Travel: A Love Letter

Travel is wanting to stay but needing to go.

It's blurry memories, eager eyes, dizzy feet, and foreign streets. It's the $2 bottle of wine with strangers in the alley, it's beers on the beach with that girl from Barcelona. It's small talk that turns into pillow talk.  One more bite, one more kiss, one more… Its always gone too soon.  

It’s stumbling home at sunrise and rolling out of bed at sunset, dinner at midnight and breakfast at noon. It's 'I've got no plans for the day' turning into 'I just had the best day. It’s waking up every morning always on the verge of getting sick, but never feeling more alive. 

Travel is living a lifetime each week. It's an empty calendar full of memories. It's walking into a room full of strangers and leaving with new best friends. Travel is 'we've been talking for the last hour but I never got your name.’ Travel is ‘I wish I met you earlier.’ 

Travel is ditching the real world to see the real world. 

Its daydreams and safaris, coconuts and palm trees, city scenes and cobblestone streets. It's the train that won't stop, the bus that left too soon, the flight you won't make.  Travel is leaving pieces of yourself in one city only to look for the missing parts in the next. It's high fives and silly grins, ripped jeans and dirty t-shirts, empty wallets and sore throats. It's waking up to an empty room, realizing everybody's moved on to their next stop. 

It’s when nothing reminds you of home. It's when everything reminds you of home. Travel is forgetting where home actually is. 

Travel is wanting to stay but needing to go. 

Live. Laugh. Love. Lose. Repeat.

Live. Laugh. Love. Lose. Repeat.

And so it goes…the rhythm of travel. I’ve said many times that my absolute favorite part of traveling is meeting people from all corners of the globe - strangers who turn into best friends. So I guess it only makes sense that the worst part is, well, the actual act of traveling - the moving, the leaving. See, the contradiction is how exciting arriving in a new city is - an opportunity to create a whole new world in strange surroundings where friends, lovers, hell, even acquaintances on the metro, can leave a major impression on you. But, then it’s gone. You’re gone. You’re off to a new city, ready (or not) to start from scratch.

Like a polaroid, you arrive in a flash with a blank white slate wondering how it’s all going to turn out. Slowly you’re world starts to form as you become familiar with your surroundings and strangers quickly turn into friends. Then, all you’re left with is the picture - the memory.

At the beginning, it’s exhilarating. It’s a challenge - can you arrive in a city thousands of miles from home and leave feeling like you have a family there? Can you leave calling that place a second home? By the end, after starting a new life every 5 days, you’ve made friends, you’ve left friends, and it begins to feel like you’ve left pieces of yourself behind only to try and pick them up in each new city. Even if you’re head’s still in the clouds, your heart’s pulled in 20 different directions. And now that my flight home is looming, it’s dawning on me that I won’t be able to just catch a one hour flight to a different country, or spontaneously hop on a train to meet up with an old friend. 

But it’s what I signed up for and I always knew the rules of the road. Live. Laugh. Love. Lose. Repeat.

How to Avoid the Real World

Apparently, I’ve become pretty good at avoiding the real world.

Last year I quit my job, packed only what i needed into a backpack, and left everything I knew for 3 months to get lost in the cobblestone streets of Europe. It was what I thought of as a break from the real world - a time to reassess where I’ve been and where I wanted to go in life - but more specifically, after years on the structured path of school and work, a time to ditch all plans, schedules, and expectations for the thrill of risk and uncertainty. 

It was a once in a lifetime experience.

Until I decided to do it again this year.

See, I had come back home and was expected to jump right back into the rat race, just like everybody else in the States. And I followed along - I'd gotten an even better job than I had before and was supposed to stay put and live a ‘normal’ life from that point forward. Except the problem with normal is it’s fucking boring.

While I shouldn’t have had anything to complain about, I realized at one point exactly what I knew all along: success to me would never be defined solely by a career. I couldn’t spend the rest of my life, let alone another year feeling complacent and going through the motions at a job that didn’t make my heart race just because it was easy and comfortable.

I kept quieting these voices in my head - I mean, what kind of maniac quits his job twice in 18 months to travel around? But as it always does, my heart won the battle against my brain, and I finally pulled the trigger, booking a one-way ticket to Copenhagen…again. 

