Ballin’ on a Budget - A Young Man’s Guide to Looking the Part Without Breaking the Bank

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Rodrigo Ramirez

I just got back from South America. I was gone for 5 months, backpacking around the whole continent, and I’m back to my routine, that I dearly clamored for, while I was gone. I’m not a workaholic, nor am I a rockstar, I just happen to know how to make use of my money wisely. Here’s how you can too.

Prioritize and Execute

I’m moving to San Francisco, California after traveling around the world. With a nearly depleted bank account, a lot of people thought I was crazy. “But it’s so expensive there!” was the response I got 90% of the time. The truth is, expensive is relative. First and foremost, find out the absolute bare necessities that you need and start there. For me it was simple - rent, food, savings, transportation, entertainment, and miscellaneous expenses. The bulk of that will be poured towards rent, about half, and the rest are dispersed rather equally. I prioritize my savings even when I’m not making much because it’s the habit that counts the most, not the number.

Food

The secret to looking good and healthy is to have a tight food budget and to stick to it like glue. I eat bacon and eggs for breakfast almost everyday. My weekly meal plan is almost always the same - veggies, brown rice, chicken, maybe some red meat once in a while, red wine, milk, eggs, peanut butter etc. I don’t eat sweets, nor do I spend money on junk snacks like a bag of Doritos. I know that might be hard for some to follow but I used to be a heavy junk eater myself, like ice cream everyday, and a dozen cookies in a sitting, but eventually, with the willingness to change, I broke the habit. Once a week, I like to splurge on a nice meal, but I almost never go out to eat because it’s expensive. Plus, I love to cook, so why not practice that with a few friends. The result? A healthier life, a nice set of friends, and a growing bank account.

Transportation Can Be A Bitch, But Only if You Let It

So the good thing about being in San Francisco is there’s public transportation. Still, I have a car (paid off) because I like to take occasional surf trips around the area. Other people won’t have that luxury, and no one can really control gas prices so instead control what you can - your car. You don’t need a brand new BMW or a Cadillac Escalade because the payments are enormous and it eats up gas like a monster. If I were you, I’d spend the money on some improv classes and buy a cheaper car. Trust me, girls would dig you more when you can make them laugh than the kind of car you have. Who wants a gold sucker anyway?

Balance It Out and Save the Rest

You’re a human and you have emotions and needs. It’s important to balance it out for the sake of your well-being and not just your bank account because you are more important than that. If there’s one thing I splurge on, it’s travel. And I’m not necessarily suggesting a trip to the Bahamas or Rome, even a  5-hour drive away from the city is enough. The point is to make it a habit to enjoy life. Saving money is pointless if you can’t enjoy it sometimes. The rest should be saved. I save for real estate and I also have an investment account that’s growing quite nicely. Learn about it.

More Than Anything, Invest in You

I almost never fret on an investment that makes me better. I splurge on books, maybe a few classes here and there, and any skill that I can learn. I’m not saying you should be a jack-of-all-trades, have a passion, and pursue it. While you are at it, have hobbies that keep you unique. In the long run, what you put in will reward you much more.

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Amazing blog. I've been reading your stories and really like them! What will be your next trip?

- Asked by Anonymous

hey thanks! I’ll be moving to California to get on with my life. so that’s the focus for now. Probably gonna do more traveling in the States and nearby countries next though :) 

I Can’t Get Her Off My Mind - Buenos Aires

When traveling, shit happens…

After nearly 6 weeks in Argentina, I was smitten. I’ve been to more than 25 countries in my life and there’s only a handful of opportunities when you realize you love a country so much, you start to think about moving there. For me there’s only really 2 – Spain and Argentina (with Brazil as a close third). As a traveler, you explore countries, its people, and its culture. Somewhere along the way, you might end up really liking a place enough to one-day call it home. I’m infatuated. I have to admit. Argentina treated me with such warmth and curiosity that I started to really get attracted to the place. No other place in Argentina made me melt as much as Buenos Aires. You just can’t help but imagine yourself living in a different place after having seen and experienced others. They say in order for you to find your place, you first have to experience others – that couldn’t have been any further from the truth. 

