October 5th, 2011

My Second Family In Salta, Argentina (South of the Border Series)

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The beautiful downtown Plaza in Salta, Argentina
It was my first time in South America. Upon arrival in Argentina, I didn’t speak any Spanish. Starting in Buenos Aires, I made my way northwest to Cordoba, then Mendoza. I traveled alone and made lots of friends with locals and travelers along the way, afterwards heading north to Salta. By this time, I was getting tired of hostel life. Living in a dorm room with other travelers was great for social life, but there was no privacy or alone time. And meeting so many new people every day, interactions were starting to feel superficial. It also made practicing Spanish difficult as I was surrounded by English speakers and didn’t get full language immersion.

“Do you know of any Spanish teachers, and potentially a family to live with here in Salta?” I asked the hostel manager.

I was in luck. He had a friend who would give me one-on-one Spanish lessons. Also, his aunt had an empty room and might rent it to me.

Spanish Lessons and Homestay

My amazing homestay family in Salta
I started my Spanish lessons, and soon after, moved in with the hostel manager’s aunt. In my new home lived a mother, grandmother, and daughter. So I was going to be the man of the house. In a separate apartment above us, the mother’s sister lived with her husband and son. Both families shared a lot of time together, including lunch every day.

The first day I arrived, my house mom asked me for all my laundry and washed it for me. Either I really stink, or she is being really nice, I thought. Luckily, it ended up being the later. She ended up doing my laundry every day. I felt so spoiled, the last time that was my reality was when I was about 13 years old.

The language barrier was a constant source of amusement for us. None of the family members spoke English, which meant I was fully immersed in Spanish. The only problem was that my  Spanish level was that of a toddler. I couldn’t roll my R’s, so my house brother got a kick out of asking me to say “perro” (dog), as the way I said it sounded like “pecho” (breast). My house brother and sister seemed to understand my sloppy, limited Spanish a little better than the adults. When we still had trouble understanding, we continued our conversation with Google Translator. I helped my house brother with his English homework, and sometimes he wanted to learn more English. At first, my house sister said she didn’t want to learn English, as she didn’t like how it sounded. She preferred French. But later, she started practicing her English with me as well.

Fainting at Catholic Mass

Beautiful cathedral in downtown Salta
I am not religious but my family in the U.S. is Protestant. My family in Argentina was very religious (Catholic), and I was invited to many related activities. I had never attended a Catholic church back home. It was quite a new experience, both due to the new religion and my limited Spanish comprehension.

I went to several Catholic processions and two very different Catholic masses. The first mass I went to was with my house mom and sister, in a traditional Catholic church. This church was a lot larger and more beautiful than I was used to back home. While I didn’t understand most of it, it was a pleasant experience. The second mass was with my house aunt, uncle, and brother. It was at a more modern church with lots of singing and dancing. I liked it because there were hand motions that went along with the lyrics… It helped me understand the Spanish better.

After we sang, the priest took out a large monstrance which looked like a golden mirror, and represented Jesus. He spent the next several hours walking around the church, members reaching out to touch the monstrance with their hands or a photograph of a loved one. Six or seven churchgoers “fainted” as the priest walked by. Luckily, none of them bumped their head on their way down. They layed on the floor, possibly having been touched by something spiritual.

That weekend, I had my own chance to “faint” at the sacred Virgin Mary hill in Salta. After waiting for four hours in the cold, we were escorted to stand in the sacred area. Church volunteers stood behind us and we were allowed to fall back (they would catch us). I was too cold to lay on the ground like that, but my house mom and aunt did. I have never been the kind of person that has spiritual experiences within a church environment.

Home-Cooked Family Meals Every Day

Delicious traditional Locro soup made by Grandma. A hearty soup with corn, meat and vegetables.
Every Sunday is family day in Argentina, you are expected to eat and spend most of the day with your family. I was introduced to extended family and friends this first Sunday, and it was a little overwhelming. The food was delicious.

We ended up having delicious home-cooked lunches (with the immediate family) every day. They were so good, and again I felt so spoiled. Everything was homemade and took hours of preparation by my house mom, aunt, and grandma. Each of them seemed to have their own specialties. Large Italian dishes like homemade pasta and lasagna. Steak, eggs and french fries. Breaded steak (milanesa). Soup. Dessert. I probably gained five or ten pounds during my month there.

Sure, we do a good job with big family meals like this in the United States. But everyone is working or too busy to eat with the family… So we usually only have these kind of meals on special holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas. But I was getting these delicious meals every day in Argentina.

Steak, Eggs and French Fries. Unhealthy but delicious (=
My house mom and I shared a liking for drinking wine with our meals. I would buy a good bottle every now and then, and she bought some jugs. A few times, she would even sneak us a shot of Fernet (Argentina’s national spirit) from the cabinet. After eating these huge home-cooked lunches and drinking wine, I soon discovered the Argentine habit of taking a siesta. I would take 1-2 hour naps in the afternoon, and wake up feeling rejuvenated. This was the life.

At lunch time, my house sister would come home from school and play Lady Gaga’s “Judas” on repeat. I realized that teenagers around the world probably listen to a lot of the same pop music. I asked her to play something else, but she thought it was funny and would play “Judas” even more. The uncle’s niece and mom visited from Buenos Aires one week. The niece became my travel partner around Salta, and could speak English. She translated a lot of conversations between me and the family, which was great but made things more difficult after she left.

A Deeper Travel Experience

A typical breakfast in Argentina... Empanadas (cheese and meat inside), orange juice and coffee.
I continued my private Spanish lessons and became good friends with my Spanish teacher. Every few days, I also met with my British travel friend to have an “English breather”. He had been traveling for 10 years nonstop, and had many words of wisdom to share. My travel experience had become much deeper since I moved in with the family. I opened myself up to learn from them, and they opened up to me as well, treating me like one of their own. They became my second family.

It was tough to leave, but eventually I decided to continue my journey north to Bolivia. My house mom took me shopping and insisted on buying me a scarf, because of the cold weather in Bolivia. Everywhere we went, she would brag about me to strangers, calling me her “adopted nephew.” When we got home, my house aunt gave me her llama vest to stay warm as well. Yes, I was very spoiled.