After the initial excitement and anticipation of adventure, I surprisingly started to feel something unfamiliar weighing down on me: guilt. I was questioning myself. Even when I told friends the exciting news, part of me still wasn’t 100 percent confident about the decision. Did I fail in finding what I was looking for on my last trip? What exactly was I even looking for last time? What the hell am I going to do when I get back home this time? Could I really leave what I considered the ‘real world’ multiple times and expect to just seamlessly integrate back into it whenever I felt like it?

Obviously, the minute I touched down in Copenhagen, all these questions and uncertainties seemed ridiculous and disappeared immediately, replaced by the high of meeting incredible people, trying new foods, and navigating my way through foreign streets (...two months in and I’m still cranked to 11 - traveling is the only drug I know without a comedown). And this is when it hit me - a total reverse in in my thought process.

Did I leave the ‘real world’ or did I just enter it?

A lot of people look at months of traveling as the perfect getaway from responsibilities, a u-turn from adulthood, or a way to put off settling down/growing up - I certainly did. Around 22, the ‘real world’ becomes defined by the monotonous routine of adulthood - finish school, choose a career immediately, work your way up to the corner office, get married, sign a mortgage, and retire contently knowing you’ve committed more than a third of your time on Earth to building a life so now you can actually start to live it (to be fair, this path is much more common and expected in America than any other country, but that’s a whole other story - most Europeans and Australians I’ve met have told me it’s actually considered weird if you don’t take 6-12 months off after school to see the world and live internationally for a bit). There’s nothing wrong with this - it’s secure and comfortable - but why is this the only reality in the States?

Because to me, the real world is outside - outside your comfort zone, your routine, your country, your perception of reality. Where new people come in and out of your life every day, new tastes and smells are everywhere, personal growth is valued more than career promotions, and tomorrow is never the same as today. It’s uncertain and a little dangerous, where street smarts and a friendly smile are the only common languages, where your friends can’t vouch for you if you get into trouble and the only ‘boss' you have to pat you on the back or critique you is yourself. It’s not a Tuesday night catching up on emails, but instead blurry nights spent sharing bottles of wine with strangers and mornings wondering if you’ll ever see the person next to you again. It’s walking down the street and locking eyes with someone you’ve never met, but somehow feeling like you already know their entire life story just by the moment of honesty in their expression. It’s joining a stranger for a 3 hour dinner just because of a little comment she made about your shoes. It’s motorcycle rides across Greek Islands. It’s the ‘doing’ not the ‘planning’. The real world to me is when your faith in humanity is validated everyday in some way, realizing we’re all in this together - whether it’s showing up to a new city with nowhere to sleep and getting offered a couch by someone who’s known you for less than 7 minutes, or when a group of backpackers gather up and share the little food they have with you to help you from starving (because you didn’t realize a national holiday in an alpine village means everything including markets and restaurants are closed for the day).

So maybe I’ve found a loophole that can’t last. Or maybe everybody else is right and I haven’t realized it yet. Maybe you’ll talk to me in a year and I'll have a completely different point of view. 

Maybe that 22 year old investment banker in New York who spends countless nights sleeping under his desk feels like he’s contributing to the world in a positive way (or at least hopes it'll all be worth it once he gets that big house in the Hamptons). Maybe that Australian girl who left her job back home to become a barista in Paris for half the money regrets her decision (but I doubt it). Maybe you’d rather wait until you’re old, rich, and retired to find adventure.

Or maybe your ‘real world’ just isn’t mine.

Because the next time I want to take a break from the ‘real world’ I’ll plan on waking up, punching in the timesheet at work, spending an hour at the gym, and eating a nice dinner in the comfort of my home - knowing full well that tomorrow will be exactly the same.

Thought, Travel

In Transit

Screen-shot-2014-10-10-at-12.34.28-AM.png

Where do you want to go? Book the plane ticket. Arrive at the train station. Hop on the next bus.

Sit back, take a nap, and stumble into a new city just a couple hours later.

Getting from point A to point B was so easy while traveling. A click on the computer and my job was done. There was always a blind confidence that somehow, someway, I would get to my next destination.

