Posts tagged Personal

I Lost 20lbs in India and almost Hospitalized: Why You Should Watch What You Eat When Traveling.

Traveling isn’t always frolicking through fields in the Italian countryside, or living out childhood fantasies exploring ancient ruins like Indian Jones or Lara Croft. And though it would be nice if life always involved fried cheese and beer in Prague — life on the road isn’t always fine and dandy. Actually, I will rephrase that — life on the road can be much more challenging than sedentary life in your comfort zone. Which makes sense, because of course you chose to break out of your cushy comfort zone to explore the world, taste exotic flavors, and conquer your fears.

Stress like running late to work because you had to wait in line longer at Starbucks for that “half-soy-mocha-cino-latte-extra-hot-light-froth-2.75-caramel-squirts-dusted-lightly-with-pumpkin-spice” becomes waddle-running to catch an overflowing Indian train with 50 kilos strapped onto your stomach and back like a pregnant tyrannosaurs rex. Yeah, it’s exactly what you just pictured, and if you’re a traveler, you know that run well.

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It’s the stress of trip planning and trying to make your planes and trains and buses on time. It’s arriving a your destination after 14hrs under the sweaty armpit of your seat mate in a cramped van to find out there is no more accommodation available. It’s trying to do everything you can to have the energy and confidence to make new friends in a strange new place when you’re completely exhausted. It’s not letting tempers fly when you don’t have it in you to deal with the throngs of people demanding to take a photo with you and their whole extended family. One by one. It’s a lot more than that, and it adds up. But that is why nomadic-hearted people like us do it. Not because we like smelling of that seat mate’s armpit or wearing the same clothing for a week. It’s because there is freedom of exploration of ourselves and the world that takes effort to do, and easy doesn’t pay out life experiences. Challenges do.

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Yet, there is a whole different side to travel challenges and life on the road that most don’t talk about.

What about your body staying healthy on the road?

What about our bodies combating fluctuating types of new foods in varying states of cleanliness? Or our erratic diets of beer drinking and fried street foods? What about when we fall seriously ill in a foreign country?

This is something that isn’t brought up much because of course it’s not Buzzfeed worthy or inclusive of “The 10 Best Beaches“. Unless of course it’s some new strain of plague threatening our existence. But failing health is the reason I have been absent on social media and the blog ever since leaving India 3 months earlier.

I got severely ill, and my health was fast deteriorating.

After our team completed the Rickshaw Run and survived the mayhem that it involved, my health was already at a very low. At that point, I had dropped 4 pant sized and was poking crude holes in my belt to hold up my pants. None of my clothes fit, and my normal small but broad build was wiry and weak. There had been many bouts of extreme dehydration while on the race (which I will be going into in a post soon) and stomach illnesses that added to it, but I had also not been getting the proper amount of nutrition that my body was used to or needed.

It wasn’t just Delhi Belly as everyone claims. It was the severe dehydration making me not keep anything down and wreaking havoc on my digestive system. And eating street stall Indian food, as tasty as it was, usually lacked anything more than a couple of pieces of potato and carrots. Added to that, my immune system was weakened and for most of the trip I had cold like symptoms.

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Lots of bread and soup, roti and curry, but little veggies. And “green salads” were oddly enough just a few slices of onion and tomato.

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By the time I got to Australia, I had gone from a 32/34 waist size to a 26 waist, and from 155lbs (70 kilos) to 135lbs (61 kilos).

You’d think that eating so much fried food and bread would fatten me up! But I could barely stomach meals halfway through the race.

Once the finish line was crossed and we went our separate ways, I kept traveling around India for a bit going from Darjeeling to Kolkata to Goa. During this time I attempted to recover with a normal eating habit, but no matter what I did, it didn’t seem to help. I was still having stomach issues, even when I cut out all meats and mainly ate rice. I was feverish with hot and cold sweats, and a constant dizziness. When I made it to Goa, I even stayed at an ayurvedic resort paying more than I have for a room in a long time thinking the diet and environment may help. I tried to do some running, meditation, and yoga to get the blood pumping and give me some energy. Didn’t work. Then I sat in a beach chair for weeks relaxing and eating and trying to regain my energy. It helped slightly, but I was still feeling zombie-like mentally and physically from the race.

Western food is what I needed surely. Big meals with lots of extra grub. My stomach was this empty pit and I needed to fill it. I needed to regain that weight fast.

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The moment I got to Australia, I went on a binge. I over-ate daily with massive meals of burgers and fries and pizzas. I thought that by consuming a lot, and consuming a lot of foods I ate stateside, it would balance out my falling weight and finally give me some energy back. I was eating my greens as well, but I was also inhaling McDonald’s at an alarming rate. I couldn’t quell the cravings.

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That had the reverse effect. Obviously.

Migraines lasted 24 hours and were debilitating. If I wasn’t passing out resumés for work, I was laying in bed not able to muster the strength to get up and do anything. I slept majority of my time the first month in Melbourne. And my immune system was rock bottom, leaving me with flu-like symptoms and weak and achy muscles. I couldn’t think straight and my coordination was off. I couldn’t ever eat much, but I was always painfully hungry.

Something was very wrong, and my body was shutting down. 

I consider myself a healthy traveler overall. I’m always active and exploring, and though I love to chow down on the street foods around the world, I also make sure to eat plenty of fruit and drink plenty of water as well. Ya’ know, the good stuff. And when I can, I eat tons of vegetables, which I normally do in “every day” life as well. But sometimes, you just can’t get that good stuff. And more than any trip I have taken I found it harder to eat healthy while on the Rickshaw Run across India. In a photo post of the Rickshaw Run I showed the mayhem and madness that took place and how driving across India was no easy feat, most of the time not even a difficult feat, but more like an impossible feat that we got through by a lot of luck we chased out on that journey.

And through all the harrowing moments, the thing that defeated me was food. While driving 2,000km across rugged northern India, there aren’t many places to stop along the road for a big ole’ green salad. Manly, the street stalls served up fried samosas and various curries with rice. Though incredibly tasty, not nutritious.

