Hey everybody. Seeing as I am stuck working a day job for now, I've decided to start a weekend travel project. I am attempting to visit all 565 municipalities in the state of New Jersey. As of the time this blog post is published, I am 73 cities in.
Why am I doing this?
Well, I've lived in New Jersey nearly my entire life, and have barely seen any of it. Although I've traveled thousands of miles across the world, I have not really explored my own back yard. How can someone with a burning passion for travel, NOT take a look at his wonderful home state? The weekends are not long enough to travel long distances, so I will be traveling short distances. To be honest, I don't know what to expect, but that's okay. It's more fun that way.
Even though I don't own a car, I can get around most of New Jersey by public transit, walking, and the occasional Uber ride. This project is a chance to get outside more, stay in shape, and discover the hidden gems that the state has to offer.
If you'd like to check this project out, here is the link. Every time a county is completed, I will write a retrospective/analysis of it. Additionally, there is an ever-expanding photo gallery available to view. The link will be added to the "Resources" page of this site.
This will be a long haul, so hold tight.
I know I have written very few new blog posts in recent months. There will be more coming up, as soon as I can summon the willpower to write them. Also, I'll be going to Vermont in May, so stay tuned for that!
Here we go!
There's something unsurprisingly dissatisfying about completing an eight month trip overseas, and having to return to a day job. The road achingly calls out, reminding you of the good times you've had and the people you've met. You want more, but you can't have it. There is rent to pay, loans to pay, bills to pay: all of the fun stuff. The weeks fly by in a boring daze, over and over and over again. That's the funny thing about time, it passes by faster when you get into a groove, even a boring groove.
It had been nearly a year since I'd last traveled, and there seemed to be no escape from the daily drudge of routine. I needed out, even if only for a brief period of time. That's when I came up with a brilliant and rare idea: the American vacation.
With only five vacation days at my disposal, I wondered how the hell I was going to take a vacation of any significant length. The answer was simple: by padding it out with weekends, and choosing a relatively small country to visit.
I recently returned from an eight day vacation to Costa Rica, and let me tell you, it was the best decision I've made in a long while. While there was not enough time to extensively explore the country, I was able to get a nice flavor of the land, and had ample time to clear the senses.
The first word that comes to mind when talking about Costa Rica is "green." I mean, it is hands down the greenest country I have ever visited. Outside of the big cities, the country is just a giant mass of rippling rainforest, green mountains, and volcanoes. There are countless national parks and reserves to see, full of tropical birds, insects, animals, and gorgeous flora. Additionally, the country has miles upon miles of beautiful beach. It is one of the most eco-friendly places on Earth.
The trip started in Costa Rica's capital, San José, a fairly standard large city. While a long, sleepless flight had sapped much of my anticipation and energy away, one plate of casado (a traditional Costa Rican dish of rice, beans, plantains, meat, and salad) was enough to get me hooked. I immediately fell in love with the country, and delved into the eight day trip with a smile on my face.
Because of time restraints, I was only able to visit two other places in Costa Rica; however, they were both quite pleasant and relaxing areas.
Cahuita, a small city on the Caribbean coast of the country, was first. It is a calming swath of palm trees and clean beaches, free from the hustle and bustle of San José. The city contains a national park, full of photographically pleasing animals, insects, and trees. The park spans a huge length of beach, allowing people to dip their feet in the water whenever they feel like it. At night, Cahuita's small-town vibe shines through, as locals and tourists head out for delicious Caribbean dinner fare.
After a brief layover in San José, it was time to visit the second city, Santa Elena/Monteverde. Located on the opposite side of the country, it contains several so-called "cloud forest reserves," large stretches of preserved rainforest, full of the green life that inhabits much of Costa Rica. At first, there was some confusion whether we were in Santa Elena or Monteverde. I'm still not 100% certain the difference between the two, but something tells me they are the same place. Either way, hiking through the Santa Elena cloud reserve was a great wrap up activity. One more bus ride back to San José, and it was time to fly home.
There you have it, my brief excursion to Costa Rica. So long as I have to work a day job, I intend to take vacations whenever possible. Let's hope the next time comes sooner, rather than later!
Greetings from New Jersey.
