The Journey

The Journey is the Destination

Oh, the places you'll go

Oh, the places you'll go


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Best Days of My Life

Are the best days behind me or in front of me?

One day, I'll look back on life and say, "Damn, I'm glad I did that."

The past 18 months have been quite a roller coaster, my work was by all means not glamorous, and often times completely negative. I loved living in Germany for 15 months and getting to experience a little more about how Germans live. I managed to go to 21 new countries, making a total of 29. I wouldn't yet say I am "well-traveled", but decently traveled is not out of the question. Well-traveled is definitely on its way. (Foreshadowing?).

Countries visited:            

USA, Jamaica, Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Ireland, U.K. - England, Spain, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Croatia, Bosnia, Greece, Hungary, Morocco, Israel, Jordan, India, Thailand, Vietnam, and South Korea.

While my adventures in Europe were pretty adventurous and often times dangerous- Bier fests, Hiking the Zugspitze without a harness, getting robbed in Budapest, fleeing a crazy drug dealer, and many more unspeakable stories. This post is about my time in Asia after leaving Germany.

I have always known I have wanted to travel more and experience things the average person doesn't get to. After all, I know I am blessed and privileged with a great life. I have been given an opportunity in this life to explore and seek things others will never be able to attain due to limited resources, lack of will, socioeconomic factors, racism, etc. I have been dealt a great hand and I plan on going all in. If I do not, it will seem I have wasted this life, and no one wants to have that feeling.
The plan was quite simple, but would be challenging; Get out of my comfort zone in order to stretch it further. I left a lot of room for activities. All I did was booked my flight to India, my workaway, the meditation retreat, and my flight to Thailand. I did some research about a few areas before I left, but much of my information was given to me by fellow travelers along the way. One thing I realized is that planning everything is a headache, it leaves no room for creative spontaneity while traveling. You might meet some amazing people but you won't be able to get to know them because you have already booked a flight 3 weeks in advance, or a hostel in a different city. Slow down, converse, learn a little.

India - March 2018

My adventure started on March 9th at 8:00am. I took a red-eye 5 hour flight from Hamburg to New Delhi. I had no expectations of India besides that I knew it was a third world country. It lived up to this expectation, and then some. Third world countries are quite fascinating in regards to experiencing instead of just assuming you know. You have no idea what to expect, except the worst, and then when you experience it, you think of how much worse it is than you expected. Imagine a wild west world with limited governmental assistance, impoverished and malnourished masses, diseases run rampant, with a toxic water supply and pollution over major cities that makes it hard to breathe. Mix in the fact there are limited street lights and signs, and monkeys harass the hell out of everyone in order to steal meals or shiny objects, and a dry heat that is unbearable in summer months. India also has every season, from the mountains to the desert, to the tropics, there is no shortage of climate in this country.
Participating in a traditional Hindu ceremony

With all of these crazy culture shocks happening around the foreigner, there is also some kind of charm to India, a spiritual happening that is beyond explanation and reasoning. India holds the world's oldest religion, Hinduism, dating back an estimated 3500 years and it is still widely practiced throughout the country. If you can get behind the mantras, the chanting, and wildly fascinating and creative beliefs of this ancient religion, there is something here for you. I participated in several practices in a town called Vrindavan, where I arrived on the first day after being subjected to one very elaborate scam being played on all westerners in Delhi.

The ride to Vrindavan from Delhi was an absolute exhausting culture shock. I was very tired from no sleep on the plane and I had to take a 3 hour taxi ride to this remote town in order to find a temple I hadn't been to in a city that had 5000 temples, without wifi or a data plan. Talk about a shit show. It took over an hour to get out of Delhi traffic, over 21 million people live in this city and I must have seen 8 million of them. After getting out of Delhi, we got on a "highway" and I thought the worst was behind us, I was very wrong. India has limited infrastructure. The highway ended shortly after beginning and we were driving head on into traffic on a side road and my cab driver was honking the entire time. A cow stumbled across our path and we waited and honked while it would slowly pass. Kids were playing soccer in the streets while emaciated hogs and dogs were chowing down on trash on the side of the road. We would get back on the dilapidated highway system and drive for 5 minutes, before repeating an episode I had already scene, or some version of it. This would continue for the next 2 restless hours, and I never got used to it. I simply observed and sometimes chuckled out of absolute shock. Only in India.
The school we volunteered at

I arrived in Vrindavan after a long day extended from the previous day. As far as I could tell, I was the only white foreigner in this town, or at least the only one that stood out. I would soon discover there were many foreigners but they were all dressed in the local garments of loose fitting shirts and pants, head wraps, and scarves. I had on my backpacker boots and hiking pants. My workaway was at an ashram called Vrinda Kunj, which my driver asked 8 people how to get to. The practicing monks were very welcoming. I went out to eat local food with one and got a SIM card for $6 for the whole month, because there is no wifi anywhere in India and you'd be crazy to go without knowing where you are. I discussed life and religion with this Monk, whose name was "Dina", meaning "Person of the lowest people", in Sanskrit. It was a wild first day, but I made it.

