Warning: this is going to be the angriest and most politically charged post I’ve ever done, so if you don’t want to listen, feel free to get fucked.
I recently had a conversation with a fellow at a guesthouse I was staying at. In addition to being a tour guide in Indonesia, he has spent some time working in Malaysia. Due to visa difficulties, he had to get there illegally, by a small boat. Over the course of several months, he worked on a palm fruit farm, doing extremely difficult manual labor. For the most part, he stayed away from major cities, for fear of being caught and arrested/deported.
The reason he did this is that wages in Malaysia are significantly higher than they are in Indonesia. The average wage in West Nusa Tenggara is less than $200 per month, while in Malaysia, he was able to earn upwards of $500 per month.
In three and a half weeks I will be beginning a working holiday visa in Australia. Wages are quite high there; it is not uncommon to earn $700 USD per week, even from relatively unskilled labor. Sure, the costs of living are quite high. But it is pretty par for the course for backpackers to leave Australia with many thousands of dollars tucked under their belt.
For the vast majority of people in the world, getting a working visa for a country like Australia would be a dream, if not an impossibility. For starters, many cannot afford to pay for international flights which cost hundreds of dollars. Even if they CAN buy a plane ticket, they are probably still screwed. Australia, for instance, requires evidence of a bank statement proving funds of several thousands of dollars. For an American like me, saving up that kind of money takes some serious budgeting and hard work. But for an average person living in a developing country, it is simply not feasible.
I’m not bringing up this issue to demonize people (such as myself) who are born into wealthy countries, or to make you feel guilty for people who are born into poor countries. None of us can control where we come from. However, I think it is important to highlight how systems of power that are in place serve to benefit the well-off and ignore those most in need of opportunities. I’m sure nations such as Australia have reasons for restricting workers from certain countries, such as “Well, they are more likely to overstay visas, etc, etc.” But at the end of the day, plain and simple, they are making themselves out of reach to many who could benefit from career opportunities there.
There has also been a disturbing trend recently (although I’m quite certain this is not a new issue) of people demonizing immigrants, specifically those who came illegally to their country. Racist and classist political discourse likes to frame them as “invaders” and “criminals.”
Well, you know what? That is one of the most dehumanizing and ignorant attitudes someone can have. It comes from a place of privilege, and a poor understanding of why people choose to immigrate to different countries. They have little ability to empathize with the plights of others, and scarcely consider what they would do in such a situation.
So yeah, first things first, being an ethical tourist starts with being an ethical human being in the first place. Understand that not all people are born with the same opportunities, and try to be empathetic to the fact that not everyone can take a pleasant one-year working holiday in a high-wage country. Not everyone can afford to travel around the world for months at a time, without worrying about how they will feed their families.
Now, what about when one is abroad? What should you or I try to do to respect the tourist industry of a foreign country?
First of all, make sure to keep things as local as possible. I recently linked to a Vice article, which talked about how much of Bali’s tourism industry dollars are going into the hands of foreign investors. Try to make sure that when you book a tour to go somewhere, you are putting money into the hands of local people. This is not always possible but is usually quite easy to do so. Waiting until you get to a country to hire a guide or book a tour is a good way to start. Many international companies offer online bookings, but you don’t always know who this money is going to. Many local economies rely on tourists eating food, booking accommodation, etc, etc.
Secondly, and this one is a bit more philosophical, make sure to engage with the culture. Eat the local food, talk to people (whenever you can get past the language barrier), and soak in the sights. There is very little any one person can do to change the economic situation of a country. What we do have control over, however, is how we treat each other as human beings. Just as you would want to welcome an immigrant into your own country, understand that the majority of people abroad are happy when you visit and want to engage with you with open arms. Obviously, use your Spidey-senses. Not every person has good intentions, but this doesn’t mean that the majority of people don’t have them.
If you have the opportunity to travel or don’t have the opportunity to travel, it is essential to recognize the situations of our fellow people. Understand that not everyone has the same opportunities, and try to engage with people different from yourself whenever possible. You will, of course, realize that most of us want similar things out of life!