After more than eight months of travel, I have finally returned to the United States. It’s been one hell of a ride. Instead of focusing on the actual events of my trip (though I will certainly write about it in the near future), I want to address the question: “How much did my trip cost?”
People ask me that question very often, so I figured I’d get out the calculator, and add together all my costs for my trip. This doesn’t just include the standard food, transport, accommodation, etc. categories that I’ve focused on in my previous retrospective posts. No, this includes everything: flights, visas, travel insurance, and a whole other slew of categories.
During my 254 days on the road, I visited 83 cities in 11 countries, took 10 international flights, rode dozens of buses and trains and stayed at dozens of guesthouses, and ate at hundreds of restaurants and street stalls. For all the fun that I had, I feel like I kept costs quite low. On my tight budget, I was able to go to many fine locations, and even managed to squeeze in a couple of moderately expensive countries (hello, the Maldives and Lebanon).
The countries I visited were: Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Singapore, India, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. You can check out my monthly spending breakdowns here, where I delve specifically into each country.
Without further ado, I introduce the breakdown of my total costs for 254 days of travel:
Accommodation - $1,568.88. Average of $6.18 per night. I think I did very well, though I was helped out a bit near the end of my trip. You see, I was able to stay with family and friends for free in Israel. Sticking mostly to dormitory rooms and cheap guesthouses, I was able to keep the prices at a minimum.
Food and Drink - $1,631.37. Average of $6.42 per day, and $2.14 per meal. Once more, it didn’t hurt that I was able to mostly eat for free in Israel. However, I’m still in shock that my food costs were actually higher than my accommodation costs. Street/restaurant food tended to be very cheap in the countries I visited.
Transport (within countries) - $777.76. This includes every bus, train, boat, and taxi ride I took during my travels. It does not include international flights, but I will get to that soon.
International Flights - $1,776.48. Airfare is a necessary evil of travel. Of course, if I had visited Central America instead, the cost for flights would have been much lower. However, I ended up flying very far away from my home country, thus driving up the cost of transport. I took ten flights during my trip. They include:
1. New York (USA) → Bangkok (Thailand)
2. Bangkok → Siem Reap (Cambodia)
3. Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) → Singapore
4. Singapore → Chennai (India)
5. Thiruvananthapuram (India) → Male (Maldives)
6. Male → Colombo (Sri Lanka)
7. Colombo → Madurai (India)
8. Delhi (India) → Beirut (Lebanon)
9. Beirut → Amman (Jordan)
10. Tel Aviv (Israel) → New York
Visas - $397.02. I attained paid visas for Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka, and Jordan. Unfortunately, a couple of mishaps contributed to me paying higher prices. First, I did my 60-day Thai visa through a travel agency, which ended up costing me $100 more than I should have paid. Also, I was ripped off at the Cambodia/Laos border, which you can read about here.
Travel Insurance - $286.70. This includes a standard emergency policy for nine months. Sure, I never had to use it, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Alcohol - $271.57. I must admit, I barely drank any alcohol during the second half of my trip. Perhaps I was all partied out from Southeast Asia, but I managed to keep my beer costs to the minimum.
Instruments - $308.56. This was by far the biggest waste of money I encountered during my trip. When my original guitar broke on the flight to Bangkok, I ended up purchasing a new one. I shipped it home soon after, because it was too much of a hassle to carry through India. In Chiang Mai, I also bought something called a “Seung,” which is a traditional Thai instrument. Of course, it was too difficult to bring with me on flights, so I actually abandoned it at a guesthouse. Sigh…I could have really used that extra 300 bucks.
Shipping - $72.43. This includes the costs of shipping my guitar to my family, as well as shipping various souvenirs back home to my friends.
Unused Currency - $6.49. I could not exchange back the small coins and notes from each country, so I kept them as souvenirs.
Miscellaneous - $783.87. I know I should have done a better job at breaking up this category into smaller categories. This includes every other cost, such as admission fees, ATM fees, laundry, film, toiletries, etc. Oh, and let's not forget that ring I bought in Thailand...
Total Costs - $7,881.13.
If I average it out by total days traveled, this comes out to $31.02 per day, including all costs. Sure, I could have spent more and I could have spent less. However, I am very pleased with how my budget turned out. I got nearly eight and a half months of travel in Asia for under $8000. It was worth every dollar, baht, riel, kip, rupee, rufiyaa, lira, dinar, and shekel.