Sneakin pics of Darya
For the next 10 days, I would be helping keep the ashram clean, feeding people, painting, gardening, and learning more about Hinduism and how to say a few words. I would meet many incredible and beautiful people including my new Belarusian friend Darya who would teach me many things about spirituality and Hinduism.  I would see many incredible temples along the way and eat a lot of good food. I would participate in several rituals, and get my palm read by an astrologist. On my third day, I would get new pants robbed by a monkey and have to trade him for juice in return for them. I would see many naked men walking through the streets as if it was the norm. I would be ever-present in a blur of a world that I could not relate to in the slightest, but I would feel a spiritual presence that could not be felt anywhere else in the world. I would become uplifted by the mere existence of this city, but I would be equally humbled by the death, disease, poverty, and garbage that littered the streets. This would add to my appreciation for how great my life is, and I would vow to myself to simply let things go from now on. Every day was gratitude and appreciation day in India.

I went to Agra for a few days upon leaving Vrindavan, and it was night and day. So many tourists who had flown to India simply to see the Taj Mahal. So many tourists who would never understand or truly get an understanding of the struggle outside of this more developed city. Was I any better than them? No, but I did hope many of them were staying for longer than a few days.
The incredible Taj Mahal at sunrise

I left Agra after being amazed by the Taj, which was absolutely stunning. My mouth stayed open in awe the entire time. I then headed to my meditation retreat in Lucknow. I wrote an entire blog post on this experience - HERE - so I won't say much about this 10 day experience. I told a friend this was the most mentally challenging thing I have ever done in my life, and he said "Well, you must not live a hard life." I told him to try one and get back to me, but he never will read this or try one, and that is the difference between his ignorance and my desire for growth. I understand I am not better than him, or anyone else, but I always try to be better than myself. I am always trying to advance and I see this as a challenge I willingly put myself in to grow, learn, and understand more about myself and examine the way my mind works.  No reason to knock on anyone's experiences.

After this experience, I was incredibly thankful for everything, I felt lighter and overall happier. I appreciated little things, like a comfortable bed and a shower, and being able to talk to others, read, and write, on a daily basis. I headed back to Lucknow city and did a couchsurf with a local Indian man who had great reviews. His name is Biren, and I would stay with him again in an instance. He used to own a restaurant for a long time and made a decent amount of money and his way of giving back was by letting travelers stay at his place and showing them the hospitality of India. I met several other backpackers here; Pratap from Varanasi, Pallav from Lucknow, and Ricardo from Mexico, all with their own delightful and wonderful stories. The conversation was enlightening, the food was delicious, and the end of my time in India was ideal.

Thailand - April 2018

I arrived in Bangkok on April 1st and I just wanted to rest a bit. I didn't plan anything for this leg of the trip, but I knew I would be heading to one of the islands, and Chiang Mai at some points. I wanted to see a few temples and read on a beach for a bit, and that is literally all I had planned. I Googled "best island to go to in Thailand", and one of the first things that popped up was scuba diving on Koh Tao, I was intrigued. The first night in Bangkok, I met a German guy named Maxim who had just come from Koh Tao and he said he got advanced certified and gave me the run down. Looks like I was heading to Koh Tao the next evening.

The views on Koh Tao; Mango Viewpoint

Fabrice and I had an instant Bromance
On the bus ride to the Chumphon pier I met an Austrian named Eva and we talked for a while about all kinds of topics, she was amazingly intelligent and engaging. I told her to be spontaneous and meet me in Chiang Mai for Songkran with Shelby, my American friend. She was skeptical at first because I could be a killer (lol) but we exchanged contacts and would later reunite in Chiang Mai. I had only planned on being on Koh Tao for a few nights, but I ended up staying for 10 days and getting advanced diver certified. Meaning I can dive solo up to 30m (99ft) anywhere in the world. It started off as just open water certified, but I met another German named Fabrice (Germans were everywhere!), and we decided to stick together for the rest of our time in Thailand and get certified together. Hoping to see this dude again in the near future.

Scuba diving is unreal. I never realized I would love it so much. You are with a group of people examining marine life up close unlike in the forest. In a forest, you can't get a few inches away from a squirrel as it munches its lunch. In the ocean, you can get so close to a lot of marine life and simply watch as it lives its life. There is a meditative principle in diving that drew me to like it more and more as I did it more. It was awkward at first but it takes getting used to. Eventually you get very comfortable and next thing you know, you're 100ft under water wondering why, then you notice a school of fish and you're immersed in the moment of awesomeness surrounding you. We ended up diving 12 times, completing skills like mask and regulator removal, a night dive, deep dives, and an eco-dive (we got a free dive for cleaning up the ocean floor, how cool right?).

Me, Eva, Shelb, and Fabrice living it up
On April 12th, it was time to head to Chiang Mai for Songkran. This is the Thai New Year with the intention of embodying purification of the past and moving on. It was everything I needed at the time. Fabrice and I collaborated with Eva and Shelby to meet in Chiang Mai where we split an Airbnb and experienced the festival together. This was the most fun I had had since I was 8 years old playing with water guns and water balloons. I had always got in trouble for spraying people that didn't want to be sprayed as a kid, but it was acceptable and expected here. The festival consisted of taking to the streets for 3 straight days to soak the locals and tourists with as much water as humanly possible. Add a little alcohol to the festival and you have one heck of a wild time.

