Saturday, December 12, 2015

nein Deutsch...bitte--JK



There are 3 things you need to know about me before moving on—
1) I care deeply and pay attention to the little things…things that demonstrate thought
2) I would much rather do nothing than knowingly half-ass something (life decisions*this does not apply to trying...if I try, I give it my all...or nothing)
3) I am skeptical…of everything/everyone. I don’t want to be—not to the degree I am and I’m working hard to unlearn some stuff. But if I’m really honest with myself, I'm skeptical.

Recently I took a trip to a small little town outside of Frankfurt Germany with my friend’s family. This trip had a number of first for me—1) First time in Europe, 2) First time to a country where I didn’t know the language, 3) First time I was dependent on others for a number of things, and 4) First time I felt small…utterly small.

I was invited to this trip a year ago, “the dad” is originally from this town—he had left it in his mid 20s to travel and eventually settled down in the States. There was a lot of coordination at play to get 8.5 people there (there was a toddler involved, they’re not fully human-are they?). He managed to pull it off, and I was the only one that wasn’t directly related to the family. This made for some comedic moments during the trip…mostly revolving--“who is she?”…and “what do you mean friends?”

It didn’t hit me until we got to Frankfurt. I didn’t understand any of the airport signs and largely depended on the international language of Pictionary…known everywhere (or at least everywhere that people have half an artistic skill). Here it began—the shuffling of all these people (6.5 at this point) with only one language “expert” on hand. We were bound to meet the parents—both of which had arrived a day earlier. From the get-go I knew this was a family trip, first and foremost. Second to that came the traveling around. I honestly didn’t mind, because I was deeply interested in the cultural experience—and what better way to get that if not by the family that lives there. SIDE BAR: I was really there for the food. No joke...well, half a joke—I made a list of 57 food items I wanted to try by the end of 10 days. I gained 8lbs #NoRegrets.

After we packed into this 9 passenger Mercedes…which by the way—it seems like everything there was a Mercedes. I mean, for F’sake—most delivery trucks and 18-wheelers I saw were Mercedes. I digress, but that awareness in itself made me reflect on a few things which I won’t mention here—but if you ever wanna talk shop—call me. ANYWAYS—I was given strict instructions on how to fight off jet-lag. We had arrived at 9am and I was told to nap for no more than an hour at 3p. We were going to be picked up for coffee and cake after that and then head to dinner…followed by more coffee and cake. SIDEBAR: This coffee and cake thing is no joke—they take it very seriously…I’m in love. Why don’t we do this in the States. What I gathered from my selective interest observation, is that it’s a wonderful and spectacular way for you to prolong a meal/snack and spend more time with people. Imagine the potential if people actually enjoyed spending time with people. GENIUS!
So I'm going to stop for a second right here and just call out a few things. Yes, this is a first world country and when it comes down to it, yes this could be considered a vacation. I’ve been to third world countries, and frankly, my upbringing was more third-world than most would believe…so I’ve come to live in a way that appreciates people, culture, customs, and values more than the geographical location of an experience. I only bring this up because European countries are not seen as beacons of spiritual and cultural awakenings—and that’s really unfair. These awareness-es are based on the individual—whenever the person is ready to receive their life lesson…that’s when it happens. I can go into my sociological rant right now…but that is for another time…or, you can call me.

Fast-forward to breakfast the next day. Forget the fact that I stayed up until 1am drinking with my friend’s mom and her brother-in-law (I love spending time with older folks…and in this case a local)…and that due to the jetlag, I was wide awake by 4am. I went down to the “hotel” for coffee. I ran across the lady that runs the kitchen. She started talking to me—HOLY MOTHER F…I can’t understand her. In my head I was rushing through every word I knew in German, which 98% consisted of food items. The only thing I knew to say was “No German”—not even “I don’t speak German”—just “No German”. I learned a lot by the end of the two weeks…but I’ll never forget that moment when I sat down with my coffee and thought to myself—‘what the hell am I doing here’? Not in a bad way…mostly in “I am in your country and I googled phrases to memorize, but only took screen shots of them thinking I’d look them over but they got lost in the shuffle of all the pictures that autosave when I upload to Instagram”. I felt I was disrespectful and rude and ignorant, and so many other things.
SIDEBAR: I grew up bilingual/bicultural speaking Spanish and knowing Mexican culture pretty intimately. Living up and down the west coast…Spanish is a popular language and being skilled in both English/Spanish and the culture has helped me connect with so many people from all over Latin America and Spain. I can detect accents pretty quickly and pinpoint where people are from. So any encounter I’ve had with an English or Spanish speaking person or country…it’s second nature to me. I don’t think homeland…I just think land. Well, until you start paying attention to the cultural economy of both…but again, different conversation….call me. Regardless, my friend, who learned German in college and speaks it with his parents was really struggling to help me feel included. It was mentally exhausting for him to translate and I noticed it take a physical and emotional toll. I have never been more appreciative of my own skills and abilities around language.

I was determined to soak up as much as I possibly could from all of this. From every person I met, from every place I went. Every breath I take, every move I make, I’ll be…oh wait, I got carried away. Anyway—my night drinking with my friend’s uncle resulted in him finding out how much I love food. We began talking about cheese and he said—“You and I, we go cheese tasting tomorrow morning”. Say wwhhhaaaaattttt? We were scheduled to have breakfast at his place and he offered to take me cheese tasting before we met everyone for breakfast. Sure enough, we did. Cue in #1 and #3 things you need to know about me. Start off with #3—skepticism. He offered, he just offered. He finds out I like cheese and offers to take me cheese tasting…the next morning! Why?! By NOOOO means am I complaining, but I couldn’t shake myself from this feeling that IT WAS JUST TOO DAMN GOOD TO BE TRUE! #1—the little things--he was paying attention to our conversation and felt like doing something nice. That is the purest of any considerations. It’s not asking “what would you like”—it’s having enough consciousness to read a situation and being decisive in either making an offer or doing something. Before I left he also gifted me a bottle of Limoncino (which is apparently different from Limoncello…I still don’t know how). Turns out he was also paying attention to what I was drinking. Or that I may have an undiscovered drinking problem…JK—I don’t…or do I? BUT THAT IS WHAT I MEAN…this person is being extremely generous in their gift of time, but also their gift of attention, having only just met me. We had to get past the “Why aren’t you dating my nephew” (that would by my friend) conversation, but after it was explained that we’re like brother and sister…he treated me like family—and that was incredibly humbling.

So remember that lady from the hotel…the one I kept saying “No German” to as she said…I’m not quite sure. Well it turns out she was speaking a specific dialect of the region. All 8.5 of us would gather at this hotel for breakfast (only 4 of us were actually staying there…but we cut a deal). Every morning she’d set up breakfast…which consist of bread, meat, cheese, and marmalade. She’d offer to cook eggs in the morning…to which I always had some scrambled. I had perfected my breakfast consisting of an open face sandwich with this spread, lox, whatever cheese they had that I’ve never had before, and eggs. On the side I would have a couple of slices of whatever sausage looked good (there was a blood sausage with tongue…it was absolutely delicious). Anyways, I heard “the dad” one morning comment on how hard it is to understand the lady. I asked him why, and he began to explain to me the dialectical customs and how some people are “of the area” and basic German doesn’t always translate. I was dumbstruck. I began thinking of all the many ways in which this mirrors things in the States and how it has been dealt with in the States (not great, but it’s my only ‘well’ informed frame of reference). I started to see Germany as one. Started to think of all these other places I’ve been to and how they are all very different, but there is so much paralleling experiences happening all throughout the world. I recognized that the only difference between all of us is how we handle situations. My mind began racing a million miles per hours…meters per hour. I began having a nerd overload and there wasn’t anyone there to share this with…to debrief all this with. There wasn’t someone that was conscious of this, not to mention being remotely as excited as I was to talk about it all. It was in this moment that I thought of my friend John. John was always my go-to person when these thoughts came to me. He, however, got a one-way ticket to Barcelona in September and planned to travel throughout Europe Eat, Pray, Loving his way through each country that allowed him to enter without a visa…with an eventual plan to return…but no guarantee. I hate and love him for it. But I digress—I really just want to make the point that—it’s hard to find someone that gets you…it doesn’t matter what part of you, just that they get you as you exist in your most authentic way. So whenever that happens—keep that person around, cultivate that thing you both share…if it’s talking about culture, food, family…whatever. Make sure that whenever you find something in another person that makes you feel at peace and excites you at the same time…treat it like the special thing that it is.