Having left Salta, I can’t help but feel that a part of me is still there, living with my second family, taking Spanish lessons, eating delicious home-cooked lunches every day. Maybe in a parallel universe, this is true. And thinking of this makes me happy.

Part of the South of the Border Series

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October 4th, 2011

Bolivia Stomach Parasites (South of the Border Series)

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A Street Parade in Potosi, Bolivia
My travel friend had been living with a Bolivian family for a month, eating homecooked food. She started feeling ill and went to the hospital, where she tested positive for three different intestinal parasites.

“Wikipedia says that this one can break through your intestinal wall and go into your bloodstream, eventually making its way to your brain,” I told her, unreassuringly. We looked up each of her parasites to see how serious they were.

She had already taken medication for a week, but was still feeling sick and wanted a second test to make sure the parasites were gone. Then there was me. I had been in Bolivia for a week, eating plenty local food without getting sick. I had already seen so much- Tupiza, where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had met their demise, the amazing Uyuni Salt Flats, and Potosi, the world’s highest city (13,290 feet altitude).

The worst I came down with was a head cold. A minor setback. Given I was in the world’s highest city, that was to be expected. The same day I made my new travel friend, I met a second girl in my hostel from Las Vegas. She had been careless about what she ate and was recovering from an E. Coli infection. So many people with stomach parasites, I must have a strong stomach, I thought. I made sure to use a water filter, never drinking water from tap. To be even more careful, I made it a habit to drink a beer or two in the evening. That would probably kill anything still living in my stomach. I haven’t found any research that proves this yet, it’s just a hunch.

Bolivian Street Food

That day, I discovered the local street food market in Potosi. I tried saltenos (big empanadas), ice cream, and a large meal of breaded chicken, rice, potatoes, and salad. The large meal cost less than one US dollar. I could eat like the locals and pay less than a dollar for lunch. What a deal, I thought.

The next day, I felt fine and returned for more of the same deliciously cheap street food. Afterwards, my friend and I went on one of Potosi’s infamous mine tours. These tours support the local miners financially, and give outsiders a perspective of the working conditions the miners face every day.

After finishing the mine tour, my friend got her second parasite test results back- negative. “Congratulations,” I told her.

It Was My Turn

That night, I slept terribly, having nightmares and waking up many times. I was on the top bunk of a six bed dorm room, and felt bad for the person sleeping below. When I finally got up, the other five occupants had already left, and I had kicked all my sheets to the floor.

Something didn’t feel right. I had no energy and felt very cold. Somehow, I gathered the energy to check out of the hostel and take my mid-day bus ride to my next destination, sleeping the whole way there. Once there, I quickly found a hostel and crashed in a cheap private room.

No energy. Stomach pain. Too cold. Too hot. Diarreah. Dehydration. Lots of sleep. I stayed in my bed for two days without eating. Finally, I went to a hospital. It turns out my stomach wasn’t prepared for Bolivia street food. The doctor told me that the salad I ate probably caused my illness. I was prescribed a few medications to kill the parasites, including one called “Septicide”… Sounds like a liquid plumbing cleaner, right? Well it killed whatever was breeding in my intestines.

During my bedridden state, I noticed that someone had written on my bedframe, “See the world with another man’s eyes.” I have no doubt that the Potosi mine tour helped me accomplish that. And the stomach parasite? It helped me realize that even the strongest stomach is no match for Bolivia street food… I ended up getting sick from the food two more times during my three month stay in Bolivia.

Part of the South of the Border Series

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October 3rd, 2011

To Hell and Back in Potosi, Bolivia (South of the Border Series)

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The Cerro Rico Mountain in Potosi, Bolivia
Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, yet the richest in natural resources. At the heart of these resources lies the city of Potosi. Founded in 1545, it is the highest city in the world (13,290 feet), and was once the wealthiest in South America due to its large supply of silver. Potosi’s Cerro Rico mountain provides a pleasant backdrop to the city but has a dark history. It is home to the great silver deposits, where millions of indigious people and African slave laborers died working. The silver found here funded the Spanish economy for more than two centuries.

Today, the Cerro Rico mountain’s dark legacy continues. It is the work location for thousands of local miners. Mining is the best paying job in town, but there are no safety regulations and miners as young as twelve years old work here. Miners work in a cooperative venture, with each miner claiming his own minerals. They sell the minerals to a smelter through the cooperative.  Due to exposure to noxious chemicals, miners often die within ten years of entering the mines. The 2005 award-winning film The Devil’s Miner captures the hellish working conditions were.

The Cerro Rico mines and their dark legacy attract tourists to Potosi. They are what brought me here. I wanted to take a cooperative mine tour to get a glimpse of the working conditions in the mines. My tour would involve spending several hours inside the mines, crawling through shafts and down ladders, and seeing the miners in action. It would be a dangerous and eye-opening experience. Like living my own episode of Dirty Jobs. I chose a young tour company which was owned by ex-miners and supported the local community.

Preparation: Dynamite, 100-Proof Alcohol and Cigarettes

After changing into miner’s outfits and hard hats, my group made our way to the miner’s street market. Here, we purchased gifts for the miners. We bought the regular assortment of dynamite, 100-proof alcohol, coca leaves, cigarettes, soda, and work gloves.

Our guide had worked in the mines for three years before transitioning to the tour company. One of his brothers had died working in the mines at a young age. His father coped with this by drinking. His mother never got over her son’s death. As we drove towards the mines, he told us of the horrific working conditions of the mine we were about to visit.

“The average miner only lives to be 36. Many die due to black lung disease or accidents in the mines. Some boys start working here at the age of twelve. The cooperative has no safety regulations, so be careful. Twenty two miners have died in this mine last year due to accidents such as explosions and carbon minoxide poisoning,” he told us.

