Sunday, November 5, 2017

Holidays: Who Needs Them?

Having just made it past Halloween and with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years looming, I think this is the perfect time to discuss holidays.  Growing up I was always either too excited or not excited enough for holidays.  Being too excited just led to being bummed when the holiday was over and not being excited enough was often because the holidays weren't as great as they were hyped up to be.  As I've gotten older, I've come to better understand how I feel about holidays.  In general, I don't really like most holidays.  When I was a kid this was difficult to grapple with.  Everyone around me was having fun, and I couldn't always figure out how to.  As an adult, I'm learning not to care too much.

I never fully understood Halloween.  I just couldn't see what was so much fun about stressing out about your costume.  I don't really find it that much fun to dress up in the first place and now there is pressure to do so on Halloween and enjoy it. Some years I tried and others I didn't.  There were at least a couple years in college where I didn't even bother to waste my time and money on a costume.  That didn't stop me from going to parties and enjoying myself.  However this can be difficult, especially when there are people that try to make you feel bad about not dressing up.  Nowadays, I usually don't bother to go out. I can enjoy a quiet evening at home and go out some other time.  It works for me.

As a kid, Christmas is the greatest thing ever, but as an adult it's just really stressful.  I have to worry about whether or not everyone will like what I got them while simultaneously trying to appreciate everything I get even if I hate it.  There is nothing that bothers me more than getting gifts I don't want.  I have two specific issues with this: 1) it's a waste of money and 2) it proves how little people really know you.  Although I generally enjoy seeing my family at Christmas, I could really do without a lot of it.

New Years is a holiday that I never really understood.  What exactly are we celebrating?  I can't think of a New Years where I tried to celebrate and didn't spend a lot of money and barely enjoyed myself.  It's a holiday where everyone feels like they should have plans and doesn't mind being price-gouged to do so.  In the last few years, I have enjoyed staying home by myself on New Years.  I also wouldn't mind welcoming a friend or two and watching movies or something.  Again, holidays give us a chance to spend time with people, but it doesn't have to be elaborate.

Now Thanksgiving is a holiday that I do actually enjoy.  I would even go as far to say that it's my favorite holiday.  It's basically the best parts of Christmas without all the stress.  I think my love for Thanksgiving really came to light when I was living in Uganda.  Thanksgiving was the one holiday that you could celebrate like you were home.  You could get a turkey and make all the fixing.  Maybe your family wasn't there, but there was always a group of friends welcoming you to celebrate with them.  I guess you could say that I generally enjoy spending time with people and eating a lot of food.  So how could I not like Thanksgiving?

The 4th of July is another holiday that I'm pretty okay with.  I like to think I'm a patriotic person and the 4th of July is an opportunity to spend time with friends and/or family and celebrate our patriotism.  And of course food is usually involved.  It's like the summertime Thanksgiving.  What's not to like?

Easter is a little bit of a funny one.  It's kind of like Thanksgiving and the 4th of July because it's usually celebrated with family and friends and there is always tasty food.  But there is some gift giving which generally puts a damper on it for me as this makes it more like Christmas.  There's also all the candy at a time of year where most people are try to lose weight to fit into their summer wardrobes.  I guess I can tolerate Easter, but it's not one of my favorites.

Valentines Day always seems like a holiday meant to make a certain portion of the population feel left out.  In my opinion, holidays should be all inclusive and Valentines Day is just the opposite.  Don't couples get enough chances to celebrate with the plethora of anniversaries that they can come up with.  Even when I was dating, I never really saw the point.  Valentines Day is usually one that I ignore.

There are also a wealth of other holidays that I could talk about, but I'll spare all of you the pain.  Generally, random Mondays that I get off for "holidays" are a good thing.  I don't necessarily care what they are meant for, but I always enjoy a three day weekend.  It's a great opportunity to get out of town and go somewhere.  I also enjoy the not-so-celebrated holidays like National Sandwich Day.  Typically, they mean free food or services, which is always okay with me.

