Have you ever found yourself broke abroad because your bank card stopped working or was stolen? I’ve just survived a week abroad with no money, here’s how.Read More
Have you ever found yourself with a lost or damaged bank card abroad with no money? I have, plenty of times, and it has happened again. What do I do now?Read More
Budget travel allows you to see the world on the cheap, but sometimes that extreme low budget travel breaks you. This is one of those times.Read More
I can handle a hangover, but flying hungover? That’s a different terrible beast that led to debacles and delays, and paying tons of airline fees.Read More
When you first start to travel, so many fears can pop into your head from getting robbed to missing flights to running out of money. And thanks to Hollywood horror films, hostels have been added to a list of things encouraged to fear, and for some, evoke images of kidnapping and torture.
In general, most news you see on TV around the world is bad news, and most western governments use scare tactics to keep people at home. The world is a dangerous place. That’s a silly generalization, and after hitting my 4 year travel anniversary it’s one that’s become even more laughable. But what of hostels? Those sketchy and dank places run by Slovakian mobsters? Sometimes I have conversations with friends or co-workers when I return to the United States and the topic comes up with a statement like “hostels aren’t safe, I don’t know how you do it” or “people get killed or robbed in hostels“.
I chuckle at them and shake my head.
Whatever you want to call them, hostels or guesthouses go hand in hand as a part of the travel experience for me over the past four years. They are the meeting place for new best friends. They are starting places for exciting and unexpected adventures. They can be a place where solo travelers find another solo traveler to connect with and sometimes canoodle with (take that however you want). They smell a little funky. They are places to perfect the art of cheap pasta recipes. And you will miss out on a huge part of the travel experience if you never stay in a hostel.
The debate will forever rage on whether or not to stay in hostels if you don’t have to which depends on what type of traveler and what tastes you have. But to argue if they are safe or not I will share the tale of my first time in a hostel to make my point.
All month I am revisiting many of my travel firsts from my first trip abroad to New Zealand. For my first experience of a hostel everything began quite normal, but just like something out of a movie — shit got weird. So this is one story had to be told again.
It seemed like a normal day in Auckland. I went on a birthday binge drink the night before with a new friend. Jaegermeister breath in the morning. Hangover. Rushed downstairs 5 minutes before checkout to book another night. But when I returned my room, I discovered a naked body in my bed. Lifeless.
What do you do when you find a mysterious body in your bed?
At the time I didn’t know if the person was lifeless or not. But the body wasn’t moving and didn’t seem to be breathing from what I could see. In some instances, one might panic thinking it’s a dead body. In others, one might also fist pump in silence thinking they got lucky or high five themselves. I knew for a fact that I didn’t get lucky the night before and come home with a girl
I knew for a fact that I didn’t get lucky the night before and had come home with a girl. My “it’s my birthday” line that worked so well in Vegas for smooches, failed that night on the ladies of Auckland. And the second reason was the bare ass staring back at me belonged to a dude.
I wasn’t that drunk.
Sure, one of the thoughts that raced through my head among hundreds of others was wondering if the person was dead, but I’m not a hobbyist of recreating Hollywood horror movies, and I can’t imagine someone being able to drag a body into the hostel room unnoticed.
I was simply confused.
Planking was a big fad around that time, yet I don’t think naked planking had caught on in 2011. Maybe it was a prank?
Then the other hostel mates saw the body.
Slowly bunk bed by bunk bed began to squeak with the other backpackers coming to life. As some stretched out and rubbed their eyes or announced their own hangover with a moan, they began to notice the situation in my bed.
I was standing in the doorway with the definition of befuddled on my face. There was a naked body slumped in my bed, half twisted and half hanging off the edge. One Irishman looked back and forth from my bed to me about 10 times before whispering, “Woot da heel is dat?”
The only reply I gave at first was an extended “uuuuuuhhhhhhh…”
As the rest of the room came to life and sat up to gawk, I looked around at them and whispered the only thing I could, “What the fuck is going on?”
The Irishman replied the only way I’d expect, “Oim nawt drunk enoof for dis shite in da mornin“.
I wasn’t either.
Where did the body come from?
As I stood there, I tried to trace back over the whole morning to figure it out and hundreds of scenarios popped in and out of my head within seconds.
Flashback sequence commence…
That morning when I woke up to the scream of my alarm and saw it was just 5 minute before I had to check out. I know for a fact I rolled around in a Jaegermeister induced agony at first. After finding the energy to get out of bed, I discovered my half-full water bottle near the edge of the bed. Elixir of life.
And nobody else in my bed. I rolled off the bed still wearing the outfit from the night before and waddled out of the room, squinting through one eye as I made my way downstairs. The front desk was swarming with last-minute check outs, so I shuffled outside and into the searing sunlight. The hangover was too intense to do anything that day let alone think, so I listened to my belly instead and bought the last shriveled up meat-pies in the 7-11 nearby.
I rolled off the bed still wearing the outfit from the night before and waddled out of the room, squinting through one eye as I made my way downstairs. The front desk was swarming with last-minute check outs, so I shuffled outside and into the searing sunlight. The hangover was too intense to do anything that day let alone think, so I listened to my belly instead and bought the last shriveled up meat-pies in the 7-11 nearby.
When I returned to the hostel, the front desk commented on my glorious appearance with a “looks like you had an epic night mate” as they booked me for another night. Before going back to my room, I slumped down on the bottom step, lacking the energy to focus on juggling meat pies and water bottles while climbing stairs.
With the pies destroyed, I trudged upstairs and entered my room. No naked body in the bed. It was already 10am and I didn’t want to waste the day so I grabbed my toothbrush and went into the bathroom. Nothing out of the ordinary except that I found the remnants of meat pie in my beard. Yum.
Then I returned to the room.
And BAM. Naked ninja in my bed.
Cut to the Irishman waking and we’re back to “What the fuck is going on?”
Either way, I knew through my brief flashback sequence that there was no way this naked-planking-ninja-dead-body was there minutes before.
That was the only time I put my Lonely Planet guide to use.
It was time to investigate. And when I say investigate, I mean use my Lonely Planet Guide Book for the first and only time ever during my trip in New Zealand. The guidebook was the closest thing to grab so I used that to poke his leg. No response. The butt cheeks stared back unmoving.
The rest of the room watched in silence (though there was a bit of giggling from one girl) as I walked around to the side of the bed and reached out to prod the dude in the shoulder. No response. I looked back at the rest of the room and held up my hands not knowing what to do. The Irishman nodded his head forward, and I took that as the sign to wallop the guy upside the head. If he was dead it wouldn’t matter, right?
So I walloped him in the back of the head.
Lonely Planet proved useful and the moment I walloped him, he sprung upright. How he sprung upright from he twisted position he was in still baffles me (naked ninja skills I guess) but the sudden life of him scared the hell out of all of us. IT’S ALIVE!
I think I even yelled “Oh shit!”
There wasn’t much life to the guy. As he sat on my bed, his eyes twirled around in his skull. Then he flopped back down.
“Hey dude” I said, and proceeded to nudge him again with the guide-book. This time he did one of those moves where he tried to blindly swat me away. My hangover took hold, and now that I knew this naked dude was alive, I was furious he was in my bed. I hit him in the back of the head again, and again he popped upright. Eyes still twirling, but this time he mumbled something I couldn’t understand.
At that moment he came back to life.
Half-life at least. His eyes stopped twirling and he looked down at himself, realizing he was naked. He looked around the room but straight through all of us as though we didn’t exist.
“You need to get the hell out of my bed man” I said, beginning to grit my teeth.
Instead of just wandering out naked after deflowering my clean-ish hostel bed, he reached down and began to grab my clothes from my backpack.
Great, now he was trying to steal my clothes!
