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.
I don't usually like saying a country is "friendly" or "unfriendly." After all, there are good and bad people everywhere, and few regions fall into neat boxes like that. However, I'm going to break my rule when it comes to Nepal. Overall, this country was FRIENDLY as hell. While Nepal is quite a poor nation, I found the people to be generous, welcoming, and laid back. Compared to neighboring India, there was a relative lack of tourist scams and hassle. Moving from place to place was easy and convenient.
Nepal was the perfect place to relax my brain, and work on personal projects. While trekking, I continued practicing photography, and got some much needed exercise. There's something about climbing thousands of meters in elevation that stimulates the body and the mind, and challenges one to think outside the box. While in the capital, Kathmandu, I completed writing my first feature screenplay. I've never mentioned this on the blog, but it is my life's ambition to become a film director, and this was a huge first step. Writing a screenplay is to date one of the most fun and challenging projects I've undertaken. This gorgeous country afforded me a peace of mind that helped me express exactly what I needed to put into words.
While Nepal is by far one of the cheapest countries I've ever traveled in (if not the cheapest), the price comes with a caveat. Most tourists don't come to the country just to bum around and do nothing. Meaning, if you just want to relax and eat momos and stay in your hostel, you'll spend barely anything. However, you will likely be going to Nepal to do activities, be they trekking, national parks, or visiting historical sites. Activities come at an extra cost, which I will get into in the category breakdown.
I spent 25 days in Nepal, and managed to travel from the western border (Mahendranagar), until as far east as Kathmandu. Here is a breakdown of what I spent over those three and a half weeks:
Food - $181.82
While food was once again my biggest cost overall, it was relatively cheap. Meals could be had for $1-2 almost anywhere. The big exception is while trekking, where meal prices are inflated from 3-6x. A standard serving of Dal Bhat (Nepal's national dish) is usually 150 Nepalese rupees (approx $1.30). While doing the Poon Hill trek, it jumped to 400-600 rupees. Nonetheless, coming from a western country, food in Nepal is quite cheap and filling. Just stay away from the tourist restaurants in Pokhara.
Miscellaneous - $86.57
Includes everything from mobile data, to ATM fees, to haircuts. One thing to note, my debit card was discontinued by my bank (due to an unfortunate ATM scam in Pokhara), and I had to pay for a costly Western Union money transfer.
Activities - $77.07
Trekking permits and national park entry fees were accounted into this, as well as a single movie ticket I purchased in Kathmandu. Depending on what percentage of your trip will be spent trekking/going to national parks, this category can be much more expensive.
Transport - $72.04
Local buses are on par with India in terms of cost. The only thing that sucks about Nepal is that Uber (and Ola, India's ridesharing app) is not in operation. When taking a taxi or rickshaw, you always have to haggle, and will likely pay higher prices than locals.
Accommodation - $63.71
This one takes the cake, folks. Nepal is by far the cheapest country for accommodation I've ever traveled to. I never paid more than $5 for a hotel or hostel room during my entire trip. Rooms on the Poon Hill trek were free (in exchange for us eating all our meals at the guesthouse).
Average daily cost of $19.25 per day. You can have a great time in Nepal for $20 per day, a cheaper backpack bumming experience for $15 per day (or lower), or trekker's paradise on $30 per day. It's your choice.
Photo Cred: Nick McNamara
Traveling in Nepal has been a pleasant experience thus far, a quiet inverse to India's crowded, chaotic disposition.
Upon crossing Nepal's far western border near Mahendranagar, I was shocked to find a lack of hustle and bustle. Insanely crowded roads and aggressive rickshaw touts were nowhere to be seen. It took me less than 24 hours to realize I was in a very different place, culturally. The geography, religions, and foods were similar to those in India, but the society was different. Things moved at a slower pace. Buses and shops closed and stopped running earlier. People were still curious about the white man from America traipsing about their town, but there was far less leering than in neighboring India. I must say, the lack of overt scams made me slightly suspicious.