Entering the Mines

An upbeat miner who had been working in the mines for the last 30 years

If there were a hell on earth, this would be it. The shafts were pitch black and we used head lamps to make our way around. We followed a path of rail tracks and a shallow pool of water. The height of the path varied. Most of the time, we had to bend down or crawl to get through the shafts. There were particles of silica dust floating around the whole time, especially in the shafts that had recently been dynamited. It was hard to breath as there wasn’t much ventilation.

During our two hours in hell, we met a number of interesting miners. Most of them only spoke Quechua, so our guide would interpret conversations for us. None of them wore masks or seemed to care about inhaling the dust. We gave them our gifts and took photos. Other than an annoyance when we got in the way, they didn’t seem to mind having tourists in the mines. They didn’t seem to hate their work either. There was an attitude of acceptance. Like it was their destiny to live this short and difficult life.

Devil Worship in Hell on Earth

Teo (Devil) Statue for Worship in the Mine

The miners worship the devil, called Teo in Quechua. This makes sense given the mines close resemblance to hell. We came across two large devil statues in the mine, where sacrifices were strewn around. The miners believe that Teo helps them find good mining areas. When they dig further and discover a new region of minerals, they pay tribute to Teo with alcohol, soda, and coca leaves.

This was a real mine, and accidents could happen at any time. Runaway trains. Explosions. Falling rocks. Carbon minoxide poisoning. We had to constantly be on alert. We walked on rail tracks the whole way. Several times, our guide had us squeeze against a wall so trolley carts could go by. We barely missed getting ran over as there wasn’t much room beside the rail tracks. It took two or three men to push one of these carts, full of minerals.

The mine had six levels, but we only made it down to level three. After descending to level two, it became more difficult to breath and our bodies were covered in sweat. It was exhausting just walking around these mines. How did the miners have energy to work in these hellish conditions? I started to feel clostrophobic and an overwhelming fear of being stuck in the mines forever. It felt like a different planet. Over time, the darkness seemed to declare its permanence on us.

A Solo Miner

We met a solo cooperative miner, hacking away at a wall of silver mineral. He seemed content to have a few visitors. It must get lonely down here, I thought.

“Are you working here alone?” asked our guide.
“Yes” answered the miner.
“It’s not profitable to work this shaft in a group.”
“How much progress are you making on that wall?”
“About 30 centimeters per hour,” he answered, continuing to hack away at the wall.

There were no rail tracks between mine levels. This meant that the solo miner had to carry his minerals on his back up ladders and avoid deep pits along the way. We gave him some gloves, dynamite and cigarettes before leaving. Hopefully he saved the cigarettes for above ground. Exiting the mine, we felt a huge sense of relief to be back in the light. Only two hours in the mine had a tremendous impact on us. The miners would sometimes spend twenty four hours at a time down there.

An Eye-Opening Experience

As a sheltered tourist from a first world country, visiting the mines is an eye-opening experience. Cerro Rico’s dark legacy is not a thing of the past. How can the mining conditions still exist today? As tourists, are we helping or perpetuating the situation? We are helping ex-miners make a living, but at the same time we are giving gifts to the miners still working there. The only good that can come out of it is if we are changed by the experience. For me, I believe I was. After visiting the mines, I am less sheltered to the working conditions of the third world. If I ever start to feel sorry for myself, all I need to do is picture the miners of Potosi, Bolivia.

Part of the South of the Border Series

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October 3rd, 2011

South of the Border Series (Seven Months in South America)

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I have been traveling in South America for the last seven months. It has been an amazing experience. I’d like to share a small piece of it in this series of blog posts.

Why Travel Overseas?

It’s good for your brain: Learning a new language and culture is one of the best things you can do for your brain long-term. Becoming bilingual makes your brain stronger… There is evidence that bilinguals are better at multitasking and can delay old age diseases like Alzheimers.

It makes you grow: Being outside of your home country and culture, you will learn and grow a lot. I feel like I am such a different, better person from when I started my trip.

It broadens your perspective: You are taken outside of your comfort zone, meeting so many different types of people and learning every day. You learn new ways of thinking and new ways of living… Sometimes ways of thinking and living that are a better fit for you than you learned in your home country.

Why South America?

South American culture seemed so different from North American. I wanted to learn more about it. After being here for seven months, I have had a small glimpse of this… I also learned that each country and even each city had its own unique culture.

The Most Important Part of the Journey

I consider the most important part of my trip to be the people I have met. Both the locals and other travelers. They have been so friendly, caring and welcoming… Often going out of their way to help me when I needed a place to stay, help with learning Spanish, or navigating a city. I have made some lifelong friendships, learned Spanish, ate some amazing food, and had a lot of fun.

Blog Series

How to Fit Everything You Own Into a Carry-On Bag

How to Prepare For Long Term Travel and Living Abroad

To Hell and Back in Potosi, Bolivia

Bolivia Stomach Parasites

My Second Family In Salta, Argentina

Getting Robbed in Peru

With a Mission, But Without a Plan: How to Travel Like James Bond (published at BootsnAll)

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October 2nd, 2011

The Two Week Lucid Dreamer: #1 eBook for “lucid dreaming” on Amazon.Com Search Results

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The Two Week Lucid Dreamer- Kindle Version
The Two Week Lucid Dreamer has gained tremendous popularity on Amazon.Com. As of today, if you do a basic search for “lucid dreaming”, it is now the #1 eBook to show up in the results (#4 overall, behind Robert Waggoner and Stephen LaBerge’s Lucid Dreaming paperbacks). If you do a Kindle Store search for “lucid dreaming”, it is #3 (again behind Robert Waggoner and Stephen Laberge’s eBook versions of their paperbacks). Also, it is listed as #13 most popular book in the Dreams Best Sellers category of Amazon.Com overall, which is quite an achievement considering there are hundreds of other dream-related books it is competing with.

Course Highlights: The Two Week Lucid Dreamer is an accelerated course targeted for lucid dreaming beginners who are looking for the fast-track to dreaming consciously. The course includes eBook with step-by-step instructions on how to dream consciously in two weeks or less. As a bonus, two lucid dreaming induction MP3’s + cheat sheet are included. Additionally, a bonus chapter with advanced techniques is included.

