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 | 129 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

Important Travel Rule
It was simply stunning.

The sun was rising over the holy Ganges River, with the gentle foothills of the Himalayas off in the distance, the town slowly awakening into a soft pink glow. The atmosphere so peaceful, so serene.

I stood there enjoying this sunrise for quite some time, watching the monkeys hop around the rooftops in front of me, smiling at the first sounds of chanting and music flowing out of the ashrams nearby.

I could not have been happier.

About fifteen minutes prior to this, I had been sound asleep in my room four floors below. I was sharing that room with a female traveler I had met the day before, having decided to split the cost of accommodation to save money. The budget guesthouse was nothing special but the bed was actually more comfortable than most, allowing me to sleep quite well.

Until I suddenly awoke at 5:45am. When I opened my eyes at that time, I knew that something was wrong. My stomach was in such pain, with intense cramps, and I was starting to sweat.

I realized that I needed to get to the toilet quickly.

It happens, especially when you’re willing to eat anything while traveling and from anywhere.

Naturally, I could have used the squat toilet in the bathroom attached to my room, but after looking at my travel companion still sound asleep on the bed, and understanding very well what was about to happen, the thought of waking her up with my stomach issues was not something I wanted to turn into reality.

I decided to look for a public bathroom in the guesthouse instead.

With little time to spare, I grabbed my roll of toilet paper, left the room and went to the reception area, clutching my stomach, but there was no toilet to be found. I checked the small restaurant off to the side of the ‘lobby’, but no toilet to be found there either. And since none of the guesthouse staff were awake yet, I had no choice but to continue searching each floor of the building for a toilet, holding on as best I could, quite sure that I wasn’t going to make it much longer.

Again, it happens.

A few minutes later, after having checked all four floors, and unable to hold on any more, I reached the semi-open rooftop. I quickly checked two doors up there but they were locked.

I was drenched in sweat by this point, with my stomach in great pain and so, thinking I had no other option, I started to unbutton and unzip my shorts right then and there.

And that’s exactly when I spotted a large potted plant in one corner of the rooftop.

Perfect. I ran over, down went my shorts and I sat right on the ledge of that deep pot, with my rear end hovering over the plant itself.

What relief, a few minutes of such relief.

After the issue eventually ran its course and it all came to an end, my mind started racing. What if I got caught? What if my travel companion figured out what I did? Did I really just do this? That’s when it suddenly hit me that I was on a rooftop and people on other rooftops next door, if there was anyone awake, could probably see me.

I really hadn’t been paying attention to anything other than my stomach and the pot.

So, while still balanced over that plant, I looked up. I lifted my eyes to the world around me, hoping nobody was staring back in disgust.

Again, I just looked up.

And that’s when I was treated to one of the most beautiful and memorable sunrise experiences I’ve ever had. I remember saying to myself, “Wow”, over and over again, completely fascinated by the sudden transformation of this town from a clump of semi-darkness to a fairy tale setting covered in such magical light. With my shorts still down by my knees, I could not believe how this early morning had just taken such a turn for the better.

Of course, I then saw a woman sweeping on a nearby rooftop and it reminded me that I should probably put my shorts back on and get off of this plant. So I cleaned myself up as best I could, pulled up those shorts and then I walked over to the railing that surrounded the rooftop.

Then I just leaned there for a while, a long while, staying focused on the brilliant experience, waving to the woman on the rooftop and receiving a big smile in return, just soaking it all in.

And I can remember every moment of that sunrise so well, even today, some 10 years later.

The most important travel rule?

LOOK UP.

We should always look up at the world around us. We’ll miss too much if we don’t. And by ‘look up’, I mean really try to notice as many things and as many people as we can, no matter where we are or what we’re doing.

When we’re walking down the street, sitting in a restaurant, waiting at the bus station…look up. When we’re feeling frustrated or lonely, when we’re lost and unsure what to do or where to go…look up.

If we always remember to just look up, to look all around, to notice what is in front of us, what is off to the side, what is off in the distance, everything that makes travel so great will multiply right before our eyes.

When we look up, we see the store fronts, the architecture, the bicyclists, the fruit stalls, the political posters, the flower shops, the long lines at the pharmacies, the graffiti, the snacks people eat, the local fashion, the pace of life.

We see the smiling faces, the curious people, the potential for connection with those around us. We can’t meet many people by looking down.