This pic sums up the festival
After the festival, we decided to go as a group to an elephant camp for a day of playing with, feeding, and bathing elephants. This was another magical experience in itself. These intelligent, majestic, and massive creatures capture your awareness at all times when you are around them. We got to learn about the history of elephants in Thailand, and the habits of the elephants. Then we got to feed them endless bananas and sugar cane. We trekked through the jungle with them for a while and took plenty of pictures with them. Eventually we got to show them respect by giving them a mud bath and rinsing them afterwards. Upon our ride back to Chiang Mai, we got absolutely drenched in the back of truck for several hours because Songkran was still going on, it turned out to be quite an amazing day.
She loved me

On the last day we visited the top of Thailand, Doi Inthanon and saw a Thai fight. Doi means "mountain" in Thai, Inthanon was the name of a King who had 36 wives, but only 1 of those got the "privilege" of being his Queen and having her own temple on top of this mountain with the King.
That night, we went to a Thai fight, where we got to see the national sport take place. We paid about $12 for 3 hours of fighting. There were 2 fights with children fighting, literally 12-13 years old. In one of these fights, a kid took a high kick to the head and was knocked out. It was brutal. The main event was anticlimactic with a lot of grabbing. It went to decision. The fight that interested me the most was one where an American girl fought a Thai girl (of course). This was a great back and forth brawl with a few huge kicks, punches, and slams but the Thai girl ended up taking the victory. It was awesome to experience this cultural sport in person even if it does not coincide with how the western world views the ideal of sports. In the west, everyone's national sports are team-oriented with a shared outcome, in Thailand, you fight by yourself for individual glory. It says a lot about the dynamic of the society.
Doi Inthanon

Vietnam - April/May 2018

The next day was travel and goodbye day for all of us. We were all heading to a new and different  location or back home. Eventually everyone returns back home. But for now, it was time to say goodbye and head to Vietnam with Fabrice. On a spur of a moment, Fabrice decided he would head to VN with me. I told him he need a visa and it was a headache for me to get one. He was silent and looked at his phone for a second and then goes "Nope, German's don't need a visa there." As he smiled. German's rarely need a visa for any country, they have one of the strongest passports the world knows. American's have beef with countries, so our citizens don't get as good of perks as others do. Now we were heading to Hanoi!

Hanoi is a very busy city with a lot of overcast weather. VN is a very wet country and rain season was about to start in May and last until September or so. The overcast weath in Hanoi was much different than the beach and sun I was coming from, it was gloomy. Although something about VN was charming in it's own way. I can't say it was the cleanliness of the streets, or the overly capitalistic feel of the businesses, no. It was probably the Pho, definitely the Pho.

The traffic in Hanoi was mad. Honking everywhere. Scooters flying every which way. It reminded me of India, except the streets were complete and there were no cows. A tourist could get in some awkward footwork walking across the Hanoi streets and it was never lacking entertainment. I quickly realized you have to time your crossing and then go with unwavering confidence and practically dare a driver to hit you- they will do anything they can to avoid you.

After 2 nights of hanging with Fabrice, we had to part ways. It was a sad time. I had grown fondly of this dude and we had a good connection. I hope he takes me up on my offer to host him in the states one day because I do plan on going back to Germany and seeing him and all the other Germans I have made friends with over the past 18 months. Fabrice was heading south after a week or so, but I was going north, way north.

I made my way to Yen Bai that evening. This town was at the foothills of the northern mountain range of the SaPa valley. I was about 2 hours from the China border, and I would be calling this home for the next 10 days for a workaway on a local farm. My host and I were in contact through phone but I had never got to speak to her in person, but I did get to meet her parents...who did not speak any English! For the first couple days I entertained the hostel area and taught VN kids English and played games with them. The work was easy and minimal. I ended up going to their farm on the 3 day via scooter. It was a 30 minute drive and the scenery was of great Vietnamese farm area. Imagine jungles and mountains with farms in between.

Down the street from the workaway in Yen Bai
The workaway was quite an experience. Since no one in the area spoke any English at all, we resulted to Google translate with a lot of hand gestures and simple grunts. It worked out, but the work was still minimal. I always felt as if I could be doing more to help and I was not sure what to do all the time. Maybe this was my American work ethic trying to come out- always looking for more work to be done when really there wasn't much. My days consisted of wheeling a bucket of supplies up to a hill and planting trees on the side of a very slippery and muddy hill. I did not mind the physical work and actually welcomed it as a part of my daily physical activity, but part of me had become majorly connected to my surroundings and the planet since India. I realized I was digging up a giant ecosystem under the mud filled with worms, bugs, and frogs. I did not quit but I felt some sense of remorse on each dig which I tried to justify by saying these people need this land to live more than these animals.

Some temples on top of a mountain
When I was not working on their land, I was attempting to explore the area on the scooter they let me borrow. I paid about $.80 for a liter of gas and took off to the surrounding streets. I found a few waterfalls, some valley areas, and plenty of Bia Hoi's where everyone wanted to drink beer with me. Many of the locals had rarely seen foreigners, but they seemed to love the fact that I was there on their home land enjoying life how they had intended it to be lived.

I came to quickly realize how much meat the Vietnamese eat. They eat more meat than Germans do, but they actually eat vegetables as well. Every meal had meat in it, which was quite a change from where I had come from. I had no meat in India, only once a day in Thailand (maybe not that much), and now they served it in every meal. On the first day I was there, they slaughtered a pig and cut it up to split for 3 families. This hog would provide meat for them for the next several weeks. Trust me, it was delicious, but my stomach was not always having the meat for every single meal. I realized how much better my mind and body feel when I eat less meat. I think clearer, I sense things better, and I have more energy. There is a direct psychological and physiological correlation between less meat and feeling better for my body. Having said that, I tried everything they cooked up as to not be rude, and because I am a foodie.