These differences might have something to do with the smaller (and less overcrowded) population of Nepal. I'm no sociologist, so I can only speculate. However, I have yet to visit the capital city, Kathmandu, where I have no doubt the pace and sense of claustrophobia will pick up.
In the first week of staying at Nepali hotels, I learned an interesting tidbit about budget accommodation. Many of the cheaper hotels were run by liquor wholesalers, who seemingly rented the rooms as side hustles to their lucrative businesses. I say "lucrative" because alcohol seemed to be available everywhere. This once again stood in contrast to India, where alcohol is banned in a few states, and consumption is not super common. Sadly, one hotel owner informed me that alcoholism is rampant in his region of Nepal.
I had made arrangements to meet up with a friend for a few days, to visit Bardiya National Park. It's the largest national park in Nepal's Terai region and is home to over 600 species of animal, including rhinoceros, tiger, elephant, crocodile, and dolphin.
At 6 P.M. on a Wednesday, I picked my friend up from the Nepalgunj airport. We were on our way. Two and a half bumpy rickshaw hours later, we arrived at our lodge. It was located right outside the park, a mere ten-minute walk from the entrance. Our tour guide, Baba, greeted us with excitement.
"Tomorrow we will see a tiger!"
I knew that tiger sightings were quite rare, and had doubts that our one day in the park would yield exciting results. However, we responded enthusiastically, hyping ourselves up for the following day.
We awoke at 6 in the morning, changed into hiking clothes, and ate a quick breakfast. Baba was full of the same eagerness he had greeted us with the night before. He had spent 17 years tracking tigers in the park and was trying to break a personal streak of successive sightings.
We were handed packed lunches and wooden walking sticks, then were led to the entrance of the park. Some monkeys lazed about outside the forest. A quick sign in with the park security was in order, and we were off. Into the woods.
Almost immediately, we had to take our boots off to cross a river. The other side was dense forest and grassland, mostly removed from civilization. It felt a bit dangerous being on our own out there. Hopefully, the guide wouldn't allow us to be eaten by some savage jungle beasts. "Look!" he exclaimed, pointing at the ground. My friend and I stared down. "Tiger tracks!" Mere minutes into the hike, and it was on.
What happened in the several hours following, I can only describe as a tedious game of "hide and seek." Only we were the ones hiding, in order to seek a tiger. Baba would often bring us to a river bank, and instruct us to wait silently for a couple of hours. Whenever we spotted some deer (a common animal in Bardiya), the hope was that a tiger would come to attack, showing its feline mug. When nothing happened, he would lead us to our next destination, through trees, fields, and tall grass. Every once in a while, we would stop to pull leeches off ourselves. The whole ordeal was tiring.
Halfway through the day, we finally spotted some wildlife. Baba handed us a pair of binoculars, and sure enough, there it was! A rhinoceros was bathing in a distant river, ostensibly keeping cool from the 90-degree weather. We stayed and watched the rhino for an hour or so. I wish I could say the experience was more exciting, but the animal had no interest in coming any closer.
We knew time was running out, and so did our guide. In a last minute stroke of adventurous bravura, Baba led us far off the trail, into some rugged grasslands. The tall stalks whipped against our faces as we went deeper and deeper into the wildlife terrain. "Stop!" commanded Baba. He instructed us to hide behind some grass, and wait.
Ten minutes later, a deer came trotting out into the open. This time, however, there was something off about the way it was walking. The deer would take a few steps at a time, look around nervously, and trot some more. My heart was pounding fast. Something was up, and this deer knew it!
Baba walked slowly out of the grass and whistled for us to join him. "Yes! He exclaimed. "There is a tiger, there is the king!" He handed us the binoculars, and sure enough, walking out of the grass was a Bengal tiger. Our mission was accomplished! Now, all we had to do was avoid being eaten.