He had two of my shirts and a pair of my pants and I yanked them from his hands. He still didn’t seem to realize anybody else was there, but he wrapped the blanket around himself and stood up.
“Yes, take the blanket because I was going to burn it anyway” I called out, and he waddled out of the room and into the hall. Everyone in the room began to laugh, and even though I was pissed off, I could help myself either. By the time I poked my head into the hall to see if he was sleeping in it, he was gone like some naked phantom.
And that was the last I saw of him. But not the last I heard of him.
Later in the day word had spread of the naked guy in the bed, and while making some instant noodles and instant coffee in the kitchen, one of the backpackers in another room gave us his origin story.
He literally pissed off everyone in his room.
The “bloke” as they called him couldn’t hold his liquor or drugs apparently. The night before he had gone out by himself and re-appeared around 7am. At one point, close to when I was downstairs booking another night, he woke up everyone when one roommate caught him standing in the center of the room peeing all over everyone’s luggage. They did what anyone sensible would do in that situation and physically tossed him outside and locked the door.
When we compared stories, we figured out that somehow when I went to use the bathroom after booking another night, he managed to wander into the room and flop onto my bed before the door closed.
Looking back on it, it was a hilarious situation. For someone already battling hundreds of emotions as a first time traveler, I created tons of bad scenarios in my head that were usually based off of horror films. And that will make any experience seem dangerous. Go camping? Killed. Eastern Europe? Killed. Unless Liam Neeson can save me with his certain set of skills. Relaxing by a lake? Killed. Own a cat and bury it when it dies? Killed by zombie cats. Go to sleep at night and dream? Killed. Tomatoes? Killer tomatoes, you’re dead. Clowns? Killer alien clowns. Get the point? Well, I believe that last one. I hate clowns!
Get the point? Well, I believe that last one. I hate clowns!
Well, I believe that last one. I hate clowns!
Don’t let fear of the unknown or TV/movies delegate where you can travel to and not. Even when I traveled to Haiti, most warned me that I’d be killed or kidnapped because they saw it on TV and the news. Haiti is my favorite country to travel to.
Hostels can be weird, but they’ve never felt dangerous.
It’s true that my first ever hostel experience involved finding a lifeless body in my bed only for it to come back to life and waddle off. Freaking weird huh? Since then, I’ve heard stories of times when people have had drunk or drugged up idiots do things similar to that. I’ve experienced a fight in my hostel in Thailand that threatened to spiral out of control. I’ve also heard of stories where people have had their things stolen as well, but usually that’s because they decided not to take proper precautions.
Almost 99% of hostel stories I hear though are funny like my first experience, or about best friends being made.
Are hostels safe? After 4 years of travel and hundreds of hostels that I’ve stayed in, I can tell you that hostels aren’t dangerous or secret cults that will kidnap you or anything close to that.
My hostel experiences, though peppered with some weird shit like this one, has been pretty great. I’ve met friends that I’ve traveled with afterward and still keep in touch with. I’ve met hostel staff that I’m friends with to this date. I’ve even worked in a hostel, and it turned out to be a great way to save on budget. But I’ve never felt one was dangerous.
I’ve been to hostels that are incredibly dirty. I’ve been to some that outdo hotels in style. I’ve stayed at one run by an obsessive Christian who made us watch movies about Jesus. I’ve stayed at others that are run as a circus where you can learn to fire dance and juggle and tight-rope walk. Even some hold an incredibly high standard for eco-sustainability and environmental consciousness that outmatch most companies around the world. You can have a great experience or a horrible experience in some, but that is the same for most travel experiences.
You have to be responsible about staying in hostels.
Even though I’ve befriended plenty of people in hostels, there are always bad apples that you meet abroad. I’m not trying to tell you to distrust anyone, but to be blunt I’m telling you don’t be stupid. Most of it is common sense people.
- Don’t leave your passports and electronics out in the open.
- Don’t come home so wasted you don’t know where you are.
- Always lock up any valuables in the lockers most hostels have.
- If there is no locker, take a day-pack of your valuables with you.
- Going out? Ask the front desk to hold it for you.
- Read reviews about hostels before you go to make sure they are clean, in a good area, that they have locks on doors and lockers for your stuff, and that the staff isn’t sketchy.
Overall, don’t be scared to stay in a hostel. They are pretty fun places made for budget backpackers to meet and make friends. And who knows, maybe you’ll have a funny story to tell like the case of the naked planker.
SIDE NOTE: When I originally told this story on my old blog, the hostel that this happened at thought it was so funny that they sent me on a tour around New Zealand to write for them. Bless that naked ninja.
What was your first experience in a hostel like? Have a funny hostel story as well?
[dropcap]BAM![/dropcap] Dead. It happened that quick. Well, at least it can happen that quick. Today I was nearly run over by a car. Had I been riding my bike just a little faster and had I not braked last minute, I could have been roadkill. After my heart stopped racing and I regained my composure, I began to think about what that meant. And it seems like I’ve learned some life lessons by almost dying today.
I’m guilty of getting caught up in the everyday grind of things when not backpacking through some exotic countries outside of the United States. Though my goal is always the same thing — to save up money for traveling, the daily grind becomes a normal cycle. Working, commuting, dining out, morning coffees, nightly drinks. You get the point.
Even after I moved to Australia a few months back so I could work abroad and save up more money for my next big trip, it’s become somewhat of a stale affair. Don’t get me wrong, Melbourne is a phenomenal city to live in and there are always exciting things to do — but it’s still a major city that I am working in to save money. I’m having a fun time living in a new city and exploring the uniqueness that is Melbourne. But I’m still waiting tables instead of hiking mountains. I did ask for this though. After somehow surviving the Rickshaw Run madness, and after getting so ill in India that I lost 20lbs, I needed a place to recover my body and bank account.
That doesn’t mean living life to the fullest has to stop when you settle down for a few months from adventuring.
You never should stop living each day to the fullest. As I will tell you, something bad can happen in a flash.
I was biking to one of the 5 days of work per week. It was just a normal day like any other has been while living in Melbourne. I woke up and ate breakfast. I took the familiar bike path along the Yarra, admiring a single beautiful black swan that was coasting along with the current. Maybe that was some sort of omen. Everything was as it had been lately. Normal. I came to the freeway crossing and had the green bicycle telling me it was safe to cross, and I biked across to the island in the middle. As I was crossing the median, the bike crossing light began to blink red. But I was midway across already, biking off the median when the light began to blink.
And that is when I was nearly run over.
Just as I was about to hit the 4th lane of the freeway and onto the other side, I noticed all the other cars coming to a slow stop since they obviously had a red light, but not one car. Since I make it a point to be aware of my surroundings, I noticed that one car not slowing down. I thought he would, but he was still going fast, and just as I was hitting the fourth lane I braked and slid. He zipped past me, not even slowing down, straight through a red light which would have been a wreck had there been cars crossing as well. When he sped past me and I braked last minute, the car was less than a foot away from my front bike tire. I could feel the wind on my face.
Once on the sidewalk, I paused and took a deep breath. So much was racing through my head, but I couldn’t be late to work. So I kept on cycling. For the entire day I was frazzled, and I couldn’t stop thinking about that close call. I finished the day, went back home, slept, and went back to work the next day.
But I haven’t been able to kick that feeling. I had a near death experience in a major city that is known to be quite safe, and caters to bicyclist. And though I’ve always been one to express how anything can happen to you at any moment in whatever city in the world, sometimes a close call like this brings it back up.
It makes you realize that you haven’t been taking advantage of life.
That’s why I’m sharing this today, because everyone should know that it isn’t out there in the big and bad and mysterious world that something bad can happen to you — it can be in a city at home while inside your “comfort zone“.
