Travel in the Time of Covid-19 – Vagobond in Australia – Back on the Road in 2020

It seems like the only times I really travel are when the world is in turmoil. September 11th, H1N1, Arab Spring, the Great Recession, and now – coronavirus. I don’t plan it that way, but it’s what happens. Also, for some strange reason, the world resists my attempts to see it – so there is always a bit of a personal struggle.

I’ve always wanted to come to Australia. It’s been a dream since I was a child. When I was in high school, I lost faith in the system I was in and my father motivated me by offering a trip to Australia if I got straight A’s. I was up to the challenge, but he, unfortunately, was not. It wasn’t the first nor the last disappointment I felt in my life – but it was certainly formative. I’m not sure why I waited this long to come here, maybe I was waiting for him to make good on his promise – but I think after 32 years, he’s unlikely to fulfill it. I sometimes joke that I am so sure that Australia will be the place I want to stay that I avoided going there so I could see everywhere else first. So far, it hasn’t disappointed, but unless the pandemic blossoms and flights are cut off – there is nothing besides death that would keep me from getting back to Hawaii because my wife and daughter are there.

I bought myself this trip in December when I saw an incredibly low fare from Honolulu to Sydney. My wife had work, my daughter had school, but there was nothing I needed to be doing in Hawaii – so I went for it. My mantra has been ultra-budget because this is a luxury – I’m not a rich person by any means – at least not in the sense of money.

I’ve been getting excited about this trip and knowing that I would be taking it has helped me through some minor depression and anxiety about life in general. One week before takeoff – I was munching on some macadamia nuts and suddenly felt what might be the most excruciating pain of my life. I cracked a tooth and for the next three nights didn’t sleep a wink but lay hunched up in a little ball of pain, hoping the pain would go away. I’m American and I don’t have dental insurance, I can’t afford it. It’s either after school care for my daughter so my wife and I can work, or dental insurance. This was too much to bear though – I went to the dentist and had an emergency procedure done that should have helped – it was $1000, but after a few more days, the pain was still there, though not as bad as it had been – now it only hurt when I ate or drank anything. A second trip to the dentist confirmed that I would need to see a specialist but that doctor wouldn’t be available for nearly two weeks – not until after I had returned from Australia – at least there was no reason to cancel my trip.

So with less money and chronic pain, I went to Honolulu International Airport which was a scary place to be with nearly every Asian person there (which seemed to be the majority) wearing coronavirus masks. The good news is that we don’t have any COVID-19 cases yet in Hawaii and Australia is also on the low end of things – but still, one can’t help wondering if one of those many people might be a carrier.

My budget flight (Less than $200 each way! Less than a trip to the USA) which was a JetStar flight – here’s a measure of how I travel without doing much in the way of research – I didn’t realize that I had to have a visa for Australia. Luckily for me, the flight was delayed and the very nice desk agent arranged my visa for me (a $70 value) and gave me a free meal voucher ($12) for the inconvenience of the delayed flight. She also, very kindly upgraded me to a window seat with an empty seat next to me which enabled me to sleep for a large part of the flight. Sleep that I desperately needed.

The flight was uneventful until just before landing. I had tooth pain, but in general, the meal before the flight carried me through and between reading and sleep, it passed without much event. As we got close to Sydney, the clouds looked like nothing I have ever seen before. I was struck by a dark cloud that looked like a devil and a light cloud that looked remarkably like an angel. As we made our final turn and descent into Sydney, we suddenly entered the dark cloud and hit turbulence like I’ve never felt before – the lights went on and off, the engines made some very strained sounds and the plane was thrown around like a toy. Some passengers screamed – I didn’t but in my head I said “I guess this is it. I’m not ready to die, but please look out for my little girl.” I’m not religious, but I guess I was praying to the universe. The plane shook again and then came out of the clouds. The small white cloud that looked like an angel was there. I said a mental thank you as we landed. For a moment there, I thought my time had come and it was a similar feeling to when they told us that nuclear missiles had been launched at Hawaii from North Korea a few years ago – I looked around at the people around me and thought “Huh, this is it.” A mixture of sadness and disappointment, but no regret.

Australian customs and security is much more civilized and easy than U.S. – I was through in a breeze with my 6.5kg of baggage (the free allowance) which consisted of a small backpack, a laptop, cords, phone, kindle, water bottle, toiletries, and a few changes of clothes.

Next post I’ll write about my first  impressions of Sydney.

