Perspective is Everything

This is a re-written portion from the post Life, Lunacy, and Passion: 10 Things To Think About as You Wander Through Life.”

I want you to imagine something with me for a moment.

It’s okay, you do have a moment to spare, even if the to-do list in your mind starts screaming at you.

Imagine you’re at work and suddenly a translucent bubble gently floats past your eyes and settles right next to your keyboard (or frying pan, tractor, surgical device, baton, etc).

The bubble doesn’t burst; in fact, it appears to be robust and teaming with activity, and just…sits there.

Rather than going through your 170 emails after coming back from a weekend, you decide to take a closer look.

What you see makes you question your sanity.

In the bubble is a tiny world not unlike earth in a solar system also closely resembling ours, but instead of having eight (or nine, whatever), it has five planets and two suns. You look around to see if anyone else is seeing this but quickly go back to the bubble as it grows bigger and bigger. Suddenly everything is zoomed in and you can see what’s going on in the planet.

You are unable to pull your eyes away from the spectacular phenomenon in front of you. Beings that look like a cross between a human and a manatee are walking (and hopping) around. We’ll call them Humanatees.

You can see that they’re going about their lives in much the same way that humans on earth go about their lives; kind of in a state of terror or drunkenness, and sometimes with love and affection.

You quickly find that in this bubble there appear to be some major differences with regard to time; the Humanatees only have 1 day to live, which is 60 seconds in our time.

It is heartbreaking to see the beings born, grow old, and die within a minute’s time. What is even more heartbreaking is this: the beings mostly don’t even enjoy themselves. For most of the 60 seconds you witness the following:

The majority of the milliseconds are spent doing things for other Humanatees, the latter of which appears to own and govern most of the world’s riches.

It’s weird to you because they end up killing each other over the riches, which in all honesty just look like little plastic frisbees to you.

“Why would anyone in their right mind kill someone over a frisbee?” you wonder aloud to no-one in particular.

Some of the Humanatees put on smart robes and declare things about the meaning of life and act very important and ask for money to continue looking and acting important and providing Answers to Things.

Then others do the same, only they provide similar but different Answers to Things and wear robes that flow differently… and then…then they kill each other over differences in ideas.

You are astounded.

You start shouting at them “YOU ONLY HAVE 60 SECONDS TO LIVE…PLEASE STOP! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?”

Some poor beings end their own lives at 20 seconds.

You can barely handle it, and start weeping uncontrollably because it’s all just so absurd.

After you compose yourself, take a sip of water, and continue to not look at your emails, you then go back to the bubble.

Unfortunately, you continued to be horrified, but not in the same shock and awe sort of way. You noticed that most of the Humanatees have a blinding obsession. It is the obsession of blending in and living life only as deemed appropriate by peers, parents, or those who wear robes and provide Answers to Things.

You also notice that a very very small percentage of Humanatees own 80–90% of the world’s wealth, AKA Plastic Frisbees. To you, you could see how absurd it was; 60 seconds and everyone is dead, so why the hoarding? Couldn’t they see how asinine it all was? Couldn’t they see that whatever power any of them felt they had was such a farcical delusion that it was beyond laughable?

It wasn’t all dismal, however.

There were some who seemed to go outside of the construct created, realizing that their lives were over really really quickly. Some decided that they would do whatever they had to in order to make the most of their 60 seconds and even help others out during their short lives. This was heartening to you, as bittersweet as it all still was.

Suddenly, as though the universe realized that something was happening that absolutely should not be happening, the bubble disappeared with a grand but mellifluous whoosh.

You sit. Stunned. You decide to leave for the day. You wonder where everyone else is but ultimately don’t care.

You decide that maybe the emails aren’t that important and that you’d rather enjoy the sunshine and time with your loved ones while you can…

Obviously, this is a loose analogy of how we behave during our own short time here. Consider how time itself is merely a construct, and that within this construct we are alive for a fraction of a fraction to the tenth power of it.

This is sobering, right?

It is not, I realize, a simple thing to just throw off all of the superfluous stuff that drives us. We have society at large, our DNA, our upbringing, our particular circumstances, heartbreak, death, war, poverty, riches, health, illness, etc.

The main point I want to get across here is that we should always strive to look at everything from a proper and healthy perspective. This means that no matter what you or I may be going through at the present moment, we can weigh it against this fact:

Someday, maybe soon, maybe later, you and I are going to die.

Let this one sink in. Breathe it in and let it resonate in your lungs. It can burn, but the high is worth it.

I like to make it a practice (mainly because my brain likes to take things way too far) to weigh circumstances, thoughts, emotions, hurt, pain, happiness, regret, anxiety, fear, and everything else against this absolute truth.

Once this is realized, it’s really important to BE IN THE PRESENT MOMENT and DO what we need to do in life so that we don’t end up on our respective 60th second wondering just why we didn’t even attempt to live the life we wanted to live.

I urge this gently with urgency to you, myself, and the Humanatees, just in case they exist somewhere in the universe.

Thank you for reading, and yes, you can check your email now…or not.


Life, Lunacy, and Passion: 10 Things To Think About as You Wander Through Life

"Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have." – Eckhart Tolle in "The Power of Now"

One: Thoughts on Developing a Sense of Perspective

sense of perspective

I want you to imagine something with me for a moment. Imagine you're at work and suddenly a translucent bubble gently floats past your eyes and settles right next to your keyboard. The bubble doesn't burst; in fact it appears to be kind of robust and teaming with activity.

It just so happens that your eccentric co-worker John had brought in an expensive electron microscope the other day, so rather than go through a slew of boring emails you decide to check it out with the microscope.

What you see makes you question your sanity. It’s a tiny world not unlike earth in a solar system with beings that more or less resemble humans. You are unable to pull your eyes away from this spectacular phenomenon. You quickly find that in this bubble there appear to be some major differences with regard to time; people only have 1 day to live, which is 60 seconds in our time. It is heartbreaking to see the beings born, grow old, and die within a minute’s time. What is even more heartbreaking is this: the beings don’t even enjoy themselves. For most of the 60 seconds you witness the following:

  • The majority of the milliseconds are spent doing things for other beings who appear to be trying to accumulate vast amounts of something that looks a lot like miniature plastic frisbees. With their stock of frisbees they would buy oblong concave huts made out of something resembling steel and get people to do things they didn’t want to do for mere fractions of frisbees. Evidently someone somewhere decided that the plastic frisbee-like mineral was of substantial value, and many of these beings wore it around their many necks or wrists. 
  • The beings who had the most seemed to be the most…depressed, though they had so many plastic frisbees. 
  • Some poor beings ended their own lives at 20 seconds
  • Many beings were killed fighting over what appeared to be plastic frisbees, or even just ideas. 

To you as an outsider, you simply cannot believe just how insanely these beings are behaving. You want to shout out “DON’T YOU KNOW YOU ONLY HAVE 60 SECONDS TO LIVE?!” Most of the beings had very little plastic frisbees, and spent most of their 60 seconds working for tiny tiny crumbles of plastic frisbees that the plastic frisbee hoarders had. All of the plastic frisbee hoarders lived in incredibly ornate huts, and had mountains of plastic frisbee that was very tightly watched over and added to. 

How sad for both the plastic frisbee hoarders and those with hardly any. There wasn’t a whole lot of difference on the surface regarding how sad the whole situation was. But there were some who seemed to go outside of the construct created. Some decided that they would do whatever the fuck they had to do in order to make the most of their 60 seconds. It all happened rapidly, but you could see that when the beings who consciously made these decisions experienced some tumult for a few milliseconds or even a full couple of seconds, but when the big 60 popped up they appeared decidedly more content, more accepting. Maybe not exactly happy, but not sad either. 


Obviously, this is a loose analogy of how we behave during our own short time here. Consider how time itself is merely a construct, and that within this construct we are alive for a fraction of a fraction to the tenth power of it. This is sobering; at least it should be. 

Do you realize how short your life is in comparison to time itself? I recommend checking out the WaitButWhy article regarding time: http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/08/putting-time-in-perspective.html

It is not, I realize, a simple thing to just throw off all of the superfluous shit that drives us. We have society at large, our DNA, our upbringing, our particular circumstances, heartbreak, death, war, poverty, riches, health, illness, etc. 

The main point I want to get across here is that you should always strive to look at everything from a proper perspective. This means that no matter what you may be going through at the present moment, weigh it against this fact:

  • Someday, maybe soon, maybe later, you are going to die.

Let this one sink in. Breathe it in and let it resonate in your lungs. It can burn, but the high is worth it. 

I mean knowing fully that you are going to die someday, and that it could be today, soon, a long time from now, or somewhere in between. Weigh it against the knowledge that we are on a tiny tiny tiny blue dot of a planet

Let me repeat this. 

Realize fully that you are going to die someday, and you have absolutely no idea when this is going to happen. It could happen before you finish reading this post, though of course, I hope not. I want you to live a long fulfilling life, with the caveat that you’re a decent human being. I may be dead as you read this. Do you understand that you are going to die someday? Don’t go past that. I don’t care what you believe what happens after that. I’m talking about your time on this plane of existence completely ending. 

Always weigh circumstances, thoughts, emotions, hurt, pain, happiness, regret, anxiety, fear, and everything against this absolute truth. 

This does not give you license to go and mess other people’s lives up. This should act as a catalyst for you forming your own license to fight for and do what you want to do in this life, so long as you don’t mess with other people. This should encourage you to get out of a shitty relationship that you don’t want to be in but are too afraid to end it because you may offend or hurt the other person. That needs to stop. Now. 

This also does not mean you should always be in a state of bliss. That is simply not how life works. Let thoughts and emotions ebb and flow; just don't let yourself get caught up in them. 

Does your job make you feel like you’re just fuel for a corporate furnace? Say goodbye to it if you can. If you can't, then it will be important to keep perspective and work toward making the necessary changes to get out of it. Yes, we need to make money, but how much? Some will have to fight harder than others in the game of money-making. My hat is off to you. I definitely realize it’s that much more difficult if you have a family. 


Are you going through something right now? 

At the risk of sounding like a metaphysical shaman, try this exercise: 

Imagine yourself separated floating quickly but comfortably away from earth. 

Don’t worry about being able to breathe and all of that. You’re only going there in your mind. Start from right above your town, to the Earth's atmosphere, and to the moon and beyond. You want to be able to see the earth, but from a great distance. Now look. Use an ultra-powerful telescope to see all of the things going on

Look at everyone going about their tasks on earth.

See our bickering and loving and hating and everything in between from afar. Lives starting, in motion, and ending. Stressors originating solely within our psyches and serving no purpose whatsoever.  We are an enemy to ourselves all too often; what happens when we become allies to ourselves? What happens when we finally start standing the fuck up and pushing past all the thorny bullshit we throw in front of our path? Oh and the thorny shit we throw in our paths doesn’t land on solid ground. It lands on other thorny shit thrown there by others and society at large. 