Throughout my time there I met friends and family members that all had so many stories to share. I don’t know why I was so surprised, but many people gathered to visit—From all parts of the country. Everything from the schoolhouse days…to family dynamics and history. We walked around the town…I unknowingly upset some people with my ignorant American ways. On many occasions my Americaness was used as a comedic punching bag…which actually created some special bonds with a few people.
On our last night there we decided to go to a restaurant and have a traditional German Christmas dinner. We had about 30 people across four generations around the T shaped table. There was a moment when I thought to myself—this is amazing. Here are these 30 people gathered around a table enjoying a meal and talking. No agenda, nothing to rush to the next day, no multi-tasking. They were the most present collective individuals I’ve ever met. It was a positive environment that radiated from one person to the other. Cheesy to say, but I really teared up a bit. This was so special and it truly spoke to me in a way that resonated with my values. Enter #1 and #2. The little things—I cannot stress how much I appreciate the little things. I feel that the best gifts I have gotten consist of a bit of attention, care, and an ounce of creativity. The little words, the little stories, the hopes and dreams shared…the passion in a person’s voice. The look in a person’s eyes…a smirk…a breath. All these little things make me happy and it makes me happy to see them in others. Which leads to #2—the promise I made myself after this trip was that I was going to be better about letting people know how their little things are special. I notice so much and never say anything about it…but what this trip taught me is that those little things are not appreciated enough and that could be discouraging. I don’t want to see little things disappear.

So I just realized that I mentioned something about feeling small.  Forget the fact that the US is a tiny little fetus in the spectrum of age that flirts with the line of...uuhhhh---I'll stop.  Yes, it's true there is an incredibly rich history in Europe and as someone having been there for the first time and seeing a headstone with the birth year 975...I was a bit star struck.  But I also mean small in the sense that I began to reflect on my own culture and upbringing and the things that were instilled in me...and I began to realize for the 100th time, the vast amount of thoughts that exist in the world...in everyone.  And truth be told, we don't talk about half of them...WHY?!?!?! Why are we not staring into each other's souls every chance we get?!  Why don't we ask hard questions and dig deep into things that are intrinsic and real for each and every one of us.  I got a little glimpse of that during the trip.  Maybe it was the family, maybe it was the cultural custom, but I got a glimpse at how life can be like if you are unafraid...and someone is unafraid with you. I want them to live on to make the exponential impact that I know they can make.

I want to thank the Hermann family and friends on both sides of the country for bringing their authentic selves to the forefront and allowing me to experience not only the German culture and customs…but values that I don’t see living out as often as they’re stated to hold importance.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Currents and Contours of Capitalism

What I have to offer is very short.

Capitalism makes things strangely familiar.

As I drove through the forests of Washington I was greeted by the familiar faces of Arco, McDonalds, and Chilis. Oregon was lined with Safeways; Idaho shook my hand with a giant Chobani factory, and even in the deserts of Nevada, there stood good ‘ole Texaco.


I finally made it as far south and as far west as I needed. Hello, Ms. Arizona. I’ve looked upon your glorious cacti and laughed as you revealed your bumbling tumbleweeds to me.

What I didn’t expect, however, was to know you. I’ve never stepped foot upon your contours, nor tasted your red rock, but I knew you. You, whose water flows from the Rockies, and whose life is made for profit.


I knew you because you had all the general fixings of home. Winco, Walmart, Target, Ross, TJ Maxx, Century Link, and Starbucks.  I can drive down the street to Cost Plus World Market and Michael’s craft store. I know where to get what I want, and your resources are no less scarce than my dear, sweet home.

And though I’ve left Washington to come a place where I am able to reinvent myself, to create a context and make history unlike the past, I realize that I am a part of a bigger system that feeds me familiarity and robs me of my power.

Just what is our relationship to capitalism and global currency?

How can I escape its forces and be free to be a me unmediated by profits and private interests?

I thought that I would come to know a new world where I would have to navigate new systems and a new structure. But, no, of course not. Not in Arizona. Not in the whole of the US.

To find my people and forsake my profits, I have to travel inside—inside of me—and find the strength to disconnect from the larger economic and political systems and to realize that the power I am searching for already lives within me.

And while capitalism homogenizes our lands and peoples, it cannot account for the elation one feels when they become conscious of their own confines.

There is a history, a context, a people, a fight, a heart—we just cannot become too familiar or else we risk missing it.

-LB Travellin

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles! DLC


I have a lot of adventures to share, lessons to teach, and blah, blah, blah. A lot of the times, I just don't or didn't have the time to write them while traveling. So, I've decided to repackage them and sell them after the final product is done (this is, in the gaming world, called DLC [downloadable content] and it usually sucks more than the actual game. Oh well though, it's more content, right? And that's always a good thing).

So, here are some good stories involving lessons learned from traveling to travel, because a lot of traveling involves just that.

Friendly Shots in Sri Lanka

I get to airport to the Survarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok in order to catch a plane to Sri Lanka. It's an early flight, leaving about 6:30 in the morning. That means I get to the airport even earlier, about 3:00. I'm exhausted from hanging out at Mac and Noi's bar until a few hours prior. When I arrive, I end up helping a short Sri Lankan man with his boatload of luggage. He thanks me and we part ways. When I get to the airline counter, I'm informed that I booked my seat in business class. Wait, what? How did that happen? I've never had the luxury to afford business class, so I go along with it.

Question: have you ever been in business class before? Because, oh man, holy shit, it's crazy what they give to rich people when they fly! They have a whole separate lobby with comfy chairs! WiFi! Newspapers from all around the world! Fancy exotic foods (mostly croissants)! Booze and liquor! All for free!

I run into the Sri Lankan who is overjoyed to see me again. He doesn't speak a lot of English, but he does manage a rough, "Let's drink." Quick reminder, it's 3:30 in the morning when this man brings me my first shot of...something. Three hours later, we stumble into the plane and I continue lavishing in the whole first class treatment (more legroom! More free booze! More, more, more!). Looking back at it now, I think there are several reasons why I got a lot of stares during that flight:

1) I look like a homeless traveler, because I am.
2) I'm extremely loud and say/yell things like "oh man, this is sooooooo COOOL!" Repeatedly. And loud (did I mention this already?).
3) I keep waving to my friend a few seats away. He waves back and we yell-talk things to each other. Neither of us knows what the other is screaming.

If you're thinking to yourself: those are the worst kind of passengers to have sitting next to you on a plane, then you are most certainly correct, we were horrible. Let me tell you this though, the first hour or two of this plane ride was an absolute blast! After that though, it's miserable. When you start coming down into hangover territory, you realize that you're still on a plane. You're still cramped, even with more legroom, and the air is still just as stifling. Being hungover on a plane has all the negatives already associated with plane rides, plus headaches, queasiness, and a bladder that just won't quit.