Yes, I have gotten sick a few times while traveling, like in India recently, or when I got a stomach infection during Songkran in Thailand. There has been occasions where I felt as though I would die on some of the sketchier modes of transport in countries like riding in the insane charter buses in India. Usually though, I feel a sense of safety and calm while traveling, because I am more aware and alert and on my feet. But also, I’m actually doing things — not just lulled into a repetition like a “safe” and “normal” life does to you.
Everybody told me not to go to Haiti, that Haiti was a dangerous place and I would be killed or kidnapped. After that first trip to Haiti, and shattering all preconceived notions of Haiti while there, I am adamant to tell everyone how much I loved it. And, to make a point, I felt more safe in Haiti then I do walking around at night in Washington DC. That was just the first real realization I’ve had of many that living what some think to be a safe life, thinking that traveling through the world might be inherently more dangerous than working in a cubicle, is completely wrong. Once I thought I would be robbed in Thailand only to come to find out they just wanted to help me.
Traveling is no more dangerous than living that idea of a normal life.
This is why, no matter what situation you are in or whatever it is you may be doing; be it working in a cubicle at home or scuba diving in Italy, walking the dog or driving a rickshaw across India — make sure you are doing what you want to do at that very moment. Make sure you aren’t thinking about tomorrow or a week from now or 5 years from now or that retirement in 20 years. Because we never know what tomorrow will bring or if there will even be a tomorrow. We have to stop living in tomorrowland and start living in the now, and even if you have to work that “normal” job for the moment, make sure there is a purpose behind it driven by your dreams and what makes you happy.
I’ve realized that I was getting too invested in this routine again, and I was lulled into not embracing every second of everyday, so I am going to try daily again to be focusing on my passions and the now. Though I need the waiter job at the moment to save up for future travel plans, that doesn’t mean I can’t be doing something amazing everyday. And more importantly, I can be living everyday instead of existing.
Need some inspiration? Check these posts out!
10 Most Inspirational Life Quotes over my Travel Photos
Everybody needs a little kick in the mojo sometimes. A jolt of energy to get life shocked back into. A dose of pure inspiration from the voices and the pens of travelers, philosophers, dreamers, and doers. Hell, sometimes you just need someone to slap you and shout, “Get off your ass and chase your dreams fool!”Get Inspired Here!
Death: My Travel Inspiration
Your life can change in an instant.
Sometimes that phrase is difficult to grasp since we get caught up in our daily lives and don’t realize when things pass us by — for example: life. But just like a lightbulb, it can burn out without a hint of notice, leaving the faintest remnant of that light clinging on to the last minutes of what once was before fizzing out forever.Get Inspired Here!
An easy day on the water relaxing and scuba diving they said. And it was, until that part I nearly died. Maybe that is a little overblown for the sake of drama, but when you are meters deep below the surface with lead weights strapped to you starting to fall unconscious, you might freak out as well. Everything began and ended fine, because I wouldn’t be writing to you today and showing you this gnarly video if I was dead, but there was an in between bit that I thought I was doomed.Read More
It was a strange feeling sitting atop the jagged rocks in Great Falls National Park — fighting for breath after running and jumping and climbing through the Billy Goat Trail. I was beside one of my best friends and we had just scaled a rock face 20 meters high. We were exhausted. Sprawled out and catching our breaths, we looked out over the river below; at some points it was rabid, frothing and surging through the gorge, and others it was calm and flowing gently. The water from millions of years ago in the ice age had carved its path through solid rock, little by little. Now it was following a path, sometimes calm and other times ferocious, that it had created against an otherwise opposing element.
A path it had created little by little.
I sat there thinking about all that I had done the past 8 months abroad, all of the places I had seen, all of the amazing people I had met, and all of the experiences I had. Also on my mind was the path that led to my unplanned return to the United States. My mind rewound through it all during that short rest.
Two days ago I had arrived back in Maryland after taking a 15-hour long bus ride from Toronto.
A week before, I had taken a flight from Munich to Madrid where I stayed overnight, and then flew Madrid to London, and London to Toronto over the course of 24-hours.
Two weeks before, I had taken a train from Rome to Munich where I spent my last week in Europe where I had decided to ultimately return.
A month before, I was just beginning to travel around Italy.
Two months before Italy, I had arrived in Europe after being forced to make the decision to leave Thailand just as I was about to begin teaching English.
And it was a little more than 8 months from this very date that I had taken a 7-day train journey across the United States, DC to Los Angeles, and flown out to Thailand to teach English.
Somehow it seemed so long ago, yet at the same time still raw in my mind. Not nostalgia, because it wasn’t a stinging pain that hit me thinking about an adventure coming to an end.
So why is it that I’ve found myself back in the United States?
There were many things that contributed to my early return: a lot of cause and effect that factored in, a lot of missteps on the road and mistakes made, and many things that I hadn’t planned for that I should have.
The main reason comes down to money. I had almost completely run out of money after returning to Italy for the second time.
When I first left Thailand I had a vague idea of what I would do next, and even less of an idea of what to expect in Europe. I wasn’t headed back to Thailand any time soon, and though I thought about teaching English in another Southeast Asian country, I had a friend’s wedding to attend in two weeks in Slovakia. I figured I’d find a cheap place in Europe to lay low, somewhere in Eastern Europe that wouldn’t rock my dwindling budget that was causing me a slight bit of angst. I knew nothing at all about Europe in terms of travel; it was a new and unknown place and one I had dreamed about seeing as a little boy.
Sometimes the world steers you in different directions, ones completely opposite than what you had planned. It turned out that the cheapest last-minute flight into Europe from Thailand was Rome. Sure, Rome wasn’t the main destination in Europe I was headed for, and it damn well wouldn’t be the cheapest, but excitement filled me. I was veering off from my original plan and leaving Southeast Asia and I didn’t know what would happen next. Italy was always the country I wanted to visit the most. I would go to Italy.
(Teacher Ryan in Thailand)
When I arrived in Rome, I immediately began on the wrong foot.
As is my normal travel behavior, I didn’t plan a single bit for Europe. I would just roll with it and figure it out as I went along. Immediately I was gobbled up by the new surroundings and spat out. The first few hours were filled with self-induced misery as I wandered lost about lost in the Eternal City since I hadn’t pre-booked a hostel, my electronics were dead, and I had no clue where to look for accommodation. Oh, and that I had lost my adapter in route from Thailand to Italy. So, besides nobody around the city knowing where a hostel was, I couldn’t charge my electronics to search for one.
Then the shock of the Euro slapped me.
You cannot compare Italy to Thailand at all. Just don’t. Well, maybe with the insane drivers and the bum-guns on toilets, but price wise it is drastically different. Right away I could see my wallet weeping as the cheapest hostel I could find was 30 Euro a night. That cheap flight to Rome would be outweighed by the prices to stay there. I kept trying to tell myself that I shouldn’t compare prices, but I couldn’t help but think about how I was paying $3 USD a night in Thailand. Even trying to eat cheap I was spending well over 50 Euro a day with hostel and food.
I was freaking out a little.
But I told myself it would be fine. I’d enjoy being in the city I always dreamed about visiting, and in a week I’d head over to Slovakia and spend much less. And I did. I visited the ancient Roman sights, explored the Colosseum, and wandered the city for hours in the day.
Except I left Thailand with $2,000 left which was my budget for 4 more months at least, but within a week in Rome I spent nearly a quarter of that in accommodation and food.
Instead of heading directly to Slovakia, I took a flight to Prague and met up with a friend from the US who had been traveling with me in Thailand. We hung out and explored Prague for around a week until heading to Slovakia after enjoying the gloriously cheap food, beer, and accommodation in Prague.
(exploring the Colosseum of Rome, and super giddy)
Fast travel makes a slow traveler panic.