By noticing everything around us, we gain a deeper understanding of every destination we visit. And at times, often when we least expect it of course, we might even see something so interesting or breathtaking or perhaps life-changing, that the experience will stay with us forever.

Kind of like my surreal sunrise in Rishikesh.

So let’s look up, always look up. Yes, even when we’re on the toilet, or a potted plant if that’s all we can find.

Have you had a memorable experience as a result of suddenly paying attention to everything around you? Could be while traveling, could be while at home?


Posted in Perspectives, Travel Tips & Advice | 54 Comments

Cant Afford to Fail
Four months ago, I received an email from a customer who had purchased one of the eBooks that I have written. The email said…

I can’t download your eBook. Every time I go to the download page, I get a message stating that you haven’t been notified of my payment yet and to check back later. But my payment already went through.

That’s weird, I thought. I checked the system and the payment had indeed gone through. This had never happened before. I concluded that it must be a fluke. So I just emailed the customer directly with the eBook as an attachment. Done.

Or so I assumed.

Later that day, I received another email from a new customer who couldn’t access the eBook. The next day, yet another one. And before I knew it, every single customer who was purchasing this particular eBook, was suddenly not able to download it for some reason.

I had a problem that needed fixing.

For one week straight, I tried to use all of my relevant knowledge to figure things out but I made no progress. I emailed every online service that was connected to my product and I asked for assistance, but nobody had any idea what was wrong. I tried again for another week, spending 4-5 hours every single day on the issue.

Then I enlisted the help of two friends who are experts in solving a variety of digital product problems…but even they, after two weeks of trying, could not come up with any solution either.

So, I just left it. A customer would purchase my eBook, they wouldn’t be able to download it, they’d email me and I’d email them back with the product as an attachment. This went on for three months. Every ten days or so, I would spend a full 7 or 8 hours trying to see if I could come up with a fix but, of course, I never could figure out what was happening.

Flying to Goa

Last week, I suddenly decided to fly from Bucharest to Goa, India, partly because of the harsh Romanian winter and partly because of the very cheap airfare that I found. I boarded my first flight, from Bucharest to Dubai, and I was happy to see that the plane was empty. I had a nice sleep the entire way as a result, all stretched out over three seats.

Upon arrival at the Dubai airport, I entered the terminal building, went to the food court to eat a sandwich for dinner and then sat down at a cafe for a coffee.

When I received my coffee, I had fifteen minutes before my next flight – Dubai to Goa via Mumbai – would start boarding. So I pulled out my laptop to quickly check my emails.

Boom.

The first email I noticed was from the company that acts as the payment processor and marketplace for the eBook I was having trouble with. It was a short email but by the time I finished reading it, my face was burning slightly and it felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach.

The email read, “It has come to our attention that customers are unable to download your eBook once they purchase it. Please fix this issue within the next 12 hours or we will remove your product from our site and it can not be sold through us again.

Oh my.

By the time I would reach Goa, take the 1.5 hour taxi ride to Palolem Beach, check in to a beach hut and try to find strong enough internet…and then somehow fix this problem that neither I, nor anyone else, could fix over the previous four months…more than 12 hours would most certainly pass.

That meant that I had 14 minutes to fix this issue or else I would lose this eBook. Without this particular company, I would lose a great deal of the marketing that has made this eBook popular. And if that were to happen, sales would be reduced drastically and as a result, any income earned from it as well. Just like that.

Now Boarding Flight AI894

I’ll be damned.

It took me exactly four minutes to fix the problem. I then made two test sales and everything worked perfectly.

I closed my laptop, enjoyed the final half of my coffee, shook my head in disbelief for a few minutes and walked to my gate, just in time to board the flight to India.

The Most Reliable Way to Succeed

That’s pretty much how life works. We can always get things done.

But when our backs are not up against the wall, when we don’t have a dire need to make something happen, when it’s not a now or never situation, it’s difficult to summon up the determination and effort we really need to advance towards a particular goal.

We might think we’re putting in the effort needed, but we’re not.

I thought I was doing everything I could to try and fix the problem above over the course of four months, but clearly I wasn’t. When I really needed to fix it, when I had no other choice but to fix it, when I could not afford to fail, I figured out the issue and fixed it…in four minutes.

This is how it goes for travel too. If we want to travel, in whatever form, and we struggle to get there, it might be because we’re too comfortable, we’re not really in a situation that leaves us no choice but to make it happen.