The Fully Integrated Backpacker Treehouse Resort – Kadir’s Treehouses

Treehouse Hostel Turkey OlymposThe most surprising thing about Olympos is the huge volume of choice when it comes to places to stay. Since Thailand, I haven’t seen this many bungalows, backpackers, or pancake stands – perhaps the hardest part of coming to Olympos is picking where to stay.

Since we wanted to come here for four days, we opted to split our time between two of the most famous tree house resorts. The first, Bayram’s tree houses, I should point out that this is the off season, so it was pretty calm and quiet, but even so there were some serious drinking sessions around the nightly campfire.

Treehouse Hostel Turkey OlymposAfter two very fun days there, we moved up the road to Kadir’s Treehouses.  While there are tree houses and bungalows here – it would be more appropriate to call it Kadir’s fully integrated backpacker tree house resort and bungalow complex and village – but that might be too much of a mouthful. We had plenty of opportunity to meet with Kadir himself and to explore the property –

Kadir came here 25 years ago when there was nothing in Olympos but farmhouses and shepherd camps. He left a career in economics in Ankara behind to tune in, turn on and drop out – well after the hippies of the 60’s but well before the hippies of the now. His parents and friends told him he was crazy but he bought a piece of land next to a stream in Olympos, built a tree house, and carried what he needed from up the mountain or bought it from the nearby farms.

At this point, a few backpackers started coming to see the ruins at Olympos and a couple of them asked if they could rent his tree house for the night. Then it happened again. And again. So he built a second tree house – but more backpackers came. So he built more. And within a couple of years he had tree houses, bungalows, and even a couple of bars to satisfy the thirst of the the backpackers.

Turkey Treehouse HostelThe nearby farms saw his success and they copied the model. Now, while I didn’t hear anyone say this overtly, there seems to be some bad blood between the farmers and Kadir these days – on the one hand, Kadir is the stranger in a valley filled with family – and on the other, people stole his business model and then – according to one source – when his property caught on fire while he was away – just let it burn and didn’t notify anyone until it was too late. Kadir says that when he arrived his tree houses, bungalows, bars, and even the trees were completely gone. I’m assuming that no one was here when it happened since Kadir said that nothing was saved.

So Kadir built again. Today, his sprawling complex still has a few tree houses – including one built on a huge 750 year old cedar stump that Kadir bought from the government and then trucked down here! It’s his log-o now.

During peak times, Kadir hosts as many as 350 backpackers! His complex has a nightclub (The Bull Bar), a Pizza House, The Hanger Bar, an activity center, a volleyball court, a huge fire pit, and the downstairs restaurant/bar where dinner and breakfast are served which feels like it could have been imported directly from Alaska. This is even including the bartender Simon who wears a red plaid lumberjack shirt and even though his English is very good always replies “Thank you very much!” even when it doesn’t fit. (As in Alaska – the odds are good but the goods are odd)

Kadir is usually playing backgammon, snapping photos on his Galaxy Note, or wandering around. The bungalows and treehouses are colorfully painted and built in a haphazard, Tom Sawyer treehouse way which includes half bent rusty nails and railings that feel as if they might break under your hand. If there is a downside to Kadir’s – it is that the size and numbers create a sort of junkyard feel to parts of the complex with disused furniture being piled in unused corners and piles of broken plumbing or wood scraps tumbled around devil may care – but then, that adds to the overall feel of the place. Sanford and Son meets Tom Sawyer. Kadir’s is about a 20 minute walk from the beach but the stream and mountain views make that a pleasant journey.

Treehouse Hostel Turkey OlymposWe stayed in a deluxe bungalow facing a gorgeous rock face and the beautiful clear water stream. It was big, clean, had AC and heat, hot water and was comfortable. We found the included breakfast and dinner to be tasty and filling. All of this for about 25 Euro per night, is a steal and one of the best deals going in Turkey, if you ask me. If you want to go even cheaper – you can rough it in the treehouses or sleep in the dorms, but honestly – the lack of comfort and privacy wouldn’t be worth it for me. Still, the backpackers we spoke with who were doing that, loved it.

What’s next for Kadir? He told me he has found a new location where no one goes yet and this time he is going to open an eco-resort. It will be his fourth property – he now has a family resort, Kadir’s Garden, Kadir’s treehouses and then Kadir’s Eco-Resort – the moral of the story? Sometimes it pays to drop out and go live in a treehouse!