Stop adding to that pile. Stop making your feet bleed more than they already are.

Accept who you are. Accept the present moment and continue moving ahead doing your best in this life. Wake up


Two: The Importance of Being the True Self and Living Your Own Life, Not Someone Else’s

authenticity be true to self

No-one else lives your life. This is an obvious de-facto statement, right? Why do our actions often suggest otherwise? Why do we continue to act as though others have a say in how we choose to live the only short life we have? 

From the very far outside looking in, this doesn’t make sense. In fact, it’s pretty crazy and reminds me a bit of Stockholm Syndrome. 

So why do we do this? It is because we desperately want to fit in, be liked, and be accepted by “the tribe.” Things are more comfortable doing it this way because it is an obsolete but very prominent part of our DNA. Many many years ago if you weren’t accepted by the tribe, then you were thrown out of the tribe, and you died. That’s why it made sense back then, but it makes absolutely no sense today. Now there are so many different world views and “tribes” out there that we end up trying to fit into not just one but multiple groups of thought. This means it doesn’t really matter a whole lot which group we associate ourselves with, as long as it isn’t some nefarious sociopath-think group. Let’s go a step further: what if you decided you didn't care about pleasing any group of people, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s not likely that you would get killed for it. Unless you happen to be fighting hard for a highly charged political or social cause, then there’s not much to worry about. At the end of time, who really gives a sh*t about how well you played along with your tribe’s worldview? 

In fact, the things that people really give a sh*t about are the actions you’ve taken that don’t fit into the common mold or the established path. 

I recommend reading the following blog post to better understand why we let the words and opinions of others sway us in various directions: http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/06/taming-mammoth-let-peoples-opinions-run-life.html 

What is the true self?  For one, it is multifaceted. You are not binary computer code; that is, you are not wholly one thing or another. We are all multifaceted. Forget the black-and-white box that Hollywood sometimes portrays, because it is a lie. It is no more real than Puff the Magic Dragon. 

It is always tempting to want what others have, and not just material possessions. Maybe it's the charisma that your favorite actor exudes, or maybe it's the calm and eloquent way that a friend tells stories in front of thousands of people. 

It's time to stop trying to be someone else. Sure, sometimes it's good to emulate behaviors in others that you look up to, but don't get too caught up in it. Cultivate you.

It is tempting to give in and let society, family, and friends dictate how you should live your life because it makes it easy. It makes things comfortable.

No matter where you are in life, I think it's important that we try and stop making decisions based on how we think others may perceive us. No-one else lives your life, so be sure you’re the one behind the steering wheel. As you contemplate all of this, remember that your desire for comfort and safety can be the biggest obstacle in getting what you want out of life. 

I believe fully that it’s vital to contemplate how you want to be remembered when you die. Go all the way to your deathbed self and think about what would upset you most, or cause the most intense feelings of wistful but resigned regret. Is the only thing stopping you from living and doing what you want to do fear? You know what you have to do then. 


Three: Dealing with Psychological Fears (Past, Present, and Future)

Whatever stressors, fears, regrets, feelings of remorse, feelings of dread, or any other rumination you may indulge in should go head to head against a couple things:

  1. The present moment
  2. The knowledge that everything passes, including your life 

Maybe you believe you can’t forgive yourself, somehow “ruined everything,” can’t see any hope in the midst of anxiety and fear, can’t let go of how someone else hurt you, can’t let go of how you hurt someone else, etc. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s time to realize a few things, and put a few other things into action. 

First, realize that the present moment is all you ever have. You don’t have the past. It’s forever gone, so every second, minute or hour living in remorse over the past is wasted time. I don’t care what it is you’ve done in the past. You need to face the utter reality of the situation, forgive yourself, and move on (I say this as much to myself as to anyone). If you need to make amends, then make amends. If it’s something truly messed up, then turn yourself in. 

This is all more aimed at those who struggle with unnecessary guilt over innocuous things. I have OCD, so am somewhat of an expert in feeling remorse over things that I fear may have happened because of me, or things that could possibly have happened because of something I did. 

What you think of as the past is a memory trace, stored in the mind, of a former Now. When you remember the past, you reactivate a memory trace — and you do so now. The future is an imagined Now, a projection of the mind. When the future comes, it comes as the Now. When you think about the future, you do it now. Past and future obviously have no reality of their own. Just as the moon has no light of its own, but can only reflect the light of the sun, so are past and future only pale reflections of the light, power, and reality of the eternal present. Their reality is “borrowed” from the Now.

Tolle, Eckhart (2010-10-06). The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (p. 50). New World Library. Kindle Edition. 


Four: Dealing with Mistakes, or Failure

dealing with failure and mistakes

Even if you have recently fallen, have recently picked up that bottle after years of never drinking a drop, hooked up with someone that you'd be embarrassed to tell your best friend about, took a drag or smoked a pack of death sticks, or reached again for a needle or a flame to bring chemicals to boil; you can get the fuck up and try again, and this time with renewed veracity. 

Maybe it’s nothing so extravagant. Maybe you just behaved in a way that you deem a bit below your ideal, or maybe you let your pride get in the way of things, your ego. For some, this can feel just as intense as doing something much further away from our ideal self-vision. 

One thing among many that I’ve learned from Pema Chodron’s book “The Wisdom of No Escape”  is that we need to be less aggressive toward ourselves when judging our past actions. No past actions really need to be analyzed to any great extent, unless there is a lesson to be learned and applied now or later. Rumination should not even be a part of our vocabulary, at least regarding past events, because again, it is a complete waste of time. While in the throes of intense feeling and being encumbered with a waterfall of negative thoughts being generated, it may feel like the only damn thing we can do is ruminate. 

But that shit never works. It never helps. It doesn’t help you, and it doesn’t help anyone else. In fact, it only makes life suck more. You don’t have to make life suck more. Are thoughts of inadequacy or pomposity infiltrating your brain? Let them be, but don’t indulge them. Just view them like a passing train. It’s a loud-ass train I know, but you don’t have to get on it. If it’s a sense of arrogance, be aware of it. You don’t have to fight it, or try and remind yourself of some horrible thing you’ve done so that you can get back to a median level, or even worse, to a more comfortable and known inferior position. 

You are inferior to no-one. 

No one can always stand tall. Great nations fall; powerful suns die. Don't waste vital time ruminating on a perceived "failure to live up to the ideal self" vision. 

Powerful, amazing, life changing people fuckup. One difference between greatness and mediocrity is how we deal with fucking up. 

When I was 28 I fucked up, but I did not handle it the way a great man would, I'm slightly embarrassed to say. 

Face your demons. No matter what kind of pain it causes, face them head on. Trying to run or avoid them only imbues them with power. 

Are you disappointed that you let yourself be puppet-mastered a bit, or peer pressured even as an adult? That shit never ends, it just changes color. How you have allowed yourself to be influenced in the past does not have to dictate how you act right now. 

You are here now. When the future comes, be "here" and act in accordance with your true self.

Realizing DEEPLY that NOW is EVERYTHING. It is all we ever have. And if it sucks a bit with emotional turmoil, so be it, but don't let it be because of something in the past. If condemning thoughts about the past come to mind, observe but don’t give them the power they want. 

Yes, sometimes things that have happened in the past have been causes of unwanted circumstances today. But all you have to do is deal with the here and now. 

Don't believe me? Unless you've found a way to bend time in order for you to touch and manipulate the past, something that already is, then you cannot argue. 

You have right now.

There are times when my mind, for whatever reason, focuses heavily on the past, especially concerning derogatory memories (good memories of the past come up too, or just memories that don't trigger much emotion, but those never stand out as an issue). 

Observe the mind. See how it goes out of control. Accept the emotions that accompany the dark thoughts. It doesn't mean you agree or disagree with anything. When people say things like "I choose to be happy," I think it’s patronizing and condescending to the majority of the population who cannot merely "be happy." Happiness is fleeting. Inner contentment and acceptance of what is going on without judgment is something that does not have to be fleeting.  

Always aspire to act in accordance with the ideal self, but forgive if you know (or perceive through your cloudy mental lens) that you have fallen short. If you have made a mistake then muster every ounce of your courage to face the present moment, then embrace it fully and without reservation. There is no other way to live. Is your life different now because of it? So be it. It is different. Accept it as it is, and change what you can change. 

Be true to self. Respect the self. Take care of the body, mind, and soul. This means living in the present, even if you’ve slipped up recently. I’ve found http://www.freeaffirmations.org/ to be a great resource for finding affirmations to go through that can help with these things.  


Five: Thoughts on Collective Humanity

humanity

Everyone has a certain level of stupidity. Humans are not infallible or supremely intelligent. Many people act purely on the whims of their fragile ego. One only needs to watch the 2016 American presidential debates to see what I’m talking about. 

Hubris, greed, lack of empathy, blatant stupidity, and violent attachment to ideologies are all pitfalls of humanity. As my friend put it, “we have room for improvement.” We mask our weaknesses and ignorance with pride, tribalism, facades, microcosmic knowledge, and absolute statements. Sometimes strength means being able to say "I do not know," or to express self-doubt.

We build ourselves up too much and take ourselves way too seriously, especially considering the short amount of time we have here. I think we need an evolution in consciousness, the way we think, and the way in which we conduct ourselves with one another. 


Six: Thoughts on Social Justice

justice scale

There is too much injustice in the world for me to really get into it here, so I'll narrow the focus a bit.

I'm not perfect in this area, and honestly feel like I'm way too self-centered most of the time. However, one day in Chiang Mai I went for one of my runs, which always resulted in a lot of sweat; enough to make my shoes slosh because they would become saturated with it. Anyway, one day I remember seeing a kid who had a condition that precluded him from being able to walk properly. There was a gate that he was just not going to be able to scale, so a local and I ran over and helped the dude out.  

I tell you this not to toot my own horn, but to say that on that day one thing really infiltrated my brain: we should not ever fuck with the downtrodden, with those "less fortunate," with children, or with anyone perceived to be "weaker" because of a disability or socio-economic status. For example, if you knew someone who said it made them feel powerful and good to beat up homeless kids in 3rd world nations, how would that make you feel and what actions would it prompt? I realize that we all can't be out there to try and "save the world." I'm just saying if something like this crosses our path, we had better damn well take action. 

It goes without saying that you should practice kindness and give respect to everyone around you (unless a reason is given not to), but is it not doubly obvious in certain circumstances?


Seven: Thoughts on Why I Traveled for Almost a Year

travel reasons to

Why did I quit my job, sell everything, and go on a trip around the world for many months?  For one, I realized that there were a lot of things that needed to be jettisoned from the way I thought and acted. This included working jobs I didn’t care about only for a paycheck, doing things for fear of displeasing others or staying stagnant out of fear and addiction to comfort. On this trip, I came to realize the beauty of being human and truly standing for ourselves and for others. 


