Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Laughing Makes the World Go Round - How humility and laughter lead to a more open existence

Off to do laundry, or boldly showing off a new trend in cranial protection?

An important practice for traveling (as well as living an open-minded lifestyle) is shedding yourself of cultural lenses. These, of course, are the viewpoints and understandings we have of the world based on our upbringing. We use them to perceive and judge our current surroundings. Shedding our lenses, seeing the world with open eyes, helps us to see the beauty in everything, even if it doesn't fit the framework of what we previously have come in contact with. While we all seek to become the type of person who can blend in like a chameleon, does that mean we shouldn’t be taken back when we see something truly bizarre? Truly bizarre, that is, according to the lens in which we are trying so hard to remove? For myself, I believe that being able to acknowledge something that challenges your familiar footing, knowing full well that this is normal for everyone else around you, is perfectly acceptable, as long as you can palate the same dish once it is served to you.

Here’s an example: yesterday, while driving to a waterfall in northern Thailand, I saw two students riding together on a single motorbike (see above). This, of course, while not something I see a lot in the states, is very normal for Asia. I, too, was riding on a single motorbike with a friend at the time. What deviated from my normal image of Thailand, striking me as bizarre and humorous, was that one of the students was wearing a helmet, while the other was wearing a full-size washing bucket to protect his noggin. I’m not talking a small, nearly-fitted bucket. I’m talking something that could nearly be used as a kiddie pool. While this made me giggle, the truth is it isn't the first time I've seen bizarre headwear while traversing the streets in Southeast Asia. Does that mean, though, that even if it tickled my funny bone, I shouldn't enjoy a little giggle at something that seems so different to me in an attempt to become more culturally appropriate? I don't believe so.

Those who have the ability to be laughed at for things they do and love, but may be wacky or bizarre to others, have no problem doing the same when they see something bizarre and wacky. The reason being is that it comes from a place of love and humility, and a place of understanding. Do I fully understand why this Thai kid was wearing a bucket instead of a helmet? No, but I understand that he was doing it for a purpose, and that he does him and I do me. And here in lies the beauty of diversity; acknowledging that we are all different yet exist in the same place. The truth is that that this truth is funny. The immense differences between one culture to another can be downright hilarious. They can also be beautiful. They can be inspiring. The can be intriguing.  If we can see this, and be humble, then we quickly realize the differences and diversity is what makes the world stay interesting and wonderful. 
I didn't get my letter, but I snuck onto the Hogwarts 
Express anyway. If you dress like this, be prepared to be 
laughed at.

In Thailand, I’ve seen full families on a single motorbike. In fact, this is a regular occurrence. I’ve seen people rope enough materials to fill a truck bed on the back of their scooter, as well as a man drive through a brick and mortar restaurant during dinner time because it was the fastest route to his home. It’s bizarre to me, but it’s normal here. This is a small example and not only OK but, in fact, it's great. On that same note, I’ve seen westerns walk through the street shirtless (not a good idea), do acro-yoga in the middle of a park to the amazement of local folks, slack line, juggle, or participate in other eye-catching, yet strange behavior, that made Thai’s stop, stare, and giggle. Without the giggles from the Thai folks, and some humility on the hippies playing, this culture interaction may not have occurred. We are all weird, not only to different cultures but to ourselves. So why not bath in this gloriously strange concoction we are all a part of? 

Part of being a good traveler, let alone a good person, is being able to acknowledge a different way of thought, interact with it, but also be OK with realizing it isn’t your cup of tea. Without knowing your own lens, your own culture, this is impossible. Along the same lines, with only knowing your own lens, your own culture, this is still impossible. There is a Aristotle quote that states “…it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it,” which perfectly describes this phenomena. You don't have to accept every culture, thought, or way of understanding as your own, but for any sort of balance to occur, you need to learn to interact with them.  As stated a few times before, what it comes down to is humility. Humility renders the ability to laugh at ourselves for our short comings or bizarre habits. It opens our hearts, allowing us to laugh at and with others firmly rooted in the basis of mutual respect and gratitude. 

Being alive with an open mind is wonderful, but don’t starve yourself of being wowed by something so different, so foreign from what you know that it brings you to laughter, tears, or awe. Just know that as mind boggling as this sight may be, your next action may render a reciprocal result. Maybe this mentality isn’t for everyone, but if I ever stop begin wowed by jerry-rigged repair jobs, full families on a single motorbikes, or seeing a dude rocking a wash basin on his head instead of a helmet, I know I've taken a wrong step somewhere, and need to regain my footing. 

Where I come from the police street performances aren't normally fun for everyone, they typically involve beatings...

Photos courtesy of author and friends

Friday, October 23, 2015

10 Ways to Show Outward Gratitude while Traveling

Let’s be honest, if being abroad and roaming the beautiful earth doesn’t render you grateful for being alive, then there’s a good chance you are doing it wrong. Traveling, be it for a week or a lifetime, is great. It reminds you how important the simple things in life are, and makes the less than stellar aspects more palatable. If you are the one who planned your trip, funded it, and for all intents and purposes, made sure that S actually happened, who should you show your gratitude to? The answer, my friends, is yourself, your travel companions, those in the country you are visiting, as well as the random person you passed on the street, the animals walking around, smiling children, and, of course, life overall. Basically, your gratitude should be so overwhelming that you are just walking around thanking everyone you come in contact with. If that seems too much for you, here are 10 solid ways to outwardly show your appreciation for life being super awesome

Please help this person look less ridiculous
Offer to take Someone’s Picture: While this may not be as relevant in modern days with this ridiculous piece of equipment being so popular, people like to have their pictures taken. Selfie stick or not, a picture taken by one person of another person or group of people will always look better than trying to get your selfie on. Even if you don’t speak the language of someone trying to get a picture of themselves, use some sign language. Making your hands into a box and saying "cliiiiiccckk," is pretty much universal. Show some gratitude by helping someone else capture a special memory from a trip that they are deeply happy to be on as well.

