"How many bags?"
"Just one" I replied, motioning to the small 30L backpack on my shoulder.
"And how much luggage?"
"None... just this one bag."
It's as if people can not comprehend someone traveling with only one bag. Everyone, from the airline ticket attendant, to the taxi driver, to the clerk at the hotel, seemed to insist that I must have more luggage.
I sat down in an empty section of Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur International Airport and put my bag down on the seat next to me. As I watched people wrestle with multiple suitcases, I looked over at my lonely bag and remembered how different my life used to be. Continue reading
Many people had told me that taking an airplane would be safer and on several occasions I found myself wondering if I should've listened to them. The eight hour ride on a tourist bus between Pokhara and Kathmandu wasn't the most comfortable, but that's what I get for spending $5 to take me more than 280km (170+ miles) over mountains where the roads were littered with evidence of total failure.
As I gazed out the window and watched the landscape change from city to mountainous countryside and then back to city, I couldn't help but feel saddened by how enthusiastically the cities seem to grow. So much pollution, waste, and destruction follow in their path leaving the Earth malformed, blackened, and bare.
It's the monsoon season here in Nepal and the rivers are raging. Small streams of water trickle down everywhere from the green mountains. The locals often cut the bottoms off old plastic bottles and use them as funnels to create small water spouts. More commonly though, they use flat stones or pieces of bamboo sliced in half to create channels that direct the trickling streams into neat little picturesque waterfalls. Continue reading
I had only been in the small village of Hile for two nights and yet I felt myself getting emotional about leaving. Was it because we had stayed an extra day to help the owner repaint the exterior of her guesthouse? Or was it because the owner was so nice that she made it feel a lot like home? Was this what being homesick was supposed to feel like?
We had trekked from one village to another for five days, climbing more than 2000m (6000ft) to a height of over 3200m (9600ft). My 22kg (50lb) backpack became heavier with each step and on day two I questioned my ability to make the rest of the trip. On the fourth day, we descended down seemingly endless stone stairs for almost eight hours.
I was traveling with my new friend and trekking guide, Tashi Sherpa, along with his 21 year old cousin who had climbed Mt. Everest four times and reached the summit twice. Tashi, who is an incredibly knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful guide, recently started his own trekking agency. If you're looking for a trekking guide in Nepal, I highly recommend you contact him.
This six day excursion ended up being more important than I had imagined. It reminded me how easy it is to lose focus of what matters and it allowed me to see a side of Nepal much different from what I observed while visiting the schools in Kahule and Bhalche a few weeks ago. Continue reading
If I could take the past four months of traveling through third world countries and compact them into two days, it wouldn't even begin to explain how life-changing, eye-opening, and humbling the past few days have been for me.
I'm still digesting everything so I hope you'll forgive me for not going into too much detail, but it should be enough to say that I gave my first, second, and third public speech, entirely unprepared, in front of almost one hundred children and adults, after climbing up through the clouds to the highest elevation I've ever ascended on foot.
I was welcomed and treated like a king.
And what had I done to deserve all this? Nothing.
I had to keep reminding myself that although I hadn't done anything to deserve such a grand welcoming, my ability to reach the world through my writing gave me a potential that none of them had; I had to constantly remind myself that my life contains such an abundance of opportunity that I needed to find some way to give it back to them. Continue reading
Early Sunday morning, two brothers will pick me up from my hotel in Kathmandu. We will drive several hours to a place called Sole Bazaar and from there I hear it's an eight-hour hike by foot, through areas infested with leeches, to the remote village where the project is located.
This isn't a photo expedition or a mini-vacation. If the weather holds out, I will be taking plenty of photos but that's not the purpose of this trip. I'm doing this for the kids like those in the photo above. Continue reading
She smiled and asked in a somewhat sarcastic tone, "Do you live here or something?"
For her, dropping $250 in a single day was no big deal. For me, that's my whole budget for food, transportation, and lodging for an entire month.
Over the course of the past week, we had both spent several hours a day at the same cafe in the backpackers district of Kathmandu and on several occasions exchanged glances without speaking a word.
The free wifi and excellent coffee made the cafe a great place to use my laptop and for the past week it has been my home while I work during the day on my upcoming ebook, Small Ways to Make a Big Difference.
I returned the smile, simultaneously surprised and happy that my out-of-control facial hair -- which I refuse to cut until the end of my initial six-month journey -- had not scared away yet another person.
This past week marks three months since I left the place I called home for the first twenty-eight years of my life. I spent the past three months in India, a world away from my familiar home in the Northeast United States and I'm currently staying in Vietnam for two weeks before going to Nepal for two months.
Part of the reason for leaving home, changing my lifestyle, becoming a nomad was to rediscover myself; to strip my life of everything that might distract me from the process of inner discovery.