This story actually happened a year ago, the first time I visited Israel. I happened to be on a Taglit/Birthright trip. For those of you who do not know, Taglit sponsors a free trip to Israel for anyone Jewish or of direct Jewish lineage, between the ages of 18-26. For all you travelers who may qualify for this trip, I’ll include a link at the bottom of this post.
Anyhow, back to my story.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a religious person. Although I grew up as a practicing Orthodox Jew, I ultimately ditched my beliefs, for personal reasons. So when I arrived to Israel, I felt none of the “spirituality” that my friends and teachers had told me I would feel. In fact, Israel felt quite similar to the United States: while it did have an undoubtedly Middle Eastern vibe, I found it to be extremely westernized and modern. Outside of a few religious areas, it was also a surprisingly godless place. For example, Tel Aviv is a well-known party city, loaded with nightclubs and alcohol fuelled debauchery.
One of Israel’s historical highlights is the Western Wall (also called the “Wailing Wall”), located in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Western Wall is one of the only remnants from the sacred Temple Mount, and is therefore the holiest of all Judaic sites. Jews from all over the world come to this wall to pray together; it is a sight to behold.
The wall itself wasn’t what made me cry. No, to me it was just another ancient wall. What set me off was the group of people praying to the wall. Let me explain.
It was quite a powerful experience, seeing so many people united under the same premise. Here I was, a tourist, watching hundreds of people bawling their eyes out in unanimous prayer. The sheer level of emotion being expelled was enough to get me emotional. In a world that is often divided and warring, it was powerful to see so much “togetherness.” It made me think about what we can accomplish as a species: how, if we only stop for a minute we can realize that we all want similar things out of life. Here were Jews of all different shapes and sizes, all different religious backgrounds, and different countries. Yet, for this short moment, they were all able to look past their differences and group together.
Another thing that really struck me is how the Wailing Wall manages to remain relatively untouched by tourist traps. Even though many tourists come to the wall, I still got a genuine sense that the people were there for honest, personal reasons. Unlike Cambodia’s Angkor Wat or India’s Taj Mahal, there are no children running around trying to sell you Wailing Wall key chains and jewelry. It is very easy to immerse yourself in the spirit of the site, without too many distractions.
The Wailing Wall is a site to behold, and I strongly recommend that anyone going to Israel takes a trip there. This godless writer saw the communal power of unanimity, hope, and prayer.
Click on the link to check out Taglit Birthright.
I recently left India, and headed to the Middle East, where I have spent most of the past month. The countries include: Lebanon, Jordan, and (for a couple of days) Israel. The currencies are: Lebanese Lira (also called Lebanese Pound), Jordanian Dinar, and Israeli New Shekel.
The Middle East is definitely the most expensive region I have traveled in so far. However, with some careful budgeting, I was able to have an enjoyable experience for very little. Israel is by far the most expensive of the three; however, I will be staying with friends and family, thus negating most of the accommodation and food costs. Lebanon comes next, because of its pricey accommodation. Jordan is definitely the least costly of the three; however, it has especially expensive entry fees. More on that later.
Without further ado, here is a breakdown of my spending habits, for the eighth month of my travels.
Accommodation - $242.22. Average of $8.07 per day. Lebanon really drove the costs up for this category, because the cheapest dorm I could find was around $16 per night. Jordan's hostels are significantly cheaper.
Food and Drink - $190.12. Average of $6.34 per day, or $2.11 per meal. With the exception of Israel, food was pretty inexpensive, especially in Jordan.
Alcohol - $32.87. Most of this came from Lebanon, especially the New Year's Party I attended.
Transport - $110.07. Lebanon actually had the cheapest public transport out of the three countries. A five hour bus ride in Israel, however, cost around $20.
Miscellaneous - $70.32. Includes things such as toiletries, laundry, ATM fees, souvenirs, etc. By rights, I should have paid another $70 for entry to Petra in Jordan. However, I was given a partially unused ticket by a French traveler, and ended up getting in for free. Sometimes you get lucky.
Total amount spent - $645.60. Average of $21.52 per day. I surprised myself by how little I spent, especially because the Middle East feels more expensive than other regions I have been to. However, my free Petra ticket certainly played a part in this, as well as my careful budgeting and spending.