Learn Some Local Phrases: Ok, ok, so maybe we aren’t all going to become polyglots, but do we really have to be totally ignorant of a language? While English is becoming more and more prevalent (with many people opting to learn it rather than local languages elsewhere), learning at least a few words and phrases in a culture goes a long way. People love to hear words in their own language, especially if you are in their country. Please and thank you are musts, but actually learning words that help you count, ask how much, or even just something silly that can make someone laugh, are all great. The effort put in to learn these phrases shows gratitude more than a thank you in English ever could.

Be a Conscious Tourist: Among all things on this list, being a conscious tourist may be at the top. Learning phrases is keenly important, but actually learning the culture shows true gratitude for being a welcomed guest. Be it dressing culturally appropriate or avoiding activities that are culturally inappropriate but created for tourist purposes (i.e sex tourism in Thailand) learning this dichotomy is a must for a conscious traveler. Along with the former, finding local accommodation, tours, shops, and places to eat are some of the easiest ways to show gratitude and better your travel over all.

Support Street Performers: Without a simple donation here or there, street performers wouldn’t exist. If you find yourself walking down a street and enjoy the music, art, poetry, or incredible physical accomplishment you see, reach in your pocket and put your money where your happiness is. All donations, regardless of denomination, are accepted. While some may argue that this encourages the black market, the truth is that street performers add joy to life, as well as make streets safer by garnering more attention to areas they are performing. Performers bring in a higher volume of people, and, coincidently, normally perform at night. Safer streets = happier people = better existence. 

Support art and creativity

Saving your Leftovers: Why would one save their leftovers? Because wasting food is silly, and even if you aren’t going to eat it, many homeless people like to hangout where the tourists flock. Instead of getting hassled, or getting upset when someone asks you for change, give a person some of your food. You’ll be amazed with how grateful a hungry person will be when given something to eat. This is a very simple gesture, and one that is mutually beneficial to yourself and the no longer rumbling belly of the person receiving the food.

Not Giving Money to Street Children: While this seems harsh, and almost in contrast to the last form of gratitude, it is the best thing you can do for street children. The truth is, there is a large correlation between children receiving money and not returning to school. Children who tend to work or beg and receive money are positively rewarded for doing so. School may be lucrative in the long-run, but money in hand is immediate gratification. Sometimes they are forced by their parents, other times it is on their own accord, but the truth is, as long as it is an alluring option, it will continue to happen. If you do want to help children as a form of gratitude, find a local organization that works with street kids and donate your time or money. While a little bit of money given directly to a child may be somewhat helpful in the short-term, I promise its long-term implications are not positive. 

Artist's welcoming tourists on a local train
Handwritten Notes, Postcards, and Thank You’s: This is coming from a person whose handwriting is nearly illegible, handwritten anything these days will bring a smile to someone’s face. Can you draw? It doesn’t matter. Making your own thank you card, writing a poem, or even just doodling something for someone secretly in their travel journal for them to find later will bring joy to someone's life.

Being Respectful in your Accommodation: While your accommodation abroad is your home at the time, it really isn’t your home. In fact, there is a good possibility you share at least the location, if not the actual room, with other travelers. Show your gratitude by not being a dick! You can do this buy cleaning up after yourself, being quite during the early morning or late night, using a shared room only for sleeping, and most important of all, not trying to hook up secretly when you are in a dorm room. You're not being sneaky, your being obnoxious. Choosing your accommodation according to what your intentions are in a place, as well as treating it as if it was your own, oozes gratitude, and will result in a good karma down the road. 

Being Environmentally Friendly: While not all destinations you visit will be up on their green game, part of showing gratitude is being good to the earth on which you are roaming. One super easy way to do this is by cutting down on single-use items you will definitely come in contact with. If you are street food or drink fan, bring your own container and liquid receptacle, as well as reusable utensils (or eat with your hands, it’s fun!). Do you buy stuff from stores often? Bring your own sack! These ideas, as well as self-powered modes of transpiration, are easy ways to be more green and give this beautiful earth a giant bear hug!

Bringing home gifts: Everyone loves gifts, even people who say they don't. Buy or make some gifts for people, especially those who least expect it. Even if you don't see the happiness they get from receiving said gift in the moment, it will absolutely mean something to the receiver. 

Photos courtesy of: Wall Street Journal and author

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cultural Appropriation and Traveling Abroad

The basis of abolishing cultural appropriation

It is easy to fall into stereotypes while traveling. Often times, because you are so far away from your own culture, people will immediately peg you a certain way. With these generalizations having a bit of merit, you tend to accept the role. As a person from the states with Australian roots, I do find myself falling into little traps. I feel as if I say “howdy,” “y’all,” “I’ma,” “fosho,” and allow exclamations of “your Australian, so you surf (even though my surfing ability is quite mediocre),” to occur more often than I’d like to admit. It happens. But, what I have seen more often than not while being abroad is that what most people believe of culture in the United States doesn’t come from the mainstream majority, but instead, is deeply rooted in black culture.

The fact is, some of the most notable cultural traits that disseminate from the United States are those that are typically related to black culture. When we look at styles, vernacular, and most importantly, music, most of what people learn outside the US, and believe of the US, is directly derived from black culture. When we look at our society as a whole, with how we dress, what we listen to, the words that come out of our mouths, and where we go for entertainment (think popular music, sports, the dialogue in film and TV even if it isn't between people of color), a large part of the overall culture is owed to black Americans in general. People outside the states being exposed to these facets is completely understandable and fair. What isn’t fair, though, is trying to own black culture as American culture, yet still living in a society that is built on systemic racism. 

