Sunday, 26 June 2011

45 Miscellaneous Travel Tips

Here are 45 travel tips I compiled during my RTW trip.  Hope something in here helps you.

1.  Consider the weather.  I started my trip in February in India and moved south to north.  In March, I was in the Middle East.  In April, May and June, I was in Europe.  I felt like I got the best weather everywhere I went.  Consider if I'd done the trip backwards.  Europe can be cold and rainy in February, and India is extremely hot in May and June.
2.  Buy travel insurance.  Companies like Travel Guard ( offer modestly priced, customized insurance options that can be comprehensive, if you so desire (mine covered medical care, medical evacuation, flight change, lost and stolen luggage, etc.).  Having travel insurance gave me peace of mind.
3.  Consider buying round-the-world plane tickets.  They can save you a bundle.
Suggestions include:    
Round The World Experts:
STA Travel:  
Intrepid Travel (has flight specialists if you book a trip with them):
Round The World Flights:

4.  As lightly as possibly.  Most anything you forget or feel like you need more of can be purchased overseas for much less than you'd pay at home.  (I limited myself to a 50 liter backpack and wish I'd gone even smaller.)
5.  A student ID (ISAC).  Almost every tourist attraction gave student discounts.
6.  Something small and inexpensive from your country to give to new friends.  This could include postcards from your hometown (with your email or mailing address written on the back if you so choose), or some of your country coins.  One of the girls I traveled with in India brought along balloons for the kiddos and they were a hit.
7.  Earplugs.  There are a lot of snorers at the hostels.  I'm just saying...
8.  A Teva-like sandal.  The Teva has all the advantages of a flip-flop sandal (ample ventilation, not sweat inducing) yet it can be comfortably worn when walking miles through a new city.
9.  A day pack.  The day pack should fit your camera, your water bottle, and your cash purse.  Take the day pack with you when you're exploring a new city, and leave the backpack locked up at your hostel.  Buy a day pack that can be secured with a lock while it's on your back.  Mine just had a drawstring, so I often wore it to my front, or tied the drawstring into a knot.

10.  Tell your bank exactly which countries you will be traveling to.  That way, when your credit card is swiped at an ATM in Istanbul, the bank will not shut off your card or assume it was stolen.
11.  Make sure you know your credit card pin number.  I knew my debit card had a pin number, but not my credit card.  If you use your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM, the machine will ask you for the pin number.
12.  Check your online credit card statement weekly for fraudulent charges. Keep all major receipts.

13.  Find a local person to take you out for a meal.  They know the best places, and they're probably less expensive than the place you were thinking about eating.
14.  Look for a place without any tourists inside (you'll probably need to walk outside the main tourist strip for this and do some digging).  If the menu is only written in a foreign language, that's another good sign, too.  If everyone inside is a local, the food is likely to be considerably cheaper (and in my opinion, considerably better.)
15.  Buy your food at the grocery store or a local farmers market.  This is probably the cheapest option and most hostels have a kitchen where you can prepare your own meals.
16.  Avoid gas stations, vending machines, airport/train food, and tourist hotspots.  You'll be paying up the ass for stuff that probably isn't even that great.
17.  Buy a refillable water bottle and some dish soap to clean it.  You'll save a bundle on bottled water.

18.  Don't underestimate non-verbal communication.  Even without being able to speak the local language, I've gotten along surprisingly well with hand gestures, pointing at maps, saying a single word as a question (e.g. toilet, internet, bus), exaggerated facial expressions, and drawing pictures.  Be creative.  
19.  Talk in the local language when you can.  I don't speak Spanish, but when I was in Spain I made an effort to say "gracias" instead of "thank you" and "buenos dias" instead of "good morning."  I noticed that the locals respect you more when make an attempt to use their language, even when you only know ten words of it.