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It was when I arrived in Australia that the real problems began.   

For the first month or so I ate terrible here in Melbourne. And with those migraines and stomach issues and weakness worsening, I sought out some help. Since I don’t have travel healthcare (I know, I should) I rarely visit a clinic unless it’s dire. Last time I was in a hospital was, coincidentally, for a stomach virus I got in Thailand after Songkran over a year ago. And in Australia, it isn’t just a handful of change to visit a doctor or a stroll into the chemist for them to give you antibiotics. It costs a few hundred dollars. I couldn’t wait any longer, and I couldn’t deal with the state I was in. The nutritionist found that my body was extremely low on most important vitamins and nutrients and the doctor gave me an antibiotic for my stomach. But the nutritionist told me I seriously needed to completely change my diet to get everything back to normal.

How do I repair the damage? Start from scratch.

Since it was painful to eat anything, I had to start from the bottom and work my way back up. For the first week, I drank only blended smoothies of kale, beetroot, carrot, ginger, bananas, spinach, and various other vegetables high in vitamins and iron or easy on the stomach. Even just a week of that I noticed the headaches were going away and I had a bit more energy.

After that first week, I did only smoothies 3 times a day, and raw vegetables 3 times a day for another week. It was hard at first trying to find time to keep this strict regiment given that I had just started working at the hostel reception and found a restaurant gig, but I had to do it.

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After two weeks of this raw diet, I noticed a drastic difference.

I wasn’t experiencing pain in my stomach and I wasn’t having headaches. But I still had to keep at it. After the first week of smoothies and the second with raw vegetables, I would only eat vegan and strayed away from gluten, dairy, rice, and pasta for the next month. Those foods were just too hard for me to digest, and I always noticed a tinge of pain or discomfort when trying to eat it, so I cut it out.

It wasn’t at all as strict and torturous as that might seem. 

The best thing about this super strict diet, besides feeling healthier of course, was that I was getting super creative with cooking. I began learning how to make things other than instant noodles and hostel spaghetti! I was making zucchini “pasta” and vegan gluten-free tacos. I made of recipes for veggie nori (seaweed) rolls. And all the while I was feeling amazing.

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A month and a half later I had gained back weight, energy, and focus.

I started doing ghetto backpacker workouts in my room using my bag and whatever I could find. I had energy again to get out of bed early. I had created a routine and habit of eating clean and healthy and I really wasn’t missing much of the baked goods or meats. But I will say, I always miss cheese. Throughout the second month, I began trickling in breads and dairy one day a week, which I deemed a “cheat day” to start getting my body used to processing them again. But even on cheat days I found myself craving the good stuff. This diet that I was forced into had completely changed my tastebuds and cravings. I have never liked avocado or coconut or mushrooms and other foods like them, but I began to love them. I was exploring cooking with what would have previously been crazy combinations, but now it was normal and delicious.

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Three months into my year visa in Australia and I am back on my feet. It took a little over two months of strict eating to get back to 100% but I am happy to say that I am healthy again.

It was also spiritually taxing in it all as well, given that I am a creative person and I just didn’t have the energy to write on the blog and post stories from the Rickshaw Run or how life in Melbourne was. But now I do. It’s great to be back on the keyboard typing away, and reviewing the insane footage we got from the race that I have yet to post. But with my spirit and energy back to normal, and my strength, it’ll be fun editing these into videos.

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I’m a bit of a green fiend now. Due to the recovery being from eating clean and green, I will most likely be sticking to this vegetarian diet for a while. Who knows, I may just go vegan, because I never feel unhealthy eating this way. And though I can’t help salivate over a juicy burger or pulled pork sandwich or giant rolls of cheese, when it comes to actually wanting it over what I’m eating now — I’m don’t have an urge to.

This health scare taught me a vital lesson as well about traveling. In every country I go to, there are always mouth-watering local cuisines and it’s easy to get swept up in devouring street foods and drinking booze nightly with new friends. But you have to remember at the same time that you have to still give your body what it needs to be healthy as well — especially when on the road.

Hydrate all day. Get bright-colored fruits and veggies in you when possible. And if you have something physically taxing like a trek the next day or even exploring under the hot sun, hold back on the booze. Because eventually it adds up, and your body will take you for a tumble with it like it did to me.

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It took me two months to recover fully, and during that time I had to focus on myself solely, which is why I haven’t been present on social media or the blog and sharing all I have been up to. I apologize for the disappearing act, and not holding to the promise of releasing Rickshaw Run videos. But now you will be seeing plenty more content coming the next few weeks as I play catch-up with the post-Rickshaw Run stories and videos, as well as delving in what it’s been like settling into Australia for a year.

Also, along with that, I will be starting a new series of blog posts and videos called “Road Warrior” which will be focusing on easy ways to stay healthy and fit while traveling!

I’ve got to say, I have some exciting news coming soon, so make sure to check back Lost Ones, and thank you as always for coming along the journey.

In this article I talk a lot about the state on my health because of what I was eating in India, but don’t think for a second that I didn’t like Indian food. Cultures around the world have adapted to certain diets and ways of eating based on what is available or traditional, but as travelers sometimes these foods don’t play nice with us. For example, in Haiti my Haitian friends can go days just drinking sodas, while it was a struggle for me to go even a few hours without water. Also, given that we were on the Rickshaw Run constantly driving and stopping off briefly, our food choices were always highly restricted to grab and go stuff. And though most of my trip in India I noticed that much of the food lacks in quantity of vegetables, it’s still all worth eating. Just remember to also stop and grab fruits or veggies when you see a produce stand!

Have you ever fallen ill on the road? How do you stay healthy while traveling?

Why I suddenly returned to the US early after 8 months of travel.

Photo Jul 17, 3 30 37 PM

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.

Teaching English

(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.

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(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.

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(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.

Me in Ponza, Italy

(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.

