Tuesday, 31 May 2011

What Should I Be When I Grow Up?

What to be when I grow up?  It's the age-old question.

A few people are born knowing the answer and sail effortlessly through life.  My sister, for example, decided to become a mechanical engineer at the age of five, and never looked back.  Now, at age 26, she is halfway through her PhD.     

Sometimes, I envy these people.  But mostly I'm glad to be myself.  I've taken a circuitous path through life, inventing and reinventing myself dozens of times.  But in the process, I've learned hundreds of life lessons and acquired hundreds of life experiences.  I believe, now, that these life lessons and life experiences were worth the angst of not knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I started to (seriously) consider the answer to this age-old question when I was 18-years-old.  Over the next decade, I entertained dozens of alternatives.  Depending on when you met me between the ages of 18 and 28, I may have been a wannabe:  psychotherapist, allopathic physician, naturopathic physician, nurse practitioner, physician's assistant, public health practitioner, exercise physiologist, biologist, social worker, or writer.  (Note, that this is an abbreviated list.)   

At long last, at age 28, I've finally figured it out.  I want to be a writer.  It's been staring me in the face my entire life.  I know it's not an easy path.  I know I'll have to be creative, adaptive, and take a second job to supplement my income.  But I feel a great load taken off my shoulders.  I listened to my heart and I know I made the right decision.

Here is some comfort for all of you who still don't know:  the people born knowing what they want to be when they grow up are in the minority.  For the majority of us, it's a struggle...but it's a struggle with great potential for spiritual growth.

Here are seven realizations I made during my decade-long struggle to answer the age-old question of What Should I Be When I Grow Up?

Finding Your Path:  What should I be when I "grow up"??

1.  You're path is likely something you've been doing for a long time.  You may have been doing it as a "hobby" or for "fun."  You may have done it "instinctively" when you were a child at play.  (I wrote my first "book" when I was five years old.)

2.  It makes you feel authentic, real.  You like the person you are when you're doing this.  You are your true self.  Even some of your natural "faults" may lend themselves to this path.  (I never feel more like my real self than when I'm writing.  I'm also cluttered, weird, and don't mind spending time alone.  All of these characteristics have, at some point in my life been labeled as a "fault."  Yet, I see that they make me a better writer.)

3.  You lose track of time when you're doing it.  It almost doesn't feel like work.  Oftentimes, the time just slips away like it does when you're playing.  (When I write, I'll consult my watch when I take a break and oftentimes I'll be amazed to discover that two hours have passed in the "blink of an eye.")

4.  Overall it doesn't drain you of energy; it energizes you.  I admit it, when I was in my last job I'd often come home from work and be so mentally, emotionally and physically drained that it was all I could do to just make myself dinner before falling into bed.  Yet, when I write I often feel my energy return.  Even when I've been writing all day long.

5.  It often involves a risk or is riskier than an alternate path.  Getting out of the Army and forging my own path as a writer/"other odd job I have to supplement my writing income" was riskier (for me) than staying in the Army and on a familiar path.

6.  It empowers other people.  You may do it because it feels like play or it energizes you, but something about this path empowers other people.  The most successful people are the ones who realize (and act upon the fact) that the execution of their path is a valuable service to others.  For example, the best athletes and entertainers never forget their fan base.

7.  You can start it at any time in your life; there are no age limits.  My favorite quote from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button:

"For what it's worth: it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit, start whenever you want.  You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing.  We can make the best or the worst of it.  I hope you make the best of it.  I hope you see things that startle you.  I hope you feel things you never felt before.  I hope you meet people who have a different point of view.  I hope you live a life you're proud of, and if you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again." 

Pictures are from Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Twenty Questions

Travel interrogation.  It happens pretty routinely.  Here are 20 questions I get asked on an almost-daily basis:

1. Where are you from?

Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

2. Where is that?

A city in a state in the middle of America that borders on Canada.

3. What do you do?

I am unemployed.  In September 2010, after five 1/2 years in the army, I got out to pursue my passion for writing and travel. 

4. Did you like the army? 

I did, but I was ready to do something else.  That said, I would do it all over again if I was 18 again.  I met amazing people, got to live all over the world, and gained priceless life experiences.

