Posts Tagged ‘travel’

7th February
2011
written by Randy

I’ve done an incredible amount of traveling in the past few months. And it hasn’t been the recently trendy “permanent travel, professional blogger” kind of travel, where people basically move to a new part of the world and then stay there for a few months.

No, I’ve been doing the hard kind of travel: sleeping in a different city every night, carrying everything with me on my back all day. Going back to mid-November, the longest I’ve been in one place was a week in my new apartment. But I’m learning a lot.

First, and most obviously, I am learning a lot about minimalism. I’m learning that no matter how cool a thing is or how good of a discount it’s offered at, the idea of adding its weight to my back keeps me from buying it 99.7% of the time. When I do buy something, it’s to replace something else which I will then dispose of. (The only exception has been a hair-clipper, which cost the same as a professional haircut, but is reusable.)

I’m finding it very easy to dress every day from a limited selection of clothing, and in spite of only bringing a handful of items with me, I now know that I could have packed even less. I’m very tempted to travel with no bag whatsoever on my next trip.

I’m also learning about taking opportunities immediately, rather than browsing, thinking, looking for something better or more convenient. In Italy, I’ve found that you will often return to a store or restaurant after very little time only to find it closed. And you may not find another one open for a long time.

So when I see someone selling water, I generally buy a bottle even if I’m not thirsty. If I see an ATM, I generally withdraw some cash even if I don’t need it. And when I see a restaurant, I don’t bother looking around town for one that might be better. Having learned to take what’s there, right away, has greatly improved my experience here compared to my frustrating first week in this country.

Quality also means a lot more to me as a nomad than it ever did before. Bad shoes make their presence known with every step. An awkward backpack will have your shoulders hurting before noon. And a poor-fitting shirt, jacket, pants, etc will irritate you at every opportunity. Those things end up in trash cans just minutes after a suitable replacement is found.

Italy is far less modern than I had expected, and that fact has made itself painfully well-known in the lack of Internet access. A month of prepaid data access for my iPad has turned out to be a great decision. Using a smart phone as my primary form of internet access for a month would have been a painful experience.

Of course that’s not to say that a month of using an iPad isn’t painful — it certainly is. Autocorrect is becoming my #1 enemy, mostly for the words it learns incorrectly. And after three weeks of typing against a glass screen, my hands really started to hurt. The last week has been hell. I’m going to strongly consider a MacBook Air this year.

The iPad also brings other complications. It’s large enough, and conspicuous enough that you don’t really want to take it out in a lot of places, so when it’s your only connection to the internet you often put off using it. By comparison, an iPhone is more inconspicuous when you need to check a map or confirm a reservation. And while I was able to find a no-contract micro-SIM for iPad in Italy, I was not able to get one in Spain.

Finally, I’m finding more and more value in being nondescript — blending in, rather than standing out. After ditching my terribly “American” loose-fitting coat and athletic shoes for a more snug, stylish jacket and more typically Italian shoes, people have begun treating me altogether differently. On arrival, people would walk up to me and ask “you speak English, yes?” Now, Italians stop me and ask for directions, the time, train schedules, etc, all in Italian, and seem surprised when they hear me respond with an accent.

It seems that throughout the places I’ve traveled, if you wear mostly blacks and grays, keep your hair basically short, and look people in the eyes as they pass, they will assume you’re just another passer-by. It probably also helps if you’re not dragging a suitcase behind you.

1st December
2010
written by Randy

Today is the first day of December, and it also begins a wild month of travel. I’ve got 12 flights booked, all of them going to states in which I’ve never been.

This morning, I’m getting on a flight to St. Louis, where I’ll see the Gateway Arch and meet a friend. Then tomorrow, I fly to Little Rock. On the 3rd I fly to Dallas, where I’ll rent a car for four days and go see Texas, including Austin (and hopefully meeting up with Karol Gajda), San Antonio, and The Alamo, before returning to Dallas.

On the 7th, I fly to Albuquerque, where I’ll rent another car for 2 days so I can also visit Santa Fe and Taos. Then on the 9th it’s Oklahoma City and on the 10th to Kansas City (where I’ll also drive over to Topeka), before returning back to Chicago for three days on the 11th. Before I pick up again with more travel on the 14th.

These seven flights will knock out the 6 southwestern states to which I have never been. And the best part is, I got them for $30 each! So I’ll make seven flights through six new states for less than most people pay for one round trip.