Eight: Thoughts on Religion

religion picture

I’m not religious. I do not bow to Confucius, Siddhartha Guatama, Joseph Smith, Jesus, Muhammad, etc. All made pertinent marks on the world, but it is my belief that they were fellow humans who walked the earth. I do not mean any offense to the devout who believe otherwise; I’m just stating what I believe to be true. That said, I don’t claim to know everything about this immense universe, including metaphysical matters. If there is a "God,” a higher power, etc., then it is my belief that this “entity,” for lack of a better word, is nothing like we have written about or made up. I was once a devout Christian so know that what I write here will be rejected because it doesn’t line up with established sacred text. I would have done the same. 

Anyway, I don’t honestly know how we as humans could behold in our very limited minds the immensity of an entity responsible for creating the known universe. 

We don’t even understand our own minds yet. 

I also don’t judge those who follow a religion, as long as the religion in question doesn’t advocate:

  • Violence
  • Prejudice and Discrimination
  • “Truths” that have quite obviously been refuted as being completely incorrect. For example, the belief that the sun revolved around the earth, and the like. 

Believe what you want to believe if it brings fulfillment, joy, and love for those around you. I still sometimes call out to the universe at large for help. Maybe it’s silly, and then, maybe it isn’t.


Nine: The Importance of Health

wellness image

If you don’t have your health, then it can make it very difficult to do what you want in life. We are obviously carbon-based biological finite beings, and things get screwed up. Cells multiply uncontrollably, hearts give out, accidents happen. As much as we can, I think it’s worth it to maintain a healthy lifestyle. 

I remember once talking with a fellow co-worker who imbibed in fast food every day. He made a curious statement, which was: “at least I’ll be happier than you eating what I want to eat.”

There are a couple of things wrong with that statement. For one, objectively speaking I was a much happier person overall (as far as I could tell). Second, healthy food can taste fantastic. Third, eating better can have a positive influence on the way we think and act. 

I'm not trying to be judgmental here. In fact, I’ve been down that road. Not only did I get addicted to fast food, at one point I was drinking like a fish and downing 2000+ plus calorie meals in the middle of the night. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be healthy at this point in time. I’m downright grateful for it. 

I’m not talking about cutting out everything and living the life of an aesthetic. I just truly believe that imbibing in a healthier lifestyle can make us more alert, happy, and emotionally stable. 

Another aspect of health is emotional and mental well being. I think meditation, yoga, socializing, and practicing gratitude can be life-changing. I admit that I don’t meditate or do yoga nearly enough, but I know the benefits are very real. 


Ten: Achieving Greatness, and Knowing What It Means For You

stay focused

I’m fairly certain that achieving greatness can only be done if you’re ready to eschew comfort and security. I have yet to experience my own version of greatness on the scale I want, so take all of this how you want. If someone you admire is doing something that appears to be easy yet they are incredibly successful, then I’d wager that they’ve put in a ridiculous amount of effort and self-sacrifice to get there. There are some exceptions to this of course. 

What is greatness, or success, or whatever you want to call it? To me, it is following your true self, knowing what you want, and going after it without reservation. It could be just being the best parent you can possibly be, or maybe it’s to become a novelist or to get a stable job in the corporate world. It means working your ass off. It means staying incredibly focused. 

The hard part is usually determining what you really want. It can be really really hard to first know what it is that you want, then after realizing it, coming to terms with the reality of it. Most of us don’t know what we want, or we want too many things. In my case, I love the thought of many many things. I love the thought of running a podcast like Radiolab, or of being an actor in a cool movie despite having zero acting experience or becoming a neuroscientist. 

The Importance of Visualization

Just as successful people visualize themselves achieving whatever it is they are out to accomplish, all of us should do the same. The athlete visualizes him or herself getting to the finish line first, scoring over and over again, or pulling off an incredibly complex skateboarding trick. But they don’t just visualize the end-goal; they visualize the work involved to get to that point. The novelist visualizes publishing a book as well as the work they need to put in to make it happen. 


These are some of my thoughts, and hopefully, some of them resonated with you. Feel free to agree or disagree. Thanks again for reading, especially to those of you who read all the way to the end of this long post. 

Top 12 Tips for Traveling with OCD

First, a disclaimer: I'm not a medical professional by any means. For real professional help please consult a licensed therapist. The methods contained herein have worked for me, and are (mostly) based on methods taken from very sound resources like The OCD Workbook.

Also, I tend to personify OCD as a horrible, hysterical, dominating, needy, pathetic, life-sucking entity. I don't know if this is medically sound, but it makes sense to me. 

OK, let's get started.

According to a dictionary I found online, this is the definition of logic: 

Logic: “a particular way of thinking, especially one that is reasonable and based on good judgment.” 

If you have or know about OCD, you know that logic is something that OCD disdains with a ferocity unmatched in the natural world. Instead of embracing logic, it embraces over-reactivity and a general "freak-the-f^%#-out-about-ridiculous-innocuous-things-as-much-as-possible" philosophy. 

You can imagine how this can make traveling a bit awkward and uncomfortable if you have this particular disorder.

I won't get into all of the ways in which OCD has infiltrated my life like a homicidal thought-hammer. For a nice uncomfortable look into my life with OCD, feel free to take a look at my book on Amazon, OCD Sucks!

Anyway, enough prelude already right? The title indicated I would be providing some useful information, so let's get to it. Here are my top ways to deal with OCD while traveling. 

Tip #1: Don't Mess With Your Meds

This is what I did. I started reducing my dosage with the hope that I could eliminate the need for them altogether. Don’t do this, for the love of all the furry cat videos on YouTube just don’t. I’m fairly certain this contributed to a recent mental-flurry kind of month.

Tip #2: Don't Be Surprised When It Strikes 

It’s a bit of a rude awakening when all of a sudden that a$$h#le (OCD) shows up at your door at 3 in the morning completely strung out on crack cocaine and starts yelling obnoxious things while reeking of rat sweat. It happens. In fact, expect it to happen. Maybe not the rat sweat, because rats don't sweat, but don’t be surprised with anything.

When this happened to me recently, I had kind of forgotten that even though OCD is idiotic and illogical, it is still clever as hell. It’s like a conniving politician turned petty pocket thief. What OCD steals, rather, what you allow it to steal, is of much greater value than any material possession. 

It tries to steal focus, attention, peace, and your valuable limited time here on earth. Anything or anybody that steals these highly valued things is unacceptable. 

Tip #3: It's All About What You Do When it Strikes

Know that reacting to the OCD only gives it more power. 

In fact, each super charged reaction is like giving it steak and potatoes. Even if it’s been lazy for a while, it’s always at the ready to jump back in and bulk up. 

It then gets bolder, barges the hell in, and tries to live with you for a month and eat all your cereal. It’s a lot like the demon Catch in the book “Practical Demonkeeping” by Christopher Moore. Every time Catch devoured someone he would grow substantially. 

OCD is a lot like Catch the demon, but not as interesting. 

Sometimes it only annoys you by doing something like the equivalent of playing a lot of Kenny G on a bagpipe and smoking crack in your living room. Other times right when you wake up in the morning before you have a chance for any other thought, the OCD starts blabbering hysterically about all kinds of stupid things it thinks is important, and decides its going to spend the whole day with you. 

Tip #4: Don't Attempt to Outwit It

Don't be fooled into thinking you can somehow outwit the OCD by analyzing thoughts and actions. 

Or worse yet, that you can simply run from thoughts or undo things that already are. 

It’s really weird when I look back and think about all the self-induced agonizing over what already is. I wonder how in the hell could this admittedly shitty emotion cause me to live with a mental reel of the past and thinking things like “I could have should have blah blah blah.” Then I realized a few very important things about dealing with OCD, after refreshing my memory about really throwing punches at it.

It’s all about not doing your compulsions. 

I had forgotten (or maybe never realized), just what some of my compulsions were. We’ll look at that more closely in the next point. Before moving on, know this: analyzing your thoughts and actions is counterproductive, especially when it's OCD. You simply have to be OK with being uncertain about a few things, as well as having some crazy thoughts roaming around your mind. Everyone has crazy thoughts from time to time; we just tend to shine a spotlight on each one like an overly zealous thought-police officer. 

Following are some things that OCD may be trying get you to be uncertain about, which in turn prompts you to try and analyze the junk out of it:

* Did I harm someone
* Was there a possibility that I could have harmed someone by doing that negligent thing?
* Holy shit I’m going to have strong anxiety forever and I’ll look like that skinny guy in his underwear from that movie The 6th Sense
* Am I a horrible person for this? Is my moral, nay, my overall character completely jeopardized now? 
* Did I ruin my health forever?

The list goes on and on like a DNA strand. 

Tip #5: Don't Give In To Compulsions

You have to remember what compulsions actually are and to avoid doing them. This can get a bit tricky because the OCD doesn't want you to realize what your compulsions actually are. It's also easy to go into panic mode when we experience the anxiety. 

I'd forgotten that journaling about OCD can be a compulsion for me because I end up trying to utilize logic to free myself from the anxiety. It can be good to really look at what's going on and to write about it, but when it's totally OCD a different approach is needed.  

So, instead of my old way of journaling and justification of my analyzing thoughts and actions, I realized that I needed to purposefully trigger that son of a bitch. You're essentially poking and pinching it, which in turn makes it shove bigger needles deep in the brain, and with much more vigor. It's kind of like finally facing an annoying human in your life fully, opening your arms and saying "bring it on motherf#$%r!"

The anxiety will flare and surge like an atom bomb in your core, but you've got to just accept it. Let it be there. It will abate with time. 

This gives the OCD pause. It makes it a bit confused because it's suddenly lost some control. It may not feel like it at the time, but it means that you're finally throwing punches back. 

Tip #6: Practice ERP, Especially if You're on a Long Holiday

Nobody wants to experience anxiety on their holiday, which is why OCD can really be a nuisance during this time. Sometimes I think just practicing mindfulness works, which I'll touch on in the next point. However, when it gets really bad, you have to get your hands a bit dirty. 

ERP stands for Exposure Response Prevention. This means purposely exposing yourself to or imagining feared thoughts and situations. After doing this enough you'll find that what first appeared to be a lion is just a house cat. 

Tip #7: Practice Mindfulness

There are times when I get OCD about how I’m dealing with OCD, which causes more OCD. Then there is so much OCD around I forget that there is a beautiful world to see out there.

If you’ve ever taken a good yoga class, often the instructor will do a bit of guided meditation at the end. One thing they will say is something like “when thoughts come into your mind, thank the mind, and go back to focusing on your breath.” Sometimes the best way to deal with OCD, especially when things have leveled off a bit, is to simply practice mindfulness. It’s allowing thoughts to come into the mind and letting anxiety be there, but not giving any special attention to the thoughts or the feelings. It’s all about living your life despite crazy-ass obsessions and the temptation to give in to compulsions. 