Every day, "Mama Han", as I would begin to start calling her, would whip up breakfast, lunch, and dinner on a platter. In the morning's, we had rice, for lunch, we had rice, and for dinner, we had rice. Ha. But with the rice, it was always accompanied by something different and delicious. Breakfast's included some kind of egg mix with a typical VN vegetable, and some pork dish. Lunch included more pork, some different vegetables, and one vegetable that was incredibly bitter that gives you the face of having just smelled a fart. Dinner was a platter of different VN dishes including spring rolls, Pho, pork, and anything else she could come up with. Everything was incredibly tasty, and could be dipped in fish-oil or soy sauce. In between meals, she would serve up some local mango's. Let's just say I was well-fed during this time.

I was a guest in their house here, but they made me feel part of their family. My stomach was not feeling well one day and Papa Han gave me a bitter tasting plant from the garden that was good for digestion. It actually did make me feel better after having it for a day or so. I was thankful for the remedy. They let me borrow the scooter for my own adventures. They gave me space when I wanted to write or relax on my own. They brought their entire family over for dinner and we all dined together. They did not mind if the kids came and jumped on me and hung all over me. I was a stranger, but they trusted me in their home, and I reciprocated the feeling by opening as much as possible to them given the language barrier. Sometimes the best and most pure form of communication is body language, for spoken communication can get lost in (Google) translation.

After 10 days in Yen Bai, it was time to head further north to SaPa Valley. I was heading here for the serene views and tallest mountain in Vietnam. I won't delve to far into this part of my trip because I plan on writing a blog on how to climb the tallest mountain in Vietnam, the Fansipan, without paying a guide and the local government and doing it on your own instead. I wrote a review on TripAdvisor on how to do this and a German couple messaged me saying they used my advice and did it. Makes me feel good! I will update this blog with a link when I complete that blog.

Seoul, Korea - May 2018

I ended up in Seoul on May 3rd or 4th. I had one hell of a headache getting out of Vietnam because they have some very shit policies on their airlines. They will take advantage of every dollar they can get out of you. Bags do not fly free. I checked one bag for equivalent of $30. I tried my hardest to carry it on, but they saw right through my usual, "but I'm just a stupid tourist" skit.
Seoul was by far the most westernized part of my trip. I had now gone so far east, that I was back west. The culture was strikingly similar to any American city I had visited, with the only exception being that everyone was Asian. They were incredibly hospitable here. Very friendly and welcoming at every turn and many people were inclined to help you if you looked lost at all or if you simply asked for directions.

Dumplings and something else delicious
My friend Cole attempted to teach me a few sayings in Korean. Yeoboseyo was my go-to saying, which means Hello. It was common to say this to anyone and everyone, and Koreans seemed to love if foreigners interacted with them, unlike in America. I quickly realized how addicted to their phones everyone was. Right when you get on a subway or any form of transportation, everyone would be glued to their phones the entire ride. I did not buy data in SK because it was very high priced. Instead I would leech Cole's unlimited data plan when I was around him. Sharing is caring.

Korean BBQ
Seoul has an incredible food culture. This was one of my favorite places for food. The flavors were vast. I had Kimchi, Bibimbap, BBQ, and a dish with rice and cheese that is brought to you in a skillet and kept warm right in front of you as you place it in lettuce wraps and chow down. One of the most ridiculous things I ate was a corn dog covered in cinnamon sugar with ketchup. It was disgustingly good. South Korea is fat and I fit right in. I ate a lot of food and walked around Seoul, but I barely saw much of the city in the week I was there. It is huge. With over 20 million people living in the metropolitan area, the city spans several miles and there are a lot of different suburbs to explore.

We did what we could with the time we could. We rode the subway to new areas, we saw plenty of temples, we went to a super-naked Korea spa, and we drank a healthy amount of Makgeoli. We also ended up taking a tour to the DMZ and seeing a train station that is one day hoped to go to Pyongyang. We went deep into one of the tunnels the DPRK dug in order to stage an attack on Seoul. The experience at the DMZ was one of a kind, but the amount of selfie sticks and tourist shops ended up stealing from the feeling of being in one of the most dangerous and tense places on Earth. We were in Seoul at a good time with the peace summit having just happened and Kim-Jong-Un crossing into SK and holding hands with President Moon. For Korea, and the world, this is an historical time that will be looked back on as one of the greatest moments mankind has traversed.

One last interesting note is how Koreans have relationships with each other. My friend described it as a "skin-ship". It is completely normal for a heterosexual same-sex pair of friends of all ages to hold hands, hug a lot, and touch each other in a non-sexual manner. I saw it everywhere. At first I wondered if there were just a lot of these couples but then I realized they are all just friends who are comfortable with their sexuality and expressing their normal feelings with signs of intimacy. This is one thing I really appreciated in SK and realized how a stigma in America would never allow us to get to crossing our personal boundaries for this. We are all human, humans need touch, there is nothing wrong with showing a friend you care about them with some caring and intimate moments.