But now I'm home, and finding my way from point A to point B seems a bit more like a maze, muddled with potholes and roadblocks popping up in the form career choices, living arrangements, life choices, and plans to be made.

I find myself somewhere between where I was and where I want to go.

With my trip behind me and a blank slate in front of me, the abundance of choices and decisions leave an uneasy sense of uncertainty rippling through my bloodstream. I shift back and forth trying to find the answers to the countless questions: What kind of career do I want to lead? Where do I want to live? How do I hold on to the spontaneous mindset I had abroad while juggling responsibilities and achieving life goals? Do I continue with the comfortable life I had in LA before I left, or take a risk and try something new? How will the choices I make now effect the rest of my life?

The question, "Where do you want to go?" isn't so simple anymore and the answers seem a little less clear. Time and age have added more weight to the decisions we make, tipping the scale further in either direction with each passing day.

At one point after I returned home, it seemed to me that whichever path I decided to follow now would decide my fate and last my entire lifetime. I was stressed out, plagued by indecision, and felt stretched in 100 different directions with no center. But when I took a step back, I started realizing we often dramatize the decisions we make at this age as "life-altering" when they're really just a change of pace. Once I started embracing these possibilities and thinking in terms of next steps rather than life decisions, the shackles came off, and the questions that clouded my head started to clear out.

Maybe instead of searching for answers all the time, we should start enjoying the questions a bit more. Shouldn't that be the fun part? Transition, uncertainty, spontaneity?  If traveling has taught me anything, it's that the journey really is far more important than the destination. When you think of transition as the intuit for growth, then point A and B become just bookmarks at the beginning and end of each life chapter.

When I stared contently out the windows of the trains, planes, and buses I took to get around Europe, everything seemed so clear. Unhampered by daily routine, creative solutions to life goals popped in my head immediately as we cut through the continent. But right when I got home, all of these thoughts and initiatives that had somehow made me feel like I had a clear plan upon return seemed to bottleneck in my brain and jump right back on the next plane back to Amsterdam, leaving me dazed and confused on my old stomping grounds.

"Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships, or trains. There is almost quaint correlation between what is before our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, and new thoughts, new places. Introspective reflections that might otherwise be liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape."

This quote from "The Art of Travel" is right on point. In fact, the rides across borders were some of my favorite parts of the trip. But I'd take it further. I think these times of transit, physically or metaphorically, are the times we can slow down, give up control, and reflect on where we've been and where we want to go. It's all in how we look at the blank slate, or landscape, in front of us. Will the largeness and expansiveness scare us? Confuse us? Inspire us? Motivate us?

One of the first questions people always ask me is, "What are you going to do now that you're back home?"

Well, to be honest, I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm throwing paint at a blank canvas right now hoping in time a masterpiece will appear in front of me.

But until then, I'm going to start enjoying the mess.

Movement, Travel

Inside / Out

As my trip comes to an end, the days are fading away faster and faster, going by in the blink of an eye. But it feels like I've been waiting in Tel Aviv forever to catch my flight home.

Sometimes time goes by too fast and then it goes too slow.

I know I'm not making sense, but try and stay with me. See, for the past week, time seems to have turned inside out. With the end of my trip quickly approaching, a battle has sparked inside of me - part of me is trying to slow down time to savor every last minute, while the other part of me is whispering, "we're so close to the finish line, all the comforts of home are waiting for you - a nice clean bed, home-cooked food, friends, family...no more packing and unpacking every 3 days...just days away..."

Burn out has reared it's ugly head in the past week, but that spark that ignited the flame to travel is still burning bright.

So I'm confused. But content.

And as I've thought about why I feel this way, I've realized it's because there's this light at the end of the tunnel - my ticket home. And I'm not used to having something so definite and stable in the forecast. Not anymore.

My mind's been moving at 100 miles per hour this whole trip, on high alert the whole time, constantly preparing for the next step, the next city, the next adventure. The idea of switching to autopilot at home is both insanely appealing and so seemingly boring.

Whereas each previous boarding pass I handed in was a ticket to the end of my comfort zone, this one is taking me in the opposite direction, to all that is familiar.

