews.

Telecomsquare Mobile Wifi Router – Yes, it is a bit pricey to carry around one of these devices (about $13 USD per day), however, if you are going on a shorter trip and need to make sure you have access to the internet at all times, this tiny mobile Wifi router from Telecomsquare is an ideal device. I’ve now used it in several countries, including twice in India, and it’s worked in every city and town that I’ve visited, as well as in the middle of nowhere. This has allowed me to work at any time and in any location without worrying about finding a reliable Wifi signal.

Macbook Pro w/ Retina Display – Yes, as I mentioned earlier this year, I made the switch from a Windows laptop to a Macbook Pro. The post I wrote about the change turned out to be one of the most controversial posts I’ve ever written, with readers weighing in with all kinds of thoughts. While it might not be for everyone (and I understand every reason why people argue against buying one), I personally love my Macbook Pro as I get a lot more work done on this machine and I enjoy doing that work a whole lot more as well. And to me, that makes it worth every dollar I spent on it.

Google Nexus 5 Smartphone – My older Nexus S phone died about a month ago and so I picked up a new Nexus 5 from the Google Play store. It’s a fun phone to use, it’s an ideal size for me and its features are very impressive, with incredibly accurate results. And at $349 for an unlocked 16 GB version, it’s an excellent value.

Crocs Modi Flip Sandals – I still love my Crocs, more specifically, the Modi Flip Flop. Super lightweight, comfortable and durable, it doesn’t get any better than that for someone who wears sandals often while traveling all the time.

And how about some book stuff…these are my four favorite reads from the past year:

The Pirates of Somalia by Jay Bahadur

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Have a wonderful, and safe, end to 2013! And as always, I truly appreciate you following along with this blog during the past year, whether it was for the whole year, a few months or even if this is the first time you’ve ever visited. I am already looking forward to more interaction with all of you next year!

(I’ll be back after New Year’s, ready to announce the dates and destinations for a few more Wandering Earl Tours.)

And I’m curious, where are you spending the final week of 2013?


Posted in Travel Gear | 42 Comments

Younger Self
Older Earl: “Hey, man, how’s it going?”

Younger Earl: “Not bad, yourself?”

Older Earl: “Quite well.”

Younger Earl: “Sweet.”

And so begins the conversation I would have with my younger self, if ever such a conversation were possible. My guess is that, if we could organize such a meeting, we would meet up at Town Spa, a well-known pizza place in my hometown of Stoughton, Massachusetts.

I can see the hostess leading us to our table and then, after we both order an unsweetened iced tea, we would stare at each other for a few minutes, trying to get comfortable. I might chuckle at my younger self’s ridiculous attempt at growing a beard, and my younger self will most likely stare in confusion at my plucked eyebrows, but hey, once we get over these peculiarities, the conversation should flow smoothly, maybe.

Older Earl: “Hmmm….”

Younger Earl: “What’s wrong?”

Older Earl: “I’m trying to think of something to tell you, something to prepare you for the road ahead.”

Younger Earl: “And you’re having trouble? Haven’t you learned anything over the years?”

Older Earl: “Sure I have. I mean, let’s see….well, I’ve learned that Bucharest, Romania is a great place to live, especially if you ever plan to work online. And I’ve learned that arriving into Dhaka, Bangladesh by plane late at night is not such a good idea. Those taxi drivers will kidnap you, literally. What else? Here’s one…the best homemade taro chips you’ll find anywhere can be bought from a small general store in American Samoa. And….oh wait! Don’t worry about calling Capital One Bank before you travel anywhere because they’re going to block your account no matter how many times you tell them where you’re going. Yeah, that’s a good one.”

Younger Earl: “That’s it? That’s all you have to tell me?”

Here’s the problem. The more I think about it, the more I feel that a conversation with my younger self probably wouldn’t be as deep or as inspirational as I might have originally thought. In fact, such a conversation would probably disappoint my younger self and leave him wishing he had just gone out with his much cooler friends that evening instead of spending time eating pizza with me.