When I get off, I feel miserable, I have no idea where I am, where I'm going, or how I'm getting there.

Awesome.

Serious Lesson: I've mentioned how it's basically the best high ever to arrive in a new country, but going to one in a state between hangover and still intoxicated is a mess. Not a smart idea. Also, traveling while grouchy and hungover means your bargaining skills go right out the window because you just have to get to that hostel bed, ASAP. Expect to pay a lot more. So...uh, don't drink with strange people before your flight at 3:30 in the morning?

Actually, scratch that. Totally do so if you get the chance.


Chickens and a Runaway in Zimbabwe

I mentioned this story before, but for inclusion sake, it's on this list. This picture shows the sign that you see while walking down the streets in order to know what van goes where. It's all very basic and strangely efficient.

Serious Lesson: Learn to let go. Many countries don't have the luxury of a "better" transportation system. I say better in quotes because it's very subjective. I for one loved the journeys I did in Zimbabwe and South Africa via small vans and hitchhiked rides. They had a great sense of community and I met a lot of amazing people this way. Was it oftentimes uncomfortable? Yes indeed.
Is it for everyone? No. But should everyone experience it? Yes, yes, and yes.

Shithead in India

I love the card-game Shithead. I think I played it well over a few thousand times since learning it from my good friend Ollie. I made sure to keep the tradition alive and taught it to new people I met well after India. Ollie taught me that the greatest version of the game always involved the loser having to actually lose something, usually being that they had to buy and take a shot of something horrible. It makes the game tense and, granted, a little unfair if you lose first, because it's all downhill from there.

So, it's the middle of the afternoon in beachy Varkala, India and in a few hours I need to grab some connecting buses and trains (a total of about 60 hours of transit time) to get to Kolkata to fly out to Burma (what a crazy sentence to write). The group that I had traveled with for the past month and half are staying or going their own ways. We all decide to play Shithead in the middle of the afternoon, hours before I need to catch my first bus.

Fast forward to the part where I keep losing and losing and losing. By the end, I am well on my way to being incapacitated. I say my teary goodbyes and stumble my way to a taxi. The taxi takes me to a bus (keyword, a bus). I take said bus and end up, hours later, in the middle of absolutely nowhere in the wrong city. It's about five in the morning and, strangely, it's completely dead around me (this never happens in India). I finally find a tuk-tuk to take me to a coffee shop across town. The man drops me off, charges me a ridiculous fee, and tells me it will open in a few hours. After he leaves, a helpful neighbor tells me the place shutdown months ago.

Uh huh. I sleep on the sidewalk, wake up absolutely miserable and decide that, yep, this sure does suck. I book a flight out of the current city and forgo the journey/adventure to Kolkata.

Serious Lesson: Don't book transportation too far in advance. Yes, you'll get the best deal and it'll help you not to get stranded, but life happens. Especially if you're backpacking. People and experiences will detour you to bigger and better places than you ever imagined so don't curtail your experience by limiting your freedom. It's worth the little bit of extra cost, I promise.

Losing to Cockroaches in India and a Feni or Three

Another day, another round of Shithead. I lose the game and loser has to take the bottom bunk on the train my friends and I are on. This picture is not the same train, but it should give you idea of what it looked like. We were heading up to Dharamsala and it was, surprise! getting extremely cold. I take the bottom bunk and am shivering. Tove across from me (who also lost and got a bottom bunk while Ollie is living the high life on the King's Throne of an upper bunk) is fast asleep. I'm huddled in the fetal position because there are cockroaches crawling on the wall above my head and behind my back. I'm not usually terrified of bugs, except when I need to fall asleep while worrying that cockroaches will crawl/wiggle into my mouth as I dream. I kill as many as a I can for what seems like hours. I have to go to the bathroom, but the train is so packed that people are sleeping on the ground. I maneuver through the crowd like playing a game of Twister. I come back and their are more cockroaches (I'm told later that smashing a cockroach is bad news bears since it attracts even more).

A few days and trains later and I'm hanging out in Goa with Ollie and a few of his Jersey friends. We are again playing Shithead. Loser has to take a Feni shot.

Now, long pause. I need to talk about this drink.

I'm not a hard alcohol fan. I used to love my rum and cokes, but I'm pretty much only a beer connoisseur now. So, shots usually don't sit well with me. So, let me tell you about this Feni. They are the worst thing known to man. If you read the link above to its Wikipedia page, it sounds amazing, doesn't it? It sounds exotic and fruity and life-affirming.

No.

No.

NO!

It will make you feel alive, I will give it that much. It will make you feel your insides quiver and your heart flutter to a stop. It will make you feel your breathe stolen from your lungs and make you feel your eyes pop out of your tiny, little head. You will feel, basically, your life sinking into the depths of hell itself.

Of course I lose quite a few and end up taking lots of shots of this elixer and that's enough for an entire lifetime (after each one, I can't talk for a good five minutes). Like usual, there's a train that needs to be caught. Thank God Ollie is traveling with me, and he leads the way. I follow.he Feni is hitting me hard. I'm sweating profusely and I'm, for all intensive purposes, a hot mess.

Ollie finds it hilarious. We get on the train, thankfully less packed then the last one, and I lay in my bottom bunk.

For once, there isn't any vendors cruising through the isles offering Chai or toys or ice cream (another side note: Indian train food is legit). I'm dying of thirst and the only solution for water is the water in the bathroom from the tap. Dirty train water.

I stare at the bunk above me for a good hour deciding if this is a smart life choice or not. It most certainly is not. But I cave and end up in the bathroom gulping down water that may or may not kill me.

Serious Lesson: If you go to India and need to eat/drink something questionable, have a few Fanis first. I'm pretty sure it not only destroys your stomach, but it also destroys anything you put in your body.

Also, it may destroy your soul.

Ants in my Pants in Thailand

Oh yes, nothing screams awkward more than waking up with ants in your pants on a local bus. Well, except from maybe pointing at your crouch and yelling to the man next to you, "ants in my pants!"

Serious Lesson: Try to learn a little about the local language. Saying a language louder or slower doesn't really help someone who isn't fluent in it. Even a few words help. Yelling มด ใน กางเกงของฉัน would have helped the confusion.

Full Bladders and Airplanes in Cambodia

I'm leaving Phonm Penh, Cambodia to Bangkok, Thailand via airport. I get there about four hours too early and wait around in the nonexistent waiting area (read: the floor). When my flight nears, I get in line to go through the security check. At the time, I still had my 24-oz water bottle. After waiting in line, I'm a few people short of going through the security checkpoint. That's when I realize that they won't let me pass through with all that liquid. There are no trash cans around. I can either go back to the end of the line and miss my flight or drink it all right there.

I start to chug. Now, I hate chugging anything (there's a joke in that sentence, but I'm not touching it [that's what she said?]), and I am horrible at it. But I do it, I take down 24 ounces in an insane amount of time.

I'm proud of myself.

What I am not proud of is that I have the weakest bladder in the world. The next few hours of flight are the worst ever.

I go to the bathroom seven times in a matter of about an hour and a half. Yep, seven. The passenger next to him eyes me like I'm the worst human being ever to walk this Earth.

Serious Lesson: Never be afraid to ask questions. I found out after getting through the checkpoint that they were perfectly cool with liquid in an open container. I just assumed that it was that way because that's how the States do it. Well, nope, always better to ask than assume. Save your bladder.