The "working" part of my working holiday visa in New Zealand is over; cue the "holiday." After ten months of living and working in Wellington, I finally met my savings goals, quit my job, and headed back on the road. I'll be spending five weeks traveling through this gorgeous, stunningly beautiful country. I've begun near the bottom half of the South Island, and will be slowly moving northward.
This past year has been pretty emotionally draining, to be frank. It's the longest I've ever been away from the United States, and was spent pretty much the entire time in a backpacker hostel. Because I was working a full-time job during the week, and working reception at the hostel on weekends, I didn't really get a chance to go out and do much. It was just work work work work work.
On paper, I guess I accomplished most of what I set out to do. I produced and directed my very first movie, got a full-time job in Wellington (at a camera shop), and saved enough money to do some traveling as well. Because I was also working for accommodation at the hostel, I ended up saving around three-quarters of everything I earned. Here's a general idea of what I was able to save during my working holiday visa in New Zealand:
My 35-hour per week job at the camera shop paid $18.50 NZD per hour (that's a little under $12 USD). Including holiday pay, which was an extra 8% in each paycheck, my take home after taxes was about $585 each week. On average, I was able to save about $420 from each paycheck. That's about $1680 per month in savings (a bit over $1000 USD per month).
Now keep in mind, I didn't pay anything in rent. I don't drink much, and I didn't have free weekends to go out and spend a lot of money. I did still go out to eat several times per week, however, and went to the movies whenever I felt like it. Because my job was a ten-minute walk from the hostel, I didn't have to pay anything for transportation. I most certainly didn't own a car, because that would have been an extra hassle, and more of a financial burden.
A large chunk of the savings went toward making my film, then the rest went into savings for travel, with a bit put off to the side for my retirement account. I probably don't save anywhere near as much as I should for retirement, but I do put in some effort.
So here's the question: was it worth it?
That's a really tough question to answer. On one hand, I got to live in a different city, work some really chilled out jobs, and meet a lot of interesting people. There was also the short film project, which seriously helped me learn more about what it takes to produce and direct a movie. It also gave me the opportunity to work with local talented artists, and gave me some new perspectives on things.
On the other hand, I don't feel as if I progressed quite as much as I would have liked. After all, working in a city for a year is working in a city for a year. Whether it is in New Jersey, California, or New Zealand, a job is a job. When I have full-time work, I tend to put off doing fun things, until I quit that job, and then go into full swing enjoyment mode when I leave. It's probably not the healthiest mindset, and that is something I'll have to re-examine in myself.
As far as cities go, Wellington is a really charming one. The weather can be all over the place, which is definitely my least favorite thing about it. However, infrastructure is good, the city center is compact, and there is a huge number of restaurants, buses, and things to do.
Living at a backpacker's hostel for ten months has left me with mixed feelings. I probably wouldn't have been able to meet my savings goals without it, and I met lots of wonderful and cool people. However, the lack of privacy can be frustrating, as is the inconsistency of who is staying there. At least when you sign a lease for an apartment, you know who you'll be living with for the next year! At hostels, people come and go like the wind. One week you'll be chumming it up, the next, it is time to say goodbye.
Now I'm back on the road, to finally travel through the country I had patiently ignored. After the five weeks in New Zealand, I'll be flying to Indonesia. I'm really hoping to take the opportunity to see a lot of amazing places, and work on some creative projects I'd been putting off. It can be depressingly easy to lose track of what you want to accomplish in life. It's been hitting very close to home just how quickly procrastination can make time go by.
Although I am unsure of what the future holds, I know that it is far better to figure it out while enjoying the benefits of travel. One can feel lost in life behind the desk of a dead-end job, or one can feel lost in life while hiking through a beautiful mountain range. The truth is, we don't really know where we belong until we feel it. I choose to take another step forward.
Thank you to all who have continued to read this blog. I hope to have more content in the near future!