While I’ve certainly learned a great deal during the past fourteen years of traveling around this world, I’m just not sure there is much that I wish I had known before I began this adventure. At first, it might seem that I would have wanted to know all of the great life-changing lessons I’ve now picked up, that I would be eager to share the advice and wisdom, about life in general and about myself, that I have gained, and that I would want to spend hours and hours talking with my younger self so that he ventures into the world as a more prepared and knowledgeable individual.

I actually started compiling a list of all the things I would want to tell my younger self. I have it open right now in another document. But the more I read the list, the more I realize that I actually don’t want to tell my younger self any of these things at all.

The main reason why these lessons and bits of wisdom are so important to me now is because I had to work hard to learn them. I had to struggle, to fail and to challenge myself over and over again in order to gain a little more understanding about who I am as a person and about the world I live in. And in the end, it is the struggles, the failures, the challenges, as well as the successes, that have shaped who I am and that have led me to try and improve myself as a human being as much as possible.

And if I were to go sit down with my younger self, that innocent, naïve 21 year old who is just about to graduate from university, I wouldn’t want to spoil the adventure ahead for him. I wouldn’t want him to know what I know now or else he wouldn’t have a chance to figure out life on his own.

I want him to start off naïve and innocent and completely clueless, just him and his life goals, staring into the future, uncertain and unaware of where it will all lead. I want him to try and uncover what is most important to him, what he wants to achieve and which direction he should take in order to succeed.

This way, my younger self would be forced to learn, not from my words or the words he can read in books, but from his own life experiences, which in my opinion is the most important educational tool we have access to. The wonder of life lies in those very experiences and in the actual discoveries that we make about ourselves as we venture off into and through the unknown, with only an open mind to help us move forward. I could indeed share an impressive-sounding collection of wisdom and pieces of advice with my younger self, but without my younger self actually getting out there into the world and making the same mistakes and earning the same victories, without him hitting bottom and rising up again, without him feeling truly lost and confused and without him knowing pure fear and pure happiness first-hand, my words mean nothing.

Older Earl: “That pizza was good! Just how I remembered it.”

Younger Earl: “Older Earl, are you sure there’s nothing else you want to share with me? You’ve seen and done so much, surely you have some advice to give me.”

Older Earl: “Well, I already told you about my favorite beach hut in Goa, right?”

Younger Earl: “Yup.”

Older Earl: “How about working on cruise ships? It really is such a great opportunity to save money, network with people from….”

Younger Earl: “…all around the world, and have one hell of a good time in the process. I know, you already mentioned that, several times.”

Older Earl: “How about the amazing Dona Mary’s Tostada Restaurant in Playa del Carmen, did I forget to tell you that it’s closed on Mondays?”

Younger Earl: “You told me.”

Older Earl: “Hmmm…all that’s left to say is that you shouldn’t be afraid to get out there and live the life you want. You really can do anything you set your mind to, as simple as that sounds. Do you mind if I have that last piece of pizza?”

What would you tell your younger self if you had the chance?


Posted in Personal Stuff | 62 Comments

Guide to Travel Blogging

It’s been some four years since I wrote my first blog post on this site. Four insane years.

When I clicked the “Publish” button on that very first post back in 2009, never could I have envisioned the wild ride that this website would lead me on. Never could I have imagined that a silly thing like a blog could play such a major role in everything I would do from that point forward.

How did this happen? Seriously, how did it happen?

I sure have no idea. And the more I think about it, the more clueless I am.

What I do know though is that I’ve met a massive amount of incredible people during this blogging adventure and I’ve learned a great deal about myself, about others, about the world in general. I’ve also learned what is important to me in life and I’ve discovered that there is definitely no one right way to do anything.

In fact, regarding that last point, and in terms of blogging, if I were to listen to all of the advice out there about how to blog correctly, I probably wouldn’t still be blogging today. I remember trying to figure out ‘how to blog’ when I first started and I also remember getting a headache after every research session. So much information out there, so many people telling me one thing, so many people telling me another thing. You need to do this, you need to do that. If you don’t do this your blog will explode, if you don’t do that you’ll never, ever, ever, ever have any readers.

Information and advice overload!

