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.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

I Keep Hustlin'

I have a theory that if you want more money in your bank account, you either have to make more or spend less.  Since I'm not willing to give up too many aspects of my current lifestyle, I usually opt for making more.  I'm always trying to find new ways to earn a buck on the side.  I make a decent wage at my 9-5 job, but I could always find uses for more money.

I've been hearing the phrase "side hustle" more and more these days.  A side hustle is something other than your main job that makes you money.  I currently have at least a couple of these going on and I'm constantly looking for more.

The first side hustle that I got into was renting my car.  To many people this probably sounds crazy, but to me it was something I wished was possible long before I found a service that does it.  Many city dwellers don't use their cars on a daily basis, leaving them unused most of the time.  This is a pretty wasteful habit, if you ask me.  Last October, I started renting my car through a service called Getaround.  Getaround allows you to rent your car when you aren't using it, but still block out whatever time you need for yourself.  This type of side hustle takes a bit of faith and can be risky because Getaround charges $99 to have their system installed in your car so users can unlock your car with their phone and so Getaround can GPS track the car.  They also charge $20 a month to maintain the system they installed.  In addition, they keep 40% of your profits.  This may sound like a lot to overcome, but so far I'm convinced.  For me it started out slow, but lately I've been making over $300 per month and using my car as much as I want (which I'll admit isn't that much).  And, in fact, this is for my old dinged up 2005 Toyota Corolla.  I suspect a nicer newer car would make even more money.

The other main side hustle I have going on at the moment is dog walking.  It sounds simple and obvious, but I don't believe regular dog walking is an easy gig for someone with a day job to get or to maintain.  On the other hand, I walk for a service called Wag!  It is basically the Uber of dog walking.  When owner's need their dog walked, I get a notification on my phone and I can either request or decline it.  If I don't take it, someone else will.  And Wag! only sends me dogs that are near where I am.  Plus I can walk as much or as little as I want.  For example, I've been pretty busy lately and I've only been walking about one dog a week, but the last few weeks I haven't done any walks.  This is no problem.  Walking for Wag! also requires a lot less risk and cost because you only have to pay $25 towards your background check to become a walker.  However, they generally only accept walkers who have some kind of experience with dogs.

Although those are my two main side hustles, I'm constantly looking for new opportunities.  My dad thinks I'm going to be a millionaire someday and I always tell him that that's the plan.  Someone told me recently that most millionaires don't have less than seven sources of income.  I'll get there eventually.  I'm not even thirty yet, so I have time.  For now, I'll just keep hustlin'!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Nicaragua: A Hidden Gem

Back in mid-January I decided to take a short trip with a close friend of mine.  We debated over where we should go, but we ultimately decided on Nicaragua.  I had never been to Central America and Nicaragua seemed to be the perfect choose.  It was cheap, warm, and relatively safe (compared to other countries in the region).  I really enjoyed this somewhat unexpected getaway and I'm about to tell you a little more about it.

Until I had done my research, I wasn't really thinking about Nicaragua.  It wasn't top of my list.  Quite honestly, I didn't know much about it.  We started off our trip in Managua, the capital, and what a waste that was.  There really isn't anything in the city (if you can even call it a city).  I really wish we would have left town upon arriving at the airport, but you live and you leave.  Luckily we only spent one night.

The next day we traveled south to Granada and what a lovely little town that was.  There were so many colorful building and old church.  I just couldn't get enough.  This was also where we started to get a real feel for Nicaraguan food.  It seemed really common to go into a restaurant that looked a little questionable and get some of the most amazing food you could imagine for cheap.  Nicaraguans rarely make a bad meal, in my experience, and their menus were typically expansive like the Cheesecake Factory.  You could get steak, pizza, pasta, chicken, noodles, plantains...whatever you wanted and it was all fantastic!

The view from our room with a volcano in the distance
After Granada, we went further south and got on the Ferry to Ometepe, which is an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua.  The island was really scenic being made up of two volcanoes.  We even tried hiking up one of those volcanoes, but unfortunately, as we got closer to the top, it got too cloudy to get a good view.  One of the things I really liked about Ometepe was the place we stayed.  It was a farm that rented out these fabulous little eco-friendly guest houses.  They were not necessarily in the trees, but they made you feel like you were staying in a tree house, which seemed a bit exotic.

After Ometepe, we traveled back through Managua to go north to Leon.  This was our last stop and this country wasn't about to disappoint me there.  My favorite part of our stay in Leon was when we took a local bus about 30 minutes to the beach.  Most tourists frequent the beaches in the south, such as San Juan del Sur, but we decided to try one of the more northern beaches and it was nothing short of amazing!  I had read that it was frequented by locals.  It wasn't deserted, but there were fewer people there than I would've expected.  It was also just the perfect day for laying out in the sand.  In the middle of the day we took an intermission from sunbathing and went up to one of the restaurants that looked out on the water and had an amazing seafood lunch.  We ended the day perfectly by buying coconuts from a street vendor and drinking the coconut water on the bus ride back to Leon.  Life just couldn't get more ideal.