I was beginning to feel as though my life had gone down the wrong road; as if I had accidentally walked down the wrong path and I was watching the correct path disappear through a thick forest. I had to cut across. Whatever it took, I had to get to the other side. I felt an uncontrollable urge to follow my inner compass.
So I quit my job, sold all my stuff, and planned to live abroad for six months on a tiny budget of $3,000. What happened after that wasn't important to me. With the entire world knocking at my door and absolutely no experience traveling abroad, my new lifestyle started in India. I had no idea what to expect of the following six months -- I only knew that my life would never be the same again. Continue reading
I mentioned in my previous post that I wasn't going to post on a schedule anymore, but I didn't expect to go this long without posting anything.
I flew to central Vietnam a few days ago to a city called Hue (pronounced hu-way). The hotel, which is still under construction, is very comfortable for $15/night but it has no WiFi access and I wake up every morning to the sound of banging. But I'm not paying for the room, so I can't complain.
My friend David and his wife Mai have been awesome; they're letting me tag along with them to visit Mai's family and they have been introducing me to everybody along the way (Asians have huge families).
The first few days in Ho Chi Minh City were packed full of tours and trips to various places. Waking up at six in the morning with only a few hours of sleep wasn't fun, but I wasn't going to miss an opportunity to get a free tour of Vietnam. Continue reading
The Malaysian Airlines red-eye from India to Vietnam was comfortable, but somehow I only managed to get two hours of sleep. Being that this was my first time flying Malaysian Airlines, I was pleasantly surprised by the fruit-colored seats and colorfully dressed flight attendants -- quite a different experience compared to the dry and bland feeling of say, an American Airlines flight.
My flight stopped in Malaysia's beautiful Kuala Lumpur airport for two hours where I almost accidentally got on a plane to Singapore instead of Ho Chi Minh City. Continue reading
Every time I have heard the response to what someone would do given a billion dollars, the answer always includes doing something that would change the world.
People are genuinely good at heart. Everybody wants to make the world a better place; everybody wants to help. Why then is there so much poverty and suffering in the world?
The answer, I believe, lies in our mindset towards life -- the established set of attitudes that we hold towards living, working, and existing. Such a mindset is not easy to change on a large scale, especially given that living standards generally remain the same, or improve, from one generation the next.
Most of us live in a bubble. We don't see the full picture of what's going on in the world. OK, we at least have an idea. We read news stories and blog posts, see pictures, and even watch videos. We have a general idea of what it's like out there. We know the world isn't all smiles and love. Continue reading
I read somewhere recently that bloggers should be transparent to ensure authenticity. It made me think about my own writing and question whether or not I was being fully transparent with you, my readers.
I wondered, what does it mean for me to be more transparent? Since I'm traveling, does it mean writing about the little things that I generally avoiding talking about? Does it mean sharing my thoughts more often?
Perhaps I could write about my worries of running out of money or the several cases of mild travelers diarrhea that have started to get annoying. I could write about how I sometimes feel guilty for spending too much time in high-end cafes, enjoying the air conditioning and delicious coffee when I should be outside exploring the small local shops. (In my defense, it was a safe place to work on my laptop.)
What about writing how I felt for ignoring the handicapped guy with no legs who extended his hand and asked for money while I was in the beach town of Gokarna? If I help him, I thought, why shouldn't I help all of them? How do I choose who receives help? Continue reading
After three months of budget hotels, rough buses, and grimy restaurants, the past few days here in Delhi have been nothing short of luxury. I've been in New Delhi only a few days, but it feels like it has been weeks. The wedding I was invited to has been incredible and I'm sure you will all love the photos (I will upload them soon, I promise!).
I'm staying with close friends whom I consider family and they have been incredibly generous to me; tea in the morning, home cooked meals for lunch, afternoon naps, a nice place to sleep, and an abundance of love and kindness.
Their home is located in a relatively new area of Delhi, with gated communities, wide streets, and a partially running metro that is still under construction. The wedding itself took place between their home and the only five star hotel where pure vegetarian food is served.
A few weeks ago I announced that I was doing a reader survey to help me better understand what you were interested in hearing more of on this blog. The response has been fantastic and I really appreciate everyone who took the time to complete the survey. Continue reading
The beauty and energy of Udaipur left me at a loss for words. The morning I arrived, I could feel there was something different about the place. It was very subtle, but clearly a deep and calming energy. It was as if I could feel a culmination of all the life and royalty that had once lived or visited there.
I spent the first two days walking around the old city and exploring the three lakes from various points. All three lakes were far more dry than I expected and I was later told that there had been very little rain in the past five years and that the lakes were getting drier and drier each year.