5.  How long have you been traveling?

114 days (as of  May 30, 2011).  I have another three to four weeks to go.

6. Where have you been?

I've been to India, Israel, Jordan, Cairo, and all over Europe.  I have spent most of my time in Europe in eastern Europe and the Balkan peninsula.

7. What is your favorite country?

India, hands down.  Nothing else even compares.

8. How much did your trip cost?

I have not been keeping track of every dollar, but I estimate that this trip will cost me about $16,000 when it's all said and done.  (About $5,000 of that cost was airfare.)

9.  How did you afford it?

The old-fashioned way:  I worked.  I was a full-time military employee for five 1/2 years.  I put money away for this trip every month from October 2009 to February 2011.  It was like a second car payment.   

10.  You're alone.  Do you like traveling alone?

Absolutely.  I have total control over my itinerary and daily schedule.  Traveling alone has also given me self-confidence as I have to rely on myself for everything.  I also believe that travel, at heart, is a truth-seeking journey.  Every truth-seeking journey begins from within.  It is easier to be introspective when you are a solo traveler.

11.  Have you ever been in danger?  Sick?  Injured?

No, I have never been in danger that I know of.  I've been lucky, but I've also been smart.  I practice safe travel tips every day.  Other than a mild upper respiratory infection in north India, I have been sick and injury-free.  I owe a lot of that to my dad.  I inherited his steel stomach.  I can usually drink the local water and eat the spiciest, most exotic cuisine without gastrointestinal mishaps. 

12. Where else do you want to go?

In the three to four weeks remaining, I hope to visit Venice, Barcelona, Lisbon and Marrakesh.  In the future, I want to visit southeast Asia, and Africa.  But travel is travel.  I am happy to go anywhere.  Even if it is a city five miles away from Roanoke, Virginia (my future home)!

13. How old are you?


14. What are your plans after the trip?

This August, I will move to Roanoke, Virginia to began a two-year masters degree in writing.

15. What kind of writing?

My favorite writing is nonfiction (e.g. memoir, essay, journalism) but I also love to write fictional short stories. 

16. How will you support yourself writing?

In the future, I hope to support myself through multiple writing-related income streams such as editing, teaching, tutoring, free-lance and journalism.  I know it is not going to be easy.  I will get a second job to supplement my writing income if need be.

17. Do you miss America?

Absolutely.  This trip has made me fall even more in love with "The Land of the Free and The Home of the Brave."  That said, we don't have all of the answers in America.  

18. Are you dating anyone?  Engaged?  Married?

Why does it always have to be about that, LOL?  No, Franz, I am happily single. 

19.  Do you find me attractive? 

If I say "yes" will you buy me a cappuccino? 

20.  When do you leave this city?

I've been staying two to three days in each city, so probably not enough time for us to decide we are soulmates.

* Pictures are from Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Saturday, 28 May 2011


We all have our own version of utopia (aka. bliss).  For some people, utopia is a spouse, children, and a 9-5 job.  For others, utopia is being single.  Or adopting kids.  Being childless.  Free-lance work.   Living in a high-rise in Manhattan.  Or a mud hut in Africa. 

At latest estimate, there are nearly 7 billion people on earth.  Which means there are 7 billion versions of utopia, right?  Unfortunately, no.  Instead of creating their own utopia, people routinely conform to a cookie-cutter version.

During my trip, I've observed that an obstacle holding people back from achieving dreams and traveling the globe is fear about how others will perceive and judge their utopia.

Whatever your utopia (you alone, are the only one who can figure that out), here is some inspiration to break away from the mold and create a life ruled by love, not fear.  Here are eight of my favorite nonconformity quotes from the world's finest thinkers:

"All progress has resulted from people who took unpopular positions."
~Adlai Stevenson


"Once in a while it really hits people that they don't have to experience the world in the way they have been told to."
~Alan Keightley

"Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary."
~Sir Cecil Beaton

"They will say you are on the wrong road, if it is your own."
~Antonio Porchia

"A man must consider what a rich realm he abdicates when he becomes a conformist."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Not all those who wander are lost."
~J.R.R. Tolkien

"Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal."
~Albert Camus

"How glorious it is - and also how painful - to be an exception."
~Alfred de Musset

* Pictures are from Sarajevo, Bosnia.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Sarajevo, Bosnia

Getting from Belgrade, Serbia to Sarajevo, Bosnia was not a pleasant experience.  At all.

