Koycegiz – Our Favorite Place in Turkey

The mini bus to Koycegiz was 30 lira each and took about five hours. It was definitely the worst transport value we found since it cost more to sit in a less comfortable mini bus for less time than it had to sit in a big luxurious bus for more time. I didn’t really understand it, but that was just the way it was.
As I said before, Hanane had heard about the mud baths at Koycegiz and this had become the number one thing she wanted to do in Turkey. The mud baths are on the shores of Lake Koycegiz and there are a number of ways to get to them. Most people choose to go to Dalyan which is closer to the beautiful Mediterranean beaches and slightly more developed in it’s tourist infrastructure.
lake filled iwth fish, koycegiez

Don’t worry, this was catch and release! My wife has quick hands- don’t mess with her!

We had a few people recommend it to us, but something told me to go to the town of Koycegiz instead. Some people we met didn’t understand why we would want to go there at all, but most hadn’t even heard of it although that was possibly because I kept calling it KOY-SEE-GEEZ but the name is closer to KOY-SHEEZ.
Alison had told us there were two pensions there. One for backpackers and one for families. I wanted the one for families since I sort of hate being around backpackers. That might surprise you but the truth is I’m not a backpacker. I have a shoulder bag. I don’t travel to get drunk with other foreigners. I don’t travel to meet other travelers, though sometimes this is a nice thing. I don’t travel to get laid by easy English girls in foreign lands, though that used to be a benefit I enjoyed. I travel because I like to see new places and the people who live in them. I like to see what life is like in the places I go. I already know what life is like in backpacker hostels.

Fulya Pension

We chose to stay at the Fulya Pension and I recommend it in the highest possible way. For 40 lira we had an air conditioned room with a balcony, plenty of hot water, a big comfortable bed, tv, free bike use, help arranging a boat tour, delicious breakfasts, and plenty of privacy.
fulya pension, kocegiez lake, turkey
We wanted to swim and so we dropped our bags in our room, changed into our swim suits and took a couple of bikes to go find a great place to swim. Lake Koycegiz is incredibly gorgeous. The water is rich with minerals and so has a pale turquoise color that reminds me of glacial lakes in Alaska. As we biked around, I though to myself, “This is the real Turkey” because we passed kids on bikes, old guys coming down to the lake shore after work for a swim, friends sitting in the shady grass along the shore, and guys drinking beer on park benches (though these didn’t look like the bums in Union Square of Seattle.)
Koycegiz Lake, Koycegiz Town
We rode past a kids carnival and a public swimming beach and down a dirt road surrounded by high cattails. I showed Hanane how to pull up the roots and eat them raw and they were as delicious as I remembered. We found our spot. We waded out through a little bit of mud to where the shores of the lake dropped off incredibly steeply. The water was very warm. Hanane was a little shy in her new bikini ( I heart Muslim Bikini Girls!!!!) so you won’t get to see any pictures of her but we had a wonderful time swimming there and only left when we looked up and saw a couple of strange folks sitting on the shore just staring at us non-stop. For a long time. It was disconcerting and so we went back to shore where I took a picture of the lookers and waved before we left. Now we can all look at them. Hanane says I’m an awful revenger. It’s true.
Lake Kocegiez Rednecks
That evening we went into the town and found the opening ceremonies of a film festival with live music and plenty of booths and craft stalls. This wasn’t set up for tourists, it was for the locals. We had a fairly nice dinner of schnitzel and kifta for ten lira, we noticed a lot of German food in Koycegiz. We wandered down the shoreline in this beautiful town for strolling and came across a Turkish wedding. We joined the merry makers for a while but then we left because it was time for bed because the next day we were taking a boat tour and going to the Koycegiz mud baths.

Travelling in Turkey – More Greek and Roman Ruins than Italy and Greece!

Again, not a lot of time to write, but we are having a wonderful time in Turkey. From cruising the Bosporus to marveling at the Iskander Kebap in Bursa, this trip has been filed with adventures stretching across the Black Sea, the Marmara Sea, and soon the Aegean Sea, and of course a bit of the Mediterranean Sea too.