Until next time,
Peter Weir's 1998 film "The Truman Show" is rightfully considered a class act in filmmaking and storytelling. It chronicles the plight of Truman Burbank, an optimistic but naive middle class man, who's life also happens to be a television show. Unbeknownst to Truman, the world around him has been fully constructed. Everything from the sun (an extremely bright spotlight) to the people in his life (paid actors) has been manufactured to bring entertainment to TV audiences, while also keeping our titular character oblivious to his situation.
A huge amount has been written about the film, which explores the notion of free will, the existence of a creator, American consumerism, and the rise of reality TV. What I want to touch upon specifically, though, is Truman Burbank's desire to see the world. As a serial backpacker and advocate of travel, I believe "The Truman Show" to be one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) pro-traveling movies of all time.
From a young age, Truman has dreams of being an explorer. He wants to discover new lands, sail the oceans, and see the world. His elementary school teacher tries to quash his desire by telling him there are no places on Earth left to discover. However, the passion sticks with Truman well into adulthood, even after he has gotten married and bought a house.
A main plot point in the movie revolves around Truman's desire to go to Fiji ("You can't get any further away before you start coming back."). He tries convincing his wife, Meryl, that they can save up some money and go abroad for a long time. She immediately shoots down his ideas as childish, emphasizing life goals such as paying off their mortgage and having children. Nothing Truman says or does can convince her otherwise.
Later, Truman decides to take matters into his own hands by booking a flight to Fiji. The travel agent's office contains a comically large poster of an airplane being struck by lightning, with a slogan reading "It Can Happen to You!" Even the subliminal messaging around him tells him not to follow his dream.
The satire of "The Truman Show" serves to point out what sorts of barriers and messages we use to keep order within a consumerist society. Truman has a great job, a beautiful house, a loving wife, and a seemingly perfect neighborhood. Yet there is something deep inside struggling to come out. He has always had passions and goals, but life found a way to get in the way. I think many people can relate to such frustrations: of moving toward socially expected goals, while neglecting who they really are and what they really want.
In the film, travel serves as the poignant wake up call to Truman. As he maniacally attempt to drive himself and Meryl to Atlantic City, she asks him why he wants to go there. He responds: "Because I never have! That's why people go places, isn't it?" Although his endeavor to break free is thwarted several minutes later, the attempt sparks a sea change in Truman's behaviors and attitudes. Now that he has attempted to break out of his bubble, he can sense the possibility within grasp.
Travel can be scary yet liberating, because it forces us outside the world we have carefully constructed. Too often, people push off their dreams due to fear and uncertainty about what will happen. Yes, there are cases where one has too many responsibilities to attempt such a thing, but the case of Truman Burbank is not one of them. There is a massive conspiracy at hand trying to stop him, but that is not enough to hold him back. I can promise that the same conspiracy is not working against you.
If you have that desire and the ability to pursue it, go travel the world!
Be like Truman.
The Himalayas. Nothing could have prepared me for the grandness of its scope. As I flew into Leh, mountains towered above ground, shockingly close to the airplane windows. Surely this couldn't be real? I was about to find out how real it was.
I checked into my hostel. A period of mild altitude sickness followed, as my body acclimatized to 3500 meters of elevation. For those unaware, the symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS) range from headaches, nausea, and insomnia, to difficulty breathing. Generally, the higher in altitude you are, the greater the risk of experiencing this illness. Most cases are treatable with hydration, rest, or a decrease in altitude. However, AMS can progress to more serious forms, which are life-threatening.
Thankfully, my symptoms in Leh were very mild. A day or two of relaxation and bed rest was all I needed to adapt to the high altitude. Some fellow hostellers were planning on doing the Markha Valley Trek, a five day expedition in the Ladakh region of India. I decided to join them; little did I know what was to come.
I was expecting a beautiful yet challenging hike through some gorgeous terrain. What ensued was bar none, the most physically taxing experience of my life, and one of the most emotionally draining, too.
