Hanoi? What a City!

Traffic Jam in HanoiI arrived at the Hanoi airport sometime around midnight. By the time I paid my $45 for a Visa, cleared customs, and made it to my hostel in a taxi, it was about 1 am. Looking out the window I lamented the location. I was depressed because the empty roads and deserted streets seemed to indicate that I was in an unpopular part of town. So naive, so young. That was a week ago and it’s the last time I’ve known tranquility in Vietnam.

Hanoi makes New York City look like a Buddhist retreat town during the off season.

What’s been most shocking to me are the scooters. They’re everywhere. The road, the sidewalk, inside restaurants, outside of restaurants, outside of my hostel, inside of my hostel. If it’s physically possible, a scooter can and will occupy a space at some point. They’re the universal powerhouse of the city. I’ve seen people carrying hundreds of beer bottles, trees, dozens of gallons of water, and entire families on a single scooter. It’s humbling really.

The Attitude Towards Tourists

Scooter Traffic on the Streets of HanoiUnlike Ukraine, I can’t blend in here by just keeping my mouth shut. Anywhere I go it’s obvious I don’t belong. As far as I can tell though, most people don’t seem to care. I don’t catch people staring at me or even treating me any different. I’m as likely to die in a scooter related accident as anyone else. That attitude goes further too. I took a taxi ride on the back of a scooter and the driver ripped me off for 50,000 Dong! Of course, losing $2.50 is no biggie and I’m coping with it fairly well.

I definitely feel like I could stay in Vietnam a while. Despite the taxi guy, and some lady selling bread who I’m pretty sure charged me triple the non-tourist rate, I feel very welcome. Everyone seems nice and very friendly. The other day I was sitting in a park and staring at a church. A 16 year old kid named Sunh approached me and we talked for 15 minutes. That may be the first time something like that’s ever happened to me in my life, and I thought it was awfully neat.

The Food

A night picture of the city view cafe in HanoiI eat out every single night, and never in the same place. Hanoi is a city of restaurants and the food is awesome. However, it’s been difficult for me to figure out what the hell to order. For instance, I tried to order eel today. The waiter looked confused, and then he went to get the English speaking manager. She explained that they only sold whole eels. Fresh, whole eels, and that surely it would be too much for me. I agreed, and ended up ordering two fish that stacked together would the size of a smartphone.

One of my favorite dishes here isn’t a dish at all. It’s a treat called brown coffee. It’s basically fresh brewed coffee sweetened with condensed milk and other mystery spices. Freaking delicious. I have trouble only ordering one when I go to the cafe. The fresh smoothies are mind blowing too. I ordered two of them the other day. I felt like a pig but it was worth it. In the coming weeks I look forward to eating at more restaurants, and hopefully figuring out a few dishes that I really like.

Plans for the Future

Famous Temple in Hanoi VietnamI’m staying in Hanoi till next Thursday. I paid for a private room in a hostel which has been nice. However, it’s proven difficult to meet people to hang out with. Unlike other countries, I found very few Couchsurfing events, and my hostel doesn’t have a common area where people hang out. So at my next hostel I made sure to book accommodations in the dorm. That means it will be harder to sleep but easier to meet people. I’m really looking forward to it though because my hostel is 2 minutes from the beach. I love to swim and I plan to take advantage of it.

When I touched down in Hanoi I had no plan. Now, after a week I’ve begun to formulate some ideas. Next week is the beach town of Da Nang. Then after, the beach town of Nha Trang. Then I’ll hit Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). However, what I’m really aiming for is Phu Quoc Island. This remote piece of real estate is mostly a national park, which means I’m expecting to find some awesome, untamed beaches there. There’s also rumors of motorbiking up through the park. If I have the chance to rent a dirt bike and ride it through a national park, I don’t care how much it costs I’ll pay it.

While that’s the skeleton of the plan, the plan lacks timing. If I like a place, I’ll stay. If I’ve seen enough, I’ll move on. Working online provides me with this lifestyle. Even though I’ve been out enjoying the city, I’ve also been working my ass off. In the last week I’ve written 10 articles and I’ve gotten about $250 for my efforts. I’ve also found myself getting a bunch of repeat customers. The more I write, the better I get, the more people want to hire me. It’s a high coffee lifestyle, but it allows me the freedom to more or less do whatever I want.

If you want to find out how you can work online and travel the world, check out my introductory post: how to make money online.

4 Reasons I Fell in Love With Dubai

Mosque in DubaiDubai was amazing, it’s a must hit for any person who has some time to travel. The city is a marvelous blend of old and new. Everywhere you look the ancient Arab culture mixes seamlessly with the new Western influence. You know those crazy cities in Star Wars? That’s what Dubai felt like to me. I’ll begin this post by listing all the reasons that I loved the city, and then I’ll give you a few resources that you can use if you’re planning a trip. If you just want to see some pictures from the city, check out my photo gallery.