A Deathdrive to the Dalai Lama in India

This drive was the scariest bus I think I've ever been on. There are five of us going to see the Dali Llama and some other friends up in Dharamsala, India. We finally find a bus that goes up to the town after a ridiculously tough time. We throw our bags on the top (the locals keep their bags with them, smart) and strap them down. We get on. The bus is overloaded with people, as in, people are sitting on other people's laps and its hard to breathe. And then we take off.

Now, it's hard to describe this journey in words, but I'll try.

Dale, next to me, a man who is by definition cool and calm, is screaming, "shit!" with every turn. I look into his eyes and see terror. You ever seen a grown, confident man with absolute terror in his eyes? It's frighting.

Next to me Tove is trying to learn Japanese from our new friend, Tomoe.

The brakes squeal and grind and there are several times the bus leaves the ground. Here, watch this. Our bus basically does this the entire way up the windiest hill you've ever seen in your life. I wish I was exaggerating.



Serious Lesson: Make sure you've prayed properly before boarding sketchy looking buses. Also make sure you've completed your bucket list and said your "I love yous" to the people you care about in your life. You may die. Be okay with that.

Simply Greyhound.

Oh God. Where do I begin? I guess I'll begin by being as gentle as I can with my description: Greyhound is the absolute worst bus service in the world. As in, if Heaven has a white tunnel leading you to it, I'm pretty sure that Hell has you board a Greyhound bus.

There, I said it. I'll bet my entire $30 dollars worth of life savings on that claim. It's the absolute truth (okay, fair point: I didn't use them in South Africa, so it could be better there. Could being the key word). First, the people that run it are crazy mean (is it normal to almost witness a fistfight between the driver and a rider?) and second, the people that ride it are even crazier. Case in point, I'm on a bus from San Francisco to Tacoma, a thirty hour journey after forty hours of plane rides. I'm sitting next to a very large man and the distinguishing characteristic about this man is that he loves to laugh. Every ten seconds. It's a cackle really, like a super villain does in movies. Here, it's EXACTLY like this:



The catch is that no one around him is saying anything remotely funny. The man just likes to laugh. Cool, I have no problem with laughing. In fact, the more people laugh the better. And I'll admit that it's absolutely hilarious for the first few minutes. Come 15, 20, 30 hours later though? Yeah, not so much.

We make small talk in between the laughter. Here is a snippet of conversation that I so very much wish I had the imagination to make up.

Man: "You know cats?"
Me: [pause] "Uh, yeah...yeah I know about cats."
Man: You know how they can get worms and stuff." His tone is that of a question, but comes off like a statement.
Oh God.
Me: Uh...
Man: Well, I think...[he reaches his hand down the back of his shirt and starts itching his back]...I think I caught some and they burrowed through my skin.
[I inch closer to the window, as close as close can be]
Me: [silence]
Man: [He takes out his hand. The tips of his fingers are bloody and he has a brown thing squeezed between his index finger and thumb, and yes, in case you were wondering, it does indeed look like a worm] See! I have no idea how to get rid of them! They're everywhere! [Villain laugh ensues, louder than ever]

Of course he would sit next to me. I am no longer shocked by anything.

Serious Lesson: Don't take greyhound.

Bonus Lessons

-Tuk-tuks are the way to go (this is a picture of my favorite Cambodian tuk-tuk driver, complete with his Sparkle sticker).
-Beware of the rain during rainy seasons in Asia.
-Check the time of arrival of the bus/train/etc. Otherwise, yes, you will be walking down unknown roads in Burma at two in the morning knocking on random doors in order to find a place to crash.
-Don't learn how to drive a scooter in India and end up crashing within a minute of getting on the bike. Well, maybe that's just a lesson for me.

End Note 
If this all sounds bad, it's really not. It's a journey and however you choose to travel, the traveling of travel brings brings just as much excitement to the table. It's wonderful and horrible and long and tiring all at once. Experience it all.


Except that Greyhound.

That will only bring sadness to your life. Just say no, kids, just say no.

Monday, July 6, 2015

novel sitting styles: asian edition

Anyone who's been to Asia sees the way they take a load off – they squat, asian-style, on their haunches. You know, the way that looks like they're taking a shit. And really, it's also the way they take a shit, so it's a bit confusing. He was sure that shitting was part of the explanation as to why they rested this way, but he also assumed that it had to do with the chairs. As in, they didn't have any, or if they did, they looked like they could be used in a dollhouse to drink imaginary tea. This combination of Mini-me sized chairs and the lack of otherwise suitable seating seemed to lead inevitably to incorporating this style of resting into his relaxation repertoire.

And so that was how he came to be sitting like an Asian in a predominantly Western country, contemplating his position. He couldn't help but recall what he'd thought when he'd first started to notice it – is this person about to drop trou and squeeze out a clutch of brown torpedoes? His friend had even told him about, nay, warned him about, seeing a mother in China take off her kid's pants so the littler bugger could bang out a number two right on the side of the road. ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD FOR CRAP'S SAKE, his friend inveighed, perhaps unaware of the shitty pun. And there he was, mimicking the stance, if not the action. He tried not to make eye contact with passersby, because you know, out of sight, out of mind. When he'd started doing it, he couldn't even stay that way more than a few seconds at a time, but he'd been traveling for quite a while now and had to wait for buses in dirty, chairless areas many times, so necessity birthed this squat baby. It was all about crowing out your feet, and finding your center of mass, and now that he'd adapted to it, the stance had stuck with him like TP on a shoe.

But another thing he'd learned was that he was on a journey in this life, and that everyone else was on their own as well, therefore most commentary that might bloviate on his harmless actions was mindless chatter that he could happily ignore. He didn't answer to anyone except himself, so there was no reason to spend even a minute worrying about what anyone thought of what he was doing, because he knew what he was doing, and in a world where all the rules are made-up, when it came down to it, he didn't give a shit what they thought.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

"Help me help you!"

I'm going to be short and sweet here.


I have big, gigantic, impossible dreams for this blog. 

I want it to be oh so much more. As of right now, it gets about a 1,000ish hits a month. Give or take. But I want more.

I want it to be a hub (key word) for adventurers and travelers to tell their stories. Too many travel blogs are just a single person with a single voice. I want to change that.

So, I need collaborators. I need travelers to tell their stories and join me in making this much more than just my own opinion and thoughts and ramblings.

It's pretty simple to be a collaborator, you must:

1) Love travel and the adventures, both good and bad, that it brings.
2) Be able to write about said travels.
3) The writings can be anything travel related, to the practical (how to navigate Indian trains, for example [oh what a crazy fun nightmare that is]), to the funny (getting locked in a toilet), to the heartfelt (how travel changes you forever). It just needs to be real and passionate. Ok, and humor is pretty much a must as well. Boring pieces are not fun to write and they certainly are not fun to read.
4) No dogmatic writing. The point of travel is that it opens the world to you. Writing should be just as open as the world is.
5) The world can be cruel. It is cruel. But a positive voice is so much stronger than a negative one. Optimism is key.
6) You should like to write. Yeah, that's probably pretty important, too.


That's it. So if you're reading this and you travel (And I mean, anywhere. Doesn't matter if you live in Seattle and travel to see what San Francisco is like, or you live in Bangkok and travel up to Chiang Mai to check out the Yi Peng Festival), join me. Write about it and post it here with me. No minimum posts or any such nonsense. Post when you want.

Because I'm planning big. I want this website to become a hub of writing from people from all walks of life, unified by travel. I want it, in the future, to have forums and the whole nine yards. I want it to be a place for voices from just about everywhere in a much larger language array than just English! And, totally serious, I want make actual money for myself and the contributors sooner or later (haha, we'll see if that pipe dream comes true).

I want it all. I want to share the world. And now, with you as a collaborator, we can share the world.