20.  In places where bartering is acceptable, always take 1/2 the price the shopkeeper initially gives you and start negotiations there.  Don't be afraid to go even lower (remember that the shopkeeper knows what the item is worth and is not going to sell you something unless they can make a profit).
21.  If the shopkeeper is being stingy, simply tell them the item is too expensive and start to walk away.  It's amazing how quickly they will cut 20 to 30 percent off the price when they realize you are leaving their store.
22.  Never keep a promise you can't keep (e.g. I'm not going to buy today but I promise you I will come back and buy tomorrow).  You wouldn't want someone to do it to you, so don't do it to others.
23.  Always be situationally aware but if you really aren't looking to buy anything, it helps not to make eye contact with the vendors.  When vendors see you staring at them, they hone in on you like a vulture to a corpse.
24.  I usually say "hello" or "good morning" when spoken to (it's basic politeness) but beyond that basic response I don't feel like I owe vendors/random men/beggars/etc. a lengthy conversation.  Many people will try to strike up a conversation with you in order to get you to see their store (or their cousin's store, or their brother's store).  If you don't want to buy or don't feel like getting sidetracked, ignore further attempts at conversation, look straight ahead, and keep on walking.
25.  Remember, there is usually no such thing as a favor.  When a person helps you find your hostel or the train station, lets you photograph them, etc. they will probably expect money in return.  Either do not accept a favor or be clear that you will not be paying them for a favor that often takes little to no effort on their part.

26.  Always agree on a price before you get into a taxi.  Once you've agreed on a price and step inside that taxi, the price is set.  There is no asking for a lower fare mid-ride.
27.  If a taxi driver tries to charge you a higher fare than what you agreed upon after you reach your destination threaten to call the police.  That will must likely end the conversation.
28.  Carry the business card of your hostel with you.  The taxi driver might not understand English, but most of them can read and understand a name and address.
29.  When you walk outside an airport, or a bus or train terminal, do not take the nearest taxi.  Sometimes taxis pay an entrance fee to nab that lucrative spot directly outside the airport, bus or train terminal, and they are going to try and take advantage of stupid and/or filthy rich tourists.  Walk a ways down the line before you approach a taxi driver for a price quote.  Once you've gotten a price quote (and know generally what the taxi drivers are going to charge you), consider walking further done the line and see if you can get an even cheaper fare.  Don't be afraid to barter.

30.  Walk whenever you can.  You'll see more of the city (the biggest gems are often beyond the tourist strip), get exercise, and save cash.
31.  The metro, tram, trolley and bus lines are almost always cheaper than a taxi.  Some cities offer a 5-day pass or a 10-day pass or some sort of extended day pass that can save you money if you are going to be in that city for several days.  Look for it when purchasing your ticket.
32.  Take overnight transportation, if possible.  You'll save money on a hostel, see the countryside, and gain more sightseeing time at your follow-on destination.  Consider bringing up a blow-up neck pillow to help you sleep better.

33.  Journal every day.  It's amazing the details I've already forgotten from my travels that I remember again every time I reread my journal.
34.  Get lost sometimes.  I learned so much more about the people, the culture, and the country just by walking around for hours in areas I was not familiar with. Sticking strictly to the tourist attractions is overrated.
35.  Read literature from the countries you are visiting.  I can't explain it, but there is something about reading native literature while in the country that makes the experience of travel more profound.  Afterwards, you understand both the literature and the country better.
36.  Back up your photos every day at websites like Photobucket.  My sister pressed the "Reformat Memory Card" button on my camera midway through my trip and I lost 1000s of pictures.  Luckily, I'd downloaded many pictures on my blog and emailed others to family and friends, so I was able to salvage some of my photos.  But it was still a major loss.  
37.  See if the city has a Free Tour.  Most of the cities I've been to have one. You pay no money upfront and, at the end, you decide how much (or little) to tip the guide.