I took a bus from one capital to the other.  There is no other way to describe this trip but "horrific."

 House of horrors.

To begin, it was wickedly hot.  I asked the assistant driver if he would open the window on the ceiling.  He obliged, but would only crack the window a couple of inches.  This did not provide substantial ventilation but, I reasoned, a few molecules of fresh air is better than nothing!   

I had a searing headache, but did not want to drink any water because there was no bathroom onboard.

Furthermore, I was seated next to a rather rotund woman who poured over into my seat, taking up approximately 1/3 of my personal space.

 Rotund woman at rest.

The speakers directly above my head were blasting a nightmarish mix of emo and polka.  Yeah, I did not think that combination was possible, either.  Until yesterday.  The noise was so discordant that I put on my IPOD and blasted Bruce Springsteen until it felt like my ear drums were bleeding.

As the hours passed, I started to feel like I was going to vomit.  Just when I thought that things could not get any worse, the rather rotund woman to my left opened her purse and removed...drum roll...a sausage sandwich.

At that moment, the assistant driver, who was standing in the middle of the aisle and facing away from me, reached one pudgy arm skyward and closed the window on the ceiling.

  Me, moments after the sausage sandwich was unveiled.

I have no idea why this man had such an aversion to fresh air!  I started to fantasize about all of the ways that I could hurt and disable him...

Operation Fresh Air was as follows: 

I get out of my seat, walk up to the assistant driver and tap him on the shoulder.  When he turns around to face me, I puke all over his face.  The moment he starts to wipe my vomit from his eyes, I knee him in the groin.  This disables him enough for me to reach around his fat body and place him in the sleeper chokehold.

After he passes out on the floor of the bus in a pool of my vomit, I reach up and open the ceiling window.

Then, I walk casually back to my seat.  I grab the sausage sandwich from the hands of the speechless woman to my left and heave it down the aisle.

I put my IPOD back on and go to sleep.

A famous fountain in the center of Sarajevo.

Am I back in Bucharest, Romania?

I seriously entertained Operation Fresh Air but, ultimately, decided that the cons outweighed the pros.  Cons like fines, ending up in a Bosnian prison, and having to delay (or forgo) graduate school.

I reached Sarajevo as it was getting dark.  I was in such a foul mood that I paid a taxi driver 10 Euros to take me straight to my hostel (instead of navigating the city tram, trolley and bus network for cheaper).  I arrived at my hostel only to find it locked.  Guess the management were off to dinner...

When the management returned 45 minutes later, I checked in and went straight to bed, repeating over and over the mantra, "Tomorrow is going to be a better day, tomorrow is going to be a better day, tomorrow is going to be a better day, tomorrow is going to be a better day..." as I passed out.

The assassination of Franz Ferdinand happened on this street in Sarajevo, an event that is said to have precipitated World War I.


Lucky for me, today has been a better day, in part because of Turkish coffee. 

The Ottoman Empire once controlled this area, and Turkish influence is still felt in Sarajevo.  This bodes well with me, as Turkey has, hands down, the best food of any country I have visited on the trip.

Turkish coffee consists of hot water poured over raw grounds.  The grounds form a thick sludge on the bottom of the cup and the coffee has a strong, grainy taste.  Sugar cubes are served separately.  It is customary to eat the sugar cubes by themselves, instead of putting them into the coffee.

This morning, I let myself get lost in Sarajevo.  If you read this blog regularly, you know that getting lost is what I like to do in every city.  I wholeheartedly believe it is the best way to get to know a place.

Today, while lost, I stumbled upon a sobering memorial in Sarajevo to the victims of the Bosnian War (April 1992 to December 1995).  It is a graveyard, in fact.

I lost myself in this graveyard for a good hour.  It was one of the most emotionally-charged moments of the trip.