When I really think about it, I guess I often just dislike the enthusiasm that other people have for holidays that I don't like.  I also don't enjoy the pressure put on me from other people to participate in and/or enjoy holidays.  I think that everyday life is exciting enough.  I also prefer holidays in the sense of vacations.  This is where I truly have fun.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

45 by 30: I Did It!

At the beginning of this year, I set out for myself a travel goal.  I challenged myself to go to 45 countries before I turned 30.  Having just turned 30 a few weeks ago, I am proud to say: Mission accomplished!!  I have now been to 46 countries (per my definition of a country)!!

As I've said in the past, many people find my traveling to be awe-inspiring.  I tend to think of it as being steered by your own ambitions.  Most people would never dream of traveling alone, but it's really not that crazy of an idea.  Sometimes you meet interesting people and have experiences that you would have never had if you were traveling with other people.  So I'll take this moment of personal triumph to challenge everyone else out there.  Don't let your preconceived notions or your irrational fears of traveling alone get in the way of living your life to the fullest and pursuing your dreams.

At the outset of this new decade for me, I would also like to set a new travel goal.  Considering I don't really know what the next ten years has in store for me, I should probably think about this more like a prediction.  Because this prediction is not necessarily a goal, I'll give myself a small range instead of an exact number.  I predict and/or aspire to have traveled to between 70 and 75 countries by the time I turn 40.  If you do the math, I will need to travel to two to three new counties (countries I've never been to) each year for the next 10 years.  I can't say for sure that life won't throw me some road blocks along the way, but I already have some trips on the horizon so happy traveling!



Monday, October 9, 2017

Romania and Finland: An Odd Combination

Romanian Parliament Building (the second largest
administrative building in the world)
You might have noticed that from time to time I travel for my work.  I love traveling and when my job is willing to pay for my flight, it makes it even easier.  A couple of months ago I took a work trip to Romania.  Having never been to Romania, I was really excited.  I figured while I was there I should take advantage and travel around.  I ended up traveling for about 4-5 days in Romania and then flying to Finland for a week.  This was definitely more expensive that some of my other recent international travels, but it was well worth it.




Bran (Dracula's) Castle
In the past, I once toyed around with going to Romania, but I never did.  So this was my chance!  Romania was not on the top of my travel list, so I may not have made it there otherwise for some time (if at all).  I decided that after I was done working in Bucharest I'd make a loop through Transylvania.  As many people know, Transylvania is generally known for Vlad Dracula; however, the Dracula that most people know comes from Bram Stoker's book, which isn't exactly real.  Vlad Dracula was a real person (and a mean, terrible person, at that), but he was not a vampire as portrayed in the book.  Nonetheless, I found it entertaining to follow the stories throughout Transylvania.  I saw things such as "Dracula's" Castle (Vlad may not have ever even lived there) and the house where Vlad was born (he was actually born there).  Generally I just enjoyed the quaint little towns and all the excitement and activity they had to bring.

After leaving Romania, I had to travel back to Frankfurt, Germany in order to get to Finland.  However, I had a 12 hour layover in Frankfurt, so I took the time to explore.  Despite the number of times I've been to Germany and the countless months I've been studying German, I had never actually been to Frankfurt.  This was a fun little side trip and a great opportunity to practice German.  After spending the better part of the day seeing the city, I found myself taking a tour of the Frankfurt airport...in German!  Not only was the tour interesting, but it helped me keep up on my German practice while on my two and a half week vacation.


Helsinki Cathedral



I arrived late into Helsinki, but the following day I got to experience the history and marvels of the city.  I absolutely loved Helsinki!  It was my favorite part of the entire trip!  There were just so many things to do, see, and eat.  I had some of the best seafood ever right on the water for relatively (by Finland standards) cheap.  I saw some of the most architecturally unique buildings I had ever seen.  And I was constantly delighted and amazed by the politeness of the people and the sense of security I felt by the lack of crime.  Throughout the remainder of the trip, I wished I had had just one more day (or more) in Helsinki.





The small, quaint streets of Tallinn
While I was staying in Helsinki, I also took a side trip to Tallinn, Estonia.  It is only a couple short hours by ferry from Helsinki.  Despite some issues actually getting on the ferry (and
losing my umbrella), I made it to Tallinn where I spent the day in the old town.  It reminded me so much of what I had just experienced in many of the small Romanian towns I had visited.  It was completely adorable and I probably could have spent even more time wandering around.