What is lucid dreaming?

Lucid dreaming is being aware you are dreaming while dreaming. For first-time lucid dreamers, this usually happens due to a strange occurrence in the dream, such as flying or seeing a strange creature appear. Some first-time lucid dreamers are able to stay in this dream for a while, but many become disturbed and wake up from the dream.

If you are in a lucid dream, you will usually have some power over your dream- anything from being able to fly or making an object or room appear behind a door or inside a pocket, right up to being able to change into animals and manipulate your dream world. It is like being a director of your own movie. Through dream research, lucid dreams have been scientifically proven to exist.

Why did I create the course?

I have been researching and experimenting with lucid dreaming for the last decade. But I was no natural lucid dreamer. For most of those years, I was only able to have lucid dreams sporadically. It wasn’t until this past year that I perfected my own techniques for consistent lucid dreaming. I read countless books/eBooks on lucid dreaming, dream interpretation, and sleep. I tested many induction techniques and over a dozen dream supplements as well.

What did I find out? Lucid dreaming isn’t rocket science. There are proven techniques out there that anyone can put to use. I use these techniques to have lucid dreams whenever I want, almost every night. This has significantly improved my waking life.

What does the course include?

The Two Week Lucid Dreamer

  • The Two Week Lucid Dreamer eBook- step by step instructions on how to dream consciously in two weeks
  • Kindle Version of eBook- Specially formatted for viewing on the Kindle reader
  • Lucid Dreaming Beginner MP3 with isochronic tones (Binaural Beats) for lucid dream induction
    • This is the latest technology in Brainwave Entrainment
  • Bonus: Advanced Lucid Dreaming Techniques- weeks 3 and 4 include advanced techniques for lucid dreaming
  • Bonus: Lucid Dreaming Advanced MP3 with isochronic tones (Binaural Beats) for lucid dream induction
  • Bonus: Lucid Dreaming Cheat Sheet- keep this near your bed to review before you go to sleep

What can you expect after taking the course?

After you’ve read the manual, followed the daily exercises, listened to the MP3, used the cheat sheet, and followed the techniques persistently, soon enough you will:

  1. Have your first lucid dream. This is an important first step in learning to have lucid dreams on a consistent basis. You will likely be filled with excitement for several days after this, and want to have more lucid dreams.
  1. Begin having lucid dreams more frequently. People usually report having lucid dreams 10-15 times per month at this stage.
  1. Be able to have a lucid dream whenever you want. At this stage, you will be able to tell yourself the night before that you would like to have a lucid dream. And you will have a lucid dream that night, consistently.

In addition to the Kindle version of the course on Amazon.Com, there is a PDF version available on The Two Week Lucid Dreamer website.

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July 7th, 2011

How to Prepare For Long Term Travel and Living Abroad

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33/365 Atlas
How to Prepare for Long Term Travel and Living Abroad
For me, my native country is the country I love, meaning the one that makes me dream, that makes me feel well. I am as much Chinese as I am French . . .  the idea of a native country – that is to say, the imperative to live on one bit of ground marked red and blue on the map and to hate the others’ bits in green and black – has always seemed to me narrow-minded, blinkered and profoundly stupid.”
– Gustave Flaubert quote in Alaine de Bottom’s The Art of Travel

Why Travel Abroad?

Traveling gives you the freedom to leave the familiar behind. You are no longer immersed in your home country’s language, culture and way of life. You are instead immersed in something completely new, providing significant opportunities for learning and personal growth.

There was an Indian tribe that would move its village every 25 to thirty years as a new challenge. When life became predictable and their was no challenge in their life, they moved to bring new meaning to their lives. Traveling or living abroad accomplishes something similar.

After visiting Japan and Thailand (for two weeks each), I had a glimpse of this. In each country, I felt like a five year old re-learning how to speak and do the most basic activities. I knew I needed to get out of my home country and explore the world for more than two-week increments.

Common Misconceptions / Excuses Not To Travel Abroad

  • This may work if you’re young and single, but I have a family and responsibilities Look into Location Independence. It is possible to work and travel simultaneously. There are many families with children out there living a life of location independence. Check out the Location Independent blog, scroll down to the “Location Independent with Babies and Children” section for guidance.
  • I don’t have anyone to travel with and don’t want to go alone Traveling alone is far, far better than traveling not at all. Check out Independent Travel’s info on traveling solo. You will end up meeting a lot more locals and travelers when traveling alone. Also, technology makes it easy to share your experiences with those back home.
  • It’s too dangerous Traveling can be very foreign and different without being dangerous. Often times, you will be safer than you would’ve been in your home country. You just need to research where you are going beforehand. Check out Wikipedia’s list of countries by intentional homicide rate. This list may not be completely accurate, but it is something worthwhile to check out. You will probably see that there are lots of countries safer than your home country on that list. Also check out the U.S. Department of State Travel Warnings and UK FCO Travel Advice for a breakdown of country-specific travel warnings.
  • It’s too expensive It can be cheaper to live or travel abroad if you choose the right destinations (less than $500 a month). If you travel slowly, it can be very cheap (ex. one month rent in NYC is one year’s rent in Thailand). If you are from a first world country, traveling overseas allows you to get a lot more experiences for your money than your home country can offer.
  • I’ll miss my friends and family This depends on how long you choose to be abroad. Also, technology like e-mail, Facebook, Google Voice and Skype make it incredible easy and cheap to stay in communication over phone and video (see details further down).
  • I’ll get sick of doing touristy things Just because you are traveling and living abroad does not mean you have to be a perpetual tourist. You can stay in one place for as long as you like, study the language and culture, volunteer, try a new sport and get to know the locals and other travelers.

My Favorite Books on Traveling / Vagabonding / Backpacking / Expat Life

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel: This is the go-to book if you are considering long-term cheap travel. Travel writer Rolf Potts gives tons of useful tips for would-be long-term travelers and backpackers here.

The Art of Travel: An intelligent, philosophical take on the motivations behind travel. Not as much of a page turner as the other books I’m recommending, but still a required reading. It leaves you with a much deeper perspective on travel.