At least, it makes me freak out a bit when I didn’t know what to do next, and I’m one to usually call myself chill about most situations. But, I’m usually quite the slow traveler. Spending months on end in another country is what I like to do, and it isn’t often I bounce around from country to country every week. And after going from Rome, to Prague, and then to Bratislava, I could feel a slight anxiousness settling in. I was pin-balling from one country to the next without a plan, and that turned out to be more expensive in doing so. I had no clue what to do, and I was watching my budget sink from a comfortable $2,000 to below $1,000. When we arrived in Bratislava, we were both shocked at how expensive the country was. Hostels were on average 20 Euro, and food was comparable to Italy in price. Both of us were low on money, and had to think of how to last it out until the wedding.
We went to Hungary for a few days since I had found a few hostels that were advertised for 6 Euro a night. A bus ticket to Budapest and sleeping in those hostels, and then busing back, would be cheaper than staying in Bratislava. But when we arrived in Budapest, these cheap hotels seemed mythical. They didn’t exist. The only ones we could find wanted 20 Euro, so we were again in the same predicament.
In a predicament, but still in Europe, and still exploring as much as our broke asses could.
This is when the bread eating began.
We did eventually find one of those cheap hostels in Budapest, but they are so hidden and usually tucked into an apartment complex with no sign that it was only within the last few days we discovered one. They do exist! But it was too late. We both had been eating cheap rolls of bread and only drinking water since we both couldn’t afford much else. Though my friend had already planned on returning to the US after the wedding, I was hoping to keep the adventure going afterwards and find a place to base myself to keep traveling.
Though staying in Europe or continuing traveling was fast becoming unlikely.
I was getting extremely low on funds and I didn’t even have a ticket back to the US even if I did run out of money. I attended the wedding, and went back to Prague since it had been the cheapest destination I had visited in that part of Europe to come up with some sort of emergency plan to keep going.
(one of the “signs” for the hostels, painted on the ground where we didn’t look)
There was a back-up plan. Though not a great one.
Just before leaving Thailand, I had announced that I was brought on by a popular travel booking company to be a content writer. It was, and still is, a sweet gig with a high pay-per-word rate and a promise of a long-term writing contract. I assumed that this would be the ticket to traveling long-term around Europe and offer me a bit of padding while I figured things out. Well, I had fully banked on this, but it would turn out to be a bad gamble. Not bad at all because of the company, but because I was relying on a job that was just starting, and if you are a freelance contractor, you know it doesn’t happen quickly. And I had naively thought it’d be instant return.
Since they are a major travel company, I hadn’t realized I would need to be added to a payroll and file taxes in the US, which means payout wouldn’t be as soon as I wanted
*I still write for them and love it, and it was silly of me at the time to think I could just hope for them to pay me a huge amount after only a couple of weeks on board.*
What was I to do when faced with no money left?
While I was in Rome the first time, I had attended a few Walks of Italy tours around the city where I had met a guide who was setting up her own travel blog tour in Italy, and she had invited me to attend one in June. I promised her that I would attend, it seemed like an amazing opportunity to explore more of Italy. Yet, here I was in Prague, broke, and I had to figure out a way back to Rome while only having around $200 left. Once on the trip, most of the expenses would be included, so I gambled again. I told myself that if I could make it to Rome and get on this trip, I should have my paycheck by then. And after, I could decide better how to make my next move.
I used $175 of my remaining budget for a flight to Rome, and used my last bit of money to book a hostel. For a day and half my only food was a sole banana.
Finally I could eat again.
For that week and half before returning to Rome, I had been living on bread rolls and ketchup (for flavor) and stayed cooped up in hostels since I had no money. I had already explored every inch of Prague and most parts of Rome that I could walk to, so I just waited it out until the blog trip. I couldn’t even afford a coffee so I could go to a café and write. And cafés are my creative zones. To be honest, I felt a bit trapped leading up to it. But the day came where I linked up with the group of other bloggers to kickstart our gnarly #ThisIsYourTime blog tour of Umbria and Ponza. I was stoked. If I had to leave Italy without actually exploring other parts of the country, I would have been super bummed.
To say I gorged might be an understatement. We were in red wine country and I drank my weight in wine from vineyards like Fontanaro Farms and stuffed myself full of pasta and meats. Sometimes people would comment with something around the lines of, “Wow, you must love to eat!” and my response would be to smirk through my bulging cheeks and declare, “You never know when you’ll be living on bread and ketchup!”
South of Rome we visited Ponza Island where Prosecco flowed like water and I ate some of the most delicious seafood of my life. I was again in the company of amazing people, tasting the flavors of a country and of the sea, and sleeping in comfort knowing I had a bed for the night.
(cheesing in Ponza, and happy to have food again!)
Of course it wouldn’t last. It couldn’t last.
The blog tour had been an amazing 10 days, and during that time my worries had faded and I was enjoying the experiences to the fullest. What else should you do in that case of course? I had to soak it up baby! But once it was over, I was back in the same position. I had no money and I was in Rome, the most expensive place I had traveled thus far. Linnea, our amazing blog tour guide and now a person I am happy to call friend, had a boyfriend on the tour that was equally an amazing person. Knowing my situation, he offered me to stay in a tiny loft above a theatre he owned in the heart of Rome. It would save me from finding a quiet alleyway to sleep every night, and would give me time and a bit less pressure off my shoulders to figure out my next move.
Again I was eating bread and ketchup to save the bit of cash I had. Some family sent a bit of money at random to which, they may not have known, helped me eat for the day. And allowed it to not be just bread once or twice a day.
(my little theater window)
This was the moment where I began to think that I might have to return back to the United States.
However much I wanted to try to keep traveling, and however much I stubbornly didn’t want to return earlier than I had intended, I had to consider my position. I had little to no money and no income at the moment. Living on a tight budget is not at all a difficult thing for me. Though I love eating the dishes of all the countries I visit and exploring, I also have no problem surviving on instant noodles and toast and exploring. But when you have no budget at all, when you are completely bottomed out, and you know that bread roll is what you’ll eat for the day because you can’t afford something else, it saps a lot of the fun out of the experience.
Some people can do that, and I definitely have been down that road in New Zealand where I slept in my hammock above Wellington and nibbled on what I could afford because I was out of money. Even though bits of that were wonderful, like waking up in the woods everyday to the sun rising over the city, most aspects of being forced into that position weren’t pleasant.
I sat each day atop that theater looking out of my small window watching people wander around, and each night watching groups heading to go grab a drink or a bite to eat. It was an absolutely romantic scenario living above a theater in the heart of Rome, but I still felt trapped. If I wandered around and met new friends, I couldn’t do anything they would be doing around town. I couldn’t explore parts of Rome I hadn’t seen since I couldn’t afford the subway. And I couldn’t relax in a café in the city while I wrote.
Even though there was a play every night in the theater I lived in about a brothel romance with ladies in lingerie strutting around.
(why yes the theater came lingerie ladies & nightly plays about a romance in a brothel)
That’s when I decided it was my time to head back to the United States.
If I was going to explore more of Europe, I wanted to have a budget that would allow me to do even the most minimal things around the city. Some opportunities presented themselves for possible work, and working in Rome would be a dream come true, but I had already used up 2 months of my allotted time in the Schengen Zone and I would have to leave soon anyway.
Now it was time to figure out how the hell to get back to the United States. During that last week in Rome I finally received a chunk of my pay from my freelance contract, but it still wouldn’t be enough to pay for a last-minute flight back. A friend I had met while traveling in Thailand invited me to come visit them in Munich, and after realizing flights were drastically cheaper from there to the US, I said farewell to my friends in Rome and took a train to Munich.
During the week spent in Germany, I sucked up my pride and asked friends back home if they could help spare a little cash for the difference I needed for a flight. I knew that in Washington DC I had friends I could stay with and that I could have two jobs in a jiffy, so that would be the plan. Return, work my ass off again, save money, leave.