Before I continue, I know that many of you are bloggers as well or you’re thinking about blogging at some point. I know that you probably have tons of questions and you want to know what you should do in order to ensure that you achieve all of your blogging goals.

And while I could pretend right now to provide you with answers to those questions, answers full of advice that I could claim you ‘must’ follow in order to become a successful blogger (whatever that means), I’d rather just tell you that there are no rules, tips or pieces of advice, from anyone, that you ‘must’ follow to make that happen.

So, that’s why this guide to travel blogging is not about telling you how to blog. I’m about to tell you how I blog instead. Maybe it will prove useful to you in some way or maybe it will all sound absurd and give you a headache.

We shall see.

Be Yourself, Not Just Another Travel Blogger

It all starts here. I don’t consider this site a travel blog. I consider my site a blog, a blog about my lifestyle, and my lifestyle just happens to involve a great deal of travel. As you’ll notice, I don’t only write about travel. I write about things happening in my life, about how I feel, the challenges I face, the lessons I learn. Yes, much of that is related to travel since I am traveling all the time but I’m trying to share my personal experiences no matter what I’m doing.

Early on, I realized that there were indeed thousands of travel bloggers out there. And I remember thinking it was strange that we all wanted to be classified as a ‘travel blogger’ in the first place. Why do we need to be in such a category? In fact, being classified as such tricks us into thinking that we must always write about travel, about ‘what to do in Paris’ or about topics that you would find on thousands of travel websites already, when that’s not the case at all.

So, that’s why I decided that I didn’t need to be a travel blogger. I needed to be a blogger. This instantly freed me up to write about absolutely anything, allowing me to be more human and more personal in what I write and hopefully, to connect with all of you on a much different level as a result.

Be Yourself

How I Gained An Audience

I’ll admit, I got a bit lucky on this one. My post “How I Can Afford My Life of Constant Travel” became quite popular somehow and ever since I wrote it back in June of 2011, it has brought me several thousand visitors per day. And since a lot of people connect with that post, many of its readers have stuck around and become regular visitors to the site, for which I am greatly thankful.

However, you don’t need a near-viral post to gain an audience. If I think about it, I can understand why that particular post was indeed popular. Based on the comments and the emails I receive, it is clear that this post resonates with a lot of you and has helped some of you realize that your travel goals are indeed achievable.

And that’s the key. When I write a post, my aim is to make it useful. I want to always help others in some way. Sure, sometimes it works, and sometimes I fail, that’s how it goes. Sometimes I just write plain nonsense because that’s the mood I’m in. You can’t write a useful or interesting post every time but you still don’t want to lose track of that goal. If your posts aren’t helping others, or entertaining them or making them think differently than they would normally think, it will be difficult to grow an audience because you are not creating any bridge between the two of you.

Just imagine yourself, it’s what I do. Let me clarify…I actually think about myself, not about your self, at least not in a naughty way, usually. Ok, back on track here…

I always imagine myself visiting my own blog. I certainly wouldn’t become a regular reader of my site, or any site, if what I read didn’t provide some value to me.

Keep that in mind. If you write posts aimed at attracting advertisers or you write posts whose sole purpose is to show up in Google searches for specific keywords or posts that are written just for the sake of writing something, I’d say you’re off track.

You simply forgot about the most important aspect of your blog – your readers. You can never forget about your readers. Never, ever, even if there is only one.

Everything you do should be done to enhance their experience. That’s something I’ve always believed and will never change my mind about because, as I’ve said before many times, without all of you, this blog wouldn’t exist and as a result, my life would not be as fulfilling as it currently is.

How I Continue To Try And Grow My Blog

Once I started to enjoy a consistent number of visitors finding this site each day, it was time to start thinking about ways to grow the readership at a faster pace, right? Well, yes. But, no. I love when my readership grows of course but I don’t really put much effort into making it happen apart from trying to continue writing useful posts. For me, it all comes back to that.

That’s why I sometimes write a post where I ask all of you what you would like me to write about. It’s not a trick question. It’s actually quite simple. I really want to know what you want me to write about so that I can provide you with exactly that.