In Finland, I also explored the Southwestern region of the country.  After leaving Helsinki, I went to Tampere, one of Finland's largest cities.  Tampere takes a great spin on post-industrial like I've never seen before.  Then I went to Finland's former capital, Turku, which was filled with so many sights and history that I just couldn't get enough.  My final stop on the trip was the Aland Islands, which I took a long ferry ride to get to.  I was so excited to spend nearly two full days on the island, but, alas, it rained.the.entire.time.  The sun came out finally just a few hours before I was leaving on the ferry back to Helsinki.  I couldn't decide if I was happy to spend at least those few hours roaming around or if I was just that much more bummed that it could've been like that the entire time.  It was almost as it the weather was trying to tease me before I left.  Nonetheless, my trip ended after my night ferry with a few more hours in Helsinki, which really topped things off for me.

In the end, I would definitely recommend all of these places.  I guess, in general, I usually find that everywhere has it's own charm.  You just have to prepare yourself for what you may or may not do while your there.  It had been a few years since I had been to Europe and during this most recent trip, I realized how much of Europe I've actually seen.  I'm usually more well-traveled than most people I meet, but I'm also more well-traveled in Europe than I can ever possibly imagine anyone to be.

Friday, September 1, 2017

So Thirsty!

Water. How can something so simple so often be so difficult to get. Some people may think that I'm about to talk about people in third world countries who don't have access to clean water (which is also a problem), but in fact I'm going to explore the difficulties of acquiring water in first world countries, particularly airports.

I find it hard to believe the lack of water fountains in airports worldwide. Of course some airports do have many water fountains with safe drinking water (which I much appreciate!). Similarly there are places where the tap water isn't safe to drink and therefore there are few or no water fountains. This is understandable. But what I can't understand is the absence of water fountains in airports where the water is perfectly safe to drink.

Every person on this planet who wants to get on a commercial flight must surrender all water before going through security. However when they find themselves in the terminal waiting for their flight to depart, there is no place for them to get a drink of water without paying for it. In a world that seems to be (at least attempting to be) more and more eco-friendly every day, I just can't comprehend why we don't discourage disposable water bottles. In fact, in airports, these disposable bottles seem to be encouraged. Airports have plenty of phone charging stations and often times even showers, but not always something as simple as a water fountain.

Air travelers are given the option of suffering from dehydration during their flight (which can actually be more dehydrating that staying grounded) or forking over an excessive amount of money for bottled water (which is not only bad for the environment, but also expensive for the financially savvy traveler). I always travel with a refillable water bottle; not just when flying, but all the time. One thing I always try to do before boarding a flight is to fill my water bottle. Some airports make this easy by having easily accessible water fountains, but all too many have few or no water fountains. I don't understand why this is. Are we trying to keep the bottled water companies in business? Are we trying to make the airports more money? Is it possible that the purpose is to further irritate already slightly agitated travelers? I can't imagine that any of these explanations make sense, so I'm lead to think that there.is.no.reason.at.all.

This problem is also present in the rest of every day life, but it is much more obvious in airports where people are typically stripped of their water before entering. In general, there should be more reusable water bottle refilling stations in cities and towns. I would even be willing to pay a nominal fee to refill my reusable water bottle. This would be much more eco-friendly and would generally make people like me happier. What's the harm in having happier people in an environmentally friendly world?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Europe? Have I Been There?

I typically find it easiest to describe how much I have traveled by talking about how many countries I've been to. Although this isn’t the best gauge for how far one’s travels has taken them, it's one of the easiest measurements that I can come up with. That being said, when it comes to Europe, lately it's become easier for me to explain where I haven’t yet been, because the number of European countries that I have been to now exceeds the number of countries I haven't been to. So far, I've been to 28 European countries, but it seems easier to say that I haven't been to 19.