As they put it in “The Mindfulness Workbook,”  “All we have complete control over is our behavior. This is true 100 percent of the time.” 

Tip #8: Be Social

OCD loves it when it can get you alone with your thoughts so that it can subtly intermingle with them. Even if you're feeling pretty lousy, make sure that you get out there and hang out with some cool people and have some enriching conversation. 

This is especially true if you are taking a year off and traveling like myself. Staying at hostels is great for that, however I admit that I tend to book cheap private accommodation via Airbnb, Agoda, Hotels, or Booking. I know it's not a big deal, but because I'm 39 and a month away from turning 40 hostels can feel a bit too much like crashing a college party. In turn, I have to get out there and start talking with people. The wonderful thing about traveling is that it's really not hard to find genuinely cool people who are more than willing to kick it with you for a while. I've gained some lifelong friends this way. 

Tip #9: Do Things Despite the Anxiety.

This is not easy. Believe me, I know and understand fully. The world darkens quite a bit. I almost feel like people can see the asshole clinging to my back, reeking of rat sweat and playing out-of-tune Kenny G bagpipe music through terrible boom box speakers. 

Tip #10: Be Careful with Alcohol

Consider staying the hell away from it, or at the very least just drink in moderation (my friends would have a good laugh at this, because I'm the last person to talk to about moderation). Nonetheless, it is true. Alcohol can really have an effect on the severity of OCD.  

This is not easy, especially when it can be stressful enough traveling around the world and all you want is a nice cold beer on draft. Just know yourself, and if you see a pattern of heavy OCD the day after drinking even just a bit of alcohol, it’s time to question how much you really need it. It’s okay if the people you’re with have a problem with that. It just means it's time to find new people to hang out with. 

Tip #11: Know That It's All Bark and No Bite

OCD wants you to believe it’s a bonafide demon who can truly mess you up for life.

It’s not. 

Tip #12: Don't Give Up

When the OCD symptoms become incredibly strong, it’s a temptation to just give up on certain things in life. It could be stopping you from doing things that you previously enjoyed, or maybe throwing away certain goals because OCD has made the idea of achieving them beyond mere pipe dreams and into the realm of delusion. 

One day in Hong Kong I was particularly anxious. I was seriously questioning what the hell I was doing and wondered if I should just go back to the States and bury my head in an assembly-line job to get my mind focused on anything else. Then some random Hong Kongian walked by with a shirt that said: "Don't Give Up."

Now, I'm not much of a spiritual guy anymore, and I'm definitely not religious in the least, but if there's a possibility that the universe was saying something to me through that dude, I'm cool with that. It actually picked me up a bit. I would've forged on anyway, but that was like a taste of that Elvish Lemmas bread from Lothlórien in Lord of the Rings. 

I have no idea why I use LOTR so much when I write about OCD. I just do. 

If you or a loved one has OCD, I hope this helps. If you don't, be grateful!

 

And everything together, all voices, all goals, all yearning, all suffering, all pleasure, all that was good and evil, all of this together was the world. All of it together was the flow of events, was the music of life. - Herman Hesse

Should You Be Scared of Muslims?

Throughout history, there have been far too many groups of people who firmly believed that they should murder en masse because their god ordained it. I can hardly write that sentence without shuddering with utter bemusement, disbelief, disgust, horror, and anger. 

We are a young and dumb species. 

Our collective hubris only makes it more obvious. More of that later. First, let’s discuss stereotyping. 

The Problem With Stereotyping

Stereotyping is lazy. Allow me to elaborate with a fictional character named Karen.  

Karen is visiting the U.S. from Australia and is boarding a plane to Kansas City from Chicago. Unfortunately, that day she had a very bad migraine, had recently quit smoking, and genuinely disliked most people. She stole coloring books from a couple of deaf children, flipped off an elderly woman who was having trouble with her luggage, and told a flight attendant who had just finished a double shift that she looked bloated. 

Karen is a true bitch. 

She sat beside a middle-aged man named Bill and gave him such a stink-eye that he felt his face turning brown. Bill had never met anyone from Australia, but after being kicked in the shin for trying to talk to her he knew exactly what ALL Australian women were like. 

With that one anecdote, Bill would talk at length about how horrible Australian women are around the dinner table, despite the fact that his interaction with Australian women was nil. According to http://countrymeters.info/en/Australia, there are 12,209,117 women in Australia. Is Bill justified in making a blanket statement about 0.00000819060051599145% of women in Australia? 

No, of course not. If you think so, then you should quietly put away your electronic device and reach for a coloring book with very large shapes that are easy to color in. Please don’t steal the coloring books from deaf children, because that’s very wrong whether you're religious or not.

It's simply easier to say that an entire group of people is one way or another. I know I do it from time to time, especially when I write about how cool a particular culture is, like Thai culture. (Thai people are truly amazing, btw). 

But really I'm just being lazy when I make blanket statements like that. Based on anecdotal cumulative experience, those who have lived in Thailand have more authority to speak on such matters. Even then, there will be biases and modes of thought colored by personal experience. Anthropological arguments are hard to make using a priori statements. 

Throughout the years in our short human history, we have preferred black and white, binary, good or bad, us vs. them. 

Well guess what? Life is not always clearly "this" or "that." Are you fully good or fully bad? Is every Muslim a terrorist? Is every American bombastic like Trump? Is the nation of France filled with only stuck-up assholes? Are all Canadians super nice? 

It's hard enough to say that 20 people in a room are one certain thing, let alone millions, or in the case of Muslims, billions. It's this incredibly narrow “everything is black or white” way of thinking that provides a tributary to an ocean of insane rhetoric used by politicians and many others. Have you ever heard the expression "We should just nuke em”? Or, "Let's just drop a bomb on that whole country”? And recently, "Let's make it illegal for Muslims to enter the country”?

Let's make it illegal for those who are part of the second-largest religion in the world to enter the country? Let's just shut the door to 23% of the world? Good thing Muslims by and large are a peace loving people; otherwise, I'm pretty sure we'd be fucked. Maybe we are anyway considering our presidential candidates (written June 2016). 

I’ve done a lot of searching, and I just can’t find any conclusive evidence regarding what percentage of Muslims are deranged murderous lunatics, more commonly known as radicals or extremists. The question presented is always, “Well, what constitutes a radical? Can they merely condone terrorist attacks, or do they need to be actively attacking?” Good question. Quite honestly, depending on what shitty blog you end up on (including this one), you can get a range from 0.00006% to 99.9%. 

So what do we do with that? I don’t know, I’m still trying to understand all of this too.

Before we go further, what exactly is a Muslim? Great question!

*Disclaimer: I am not an expert on the religion of Islam. I will try my best to present an unbiased, factually based synopsis for you. 

Mus·lim

ˈməzləm,ˈmo͝ozləm/

noun

1. 1.
a follower of the religion of Islam.
 

adjective

1. 1.
of or relating to the Muslims or their religion.

OK, that doesn’t help very much. Let’s find out what the definition of Islam is. 

Is·lam

isˈläm,izˈläm/

noun

1. the religion of the Muslims, a monotheistic faith regarded as revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah.

    * the Muslim world.

- Merriam Webster Dictionary

OK, maybe we need some more help in figuring out what it means to be a Muslim. Here is my very condensed version of Islam, based on what I’ve read. I apologize for any errors or information left out (please let me know via email if there’s something extremely erroneous). 

Muhammad, born 570 CE, was orphaned at an early age, later became a merchant, and married an older widow when he was 25. He had no formal education. He was known to go into the mountains to meditate and pray, and when he was 40, things got real. According to followers of the religion, the archangel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad in a vision when he was 40, which turned out to be the first of many such visions over a period of many years. The content of the visions was put together to form the Qur’an. See History World for additional information.   

The Qur’an is considered to be the verbatim word of God by Muslims. It was compiled by Muhammad’s companions after his death in 632 CE. The version we see today, as I understand it, was put together by Uthman, the third caliph and friend of Muhammad’s.

In addition the Qur’an, Muslims are advised to read: the Torah (which are the first five books of the Old Testament), the Zabur (which are the Psalms of David), and the Injeel (the gospel of Christ). http://www.christiananswers.net/islam.html

OK, so we have Muhammad, and we have his revelations put together in a religious text. From around 600-something to now it has grown from 1 follower (his first wife Khadijah) to approximately 1.6 billion or so today. And you know what? It’s still growing. 

So how the hell did some Muslims start getting into terrorism? I’m afraid that question is a bit above my pay grade, but there is a pretty decent, heavily cited Wikipedia article that delves into the reasons, which you can peruse at your own leisure: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_terrorism. At a glance, it appears to be a mixture of revenge, deranged ideology, micro-societal pressure, and lost youth being plucked to join a community of like-minded people. 

It’s kind of like one big gang with confident idiots telling lost idiots what they should do and believe. One thing that I keep reading over and over again is that the terrorists themselves are often not really religious, or they’re at least illiterate when it comes to really understanding a sacred text like the Qur’an or the Bible. 

Additional relevant sites: 

  • http://mb-soft.com/public/terroris.html
  • https://www.quora.com/Which-passage-s-from-the-Quran-is-are-used-by-Islamic-terrorist-group-to-justify-their-acts

At this point it may be worth going over what Islam is actually about. The following was obtained from http://www.gotquestions.org/Islam.html

The Doctrine of Islam

Muslims summarize their doctrine in six articles of faith:

  1. Belief in one Allah: Muslims believe Allah is one, eternal, creator, and sovereign.
  2. Belief in the angels
  3. Belief in the prophets: The prophets include the biblical prophets but end with Muhammad as Allah’s final prophet.
  4. Belief in the revelations of Allah: Muslims accept certain portions of the Bible, such as the Torah and the Gospels. They believe the Qur'an is the preexistent, perfect word of Allah. 
  5. Belief in the last day of judgment and the hereafter: Everyone will be resurrected for judgment into either paradise or hell.
  6. Belief in predestination: Muslims believe Allah has decreed everything that will happen. Muslims testify to Allah’s sovereignty with their frequent phrase, inshallah, meaning, “if God wills.”

The Five Pillars of Islam

These five tenets compose the framework of obedience for Muslims:

  1. The testimony of faith (shahada): “la ilaha illa allah. Muhammad rasul Allah.” This means, “There is no deity but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” A person can convert to Islam by stating this creed. The shahada shows that a Muslim believes in Allah alone as a deity and believes that Muhammad reveals Allah.
  2. Prayer (salat): Five ritual prayers must be performed every day. 
  3. Giving (zakat): This almsgiving is a certain percentage given once a year.
  4. Fasting (sawm): Muslims fast during Ramadan in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. They must not eat or drink from dawn until sunset.
  5. Pilgrimage (hajj): If physically and financially possible, a Muslim must make the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia at least once. The hajj is performed in the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar.

Killing in the name of….

