Today I hit a milestone. I met someone from Iceland, meaning I've come in direct contact with people from 50 different countries! You can check out the flag of Iceland and the other 49 nationalities on the "Nationalities I've Met" page. Just hover the cursor over a flag to see the country name, and click on it to enlarge.
When I left home just over three months ago, I knew I'd be meeting travelers from across the globe. However, I never dreamed I'd meet such a diverse group of people in such a short period of time!
Travel is about more than just the experiences you have. It's also a way of expanding your mind-view, and challenging your perception of foreign people. Being on the road has made me realize just how xenophobic and stereotype-promoting people can be back in the United States. I've learned that while some people do propagate their country's stereotypes (I've certainly been that stereotypical American on a few occasions!), most do not not. The overwhelming majority of people I've met have been warm and friendly, and accepting of their fellow beings. It does not matter whether you're from France, Iraq, Australia, Senegal, Chile, or Canada (note how I cleverly included someone from every continent but Antarctica). Each person has something interesting to offer, and most will welcome you with open arms.
Here's to 50 more countries!
During my long ride to Vietnam I listened to the entire discography of Talking Heads. It sucked. Not the Talking Heads albums: those were amazing. The bus ride sucked.
They cramped six of us into a crawl space big enough for three. That's where we slept. I had to share a blanket with a Vietnamese man, which would have been fine, except that the air conditioning was kept on full blast. I never understand why tourist buses are so damn cold; I mean, it's like they are trying to prove that they have air conditioning.
At about 2 in the morning, the bus stopped so we could eat. The meal was watery rice soup - not too terrible, actually. However, I was kind of upset that they charged us $4 for it. In Thailand, the rest stops usually served a free (and deservedly mediocre) meal.
The next morning we had to sit by the border for four hours to wait for it to open. Another couple hours later, we acquired departure and arrival stamps, then were back on the bus. The rest of the journey was uneventful, and at 9 P.M. the bus finally arrived in Vinh. I found accommodation for the night, and the next day, took a bus to Hanoi, the capital city.
I wish I could say the trip to Hanoi was all smooth sailing, but that would be a lie. It took twice as long to get there than I'd expected, but ok, no biggie. The crazy part happened during the taxi drive into the city center. After ripping me off (the 20-minute taxi ride cost the same as my 8 hour bus journey to Hanoi), the driver stopped by an ATM so I could withdraw some money to pay him. Well, just as luck may have it, my debit card wasn't working. Three ATMs later, the driver was starting to get pissed off, and I was more than a little bit nervous. So I ran to a local hotel, used their Wi-fi to call my bank via Skype (I don't have a working phone), and had the issue resolved in ten minutes. I paid the driver, slammed the door shut, and he was on his way. Here I am, writing this late-night blog post from a random hotel in Hanoi (or maybe near Hanoi, who knows?), instead of the "Old City" area where I had intended to go.
Misfortune aside, how is Vietnam? The first word I'd use to describe the country is "LOUD!" Maybe it's just because I came here from a nice, quiet country (Laos), but it sure is noisy here. It's a heavily populated country, so there is no shortage of honking horns, shouting, and rumbling traffic. Like Thailand, there is an incessant barrage of taxi drivers trying to get your attention.
I have yet to visit a Southeast Asian country with bad food, Vietnam being no exception. My first two meals here consisted of the ever omnipresent "Pho" (noodle soup). It comes in "Bo" (beef) and "Ga" (chicken) varieties. It's the national dish of the country, and is available practically everywhere. It's also super cheap and delicious.
Over the upcoming week I plan on exploring Hanoi, and visiting Halong Bay. The Bay is one of Vietnam's premier tourist attractions; we shall see if it lives up to its fame.
Singapore has been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 49!
I loved Laos! The country was quite friendly and welcoming, with an abundance of charm. Unlike the fairly messy Cambodia, Laos surprised me with its orderliness and ease of travel. It really seems like Laos has its shit together, perhaps due to its manageable level of tourists (other Southeast Asian countries get swamped). It has this great laid-back feel to it, and wonderful cities with distinct personalities. While Don Det (probably my favorite place this entire trip!) is still undergoing development, the capital city of Vientiane is surprisingly clean and modern. Just as clean, but even more charming, Luang Prabang seems like a wonderful place to live in! Even Vang Vieng, which is notorious for its tubing and partying, is a beautiful city with its own merits. I did not dislike a single place in Laos, and would gladly return to explore more of the country. I also met many wonderful travelers, who helped make my three weeks fly by.