We took a shared taxi to Chilling, the village where most trekkers begin the hike. So it began.
The first three days were challenging but fairly straightforward. Each morning, we would begin a 5-8 hour hike. The terrain encompassed staggering mountains, rivers, and miles upon miles of rocky ground. Starting at an altitude of roughly 3500 meters, we climbed no more than 400 each day. The trail passed through small villages, where we spent the nights.
The village home-stays all had the same general layout. For 1200 rupees (roughly $17) you were given a place to sleep, a hot home-cooked dinner, breakfast in the morning, and a packed lunch to bring with you for the afternoon. The meals were simple. Dinner usually consisted of dal (lentils) with rice and veggies, and the occasional steamed momos (Tibetan dumplings). Breakfast was bread with honey, jam, and peanut butter. The packed lunch was rather meager: a small potato, boiled egg, fried bread, and an (artificial tasting) juice box. However, the odd tea stall served omelets and snacks, allowing us to replenish certain missed nutrients.
On day four of the trek, things started getting intense.
Most trekking guidelines suggest increasing your sleeping altitude by no more than 300-500 meters per day. This allows one to slowly acclimatize, without putting undue strain upon the body.
Do you know how far we ascended on our fourth day? Nearly 1000 meters. That's right, our altitude increased by nearly a kilometer in several hours.
The altitude increase was our first mistake (though pretty much every other trekker we ran into was attempting the same feat). Our second mistake was: getting lost for a couple of hours. Although we were not far from our base camp destination, we accidentally wandered in the wrong direction. Darkness was just hours away, and I was starting to get a mild headache. I took the emergency Diamox on hand (note: please don't use this blog article as a how-to guide to taking Diamox: I most certainly used it incorrectly), and figured it wouldn't be long until we reached our camp. As soon as we ran into another group of trekkers, however, the headache got worse. We had found our way, but now I had full blown altitude sickness.
Although logic dictates lowering one's altitude in case of AMS, it was becoming too late to turn back. The closest village was two or three hours away, while our destination was less than one. Additionally, there was unlikely to be medical assistance down below, while the base camp was populated by more than 30 trekkers and locals.
The pain was starting to be unbearable. My head felt like it was going to explode. Breathing had become quite difficult, and a wave of nausea washed over me. My heart was pounding full force, and my energy levels were at zero. I sat on the ground, head in my hands, unable to push on. Fellow trekkers nervously stood by me, offering food, water, and moral support. I thought I was going to die.
"I need to turn back," I said. People anxiously reminded me how risky of a decision that would be. Why oh why had I gone on this trek? I had bitten off more than I could chew, and now I had to die because of it?
Suddenly, seemingly miraculously, the Diamox must have kicked in. It was like a switch had been flipped in my respiratory system. I felt a tingling sensation in my fingertips and feet, and I gasped. Air came rushing into my lungs. A headache still persisted, but my temples no longer felt like they were going to burst. "Let's do this," I said. No sooner did the words come out of my mouth, than a local guide offered to carry my backpack for me. We were on our way.
The experience of reaching base camp was overwhelming. A cabin full of dozens of trekkers greeted us with open arms, hot tea, and headache remedies. Everyone shared stories of their past week on the trail, including a few who had also dealt with mountain sickness. Seems I was not alone. After a delicious dinner, we stayed in tents, preparing for the upcoming (and most physically challenging) day. The altitude was 4800 meters, and it snowed that night. I slept very little.
I couldn't believe it, but when I awoke, my headache was gone! Was I really going to attempt a 5150-meter mountain pass, shortly after getting ill? The answer was, yes.
The climb to Kongmaru La Pass was rough. It was the steepest incline yet of the trek; the cold and snow slowed everything to a crawl. All I could do was put one foot in front of the other. The closer we got to our destination, the farther away it seemed. Inches felt like miles. Eventually, I stopped looking up, for fear of the distance we had remaining. Right foot, left foot. My legs were screaming. My feet were screaming. There was no choice but to go on, lest we were done for.
