Archive for the ‘Random thoughts’ Category

It’s time to renew my passport.

I’m not happy about this. Renewing my passport means I have to start all over with stamps.  And it’s going to be stiff and brand-new looking, with an RFID chip in it. My old passport doesn’t have the chip in it.  This occasionally causes problems with airport personnel trying to check me in, which is amusing.

Although on the bright side, I’ll get a new picture, maybe one that actually looks like me so security doesn’t do a double take every time they compare me with my passport photo.

I’ve heard the rumor that US passport fees are going to go up in the near future. It’s already $100 for an adult passport – so if you’re thinking about getting one or will need yours renewed soon, get on that and do it now.

If you don’t have a passport yet, go get one. Now. And then use it.  The United States has the smallest percentage of passport holders of any developed nation.  Everyone travels more than we do.  And with all of our nation’s wealth and affluence, that’s just sad.

So…how does one go about procuring a passport?  Very simple.

  1. Go to the US Government passport page. Find and fill out the proper form. If you’re over sixteen, you’ll be getting an adult passport, and if you’re under sixteen you’ll be getting a child’s passport, which is only good for five years.  You can either fill out the forms on the computer, or print out blank ones to fill in by hand.
  2. Get your passport photos taken.  It’s possible to do this yourself – look up how to do it if you’re really interested.  Or let a professional do it for you at a place like Walgreens, Ritz Photo, Meijer, etc.
  3. You can go here to search for the nearest place to apply for a passport.  Most post offices and government buildings will do it.
  4. Follow the directions on your form and on the website.  You’ll need to bring proper ID with you when you apply (and you must apply in person, unless you’re only renewing an adult passport.)  You must have either a previous passport or a certified birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or certificate of citizenship to prove that you’re a US citizen.
  5. Submit a photocopy of your identification.
  6. Give them money.  Rates are supposed to be going up, so get in there soon.
  7. Give ’em your two passport-sized photos that fit all the specs.  (See above.)
  8. Sign on the line. Don’t sign the form until they tell you to.
  9. Become a proud passport holder. –Once they send it you, ages later.

Win.  You’re now authorized to travel many places on the globe, with the exception of Cuba.  Border Patrol will be keepin’ a close eye on you if you travel to the Middle East for any reason, and Russia’s visa laws are silly.  Luckily, you can pay people to “sponsor’ you on a visitor visa so Russia really isn’t a problem, just more difficult. But you now have one of the best passports on earth–many countries don’t require visas for Americans to visit.  Do you feel lucky? Good.  Don’t take it for granted.  Try talking to someone from a third-world country and ask what countries welcome them in with open arms.


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Travel Disclaimer

From the excellent files of Bootsnall.com comes another sterling piece you might find interesting…

Travel Disclaimer

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So, I was having a bit of a think the other day. I know, that doesn’t happen often.

Somewhere in Lima. It's amazing how the mind lets one down after only a few years.

I was trying to figure out where this need to travel comes from and when I first realized how awesome it is. I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but I’m slightly obsessed with it.  But I haven’t always been like this.  Indeed, I was once a small child with an affinity for road trips and no inkling that a few short years later I would be addicted to something outside my power to control.

I think it must have been Peru. More specifically, it was when a llama decided to chase us on Machu Picchu. (Macchu Pichu? I can never remember.)

I know what you’re thinking. What did I do to that poor llama? Nothing. He came out of nowhere like an avenging angel with a spitting problem and lunged toward us with destruction written in his bugged-out eyes.  We had no choice but to run and hope we didn’t fall off the side of the mountain, a thing which is easier to do than you might imagine.

What was I doing in Peru? It was my very first trip out of the country as a wee tenth grader on a school trip.  There were tour buses, there was bottled water and jungle cabins and a scenic train and ruins and cathedrals. My god were there cathedrals.  Our tour guides just could not get enough of cathedrals.  It was a guided “educational” trip which meant they wouldn’t let us try the Inca beer, which looked slightly like a milkshake and probably like it could kill you. I believe it was made out of corn and Incan spit.

Now I don’t remember fact one about the cathedrals or most of the ruins. (Hint to tour guide operators: no one can enjoy that kind of thing for ten hours a day, every day.)

What I do remember is getting chased by a llama off the side of a mountain.  And bargaining with people in the markets for a llama-hair blanket and finger puppets of llamas.  You may notice a certain llama theme here. This is because we were in Peru, whose main exports are llamas and Inca-themed merchandise.