And after three flights in 24-hours and a 15-hour bus ride, I was back in Washington DC. I was somewhere I never thought I’d see myself again that soon.
But, I also had never thought I’d see myself living in Thailand or exploring Europe either.
(at the John Lennon wall in Prague)
So, was running out of money all a mistake?
Or going to Europe a mistake?
The thought of course had crossed my mind a few times. I could have planned better, or come up with one that would have allowed me to stay abroad. There are times when my thoughts about this beat me up, and that I feel bummed about returning to the US. Maybe I should have gone back to Southeast Asia to teach English. Sometimes I think “dammit, I could have saved money better here by not doing this” or “if only I would have done this than I’d still be traveling.”
Then I have to shake that bad mojo off. I left what-ifs and I-could-haves behind, they are all useless thoughts.
This is the essence of travel. This is what makes it exciting and demanding and difficult. And ultimately, why traveling is so rewarding. If it were easy and everything was laid out before you, then the soul of the adventure wouldn’t be there. Was it all for naught? Absolutely not. Are there things I would do differently? Yes.
Lessons on the road are the best lessons learned, because it is a trial by fire. They are situations you may never find yourself in at home, and whether it be figuring out how to save money for something special you want to do, or budgeting just so you can make it to the next destination. Traveling the past couple of years after leaving the United States for the first time taught me to open up my mind to the possibilities that are out there once you begin to look for, and follow your dream.
I gained knowledge and important lessons about Southeast Asia and Europe that couldn’t have been read in a book. And being quite new to travel, each lesson will make the next trip better.
(looking out over Loh Dalum Bay in Thailand)
This trip also showed me another key piece to my life.
When I began traveling just a mere 3 years ago by going to New Zealand, my heart and mind were filled with sudden possibility and inspiration. But my heart was also still filled with things that always held me back. Though that first trip was life-changing, it had also been used as an escape from something I was running from most of my life — however much I told myself I wasn’t running.
When I had to leave New Zealand after 9 months of traveling the country because I was out of money, I berated myself for failing. I had told everyone that I was going to travel for a year or two, and I snubbed my nose at my brother after he had disowned me for wanting to travel. I would prove the world and my brother and society’s demands that I was better than it all and could chase my dream. In that sense, my dream became about other people and other things, it was no longer in pursuit of my own happiness. When I returned early from New Zealand, I faked that it was no big deal, but inside I was crushed. I had felt like I failed at pursuing my dream. And worst of all, I was thinking about how I had set out to prove others wrong and failed.
By being consumed by this fear of failure, something I always struggled with growing up, it had taken the true meaning of my dream and replaced it with self-loathing. The fact that I had traveling nearly across the world, and the fact that I was the first in my family to leave the US, and the fact that I did it for 9 months — that all didn’t matter. I had failed at something I set out to do. I had failed at my dream.
As was one of the first articles to be published on this blog when I began it again last year, I shared how this exact mentality and demoralizing view of my own self drove me into a dark place, a place filled with depression and monster that I had hidden away. It was a place where self-worth did not exist, just personal demons I created and that I succumbed to. During this period, things I had never dealt with — the deaths of my parents, the feeling that I would never be good enough, and the feeling that I had failed myself — it brought me into an abyss where the choice of living or dying was the only thing left.
When I shared the affects of keeping this all hidden in far corners of my mind since I was a child, it was after a time when I had hit the lowest point in my life. My drinking had gone beyond bad. I felt worthless and ashamed. And I was also facing a possible jail sentence because I had been drunk and broken into a house, one which I thought was mine that I had simply and drunkenly locked myself out of.
After months of facing the consequences of those actions, and looking at the internal monsters for the first time that manifested, I knew I had to make that decision to live and change, or else end up dead. There was a choice to be made, a choice that could only be made by me and carried out. The day I walked from the courtroom found not guilty, I vowed to live my life for myself and do whatever possible to chase my dream. A vow I had said before when leaving for Thailand, but one I had said while still holding onto things from my past.
(standing atop a temple in Angkor Wat)
The significance of this trip was that, this time, I don’t feel like a failure.
Months before I had even began planning my trip to Thailand, I began to share personal memoirs about those struggles I had faced, and some of the most personal events from my childhood that had haunted me for years. That had led me to that dark place. By sharing the stories, it was almost like self-counseling. I finally revealed to myself the things I never could face before, and it helped me discover clarity and strength.
Sure, before I left I had told people that I wanted to travel for a year, teaching in Thailand, and then maybe moving on to explore other parts of the world. It was a rough plan, and though teaching in Thailand was a main goal of mine, everything was truly up in the air. I was just ready for another adventure. Even with my trip only lasting 8 months when I wanted to travel for a year or more, it was still 8 months abroad. I still lived for 8 months in other countries. I was able to experience multiple cultures and make friends from all over the world and share experiences and laughter with them.
I was pursuing my dream. I still am pursuing my dream. Because a dream isn’t a destination or a finish line, it is the journey of the body and mind and heart and soul in pursuit of what makes you happy. In pursuit of what you love. It is something that, if you are truly chasing, you can never fail by not reaching some peak or apex, since the glory of a dream is never-ending. You can only fail if you choose not to follow it.
And this is why returning. Though it is something I didn’t think to do this early, it wasn’t something I am going to let bring me down this time. The choice was made by myself to return, and though eating bread and ketchup everyday could have helped with that decision, I know that I will make my time back in the States another piece of the adventure. A catalyst for continuing my dream.
What comes next in the journey?
Well, I’ve come back “home” as I can say, though I know that even if I grew up in Maryland, my home is somewhere else out there. It’s in the wind and the mountains and the forests and the road and everywhere else. Fernweh, that longing for a place I’ve never been still holds on tight. So my goal (which I don’t often set goals unless relating to travel) is to work and save and travel again soon.
To be honest, I am also very excited to be back for fall in the Untied States. Autumn in the US has always been magical for me — Halloween is my favorite holiday, pumpkin flavored everything is my obsession, and the beauty of the changing leaves. And since I will be in the US for a bit, I’ve been considering going much more in-depth about travel around the US and places I’ve been. This is the perfect time to add this aspect to the blog, and maybe a perfect time to become a tourist of my own home country.
Where might I be looking to go next?
Since I had always wanted to visit Europe, the good thing about traveling there and spending two months hopping around different countries is that it gave me a sample. A tantalizing taste. Of course I want more. And it also clued me in on what to expect and what to plan for when I do save specifically to travel Europe. So that is an option, but there are many others. Each time I embark to a new countries, my mind changes and grows and evolves, and I discovers different possibilities that suddenly change my desire or course.
Maybe I’ll want to return to Southeast Asia and explore and teach in Vietnam or another country. I also will be researching what it takes to stay longer in Europe without having the 3-month cap to worry about. Also, I’ve always wanted to explore Central America and South America, and Africa. Hell, I want to see it all!
During my time back I’ll be doing exactly that: deciding where to go on the next trip. I’d like to give myself 6 months to save up, so I’ll be working hard to accomplish this. I’ve already had two interviews at previous jobs, and this month my freelance writing contract should finally have the kinks ironed out.
There is also the idea of moving to New Orleans after fall when it cools down and the festivals take over. New Orleans is one of my favorite places in the world, and I’ve been wanting to spend a few months living in that city for a while. It’ll be crazy busy and should be a great place to make some money.
All of this did, in fact, pass through my head during that brief rest in Great Falls.
Not nostalgia at all, but a pang inside my spirit of a sudden excitement — the excitement of a new adventure and continuing the chase.
