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How Elite Nightlife Really Works in NYC

Although this post is dedicated to NYC, the following applies to most of America’s large cities like LA, Miami, Vegas, Chicago, etc.

The High End Club

Typical table setup

To get into an elite nightclub you need to be a beautiful girl, know somebody connected or buy a bottle. Buying a bottle means paying $300 to $600 for a bottle of Goose, some shitty orange juice and a table. Or what’s known as a table, most of the time the “table” is more like a restaurant booth. Why would anyone pay $500 for a bottle of alcohol that costs $60? Is the experience really that divine?

I’ve found most of these clubs to be average at best. The music is almost always the same and the atmosphere is rarely anything to write home about. However, one thing sets apart a high end club from other venues: the promoter.

Promoter = A guy (once in a blue moon a girl) who gets paid to bring out girls to the club. When they show up a promoter will get between $400 to $800 for that night to sit at a table, drink free alcohol and party with a bunch of cute girls who they’ve brought with them. Depending on the club, anywhere from a half to a fifth of all the available tables will be reserved for the promoter.

These high end clubs can sell a bottle for $500 because the guy buying it knows the promoters will bring out lots of cute girls, whereas Jimmy’s Pub down the corner might use a calendar to keep track of how long it’s been since a gorgeous woman walked in. Whether or not a guy has enough game to snag one of the promoter’s girls is another question, but at least there’s the possibility.

Living Currency 

In this model women are essentially currency and some clubs even pay their promoters based on the number of girls that show up. It sounds crude and sexist, but the truth is that nobody forces a woman to go out with a promoter, she has her own interests in mind. The promoter is usually an attractive, high-status guy. Going out with him guarantees a girl that she’ll get into a high end club and drink for free once she’s there. At the truly elite clubs it’s routine for billionaires and celebrities to show up, the social media bragging options are endless. It’s an interesting ecosystem and whether you love it or hate it, it’s only getting more popular.

The Downsides of Traveling For a While

Travel is one of the coolest things that you can do with your life and I’m thankful for every place that I’ve visited. I talk about this all the time though which is why I should mention a few of the disadvantages. Notably, these downsides are mostly associated with longer 6+ month trips, not two week vacations.

Relationships 

Friendships are like plants, they require water. If you go abroad for a year you might come back and find out that you’ve lost your social circle. A lot will have happened and you’ll be left trying to play catch up. Also, you’ll have less in common with your friends. You spent the last two months in Cambodia driving around a used scooter and getting tan. Your friends have been up to the usual and you’ve missed it.

Also, you might find that you’re not as interested in hanging out with your old friends. You tell them about how cool Spain is, they nod and smile but there’s no spark. You say that you should all buy some plane tickets and go to Colombia for a few weeks in the winter. They look at you like you’re crazy.

Family relationships can also suffer. When you spend a significant amount of time abroad you can fall out of step with what’s happening. Cousins get married, people move, drama ensues, etc. All that happens while you’re listening to techno in Berlin, questioning whether you’ll have any hearing left when you’re 50.

Temporary Friendships 

You’ll meet cool people who believe in adventure, have great spirit and think that Colombia in the winter sounds like a blast. Unfortunately, this person who you have so much in common with is going home in two weeks and they live 4,600 miles from you. You can keep in contact but it’s damn difficult to build a virtual relationship. It’s not impossible, but for any given person the chances that a deep and meaningful relationship form are slim.

Do it While You’re Young

These things happen but screw it. I combat it with a few simple things, like making an active effort to hang out with my friends when I’m home. I stay in contact with my family and keep them in the loop. When I go abroad I always try to visit a few international friends. I’m still an outlier in terms of normal lifestyle, but I make an effort to mitigate that.

All that being said, I think the most important thing to remember is this. If you’re traveling and you find it lonely you can always come home, you’ll have the rest of your life to enjoy long relationships. However, it’s much harder to settle down, create a life and then leave it all behind to travel for a year.

My Three Favorite Places

1. New York City

Beauty at its peak

A survey of Americans asked which city they would most like to live in or around. New York was number 1. The same survey asked which city would be the worst to live in or around. New York was number 1. If you like cities, you love New York. If you don’t like cities, it’s the bottom rung of hell. What sets New York apart from other places I’ve visited is the density. There’s more interesting shit in one block of downtown Manhattan than there is in my entire home town.

Not to mention the skyline. It’s fantastic, especially as seen from Williamsburg or Hoboken.

The public transit system runs 24 hours and it’s significantly cheaper than most other major cities. New York is also one of the most diverse places on the planet. If you speak a language, you’ll find someone in New York to speak it with. If you love to travel, you can live in New York and feel like you’re travelling because people come to you.