The more I thought about it, the more my mind was torn. This journey was too fun, too exhilarating, too spontaneous to go back to normal life. Thoughts of jetting off to Southeast Asia or Australia bounced around in my head. But only for a minute, because I've got to admit, I'm exhausted, mentally and physically. Coming back to Tel Aviv, where this adventure began, has made this abundantly clear. When I think back to the last time I was here, I was chatting it up with everyone in sight, making plans to go out and party with complete strangers, and staring straight at my upcoming trip, eager-eyed and clueless, with no idea what adventures awaited on the other side. When I landed in Tel Aviv this time, after months of trekking through an entire continent and having the time of my life, I noticed the soles of my shoes had completely worn down, and so had I.  As much as I tried to fight it, with the end in sight, it's more about reflection and relaxation than crazy adventures and spontaneity.

The two sides waging war finally came to terms with each other as I was floating in the ocean the other night - the red Tel Aviv sun setting beyond the horizon in front of me, the moon rising behind, and me hanging in balance right in the middle. I realized that the chase of adventure and the unknown that I love so much doesn't have to end just because I'm grounded in LA. Yes, nothing is as new and unique, and it's harder to meet people when you're not bouncing around hostels, but ultimately it's up to me to push myself to explore new pockets of the city, put myself out there in new situations, and sustain the traveler's mindset while at home.

As I sit in this cafe in Tel Aviv staring out the window, taking in the world as I have so many times through the windows of planes, trains, and buses, I'm both nostalgic for the past 3 months but overwhelmingly excited to see what the future holds. And maybe it doesn't matter if these last days are moving fast or slow. Just that they're passing and there's no point in trying to control how fast. Because I know that I'll always be able to look back on this exact moment, this time in my life, and be proud that I veered off the beaten path - I woke up every morning with a smile on my face because I knew that in the following 24 hours nothing was certain and everything was possible. I was lucky enough to do exactly what I wanted for so long, taking advantage of each and every day, whether that meant gathering a group of strangers to run around and explore a new city, or laying on a beach somewhere and wasting away an entire day by myself.

So, if none of what's above made any sense (which is very likely), let me sum it up - as much as I'll miss this crazy, chaotic lifestyle, I've admitted to myself that I'm ready to come home. Because life is full of adventures and little surprises whether you're at home or abroad - you just have to be looking in the right places and be willing to buy the ticket.

Movement, Travel

Renegade Road Trip Across the Spanish-French Border

Screen shot 2014-09-09 at 3.54.23 PM

Two days before Samir was supposed to meet me in Spain, he asked me for some advice on how to avoid jetlag so we'd waste no time getting into our big plans. I told him all the basics: drink a ton of water, adjust to the time abroad a night before, get some sleep on the plane, and whatever you do, DO NOT drink on the plane. It's a fullproof method.

Of course, he did none of this.

"Man, I ended up drinking a couple bottles of wine, but I think I got an hour of sleep!"  He told me proudly.

Classic. Even though he disregarded every piece of advice I gave, I've got to admit the champ was ready to go the minute he touched down in Barcelona (the next morning/entire day was a different story).

After causing a huge scene in our hostel lobby by hootin' and hollerin' with high-fives and pats on the back, we were off to the beach to officially kick off the trip.

Here's the rundown of what we got into.

BARCELONA

It was Samir's birthday so we were going to have a big weekend in Barcelona. Next up, cruise to San Sebastian and beach bum around for a couple days. We left a couple days in the middle unplanned, thinking we'd have a spontaneous adventure, then we'd end in Bordeaux, a city we knew pretty much nothing about except that we'd be drinking a lot of wine.

The first night went pretty much according to plan - some Swedish guys told us of this cavernous bar off Las Ramblas that was basically an underground beer hall. They looked like Avicii so we trusted them.

We started off slow with some beers, but after meeting some Polish girls (or were they English?) who were now living in Barcelona, shots of Tequila, glasses of Sangria, and bottles of some crazy white Spanish drink called Tiger's Milk were all of a sudden slammed on the table.

We stumbled across bars off Las Ramblas with the girls as our tour guides, and as always with Barcelona, didn't end our night until sunrise.

This night really did us in - I couldn't tell you what we did the next two days in Barcelona except sleep and try to figure out how to get to San Sebastian for recovery.