In the past year and change we have seen some horrific acts occur in the United States, sparking movements such as #blacklivesmatter. While these movements are absolutely necessary, attempting to bring overarching understanding of the deep rooted racial discrimination in our country, we've seen it met with some horrible and unwarranted backlash from non-black communities. Communities, of which, are happy to partake in aspects of black culture, yet show no support. As a caucasian person from the middle to upper class white suburbs, I have the distinct (-ly disgusting) pleasure of understanding where this ignorance originates. I understand it because I grew up in it. I embodied it. As time went on and I was able to leave it, I saw where it was catalyzed. It is an entitlement thing. It is a bubble thing. Most of all, it is a lack of cultural awareness thing. It is directly derived from public schools teaching a single racial and cultural history, further emphasizing the issue of deep-seated racial discrimination. We as a culture are happy to not only associate with, but profit from black culture, yet we aren’t willing to stand up against issues that plague the overall community. We package it and export it, yet we don't support it in our own borders.
A movement started out of necessity, bring to light deep rooted racial issues

As a person who spends most of my time abroad, I have a much better grasp on perceptions from the outside then I do on the inside. I can tell you what aspects of black culture are being portrayed in different countries, and what type of picture our mass media’s portrayal of black culture creates. Here's a spoiler, much like in the states, it isn't always great. I’ve had more conversations revolving around the “N word,” and it’s “appropriate,” usage than I would like to admit. The sad truth is often the outcome is people of multiple races finding no problem with themselves using it because "Kanye West says it." I've also had to explain to people wearing confederate flag attire (which was sold in their homeland outside the states) what that symbol means. I’ve seen predominately caucasian crowds at hip hop clubs worldwide not react to classics like this, this, or even some of the 90’s jams, yet go completely dumb when “N****z in Paris,” came on. While this in itself isn’t necessarily a huge issue, what it does show is that only a small, mass produced portion of an entire culture is being portrayed through a lens of the majority. On top of that, it also shows how the appropriation of the culture is something exported as well. If small glimpses of a culture is all that is being portrayed, how are those on the receiving end supposed to learn and appreciate the culture in full? 
I’m not an expert on these issue, but I am willing to point out a negative occurrence in hopes of making change. The cold hard fact is, unless we as a culture in the United States can at least accept the fact that we have messed up, and there is a hierarchal system which places certain demographics above others, we will never be able to make a change. As well, unless we can treat one another with dignity and respect in our own country, how can we expect folks outside the US to treat our differing cultures with respect? Our media, whether you are cognizant or not, spreads extremely far. What we do in the US, how we treat one another, and what we create in film, music, literature, and news has a large ripple effect. Its wake spreads much farther than most people could ever imagine.
My hope is that if you find happiness in listening to music, using language, or enjoying literature or cinema created by people who don’t share your demographic, you realize that it is a privilege. What makes the US great is our diversity. We are the melting pot for a reason, and without all the cultures present, we would be no where near the country we are today (for better and for worse). The best way to show gratitude for this blessing is to acknowledge we have problems in our country, many of which specifically targeting those outside of the majority, and amend our own behavior. If we want to keep enjoying our delicious, multi-cultural existence, and want those outside the US to see it in a positive light, we need to start taking action that garners equality for every ingredient in the pot.

Is this how we want to portray multiculturalism to the rest of the world?

Photos courtesy of Black Girl Long Hair, Every Voice, and Noisey 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Transitions, They're a Real B!

A typical lyric from a shitload of current pop songs references some sort of journey which touches ground in LA, New York, Ibiza, London, Hong Kong, and/or Tokyo. With arguably some of the most popular night life being found in these areas, apparently this is a normal tourist trail for DJs, rappers, MCs, socialites, and whoever this person is (gross!). While I'm not sure of the depth of these people's travel budgets, or if they are purchasing a round-the-world ticket as opposed to going a-la-cart based on how hard they rage (poor bodies), but such a wide range of countries in one fell swoop sounds hectic. Maybe rappers don't sleep on airport floors or worry about cultural competency, but even so, a journey to this magnitude could cause a lot more strife than just jet leg. 

While the idea of visiting so many amazing destinations sounds great (and it is!), truth be told, it does come with its setbacks. Travel, be it long-term or hopping from one tourist sight to the next, can be disorienting. For me, each new place I visit, I tend to have a checklist of what I need to do to feel settled. Learning the local currency is a must. Finding out a few key phrases (hello, thank you, where's the bathroom, does this look infected?) also tops that list. Figuring out how to not be a disrespectful A-hole is positive, as well as finding a group of transitory besties to curb the loneliness. This song and dance, while part of the travel game, can be an exhausting measure for any road-weary tumbleweed. The transition from one place to the next is the part of travel I struggle with the most.

To be honest, though, the idea of travel transitions are both awe-inspiring and horrifying at the same time. There is something to be said about staying with a devout Muslim family, eating cous cous until your 1 am flight to Barcelona, only to wake up on the beach (where you slept as opposed to paying for a hostel) to western men and women swimming naked and making out in public. There is also some majesty in spending weeks on a pilgrim trail, walking with other soul-searching counterparts, only to end up in a hip hop club in Vienna, mere hours later, failing at explaining how Kanye West may not be the best ambassador of black culture to a disbelieving crowd of Europeans. It is an amazing feeling to have such differing experiences so close in proximity, yet it can be a trip in itself to wrap your head around all you've seen and felt. The truth is, though, that travel is not the only place where transitions occur.

