Everything There is to Love About Berlin

After visiting more than a dozen countries I’ve come up with a list of my favorite cities. New York, Miami, Kiev, Berlin, and Hanoi. I’d be happy to spend a good chunk of my life in any one of them. I’ve written about first impressions from Hanoi and Kiev, and New York and Miami require no explanation. So what’s up with Berlin, why does it make the list?

Use Less, Waste Less

As global warming threatens our planet, I like that Berliners use less energy. There are bike paths everywhere and people take advantage. The cars are smaller and plenty of folks drive motorcycles. When you go to the grocery store you have to pay for a bag, you don’t automatically get given seven of them for five items. People don’t have dryers, they hang their clothes out.

I realize these things exist in many European countries, and I wish that I could say they do in America as well. But they don’t. We drive large cars, dry our clothes in the summertime, and get our gallons of milk double bagged. So much energy wasted, so many plastic bags floating around getting stuck in trees.

Live Where You Want To

There are great neighborhoods in Berlin where young people can afford to live. Vibrant places with young couples, college kids and so much happening. I imagine places in New York like Chelsea and Soho used to be like this, until it got to the point where a studio costs $3,500 a month. Not so in Berlin! Regular people can afford to live in nice areas that are pulsing with energy. My favorite spot is Kreuzberg and I can get a studio there for less than $1,000 a month!

In general Berlin is easy on the wallet. Public transportation is affordable and it works good. Food is cheap and you can have a night out at the bar or club without taking out a second mortgage. Which leads me to the next point.

Go Out for the Whole Night

This is what it looks like when you leave Magdalena at 7am

This is what it looks like when you leave Magdalena at 7am

I already wrote a post dedicated to Berlin’s phenomenal night clubs. Now, several weeks later, I’ve gotten to go to a few more spots and I’m even more impressed. When an American thinks of a club he probably pictures lots of flashy lights, celebrities, bottle service, and some form of music. Berlin clubs turn that idea on its head. They’re often grungy and exist in old buildings, like power stations, old factories, or random spaces not designed for bass and beer. The result is a fantastic space which is exciting and chaotic.

Chalet has an outdoor garden with a koi pond and a small bonfire. Magdalena has an outdoor area large enough to fit several hundred people. Tresor is large enough to be a basketball stadium from the outside. Although admittedly, inside it’s slightly smaller. Also, the party doesn’t stop. Rare is the club that closes before sunrise, and rarer still is to find a place that doesn’t have inspired music.

Meet Some Amazing People

The River Spree Sunrise

Sunrise over the River Spree, as seen from Watergate

When travelling I frequently find Germans to be coolest people. They’re often respectful of the local culture, fun to hang out with, and they like to drink beer. It’s all you can ask for when you’re in Thailand and your greatest responsibility for the day is deciding what to eat for dinner.

In Berlin I’ve made some great friends who are a pleasure to spend time with. We’ve gone out to clubs, thrown impromptu parties in Doner-Kebab restaurants, and discussed the differences between American and German culture. I also get along with Germans especially well because they like to travel. When meeting someone we’ve often been to at least one of the same places and we have something to talk about. Further, I relish the fact that I know my German friends may actually visit me, whether I’m in New York or anywhere else, because they realize that any excuse for travel is a good one.

Study a Nifty Language

Learning German is like driving a tank through a field of daises. Learning Russian is like being a daisy while a tank is driving over you. While German isn’t the easiest language for an English speaker, it’s way easier than the the lobotomy inducing task of studying of Russian. German and English make sense together, like two friends from different neighborhoods who bond over shared interests. I don’t know how long it will take me to learn German, but with two or three Skype lessons a week I expect I’ll be able to hold a decent conversation within six months.

This will prove useful when travelling. Even though every German I meet abroad speaks fluent English, it’s always nice to surprise someone by saying something zany like Du bist ein Spast!

Realize the Goal

I rarely know where I’m going to be in three months, let alone a few years, but I would like to set the goal of coming back to Berlin and staying for a summer. I could perfect my German, make awesome friends, and spend time in a country that suits me. Or if that falls through, I’d love to go on a huge Eurotour with my German friend Michael.

Forgetting everything else, I know of at least one reason that I’ll be back to Berlin. Berghain, one of the greatest techno clubs in the world, denied me entrance more than half a dozen times during my month long stay. Until I find a way to visit Berlin’s Church of Techno, there’s no telling how many times I’ll be compelled to come back to this brilliant city.

Meditations on London

I came to London prepared to not like it. I strive to keep an open mind when going somewhere, but I’ve heard enough ridiculous things about English culture that I was biased from the beginning. Example; you can’t say “blackboard” because that may be construed as racist.  Even though it’s a board. And it’s black, a color that existed before humans were even a little squirt of DNA, oozing in primordial muck. Example; CCTV cameras everywhere, an Orwellian future come to life. Example; when travelling the loudest, drunkest, most disrespectful-of-the-local-culture chaps are usually the Brits.

Then again, the United States started the Iraq war and is on the cusp of electing a moron…

So with rather low expectations I left the club in Berlin (at 3am), got on the wrong bus to the airport (twice), gave up and took a taxi, savored the worst flight of my life on Ryanair, got glared at by the custom’s official because I meet the exact standard of a no-good backpacker with too many stamps in his passport, and then took a bus from the airport to downtown London.

A Sunny Day in the City

Tower Bridge in London

When you’ve seen something in the movies so many times, it’s cool to see it in person

Getting off the bus with my backpack, the first thing on my mind wasn’t sleep. It was food, and I was damn well determined I wasn’t going to eat anything but fish in chips. If all the fish and chips shops were closed I would have had no choice but to starve.

In my quest I got to see the electric shaver building, the dildo building, the HMS Belfast, London Bridge, and Tower Bridge. I loved it because I’ve noticed these monuments in movies and seeing the sights in person was great! Tower Bridge in particular. It must be like seeing the Hollywood sign for the first time after years of being exposed to it on a screen.