1. The Food is Awesome

Three minutes from my hostel I found a restaurant that didn’t serve anything made without eggs. Every morning I ate at a vegetarian place called Swades. Close to the metro I got to experience some of the best chicken I’ve ever had. The list goes on. The cool thing about Dubai is that there are so many restaurants serving so many different ethnic foods that you’re bound to find something you love.

2. Most People aren’t From Dubai

According to Wikipedia, only 10 to 15% of Dubai’s population are native Arabs. That means that 85 to 90% of the population is from somewhere else. Most people are from Asia, but there’s enough Western expats that you don’t stand out. Why is this cool? Because you don’t get treated like a tourist. Dubai’s incredible diversity means that you canblend in and be taken for a local on your first day there.

3. Everyone Speaks English

I never had a problem communicating with anyone in Dubai. While most shop signs are written in Arababic, as soon as you go inside you’ll find out that you can easily communicate with all cashiers and waiters. The flip side of this is that if you speak another language (Russian, French, Hindi, Arabic, Mandarin, and so on) you’ll almost definitely be able to find someone to chat with. I never would have guessed that I’d use my Russian in Dubai, but I ended up speaking every day.

4. The Attractions are Breathtaking

Sky View of the Dubai FountainsI came to Dubai to see the Burj Khalifa and ended up being more impressed by the Mall. Most of The Mall is four stories, although some places are only two or three. There is a shark tank, an ice rink, a theater (where I watched Sicario), and more shops than you could possibly visit in a day. The most fascinating part of The Mall is the way it changes shape and character. Some areas are plush and luxurious, other areas have a strong Arabic influence, and a couple of places are dark and modern. It felt like walking between different continents.

Another interesting feature Dubai has to offer is The Palm. This man made “island” is unnecessarily large, and yet totally awesome. Unfortunately, The Palm is best accessed by car. I was lucky enough to meet Konrad who had a rental car. However, if you happen to be in Dubai you can rent a super car for the day (if you’re over 25), which would be a great way to see this stunning island.

Planning Your Trip to Dubai

At the Base of the Burj KhalifaI spent four days in Dubai and I think I spent about $200. For that I got four nights at a hostel, fantastic food every day, a t-shirt from the Dubai Mall, a ticket to the top of the Burj Khalifa, at ticket to the Dubai Mall Cinema, several gallons of bottled water, a cab ride in Lexus from the airport to my hostel, and about half a dozen metro tickets. Not a bad deal altogether.

As for accommodations, I stayed at the BackPacker Hostel and I enjoyed it. It’s close to the metro, there are tons of restaurants around, the room was comfortable, and the girl running it was from Belarus so I got to practice my Russian. A hint though, if you want to book this hostel do it through Airbnb. On their website they advertise a bed for $32 a night when in reality I only paid $20 a night.

Standing next to a green Rolls Royce in DubaiYou’ll also want to buy your ticket to the Burj Khalifa in advance. I bought my ticket 10 days in advance and paid $35. Later on, I took several women from Moldova to buy a ticket (acting as their translator) and the cheapest option was $120 per person. You can buy your ticket in advance here.

Other people have suggested dune bashing which does sound awesome. Unfortunately I ran out of time and wasn’t able to do it. That, along with checking out the Dubai Marina, will be for next time. I had so much fun that I’d really like to go back again for a week or two. Definitely during the cooler months though. It was 90 degrees every day which is fine as long as you pound the water. 115 degrees in the summer though, forget it!

Learning a Second Language is Awesome!

Learning Russian has been the most rewarding experience of my life. It’s about so much more than just the language though. I’ve learned that through hard work and consistent effort I can accomplish anything I set my mind too. That’s an incredibly powerful feeling, and it’s going to serve me for the rest of my life. Here are a few other things I’ve noticed about learning a second language, and some of the benefits that you may find on your own journey to fluency.

Learning a Second Language Teaches You..

How to Learn. Seriously though, people just aren’t that good at learning. Loads of people never work hard enough to get a decent result, or they expend all their energy in the wrong areas. They focus on the details instead of looking at the big picture. When you learn a language you figure out pretty quick that you can know words but not understand the meaning. To get past that you have to think creatively and study with a purpose. Once you figure out how to do this you can apply it to any new skill you want to learn.

That persistence is instrumental to success. The first couple of hundred hours of learning a language kind of suck. You can’t understand movies, music, jokes or regular conversation. This is a bitch, but the unshakable truth is that if you don’t stick it out you WILL NEVER learn to speak another language. I wonder, when people give up in the beginning, do they fully realize that they’re giving up any possibility of ever becoming fluent? Do they realize what’s at stake? In order to succeed anywhere in life you need persistence.

About a different culture. I’ve written about this before and I’ll write about it again. When you learn a second language you get to learn about a new lifestyle. Customs, beliefs, holidays, names, food, history, and so on. You can read about this in a book or watch a movie, but when you experience it through the language, it’s different story.

A picture of an old white lada on the side of the road in Kiev, UkraineAbout your own language. Without a second language to compare English against you literally cannot draw a comparison. It’s like if the only cars on the road were Ladas, you’d swear it was the best car ever made. In reality, a better illustration of a Lada’s value is this joke.