You know, this killing in the name of stuff has been around for quite some time. People have been murdered in the name of many a religion or religious sect. How many people have been killed in the name of religion (check this out for some interesting answers: https://www.quora.com/Which-religion-is-responsible-for-the-greatest-number-of-deaths-of-infidels-over-its-entire-history)? Let’s go a step further and forget about religion. Just what kind of killing has gone on in human history? The simple answer is: a LOT.

Genghis Kahn. Tamerlane. Shaka Zulu. Lothar Von Trotha. Christopher Columbus. Julio Argentino Roca. Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Don Ignacio Zuniga. Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama. Rafael Trujillo. Adolf Hitler. Joseph Stalin. Mao Zedong. The list goes on and on. Countless massacres. Countless. Many if not most instances of genocide were started in the mind of one man. 

Let that sink in.

One person was somehow able to influence a vast number of people to commit unthinkable acts of violence. One person.

When are we going to learn that just because someone speaks with an air of authority it does not mean that any authority should be bestowed? When will we learn that despite the fact that someone appears to be working for us in perilous times, what they require of us is our dignity? Of course, it’s more complex than that, I know. However, we have played our part as sheep very well throughout history. Our longing to be part of the tribe often outweighs any true and original thought.

Ugh…I think that may have to be another article. 

You think your country is free from genocide? I doubt it. Check this out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocides_in_history

Why am I putting all this information in here? Because this shit is not new. Based on the logic used to talk about ALL Muslims in certain parts of the U.S., no one should be allowed in the country. Maybe the Janists…they’re probably alright, but who the hell knows. 

Here are some interesting facts you may not have been aware of:

The majority of deaths from terrorism do not occur in the West. Excluding the September 11 attack, only 0.5 per cent of deaths from terrorism have occurred in the West since 2000. Including September 11, the percentage reaches 2.6. 
Lone wolf attackers are the main perpetrators of terrorist activity in the West. Seventy percent of all deaths from terrorism in the West since 2006 were by lone wolf terrorists with the rest being unknown or group attacks by more than three attackers. 
Islamic fundamentalism was not the main cause of terrorism in the West over the last nine years. Eighty per cent of deaths by lone wolf terrorists in the West were driven by right wing[sic] extremism, nationalism, anti-government sentiment and political extremism and other forms of supremacy. 

- Global Terrorism Index, 2015 

My Narrow Anecdotal Experience With Muslims

I was in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, which is located on the island Borneo. I decided to go for a run in the heat one day because I needed the clarity that Matthew Inman talked about in his post "The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances." 

Along the way I was stopped by a few girls who were all wearing Hijabs (you can use 22Words.com as a reference point to know which headscarf is which). I fumbled with my earbuds, trying to switch them off so I could tell what they were saying. The sweat was already beginning to drip heavily on the steaming cement, but no one seemed to care. They were wanting to know if I had time for an interview. "For a class?" I queried, to which they answered yes.

I always take the time to answer questions when I'm stopped by students, for a number of reasons. One reason is that I want to immediately shatter any derogatory paradigms they may have regarding all citizens of the U.S. Granted, there are a great number of narrow-minded assholes in the U.S., but there is also an abundance of extremely kind and cool people. I always hope to represent the more "let's all chill and hang out together" side. Yes, people from all over the world stereotype. It happens to be one of those universal things us humans do. 

The girls were Muslim, wearing the proper Muslim attire despite the heat. They asked me about 5 questions, but 3 stood out to me. One was, "Do you think it's inappropriate for us to wear headdresses when it's so hot outside? Another was, "Would you be okay with your mom becoming Muslim?" And finally, "Do you feel threatened when you see someone wearing a headdress?" 

In answer to the first question, I just stated that if it's a tenet of the religion, then it doesn't really matter whether it's appropriate or comfortable. This is aside from what I think of religion altogether, which is something I won't be discussing in this article.

For the second I said sure, I'd fully support my mother if she suddenly decided to follow Islam. I'd fully support and love my mother regardless of ANY religion she belonged to. Perhaps if I were a devout anything my views would be different. 

For the third, I replied honestly and said that I did not feel threatened. And I don't. This one made me think a bit, though. 

Prior to that conversation, I had already made some great Muslim friends, but it made me look back to when I first started interacting with those who followed Islam. 

I love talking with people, but I wondered how I should address the women in headdresses. It's pretty obvious, at least with the Muslim women I interacted with in Malaysia; treat them with dignity and respect, just like you would any other human. What I suppose I was really wondering about was whether it was even inappropriate to smile at a girl, or God forbid flirt a bit? 

When I stayed in the Kinabalu National Park at Mile 34 lodge, I was fortunate to be able to speak with a large group of Muslim men and women. It. was. amazing. They were just really cool and fun to hang out with. 

With the guys, it wasn't as apparent that they were Muslim. One I met in Kuala Lumpur was an inventor, incredibly intelligent and inquisitive. And I would've had no idea that he was Muslim if he hadn't told me that he needed to go pray after getting a smartphone reminder to do so. 

A guy in Kota Kinabalu from Pakistan talked both of my ears off after a run. I was in his store, standing there incredibly sweaty and somewhat smelly. The Nebraska in me wouldn't let me just say see ya sucka! He felt it was his duty to buy me a Snickers because we talked for so long. Others came and went while he and I discoursed. He spoke fervently, and I did too. He seemed to have this intense need to educate me on Islamic matters. 

He definitely had opinions regarding the American government, as most people in the world do. He wasn't always on point, and I always defend my country when someone says something out of ignorance about it. America is wayyyy too multifaceted to be crammed into a Trump box. 

A really interesting thing that I learned from him was that he found many of the American people to be genuine and caring. He was from Pakistan and said that the American people showed great support for the Pakistani people during the earthquake of 2005. The government was not to be trusted in the least, however. He didn't care for Obama at all. 

There was one conversation I had with a girl who told me that she believed Americans were loud, arrogant, and Trump-like (yes, stereotyping). I assured her this was not the case. I, for one, was not like that (if I ever become like that I give every person who reads this full permission to slap me as hard as you possibly can). This led to a discussion about America imposing itself all over the world, kind of like that drunk guy on the dance floor trying to get with every girl within reach. I had to agree that I had seen FAR too many KFC’s and 711’s on my journeys throughout SE Asia. I admit that I’m extremely ignorant when it comes to international trade and commerce, so if you know something that should be added here, please comment or send me an email. Or, I suppose you could just think, “This is shit, I’m going back to work,” and that’s fine too. 

Anyway. I want to change the paradigm that all Americans are overbearing bombastic assholes. How? How how how. Hollywood, you now have a new moral objective my friends. 

One paradigm at a time. First, time to change the way some Americans view 1/6 of the WHOLE WORLD.

You know what? Seriously, Muslims are just people going about their lives: they work, have shitty bosses like the rest of us, have sex, don't have sex, eat (except during the day during Ramadan), laugh, cry, and generally live like most people in the world. And what are most people in the world doing? They're trying to get by. They're trying to live their lives the best way they know how. 

For better or worse, America does exert 

The Muslims who I met have nothing to do with terrorist factions, and if I had to make an educated guess, I would say that the overwhelming majority of Muslims don't. When I say nothing, I mean nothing. So those of you who think all Muslims are terrorists, you are absolutely wrong.

I really hope that no one ever says what I’m about to say, but I have a feeling that there are a few people who do. It goes something like this: “We should just get rid of all the Muslims in the world.” If anyone thinks like that, then you are essentially saying a few things:

  • You think genocide is OK
  • You believe in mass murder and are just like the terrorists
  • You want to kill MY FRIENDS
  • You are a complete fucking idiot 

I asked a couple of my Muslim friends some questions. I’ve included the questions and paraphrased answers below.

1. What are some things that are most misunderstood by Westerners (or anyone not affiliated with the religion) about being a Muslim?

To be fair, not all things are misunderstood by Westerners, but the main things would be the terms of “jihad,” “hudud law” and “polygamy.” But most of the time, the perspective will change. For example, if we dig a bit more into polygamy, we can find that in the past it was a significant criterion for being a Muslim, but not for personal pleasure, of course.  

2. How do you think people who are not Muslim see you? Do you feel like you would be accepted everywhere? Please explain why you would or would not feel accepted in some places.

In Malaysia, we do just fine. But for an example, if we traveled to the United States, I think most people would actually feel a little uncomfortable, especially around the women because they tend to wear hijabs to cover their aurah. Before the 9-11 tragedy, I don’t think it was a problem. What do you think? 

3. What is the best way to make others more aware of what you represent as a Muslim? 

Respect towards every religion in the world. Because we have to actually believe that all religions teach peace and harmony. If we don’t know something, we should ask, and ask the right people rather than Googling and making assumptions. 

4. If you were speaking with someone who interpreted verses in the Qur’an as justification for murder, what would you tell them? 

I think the way we interpret verses can vary from person to person. Again, we need to refer to the experts. 

5. What do you think is the biggest issue with the way some Westerners view Islam? 

Terrorism. Here in Southeast Asia, we live peacefully.

So, should you be scared of Muslims? I guess if you’re scared of people who practice religion (the majority of the world), then sure. But I think that’s more your problem than anyone else’s. 

Additional recommended resources:

  • http://www.religioustolerance.org/islam.htm
  • http://listverse.com/2009/07/10/top-10-misconceptions-about-islam/

 

I'm Just a Guy Trying to Buy Maxi Pads in a Remote Northern Vietnam Village

My female friend Lo who I was traveling had her period while we were in the incredible area of Tả Phìn, Sa Pa, Lào Cai, Vietnam. Don’t be grossed out. At this very moment, approximately 334 million women are on their period, according to one Quora user. Credit: Quora

We had just gone hiking for a number of hours in Tả Phìn, crossing rivers and going up steep inclines. I had just gotten done with about 6 weeks in NZ and AUS, and had done a fair amount of hiking, so I was a bit more prepared to continue on. She did extremely well, though by the end we both knew she needed some rest. 

The only problem was that she needed to go into town to buy some maxi pads. So, being the noble gentleman that I have the capacity to be, I offered to walk to town and grab some.  I was feeling spry and wanted to catch the sunset anyway, so I set out to accomplish my mission: Get Maxi Pads. 

What I hadn’t thought through was the fact that I had no internet whatsoever (Vietnam isn’t part of T-Mobile’s international coverage plan), and there was no wifi close by that I knew of. So I decided to wing it. 

I got sidetracked by some pretty incredible scenery along the way:

 

Then I resumed my search, which I've detailed below. 

Shop 1:

My first try turned out to be a miserable failure in communication. I just had no idea how to say menstrual cycle or maxi pad (maybe I should've tried saying maxi pad?). 

I couldn't just start grabbing my chest to try and say I'm talking about people with boobs here. In the same vein of thought, I couldn't just grab or point at my crotch. That could've resulted in:

1) Someone trying to betroth me
2) Someone taking me to a village brothel (I'm pretty sure there weren't any there)
3) Me getting my ass kicked
4) Getting laughed at as the new foreign idiot in town

I'm usually adept at accomplishing number four without grabbing my crotch.