I think I can safely say that I've seen a larger percentage of Europe than I have of any other continent (including North America…my home). And it's not like I've been to all of these countries just once or I've only been to one city or town. Some of these countries I've been to two, three, or even four times! In most of them, I've traveled quite extensively, visiting at least two or three cities or towns. In only 12 of them have I only been to one place, but many of these are the smaller countries that don't consist of much more than one main city. In four countries, I've only been to two places. Leaving me with 12 countries where I've been to three or more places. When I go somewhere, I really like to see it!

In many ways I feel as if I've conquered Europe. When I look to travel, I often look to places other than Europe yet, I still sometimes seek the places I haven't been in Europe. I guess you could say that Europe is not only a continent that I have very much experienced, but I also very much enjoy it. I don't think I'll stop visiting Europe until I hit country number 47 and even then, I may still keep going back.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Do Tourists Have To Be So Touristy?

Being a frequent traveler and a D.C. Resident during the summer tourist season, I've seen more than my fair share of tourists. I always find myself asking the question: do tourists have to be so touristy? Do they have to stand out so much? As a tourist myself, my goal is to never stand out, but for most people it seems as if they are really trying to do so. Do tourists realize how they seem?

Some of my major pet peeves with tourists include the way they dress, the way they carry themselves (the amount of confidence they have), selfie sticks (and other photo taking idiosyncrasies), and their inability to handle weather (rain, heat, etc.). Some of these things are hard for people to adjust, such as having confidence while they wander around a foreign city. Other things seem like common sense that people generally have but seem to lose when they are traveling (e.g. going to India in monsoon season without an umbrella). Why is this?

When I travel, I always try to be prepared and still be myself. I tend to dress the same as I would when I'm home. There is no need for random touristy clothes. I also try to walk around like I know what I'm doing, even if I don't. I think this makes me a safer traveler. I'm not saying I'm not susceptible to crime, but I'm also not making myself a target. I also try to plan ahead, so I know what I might need while I'm traveling. And the more and more I travel, the less and less photos I take. It seems to help me remember my trip better and it doesn't make me stand out as a tourist (aka someone who isn't familiar with their surroundings).

In general, tourists are vulnerable, but usually it's because they make themselves that way. I like to think that the less touristy you are the stronger of a tourist you are. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do to protect yourself while still doing what you love.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Eight Days a Week

It seems to me that most people don't really want to go to work everyday.  If people were given the option to not go to work on any particular day, they would probably choose not to go.  I tend to find this a little perplexing most of the time.  Now, don't get me wrong, sometimes work is a drag and free time can be rejuvenating.  That being said, I think I am generally happier when I'm most productive.  If I'm just sitting around doing nothing, I feel lazy.  I'm an entrepreneurial person.  To me, time is money, and if I'm wasting my time, I'm wasting money.  This goes back to all my side hustles, which is a bit of a tangent from my topic for today.

Recently, I've been offered quite a bit of overtime at work and along with many of my colleagues, I've been taking full advantage of it.  They've even been offering overtime hours on Saturdays and you'd be amazed at how many people show up.  Seeing how I'm happiest when I productive, I generally enjoy working on some Saturdays in addition to my regular five day work week.  Granted, this is not to say that I want to work a full eight hour day on Saturdays or that I want to work every Saturday, but I really enjoy being even more productive than normal.

Often times I find that I'm more productive on a Saturday afternoon after having worked all morning, than if I hadn't worked in the morning.  I feel more motivated to participate in my side hustles as well as to socialize with friends after having had a productive day. When I first started working on Saturdays I thought it would be a drag, but I was in it for the extra money.  However, once I got going, I realized that I actually enjoy working on Saturdays more than working during the week.  It's quite possible that this is because it's voluntary and not mandatory.  Once things are mandatory, they are automatically less enjoyable.

Some people don't understand my desire to work so much overtime, yet very few people would say that they don't have a use for extra money.  So that begs the question: what is there to not understand?  I guess in the end, I am one of those people that enjoys working.  On top of that, I enjoy my job.  These two things combine make it just a little easier for me to give up a Saturday morning.  I suppose not everyone in this world is like me.  Go figure!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

ENTJ

Many people have taken the Myers Briggs personality test. Like many personality tests, it qualifies you on a handful of elements as being either "A" or "B". "Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning?" "When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances?"  And so on...