How do you double the value of a Lada?

Fill it up with gas. 

I’m not saying that any language is better than another one. Although Pirahã (the hardest language in the world) does seem to be rather unnecessary. What I’m saying is that without a comparison, you’ll never be able to fully understand the upsides and downsides of English (or whatever your native language is). 

That learning is forever. I’ve learned more in the last 14 months then I learned in the last eight years of school. Even though I’ve probably spent 1,000 hours studying Russian by this point, I’ve only just scratched the surface. I realize that I can study this language for the rest of my life and I’ll die with a book of material still waiting to be learned.

I think that most people who read my blog understand that you don’t stop learning after school gets out. If you already get this, a second language can really help you to cement this idea in your head. It’s why I’m shifting gears. Realizing now that I could easily study Russian forever, I’ve decided to invest my energy elsewhere and learn German. I think it will have more practical applications for me, and I’ll be able to talk to my Grandma in her native tongue. I’m looking forward to that day so much! But until then, I’ll remain a bilingual American. Which in it’s own right is fairly impressive. There aren’t a lot of us out there. So I’ll end this post with a video I shot the other day of me speaking in Russian. Check out my book to see how you can learn to do the same.

The second you stop learning is the second you die. Are there any other benefits of learning a second language that I missed, anything you want to add?

5 Great Places To Live For $1,000 a Month

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If you work online you know how awesome it is to travel while still earning a weekly paycheck. However, when you’re just starting out you probably won’t be making lots of money, which is why I’ve put together this list of cities. You can have a great life in any of them for less than $1,000 a month, I’m going to Phnom Penh and Bangkok myself this winter. Have a look at the list below, and if you want to start earning money on the internet, check out my article: How to Make Money Online.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

A beautiful statue of a flying angel in Argentina

This is a no brainer, especially if you live in Canada or the United States. Buenos Aires is one of the cheapest cities in Latin America. It’s a hub for festivals and one of the most attractive places in the entire continent. You can expect great bargains on rent, delicious food, awesome wine, and lots of opportunities to set up a businesses.

Becoming a legal national of Argentina may prove to be somewhat a challenge, but if you overstay your visa the fine will only be around $40, regardless of how long your offense is for. However, you should be aware that Argentina has very strict import rules, and the country is in a deep economical crisis. It could collapse at any moment so plan accordingly.

Guanajuato, Mexico

The city of Guanajuato is packed all year around, especially during the festival season. It’s an optimal place to live due to its geographical landscape. The highland keeps the climate pleasant all year round, so you’ll never have to worry about air conditioning or central heating. Apart from the cheap cost of living here, the Spanish inspired cuisine is respected around the world due to its spicy taste and economical price. 

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

A large group of monks sitting together in orange robesCambodia is a great place to live because it’s secluded and cheap. Phnom Penh, as well as the whole of Cambodia, offers a business visa that runs as low as $280 per year. When that expires you may renew it without leaving the country. If you want to live downtown you’ll only need to fork out about $500 in rent a month. If you’re earning $1,000 a month, you’ll have a cool $500 left over every month to spend on whatever you want. If you take a trip to the coast, you can find hostels directly on the ocean. Working online has never been so awesome! Check out HostelWorld and you can find hostels for less than $5 a night in Phnom Penh. 

Bangkok, Thailand

Getting into Thailand is somewhat a challenge due to restriction laws on visa, but once you get there, this is really the place to be. Bangkok has a reputation for exotic Asian cuisine and economical prices. The cost of living is lower than other developed cities and you can easily afford your monthly rent in Bangkok for less than $400. The transportation, food, health care costs are all very reasonable. $1,000 a month and you can live whatever kind of life you want.

Kiev, Ukraine

A large statue in Kiev, Ukraine that shows two men holding up an emblemKiev is my second home in Europe for a good reason. It’s cheap, the people are fantastic, and there are about a billion cool things to do. Including getting your head lit on fire, which is not something you can find in just any city. You can stay in an awesome hostel here for $7 a night and you can buy at beer at almost any bar for $1. If you want to stay for a while you can easily rent an apartment downtown for less than $400 a month.

Coming to Ukraine is painless. If you have an American or EU passport you can stay for 90 days without a visa. Getting an official Visa for longer is difficult, but it’s Eastern Europe and there are always ways to bend the law with some well placed currency. The biggest drawback is the general lack of English. On the the other hand, it’s a cool chance to learn a bit of Russian.

What it’s Like to Embrace a Second Culture

I haven’t stepped foot in an English speaking country (except for Germany) in the last 397 days. Of that, 370 of those days have been in either Russia or Ukraine. This has given me a chance to fully embrace a second culture. I’ve subtly become accustomed to the post-Soviet lifestyle. Ostentatious displays of wealth, appearing against a backdrop of harsh poverty.