38.  Leave the club wear at home.  When I travel I dress more conservatively than I do at home.  When I'm in places like the Middle East I dress more conservatively still (e.g. long-sleeved shirts, pants, and sometimes a scarf).  Often, I wear sunglasses.  I am not saying you have to bring along a bunch of moo moos and track pants, but ditch the mini skirts and midriff-baring halter tops.  It attracts unwanted attention from unsavory men.  You're going to get enough male attention, anyway.  Why make it worse?
39.  Be a smart drinker.  I can't stress this enough.  Bad things happen to intoxicated females (and males).  I met ladies who had been dated raped and mugged when they were drunk.  If I did decide to drink, I often did so at lunch or an early dinner when it was still light outside.  If I wanted to drink at night I drank at an establishment that was within spitting distance of my hostel or I drank at the hostel (most hostels had a terrace, some even had a bar).
40.  Look both ways (twice) before you cross any street.  It sounds so obvious but I had several close encounters with cars (reckless and/or preoccupied drivers abound and traffic rules differ from country to country).
41.  Split up important travel documents.  Always leave your passport and one credit or debit card locked up at the hostel.  Carry an alternate ID (e.g. driver's license), and an alternate credit or debit card on your person.  That way if your day pack is lost or stolen you are not completely screwed. 
42.  Carry emergency information.  I carried a tag with my blood type, allergy information and a person at home to contact in case of an emergency.   I also carried the business card of the hostel I was staying at.  I figured it was good information for the police to know if they found my dead and/or unconscious body.
43.  Consider the status of your day pack.  Always lock your day pack (or knot the drawstring) when you're out and about.  Consider carrying your day pack to the front, especially at night.  When at restaurants, place your day pack on the chair next to you or on the table, not on the floor.
44.  Get lost (during the day).  I think the best way to get to know a city is to get completely lost in it.  You stumble across all sorts of things you'd never see if you stick to the (boring) tourist circuit.  But get lost in the morning and early afternoon.  I made sure I knew where I was again (and how to get back to my hostel) well before the sun started to set.  When it was dark outside I always stuck to main roads with lots of people on them.
45.  Be conscious of pointing the undersides of your feet at people, giving the thumbs up sign, etc.  In parts of the world, these gestures can be considered offensive and/or provocative.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Some Things I Realized Overseas

I love my country.  I'm proud to be an American and I'll never take my freedoms for granted.  That said, I learned a couple of things overseas that I might not have realized in America, at least not this year...

1.  The Answers to My Issues, Problems and Questions.
There is something about being away from everything familiar, away from your possessions, and in a foreign land where you don't know anybody and can't speak the language that makes everything else you've been grappling with in life seem suddenly so clear.  I solved many of the issues, problems and questions that I'd been dealing with my entire adult life on this trip and I came back feeling more grounded, stable and mature.  I'm sure I would have solved many of these issues, problems and questions sooner or later even if I had not traveled, but something about travel speeds up the process 10-fold.  Travel is like intensive psychotherapy.  If you are in a rut, my prescription is to travel somewhere that take you out of your comfort zone.  

2.  Barrack Obama Is an International Superstar.
Love him or hate him, our president's popularity overseas was undeniable.  When I told someone I was American, the usual response was some variant of "I love Obama" (sometimes accompanied with a fist pump).  This happened everywhere I went, from India to the Middle East to north Africa and all over Europe.  When I mentioned the Barrack phenomenon to a conservative friend, she argued that Barrack Obama is only an international superstar because he's weakened America's position in the world.  (As a moderate, I argue that it's equally as likely that Obama's superstar status is a backlash from poor choices made by the George W. Bush regime.)  Either way, it's something to ponder...

3.  First Impressions are Deceiving.
I can't tell you how many times I struck up a conversation with some dirty, toothless guy on a street corner in Bum Fuck No Where only to discover that he had three children, spoke five languages, was an entrepreneur, had a pilot's license, once lived out-of-the-country, had survived a war and a stint in a refugee camp, and the list continues.  Pretty much everyone had a compelling story to tell.  The most compelling stories came from the people I least expected.

4.  Their Stereotypes Are Just as Wrong as Our Stereotypes.
I went in there with some of the usual stereotypes about them (e.g. Muslim women are repressed) but what I didn't anticipate was the stereotypes they had about us.  Apparently, because I am a Westerner I live a lifestyle like The Real Housewives.  (A shopkeeper in Cairo asked me if Daddy was financing my RTW trip.  Umm, excuse me?  It's called a full time job, you idiot.)  Shopkeepers routinely tried to sell Westerners items that were 10 to 20 times more expensive than the local fare.  Some of the prices were downright ridiculous.  (Do you really think I would pay $50 for a nondescript necklace that I could get for $15 back in the States?)  But what really made me livid was the stereotype that Western women are "easy" and an automatic lay.  I met plenty of gentlemen who didn't go there, but there were also scumbags who equated Westerner with Sexual Deviant (the drunk frat girls wearing micro mini skirts and boob baring halter tops on vacay certainly didn't help).