Campo Dalto Picadillo Theater I slept above.

(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.

Yes, the theater came with lingerie clad ladies...

(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.

We are dreamers too

(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.

Mistakes quote by Oscar Wilde

(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.

Quote about failure

(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.

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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.

Everyday is a journey

 

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.

Travel quote by Robert Louis Stevenson

 

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.

dream on

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

 

A dwindling travel budget and fear of failure.

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Something haunts me as the thunder rumbles deep outside. Lightning streaks across the sky every so often, white-washing the rolling grey clouds like the flash of a camera. The pouring rains rat-ta-tat-tats on the rooftop and weeps down the window front — headlights and tail lights from passing traffic shimmer across that waterfall before me, creating a kaleidoscope-like obscura.

Something else, less literal, hangs dark and foreboding above my head. A cloud looms over me, darkening my mood. It is fear. A creeping fear. The type of fear that waits for the right moment to drill into your brain and tighten more and more. Each time it tightens on your mind, it strips away confidence and positive thinking and replaces with the soul-destroying “what ifs” that fester in the darkest parts of your mind.

Things that you subconsciously create to hold you back.

That fear has caused me to gnaw off my fingernails, and to lay awake at night trying to find distraction from swimming in this melancholy the past few days. Struggling to keep my head above the waters so not to drown in despair.

It is the sudden fear of a dwindling budget.

And I am sure many travelers at some point during their journeys finds themselves looking up above to see that darkness following them. That pressure weighing down on you.

When I first left the United States again to embark on this new and exciting road, I knew what mistakes I had made in the past that cut my trip short.

My year-long escape in New Zealand was cut short when I found myself dumbfounded that my bank account showed $25 as my balance. I had completely run out of money without even realizing it and didn’t even have a flight booked home. Luckily I was able to use $20 of that for a bus ticket to a kiwi picking town in the south, as well as charity from family and friends to keep me afloat until I got a paycheck. After a few months of working in a factory 13 hours a day, I had saved up a little money, and with that I decided to return home and reset. Return home to work again for the next adventure.

I vowed never to make that mistake again.

Yet, here I am haunted by that fear. Not because I have $25 left to my name — after nearly 6 months abroad I still have close to half of my original budget. But at the same time I have no income flowing to my bank account.

One of my goals coming to Thailand was to hit the ground running and to teach English here, guaranteeing me an income and prolonging my budget. And, though I have yet to start teaching, I did not abandon that goal fully. In February I took a TEFL/TESOL course and received my English teaching certificate which unlocks many doors and many ways to sustain traveling. But when I received the certificate, the end of the school year was wrapping up. Though I could have searched for teaching opportunities, it was not practical seeing that I would be coming on board a month before school let out.

So I decided to wait.

All the while I watched my budget dip lower and lower.

Seeing red rising.

I have been pretty conscious of my spending each month. The past couple of months I have managed to keep my budget under $30 a day, some days even as low as $10. So I’m not frolicking about throwing around Thai baht like I’m rich, that’s for sure.

Tracking your spending has it’s downsides though. Obviously I don’t want to be oblivious about where my money is going and how I am spending. But tracking every penny that gets used and having no income adding back to your budget is just watching it slowly disappear. Almost like watching the sand in an hourglass trickle down ever so slowly until time is up. Constantly imputing red mark after red mark. And if you let it, and can become and obsession and a fear.

And that is what has happened the past few days.

On my most recent travel newsletter I discussed this sudden fear gripping me — fear that I would run out of money again even though I am not necessarily close to doing so yet. And this feeling seemed to grow in intensity after I decided to temporarily abandon the English teaching goal in favor of my one true goal.

Finally pursuing freelance writing.

My ultimate goal when I left stateside was to find the time I needed — no, to make the time I need — to pursue freelance writing outlets and to focus on furthering my travel blog.

Except the past couple of months while doing my TEFL training and afterward, I barely wrote any articles. I was caught up with the classes or feeling burnt out and lazily lying around my apartment. I realized that, just like back in the United States, I was letting things distract me from focusing on that main goal.

So dived back in head on.

The past couple of weeks I have felt a fury inside of me for writing. It seemed as though I finally found my mojo rejuvenated and the creative juices flowing. I haven’t been able to pull away from the keyboard, and the only thing that really does is when I need to either tinkle or when I start passing out on my laptop. Sometimes food. I’ve slurped down uncountable amounts of coffee. Café dweller could be a nickname, because it hasn’t been uncommon for me to spend 10-14 hours a day writing or scouring the web for freelance opportunities.

And even though I am in a foreign country and spending my days as of late sitting in a café, my mindset is that the hard work will pay off if I keep focusing on the goal and putting forth all of my energy.

But, like the budgeting downside, that also had an opposite effect as well.

The number of emails I have sent out to companies to write for has been in the hundreds. Every freelance travel writing opportunity that has reared its prospective head, I’ve zeroed in on. The problem is, I haven’t received many responses back. And the responses that I have, the companies aren’t actively looking to bring more writers on board.

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I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Passionate endeavors rarely are. I know that freelancing is like a war zone and you’ve gotta’ fight for opportunities. Or it is who you know. Yet I was finally giving it my all and receiving nothing back. It was demoralizing. I know I can’t expect instant payoff, but I couldn’t shake it off. And as much as I kept telling myself, “it’ll be fine, just keep pushing” the fear of failure was beginning to take hold.

What if I wasn’t good enough? What if they don’t like my writing? What if I can’t find any work and have to give up? What if I have to return home?

That damned phrase “what if” — something I’ve tried to eradicate from my vocabulary — was suddenly grasping my spirit with a death grip. I was beginning to think that maybe I should just give up the hunt for now and take the “easy” route by teaching. Not that teaching English is remotely easy, but it would almost be a guaranteed gig.

Surely I could teach and write? Well, if I did that then I would be focusing most of my time and energy to something else. Again I would be getting further and further behind on my main goal. I’d be supplementing the fear of failure or running out of money with a guarantee. A safer bet.