Here are some pictures of the graveyard:

For those who are a little rusty with their history here is a brief low-down of the conflict:

The Bosnian War came about as a result of the breakdown of Yugoslavia.

After Slovenia and Croatia seceeded from Yugoslavia in 1991, the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina passed a referendum for independence.  At the time, the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was inhabitated by Muslim Bosniaks (44%), Orthodox Serbs (31%) and Catholic Croats (17%).

Bosnian Serbs boycotted the referendum and established their own republic, the Republic Srpska.  Hoping to add more territory to the Republic Srpska, Bosnian Serb forces, along with Serbia and the Yugoslav Peoples Army, attacked the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

War broke out.

During the conflict that ensued, Sarajevo was completely surrounded and blockaded by Serb forces.  These Serb forces killed non-Serb civilians in Sarajevo as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing.  It is estimated that 10,000 people were killed or went missing in Sarajevo during the siege.

With NATO intervention, a ceasefire was reached in October 1995.  In December 1995, the Dayton Agreement led to stabilization in the country.

After the war, two Serb generals were tried and convicted as war criminals.

It is hard to come to Sarajevo without being profoundly affected by the aftermath of the Bosnian War.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Eight Things I Wish I'd Known When I was 18

I've had many spiritual and philosophical moments on the road.  I've had the time to reflect back upon my entire life.  Here are eight things I wish I'd known 10 years ago:

1.  Men (and women) will treat you the way you allow them to treat you.  If you demand respect, they will either respect you, or they will ditch you.  If they ditch you, you are better off without them.  I promise.

2.  There are absolutely no rules to the game of life.  Contrary to what anyone tells you, you do not have to get married in your 20's.  You do not have to have children...ever.  You do not have to own a house, a car, or a dog.  You do not have to work for corporate America.  You do not have to become a doctor, a lawyer or a politician.  These things make some people happy, but the real question is do they make you happy?  Live life by your own rules and never look back.

3.  Love is the ultimate freedom, the ultimate liberty.  Love is not dependency. There is no reason to cling.  Clinging does not manifest love.  If a person wants to leave you, let them go.  The greatest way you can love another person is to let them be free.

4.  It's not all about you.  Even if it feels that way in your head.  Other people spend about 10% of the time thinking about you as you spend thinking about yourself.  Always remember that you are your own harshest critic.        

5.  Beauty and confidence are inextricably linked.  If you manifest confidence, other people will find you more attractive.  Love your body and treat it gently.  It is much, much more than someone's arm candy or wall trophy.  No matter what it looks like, how old it is, or the shape it is in, it is your most powerful tool.

6.  Popularity in high school has no relation to success in later life.  Drinking, sex, and relationships can wait until later.  Life extends far, far beyond the teenage years.

7.  Most people change radically between the ages of 20 and 30, far more so than during adolescence.  Your opinions, perspective, life experiences, and taste in men or women may undergo a revolution.  Keep that in mind when making major decisions.  And enjoy the journey.

8.  Have an (educated) opinion and do not keep it bottled up inside.  Be truthful. Be authentic.  Speak your mind.  The old adage is true:  the people who mind don't matter, and the people who matter don't mind.  Pretending to be someone you're not by being a silent doormat is a travesty.

Fifteen Steps to Planning Your RTW Trip

Planning my RTW trip was an arduous (and approximately 6-month) process.  Having never done this before, I was a bit clueless.  At least planning a trip of this caliber will be far easier next time.  Here are the general steps I took during my 6-month planning process.  This list includes the things I learned or wish I had known before I started planning.

The following steps are approximate.  Tailor them to fit your needs and wants. 

Step 1: Decide where you want to go.

These books were of great help to me when trying to decide where to travel.

The City Book:  A Journey Through the Best Cities in the World.  A Lonely Planet publication. 
The Travel Book:  A Journey Through Every Country in the World.  Another Lonely Planet publication.

Both books can be purchased online at:

Step 2: Decide when you want to go.

Consider the weather at that time of year.  Depending on when you leave, you might travel north to south or south to north in order to optimize weather conditions.