Wrapping it up

I promise I am looking at something cool
By the end of this wild 18 months, I came to realize a lot about myself and my life. I came to realize how much control I have over myself and my actions in my life. Before I left, I had this dire fear of getting comfortable in life and feeling stuck. I felt as though had I let more time go on without making a decision and acting on it, then I would let my life slip by without accomplishing any personal goals I had set in my life. I felt as if I would simply go with the flow instead of attaining an opportunity to learn, grow, and take a giant leap that would thrust me outside of my comfort zone into a land unknown and uncertain. I felt as if fear would enable me to truly understand what I was made of and it would make me incapable of accruing confidence that would propel me into the future knowing what I am truly capable of. Have I realized my full potential? Of course not. I never will. The idea is that I am learning and growing and continuing to try and reach it. But each day I get closer, the bar gets set higher and the only person I can be better than is the person I was yesterday. This life is not a competition against others as it is against the self. You aren't in competition with what others are doing. You are competing with your own mind in order to gain control and put yourself on a path that aligns with what you value in life. That is the ultimate goal. Of course you will die one day, and this could scare the hell out of you to the point of not allowing you to do anything, or it could have the opposite effect and make you want to act and accomplish everything you have ever put your mind to! Don't let it be the former. We need more people on this planet that are willing to realize their impermanence and take life head on instead of cowering away and letting it float by. To get what you have never had, you have to do what you have never done.

Over these 18 months, I had come to grow very used to meeting wonderful individuals and then parting ways with them shortly after. That is how traveling goes, especially when it's solo; you meet someone else or a small group, you get to know them for a day or several days, and then you part ways wondering if you will ever cross these beautiful souls again. More often than not, the answer is no you won't. I came to the understanding that as awesome as traveling solo can be, as much as you can learn about yourself, it is equally appreciating to travel with friends or ones you care about. Traveling can be as introspective as you want it to be, or it can be as exciting and thrilling as having a group of friends go with you can be. By traveling with others, you really learn a lot about those you travel with and the moments you are experiencing are only as awesome as the people you are experiencing them with.

Although Fabrice and I were different. I met him at the beginning of my Thailand trip and stuck with him for about 3 weeks until we got to Vietnam. He had been traveling for the past 9 months. This German had been all over the place in Asia, New Zealand, and Australia. His plan was to travel for a year because he had just finished school and wanted a true gap year. We talked about all kinds of things, and learned a lot from each other and things we had experienced. We talked about how Americans don't do the gap year like Aussies/Kiwi's, and Europeans. It is not seen as something normal to do in America. In America, we are encouraged to go to school, pick a degree, get that degree while accruing debt, get a job to pay off said debt, and not take many breaks. We work hard for life and then we die. There is no gap year encouraged. We are pieces of property. We are assets. We are tools used to fix, fuel, and tweak the conglomerate of a machine that is America. American resolve is what moves the world forward through hard work and ingenuity, and every generation is taught the perpetuated regurgitated belief that if we do not continue working hard, then we will never get to where we want to be. But what about when that hard work never ends? Then you have raced your life away on the endless rat wheel, and all you have to show for it is a fund of cash and a life cut short from health problems. In America, we work hard to trade our youth and health for money. Then we get older and spend all of the money we accumulated in order to trade it for health and moments of youth again. It is paradoxical, and exhausting at best. Why can we not take the time to shift this paradigm? Slow down a bit. Realize that life is what we live for. Not the company we are part of.
As my adventure came to a close, I was excited to head home. I was excited to see friends and family and catch up on everything that had been happening in our lives. I had learned so much and I wanted to share it with people as much as I wanted to learn what others had learned. I was very aware that I had not seen friends, family, and acquaintances in the past 18 months, and for me, everything had changed. But for many of the people I would see, not much has changed, and I would be the one sharing these stories they wish they could partake in. I quickly took a step back and vowed to not share stories or lessons learned with people unless they inquired. I would soon learn that not many people cared to inquire, which was fine, but I knew I had gained a plethora of stories to tell my grandkids one day, "Hey kids, want to hear about a time when Grandpa got lost and scammed in India then 2 days later a monkey stole his pants?!" *Slaps knee and laughs*. I can see it now.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Surviving India on a Rice and Bean Budget

More risk, more experience, less stuff, less regret. This is the life I have chosen.

In 2017, I made roughly $18,000. I know what you are thinking, "That is absolutely nothing". You're right, it's not very much at all. The only good thing is that I had very minimal expenses; no rent, no phone bill, all student loans paid off, and no recurring monthly payments in general (i.e., Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, etc.).

Many people have asked me how I afford to travel. The short answer is a little focus, determination, and prioritizing it as a must do, instead of something I will do eventually. I would like to break it down more in depth in this post and help anyone who is considering how they will afford a trip coming up by showing exactly what I did- because I have no other advice other than to simply be candid about my finances and spending habits.

I won't lie, this frugal lifestyle is not for everyone. It can be tough, especially at first, but with a little practice, it becomes a habit and your decisions are made for you through your own willful automation. I do not require much. I would rather repair a broken bag instead of buying a new one, or I would rather meal prep for the entire month than go out to eat at all. I have gone as far to teach a friend how to cut my hair by letting her mess it up to learn how to do it so I could pay her in beer and wine. Call me selfish, but I have been known to sacrifice developing friendships (meaning I have chosen to stay in instead of go out) in order to save $10 on a meal or drinks. I have learned that just because "it's only $5 or $10" really means "it's $5 or $10!". That only $5 turns into 100 "only $5" and before long you have spent $500 on stuff you didn't need. Over the course of a lifetime, this $500 a year is broken down as such; $500 x 50 (years of remaining life expectancy) = $25,000. That "only $5" turned into a new car, or in this case, a lot of trips (or what you want it to be).