Transitioning from one culture to another may be unique to vagabonds, but the idea of transitions aren't found solely in the wandering world. Being able to transition is a part of all walks of life. Be it a triathlete trying to better their time by shaving off a few seconds from the bike to the run, or a person trying to maintain a balance between their work and home life, transitions exist everywhere. Students graduating from college trying to cope with inevitable jump from school to "real life," feel the heat of a transition. People whom have differing groups of friends or seek a broad spectrum of thought know about transitions. Teachers whom gracefully teeter from a stern disciplinarian to a kind and loving roll model at the drop of the hat live and breath transitions. Yet, with as many transitions as we encounter in daily life, the ability to do it freely and gracefully is a skill that isn't so easily mastered. Many folks fail when trying to successfully navigate even the most common of transitions.
In my travel life, I can be whomever I want to be. One day I may be an introverted writer in an Spanish cafe that resembles Hooked on Colfax enough that I curb homesick tinges. The next, I could be the life of the party anywhere from Marrakech to Monaco. This is what I love about travel. Yet, the period between one existence to the next often comes with a hint of desire to hang up the old backpack. The days where I want to rest my hat on a more permanent post are few and far between, but most of the time they walk hand and hand with transitions. It's said we can't run from our demons. If we try to hide, they find us. If we try to swim, they hop in a boat. If we fly from one end of the earth to the next, they meet us in the middle, when we are the most vulnerable. The freewheeling life fits me, this is for certain. Truth be told, if my pack ever does become to heavy to bare, I have a hint it will be at the hands of one too many transitions to wrap my brain around.

No matter how many transitions we see, for some, the place that exists between finding comfort in one experience to the next is the most difficult place of all. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Different Types of Romance you’ll Experience While Traveling

We all know one of the best aspects of travel is the romance. In fact, the truthful traveler will put it on par with gaining perspective, engaging in different cultural practices, and overall learning. The truth is that a little romance makes all these things sweeter. While in our home and native lands it is great as well, there is an intangible additive that travel creates. The saying goes “to each their own,” and with travel romances, this couldn’t be more true. Here are a few of the many types of travel romances one will encounter when hitting the road, as well as how the stack up in the fields of passion and longevity. 

the One Night Stand romance - OK, OK, OK. I know you can experience one of these anywhere you go, but they happen while traveling, too. You can normally find this type of “romance,” in all the same places you would back home (bars, night clubs, etc) but also on booze cruises, overnight transportation, airport layovers, or trying to clandestinely hit it in dorm rooms to the peril of all the other horrified people with whom you share the room (dick!). The one kicker with a travel one night stand is the majority of the time it happens with someone from a different culture (awesome!). The One Night Stand romance loosely fits in this article, only because it happens while on the road.
Passion level: 2…which your shit-faced brain mistakes for a 9
Longevity: -2

the One Tour Stand romance - This is the classy, older sibling of the One Night Stand. The One Tour Stand romance occurs between a person on a tour and either another tourist or their faithful tour guide. Tour groups bring together a whole bunch of random individuals, normally from differing destinations, who all fit generally under the same umbrella due to what they are able to pay for said tour. Whilst experiencing new and exciting things, two (or more!) individuals will find connection blossoming like the exotic flora and fauna they came to see. Maybe it is the change in climate or just how magical even the simplest of things feel when you are in a new destination. One thing’s for sure though, the fire building within you can’t be contained, but it will probably fizzle out. Just like the tour will inevitably end, so will this romantic unison.
Passion Level: 8
Longevity: 2

the Island Fever romance: So you are stuck on an island with nothing to do but enjoy the sand, sun, and surf. Oh wait, there is also all the other swimsuit-clad tourists whom you can enjoy as well! This type of romance, of course, doesn’t always happen on an island. It can happen at any isolated destination where there is nothing more to do than profit from the beautiful nature, enjoy an adult beverage or herbal remedy, and mingle with the other lucky souls who realized that a place like this exists. While most of the time, much like cabin fever, this type of romance fades as quickly as your sun tan, it does have potential to blossom into the Tourist Trail Love Tale (see below), the Peripatetic Lovers, or even the big L-word!

     Passion: 6, because those mid-morning beers really take it out of you, making it exceedingly difficult to unleash the burning passion at night.
     Longevity: 4

the Expat Shuffle romance: It is called the “shuffle,” because those within specific expat communities will eventually shuffle between each other as partners. It is kind of like being in high school again, except the stakes are a lot higher. The amount of teachers, business people, and guides I’ve met who have had to relocate, or even find a new niche, due to a little too much double dipping is unreal. Why these people don’t try the Taste of Local Cuisine romance is beyond me. Either way, expats love to stir up the drama within their own community.

Passion Level: 7
Longevity: As long as the contract with the signed dotted line.

the We Can Finally Articulate Ourselves Fully romance: While the whole point of travel is to experience something new, at some point you are going to want to speak in your native tongue, using the fullest extent of your vocabulary. Often times, when you find that person whom shares the same native tongue, and the same desire to fully articulate themselves, you realize that the most conducive atmosphere to elaborate is horizontally between guest house sheets. Don’t beat yourself up, we all do it. In fact, lots of times it ends up being awesome. Shedding your travel skin for just a moment and indulging in pure national pride is A-OK. While there is the possibility of realizing that the luscious lover lying next to you looks more like a last resort after the passion dies, at least the only thing you will leave in the room as you sneak out is your homesick yearnings. 

Passion level: 2-8 Depending on the outcome 
Longevity: 2 (except for those folks who realize that they were just running from
their problems back home while enjoying the embrace of a fellow countryman/woman)

the Taste of Local Cuisine romance: There are many ways to get a taste of local cuisine on this list, but because it is regular facet of travel, it does deserve its own category. Maybe you are taking a course in a foreign destination and find someone who enjoys your butchered attempt at their language? Perhaps you are in a tourist hot spot and engage with a person who is just as intrigued with your culture as you are with theirs? Maybe your tour guide, guest house employee, transportation driver, or interpreter is just too damn sexy not to make a pass at? All the above and more can lead to an unforgettable culture experience. Just remember, post-game activities may differ from one culture to the next, so be prepared for an interesting morning after, trying to decipher exactly what is a culturally appropriate exit plan.