Buenos Aires was always one of the cities that I looked forward to the most in this trip, that, along with Rio de Janeiro. Buenos Aires was beautiful in a lot of aspects. Nothing made me more welcome than the people. The whole time I was in South America prior to Argentina, I’ve been hearing from other people about how arrogant and selfish Argentinians were. I thought okay, so maybe if I keep hearing this, there is some truth to it. I waited, and waited, and waited, and it never occurred to me that these Argentines were the same ones that were described as arrogant, selfish, and self-righteous. It felt like home. The people were some of the warmest I’ve met in all my travels around the world, and that’s a pretty tall order.

I stayed in Buenos Aires the longest because of all the cities I’ve been to prior, it had the most character. Buenos Aires was described as the Paris of South America. Quite frankly, I think it’s more like Madrid with certain parts looking a lot like New York City with it’s antiquated pizza shops, and playful, effervescent Broadway lights. It helped a lot as well that I was once again with my two best Dutch travel mates in Buenos Aires – that in itself made it better already regardless of the place. After a week there, I thought I was ready to leave. In the context of a backpacking trip, a week is a lot of time to spend in one place but a little wrench was thrown in the motor when I met a beautiful Argentine girl one Saturday night. Truthfully, she ruined me in the sense that I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I don’t want to say that I eventually fell for her  because what is love anyway when you’re meeting dimes everyday from some exotic country somewhere. All I knew was we kissed and it was amazing. We met up once again a few days later and it was even more amazing. It happens a lot to travelers, I guess, but this one was like superglue on my mind. I just can’t get her off.

So you’re in love with a new country and even more so with a local girl, how the hell do you deal with that knowing you only have a few days before you depart? It sucks. Travel sucks for that reason exactly but it’s also what makes this trip so special. I’m not going to lie, I was crazy for this girl, probably even more so than my previous girlfriends. Whether it was the exoticism of her origin, or the nature of my trip, I didn’t know. All I knew was that I wanted to spend more time with her and maybe even stay longer than expected. How could that be? I barely knew her. She was 4 years younger than I was, which was already a red flag, and yet I persisted. That one-week was extended by another week because of this girl. People thought I was crazy but sometimes, you have to do crazy things to find your place in this world. I didn’t mind missing out on Puerto Iguazu falls and parts of Brazil because like I said, this girl drove me nuts. I thought about her constantly and without restraint. Truth be told, it was actually in my best interest to stay in Buenos Aires because it was still a lot cheaper than Brazil plus, I was having an ace time with my friends. For the most part it was pretty chill. I couldn’t complain, I was on cloud nine actually.

If I’m being completely honest, it was the best of both good and bad. I loved Buenos Aires so much I started to think about living there – it’s a case of deep infatuation with little substance, after all, I barely knew the place. But do you believe in love at first sight? I don’t. To me, Buenos Aires gave me a glimpse of my life back in New York without the stress. The people were less rushed but you could still feel the energy of the city. I don’t know, maybe I’m just daydreaming about perfection a bit too much. Just like every girl, a city has it’s dark and ugly side too. There is no perfect girl or perfect place, but I think with the right girl or with the right city, we can be perfect together. It’s August 2014 and this could be the beginning of a long and complicated love story. We’ll see. 

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The 10 Things I Want To Buy After South America

Chris Burkard 

I’m actually excited to get back home. Not because I’m sick of traveling and moving around so much, no, but mainly because I begin a new chapter in my life as I move to California. There’s a lot of things I want to buy when I get home, but there’s 10 things that I think will not only be essential to making sure the adventures don’t stop at home, but these things will also be an investment in ensuring a sound mind in a sound body.