The Art of Conversation with Grumpy Expats

Grumpy Expats
Grumpy Expats

One perk of traveling the world with no guidebook is that it gives you a valid excuse to strike up conversations with other foreigners you might meet while you are traveling. I’ve been to some of the coolest places in my travels on the advice of local expats I met in random places. A two minute conversation can lead you Kipu Falls, the House Hotel in Sokcho, South Korea, a hidden restaurant on Istanbul’s Prince’s Islands, or a natural hot spring in the Sahara. It’s worth it to talk to the foreigners who live wherever in the world you might go.

As a small aside; I like to live in countries where I was not born, and honestly, there is little more annoying than someone coming up to me and saying “Hi, I’m a foreigner too. I’m a tourist here on vacation, where are you from?” This might be one reason I take the approach I do when I am introducing myself to expats, travelers, or people who look like they might be from other than where they are. Here is my approach, I suggest you either use it, develop your own, or expect to be snubbed by jerks like me who probably left their countries to avoid just the kind of person you might be (if you approach as above.)

Me: Excuse me. Do you live here?
(This is far better than asking “Are you a tourist?” since grumpy expats like me tend to think of most tourists as one step below pond scum. Even if they don’t live there, they will probably be a bit flattered that you thought they might)

Grumpy ExpatsExpat: (cautiously) Ughhh
(Don’t expect more than a grunt since they have no idea what you want and probably are hit up by art students who want to ‘practice their English’, merchants who always offer a ‘free’ cup of tea, and all manner of locals who see them as a cash machine of some sort. Also keep in mind that expats choose to live away from their countrymen so saying “Hi, I’m American and you look American too.” is usually the wrong approach.)

Me: Sorry to bother you, but I’m traveling without a guidebook and purely going on the recommendations of the people I meet. Since you look like you live here, I wonder if I could ask you a question.

Expat: (gruffly) What’s your question?
(All of this is assuming that they speak your language (which, if they don’t makes this all impossible) and that you’re not a hot young woman or George Clooney type (which probably makes things much easier but since I’m neither, I wouldn’t know.)

Me: Oh, nothing much. I just wondered if you could recommend a restaurant nearby that serves great food at a reasonable price. (The truth is, I want much more information than that, but everyone has a restaurant they like and most people aren’t scared to share that information)

Expat: (Warming up a bit) Oh, is that all? Sure, there’s a great little place over there called something or other.

Me: Sounds great. I’ll check it out. Thanks. Bye.
(Wait a minute, I want more info, right? Right! The key is that I now give them the chance to answer the questions they are thinking by prematurely ending the conversation and staring out the train window, sitting on a nearby bench, or sitting at a nearby table in Starbucks…)

Grumpy Expats
Not Grumpy Expats

Let a few minutes pass so the person really begins to wonder “Wow, that was it? I wonder where this person is from? Why are they traveling with no guidebook? What other tips have they gotten from the locals? Is that really it?”

The thing is, it takes someone to start a conversation and the first conversation is the hardest. By just keeping it simple, you open up the door and make it easier for the other person to approach you. You demonstrate that you are not a threat and you make yourself both interesting and approachable as a result.

At this point, one of three things will happen. 1) The person will be glad to be rid of you so easily and will leave 2) The person will take the bold move of striking up further conversation by asking something simple like “Where are you from?” “Why are you here?” “Why do you travel with no guidebook?” In this case, you can jump wholeheartedly into the conversation. or 3) They may need more reassurance or might need you to start the follow up conversation (for example : Excuse me, sorry to bother you again, but I want to take a short day trip from town, can you recommend anyplace?)

This might all sound crazy to you, but for me it works. Give it a try!

Making Money on the Road – Vagabond Tips

Teaching English Abroad
The world is full of people who want to learn English….

Backpacking trips are something we tend to plan for, and dream about, for a long time. Chances are, you’ve been saving towards them for some time too, but how far will your budget stretch when you are out on the open road and how can you make it last that little bit longer?

When it comes to it, making money while traveling could actually be easier than you think.

There are many ways to boost your income if you are willing to put the effort in; who wouldn’t want to make their backpacking trip last for that little bit longer (and avoid that boring 9-5 wage slave reality waiting for you at ‘home’)?

Below are 6 ways in which you can subsidize your income while you are traveling:

1: Teaching English; if your first language is English, you could boost your backpacking fund by teaching English language courses in some countries. To increase your chances of finding a suitable position, it’s a good idea to get TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) accredited.
This is a brilliant way to fund a trip abroad – although you might have to give up 6 months to a year of your time – and even better if you get to do it in a country that’s on your wish list.