I’ll be honest, writing doesn’t come naturally to me at all. It’s a struggle at times for me to put together a post and there are days, or even weeks, when I have real difficulty figuring out what to write. So, by telling me what kind of information you are looking for, I am able to ensure that I am providing you with posts that interest you, as often as I possibly can.

And my hope is that the more I can offer such posts, the more the word will spread about the blog to others who are looking for the same kind of information, the same blog experience. That can then lead to more mentions in various media outlets, on other blogs and even through word of mouth, bringing more readers into the community.

How I Gained An Audience

It’s All About The Community

About three months after I started this blog, I made a promise to myself. I promised to answer every email and comment that I would ever receive. Sure, I think I had downed a few, or seven, beers before I said it but I’ve tried my best to stick with it nonetheless. Unfortunately, I’ve failed myself with this one. While I do answer every single email and I do try to reply to every comment, I’ve realized that it’s just not possible to reply to them all.

I already spent about four hours per day answering emails and comments and I’m just unable to spend more time on it. My apologies to anyone whose message I may have missed…it’s not intentional at all. You can always feel free to write me again if I didn’t get back to you or leave another comment and just let me know I missed it the first time. I will respond!

This site is all about the community of readers, you, as I’ve mentioned above. And in my opinion, there can only be a strong, engaged community if the blogger plays a major role in the site apart from just writing posts, and only if the blogger truly loves being a part of it all as well.

This is why I reply to all emails. I love hearing from you, I love hearing your stories and reading your questions. And I love sharing whatever advice I can to hopefully help you achieve your travel goals. I want you to know that I’m as accessible as possible and that I don’t just write a post and then forget about it, and in turn, forget about you. This is how I believe blogging should work.

Social Media, Keeping It Simple

I used to spend about one to one and a half hours on Twitter and Facebook every single day, at least for the first two years. Did it help? Well, the best thing I received from the time I spent on Twitter in those early days were the connections I made. I met new people, interacted with other bloggers and travelers and learned a great deal from so many of them. This also helped me to start spreading the word about my blog and to finally get that consistent trickle of readers that causes bloggers to run up and down the street in their underwear, shouting their excitement at the top of their lungs and hugging every single person they see, until they get arrested of course.

So yes, social media, as well as commenting on other blogs and just interacting with the general travel blogging, as well as lifestyle blogging, financial blogging, motivational blogging, and other communities (not necessarily attaching yourself to any particular community, just interacting from your own space) was fantastic and definitely a major stepping stone in getting this blog off the ground.

And as many of you know, you could easily spend hours commenting and being on social media sites, trying your best to connect with even more people, to promote your site everywhere, to attract even one more reader over to your blog!

Social Media

It can certainly be addicting, which is why, these days, I only spend ten minutes per day, maybe fifteen, on social media, which for me is still only Twitter and Facebook.

Call me old fashioned (or just old!) but I don’t really like to use any other social media sites. Not only do I have limited time but I just don’t have the interest. I spend enough time online as it is and as a result, I would rather skip out on those other social media sites and use my time to be outdoors enjoying my travels or wherever I happen to be staying at the time.

Would I benefit from more time on social media? Most likely yes. But at some point you need to find a balance and I’m personally willing to give up those benefits for more offline time doing other things that I love to do.

But don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy social media. In fact, I thoroughly enjoy the interactions I have on my Wandering Earl Facebook Page. Every day I look forward to sharing random things with you, hearing your thoughts about whatever I post, learning from you and just getting to know so many new people, even if it’s through one comment or like at a time.

The point is, every blogger needs to figure out what works best for themselves. Do what you enjoy in terms of social media, skip what you don’t. That will take you much farther than trying to do ‘everything’ just because you’ve read in every guide to travel blogging that you need to be on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google +, Instagram, StumbleUpon, Tumblr, Foursquare and every other social media site for a minimum of six hours per day in order to be a ‘successful’ blogger.

Earning An Income Through A Blog

This is always the big topic to discuss as it seems like many people are starting a blog these days strictly to earn money from it. In my view, that’s the wrong reason to start a blog, or at least it shouldn’t be the focus before you even have an audience. I can’t say it enough. If your readers, or potential readers, aren’t your major focus, it’s going to be quite a difficult, and most likely disappointing, road ahead.