If you live in or near one of these cities, and would like to meet up. Leave a comment here, or on Facebook, and let me know!

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11th October
2010
written by Randy

I just got home from my incredible 5-day trip through the beautiful natural wonders out west. What an eyeful! I knew there would be some beautiful sights when I planned the trip, but I didn’t know that every mile would be so stunning!

The plan was to fit 1,500 miles into 5 days, but thanks to an adventurous attitude, it actually came out to over 2,000 miles. Along the way, I found out I was not far from Antelope Island, Devil’s Tower (from Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind), Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway, Snake Canyon, and the Perrine Bridge, so I made detours to see them.

Of course the point of the trip was to see some famous sites. I chose my route in order to see Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse monument, and Yellowstone National Park — especially Old Faithful. And I did.

In spite of being far from completed, Crazy Horse was impressive. I could see his face over trees and mountaintops from several miles away. By comparison, I was rather unimpressed with Mt. Rushmore, which pales in comparison. In fact, Mt. Rushmore isn’t even visible from the road — its view is almost completely blocked from anywhere except the paid visitor parking area. For a national treasure, that’s kind of a shame.

What America has become

But the shamefulness at Mt. Rushmore doesn’t end there. I went in the gift shop to get a postcard and magnet (the only souvenirs I collect) and I saw a lot of signs and stickers on merchandise saying “Made in America”, which is a good thing to see when visiting an American treasure, right? Based on that sticker, I bought a shirt as well. But the next day, when I was putting it on, I noticed the tag said “hecho en honduras” — made in Honduras. That’s just awful. It’s for reasons like this that my disappointment with America continues to grow.

There’s more. Many times during my trip, I stopped along the side of the road to take photos, and I was really disappointed with how much litter I saw. While you’re driving, you can’t really see it. But every time I stopped, I looked the ground and saw garbage. We don’t deserve this beautiful country.

By the time I reached Yellowstone, I was surprised to notice that it seemed pretty clean. And I’m glad for that, because it’s a stunningly beautiful landscape everywhere you look. I went early in the morning, which allowed me to get some great photos, and also to see everything I wanted to see before the place grew crowded with families.

I’ve seen so much in the last few days that I honestly feel a bit overwhelmed. A person could spend weeks in any one of the places I visited — months or even years, in the case of Yellowstone — and still never see all that they wanted to see.

Doing it without a phone

You may recall that I recently decided to give up my cell phone. I’ve never been much of a talker anyway, but this was my first time traveling without the assistance of mobile internet, maps, and GPS in my pocket.

It wasn’t that big of a deal. I had my MacBook Pro and my iPod Touch with me, and I found that at almost every highway exit I was able to get online, often at whatever gas station I was stopped at. Sometimes, I had to go sit in the parking lot of a MacDonalds or a hotel to get internet access, but it wasn’t much of an issue. I also found internet access for free at the airports in Denver and Salt Lake City.

With regular access to the internet, I was able to check maps and directions, find additional sights to see, locate hotels, check emails, and even listen to voicemails on my Google Voice. Oh, and also keep up with Facebook and Twitter, of course.

Being without a phone while I travel made me more aware of just how tied to their phones everyone is. Nobody is paying attention any more. They’re all wandering aimlessly with that digital parasite stuck to their heads. Walking to the left while looking to the right, talking into their phone and running into me. Driving too fast or too slow, changing lanes without signalling, one hand busy pressing a phone against their head. I can see that life is going to be much more interesting for me without that distraction.

It was a good trip

All in all, I enjoyed myself, and I saw a lot. I saw several national monuments and national parks. I visited five more states that I had not previously been to, putting my count at 39 now, and leaving only eleven states to visit with two-and-one-half months left to do it.

I made a new friend on the flight out, with whom I’ll keep in touch. In my evenings at the hotels I made some serious progress on the e-book I’m working on. I shot some amazing photos. And I saw bison, elk, antelope, horses, and bears in the wild, literally just a few feet away from me.

5th October
2010
written by Randy

Too often, people see unemployment as a stressful situation. But I see it as an opportunity! The first thing I did when I knew my job was coming to an end was to book travel for the places I would never otherwise go.

Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah, Idaho… with the exception of Salt Lake City, there isn’t even a reasonable-sized airport in any of these states, so there’s just no way I would ever see any of them on a typical weekend trip. And whenever I take off a whole week from work, I try to use that for a much more compelling destinations, like Europe.