How about it?

If you're interested, please, please, please reach out to me any way possible.

Skype - nrogen
Email - nickrogen@gmail.com
WhatsApp - +27-79-286-1880
Text - 1-253-228-3589

Friday, June 12, 2015

"Shit just got real."

I’m going to start off this entry with a disclaimer.
Warning 
The following is going to be a somewhat long, serious read and a companion and expansion to Reason #8 on a previous entry titled "Top 12 Reasons You Should Never Travel". There may or may not be a lot of choice words (I don't know if you know this, but I don't trust people that don't swear. True story). Don't worry though, the next entry will balance it all out with the usual stories involving toilets, ants in pants, or equally ridiculous tales of adventure and woe.

Another word of caution: extremely blind optimism ahead and a whole lot of (sometimes) disconnected rambling. I don't regret a single ounce of any of it.

That all being said, I don’t like writing things that are boring (I really do try my best to make these things entertaining in one way or another), so this is going to require just a little active participation of the reader (read: you) for full effect. Yep, that's right, if you decide to read further, I hope that you go along with me and ask yourself the same questions, challenge yourself, and maybe, oh-please-just-maybe!, find a little inspiration along the way. If not, uh, I'll at least add some killer jokes/travel-pickup lines on the way to substitute.

Yeah? Sound like a plan? Sorta kinda? Okay, good enough, let's get to it.

Writing this has been challenging for me. In fact, it has taken me exactly 29 years to get the courage (remember this word for later) to answer some of these questions that have always stuck to the back of my mind, and that's only because traveling has forced me to finally face them.

Now, I’ve mentioned numerous times that I am no longer the me I was before traveling. That's a great philosophical concept, right? But, uh, what does that really mean? It's taken me way too long to figure it out, but it boils down to something pretty simple. What it means is that the me I am now (opposed to the me a year ago) believes he is unstoppable and that nothing is impossible. In fact, taking it a step further, I believe this is true for most people. I apologize if that sounds overly rainbows-and-unicorns optimistic and part of some new age theory bullshit, but it's 100%, honest to God, the truth.

And I am dead serious when I say I apologize about how preachy this may all sound. But it has to be said and that's the last apology I'll ever give for it (what do all the cool kids say now? #sorrynotsorry?).

When I returned from traveling through Asia ("Are you heading to India? 'Cause I'd Goa anywhere with you!"), Africa ("I know we just met, but I Cairo lot about you"), and Europe ("You must be from Prague, because I can't help but Czech you out."), I came back dazed and impractical and a dreamer so lost that he didn't know which way was up any more. The
 first few weeks back drove me mad, because my heart knew I couldn't return to this point in my life. I've loved my life here in Washington State, especially my friends and family and wonderful jobs I've had over the years, but my home has changed now, or at least it has for the time being at this point in my life. I have this fire in me to see and travel and change the world and this feeling has taken over my waking life. I don't even have words to explain it to friends and family. It has not gone away since returning, and I highly doubt it will leave me if I stay. It's as though I free-based cocaine 8 months ago and the high simply never went away, and in fact, it just kept getting stronger with each tick of the clock hand. It may or may not in fact kill me one day.

Without further adieu:

Assignment #1

1) Close your eyes.

2) Imagine your “happy place”. You know, that perfect place that soothes your soul when the world around you is loud and un-mutable.
3) Imagine what you would be doing in that place (I guess, very loosely, think about what you would be doing "career" wise).
4) Imagine who would be around you.
5) Stay in that moment for a minute.
6) Open your eyes.

I’ll start with my example. If I were to close my eyes and imagine myself anywhere, doing anything, it would currently be a tie between the following things:


1) I would be in a warm ocean, with barely a cloud overhead, with distant Jurassic Park-style islands in the distance, surrounded by a staggering amount of early morning mist. I would be in the water up to my stomach, and the water would be crystal clear. Behind me, would be a gorgeous beach with bungalows and bars and laughing people from all around the world. I would be swimming and listening to the wind. I would go back to the beach bar and I would write on my laptop stories of adventure and mystery while the sun set and blazed the sky with soaking colors. I would make enough money from my writings to do all this. This would be Goa, India, or Shianookville, Cambodia, or A Random Island, Thailand.

2) I would be a travel writer, with this blog successful enough that it made enough money to search the world with. I’d be sitting on a balcony overlooking the Himalayas in the Dalai Lama’s current place of residence, drinking Chai tea, smoking a fine cigar, and listening to punk rock music from a nearby portable speaker. This would be Dharamsala, India.

Those are my picks. Now, if you’re going to keep reading, I need you to try this for me, too. Seriously, at least give it a go. Close your eyes and think about it. I mean really, honestly think about it. Think about it so hard you can taste the air around you.

Now, open your eyes.

I have a question that I have been asking of myself when I open my eyes to this little exercise. It’s a question I’ve asked myself since my return. It’s a haunting question, one that has wormed into my brain and left me feeling horribly and wonderfully insane. I am still on fire, because the question is that strong, that powerful, and that soul-searching for me (a part of me wishes I never traveled, because then I would have never been exposed to this question).

When I open my eyes, if I'm not in the EXACT place I was thinking about, doing EXACTLY what I was imagining, I need to ask myself this question: 


“Why am I not there, doing that thing, with those people?”

-More specific to me: why am I not in Cambodia or India or Thailand living the life of a traveling writer or working in some international nonprofit?


I know the answer. I came back home, and to quote my favorite (horrible) movie line of all time from Bad Boys 2 (watch the clip if you get a chance, it's so ridiculous):
“Shit just got real.”



Or, it other words, reality hit me, like a rather painful sucker punch to the face. The kind of hit that ends the last round of the championship fight.

One of my literary heroes, Ray Bradbury, nailed it on the head when he said that 
“[y]ou must stay drunk on writing so that reality doesn’t destroy you.” (Side-note, this quote is from my favorite book on writing, Zen and the Art of Writing. If you're a creative type of any sort, do yourself a favor and check this book out).

Because, that’s what reality can do. It can and will destroy you. If you let it, that is.

The reason I’m not at those places is because reality told me it’s not possible. If you've been keeping up with this blog, I have babbled on about living life to the fullest, following your dreams, and all that inspirational crap that is so over the top happy that it's sickening and, sadly, unrealistic. I said I wasn't going to apologize anymore, but hey, I'm sorry. When I was traveling, that was all fine and dandy to have my head in the clouds. I thought that I would come back to the States and reality could suck it!

I'm learning a hard lesson that that's not how life goes.

I’m back home and I have bills to pay. I have a $106,000 USD loan hanging over my head in addition to regular, everyday debt. I’m getting dangerously close to thirty. I have no savings or career. In fact, I don't even have an apartment to my name anymore.

Part of the reason I've been feeling so off since coming back is the struggle of coming to terms with the reality of my reality: I can’t just get on a plane and leave again, no matter how much I want to. Reality is hanging too much weight on my shoulders now.

When I open my eyes, the fire that lit my soul in Beijing dies a bit when I hear that I need to pay $1,200 dollars next month so I don’t default.

Reality can come in many different forms:

  • mortgages 
  • house payments 
  • student loans
  • debt
  • children 
  • family 
  • careers
  • age
  • health
With all of that though, I still can't accept the word impossible. I often hear that one has to often choose one life over another: the "responsible" family life or the follow-your-dreams "live-life-on-the-edge" life. Dreams take sacrifice, right? 

True, but since coming back home, I've been unhappy because I've let reality win. I've let it make me believe that impossible really is impossible.

Thanks reality, but I'm going to take a page from Bradbury and stay utterly drunk with my words from this point on. So to reality, I say this!