Tomorrow I take a 20-hour bus to Vinh, Vietnam. I have zero idea what Vinh is, or whether I will stay there for a bit before heading to Hanoi. Vietnam should be exciting, and will probably be a shock to my system after the carefree, laid back vibes of Laos.
It’s these long bus rides that make me truly think about life: why I’m going, where I’m headed, and what to do next. Sneak peek, I’ve bought plane tickets to both Singapore and India. India is a pretty big country, so I hope to allocate at least a couple of months to it, and maybe even pop into some of the neighboring countries.
Some days I wonder where I am headed in life, and whether I am traveling for naught. Then I change cities and my entire perception changes. There is no way to figure out what will happen over the course of a journey; you just have to let go and see what happens. Some days I feel lonely and alienated, but the next day I make new friends. As a guitar player, I sometimes face months without any inspiration, but you know what? Creativity always strikes, sooner or later. It’s best not to fret so much over things that are going wrong. Rather, I’ve been trying to get excited about all the good things lying in the future!
I don’t know how long I’ll be traveling for. I don’t know where I’m going to after India. I don’t know what I’ll do when my money runs out. I don’t know what I’ll do when I return home. But none of that matters, because right now I’m living a lifestyle that makes me happy. Every day, I learn more about myself, my capabilities and my dreams. I’m learning that it’s so much easier to focus on one task at a time: easier to let my thoughts out on this blog post, than to let them eat me alive.
Tomorrow, I go to Vietnam. It’s going to be one hell of a 20 hour ride.
Iraq and Portugal have been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 48!
We have been trained to believe that "comfort" refers to hot showers, gourmet meals, and air conditioning. People are generally perceived to be "living easy" with such amenities, and are to be envied by the less fortunate. Well, I'll tell you right now: my perception of comfortability has been changed drastically by travel. In fact, it still changes on a daily basis.
The problem with equating luxury to "comfort," is that it breeds disappointment. Hot shower not working? Big problem. Bad food? Yell at the waiter. No air conditioning? Won't stay at such a place. We begin taking things for granted, then act like children when we don't get our way.
In my opinion, true comfort is being happy in any given situation. Sure, the first time I took a cold shower was a real downer, because I had never done it before ! However, three months later, I don't bat an eyelash about it! The same goes for filthy dorm rooms and less-than-pleasant bus rides. I simply learned to live under a different set of circumstances, and that's a beautiful thing. It makes me more rugged and open-minded, and less likely to be bothered by petty inconveniences. You can bet that when I return to Western civilization, no one will hear me complain about the shower "not working properly."
It's important to step outside your comfort zone, because comfort is relative. When you expand that "zone," you effectively reduce the number of things that you'd consider "uncomfortable." Travel (especially the budget kind) is the perfect way to challenge yourself, because it forces you to throw your preconceived notions of "comfort" out the window.
So strap a bag across your shoulders, hop on a plane, and experience the greatest comfort known to mankind!
One of my new lifetime goals is to someday visit every country in the world. I've collected many things before: comic books, music, films, etc. However, countries are a whole new ball game. What defines having "been" to a country? After all, I don't want to go into various countries just to say that I've been there. It's more than just the passport stamps; I want to fully experience each new place. Sure, in the end it's all petty names and numbers; however, I find it to be part of the joy of travel.
Each person has his or her own criteria for what "counts" as having been in a country. Some simply need to step foot on foreign soil; others feel that they ought to travel around for a bit. I'll tell you that personally, I won't consider myself having been in a country, unless I stay at least a week or two. When I was thirteen, I visited Canada for a couple of hours. I also stopped over in Norway on my flight to Thailand. But if someone asks me if I've ever been to Canada or Norway, my answer is no. I feel as if I need to be in the place long enough to acquire a moderately good understanding of my surroundings. For most places two weeks is my minimum.
There are, however, exceptions. A few very small countries exist, where two weeks would be overkill. For example, after Vietnam I plan on visiting Singapore for a week. For those of you who don't know, the entirety of Singapore is smaller than New York City! There are even smaller countries you can easily walk across (Monaco, Nauru, etc), where a day or two may be plenty. On the other side of the spectrum, huge countries such as Russia, China, Canada, and the United States exist. I think I'd have to give each of those countries at least six months apiece. Heck, when I go to India I'll be spending a minimum of two months there.