Shop 2:

My second try was also a failure, but I gained an ally. One of the  Red Dao tribe ladies who try to sell foreigners souvenirs was talking to me in English and trying to help. Undoubtedly she was going to pitch me in the end, but I just didn't have any need for the awesome stuff they make. Here's a picture of Lo wearing the full regalia:

Red Dao Lo

 

I would try and say I needed something "just for girls" and they would grab a bag of Cheetos or the Vietnamese equivalent. This went on for a while when my new Red Dao friend just said: "you look around and see if you find." 

Shop 3:

It was at shop 3 where I was successful. It started off the same: huge abysses of misunderstandings and bags of potato chips being offered. I really didn't think potato chips would help with a period, so I pressed on. Then I saw it. 

Toilet paper. 

I grabbed some rolls and emphatically stated "for woman, for girl!" 

After saying "for woman, for girl!" a few times a sudden light seemed to shine in their eyes, the light of understanding and confusion. The understanding of what I was asking, and the confusion over why I was asking for it. 

The shop lady walked over to the Menstrua-Shelf, and pointed to the most expensive item there as if to say, "is this what you are looking for and please buy this one with the carrying case if it is." I nodded ecstatically but refused the Gucci-looking-maxi-package, opting instead for a simple box of good old fashioned maxi pads. 

I'd never been so happy to buy a box of maxi pads. Plus, I got to negotiate the price. I love Vietnam. 

So there you go dudes. Point to some toilet paper and say "for woman, for girl!"  and it just might work for you too if you need to do the same. Oh, wait, are you too "manly" to buy maxi pads? 

You can't use that weak shit as an excuse for your outdated misogynistic fears. Go out and give it a try.

Vietnam Sleeper Bus Gymnastics

The overnight budget sleeper buses in Vietnam can be pretty alright, especially from Ho Chi Min to Muine, and from Muine to Na Trang. However, going from Na Trang to Hoian can be an interesting experience. 

It started off almost normal: The bus swung by our hotel and picked us up. There were other Westerners there. One kept laughing with an odd sporadic laugh reminiscent of the laugh Dax Shepard affected in Idiocracy, probably watching something similar to what Dax's character was watching in the film. 

At one point a few Vietnamese were either yelling or speaking very passionately to one another about something for a good 15 minutes. I couldn't tell which. Maybe they were acting for us, doing an impromptu drama? If so, the acting was excellent; I could feel the heat from their fiery shouts. 

This was all normal. The first thing that was not normal, at least for me, was the fact that they put all of our stuff at the back of the bus instead of under it. 

What was under the bus? Cocaine? A dance party for HATH (hobbits accustomed to heat)? Used socks? Another dimension? No-one knows except for the bus people. That was okay. I was ready for the 12-hour ride.  

Then it got a bit weird. And not weird as in people started morphing into cartoon drawings because someone slipped some ground peyote into my fun dip. 

It got weird because suddenly it seemed as though we were stopping a lot and picking up more people than the bus could hold.  

Stop, pick up. Stop, pick up. 

As I’ve stated in previous posts, I’m no mathematician, however by counting the number of available beds against the number of passengers boarding I wondered how the hell it was going to work. 

No matter. Just as I didn't concern myself with annoying chuckles and fighting Vietnamese, I didn't concern myself with this either. I've never been very good at math anyway. 

I went back to my computer. My travel buddy asked what the sign said at the back of the bus. I told her it said “No Smoking.” Note: I found out later that she wanted to know if it was a bathroom. I knew that it was a bathroom, but I didn’t know that she didn’t know that, and thought she was just curious about what the red sign said. Sorry Lo!

About an hour later I realized I should use the restroom before I tried to get some VBS (VietBusSleep), however, when I looked down I noticed that the floor had people sleeping on it.

So this is where they were putting all those people. Well, fuck. 

I hadn't yet mastered the art of floating at that time, so I was essentially stuck. I was on a top bunk, every bed was filled, and the floor right under me had sleeping humans on it. I was stuck. 

So what did I do? Did I just say “fuck all of these crazy societal norms, I’m pissing my pants!” No. Not yet. I'm still hanging on to the fundamental societal customs, especially when it comes to personal hygiene. 

As I'm still in my semi-sane years I decided instead to just become a Vietnam Sleeper Bus Gymnast. That's a thing, right?

I pretzeled my body and deftly (I’d like to think) maneuvered my way between beds until I could gain access to a part of the floor that didn’t have sleeping humans on it. I'm not sure how I did it without climbing over a lot of people, but I do know that if I had not succeeded I would've have made someone either very unhappy or happy, depending on whether they needed some physical contact. 

Other than that it was bearable. I mean, it was uncomfortable as fuck, but I expected as much in certain places. 

I'm telling you this story so that I can say this: I would rather be in an uncomfortable-as-fuck bus in Vietnam with annoying Westerner laughs, fighting Vietnamese, dancing hobbits in the storage, people-sleeping-on-the-floor-making-me-become-a-gymnast-just-to-use-the-bathroom, rather than being stuck in a cubicle. 

No joke. No offense to those who love their jobs and work in a cubicle; that's actually beautiful as long as it isn't slowly killing you emotionally and physically. 

Next up: I'm Just a Guy Trying to Buy Maxi Pads in a Remote Northern Vietnam Village

Plan on Visiting the Philippines? Here are 10 Things You Should Know

I have a limited experience with the Philippines. Out of 7,000 islands, I went to a number I could count on my fingers and maybe include a toe or two. I was in Manila for a couple days, spent most of my time on Panglao and Bohol Island, and 1 week in Palawan. That’s not enough for me to give you the most comprehensive list ever, but I'm still going to dish  some knowledge out. Ready? Cool, let's do this. 

1. Make Sure You Know Your Visa Requirements and Book Your Flights Accordingly

I say this because it’s what I completely failed to do. 

If you’re American you get a 30-day visa stamp on your passport when you land in this great country. This varies from country to country, so check out your own government site to make sure you know how much time you have. If you don’t plan on staying past the initial 30-day visa (or whatever it is for you), then make sure you don’t book your flight 2 days after your initial visa expires. This is what I did, so I had to cough up $60 and go to one of their immigration offices. At least, you don’t have to wear pants at the immigration office in Puerto Princesa, which is where I went to get my extension. I was initially going to try and get it in Cebu and read that you had to wear pants. 

So I went in nothing but a loincloth, which raised some eyebrows and made some people vomit. Just kidding, I wore pants because I thought maybe you had to there as well. When I say "you have to wear pants" I mean that in some immigration offices you can't go in wearing shorts. In Puerto Princesa they just don't give a _______, in more ways than one.

Anyway, my mistake was something you’d expect a 2nd grader to make (or not, I really don’t know, they’re probably more advanced in math than I am). You can see my error by examining the dates below. Evidently I thought I could change the number of days in January. 

 

I guess it can be a pretty bad deal if you try and leave the country and they find out you’ve been there illegally for a while. Here's a good tip: never do something that could get you in legal trouble in another country. Ever seen "Locked Up Abroad?" Just check out some TripAdvisor info on the subject. 


2. Be Assertive and Bargain

With most things, unless you’re in a mall or a grocery store, you can bargain for the price of a product or service. If you buy something from someone on the street, get some offer counter-offers going. If only I could have bargained with the clerks at the Tarsier Botanika by Alona beach for their yoghurt. It was the equivalent of $1.50 per small container of not-that-great yoghurt. That’s what happens when Ronas runs out of yoghurt. I was at Ronas pretty much every day, which is a convenience store across the street. They only charged 38 pesos or so per thing of not-so-great yoghurt. That equals about 80 cents, which is much better. Hey, I’m on a budget ok? 

3. Transportation: Have an idea of how you'll be getting around

Manila

In Manila, I recommend taking Uber to get around, though there are a number of other options: the rail, Jeepneys, trikes, taxis, walking, floating (if you know how to do it), etc. 

Cebu

In Cebu, you can take Uber as well. Because I didn’t have a cellular connection there I had to rely on cabs a lot. Here're my two cents regarding cabs in Cebu as a foreigner: have them run the  meter. Otherwise, they’ll ask you at the beginning of the ride how much you want to pay. Or worse, some guy on the street will ask if you need a taxi, and when you say “why yes, I do indeed kind sir,” he goes and finds a taxi that will overcharge you like a mofo (because he'll get a cut from the overcharge). Thank you very much, kind sir on the street, but I can hail my own taxi thank you very much. 

The Ferry

Taking the ferry between Cebu and Bohol can be pretty cool, but the ticket lines can be confusing as hell, especially from Tagbilaran to Cebu. I always took the “fast ferry” with Oceanjet. I wish I had taken pictures to help explain, but that ship has sailed. Once your taxi, trike, helicopter, or whatever, drops you off, you’re going to go to the first of three lines outside so that you can enter the ferry terminal. First you go to the middle line to purchase your ticket. Next you go to the left line to get your seat number. Then you go to the far right line to pay the terminal fee. 

On the way from Cebu to Tagbilaran, there aren’t 3 ticket lines, but there’s usually a pretty hefty line to get your ticket. You then go to the terminal across the street, pay the terminal fee, then get your seat at the desk within the terminal.

Motorbike/Scooter Rental

Renting a motorbike is pretty easy. In Alona, you just need to walk down the street and someone will offer you one. You’ll find either automatic scooters or semi-automatic scooters, for the most part. I didn’t see any normal sized bikes for rent, but I’m sure if you looked hard enough you could find one. 

In Palawan, I looked online and found Palawan Days. Their rates are very reasonable and they gave me a cool Yamaha YBR125G with knobby tires. Granted, it wasn’t powerful at all, but it was cheap and it got me through whatever terrain I needed to get through (which included dirt, mud, rain-slicked streets, and many long winding steep roads. 

You can totally bargain with the guys who rent their bikes on the street. I paid around $7 a day for 3 weeks. With a shorter time you will probably pay a bit more, but not necessarily. 

Private Transport

Private transport on Bohol Island is awesome with Ms. Lilette and company if you need it. You can book here: http://www.boholtravelbuddy.com.

Using Maps Apps

If you're like me, your brain just doesn't retain all the turns that you need to take on your journey. In fact, I would say that my brain has weakened in that area substantially, as I'm ridiculously dependent on either Google Maps, Maps.me, or (rarely) Apple Maps. Maps.me is rad because you use it offline. Just make sure you download the map before you go out on the road. How to use the maps while on a motorbike? You can use some sort of attachment to have your phone visible with the road, or what I've been doing recently is just use one earbud to hear the audio directions. 

4. Toilets

Sometimes there is no toilet paper, and sometimes there is no handle, button, automatic sensor, etc. to flush the toilet. Who doesn't like a challenge right?

