Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ultimate freedom and the travel bug

I checked out the beginning of my blog, from when i first stated writing it, and was kind of amused at how much my plans changed by the end of the trip. I had almost completely forgot about my original plans and itinerary that I had come up with from my couch back home, probably because I was/am pretty satisfied with how it all ended up. This also reminded me of one of my favorite things about traveling alone in developing countries; the feeling complete and pure freedom.

First of all, in able to ensure my feeling of complete freedom, before I left home I got rid of my apartment, car payment and insurance, cell phone bill etc. Whatever I didn't throw away, I put in storage,I wanted nothing back home to have to stress about. I had no worries or responsibilities back home, and had only myself to be concerned about. I did have a general idea about where I wanted to go, and how I was going to get there, but any plans I had quickly went out the window, and I'm glad.

Here is one reason of why I was glad that I was willing to divert from any set plans I had, and just go with the flow. When I was in Malawi I met a cool guy from Ireland who I ended up hanging out and traveling around allot with. We had an awesome time but then it was time to move on. we both planned on traveling north, but he had a set-in-stone plan and itinerary, and the next thing on his calendar was to fly to Egypt. With all the riots and revolution stuff going on in Egypt at the time, I tried to convince him that he might have allot more fun in Zanzibar with me. Long story short, while I was drinking margaritas on the beach with my feet in the Indian ocean, he ended up getting stuck in Cairo for a couple weeks, scared for his life.

Not having a schedule or anywhere I HAVE to be, I was free to wake up at noon, mosey down to the beach, go sight seeing in places you would never find on the Internet from back home, or just be ready to embrace the unknown. I've never felt happier than when I would wake up in an awesome place that I loved being, having nowhere I was required to be, and knowing that there was no end to the adventures. I never woke up thinking "yesterday was fun, but it totally sucks that I have to leave tomorrow", instead I would ask myself what I wanted to do that day, then went and did it. That is the feeling of true freedom. I felt sorry for the few tourists that I met, that had worked hard for a whole year to earn their two week vacation, and would be trying to get the most out of their short trip as they could, probably tormented that they were doomed to return to the rat race very soon.

Now I've been home for six months or so, and the travel bug has struck again. This bug can't be avoided, and is like malaria; once you have it, it never goes away, it just flares up once in a while. I tried to avoid it and be a good little student, but I always end up staring out the window dreamily instead of doing homework. It not something you can really talk to your friends about, unless they have the same sickness and can relate. If they don't, they just try to shoot you down with comments like "it would be nice to go where ever, but welcome to the real world", or "it's time to grow up and settle down". Well, chasing your dreams might be irrational to the typical American, but it seems perfectly plausible to me, and when I get something in my head, I'm not satisfied until I make it happen. That's why when the option to go work and study and explore in Australia and meet up with some old friends comes up, it's really hard to ignore it. So now it's time to plan and scheme, and make it happen. Diving in the Great Barrier, ya that doesn't sound too awful.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Traveling Africa: The best and worst

I spent about 55 days on the road in Africa, visited untold numbers of cities, and traveled over 2300 miles as the crow flies, much more with all the zig zagging. The adventures were endless and each day held something different. The horizons before us changed nearly every day along with the animals and people. Every place was new; every day was new.

With all that newness came a lot of great discoveries and also some that I could probably have done without. Here are some of the best and worst of my days on the open road:
Best hostel/backpacker/hotel: It's hard to say really, I think I stayed in about 18 beds, ranging from ferry and train beds, hostels scatted all over the place, and my trusty little tent. If I had to choose though, I think Jolly Boys backpacker in Livingstone Zambia impressed me the most. Partially because of it being built just the way I'd build it, and partially because of it's nearness to the great Victoria Falls, it was really an awesome place

Worst hostel/backpacker/hotel: Near Tete, Mozambique I ended up getting a room at a little truck stop in the middle of town. There was no electricity or water that night, and along with my key, the reception lady gave me a little candle. My door would not lock, and I had to put the bed in front of it to keep the hookers that i saw outside out. ( they don't see many white folks I guess). The open window with bars instead of glass was right next to the parking lot with big trucks running all night, letting in sound and fumes alike. The up side? It only cost $5.