While it may appear that something like advertising income is easy to earn through a blog, what you have to realize is that nobody is going to pay to advertise on your site unless you can offer some value in return. That’s how advertising works. Nobody will pay $100 to place an ad in your sidebar if you don’t have an audience to actually see that ad. It wouldn’t make sense.

Also, if your focus is on attracting advertisers, consider again what you would want if you visited your own blog for the first time. That’s what I did. I asked myself, “Would I stick around if my site was plastered with advertising? No way. Would I keep on reading each week if every post had sponsored links in it? Not a chance. Would I visit my site more than once if I felt that the writer’s focus was on earning money from their audience instead of helping them? Hell no.

That was all it took to convince me to pay close attention to the advertising I place on my site, which as you can see, is quite limited.

But I am aware that a blogger must spend so much time on their blog that it’s hard to put in the effort without receiving some financial gain. I understand that and felt the same way. Blogging can be a full-time job and I don’t know of too many people who would work a full-time job without getting paid for it!

Earning an Income

Back in 2010, as the site started to grow, I thought long and hard about how to proceed. Eventually, I reached the conclusion that accepting advertising was a poor long-term strategy. So I decided to give up almost all of the potential advertising revenue that I could earn from that point onwards (I do accept a few ads per year) in the hopes of growing a larger audience, of creating a larger community of readers, of creating a site that visitors wanted to spend time on without being annoyed by ads.

My idea is that if you blog for your readers and you provide them with the blog experience that you would want yourself, you’ll discover other ways to earn some money, ways that will hopefully benefit your audience to an even greater extent.

I won’t go through it all here but you can read how I’ve been able to earn money in this post: “How I Make Money Online To Support My Travels”.

The only thing I’ve added since writing that post is something you’ll find on my contact page. When sending me questions or asking for advice via email, I do suggest making a $5 donation to my Wander Fund. The main reason is that again, I do spend over four hours answering emails every single day and I put a great deal of effort into every single message I write, always striving to offer the most detailed advice and answers to your questions that I possibly can. Will I answer your email if you don’t make a donation? Absolutely! It’s simply a suggestion based on the amount of time I do spend in putting together a thorough and hopefully helpful reply.

Overall, do I earn millions as a travel, sorry, as a blogger? No. Do I earn what I feel, and what I hope you, my readers, feel, is a fair wage for the amount of time and effort I put into this site, into my eBooks, into my tours, into everything I do that is related to this blog? Yes, I honestly do.

Conclusion

I’m quite a stubborn person. While I’m always open to advice and instruction from other people, I have a hard time actually listening and following that advice and instruction sometimes. I prefer to do things my own way, or at least to discover on my own, how I should do something.

The funny thing is that I realized, when it comes to blogging, you have to do it your own way. If you try to follow others or copy exactly what other bloggers are doing, you probably won’t get too far. You can learn from others for sure but you need to always remember to be yourself, to blog in your own style, to create your own rules and to always try and provide value to your particular readership if you want to stand out at all.

That’s what I think anyway.

Hopefully, you don’t have a headache at this point. If you do, just ignore everything above and you’ll feel much, much better.

Any questions about blogging? Any advice you want to share based on your own blogging experiences?


Posted in Everything Else, Work & Travel | 131 Comments

Eliza - Solo Female Traveler
Her name is Eliza Massey. She’s 57 years old and she’s riding her motorcycle around a good chunk of the world over a period of 18 months…all on her own. I met Eliza while in Palolem, Goa, in the south of India, just a couple of weeks ago. Her mighty BMW G650, complete with a “USA” sticker on the side and a license plate from the state of “Maine”, had caught my attention when I first saw it and after trying to locate the owner for a couple of days, I finally tracked her down.

And it turns out Eliza was nice enough to sit and chat with me for a couple of hours on the balcony of my beach hut one evening. We just sat there talking travel, about our lives, about what it’s like to be a solo female traveler in much for the world (which I knew little about of course), and the more I heard her speak, the more I wanted to share her story right here.