My stay in Jordan was short-lived, albeit wonderful. I spent the first two days in Amman, the capital city. The food and atmosphere were nice; Jordan definitely felt more traditionally “Middle Eastern” than other places I have been to. Although it is a modern country, lots of people wear traditional garb, and pretty much everybody speaks Arabic as a first language.
From Amman, I headed down to Wadi Musa, a tourist trap of a city. It is full of overpriced shops and touts, whose main focus is selling tours to Petra. For those who don’t know, Petra is the centerpiece of Jordanian tourism. It is a magnificent old city, carved out of mountain stone. The archaeological park it’s housed in is huge, and at least one full day is needed to do justice to this amazing site. At $70 for a one-day pass, it’s expensive to enter. However, I was given some partially unused tickets by a French couple I met in Amman, so I entered the park for free.
My feet were worn out and sore from several hours of hiking through Petra, so I made the decision to cross the border to Israel the next day. Since I have friends and family living in Israel, I figured it would be relaxing to hang out with them. Therefore, I headed to the Jordanian city of Aqaba, where I would cross over to the Israeli city of Eilat.
The first thing that went wrong was that the taxi driver who brought me to the border, tried to rip me off. Although we had agreed for him to turn the meter on, he still insisted I pay him 11 Jordanian Dinar ($15.50) upon arrival. Seeing as the meter came out to less than 3 Dinar ($4.25), I absolutely refused to meet his demand. After a minor verbal scuffle, I paid him 3 Dinar, stormed out of the cab, and walked toward the border.
It was surreal, being between two countries; I had very little idea of what to expect. Jordan quickly gave me an exit stamp, and pointed toward the Israeli side of the border. I held my breath, and slowly began the walk to Israel. I could see blue and white flags off in the distance, and wondered how long it would take to be admitted into the country. Since there was a Lebanese stamp in my passport (Lebanon and Israel don’t get along very well), I figured they might question me for a bit. I was prepared.
A guard was waiting for me in front of the Israeli crossing. She took my passport, asked me my purpose for traveling, and ushered me inside. They took my bag, ran it through a scanner, and then proceeded to question me. “Who are you visiting in Israel? Is this your first time here? What other countries have you been to?”
I calmly answered each of the interrogator’s questions, and when it came to the query about the other countries, I began listing: “Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Singapore, India, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, and Jordan.”
When I got to the word “Lebanon,” I noticed an immediate change in the interrogator’s attitude. She sharply asked me what I was doing in Lebanon, if I knew anybody in Lebanon, if anybody had given me anything to bring across the border. Once again, I calmly gave my responses, and seemed to appease her curiosity.
She then proceeded to do a detailed search of my backpack. She flipped through my clothes, journals, and everything else in sight. Of course, they found nothing incriminating, and gave me my passport and an exit card to bring to the stamping booth. “Cool,” I thought. “That wasn't so bad.”
When I handed my passport to the employee in the stamping booth, she immediately asked me why I had been to Lebanon. I answered her questions, and was then told “I need to check your passport in the back for a while.”
“Oh great,” I thought.
A second interrogator was brought in. He took me into a little room, and began asking me the same questions as I’d been asked before. Once again, I answered everything in an honest and calm fashion. He asked me to write down the name and phone number of my mom, and told me to wait outside.
It happens to be, my mom lives in Israel and is an Israeli citizen, so I was ecstatic. I figured he would just call her to confirm my identity, and then send me on my way. No such luck. I waited in the same chair for over two hours, during which nobody told me what was going on. The only thing that happened during those two hours, was that a K-9 drug sniffing dog was brought by to give me a friendly whiff. The dog found nothing, but that didn't stop them from making me wait another hour and a half.
Without any more updates or questions, they finally gave me my passport back. This time, it had an Israeli entry stamp on it. The whole process took around three-and-a-half hours.
I later messaged my mom to ask whether she had also been extensively questioned. They hadn't even called her.
I’m nearing the end of my wonderful stay in Lebanon. The country has been great. The food is nice, people are nice, and sights are nice. I’ve been asked multiple times about whether the country is safe or not, and I can guarantee that it is. I’ve felt safer in Beirut that almost any other big city I’ve been to. Everything has been fine and dandy here. That is, except for the time that I literally got electrocuted.
