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. 


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

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

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.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Of travels and adventures.

I've beat this topic into the ground, but you know what? I don't care.
You, yes, YOU, reading this can travel and backpack around the world. Really, once you nail the flight, it's all cake from there (that's a lie). If I get one person reading this to go out into the world, I'll feel good about myself. 

I've made a list, checkin' it twice, and here are some of the tips for anyone going to rough it out in the world or who is currently out there.

I'll update this as I can.

-Cancel your cell phone service.

I haven't had cell phone service for about fourish months and it's the best feeling in the world. Now, don't get me wrong, the minute I find a decent wifi spot, I dip into my phone like I was snorting lines of cocaine. But everything in between is in the moment. Do we really need to be reachable 24-7? After traveling, I've realized, that no, no we don't. It's freeing to be able to be unreachable sometimes. You are with who you are with and no one else. It's personal and intimate and something I think we're losing.

That said, and because I ADORE contradicting myself, buy a cheap SIM card in each country, that way you have a way to call people and have it there for emergencies. You'll save a whole lot of money. And don't buy the Virgin ones off the airplane, they suck and they're massively more expensive then a vendor off the street (Asia) or in store (Africa).

-Expect to lose everything.

Don't bring anything terribly expensive with you, because, trust me, things are going to get lost or stolen or worn out sooner or later. I have either lost or have stolen everything I have brought with me, save for some of my clothes (I can't count how many times I left clothes drying after checking out of a hostel). That doesn't mean you shouldn't bring a nice camera or a fancy laptop, just know that it's very easy to lose something, leave it behind, drop it, etc., etc., etc.

Oh. And if I had to do it over again, I would have traveled with zero clothes and personal items. If you're heading to anywhere in Southeast Asia, just buy your clothes and personal items there.

-Bring cards. And Uno.

Cards are great and they help on long journeys or to burn time waiting for the bus or train to come. Uno is even better. While Uno gets boring after a round or two, it's a blast when you can teach it to the locals of the country you're in. Super easy to teach. Trust me on this one.

-Pack smart and bring the following:

-small baggies: essentially these are amazing for EVERYTHING from laundry detergent (be warned, however, you may be stopped by customs thinking it's drugs) to muesli.

-smart phone: (I wrote about this before and listed a whole bunch of apps that have been essential for travel) I would never travel without the phone or the apps.

-A watch: yeah, this goes with the lose everything, break everything thing. Your cellphone will crack or break or get lost. If it doesn't, you're not having enough fun. A watch is a good backup, preferably with an alarm function to wake you up to catch those 2am flights.

-Don't buy tickets too far in advance (this includes airline tickets).

Ok, granted, with some things, like Indian trains, it's way better to buy in advance (don't do what we did and just go. Or, screw it, do just that because it's an adventure!), but for the most part, don't buy tickets weeks and months in advance. I really think the best travel is that which is fluid and open for change. In that week until your flight, you might meet that pretty girl or find out about a festival get the point, a million different things could happen and completely change your mind and your plans. Yes, you pay a bit more when you do it this way, but trust me, you'll lose a lot more for cancellations (I've racked them up in South Africa and India and Thailand, ughhh).

-Don't use a guidebook. Use other people.

This is a rough one, and certainly not a tip for everyone. But if you let go of the guidebooks and just go to a place, you'll meet people and go on an adventure that is unplanned and not full of preconceptions. I am a firm believer that you should throw out Lonely Planet. Get off the websites. Go to a country without any preconceived idea what it will be like. Don't let anyone paint a picture of a country before you craft your own. That goes for this blog too. Realize this, its only through the eyes of a poor backpacker who attends way too many bars. It's all an opinion and don't let it change you.

-On that note, stay at backpacker hostels

I've met everyone from 16 to 80-years-old in hostels. The problem with hotels is the minute you go to your room, the world is shut off and you along with it. You can go hide out in hotel room anywhere in the room. Most hotels have classy lobbys but not "chill-out" areas made for people to meet and share stories.

-Keep a copy of everything online.

That includes passport, driver's license, credit cards. Everything. You never know when you'll need a copy. Also, if you have a computer, keep these scans as files on your computer in case you need to apply for a visa (on that note, password protect everything). Keep 10 small passport photos on you as well.

-Use a credit card that rewards points.

Might as well make some money back when you spend money. Enough said.

-Learn to love bars.

I'm, as you probably well know, a huge fan of bars and pubs and anywhere people gather, get some drinks, and hang out. I'm writing this in a bar right now as a matter of fact (and I'm well aware that it's only 11:15am). This is how you meet people. Sometimes, depending on the season, the hostel might be dead and you're the only person there. So, find the nearby bar and you'll meet new friends in no time. It's also a great place to practice the local language.

Always keep emergency fund money. For power outages, lack of ATMS, and a host of other reasons.

This one doesn't need an explanation. Or maybe it does. I have a belt I got from Amazon (what a brilliant idea) that holds a 100 USD in case something happens. A lot of these countries have a ton of power outages (South Africa had about one a day with their load shedding, for example) and you never know when you'll get to a working ATM. Keep it in your shoe, your backpack, wherever, just have it!

-Go to see local movies and local movie houses.

This is by far my favorite activity in every country. I just went to a movie the other night, in a fancy French art house in Tanger, Morocco and watched The Elephant Man. And I felt cool. Movies bring people together and it's a wonderful place to gather yourself when you feel lost.

-Bring a good backpack.

In the coming weeks, expect at least an entry or two about this. But in short, your backpack is your home. When you're living day-to-day and your entire life is contained within a single bag, you want to make sure you get the best. I've been using this Tortuga bag, and I'm in love with it. It's a crowd-sourced bag and designed by backpackers for backpackers.

-Always choose the option that will hold the most adventure and always, always, ALWAYS take the longest route to get somewhere.

I have A LOT more, but I'm out of time on this public computer and I'm way too broke to buy more time.

See you next time.