I’ll be writing about all of our adventures when I have some time to put things together and pick the best photos. In the meantime, here is a small piece I’ve put together on this amazing land we are trekking across by ferry, bus, taxi, and more.

turkey is surrounded by 4 seas
Turkey is surrounded by seas and littered with ancient civilizations.

As a guy who loves the ocean, I can hardly imagine a place that offers more variety than Turkey. While very different from places like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Hawaii; Turkey is filled with more Greek and Roman ruins than Greece and Italy and is surrounded by four seas and several straits.

The Black Sea which the Turkish people call Karadeniz borders the northern part of Turkey. It’s an inland sea that takes up more than 420,000 kilometers. Geologists say it was formed when Asia crashed into Europe and opened up the Bosporus Strait and flooded an inland plain. It is about 2200 feet deep in places and is warm in the summer and extremely cold during the winter. It is fed by many rivers and empties into the Bosporus. While no one seems to be certain why it is called the Black Sea some say it is because of the dangers that exist in it and others that it is because of the deep dark waters. It is the youngest sea on earth and is kept saline through inflows from the Mediterranean Sea through the Bosporus.

Sea of Marmara, Black Sea, Aegean Sea, Mediterreanean Sea
There\’s no shortage of beaches in Turkey

The Sea of Marmara which Turkish people call Denizi is a small inland sea connected to the Black Sea by the Bosphorus Strait. The Marmara Sea’s name comes from the Greek work for marble (marmar) and is about 11,000 square kilometers. It is relatively small being only 280 by 80 kilometers at its widest points. It is filled with many islands. To the south the Dardanelles Strait connects the Sea of Marmara with the Aegean Sea.

Sea of Marmara, Black Sea, Aegean Sea, Mediterreanean Sea
There is plenty to do in the seas of Turkey.

Turkish people call it Ege Denizi, but in English it is known as the Aegean Sea. Legend says that it was named for a famous drowning but whether that was Queen Aegea of the Amazon or Aegeus, the father of Thesius isn’t totally clear. It’s waters however, are very clear and while it is only 214,000 square kilometers and often included as a part of the Mediterainean, it has over 3000 islands within it including Crete, Rhodes, Lesbos. It sits between Turkey and Greece. It’s shores were home to Trojans, Mycenaean, Persians, Minoans, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Ottomans, and many others. You can’t take a step without stepping on ancient stories and history.

Sea of Marmara, Black Sea, Aegean Sea, Mediterreanean Sea
It really is as gorgeous as you can imagine in Turkey

And finally, there is the mighty Mediterranean Sea. Bridging the continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe and the many countries that exist on it’s shores. It fills the area between The straits of Gibraltar in the West which lead to the Atlantic Ocean and the Suez Canal in the East which connect it to the Red Sea. The Turkish name for the Med is Akdeniz which means White Sea. Mediterranean actually comes closer to meaning Middle Earth in Latin. That explains all the hobbits. Despite the Latin origins of the name, the Romans called it Mare Nostrum- Our Sea.
The Mediterranean is nearly 2.5 million square kilometers. Just about everyone you read about in ancient history class lived on its shores. Phoenicians, Egyptians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Lycians, Arabs, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Ottomans, and all those Europeans during the Renaissance. That’s because it has a massive 46,000 kilometer long coastline that is shared by Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, Albania, Greece,Turkey, Syria, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Tunis, Algeria, and Morocco.

Holiday in the Interzone – Tangier – Playa Blanca

Tangier, smuggler, Playa Blanca
Freedom led us to Playa Blanca, a small beach just outside of Tangier. The entire Tangier area was once known as the Interzone and made famous by William S. Burroughs in both a short story and in the novel, The Naked Lunch. The story of how the interzone came into being is wrapped up in French and Spanish colonialism and the creation of an ‘international zone’ around the city of Tangier where sovereignty was jointly held by French, Spanish, American, and British governments from 1912 until 1956 when Morocco gained its independence. The Interzone was about 373 square kilometers and had about 60,000 residents. That means that Playa Blanca, where we were staying with friends in a kick ass beach house, fell firmly in the zone, eh interzone.
Sunset in Playa Blanca, Tangier, Morocco
It seems fitting that my first holiday as a married &independent writer would be in the same area where writers such as Burroughs, Kerouac, Bowles, Tennessee Williams, and others cavorted and did more than a few questionable things, and I’m happy to say that there was a fair amount of cavorting over the five days we were there, though we kept the questionable things to a minimum. Playa Blanca itself used to be a haven for drug money in the 1980’s when South American drug lords built and bought beach houses there. Prior to that it was a smugglers cove. While it is only a 15 minute drive from Tangier, it is isolated and aside from the houses and one small hanut (food shop) any other purchases require a car or a taxi trip to Tangier which ends up costing about 100 dirham each way.