The rent may be exorbitant, but the benefits heavily outweigh the costs. There’s a level of vitality in New York that is not to be taken for granted.

2. South Beach

SoBe has one of the best beaches you can hope to find

I like Miami, I love South Beach. The shoreline is beautiful, Italian super cars disrupt the peace, and there’s a fantastic Spanish influence. I thrive in diverse places and South Beach is a meeting spot for people from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Cuba, and more. To a lesser extent you also meet people from Asia and Europe. SoBe is not a well-guarded secret.

While some aspects of South Beach are heavily commercialized (the hotels and shops selling glamorous crap), much of it still retains an authentic South Florida feeling. There are hotels and bars that look like they came out of a Scarface set. Ocean Dr. and the park that runs along the beach is pristine. So long as there isn’t a hurricane, the weather is ideal. I would be happy to spend several years here, learn Spanish, and build a nice life for myself.

3. Berlin 

Berlin is a beautiful blend of old and new

The city is modern, but you frequently encounter historical reminders. Bombed churches, holocaust memorials, and the famous Brandenburg Gate. The metro is affordable (or free if you’re a delinquent American named Sam) and will take you anywhere you need to go. That’s helpful when you need to get to the club, which is a smart move because the club scene is second to none. Berlin has the best techno in the world and you can experience it in a wide range of fascinating spaces.

Not only is the city a wonderful place to exist, but I’ve consistently found Germans to be the most enjoyable people to spend time with. They’re fun, they love to travel, and they make great friends. I get a kick out of Berlin and I warmly look forward to spending many more months there, perfecting my German and listening to techno.

Honorable Mentions

Best cheap place – Kiev

Best beach – Koh Pha-Ngan

Best place to avoid at all costs – Bangkok

Best food – Dubai

Best insanely expensive place – Copenhagen

Guest Post: Everything There is to Love About Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a country rich with bio-diversity, flora, fauna, views that take your breath away, dazzling beaches and much more.  After all the name Costa Rica translates to rich coast, the truth is Christopher Columbus gave the name thinking the land was rich in precious metals, nowadays the land doesn’t produce many precious metals but does produce a lot of good times.

better-view-of-jacoThe most popular saying that you need to know when visiting the country is “Pura Vida” The saying is used for just about anything but translates to pure life which basically sums up life in Costa Rica.  For several years Costa Rica has made the number one spot to take the reins as the happiest country in the world.  There is something that is a little different about Costa Rica, it almost feels like you are on a different planet where time doesn’t exist and the people are care free, what a beautiful life.

So what else is so great about the land of pura vida?

Clean Energy

The country has an outstanding record for running on renewable sources of clean energy.  Between June and August of 2016, for 76 days Costa Rica was running 100% on renewable energy and they aren’t far from being completely self-sufficient with renewable energy, a goal that is within sight for the country that does so much for the environment.

Good Vibes

manuel-antonio-monkeyWhether you are chilling on the Caribbean side with the Rasta’s or on the Pacific side you will feel very welcome.  The locals are extremely friendly and will always greet you with that popular saying, pura vida.  Also there is a big community of expats from around the world so not only will you have fellow travelers to compare stories with but you will have expats that know the land like experts, and can point you in the right direction to the best secret spots.

Exactly what you’re looking for

The climate has drastic differences from region to region, if you’re looking to relax on the beach in the sweltering sun you will have plenty of options to choose from including white sand, black sand and brown sand, the beaches in Costa Rica are nothing short of spectacular.  For some people the humidity and sun is a little much at the beach, those people don’t need to fret because the mountainous areas in Costa Rica are known to have the best and most moderate climates in the world.  The views from the mountains are like something from a story tail, it’s a magical sight to sit on top of a mountain taking in the scenery.  No matter where you are, at the beach or in the mountains the great thing is that nothing is far away, the cool mountain climate and the sizzling beaches are only separated by a short 30 minute to an hour and a half drive.  If you’re looking for snow, this paradise even has the cold stuff at times, the highest peak, Mount Chirripo will give you chills to the bone when climbing up to the top at 12,533 feet.

All the Activities

The variety of activities and tours has something to offer anyone from grandma to the grand kids.  For the older generation this is a bird watchers dream and don’t forget about all the other wildlife you will see like monkeys, sloths, Ocelots, frogs, crocodiles and more.  There are tons of guided tours that will have you in the care of experts showing you all the little things that your eyes will have a hard time catching.  The country is also perfect for the adventure seekers looking to get the adrenaline flowing and the heart racing.  Many people don’t know it but zip lining was actually invented in Costa Rica when biologists used cables to explore deep forests that had never been reached before.  With that being said there are bountiful zip line tours along with other tours like ATV adventures, kayaking, waterfall tours, rafting and much more.  For the guys trip the deep sea fishing is amazing and you guys can play a game of golf next to the ocean.  The surfing in Costa Rica is world famous and the country hosts several professional tournaments every year.  The movie endless summer released in 1966 is what put Costa Rica on the map for surfing.