Planet Backpacker: Across Europe on a Mountain Bike & Backpacking on Through Egypt, India & Southeast Asia – Around the World: A funny, very interesting book by an American documenting his around-the-world backpacking trip. Each chapter covers his experiences in a particular country. He only ends up meeting 1-2 Americans on his entire trip around the world, most in Western Europe!

Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer: This hilarious book tells travel stories that you won’t hear of in other publications. These are the travel and expat stories of a travel writer and editor who was fed-up with his stories being censored by the travel publication industry. This is his way of getting back at them. Very interesting read.

Expatriate Insights – Dissertations on International Living and Deep Comparative Culture Analyses: A very thorough analysis on living abroad, and how to get the best out of each country you live in.

How to Fund Your Trip (Savings / Online Business / Work / Volunteer)

Most people rely on savings or working abroad (ex. Teaching English, Organic Farming) to fund their travels. Others get an international experience by volunteering. Transitions Abroad is a good resource if you are planning on working or volunteering abroad.

I combine savings, eBook income, work and volunteering. I’m also using frequent flyer / hotel points that I accumulated in my consulting career and various offers (ex. credit cards ) to pay for some of my flights and gear. Check out the Art of Non-Conformity Frequent Flyer Master eBook for a how-to on getting free frequent flyer miles to use on long-term travel.

Where to Go

Check out Where to Go at Travel Independent. You will want to start with a list of places you have always wanted to go. Then determine what places you can afford. I decided on a $30 / day budget, and narrowed down my options to Central America, South America, China, India and Southeast Asia. Check out Travel Budgets For Around The World to determine where you can afford to go on your budget.

What to Do

This really depends on where you will be traveling to and how long you are staying in each area. Some people prefer to travel slowly, as it is more affordable and you get a deeper experience in each country. Others opt for moving around often, sometimes doing an around-the-world trip to see as many countries as they can in a shorter period of time. The fast travel option will be a more-touristy, less-deep experience, but if you are time-constrained or get bored easily, that is the way to go.

I prefer traveling slowly. I like to study the language and culture of the country I’m visiting. Right now I’m in South America. I started in Argentina and am making my way north. I don’t plan very much out ahead, as I don’t have a time constraint, so my travel schedule is very flexible.

Before You Leave

Check out Before You Go at Travel Independent.

Get your immunizations: Don’t wait too long, as some of these require a series of shots over a period of 1-6 months. If you are in a hurry, some can be accelerated to 21 days, such as Hep. A / Hep. B, if needed. Here are the ones I got before leaving. These are all recommended for most parts of the world on the Center for Disease Control website:

  • Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR) vaccine
  • Diphtheria/Pertussis/Tetanus (DPT) vaccine
  • Poliovirus vaccine
  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Typhoid
  • Yellow Fever

These shots were not very painful. My arms were just a little sore for a few days. Typhoid can even be taken in pill form now. Yellow Fever is the only vaccine that some countries require. I opted out of Rabies vaccine as it is $600 and is only recommended if you are a veterinarian or going to be in bat caves a lot. I also opted out of Japanese Encephalitis, as it is expensive as well and very rare (mostly in Southeast Asia, only 1 reported case of it by a U.S. citizen abroad last year). Additionally, I opted out of Malaria medication, as it has some pretty bad side effects, and I am going to be traveling for such a long time. I will be relying on bug spray instead. I might also pick up some Malaria medication if I decide to go to a region where it is more common, such as the Amazon.

Forward your snail mail to a friend or family member: Most services now offer to send your bills electronically, but for everything else, have them sent to a trusted friend or family member.

Backup Important Documents: E-mail yourself or use a service like LastPass to store important documents and copies of your passport, credit cards (make sure to get the back copied too with the international lost & stolen number), and immunization records. LastPass is more secure than e-mail and you can store all your online login/passwords as well.

Figure out your banking strategy abroad: I recommend you keep most of your money in separate “safe” bank account or an investment account, and don’t take the safe account debit card with you abroad. Make online transfers from that account to a separate bank account as needed. This way, if your debit card is stolen, there is no way you will be completely wiped out.

Get an international-friendly debit card and credit card: Check out Which credit and debit cards are best overseas article for details. I went with a Capital One no hassle cash rewards credit card. There is no international surcharge with this credit card, and you get cash back with every purchase. I chose a Schwab Bank Account debit card. This debit card has not ATM fee for any bank in the world (they will even refund any ATM fees charged), and has great exchange rates. Plus, their bank accounts have no low balance fee.

Dentist / eye doctor: You may want to go to the dentist before leaving if you haven’t had a recent cleaning. Also, if you wear contacts, make sure you bring enough to last you through the trip. Bring your eye glasses/contact prescriptions just in case.

Staying in touch while you’re abroad: E-mail and Facebook will let you send messages and share pictures. Google Voice and Skype make it easier than ever to stay in touch with friends and family. Check out Staying Connected Overseas with Google Voice and Skype for more details. You can even port your current cell phone number to Google Voice, and use that number for free calls and text messages in the U.S. and Canada. Or have your Google Voice number forwarded to your Skype number (Skype works with Wifi, so you can use an Ipod Touch to make calls). If you get a cell phone in the country you are visiting, you can even have your Skype number forward to your number in that country (Google Voice -> Skype -> International Cell Phone).

Travel Insurance: At the very minimum, you should have some kind of medical and evacuation insurance. This is pretty cheap. I went with World Nomads, which is recommended a lot of places including Lonely Planet guidebooks.

After You Leave

Making friends with travelers: The best way to make friends with other travelers is to stay in hostels or join a language school. In both cases, you will instantly have a new group of friends from all over the world. You may even end up traveling with them for a week weeks or longer.

Making friends with locals: The best way to make friends with locals is to find a homestay with a family. Do a Google search for “homestay” to see websites which can help you arrange this. If you join a language school, most will offer a homestay option to you. Also, sometimes you can ask the people that work at your hostel about this. For example, when I was in Salta, Argentina, I stayed at the aunt of my hostel manager’s house for one month.