You could say that the experience has lifted the hood from my eyes. If you’ve spent your whole life in one country, then you don’t realize how much that effects your thinking, attitudes and beliefs. I don’t necessarily believe this is bad, but I do think it’s something people should be aware of. If you’ve never fully immersed yourself in a foreign culture, I think you might be interested to hear what the process is like. Here’s what I’ve found out.

Becoming Acquainted

At first it’s wicked difficult to adapt to a new culture and society. Everything feels different and annoying. You may feel out of place, and you might even get scolded by citizens. It can feel like your personality is being suppressed. This can be especially difficult if you don’t have other people from your native country to speak with.

The funny thing is that after a while, say ten or twelve months, the thought of going back to your own country seems hard! By this time you’ve become used to the customs in the new culture. You’ve adapted to their way of life and you feel comfortable. If you went home you could discover yourself having minor difficulties relating to everyone around you. This was driven home to me last weekend.

I was hanging out at a bar in Kiev with another American. He’s been in Ukraine for a month or two, but he’s light years from understanding the culture. I watched him, and I could pick out most of his behaviors that labeled him as a foreigner. His style of talking, style of relating to people, even the way he stood. It was only then that I really realized how much I’ve internalized this new culture.

When I came to Russia I felt like a fish out of water. Thirteen months later and I can label the out-of-place behaviors of an off-the-plane American.

Learning the Language

Without a question, learning the language is going to help you to understand and embrace a second culture. In fact, I don’t think you can gain a full understanding of any country’s deeper culture without being able to speak the language. Why’s that? It might not be what you think.

Being able to speak the language allows you to communicate with the older generation. These are the grandfathers and grandmothers with stories to tell. They’ve experienced an entirely different life than most people our age, and what they have to say reflects that. Unfortunately, if you don’t speak their language, you’ll almost never be able to hear from these preservers of oral history.

Of course the language is helpful in all situations. Not everyone speaks English. If you’re at the bar with a group of friends, and one or two people don’t speak English, then the conversation tends to default to the native language.

Things you May Miss

As much as I enjoy being in Ukraine, I’m really starting to miss home. Rationally I think America is pretty fucked (obesity, mass shootings, fucked healthcare, ineffective political system). However, I still miss feeling like I’m home. I miss driving a car, going to the pharmacy and knowing what to buy, and the feeling of understanding what’s happening around me.

When I think about this, it helps me to put into perspective the ethnic communities that you find in large cities. People (me included) like feeling like they’re at home. These communities are safe havens where people can speak their own language, order their favorite dishes, and discuss the weird fucking culture of the country their living in.

What about you, have you ever spent time in another country? Have you thought about what it would be like to go home?

The Problem with Prague

Selfie in PraguePrague is the most stunning city that I’ve ever been to in my life! It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to being in a perfect world. That humble observation aside, I don’t think I’ll go back there anytime soon. The problem with Prague is that there are too many damned foreigners. I prefer cities where the number of tourists is something lower than 100%.

That being said, you should still go to Prague. It’s like being in the world of Harry Potter. If everyone got around on tourist buses and took selfies with cameras attached to sticks. To help you enjoy your stay, I’ve compiled three must visit locations.

1. The Beer Garden on the Hill

Forget about saving the best for last, if you only have one day in Prague this amazing beer garden is the first and last place you have to check out. There are loads of benches so finding a seat shouldn’t be a problem. Once you’ve claimed a spot you can casually turn your head and look out over all of Prague. I used to get drunk in my basement with my best friend. Drinking Czech beer at a spot that looks out over the most beautiful city I’ve been to sure beats the hell out of that old life.

2. The Tower on the Hill

View from Prague TowerCompared to Kiev, Prague isn’t a hilly place to live. However, there is one big hill at the edge of the city. The climb to the top is demanding but worth it. Not only is the world’s coolest beer garden up here, there’s also a tall observation tower. Climb this beastly structure to the top and you’ll be able to take the best selfie that Prague has to offer. Also, if you have a sister who is scared of heights, you’ll get to hear all sorts of interesting panic sounds that you didn’t know the human body is capable of making.

3. Ernest Hemingway’s Bar

Unfortunately we were turned away from Ernest’s favorite watering hole. You can avoid this costly mistake by making a reservation in advance. I have no idea how much it costs to drink here but it’s worth it. The interior is classical without being boring. The atmosphere is great and it’s located minutes from the “center” of Prague. If you’re reading this and you’ve already been there, what’s it like?

Plan Your Trip

Are you ready to spend some time in Prague? I hope so. Sure the seething masses of tourists get old, but the architecture and beauty continues to inspire. If you’re looking for a good hostel to stay at, let me suggest Mosaic House. It’s a large hostel with its own beer garden, restaurant and bar. Ten minutes from downtown, ten minutes from the tourist zoo. I wish you the best in finding somewhere a bit less crowded.

The Best Countries to Teach English In

Teaching English is a great way to get out into the world while getting paid at the same time. There are all sorts of interesting places that you can travel to. Maybe you already have a country in mind, or maybe you’re still undecided. Either way, here are some cool countries that you should consider checking out! Read more at the bottom of this post to find out where you can find an English teaching position online.