Roof Rack - Within 2 weeks of my arrival in the States, I’ll once again be heading out on another adventure. This one is nothing like what I’ve done before because unlike my move to NYC a few years ago, I’ve got the experience of travel under my belt that has made me not only more mature but more conscientious as well. Why a roof rack? Since I’m moving to California, I’d like to be able to go out on some random, spontaneous, free-spirited adventures to explore and see more of California. Skiing, mountain biking, surfing, and hiking immediately come to mind.

Surf Board - I’ve always wanted to surf. What was once just a dream is now more or less a reality. When I was in Mancora, Peru - the most unlikely of places to get stuck, I fell into the morning surf, coffee, and breakfast routine for a week. I got hooked and I can officially say I can now surf. I’m going to Nicaragua on the 13th of August to do more surfing. Let’s just say it’s a continuation of Mancora.

Hiking Pants - The very first hike I’ve done in my life was also the most difficult, but it won’t be the last. The poetic balance between working hard and seeing something majestic only adds mystique to hiking, and with more mountains to explore in the Pacific Northwest, it’s only fitting that I invest on a good pair of pants.

Camera Sliders - What will it take to capture the perfect shot? As my travels continue throughout South America, I continue to seek more opportunities to better myself as a filmmaker. Here’s a new addition to my repertoire of skills.

GoPro Accessories - One of my favorite companies, GoPro, along with J.Crew, and Apple, is now finally going public. While that has nothing to do with the jist of this article, it’s worth noting that GoPro, especially for travelers and sports enthusiasts, has become very influential. I love the company and I support what they stand for. In that regard, I will need more accessories to capture the perfect shot.

Tent - They say the grass is greener on the other side. While that may be true, it’s all a matter of changing your attitude. More adventures are coming along my way. The Pac-Northwest is beautiful and I want to explore more of it. Some say there’s no better place to do it.

Weatherproof Jacket - My Eddie Bauer jacket has weather almost 3 years of adventures and it’s slowly wearing down. It’s served me well but I think it’s time for a new one. Perhaps a Patagonia, a North Face, or a Jack Wolfskin would be the perfect replacement. Still though, Eddie Bauer is a great choice.

Hiking Shoes - I don’t think I’ve ever really owned a good pair of hiking shoes. Truth be told, hiking Cordillera Blanca in Huaraz, Peru was my first ever real hike through the mountains, but that was just an intro. I was ill-equipped for this hike, having only Nike Runners was not a very smart idea. That didn’t deter me and I know better now, which is why, as soon as I get home, this will be one of the things I’ll invest in with much intent.

French Press - Good coffee in the morning is one of my guilty pleasures. I purposefully skip drinking coffee on some days in order to minimize my tolerance to caffeine because  I think there’s nothing better that getting a good, solid rush of caffeine that really wakes you up. It’s become my routine in South America to have a good cup every morning, and while it’s not necessarily the perfect cup, I still love it. A french press will be a the perfect addition to my morning routine.

Pull Up Bar - Since being in South America, my workouts have consisted of mainly bodyweight workouts - mainly push ups and pull ups. Push ups and pulls ups happen to be among the most efficient workouts available. Ideally, I’d like to continue this habit when I get home. A pull up bar is not only essential but it encourages you to stay active as well.

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Since Montanita

Lifestyles 

A lot has happened since Montanita. I’ve been busy, for the most part, making the movie, but at the same time, I realized I’m not exactly cut up for this kind of work just yet – the kind of work that requires you to juggle multiple hats yet still able to be an expert at something. Making the movie, traveling with 4 other people, crossing off itineraries, between shopping for food and making breakfast, lunch or dinner, I’ve been quite busy. I hate being unproductive and part of me says I’m not but since I’ve really just been focused on the movie, I find it just slightly unproductive.