When I first experienced the absence of any mechanism to flush the toilet was at a restaurant in Panglao, and I had no idea what the hell to do. Not to mention it was hot and humid, and I was already sweating in there. 

I lifted up the toilet lid…nope, nothing that was going to help me there. There was a large bucket filled with water that had a small bucket inside it next to a faucet on the wall, so I kind of just thought I’d try and dilute the pee-water with the water from the wall faucet. As it turns out, this is almost what you’re supposed to do. Evidently you’re supposed to fill the bucket up with water and pour it in so that gravity takes care of the flushing. I never did get the hang of it so as some other blogger put it, I mainly just ended up diluting my pee-water. 

Now, the main use for the toilet bucket is to wash your starfish after you poop. I never did have to do this, but the people from the following blog explain how to do it pretty well: http://www.wowasis.com/travelblog/?p=347.

Don't worry, though, most touristy places have toilet paper. Oh, and my friends from the Philippines, please correct me if I'm wrong about any of this.  

5. Mismatched Couples and Ladyboys

This isn't exactly pertinent information, but I'm including it anyway.

You will see plenty of very Mismatched Couples. By plenty, I mean enough to make your mind spin a bit. Don’t get me wrong, anything that goes on between 2 consenting adults is totally cool. It's their business as long as they aren't messing with anyone else's life. 

[Begin Diatribe Digression] To digress a bit, when I hear about people comparing gay sex or marriage (between two consenting adults), to bestiality or pedophilia I'm astounded at the utter lack of logic associated with that line of reasoning. Is having sex with a rabbit something the rabbit has consented to? Can a barracuda agree to marry some guy? It’s just idiotic. Get over it. [End Diatribe Digression]

What I mean by mismatched couples is that there are more than a few instances of indeterminately aged old men with very young Filipinas. Usually these dudes have a double buddha belly as well, for some reason. I believe it was a taxi driver that told me that it had something to do with money, but who knows. Maybe it’s true love. Just be prepared to see it when you go. 

Another phenomenon that is ubiquitous in the Philippines is “ladyboys.” They're male transvestites, and yes, even if you're heterosexual or whatever, there's a good chance you'll catch yourself with a thought like this: "Oh, wow, what an attractive young woman...wait, is that an Adam's apple?" 

6. Wifi and Cell Service

The Wifi In Most Places Is In No Rush to Load Your YouTube Video

Wifi will be somewhat elusive and slow for the most part. It’s just how it is, though there are some exceptions here and there. Consider it a practice in patience.

Cell Service

I was still able to text and call from pretty much wherever, but I had no data outside of Manila. It just wasn't working, so you may want to get a prepaid sim if you experience the same thing. I read about others who ran into the same thing, and they had the same model of iPhone. 

7. Many Things are Inexpensive Compared to London

Stuff is pretty cheap, but it depends on where you go and what you buy. See yoghurt example above. It’s pretty easy to convert dollars to Philippine pesos, with one dollar equal to roughly 50 pesos. At the time of this writing, it’s 47.64 pesos to the dollar. This is much more manageable than the Indonesian rupiah which is 13,430 to the dollar. 

8. English is an Official Language

English is one of the country’s official languages, so that’s cool. Just like anywhere in the world, including countries where English is the primary language, some speak better English than others. Cebu is pretty phenomenal because a lot of people speak excellent English. 

9.  Not Everyone is "Out to Get You"

You don’t have to worry about being swindled all the time. Just use common sense and assert yourself when you need to, and protect your belongings like you would being a tourist anywhere. Not everyone is “out to get you.” My friend from the Philippines was telling me about someone from a European country who had a complex about getting swindled all the time by everybody in the Philippines. I won’t say his name here but it rhymes with bantonio. He was also extremely judgmental against the Filipino people, putting his country above the Philippines in a condescending manner. 

Do not do this.

This makes you a complete asshole. Look, I have some critiques of the Philippines, just like I have critiques of every damn country including my own. 

But I don’t go into someone else’s house and talk about how much better my house is. That's what this guy was doing, and that’s the essence of douchebaggery. When you go to someone else’s house, you respect their house rules, even if you don’t agree with all of them, and you don't insult the family who built it. Got it? Rule number 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5: don't be a condescending asshole.

How Are The People Really?

Most Filipinos are very warm and accepting. Some Filipinos are also assholes. Sorry, this is the bitter truth about every nation or group of people everywhere. I get tired of reading blogs that sugarcoat everything saying that every local is like a unicorn with poop that smells like butterscotch (wouldn’t that be cool?).

That’s not reality. There is NO country out there that doesn’t have its share of assholes. If you believe otherwise, then you are completely delusional and need to stop taking ecstasy for a while. 

So go there expecting a ton of exceptional people who are kind and giving, but don’t be naive and think that everybody just wants to pinch your cheeks and make sure your stay is a field of rainbows and unicorn kisses with free butterscotch candy. 

10. Drive Safely

This is one of those no-brainers, but hear me out. 

The reason I included this is because at any point in time on the road there may be a dog, schoolchildren, a whole family on a scooter, a truck coming at you, or anything under the sun. I can’t even tell you how many kids waved and said “hello!!!” as I passed. A LOT of people walk on the sides of the roads. Sometimes a group of school kids will take up half the road. There are tons of schools along the main roads in Bohol. Unless you're a complete sociopath, I'm sure you don't want something like running someone over on your conscience. 

One thing that I’ve gotten adept at is making sure to honk my horn to alert other drivers, people, or animals on the road to my presence. 

Seriously, the dogs know to stay on the side of the road at the sound of a horn. It’s almost comical. If I spotted a dog starting to wander onto the road I would honk and he or she would go back to the side. On that note, there are many dogs that will just sleep on the side of the road. 

I first experienced the honking phenomena in Costa Rica, and wondered why in the hell people were doing it all the time. Now I get it, and do it all the time. It really works, and you should do it too. 

If You're Heading to New York, Don't Stay in New Jersey

Some Helpful Tips if You Plan on Visiting this Great Place that Arthur Dent Never Truly Believed Existed

New Jersey is not New York. It sounds obvious, right? Let me be very clear on this. New Jersey is not New York, so if you plan on visiting New York, stay in New York. 

This is what I didn’t do. 

To give you a bit of context, I was on a brief hiatus from my foreign travels to visit family and friends during Christmas. For those of you just reading this blog, I’m one of those “I quit my cozy corporate job to travel the world” characters who are becoming more mainstream.

I found a spectacularly cheap flight to Manila, PH out of JFK (it was $399.80), so I thought I’d spend a few days in NY before hitting the sandy beach islands of the Philippines. I’m a fierce advocate of using Airbnb pretty much anywhere in the world, and NY was no exception. 

So I poured my coffee that had the hue of intensely dark chocolate and began to search. There are a few key factors that I consider when looking for a place: 1) it has to be inexpensive 2) it should be located a reasonable distance from where I want to spend most of my time, and 3) it can’t be a dilapidated uninhabitable 4-wall nightmare.

Pretty simple right?

The problem this time is that I got point number 2 completely wrong. I would have loved to stay in Manhattan, as that’s where I was going to be spending my time, but it was a bit too pricey. In retrospect, and of course after being advised/berated (rightly so) by a friend who lives there, I should have stayed in Brooklyn. To be honest, I should’ve stayed in any one of the 5 boroughs where I could skip over to a subway station. 

Instead, I stayed in a place that I believe to be in a separate dimension called North Bergen, which is in New Jersey. If you look at it on a map, it looks as though it’s just a quick swim across the Hudson and voila, you’re in Manhattan. Okay, fine, no-one should be swimming across the Hudson, winter or summer, but still it just looked so close. And the place I booked looked so cozy and nice. “Only 15 minutes to Manhattan” was somewhere in the description. I could deal with that. I could swallow some pride and show some love to NJ. 

I quickly found out that in North Bergen surreal bourgeois suburbia pervades the air like a quickly proliferating mutating virus like the one in 12 Monkeys series. Maybe it was just the weather. It’s just my take on the scene; I’m sure a lot of people love it, like the people I stayed with. 

The people I stayed with were great, a Columbian couple that I was able to practice my Spanish with. I love em’, but they’re more comfortable outside of the city. The city freaks em’ out a bit. That’s okay, I get it, there are a lot of people, and many of them are batshit crazy. I do have to say though, compared to Los Angeles, New York is pretty damn sane.

Anyway, let’s first talk about the transportation situation. This will help you if you still decide that you would like to have a nice surreal bourgeois suburban setting to come home to at night after New York hip styling.  

You have the following options if you want to head over to New York:

Uber (don’t do this): there is a $15 charge to cross the Lincoln tunnel (I assume it’s the same for the others). Talk about fucking expensive. When the Uber driver handed the toll person a $20 only to get $5 in change back, I thought wow, that’s fucked up. I also thought, damn, I better tip this guy. So I Googled something about Uber tipping recommendations for NY.

This was the wrong search, which I’ll explain in a bit. 

Uber is cashless. The drivers want to add the option for tipping in the app like Lyft. I personally love the idea of not having to consider a fucking tip, though I want to be sure that the people that are driving me the fuck around are taken care of (which Uber damn well better be making sure of). Anyway, I didn’t think that toll fares were included in the Uber fare, so I gave the guy a $20 as a tip. 

Then as I walked away I saw the charge, did another Google search (the correct search) and found that Uber includes the toll fares. Son of a bitch. Well, that was my good deed for the month. 

Bus: There are small buses that run every 10 minutes between NY and NJ. This will be your main mode of transportation. There is usually a dude speaking loudly into his earpiece in a language that I can’t ever seem to place. That’s fine, I can handle that. It costs $3 one way, so not bad I guess. They’re pretty shitty buses though, and sometimes the drivers get into yelling matches. One time a driver told a passenger “DO NOT PUSH ME, DO NOT PUSH ME MAN” because the dude made some comment about getting a move on. I found that kind of awesome and amusing.  

What I didn’t like at all about taking the bus is that it took way too long to get there and back. When I went into the city, I knew that I had to stay in the city until I wandered back home at night. One thing to note about Airbnb places. If they say that it takes “15 minutes” to get to some awesome destination, check the facts on those kinds of statements. I get it, it’s kind of a marketing ploy, but no, let’s all be real here. Here's what you have to consider: 

  • Walking to the bus station in NJ takes time
  • Waiting at the bus station in NJ can take time (though it's supposed to be every 10 minutes)
  • The ride seems to vary between 30 minutes to an hour (yes, I know, it's not really that bad)
  • Once you get into Manhattan there's no use in riding it out to the final stop, cuz traffic starts getting intense. 
  • You then walk or take a subway somewhere, which can take a while.
  • Total time to a specific destination can get to 1.5 to 2 hrs, especially if you get lost a lot like me; lost in a location sense, as well as in thought. 

Your Own Car: I sold mine, and I didn't get a rental, so I can't speak to this. I imagine paying a toll both ways would suck, though. Anyone have any insight into this?