The tiger stuck around for no more than 30 seconds. Our guide tried getting closer, and the creature noticed him and ran away. No photos of the orange cat would be taken that day, but it didn't matter. We had come to the park to see a tiger, and indeed, we did. We later found out, that out of a dozen or so groups that trekked in the park that day, we were the only ones who saw a tiger. Baba had done his job admirably, and we were pleased.
That's the end of the story.
It certainly felt like longer than 31 days, but yesterday I concluded my month-long visit to India. This trip was far more nature focused than my previous adventures in the country (see archive of blog posts in the India country guide). I went trekking in Ladakh, hiked to a waterfall in Manali, and viewed numerous beautiful hill stations in the states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Four years ago, I explored the south of India, and all up along the western coast. This trip, however, was focused on the far north, notably the Himalayas mountain range. It was beautiful! From the staggering peaks near Leh, to the hills of Shimla, to the Ganges River in Rishikesh, it was time and money well-spent.
Speaking of money, I spent quite a bit more in this month than I had expected to. Though I still came well under budget, I couldn't help but notice I was being much more liberal with my trip savings. Perhaps I'm just getting older and more careless, or maybe the north of India is more expensive than the south, or maybe *gasp* has India become more expensive in the past four years? Actually, the answer is quite simple: I purchased an internal flight within the country (Delhi to Leh). This jacked up my average daily cost by nearly two dollars per day.
Here is a category by category breakdown of what I spent in India. It does not include my flight into the country, nor the (10 year, WOOHOO USA! USA!) visa I purchased ahead of time. Those costs will be factored in at the end of this journey, in a retrospective post.
Food - $250.84
I'm starting to notice a trend here. While accommodations used to be the costliest part of my travels, food keeps taking the cake (have you seen what I've done here)? I owe this in part to two things: First, I've become a massive foodie in the past few years, and cannot stand to leave any dish untasted. Second, I've been a lot lazier about seeking out cheap food. In tourist towns such as Rishikesh and Manali, it wasn't unusual for me to eat at the backpacker restaurants. They usually cost double of where the locals eat (and often taste half as good).
Transportation - $160.92
This is where the $50 plane ticket really made a dent in my budgeting. If I had opted to take a bus, I'd have likely spent $10 instead. However, after experiencing the terrifying and death defying bus ride from Leh to Manali (where the bus rocks back and forth and you feel like you're about to fall off a mountain for 20 hours), I'm rather glad I flew from Delhi to Leh. I'm never taking long distance buses in that region again! Everything else was pretty cheap. I opted for government buses and shared rickshaws, and took just a single train journey during the month.
Accommodation - $138.55
Hostelworld, Hostelworld, how can I sing thine praises? Thanks to dorm rooms, and the very rare cheap hotel, I pretty much never spent more than $7 for a single night. In fact, many hostels fell in the $3-4 range. Super duper inexpensive, and highly recommended for meeting other travelers.
Miscellaneous - $64.20
Includes laundry, toiletries, ATM fees, haircuts, etc. Nuff said.
Activities - $17.18
Ok, I know this makes me look lame, but believe me: I did waaay more activities than that! It's just things like trekking and hiking were calculated into my accommodation, food, and transport costs. The only things I specifically paid for activity-wise were some tourist sites in Delhi, and entry to the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh.
Average cost of $20.38 per day. Without the flight, I would have easily been under $20, and this was a trip where I spent money pretty liberally! India is easy to travel in under $20 per day, especially if you're steadfast in terms of eating choices and such. Heavily touristed cities such as Manali can get expensive if you aren't careful.
That's a wrap. I'm in the neighboring country of Nepal, so let's see where the next leg of this trip takes me!
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.
Photo Cred: Haythem Refaai
My time in Egypt is finished, and boy did I have a blast! In four weeks' time, I met many wonderful people, saw some spectacular desert and mountain landscapes, and explored the local cuisine. I went snorkeling in the bright blue Red Sea, bummed it in the coastal towns of Nuweiba and Dahab, and went camping in the desert near Faiyum. After spending way too long in Cairo, I had an extraordinarily memorable time in the oasis of Siwa. So all in all, time well spent.