It’s a sick cycle.

I had been raised in a family where my father was a conservative and headstrong realist. He knew the hardships of life well, and though I do not know what his pursuit of happiness may have been once upon a time, I know that he ended up taking the guaranteed route. Throughout my childhood and into adulthood, he would constantly tell me when I had a lofty dream that it was nonsense. He would tell me to “get your head out of the clouds“. He would emphasize that it would be too high of a ladder to climb.

I used to despise the way he would crush any dream I had that wasn’t a “normal job“. These days I don’t blame him though. Life was hard and we struggled to get by. Maybe he knew how it felt to pursue a dream and have reality slap him across the face. Possibly he knew the effects of a failed attempt at something different, and he just wanted to protect me from that hurt. Maybe one too many failed attempts at it broke his spirit.

But I didn’t face other fears and other “what if” worries to leave the United States for nothing.

So how the hell do you beat this fear? 

That fear is the reflection of your own ultimate being. When you sit there daydreaming, envisioning this person that you want to be doing all of these spectacular things you want to do, what happens? You see yourself as this unreachable entity that far surpasses the limits you have mentally imposed. Suddenly, fear crawls across your skin and you feel like cowering away from what you saw. Cowering from your own greatness.

As that fear takes hold, you may instantly deem it as some crazy idea or unattainable goal. But what you saw — that is the person you are meant to be. That fear that you experience when you see yourself doing something amazing; a slight tingle in the back of your neck and maybe even causing your heart to beat faster — that is the test. Fear of risks stems from fear of something great inside you. That is the a challenge to your fortitude to see if you want it badly enough to face the fear. The fear of failure. The fear of trying out that wild dream you have, but going into it already telling yourself you won’t make it.

Don’t let fear beat you, because on the other side of that fear, is who you are meant to be. And only you can beat it.

It’s full steam ahead now.

I am tired of constantly beginning to pursue my passion only to allow fear to make me turn back and do something safer. I’m tired of thinking I have to do something else to be able to keep inching toward it. The truth is if I focus on it fully, I can gain much more traction.

Though I have been feeling demoralized lately, by writing about this fear that has been haunting me, it has actually helped refocus my mind.

There was also a good opportunity that came my way from the recent writing blitzkrieg I’ve been on. Opportunities I wouldn’t be able to take advantage of if I was focusing on other things. Hipmunk, a nifty flight booking company, has recently asked me to be one of their “destination experts” to create content for their website. And I am super stoked. Though it won’t pay all of the bills, it is a small start to being able to sustain my travels with my writing.

So I will keep at it.

I will keep working hard and even though that fear will surely creep up on me, I will not let it destroy my confidence. I know my goals and I know my self-worth and I know I can do this. And even with my budget dipping lower, I cannot let that stop me from moving forward. I will not be afraid of failure. Because through trial and error you can fail a thousand times, but if you keep at it, eventually you will succeed.

You can only be a failure if you quit.

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What is your greatest fear while traveling? Have you ever felt this way?


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To travelers detached from family — Will we ever fit in?

sunset-salton-sea

Easter has come and gone. Just another western holiday forgotten. Before that, Christmas came and went. Before Christmas, there was Thanksgiving that went by without notice. And at the beginning of this trip, my birthday was gone before I knew it.

Most individuals of the traveler breed began traveling for a few main reasons; some vague calling, some draw from a mysterious thing, some hope of adventure, some desire to discover culture, some to discover themselves, or some because they were just fed up with their old life. Reasons can expand infinitely into the horizon of why one travels, but these are the main examples I hear from most wayward wanderers.

An overarching theme seems to come down to one point — people who are travelers deep down just don’t want to have to wash their clothes as often.

Okay, that is not the true conclusion I came to, but that definitely is something I see (and smell) often. You know who you are smell testers. I’m one too.

No, it seems like a constant with most travelers is the feeling that they just don’t fit in.

Or I should say we, because I’m sitting here in another country as well pondering the same damn thing.

Whether it be a job, or a city, or a lifestyle, or society — all seemed like they were square blocks trying to be slammed by an angry baby into a round hole.

And yet, down the road I talk to many travelers who catch the dreaded “homesickness”. Everybody is on a high cloud nine where they jet set out for that first time, gung-ho about breaking away and never going back. Then, something begins creeping into your brain. There is usually a point that hits where you go, “fuck, I miss my family and friends”. Most likely this happens when a holiday from home rolls around, or when new travel compadres part ways. It’s okay to admit this. Even the most hardcore traveler can miss something from home.

When this happens, there is suddenly a small sense of loneliness where your mind wanders back to the familiar things — the places we grew up, old family gatherings you hated at the time but would kill for now, that bed that will forever be your bed and the best fucking bed that ever existed.

never thought this would happen to me.

I’ve come to realize a few things after traveling for a year in New Zealand, and especially now while living in Thailand during key holidays back home. Big holidays usually spent with family and friends like Christmas and Easter kind of just…come and go almost without notice while traveling. At least for me. I forget what day it is, now that most days are spent on the move or writing. I completely forget upcoming holidays usually due to the fact that I don’t have a job reminding me of it everyday.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that during the times when I do remember — it makes me miss home and miss family even more.

And not just the house with the yellow asbestos shingles and brown shudders I grew up in. I grew up in many houses — friends and families who took me in throughout my childhood and into my adulthood because I needed it. The families which I would spend weeks on end with sometimes because I didn’t want to be at my actual home. Holidays, summers, birthdays, it didn’t matter.

Yet, even with all of this, I still didn’t feel like I fit in.

Then something strange occurs. When some of us return home from a trip, we are drastically different, and though you are excited to see family and friends, soon you get that feeling that you don’t belong there. You have changed. Everything else has not.

When I was a wee lad, my mom and pop would always take the family to one of our aunt or uncle’s houses to celebrate Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or Easter. And during those holidays I really didn’t care to much to be involved in any of it. I wanted to run outside or play while they all watched football, drank, and chatted. I guess I was a tad bit introverted, but at the same time I felt a little out of place and I could never explain why.