The Food

Oh my god! Will be the words coming from your mouth when you bite in to a piece of pineapple, watermelon or one of the other exotic fruits that you won’t find at home such as Starfruit, Lulu, Passion Fruit or Cas just to name a few.  It’s the fact that everything is so fresh that makes the difference in flavor, when a meal is cooked with fresh ingredients it makes all the difference in the world.  Come try for yourself everything that this spectacular country has to offer.

Ross is an expat traveler from the USA who has settled in Singapore, Costa Rica and other countries.  Currently his website Vacation Rentals Costa Rica, LLC helps people when on vacation in Costa Rica. 

What’s the Deal With Hungary?

I decided to take the train into Hungary because to hell with flying. I’m disgusted with standing in long security lines, stripping the belt and shoes, then getting molested by some tattooed guy who thought that eleventh grade was “really hard”. All of that and the reward is getting corrective knee surgery from the seat while a the budget airline stewardess offers to sell me a can of Coke for $6. Thanks, I’m not thirsty.

So I stayed at Watergate in Berlin till 6am, got my bags, took the Metro to the station, and got on the 9am train to Budapest. I would arrive eleven and a half hours later, well past sunset and starving. Getting off the train and walking through the station I was struck by its opulence and size. Admittedly I’ve been to fewer train stations than airports, but I’ve never seen one larger than Budapest’s Keleti station.

Stepping Into the City

Before arriving, the only thing that I knew about Hungary is that they had an influx of immigrants. Hungary is one of the first EU countries that immigrants encounter after leaving Turkey, and there are some thought provoking pictures of the result. However, by the time I arrived on the second to last day of September in 2016, the country had returned to normal.

I didn’t have a strong initial reaction to Budapest the way I did to Kiev (Love it, wish I had more than three days), London (can I afford to spend a whole summer here?) or Bangkok (Help, get me the hell out of here!). Budapest seemed sort of like Krakow, sort of like Prague, sort of like some city that you might find in Ohio that starts with the letter C. The buses are neither old nor new, the streets are well paved but there are few bike lanes, and the civilian traffic lights will nearly get you killed.

Hungarian Parliament building

The Hungarian Parliament Building.

I had a 20 minute walk from the train station to my hostel and I took advantage of that. Walking through Budapest at night felt nice enough and I appreciated the laidback vibe and lack strangers offering to sell me drugs; a serious annoyance in Berlin. As a side tangent, don’t buy drugs from street lurkers. All health and moral points aside, I came out of the club one morning and saw a guy pouring powdered sugar into a drug baggie. We made eye contact, and then he tried to sell me the bag of “drugs”. Seriously. Anyone who is this unintelligent is as likely to buy rat poison to fill up the bags as powdered sugar. Don’t risk it.

Back in Budapest, halfway to my hostel, I found a small square with several dozen immigrants, the first signs I had seen of the influx of Syrian refugees. However, it was less than fifty people, hardly a drop in the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled towns like Aleppo and Damascus. Maybe the refugees have been dispersed throughout Europe, or they’re concentrated in different areas in Budapest, but on my 2km walk from the train to the hostel I saw scant evidence of the crisis that was making the news last year.

Touring Budapest

The next day I left my two backpacks (my entire life for more than a year) and started a self-guided walking tour of Budapest. Unlike people who go on guided walking tours, I get to see more and stay longer at the places that interest me. Also unlike the people who go on walking tours, a majority of the time I have no fucking idea what I’m looking at. This can be seen in my firm belief that that Hungarian Parliament Building was actually a church.

A bridge in Budapest

Getting a good view of this bridge requires a hell of a climb.

The next thing I wanted to see was Liberty Statue, which is also on top of a large hill. The mistake is in thinking that once you’ve climbed the hill to Budapest Castle you’re done. This is not the case. To get to Liberty Statue I walked back down to water level, to this ornate bridge, and then started climbing. With the occasional rest and picture break, it took fifteen minutes to reach the top. I was sweaty but the view was worth it. Budapest was sprawled out below and Liberty Statue was connected to the sky above. I sat for a while, took some pictures and then started back down the hill. It was close to 4 and Kenny was already on the way to Budapest to pick me up.