Since Montanita, we went to Mancora for a super chill 1-week of just surf, sleep, and eat everyday. That was followed by Huaraz for a 4-day hike plus 2 days of acclimatization in what I would consider as the baptizing hike for more hikes and treks to come. Simply, the landscape was incredible, and that poetic balance between a strenuous hike and some amazing scenery is so perfect. Our group consisted of 8 people – me, Ingrid (Norwegian), Felicia (Sweden), Max & Bos (Dutch), Erik (German), Tony (Spaniard), and Jennifer (American). Jennifer would eventually become our new travel partner as we moved directly to Lima after Huaraz. The bus ride was very pleasant, surprisingly, as we only paid 40 soles for it or about $14 US.

Lima was exhilarating because for the first time in 3 weeks, we were back in civilization once again, but things started to twist because we also now have places to go party again. The first night was a precursor to just more drama, drunken-stupor, romantic encounters, and sunglasses-and-Advil days.

We haven’t partied and spent time like this before, not even in Montanita. And it was just a matter of time before it finally happened. I guess it really started to bother me the most when at first it was just me wanting to do one thing while someone else would clash heads with me and try to get their way.  Or maybe, hunger and fatigue just really bears a lot on you as you travel. The mixture of emotions is just difficult to handle after a while.

 Lima might not have been what we were looking for exactly, partly because of the hostel situation wasn’t what we expected but shit happens. Huaccachina was the next stop, and I think I hit rock bottom there, even contemplating parting from the group entirely. I’m glad I didn’t. Traveling alone could’ve been fun, but when it comes to doing more, and doing more cheaply, this group is perfect. We’re basically one big family now – there’s the 2 dutchies – fucking awesome guys. They love to party, drink, have a good time yet they have their head straight and aren’t just wasting time away. There’s the 2 scandinavian girls – they also love to party and have a good time, but they kind of remind me of my mother because they are sweet and caring, too sweet as a matter of fact. And then there’s Jen – she’s American too and joined us in Huaraz. After a 4 day trek together, you really gravitate towards each other and learn so much that after a while, it just makes sense to be together. 

We’re now in Nazca and everyone but me, flew over the Nazca lines to see some mysterious, ancient drawings on the dessert of different figures. One can only really see them well from the sky and there’s no doubt I would’ve wanted to join in, but $80 is a bit too steep for me to pay right now. As we head out tonight for Cusco, I can’t help but reflect on the passed month that just passed. It’s really been a whirlwind of emotions and experiences and I’m always left either laughing or left in disbelief as I look back at the trail of things we’ve done together. I love these guys, and I’m really glad to travel with all of them. I know we sometimes drive each other crazy, but we’re family now. That happens a lot. 

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Detours and Dead Ends

You never really plan stray away from a route. I’ve been in South America for three weeks now, heading south starting from Bogota and hoping to reach Patagonia before I head up to Rio. But sometimes though, too much of a good thing can masquerade as a dilemma. To make a long, intricate, story short, I met a girl. A good one. The one that might have gotten away. I’ve thought about it long and hard before, because romance is fleeting yet strikes quick. Decisions are hard to make until that final minute where it is made to count. It wasn’t until this girl came that made it really difficult to decide.

it was a lot like this

But she was special. I say that now because I’m infatuated but if I take that away, I think I’ll be saying the same thing. She was gorgeous, no doubt. Smart and funny? Yup. Interesting and adventurous? Yes. I find it hard to think of reasons to dislike her, but in the process, I’m left liking her even more. Something like her is very hard to find indeed. This girl was different. I can’t stop thinking about her even though it was just a night. The conversations and that kiss was so visceral. There was an unfounded yearning for this night - from me and from her.

The affair lasted as fast as it started - quick and successive. Just like that, the interaction was over, we’re at the bus stop, kissing goodbye one last time. One night was all it took yet, it was full of emotion. It was fanatical, the kind of vehement upswing of emotion that can only be summed up as utterly amazing. The goodbye was hard on me, but I’m left thinking that goodbyes, when an interaction so climactic abruptly ends, leads to a wild imagination of what ifs and where to. The mind runs aimlessly and deeply with such lust and spirit, but there’s little one can do really.