Keep this mindset and you can save all that money on things you don't need in order to spend it on the experiences that matter. The experiences that give you life and meaning. Science has proven those who spend money on experience over material objects are happier and expected to live a longer and more fulfilled life. I am not sure about this, but I am positive it gives my life more meaning, more structure, and allows me to keep less stuff and more value in my life. So here we go.

I made dirt wages at Edelweiss. I'll give you the template. (Not 100% accurate, but very close).

I did not make very much at Edelweiss, but I picked up as many hours as possible while working there even though it was only "part-time", I was able to maximize the lack of hours and wages.
As you can see, my wages greatly outweighed my expenses, so I was bringing in a surplus. Many people might be wondering about all the trips I took. Yes I did not add these, but my last 6 months trips totaled to around $3000, so we can take $3000 out of the surplus for a new surplus of $3283, this new number is what I would use to budget my next 2 months in Asia.

For Asia, the main budget eaters were my flights totaling $1500 for all of the stops including heading home. With $1700 to spare, I could have lived in India for 6+ months if I kept the same mindset I used in the western world. It was incredibly cheap. I spent less than most people would because I did not buy souvenirs, or stay at many hostels. I used workaway, couchsurfing, and a meditation retreat as my resources to travel and stay around in order to maximize my experience and minimize my expenses. I rode passenger trains and tuk-tuk's that ranged from $0.15-$4 per trip. My main meals consisted of popular street food stands, curry dishes at restaurants, and eating with my hosts. I ended up spending slightly over $200 for this leg of my trip, leaving me with $1500 to utilize in the remaining countries.

With $1500 to go in Thailand, Vietnam and South Korea, I decided to treat myself and get advanced scuba diving certified. For 12 dives, a place to stay, and an excellent experience, I paid $650. On top of this $650, I spent about $100 on food for 3 weeks by eating a lot of street pad thai and cup noodles, and also went on 2 tours (Elephant camp and a temple tour) for an additional $110. I paid another $40 for splitting an airbnb for 5 days. This leaves me with $600 to go for Vietnam and South Korea.

Vietnam was incredibly cheap as well, it was the 2nd cheapest place I went to. A bowl of noodles was about $2.50 and I ate a lot of them when I could. I decided to utilize my resource of workaway in Vietnam for 10 days again. This covered my stay and food for these 10 days in exchange for some physical labor on a family farm. Again, this maximized my experience and minimized my costs. I spent $10 on my first 2 days for food and a hostel. I also talked a local shop owner down on a $50 "NorthFace" jacket to $15. Then took a bus for $3 to my destination, I did not spend money again until my last 3 days in Vietnam. When I left my workaway, I bussed to SaPa Valley for $3 and stayed at a homestay for $4 per night at 2 nights, I decided to hire a guide to hike the mountain for another $60 (completely overpriced hike but I decided to follow the law and pay the toll instead of rebelling). I had to take motorbike taxi's to get around at $1.5 per ride and rode about 6 of these totaling $9. If you are keeping track, I spent around $170 in Vietnam for 2 weeks. This leaves us with $430 to spend in South Korea.

You get the point. I looked for ways to greatly decrease my expenses while maximizing my experiences, and this was the theme of my trip. Save money, increase value. I did not want to go to these destinations and simply do the tourists things and then leave. I wanted to get a feel for how locals live and I got a pretty good idea of that in India and Vietnam, I sort of treated myself in Thailand and South Korea and could have made my trip even cheaper, but I wanted to live a little.

*As you can see, this is how I budgeted my trip, or was able to afford my trip. Although, the real trick is changing your mindset about money, when you do that, you can save for anything you want. It might take some time and a lot of sacrifice but it's possible, and you will never get there if you do not begin immediately. If you have high rent and a large car payment, no one said you had to live in a luxurious place or drive a brand new 2018 car, you made that choice. No one said you had to eat your avocado toast and drink your 3rd wave drip coffee from Kenya at your local coffee shop for $18 per sitting, you made that choice. No one said you had to order all those clothes on Amazon for $250, instead of hitting a 2nd hand shop or being satisfied with what you have, you made that choice. "You can't have that cake and eat it too." I finally understand this quote. You have to choose what is important to you. Your life is a long succession of decisions that you make, and each decision compounds from the last decision. One day, you might be somewhere in life and realize you have been living the rat race life marketed to you by society and be very upset and begin pointing fingers, but the goal should be to realize the error in our ways and correct them moving forward.  I have simply chosen to live a simpler life with less stuff, less eating out, and a little more risk in order to maximize my experiences and minimize regrets in life.

"We don't regret the things we did, we regret the things we did not do."

If you read this far, thank you. If you need any money tips or advice then feel free to reach out. I am trying to figure out how to share my tips without sounding like a broken record or lecturing too much. Sometimes it is difficult for me! The biggest step is narrowing your focus, changing your relationship with money, and prioritizing what you want then going for it without wavering. Good luck!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Vipassana: Purifying the Mind Through Observation

"It would be entertaining to see a competition where people try to launch their turds as far as they can."