SAN SEBASTIAN

We came to San Sebastian thinking we'd hang on the beach all day and paddle board. Guess what? It rained the whole time.

But rain can't stop us.

There was a big festival all week called Semana Grande, where each night would feature a huge fireworks show on the beach followed by what was essentially a block party in the Old Town, where everyone would celebrate and clank beers in the streets. What we were celebrating and why this week was so big for Spaniards, I still don't know (and nobody else seemed to know either, they just told us we were supposed to get drunk).

At some point during this craziness, we got stuck in the Running of the Bulls. No, not the one you're thinking of in Pamplona where we wear red scarves and try not to  get stabbed by a bull. This was way more intense.

As we were casually drinking our beers in the street, all of a sudden 4 raging bulls (we later realized these were just people wearing bull costumes) were stampeding straight towards us, shooting fireworks from their horns. It was all out mayhem - kids were running every direction, screams and shouts were all around us, sparks were flying (one even burned my scalp), and in all the madness Samir and I lost each other.

We later found out this was the kids' version of the Running of the Bulls but it would be impossible for the real thing to be any more terrifying. So, from this day on, it should be recorded in the history books that Samir and I ran with the bulls.

BIARRITZ

If you know me or Samir, you know we're big proponents of winging it. In everything. Sometimes it works out, other times it most definitely does not.

This was one of those rare times where lack of advance planning leads to disaster.

When we were planning the trip, we couldn't decide if we wanted to stay an extra night in San Sebastian, go to Biarritz, or go to straight to Bordeaux. Fast forward to our last night of booked accommodation in San Sebastian - we still had no idea what we wanted to do. So we spent the day glued to our computers, trying to find an Airbnb or hotel. Unbeknownst to us, other people travel in the summer and everything was sold out.

At the last minute, as a huge storm rolled through San Sebastian and we were caught outside, we got a response from an airport hotel in Biarritz. How we were going to get there, we had no idea.

Long story short, we landed in Biarritz, which is supposedly a bohemian French surf town, around 6 PM. Our hotel was literally across the street from the airplanes taking off. Needless to say we never saw the beach - instead we ended up walking down a busy highway, only to find the French equivalent of an Arby's, had a very weird meal because no one understood any English, and slept at 9:30PM.

We thought by not planning a couple days on our itinerary we'd get into the craziest adventures - well, I guess we got what we deserved.

BORDEAUX

We knew almost nothing about Bordeaux, but immediately when we got in, we knew it was our kind of city. It's a way more relaxed version of Paris - there are big squares packed with people eating and drinking, amazing architecture, and nightlife consisting of long dinners soaked up by glass after glass of wine (yes, it would've been great to have a girl there, but I had to settle for this clown).

It was the end of our trip, and we took it real slow. The heavy hand of time, and wine, kept us in a woozy in a lackadaisical state of mind - we'd sit down to grab a drink and all of a sudden 4 hours of our day was gone.

No trip to Bordeaux is complete without seeing an underground (literally) French punk band. On our last night, we decided to get lost in the tiny alleyways of the city. Five minutes into our expedition, we heard the echoes of live music. We followed it into this bar, only to find out it was just your run of the mill French wine bar. But just as we were about to leave, we noticed a stairwell to the basement. Nothing could prepare us for what we were about to see: a French punk band playing in a stone basement the size of my bedroom to 3 people, with a full production set of disco lights.

This video might explain it a bit better: French Punks

 


 

Samir left early the next morning, and I had two days alone again before meeting up with friends in Paris.  I ended up moving Airbnb's to a suburb of the city, where I was given the whole top floor of this chateau-looking house. The guy I rented the space from wasn't home, but his daughter was home from college (read: woohoo!) and cooked me up a solid French meal, with eggs straight from the hens in their yard. We sat outside in her idyllic yard for hours talking about school, music, differences in culture, plans, and just life in general. It sounds so simple, but when you're confined to hotel rooms and apartments for weeks, you come to appreciate the little things like a home-cooked meal and backyard with space so much more.

At some point we started discussing my high school bands, and I even played her some of our tunes. Turns out, she had a drumset in her basement, so she hopped on guitar and we jammed out for a bit.