The Feeling

Every city has a feeling. My hometown of 3,000 people feels inviting, safe, and dull. New York City feels insane and electric. Bangkok feels like a place that I never want to go again.

Big Ben in London

Big Ben on a dreary day in London

London feels good. I’m sure there are other adjectives a native Londoner would use, but I’ve only been here a handful of days. I like the combination of old and new. Flashy buildings next to churches that were around when people enjoyed jousting and mutton. The streets are clean, the river Thames is filthy, and the public transit system works great.

I also enjoy going to clubs, and London has some great choices. The Ministry of Sound is known by EDM fans worldwide and it didn’t disappoint. Four areas, four DJ’s, four times the fun. I also had a blast at XOYO, which fully deserves its spot on the Top 100 Clubs list. While I’ve decided to not drink on this trip, I got a kick out of learning where the word “Pub” comes from. In London there are places called “Public Houses” which are sort of like bars with better atmosphere and a place to sit down and read a book. Brilliant! Shorten “Public House” and you get “Pub”.

The Resolve

I wrote all of the words above while sitting in a coffee shop in an upscale hotel in London, looking out at Big Ben. Pro tip, if you ever need to sit somewhere for a few hours with a great atmosphere and comfortable seating, go to a hotel lobby. These tend to have great lounges, awesome chairs, fast WiFi, and nobody is going to bug you.

As for the resolve, I can definitely see myself spending a month or two in London. It costs about the same as New York and it offers many of the same benefits. Lots of people, great parks, good public transport, and cool clubs. When I go back to England I’d also like to get out of London and see some castles and other famed towns like Manchester or Liverpool. I get a kick out of visiting places whose name I’ve only ever heard about on TV.

So it is that I wrap up this post on London. I came, I saw, I didn’t conquer because the UK has already done enough of that in the last 500 years. If you’d like to check out London I recommend it, and if done carefully you can probably get by on about 40 pounds a day. If done very carefully, maybe even 30. For example, you can save 5 pounds a day by buying a day pass for the bus, then using it over and over again by covering up the date with your thumb and flashing it at the apathetic driver. But don’t tell the British I said to do that, I’d like to be allowed back into the UK one day.

New York vs. Berlin Nightlife

I used to think the clubs in New York were cool. Then I came to Berlin and found out that I’ve been lied to! The club scene in New York is a joke compared to Berlin. It’s like drinking Franzia for years, then you go to somewhere new, you try real wine and your eyes are opened. That’s how I feel about only just discovering the Berlin club scene at 24. Even though I’ve come to the party late, I plan to make the most of it while I can. Here’s why I enjoy Berlin so much more.

The People Come to Enjoy the Music

Most places you go in New York, you don’t find people there to enjoy the music. People are out to have a good time, have some drinks, have too many drinks, whatever. It’s an expensive riot and loads of fun. But the music is always background noise. In Berlin the music is in the foreground. It’s the focus and it’s appreciated. Berlin is the home of the best electronic music in the world, and I don’t think that fact is lost on the people who go out.

The People Dance

There are a few clubs in New York where people dance. Looking at you, Cielo, Jane and Output. But those places are far outnumbered by the clubs where people stand around, clutching their drinks like a bum clutches a twenty-dollar bill. They glance about with flicking eyes, trying to figure out where the party is. In Berlin people make the party. You dance facing the DJ. Rows of people facing the DJ. It’s actually freaky the first time you see it. Like a bunch of zombies staring at a piece of meat swinging back and forth. But then you get used to it and it seems natural.

The Clubs are Huge

berghain-lineIn New York most clubs are on the small side because space costs $1,000,000,000 per square inch (give or take). Berlin doesn’t have that problem, and what you get is a proliferation of oversized clubs. The most obvious example is Berghain, which rests in an old power station and can hold half of the population of the town that I grew up in. Besides the legendary Berghain, there are plenty of other large clubs containing multiple dance floors. It’s exciting to explore these places, the energy is nearly visible.

Obscene Hours are in Effect

When I first started going to clubs in New York I bemoaned the late closing time. 4am, that’s passed my bedtime. Then I discovered that Output stays open till 6am on the weekends and I thought that was really something. You can go home after sunrise!

And then I came to Berlin. Some example closing times: 10 in the morning, noon, 4 in the afternoon, two days later, never. So should you feel inclined you can party till 6am, walk home with the sunrise, get your 8 hours, shower, then go back to the same club and the party will still be going. Fancy that.

The Fuck You Attitude

New York City is synonymous with wealth. Cash gets you whatever you need. There’s some of that in Berlin, but as far as I can tell it’s a lot less prevalent. People dress down to go to the club. I’ve gotten rejected several times from clubs when I’ve shown up in my best New York clothes. Thinking practically, I made some quick wardrobe readjustments. Black t-shirt with a mysterious hole, my brand new ripped jeans that make me a poser by definition, and a pair of black shoes. Good to go, you get in.

Once inside you’ll find people smoking, which is technically illegal. You may also end up crunching and swaying around on broken glass. Smashing beer bottles on the ground is a way of life. Even though I don’t like all the second hand smoke, I appreciate being in a culture that seems to be casually saying fuck you to civilized living.

What’s New York Got?

le-bainPent house clubs. They’re fun as hell and you get an awesome view of New York City. It’s nifty to have a beer twenty stories on top of Manhattan. And New York has Output, which is marvelous and has a subwoofer the size of a Mini Cooper and funky lighting ideas that make you feel like you’re on a submarine. I can’t say that there’s a whole lot else. When it comes to clubbing, New York is a Volkswagen and Berlin is a Koenigsegg.

All that being said, please leave Berlin alone. It has enough tourists already and I selfishly want the exciting, underground club culture to last as long as possible. Come to New York, we’ve already got one quarter of the Earth’s tourists (approximately), and a few more won’t hurt a thing.