2: Blogging: Are you a keen writer and do you have a blog? Even if the answer is no to both questions, why not set up a blog to document your travels and you might be able to earn a little money in the process. Once your blog is more established you might find that companies will pay you to feature an advert or review one of their products; you could even write guest posts for other paying blogs.

Seasonal Work Travel
Working from home is wonderful when your home is a new place on the road!

3: Seasonal work; while traveling in most countries, you should be able to find local, seasonal work which will give your income a welcome temporary boost. Try to research each country you plan to visit to find out when certain crops – such as grapes or olives – are harvested and aim to visit around this time.

4: Hostel/Hotel reviews; some websites will pay you for a review of hostels, hotels and guest houses you’ve stayed in. It might only be a few Dollars for each review (and you don’t even need to have an English degree to write one!) but that could pay for another night in a hostel or buy your next meal.

5: Put your skills to good use; if you have a skill you can put to use such as hairdressing, DIY or similar, why not advertise the fact and earn some easy money.If you’ll be staying in a hostel for a couple of days, make a quick cardboard sign and stick it on your door and get others to spread the word for you.

6: Work from home; this might sound a little unusual but I’m not referring to this terminology in the usual sense. Some companies will now allow staff members to log in remotely and carry out their work; this is especially relevant if you work in an IT or internet marketing position. If you are lucky enough to work in one of these roles or something similar, why not have a word with your employer and see if you can get paid for consultancy.

So, as you can see, there are definitely ways to boost your funds whilst backpacking, but we’re not talking big bucks. Depending on your budgeting skills and expectations though, this could be enough to let you extend your travels for an extra few months, so it’s well worth it, after all; who wants to come back to that office job…

Arriving in Spain back in 2009 – Vagobond Travel Video

I arrived in Spain back in early January of 2009. It was a mind blowing experience. I’d been couch surfing for several years but I arrived in Barcelona at the height of the platform being great. Barcelona was hosting a European Couchsurfing Meetup so there were hundreds of CSers and hosts were going all out to showcase their city.

I need to talk about what Couchsurfing was at that time for you to understand – there was no AirBnB and social media was still a toddler. Couchsurfing was a way for like minded global citizens to meet each other, share their cities and countries, and become friends. It was absolutely astounding. No one was charging for rooms and we hadn’t reached the point where baby boomers trying to save money on their travels were trying to use Couchsurfing as a way to get a cheap room. There was no such thing as a ‘global digital nomad’ and working remote was still a thing that was the exception rather than the rule. Only the oldest of millennials were on the road – this was mostly a young cohort of Gen X before marriage or startups slowed us down. Travel blogging was a thing – but it was a NEW thing and food blogging, mommy blogging, and those kind of niches weren’t around yet because we invented them later. There was no Instagram, Youtube was a real  struggle on the road, and everyone carried an actual camera – digital, but not a phone – a camera.

So there I was – arriving in Spain, making new friends, and finding out that there was an entire world of people like me. It was exhilarating. I wish it could have lasted forever. Just a few years later – it was an experience that couldn’t happen again. Condenast and other Boomer travel magazines had found that Boomers could save a few bucks using CS. Date rapists and scammers had infiltrated the CS community and put everyone on edge. AirBnb came along and showed everyone that rather than giving their rooms away they could rent them out, and then the ‘boomer mini-me’ generation came of age and made everything that had been cheap more expensive as their digital nomad lifestyles, van lifestyles, and desire for foods that had been cheap (avocados, ramen, saracha, granola, brown bread etc) made those foods and experiences expensive. And of course, smart phones, Instagram and the other tech we take for granted today made a lot of what we did impractical or unnecessary. Back in those days hosts were guides, friends, ambassadors, and sometimes lovers – as were the other CSers we met. 2006 to 2011 were the glory days of Couchsurfing – if you missed it – well, maybe you can get a sense from this video.

Iwahai: Save Memories with Voice and Place

Introducing Iwahai.  Sign up for the free email tutorial here. Iwahai lets you put voice recordings on a map. It’s easy, it’s revolutionary, and it’s free. Designed by travelers for travelers…and everyone else.

Iwahai Time MachineIwahai Time MachineIwahai Time MachineIwahai Voice Recording on a MapIwahai Time Machine

 

 

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