Monthly Archives: March 2009

21 Things you can do to experience traveling without leaving home

Posted by on March 18, 2009

Not everyone has the means or the time to go traveling around the world like I do. Nonetheless, there are still some things you can do get some of the experiences of traveling. The biggest part of traveling is being out of your element. Doing things which you are not comfortable doing or which are not a normal part of your culture or daily routine. These things are a poor substitute, but can still give you a feel for what it is like to travel in foreign countries.

  1. Go visit a tourist attraction in your town you’ve never been to.
  2. Hang out at a hotel or local tourist attraction and strike up a conversation with someone not from your country.
  3. Do not listen, watch, or read any news from your own country for a week. Only get your news from foreign sources.
  4. Find a chat room online with people from a different country and talk to them for several hours. Help them practice their English.
  5. Go to an Indian restaurant and eat an entire meal without utensils.
  6. Take photos of your city where you live.
  7. Go for an extremely long walk. At least 5 hours. Try to do this with a camera.
  8. Pack a small bag with clothes and toiletries and live out of that bag for a week.
  9. Go to a bookstore or newsstand and buy a foreign newspaper or magazine.
  10. Learn about 10 phrases in a language you have never heard before.
  11. Pick an area of the world you know nothing about and learn about all the countries there.
  12. Go to a bank or currency exchange booth and get some money from some countries you’ve never been to. Carry this around in your wallet for a month.
  13. Watch a Bollywood or Nollywood movie. (India/Nigeria)
  14. Over the course of a week, eat a meal from countries from 5 different continents. Every every meal with the exact same person or by yourself.
  15. Go visit a house of worship for a religion you’ve never been in before.
  16. Go a day without using toilet paper. (oh yes. I’m quite serious)
  17. Go to a Thai/Schezwan/Mexican restaurant and order something with maximum spiciness. Try it even if you can’t eat it all.
  18. Visit a grocery store which caters to ethnic groups other than your own. Buy some sort of packaged snack food that you’ve never seen before. Also look for fruit you’ve never eaten before.
  19. Find a restaurant that serves parts of animals you do not normally eat (haggis, blood sausage, etc) and order that dish.
  20. Learn the rules of a sport you know nothing about. American Football or Baseball if you are not from North America. Cricket or Rugby if you are. Australian Rules Football for almost everyone else. Learn the difference between Rugby League and Rugby Union, or between the Canadian and American Football.
  21. Buy a t-shirt or other souvenir with the name of the city where you live.
  22. Vote for Everything-Everywhere.com for the 2009 Lonely Planet Travel Blog Awards for Best Travelogue….had to have something a bit self serving :)

Out of Africa

Posted by on March 16, 2009

The last 60 hours have been interesting to say the least. To tell the story will take a bit of time and is a great reminder of how things on the road are totally out of your control.

The plan was to leave Luxor on Friday evening hoping to take a bus to Hurghada on the cost of the Red Sea. From here I was take a ferry for a 90 minute trip to Sharm El Sheik on the southernmost tip of the Sinai Pennisula and go up the coast to Dahab on Saturday. I’d make a day trip to St Catherine’s before heading to Jordan by ferry.

Things didn’t quite go according to schedule.

The bus ride from Luxor to Hurghada went smoothly enough for a six hour bus ride. I arrived in Hurghada at ten past midnight and where I was supposed to have a guy from a hotel where I had reserved a room waiting for me. There was no one there. I waited a full 30 minutes before walking across the street to another hotel and booking a room for the night. My bus was 10 minutes late, which in Egypt is right on time. If you can’t show up when you are supposed to, and I have no idea where your hotel is, then you lose my business.

The next morning I wake up, pack up all my stuff and get ready to make the trip to the ferry station. I was told that the boat leaved at noon, so I got there plenty early. I get to the ticket office only to find out that the ferry wasn’t running. It was in dry dock in Suez for repairs. I was going to have to go by bus.