5.  Islam Is a Peaceful Religion.
In Cairo, my Muslim friend, Hend, tried to convince me that Islam was not the corrupt religion I'd pinned it for post 9/11.  I had two objections to Islam when I started this trip:  the supposed second-class treatment of women, and the acts of terror committed in the name of religion.  Hend explained that the Koran preaches tolerance, peacefulness and respect toward women.  In fact, the Koran says that women are equal to men.  When I pointed out that leaders in some Arab nations use Islam to justify second-class treatment of women, she argued that these leaders are misquoting the Koran and that repression of women is a country phenomenon, not a religious phenomenon.  It's the reason why Muslim countries like Turkey and Egypt are incredibly progressive in their treatment of women, whereas women can't even drive a car in Muslim Saudi Arabia.  OK, point taken, it's a country thing not a Muslim thing.  But what about the terrorism?  Again, Hend reiterated that Islam is a tolerant and peaceful religion. "Osama Bin Laden is not a real Muslim," she said.  I heard this point echoed not only be Hend, but by Muslims all over the world on my trip, "Osama Bin Laden is not a real Muslim," "Osama Bin Laden is not one of us,"  "A true Muslim would never do what Osama Bin Laden did."  

6.  Single People are Everywhere.
If you are a single person, I'm sure this fear-mongering tactic has been used on you:  "You better find someone quickly because the longer you wait the harder it's going to be to find someone.  Eventually, you will be so old that there will be no one left to marry."  On the same token, I know people who stay in unhappy, disfunctional relationships because they are too afraid to be single.  For instance, a lady I know has been dating the same guy for over a decade.  She told me that they are not compatible; in fact, living in the same apartment with him has been fraught with problems, but she believes she's invested too much time in the relationship to pull the plug.  "I'm 26," she told me.  "There are no single men my age in the world."  Certainly, people that truly love, understand and tolerate us are not a dime a dozen, and when we find a terrific person we should never take them for granted.  But I disagree with the notion of settling for someone that does not make you happy simply because you think you will never find better or because you think there is no else out there to date.  I met hundreds of decent, single people on this trip.  Some were divorcees, some had ended a long-term dating relationship, some just hadn't found the right person yet.  Not only are there plenty of people out there, but there is great diversity.  Keep living your life and following your dreams, ignore the fear-mongering naysayers, and do not despair.

7.  A Day Can Begin at Night.
So many times on my trip I'd be walking back to my hostel at 5 p.m. thinking what a great day I'd had, how it was winding down now and I was just going to take a shower, write for a few hours, and hit the hay.  Then I'd bump into Franz so-and-so or Franzette so-and-so near my hostel, we'd hit it off and end up having a wonderfully insightful conversation over a glass of wine and some kick-ass cuisine.  A day is precious, and it can surprise you and teach you the most amazing lessons at any hour.  Let yourself be surprised and consider each encounter or scenario as a gift from the universe.

8.  Writing Is Hard
On the trip, I forced myself to write for 3-4 hours every single day.  My writing improved when I made it a habit (in the past I'd only written when I was inspired).  But I also realized that writing is hard.  There were plenty of days where I stared at a blank computer screen or a blank sheet of paper and stared and stared and stared.  I never knew what the finished product was going to look like.  I'd start writing about one topic and realize mid-writing that I really wanted to write about something different (and I'd veer off course).  Sometimes it took me three hours to write a blog entry that took 30 seconds to read.  Writing is not a glamorous job, or as glamorous as it seems.  That said, there is nothing else I'd rather do for a living and I've committed my life to it.  But the act of creating something is difficult; oftentimes it's exceedingly, despairingly difficult.    