Airbnb vs. Hostels, Which is Better?

Hostels have been around forever, my parents call them Youth Hostels which I think is adorable. Airbnb on the other hand is the newer option. While it definitely has some solid benefits, I think that it’s popularity is a bit over-hyped. So in this short article I’m going to look at the benefits and drawbacks of staying at a hostel or Airbnb, so that it’s easier to make the best decision.

Benefits of Hostels

-It’s so easy to meet people. If you stay in a dorm you’ll probably meet some of the people you’re staying with. And even if you don’t, you can just go to the common area and see what’s happening.

-Dorms are the cheapest option and can make travelling on a budget doable.

-Hostels often have cool benefits like cheap happy hours, free breakfast, free entry to clubs, free walking tours, and other discounts.

Benefits of Airbnb

-You get your own room and you don’t have to worry about a drunk Spanish guy coming in at 3am and aggressively rolling his Rrrrrrsss. This is great if you want to get some solid sleep, or if you’re travelling with someone and you can split the cost of the room.

-If you have the cash and you want to splurge you can rent an entire apartment for a few days. This is something that was difficult to do before Airbnb, especially in a foreign city where you don’t speak the language.

-If you rent a room you’ll get to meet someone who will probably have some good advice about the city.

Drawbacks of Hostels

-Sleeping in a 8 or 10 bed dorm is precarious. Even with ear plugs in you still may be woken up.

-You have to keep track of all your stuff and possibly pay for a locker. If you’re worried about theft, hostels aren’t that secure. That being said, I’ve spent 6 months of my life living in hostels and never had anything but a pair of socks stolen.

-Sometimes the WiFi is crap, especially in South East Asia. Not a big deal if you’re writing emails, definitely a big deal when you’re trying to get work done.

Drawbacks of Airbnb

-It’s expensive! You’ll often end up paying a premium price to get that room for a few days. This is true of longer rentals too. You’ll end up paying plenty more than a roommate normally would.

-Not nearly as easy to meet local people.

-Limited check in times. You can arrive at a hostel at the funniest hours, it doesn’t usually matter. Showing up to your Airbnb at 1am may not be cool.

What’s the Best Choice?

I only use Airbnb are when I’m going to be staying somewhere for more than a week. When that happens it’s nice to have a room where you can leave your stuff laying around. It’s worth the extra money, especially if you’re travelling with someone.

Most of the time though, hostels! They’re fun, they’re social, and they’re cheap. Many of them also have private rooms if you want to pay for them. Regardless of where you choose to stay, make travel a priority. Check out the hostels and Airbnb rooms in your favorite city, make a booking, and start an awesome adventure today.

All About Copenhagen (With Pictures)

Ernest Hemingway had Paris. I have Copenhagen. If I ever want to retreat somewhere to write, or ponder, or pursue enlightenment, I’ll come to Copenhagen. I’ve never been anywhere like it. I have yet to walk along a road that doesn’t have a bike lane on either side. Nor have I paid less than $3 for anything. The whole country works brilliantly, and charges you for the convenience. An amazing building in CopenhagenDanish prices make New York seem thrifty. But hey, I’ve got the cash, so why not splurge. Copenhagen is beautiful, stunning, and it’s the greenest, most well taken care of city that I’ve ever been to in my life.

And yet…

Copenhagen is where I’ll come one day to write a book, it’s not where I want to spend my twenties. It’s where I’d like to raise a kid, not celebrate my forthcoming, semi-midlife crisis. There’s not enough adrenaline here for me. When I’m in Copenhagen I don’t feel the intense energy that enlivens New York. Nor do I smell garbage or hear the honking of one million pissed off taxi drivers. So while it might not be perfect, there are definitely some big advantages of living in this coastal city. Here are a few of the things that I enjoy the most.

The Bike Lanes

A bike parking lot in CopenhagenThe Danes love to ride their bikes. 50% of people in Copenhagen commute to work by bicycle, and that figure includes members of the Danish parliament, and their sharply dressed secretaries. Internet statistics tell me that there are more bikes than people in Copenhagen, which makes sense when you see a picture like this one. Forget about parking lots for oversized Americans to park their oversized SUV’s. A small amount of sidewalk can hold a massive number of bicycles, which is a far more efficient use of space.

I’ve walked 10 or 15 km in the last two days, and I’ve failed to find a single road of any respectable size that doesn’t have a bike lane running along it. Bikers have their own designated lanes, separate from pedestrians and cars. It’s brilliant! Why sit in traffic when you can zoom past and get your daily exercise. Which leads us to…

The Incredibly Fit People

Come to downtown Copenhagen and find me three overweight people in less than five minutes. I’ll wager $10 you can’t do it. If we changed overweight to obese, I would wager $1,000 you can’t do it. Go to any American city and I wouldn’t wager a dime even if you only had 30 seconds.

The Danish are very fit people. I don’t know whether it’s the diet or all the bike riding, but it’s very rare to see someone who is genuinely out of shape. What a breathe of fresh air. Where I come from having a belly and a cabinet full of blood pressure medicine is the norm. I love seeing that other countries are different. Which reminds me of…

The Parks

A cool old building in CopenhagenCopenhagen doesn’t have parks, it has lush, well maintained gardens of glory. They’re beautiful, perfectly manicured, and I love them. When you get lost in a Copenhagen park it’s easy to forget that you’re downtown in a nation’s capital. Leaves soak up the noise, and rows of trimmed hedges promote a feeling of seclusion.

Today I sat in the SMK art museum, staring out of massive glass windows at a beautiful pond surrounded by trees. As Copenhagen grew up incredible care was taken to preserve the natural feel of the area, and that shows through to this day. Central Park in Manhattan is amazing, but it feels forced. A shock transition from steel and concrete to grass and dirt. The parks in Copenhagen blend in with the city and compliment the natural order.