Getting Burnt Out: It happens to all long-term travelers. The remedy is to change your routine. Join a volunteer program. Travel slower or faster than you normally do. If you normally stay in a hostel dorm room, try a private room for a few days.

Getting Homesick: If you are homesick, realize that it is only temporary. Adopt the mantra “this too shall pass”, and accept your feelings for what they are. Give your family a call or e-mail to let them know you miss them. Then try to keep a busier schedule for a few days so you don’t have time to dwell on your homesickness.

Disclosure: I only recommend products/services that I personally have tried and found useful. I make a small commission on some of the links above. The commission helps support this blog, so if you are interested in any of these products / services, and supporting the blog, please use the links in this blog post.

Creative Commons License photo credit:byJoeLodge

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July 6th, 2011

How to Fit Everything You Own Into a Carry-On Bag

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I have been traveling for three months now, and everything I own fits inside a carry on bag. Here is a view of my Manhattan (NYC) apartment before I sold or donated everything:

NYC Apartment- Before

After living in the apartment for only one year, I accumulated quite a bit of stuff. While this stuff made my apartment more comfortable during my time there, it (along with my cost of rent) hindered my ability to travel for an extended time. So I sold or donated almost everything:

NYC Apartment- After

I started selling the larger items (couch, bed, TV, TV stand, air conditioner, desk, book shelf) on Craigslist. This got very addictive and I ended up selling even more stuff on Craigslist (books, Blue Ray Player, sound system). Then I stuck a bunch of smaller electronic items on eBay (old digital camera, old PDA, bluetooth headset, iPods, etc). eBay made more money on the small electronics than I could have gotten from Craigslist. But it also has a listing and selling fee, so it made more sense to put the larger/local stuff on Craiglist (completely free). I  donated a lot of stuff (furniture, books, shoes, clothes, kitchenware) that I no longer needed to Goodwill and local thrift stores. A NYC donation service even came by my apartment to pick up some of the larger items.

Everything I Own Now Fits In A Carry-On Bag

Carry-On Backpack with Everything I Own Inside (Deuter Futura 32)

After selling or donating all of the stuff in my NYC apartment, and shipping some remaining clothes to my parents’ house, I was ready to travel. My only three rules for packing:

1) Everything needs to fit in a carry-on bag. I want to travel internationally with one carry-on bag.

2) Use technology to travel as green as possible. No bottled water or paper books. Do my own laundry.

3) When I want to, be able to write and work on my online businesses from wherever I’m at.

Useful Blog Posts and Websites for Ultralight Long-Term Travel Packing

I did a lot of research and the following blog posts / websites were the most helpful:

What To Pack (Travel Independent- very thorough, feedback from multiple backpackers)

Travel Light, Travel Anywhere: The Ultimate Light Packing List (Ridiculously Extraordinary)

How to Travel Long Term With Only Carry-On Luggage (Never Ending Voyage)

How to Travel the World with 10 Pounds or Less (The Blog Of Tim Ferriss / 4 Hour Workweek)

3 Days to Go – RTW Packing List (Living The Dream -> not minimalist like the others, but still a great resource)

After doing my research on blogs, websites and local hiking/outdoors stores, here is what I packed. I purchased some of the items specifically for traveling, and already had some of them. Yes, it looks like a lot, but everything fits in my 32 liter carry-on backpack, and I don´t buy souvenirs.


Guidelines: If you are traveling for an extended period of time, it’s best to pack light and use a smaller (28 – 35 liter) backpack. This will make you more mobile, and you will thank yourself for packing lighter after you’ve been traveling for a few weeks and see other backpackers struggling with their larger backpacks. You will also want to bring a smaller day pack which can fit inside the larger backpack.

Carry-On Backpack with Everything I Own Inside (Deuter Futura 32)

Deuter Futura 32: This carry-on hiking backpack fits all my gear inside. It´s very comforable and sturdy. I originally read about this backpack on Ridiculously Extraordinary (Karol Gajda). Karol has been using it for quite a while during his light international backpacking without problems. Then I read another traveling post that recommended it at Globe Troopers. I tested the Deuter Futura 32 out, along with the comparable Osprey Kestrel 32 at a local hiking store. I ended up buying the Deuter Futura 32. At the time of this post, the Deuter Futura 32 2010 model sells for $90, and the 2011 model sells for $135. The only difference I can tell between the two is that the 2011 model has different colors available. I went with the 2010 model and saved $45. Karol secures this bag with the Pacsafe 85 Anti-Theft Backpack And Bag Protector, but I opted to secure it using the PacSafe WrapSafe Adjustable Cable Lock.

Daypack- Pacsafe VentureSafe 300

Day Pack: Pacsafe VentureSafe 300: After reading about PacSafe on Karol Gajda’s blog, I became very interested in their products. They sell slashproof anti-theft bags and gear. This small day pack fits inside my larger backpack, and holds all my electronics (EEE netbook, Canon digital camera, Kindle, iPod touch). It is slashproof, the zippers can be padlocked easily, and the bag can be locked to a secure fixture easily.


Guidelines: To keep your backpack light, pack 3 pairs max of each clothing item. Consider washing your own clothes, as it’s better for the environment and easy if you buy quick-dry clothing. Look for high-quality, fast-drying, light material. Pack for the weather you will be traveling in, and use layers to pack lighter.

Thermals, Underwear x 3, Socks x 3, Pants x 2, Long Sleeves x 2, Short Sleeves x 2, Rain Jacket

Marmot Precip Rain Jacket: Very compact rain jacket / windbreaker, can be used with layers in colder weather. It has zippers under the armits to provide some ventilation. I haven’t been in a heavy rain storm yet to test out the waterproof functionality, but as a windbreaker, I like it.

exOfficio Boxer Briefs: Their motto: “17 Countries. 6 Weeks. And one pair of underwear.” I went with three pairs since I will be traveling for a while. These are very comfortable!