Best meal: Sea food in Zanzibar. Fried barracuda and red snapper, grilled lobster, shrimp and calamari. All locally caught and minutes old... Need I say more.

Worst meal: Fermented fish and pineapple... again, need I saw more.

Best drive: It wasn't really a drive, but the long train ride through Tanzania provided some of the best views ever. My sleeper had a huge window that completely opened, allowing unimpeded photo opportunities. It was an unforgettable ride.

Cape Town's Camps Bay

Worst drive: There was no ATMs in Monkey Bay Malawi, so I ended up hitch hiking to the nearest town, about two hours away. I rode in the back of a small truck, and was the only one for a while, but the guy driving was intent on not letting anyone in Africa walk. By the time we arrived I had been in the back of a small Toyota being crushed by 23 other people for more than an hour. I've never been so glad to arrive somewhere in my life.

Best experience: Getting scuba certified. After that, diving became not only a passion, but an addiction.

Best city: Cape Town. Modern and beautiful, cultured and fun. I love this city near the coast.
Most shocking: Cage diving in S. Africa was epic, but even with a wet suit the water was heart stopping cold.

Favorite thing: The freedom of the road. Forging my own path and discovering the undiscovered that lay before me. There is something truly exhilarating about waking up to something new each day.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

How to travel the world on the cheap.

The joy of new experience is the most wonderful thing about travel – and new experiences are free.

Traveling the way most people do it isn’t enough. Saving all year long at a job for just two weeks a year won’t let you see the world the way you want to see it. So you find someone to take care of your stuff while you travel the world. You’re all set to see everything you ever wanted for as long as you want. Then you realize something: you don’t have enough money to do it. So what should you do? Here are some ways to travel the world long term on the cheap.

1. Decide to make it a priority.

If you are going to travel long term, sell your junk. No reason to have things like bills worrying you from home. You wont be needing you car payment, cell phone, appartment, and all those other toys that lighten the wallet. If you make traveling the world your number one priority, I promis you, you will make it happpen.

2. Live as cheaply as possible

That means staying with your parents, sleeping on your friends couch or sharing a place with several people. The point is, don’t spend any money… you’re in saving mode. If you just graduated, get your student loans defered an extra six months. Don't drink away your paychecks.. Tell yourself this. I can either go out tonight and spend $50 getting drunk with the buddies, or I can spend $50 on a weeks accomadation in Cambodia. It makes sense.

3. Get a job

 Any job will do. You’ll just be working for the summer, so it doesn't matter where you work. You might not want to work at Taco Bell normaly, but remember it's just a means to an ends. You are just doing what it takes to reach your goal.

4. Save about $1000

Most people can do this in one month, but obviously it depends on how much you drink away, where you live and whether you can land a well-paying gig. At the very most, this will take three months.

5. Get a cheap backpack.

Pack about three outfits, a swimsuit and whatever else you can’t live without. You’ll probably ditch 50% of your pack in the first month, because everyone over-packs (and when you have to physically carry it around everyday, it doesn’t seem quite so worth it). My pack lost 40 lbs in South Africa within a month.

6. Find a flight to somewhere… anywhere
 I highly suggest checking out Kayak, and for deals from your specific airport. If you can make it to a major city like LA or NYC, you can save a ton on airfare. Once you buy that flight, you will know for sure you are going, then work even harder to make it happen.

7. Relax.

Once you’re on the ground, in whatever country you start in, it’s much easier to figure things out. So relax. Don’t email me a bunch of questions about where to buy toothpaste in Guatemala, because it will all become clear once you’re there. People ask me so many questions like that. Just wing it, or you might psych yourself out and never leave.