Taxi: I didn’t do this because I assumed it would be a ton of money.  

Plane: This option is probably cheaper than using Uber or a taxi. It may be a bit inconvenient, though.

Walk/Swim: I imagine this would be the cheapest option, but I haven’t looked into whether some person pops up out of the water in the middle of the river and charges some sort of toll. So who knows?

My message is simple:

Stay anywhere with a subway line, no joke. Brooklyn. Stay in Brooklyn. Manhattan can be expensive, but if you’re a baller stay there. God, I didn’t know I had so much to say on that topic. 

Once You’re in New York

Grab yourself a Metro card at any of the kiosks spread throughout the city in the myriad subway stations and be whisked away in those lovely underground carriages. They’re really not too bad, though during peak times some can get a bit crowded, and in one car I remember the distinct smell of something produced by the human body pervading the space. There is also a thing every January called “No Pants Subway Ride” day. This is a real thing started years ago by a comedy improv group where people where their coats, scarfs, gloves, shoes, socks, ear mittens, turbans, etc. but absolutely no pants. They wear underwear though, so don’t get too worked up. This year I didn’t see anyone doing this, but I hopped on a train pretty late in the day, so people must’ve decided to don pants once again. I found this to be pretty entertaining:

 

I’m not going to spend a lot of time telling you about the awesome places to go in New York; there are plenty of articles about that already, and I was only able to experience a small sliver of what NY has to offer. However, following are some of my recommendations while you’re in this great city:

  • For a great view, instead of going to the Empire State Building, go to Top of the Rock at the 30 Rockefeller Center. It’s a hefty $32, but pretty much worth it. 
  • The New York Public Library. It’s free and the historical significance is pretty awesome (yes, I’m primarily talking about Ghostbusters here).
  • Central Park. If you like to walk/run/people watch/pretend-to-read-while-pondering-the-universe, visit museums, look at statues, pretend to be a statue, then go here. 
  • Times Square. Even though your senses literally get saturated with advertising from ALL sides, and you suddenly feel the urge to buy a Vogue magazine and invest in some quasi-kitsch brand of clothing, it’s cool to check it out.
    • There are a lot of people all the time here. According to the official Times Square site over 300,000 pedestrians can be seen walking around on this concrete per day. On busier days it gets to be upwards of 480,000. Now that is a lot of selfies. I would think that at least 50% of the people striding along in the square are taking selfies, and more than just one. If I’m right, then that means about 150,000 people are taking selfies per day in Times Square alone. Let’s take a modest number and say that each person takes an average of 5 selfies. That’s 750,000 selfies per day in Times Square alone. This is not based on anything but my “not very informed” conjecture, but I’m pretty much right. 
  • Though I didn’t do it this time around, I hear that seeing a Broadway show is pretty much a “must do” thing. Good thing I’ll definitely be going back to NY.  
  • For a more somber experience, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum is totally worth visiting. 
  • Want a cool ferry ride for free over to Staten Island and back? Check out the schedule here: http://www.siferry.com/schedules.html. Doing this affords some really incredible views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. 

Just remember: If you’re going to New York, please stay in New York. You’re welcome. I’m more than happy to make a ton of mistakes so you don’t have to. Also, New Jersey is in a different dimension. 

I leave you with a not very relevant, but still cool quote from the late Douglas Adams.

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time.”

How to Find Cheap Airbnb Rentals Anywhere in the World

Note: If you don’t feel like reading the full article, the quick answer is: stay for a while somewhere, or about a month to get the outstanding deals. Ok, totally read the article now because doing so will enhance your mental state in a way that will enable you to read minds on Thursdays. 

I’m not a backpacker. I don’t hop from hostel to hostel living life on the extraordinarily cheap. On the other hand, I don’t have vast amounts of cash to throw away to 5-star resorts, herds of yaks (just for the hell of it), or small islands where the sand is cocaine and everyone is named Wanda. I’m not sure I’d want that anyway, except for the herd of yaks. That would be pretty rad. 

The life of the wandering ascetic is just not for me, and being a yak herd buyer is out of reach. Neither is wrong, it's just not part of my game plan. Plus, I’m lugging around my guitar in addition to 2 pieces of luggage.

So what to do?

Why, become an Airballer, that’s what. I’m not talking about a person who constantly misses the rim playing basketball, I’m talking about using Airbnb on the cheap for baller places anywhere in the world. I hope we colonize Mars soon, because I’ll totally be using Airbnb there too (note to Airbnb, you should probably start looking into this). 

What is Airbnb?

Airbnb is still surprisingly unknown to many people around the world. I find that nearly everywhere I go there are at least a couple people that I have to explain it to (with perhaps the exception of places like New York or San Francisco). So let’s get this out of the way right now. 

Here’s a quick summary: people rent out their places to you, and it’s all managed through the website or app. Hosts and guests alike are vetted and most places already have reviews available. This takes the guesswork out of whether or not the place is a complete dump (I'll speak to this a bit more later in the post). In the past you may have had the following experience. 

Husband: “Wow, honey, check out these photographs of this Motel 6. It says here that their beds are made out of real cloud dust. That’s gotta be soft. Also, a whole wall is an 8k TV!"

Wife: “Wow, babe, let’s book it and be happy there snuggling on cloud dust after we first Netflix and chill."

Husband: "Ohhh la la honey, and it won't even be Thursday."

2 months, 1 day, and 3 hours later

Husband: “Wow, babe, that hotel was the shittiest thing that’s happened to us since…well, ever. That was the single worst experience we’ve ever had, and I’m taking into consideration what happened in Portugal."

Wife: “……"

Husband: “I feel empty and and my soul has a dark tint to it now. Even the cockroaches looked severely depressed there, and they’re survivors ya know."

Wife: “I can’t talk about this now…in fact, let’s never talk about this ever again, lest our mithril strong marriage be jeopardized."

Husband: “Good call honey buns. Good call. I wish you'd stop using Lord of the Rings references, but whatever. I'm with you like Samwise."

You can avoid having these types of experiences by booking through Airbnb. I realize that now many places have reviews in place, but it's simply not so for many places around the world, especially in developing nations. 

Finding the Great Deals

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about how you can capitalize on finding the best deals out there on this pale blue dot.

The best way to get the best deal is to stay for at least a month somewhere.

I know that this is not feasible for many, but it’s awesome for a number of reasons:

  • You really have a chance to get to know an area and the culture. 
  • You have a home base while you travel to other parts of the area
  • The price is cut dramatically

When I was looking for a place in Costa Rica, I found a pretty nice apartment complex. The problem was that it was $50 per night, which was way outside of my budget. However, when I punched in dates to stay for a full month, the cost went down to $18 per night. Let’s put that into perspective. For around $550 I had an apartment a block from the beach to myself for a whole month. If I had chosen the shorter term stay route I would have paid the same amount for just 11 days. 

Was this an isolated incident? Nope, I did the same thing in Philippines. In fact, I’m writing this on a couch in a loft a couple blocks from Alona beach. I’m staying at Sanders Apartments, in the Loft. Initially I really wanted the Garden Home, which is the main level, incredibly spacious, blah blah, but it was already accounted for. The loft goes for $27 per night, with a 9 night minimum stay. Increase your time and suddenly the price per night is cut in half. 

Let's say I was staying for the required 9 days. This is what it looks like:

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 7.25.21 AM.png

If I extend it to a month, look how it magically goes down to about $14 a night. 

The reasons for this are pretty obvious. The host doesn't have to worry about bringing in people every few days, hiring a cleaner, a person to do the laundry, detectives to figure out why there's blood on the mirror spelling out "clean me rarrrrr."

I understand that a month in a foreign locale is a luxury not many can afford. I get it. I've spent my entire life believing that I could never do it, and there is no judgment coming from this guy. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to do this kind of thing. 

In the end, it's up to you regarding how you want things to pan out. I suppose I'm speaking mainly to a U.S. audience here, but consider a few things before you rule something like this completely out:

  • Is your job really that awesome? 
  • Can you work remotely?
  • Can you take a sabbatical?
  • How much do you pay in rent a month?
  • How much do you pay for gas or a car payment?
  • The stuff you do have, is it necessary or is it owned to meet some status quo expectation?
  • How long would it take to save up for something like this?
  • Would you like to do something like this but have fears that you're not acknowledging? i.e. what about health insurance and drug cartels and I saw that movie Hostel and that will happen to me!?!?! Ahhhhh!
  • What's the worst that could happen?

Anyway, if you really want to check out another country for a while, I believe it's doable, especially if you live and work in a developed nation. Of course, I don't know your particular situation, so it just may be a simple fact that right now there's no way this type of thing can happen. That's okay too. 

That's Great Jeremy, But I Just Want to Spend a Few Days in Portugal

No problem. You can still find effin’ great deals for just a few nights or whatever. It’s pretty intuitive on the site, but just slide that price scroller to the highest price point you want to pay and see what your options are. I like to use the map a lot too, but wish that I could make it bigger. 

 

Factors when determining where to stay

I’m a budget-minded solo traveler, so I can be pretty damn flexible when it comes to places to stay. That said, there are still some things I take into account before staying somewhere:

  1. Location: is the place located in the middle of a major drug cartel operation? Is it close to things I want to see, or close to transportation to see things I want to see? 
  2. Cost: does the cost of the place require that I go sell rockets for a year before I can afford it?
  3. What do previous Airballers have to say about the place? Do they love it? Maybe they loved it but offer some good tidbits in their review. For example, someone may leave a 5-star review for a place, but mention in the text that it actually takes 5 hours to get from the place to the beach, as opposed to 5 minutes as claimed by the host. Why would this happen? I dunno, maybe the host is in the middle of a drug cartel operation and is saying “write 5-star review like bear or I take shoes.” Or maybe the reviewer just absolutely loved the host, formed an eternal bond that can’t ever be broken, so wouldn’t dare think of leaving anything less than a 5-star review. It's definitely not perfect, and the following article explains the pitfalls of the current review experience: Why You Really Can’t Trust Airbnb Reviews At All
  4. What does my gut say? Sometimes my gut says “you ate the wrong thing son, now you gonna pay!” Other times it really helps my brain out. I’ll look at places and my brain will be like “Ah joie de vivre!, would you look at that, this is perfect in all ways. N'est-ce pas my friendly gut brain?" My gut will then quite blithely say “merde mother#cker, that place will end up breaking you in more ways than there are lawyers in America, and that figure is literally infinite.” Anyway, be careful because a small mammoth will sometimes come in disguised as your gut or your brain. He is the voice of fear and comfort mongering, and says things like “that looks dirty and people will try and sell you things and rip you off and get you to join their mafia cuz you’re white as plaster with a shiny bald head.” Don’t listen to that idiot. 

How the Hell do I Signup for this Magical Thing Called Airbnb. For I too would like to be an Airballer

Right here my friends, right here: I Want to Be an Airballer