Yes, that’s the Mediterranean Sea if front of us. Just steps out the door to the beach and while during the weekend, the crowds on the beach swelled, there was plenty of space on the sand in the mornings and later afternoons. We explored tide pools, had nice dinners each night with our friends, read, watched TV, and since I’m now employed via the internet, we had an enforced break from my work since there is no chance of interPlaya Blanca is romantic in Morocco, tangiers, beach housenet there, no cyber cafes, and even my dongle didn’t work…(get your mind out of the gutter).

We built sandcastles, swam, body surfed, and had fires each night and finally, at the end of it all, we got back on the train from Tangier and left the Interzone to come back to Fes.

If you’d like to spend some time on Playa Blanca and delve into the interzone yourself, have fun!

World’s Strangest Hotels

Exploring the world’s strangest hotels is certainly a fun thing to do, given the extremes hotels have gone to, just in the name of being “strange”. And strange they are, too, by the looks of them. Ask anyone who’s been to a hotel from the list below, and he’ll tell you first-hand the experience that comes in staying there. Here is a list of the top 5 strangest hotels in the world. There are lots more, but only these five have made it to this list, based largely on popularity, service, and my own personal experiences.

5. The  UFO Capsule Hotel, Tokyo  Japan
stange hotelsCertainly one of the strangest concepts ever for a hotel, The UFO Capsule Hotel is a chain of “capsule hotels” across Japan that has been around for quite some time and has gained immense popularity as well. The concept of the capsule hotel may as well have been derived from the Japanese mind, given the way it uses space so efficiently. The Capsule Hotel consists of small “capsules”, which in turn have two sections: one, a public lounge space, and the second, a private sleeping space. Less space doesn’t mean throwing away amenities: TV, adjustable lighting, radio, all are present. A must-stay for those seeking the “strange”!

4. IceHotel, Sweden

Do not get surprised: the name of this hotel is exactly what the hotel is made of: ice. strange hotelsOpen only in the winter, Ice Hotel is unique: it stands as a hotel in the winter, and melts to become a free-flowing river after the cold is gone. So that means the hotel is essentially built every year, and then it melts away after the sun comes out, only to be rebuilt the next year. Located just 200 kms north of the Arctic Circle, IceHotel is built by artists who come from all around the world, and by using only frozen water (ice) from the Torne River. Furniture made of ice is present, and beds are made of ice too, and covered in reindeer skins.

3. Hotel Fox, Denmark

strange hotels of the worldHotel Fox is one of a kind, and you certainly have not seen anything like it, that’s for sure. The hotel has 61 rooms, and each room is an exquisite piece of art. Combining the brilliance of 21 artists drawn from all over the world, and after studying close to a thousand different ideas, Hotel Fox was transformed with themes in each room as unique as possible, ranging from flowered themes to friendly monster themes to fairytale themes! The food at Hotel Fox is always being innovated, by inviting the best students from the best European cooking schools to prepare food under the supervision of experienced chefs.

 

2. StayOrange Hotel, Malaysia
strange world hotelsI know, the name sounds strange, but then this is a list of the strangest hotels in the world! StayOrange.com Hotel is located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and is inspired from the capsule hotels from Japan. The Hotel features three kinds of rooms – Double EnSuite, Single EnSuite and 2-Bed Bunk Rooms. The Hotel aims to provide functionality in terms of both facilities and prices. The pricing is very affordable, and the facilities are not compromised upon. All facilities like free Wi-Fi internet access, hot water showers, exclusive mattresses from Dreamland, LCD TVs are provided, with branded toiletries and DVD players being optional.