I think back now to the moment I stepped off the plane into the violently yellow Cusco airport.  First of all it was the longest plane ride I’d ever taken so that was exciting, because there was a full travel story in itself on how long and awful it was to be cooped up in a metal box for five hours. Yes, five whole hours.  You can see I had never considered going to Australia at that point in my life.

Forgive me this next part.  I was expecting something rather more third-worldly here.  Other than being intensely yellow, having a propensity for peeling plaster, and a noticeable lack of air-con, the airport was certainly an improvement over certain third-world airports, ones like Chicago O’Hare.

My timid classmates, our chaperone, and I were found by the tour guide and we were shuffled hastily on to a bus complete with curtains in the windows, air-con, and bottled water.  The height of luxury. You must understand that at this point I, coming from a small town in Northern Michigan, had never experienced anything like as advanced as public transportation, international airports, currency exchanges, or malaria pills.

When the hotel we were taken to had open windows on the seventh floor – one careless slip and you’re gone for good – I thought that was a pretty Notable Event.

Anyways I got over it.

But on that guided, air-conditioned, educational trip, I learned several important things.  First, that I never wanted to give my money to tour operators again.  Second, that the world wasn’t, in fact, a terrifyingly disease- and crime- infested place and was in fact Pretty Cool. And third, I learned holyshitIlovethisandthisandIwantogoeverywhererightnow.

So while I still cringe at the amount of money I had to pay for eight days being dragged around every historical site in Peru, that trip was the spark that fueled this traveling obsession and I wouldn’t change a thing.

It’s been over two months since I’ve been anywhere and I’m getting the withdrawal shakes: not being able to sleep at night, compulsively budgeting money I don’t even have yet, checking skyscanner on a daily basis, and finding myself on travel websites with no memory of how I got there.  This is going to be a long summer.

You know, I do wonder what I would be doing today if I hadn’t gone to Peru.  I almost cancelled for the stellar reasons that most of my friends weren’t going, it was expensive, and it was rather intimidating. Would I be sitting in a university somewhere wondering why I felt so dissatisfied with life? Or would something else have happened to help me realize how awesome getting in a flying tin can and hurtling to strange destinations full of malaria and yellow fever can be?

On a slightly related note, I’ve decided to learn French.  I made a good effort to learn Hungarian but without an actual speaker here to help me out I just can’t get the pronunciation.  It’s too difficult to try and learn from my limited resources.

But French, French is a piece of cake compared to Hungarian. It’s just like Spanish with a few extra sounds.  You say cafe au lait instead of cafe con leche.  Big deal.  In any case, I can get coffee almost anywhere.

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  1. Graduate high school
  2. Go to college
  3. Start your career
  4. Get married
  5. Buy a house
  6. Have children
  7. Watch them grow up
  8. Send them off to college, then to start their careers
  9. Become a grandparent
  10. Retire, travel, and enjoy life

First off, if that looks like your version of paradise, if that’s all you want out of life, then you probably won’t appreciate this article.

If you read that and you start to get a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, read on for six reasons you should travel while you’re young instead of putting it off until you’ve retired (as so many Americans do.)

Google Search for "reasons to travel." I couldn't have said it better myself.

1.  Australians, Kiwis, Europeans, Canadians, and Israelis: When I was in Europe, those were the majority of the nationalities I met.  I’ve heard, though don’t quote me on this, that up to a third of New Zealanders are abroad at any given length of time.  That’s like 100 million Americans taking off for parts unknown. Ha.

The truth is, it’s just not part of American culture to travel extensively while we’re young. We follow the ten-step plan above, and any deviation is considered abnormal.  When we retire, then we get to see the world.  When our knees have given out, we’re popping ten kinds of pills to keep our organs going, and a five-mile walk seems daunting.  Hmm. Great time to go exploring, eh?  Doesn’t it seem better to go when you’re young, and fit, and adventurous?  I’m not saying once you get old you shouldn’t travel anymore, just that you should start before you turn 65.

2.  Traveling helps define you as a person.  Waking up every morning in a strange country, learning how to deal with language barriers, strange food, customs, and currencies, and doing all this while arranging lodging and transportation for yourself — it kind of forces you to come out of your shell.  You learn more about yourself. Perhaps just as importantly, traveling when you’re young can help you figure out what you want to do in life.  You can go back and start a career with your new, improved self.  And your stationary life will be that much more satisfying.

3.  Regret. If you don’t go now, then when? When you’ve got 2.5 kids, a dog, and a mortgage the size of the Sahara? When you’re telling you’re grandkids about your life back in the day, are you going to think back on what could have been and feel that sharp pang of regret?