I’ve never been in this position before or at least not this serious yet, but when you travel for a while, it’s more likely to happen than not. Oftentimes it’s just a fling, but there will be one or two who will stick to your mind like bees in a honey jar. I hate being all sentimentally gooey but I need to let off some steam for now. It won’t be easy getting her off my mind.  

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The Amazon Rainforest - The Good, the Bad, the Ugly and Reflections on Life

One of the highlights of South American travel is the Amazon Rainforest - a thick, dense jungle full of diverse wildlife and one of the few remaining untouched natural habitats on planet earth. As sad as that is to hear, it gets even sadder to hear that oil companies are encroaching the amazon to extract more oil.

the great outdoors

I arrived in Quito on a late, rainy Friday night, and truth be told, Quito wasn’t that exciting. It’s known to be a jump off point for other destinations like Banos, the Amazon, Cotopaxi, Cuenca, and Mindo. Not wanting to waste time, I knew I had to make a decisions and without much fuss, I decided to go to the Amazon instead of Cotopaxi.

The Bad

From Quito, I had to take an overnight bus ride to Lago Agrio, which is where most bus terminals drop tourists off for the Amazon. The bus was only 7.5 hours and departed at 11 p.m. While the coach itself was really nice and comfortable, the ride wasn’t. You want to get the most out of a late night bus ride but sleeping became such a challenge because the roads to Lago Agrio involved some pot holes, and a lot of winding curves, which throw you off your seat as you try to sleep. We arrived in Lago Agrio at around 6 a.m. and barely anything at that time was open, so we had to wait for another hour for the hotel lobby to open, which was where we waited for our guides. I don’t think anyone got any sleep at all. Personally, I only had about 5 hours of sleep, but that was broken up in intervals due to police checkpoints. The guides arrived around 9 a.m. and collected everyone in our group by 9:30. From Lago Agrio, it was another 2 hour bus ride to Amazon river. Sleeping wasn’t a possibility as the roads were littered with tons of potholes. Arriving at the amazon was a bit of a relief because from there, all we had to do was ride a canoe for another 2 hours. That wasn’t too bad, but sometimes rain could be pouring or it could be really hot.

The Ugly

The Cuyabeno Amazon experience isn’t to be taken lightly if you’re looking for comfort and luxury. By any means, there’s none of that here. The lodges are made simply for sleeping and there’s a lot of mosquitos and bugs around. Electricity is a luxury, you have certain times in the day when you could charge your electronics. And internet? Forget about it. The food is a bit utilitarian as well. Being that this is the Amazon, food and supplies have to be delivered by boat everyday and thus, resources are really scarce. On top of all that, you’ll be rummaging through the deep jungle in sometimes, hot, humid, or rainy weather. You’ll feel uncomfortable most of the time and even more so knowing that the water is dirty and there’s not enough of it. On my last day, the water ran out when I was showering, so I decided to shower in the rain.

The Good

Amidst all the difficulties, this place is quite literally, paradise on earth. As we made our way to the jungle, it’s hard not to be amazed at the beauty of this pristine forest, and even more so at sunset and in the evening, gazing at the starry night sky. Of all the things we were told we could see - anaconda, macaws, pink dolphins, caymans, and different kinds of monkeys - we saw them all. I guess it’s a testament to the healthy, robust ecosystem in Cuyabeno but one can’t be worried enough that tourism could destroy that status.