As someone who doesn't tend to see the world as either black or white, I have a hard time with these types of tests and justifying whether or not I think the test came to the correct conclusion about me.  I took the Myers Briggs test a couple years ago in the process of a training course that I was taking and I was intrigued by the results.  The training course had us take the test before the course and then during the course we evaluated ourselves based on the elements of Myers Briggs before finding out our results.  

The big thing I always struggle to identify about myself is if I'm an introvert or an extrovert. That is, do I prefer to focus on the outer world or on my own inner world?  Depending on the day, my mood, and the situation, I clearly exhibit qualities of both.  This is probably because my mom is one of the biggest extroverts I know and my dad is a huge introvert.  Unlike my brother who is generally introverted himself, I managed to get qualities of both.

What amazed me when I took the Myers Briggs test is that in evaluating myself, I recognized that I am both introverted and extroverted.  But the results of the test showed that I am an introverted extrovert.  That is to say that I am an extrovert, but I'm am so close to being an introvert that it's sometimes hard to tell.  After finding this out, I felt like my life made so much more sense.

Introverted extroverts aren't very common, but I think there are more of them in this world than you may think.  I find it interesting about myself that I thrive on being around people and I tend to be able to hold a conversation with most people, whether I previously knew them or not.  Yet, on the other hand, I enjoy staying in on a Saturday night by myself and I love to travel solo.  To be able to explain this quality is a bit challenging for me.  I know that it is who I am, and I love that about myself.  

I think, for me, it has to do with my independence.  I am one of the most independent people I know.  I don't like to rely on other people to go places and do things (mostly because people often times back out of plans), which means that many times, I go alone.  I still thrive on human interactions, but I'm also perfectly content by myself.  I'd be curious to know what drives other introverted extroverts.




Note: There is a difference between an introverted extrovert and an extroverted introvert. An introverted extrovert gets energy from other people, but still enjoys having time alone. An extroverted introvert gets energy from being alone, but still enjoys interacting with others.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Simple Answer

Often time when people find out how much I've traveled, they ask me "What is your favorite country?"  At first I struggled with this question.  I felt stupid not knowing which country I liked best or enjoyed the most.  But finally, I realized that I don't necessarily need to have one favorite country.  Many countries and regions are unique to themselves and can't be compared in the way people think when they ask me that question.  I feel like I simply have countries that I like and countries that I don't like.  Granted, it's not quite as black and white as that.  In the end, I guess I could recommend a country or destination based on what you are looking for in a vacation.  Or I could tell you why I enjoyed a certain place.  I could maybe qualify favorites based on region, but even that doesn't seem particularly fair.

Ultimately, the answer is: I don't know.  Just as when I came back from Peace Corps and people would ask me: "How was it?", I can't answer these questions in a few words as most people want me to.  I can't sum up two years of my life in one sentence and I can't give you a simple answer as to which country is my favorite.  It's just not that simple.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Traveling Is More Than the Destination

Being an avid traveler, I often wonder what leads some people to want to travel and others to simply stay home.  I often think the reason I love to travel is because I love to see new places and experience things that I've never experienced before.  Although recently I had a couple trips that proved to me that sometimes there is more to a trip than where you are going and what you are seeing.  Traveling isn't always about the destination.

A great trip can sometimes be solely about the people you are with, whether those are people you are traveling with or people you are going to see.  I recently went to visit a couple of friends of mine who recently moved to a small town.  I was so excited to go and I couldn't quite figure out why, as I already knew that there was little to do and see there. But when it came time for me to leave and I didn't want to go, that's when it all hit me.  I didn't have a great time because of anything in particular that I saw or did.  I enjoyed my trip so much because of the people I got to spend time with.  As someone who often prefers to travel alone, this was difficult for me to comprehend.


After I coming to this revelation, I just want to travel more.  I want to travel to places that I don't care about to see people I love as well as travel to places I love (or I think I may love).  This isn't a game-changer, but it does put a new spin on my desire to travel.  I guess I just love experiencing all the great things this planet has to offer as well as the people that grace the surface of it.