When I decided that I wanted to travel indefinitely back in 1999, I had less than $1500 USD to my name. I just made the decision while traveling in Southeast Asia but I didn’t have a plan at all. And as the days passed, I quickly realized that it was all up to me.

My money would run out soon and if I wanted to achieve this goal of long-term travel, I had to start achieving it, not in three months, not in one month…right now.

I had no other choice. Again, I could not afford to fail.

I talked to everyone I met, brainstormed like crazy and soon found a way to make a little money to keep me going until the next step, a way to make money that I never even knew existed until I had no choice but to find a way…and that’s pretty much how these 15 years of travel have happened. It’s gotten much easier over the years of course, but it’s all possible because I was left with no other option in the beginning.

And without that kind of pressure, I don’t know about you, but I tend to get lazy, I procrastinate, I convince myself that things aren’t possible. Time drags on, I don’t make progress, I get frustrated, and often times, I just give up.

It’s the determination that makes the difference and for most human beings, the most certain way to summon up the amount of determination required to achieve something, is to have no other choice but to succeed. I think it’s also why humans can suddenly lift cars to free someone trapped underneath or perform other amazing feats in intense situations that we ordinarily wouldn’t expect someone to be able to perform.

They have no other choice.

Were you ever in a similar situation? Did you achieve something when you had no other option?

Is there something you’re struggling to achieve these days?

Solution: For those interested, the problem was quite simple. I use a website called ejunkie.com that provides customers with the download link for the eBook. And in my ejunkie control panel, I had entered the link to my download page in the wrong section, something that I guess can be easy to do given how confusing the ejunkie control panel can be. The wording in the two sections is so similar that I can see how nobody would figure it out. But it had been working perfectly before so I’m not sure how the link suddenly ended up in the wrong spot but at least it’s fixed now!


Posted in Perspectives | 46 Comments

Cheapest Month to Travel

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

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

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

Naturally, it got me even more excited.

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

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

Beach, anyone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern Travel is Simply Amazing

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

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

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

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

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

I need to stop looking up flights.

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

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

What would you do?

Have you found any unbeatable deals lately?

Anyone want to meet in Goa?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Burrito

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

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

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

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

Why was I laughing?

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

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

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

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

Havana Palolem, Goa

This Is The Important Thing…

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

We need to be our true self at all times.

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

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

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

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

Don’t Worry, You’ll Be Okay

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

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

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

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

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

Luckily, I’ve remembered it again.

Final Words About Happiness and Burritos

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

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

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

Who’s ready to meet?

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

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

With much love,
Earl


Posted in Everything Else, Personal Stuff | 199 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can’t let that happen. No way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t you want to be that thrilled?

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


Posted in Travel Tips & Advice | 54 Comments

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

That’s my reason to travel. To feel.

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

Did You Feel This?

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

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

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

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

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

And one of my Romanian friends also chimed in with:

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

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

I’ll tell you how. You travel.

The Most Powerful Experience Possible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s What We Can Do…

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

But here’s what we can do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted in Perspectives, Romania | 50 Comments

Romania Road Trip

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

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

Shall we?

Turda (better than it sounds)

Have you heard of Turda? Probably not.

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

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

Here’s how it goes.

Turda Salt Mine entrance

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

View of main cavern - Turda Salt Mine

Main cavern - Turda Salt Mine

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

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

Turda Salt Mine ping pong tournament

Ping-pong at the Turda Salt Mine

Turda Salt Mine ferris wheel

Lake inside Turda Salt Mine

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

Bulzesti (absolute middle of nowhere)

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

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

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

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

Bulzesti - house

Hiking in Bulzesti

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

Bulzesti dinner

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

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

Hunedoara & a Fairy-Tale Castle

Let’s go with this.

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

Here’s how many other visitors we saw: 8

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

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

Sibiu

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

Transfagarasan (Just WOW!)

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

What is this Transfagara-thingy?

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

And it looks like this…

Transfagarasan view facing north

Wait, there’s more.

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

Transfagarasan  lunch stop

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

Transfagarasan view facing south

Stop along the Transfagarasan

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

Poenari Castle (complete with impaled people)

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

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

Poenari Castle

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

Poenari Castle - impaled people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Romania | 30 Comments

Change of Travel Plans

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

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

And then my grandmother passed away.

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

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

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

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

It All Happened So Fast


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

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

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

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

3 Important Things I Realized

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

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

Change of Travel Plans - Don't Panic

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

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

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

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

Change of Travel Plans - Sitting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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