Discovering Papa

I have more in common with Kenny than any other person I’ve ever met. We both come from one-stoplight-towns 15 miles apart, we both went to the same college and had the same Russian teacher, we both lived in Moscow and speak fluent Russian. We both love to travel, we’ve visited about the same number of countries, and we both foresee a not-so-unlikely future where we end up living in Europe. It’s like meeting a carbon copy of yourself, and naturally we have a blast together. Kenny stayed with me in New York for a few days, and now it was time for me to return the favor.

He got to my hostel around 5 and we shook hands. Then we bought some snacks, the bags got loaded, sunglasses donned, and we drove out of Budapest to the setting sun. Kenny drifted into the position of English teacher in the rural town of Papa and that’s where we were headed. Along the way it was interesting to see that with the fields and rolling hills, the countryside of Hungary could have been easily mistaken for Western New York where we grew up.

kenny-with-champagne

$2 for a bottle of champagne, it’s a good thing.

Arriving safely in Papa, we visited the local supermarket and spent $20 on booze for the weekend, including this surprisingly adequate $2 bottle of champagne. Then we drove back home, turned the couch into a bed, and popped the cork on the champagne. In the morning Kenny woke me up at noon and I scolded him for the early alarm.

Several hours and cups of coffee later we climbed the bell tower for a scenic view of the town. Then we toured the Esterházy family palace which was impressive. It’s the type of thing I would be unlikely to do alone, but was enjoyable to do with Kenny and his Hungarian friend. I admit it’s interesting to see the rich history of European towns, and to think that my own country’s most famous buildings are merely children compared to some of the structures in Europe.

Later, Kenny’s friend bought Unicum, the national liquor of Hungary, and we toasted to the final night together in Hungary. The next morning I said goodbye to Kenny, both knowing that we’ll see each other again. Then the smallest train I’ve ever seen in my life pulled into the station, I claimed a seat and was back in Budapest several hours later.

The Drinking Culture

Unless Kenny had told me, I wouldn’t have guessed that Hungary has a large “drinking culture”. Places like Russia, Ireland, and Ukraine are well known for their alcoholic tendencies. In a place like Germany, where you can drink on the street, there’s evidence all around of alcohol consumption and it’s hard to imagine the nation as one that admires sobriety over a good night of fun. But the intoxicating fact is that Hungary ranks right up near the top for per-person alcohol consumption. Depending on whether you want to believe this source, or this one, Hungary is either the 10th highest consumer of alcohol, just ahead of Russia. Or the 8th highest consumer, 4 places below Russia.

It may be tempting to blame this on the bargain-bucket priced alcohol, but that doesn’t tell the whole truth. A salary of $800 a month is considered high. So while alcohol is cheap, relative to an average salary it’s still a decent chunk of change.

What causes the drinking culture then? I think one of Kenny’s students put it well when he said “There’s nothing here for us. We all just want to graduate and move somewhere else.” Often in countries where this is the sentiment you’ll find excessive alcohol consumption. Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, and so on. There are plenty of people who would trade all the beer and and vodka in the world for an American, Australia, English, or Canadian passport.

Should we make it easier for people who want to emigrate to do so? Currently the opinion seems to be that we shouldn’t. I’m not sure whether that’s the correct decision or not, as there are so many factors to weigh. But I think it’s worth remembering that the people who have the audacity to leave their country and go struggle to establish themselves in a brand new culture, tend to be hardworking, courageous, and success orientated.

The Standard of Living

Papa is old and beautiful.

Papa is old and beautiful.

Despite the drinking statistics, as far as I can tell people in Hungary have a good standard of living. Most of the trains are modern, the roads are well paved, and the cars are on average much nicer than what you can expect to find in Ukraine or Russia. People also live in nice houses and apartments. You won’t find the behemoth, Soviet Style apartment buildings anywhere in Hungary the way you will in Kiev or Moscow. People are also more friendly and say hi to one another on the street, something that happens only infrequently in the aforementioned countries.

So all in all I enjoyed my time in Hungary. Papa, while not a sprawling metropolis, has a rich history and wonderful old buildings. Budapest is beautiful and affordable, which aren’t two adjectives that always go together. Would I come back? I don’t think so, as there are other places that I still have to cross off my list. Would I tell my friends to come? Yes and no. If you’ve already visited some well known cities like Prague, Berlin, Venice, London, Kiev, Moscow, Madrid, France or Krakow, and you’re looking for something a bit different, Budapest may be just the ticket! But if it’s your first foray into Europe, maybe you should check out some of the big names first, and then come to Budapest. The city has been here for hundreds of years and it’s not going anywhere soon.

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…