Where we ate lunch at the beach

All is all, I really enjoyed Nicaragua.  It seemed familiar but different from anywhere I had been before.  I also got a chance to struggle practicing my Spanish skills, which was a challenge because I have been learning German lately.  I'd have to say, if you are looking for an inexpensive tropical vacation and you aren't too picky about accommodations and transportation, go to Nicaragua.  It might surprise you.

For more information regarding traveling to Nicaragua, check out this article I found in the Economist 1843 magazine:

Saturday, January 28, 2017

We Help Kill What We Love

As an avid traveler and experienced globetrotter, I often enjoy watching shows such as the two that are hosted by Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Anthony Bourdain likes to explore the world specifically through experiencing all different kinds of food. Although he is a chef, he also digs into the places, people, and cultures that he visits as well. I like watching these shows to get ideas for my next trip, learn more about places that I have plans to visit, and to relive some of the places in this world that I truly love.

Aside from simply recommending that you watch these shows, I'd like to reflect a little on something Anthony Bourdain once said on air. If I remember correctly, he was traveling in Laos and filming an episode of No Reservations. He was in a remote part of the country witnessing the monks stand in a line and receive alms when he commented that "that's the problem in making travel television, when we succeed, we inspire others to travel to the places we care about. And, in a sense, we help kill what we love."

On the surface, Anthony Bourdain doesn't seem like one of the deepest people you'd ever meet, but in that moment, he realized something and he had a great point. When we travel and visit new places, we often recommend to others that they should go. I find myself describing places as being "less touristy" in a positive way, but, in essence, when I do that, I am encouraging people to visit and essentially destroy what I loved about that place by making it more touristy.

Along with other avid travelers, I like to find the places that few people visit. There is nothing worse, in my mind, than being surrounded by hundreds of Americans (or just other travelers) taking pictures and buying souvenirs. I generally don't like the places that everyone says "you have to go". In fact, often when I hear about a tourist attraction that I "have to see", I think "what are my alternative options?" The Great Wall of China is a perfect example of this. Everyone told me I had to see the Great Wall and, although I didn't disagree, I wasn't very excited about going to the part of the wall that all the tour groups go. If that was my only option, I would've went, because the Great Wall was something I really wanted to see, but instead I sought out an alternative. There are other pieces of the wall that are close to Beijing, but most people don't visit them because they are overgrown and not maintained to look like they haven't aged over the last several hundred years. I didn't need to see the restoration of the tourist part of the wall; I wanted to see what it was really like (and it was a bonus that there were very few people there). But a problem that could stir my morals is that now that I've told people about this kind of alternative trip, they may go there too. And then they will tell people who also may go. Eventually this amazing part of the wall may be overrun by tourists and in great disrepair. So that is the conundrum. I want my friends, family, colleagues, etc. to have the same amazing experience I had, but in doing so it may kill the experience all together.

I'm not exactly sure what the answer is to this problem. I don't think ceasing my travels is the best choice, but maybe promoting conservation and traveling with less carbon footprint could be a start. I'm all about traveling light, taking public transportation, walking when possible. I prefer not to fly when I can take a train or a bus. I choose hostels and Airbnb over fancy hotels. So I guess I am a bit of a conservative traveler in a way. Now I need to figure out a way to promote this idea even more.

I feel like this was the heart of Anthony Bourdain's pondering too. I'd love to know if he has any alternative solutions or at least how he deals with this dilemma and still continues to travel the world. I might just have to keep watching his shows to see if he has further comments.

Monday, January 2, 2017

45 by 30

As we move into a new year, people often reflect on the year past. Seeing how I will be turning the big 3-0 in this coming year, 2017, I'm led to reflect on more than just the last year. Lately, I've been thinking about the last ten years of my life. It's been quite a decade!

If you know me well or if you've looked at my "Where I've Been" section of this blog, you'll know that I've been to 42 different countries in my lifetime (so far). Most people find this quite extraordinary, but what I find most amazing is that out of those 42 countries, I've been to 30 of them for the first time between when I turned 20 and now. Out of the 12 that I had been to before I hit the age of 20, I've been back to 7 of them in my twenties (some of them I've been to several times). That means that I've been to 37 countries in the last ten years.

As I've been getting closer to my next decade of life, I've been thinking about whether or not I should have a goal to hit before I turn 30. As I'm closing in on this milestone, a realistic goal has been getting clearer. It would be nice to be able to hit 50 by 30, but that seems a bit insurmountable at this point, even for me. At my peak, I may have been to about 20 countries in one year, but with my current job and lifestyle, this volume is a little bit  more infeasible. So a more realistic goal would be 45 by 30. That means that I have to go to 3 new countries before October 2017. Depending on how this year shapes up, that could be quite difficult or really easily. We'll have to see how things go. I already have a trip to Nicaragua planned in a few weeks, so that's a pretty good start.

I always like to think that my lifetime goal is 100 countries, but at the rate I'm going, I often think that that isn't ambitious enough. I have so many places I want to go, but I've already been to many of the easy marks in Western Europe where it takes little effort to rack up 20 countries in a year. At this point, I have a hard time imagining going to more than a handful of countries each year. I guess I'll just have to see where life takes me.