It was a night like all other nights. I was sitting in the hostel common area, reading some emails. A group of people asked me if I’d like to join them for dinner, and having been holed up inside all day, I happily said yes. We walked outside, laughing and talking as we went. I forget exactly what the topic of conversation was, but I remember passionately blabbing about something. Well, the streets of Beirut happened to be poorly lit, and suddenly, I bumped head first into something shocking. An exposed, hanging power line.
You know that feeling when you stub your toe, and time stops for several moments? That’s kind of what happened to me. My brain didn’t even register what was going on for a few seconds. I jumped away from the dangling cable, which had been touching my forehead for what seemed like an eternity. “Hey guys!” I said. “Help, I was just electrocuted.”
It must have been the direct current, because I didn’t feel any pain. Nor was I knocked unconscious. Nor was there any spark or any traditional “shock.” It was more of a super-alert kind of feeling, where I lost some control over my muscles and (it seems) my nerves. It became difficult for me to speak and think, things that I usually do too much of. I could literally feel the electricity pulsing through my body, and it did not make me happy.
Unfortunately, I am predisposed to having panic attacks. So the fact that I had just been zapped by a power cable, registered in the most horrendous way possible. I could rapidly feel my body and mind racing, and ended up having a full-blown panic attack. The first thing that jumped to mind was “out of all the ways I could have chosen to die, this is by far the lamest.” My friends tried to calm me down, but to no avail. After roughly fifteen minutes of being asked how I was feeling and cajoling me to sit down, I told them I was going to the hospital. “Go eat dinner without me; I’ll call a cab,” I insisted. I apologized profusely, and hurried to find a taxi.
Shaking, hyperventilating, and convinced that I was going to die, I hopped into the taxi and was on my way. I think the driver could tell something was wrong; he ended up not charging me for bringing me to the emergency room.
When I entered the emergency waiting room, the best possible thing happened. The man working the desk refused to let me in unless I paid first. At that time, I didn't even have money on my debit card. Thank goodness. You know why? It made me sit down and think about why I was there.
I realized that I had completely jumped the gun, and had assumed the worst about my situation. I sat in the waiting room, took a number of deep breaths, and decided to walk home. I collapsed into bed, exhausted from the mental exercise I had just gone through.
None of this stopped me from anxiously researching the effects of electrocution over the next couple of days. I had a number of small panic attacks, where I contemplated what sorts of horrible muscle and nerve damage I could have been exposed to. You know what, though? It’s several days later, and I feel totally fine. My panicking mind absolutely warped my sense of reason, and brought me to the most horrendous conclusions.
That’s my story of getting electrocuted in Lebanon. Tomorrow, I fly to Jordan. You can bet my eyes will be peeled for those loose street cables!
Lebanon (duh) has been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 63!
It was December 31st, and I took an early-morning tuk-tuk ride to the Delhi airport. I was flying to Lebanon, and had resigned my fate to a full day of travel, one which involved a six-hour layover in Dubai.
Thankfully, the flight from Delhi to Dubai was delayed by nearly two hours. On the surface, this may sound like a bad thing. However, it was a blessing in disguise. Instead of six hours, my waiting time was reduced to a measly four. So when I boarded the layover to Beirut, I wasn’t nearly as frustrated from waiting as I would have been. For those of you who have had to wait for a layover, you’ll know that it’s usually duller than a roll of aluminum foil.
I arrived in Beirut a few hours before midnight. Since I had been in transit mode for about 12 hours, I was hoping to catch a quick rest, and then see what the people in my hostel had planned for the New Year’s. Perhaps they would go out on the town. Nope. There was already a dance party going on in the hostel. People were rapidly arriving to celebrate, causing to crowd to get bigger and bigger. Half the room was dancing, and somebody was serving drinks from behind a counter. Within an hour, I was tipsy and mingling with fellow travelers. That’s it; there was no forewarning, just a full-blast New Year’s party. I had expected a few festivities, but nothing on this scale.
The room was soon full, and when it was five minutes to twelve, everyone hurried up to the rooftop to bring in the New Year. While we counted, dozens of fireworks went off all around town. Through the BANG!s and POP!s and SNAP!s I could hear people murmuring that they heard gunshots going off. It was a crazy cacophony of sound. Some people on our rooftop lit up their own fireworks, causing a deafening and colorful scene before me. For about ten minutes straight, all you could hear were explosions.