So, for those of you afraid to travel on your own, for those of you who think that it’s impossible for a solo female traveler to truly get out there and explore the world, for those of you who think that there’s no time left for you to achieve your travel goals, this is one post you might want to read.

Who Is Eliza Massey?

Eliza smiles often. She loves people and she’s clearly intent on enjoying her life to the fullest. She also loves the fact that while she’s traveling the world, her daughter is backpacking around Australia at the same time.

From what I could tell there are only two things she doesn’t like about travel. The first is the reduction in genuine human interaction these days due to our obsession with technology, with travelers always on their phones and tablets when they could be looking up and enjoying a new experience. The second, which I’ll talk about more in a moment, is when travelers complain about, instead of appreciate, their travel experiences.

Eliza began her journey some 14 months ago in the town of Camden, Maine and has so far driven her BMW motorcycle throughout the US, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama….then crossing into South America via the San Blas Islands before continuing on through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina….and then…..she shipped her bike across the Atlantic and rode through South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania….at which point she shipped her bike to Mumbai…and started riding south. She hit Goa, threw her stuff down and planned to relax for a couple of weeks before riding around India for four months, at the end of which she will finally return to the USA.

As I listened to her tales, which included biking through tribal battles in Kenya, meeting mayors and dignitaries, invitations to camel races, being interviewed on South African television, random radio appearances, riding along empty roads lined with government snipers in the drug-cartel controlled north of Mexico, getting lost over and over again in Central America, meeting incredible people who helped her out when she needed assistance in the middle of Malawi and on and on, and all of which she told with that trademark smile on her face, I couldn’t help but find myself even more inspired than usual.

You’re never tool old to do a trip by yourself,” she told me. “You just need to get up and make it happen. One day I just woke up and realized, ‘Sh*t, I can go’ and so I did.” Hell yeah she did.

bike and volcano

Travel Is All About The People

The reason Eliza travels is quite simple. It’s all about the people for her. Sure, there are certain destinations and sights that she would like to see but at the end of the day, she just rides along the roads of the world with the sole goal of interacting with new and interesting people as much as she possibly can.

She believes in a “we are all one” philosophy (which she talks about on the ‘About Me’ page of her blog) where travelers should celebrate the human spirit by going out into the world and meeting its people in order to bring back those experiences and share the positive lessons learned with those at home. And every time Eliza travels overseas, she comes home with another bundle of such positive lessons to share, with even more love for her fellow human beings and with an even stronger belief that despite our differences, people all around the world are the same.

And if you’re ever in her presence, you’ll instantly notice that she puts her words into action every moment of the day in the way that she treats the people she comes across. “The way we treat our fellow human beings is extremely important,” she said at one point and she’s not joking. She is always polite, interested, understanding and so culturally aware no matter who she is speaking with that it’s no surprise everyone around her tends to be smiling as well.

In fact, she takes her cultural awareness quite seriously, which leads to her feeling of frustration when other travelers start complaining about certain things. Her typical reaction when she overhears complaining is…

What are you complaining about? Who cares if your hummus in India doesn’t taste 100% authentic or that there is no electricity for an hour or the wifi isn’t as strong as you want? Have respect for locals…you’re in a different part of the world, surrounded by a different way of life, a different culture…so don’t complain, understand how your fellow human beings, those who are living in the places you are visiting, live their lives. Don’t complain just because it’s not what you expected or you are unable to live the same as you do back at home. Just love and respect others instead, appreciate and experience and share in their culture.

As for Eliza, she never gets upset, simply because “there is never a reason to. If I get lost, why get mad? If my bike breaks down? There’s no point in getting angry. I look at every situation I face as an opportunity to meet new people and to have new, educational experiences. As a result, nothing is ever worth getting upset over.

bike on boat

Safety Advice For The Solo Female Traveler

Eliza tells me that she’s definitely “pro-solo female travel”, something she feels is “very safe on the whole, but you can’t get drunk and walk around late at night.” Like many solo female travelers, she believes that common sense goes a long way, and without it, you’ll be in trouble. She also believes that you need to act responsibly when in new surroundings and that females on their own do need to be a little more cautious before trusting people they meet.