4.  The world keeps turning. The world is changing every day.  Globalisation continues to destroy cultural uniqueness.  Species go extinct. Rainforests are cut down.  See it now, while it’s there. Who knows what the world will look like in forty years?

5.  Your resume.  Mentioning that you spent a year traveling the world on your resume might just be that point of interest that will get the company’s attention.  It shows personal initiative.  Tell them how it changed you as a person. Far from being a harmful thing in this economy, you need every unique experience you can to attract the notice of somebody who wants to give you a paycheck.

6. Why not?  If you really want to go, go.  There is never going to be a perfect time if you don’t make one.  Procrastination is just fear and laziness.  It’s easier to go now, when you’re young, free, and adventurous, than it will be to go when you’re forty and deep into family and career life.  Just go.  You won’t regret it. But you will regret it if you don’t go.  The ten-step American dream is not the only way to live life, and if you’re not cut out for it, don’t force yourself into a mold you aren’t happy in.

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Did you catch the travel bug along with the stomach bug in Mexico?  If you’re addicted to travel, I’m sorry to say, there’s no cure. It’s like heroin. You’ll need more and more just to feel normal. That’s the good news. The bad news is that others around you might not be so enthusiastic about your obsession as you are.


Signs you’re a travel addict:

  • You read guidebooks for fun
  • Your friends flee when they see you coming, because…
  • …you begin every sentence with, “I remember one time in…”
  • You become offended when someone thinks Aussies actually drink Fosters
  • Your passport is with you at all times, just in case.
  • You feel strange not wearing flip flops in the shower
  • A room full of twenty drunk snoring people no longer fazes you
  • After more than a month without traveling, you get the shakes
  • While websurfing, you find yourself on a travel site 10 times out of ten, with no memory of how you got there
  • The vast majority of your Facebook friends live across the world
  • Your bookcase is half-filled with beat up travel guides. The other half has Bill Bryson.
  • When entering public bathrooms, you automatically do a scan for the possible places a flusher could be hiding, and another scan for the person trying to charge you to use the toilet.
  • There are at least twenty euros in your wallet at all times. Just in case. (See passport.)
  • When people ask what your hobbies are, you can’t say a sentence not containing the word travel.
  • You have detailed critiques of the world’s major airlines and judge them by the quality of their in-flight food.
  • You wake up in the morning and you can’t remember where you are.
  • You’re talking to somebody and you can’t remember what country you’re in or what the last country was
  • Kebabs.
  • A hostel shower big enough to turn around in is enough to make your entire day better
  • And…
  • You spend hours every day daydreaming about trips you’ll never take, trips you’ve taken, and people you’ve met on the road.  Doing almost any daily activity (laundry, driving, listening to music) can give you a flashback to a random moment on the road.

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Unless you’re Dire Straits, and then you get your money for nothing and your chicks for free.

Luckily most of us aren’t Dire Straits.

A dingo ate my baby...random but I found it and couldn't help myself.

What does it really cost to travel? To do anything?  There’s money, but there are also the other possibilities/situations that you sacrifice in order to travel.  I remember talking about this concept in ninth grade economics. It’s not complicated. (I’m not talking about free chicks.)  Everything you do is a choice, and making one decision will instantly make the myriad other possibilities impossible. You pay a price – whether in time, money, or emotional attachment – and those resources can’t then be used in other ways.

“I’d love to travel but I can’t afford it.”

I’ve been to, I believe, seventeen countries.  I’ve paid for all of them myself with the exception of a family trip to Mexico.  And I do not have well-paying jobs.  They’re your typical summer tourist-town service industry jobs.

I think a lot of people assume someone else is paying for my trips, because I have traveled so much at such a young age and in such a short period of time.

But that’s not true. And there isn’t a secret to how I pay for anything.  I work my ass off, save everything.  I sacrifice my time here so I can spend time there.

And sometimes, when I’ve been working double shifts for nine days straight, I haven’t seen the light of the sun in at least two weeks, don’t own my own car, and haven’t seen any of my friends in a month, it does seem like a pretty large sacrifice to make.

But for me it’s worth it. I’d rather spend a few months here just earning money and then travel for a few months and spend all my time enjoying myself, as opposed to working less but being stuck here and only having a low-grade kind of enjoyment after work and on the weekends. After all, you can’t get very far away from home in two days.