For the first two days, I roamed for hours on foot, through small, unmarked streets that were not even on the map, passing tiny nooks that looked as if they had been transported directly from Venice itself. Incredible artwork of royal elephants, horses, kings, and princes graced the entrances to each house. The colors were usually faded, but you could always see how vibrant and striking the original paintings were. Continue reading
The four-hour train ride from Mumbai to Surat was cool and comfortable. It was my first ride in an AC2-class car, one of the best classes you can take on a train in India. The first thing I noticed were the passengers: they were much different than those on the lower class cars. Many of them spoke English, even to each other, and they spoke more quietly.
Several passengers used their laptops during the journey and listened to music on their smart phones. Each seat came with a complementary bottle of water, a blanket, a pillow, and even dinner! Talk about luxury.
As we left Mumbai, the man sitting next to me asked me where I was going.
"Surat.", I replied.
"Surat? I am also going to Surat. Be prepared for hell getting off!" Continue reading
The fully booked train rolled into Mumbai Central Train Station at four o'clock in the morning but even with nearly all its passengers on-board, it was eerily quiet inside. As the train slowed to a halt, the passengers, only half awake or still sleeping, slowly moved about like zombies, speaking in a mumbled tone and quietly shuffling through the narrow, dimly lit isles collecting their luggage.
I was lucky to be on this train. Sixteen hours earlier, I learned that the last bus to Karwar, the town where the train to Mumbai departed from, had left Gokarna earlier that morning.
After asking a random travel agent, I discovered that my only option was to take a forty-five minute bus ride to Ankola (a bigger town further north) and from there catch a bus to Karwar. Continue reading
A few nights ago I discovered bed bugs in my mattress. It was my first experience with bed bugs so my first stop was, of course, the Wikipedia page on Bed Bugs. Thankfully, they aren't known to transmit any diseases.
Only a few weeks ago I joked about being happy there were no bed bugs in the cheap cockroach-ridden hotel I was staying at in Ujire. It looks like I spoke too soon.
I requested clean sheets and switched from sleeping on the mattress to sleeping on the floor. Some of them still find me, but it's a whole lot better than the mattress.
Starting this nomadic lifestyle of cheap travel, I knew it was bound to happen sometime. As I've said before, they're just bugs! Continue reading
It's been almost one month since I arrived in India (26 days to be exact) and I have finally spent my first $100 USD (that's approximately 4,500 Rupees).
In fact, it was less than $100 because I got ripped off twice: The first time was with a $28 currency exchange fee when I changed a $100 bill for rupees during my layover at the Heathrow Airport in London.
The second time was when I stopped in a small town near Mangalore to refill my local Airtel SIM card: I gave the agent Rs.300, but when I was finally able to check the balance, it only showed Rs.1 (as I later learned, my unlocked iPhone didn't work with the local SIM, so I couldn't check the balance until I purchased a basic Nokia phone a few days later).
So, where exactly did those 2,940 Rupees go? Continue reading
There I was, walking around the busy center of town in Ujire, India, sweating more than everyone else around me and clearly not looking or feeling like a local. But I was already used to that. I've been into town twice now and the strange stares and odd looks are practically expected. I've discovered that if you stop looking at everyone in the eyes, it's easy to forget that they're staring.
It was about twenty past four in the afternoon and I was headed back home; a remote farm nestled in the foothills of the Western Ghats about 10 miles from town. I had two options for getting there: Wait for the bus and be crammed in with students headed home from school, or look for one of the jeeps and ride like a real local.
I noticed a bus arriving and waited to ask if it was headed to Kukavu (pronounced "kokow"), the name of the area about two miles from the farmhouse. The ticket attendant on the bus gave me a disgusted look and shooed me away. Continue reading
The plane landed in Bangalore India early in the morning. This was my first trip outside the United States and I had no idea what to expect when I arrived.
On the plane we had to fill out an Indian Customs card to give to the immigration officer when we arrived. It asked questions such as where I would be staying and whether or not I was bringing in any seeds, meat, or plants that might carry insects. This seemed like an important concern because before the plane took off from London's Heathrow airport, they also sprayed an insecticide throughout the cabin to kill any insects that might have stowed away on the passengers.
Upon exiting the plane, the first stop was the Indian Customs. I had built up all this unnecessary anxiety over not getting through customs and the immigration officer literally spent 15 seconds looking over my passport and then let me through. He didn't even ask me any questions!
As I exited the airport, the air smelled thick and humid, but cool (the sun hadn't risen yet). It first smelled of burning wood, then of human waste. Within a few minutes, the smells had mostly faded (I think my nose adjusted because I hardly smell anything anywhere now).
My friend had arranged for a driver to drive us to his house. My first impression of the driving was that they're all suicidal and crazy, and that they constantly use their horns to make others aware of that fact. They drive fast, really fast. I will never again think American drivers from any state are crazy.
As we approached the first intersection on the highway, I noticed the traffic light was red. But we didn't slow down. There were other vehicles approaching the intersection, but that didn't seem to matter. As we flew through the intersection my friend told me that there's an unwritten rule that red lights don't matter before 6:30am. Awesome. Continue reading