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Material Girl

When I was backpacking through India in February, I met an Australian named Sarah.  At the ripe old age of 24 (or maybe it was 25) Sarah looked around one day and realized that she had it all:  a PhD, a job at a vet clinic, a live-in boyfriend, and loads of material things including a house.

Sarah was surprised to realize that, despite having everything a person could or should want in life, she felt like something was missing.  Her subconscious kept whispering, "There's more to life than this.  There's more to life than this..."

Sarah then did something that amazed me.  She quit her job, broke up with her boyfriend, and sold her possessions so that she could travel the world for several months and relocate to London.  When I met her in India, she was carrying everything she owned in her backpack.

Sarah's story was the first travel experience that really got me thinking about possessions.  I've never pinned myself as a Material Girl.  I kept my apartment sparse, preferring quality to quantity, but the thought of parting with the little I owned was terrifying.

As days on the road turned into weeks, I thought less and less about possessions.  There was so much going on around me that material things seemed secondary.  I felt like I was a child again - everything was new and novel and I was experiencing it for the first time.

For the second time since Afghanistan, I saw poverty.  But I also saw people that were happy.  They did not own a glitzy house, designer clothes or a sports car, but they drew happiness from religion, family and friends.  Many people appeared happier than my American friends.

After nearly forgetting I owned anything, I was jolted back to reality when I landed in Minneapolis on Sunday night.  Looking around, I was amazed to rediscover all of the things I left behind.

I sat in my parent's guest bedroom fingering strands of pearls, gazing at cocktail rings, and sniffing Calvin Klein perfume.  I stroked silk blouses, and cashmere sweaters.  I surveyed my Toyota Prius, Vita Mix blender, Specialized mountain bike and Macbook.  I perused my book collection and drove to a storage facility to peer at my mahogany kitchen table, queen-sized bed, and other furniture.

I do not believe I own much compared to the average American (nor have I ever felt as attached to material things as some of my friends).  When I left for India, the bulk of my possessions fit into a 5' X 10' storage facility.  But after living out of a 50 liter backpack for 19 weeks, and seeing real poverty, I feel different.

I feel like I own a massive amount of stuff.  I feel spoiled.  And for the first time in my life, I feel more attached to and controlled by material things than I realized.

I'm sickened not only by what I see in the guest bedroom and in the storage facility but also what I see in society.  Ads on TV implore me to buy.  Ads on the radio implore me to buy.  Billboards on the highway implore me to buy.

Everywhere I look, something is for sale, and unless I buy it I'm not "cool" or "good enough."

Since I've been home, I've had the weirdest feeling.  I feel overwhelmed by my possessions and I want to give them away.  Another Material Girl can have my blender, my cocktail rings, my cashmere sweaters.

I want to throw that 50 liter backpack on my back and walk out the door.  Catch a plane and land in some dusty little "hell hole" of the world where possessions fade into the background and I'm dazzled again by the rawness of the world around me.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Savannah, Georgia

The Greyhound dropped me off in Savannah, Georgia, where I spent two days with a friend from college.

We had not seen each other for five years due to overlapping deployment schedules, but once reunited it felt like we hadn't been apart for more than a day.  That's a testament to true friendship.

A defining feature of Savannah is the plethora of live oaks covered in Spanish moss.

My friend was a History major in college, and she took no time telling me about the Hostess City of the South.  Here's a recap:

General James Oglethorpe and 120 ship passengers landed in Savannah in February 1733.  Georgia was America's 13th and final English colony, and Savannah was it's first city.

Upon arrival, Oglethorpe befriended the local Indian Chief, Tomochici.  Due to their friendship, Savannah did not experience the warfare and hardships that plagued other American colonies.

Oglethorpe laid out the city in a series of grids with wide boulevards and leafy public squares.  Twenty-two of Oglethorpe's original twenty-four squares are still standing.

During the Civil War, the Union Army imposed strict sea blockades that destroyed Savannah's economy.  In December 1862, General Sherman and his soldiers began their "March to the Sea," destroying Atlanta and other cities in Georgia.  Upon arrival in Savannah, General Sherman was so taken by it's beauty, that he could not destroy it.  Instead, Sherman offered Savannah as a Christmas gift to President Abraham Lincoln on December 22nd, 1864.