Smartwool PhD Outdoor Ultra Light Mini Hiking Socks: Quick-dry socks with merino wool. I have three pairs of these. They don´t dry as fast as I thought they would… Probably the slowest drying of all my clothes.

ExOfficio Men’s Nomad Pant (Regular): Quick-dry pants. Water-resistant. Very comfortable.

ExOfficio Men’s Flexcord Pant: Quick-dry pants, a good alternative to jeans. These are a lot more compact than jeans, and look nicer than the Nomad pants. But not as many pockets. I wear these most of the days since they look better than the Nomad pants, but they get a bit warm when it´s hot outside.

Columbia Men’s Silver Ridge II Long Sleeve Shirt: I originally tried the Columbia Men’s Tamiami II Long Sleeve Shirt quick dry shirt after reading rave reviews of it on Amazon. Unfortunately,  it was way too big (I wear a medium), so I tried the Silver Ridge style instead. It is still quick-dry and sun proof, but is a much more fitted look, and I like it a lot better. I have two of these. They are very versatile as there are straps to roll up the sleeves, making it a short-sleeve for warmer weather.

ExOfficio Men’s Exo Dri Tee Shirt: Short-sleeve quick-dry shirt with sun protection.

ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go V-neck t shirt: I got a V-neck so I can use this as an undershirt or regular shirt.

Thermal Base Layer Top and Bottom: I have BVD brand but this brand (Duofold) looks about the same. Synthetic thermals are great for colder weather, easy to hand wash, and take up almost no room. Before leaving, I tested this base layer with a long-sleeve shirt, Marmot jacket, hat and gloves in 28 degrees fahrenheit. It was surprisingly warm and breathable.

Not pictured: I bought a second light jacket as I got too cold when I was in northern Argentina. It´s made of material similar to the North Face jackets. Very compact.


Guidelines: You should not need more than one pair of shoes and one pair of sandals. Make sure they are high-quality. When looking for shoes, try to find a gore-tex (waterproof) hiking shoe. Do not go with a boot unless you plan on doing a lot of hiking, as it will be more bulky. When looking for sandals, try to find the kind that are made for walking longer distances, with good foot support. The sandals should also be waterproof, so you can use them instead of flip flops.

New Balance Gore-tex shoes, Keen Sandals

New Balance Men’s MW955 Walking Shoe: These a very comfortable, sturdy gore-tex waterproof hiking shoes. The best part about them is they come in 1/2 sizes and wide, so you can get a perfect fit. They worst part is they aren´t very breathable. In warm weather, my feet start to sweat with these. I really wanted to wear the Lowa Men’s Renegade II GTX Lo Hiking Shoe after hearing so many good things about them. Unfortunately, after trying two different sizes from Zappos, the Lowa shoes just didn’t seem very comfortable with my feet (I needed a half size and they didn’t have it). But even though they aren´t very breathable, overall I am very happy with the New Balance shoes. Unless you are doing a lot of intense hiking, it’s better to go with hiking shoes versus hiking boots.

Mens Keen Newport H2 Shoes: I’m very picky about my sandals, most that I have bought in the past ended up hurting my feet after a long walk. These are the best sandals I have ever owned. They are waterproof, breathable, have toe protection, and comfortable after walking in them the whole day.


Guidelines: Try to find multi-use items, such as soap that you can use for shampoo / body wash / washing clothes. Also, most of these items can be found anywhere you travel to, so don’t overpack.


Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Hemp Pure-Castile Soap, Peppermint 16 fl oz (472 ml): This all-natural soap can be used for everything (body wash, shampoo, laundry, even mouthwash). It is very powerful and lasts a long time. I bought a big bottle and transferred to smaller carry-on size bottles.

Gripit Floss Holder: This is the same idea as the disposable floss “plackers”, only it holds a whole roll of floss. Using the Gripit  saves a lot of floss, and makes it easier to reach between your back teeth.

Gillette, Mach3 Turbo Shaving System, 1 system: I’ve been using this shaver for a few years now. I am also testing out the Razor Gator to use less razors. Beware of buying your razors online, apparently there are a lot of fakes being sold that don’t work as well.

All Natural Shaving Oil – Three Pack: A very smooth shave, good alternative to shaving cream. Takes up a lot less space, one small bottle provides 100 shaves!

MSR Packtowl UltraLite: Compact towel with super-absorption and fast-drying. I bought a large. The towel can also be used to dry clothes before hanging on a clothesline by rolling them around it.

MSR Packtowl Nano Lite: This towel is more compact than the UltraLite. I got a small to use as a handkerchief that I can wash out daily. It dries very fast.

Rick Steves Clothesline, White: I do my own laundry. This clothesline will be used for drying clothes. It is elastic like a bungee cord, so it could become multi-use.

I also packed 6 months of contact lenses, contact lense solution, sunglasses, small first aid kit (band-aids, neosporin, anti-diarrheal, pain relief), deodorant, nail clippers, tweezers, tooth brush, and tooth paste. I also ended up buying a different brand of Shampoo since the Dr. Bronners doesn´t work very well for that. I only use Dr. Bronners for body wash and washing my clothes.


Guidelines: If you want to work on the road, you may need to bring a few more electronics than the average traveler. Think about how often you will be using each item and try to get by with the bare minimum. I brought an EEE Netbook, Kindle, iPod Touch, portable hard drive, and Digital Camera. While these items are not bulky (and fit inside my day pack), they do add some weight to my backpack. Also, bringing electronics  means you have to worry about securing them while traveling and storing them securely in your hostel.

Netbook, Kindle, Ipod Touch, Hard Drive, Power Travel Adaptor, Extension Cord w/USB

ASUS Eee PC 1000HE 10.1-Inch Black Netbook: I bought this netbook a year and a half ago and have no complaints. It has a 10 inch screen, 9.5 hour battery life and weights 3.2 pounds. I checked the newer model out (ASUS Eee PC 1015PED-PU17-BK 10.1-Inch Netbook) and it didn’t seem like that much of an upgrade… So I opted to upgrade the RAM on my 1000HE to 2GB, and will use it for longer before getting a new netbook. I use this carry case for my netbook, it works great and fits snug: Case Logic LNEO-10 Ultraportable Neoprene Notebook/iPad Sleeve (Black)

Western Digital My Passport Essential 500 GB USB 3.0/2.0 Portable External Hard Drive (Midnight Black): This is the smallest hard drive I could find. It will upgrade to USB 3.0, so I can keep it after I decide to upgrade my netbook. I keep travel pictures and important documents on this drive. I use TrueCrypt to encrypt any sensitive documents stored here. This way, if the hard drive is stolen, I  only have to worry about items I didn’t backup to an online service like DropBox.