For instance, I began my RTW trip in India in February.  In March, I moved north to the Middle East and north Africa.  In April, I moved north to Europe.  I remained in Europe from April through June.  I feel as though I've had terrific weather throughout my trip.  Now consider the weather if I'd done this trip in reverse.  (Europe can be cold and rainy in February and India is extremely hot in June.)

Step 3: Decide how long you want to go for.

This will, of course, depend on your budget and how much time you can take off work or school.  If you're willing to volunteer or work while you travel, you can extend your trip longer.

Travel Budget Calculator: 

Check out my blogposts for some ideas about financing your trip.
Earning Money While You Travel
Saving for Travel:  Seven Days to SE Asia 

Step 4: Get a passport.

For American citizens, passports application/renewal information is available at:

Note that passport processing time is about 4-6 weeks.  However, you can pay extra money for a 2-3 week expedited service.

Step 5: Get visas.

For American citizens, visa information is available at:

Note that visa requirements vary from country to country.  Some visas should be applied for in advance.  You can get some visas upon arrival in the country at the airport.  Many countries in Europe have an open borders policy where a visa is not required when traveling from one country to another pending a valid passport.

Step 6: Book plane tickets.

Find a travel agency that specializes in RTW trips.  It could save you a bundle.

Some ideas.
Oneworld:  http://www.oneworld.com/
Round The World Experts:  http://www.roundtheworldexperts.co.uk/
STA Travel:  http://www.statravel.com/  
Intrepid Travel (has flight specialists if you book a trip with them):  http://www.intrepidtravel.com/
Round The World Flights:  http://www.roundtheworldflights.com/

Step 7: Consider your health.

-Schedule an annual physical.
-Consider the activity level required for your trip.  Start or modify a workout plan accordingly.
-Make an appointment at a travel clinic to ensure you are up-to-date on vaccinations and have appropriate prescriptions (e.g. antimalaria pills).
-Get a medical ID tag with info like allergies, blood type, an emergency contact.
-Make sure you have a full supply of medications and/or supplements (e.g. birth control, multivitamin). 

Step 8: Get travel insurance.

Travel insurance plans are relatively inexpensive and can be tailored to be as comprehensive as you want or need them to be.  The peace of mind they provide is priceless.  My travel insurance plan included medical coverage (including medical evacuation in case of an emergency), lost or stolen luggage, and missed flight.

Here are two reputable travel insurance companies.
Travel Guard:   http://www.travelguard.com/ 
World Nomads:  http://www.worldnomads.com/

Step 9: Make an administrative needs list.  Start checking it off.

Here is my list.  Some of these items could not be checked off until literally an hour before departure.  (Call the company or organization directly to inquire about their policies.)

-Put household goods in a storage facility.
-Change car insurance.  (Many car insurance companies offer hugely discounted rates if your car will remain in a garage, driveway, or storage facility during your travels and won't be driven.)
-Suspend cell phone.
-Pay outstanding bills.  
-Call bank to find out credit card pin number.  (I knew my debit card had a pin number, but not my credit card.  You can use your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM during your travels, but you will need the pin number.)
-Let bank know countries on travel itinerary.  (That way, if you debit and/or credit card in swiped in Timbuktu, the bank will not suspect fraud and put a hold on your card.)

Step 10: Make a packing list.  Start checking it off.

I thought that The Ultimate Adventure Packing List was pretty nifty:

Step 11: Book accommodation for arrival city.

Most accommodation can be booked as you travel (24-72 hours before arrival in a new city).  Even if you prefer an impromptu itinerary, you will have peace of mind knowing that you have a place to stay that first night of your trip.

Hostelword.com:  http://www.hostelworld.com/
Hostels.com:  http://www.hostels.com/
Hostelbookers.com:  http://www.hostelbookers.com/

Step 12:  Attend to last-minute packing.

Step 13:  Attend to last-minute administrative needs.

Step 14:  Say your goodbyes.

Throw yourself a Going-Away Extravaganza.  It's a good opportunity to exchange email addresses, travel tips, inspiration, and pass on your travel blog address to friends and family.  You are going to keep a travel blog, right?

Step 15:  Depart 

Got a ride to the airport?  Arrive early.  Check-in times for international flights can be lengthy.