The feeling when I reached that pass was multifaceted. A mixture of accomplishment, relief, exhaustion, and dread ht me like a ton of bricks. The day wasn't even half over. We still had to descend more than a thousand meters, a feat which would take more than four hours.
The rest of the trek went without a hitch. I returned to Leh, tired and sore, and crashed at my hostel.
It's still too early to tell, but I believe the trek changed me as a person. It made me realize both what I was and wasn't physically capable of. The moment I was rendered helpless by the altitude, my self-reliance hit zero. All I could do was trust the goodness of others, and their senses of judgment. I discovered how important it is to have capable and reliable allies near you, especially when attempting something extreme.
The experience also made me rethink physical fitness. Back in the USA, one of my jobs was being a personal trainer. Though I work hard to keep in shape and make exercise a regular part of my life, treks like the Markha Valley require a different kind of strength. Besides the fact that one needs to walk nearly eight hours per day (often steeply uphill) while carrying a heavy backpack, trekking take an inner kind of strength. At certain points, it really does become mind over matter. I felt like my ultimate completion of the hike came down more to a sense of mental fortitude than it did anything else.
I plan on spending the next several weeks in the Himalayas, possibly doing some more trekking. Markha took a lot out of me, but what it took, it replaced with something stronger. When all is said and done, traveling has the potential to challenge one in every way imaginable. 16,000 feet certainly did for me.
A few days ago, I left the job I'd been working at for the past four years...for the second time.
The first time was back in 2014, before I spent eight and a half months backpacking across Asia. Over the course of 11 different countries, I discovered deep truths about myself, and the world around me. I fell in love with some of the best cuisines in existence, and and met people from over 100 nations. I saw some of the most beautiful (and ugliest) destinations on Earth, and visited sites that most people only dream of. Some might call it a "trip of a lifetime." Only I knew I didn't want it to be a one-and-done.
So I saved up some money, renewed my passport, got a couple of visas, and put in my two weeks notice. My sights are set on New Zealand, where I intend to live for a year. Along the way, I have trips planned to a few exciting destinations, the first being Egypt.
People have asked me, "Why are you doing this?" The truth is, I’m not entirely sure. I simply have a passion for exploring and discovering different cultures and regions, and don’t want to be stuck at a desk job for decades at a time. Perhaps a better thing for people to ask themselves is “Why am I NOT doing this?” Which brings us to the second question:
“How are you doing this?” Well, as someone with no dependents or major financial burdens holding me back, very easily. I simply wait for my apartment lease to expire, save up some money, buy a plane ticket, and go. It’s that simple. Your family and friends will likely still be there when you return. Withstanding an economic collapse in your wake, there will probably be employment opportunities upon your return as well. You know what won’t be around when you return? Time. It will pass, whether you are sitting at a cubicle, or wandering around the Amazon rainforest.
That’s not to say one should be stupid about leaving one’s job. For instance, when I first traveled around the world, I spent around damn near every penny I had. I returned to New Jersey, broke, and had to crash on friends’ couches for several weeks before getting back on my feet. Since then, I have learned better financial habits, and have saved up a solid emergency fund, on top of what I’ve set aside for travel. Quitting your job to travel doesn’t need to be a risky, brash decision. Plan ahead (but not too much!)!
If you have no dependents, some extra savings, and want to see the world, traveling is a no-brainer. Regardless of what society might tell us, we are not beholden to our jobs. Chances are, your company has hired you to use you to make money, and you have taken the job for a similar reason. It's all business, not personal. Unfortunately, people often feel like they "owe" something to their employers, neglecting to realize that most businesses will kick you to the curb as soon as you are no longer profitable for them. Life is too short to not pursue your passions and dreams.
So to sum up, here is how to quit your job to travel (assuming you are in a position to be able to do so). Step 1: Take a deep breath. Step 2: Do it. Step 3: Profit. Step 4: Repeat.
Here's wishing all of my loyal readers the best on your future travels. It's a pleasure being back!