Passion Level: 10
Longevity: 0-10

the Tourist Trail Love Tale romance: While this romance can occur for short-term travelers, it is mostly reserved for those who have taken the vow to travel for more than a two week vacation. Travelers like this will often choose a region, as opposed to a single destination, and find themselves on a trail that is laden with other travelers hoping to also imbibe in all the splendor of the region. This beautiful romance is fluid. You meet, you love, you depart, you reconnect, you enjoy. This is the essence of travel and love intertwined. While there is no specific commitment to one another, there is an underlying devotion, and a secret desire that paths will cross once again. Though this can wind up a bit messy due to emotions, the possibility of other travel romances invading this beautiful unison, or a person departing in hopes of not meeting up again, the Tourist Trail Love Tale is one romance all travelers will hopefully be blessed to experience.

Passion Level: 9
Longevity: 8-10 (Until the money or travel bug runs out!)

the Peripatetic Pounding Pals romance: While this article is written for a target audience of travelers, there are those people whose lives consist of moving. Some people like to stay in one place for months, years, or a lifetime, while others may find themselves moving every other week. Believe it or not, there are people for folks like this. Often times, a roaming individual’s moves can even be based on the partnerships they’ve made, and the romances they have in differing destinations. Most of these people have steady jobs or paychecks, yet their work location is undefined. While the “pals,” they choose to pound with may be stationary, this romance often occurs between career vagabonds who put all their faith in where the wind will blow them next. 

Passion Level: 9
Longevity: 7 (Surprisingly, these guys tend to find people who only commit to work and location, so a vagabond pounding pal is perfect!

the Love romance: You know what they say, it is best to meet your future or current spouse doing something you love, rather than drinking at a bar or sad, late-night Tinder sessions. Travel romances are fun by definition, but sometimes they can turn serious. The luckiest of travelers will find their counterpart in the midsts of backpacks, turning wheels, and tumbleweed dreams. When they do, only time will tell if their sails will still be raised, or if their wandering ways were secretly motivated by finding the one.

Passion Level: 10
Longevity: 10 (Or at least long than an average celebrity marriage)

Photos courtesy of Author

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What I learned as a non-Muslim, westerner fasting during Ramadan

Eid Moubarak! While the moon dissolved into a dark abyss as its waining cycle came to a close this July, a large portion of God's green earth found themselves savoring the final portion of the holy month of Ramadan. During, arguably, the most important and "happiest' of months on the Islamic calendar, I fasted for about half the time. For a Muslim, not only is this an unimpressive feat, it is sacrilege. But for a non-Muslim possessing dual-citizenship between two of the fattest nations on the planet, I'm happy give myself a pat on the back. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, and with this being my second crack at living in the Muslim world for the sacred month, another attempt at fasting was in order.

What is most striking about fasting to an untrained eye is how quickly an entire country can transform to being nocturnal. During the day, normally bustling metropolises have an eerie, almost post-apocalyptic feel. Heavy steel doors replace the welcoming view of goods hanging in doorways and windows. Stalwart men in cafes continue in their quotidian, yet their hands are restless, devoid of their normal caffeinated and nicotine-filled vices. The day is lonely and somber, but the night, in contrast, is alive and electric.

After the call to prayer (often accompanied by booming alarms or canons) sounds, allowing parched tongues and singing bellies to be satiated, the streets become overwhelmed with euphoric folks, restored and energetic. In the moonlight, they go about their procrastinated tasks. The narrow alleyways of souks in anciennes medinas become turgid, overflowing with motorbikes. Voices send out greetings or attempts at commerce. Corners of shade that were perviously filled with those unabashedly napping are now host to trays, filled to the brim with nourishment, which seemed to appear out of thin air. All is well, all is jubilant, until the moon's mischievous face brings rest to the land.

As a heathen, Ramadan was advertised to me as the best month of each year. When the new moon arises, a new chance to redefine and revamp faith is bestowed upon the devoted. It is a time to give Zakat. It is a time to practice patience. It is a time to revisit the holy book that was given so many years ago during this month. It is a time for family, friends, and becoming an overall better person, which in Morocco, is a more devoted follower of the fastest growing religion in the world.

I chose to fast during this month for a few reasons. One reason being I feel very uncomfortable eating and drinking while the general population is starving. The days I didn't fast, I snuck food and water behind closed doors or hidden deep in tourists havens. The main reason, though, revolves around building solidarity with my Moroccan co-workers, and a desire to gain a first hand experience of a different culture. As the Moroccans use Ramadan to build faith, I used these days in the same light, revisiting my own spirituality. Some rearranging occurred, as a large part of my spirituality is based on physical activity, but adaptability and patience is paramount during Ramadan. While starvation and dehydration did lead to more lucid visuals, what vividly stuck out to me was the bizarre relationship I have with food and drink. It's no secret that in the States we overeat. Having been a competitive athlete for a majority of my existence, my food intake has never been minimal. During the dry daytime hours, even the days when I was doing manual labor or playing soccer with the men in the rural village where I was working, I found hunger was not at the forefront of my thoughts. In fact, hunger was rarely the issue. The nourishing kiss of liquid to a parched mouth was nearly all consuming. This month opened my eyes to the truthful statement of water being the nectar of life.