If you look at a map, I basically had to go up the coast to Suez then back down the other side of the coast on the Sinai peninsula. The attraction of the ferry for a trip like this is pretty obvious. I flagged a cab which took me to the wrong bus station, and then got another cab which took me to the correct bus station. By this time it was 11:30am. The bus to Dahab wasn’t leaving until 11pm but there was a bus going to Suez at 1pm. I could go to Suez and then figure it out from there. I would at least be much closer even if I had to stay there overnight.

The bus was a real piece of shit. I’d like to put it in more gentile terms, but that is what it was. The seat cushions weren’t attached to the seats. There was just bare metal and a cushion on top. Everything was painted black. Every part of the bus was covered with dust and there was a big spare tire in the middle of the bus. The ride itself wasn’t too bad. Egypt around the Red Sea seems much cleaner and more developed the Egypt along the nile. The area around the north Red Sea contains what little oil industry Egypt has.

We pulled into Suez around 5:30pm. Up until then, I hadn’t see much in the way of industry in Egypt. It seemed Suez was a giant industrial park for the rest of the country. In addition to all the shipping going through the canal, there was evidence of factories, milling, and other signs of economic activity lacking in the rest of the country.

There was a bus leaving for Sharm El Sheik at 6:30pm. A German couple who was on my bus from Hurghada asked if I was interested in getting a private car to St. Catherine’s, the world oldest Christian monastery. It would cost more than the bus, but it would eliminate later bus rides from Sharm to Dahab and a day trip to St. Catherine’s. The bus would cost around 40 EGP and the car would cost about 100 EGP, but it would eliminate a night in Sharm, which would probably be expensive, and the future bus ride and day trips. I agreed.

The car we got was a minibus. This did no surprise me as this is how most of the private trips are arranged. As it was a minibus, there were also some other passengers that we were taking to drop off on the say to St. Catherine’s. This bothered the Germans. They expected to be the only passengers and to have a real car, not a van. I didn’t see what the big deal was. We were being taken to where we wanted to go for a price we agreed upon.

We drove under the Suez Canal and crossed from Africa to Asia. Probably the only place on earth you can cross continents underground. It was dark and I couldn’t see the canal or anything else, During the six hours we had to stop at eight police checkpoints and four times I had to produce my passport. I had no clue what they were looking for or what purpose they served, other than to make work for police.

We eventually pull into St. Catherine’s at about midnight, and the Germans inform me that they were not going to pay the driver the price they agreed upon. They (in reality the man in the group) were upset that the Egyptians only paid 50 pounds and we were paying 100. This seemed to him to be some great injustice. Also, he was also upset that he didn’t get to ride in a car. They argued with the driver for 30 minutes while I sat in the van freezing my ass off because it was midnight in March in the desert mountains.

I don’t know how things ended up, but I was embarrassed to have been associated with the German couple. We agreed upon 100 pounds and if he didn’t like the van or the other passengers he didn’t have to go. He knew all that when we started. Also, life isn’t fair. There is nothing in Egypt that tourists are going to pay the same price for as locals. That’s life. I didn’t get worked up over it because I wasn’t concerned so much about what other people were paying so much as what sort of value I was getting out of it. At 100 pounds it was a deal for me, even if someone else got to go for 50. If I hadn’t paid 100, the trip wouldn’t have happened.

The driver was a nice guy and took me to the guesthouse at St. Catherine’s. I was able to get a room for US$25 on the grounds of the monastery. I ended up paying the driver 120 just because I felt bad for what the Germans had done to him. (the poor guy must have felt like Poland). I finally got to go to bed.

I woke up and with all the activity of the night before forgot that I was in the mountains. I opened up the door of my room to see the sun hitting the mountain side right outside my door. It was a beautiful morning. I grabbed my camera and set out to take some photos of St. Catherine’s (a World Heritage Site) before I took the bus to Dahab. I walked around outside the walls of the monastery for a bit only to be denied entrance to the grounds of the monastery itself. In all the commotion I had forgotten it was Sunday. It was closed.