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.
I was sitting in a bar in Daman, India, when it hit me: I’ve become completely accustomed to traveling.
The first few months were something of an initiation process. I’d never really been away from home before, and had never truly been on my own. Regardless of whether you work full time and have an apartment, the fact remains: When you are in your home city, you usually have a steady group of friends and/or family to fall back on. Whether it’s your relatives, your roommates, or even your co-workers, somebody is always there to bail you out.
There I was in some obscure Indian city, likely the only non-Indian person for miles (seriously, nobody spoke English, and everybody stared at me), and enjoying a drink with the local people. It was a stark contrast from Mumbai, a city full of tourists, modernity, and Western amenities. Although I love Mumbai, this bird had decided to fly. I was now off the tourist path, and back on the road.
I think that getting off the beaten track is an extremely important thing to do. The whole “backpacker” route is fun, but it doesn’t quite teach you independence. You usually stay at hostels full of other foreigners, have easy access to wi-fi, and can call on anybody for help. When you travel off the beaten path, it’s different. Sometimes, you will be the only foreigner in a city. Sometimes, you will not be able to talk with anyone, outside of non-verbal communication. Sometimes, you have to stay at the most shady-ass hotel on the face of the Earth. Sometimes, it can get lonely. But most of the time, it is an incredible, rewarding experience.
By getting off the tourist path, I had created my own path. Nobody could stop me, and nobody could help me. Whether I had dug my own grave, or jumped through the gates of Eden, this was the road I had chosen.
New situations take time to adjust to. I think until I had this realization, I had subconsciously relied upon returning home to a comfy bed, warm shower, and personal safety. Sure, it probably won’t be long until I see my family and friends again. However, I will never think about home the same way again. Even when I must take on a steady job, steady friends, and a steady living environment, I’ll always feel somewhat removed from the situation. True independence is doing exactly what it is that you want to do. No more will I live for other people; this is my life to with as I see fit. Deciding to travel was step in the right direction. Actually traveling and being on my own, has solidified the theory.
The motto of this website is “Home is Everywhere.” I have never believed that more than I do now. “Home” is all in my head. If I can be confident and happy in any environment, the world is my stomping grounds. When you learn to take your own path in life (not one that others put before you), everywhere becomes home. You become king or queen of your castle, and nothing can stand in your way.
At this point, I’d consider a three hour bus ride a short bus ride. Seriously. I've taken so many 10+ hour rides by now, that I don’t think I’ll feel annoyed by transit times, ever again. Also, after repeatedly trying to get directions out of people who don’t speak English, I don’t think I will ever be nervous about getting lost again.
While I've always had a strong sense of independence, traveling pushed me to that next level. I've had to figure out how to save money, and make that money stretch. I've had to book hundreds of flights, trains, buses, and guesthouses: often through people who don’t speak any English. Although I have learned to depend on the kindness of strangers, I've also learned a tough lesson. Nobody is going to make my plans for me.
I've slept in some of the most disgusting rooms you can imagine. We're talking: stains on the walls and bed, bugs, freezing showers, etc. I've ridden some of the most crowded buses and trains in the world. We're talking about sitting on luggage racks, no fans or A/C, sardine-tight crowds, etc. No more will dirt and grime and bugs and cold showers faze me. Nevermore.
It’s hard to see thousands of people living in little shacks (or worse), then hear someone complain about their house being “too small.” With all due respect to the thousands of struggling American families, our notion of “poverty” in the United States (and most Western countries) comes nowhere near the realities of a country like India. I’m sure you've seen homeless people in (insert generic large city). Now imagine a situation 50 times worse. 180 million people in India live below the national poverty line (less than $1.25 per day), and nearly half of children under the age of five are malnourished. A similar situation is present in Cambodia.
My realization is this: almost everyone in the USA (even middle and lower class people) is living in luxury. It’s one thing to read about it, but it’s another to actually see it before your eyes.
I left this one as a bonus, because it is an exception to the article’s title.