Then there's the question of what is considered a country. It's all a big political game: everyone has a different list of what they consider countries. Generally, I use the UN's list, but only to keep things easy for myself. Just because a place is not on the list, does not mean I don't want to visit it. Although, Taiwan, Kosovo, and Somaliland (among many others) have limited to no UN recognition, I'll probably still explore them someday. And even though the United Kingdom is technically one country, I'll definitely visit all four areas (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) when I go. Then there's the question of government owned territories, such as Puerto Rico and Greenland. Sure, they're technically parts of the United States and Denmark. However, they are definitely "different" enough from their respective countries, to warrant individual visits.
If you compiled a list of all the different areas that anyone considers a country, you'd probably have between 300-400 places to go. The United Nations currently recognizes 193 countries, so that is a fairly easy starting point. When I have visited all 193 countries, then I'll start focusing on the other 200 or so. Hefty goal, right? That's why I'm starting with as small of a number as possible. As it stands, I'd have to visit an average of 3-4 countries per year for the next 50 years! However, I'm not doing too badly. By the time this trip ends, I'll have already visited
8-10 countries from the list! At that rate, it would only take 20 years to see every country ;)
Really, most of this article has been me having fun speculating and musing. I don't want to give you the impression that I'm traveling the world just to "collect" countries. The true joy of travel comes from the journey: both outward and inward. It's more about seeing places that interest me than it is about ticking off check-boxes.
But I really, really want to visit every country in the world!
Belarus has been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 46!
My third month was spent in two countries: Cambodia and Laos. The Lao currency is called "Kip," and the rate is about 8,000 kip per dollar. This was by FAR my cheapest month yet. This is due to the relatively cheap costs of traveling in Cambodia, as well as the fact that I'm getting better at budgeting as time goes on. This breakdown spans the dates 07/21/14 thru 08/19/14.
Here we go! Month the third:
Accommodation - $70.36. Average of $2.35 per day. Ok, this number is skewed, as I haven't yet paid for my current stay in Vientiane. However, Cambodia and Laos have been ridiculously cheap "accommodation-wise." In most places, I was able to find dorms for $2 per night.
Food - $173.82. Average of $5.79 per day, or $1.93 per meal. Cambodia was cheapest; in Siem Reap I could easily eat a meal for $1. Laos is a bit more expensive, with meals ranging between $2-4 each.
Alcohol - $37.72. Average of $1.26 per day. Thanks to 50 cent beers in Cambodia, I spent about half of what I did last month!
Transport - $106.70. Transport in Cambodia and Laos isn't as cheap as I expected it to be. However, it's an essential cost that cannot be avoided.
Water - $27.80. Average of 93 cents per day. For some reason, bottled water has been slightly more expensive here than it was it Thailand. Probably has to do with the fact that there are no 7-Elevens.
Toiletries - $3.71. A nominal fee.
Miscellaneous - $111.47. Includes things such as the $40 entry to Angkor Wat, kayaking, bowling, laundry, ATM fees, etc.
Total amount spent - $531.57. Average of $17.72 per day. Even including expenses such as entry to Angkor Wat, I spent over $100 less than I did last month! Cambodia and Laos have been cheaper than Thailand, and I was therefore able to reduce my daily average by over $4 per day!
Thank you once more to the creators of Trail Wallet. A true convenience for a budgeting backpacker!
Next month I'll be using the Vietnamese Dong. Get excited!
Brazil and Latvia have been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 45!
Before I begin, I'd also like to drop some big news. As you may or may not know, my Kickstarter has been a smashing success. In eleven days, the project will be over, and this website's name will be changed to...The Traveling Tramp. Currently, the site address remains luckybuddha.weebly.com - however, in about two weeks' time, the URL will be changed to travelingtramp.com
It's my great pleasure to announce this overhaul, which will include (but not limited to) a brand new site logo. Thank you guys! Oh, and check out the Kickstarter link if you so choose :)
I took a VIP sleeper bus to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Although I left Don Det, my love affair with the island is far from over. I will return to that beautiful place someday; mark my words in digital ink.
I must admit, nothing about the prospect of visiting Vientiane excited me. I only came here to get a Vietnamese visa, as Vietnam requires a visa in advance (the only Southeast Asian country with that distinction). That said, I kind of dig the city. It's by far the quietest and least hectic capital city I've been to, a nice change from bustling Bangkok and Phnom Penh (God, I hate that place).