In my head I was always immersed in my “pointless imagination” as my father called it. I was always escaping even when I was physically present.

Once I got old enough to work, my family was more of a functioning cog; each person had a job and duties and outside obligations or lives. My father, my brother, and I would rarely eat dinners together. On occasion I would be able to go and visit my mother, but she always had to work two jobs to survive which left me usually laying around at her apartment. Between my father, my brother, and I, just normal conversations with each other didn’t happen much. We each worked and we each came home and we each would go to our “spot”.

My father would occasionally share stories of mischief he had caused or something when I was younger. My mother would share little things on occasion as well, but usually things that weren’t very important. In reality, my parents were people I had known all my life, and yet I don’t know anything about them. The whole family thing was of course a strong bond, but in everyday life there wasn’t much of being a family.

After my father passed and it was just my brother and I, we would do a dinner at Hooters on Christmas, but the majority of the time I spent holidays with my other families; those families that had lived across the street from my house, or down the street from my house, or behind my house. They had all been an integral part of my life. They still are now.

I spent Christmas and other holidays with them, and they would treat me no less than a son. I would enjoy being around them, and I would smile and have a good time, but for some reason I always felt out-of-place there as well. And though I love them as my own family, I couldn’t ever shake that feeling for some reason.

The same happens with my aunt and uncle. I look forward to each time that I can see them. When I do see them, I really enjoy it, but sometimes I still get that underlying feeling. I know I belong there. They have also done so much for my brother and I after the death of our father that I could never thank them enough. And I love them immensely.

Was it envy?

I still have that feeling of not fitting in sometimes. It’s as if I am false. I want to jump in and be engaged and be a part of the conversations and the family stuff. I just don’t have a clue how to show or express it. I know what it means to be family and have those strong bonds, yet I don’t know how to be a part of a family and truly show it.

I used to think it was envy. I used to think about why I just couldn’t shake that outsider feeling. I used to think that I envied how close or happy or connected their family and other people’s families were. I knew that once we left their house on holidays, or once I left a friend’s house, I would go home with my brother and my father and it would be back into the grind. My brother and father weren’t to blame, it was just the normal thing for all of us to be separate in the same house.

Envy wasn’t it. Maybe a small piece, but not the deep down reason. It’s crossed my head often lately and after talking with friends about it, I may have discovered another clue.

I don’t know how to be a functional piece of a family.

Though me and my brother’s relationship has become dramatically better, when we were in our teens the family was very one way. We wouldn’t eat breakfast or dinner together. When we’d ask the obligatory question of “how was your day” each of us would respond, “good” or “sucked” and go into our personal spaces.

When around other friends families or other parts of my own family, I just don’t know what to do. I want it dearly to come natural but I sit or stand there separated and have no clue how just to be a part of it. Because we never did that. It makes me uncomfortable. I feel awkward and unsure. Not unsure that they are all family, just not sure what the hell to do. How to be a family member.

It just wasn’t how I grew up, that aspect wasn’t there because my father had to support us and my brother worked since he was fourteen. It was just life as we knew it. And the fact that I don’t know how to be an active family member has taken a toll on a lot of close family relationships or families that were like my own. I just don’t know how to be. And it’s so frustrating.

But traveling and being on the road now makes me yearn for it. For all of those times I missed out on the connection of family and love because I was too nervous or silly or whatever this feeling is. Too nervous and unsure to open up.

Can travelers fit in? Can I?

Some travelers don’t have this issue at all. If not, then I am so very happy for you. Now leave. Just kidding, but it is a great thing when your life and your family and friends just click right. That doesn’t happen to all of us.

I do know one thing though, I miss all of my family and friends on these days now more than ever, and I would truly love to give being a functional family member a shot, however rocky it may be for my emotional state to jump right in.

Not for anything except for the fact that it is important to me. I missed out on that connection for too long, and pushed it away after that. They are all family whether blood or not.

I know us travelers have reasons why we travel and many of us feel as if we just don’t fit in back home. You want to escape so badly that you up and leave everything behind.

Except there is always one thing that we will always be a part of, something you should never run away from — family and friends. Even if we may not fit in perfectly.

However misunderstood the travel lifestyle may be to them or however much they are against it, they will always be family. Your friends that you can’t keep up with on a daily basis because you are globe-frolicking, they’ll be there too. There might be Grannie Marge that likes to knit unicorns and says cuss words more than a sailor, or Uncle Danny that enjoys a few too many beers and likes to scream about politics, or maybe your older brother or sister that thinks it is utterly irresponsible for you not to have a stable job and bitches about it constantly. But then they spend thousands of dollars on a television.

Then there is you.

You. Yeah you. Amongst that crowd of strangelings, the people you think you are so different and will never understand you, you’re the one who sold everything to live in 12 bed hostels and wear the same shirt three days in a row. Who’s strange now?

You don’t have to worry about trying to fit in, you may never come to an agreement or an understanding. Family and friends may never get why you want to do what you’re doing. The same reason why you don’t get why they are doing what they do.

The bottom line: All you have to do is to be family. Accept it.

I don’t think I’ll ever fit into a normal career job since my mind will always be pulled aloft to far away places, but I do know that I want to make more of an effort to be a part of people’s lives that mean something to me.

And I’m trying to learn how to do this. Well, actually how to allow myself to.

Even though families can be arduous or dysfunctional or annoying or chaotic or bat-shit crazy, don’t forget while on the road after leaving everything behind that there is still something back home that is a part of you forever.

I’ve made myself a loner for too long, and though I’ve always felt like I didn’t fit in, fuck it. Because this is what matters…

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Have you ever missed home, and then returned to find yourself feeling out of place?

 

#TEFL Training Update and an Open Apology to You — the Readers.