The experience reminded me a lot of summer camp in the sense that we had a guide, activities were organized, and meals were prepared at fixed schedules. For day one, we wandered around the river and spotted different kinds of animals followed by a sunset watching at Cuyabeno lagoon. The sunsets were utterly amazing. You’d normally associate beautiful sunsets with beaches and mountain ranges but the Amazon sunset is on a league of its own. We got to spend most of the afternoon just being kids swimming in the lagoon. The water is very murky and it’s a bit scary knowing that not too far away, there are caymans. Still, our guides assured us that it was safe. Day 2 was a full day excursion into the jungle to spot some animals and the trek was a bit more challenging due to all the mud we had to cross. At night was another jungle walk to spot nocturnal animals like spiders, frogs, and monkeys. For day 3, we slowly made our way through the jungle and finally ended up at a small village where we grated some yuca (an indigenous root) and made casave - similar to the taste of arepa but made like a tortilla. That was perhaps our best lunch in the whole trip as we splurged on the casave paired with strawberry jam or a tuna salad mix. The day ended with a shaman experience where we tried Ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic drink made by indigenous tribes.

Reflections

For better or for worse, the experience, as rough as it was, didn’t come without silver-linings. For a while it was nice to finally be isolated from all the noise of the metropolis - the cellphones, computers, work, and everything else associated with the daily grind. Perhaps the only thing that bothered me were certain people I was with at the trip. If you’re going to the Amazon jungle, I hope you understand that your lifestyle will be compromised to a great extent. I had one such roommate who complained and nagged constantly about the difficulties about the basic amenities in the lodges and the challenging hikes and excursions. Therein lies the plight of the western traveler - too spoiled for a more hoarse experience and fails to accept diverse experiences. It’s hard to let go when you’re used to comfort because comfort is good, comfort is ease. So while that was a bit of a sour patch in the trip, I thought it better to use the time of solace and isolation for my plans once I return home. I inspect thoroughly and even though it looks like I’m just another spoiled westerner with lots of cash to burn for partying and leisure, I’m one of few who take this time to make meaningful decisions. It helped that I got to travel, and have been meeting more and more older couples on the South American route. I guess after all the thinking, I always arrive back to square one, that is, wanting to do more than just travel and leisure but something with a bit substance. Where some people see value in life of travel, skipping from country to country to covet another passport stamp, I see value in making meaningful contributions to myself, my family, and my community. There’s a bit of ego in that mindset but it’s not without vulnerability. My drive and ambition is no greater than the man wanting to get all 200+ stamps in his passport and it’s reassuring to know that I’m still headed in the same direction, just with slightly different intentions.

 

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The Long Ride to Ecuador and Getting Stiffed by Taxi Drivers

I loved Cali, unexpectedly so. I didn’t expect much from it, but the hostel more than made up for the lack of activities in the city. Aside from salsa, there’s really not much to do in Cali but I lucked out with my hostel - El Viajero. It had the qualities that would make a good hostel - lots of common areas, a nice pool, it wasn’t too big, and it offered free salsa and yoga classes. As the salsa capital of Colombia, there exists a large number of salsa bars that surprisingly, had good girl to guy ratios. Partying was great, not just good, and I had a little too much of a good time to make Hunter S. Thompson feel jealous, so alas, I decided to end my trip right there and then.

wander curiously

To be honest though, I had more than a few incentives to stay in Cali because while I was there, I started making good friends and there were a few cute girls that I could’ve gamed and surely I did the night before and it ended up being a just a valiant effort.

I left Cali in the evening and bought the cheapest night bus out to Ipiales, a town I had always wanted to visit for it’s Mordor-like church called Las Lajas. It’s worth a look but it’s not worth staying there. For the longest time I’ve been hearing about roadblocks and strikes around Colombia and it was only later on in that bus ride, at around midnight, that I realized what exactly was going on. Farmers, and union workers are on strike against the president for reasons I’m not exactly sure. Stuck in the middle of nowhere in Colombia at midnight with armed police officers making wandering and patrolling, it wasn’t exactly the most comfortable situation. I think that was the first time I really felt worried but maybe a bit of an overreaction.