1. Propeller Island City Lodge in Berlin, Germanyworld's strangest hotel

This hotel makes it to the top position with ease, just with the variety of rooms it providesJust picture: flying beds, upside-down rooms, circular beds, prison-style rooms – this hotel has got them all. And more. With 35 rooms of pure artistic indulgence, . the hotel will certainly make you come back for more. Certainly one of the most creative hotels of all time, the Propeller Island City Lodge has extremely courteous staff, which takes care of the minutest details. The hotel is very clean, and is a must visit.

How Not To Enjoy World Travel – Part 2

world travel tipsThis is the second part in an ongoing series about how to have the worst time possible during your world travels. Here is the link to part 1.

http://www.vagobond.com/how-not-to-enjoy-world-travel-part-1/

4. Don’t Read
To me, reading is an essential part of travel. As far as I’m concerned, if you are one of those people who ‘doesn’t like to read’ than you are one of those people who should stay home and not travel.

Don’t read anything about the country of place you are going to. That way you won’t understand the culture, the traditions, the history, the climate, or anything else. You will be able to have a completely one dimensional experience. If you should read, for example, about how it is rude to point the bottoms of your feet at someone in Thailand, then you’ll miss out on the ass kicking that results when the kick-boxer tells you to stop pointing your feet at him and you continue to do it. You wouldn’t want to miss that.

Or if you read, you might feel compelled to go fifteen kilometers out of your way on the way between Seattle, Washingon and Vancouver, British Columbia and visit the remote and gorgeous Scenic Hot Springs. Wouldn’t that suck?

Don’t read on your trip. Don’t discover that Mark Twain stayed in the same hotel you are visiting in Honolulu (The Moana Surfrider) or that the lovely looking picnic spot in Cebu, Philippines is where Lapu Lapu ate a famous explorer. Who needs to know details like that?

Don’t read when you are stuck at the airport. It’s much better to just sit and get angry at the workers or eat overpriced food. Don’t read at the beach because it’s much better to sit there wondering what to do now that you are done swimming.

Yes, if you don’t want to enjoy world travel, it is essential that you not read.

world travel tips5) Don’t talk to anyone unless you have to

If you want to have horrible and meaningless travels, don’t talk to anyone unless you have to. Don’t talk to the man next to you on the airplane or bus, he might be a Chinese businessman who would invite you to visit his home and stay with his family.

Don’t talk to the guy who works at the hotel unless you need towels or directions. If he thinks “Hey, this is a nice person” he might actually tell you someplace that he doesn’t recommend to every other rude tourist. You might end up going to a tiny temple in Penang, Malaysia instead of going to the big one that has eighteen tourist buses outside it.

Don’t talk to people in the street. They might try to sell you something. They might want to practice English with you. They might want to share a bit of their culture or learn something about yours. Wow, wouldn’t it be a bummer if that Indonesian guy learned that the USA is not just like Bay Watch and Jerry Springer? Don’t talk to him.

If you want to NOT enjoy your travels, do not talk unless you need something.

world travel tips6) Don’t learn any of the local language

Finally, if you want to be absolutely certain that you don’t enjoy your world travel, pretend your a British Colonist and refuse to speak the local language.

Don’t say Tarima Kasih in Indonesia, don’t ask where to get the gonggongcheecha in China, don’t say Yvet in Turkey, don’t show the grocer in Barcelona you can understand the uno, dos, tres, don’t speak French in Paris (I found Parisians to be very gracious about my bad French), don’t say shukran in Morocco, kapcun kap in Thailand, daijobu in Japan, bollacks in England, dude in California, wienerschnitzel in Germany, or Mahalo in Hawaii.

Speaking the language encourages people to learn about you, to teach about their culture, to make friends, to have relationships, to even fall in love. There is nothing miserable about any of that. So if you want to Not enjoy the world of travel…don’t speak the local language.
Got more tips about how to NOT enjoy world travel, why not leave a comment below or send your tips to me using the contact form.

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…

Six World Travel Tips for Worry Warts

 

Leaning Tower of PisaI know that a lot of people don’t travel because of the worries associated with it. Travel can be stressful and the media doesn’t help much by telling us about every travel disaster, terrorist event, or travel nightmare. The truth is that it doesn’t matter if you are heading to Pompano Beach, Houston, or Tahiti because the dangers are all about the same. Of course, if you are heading somewhere and really worried about it, you can always invest in some travel insurance.