This morning I walked around for a good half hour or so, trying to find the local gym. Being Sunday, it ended up being closed. Oh well. At least my guesthouse is pretty cool. The owner allows people to graffiti the walls. The only catch: he must pre-approve the artist, by first seeing some sample artwork. This brings a major upside; every wall painting is gorgeous! I've been to many hippie hostels with graffitied walls. However, this one has the most consistent high quality work I've seen!
Anyhow, my 90-day travel mark is coming on fast. Get ready for another monthly spending breakdown! (Hint: I spent even less than the month before)
Chile has been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 43!
My excitement about leaving the United States was not unmet with trepidation. After all, I was leaving a highly developed country, in pursuit of what I thought were “less developed” ones. I guess I assumed that “less developed” meant I would not have internet everywhere. It also meant there would be less food-hygiene, dirtier living conditions, and less-than pristine roads. Sure, those expectations were all met; however, I found that the line between “developed” and “undeveloped” is actually a lot more subtle than one would expect. One is not necessarily superior to the other, even if it seems so on the surface.
First, the bad. In my experience, “underdeveloped countries” do have lower standards of hygiene, dirtier living conditions, and crappier roads. One does not always have access to Western comforts such as internet, phone service, and electricity. For example, finding reliable internet on Don Det has been a struggle, and the island experiences frequent blackouts. The countries I have stayed in also have much higher rates of Malaria and Dengue Fever (amongst numerous other diseases) than in Western countries. Hospitals are not as good as they could be, and many people suffer from untreated accidents and ailments. To make things scarier, keep in mind that there are countries far less developed than those in Southeast Asia. I have yet to experience the devastation of ongoing warfare, through-the-roof HIV rates, and Ebola breakouts. The countries I have visited are actually moderately developed when compared to the world as a whole (not just Western countries).
Ok, so I have focused on the dark side of underdevelopment. But are there any advantages to living in a “less developed” country? Furthermore, are there cons to living in a “highly developed” country? The answer to both questions is yes.
The problem is, “highly developed” countries are sometimes too organized. Everything is signposted and structured to the extreme. It is hard to appreciate nature when a city feels like a sanitized Disneyland. Outside of rural areas, we rarely get to see edible animals while they are alive. Chickens, cows, and pigs are kept in farms, or by meat industries. This is not so in most Eastern countries. The chicken I had for lunch today may just be that chicken I saw walking around earlier. Also, think about city parks; how is it nature, when they mow the grass every day? Cities such as Pai (Thailand), Kratie (Cambodia), and Don Det (Laos) excite me because they are “less developed.” Nothing sucks the personality and charm out of a place more than structure.
Yes, developed areas tend to be safer and more comfortable. However, it would be a shame to miss out on some of the world’s best regions because they are less developed. The more I travel, the more I am learning to embrace the ever-present chaos on Earth.
Laos (obviously!) has been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 42!
First, a friendly little reminder that my Kickstarter is currently 146% funded. As it stands, this website will be getting a domain name of its own (without the .weebly), and I will upgrade the hosting service (making the site more professional). There are still 20 more days left to donate, so I urge you to check out the link. Every extra dollar will be spent on making the site better, be it the layout (i.e. a custom website theme) or content (i.e. allowing me to travel to more places, so more blog posts). Thank you!Instead of spending an entire month in Cambodia (as planned), I decided to cut my trip short. Cambodia is a very small country, and I felt like my time could be better spent elsewhere. Sure, the country has its charms; Siem Reap was absolutely fantastic, and I’d gladly go back some day. However, I was getting rather bored, making it ripe time for a change. Where, might you ask, did I head to? The answer is: Laos, a small country that borders Cambodia. I caught a bumpy minivan, bus, and boat to 4,000 Islands in Laos (Si Phan Don), bidding the Khmer goodbye.
The best way I can sum up the journey is “The bus ride from Hell.” I was picked up from my guesthouse in Kratie, Cambodia at 7:30 AM. After three hours in an extremely crowded minivan, we were dropped off at a restaurant, awaiting our connecting bus. First red flag: we were told to wait three and a half hours for the bus. We lazed around for that amount of time, and…nothing. The bus finally came at 4:00 PM, but we were not allowed to board until 5:00. When the bus finally arrived to the border, we were charged $50 for the Laos visa. The price was supposed to be $35. Enraged at this scam, I confronted the bus driver, who threatened to leave us behind if we did not pay. Begrudgingly, (and much to my dismay) everyone else decided to pay the extra $15. Well, I did not want to be left alone in a strange land, so I had no choice but to give in to the highway robbery.