Our bus arrived in Ipiales at 10 am. It left at 9 pm. A bit sleep-deprived, not because I didn’t get enough but mainly because I slept in intervals, waking up every 4 hours. A quick trip to Las Lajas was more than enough, and it felt good to walk after sitting for hours and hours. From Ipiales, I then had to take a cab to the border to get stamped out. The driver was the nicest I’ve met. He took me to Las Lajas, and even toured me around as he told me a bit of history of the area while I nodded in acknowledgement despite my incompetent spanish knowledge. The cost was 25,000 COP which is about $12.5 and I gave him 50,000 COP, which means I should’ve received 25,000 back. But no, I got 15,000 back and while 5,000 COP only translates to about $2.5, I was still frustrated because I hate getting stiffed. It’s not about the cost, it’s about the principle. In my mind, I was very quick to forgive because he did show me around town and was very nice. But when I finally arrived in Quito, after a bus ride that extended for 3 hours due to so many stops along the way to pick up passengers, I met a slick, fast talking driver who lured me into his clever hoodwink. He wasn’t even a real taxi driver, just a guy with a car, overcharging unassuming tourists and I was victimized. After telling me my hostel wasn’t far away, he was quick to change his mind after driving a few minutes saying that it was, as a matter of fact, almost 45 minutes away. The cost we had agreed upon originally was $5 but after his revelation, it became $20 to which I bargained down to $17. I later found out that a cab ride from that terminal to my hostel should’ve only cost $5 altogether.

These are the challenges the a solo traveler faces. It’s especially challenging when you don’t speak the language very well, but it’s a wake-up call nonetheless. I’m normally very meticulous about matters involving money and I really hate getting cheated on. It could happen again, I don’t know, but in the end, I was just really glad to arrive in Quito. I’m now starting to get more accustomed to the weather here in South America because I arrived on a wet Friday night with temperatures of about 55 degrees.

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What’s the Real Value of Travel?

America is beautiful 

So you’re traveling around the world. You’re moving at a pace of 1 city every 5 days,  spending on average $50/day, eating pasta, stir fry rice, and ham and cheese sandwiches almost everyday. The sights you see are amazing, the things you do are unforgettable, and the people, as close as you become, will inevitably part ways and such is the sad reality but you carry on anyway. You experience new cultures, see the how the other half lives, learn what poor really means, and maybe even learn a new language. Most of the time, you spend your days lounging by the hostel pool, reading a book, surfing facebook, and chatting with friends from home. There’s nothing negative about these things but somewhere in the 11 months or so that you’re traveling, has it ever occurred to you what the real value of all this is? You’re no better off working that dreadful corporate job with no end in sight when you travel with no meaningful intention. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be something monumental. If you want to do this to learn a new language, or experience a new culture, then more often than not, that’s more of an eye-opening experience than just doing it to party, get fucked-up, and meet chicks. Here’s what I think.

For me, travel is a trip about self-discovery, simply stated, yet open to endless interpretation. It’s sad seeing people embark on such grand excursions without really seeing value about what they’re doing. Recently, I was in Medellin and my hostel was loaded with rowdy Australians who weren’t really traveling, they were just chasing tail and getting fucked up every night. Don’t get me wrong, these are all aspects of travel and I like to chase tail and get fucked up too, but for me, there’s a search for a bigger picture in life. At one glance, if I were to speak to a Martian and described what I did, which is traveling most of the time, all the time, they’ll think this was my profession. And that’s my point right there, what I do is work, perceived to be leisure because yes we do awesome things. But are you prepared to ride 14-hour bus ride cross country, can you eat under $10/day, are you comfortable sleeping in bunk beds that can be poorly ventilated and oftentimes with about 8 other people? People don’t see that and people don’t dwell on it either but that’s reality for travelers. Some people have, as a matter of fact, made this a profession – travel bloggers, writers, photographers, you name it. They exist and what’s perceived as leisure and fun on one side, is easily misinterpreted as passionate work on the other.