Whether you are planning an extended stay or visiting tropical island beach hotels, the following tips will take some of the worry out of your vacations, cruises, or outdoor adventures.

International travel has always appealed to students because students are those most likely to enjoy obstacles and dangers. Being out of your familiar environment is something that can cause confusion and misunderstandings so the first tip for worry warts is about paperwork.

Worry Free Travel Tip #1 : Have your papers!

I’m not talking about your New York Times here, I’m talking about documentation. I was once asked about my birth certificate when I was getting a car hire in London. So, this is about more than just your passport. Your passport is important too. Make sure it is still valid well before you leave. Make sure it still has blank pages which can be stamped. Ensure that you have the proper visas or can get the visa upon arrival.

Here are the list of documents I recommend you travel with:
* Passport – walid with blank pages
* Country Visa
* Copy of Birth Certificate
* Student ID
* Driver’s License
* Credit Cards
* Copy #1 of all the above in your luggage
* Copy #2 of all the above hidden in a coat or pants pocket or inside a different bag
* 10 passport sized photos

Two copies? Yes. You don’t want to worry right? Having copies makes a huge difference if you lose something or if you run into problems. The photos will come in handy if you have to do anything relating to consulates or embassies. In regards to photocopies of your credit cards, I recommend you blank out some of the numbers on your copies and just remember which number is blanked out like ’23’.

Worry Free Travel Tip #2 : Money without Stress

Big BenIf money makes you crazy with worry, here is what you can do. Change a little bit of money before you leave your home country for the local currency. You’ll get the worst rate at home most likely, so I wouldn’t change a huge amount. I would say about $200 or the equivalent is enough. This is just in case you can’t find an ATM when you get there. In addition, put $100 in USD, Euro, or Pounds in a couple different spots for emergencies, these are safe currencies that you can use just about anywhere in the world.

Don’t count on your ATM working or a currency exchange being open and available when you arrive. Sometimes they aren’t.This can be especially true when you fly into airports serviced by cheap flights. Now you don’t have to worry about it. Make sure you know your PIN numbers by heart. There’s little that’s worse than having your card shut down because you used the wrong pin. It’s a good idea to have someone who you trust have your pin #s and copies of your information too.

In terms of exchange, ATMs often offer the most competitive rates. My recommendation is to forget about traveler’s checks. You lose on both ends with them and often you can’t use them in restaurants, cheap hotels, or guest houses.

Worry Free Travel Tip #3 : Dealing with Taxi Drivers

It’s true that in many cities, taxi drivers are just waiting to rip you off. This isn’t just true in third world countries but also in cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Orlando too.

Use the internet before you leave home to see how much a trip from the airport should cost. Often driver’s won’t use the meter for set trips and you need to know what the cost should be. Look out for ‘special discounts’ and make sure you have local currency because they usually won’t accept foreign cash, credit cards, or traveler’s checks and if they do, they usually will gouge you on the rate. If they offer to take you around on your first day for a small tour, take their card or number and feign interest since if they think you are going to be coming back, it is unlikely that they will try to gouge you. Know where you are going to stay or pretend you know, taking taxi recommendations for hotels is usually a way for them to make a few bucks at your expense.

Worry Free Travel Tip #4 : World Travel with Kids

MaltaIf you are going to bring your children bring their birth certificates. If you are traveling in some Arab countries, single women traveling with children need written permission from the children’s father and there are other odd regulations that you should know about before embarking upon your journey. Airlines often have special promotions for kids that are worth finding out about.

Worry Free Travel Tip #5 : Lost Bags

There are a million travel nightmare stories about lost bags. If you pack everything you need in your checked bag you are asking for it. Have a change of clothes, your trip information, and essentials like glasses or medications in your carry on.

Most airlines will provide you with a small amount of money if they misplace your bags and most bags are found within 24 hours. Make sure that you have information about your rental cars, vacation packages, and hotel rooms with you and don’t trust that your checked bag will make it. It usually does, but why create an extra chance for yourself to worry?