The Upkeep

The Dane’s sacrifice about 40% of their salary to taxes, but they get a lot in return. The roads are in great condition, especially compared to the acne-pocked abominations we have the US. The trains are quiet and the WiFi works great. The bike lanes are paved smooth and in excellent repair. The parks are perfectly mowed, the gardens weeded, the bushes and trees, trimmed and pruned. There’s rarely an overflowing garbage bin, and trash on the streets is the exception not the rule. Everything obviously receives a lot of love and positive attention. New York is a lot cleaner today than it was 20 years ago, but it has a light-year step to even be in the same ballpark as Copenhagen.

The Open Culture

A communal apartment in CopenhagenWhen people rides scooters (Asia) or bikes (Denmark), it’s an open experience. You’re not hidden behind tons of metal and glass, encapsulated in a bubble of polyester and talk radio. You’re out there for the world to see, and you can see it right back. In Copenhagen I’ve noticed that it goes even further, as there are many outdoor cafes and even the smallest places usually have one or two tables with two or four chairs directly on the narrow sidewalk. In America nobody would sit there, they would feel to exposed to the eyes of strangers. Here, people take advantage of those seats all the time.

I think this open way of living is an overlooked aspect of what makes Danes so happy. Humans for hundreds of thousands of years lived in a social group where nobody could hide much from anyone else. Now, with the invention of fences and cars, it’s possible to block out your neighbor from existence. But just because you can, does that mean that you should?

The Conclusion

These are the reasons that one day I’d like to come to Copenhagen, answer no email for a month, and just write. It’s a beautiful city to exist in. However, while I’m focused on massive personal growth and pushing the envelope, I know that Copenhagen isn’t the best choice. Too tame and restrained. Wonderful for raising a child, but not a 24 year old aspiring success story. So I’ll leave Copenhagen tomorrow and I will miss it a lot more than I expected to. But I’ll know that this gem will always be waiting for me. Once I’ve gotten the crazy out of my system I’ll be ready to learn more about the culture, and find out exactly why the Danes are considered among the earth’s happiest people.

The 10 Commandments of Hostel Living

I see people break these common sense rules all the time (looking at you Americans!) and it really sucks because it makes everyone’s experience worse. If you’re staying in a dorm you know what you’re getting yourself into, but it’s still disappointing when people aren’t courteous. So with that in mind, here are 10 things that I wish everyone would keep in mind when they stay in a hostel.

Though Shall Not…

1. Come in late and turn the light on

Seriously, this is a no-brainer right? It’s a dorm for people to sleep in, don’t come in at midnight and turn on the large overhead light. I know you just arrived, but use your cellphone or unpack your shit in the hall.

2. Leave your cellphone on

If you’re holding your cellphone in your sausage-link fingers, do you really need a noise to alert you every time you get a new text from your mom?

3. Have a conversation in the middle of the night

I don’t care what language it’s in, having a conversation at 1am in a dorm is not cool.

4. Hook up with people

If you’re planning on having lots of hot hostel sex, get a private. Or use the shower. Nobody wants to wake up at 2am because the person on the bunk underneath them is trying to spawn a new human.

5. Slam the door

Sometimes I think people are retarded. Or they just don’t care? If you come in at 3am and everyone is sleeping, I’ll bet you can find a way to not close the door with the strength of an Olympic athlete.

6. Eat in bed

It’s got to be the Americans right? Who else brings a sandwich and a bag of chips into bed?

7. Snore

I get it, you can’t control it. This is wishful thinking, but I’ll continue to dream.

8. Do this

Bed MonsterSo you’ve studied carpentry and you have a keen interest in the disassembly of beds, that’s swell. I’d be grateful if you could find other constructive outlets to keep you busy though.

9. Get hammered, shitfaced, wasted, pissed, drunk-off-your-ass

If you can do 15 shots of Captain Morgan and still find your way to your bed, more power to you. Some people simply aren’t designed to handle alcohol though, and if you can’t even find your bed that’s a good sign you’ve had too much.

Though Shall….

10. Break every single one of these rules

Seriously, it’s a hostel. People know what to expect when they choose the dorm option. Buy earplugs, listen to music, or get a private room if you can’t deal. Communal living has lots of drawbacks and your sleep schedule tends to suffer, but it’s also really fun. It’s easy to meet people, it’s cheap, and it’s usually a good time. I’ve met lots of awesome friends at hostels and I wouldn’t trade all the missed sleep in the world for that. Check out what the folks at Hostelworld are offering in your favorite city!

Visiting Friends in Denmark

I didn’t have a good picture of Denmark before arriving. I was surprised then that it looks like my mental idea of England. Semi-manicured lawns, houses from a fairy-tale illustration, roads that look funny for unknown reasons. Maybe they’re in too good of repair. Obviously Denmark is a country that receives lots of love. Most things appear to be in their place and law and order (or social norms) ensure an easy atmosphere. Which is why I thought it would be interesting to compare it to another country that I’ve actually spent more than 48 hours in.

You can get a ticket for walking on the wrong side of the road in Denmark. On the highway in Russia you can drive on the shoulder of the road at suspension-busting speeds. In Denmark the trains are so quiet you can hear two men talking in hushed voices across the aisle. In Russia you can hold the outer doors of the train open to get a breeze, or just for the hell of it. In Denmark most people speak English like they grew up in a part of Canada that I’ve never been too. In Russia you never doubt whom you’re talking to.

The comparisons go on, but the conclusion is the same. Neither country is for me. Life in Russia is too chaotic and dark, but Denmark is too tame and restrained. That being said, my friend Asger is in love with Denmark. He says that although he’s going to continue to travel, he’ll always be a Dane at heart. I spent two days with him at his home in Middelfart. An unfortunate name in English, but I’ve learned that in Danish “fart” means speed.