We had been scrambling up fissures in the stone formations, leaping over moss-covered logs, bounding off angled boulders from one to the other, scaling sheer rock-faces, swinging from branches, and running full sprint while dodging sharp outcroppings. We were hot and tired and slightly cut up, but invigorated. We had been running free for the sake of the spirit and for the challenge. We were creating a path where no path existed. Sometimes head-on, and sometimes with caution.
We were creating our own path in that forest and in the gorge even though obstacles stood in our way. Yes, it felt strange being in Maryland again and sitting atop the high jagged rocks, but as the water below us flowed forward, and the breath came back to my lungs, and the memories raced through my mind, I knew one thing for sure — little by little I would keep carving out my own path.
Though the adventure seemed to end, it hadn’t. It never does if you don’t let it. Step by step, little by little, I will keep pushing forward.
Here is to today, and the adventure it holds wherever I find myself, and wherever you find yourselves chasing your own dream every today following.
If you also want to check out another article by a travel friend, Flora of Flora the Explorer Blog, it shows another perspective as she suddenly is returning home after traveling 3 years. Read: After two years of travel I am returning to London
There I was, frumped down on a gum-covered curb, arched backward by the gravitational pull of my now encumbering backpack, with my tech bag (which weighs a hefty amount on its own) sagging down my chest and in between my spread out legs — not much unlike a fat and floppy baby.
A bead of sweat crept slowly from beneath my fedora, one which I had purchased in Thailand as my shining new adventure hat, now bent and beaten and grimy. That bead of sweat made its way across the squished ridges of my forehead, up and over the furrowed hills of my brow, took a swift dive down the crest of my nose onto the plains of my cheek — where it seems to pause a moment, as if to admire some sort of unique feature on the landscape of my face, then decided to scurry forth into the thicket of my scraggly backpacker beard where it was lost.
When it had given that pause on my cheek, I imagine it was probably looking back over the plains and furrows and the ridges at the agony on my face under the hot Roman sun — and in its tiny sinister saltiness, it probably laughed at me.
I was utterly lost in the Eternal City after bumbling along for what seemed to be an eternity in itself, hauling about my human mobile home which nearly weighted 40 kilos, searching desperately for some place to lay my head at night, until my dragging feet and aching back begged me to stop. On my left was a sour-smelling dumpster, on my right a typical Roman patio café with Italians sipping their second or third or fifth espresso of the day, and ahead of me triple parked cars blocking most of a main road — which come to find out is just the nature of Italian drivers in the city who tend to establish a parking lot where they’d like.
All I could mutter was a pathetic, “what the fuck” under my breath as I wiped away more sweat that raced down my face before it could pause and mock my stupendous stupidity like the other. I must have been some form of impressive from the way Romans passed by me and gawked at the presence of this sad and sweaty blob slouched on the curb.
It was all chaos and madness flying at me that first few hours the moment my train had pulled into the Termini train station and I waddled off the hissing steel behemoth with the eagerness of fulfilling a childhood dream. But instead of trotting off happily with a hop in my step and confidence of where to go, the realization occurred that I had no clue where the hell I was.
People scurried about like frantic ants. Motorbikes bobbed and weaved and zipped around as if they were in a race. The homeless and the hawkers both hankered for money I didn’t have. And most of all, it dawned on me as I scampered across the cobblestone street after dodging honking cars, that a travel sin had been committed.
After spending almost 8 months in Thailand one might think chaos would be incomparable in most other countries — if you’ve experienced (and survived) the ebb and flow of Bangkok traffic on the back of a motorbike you’d think you could go forth head on into most things. But each busy city has its own unique kind of chaos, and the kind felt a few moments of arrival wasn’t Rome’s fault, it stemmed from being utterly unprepared.
The travel sin committed? Not booking a hostel before I arrived in Rome.
Not just that, but for the sake of a bigger and better whammy I did not look at a map of potential hostels preemptively, and I did not look at the layout of the city.
Sometimes you can wing it and things just work out. Other times, you’ll find yourself between a café and a smelly place like myself. It was only a few days prior that I had been forced to leave Thailand and book a last-minute flight. Rome, my childhood dream, was somehow the cheapest flight into Europe from Thailand as if the travel fates urged me to fulfill that dream. There was no way I couldn’t leap at the opportunity presenting itself. And with the arrogance of my go-with-the-flow attitude, I decided that I would arrive and see where the next adventure would take me.
Oh, how that turned out to be an amateur decision to make.
I started off downhill from the train stain with the momentum of my mass carrying me forward, stopping every so often to admire an old piazza or unique architecture. Each cross street passed seemed dedicated to businesses and pizzerias, and on occasion I would veer off course and trudge halfway through a side-street thinking I had spotted a hostel sign, only to be fooled by the mirage of a low-quality hotel sign.
This is when the chaffing began.
And so did the blisters begin to poke up their translucent and annoying heads on the bottom of my feet.
You might ask, “Why the hell didn’t you stop someone and ask them for directions?” and I will tell you, “dammit I tried!”
It must have been the end, or beginning, of the Italian lunch hour because as I stood there, wearing my best puppy face (which doesn’t work with a big beard and a sweat-drenched shirt) everybody that passed by seemed to be in a gallop as if they were late to some important meeting. With a wave or a “Ciao!” I hoped someone would pause for a moment, but nobody did. There was no escape from the high-noon sun cooking me so I trudged on, determined that something, somewhere would pop up. The road that literally carried me downward seemed to stretch on into a hazy infinity, yet I marched on.
A few times I ventured into what seemed to be a café, odd to me at the time that they called it a “bar“, in hopes of finding a place proper enough to throw off the bags and charge my phone. Except all of these “bars” I was poking into, usually by squeezing through a compact doorway, instantly went silent when I entered. The locals would stop their shopping or chewing or sipping and stare, and the staple Italian elder behind the counter, with a sudden and disapproving glance at the clumsy monstrosity strapped to my back and chest, always seemed ready to spatula me over the head and out the door.
This was a whole new jungle I was lost in, a jungle where no touristy shops were located to plead for directions and the cafés weren’t for sitting around on a laptop, but for grab-and-go quickies. Just old-school locals that gave me weird looks. Hell, I’d give myself weird looks at that point too since the twisted wedgie that had formed gave me an awkward walk. This was exactly the type of neighborhood I’d love to explore, local and not touristy, yet it wan’t the neighborhood I needed at the time to find accommodation.
Demoralized and with thoughts flooding through my head like, “fucking idiot, you should have looked up a hostel first” I sank down onto the gum-covered curb and sulked. And though the sun still cooked me, there was no way I could keep wandering. It had been at least a couple of hours for all I knew, so I plopped down.
Then, before me, I saw something shimmer across the street.
It may have been the heat mixed with the decaying food in the dumpster or that I hadn’t drank water all morning, but it appeared to me — “free Wifi here!” I hadn’t seen a single sign for Wifi around the city yet, but I knew that my laptop had a bit of a charge and possibly my iPad, so I jolted upright and swiftly made my way across the street.
Okay, who am I kidding…
It took about a minute to build up momentum to rock back and forth enough to sit up. To anyone else watching it probably looked like a turtle on its back attempting yoga for the first time. Why I didn’t unstrap it from my back and just stand up will forever be a senseless mystery. Finally upright, I squeezed through the scattered parked cars in the middle of the street over to the small panino shop which potentially held and end to my self-inflicted misery.
But alas, that would not be the end just quite yet, because of course more “excitement” had to be juiced out of the day.
An empty table with an outlet seemed to be waiting just for me to flop into, so I quickly scurried over and took it. As I rummaged through my bag, a sudden fear grasped me — I couldn’t find my European adapter. Of course the waiter approached asking for my order, and in my craze I blurted out “latté” and kept digging. Nearly emptying my entire pack onto the table of this tiny panino shop, I discovered that I must have forgotten the plug adapter in Thailand. When I pulled out my laptop, it was down to almost 15% battery left, and my iPad was at about 3%.