(And I’m going to put this is the gentlest, more professional manner that a sensitive and vastly articulate writer/social worker can muster).

Screw. 
That.

I will not let reality make me believe what is possible and what is not.

So if anything is possible, then why can't I be that famous writer on a beach? I think it comes down to not that I'm in debt (really, I can pay off a debt from anywhere in the world), but that I'm scared of taking the leap.


I'm scared of taking the leap and failing. I’m sick and tired of just dreaming. Of being a writer who doesn’t write and a traveler who doesn’t travel. Life requires active participation to function. But I'm terrified of it - life that is. Crippled and held down by it. I am scared to death not that I'll necessarily fail myself, but others. It's why I've never really been good at relationships, or committing, or why that fucking 2nd book I've been writing has sat on my computer (it's actually open in another screen right this second and it's taunting me) for years. I tell people that writing takes courage. That writing is the easy part and it’s getting the courage to get that pencil out and begin. That's it okay to fail.

I say all that, but I'm a hypocrite. I'm still paralyzed by the fear of failure.

But...I traveled the world! With a single backpack! I jumped a van running from protesters in South Africa and hitch-hiked through Zimbabwe jungles! I didn't just dream, I participated. I was forced to face my fear of failure because I had no other choice. I succeeded in making life an adventure. In writing terms, I finally got the courage to get out that pencil and begin.

I found out that I could do it, it being absolutely anything, and that it's never as scary as I thought and failure is just part of the ride. What I've also found out is that I'm just as scared as success as I am of failure.

So, problem. I know what I want but I can't just drop all my responsibilities and go for it.

So, where does that leave me?

Assignment #2


1) Get a piece of paper. I want you to write down ten things you want to accomplish in life. Make them wild. Make them crazy. Make a list that is completely impractical.

Here's a sample of some of mine:
- Take a flight in a hot air balloon.
- Visit an Egyptian temple.
- Finish that 2nd book.
- Make money off this blog.
- Start a nonprofit.

2) Put it somewhere prominent. Pin it up on a door. Put it as a background of your computer. Make it so visible that your soul’s stomach rumbles and quakes each time it's seen.


Start Scene
Reality: Oh, Nick, you crazy. You can't just do whatever you want! You have to stay here and pay off these bills! They're not going to pay themselves!
Nick: Well, you sure are grumpy today, Mr. Reality!
Reality: Why shouldn't I be! You're running away from your responsibilities!
Nick: Well, silly, can't I just pay off my loans from a beach in a foreign country? And can't I work realities into my dreams?
Reality: Well, by golly you're right! I've been just a big meanie!
Nick: Ah, come here and bring it on in!
-Reality and Nick hug. A rainbow shoots off over them and angels sing. It's all pretty majestic-
End Scene

So. I’ve made a plan. I'm not running away from reality (because I'm not saying that reality is a bad thing, as it's a very subjective thing), but instead 
I'm compromising with it.

I’m going to get a job here and bunker down for a bit and take on some of those heavy responsibilities. I gave myself a pretty strict time limit. And then, I’m going to be back on the road, writing, and chasing after that list from Assignment #2. I want and will do it all. I'll pay my bills, yeah, but I'm going to change my reality to what I want it to be.

This blog will continue. It will become something more, I'm sure of it. It has to be and it needs to be. I mean, I even just bought a real, legit domain as well! Progress.

I want to convince people to do the impossible. It took courage to trust that I can. It took courage to believe in myself and my talents. I am a good writer, a damn good one. I’ve seen it myself that my talent has grown over the past eight months of written exercises. 


This blog is about me, yet, I need to make it more than just that. I need for it to grant a better response than “oh, that was nice. I feel good after reading that.”

No, no, no! I want to make this a blog where people read it and say, "Fuck yeah! I’m doing this right now! I’m getting up out of this chair and I’m going to write that novel! I’m going to be an international crisis worker! I’m going to join the Peace Corps! I’m going to take my kids with me to Thailand and do home decorating! I'm going to save whales off the coast of Japan! I'm going to roadtrip around the US and complete my retirement bucketlist!" And on and on and on. Always floating on. (These are all professions I met on the road from people who wanted to carve their own path in life).

I want to fuel the fire in readers so that they in turn can lend their fires to others.

Take a look at the list. What can you do TODAY to start moving toward that goal? Be it checking flight prices or simply closing your eyes and dreaming about it some more. The key is to keep it there. To keep it close even when reality can be a brutal beast.

I want to be Vincent from Gattaca, a man born with a bad heart who was destined not to do great things because of this setback. He said, "Nope!" and instead, rose to the top because he didn't give up, and more importantly, put everything into Plan A and didn't worry about Plan B.




Extra credit assignment:

You have vacation days. You have sick days. Cash them in. Go online and look here:

1. Flights: Expedia, Skyscanner

2. Booking: HostelworldAirbnb
3. Planning: Trip Adviser
4. Jobs/Volunteering: Idealist, VolunteerMatch (US destinations)

Take a week, a month, however long you can and go to the place in your dream. Make it real.

And, I’m not saying to stop that life you’ve built. I’m saying to start a plan and then actively work on it so that you can make life work around your dreams. It's possible even when it doesn’t feel like it. It could be you won't open your eyes and be there for another ten years, or you need to wait until the mortgage is payed off, or you need to wait until you retire. Whatever, as long as you're planning it and living in it, I think that's what matters. Be active in pursuing it, no matter how long it takes to get there.

So you do that and I’ll continue doing the job search. I’ll continue writing the cover letters. I'll continue tackling my responsibilities here, but I will also
 continue writing, saving my pennies, and coming up with insane ideas while bargaining with reality. 



I'm actively planning so that one day, and one day soon, I will open my eyes and I will be exactly where I want to be. Will I be a broke writer by the end of it? Probably, but I've come to see that it doesn't so much matter what the end destination will be, but the evolving journey along the way that defines a good life. 

In regards to this brilliant meme, today is Thursday and I still have a lot of realities and responsibilities to face.

But come Friday...

Friday is going to be a very bright day indeed. And I finally think I'm ready for it.

Are you?

Friday, May 8, 2015

The World's Canvas

I truly believe art can change the world.  Be it music or painting or interpretive dance or writing or the list goes on forever. Unlike a lot of fields/careers though, art doesn't always pay the bills (i.e. this blog has made a total of about $5 dollars...ouch) and word of mouth is the best way to spread good art. But artists don't really do their art for money or fame (but, uh, wouldn't that be nice?), but because they have to. That need to express yourself comes from deep inside and it's impossible to contain. The ability to create is powerful and unstoppable. 

I happened to run into some pretty outstanding artists while travelling around the world. I think they're world-shakers, ground-breakers, and people that are talented enough to deserve your attention. So, here are some of them, and I think you'll love them just as much as I do.

Mi Viaje por el Mundo

Alejandro is pretty much living my dream. I met him on my way out of Chiang Mai and didn't get nearly enough time to pick this man's brain. He quit his job and just started traveling. People probably thought he was insane, but here he is, a professional travel writer after taking that first scary-as-hell leap into the unknown. His blog is what every travel blog should be, deep and informative and honest. I can't say enough good things about Alejandro and his writing abilities. If you read any travel blog, this is it. Hands down, the very best of the best (his India blogs prepared me more than any Lonely Planet, that's for sure). It's in Spanish, but if you need, Google Translate will help if you have Chrome. Well worth every second of your time.