It’s a hell of a town. Sort of like where I grew up, if only everything was beautiful, expensive, and people drove small cars instead of pickups. The town cascades into a beautiful lake, and Asger’s dream is to live in one of the million-dollar-view homes that overlooks the water. That the cost of the home will almost match the value of the view doesn’t seem to faze him. “Denmark is a very expensive country, but our wages are very good”, I’ve been told. One dollar is 6.65 Kroner, which seems simple enough but when you’re in a store the math doesn’t come naturally.

One thing I have done the math on is $50 for a two hour train ride. It’s the nicest train I’ve ever been on in my life, but $25 an hour seems awfully high. When I went to Obirek in Ukraine, I paid $4 for a three hour train ride. The men who sat in between the train cars and bribed the ticket collector paid less than $1.

Making International Friends

Working on a train in DenmarkThe story of how I ended up in Asger’s living room in a small Danish town that I’d never heard of is a good one. Joanna had met him on the message board 4chan, although she’d never seen him in real life. She invited him to meet up with us in Bangkok and he agreed. After a few days in that polluted town we took a bus to Pai, rented motorcycles and had a blast. At our parting he offered an invitation to his place in Denmark. It took me six months but I made it. I’m thrilled to be here, regardless of how much the train ticket costs. It’s awesome to have friends in a country to help explain the culture and lifestyle.

So even though I’ve discovered that Denmark isn’t a country where I want to spend my life, it’s still a great experience. The more places that I go, the more confident I feel in decreeing which countries and cultures I like the best. I’ll end with that. Writing these words on a train, going through beautiful countryside, using WiFi that doesn’t cut out every five minutes. Although Denmark might not be right for me, it sure is a hell of a country.

Travelling is Cheaper Than Anyone Will Tell You

A lot of people that I’ve met have unrealistic ideas about what it costs to travel. They often think that they need $5,000 to $10,000 in the bank before they can go, even though nothing can be farther from the truth. If you’re on a budget, you can find ways to travel for way less than people tell you.

One problem is that when you see an estimate of what it costs to visit a city, that estimate is often much higher than the real cost. It may include guided tours, fancy dinners, or lodging at a hotel instead of a hostel. Screw all that. If you’re on a budget you don’t need any of it. You can live so cheap and still get a full experience.

Take Berlin for example. The Lonely Planet guide says you’ll need up to 100 Euros per day to get by. That’s crap! I know, I was there, and I did it for a lot less. Let’s break it down.

Hostel: 20 Euros a night (for a nice hostel, there are cheaper ones)
Breakfast: 4 Euro all you can eat breakfast at the hostel
Lunch: fresh air and sunshine
Dinner: 10 Euros for a sandwich or doner or bratwurst
Metro: 7 Euros for an all day pass
Other random expenses: 10 Euros

That’s only 51 Euros a day. And if you were being really tight, you could get it down to 40 and still have an awesome time. Every city has parks, memorials, beaches, museums, and lots of other awesome things to do that don’t cost a dime. Hell, the Metro in Kiev costs about $0.10 for a ride. Now that’s a deal!

Granted this assumes you won’t want to try German beer or eat somewhere cool, but still. If it’s the choice between seeing the city or not seeing it, I’d always rather visit it and live a spartan existence, versus only see the pictures that someone else has taken.

How Much Money Do You Need?

Probably a lot less than you think. Once you get somewhere you will find a way to make it happen. Maybe you’ll volunteer at a hostel, volunteer through Workaway, start working online, teach English, or whatever else. If you have the drive and you’re willing to do what other people aren’t, there is a way. In my own case, I would do the following…

Go to South East Asia with $500
Go to Ukraine with $700
Go to the cheaper European countries with $1,000
Go to an expensive European country with $1,500

Those are just starting amounts. I would work online to keep the bank account alive, or volunteer at a hostel to make the money last a while. While I can’t say this is the ideal amount of money to have, if it’s the difference between going and not going, I promise you it’s always better to go. At one point I was down to $0.47 in Bangkok. I had less than $5 in my bank account, not even enough to cover the ATM withdrawal fee. Was it scary? Sure. Was it optimal? Hell no. Did I learn from it? You bet I did.

So go out there and do it! Save some money, buy the airplane ticket, and whenever you read somewhere what it’s going to cost to visit a city, cut that amount in half and you’ll be fine. The world is waiting…

Guest Post: Singapore, A Place to Love

This is a guest post from the awesome David Press-Dawson (Check out his Instagram here), who I met in Singapore for three brief days. We had an awesome time, and he has an awesome passion for the minuscule country. With that in mind I asked if he wanted to write a guest post, and he delivered in a big way. This is a fantastic post that does a great job of explaining the city to anyone who has never been there. Enjoy!

“I met Sam while I was managing a small hostel in Singapore. We became friends after a short conversation and toast. I can’t be totally sure, but I think Sam ate six pieces of peanut butter toast during our initial talk. The man likes his toast.”

I will start this by saying, I am not impartial, nor am I going to be my cold logical self. I’m biased as f–k. I love Singapore. I love Singapore so much I have visited it three times over the last three years, totaling six months of actual time spent in the country. I have chosen to be in Singapore over the nearby countries of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, and Laos. I am not saying you should not visit those other countries, nor am I saying Singapore is better than those countries, but I am saying Singapore is amazing and worth your time and money.

Singapore, a White man’s door to Asia

A picture of the Mall in Singapore

The only mall I’ve ever been in that has canals in it!

Asia is a vast and unknown place for most people, especially White people. Most people can summon a few stereotypical things about Asia, but that’s about it. You might hear about the dog eating in South Korea, or the used panty machines in Japan, or the squat toilets of China, and you might think to yourself, “I don’t want anything to do with that!”

I wouldn’t blame you. Culture shock is a thing. If you want to visit Asia, but you do not want to encounter the oddities of Asia, then Singapore should be your pick. Singapore was a colony of Great Britain for a little over one hundred twenty years. They still embrace the Queen there and her language.