Before traveling, I probably couldn't even point out China on a map. Seriously, I was never taught geography in school. Now that I've caught the travel bug, my options have widened. I can now probably point out most of the world’s countries on a map.
Sri Lanka (duh) has been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 57!
I've recently hit a mini-landmark in my traveling career. Now that I'm comfortably situated in Sri Lanka, I have officially been to ten countries.
There are roughly 200 countries in the world, so I know ten means very little in the long run. However, it still means a lot to me. Less than one year ago, I had never left the United States. Now, I am ten times as well-traveled as I was before!
It's very easy to pop into a country just to pick up a stamp, but I'm not interested in that. I think that it's entirely possible to visit every single country in the world, but still have learned nothing about any of them. Therefore, I've made it a priority to thoroughly explore each place I visit. It's not necessary to visit every single city within a country, but one should at least stay long enough to get a general feel for it. What is the food like? What are the mentalities like? What can you learn from this trip?
I can honestly answer those questions for each country I have been to. Well, almost every one. I did arrive recently to Sri Lanka, and still have a lot to see and learn. However, I've allocated a solid 2-3 weeks for that. I am confident that when I leave (returning to India), Sri Lanka will have left an impression on me, just as every country has thus far.
Sri Lanka is an island nation located directly to the south of India. They had a 25 year civil war which finally ended in 2009, causing a resurgence in its tourism industry. I arrived in Colombo, the country's de facto capital, and immediately headed to a city called Kandy. My first impression of the country is that it feels like a less hectic version of Southern India. The food is very similar, and some people even speak the same language. However, it is definitely a more tourist-friendly place. Despite its relatively small size, Sri Lanka feels densely packed, with a slew of places to see.
Here's to the next ten countries!
There I was, eating dinner at a restaurant in the Maldives. The past few days had been quite boring. Not only did the rainy weather preclude me from doing fun oceanic stuff (such as snorkeling), I also had no fellow tourists to talk to. Indeed, during my stay I was the only Westerner in the hotel. Tourism was down, probably because of the rainy weather. In search of something to do, and to avoid the ridiculously overpriced hotel fare, I found myself eating all of my meals at a local restaurant. I would walk in, order my meal, and eat in silence. Sometimes there were others in the establishment, but they always spoke to each other in a local language I didn’t understand. In many ways, I felt disconnected: alienated from the culture around me. The television caused that all to change.
One thing I didn’t mention was that the restaurant had a large flat screen TV in it. People would usually sit around and watch television shows and movies, none of which were in English. Ok, whatever. It provided some mild entertainment, and kept the restaurant lively. I barely paid attention to the screen, that is, until Tom and Jerry came on.
I’m sure most of you are familiar with Tom and Jerry, but I will clarify for those of you who don’t. It is an animated American cartoon from the 1940s and 50s, about a cat and mouse who are enemies. Tom (the cat) usually tries to capture Jerry (the mouse), usually ending Tom being injured or killed in increasingly cartoonish ways. The short films are very funny, and are frequently aired on cartoon television channels.
You may ask, what makes this show so different from the dozens of others that the Maldivians were watching?
There’s no dialogue.
That’s right, folks. With the exception of sound effects and music, Tom and Jerry is completely silent. When the first episode came on, I found myself laughing uproariously; this time, it was with a roomful of people. We sat there for an hour, watching the hilarious exploits of the animated cat and mouse. For once, there was no language barrier to divide us.
Right then and there, I realized something very important. In general, we all laugh at the same things, cry at the same things, and seek the same things out of life. Sure, sometimes our culture or upbringing instills us with different values and life choices. Sometimes, language and misunderstanding creates obstacles and stops us from communicating properly. However, deep down we all want to laugh. We all want to feel good. We all want to do the things we love.
The simple act of watching a cartoon in a restaurant, made me feel a kinship to my fellow man. It reminded me that language is nothing more than a barrier for humanity, a roadblock that the greatest forms of expression can knock down.
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write movies and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.