While the daily arguments and short tempers of those who struggled to stave off vices may disagree, what I saw during Ramadan was a month of devotion, strength, and beauty. As a citizen of the US and Australia, I found my relationship with food drastically challenged. Though my main goals were gaining an understanding of fasting and overhauling my spirituality, seeing food as a vice, and almost an addiction, absolutely played a prominent role. Outside myself, over-achingly I witnessed patience in tired eyes, bestowed by a belief in a higher being. I saw humility and submission, as well as fortification of both body and mind. In the holy Month of Ramadan, in which I struggled and strayed, I found beauty in, and understanding of, a culture and belief so often misconstrued.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How We Do it

The beauty of reaping the benefits of making travel a priority
One of the most frequent questions I am asked by friends and family of my nomadic lifestyle is "how do you do it?" Most people, save for a few who may have no cognizance of the slightly judgmental tone in their voice, are generally curious about how one becomes a nomad in the modern age. While I'm working on a larger, more in-depth piece about ditching the 9-5 for a more non-traditional lifestyle, the answer to this question can be found with ease. The first step, of course, is commitment to a goal.

When I left the states for my first extended travel in 2012, I had made travel a priority. I started saving and planning (which was more an exercise in excitement than actually creating a concrete itinerary) over a year out, and made decisions based on wanting to be abroad. Most of these decisions revolved around my personal budget. While I was willing to spend $800 on a TEFL certification (a source of travel income) I became less and less inclined to spend frivolously on nights out. Turning down happy hours, dinners, and bar crawls in your early twenties isn't always fun or easy, but the money saved each night-in equated to literal weeks in Chiang Mai where my daily budget was around $9-a-day. With any goal comes sacrifice, and part of that sacrifice is taking a hard look at your weekly expenditures, deciphering between necessity and excess. You can be as lax or as hardcore as you like, but 10, 20, $30 goes a long way in some of the most loved backpacking destinations.

At the start of my trip, I had saved between 7,000-8,000 USD. With my initial plan of only traveling for 6-months, and hopefully returning with a little fallback money, that gave me a budget of between $30-40 per day. Take out the $900 for my extremely cheap, extremely uncomfortable Eastern China Airline flight, and I was looking at closer to $25-30 per day. While this is more than sufficient to travel around SE Asia if youz a hustla (holla atcha boy), traveling with a small source of income can make a huge difference. Before my trip, I acquired a freelance writing job. It started out very humble, but by the end I was making close $225 a week. This was small potatoes in the states, but in Asia this allowed me to subsidize my trip, only dipping into my savings for things like travel, higher-priced activities, western indulgences, or the extended stint in Australia. Small injections of funds is the performance enhancing drugs of travel.

Leading high schoolers into the desert...while playing dress up. A job is a job!

Though writing was my PED, travelers have a slew of fancy tricks to continue their time abroad. The best way to do this is with passive income. If you are lucky enough to have a place to rent out, this extends travel. If you have a benefactor, sugar mama/daddy, know a good pyramid scheme or can procure a grant, this is gold too. For the less lucky, creativity is key. Travelers I've met have done anything from joining the Malaysian circus to teaching online TEFL classes to Brazilians while working under the table and living in Vietnam. I'm currently subsiding off of a mix of rent money, savings, and working as a guide for a travel company specializing in high school summer trips. Do any of these jobs pay well? No, in fact, it is sometimes a joke how many hours you put in for dismal pay, but what they don't offer in salary they make up for in subsidized experiences. If you have any talent, skill, or hobby you can translate into a good, you will be able to make money while abroad. It just takes a leap of faith.

While the preceding advice is important, the idea of a leap of faith may be the most necessary tool of becoming a nomad. Growing up in the states, I feel we are programmed to be constantly working towards a goal, a new position, a higher pay scale, etc. With this idea,  the idea of stepping out of line and reflecting seems ludicrous. We rarely take time off, so why devote a month, 6-months, or a year to travel or pursuit of something that doesn't necessarily equate to one of the proceeding goals? My answer? Because you can, and you should, and in many other developed countries it isn't an insane idea, it is something lauded. It also helps a society grow and progress. It's my personal view that Americans are too calculated. We need concrete evidence that something will work before we even begin to dream about it. With travel, doing before defining makes all the difference in the world. If you want to live in Spain, move to Spain. You can figure out the details when you get there. If you want to travel, buy your ticket and let the numbers and budget come to terms with all the new insights you will gain once abroad. On our money in the US it states "In God we Trust," yet I feel what we leave up to fate is truly minimal. To step outside of ones comfort zone, to step outside what we view as a normal way of life, one must truly take a leap of faith.

While I've existed on both sides of the faith fence, I can tell you that the most important thing I've learned from travel is believing that what you want can become a reality. While saving, creating multiple sources of income, and penny pinching can and will make travel a reality, nothing is as potent as being ready to take a leap of faith. Once you believe that your dream is possible and put yourself in position to pursue it, good things are bound to follow. It may not be instantaneous, but the will of the world works wonders for those willing to let it.

The beatiful stairs of Essaouria. One may not know what they are misssing when they stay put, but they will only find out if they take off

Photos courtesy of author and Wayfinderali

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Pursue your passion and the money will follow

As a kid, my dad instilled in me his belief “...If you pursue your passions, the money will follow.” At the time, I’m assuming around the middle part of high school, I’m pretty sure my passion vacillated between competitive running and playing punk rock. I also wasn’t quick witted enough to reply with a snarky comment about how weird it was his passion was to stick his hands in people’s mouths, instilling fear and Administering pain (jk Dad! I appreciate the life you provided for our family with your passion). But truth be told, from this message, I always assumed that if I continued to pursue my passion, some form of a career would magically appear. Now, at the tender age of 28 and realizing that career may not be part of my vernacular, It appears that my Dad’s advice is just as relevant as it was in my early teens. The difference, now, being a realization of a perviously narrowed perspective. 