This was a legit thought that arose in my head on my first day during a 10-day Vipassana retreat. I chuckled silently to myself. What's wrong with my mind?

Back to focusing on the breath...

What is Vipassana meditation? -

Vipassana is a scientific practice and an ancient secular technique that is intended to purify the mind through observation. It originated in India and quickly spread to Thailand and throughout the world. The ultimate goal is to notice the body as it is at every moment in order to reach enlightenment. Although it is not a religious technique, it is most closely associated with the Buddhist religion, but they do not require you be Buddhist to practice the technique. You need not convert to Buddhism and become a monk to experience a few of the many benefits of Vipassana meditation.

Random fact: Buddha is a term used to describe anyone who is enlightened.

Benefits of Vipassana -

The ultimate goal of spiritual, mental, and emotional enlightenment is the main benefit. Enlightenment is a term used by Buddhists to describe those who see things as they are when they are in order to eliminate the misery and suffering of this life and completely transcend this physical life for the awareness of something indescribable to your average being. This is very simplified but the idea is to notice all of your body's sensations as they are happening and passing away. Enlightenment is an incredibly difficult stage to reach and could "take many lifetimes" to accomplish. Benefits other than enlightenment:

*Reduce stress, tension, anxiety, depression, addiction, overthinking, indecisiveness, cravings, tiredness, lethargy, migraines, misery, hatred, negativity
*Increase moods, energy, happiness, health, wellbeing, compassion, love, understanding, self-awareness

You also get to take a moment out of your busy life and focus on examination of yourself.

Once you begin down the path of Vipassana meditation, you begin to see things for how they are, instead of how you want them to be. You reduce your cravings towards changing sensations and thus, decrease your self-imposed cyclical misery that you are confined in.

How do I practice? -

I have a lot of respect for the practice so unfortunately I cannot teach you the formal practice of Vipassana. I would highly recommend a 10-day retreat if possible, it will be more beneficial than a beach vacation, but it is hard work. What I can tell you is the technique involves focusing on your breath and bodily sensations as they arise without breaking concentration for thoughts and sounds. Continuity of practice is the key to success.

Where can I do a retreat? -

Retreats are all over the world. Check out I recommend India because it originated there but doing it in your home country is just as awesome and good for you!

How much does it cost? -

Best part, it's FREE! Yes, absolutely free. Not like a $1000 yoga retreat somewhere. You simply donate at the end if you feel like it. All centers run on donations of past retreat members.

With the retreat you get breakfast/lunch and a snack/tea for dinner. You receive a place to stay and basic living accommodation. You also get the opportunity to begin learning a practice that could change your life and how you view the world.

My personal experience -

I had no idea what to expect before going into this experience. All I knew was that I was going to be incredibly uncomfortable for the next 10 days and I would teach myself to live comfortably within that discomfort. Little did I know how difficult that would be.

Each day itinerary:
4am: Morning wake up bell
4:30-6:30am: Meditation session in hall
6:30-7am: Breakfast
7-8am: Break
8-9am: Intense focus meditation session
9-11am: Meditate in cells or in hall
11-11:30: Lunch
11:30-1pm: Break
1-2pm: Meditate in hall
2-3pm: Intense focus meditation session
3-3:15pm: Break
3:15-5pm: Meditate in cell or hall
5-5:30pm: Tea and snack break
5:30-6pm: Break
6-7pm: Intense focus meditation session
7-830pm: Discourse video by S.N. Goenka
8:30-9pm: Last meditation
9pm: Lights out

It didn't stop when we took breaks, we were supposed to continue practicing during our breaks as much as possible.

Here is how it went for me.

Day 1 - This day was the suck. Delhi belly started. My entire being was agitated for being stripped of my daily routine comforts of food, sleep, phone, talking, visual and audible sensations, seeing friends/family, and doing enjoyable things. I was very anxious as I tried to force my mind to rest on my breath for 10 hours this day, I found it very difficult. I would forget about it time and again but I would always bring my attention back to breath without getting upset. I also quickly realized how limited my sitting stamina was. The entire day was spent uncomfortably switching positions trying to find a good position to sit without aching like an old man. I never found a good position that lasted but my stubbornness prevailed. I hated this day as I laid down to sleep that night but I quickly drifted off to sleep due to exhaustion.

Day 2 - 4am comes so early when you are so tired from the previous day. I slept very hard, which is surprising due to the lack of padding on the bench beds. I felt better this day, but my knees and back were very sore from day 1. I was very determined to simply stay cross legged for the first 2 hour session but I leaned back many times, I almost forgot to focus on my breath entirely because the pain was immense. I made it the 2 hours but I would be sore the entire day. My day was not bad as I drifted from breath focus to thoughts and back to breath, always remembering to not be upset with myself but always staying focused. My mind was all over the place this day. I ended the day with high anxiety and a rapid resting heart rate (double normal). That night I dreamt I was sitting in a clouded barren wasteland attempting to meditate as an angry megaphone loudly demanded I concentrate. I peaked my eyes open to see a wall of ocean water that headed my way. I opened my eyes wide and stared as it slammed into me. I awoke sweating and freezing. I just broke a fever. Sleep was seldom for the rest of the night.