1. China

Big WallChina is a great country to teach English in because they have a demand for teachers that is through the roof. China’s huge population ensures that there is always a large demand for teachers. Salary and job security aside, one of the main highlights teaching here is the low cost of living. Many English teachers receive benefits such as free housing and free airfare.

Estimated salary range : $1000 – $2500

2. South Korea

South KoreaSouth Koreans brag about having one of the best BBQ the world. Not only that, but they have a rich culture and Seoul is one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world. Unfortunately, if you are set on teaching here, you will have a much better chance to land a job in a city outside of Seoul. Competition is fierce for the teaching positions in this capital city. When you teach English in South Korea you often get paid airfare, free housing and contract completion bonuses. In some cases a TEFL certification is not required.

Estimated range of salary : $1800 – $2100

3. Colombia

ColombiaLots of young and middle aged people are going to Colombia to teach, which makes it number four on this list. The wages aren’t great, but the evergreen Rainforests, stunning beaches South American culture make Colombia a great destination. The country also has a rich history that is still evident in the smaller towns and villages. Columbia has a large community of expats and teachers, which means you’ll always have people to swap stories with.

Estimated salary range : $500 – $1500

4. Saudi Arabia

Saudi ArabiaSaudi Arabia is on this list because of the huge salary you can bring in as an English teacher. Not only that, you’ll never have to worry about snow and you may even get your own personal driver. The salary is high because Saudi Arabia has a very rigorous screening process. You are going to need at least 4-5 years of experience teaching and a college degree, preferably in English or linguistics. Try applying without it and nobody is going to return your emails.

Estimated salary range : $3200 – $5000

5. Vietnam

Bay in VietnamA country famous for its captivating tropical paradises, Vietnam is a beautiful country to teach in. The salary is high compared to neighboring countries and the cost of living is low. With Thailand and Cambodia being a flight or a train ride away, this is a dream come true for people who love to travel. Southeast Asia has always had a charm that that continually draws in new Westerners.

Estimated salary range : $1000 – $2200

6. Turkey

TurkeyTurkey, where the east and west clash. This place is a wonderful country as it’s between the Middle East and Europe. That gives you a mixed a taste of traditional Middle Eastern culture with some of the nicer amenities of Western culture. Turkey offers an attractive , high, growing job market for English teachers. Istanbul, the only city in the world to have one foot in Asia and another in Europe, is where you’ll be able to find most of the jobs teaching English.

Estimated salary range : $2000 – $2500

7. Spain

SpainSpain is on the list because of the country’s high demand for English teachers. Despite its struggling economy, Spain is still a good choice due to its spectacular architecture, non stop night life, and its fine cuisine. Don’t forget that Ibiza has some of the best clubs in the world if you love to party. To find a good job, head to Madrid during the hiring season from mid-September into October and again in January 3rd right after 3 kings day which is January 6th.

Estimated salary range : $700 – $1500

Finding Work as an English Teacher

Thankfully English teachers are always in demand. You might not get the country you wanted, but you will find a job. The two best resources for finding work are:

Dave’s ESL Cafe International Job Board

TELF Jobs Database

If you’re interested in Russia, be sure to check out my free eBook: Try the Borsch. Inside you’ll find loads of useful information about finding a teaching position in Moscow.

How to Meet People When Travelling

Travelling alone is awesome and there are lots of cool benefits. However, the major drawback is that you usually don’t know anyone when you go to a brand new city. It can be especially difficult if you’re travelling in Europe, so many languages! That’s why I used to worry about meeting new people to hang out with. However, I’ve come to realize that 90% of the time it’s really not that hard at all. Here’s how I make new friends in every city that I go to.

1. Stay at a Popular Hostel

If you’ve traveled before than you already know that this is the easiest way to meet people. Hostels are awesome social hubs where friendship is easy to come by. You’ll probably never see any given person again in your life, but you never know.

Staying at a popular hostel is also awesome because it’s so, so easy to score an invitation to hang out. All you have to do is say hi to the people in your room and ask them what they’re up to that night. 75% of the time they’ll tell you and then invite you to hang out with them. If you’re staying in a smaller room or you don’t like your roommates, go to the common area.

2. Take a Guided Tour

In general I’m against all things that label me as tourist. However, an occasional guided tour is a good way to meet some new people. After the tour is over you can always see if someone wants to get a beer or some dinner at a nearby cafe.  These tours are also nice because if you take one in English then you know that everyone else there will speak English as well.

3. Ask Your Friends on Facebook for Hook Ups

A Friend in VietnamThis can be totally hit or miss. It really comes down to your friend group. If all your Facebook friends are from your hometown then this won’t work. However, if you’ve done some travelling before then you’re in the perfect position to do this. Create a Facebook post and ask for people to tell you about one of their friends in the city you’re going to. You may be surprised at how well this works. Not to mention that if you meetup with this new person you’ll instantly have something to talk about.