But with no job beckoning me back there is no time limit on my travel, and no reason to rank one destination higher than another. I can go to all of these places, and still decide to go somewhere “more compelling” when I’m done. Who will stop me? Who will complain?

So tomorrow morning I leave for my “national parks tour”, which will include Salt Lake, Mt. Rushmore, and Yellowstone National Park, as well as some other, lesser-known natural treasures in the unsettled western states. I’ll fly into Salt Lake City, then rent a car and drive in an enormous 1,500-mile circle over the next five days.

Not only will I finally see some sights that most Americans never get around to seeing, but in doing so I will also set foot in five more states, bringing my total up to 39, and leaving me with only 11 states I haven’t seen and plenty of time left to get to them all this year.

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1st October
2010
written by Randy

Today is my last day at my current job. And instead of being worried or sad, I’m excited.

It’s not a big dramatic ending. I’m not quitting, and I wasn’t fired. I have been working there under contract, and today is the last day of that engagement.

Most people tend toward permanent placements at jobs where they will stay for several years, so when someone leaves it’s a big deal. But for the last ten years I have worked mostly as a contractor, so I’ve grown accustomed to seeing things end and new things begin.

What makes things really different this time, however, is that because I’m completely debt free, I don’t have to hurry out and find a new job. And I’m not going to.

My monthly cost of living is already very low. I don’t have a car or any of the associated costs of owning one. I recently had my cable tv turned off and found that the free broadcast HDTV signal is even better than what you get over cable. And giving up my cell phone is going to lower my expenses even more.

So while so many people right now are unemployed and worried about how they’re going to pay their bills, I actually have the freedom to be unemployed by choice! With only three months left in this year, I am very tempted to simply not take a new job at all.

Instead, if I replace the time I would spend every day working for others with time spent working for myself, I am confident that I can make my web sites grow. And I have one in particular (which I can’t tell you about just yet) that only needs a few more weeks of work before it is ready to share with the world.

After that, I’ll work on the e-book. As you may know, I’ve been learning Italian this year, and writing about it at my web site Yearlyglot. My plan is to release an e-book at the end of the year, with an easy, step-by-step description of how I became fluent in Italian in one year… without traveling to Italy. I will include links to free learning resources, and video of myself speaking Italian so everyone can see that it really does work.

And finally, during all of this, I will continue to travel. Mostly within the US — I’ve already been to 34 states, and there’s no reason I couldn’t get to the other 16 in the next three months. Especially since I’ll be visiting five more next week when I go to Salt Lake, Mt. Rushmore, and Yellowstone National Park.

My year just continues to get more and more amazing. I’m not sure how I’ll top it next year, but I’ve already got some great ideas. You’ll have to stay tuned to find out what they are.

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17th September
2010
written by Randy

I’m 34 years old, and believe it or not, before this year I had never been outside of the United States. I love to travel, and I had been all over this country, but I had never been to another. I love learning foreign languages and had already learned basic speech in several other languages, but I had never gone somewhere where I had to use any of them. I even went through a frustrating process getting my passport (name spelled wrong the first time) in 2006, and in four years I hadn’t managed to get it stamped a single time.

Being a 34-year-old who had never been out of the country is embarrassing. When all your friends and colleagues talk about Spain, or Germany, or wherever they’ve been, it’s embarrassing. And when you have a reputation for being “the language guy”, it’s even more embarrassing.

There’s always been some excuse. I didn’t have a passport. I didn’t have the money for travel. I didn’t know how to get a visa. I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t have anyone to visit. I couldn’t take the time off of work. I had too much debt, too many responsibilities, blah blah blah.

This year, that changed. One of the interesting things about starting an awesome language blog, is that with hundreds of eyes on you, you’re no longer just letting yourself down. If I were to pass up opportunities to do amazing things, I would lose all the credibility I was building with my blog. So when an opportunity to travel arises, my first instinct now is to take it.

In just the past five months, I’ve been to Germany, Uzbekistan, Canada, and Spain… and there’s still time left for more! I’ve already got my sights set on Mexico this winter, and possibly Argentina. Who knows what will happen?

I’ve always wanted to be a world traveler. (After all, you don’t learn several languages just to sit around and act smart!) I’m happy to say that among the many things that have made this an amazing year, one of the most exciting is finally having been to other parts of the world. But rest assured… in spite of how much as I’ve managed to do in the past few months, it’s just a start. I’ve got much bigger plans ahead!

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