What does this all mean?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s a bigger picture to life and the real meaning of travel is the search for your place in that big picture. I know that traveling 6 – 8 months each year, every year is probably not for me. I see more satisfaction in a balanced life in that I want to pursue a meaningful career - work that I’m not only passionate about but has a lasting impact. I know I will never stop traveling and I’m sure it will be part of my life. I have about 5 months in the last leg of this journey and I have every intention of finishing with so much great memories. There have been times when I’ve told myself that I’m ready to go home and carry on with the next step but I’ve committed to this journey and I’m steadfast in that commitment. I love what I do. I love meeting people, I love doing things in exotic places and learning languages but that’s me. Find your place in the world. I write, I travel, I film and ultimately, I want to make this experience count as if it were a step towards my next objective, not a transient, languid moment of nothingness. It’s much greater than that, I can assure you.                                                            

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A Dampened Mood in Colombia

Currently in search of something like this

50 degrees, overcast, chilly, and rainy. That’s not how I pictured the start of my trip in Colombia. While things got of to a slow start, I’m still sticking to my route. I kind of expected this, and it’s pretty clear that I’ve matured more because I seek better experiences than just getting fucked up every night. For the most part, I blame the weather for the rather serious brooding mood, and I know that’s silly to say because there’s really no one to blame but myself. There’s more than a million reasons to smile, starting with “I’m in Colombia, traveling, and exploring a gorgeous country.” I constantly remind myself to live in the present but it’s sometimes difficult maintain such an attitude when the image of the future looks bright.

After a few days walking, wandering, exploring Bogota, I’ve had enough of Bogota. It was time to move on to Medellin. Originally, San Gil was the next destination but hearing all the stories about Ecuador, Baños especially, I was just  forced to skip out on San Gil. That’s the thing about traveling, there’s really no set plans or destinations. Sure I have a few things in mind to see, do, and visit, but mostly, plans are made last minute and places are meant to either be really awesome or really boring. It’s a game of chance and numbers. From my experience having done this for 6 months already, you reach a peak and reach a trough. There will be doldrums and right now, I’m in that stage, which means sooner or later, I should making good strides, booking the right hostels, meeting the right people, and really, just doing cool shit.

Medellin

The bus ride to Medellin wasn’t too bad. It cost about $25 USD but the cab that took us there, screwed us over. It was a total dick move and we bargained to bring the price down to $11 USD. That’s not much, I get it, and before you think I’m cheap or anything, spread that out over 5 months and it adds up. Plus, prices and costs are relative not absolute. An $11 cab ride in NYC would’ve been cheap but go to a country where $11 is a day’s worth of food, and then it becomes much. It’s mainly for the principle because you never want to see yourself as that traveler who’s a sucker for scams.

Medellin wasn’t too bad starting off. I just arrived and immediately met a cute girl. Things got exciting when she told me she went to UT Austin for college but it fizzled as soon as she said she was leaving that same day. Shit happens, I guess.

It rained almost incessantly and it seemed like I just couldn’t get any luck. The place was an Australian overload. No offense, but it was a meathead-packed house of protein-shake chugging, coke-sniffing, whore-hunting Australian madmen. Nothing wrong with that, but if you’re looking for something of a casual conversation, that’s probably not what you want to find at your hostel. In South America, apparently, Australians have a bad reputation but I’d rather not judge because I have Aussie friends and I’ve met lots of cool ones.

That afternoon, we went to a local soccer match. The local team - Nacional, was playing against a big rival and from what I’ve heard, this was the same team that El Padrino - Pablo Escobar once owned. Netflix has a good documentary on it but I probably shouldn’t have watch the film before going to Medellin.

Day 2 in Medellin wasn’t bad, in fact, it was great. I saw the city, ate some good food, met some locals, and overall had a culturally productive day. Still though, I don’t think Medellin is a place that has hooked me so I decided to get a night-bus to Cali the following day. Reviews about Medellin weren’t exciting to begin with and I soon found out that was quite an accurate description of the city.

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