4. Use InterPals

InterPals is a website that has people from across the world. Ostensibly it’s for practicing languages. It works great in that regard, but lots of people also use it to meet friends in new cities. You should plan ahead though. If you know where you’re going, write some people a week before you get there. If all you want to do is hang out you should be upfront about it. Some people are only there for language practice and you don’t want to waste their time or yours.

5. Go to Couchsurfing Events

Me with MaxSave the best for last. Going to Couchsurfing events is by far the best way to meet people in any given city. The events are free, they’re usually in a cool local pub, bar or park, and the people are usually friendly and welcoming. I’ve been to dozens of Couchsurfing events in Moscow, Odessa, Kiev and Dresden. On average I’ve enjoyed myself 4 out 5 times. That’s a good percentage in my book!

Even if the event ends up being a bust, you’re still guaranteed to meet a few people. Exchange numbers and offer to hang out the next day. Just like that you have a new contact in a city where you didn’t know anyone before.

Do you have any other ideas about how to meet people while travelling? Post them below, I’d love to hear about them!

3 Reasons You Should Quit Your Job and Travel

If you get a job straight out of college I think you’re making a mistake. As soon as you start your first work, you’re heading down a path that ends in a lifetime of stagnation. Before you have time to think you’ve got responsibilities, people who depend on you, things happening, and you can’t leave it all behind. Fuck, even just getting a dog can ruin your plans to travel.

That’s why if you’re reading this, and you still have enough leeway where you can quit your job and travel, you have to do it. Travelling is a unique experience and there is no replacement for it. And for all you Americans out there, travelling in the USA doesn’t count. Save some cash and go to Europe or South America. Here’s why.

1. You Meet Awesome People Travelling

Four of Us Having FunWhen you travel you meet awesome people who you instantly have something in common with. You’re both in a foreign country, and you’re both probably there for a reason. Unless you’re my friend Zhena, who picks countries based on the cheapest plane ticket.

Even if you meet other people from your own country, you’re still going to have more to talk about than if you met them at a bar back at home. That means relationships are more solid. Even though I’ve only been travelling for a few months, I already regularly talk to more people I’ve met in hostels, than I do from the first twenty-two years of my life.

2. Learn Something New

I’ve been doing research for a company, and I’ve read fifty personal bios of bloggers in the last few days. One man said that he’s lived in the same fifty mile area his whole life. For a vacation, he goes four hundred miles away, once a year, to the same fucking spot. Every time.

What kind of life is that?

He doesn’t know anything about the world. Reading is great and watching movies is fun, but to actually learn something you have to get out the door and go experience it first hand. When you step off that airplane, bus or train, and breathe in the air of the new city, you always learn something new.

Do you know what Moscow smells like? Or Berlin, Kiev, Miami, New York, Krakow or Prague?

3. You’ll Regret it Later

CrazyStuffIf you don’t quit your job and travel, I promise you that you’re going to regret it later. Money is only cool for so long. Once the charm wears off, you’re left in a house. With a car. And a job that you don’t like. Who knows, maybe you travel and then you get all of that stuff anyways. But at least you’ll have stories to tell.

Don’t subject yourself to a life of servitude. Don’t trade your time for money when you’re young. Get out and do something awesome! There will always be something waiting for you when you get back. But if you don’t go now, if you don’t quit now, you’re going to be forty someday and you won’t be able to. You’ll have kids, a wife, a house, a mother-fucking couch. Once you have it, it’s tough to let it go. Make it easy for yourself. Quit now, buy a plane ticket and just go.

No matter what happens, no matter who you meet or where you go, you won’t regret it.

The Best Travel Backpack to Buy

If you’re going to travel it makes way more sense to take a backpack than a suitcase. Backpacks are lighter, more versatile, more attractive, and they’re definitely cooler than lugging around your parent’s old suitcase. Finding the best backpack for travelling can be daunting though. There are so many different brands and sizes on the market that you might not know what to pick.

In this post I’ll show you the backpack I bought, tell you why I made a big mistake, and then show you what I consider to be a way better choice.

The Osprey Aether 70 – Mistake

Aether 70When I was in Russia I did some research and determined that Osprey is the best manufacturer of hiker’s backpacks. After locating the sole retailer in Moscow, I took the Metro there and bought the Aether 70 (73 liters of storage space). I chose this large sized backpack because I just didn’t know any better. I knew that I would be living for several years from it, and I thought that I would need all the space I could get.

That was a bad move. It turns out that I don’t need all the space. Nor do I need all the fancy gadgets that come with it, including: sleeping bag straps, ice axe loops, a water pouch section, pouches on the sides of the support straps, and so on. That’s great if you’re hiking, but unnecessary in most modern airports.

The worst drawback of this backpack is that it’s too large to carry onto the airplane. This means that every time I fly, I’m giving the airlines a free pass to lose my backpack. I don’t know what the statistics are, but I feel like this chance is even larger since I often fly to precarious places, like Ukraine and soon Vietnam.