So if you’d really like to travel – or do anything, really: buy a DSLR camera, open that antiques shop you’ve always dreamed of owning, etc, then don’t think you can’t afford it.  Re-evaluate what you’re spending time and money on now and see if you can’t make the short-term sacrifice for the long-term gain.  Sacrifice your weekends to work a second job and pay off your mortgage or car payment early.  Put your resources where your priorities are.

Looking at something as insurmountable is the wrong way to think.  Break it down into smaller steps.  Get a concrete goal in mind.  The first step, you know you can accomplish. i.e. get a second job so you can start a travel fund, or cut extraneous expenses out of your current budget. Go out less. Buy coffee less. Stop eating out so much.  Carpool or take public transportation instead of driving. Trade in your new car for a used one with no car payments. Forgo a weekend trip now in favor of a month-long trip in a year.

The next step you can accomplish.  Set a goal to when you will have the money you need. And then find a way to meet that goal.

For example, I want to leave the US for Budapest on October 19th at the latest, because there’s a CELTA course starting on the 26th that I want to make.  To make enough money to do so, I’m going to have to save about $1300 a month.  I know I’m going to have to work two jobs: I have one for the weekdays, and I have to find another one for the weekends and possibly nights. It won’t be fun.  I won’t be able to afford to move out of my parents house or do anything except work.  But it will be worth it to know that I’ll be back in Budapest – permanently –  in a few months.

When you write that last check, click “purchase” for your plane tickets to Brazil, or take home the camera that will allow you to start your own professional photography service, think about the sacrifices you made in the meantime.

Were they worth it?  And I know the answer, at least for me, is a definite yes.

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Jim Morrison, lead singer of the sixties rock band The Doors (if you haven’t heard of them I don’t know where you’ve been living but your existence is flat and empty) once said,

“The most loving parents and relatives commit murder with smiles on their faces. They force us to destroy the person we really are: a subtle kind of murder.”

So what is he talking about and how does it relate to traveling, life, or karate?  Let me explain…

I brought this up specifically because of a post I saw on Facebook the other day.  A friend is doing quite well and moving up in the state/national karate championships.  He’s up to nationals now.  And his aunt posted on his status with words to the effect of “Congratulations, but we love you so don’t go too far because we want you to be around here.”

I know she was well-meaning and everything, but the basic message she was sending there was, “You should sacrifice what you want so that you can stay here with your family and make us happy, even at the expense of your own happiness.” (There’s my karate reference.)

And this kind of situation happens all the time.  Family and friends aren’t trying to be malicious, but by being thoughtless and putting their own wants in front of your own, they can be very effective at sabotaging your dreams. (Jim Morrison quote.) It’s the famous guilt trip of the mother on a huge, subtle scale.  It’s your family, thinking they’re doing what’s best for you when really they’re trying to do what’s best for them–all they’re doing is holding you back, making you doubt yourself, making you fear, keeping you from achieving what you have the potential to achieve. And because this “advice” is coming from people you care about, you naturally respect and value their opinions, making it even harder to look at them dispassionately to see the truth behind the words.

And to go further into this, what is an appropriate sacrifice to make for the people you care about?  Would they be willing to make the same sacrifice for you?  Say, for example, that you wanted to move to New Zealand, about as far away as you can get from the United States and still be on Earth.  It would be pretty common for your family and friends to try to talk you out of it, or at least try to get you to come back and visit them as often as possible.

But is anyone offering to go visit you in New Zealand?  Or, if they’re the ones trying to talk you out of moving, would they be willing to move as well?  To go with you?  Because what they are, in essence, suggesting is that you should sacrifice what you want (to move to NZ) in order that they should have what they want (for you to stay close to them.)

And if they’re not willing to go the distance for you, but expect you to do for them what they would not for you, then perhaps you should re-evaluate your relationship.

And when people give you advice about a big change you’re considering in your life, examine their motives behind the words, even (especially) if it’s your own mother speaking. In the end, you have to listen to yourself, do what you want to do, and not be swayed by people trying to change your mind.  (The reference to life.)

In my not lengthy life so far, the majority of the people I’ve talked to have or have had some kind of dream to go on a big trip.  But almost none of them think of this as a realistic dream–they immediately come up with excuses: work, family, commitment, money, etc etc.  And these people regret not achieving their dream.  (My travel reference. Title is accurate!)

So are you going to be the person who listened to everybody’s advice and stayed home and is now regretting the choices they made for other people, or are you going to be the person who takes personal responsibility for what they do and lives a rich and fulfilling life because they’ve properly recognized and made the appropriate choices to achieve their goals and dreams?

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