For summer travel remember that you can’t carry big containers of sunscreen in your carry on. If you must bring it with you, buy a small bottle that conforms to airline regulations.

Worry Free Travel Tip #6 : Your Emergency Paper or Travel Book

Travel Tips for worry wartsWhile it would be nice to be able to memorize all the essential information about your vacations, this usually isn’t very practical. This is especially true for extended travel.

Create a piece of paper or small notebook with information about your hotel rooms, rental car, airline confirmation numbers, and any addresses or phone numbers you may need such as those of local institutes you plan to visit.

I call this my travel book and it is essential that it fits in your pocket. It’s also a good idea to have emergency phone numbers, consulate information, and maybe even your passwords or pin numbers inside. The way to do this is to write something that contains your passwords, looks natural, and doesn’t scream out password. Don’t write: “UBC Pin = 6767” or “Citibank Password = HungryMonkey 101” instead write something like
“6767 South Vegas Street, New York, NY” or “Places to eat in Florida – The Hungry Monkey on Route 101”, you’ll know what the pin or password is but it’s very unlikely any thieves would be able to figure it out.

It’s important to include the contact information for your banks and credit cards and the number to call if they get lost or stolen. Keep this piece of paper or travel book on you at all times.

Now, stop worrying and start enjoying your travels.

World Travel for Almost Nothing #4 – Couchsurfing Friends

If you missed the story of how I met my wife, let me remind you. I was couchsurfing at her family’s house in Morocco.

Couchsurfing likes to remind people that it’s not a dating site, but in fact, it is a place where I’ve met many of my closest friends and the woman I married.

Couchsurfing Morocco

One of the keys to mastering the art of world travel on almost nothing is learning to trust strangers and let them become friends.

World Travel on Almost Nothing Tip #4:  Make strangers into friends.

One of the things that I love about Couchsurfing.com is that it relies on opening your heart and mind to the hospitality of strangers. Contrary to popular belief, most people on the planet are good and want to help you in this life. If you doubt that, look inside yourself and I’m sure you will see it is true.

Couchsurfing in Belgium

I wrote a thesis about fans of the TV show LOST. One of the amazing things I found was that when fans traveled to Hawaii they often found places to stay, free guided tours, and new friends waiting for them. In that case, what brought these people together was a love of a TV show. For the world traveler, you are more likely to come together because of a love of travel.

I’ve made friends just about everywhere I’ve been and in the process I’ve managed to avoid paying for hotels, meals, and sometimes even transportation. I’m not saying you should be mercenary about seeking out and using people, I’m saying that when you open your arms to the world, you often get a hug in return.

While I’ve never been a WWOOFer or used HospitalityClub.com, I certainly have known plenty of people who have. These sorts of communities thrive on the fact that people are in general kind and good natured. If you don’t believe that, then you better keep paying for hotel rooms and guided city tours.

World Travel for Almost Nothing #2

Makapu'u PointThe biggest ripoff of modern times wasn’t the mere stealing of billions by Bernie Madoff, it was convincing most of the people on the planet that they need anything the modern world provides.

In fact, you were born with everything you need and whether you believe it or not you will keep getting everything you need until the day you die. Included in that isn’t shampoo, peanut butter, a new car, a great job, breast implants, or a college degree. I fell for it too…but the truth is all you need is the desire to move to the next second in this life and you already have it or else you’d already be dead.

World Travel Tip #2

Modern nation states are built on a simple lie. That lie tells you that unless you can pay for new goods and services your life won’t be worth anything. It’s complete and total crap.

A look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows what you actually need. Food, sleep, air, defecation, and a sense of who you are. That’s it. The rest is luxury and as such is not necessary. In fact, it often gets in the way.

Nobody is charging you to breathe. Water can be found for free just about everywhere on the planet (though it may take a little umm…digestive adjustment), if there isn’t a free toilet, you can probably defecate on the ground, and if you don’t know who you are, isn’t it time you found out? You don’t need a therapist to tell you, you just need to take the time to ask yourself and listen for an answer. In addition companionship, love, self esteem, and even security can be found for little to nothing.