The waiter returned and set down a frothed glass of milk. At that moment, confused, I stopped him and asked if it was coffee. The waiter replied, “you order latté” and shook his head as if to end an argument that had never even begun and walked away. I don’t need to type out the amount of fuckity fucks that flew through my head at that moment as everything was dying and my comfort was a warm milk, so immediately I got to work trying to find hostels nearby.
Dammit man, at least give me some cookies with the milk!
My phone was charging off of my laptop, so as it suckled battery I watched the percentage on my laptop quickly tick down like a time-bomb. As the results came in for the cheapest hostels, it was something new that slapped me in the face. Europe would surely be more expensive than Thailand, though I never expected the cheapest hostel in the city to be 25 euro.
Talk about a different kinda’ culture shock.
But there was no time to waste and I booked it. The life of my laptop and iPad exhausted, so I looked up quick directions on my iPhone to the hostel, and with its measly 8% battery I hauled my packs on, chugged the latté, and went forth — milk mustache and all. Since I had been in such a panic to look up directions, I completely missed the fact that there was a blaring and obvious monument on the way the the metro station I needed to go to. And the fact that “Colosseo Metro” didn’t quite compute at that moment. I reached the bottom of that seemingly endless hill I had been barreling down all day and rounded the corner, where I paused for a moment to get my bearing.
The I noticed something in the distance.
There it was, something I had only seen in books and online, and something I had dreamed of as a little boy to see. Only, I didn’t realize it immediately. The sun was beaming down into my eyes, and below the brim of my hat I could only see the base of a stone structure in the distance. So I tipped the hat up to see what was in the distance, and gazed up and up and up.
Suddenly all of the nonsense of the day was gone: the mocking bead of sweat, the chaffing, the blisters, the wedgies, the sticky shirt, the smelly dumpster I sat by, the spatula terror, the awkward stares, the self pity of being unprepared, and even the warm cookie-less milk all disappeared from my thoughts — I was looking at the Colosseum of Rome.
I stared in awe at the ancient stone structure climbing out of the grounds ahead, and though some may not be impressed by this tourist attraction, I had waited for a very long time for that moment. Nothing could ruin it. Well, for a few seconds at least, until the hawker with some squeaky gelatinous toy shoved it my face with a “5 euro only, come on.”
Truth be told, I was still a quite bit cranky and eager to get the hostel, but before I hopped on the metro I had to get a closer look.
It was as if I was drawn to it, pushing through the throngs of hawkers — the hat guy trying to sell me a hat when I already had one, the creepy faux gladiators wanting me to take selfies with them, the guys trying to sell me silk scarves like I was some sort of hipster, the souvenir guy trying to sell me rocks that he said were pieces of the Colosseum, and even the terribly cheesy floating guy that all easily distracted tourists flocked around.
After admiring it for as long as I could stay upright, I made my way onto the metro and to my hostel. Unlike Thailand, I discovered after the hours of waddling that hostels in Rome aren’t as numerous and way less obvious than some other countries I’ve been to. In Thailand, you toss a Baht in any direction and it will hit a guesthouse. It wouldn’t be until after this ordeal that I realized hostels and guesthouses in Rome are tucked into apartment buildings with the most frustratingly discreet signs, making it nigh impossible to just stumble onto one.
And though my lack of forward thinking and planning before arriving in a completely new country with a vastly different culture sent me on a half-day long miserably mission, seeing the Colosseum made imagination into a reality — and everything else was forgotten.
Oh, and yes, I made up the word frumped =P
Have you ever had an experience like mine from not planning ahead? Tell your fail-tale below!
There is still a bad taste in my mouth. No, it isn’t from the beef on a stick which turned out to be liver that I had eaten for lunch in the market in Mae Sai this day. That bad taste in my mouth was from an experience that happened on my recent visa run in Thailand. An experience that may have very well tainted the country for me and my desire to return to teach English.
Confusion spun in my head, which eventually began to boil into anger. I was standing inside the passport control office in the great blue building — the exit gate of Thailand into Myanmar — and I was being yelled at for no reason obvious to me. The small Thai lady behind the counter had taken my passport, given a quick glance at it, and returned it to me with a stern “No”.
I had no clue why she was barring me from exiting into Myanmar which I had done numerous times before, so of course I asked why.
“Because you no leave. Go!”and she shooed me away with her hand.
So again I pressed for information, politely of course, stating that I had done this previously with no issues.
“New regulations, you no leave. Speak with my boss” she said, while waving over the next person in line. But I wasn’t going to just turn away and retreat without some clear answer as to why I couldn’t do the visa run.
“Okay, where is your boss?” I asked.
“Bangkok. You go speak to him.” she said without even looking up at me.
“What is his phone number?” I asked.
And that is when I got pissed off. After asking for the phone number to her supervisor, a different officer behind her laughed at me. The woman I had been speaking to shook head and said, “No, leave.”
I took a deep breath and a step back so I could see if there would be an issue with anyone else in the line. The next person to approach was a girl from Canada come to find out later. After she handed the same border guard her passport and the woman looked at it, she said the same thing as she did to me.
“No, cannot, new regulations.”
Obviously the girl was just as confused as I was, so she began questioning the reasoning behind this refusal as well. And she had the same luck I did. At this point, a crowd of failed attempts from foreigners trying to either cross into Myanmar or to do a visa run was gathering outside the gate. I was the only United States dude; there were also two Germans, one French, two Dominican Republic, and someone from the United Kingdom. And that Canadian girl now.
“They denied me as well” seemed to be the tune of the morning for everyone, and nobody had any information on why we couldn’t cross the border.
So with a dying phone I began scouring forums and Thailand groups on Facebook with a desperate message of something around the lines of “What the fuck is going on?!” In one group, comments began flooding in about some sort of sudden visa regulation changes that had dropped that very morning without notice.
Apparently the only information was in the form of an article posted in the newspaper, but otherwise there was no prior warning. Rumor and speculation flooded the forums, but it seemed as though visa runs (crossing the border and coming back in for an extension of time) were being axed for people with three previous Thailand stamps in their passport.
As I was giving updates to the group outside the gate, it caused even more confusion. Granted I had done 5 visa runs already, the girl who had approached after me had just flown into Thailand and had never received an exit stamp so that wouldn’t apply. Others were on their first or second stamp as well and were being denied.
Knowing that my bus was going to be leaving in the next hour and that my visa was expiring that very day, I was desperate to figure out the issue. I approached the window again behind an older Quebecois woman who was just being denied through as well. The Thai woman in the window gave her as much explanation as me, so when the woman started complaining about them not telling us more information, a male Thai guard came to the window and with a raised voice said, “No! Go! No visa runs, no visas for you!”
The Quebecois woman was pissed, and responded by saying, “I don’t want to stay anymore, I just want to leave Thailand now because of you, you are being very rude!”
Then the guard got aggressive and got within inches of her face.
“Ok. Thailand not your country. You go back to your country!” he shouted at her. I was shocked, never seeing Thai people be so adamantly rude and unhelpful.
“You wont let me leave!” she retorted, and stormed of after flashing a middle finger.
Knowing that things were getting heated and becoming angry would help nothing, I approached the window sincerely apologizing for the woman’s reaction (though slightly warranted I feel) and pleaded for them to help or explain the situation.
And they ignored me. They wouldn’t even look up at me. Most of the guards in the office were now chatting amongst each other, snickering, and occasionally glancing our way with a smirk.
“Fuck this shit” I said to myself and pushed my way back through the line and out into the gate. Everyone was still gathered outside venting about the whole situation, but it was clear this visa run wasn’t happening for anyone today.
Frustrated beyond belief, I gave up and decided to return to the bus station.