Penda.zandilemasuku.Artwork
I met Zandile in Zimbabwe after missing a bus in Bulawayo (thanks to a friendly taxi driver named Simba [edit: yes, I did indeed do a Lion King joke with him] who took me in for lunch off the street! Zimbabwe is pretty cool like that) and was blown away to see such beautiful art. I had wonderful conversations with her about the power and soul of art. And this woman is talented like no other and has a passion that burns as hot as the sun itself. The above is a link to her Facebook page (check out the About Me section to learn more about her and her technique). She's fantastic.

I met Alberto on a three-day hike in Burma. Not only is he an incredibly nice dude, but he has a pretty amazing travel blog that is stuffed with great information and has absolutely gorgeous pictures to boot. He has so many entries from so many different places that it's sort of ridiculous (read: it is ridiculous! He has been everywhere!). If you don't read Spanish, there's an option for Google Translate on the side (I know, I know, Google Translate can be horrible most of the time, but it still works). Here's a link to his entry about our hike, which I never got the chance to blog about myself (I'm way to lazy). Another wonderful travel blog you must bookmark and keep up to date with. It'll help keep that travel bug sedated (or make it awake and alive and ready to do the same...!).




Never really been a fan of electronic music. But after traveling with this man, who has become like a brother from another mother, I can honestly say that I just wasn't listening to the right music. I can only hope he picks it up and makes more (if you're reading this, that's a huge hint that YES, you need to keep at this!). Check out his Soundcloud page above, but most certainly go to his website and listen to the first track, AB. It's superb.

I met Brooke on a lazy beach in Cambodia. As you probably guess, I absolutely love meeting people who do their own thing and have taken travel and made it a career. Brooke travels around playing and teaching people how to play the Ukulele! To be honest, I had never even heard one before I saw her perform and now I think it's a one of the coolest instruments out there! Here's her info! Give her a listen at her Youtube page. I swear you'll love it!

Okay, this is more a non-profit than "art", but hey, it's such a unique way to tackle a serious problem that I have to include this. I met Will in Cambodia (or, uh, was it Thailand?) who works at this company with a tagline of "code and cows to alleviate poverty". How cool is that? They find eligible Cambodia small plot farmers and people (like you!) help them purchase a cow - and bam! a cowoperative is born. Absolutely incredible way to fight poverty.

T4T South America
I met Exequiel in Sri Lanka and he's trying to start up a Facebook group that has a single goal: make travel to South America easier. It's a great beginning: gather tips, information, and share experiences with people that will, have, or are currently travelling in South America. Join them, it's a free group and the more people he has contributing, the better the little project will become!

"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." -Van Gogh


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Top 12 Reasons Why You Should Never Travel

You shouldn't travel. 

Really, you should not.

It’s dangerous and it’s much safer to just stay at home. It makes a lot more sense to follow the typical life pattern knitted to us by our past generations: go to school (and get into debt – which everyone will tell you is “good” debt), get a good money-making degree (it’s okay if you hate your job, right?), find an excellent partner, marry them, have/adopt the average 3.13 kids, work until retirement, and then - and only then - should you attempt to travel.

I’m serious. That is the smartest path. The safest path. The tried-and-true path. 

And here’s the top reasons why you should never backpack around the world.


1. The world will seem infinitely smaller and you will feel that much smaller, too.

When you first get off the airplane (which, by the way, has pretty amazing food, especially SriLankan Airlines), the world will be laid out in front of you and, believe me, it will be terrifyingly large. Not, say, a 5000-piece-puzzle large, but rather stare-out-into-the-cosmos large. You’ll realize that there is a whole world outside your home country, and it is a world that it is living and breathing and loving and suffering in every different and alike way you could imagine. At first, it will be too much and you’ll search out Starbucks everywhere you go because at least that will you give you some semblance of balance and familiarity (and also a delicious Iced Caramel Macchiato to boot!). The world is gigantic and you’ll tackle a different language with each country, or sometimes up to 300 different dialects in a single one! You’ll take trains and boats and planes that take days to get to your destination because, yeah, the world is that large! You'll be introduced to dozens and hundreds of customs you were never aware of and they will start becoming second nature to you (my absolute favorite? Indian head bobble).

But then, as you grow, the world will start to shrink. The subway that made absolutely no sense and went to destinations that seemed light-years away even though they were in the same city, will slowly seem doable. Manageable even. You’ll start running into friends you met months back in countries oceans away as you walk the streets of Cape Town and proceed to have drinks at bars that remember your face and name and signature cocktail. You’ll start to take a stab at the languages and realize what sounded like gibberish at first is forming logical understandable patterns in your head. You’ll laugh when you see little kids with SpongeBob Squarepants backpacks darting through traffic on their way to school through tiny Moroccan alleys. You’ll start to realize that as diverse as the world is, it really isn't as big as the first epic step off the train, plane, or automobile.

You’ll realize that the world outside your door is manageable if you let it be.



2. You will realize how short life is and how fragile it all can be.

If you do travel (don’t), people will tell you things like:

“Wow, I wish I could do that.”

You’ll want to smile and tell them that they can. They completely and totally can.

“Anyone can,” you’ll want to say.

“When I retire,” they’ll respond.

You’ll shake your head because you’ll have visited small villages in South Africa where the graveyards were larger than the villages and marriages came early because death came just as quick and punishing. You will wonder why we’re taught in "first-world" cultures that the proper thing for you to do - the normal and logical thing - is to follow the norm (which is strange, coming from individualistic cultures in which every movie and teacher and mentor tell you to work outside the box, but then when you do, you’re considered insane and impractical) and travel when you retire.

They are right, you gotta do your time. And you shouldn't waste it traveling.

You will die (I've covered this before here). Maybe during your sleep, peacefully, or maybe from a long bout of cancer, horribly. Whatever the cause may be, it will happen, and it will catch you (and everyone else) off guard no matter how much you’re prepared for it. So you should save. That’s what we’re taught. Save so that when you’re old you can travel the world.

I mean, you could die tomorrow. You could have a heart attack at the end of this sentence. But it’s good you have those savings. You never know, right?

3. The world will no longer be black and white.

You’ll learn that the media is almost all lies (save for, perhaps, The Daily Show [for the most part]) and that FOX News is even worse than you thought. You’ll travel to countries like Cambodia and learn about genocides that ravaged their country and you’ll think, “What monsters!” Then you’ll learn that the superpowers of the world were completely complacent and maybe even had a hand in its creation. 

You’ll find that a common theme in many places – good people, bad governments. You’ll go to countries like Thailand, currently without a government, and hear from all sides of the political spectrum until your head spins. You’ll travel to countries like Morocco and meet people from those religions portrayed on the news as dangerous and hateful, yet you’ll experience unbelievable love and beauty. You’ll realize that politics and religions and life itself are so much deeper than the right or left or the right or wrong or this religion is better than that religion. You’ll start falling into the gray and it’s scary because you may never get out.

4. You will no longer have a home.

You’ll realize that “home” is just a word that the dictionary got wrong. 

home
hōm/

noun
1. the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.
"I was nineteen when I left home and went to college"
synonyms: residence, place of residence, house, apartment, flat, bungalow,cottage

adjective
1. of or relating to the place where one lives.
"I don't have your home address"

adverb
1. to or at the place where one lives.
"what time did he get home last night?"

"Home" is not that. "Home" no longer means permanent. When you travel, you will fall in love with places that aren't only exotic and gorgeous, but full of citizens and fellow travelers that become your home because they're there. "Home" becomes people. You’ll fall in love with India not because it feels peaceful, but because the people and culture and the chaos start to become a part of your new home. As does the next place and the next place and on and on and so forth. By the time you get “home”, you will have a dozen different homes and you’ll miss each one for different reasons (you’ll not have a “favorite place” because all of them will become special for different reasons). It’s sort of like going to the world’s finest buffet and every delicious food will be there. For your entire life though, you had just one entree (and man, was it good!). Suddenly, you're allowed to have all the other entrees and you realize they tasted just as gorgeous. Home then becomes very relative and fluid.