Once New Year’s was beckoned in, everyone headed downstairs to continue dancing. I swear I’ve never seen such synchronized, sensual, passionate dancing outside of a music video. I’m not much of a party animal myself, but I was entertained by just watching the action take place. It was at the same time one of the most jaw-dropping and enthralling things I have experienced. The unbridled joy and intensity was mind-blowing, and it caused the room to take on a life of its own. The Lebanese have amazing style, and pretty much anybody could have passed for a professional dancer.
Unexpectedly, I went from the chaotic (and often exhausting) country of India to a fun-loving, zealous environment. Obviously, I cannot judge an entire country based on a New Year’s party; the next week and a half will truly shape my opinion of the Lebanon. However, I could not have come in at a better time. For a country that has the Syrian Civil War knocking at its doorstep, I was shocked by how ready and willing people were to have such a good time. Whether it is resilience or a simple “I don’t really care” mentality, it is unmatched by anything I have ever seen before. I will be glad to continue exploring Beirut during the upcoming days.
Photo Credit: rabiem22, https://www.flickr.com/photos/rabiem/9229231222/. All rights reserved.
If you read the title of this post in your best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice (and I certainly did), then mission accomplished!
I finished strong in India, by visiting the Taj Mahal. I had heard so many mixed opinions about the Taj Mahal and Agra (the city where it’s located), that I had considered skipping the cherished mausoleum. Logic ultimately prevailed, and I booked a hostel in Agra. It was an interesting day, one that was at times both overwhelming and underwhelming. In the late morning, some fellow travelers and I headed to the Taj’s southern gate, and after pushing through hordes of touts and shop-owners, we were finally admitted into the site. The palace was far more spectacular than I had imagined it would be. I couldn’t tell you anything about its history, but just seeing the massive, white-marble structure was enough to make my jaw drop. However, I found that the building became boring after about an hour or so, and was far more enjoyable on the outside, than it was on the inside. I was also a little bit bothered (but not much) that foreigners were charged 750 rupees for entry (roughly $11.75), while Indian citizens only paid 20 rupees (30 cents). 750 rupees may not seem like much on the surface, but it can go quite a long way in India.
After the Taj Mahal, we walked through Agra, eating street food and visiting random neighborhoods. Our walk took a turn into a small slum, where we were greeted by dozens of children shouting “hello!” to us. It was a very inviting and friendly place, especially compared to the tout-heavy area we had just come from. Later that day, I took a bus to Delhi, the capital of India. Here I am in Delhi, sitting in a dirty hotel room, waiting out my last few days in India. It feels surreal that my three-month trip in South Asia is coming to a close in just a few short hours. Very soon, I’ll be on a plane to the Middle East, far away from the sights, sounds, and smells of India.
It’s really been a wild ride. When I finished the Southeast Asian leg of my journey, I figured that a few months in India would just give me another country to explore. I think I under-estimated how intense my experience would be. The few months felt like years. Time never flew by in India; every day felt like a week, because I was constantly bombarded with new things. Whether good or bad, I saw sights I never thought I’d see, tasted foods I never thought I would taste, heard sounds…well, you get the picture! On every sensory level, India was the craziest place I have been to. The trip was life-changing in many respects, as I was able to see a way of life that is virtually non-existent in my home country. I highly recommend everybody come here, simply because it will make you rethink many things. What you think about depends on you; however, you will not leave without having learned something new about the world.
I can also tell you this, though: it won’t be long before I return.
Why will I be returning to India, a country that I’ve already spent so much time in? There are multiple reasons.
For me, India is located in a very ideal part of the globe. It is not too far from Southeast Asia, a region that I desperately want to return too. Additionally, it borders several countries that I would like to visit in the near future, for example: Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan. It is the perfect Asian “middle zone;” it’s a very cheap place to hang out for a little while, before heading to nearby country. India is also very big, and I was certainly not able to cover as much of it as I would have liked to. Many regions, such as Kashmir, the Himalayas, and (frankly) the entire eastern half of the country have not yet been seen by yours truly. Finally, India is still a developing country. Therefore, it will be nice to come back intermittently just to see how much it has “developed.”