8. Use couch surfing for places to stay.

You’re young, broke and out to see the world. This is probably the only time in your life when sleeping on a futon is a practical way to travel. Plus you’ll have a guide and new friends. If you’re uncomfortable with staying at stranger’s homes, or to book a dorm room (you’ll still be sleeping next to strangers?). Buy a Lonely Planet for the area, and read up on everything on the way there.

9. Get a job.

You can work under the table. If you have a degree you can teach English. If you don’t have a degree, you can teach English under the table. Check with the hostels in town. Talk to other travelers, especially those who have been there for a few months. My biggest asset was making connections and networking. I thought I would be a lone travelor in strange lands, all on my own. Was delighted to find tons of other backpackers doing the same thing. There are opportunities everywhere. You arent trying to get rich, just make enough to keep traveling.

10. Work, make friends, have fun, explore the local area.

When you get sick of it, move on to the next place. Rinse, wash and repeat. You’re traveling and all it took was a month or two to raise airfare and you’re off. Most people I talk to want to travel the world, but are scared to death of going alone or without tons of ''emergency'' money in bank, so much so that they are content to never leave home. I am not extraordinarily brave, never had much money in the bank, but I did know what I wanted to do, and made it happen.
 Last semester in my International Studies class, as part of a project where we were trying to get people to travel more, our proffesor suggested we ask people why they thought they couldn't travel, and come up with solutions. The list went something like this.
But I can’t get a job/save money/travel cheaply. I'm broke.

If you’re stuck in a small town with no jobs, move to a bigger city where you can get work. You’re young! Take a greyhound bus, find somewhere to stay and hit up every temp agency. If you can’t save money because you have all kinds of expenses, trim back your lifestyle. If you’re shaking your head no, "there’s no way I can give up my car" kind of thing, then that’s fine. Just realize you just picked having a certain lifestyle over travel. — travel isn’t just handed to most people, they have to make sacrifices and work for it.

I will be robbed, kidnapped and killed — my mom saw it on TV!

They actually keep statistics on this and the fact is that you’re more likely to encounter violence at home than you are abroad. If you’re worried about the safety of any particular destination, check out the website. Most places I went felt safer than big cities are around the U.S. I would rather hitch hike in Mexico than walk around in parts of L.A

What if I run out of money?

I have heard stories of people blowing all their money in Mui Ne, a town in Vietnam, then getting a DJing job the next day and loving life. I guess if you ran out of money, you’d have to call someone back home, beg them for airfare to the states and eat a little crow. If you’re running through your cash, with no job, then yes, that’s a problem. The thing is, it is much, much cheaper to live most places outside of the US. So if you haven’t traveled before, maybe you’re thinking about how much it costs to live here and worried about being able to pull in that kind of money abroad. If you were really, really broke — like robbed, no money, no family, no friends broke — what would you do in the US? You’d figure it out. You can do that abroad too.

What about when I get back, won’t I be way behind my peers?

In short, no. I would put your travel experience on your resume, maybe do a skills resume. In this way you can use those travel experiences to your benefit. The fact that you traveled around the world for a year, teaching English in South Korea or working at a vineyard in Australia, tells more about your personality and abilities than a year spent doing grunt work. When you are old and decrepid, what are you going to remember more; traveling the world for a year or so, or being broke and jobless when you got back? Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Favorite Places part III: Hue, Vietnam

My time in Hue was pretty great for a number of reasons. First of all, I met allot of fellow travelers from all over the world, and we partied like it was 1999. We frequented this bar in downtown Hue, next to some of our friend's hostel, because the beers were so cheap. One night about twelve of us where drinking there all night, beer after beer, and were very pleasantly surprised when we got our bill and it was about $14. I also went and checked out the former DMZ, which was a treat for a war history buff such as my self. At the DMZ signs can be seen everywhere warning of land mines left over from the war.

US tanks on display near the DMZ

From my hotel it was a few miles walk to get to the Purple Forbidden Palace of Hue. Situated on the Perfume river, I don't think I've ever seen such beautiful ruins in my life. Castles with motes, court yards with dragon statues, pagodas with monks; top all this off with very foggy, drizzly, almost mysterious weather and the mood is really set.