What was the reasoning for this? Why were the border guards, who are normally friendly, being so rude? What the fuck do I do about my visa expiring today?!
Even more so I was pissed at myself for not going with my friend on his border run the day prior — right before this random regulation was placed. But there was no way I could have known these shenanigans were going to take place.
The fact that I had taken the bus 5 hours there, sat at the gate for 2 hours confused, and had to return 5 hours back to Chiang Mai empty-handed added to the frustration of the day as well. I messaged my friend who was living in Thailand with me and told him everything that had happened that day.
“I’m leaving Thailand now. As soon as possible.” I told him.
“Don’t blame ya’ after that, I figured you would.”
My phone died, so I sat for the next 5 hours trying to figure out a plan of execution while fuming with anger.
I had planned on crossing over that day for an extension just until the end of the month, and then I had to leave Thailand to attend a friend’s wedding in Slovakia. I just needed of. And I wouldn’t get it.
What really did it in for me was that since they unexpectedly dropped this new regulation on a Saturday morning, the immigration office was closed until Monday. So even if I was to go get an extension, paying 1,900 baht at the immigration office, I would already owe another 1,000 baht in fines for an overstay.
It seemed to me like it was a planned slight.
Imagine hundreds of people needing to cross for their visa extension that day, just doing something that had been normal to do each month for the past few years, and then being denied. That is at least 1,000 baht per person before they can scramble over to a neighboring country to apply for a visa or apply for an extension at the immigrations office.
All that passed through my head was that, “those fuckers did this on purpose for a quick dollar.”
I can’t personally come up with any justifiable reason why they would drop a swift new regulation without warning on a weekend.
As more information surfaced later that night, it seemed as though the regulations would get even stricter. Soon, starting later that August, they would be barring flying out of the country and back in without acquiring a visa for Thailand in another country preemptively. Making it harder to stay long-term in a country many love.
I spoke to many, many travelers later that night about the slight at hand — about being screwed over last-minute. Some were in the same situation as I was. A small amount of others objected to or dismay, mostly uppity ones on forums who combated everyone’s panic and complaining with thanks and praises for a regulation that would “force out the teachers and freelancers exploiting Thailand’s loopholes“.
Older expats who had Thai wives and had been living there for 10+ years were ridiculing would-be teachers and freelancers for “living off Thailand’s easily avoided immigrant laws” — as if they didn’t fucking come to the country to exploit loopholes. How old was your wife when you found “love” for one another? How many times had you done visa runs?
I didn’t come to exploit anything, but clearly much of the older crowd making this argument had.
A country should accommodate my needs?
Some spoke of tightening regulations for entering the country as just enforcement for long-standing laws. Sure, the standard was that after 3 visa entries you would have to acquire a different type of visa. But what about those forced away while I was there that only had one? And though these regulations, in some form, may have been in place — the norm embraced by Thailand, travelers, Thai merchants, Thai companies, expats, teachers, and the like was the visa run.
Most people living in Thailand and doing visa runs are, from my experience, people who want to stay in Thailand because they love the culture and people. And they spend their money in the country. Freelancers being paid by other countries spend their money IN THAILAND. English teachers, who aren’t talking jobs from Thai people, are spending their paychecks IN THAILAND.
Sure, you might just say, “stop complaining and go the proper route to get a visa” but that isn’t why everyone was pissed. Or why I was pissed. I don’t think for one moment that a country should bend rules or accommodate rules just so I am comfortable. But when I arrived, the regular thing to do was to take visa runs until you got your work permit from a school you are teaching at, or do visa runs while exploring the country until you find a place you would like to settle. Then you can head on over to Laos and try to get a 90 day visa which takes a few days at least.
The reason everyone was pissed was because they established this new regulation without warning, without information, without explanation, and on a weekend while immigration offices were close.
It’s not only foreigners complaining…
Think travelers were the only ones complaining? The Thai apartment building owner my friend rented from saw a mass exodus of travelers who had been renting a room the following day.
“I don’t know what I’ll do…everyone is leaving. I won’t have a business.”
Sure, Thailand businesses may do okay during busy season, but we were entering the slow rainy season, one where most of these businesses are helped by spending from expats, teachers, freelancers or slow travelers staying longer.
How about all of those businesses that relied on the daily flow of packed buses full of travelers on visa runs? Those companies specifically offering visa runs are done for. Also, the shops those vans force you to stop at on visa runs rely on daily flow of backpackers for business.
I even heard about new protests in Bangkok solely about this new regulation. Whether that is true or not, I heard it from a Thai person.
Trust me, it isn’t just “freeloading” backpackers complaining if you decided to call it that, it was a vast majority of Thai people I spoke with confused and angry as well.
Again, I have no worry ever about going through the proper methods to enter and stay in a country, but the way this was executed without warning was something that will leave a mark on me, many travelers in Thailand, and Thai businesses as well.
So, was I really forced out of Thailand?
Yes and no. I was forced to make a quick decision that in no way made it plausible to stay in Thailand. I’m sure whoever “they” are would have loved for me to stay longer and pay more in fines.
I had just over two weeks left in the country before I had to leave. For me to jump over to another country like Laos and apply for a visa would take a few days in addition to costs of the application, transportation, and accommodation. I would have already been at a loss of 1,000 baht ($30 which is a lot for a backpacker) and I would be paying for a 90 day visa only to return to the country for a couple of weeks. It didn’t make sense to me.
I know that the gate I was attempting to cross through was a trading post and not actually a border crossing. From there, without being able to re-enter Thailand, you would be stuck. It is basically for good and Visa runs. But I had heard this was the story at most borders around Thailand, be it one for visa runs or not.
And the longer I stayed, the more money I’d be fined.
Why not move on to another Southeast Asian country?
According to the border guards, I had to fly out since my visa expires and the regulation restricted me from crossing by land. So, to spend $50-$100 on a last-minute flight to another country close by, then to spend $700-$800 last minute to fly to Slovakia, would be a waste of money on flights.
Instead, I decided it was just my time to leave Thailand and Southeast Asia (for now) and just take an earlier flight into Europe. My accommodation and daily living costs may be more expensive, but at this point I just wanted to get away from Thailand unfortunately. And though I had been planning to go to Slovakia, the plans changed again.
Knowing each day I stayed in Thailand would be another $15 tacked on to my fine, I took the next bus down to Bangkok to fly out the following day. I switched my plan to fly to Slovakia because I found a cheaper flight last-minute to Italy ($500) and I also had a voucher worth $250 with a flight booking company that I could use. Taking that cheaper flight to Italy, I could finally live out a childhood dream as well, and then take a budget flight for $50 to Slovakia for the wedding at a later date.
Expenses wise, it would obviously be more expensive in Italy than it would be to stay in Southeast Asia, but with the turn of events and how it played out with flights, it seemed as though the travel Gods were telling me it was finally time to visit the country I always yearned to see. Fernweh was pulling me — that longing for a place you have never been — and it was pulling me to Italy.
I had spent 6 months in Thailand setting up roots for myself to teach English after the wedding…roots that would have given me the proper visa to stay long-term, but the experience at the border and the way the new regulations were handled really pushed me away. And it is a shame. I really love Thailand. But seriously, from my local friends, Thai merchants and business owners I know, and backpackers around the Land of Smiles — someone fucked up with this.
Will I ever return?
I think there is a good possibility that I could return. After all, I never did explore much of the southern islands. But to live long-term and teach English there after this experience? Before flying out I had to pay 2,000 baht ($60) in fines to someone at the airport that had a quick chuckle after saying, “oooh, overstayed? Not good”. I can’t say for sure, but it Thailand isn’t on my radar anymore to live in.
*UPDATE* I have heard whisperings that Thailand has returned the policy back to the way it was. Still hasn’t changed how I feel about the experience.