As of current, I am a writer in training, a youth athletics coach, a Lyft driver, and beginning to guide high school youth on trips abroad. Do I have a penchant for working with youth of all ages? Absolutely. Do I have a penchant for driving people from one destination to the next? No, simply put, but I do love being able to strip people of their guard, resulting in intriguing conversation between two parties that otherwise would have probably not met. Oh, I also believe in people not driving fucked up, so that’s on the table too. If you asked me today what my passions are, I would tell you that writing, travel, education, community building, and growth are at the top of the list. Am I working in these fields? Eh, that is a spot of debate. Does my dad's advice still resinate with me, even though I’m about as far away from a career as I am from being a being a father of four in the suburbs? My answer would be a whole hearted yes.

While I may never have a stable job (or maybe I will, who knows?), I can tell you in the last half-decade I have once again found myself in pursuit of my passions. To say I wasn’t doing this before wouldn’t be entirely true, but the difference, once again, is perspective. In our currenty society, I feel as if we are extremely polarized in almost every aspect. Disseminating from the top down, beyond just politics, it seems so easy for all of us to fall into a dualistic point of view. You are right or your are wrong. Things are black or white. People are boys or girls. You are gay or straight. We think this way because it has been dictated in our society forever, yet it is so simplistic. While many ancient societies preach an idea of dualism, it isn’t to believe that you are on one end of a paradigm or the other, it is to present a spectrum. It is to show you that every living being has aspects of both sides, and that instead of being shuffled to either of the opposing points, we need to find balance for ourselves somewhere in between. 

As an illustration, while driving Lyft I picked up a man who, to be blunt, was having a shitty day. He was well dressed, had a stylish haircut, and had been locked out of his house after a really rough day at wherever he may work. I tried to make conversation, but it didn’t amount to much. We let conversation attempts rest for a few moments, while bathing in the wake of the Tallest Man on Earth’s new album. The mutual love of a Swedish folk singer penetrated the gap between two unknown people, leading to a conversation about mutual interest in music. It also unearthed the truth that this guy was formally the frontman in a punk rock group, who now had chosen to domestic himself. While his band never was lucrative, he spoke of his time on tour with a naked nostalgia. Did he want to live in a van with 4 other guys and a drum set forever? Maybe not, but he also wasn't entirely opposed to another round or two of touring. When he said how this experience will forever taint the more traditional way of life he posses now, however, you could feel the backing veracity. The polarized jump from free wheeling to fenced in left him in a difficult spot.

Experience and growth give us perspective. Even the idea of growth has changed since I initially came in contact with it. I know now the only way my 5’8 (on a good day) stature will change is when I inevitably start to shrink. Seeing growth as physical is all but a thing of the past.. Now, I see growth in regards to things like happiness and physical well-being. Growth is no longer a tangible measurement, it can no longer be measured in feet, inches, or centimeters. It is measured only by our actions, our accomplishments, and our perceptions of the world around us.

For me, staving off polarized perspectives is realizing that my dreams to play music as a kid should never die. I may not be ready to jump in a van in an attempt to sell the emo songs I wrote at 16, but I also am not willing to discount my unwavering love for music, songwriting, and jobs that allow me to tour. Will my wrtiting be turned into a monetary venture? Who knows, but without it, my life would be extraordinarily different. So in regards to my father’s words, I still hold them as truth. The only differece, now, is a broader perspective.

Photo courtesy of author 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Performance Poetry - "I'm not a Gambler."

For the last few months I've been participating in a self-guided class on regaining blocked creativity. The book I use, called The Artist's Way - A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, is written by a woman named Julia Cameron. While the entirety of the class is quite in depth, part of the process is regaining autonomy over creative mediums you've stymied, for whatever reason, along the way. While my preferred medium for creativity is writing, I know a part of me has always been devoted to performance. Growing up I played in bands, but for the last 5 years or so I've been very drawn to performance poetry. For me, though I write it and am intrigued by it, I've found actually performing it to be a road block I am actively trying to overcome.

Below is a recorded version, as well as a transcript, of a poem I wrote while on the road this past summer entitled "I'm not a Gambler." It's taken me awhile to come to finishing it, but reaching culmination of my work is a new goal I've set while taking this class. Please enjoy my poem, and if you feel so inclined to share this or any of my other posts on your social media platforms, I wouldn't hate it :)


I’m not a gambler. While the specifics may evade, I know my fate has never rested on the dwindling hope bestowed by gyrating reds and blacks, or arbitrary numbers birthed from a back loaded deck.

No, I spend waining moments with prodigality. Numbered, doomed with a date and place their purpose finally ferments a concoction so potent its its existence is consumed in one fell swoop. 

You see on paper, purpose seems so straight forward; dreams, ambitions, but does this ink ever spout legs and come to fruition, or does the fermentation process only exist in the Whisky oak barrels labeled and stored with precision in our daydreaming heads. I consume this thought with one quick guilt and privilege lubricated gulp as I lie lengthwise with a limited time lover watching the premium cable in the clouds. 
Our heart beats, normally syncopated, are presently in unison, I ponder where does the rift... between ascension and sin come in to allow one to make a mark, and the other to terrorize those with which he or she had dreamed of serving? 

Limited time lover rises, obscuring the sun’s shine. She twists her back to crack, 1, 2 times before she dives into the depths of my embrace which I sullenly savor as I know it will be short-lived. Being raised a catholic kid I learned there’s an ever expanding schism between right and wrong, yet these moments right here illustrate this pontificated lesson’s misguidance. As the philosophical cumulus transmutes and preaches, I realize no pages could ever teach us like the free of charge aerosol curriculum we forget is always in abundance above us. Her embrace is the only vessel that guides me past rapid fire thoughts.