 The place is perfectly landscaped and taken care of, and around every corner I expected to find monks lined up practicing kung fu, karate kid style. The city is huge, I walked through it for an hour, but eventually I came to the areas the guide books warn you about; the parts bombarded during the war and never rebuilt.

Hue's central location positions it very near the North and South Vietnamese DMZ, Hue being just south of the border. On January 31, 1968, the first day of the new year on the traditional lunar calendar, also known as tet, year of the monkey and the most important Vietnamese holiday, Northern Vietnamese forces launched the largest military offensive of the Vietnam war. Though it was announced that both sides would take a two day break from the war in honor of the new year, communist forces sent waves of around 80,000 forces south of the border. The battle of Hue was fierce and savage fighting there lasted a month, during which time the communist executed thousands of residents resulting in what is now known as the Massacre of Hue. During all of this, much of the Forbidden City was destroyed by the US and it's allies. Despite all of this, and the failure to rebuild for the most part, Hue, in my book, is still one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lake Powell, Utah

 It's in the U.S, but for me is still traveling and an awesome place to go; Lake Powell. Besides Powell being the most beautiful lake I've been to, it is also the best fishing I've experienced. Certain times of the year people head to the lake to catch strippers when they are boiling. A striper boil is when a huge school of stripers are eating and messing around near the surface, creating a crazy looking frenzy that should be any fisherman's dream. On a normal day people can pull in between 40 to 50 big stripers, during a boil, more than 100.
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Google stock.

Besides the epic fishing, Powell has the best oportunity I've ever seen for exploring canyons. We would boat through narrow canyon after narrow canyon, just awwed by the scenery. Supposedly Lake Powell has more coast line the the whole United States. I spent six days on a 67 ft house boat in Bullfrog Bay, and I love the place. How about I just let the pictures do the talking.

google stock.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Favorite Places part II: Tofo

Google stock; Worlds biggest fish the whale shark

For my favorite places part II, I think I have to mention Tofo, Mozambique. While traveling around the rest of southern Africa, I got so many other backpackers telling me I had to go diving on Tofo, that it was inevidable that I ended up there. I was pretty disapointed however when I go there, due to the fact that it was January first, and all the prices where tripled at the hostels. On top of that, the whole town was so crowded when I got there, that the one road into town was grid locked, and I had to walk about a mile from where the bus finaly had let us off. In the dark, getting directions to a hostel, I finaly arrived at the ultra packed Fatimas Nest Backpackers.

The Mesa State crew

The lounge area at Fatimas Nest

Paying $20 a night for a shoulder to shoulder, tent to tent hostel is never on my agenda, and the only reason I stuck it out was the awesome beach, great weather and beautiful scenery, but on about the sixth the whole town seemed to be abandoned of tourists, and the cost went back to normal. Me and my friends practicaly had Fatimas to our self, and were free to explore the area in peace.

Tofo and surrounds have some truly excellent diving, with nice reefs and excellent large marine life. Whale sharks and Humpback Whales in season, reef sharks and much more. We were told at a marine biologist seminar, featuring whale sharks, that the Tofo area has one of the greatest concentrations of the giant fish in the world. Evidently the whale sharks, along with giant manta rays, put Tofo on the map. The biologist even took people on snorkeling tours with them, when they needed to tag or track the sharks. The reafs aren't any good for snorkeling, being too deep to see, but there are atleast three dive centers in town. Liquid Adventures is where we got the best deal, and ended up getting open water certified.
Diving turned out to be one of my favorite things i've ever done, and now I'm hooked for life. Once you get use to the low oxygen and restrictive breathing, things for me became extremely relaxed and soothing, topped with amazing sights a non-diver would never experiance.

For four or five days all I did was dive in cool reefs with names like Clownfish Reef, Mike's Cubbard, Salon, Sherwood Forest and Manta Reef. It was an unforgetable week.

North of Tofo beach