So, I’m going to new horizons. Next time you hear from me, I’ll probably have just celebrated New Year’s in Lebanon.
Hasta la vista, India!
Photo Credit: Lisa Berkman
Traveling allows you to see truths about the world and humanity that were impossible to see before. A number of these truths are pleasing to behold: beautiful landscapes, diverse cultures, and delicious food. However, many of those truths are incredibly unpleasant; once you see them, you will never forget them. I’m talking about the dark side of humanity, the side of rampant poverty and corruption, as well as the animalistic drive to survive. As the most recent portion of my trip has been in India, I’ll be focusing primarily on that country. However, many things I am about to say are prevalent throughout much of the world.
The truth is, there are more desperate people in the world than I ever could have imagined. These are people who know nothing about the kind of life I live in the USA. All they see is a guy who goes to an ATM and pulls out their entire year’s salary in one go. They look at me and make assumptions about my privilege, level of wealth, and social status. To be fair, they are mostly right. I am privileged because the color of my skin. I am (inside an impoverished country) a wealthy person. Some of these people have absolutely nothing. Money is so scarce, that it starts to become the only goal in people’s lives. Let me share a very disturbing conversation that happened to me recently:
I was sitting on a rooftop restaurant with a group of fellow travelers, and our waiter began talking to us. I’ll paraphrase. In the creepiest way possible, he said “I didn't have any friends until I started making money. Now I am earning a wage and finally I have friends.”
He said this quite seriously, and it bothered me for many reasons:
1) The fact that the only way this man could make friends was by having money.
2) Anyone who befriends you just because of your money isn't a real friend.
3) Quite possibly, this is a common mentality to have, where it isn't worth being friends with someone unless they can benefit you financially. There is so much poverty, that people have to frequently resort to using others for survival. I know it happens in the USA as well, but the way this man described it sounded disturbingly parasitic.
4) There were five of us trying to enjoy a meal, and what the guy said totally dampened the mood. As privileged travelers, we could not truly relate to what the man was saying. I noticed the vibe in the room go dark all of a sudden.
5) The man stood creepily by and watched us for a good portion of our dinner.
You may think, ah whatever. Isolated incident, right?
Nope, I run into people like this on a daily basis. Men will just come over to me and ask incredibly personal questions about my financial, personal, and romantic life. The whole while, they leer at me as if they expect me to tell them I’m a billionaire playboy who throws cocktail parties every weekend. Benevolent tourists have created an expectation (at least among uneducated people) that everybody from the West is Jay Gatsby. I might as well wear a tuxedo and throw $100 bills from my hotel window. Also, too many of my fellow female travelers have been harassed while walking about. They have been groped at, stared at, and even been crudely asked for sex by passers-by.
How can I go back home and ever look at my life the same way? I've seen some really sad things: things that cannot be changed without a complete overhaul of the system.
Sure, you’d think the government could do something. No. Many governments are corrupt. It is very common for police officers and government officials to take bribes. Heck, if you have money, you can probably get away with anything. I've met several travelers in Southeast Asia and India who have had encounters with police. Not one of them ended in a conviction or acquittal; they all ended with the foreigner paying a few dollars in bribe money. I’m not saying that every single police officer and government worker is corrupt, but it is a serious problem. If you’re interested, there is a site called ipaidabribe.com, where you can get a taste of the problem’s extent.
Now, all of this stuff I said may sound negative, but I’m about to throw a positive spin around it. The above spiel is one of the reasons why you should travel. Sure, go for the beaches. Go for the food. Go for the fun. But most of all go to expand your horizons. You should see the good and the bad stuff, because it will help you understand the world in a richer, fuller way. The more you can see the big picture, the less things seem “weird” or “difficult.” You can learn to appreciate what you have, on an even deeper level.
I've always been a pretty avid thinker, but I have seen things while traveling that have entirely changed the way that I think about the world. There are things that have to be experienced to be understood. To be totally honest, I can’t find the words to put everything in writing. Some things cannot be summed up into a few words. However, by exposing ourselves to the realities of life, we can face the world head-on with an open mind. If you are already somebody who thinks outside the box, consider travel to be the next logical step in your development.
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write music and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.