Step outside and start a conversation with a stranger and I can promise you that if you are looking for food or shelter, you will find them, maybe not with the first person you talk with but certainly with someone. Contrary to popular belief, people are GOOD and they want to help each other. Unless you are a real ass, you’ll find people take joy in being a part of your life and that includes food and shelter.

Tomorrow: Adjusting your pace

Is budget travel worth it? World travel for almost nothing # 1

A few days ago, I asked readers if budget travel is worth it. The overwhelming answer is – yes, of course it is. And, actually, I totally agree. I admit that sometimes you need to bite the bullet and spend a little bit extra to avoid discomfort and inconvenience – but for the most part, if the choice is between no travel and budget travel – take budget travel.

Maybe you’ve noticed that I manage to see quite a few places and you’ve thought to yourself “It must be nice to have enough money to travel like that – I wish I had the money to do that!”

The fact of the matter is, so do I. The other fact of the matter is that I don’t. In the past several decades it has been the exception rather than the rule for me to have a job where my time belongs to someone else. I don’t usually have any savings. I’m in debt up to my ears (but am constantly deferring my student loans) and yet even in that condition,  I’ve managed to travel to 50 or so countries, have a fabulous wedding in the Sahara, and get quite a few little side trips and excursions in too. How do I do it?

Noodle Shop in Chinatown

Honestly, I’m not sure, but the following is some of what I’ve figured out about how to travel for next to nothing. Hopefully, it will inspire one or two of you out there to get off your butts and hit the road like you’ve always dreamed of. If it does and your life changes forever, feel free to buy me a beer someday.

A trip to a theme park costs most than I spend on most of my solo international adventures. World travel doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, there are many times that it is free.

Of course the travel agencies, cruise lines, and airlines don’t want you to know that. Big hotels and resorts live off of people who don’t know where they would stay without Hilton or Marriott to house them. Those guys and the talking heads in the media earn their salaries selling trips to all-inclusive resorts and big time guided tours of places you can walk through for free.

They are banking on the fact that your imagination stops at your credit card and that most people are just too damn scared to take a chance when they leave the confining comfort of their own home. I’m about to spoil that misconception. Unless those guys start sponsoring me, I’m going to keep giving away tips and tricks that open up the entire world to you.

Nothing holds you back more than fear. Fear of the unknown. FDR said it right, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Face it, you’re going to die and you’re going to lose everything. We all do. You have very little control about when that is going to happen. The thing that makes most people miss out on the joy of travel is that they think they can control it and so they stay at home watching Netflix until they die of a coronary. They know the geography of the world, but they’ve never seen it. If you don’t open the door, you won’t see anything but the television.

Tip #1 for Cheap World Travel:

Pyramid Paris LouvreLet go of all that routine that arises from you trying to control your own dead end. The best thing about living is new experience and you can have as many as you want for free. Once you step away from your societal imposed responsibilities, you find that the world opens up and gives you more joy than you’ll ever find trying to buy your future security at the expense of the present.

When you start breaking free of your routine, you will discover the wonder of new faces and places, taste incredible new foods, and discover secrets about yourself and the world that you never expected to find.

Each new wonder unfolds before you like a road that was hidden from view and like any road, a new experience will often lead you to another and another and another. When you walk the road of travel, you get to experience life differently from when you take a package vacation or go through the daily motions in your ‘home’. In fact, the world is your home, if only you choose to accept it.

Sunsets are free. Mountaintops don’t cost a thing. Walking through a public market takes not a dime. Striking up a conversation with someone working beside a road you are walking down can lead to adventures you can’t imagine. Just being in a new place will provide you with more insights about yourself and the world than all the new clothes, fancy meals, or well rehearsed tourist trips can ever give you.

Your mentality is the primary reason why world travel costs a ton. Change it and you will find that few things are as cheap.

Next: What you really need!

Advice from a Vagabond – The Best Advice I’ve Ever Given

I had an email from a 16-year old vagabond back in 2010 asking me for advice about how to live his life and ‘escape from the cave’. This is what I told him. I stand by this advice today. I wonder what happened to him?

Bierre Damitio
This is my advice. It’s hard to say for sure, because I don’t know you, but this is the advice I wish someone had given me.