Although I was unable to make time for the popular tourist destinations of Luxor and Aswan (hopefully I will return to Egypt!), I feel like I had an authentic, complete trip. Four weeks is quite a while to spend in one location, yet at the same time, not much time at all, No amount of time is enough to fully experience a culture, though a month tends to fall just shy of one getting bored of a country.
What did these four weeks in Egypt cost? Here is a breakdown by category:
*Note - This doesn't include expenses such as flights in and out of the country (which will be covered at the end of my trip, in a separate retrospective). It also doesn't include the costs of my film photography, which I paid quite a lot to ship and develop overseas. Fingers crossed that the photos turn out ok!
Food - $295.89
By far, the most money I spent in Egypt was on food. After all, how could I not try every single new dish I could get my hands on? Highlights were hamam mahshi (stuffed pigeon) and koshari (a common street food consisting of rice, macaroni, lentils, and numerous other ingredients). Meals tended to cost in the range of $3-6 dollars.
Transportation - $101.13
Thank heavens for Uber in Cairo and Alexandria. Sure, the drivers are crazy, but they're dependably cheap and require no haggling. Buses between cities in Egypt usually cost no more than $5-15, though I didn't take too many of them on this trip.
Accomodation - $74.16
Thanks to my very generous host in Cairo (where I was for nearly two weeks), I paid very little for accomodation. During the rest of my trip, I never paid more than $9 for a hotel room, and saved money by taking overnight buses.
Activities - $62.24
This includes things such as entry fees, snorkeling, and the like. There are so many activities to do in Egypt, and none of them cost too much. Just stay away from tourist traps like Sharm El Sheikh, and you should be fine!
Miscellaneous - $53.29
Random little costs crop up here and there, such as laundry service and bakeesh (little tips for bathroom attendants and the like).
Average cost of $20.23 per day. Because I was lucky enough to stay with a host in Cairo, this trip ended up costing much less than I expected. Egypt is the kind of country you can spend a bit amount more in, or a bit less in. I think a solid budget for one month in Egypt should work out fine at $25 per day.
There you have it. Time and money well spent!
"Have you been to Sinai?"
This question was asked to me by pretty much every Egyptian I met. A destination I had originally written off my itinerary due to safety concerns, it seemed that Southern Sinai was deemed the hippest, most relaxing region in all of Egypt. I could not turn down an opportunity for some peace and quiet, so after multiple reassurances that it was only Northern Sinai which was dangerous, and constant reminders that I would regret not visiting the Red Sea coast, I relented.
After my lovely excursion to Siwa, I arrived in Alexandria, tired and sweaty. I could have opted to stay the night in Alexandria; after all, it would have been cozy to get a nice hotel room and shower, but I decided instead to head back to Cairo. The trains were all sold out for the southern Egyptian cities of Luxor and Aswan, which had originally been on my itinerary. Time in Egypt was running short, and I thought: "I guess I'm spending the rest of my trip in Sinai." I booked a bus that day.
I arrived in the lazy coastal town of Nuweiba and rented a hut at Soft Beach Camp. It was an extremely basic accomodation set at the foot of a beautiful stretch of beach. The water was pure blue, and you could see Saudi Arabia in the distance. For several days, I was at peace. Every day I would swim once or twice, lay in the sand, listen to music, and eat delicious fish (cooked by the camp). On the third day, I took a side excursion to go snorkeling in a coral reef. It was a truly eye-opening experience.
The pickup truck took us at 10 in the morning, and we began our ride to Ras Abu Galum, a coral reserve. It was an extremely bumpy ride, through rough desert and mountain terrain. The sight was spectacular: miles upon miles of brownish-red mountains. When we finally reached the body of water, it seemed to burst forth, a sea of bright blue against the rock of the desert.