This is a huge boon to any prospective visitor. You can easily talk to any one if you are lost or read the street signs when trying to find that elusive Hawker stall (more on this later). You can also find some of the best malls in the world, if shopping is your thing. Singapore strives to be modern. You can find Western toilets, clean, drinkable tap water (something no other South East Asian country can claim), and a public transit system that is unparalleled in Asia. And if you want to say you tried a squat toilet, the five-star Marina Bay Sands luxury hotel and casino has them in the mall portion, just sayin’.

Singapore, a Safe Place

Upon arriving to Singapore you must sign a card that says, “The penalty for drug smuggling is death.” Maybe not those words exactly, but “death” is definitely on there. Although Asia is generally a safe place. There are some places that are a little less than perfect. Not so in Singapore. You can rest easy knowing that your stuff is safe in the hotel room. That your backpack won’t be slashed open. No one is going to be messing with you. Day or night, the streets of Singapore are clean and safe. Here, rules are king and the fines are high. I told guests at the hostel there is no grey zone, only black and white. Basically, just do not act like an asshat and you are gold.

Singapore, Get Fat or Die Trying

A picture of a soup dish in Singapore

Soup is Delicious in Singapore

Whenever I start talking about Singapore’s food, I lose control. I can’t stop praising it. It evokes a childlike enthusiasm in me. Sam wrote an article about Malaysia and said the food was excellent, BUT unsafe (he got food poisoning three times). That will not happen in Singapore. They are the only Asian country that has banned street food entirely. Instead, they brought all the street vendors inside. They are located in massive, government-run, open-air buildings called, food centres or “hawker centres”, colloquially. In these bustling food temples you can find everything you could want and many things you didn’t know you needed in your life.

Singapore’s financial success has made it a hub for immigration. You can find Indian, British, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Indonesian, and even Western stuff like salads inside an average food centre. Singaporean food is closely tied to Malaysian given that they were one country for many decades. The native food is amazing. For many, it will resemble Chinese food, but amped to eleven. The cost of such amazing food? Somewhere between two and five dollars per meal.

A picture of a traditional breakfast in Singapore

A traditional breakfast in Singapore

Yes, you can eat even cheaper in Thailand or Indonesia, but the food standards are nonexistent and you can pretty much only eat Thai food in Thailand or Indonesian food in Indonesia, but in Singapore you can get great quality food from everywhere throughout Asia. Lastly, if you ever feel like splashing out you can find great restaurants in Singapore as well. The Michelin Guide(a ranking service of the World’s Best Restaurants) has many places in Singapore that it has bestowed with its recommendations and awards.

Singapore, the Ugly Bits

Okay, so there is a lot of stuff to love about Singapore, I said I’m biased, right? But you should be aware of a few things that might make it harder to smile about. It is hot. Singapore is pretty much located on the equator on the planet. Meaning, the climate is tropical (think ninety degrees Fahrenheit with ninety percent humidity). Every day the weather report will read “tropical storms”, but in reality the rain comes in about once a day for about thirty minutes. When it does rain, prepare yourself. Let’s just say, bring an umbrella.

Another thing is that it is not exactly cheap (for Asia). Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia are cheaper places to visit. Like really cheap. But if you come at Singapore thinking it is a Westernized place, like London or Paris, it is a bargain. Using taxis, the subway (MRT) or the bus system is very cheap and extremely reliable, also air conditioned. You will pay more than other spots in Asia, but you will get more as well.

Singapore, a Place to Love

A noodle dish from Singapore

A shrimp noodle dish

So that is my pitch. Singapore is a place that offers unparalleled delights. I am not joking when I say the food is good. If you like food, you will love Singapore. If you like history, Singapore has a many first-rate museums and a botanic garden straight out of Victorian England. If you like architecture, Singapore has buildings that look like they were imported from the future. If you like shopping, Singapore has malls that outclass any mall in America or Europe. If you are a crazy person and love hot weather, Singapore has it in spades. Pretty much everything about Singapore is fun for a rollicking. And as they say, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen!”

Thanks David! Be sure to check out his Instagram for awesome pictures of food from across the planet.

I’m Never Going Back to Malaysia

In my twenty-one months abroad I really only visited a single country that I have zero inclination to visit again. That country was Malaysia. If I was struck dead tomorrow I would eternally regret not learning to surf at Bali, taking the Trans-Siberian express, or becoming fluent in German in Berlin. However, I would be fully content with not ever stepping foot in Malaysia again. Here’s why.

Scorched Eyeballs

Red Churches in Malacca Malaysia

No picture will ever be able to capture the intensity of the sun on the baked streets of Malacca

Thailand is hot. Indonesia is really hot. Malaysia is a pizza oven with no off switch. The heat is a physical force which has all the characteristics of a guilty death-row inmate. It’s out of control, strong, and it wants to kill you. Fair enough. I signed up for warm days when I began travelling in Asia. However, there’s something unique about the heat in Malaysia.

Not only does it get you drenched in sweat, but the sun has an unequaled intensity. It hurts the eyeballs to walk outside without sunglasses. My theory is that there’s a large hole in the ozone layer hovering directly above Malaysia, which allows three times more sunlight through. By the time I reached Malaysia 95 degree whether wasn’t a huge deal, and yet I still felt dizzy while walking on the street.

A Lack of Attraction

Indonesia and Thailand are known for their incredible beaches. Cambodia is a Wild-West country where you can do anything and ignore the rule of law. Vietnam is a wonderful country with amazing people and incredible scenery. What does Malaysia have? Lots and lots of palm trees. On my trip from Kuala Lumpur to Malacca I saw 43,589 of them out the window.

Once in Malacca I was able to see most of the main sites in half a day. The rest of my week there I spent reading books, listening to the Tim Ferriss show, and losing several liters of sweat a day. As humans tend to do, I also spent some of that time eating food, which leads me to my next point.

When Will I Learn my Lesson?

