Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Phase II Wrap Up

I’m sorry it’s been a bit since I last wrote an entry. I arrived in Tbilisi, Georgia on 21 July 2019 and have been having a wonderful time making new friends. My experience so far is summed up as “I have a thousand friends in Tbilisi; I just haven’t met them all yet.” That said, this post is not going to be about Georgia.

The way I see it, I owe you the following posts: a reflection on the past year (i.e. this post), an overview of what has changed in my backpack, a look forward to Phase III, a post about arriving in Georgia (covering the first month or so), and a post about people visiting me in Georgia (covering this past month). Expect them in the coming weeks.

Start: September 14, 2018, by flying to Los Angeles.

End: July 20, 2019, when I flew (overnight) from Denpasar (Bali), Indonesia to Tbilisi, Georgia.

As a reminder, Phase II was meant to be more freeform than Phase I, which rigidly followed train and boat schedules. In this spirit, I’m beginning Phase II in Los Angeles and ending it in Bali - both places I didn’t expect to visit.

My budget as set in my earlier post was $15,000 for the whole thing. I’ve been avoiding doing the exact math (and may continue to avoid it), but I’m somewhere around $3,000 over budget for the whole thing. Part of this is due to making plans in June / July instead of starting the new phase when my money ran out, but a bigger part is not being as thrifty as I could be.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Bali Bali Bali

After a night and a morning in Ubud, I made my way south to Denpasar on the 10th of July. I would say “Kuta”, but every time I said this word to locals, they looked at me like I had two heads - so much for Google truth versus local truth.

My goal in this particular adventure was to meet up with my friend Olta, who was traveling with her friend Chris (both women are English teachers working in China; Olta is originally from Albania and Chris is originally from Crimea). I’d briefly met Olta in Kuala Lumpur, though we hadn’t spoken much to one another as another traveling companion had dominated the conversation. Over the intervening months, however, we’d become close over Instagram and WhatsApp, texting almost daily. When it came up that we were going to be in the same region, I took the opportunity to book a hostel a block away from the pair’s hotel.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Java Java Java

I arrived in Jakarta on June 27 expecting to meet my friend Bevin from Philadelphia there already. Unfortunately, we’d both misread the email - both her flights added a day and we’d only accounted for the one. Nonetheless, we were able to connect on the 28th and set about an eastward adventure.

In Jakarta specifically, we mostly wandered around the national monument, including going to the top of the national library. We did have an excursion to the old city section where we were mobbed by dozens of Indonesians who wanted to take photos with us - a first in either of our travels. It wasn’t a “let’s distract them” style of photo-taking either - this was borne of a genuine desire to have a photo with a foreigner and, in some cases, practice English or have a short video-recorded conversation for a class. The whole thing was surreal. We went to the bank museum, had some street food, and tried to check off a few “must do” items before moving on. A significant portion of our time was spent struggling with planning and buying tickets.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Camp Moogerah

For my last six weeks in Australia I helped out at a “school camp” a couple hours west of Brisbane. I say “school camp” to evoke that general sense - it was open for individuals to come and camp on the grounds, for church groups to have retreats, and that sort of thing, though the whole property was ready to host several hundred kids in cabins should the need arise.

In any case, I helped out around the camp - and with the owner’s personal projects - in exchange for a bed and meals. As with previous hosts where I did some physical labor, it was a nice change from my vagrant routine. Painting, sanding, gardening, and that sort of stuff is good for the soul - when one is done with a task it’s evident. You see it. Unlike a never-ending set of essays to write/edit for a paycheck or making blog posts where the only metric of success is a number next to an illustrated eyeball (“views”), it is clear: I moved that plant from here to there and it looks good.

As nice as it was to find a routine, however, it’s not a riveting tale to retell. On a typical day I’d wake up, do a task, then spend the evening trying to put something on paper. The stories are in the cracks - the days where something didn’t go according to routine. Here are a few.

Friday, July 19, 2019

On Hats

This is the smallest of small travel tips, but I find myself repeating it to new travelers all the time: wear a hat - preferably something distinct. This serves two purposes in addition to the obvious ones related to sun and fashion:

  • When in a crowd, especially when on a tour with a new group of people, a hat helps one stick out more than a shirt or something similar. I know that people have found me (and thereby the rest of a tour group) by looking for my hat from above. I know that I've used this trick to distinguish a driver or guide in a crowd of similarly attired folks.
  • When dealing with officials, the act of removing a hat makes a good first impression and shows a little respect. For example, when passing through customs or talking to a ticketing agent, I wait until I've made eye contact with the person to conspicuously remove my hat. While this is anecdotal, this act of overt submission (as opposed to not wearing a hat or keeping a hat on one's head) seems to smooth whatever interaction enough that, while others in line may have issues, I'm waved through.

As a bonus, when flipped over, a hat keeps keys, coins, and all that junk from your pockets in one place when going through an x-ray machine or on a bedside table.

I will, eventually, write up posts for my final six weeks in Australia and this past month in Indonesia, I promise!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

My Perfect Hostel

After eight or so months of travel, I have some opinions regarding what makes a good hostel. These opinions range from obvious to minute, but I hope, maybe, this reaches someone in a position to make my or a future guest's stay a little more comfortable.


Money - It can be a pain for me to figure out what the most efficient and effective way for me to book a room is. I've had places that offered the same price online as in-person, I've had places (like where I'm staying) that offer discounts when I book online, and I've had places that offer a discount if I pay in cash (most of the Philippines). As such, I've resorted to only booking two days at any new place online and then inevitably extending using whatever method makes most sense for me. As it stands, if I were to open a hostel, I would make sure to accept online bookings, then empower my employees to negotiate cash/in-person prices, especially for extended stays.