Of course, given her vast travel experiences, and given the destinations she has visited and the fact that she always travels solo, I knew that Eliza would have much more to say about safety, so I asked her to share some more of her own advice. And this is what she shared…

  • Safety is about how you present yourself to other people. If you walk into a restaurant alone, don’t just walk straight in blindly or else you’ll look lost if it’s not what you expected. Scan the situation before going inside, make sure you feel confident before walking through the door.
  • Ask yourself questions while moving around each day. Is the street dark? Are there other people around? Do I know what’s on the other side of the park? Are there potential trouble spots ahead? Taking one minute to think things through is always a wise decision.
  • Don’t rush while traveling. Walk slowly, have patience and relax. Every now and then stop and turn around, look all around you, make sure you know where you are, where you’re going and make sure nobody seems to be following you.
  • Pay attention to your intuition. If someone you see or talk to seems a little ‘off’, or a particular place doesn’t seem right, just change course. Always listen to your intuition because it’s usually right. Either way, it’s still better to be wrong but safe than to be right but in a bad situation.
  • You can’t be shy or worry about hurting other people’s feelings – again, if you feel that something might be wrong or you just aren’t comfortable, you need to get out of the situation without worrying about how the other person might feel. Stay polite, don’t get angry, just be firm and get away.
  • When communicating with strangers, always make eye contact and display confidence, giving sure answers when asked questions. You want a person you meet to immediately understand that you are a confident individual who cannot be taken advantage of.

Clearly, Eliza feels that being aware of your surroundings at all times is the key to safe travels and I absolutely agree. Bad situations often happen when we temporarily forget about common sense and we rush into some situation without taking a moment to observe where we are or what we are getting ourselves into.

bike on road

Of course, Eliza also understands that at her age, she often earns automatic respect in many countries, respect as a mother, as an older woman, and that she might not have to deal with all of the same challenges that younger female travelers might face. However, her advice should not be ignored. It’s all based on real experiences, the kind of extensive and diverse travel experiences that most of us can’t even imagine.

And the fact that when I met her, some 13 months into her trip, she was still loving every single minute of her adventure, just shows that she knows what she’s talking about. I for one would listen to anyone who can hop on her motorcycle alone and roll through regions of the world that even the most intrepid travelers wouldn’t dare visit and who can come out the other end with nothing but a smile on her face and tales of wonderful experiences to share.

As our conversation came to an end that evening in Palolem, Eliza stared out at the Indian Ocean before us and, with a slight, yet serious, nod of her head stated, “women should travel more and not listen to the negative stories out there…the overwhelming majority of females have absolutely positive experiences…don’t listen to the negativity because the reality doesn’t match all that bad stuff…just get out there.

She then stood up, took one last swig of her Kingfisher beer and, before parting ways, decided to share one final thought with me. “But no matter what,” she said, “you do have to love people to make your travels a success.

And I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.

Any solo female travelers have your own safety advice to share? Any thoughts on Eliza’s story, travel style or tips?


Posted in Interesting People, Travel Tips & Advice | 82 Comments

Budget Traveler

It happens all the time of course. I show up in a new town, I check out a few different guesthouses or budget hotels, I ask for the room prices and then I make a decision. And when I first started traveling, I would almost always choose the cheapest option for the sole purpose of saving my money. However, that is no longer the case these days, and the same is true whether I’m looking for a place to eat, an activity to participate in or anything else I might do while on the road.

I’ve realized something. The cheapest option is not always the best option…for me.

When we travel, especially as budget travelers, we tend to have the mindset that we must spend the least amount of money possible. We want whatever money we have to last longer, we want our travels to last longer, and as a result, the only way to achieve those goals is to stay at the cheapest guesthouses, to eat as cheaply as possible, to skip out on certain activities and to make use of only the cheapest transportation options available.

And that is perfectly fine. If I spend $10 overall today instead of $30, the money I save will absolutely help me stay on the road another day or so. Likewise, if you have $3000 in your bank account, you could spend $1000 per month and travel for three months, or you could spend even less money everywhere you go, travel for $600 per month and extend your trip for another sixty days.