Church from Forrest Gump.

After the Civil War, Savannah's economy recovered.  The economy was based on cotton, and was bolstered by the arrival of new industries like resin and lumber.  
In the 1950's, a group of women formed the Historic Savannah Foundation.  The Foundation preserved many buildings, helping Savannah to become a tourist hotspot.

Unique architectural details.

Great shopping on River Street...

...and on Commerce Street.

Savannah is the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts.

The Olde Pink House, one of America's most haunted buildings.

Savannah made me excited to live in the South.  The US Census Bureau divides America into four regions:  West, Midwest, Northeast, South.  I've lived for more than six months in the West (Washington), the Midwest (Minnesota, Missouri), and the Northeast (New York).  But this will be my first time living in the South, and I'm looking forward to southern cooking, southern accents, southern hospitality, and being a seven-hour drive from the Hostess City of the South.  

Monday, 20 June 2011

Homeward Bound

"Heat prickled my cheeks.  My hands went clammy.  Love is a lot like food poisoning."
-Suzanne Supplee

Homeward Bound started with food poisoning.

I traveled for 19 weeks in places like India, Egypt and Turkey and routinely ate food from street vendors and local hole-in-the-walls.  I thought my stomach could handle anything, and I mean anything.

Apparently "anything" does not include a ham and cheese sandwich from a train station in Marrakech.  That sandwich took a few hours to affect me, but when it did I began projectile vomiting:  in the Madrid airport bathroom, in the Madrid metro station (I apologize to the person who had to clean it up!), and on Sister # 2s terrace.  Not pleasant, and I was distraught because I had to catch an 8:54 a.m. flight the next morning.

Still feeling the ravages of food poisoning, I woke up and walked from Sister # 2s apartment to the metro.  I got lost on my way to the metro which is improbable; it is literally one block away.  I should have been at the hospital with an IV hooked in my arm and was practically hallucinating.

Once at the airport, it took too much effort to even stand while waiting to check in.  So I sat on my backpack and scooted my ass along the floor as the line moved.  When I finally reached the check-in desk, I requested an aisle seat close to the bathroom.

Luckily, I felt better by the end of the day, and I got to sit next to Alex from Russia on the plane.  This was Alex's first international flight, and it was his first time in America.  I do not know who was more excited to arrive in NYC, me or Alex.  I have never seen anyone so giddy about the Big Apple.

I helped Alex fill out his customs forms and realized how much more compassionate I am toward foreign visitors after being one for nearly five months.

Next, I caught a Greyhound bus from New York City to Savannah.  I've never ridden a Greyhound before and my immediate impression was that waiting in the Manhattan Greyhound Station is 50 times more shady than sleeping on a park bench in the Czech Republic.

These were some of the conversations going on around me:

"Jermaine, you get over here now or I'm gonna SLAP you!"
-Angry black woman to her disobedient son.

"That bitch, she stole my car!  I'm gonna KILL that bitch!"  
-Man in a trench coat to a man in a trench coat. 

"I got yo' money.  Aight, meet me behind Tyrone's place." 
-Man on phone, possibly to a drug dealer.

"Oh yeah, baby, work that ASS!" 
-Man to morbidly obese, legging-clad girlfriend who was performing a "shake my ass on your crotch" dance move.

The station was awash in afros, gold teeth, one-legged men, crack addicts, and midgets.  I felt like I was at the circus.

Obese children sucked on sugary beverages, attacked economy-sized bags of Cheetos and text messaged friends on their iPhone.  Please explain to me why a nine-year-old needs an iPhone?  Or rather, why a family that can afford to buy all three of their under-10 children an iPhone is taking the Greyhound from New York City to Oakland, California?

Was this really the America I missed so much?  

The Manhattan Greyhound Station made me understand why we're losing our economic edge in the world to countries like India and China.

With that said, I predict that cross-country bus and train companies are going to undergo a revitalization in America.