The Porter 46 – Smart Choice

Porter 46In my experience, a 45 to 50 liter pack is the ideal size for most people. It’s large enough to hold more than a week’s worth of clothing, and yet small enough to carry onto the plane. When I traveled through Europe last month I even saw lots of girls using this size of bag. Taking it even further, when I was in Kiev in June I talked to a guy who had been travelling for months. He had a 45 liter pack and thought it was too big!

That’s why if I could do it all over again, I would choose the Porter 46 from Osprey.  With a 46 liter capacity I feel that it’s the best travel backpack ever. I’d probably have to get rid of a few shirts and a pair of basketball shorts, but I wouldn’t even miss them after a week. If you’re just travelling for a few weeks, you’ll be able to fit more than enough into this pack to be comfortable. In Kiev I talked to a guy on a three month Euro tour and he said he loved this pack and it gave him plenty of room. The price is fair too. At $140, it’s about $100 less than I paid for my backpack.

Comparing Backpack Features

It’s only fair to point out that while my backpack is too large, it’s still an awesome piece of equipment. It’s incredibly light, very comfortable, it looks attractive, and the quality is brilliant. In the end though, it’s just not right for me. The Aether is designed for climbing a mountain, not travelling across Europe by train. So to help you pick the right pack, here are a few common features to watch out for

Damn1. Size, often measured in liters. Your average school backpack is about 25 liters, which is fully one third the size of my massive 73 liter pack.

2. Hip straps. These are really, really nice for carrying your backpack long distances, but completely superfluous if you’re just going from the airport to a hostel.

3. Water pouch. Unless you’re planning on actually doing real hiking, this is an additional feature you won’t need.

4. Assorted hiking gadgets, too many to list. There are so many different straps and hooks on my backpack I don’t know what half of them do. That’s what’s so attractive about the smooth, sleek appearance of the Porter 46. After all, unlike this guy, odds are you aren’t going to the airport ready to film global warming in action..

5. Brand. Osprey is the best, why buy anything else? With some basic maintenance this backpack will easily last for a lifetime.

5 Things I Love About Russian Culture

I lived on the outskirts of Moscow for eight months. To be brutally honest, it was a low point in my life. Most of the blame fell on my job. I hated falling asleep at night because I knew that in the morning I would have to wake up and work. That’s no way to live. Despite this, I learned a tremendous amount about myself, and about the world. It was the first time that I was immersed in a foreign culture and the experience was a positive one. Here’s why.

1. Russian Food is Delicious

ОливьеOf all the unexpected surprises in Russia, this was the biggest one. I ended up falling in love with almost everything I ate. The key was to not to stray too far from the beaten path. I saw a few things in Russia that made my stomach do a somersault. On the other hand, Russians (Babooshkas in particular) really know how to cook some amazing food.

Borsch, Oliva, Caviar (so, so cheap in Russia) and Blini are classic dishes that I still enjoy eating to this day. There’s also this delicious wrap made with raw salmon and mayonnaise that I don’t know the name for. Wash it all down with some Kefir or Kvas and you’ve got a hearty Russian meal that will shut up any skeptic.

2. Receptive to Language Mistakes

Russians know that their language is hard. In fact I get the feeling that’s a source of national pride. Maybe that’s why they’re so patient with language learners. In eight months I never had a truly bad experience with someone getting angry at me for my poor Russian. Think about America (if you’re American that is). Imagine some Russian comes in and is butchering English as he tries to order something from the restaurant or bar. I imagine that he would have a much less pleasant experience than I enjoyed in Russia.

Almost everywhere I went I would meet someone who would help me to learn Russian. A verb here, a saying there. Month in and month out that really adds up. The other thing I noticed is how many people complimented me on my Russian, even when I was speaking so horridly it was nearly unintelligible. I can’t think of how a culture could be more supportive of people trying to learn their language.

3. There Will be Order on the Escalators!

МетроThis is admittedly a small point of order, but I think it’s an interesting one. To understand this, you have to understand that everyday the Moscow Metro pulls a double shift. It ferries millions of people across an unbelievably large city. At the same time it’s also a very effective bomb shelter.

In Moscow, most of the older metro stations are buried several hundred feet in the ground. In order to reach them you take a ride on the escalator. This can take minutes. It’s actually a really unique experience when you’re relaxed. If you’re in a rush it’s a nightmare. Thankfully, there is an express lane. On the escalators everyone who is standing stays to the right, allowing others to run past on the left. And if someone is violating this rule, you can yell at them in your gruffest, most cigarette soaked voice and they’ll quickly get out of the way.

4. Russians are Wonderful Hosts

Going over to a Russian’s apartment is always an enjoyable experience. There will be food, tea, entertainment and probably something a bit heavier than tea as well. Even when I was with friends, if he or she didn’t have food for the apartment, we would stop beforehand to get something. Once there, as a guest I wouldn’t be expected to do anything but eat and enjoy myself. In fact, trying to wash the dishes after a meal is borderline rude. Better to relax, and remember that you’re in Russia now.