So far for those of you keeping score, we have a broken ferry, cheap ass Germans and a closed monastery. Now I had to decide what to do. I could stay another day and wait for the grounds to open on Monday, or I could just go to Dahab. I picked Dahab. Unfortunately, there was one bit of information I didn’t know. Dahab wasn’t the launching point for the ferry to Jordan. That was further north in Nuweiba. There were also no buses running so I ended up just taking another private car (this time the cost was totally on my shoulders) to go to the ferry terminal. I made the executive decision to cut my Egypt losses short and just go to Jordan today.

I get to Nuweiba and find out that the cost of a ticket for foreigners is US$75, which seemed really expensive. I arrived at 1pm and the boat was leaving at 3pm, so I paid the ticket (there was really no other way to get to Jordan) and set out to wait at the terminal. I met an Australian guy who was on my bus going to Abu Simbel and we chatted up. I also met some Canadians and Americans. Eventually it was time to get on the ferry. All the foreigners loaded on to a bus and went to the boat.

Just then we heard a siren and a convoy of Land Rovers and back Mercedes. Some government official, of which country I don’t know, wanted to take the ferry. The bus stopped and we waited for the official to get on the boat. As it turns out, not only was the loading delayed, the entire trip was canceled because the official wanted to take the whole ferry for himself and his entourage. WHAT. A. DICK.

Several hundred people including tourists from every major country on Earth were stranded so Senior Minister Abdul El Dickhead could travel without having to sit next to other people. That is a microcosm is what is wrong with Egypt. This wasn’t planned before hand. We were literally about to start boarding the ship when this guy showed up.

So back to the holding pen we go.

Eventually at 5:30pm, the boat has returned and we start the boarding process again. There was nothing about this entire process which made sense. We spent 90 minutes on the boat before we left. We (foreigners) had our passports checked 3 times on the boat, each time they looked for the exact same thing. They had a desk to get Jordanian stamps on the boat, which at first made sense, but they just took my passport and told me they would give it back when we arrived in Aqaba.

The passport process in Jordan was a mess. They tended to give preference to processing the tourists and less to processing the Egyptian men on the boat. They took our passports on the boat and then gave us a slip of paper to get our passports back later.

I am now in Aqaba where I am going to stay for two days to take care of some stuff. I have a box of stuff I want to mail out, a ton of emails to answer as well as some things to do on the website. The next week will take me to one of the new seven wonders of the world; Petra. I will also be going to Wadi Rum which is sort of exciting because Lawrence of Arabia is my favorite movie.

731 Days Later: My 2 Year Travelversary

Posted by on March 13, 2009

It was 2 years ago today, March 13, 2007, that I closed on my house, handed over the keys and began what I mark as the start of my adventure. While I didn’t technically leave the mainland United States till about a month afterward and still had many details to take care of, this date marks the point of no return and is the one I choose to commemorate.

Last night I was walking back to my hostel and I realized something. I was walking down a side street in a foreign land, exotic music playing (there was some sort of celebration going on), smells of grilled meat in the air, old men on the sidewalk smoking their shishas and drinking tea, and women walking about in their hijabs. This was exactly the sort of scene that people dream of being in when traveling. I really didn’t notice. It was just another day for me.

When I began my trip, I was like everyone else who dreamed of traveling. I read books and websites, I made lists, and I awaited for the day to arrived. I spent about six months with my house on the market before it sold. Eventually, everything came together. I found a buyer, found storage, rented a truck for all my crap, got rid of somethings and sold other things. The night before I closed on my house I didn’t sleep because I grossly underestimated the number of boxes I’d need for some things. I had to move the excess stuff to a nearby motel so I could be out in time. I was very tired.

Having previously moved all my stuff to a storage unit near my parents house in Wisconsin (I lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota) I drove to Wisconsin to stay with them for a few weeks while I took care of final business: getting shots, buying bags and clothes, and taking care of insurance. I really didn’t do any packing or actual preparation until I was out of my house. I did everything in about 2 weeks.

I get many questions from people about how to this or that when traveling. The answer to all questions is to just jump in and swim. When you are in a new place where you do not speak the language, you will be forced to figure things out. You really can’t plan for it. At first you might be apprehensive, but eventually you realize that you can get by and many of your worst fears will not pan out. The things you see on the news are not the reality on the street and no matter where you go, it is just full of people going about their lives just like anywhere else.