When purchased online three weeks in advance , it costs $79 to take the bus from New York City to Savannah.  Meanwhile, it costs $280 to fly the same distance.  Of course, bus travel is more time intensive, but if you travel overnight you might sleep away 7 or 8 hours of the journey.  To pass the rest of the time, there is free WiFi onboard.

At a bus reststop in South Carolina, I'm embarrassed to say I feasted on some Popeye's.

While the people riding Greyhound are "weirder" than the ones you find on a plane, I gained a new appreciation for America's bus and train network during my Homeward Bound expedition.    

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Proud to be an American

“A wise traveler never despises his own country.”
-Carlo Goldoni

One day, when I was about 15, I got it into my head that I wanted to join the Army.  Like so many of life's obsessions and fascinations, I'm not exactly sure where it came from.

But I do know that my love of America had a lot to do with it.
Pictures are from the National Geographic website, available for view at:

Four years at a military academy, and 5 1/2 years of active duty military service (including a 15-month tour in eastern Afghanistan) did not decrease my patriotism.  If anything, my affiliation with the military only makes me more Proud to Be An American...

That is not to say that my American pride has not ebbed and waned over the years...  Even on this trip, I've hesitated to tell people where I come from, for fear of being shunned or treated differently (not everyone in the world loves America like I do).

My classmate Stephanie, another avid traveler, told me that when she embarked on her first RTW expedition she decided she wanted to keep on traveling until she understood what it really meant to be an American.  Until she could feel that love of country once again. 

Nineteen countries, and 47 cities later, I no longer have any qualms about telling people I meet where I herald from.  They might not like America, they might not like me because I am an American, but I am OK with that...

Because I have freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition the government...

Because the sight of the Iwo Jima Memorial still brings me to tears.

Because we are supported by brave soldiers.  Some of them do not support the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan, or any war for that matter, but they are out there doing their job, anyway.  Because they respect the American democratic system, and they are carrying out the actions and ideals ordained by the majority. 

Travel made me realize that America does not have all of the world's answers.  We haven't got the perfect system of government.  There is always room for improvement in America.  But despite it all, I am proud of where I come from.

Because I have the most priceless thing in the world and I will never take it for granted:  I am free.

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.”
-Lin Yutang

Marrakech, Morocco

The trouble of getting to Marrakech, Morocco was worth it.  I fell in love with everything about this city.  For starters, the food:

If you are in Marrakech, visit the Djamma El Fna square at night.  The square is bustling at all times of the day, but it becomes a literal circus after the sun goes down.

There are snake charmers, there are monkeys, there are lanterns.  There are people playing sports.  There are sing-a-longs.  A slew of vendors set up food tents in the square at dusk, and the smoke from kebabs and other Moroccan delicacies drifts into the night air.

It was one of the coolest things I have ever seen in my life.  Here are some pictures from one night in the Djamma El Fna:

It is nearing dusk in the Djamma El Fna.  A mosque is visible in the background.

Nearby, a snake charmer is setting up shop.

I observe my first "sing-a-long."

The men in this circle are playing a game reminiscent of bowling.

Food vendors set up special stalls for dinner and smoke from grilling fills the air.

 A Muslim woman sells balloons to children.

These men will sell you a cup of fresh squeezed orange juice for 10 dirham.

Did you play the Gone Fishing game at carnivals as a kids?  I did. 

Another vendor is selling dates.

I've developed a date obsession.

Lots of night owls in Marrakech.

After a night in the square, I walked back through the souks (Arab marketplace or bazaar) to my hostel.  This was the same road where I met Dumbass.


 My hostel.  This is what 17 Euros per night can buy you in Marrakech.

I also took a day trip to the countyside.  Here are some pictures:

Traditional Berber (indigenous people of north Africa) home. 

A sheep peaking it's head around a corner of the house.

Looks like a bedroom.

A hamam, or steam bath, in the house.

The lady of the house served us traditional mint tea.

There was also a sweet waterfall outside of town.

My Rough Guides book described a trip to Morocco as "intense and challenging" and parts of it was.  But it was also incredibly eye-opening and loads of fun.