5. In Russia, Anything Goes

America has so many damn laws it’s mind boggling. There is a fine for breathing incorrectly, a ticket for blowing your nose too loud, and a jail sentence for tying your shoes the wrong way. These laws lead to some of the outlandish lawsuits that we see all the time in America. Are we really living in the land of freedom, when anything you do can get you potentially sued?

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It may to surprise you then to hear that in this situation, an average Russian has far more freedom than an average American. In Russia you can be reckless, retarded, annoying, disrespectful, offensive or drunk as hell. People don’t bat an eye and they sure as hell don’t call a lawyer. I saw so many reckless things happen in Russia that it doesn’t have any meaning to me any more.

It’s another Russian person acting entirely irrational, defying the laws of gravity and all of Darwin’s theories. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

I like this because you can join in. Me and some of the other teachers at my old school did some funny stuff that could have gotten us into a lot of trouble in America. In Russia, it’s just another day. Welcome to the land of insanity. Welcome to The Wild Wild East. 

Impressions from Germany

My father’s grandmother and grandfather emigrated to the United States after World War Two. When they left, Germany was not doing well. There were few job opportunities, the country was still being rebuilt, and the future looked bleak.

When you walk through Germany today, none of that spirit remains. Germany is a vibrant country with a lot to offer. The public transport system is top notch. The streets are clean, the people are wonderful, and the beer is reasonably priced.

Getting Around

What struck me most was the fantastic public transit system. Trams and buses are an omnipresent sight. They are clean and quite. A far cry from the trams in Ukraine, which simulate the experience of driving a car down a brick road. Also, a world apart from the buses in my home city of Buffalo, NY. Inviting would not be the first word you’d use to describe them.

At most bus stops there’s a little board that tells you when to expect the next tram or bus. This is brilliant! The extra million dollars that this must have added to the budget is money well spent. Why can’t America do the same thing?

Accommodations

While in Dresden we stayed with my friend Zhena. She’s studying in university and has an apartment ten minutes from campus. Her place is one of the cooler apartments that I’ve ever been in, and I was surprised to learn the price. Every month she pays 180 Euros in rent.

What?

When I was in college we had $200 dollar apartments too. Typical problems included: a leaky roof, former tenants were crack addicts, broken windows, no running water, holes in the wall, bedbugs, poor heating, no insulation, general look of deathly disrepair. That’s loads different from Zhena’s modern, inviting apartment.

This trend of affordable rent holds true in Berlin was well. While touring around Berlin on bicycles, we encountered a brilliant neighbor called Kreuzburg. I fell in love immediately. Fantastic clubs, bars everywhere, lots of young people, right on the river, a general feeling of youth and vibrancy.

The New York City equivalent would be SoHo. However, unlike the ludicrously priced SoHo ($3,500 a month for a studio) an average person can afford to live in Kreuzburg. At 900 Euros a month it’s not cheap, but it’s not prohibitively expensive either. In fact as soon as I’m earning $2,000 a month online, I plan to rent a place there for a few months.

The Culture

CheersGermanyBefore going to Germany I asked my friend Sergej to give a rundown on the culture. Anything I shouldn’t do, any norms that I should be aware of? He thought about it for a second, then shook his head.

“Germany is a lot like America, you’ll be fine.”

While that’s a gross simplification, I understood his point. The difference between Germany and America isn’t that great. That is, as compared to America and China, or America and Russia.

While there, the thing that took the most getting used to for me were the bikes. Like cars, they have a right away. They often have their own lanes. At large intersections they sometimes even have their own stoplights. You have to be careful with them. In Germany a person riding a bike has a right to use the road, and you have the right to get the hell out of their way.

That’s different than America. I’ll make a disclaimer that I’ve never been to a bike friendly city like Oakland or San Francisco. However, in New York and Buffalo, it’s a bike rider’s responsibility to avoid you, not the other way around.

Transitioning from the healthy to the unhealthy, I really love that you can drink in the street in Germany. Is there anything really so wrong with sitting in a park, or in a public square, and having a beer? Germany doesn’t think so, and neither do I.

It’s illegal to drink openly in Russia, Ukraine and America. However, in the Russian speaking countries people just do it anyways. Nobody cares, it might as well not even be a law. On the other hand, you can get a ticket for doing it in America (I’ve verified this law twice). I think that’s silly and annoying. As is America’s irrational belief that you must be 21 to drink. A blog post on its own could be written on this.

Germany and Me

Six months ago I didn’t know what second language I would study. The choices were: French, German or Swedish. Thankfully, Germany made the choice easy for me. I’m going to study German!

In the short term I’d like to spend a few months in Germany. I think that as soon as I have the cash to back it up, I’m going to rent an apartment in Berlin. My visa will limit me to three months. In that time, I hope to find out whether Germany is a country that I’m interested in for the long term.

I think it sounds poetic, like the ending to a cheesy B grade movie. Grandparents leave Germany to pursue a better life in America. Two generations later, grandson returns to Germany, pursuing a better future in a fascinating country.

Here’s to you Germany, prost!