Day 3 - I had the worst night of sleep in a long time. My Delhi belly was the worst this day and I had a sporadic fever throughout the day. My anxiety had me believing I was bit by a dirty mosquito that would need medical assistance soon. (Could have been likely but there was no leaving this place). I started believing I was an idiot for trying to put myself through this, even if I was dying then they wouldn't let me leave here (ha ha). It wasn't funny at the time, I was extremely low with sickness and mentality by lunch. I barely ate anything, just rice. As I lay down for break, I had an epiphany- I'm not leaving here so I need to find out what I'm made of. The rest of my day was spent digging very deep to overcome anxieties as I focused each moment I could muster on my breathing. My mind fought me but I fought back and I realized I was slowly taking a wild bull that was incredibly pissed at me for thinking I could do such a thing. The end of the day came and I passed out from exhaustion. I won the day but it came at a huge price. Could I go on?

Day 4 - I woke up with new determination. I popped an anti-poop pill and got back in the seat of focusing. I would not let my mind get the best of me. We learned Panya this day and we went back and forth between Samati (breath) and Panya (sensations). I discovered my legs were very strong now. I suppose that's what 4 days of being forced to sit Indian style sitting will do to a person. This day was slightly better.

Day 5 - I was getting used to the Panya technique, but it was even more difficult than the Samati. It was damn near impossible at first actually. It took every ounce of focus to keep trying to sense my bodies sensations. I also did not understand if I was doing it properly. I got a little frustrated but I stayed the course.

Day 6 - This day was a breakthrough. We had started doing "strong determination" sessions 3 hours per day where we would will ourselves to not move for an entire hour of Panya meditation. Now, when you do this properly, you can imagine sensations arise all over the body because of the pain you experience in your back and legs. The pain generates heat, chills, tension (uncomfortable sensations) and every now and then you get a nice breeze (comfortable sensation). The entire goal is to notice these sensations, good or bad, and not react to them internally. Meaning, do not think to yourself "ah I like that breeze", or "oh gosh that hurts so bad" (and then you move). You are to remain stoic and notice the pain or pleasure without making adjustments and simply continuing to scan the body. I accomplished this on the first session, but it was very difficult. I was still having many thoughts come and go throughout this day and the next 2 days. But when I accomplished this the first time, I was in so much pain trying to stay still. It felt awful, right until the end. Then, for a few minutes, nothing. No pain. All feeling had left my body and I was simply a mind in a physical body. I could not sense my own body because I was simply a thought. It was weird. After that session I realized there was something here but I had no idea what. I walked around and felt a rush of every emotion and a tear ran down my face but I wasn't sure if it was a happy or sad tear, maybe a mix of both.

Day 7/8 - I was entirely focused on making sure I didn't break my determination sessions. I wanted to notice my body sensations closely. These 2 days were spent getting better at being comfortable examining my discomfort in mind and body. They were very difficult days because as I got better at the technique, it got harder to learn because I was better. It was a constant cycle of improvement.

Day 9 - This was by far my best and most accomplished day. I knew this was the last real serious day to practice so I wanted to focus and not just coast by. It paid off in the last meditation hour of the day. I sat down to meditate and told myself "no moving no matter what, and always stay vigilant of sensations". I was doing the routine scans and at about 20 minutes to go, my body started vibrating with electrical currents. I could feel my entire body in its natural state as I continued to scan. I was neither pleased nor displeased, I simply was. The entire practice is to simply notice things how they are, and I was. If I happen to break focus because I thought I was doing well, my mind would take me away from the current state and I would have to cycle back around again- essentially I would lose momentum because my mind would usually want to chase toward the good feelings and chase away the bad ones. But I was determined. In the last 5 minutes, the vibrating became very distinguished and I could no longer tell I was in a room with other people. I was a plethora of sensations lifting off of the tangible ground towards a different dimension. Then, for a few seconds, I was outside of myself peering down at myself as I meditated. This broke my concentration because I was so stunned as to the indescribable sensation I was experiencing. "What is going on?" I questioned to myself. Then it was gone, I was back in my head and the moment passed. A friend would later tell me this might have been me astro-projecting, which I would normally call people crazy if they told me it was a thing but instead I did it temporarily so I must be one of the crazies. This momentary experience gave me a glimpse into the potential of what this practice can bring. It gave me answers to questions I was not asking. It changed the way I view life.

Day 10 - We got to talk this day after morning meditation. Many of the natives were very intrigued by me so I was bombarded with questions (and the eventual selfies). It was nice to have human interaction again but I remember appreciating the silence and stillness my mind experienced throughout the past 9 days.


Overall this experience was the most challenging and simultaneously the most rewarding thing I've ever done in my life. It gave me the perspective that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to, as long as I want to, I can. My confidence, compassion, serenity, and happiness all took a boost as my tensions and anxieties plummeted. I've started to realize things the way they are, instead of constantly always trying to change them. Happiness is in the moment, it is not in a nostalgic thought, and it may be in the future but the future is uncertain, all I have is this moment and as I focus on it more, my happiness will be streamlined in each passing moment. Does this mean I will just go with the flow and not make plans? Of course not. This means that I will make plans, but if those plans change then I will adjust, take things as they are, and carry on because I will view each situation As It Is.

Thank you for reading!