1) Understand that it’s all a rip off. It’s all a rip off that is trying to take your time. You and everyone else has a limited amount of time. We will die, for sure. The biggest traps for me were booze and drugs. Fun, but oh, I wish I had that time back. I could have been camping, hitching, or writing! I could have been fucking! Instead I was wasting my time and my money.

2) College is great. I waited until I was in my 30s, but it would have been cool to do it before. Just get someone else to pay for it. The ideas, the experiences…and the girls. Go to college but do yourself a favor and get scholarships, it’s worth it to put some extra hours in studying to get the grades in high school, since they allow you to get a free ride. If not, focus on any scholarship you can.

3) Take short trips whenever you can. Weekend trips fill the gap between summer months on the road. Go everywhere even if it is only ten miles away.Don’t miss the Grand Canyon because you live in Arizona, know what I mean? The close things are often as cool or cooler than the far ones.

4) Take time to write. Start a blog. Learn to do basic coding.

5) Don’t undervalue your time. Ask for more money and then work harder. Make it clear to employers that you are not ordinary. Do a kick ass job every time.

6) Don’t waste your money. Booze and drugs are expensive. Cars are expensive. Fancy clothes are expensive. Worthless women are expensive. Spend your money on the things that matter and save the rest for your adventures.

7) Women. Write down exactly what you want. It’s only then you will find her. I mean exactly. Height, hair, hobbies, qualities. She is there. Don’t settle.

8) Know when someone will refuse to lose an argument and don’t waste your time. Just say, I see what you are saying and move on.

9) A good friend has these five qualities. 1) You can trust them with money 2) They won’t judge you 3) You can trust them with your woman 4) You can trust them with a secret 5) They are there when you need them. Don’t waste your time on anyone who doesn’t have these qualities. When you find a good friend, be all of the above.

10) Write your own ten commandments. Know your morals and refuse to budge.

I hope this helps. Being in the cave sucks, but it’s got no door on it. Just walk out.

All the best,
~Vago

Pernik, Bulgaria – A Brisk winter Walk – #saturdayslideshow

Pernik BulgariaTravel to the places that don’t make it into most magazines or guidebooks is usually much more interesting and exciting than reading about Bali or Boracay from yet another person who has ‘discovered it’. Certainly I didn’t discover Pernik, but it was a pleasure to get to see it in this way.

We woke up bright and early to go up into the forest with my friend Borislav’s grandfather. He was much more bright eyed than either of us, but one thing I figured out quickly is that Balkan people can drink all day and all night and seem to not suffer from it at all. And they usually seem to start the day with a shot of schnapps.

As for me, I usually suffer if I drink the night before. The sidewalk was icy and it was C-O-L-D but that didn’t stop this 80+ year old man from being the first one down the street, the first one up the hill, and the first one to wherever he was leading us. To be fair though, usually the one doing the leading should go first.

He led us past the nuclear reactors and over the river and then past this amazing testosterone driven machine where the testosterone apparently gave out with a flat tire. Then we crossed the road and went up among the gypsy houses and gypsy dogs.

Now, let me be honest here. These were very kind, simple, and humble people. Their apartment was anything but luxurious but filled their needs. That’s why when we got to the massive house they live in during the summer, I was so surprised. It was gorgeous. Decorated like a boutique hotel, each room different with a different flavor. In the basement, the canned preserves, the still, and the big vats of wine just sitting and waiting to be poured into old coke bottles.

The weather was turning worse, we took a winding path through trees and down icy trails and no one fell but if they had I would have remembered Katya telling me that the funniest thing in the world is the confused look on people’s face when they realized they are no longer standing up. Even if it was me.

Finally, our historic guide decided to go back home where it was warm and asked Borislav to complete the tour by showing me the various monuments and statues in the town of Pernik. In fact, we did see those but given the blue faces we had, we deemed it best to duck into a cafe and grab some coffee.

We did manage to see the old church, the statue of the town protector, the old mining building, and some other statues and monuments that the cold weather made impossible for me to remember.

After that we went back to his grandparents for lunch with his aunt and while there was some rakia, I avoided getting so much of the hospitality of these wonderful people this time that my head would feel like it might explode.

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