As the sun concedes to forthcoming night, only to once again rise, I’ll be alone and it’s in these Isolated instances that we are defined as humans. Fortuitous moments seem hard to expose, yet I was told from a ripe young age we’ll know when we’ve reached a peak or pinnacle. The vindictive calendar bleeds out days with no restraint, and with no visceral pull I’m becoming cynical. Limited-time lover fades into the day’s break, her lips linger like the orange and pinks occurring as the moon acquiesces to whoever oversees gravity’s pay. The sun burns brightly with the last remnants of consecrated fuel. His lover’s labor always ends with their lips locking. Their intwine, so powerful they discolor the sky; unraveling the yolk created by the gods, thus they’ve been doomed to just one touch of their insatiable mouths every 24 hours. I’m tainted by this cosmic display of affection, Here and now I decided I’m not settling till I find an equally powerful embrace, till I see the sun’s equivalent starring into my lunar face. I’m vexed, I’ve only drawn to movement by spirituality or sex but now, I won’t rest, I won't rest until I’m caressed by serendipity’s sagacious hand; thumb to cheek as she speaks, her words through moments I now understand are fortuitous. She tells me fate.. is defined… by these tidal hands…. 

I lay back in my medially occupied bed, where limited time lover’s scent is scant in ruffled sheets. I revel in my lot as I engulf a lifetime in a single breath... I’m not a gambler, no, I don’t squander numbered days to games of chance. 

Photo courtesy of Wall Paper Stock

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Simple Tips for Greener Wandering

What may look like a hill is actually a literal mountain of garbage. The locals outside of Kolkata call it Garbage Mountain, having no choice but to plant at its foot due to its immense size.

When encompassed in a fuzzy, intoxicating wandering bubble, it is easy to forget any and all cares that come to mind. Obnoxious responsibilities are deflated by exotic tastes, while concerns over money or jobs seem to waft away when a new smell meets your nose. Travel is good for the soul, as is allowing worries to evaporate. But with any action comes a reaction, and the consequences of travel can often arrive in the form of a slightly large ecological footprint. Plane rides, potable water, meals on the go, all these things can lead to extra waste and environmental degradation during a jaunt into the unknown. Though this thought can easily puncture that alluring bubble, simple foresight can fortify those exterior walls, easing your environmental impact, and exciting your senses even further.

Animals sifting through Garbage Mountain

Reusable Containers: While I can’t speak for all travelers, I know one of my favorite travel past times is indulging in local food, specifically of the street persuasion. Hawker, or street food, is a budget traveler’s bread and butter. It is quick, cheap, and easy, allowing you to eat full meals, while economically diving directly into the local culture. The issue, though, is that many countries have hopped on the plastic bag, individual wrapping train, which leads to accumulating mounds of waste. Many street stalls don’t offer reusable plates containers, instead adopting disposable alternatives. To combat this, a simple solution is traveling with tupperware, a reusable cup or mug, and utensils (if you don’t enjoy eating with your hands). It may seem silly, but many places around the world that have ample street food don’t have ridiculous laws around serving food into outside containers. While you may get weird looks, the amount of plastic you will avoid using is enough to overcome that slight awkward feeling. You also get to enjoy a new argument when bargain food and drink prices!

Ground Transportation: While the carbon footprint associated with flights is difficult to avoid, once you find yourself in your chosen region, there are more ecological ways to travel. Public ground transportation is the name of the game here. I know for myself, I’ve spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia. With this being a heavily visited area, the options to get around seem to be ever-changing. While new routes come in and out of fashion, the truth is, even while jumping country borders, if you have the option for some form of boat, bus, or train, there is a good chance you will be more green than with a short plane ride. Obviously, this isn’t always 100% true. Certain types of vessels in these categories, such as cruise ships, are environmentally awful. Independent research is important, as well as mimicking how the general, local population tend to migrate. These forms of travel may not be as fast as flying, but the consolation prize is the amazing realization of how silly man-made borders are. If you think you can tell where one country ends and another begins without some sort of signage, I highly recommend land travel in your future.

Water Purification: One of the most difficult environmental issues of travel comes from potable water. Whether you are headed to islands or on long backpacking excursions, water is a necessity. Many people rely on individual, plastic bottles to fill this need. With how water is packaged and sold as a resource, this is understandable, but unfortunately creates a huge ecological burden. For those looking to kick the plastic habit, two easy ways to do this are either buying your water in bulk (which comes in large, refillable barrels much like that in office buildings), or traveling with some sort of water purification system. My preferred method is a Steripen and reusable water bottle. It may not do anything for taste, but it has gotten me through my trips abroad with minimal bottle usage (and only one stomach bug which I actually attest to questionable egg curry on a train). Purification doesn’t have to be expensive, and the amount of waste it can save is nearly incomprehensible. 

Self-Proplled Transportation: The final tip I would offer is the beauty of self-propelled transportation. While cars, motorbikes, and other fast, small forms of travel are fun, there is something to be said about seeing the sights by ways of your own two feet. While writing for a blog called Left Coast Running, I dabbled with the idea of why every runner should be a backpacker, and vice versa. Being able to walk, bike, or run around a new location is a great way to familiarize yourself with your surroundings, as well as take in a lot of sights on the cheap. Everyone may not be concerned with budget while abroad, but the merits of seeing a new destination on your own fruition are numerous. Besides, you are on vacation, what else are you going to do? I promise that end-of-the-day libation will taste even better after propelling yourself around a new destination.  

While politicians and scientists mindlessly fight what actually causes global warming, it is up to us as individuals to leave each destination in a better spot than when we found it. Like Spiderman (or maybe a historical figure?) taught us, with great privilege comes great responsibility. Travel is a wonderful privilege, offering us more than we could ever ask for. Why not give back with small changes that will make a huge impact? 

A photo from the Great Pacific Trash Dump, or "Trash Island."

Photos courtesy of Author, Steripen, and Above Top Secret