The Discovery Cafe in Malacca Malaysia

A healthy distrust of Malaysian food is a good thing

I loved the food in Malaysia the way an alcoholic loves his rum and coke before work. It’s delicious and enjoyable, but it also leaves you with a sinking feeling that you’re killing yourself. The problem is that the food in Malaysia was delicious. Like best thing you’ve ever tasted in your life good. I had a brief chance to become an obese man in a foreign land. Here’s the kick in the stomach though. In the twelve days that I was in Malaysia, I got food poisoning three times. Just by eating I was risking permanent damage to my digestive system.

I wasn’t an off-the-plane tourist either. I had already hardened my stomach with more than four months of street food in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. My body would have taken gold at the imaginary Eat Questionable Food and See What Happens Olympics. But Malaysia was too big a challenge. I spent my last few days there eating nothing but food that would be familiar to some guy from Alabama who was born and raised in a 46 person town.

Three times in twelve days. I would just start to feel better, I would eat something and get sick again. It’s not a lifestyle choice that I would wish for anyone.

Skipping Town

I was thrilled when the day came to go to Singapore. I was at the bus station an hour before I needed to be, and I felt good. I was leaving Malaysia and I had a strong feeling I would never be back. I still feel that way. If I’m ever in a similar situation, instead of taking a bus through that country, I’ll catch a flight straight from Thailand to Singapore or Indonesia. I value my eyeballs, my time, and my digestive system. I’m sure there are other people who have had a blast in Malaysia, but I’m simply not one of them. All hail the indelible Vietnam, the stunning Thailand, and the wild Indonesia!

The 5 Most Insane Party Clubs in New York City

New York City is known for its nightlife. You can go out on a Monday at midnight and find a party happening somewhere. On summer weekends, it can almost be too crazy. Lines forty people deep for the best bars and clubs. People squeezed in like shoppers on Black Friday. However, the insanity aside, there are some really fantastic clubs to party at in New York. I’ve talked to a lot of people from lots of countries, and most agree that nowhere has more outlandish, more decadent, more insane clubs than New York. Here are five of my favorites.

1. Cielo

I studied French in high school, not Spanish, so it wasn’t till years later that I learned Cielo means Sun in Spanish. That’s a good description of this popular club. For years it was my favorite club in New York. There’s a dance floor where the vibe often approaches hysteria. The music is always good, which is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. Many clubs play top 40, which is good in it’s own right. But Cielo is known for always hosting the best DJ’s who play the beats that you won’t hear anywhere else.

The pulsating lights, disco ball, massive subwoofer, and fog machine all combine to create a transcendent atmosphere. Almost everyone joins the party, you’ll be hard-pressed to find wallflowers strangling their drinks. The one drawback of Cielo is that it’s expensive to get in. Cover is usually $20 or $30 at the door. However, there are exceptions. At the moment you can get in free every Wednesday by 11pm, and get two free vodka cocktails to boot. They also occasionally have other free events and sometimes presale tickets go for as little as $10. Check out their website to learn more.

2. Jane

Jane NYCJane. Is. Amazing. Talented DJ, two floors of madness, people dancing on couches and tables. It’s like something out of a Great Gatsby party, and it happens every weekend. Dress nice, carry yourself well, and you’ll get in for free. Come too drunk or donned in sloppy clothes and you’ll be ushered out, only feet from the entrance to this amazing party. If you’re looking to party earlier in the week, Jane is usually good on Thursdays. You can stay until the sky is deep purple, by which point your eardrums will be blown. Worth it. If you get denied at the door, put nicer clothes on, don’t pregame, and show up again the next night.

3. Pianos / No Fun

PianosCielo and Jane are both located in the posh, outrageously expensive Meatpacking neighborhood. Party here and you’re likely to find stockbrokers, marketers, and people with a checking account bigger than my parent’s mortgage. Lots of times that’s a blast, but other times it’s cool to party with people still on the come up. I’ve grouped these two bars into one because they’re right across the street from one another and very similar.

Pianos is fantastic because you can go there any night of the week and have a blast. Monday, Wednesday, Sunday, raining or terrorism, it doesn’t matter. There’s going to be people partying. It’s a staple in the area and it will probably be there when my kids are making their first forays into the New York nightlife scene. The bottom floor is a bar, with a small concert venue room that usually hosts some sort of live act. Upstairs is where the party happens. There’s a decent sized dance floor and a good DJ most nights. It gets hot, it gets crazy, it’s a lot of fun!

No Fun is actually fun, although it’s usually only good on the weekends. Drinks are expensive but they have a great dance floor at the back. It’s also easier to get into than Pianos, which sometimes has a line that’s not worth waiting in.

4. Le Bain

Le Bain PoolLe Bain is the hardest club to get into on this list. Reasons you won’t get in: dressed like a clown (t-shirt, shorts, sneakers), too drunk, the doorman doesn’t like your face, two or three guys with no girls, bad haircut. And so on. However, when you do manage to get up, it’s worth it! Le Bain is a club on top of the Standard hotel. Eighteen or nineteen stories in the air, it offers a fantastic view of the New York skyline. There’s a pool, two bars, a huge outside lounge area, and an atmosphere of success. Unlike Jane, you won’t find people going crazy here. It’s the most laid back of the places listed, but Le Bain makes up for it with it’s fantastic views and chique atmosphere.

5. Slate

Slate is a massive club right in the middle of New York. It’s got an interesting vibe that will suit almost anyone. Downstairs are have ping-pong and pool tables, and a chess set on the floor with pieces the size of medical school textbooks. Upstairs is a large dance floor, more tables, and an elevated bar. On party nights it gets crazy and there’s a great vibe. It’s definitely not as upscale as Jane or Cielo, but it’s a fun place to have some beers and celebrate a birthday. The massive size of the club guarantees that you’ll never run out of things to do. There may be cover at the door, but there are often promotions through this website which allow you to get in free.