I am also often asked what I’ve learned while traveling. I’ve given this some thought. Here is what I’ve come up with:

  • I can remember almost everything from the last two years. I can usually pinpoint to within a day or two where I was or when something happened. There are entire events I can’t even peg to the correct year from before I left. Everything sort of blurs together when you do the same thing every day of your life. I’ve have moments where I’ll stare out in space just because I end up with a flood of memories which were spurred by something I just experienced. What I’ve written about on this site is only a fraction of what I’ve done and seen.
  • I’m pretty sure I can do anything. Not that I suffered from a lack of confidence or anything before I left, but when you spend two full years with nothing by your own wits and no one else to fall back on, I can’t say I’m too worried about the future.
  • I don’t worry about little things. I see many people on vacation who flip out over very simple things. Incorrect change, miss communication, etc. I don’t get worked up over things I have no control over. (the only exception is the delay in getting my new website up because my web designers decide to just cease communication with me for weeks at a time). I had to spend a week in Samoa once because I missed my flight to Tonga. Oh well.
  • What you see on TV is a lie. The news media likes to sell sensationalism. Boring doesn’t sell. Most of the world is boring. It is people going about the business of living. The result is that people are terrified of places they only know about from the bad news on TV. Murders and disasters in their backyard as dismissed, but the same things elsewhere are exaggerated. Even in war zones, if you do the math, the odds of anything happening to you would be well less than 1%.

So what does the future hold for me?

I am often asked how long I’ll be traveling for. The answer I’m giving is: forever. I have every intention of making this into a career. That doesn’t mean I’ll be on the road non-stop for the rest of my life, but do plan on keeping this site and what I’m doing going indefinitely. I’ve begun talking to several book publishers and have a fairly solid plan for what I’m going to be writing. I also will be opening up my photography for sales in the near future. I also hope to be doing speaking engagements once I get back to the US.

I will not be gone for two years stretches at a time anymore. I’m planning on taking 3-5 month trips to different countries and regions like China, India, Russia, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Those trips would be huge trips for most people, but having done this trip, I think I could do 3 months standing on my head. Doing shorter trips will allow me to focus more on taking photos and video and processing it all when I’m doing. Currently, I have to process everything on the road.

I’m also interested in timing my trips to coincide with certain events. I have been traveling without real thought to when I’ll be in a place. I’d like to go be in Rio for Carnival, I’d like to be in Spain for the running of the bulls.

I will also travel with someone else and do more video and podcasting. I’ve put this on hold until I can do it properly. I don’t see any point in doing something half-assed on a schedule I can’t keep. Expect a few podcasts to dribble out in Europe if I can find someone to help with the camera work. I have no idea who I’ll travel with. On Twitter I made a joke about doing something like the “Worlds Best Job” contest but make it the “Worlds Worst Job” because you’d have to travel with me :) Surprisingly, my joke got a lot of serious responses.

I’m also going to explore North America. The more of the world I see the more I realize that there are a lot of amazing things to see next door. I plan on taking a road trip out west sometime this summer and visit Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, both of which I’ve never been to. I’d also like to spend more than a day in Yellowstone, which is all I’ve been able to see of the park.

The final thing I want to do is to meet with more people while I’m on the road. As more and more people discover me and what I’m doing, the greater the number of people I can meet while traveling. I could have met up with many people in Japan or the Philippines if I had only known about them when I was there. A second trip to those countries would be a totally different experience now.

As for the next few months, I’m undecided as to what I’m going to do. My initial plan was to get back to the US sometime around March/April after going through Europe. Clearly that isn’t going to happen. I still want to spend 3-4months in the US before setting out again later in 2009. It will be a matter of how much of Europe I want to go through before I do that. I’m considering going to London directly from Rome and leave most of Europe for a future trip.

So that is my rambling annual State of the Trip report. I thank everyone for following along and for all the emails and messages I get everyday. I do appreciate it.