Listings - I'm looking for three photos when I book online: what the bed looks like (see BED section), what the bathroom looks like (see BATHROOM section), and a view from the street so I can find the place. I have declined to book places with fifty photos of every single bed offered because I couldn't figure out if the bathrooms were clean. I've specifically booked places with a handful of photos because they were clear and concise. I really don't care to see big group photos of people playing beer pong - I understand that's code for "this is a party hostel", but please tell me you have something else to offer (e.g. a decent bed).

Sunday, June 16, 2019

What does Brisbane rhyme with?

I set up a few days in the city to do a little sight-seeing before my Workaway started. As with the previous few posts, I don't know what to tell you.
City Hall was great - beautiful building, cool information, nifty museum inside. The museum tour kind-of sucked (Here's this painting, look at it later. Here's this exhibit, you can read the wall plaque at the end.) but it was free. The area around City Hall was pedestrian friendly and it was easy to get over to the city library, which was also beautiful.

Unrelated - I'm not sure why Brisbane has a "City" Hall but other cities have "Town" Halls.
I crossed the bridge(s) and checked out the museum area (including a cool ANZAC exhibit) and the State Library. The State Library had a very cool "maker space" / creative space area that seemed very pro-citizen. I saw more exhibits and all that good stuff.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Stylish Sydney

Will this be a long entry? Probably not. Sydney was great, though I spent a LOT of time in the State Library.

As mentioned, I made the right choice for once and took a daytime bus to Sydney. I finished a book (which book - Heart of Darkness, maybe?) and arrived in the evening. For the first time in the trip I had someone I'd previously met come through and offer to host - in this case it was Rebecca, who I'd met in Vancouver after the train trip across Canada.

There was a fair bit of relaxing, as I was feeling worn out.

Generally speaking, there was some ferry riding, some tour taking, and some pub visiting while staying with my friend. We won a pub quiz quite handily, then lost a different one quite badly. I'm not sure what all to write - I suppose I'll say the free walking tour in Sydney (and the one in Melbourne) were well worth going on.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Adoring Adelaide

Chances are, if you run in the same nerd circles as I do, the only reason you know about Adelaide is because one Brady Haran, of Hello Internet (HI) podcast and several YouTube channels (Numberphile, Objectivity, &c.), is from there. On HI there are several running jokes, two of which overlap for this story: there exist branded "hotstoppers" (small plastic plugs one can put in to-go coffee containers to prevent hot coffee from escaping) that the HI hosts give out and that one of the places you can always get a hotstopper is in the cafe at the base of an Adelaide skyscraper nicknamed the "Black Stump" (the future home to the HI museum!) despite both hosts now living in England. I've done more for less of a reason (see: "hey, it'd be cool to go around the world, I suppose"), so I got off the tour bus (Great Ocean Road & Grampians) and found myself in Adelaide.

As you may remember, I had some difficulty making friends and meeting people in Melbourne. I was, as I texted a friend, the angriest I have ever been for several days in a row. The tour was a delightful break from that - but was it a fluke? Was I just making friends with other tourists? A very slow check-in at my hostel had me fearing the worst.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Delays, Delays

alt: Hurry up and Wait

[I shouldn't have written all this here - this is a rambling journal entry I thought was going to be about waiting in airports. Sorry if that's not what you're into.]

I'm not a patient person by nature. If I'm not vigilent, I get very grumpy very quickly about things not moving fast enough (and, of course, complain about not getting anything done in the times that I could have completed some task or other). While I try to slow things down, there is some addiction to new information that I possess and must constantly struggle against.

When traveling, delays happen. Things take time. Whether it's a train being hours late to pull into a station while only a mere mile or two away or sitting in a Thai bus station without a ticket, nervously sipping coffee hoping that the connecting bus, whenever it shows up, will let you on despite the driver of the first bus having the ticket, there are times one has to take deep breaths, relax, and maybe open a book.

Bigger delays happen too. Waiting for friends to start their own travels. Waiting for the weather to get warmer before changing countries. Waiting for Bitcoin to climb back up to a price where you don't mind selling a little. Waiting for one of your strategically bought CDs to mature so you have a bit more liquidity. Waiting to physically and mentally recover from spending so little time in so many cities.

I'm constantly fighting (and often failing) to be more patient. In small things, it's picking up the phone and texting friends or listening to podcasts. In big things it's feeling like nothing's ever going to come together in my favor and I must go, do, and GET OUT NOW. In the latter case, thankfully, I generally look out for my future self and trust my past self, so if it's a day, week, month, or five years (my past plan to buy a house), I just need to remember to trust myself. In small things, however, I'm less successful.

To focus on the small: well, my phone's a problem. Podcasts are probably my biggest problem at the moment as they tie my brain up in distraction. If my goal is to publish some fiction, well, I need to write some fiction. To that end, I should institute some new rule. Perhaps no podcast if there's a possibility of me writing in the next two hours? More? No podcasts before I've written my page for the day? What about texts? What about the infinite scrolling of social media? What about any of the stupid things I do to distract myself from being patient?

What is a reasonable strategy to be more patient? To suck in more of the world (and, indeed, spit some of it back out on paper)? If I'm to look out for my future self, what rule should I follow?

How about this: music when my hands aren't free, writing when they are. After I've finished a page - even if it takes all day - I can have my treat and listen to a podcast or check reddit or answer a text. I think that's fair. I'll give it a go tomorrow (May 30, 2019) and see if it helps.