Dear Live Gnarly Army,

 

I wanted to send out a digital postcard today to apologize to you my friends and readers of this blog. This article touches mainly upon last week’s newsletter which was the first I’ve sent out in over a month — the last one being around New Years. That newsletter stated goals I wanted to accomplish; writing much more often on the blog, keeping up this newsletter on a weekly basis, and starting my book which I hope to publish this year.

It also touches upon some recent lack of follow-through with things.

These are all goals I have epically failed to keep up with the last couple months.

And it turns out…blogging and life on the road is quite the balancing act.

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Though I don’t consider this blog an obligation to anyone or anything (that is reserved for rubbish jobs I disdain) I do consider it a privilege and an enjoyment to have you all reading the blog and following my trusty chucks.

So, as I stated above, I wanted to say I am sorry for breaking promises for the newsletter and the blog itself.

Many times I have such intense and passionate goals for this blog that they often exceed my ability to keep up with it all — and the past couple months I have taken on a few other endeavors that have proved it impossible to do it all.

Within the first month of arriving in Thailand, my Macbook Pro bit the dust. It  died a mysterious fuzzy green death. After sending it back to the United States for repair, a friend who recently moved here brought it back to me. I was ecstatic at the prospect of being able to write on an actually keyboard and to get caught up with blogging. But, not a week after receiving it back repaired, yet another thing broke on it (it is 5 years old and well-traveled after all).

So, I found an authorized repair shop and waited another month to receive it back.

A screen replacement and new wifi card later and I am happy to say it is more alive than ever!

Also, this month I began my TEFL training to become certified as an english teacher abroad. Though proved to be an amazing experience and more beneficial than I expected, it was also an intense and grueling month.

After a 3 hour-long written test last week, 160 hours of in-class training, and 8 live teacher assessments where we were had to teach our first 2 classes in the first week, I have officially become certified to teach English abroad! Chalk that up with nightly homework and planning lessons for the next day and hopefully you can begin to understand my lack of ability to keep up.

But it has also been killing my conscience knowing that I’ve stated things that I haven’t followed through with.

One such newsletter reader sent an email that borderline attacked my character; accusing me of only sending my newsletter to certain followers of the blog and certain races. Now, however drastic and untrue that is, that feeling was somewhat triggered by me stating a newsletter was going out and it never did. So promising that a newsletter was going out and not having it actually be sent, in whatever way, caused an angry emotion from them because they thought they were being discriminated.

And that is something I will never, ever, EVER do.

Even though their email had no basis of truth, it did affect me and made me realize that I wasn’t committing to something that I am passionate about — consistency, follow through, and dedication.

On top of this, I also promised to pick a newsletter reader to send a postcard and a Polaroid photo to each month, but I’ve only managed to send out one.

After getting to Thailand, the humidity and heat turned out to be an enemy of the old-school Polaroid film my camera uses, and now none of it will produce a photo. So, until I find some places that sell it, I have been putting that off as well.

With all of this, I will say that the TEFL training course took priority over everything. Not just because I had to pay for tuition, but also because teaching and public speaking is something I want to do in the future and I put all of my heart into it these past few weeks.

To come into a strange new experience like teaching English was something that took nearly two weeks to get adjusted to. Top that off with not being in a school or classroom type of environment where I had to juggle homework and classroom learning and I was completely drowning in the workload. And even coming into that last week of training still got the occasional heebie-jeebies about being in front of a class.

But, I will say — seeing those students get excited and engaged in the lesson I’m teaching, and seeing them laugh and have a blast with the lesson and games that I’ve been stressing to come up with is so damn fulfilling.

Now that my training has ended, I feel more confident and excited than ever to start teaching around the world and hopefully making an impact in students lives. It is important for myself to not become burned out; all month I’ve been edgy and a bit disconnected because I’ve been quite exhausted from the course, which is why I hadn’t posted anything new all month on the blog.

Now that I’m done with the classes I’ll be taking that week after to relax, find where my brain has run off to, and recover my mojo for writing and getting back into the groove for this blog!

Though I’m behind quite a bit, I do have some exciting stories to share from exploring the north of Thailand, especially from my new favorite place Pai! And even with the stories I still have hundreds of gigabytes of footage to put into videos. I’m looking forward to having time in the day to sit down and share these stories with you.

I’m trying to de-frazzle my brain and to juice up the creativity again, and though it may take a little time, I’ll be back to share more travel stories soon.

I hope that you’ll stick around and keep following!

Thank you again for continuing to follow my story friends. As always, happy travels, dream on, and live gnarly!

Want to see some action from my month in TEFL  training? I give you “Teacher Ryan!”

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Showing the students about a classroom game.

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My relay race I came up with, “Build your robot” and the competition was fierce!

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A “Shrek” themed relay race I planned to use in class to teach the students words of movement.

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A warm up I did at one class to break the ice with a quiet class. What did I do? I made them do the “Come on now, SHOUT!” dance. It worked.

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Teaching word stress at an outdoor class.

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After a long month it was official.

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I graduated!

Something on Koh Phi Phi in Thailand brought me to Tears.

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[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hatever you want to call them; Ghosts or spirits or just hopeful nostalgia playing mind games with a person who yearns for a long gone sentimental period in life — I’ve experienced something multiple times throughout my life.

Something otherworldly. Something I couldn’t quite see or touch, but something I could feel in the pit of my stomach or on the hairs of my neck that stand at attention.

Thousands of miles away from any semblance of scar or soul searing experience from my past, they still found me on the Island of Koh Phi Phi in Thailand.

It used to frighten me much more than it did that Christmas in Thailand. It would usually send goosebumps crawling over my skin and my heart would pound against my rib cage the speed of a machine gun.

Most of the time you cannot see these wisps of residual energy left to frolic about between worlds, or those intelligent enough to taunt and torment the living. And that is terrifying. When you hear a voice as silent as a small breeze, or when you hear a creak in the floor boards as if they creep up on you, or when you catch the last instance of a shadow before it retreats into the darkness.