Sailing in Koh Lanta – Thailand

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Sanctuary was one of the most picturesque hostels that we stayed at in our trip across Asia. It was a series of bungalows, wrapped with trees, with the ocean for a front yard. If you walked off of our limited front porch, the only thing between you and the water was a large outdoor cafeteria. On the right was an upscale hotel, to the left was one of the dozens of beach bars that make Koh Lanta a great place to exist.

I loved being able to walk out off the front porch, across the scorching sand, and step into the ocean. And even though I enjoyed swimming, I hadn’t ever considered sailing, until we met Xaviar.

We had seen him walking around and both me and Joanna mistook him for a local. The implication being that were we to talk to him, we would be limited to the most primitive conversations. That turned out to not be the case. After we had been at Sanctuary for a few days he came up to me and didn’t beat around the bush.

“Would you guys like to go sailing?”

Surprised at his English, I replied “You have a boat?”

“That one down there” Xaviar said, pointing to a twelve foot sailboat resting on the edge of the beach.

“That sounds like fun. What do you think?” I said, turning to Joanna.

“Do you know how to sail?” She asked him skeptically.

“Sure, I’ve been out a lot. It’s not actually my boat, it’s my Uncles, but he taught me how to sail it.”

“Ok”. Said Joanna.

“I don’t know when we can, maybe in a few days. I’ll let you know.” I said.

Xaviar smiled, “Cool.”

Going to School

The day came, and I had to talk Joanna out of bringing her phone.

“We’re going on a boat, crazy shit happens. I would definitely say don’t bring the phone.”

She agreed, and we left our electronics in the bungalow. We met Xaviar on the beach as he was preparing the miniature sailboat. Without flipflops, walking on the sand felt like walking on top of a pizza oven. We jumped around like lizards that only ever put two of their feet on the ground, and the moment when we pushed the boat into the water brought quick relief.

We shoved a few Nordic tourists out of the way, and pushed the boat out to chest level before jumping aboard. Xaviar got the sales up, air collided with cloth, and we left land behind. Similar to chess, learning how to sail took only minutes, but mastery comes after a lifetime. In a sentence, we tacked in one direction, running far off course, then we ducked under the boom, scooted to the other side, and started tacking back. The most exciting experience was catching the wind just right. The boat would lift out of the water on one side and we would make incredible time. How exciting! When I retire I’ll leave the golf to everyone else, I think sailing is the true sport of champions.

Tacking west along the beach, it took us twenty minutes to reach a formerly hidden beach.

“Two years ago the only way to get here was by sail boat. Now there’s some kind of trail that you can take.” Xaviar informed us.

We pulled the boat directly onto the beach, just twenty feet to the right of a forty-something white man throwing a ball with a twenty-something Thai girl. Regularly seeing such “relationships” was one of the most depressing aspects of being in Thailand. I felt bad for the girls, and let down that a man would let himself get to the point where he has to come to a foreign country and spend money to feel loved. A personal failing of sorts, in my view.

Joanna swam far out into the ocean, and I stayed close to the sand. Laziness. Unrepentant relaxation. Xaviar with his shoulder length hair, crushed sand flat with his back. I bobbed up and down in the salt water, actively working to savor the moment. While waves were tumbling over me, my entire family was back in New York, being molested by blizzards and that awful puke-colored slush that accumulates as the snow melts.

The Physics of Sailing

Leaving the man and his Thai mistress to their intrigues, we sailed out half a mile offshore. I watched out for sharks, of which I am terrified, and Joanna failed miserably to light a cigarette. We sailed the better length of the most popular beaches along Koh Lanta, then decided to turn around.

An elementary lesson in sailing may be in order. If there’s one thing that you should be aware of, it’s that sail boats aren’t actually good for anything unless there’s wind. That’s a fun lesson to learn the hard way. Just as we had our hopes up of a swift return and a cool beer, the leaves in the trees stopped moving. Our sails hung limp, like curtains in a widow’s mansion.

After several minutes of drifting with the current, Xaviar suggested “Let’s swim the boat to shore and get a beer.”

So we did it. And we had the beer. And there was no wind. And we were a mile from our hostel, with a sail boat that feels feathery on the water and obese on land. A speculative mood developed.

“I think I saw a few leaves move” I said. We all looked at the trees. A single leaf moved a quarter of an inch and everyone shifted in their seats. It was the most attention I’ve ever given to foliage in my life. But a single leaf didn’t turn into a cascade, as we were hoping for. The sun was setting and it was time to take action.

The Last Resort

If hearing Xaviar speak English was surprising, hearing his ten year old sister speak even better English was the real surprise. A precocious kid, she had the personality of a firecracker. The sun was keeping other parts of the world light and the four of us were eating pizza at a restaurant across the street from our hostel.

“Is that a standard sailing experience?” I asked Xaviar, in between bites.

Laughing, with a tinge of guilt, he said “No that’s not usually what happens. Most times I don’t make my guests push the boat back home.”

“I’m not complaining, I’m just wondering if you do everything different in Thailand.” I said absentmindedly.

We were tired because we had pushed the boat back, and it had taken us an hour. Xaviar on the right side in the deepest water. Joanna behind the boat, pushing way harder than you would ever give a 110lb girl credit for, and me on the left side, closest to the beach. It had been a hell of a site, and at least a dozen tourists took pictures. An American guy, a Dutch girl, and a half Thai, half English dude pushing a sail boat through the shallow water, going as fast as a man on crutches.

When we reached the hostel it was a beautiful moment, we felt like marathon runners who had just crossed the 26. 2 mile mark. The sail boat was back safe, the light was almost gone, and our calf muscles were wrecked. There was the heroic struggle of pulling the boat up onto the beach, and then the day ended with beer and pizza. A lesson to all would-be sailors. If you’re going out, it’s essential to realize the limitations of your boat. If it’s too small to have an engine, it should be small enough that you can push it. Being stranded by the doldrums is a good story, but when you’re pushing your boat down the beach it doesn’t feel that heroic at all.