With tensions running high, we arrived at the boat dock for Don Det island. Although my bus ticket included boat fare, the driver required me to buy a ticket at the dock. He threatened to leave me stuck at the border crossing if I did not pay, so I conceded. With bared teeth, I paid the $5. At this point, the entire group was fed up with this scam artist; we just wanted to find guesthouses (it was already 10:30). Finally, we crossed over the river, and found accommodation for the night. It was the worst experience I have ever had with a travel bus, but I made it through alive.
So, how is Laos?
It’s awesome. In fact, Don Det is probably my favorite place I have been this entire trip! It’s just about the most relaxing, chilled out island I’ve visited. There are no tuk-tuks, motorbikes, or cars. It is extremely undeveloped, so there are cows, chickens, pigs, and bison walking all around. Yesterday, we walked through some rice fields. I found cheap accommodation ($1.87 per night) at the “Happy Bungalow.” The caretaker then took a group of us on a boat to a nearby island, where we drank Beer Laos and sat in the shade.
Today, we took an amazing kayaking tour down the Mekong River. It was breathtaking, and was a tremendously satisfying workout. During our lunch break, we sat on a dock and watched dolphins. I doubt my memories of this day will fade any time soon!
I don't think Don Det is indicative of Laos as a whole. However, I feel like this place was built for me. There are no scams like in Thailand, or even Cambodia. Since it is rainy season, the island is fairly empty; this allows for quiet exploration, and peaceful relaxation. The guesthouse I picked is perfect, both in price and in hospitality. Instead of spending a few days here, I plan on staying for at least a week. I cannot recommend the island of Don Det enough!
Overall, a really lousy journey lead to my favorite country (so far)! I hope to explore much more of Laos during my month or so here. For now, however, I feel relaxed as can be.
On a side note, I’d like to share a picture I found of myself – proof that passions really do start at childhood! I think it was my 9th birthday?
Some people travel to make money. Others travel to find themselves. The list of reasons goes on and on: to try new food, to find love, to broaden your horizons, etc. I'm often stuck with a difficult conundrum; what motivates my travel?
There is one thing I know for sure about myself. I absolutely eschew the idea of having a nine-to-five job. Yes, it is unavoidable. I had to work one in order to save up the money for my trip. I'll probably even do it again when I return home. Life is full of bills, expenses, and (because I was blessed to be born in a Western country) luxuries. In the long run, there is no escaping the reality that I need money to do the things that interest me. For example, someday I want to direct films and record music, two things that require some sort of capital investment. I'd also like to see more of this great big world, which again, costs money.
Hello World. I've left my comfortable stream of income behind, to plunge into the depths of your surroundings. Besides the exterior pleasure of it all, what kinds of benefit am I reaping? What avenues am I opening for myself?
I guess the best answer is that travel removes barriers. Growing up, I was expected to live life a certain way. It was a "do or die" mentality, one which kept me locked inside of a mental bubble. This not only applies to the heavily religious environment I was brought up in, it also applies to an American way of life. In school, they told me "You can be whatever you'd like", implying I could have whatever career I'd like. A standard life path I was encouraged to go down:
1) Go to elementary school. Get good grades.
2) Go to high school. Get good grades.
3) Go to university or trade school. Get a degree or three.
4) Find a job. Make money.
5) Get married and start a family.
6) Focus on my career and make lots of money.
The more I broaden my horizons, the less fulfilling such a lifestyle appeals to me. Since hitting the road, I've had to ask myself certain questions: Should I teach English in Asia, do a working holiday visa in Australia, or return to the United States? Can I go to Norway, and get a free college degree (the answer is yes)? Should I try to Kickstarter-fund an album or short film? Is it a combination of any of these?
Before traveling, I would never have considered most of these questions. I had no idea how easy it was to get an English-teaching job in Thailand, had never heard about working holiday visas, and had never considered finishing my education abroad. One of the things I love most about life (something that scares quite a few people), is the sheer number of options one has. Sure, life has a path, but it is not a straight path. We take forks in the road and drive up rocky hills. Sometimes, we even have to swim through the ocean. Jobs come and go. The only occupation I will always have, is being me. I'm more than willing to forgo certain luxuries in order to live a satisfying life.
I guess I travel for, quite literally, an infinite number of reasons. The more boundaries I cross, the fewer limits I perceive. Between the beginning and end of life, I can go any which way I want.
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.