The snorkeling was something else. Hundreds of fish, in different sizes, shapes and colors darted around the mountains of white coral. The variety was astonishing, and the water was clear enough to see every little detail. It was like being dropped in the middle of Finding Nemo, only there were no animators needed. This was real life. This was a real place, an entire ecosystem hidden from us land dwellers. I felt like an unwelcome visitor on an alien planet, peering into a neighborhood in which I didn't belong. Throughout the day, I went back into the water a second, third, and fourth time, never being able to get enough of it.
As the sun set, we took the bouncy truck back to Soft Beach. This is what I came traveling for.
I hate Cairo. I hate this city.
Sure, I had a great time at the Giza pyramids (on my first day of the trip). Sure, Coptic Cairo has beautiful narrow alleys, a cool Hanging Church and ancient synagogue, and feels like you're walking through a piece of history. Sure, there's the Saladin Citadel, with its gorgeous mosques and sweet panorama view of the city. Sure, it's fun riding a boat down the Nile, while blasting music and having a drink with some friends. Sure, Khan el-Khalili souk is bustling with energy and soul, and huge crowds of people. Sure, there's a ton of incredible food everywhere you go.
"Yonah," you might be asking, "if there is all this cool stuff in Cairo, why do you hate it?"
I hate Cairo because it's loud, polluted and dirty, and has some of the worst traffic I've ever seen in my life. The noxious fumes on the roads are tearing my lungs apart. Having been to many developing countries in Asia, I'm used to chaotic roads. However, what really sets the driving in Cairo apart from these places is the aggression. It often feels like drivers are trying to prove something by how reckless they are, and they often let little things get to them. One Uber driver got so angry at another driver that he lost his cool, and kept swerving more and more erratically. Eventually, he got his left side mirror knocked off by another car (he finally calmed down after that).
I also hate (and this is more of a qualm with the country than the city) that I have to return to Cairo every time I want to switch destinations within Egypt, as most trains and buses depart from the capital city. To be fair though, this has been made much more pleasant by my generous host in Ma'adi, a quiet, cozy suburban district. I often forget I am in Cairo until I have to venture outside to do anything.
I hate Cairo, but it's ok! It's alright, because I've taken some incredible trips to other parts of the country, and have more on the horizon.
I went camping in the desert, near the ancient city of Faiyum. We climbed up a small mountain to watch the most beautiful sunset I'd ever seen in my life. Then, we pitched tents and watched a meteor shower under clear starry skies.
A day later, I began what was easily the highlight of my trip thus far. I ventured ten hours away to a place called Siwa, a large desert oasis near the Libyan border. It was out-of-this-world beautiful. The desert landscape clashed with that of thousands of date palm trees (which you can simply pick and consume fresh dates from). It is one of Egypt's most isolated settlements, so it's also a very interesting place culturally. The people of Siwa are ethnically Berber, and even speak their own language (Siwi). Siwa contains many ancient structures, such as the Temple of the Oracle of Amun, famously visited by Alexander the Great, and the Mountain of the Dead, which contains several tombs.
On the outskirts of the city, is a large salt lake, which is probably the prettiest thing in all of Siwa. The water is a stunning shade of turquoise, and it looks extremely aesthetic next to the salt formations and desert sand. Some local Beduins have set up saltwater swimming in nearby areas of the desert, where you can float on your back, just like in the Dead Sea! The desert also contains several hot springs (most notably Cleopatra's Bath), some with nearby cafes if you want to spend the afternoon swimming. Finally, there are a couple of great spots for sunset watching; they serve fruit juices and hot drinks and are perfect for winding down after a long day of sightseeing.
At the moment, I am back in Cairo for a short period of time. However, I plan on soon departing for a different region of the country for some more backpacking. I'm extremely happy I decided to go to Siwa, and cannot wait to see what else Egypt has in store 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!
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!
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.