At those very instances it is nigh impossible to keep hold of your wits and senses because the concept of ghosts elude reality.

The first experience with a ghost would cause me to cower and weep. The second would provide a small insight and re-assurance. But more confusion.

[highlight]This time…it brought me to tears.[/highlight]

It was December 25th. High above the tourist ransacked town of Koh Phi Phi I sat with another backpacker on the upper porch of a bungalow under the dim yellow porch light. We faced out toward the blackness where the hill dropped steep into the now invisible Andaman Sea.

The wind was fiercer than the past few days. It swooshed up the slope to billow and gust through the rows of wooden bungalows. The palms swayed and danced in the darkness like some drunken shaman. Even with all of the commotion from what seemed to be a storm approaching, the night was eerily silent. The bungalow did not creak or make a peep. Our plastic chairs did not shift. Just the noise of the wind.

Here I would be suddenly reminded of those instances in my past where I experienced those mysterious somethings. It would also remind me of the age old book by Charles Dickens which tells a story of a twisted and wretched man whom believed he had no heart, and rediscovered it when ghosts came for a chat.

Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Little did I know that by the end of this night I would be visited again, and I’d feel like the changed Scrooge after his ghosts came to see him. My path was so very different now. I had changed course, and it had led me here.

Do you believe in ghosts?

Oh hell yes I do. I’ve had a couple experiences with them” I said.

Now you’ve gotta’ tell me

I stared off into that darkness for a few moments knowing all too well what my stories would reveal to a person I had not shared much with. All they knew about me, as with most people met on the road, was that I was a corporate escapee from the United States in search of adventure.

Twice I’ve met ghosts. One was my mother on Christmas after her death. The second, my father after his death.” I said, very calmly still staring into the darkness.

My hands where now clasped together, and maybe the seemingly nervous writhing of them together like I was kneading dough gave away my discomfort.

Oh, I’m sorry, you don’t have to tell me.”

The surroundings at that very moment almost urged me to tell the tale, like a camp fire does with its whipping orange flames. That night had a very “Are you scared of the Dark?” feel to it.

No, no. It’s okay. I’ll tell you the experiences.”

The nervousness hadn’t been the thought of telling the story of my parents ghosts and knowing that it would lead to more questions. It was more that I was afraid they’d think I was a loon. I hadn’t shared this story with more than a handful of people, and I hadn’t even told my own brother the story. I knew he’d say I was batshit crazy.

But this person, a backpacker I had just met a few days before, now sat at the edge of their plastic lawn chair in anticipation. I could tell they were truly interested.

As I began the first story the wind fell deathly still atop Phi Phi hill. The palms stopped their ritualistic swaying. Everything became quiet as if the wind and the trees listened to the story as well.

[highlight]My mother came to me one Christmas Eve.[/highlight]

As the young and ever so cute little boy I was growing up, I had a Christmas ritual. Every year when the dark green pine would be slung up on the stand in the living room I would eagerly await the night when we could decorate it.

Silver tinsel would fly in a flurry as my tiny self tried to hurl it toward the top of the tree.

You’re making a mess!” My mother would yell.

I can do it!” I’d shout, and would twist away as my taller brother would try to steal my Christmas feat away from me. I could decorate the freakin’ tree. My mother would always laugh at my miniature confidence.

I would plug in those chains of Christmas lights and wrap myself in them like a glowing yellow and green and red and blue neon enchilada.

When you get electrocuted I’ll tell you I told you so...” My mother would say to me. But nothing could snatch the joy of Christmas away from me. Nothing.

Every night up until Christmas Eve when my parents would remove the door handles so we couldn’t shake the present to guess what was in them, I would sleep beside the tree on the couch.

And then that Christmas joy was stripped away.

My mother had committed suicide sometime in my mid-teens. As I’ve told in the past, I repressed most of that occurrence into the depths of the deepest hole I could dig inside my brain which is the reason I cannot remember the exact year it happened. We also couldn’t afford a gravestone for her.

It had occurred in the summer that year, but still sat heavy in my heart as the temperatures dropped and the Christmas cheer was flaunted everywhere in town. To me, it was atrocious. It was a sickening reminder of a happy time long past. A smiling fat bearded man with rosey cheeks stared at me everywhere I walked aching for a punch in the face. I didn’t even decorate our own tree that year, deciding it was a bore.

Christmas had lost all of its joy and light.

But on Christmas Eve I awoke in the middle of the night after everyone had fallen asleep and crept silently into the living room. All of the lights in the house were turned off, and just the glow of the Christmas tree illuminated the room and a golden splendor. Something about it felt warm and calm. Some reminder or echo from my childhood twinkled in those lights and on the ornaments.

I curled up on the couch and sank into those familiar dark green cushions and stared at the tree until sleep overtook me. The lights blurred into a kaleidoscope as my eyelids fell shut.

And at some point during the night jolted awake. Something startled me enough to wake me and send my heart racing.

At first I thought I was dreaming. There was a distinct sound heard loud beside me. I heard two footsteps walk into the room and stop, almost as if admiring the tree.

When I fully came to I leapt upright on the couch shaking. My eyes darted left and right trying to discover who was inside the house when suddenly the footsteps ran past me and continued down the hall.
That distinct sound was one I knew very well. It was the sound my Mother’s church heels. Those tan generic heels that click clacked down the marble floors whenever she went to service, and I was the only one that would go with her.

Sometimes when she came to church, she was the strongest woman I had ever seen. And other times, she was the most fragile.

Those words our minister spoke at her funeral came echoing back with the sound of her heels by the Christmas tree. I didn’t know what to make of it. I was frightened and confused. I knew she had been there at that moment. Just as fast as she came she was gone again.

And an uncontrollable flood of tears poured from my eyes.

Her heels trailed off into the darkness of the hallway leading to my parents old room, as if she was getting ready to go to church.

I wept terribly at her memory in front of that Christmas tree like a child crying for his mother, and then suddenly the tears stopped. There was this immense calm I felt at that moment, as if I knew she would always be with me.