Apple iPod touch 64 GB (4th Generation): I sold my iPod Classic and iPod Nano when I upgraded to this. I was interested in getting an Ipod Touch  for the Skype app and music player. World traveler blog posts at Living The Dream and AhTim provided more reasons for me to have one. I like the World Nomads Free Language Guides apps for a starter in learning a new language. I use this case for my iPod touch and really like it: Speck Rubberized PixelSkin Case for iPod touch 4G (Black)

Kindle 3G Wireless Reading Device, Free 3G + Wi-Fi, 3G Works Globally, Graphite, 6: Most of the hardcore traveling bloggers that I read about decided to ditch their paper books (including travel guides) and opted for the Kindle instead. With free 3G access in 81 countries, who could blame them? It’s so lightweight, and the screen looks just like a regular book. I sold most of my books on Craigslist and Cash4Books before upgrading to this. I’m a prolific reader, and the Kindle will allow me to continue my reading while traveling. I love it!

Canon Digital Elph Camera
Canon PowerShot SD1400IS 14.1 MP Digital Camera with 4x Wide Angle Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 2.7-Inch LCD (Black): I had one of the older model digital elphs and loved it, so decided to upgrade to this new model. It is very small, takes great pictures on automatic, and also records HD quality video. I bought a 32 GB SD card as I plan on using it for both pictures and video: Transcend 32 GB SDHC Class 6 Flash Memory Card TS32GSDHC6

Kensington 33117 International All-in-One Travel Plug Adapter: Power plug adaptor that can be used in more than 150 countries. Includes a fuse in case of a power surge.

Outlets To Go Power Strip with USB – Black: Very compact power strip with USB charger, and quite a bargain for $3. I had to crimp the ground plug a little bit to fit the Kensington Travel Plug Adaptor.


Guidelines: These are the items that you don’t really need, but they don’t take up much space and make the trip more comfortable.

Cocoon Ripstop Travelsheet (Silk), Eye Mask, Earplugs

Cocoon RipStop Silk TravelSheet: This is a 100% silk travel sheet that you can use if no sheets are provided at a hostel, or the sheets don’t look clean. I got this brand because it is supposed to be made of stronger silk, and has a velcro side entry. It can also be used if you think there might be bed bugs. I use mine mostly for comfort… It’s so tiny that it makes sense to bring along. And if you are worried about infesting bed bugs in your bag after you use it, you can pack it inside a sealed bag.

Lewis N. Clark Comfort Eye Mask: Comes in handy as you can take a nap anywhere with these. I’ve also packed ear plugs.


Guidelines: There is no stopping someone with a wire cutter, but it makes sense to take the basic precautions so your gear doesn’t get stolen.

Pacsafe Chain Lock and Wallet

Pacsafe VentureSafe 300: Slashproof day pack (picture up above with backpack).

PacSafe WrapSafe Adjustable Cable Lock: I use this cable lock to secure my backpack to a fixture in my hostel room, to make it more difficult for someone to steal it. Someone could still take it if they had wire cutters, but this makes things more difficult.

Pacsafe WalletSafe 100 Tri-Fold Travel Wallet: Slashproof travel wallet with zipper and chain to attach to belt.

I also carry an extra lock for my day pack.

Other Gear

Guidelines: I highly recommend bringing your own water bottle and water filtration system. This is better for the environment, your health, more convenient, and saves money. Also, if you are directionally-challenged, bring some sort of compass. Don’t skimp out and buy one of those cheap carabiner compasses (I tried that and they don’t work!). Get a good standalone compass, or digital compass that is built in to a watch.

Lifesaver Botle, Klean Kanteen

Lifesaver Bottle 4000 Ultra Filtration Water Bottle: The best personal water filter system on the market, launched after the Thailand tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. Gets rid of all nasty viruses / bacteria in the water. I am using this filter instead of buying bottled water. It is a little bulky (about the size of a 1 liter bottle), but was worth it for me… If I had chosen something more compact, I would’ve gotten the SteriPEN Adventurer Opti Handheld UV Water Purifier. The SteriPen is a UV purifier that is a lot smaller than the Life Saver, but requires rechargeable batteries and a charger (or solar panel). Also, the UV system is not as powerful, and requires a pre-filter. If you buy a Life Saver, you will also need to buy pre-filter replacements (to replace every 6-12 months) and optional carbon inserts (to be replaced every 250 liters of filtration).

Klean Kanteen Stainless Steel Water Bottle: If you are using a water bottle every day, stainless steel is the way to go. It’s the best water bottle choice for you (hygienic, no nasty chemicals) and the environment. The screw top on these creates a very strong seal, so you don’t have to worry about it leaking into your bag.

Timex Men’s T42761 Expedition Adventure Tech Digital Compass Watch: This is a standard watch / compass / alarm with a leather strap. It’s not flashly like some other watches, so it won’t attract unneeded attention. Simple to use versus a competing Casio model.

Alok Multi Pak: I got the larger (12 x 12) pack and a set of smaller bags. These are great for carrying anything that needs to stay waterproof. You can also use them to do laundry in and carry dirty laundry. Very handy, so many uses!

Moleskine Pocket Notebook with Travel Pen
MoleSkine Extra Small Notebooks: I brought a couple of these pocket-sized notebooks along. They come in very handy.

Disclosure: I only recommend products/services that I personally have tried and found useful. I make a small commission on some of the links above. The commission helps support this blog, so if you are interested in any of these products / services, and supporting the blog, please use the links in this blog post.

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