And when you have multiple homes, your heart becomes naturally larger. You will hurt more when your homes are in danger, by natural forces such as earthquakes, or by other tragedies and upheavals. Quite simply, your heart will hurt more because you will have more to love.

5. You will feel alienated.

You will return and have no idea how to relay all the things that you saw and did. I mean, how do you describe to someone what it feels like to be on the edge of a river in Bangkok, on a riverboat, with the sun setting and cascading off pagodas in the distance, while holding flowers for a friend’s bar that you bought in one of the world’s largest flower markets? How do explain what it's like to fall asleep on a train while cockroaches scuttle around your head because you lost a round of Shithead and got the bottom (worst) bunk?

You will want to continue traveling yet the world will be waiting for you to get back to the usual. And you'll go back and get goosebumps on your soul every time you read Thoreau.

"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them."

You will never be happy again unless you’re traveling.

You’ll go “home” (and believe me, you’ll be happy for many things your original home has that the others don’t) and go back to work. Back to the 9-5. And while you may love your job and family and friends and the location, there will always be a part of you that is yearning, always, to continue seeking the unknown. Some days it will stay dormant and calm and play real nice, and other days it will crawl out of you in the least likely moments, clawing and spilling from what feels like your very soul itself. It will dominate your thoughts and your ideas and your actions.

But why? you'll think to yourself.

Because, no matter if you stuff it deep inside of you, through work and normalcy and balance, it will always be there.

What is it?
  • the knowledge, that for a fact, traveling the world is always possible and it’s only impossible if you want and think it will be. Impossible, like the word home, is limited only to the definition you decide to give it.
6. You’ll learn that everything is so very temporary.

You will meet people from all walks of life, from worm farm salesman to directors to CEOs to nomads to sorcerers (yes, you read that correctly) and you will travel with them. You will eat and sleep and ride shitty trains and wild tuk-tuks to unknown destinations with them (most likely stopping at a silk shop on the way). You will become close to them and then you will eventually have to say goodbye. Every. Single. Time. Maybe you’ll see them again, and maybe you won’t. It will be sad. You will cry. You might even fall in love, a few times, sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small ways, but even that has its leash imposed by the nature of a traveler (this Huffington Post article nails this).

You will realize that everything is temporary. And everything has it's glowing moment of pure beauty.

You will see sunsets stretching over the Himalayas while sipping the best coffee you've ever had. You will be Indiana Jones and explore ancient temples in long lost jungles. You will sleep on the floor of boats for two days playing Uno as the common ground language. You will laugh and cry and see beautiful and tragic things.

And then it will end. The moment will be over and you will never have that chance again, to be swimming in Goa and watching the bioluminescence sparkle as you swim, enhanced with the darkness of a surreal night caused by a blackout along the coast. Sure, you could go back and recapture the moment. But who you were at that moment, in that place, with those friends, can only happen once, just once.

You will learn, memorize, love, and hate the Dr. Seuss quote: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

You will learn to live in the moment because you have to. There’s no other choice. It is sad and beautiful all at once.

7. You will learn to live with less.

You will realize that all that stuff waiting in unmarked boxes for you at your original home is just stuff. A whole life of possessions that may or may not have ended up possessing you. Then, you start traveling and lived with a single huge backpack. Did you need the tablet and 100s of pairs of clothes and the video games (well, you may need the video games) and DVDs? No, not really. It’s just stuff, and my dad loves to quote Luther on this one: “I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess.”

(Side note: you’ll become more of a universalist and know that the above quote can be used for whatever God you put your faith in).

We pile our lives with shit and when you realize you don’t need any of it, the stuff loses its power. Capitalism loses it’s power. Friends and families and warm beds and clean clothes and good, hot meals will be become your gold, your diamonds, your most prized and precious possessions.


8. You will return a different person. You will not be you.

All the travel movies will be wrong. You’ll hate Eat, Pray, Love even more than you already do. There won’t be a magical moment where you’re suddenly a changed person and riding off into the sunset (unless, like her, you got a $300,000 USD book advance and could live in slap-everyone-in-the-face-luxury in poor countries [and then you’ll try to stop hating on that book as much as you do because you feel bad that you trash it so much]). Rather, there’ll be small little changes along the way, sometimes completely unnoticeable at the time, and by the end, you simply won’t be you. It’ll be impossible to describe to anyone else. You’ll laugh the same and cry the same and love the same, but then again, you won’t. It'll be an internal change, forever unexplainable and forever yours.

You will have a good friend tell you that they’re happy that you’re traveling and experiencing life-changing things, but will also will tell you that they know you’re experiencing inner conflicts most people never encounter in their life (or don’t want to). So, you'll will be all existential and ask yourself important questions such as:

  • Am I happy?
  • What makes me happy?

And finally, the question that will start haunting along the edges of your life:
If I know what makes me happy, truly scream-to-the-heavens happy, why am I not doing that?

And you will start to chase that answer, whatever that may be, because you'll have learned that although anything worth doing is terrifying, complacency is a million times worse. Complacency is comfortable though, so yeah, don't backpack!

9. You will see the best and worst of humanity.

Yes, you will have fun. Loads of it. You’ll get drunk on beautiful beaches and river raft through Thai jungles and eat dinner with taxi drivers in Zimbabwe and play cards until the break of day and then visit secret fish street markets in hidden pockets of large cities.

But you will see poverty. You will see the things that a middle class life and above shields you from. You will not be able to change the channel.

You will be forced to interact with the world. And it will be messy and dirty.

You will feel pain and sadness and happiness when you give oranges to young children in a village in the middle of nowhere and see a smile wider than you ever knew was possible. You’ll be invited for dinner, given haircuts, and gifts simply because there are citizens of the world out there that are happy just to be acknowledged. You will meet people who are content not with bigger vehicles and bigger TVs and bigger 401ks, but content knowing that people care enough to visit and break bread with them.

But then you will meet people who have nothing, will have nothing, and will die nothing. A blip on the radar of life. Because of corrupt governments, wars, intolerance, fear, or whatever the case may be. It will be cruel to see. And you will see it - the underbelly of life. You can’t close your eyes when traveling and, my God, there are times you'll want to.

You will be forced out of your box and you will live there. You will return a more knowledgeable person who sees the world in an array of different colors. You will have a lifetime full of stories and friends scattered in the winds of the worlds. That said, you will also return confused. You will be more lost than ever before. You’ll become a walking contradiction of yourself. In short, you will return a mess because you will have lived a tragic and beautiful and authentic life.

You will, and this is the scariest thing of all,

be able to say that you lived with eyes open. As the title of this blog suggests: a life that is unfiltered.

You'll keep reading Walden.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

Too much introspection though. Easier to stay home.

10. Nothing will have happened. You won't be changed and you'll just come back home broke.

I could be completely wrong. You could return and be exactly the same person and realize that Voltaire was right, and staying home really is the best way to cultivate your garden. Each person is different and there is no true way to live. So why waste all that money that you were diligently saving? Again, traveling could be potentially too dangerous for all the above reasons and...


11. You might end up changing the world. Even if it's only one person at a time.

Because you will (and that's way too scary).

12. The world might change you in wonderful and horrible and unforeseen ways.

And it will (and that's even more scary!).

Or maybe not. 

I guess the only way to know is to try...

But if you do, I'm sorry in advance. Don't say I didn't warn you. 

You will never, ever, ever be the same.