Nobody would ever hear of that story until nearly ten years later. And until the second occurrence, it would confuse me.

[highlight]It was a summer day when my father came to me, like the day he had passed.[/highlight]

Whether it be your eyes that see a ghost, or your ears that hear one, it can also be in your mind and in your heart that you know an experience to be true.

The summer after I buried my father I could not handle the torture of being in that same house anymore. I had to even quit the job we both worked at because every time I saw his empty chair I nearly threw up.

My brother had met his future wife and was always staying at her place every night for months, which left me alone in that great big house with its long and now lonely history.

This was a house once full of love, lies, smiles, violence, laughter, hate, growing up, breaking down, broken hearts, and broken dreams. It was the house of my childhood, and now it was empty. A big brick and wooden void in which most nights I would find myself sitting alone in silence.

The kind of silence that was so loud it hurts your brain and drives you mad. And it was slowly driving me mad.

Soon the DVD movies on the projector got old. Then I’d switch to trying to throw parties to bring some life into the house and then I hated people being there. Then I’d switch to drinking alone instead. I’d try to spark up an old hook up out of some desperate loneliness that might distract for a while, but soon I’d tire of that as well. And soon I’d tire of even watching porn as a distraction. I’d just sit in the loud silence like I was trapped in a cage of sadness.

While living in that big creaky house with the yellow shingles and the brown shudders and the hallowed halls with bleeding walls and the screaming silence, I rarely got sleep.

Most of the time I feared someone would break in. They would take the last bit of my childhood and my family memory away from me and so I never slept. It was just me on my back alone on that leather couch staring at the ceiling into the nothingness. Staring so long at the cracks in the plaster that the began to wiggle and writhe like worms. At the same time I couldn’t ever pull myself together to leave that prison of tormenting memories.

I finally moved out the summer after. Madness drove me to escape with a couple of my best friends, only temporarily, to work at a beach outside of town.

And at some point during that summer of sun and booze and hangovers and blackout hookups, my father came to me in the shit-hole of a beach house we all stayed in.

I was fast asleep on the top bunk of the rickety matchstick construct we all slept on. This time, I wasn’t startled awake by a ghost, but I met my father in the parallel plane where the body sleeps and the mind rules.

It was so vivid and real.

In the dream, the sun was beaming so marvelously bright. Everything was basked in some sort of warm hue, almost like the leaves of fall. I entered the house into the empty living room where the dust danced in the sunlight that peaked through the blinds.

BUBBA!” My father called out to me in his joyful and raspy growl. I ran to him. So fast I ran, but I also moved in slow motion. It was as if I was a child again but in my twenty year old body. He sat in his favorite chair soaked in golden light and suddenly everything seemed right in the world.

He was wearing this familiar yellow shirt; one dotted with holes and oil stains and emblazoned with the faded logo of our weekend lawn mowing company. He always smelled like a mechanic.

I embraced him — clashing against his rotund belly and attempted to wrap my arms around his whole body.

Where did you go, I’ve been waiting for you. I missed you.” I said.

My father patted my head with his large rough hands. I could feel the gristle of his beard scratching my face like the times as a boy when he would sit me on his knee.

I’m on vacation. I needed a vacation for a long time and I went.” He said to me.

And then I woke up. It wasn’t an alarming awakening, more like I slowly came back into my body and was confused as to why I was in this run down beach house and not with my father at home in the golden splendor.

It was so surreal and yet so very real. As I sat there, I could still smell his shirt and feel his beard against my face.

He was just on vacation.

[highlight]Then a ghost came to Koh Phi Phi[/highlight]

After I had told the person those two stories about my parents (the abridged version of course) something strange happened.

Though it frightened me the first time with my mother and slightly confused me the second, it was also a reassurance that they were still with me. That I wasn’t truly alone.

Right as I finished the story and let the weight of it sink into the silence of the night, our bungalows power went out. Every other bungalow, more than 30 on the hill, all had their faint yellow porch lights still buzzing bright.

After a couple of seconds, the power came back on and the wind began to slowly swirl through the trees again.

I’ve been here for weeks and that has never happened” the listener of my story said.

I was turned away facing the darkness as if I was looking around, but in truth I was hiding the two tears that had escaped my eyes.

It was my father and my mother who had come to me again that night, and they were telling me on that Christmas Eve where I felt lonely that I was not alone.

I was not alone.

Whether or not you believe in spirits, or ghosts, or the afterlife — I know what I felt in each of those instances. I believe we are all made up of some type of energy. The universe was created by accidental collisions of energy and atoms and molecules over the course of billions of years.

Those accidental collisions came to form the galaxies and the stars and the planets. We are born of the universe and our bodies are made up of it as well. Understand that we are pieces of the great universe made to be great. My mother’s and father’s bodies expired on this planet, but I believe their energy is still omnipresent. They have yet again become part of the universe.

They are now in the breeze and in the earth and in the trees. For so long I chose not to pay attention, almost yearning for a never-ending loneliness because it comforts you in a dark way.

But now I know for sure as their ghosts or presence visited me on that Christmas Eve. I am never alone.

I was a Scrooge for so very long not wanting to enjoy the company of other family and friends on that holiday — or in most instances. I could not stand to see people happy or successful and I resented everyone. Like a poisonous envy. And anyone that took me in for the holidays and offered their love would fall to break into pieces against my armor. I would sit in a corner awkwardly not knowing what to do with such a tainted holiday like Christmas.

And now I remember those times spent on Christmas with family and friends and it gives me a pang of sadness that I never took advantage of it.

Holidays on the road when traveling are tough. You have flashbacks of the food and the laughter and you yearn for it. You might even feel alone in those instances. But whether you are traveling and you have family at home, or if you’ve lost your loved ones and the nostalgia pains you, you are never alone my friends.

[custom_headline type=”left” level=”h2″ looks_like=”h2″]Have you experienced anything like this?[/custom_headline]