But the thing is, travel, even budget travel, is not all about spending less. It’s about having the most complete experience, or in better words, the experience that matches your interests and goals the best. That is why, even though I naturally prefer to save money wherever I can while traveling, I also understand that sometimes it’s actually worth it for me to spend more.

Here’s an example…

For the past six nights I’ve been in Istanbul staying at a place called the Agora Guesthouse, the same guesthouse I stay at pretty much every time I’m in this great city. Prices at the Agora are definitely not the cheapest around and even a bed in a dorm room costs up to one and a half times what you can find elsewhere. As a result, many people would instantly give this place a pass.

However, I stay here because the extra money I spend leads to a much more enhanced experience than if I stay somewhere else down the road for a fraction of the price. My extra money gets me a supremely comfortable mattress (even in the dorm rooms) that allows me to sleep ever so soundly each night, it gets me an excellent, healthy, fresh, varied breakfast every morning (included in the price), it gets me an ultra-cozy, enclosed roof-top terrace with a sea view for me to relax or work in whenever I want, it gets me a large team of friendly staff to not only receive assistance from, but to interact and converse with as well.

I’m able to enjoy my days of wandering, and gain so much more from my travels here in Istanbul, after such a good sleep, such a good breakfast and a productive few hours of work in the morning from that splendid roof-top. And this is why I’m perfectly happy to shell out the extra money to stay here (after all, that mattress, breakfast, extra staff, comfortable sofas and so on costs the owners of the Agora money, so it is reasonable that their beds and rooms would be more expensive as well).

Of course, it’s up to us as individual travelers to determine whether or not the benefit received from spending more on something is actually worth it. It depends on each of our needs and goals.

A Nicer Room in Riga

Another example for me involves the trains in India. When taking those trains, I now usually travel in 1st Class 3A, which is the lowest level of first class (there are three levels). I used to travel in 2nd Class Sleeper because it was cheaper, until I realized that paying some extra money for the 3A class made more sense for me. First, it’s more comfortable, the beds are thicker and come with sheets, pillows and blankets, allowing me to actually get a good night’s sleep, something that was much more difficult for me when traveling on 2nd Class Sleeper. In addition, the passengers in 1st Class 3A tend to speak more English and so, I typically end up having plenty of interesting conversations and meeting plenty of new people, something that has lead to a variety of rewarding experiences.

With 1st Class 3A, once I arrive in my destination, even after something like a 14-hour overnight journey, I’m well rested, feeling good and I’m fully ready to explore. I’m not tired and cranky as I would often be after a journey in 2nd Class Sleeper, which would force me to spend the entire next day catching up on sleep and trying to get into a better mood.

To me, what I gain from traveling in 1st Class 3A is worth me spending an extra $10 or $15.

First-class Train

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I always choose a more expensive option these days when faced with a spending decision. Trust me, there are plenty of times when the value received by spending more money is not worth it to me and I’m perfectly content with the cheapest option available. It’s just that I’m more aware of what I want to gain from my travels and I understand that sometimes it will cost a little extra to achieve what I’m after.

I also understand that a higher price doesn’t always equate to a more enhanced experience. Sometimes tourism-related individuals and companies inflate their prices simply to try and squeeze as much money as they can from tourists, without offering much in return. Luckily though, we have online research available to us to make sure that something really is worth spending more money on and that it’s not simply a rip off.

In the end, as is the case with all things travel, it comes down to each of us. What works for me might not work for you and vice versa. Everyone needs to find their own balance in terms of the experiences you wish to have, what you hope to gain, how much comfort you need to achieve your goals and ultimately, how much you want to spend each day as well.

All I’m trying to say here is that instead of automatically thinking that the best option is to always spend as little money as you can in order to to try and travel for the longest period of time possible, you should first think about what you receive in return for the money you do spend. You may very well be happy always choosing the cheapest options, but for some, you might discover that spending some extra cash will lead to a more fulfilling travel experience overall, the kind of experience you were hoping for before you set out on your adventure.

How do you view money when you travel? If you haven’t traveled yet, do you think you would always try to spend less wherever you could?


Posted in Travel Costs, Travel Tips & Advice | 50 Comments