 


 

At the time I didn't give much thought to it, but looking back, I wonder if a unique night like this would've happened if I wasn't traveling solo. As fun as it is to share experiences with friends, does that familiarity close you off to new relationships and experiences? And even if it doesn't affect your outlook, does that close bond intimidate other travelers and influence whether they come up and introduce themselves? I don't think there's a black and white answer, and it depends on the people your traveling with. In this particular case, Samir and I have grown up together, we look for the same things when we travel, and are basically the same person at times - but still, that feeling of home and familiarity you get when your with friends can dull your motivation to put yourself out there and do things you normally wouldn't. Because it's easier to fall back into old habits than create new ones. But ultimately, no one type of travel is better than another - solo and group trips are each amazing in their own way because the countless memories you'll create will stay with you forever.

 

 

 

 

 

Movement, Travel

The Slowdown: Budapest

vscocam_1408110931.719633.IMG_4078-1.jpg

Budapest is where it all came together. When you're moving from city to city every three or four days, time seems to blur and everywhere you go starts to look the same: a huge palace here, a river over there, a night in a bar, a day in the park...

See, what I've been realizing more and more is that, physically, most cities are very similar - it's the people and the energy that makes it special. The cities that I like most have this palpable, youthful energy where the cafes are packed at every hour, nightlife runs into the morning, and there is an undeniable underlying passion running through the city, which can manifest itself through the local street art, food, or music scene.

Budapest is one of these cities.

There's a new surprise down every street corner - on one side of you there may be a 900 year old palace while the other side is packed with kids blasting Hungarian indie rock at a skate park.

Planning to spend only a few days here before heading to Munich and Switzerland, I quickly realized I'd get way more out of this experience by slowing down, settling in, and staying a while - 9 days to be exact. So, I ditched my plans and decided to embrace slow travel.

A common conversation I've had with backpackers here has been about the grind of packing up and moving cities. And, like me, a bunch of people I met decided to stay in Budapest longer. There's no rushing to see the sights, you can wake up late after all-nighters, waste days away at cafes and parks, and not have to worry about running around, catching planes or trains to the next stop. Although it's only a few extra days, you feel much more like a local - you build much deeper relationships with the people around you and start embracing the little things the city has to offer.

Rather than sounding like a broken record, talking about the amazing people I met, the awesome family dinners we had, the girls I fell for, and the crazy nights in the ruin bars (these are bars set up in abandoned buildings that local artists deck out in recycled art), I'll skip to my last night in Budapest. This is when the magnitude of the whole trip hit me.

There's a perfect spot along the banks of the river where you can watch the sun slowly fall behind the castles across the water in what I think is the most beautiful city at night. Around 7 every night, I'd head there either with some people from the hostel, or I'd end up meeting other travelers there. We'd take beer and champagne, listen to music, and talk about how lucky we were to be there. It was the perfect routine.

 

 

Only this time - on my last night - I was all alone. Just me, the river, the sunset, and some tunes. The past week had been a blur - I was pulled in tons of different directions and met so many new people since I had stayed in a couple different hostels. Our nights were spent partying til sunrise, while our days were a constant hungover struggle to make it to lunch (yep, traveling is hard work). But by now, most of the people I'd hung out with had moved on to to different cities and adventures. This complete change of pace on the last night had given me time to remove myslef from the hustle and bustle and decompress.

It was there at that river that I started reminiscing about this whole trip and how unbelievably unreal the whole experience has been so far. It's a surreal feeling when something you've been dreaming about doing for years is actually happening, and actually meets all the high expectations you'd imagined. So, I reminisced about the past and wondered about the future, which all of a sudden seemed so clear - but ultimately, it was all about that moment.

We all know that experiences are fleeting, falling through our fingers as we try to clutch tighter, and there's nothing we can do about it. But, for some reason, that night I felt a sense of contentment watching time slip away.

What I've noticed in myself before, is that when I'm truly enjoying a moment, a sudden acknowledgment that it'll soon be gone fills me with a sense of nostalgia, even in that moment. And when we try to hold onto these moments, but obviously fail, we've already tarnished something perfect.

So, what I'm trying to get at, is that after more than a week of people coming in and out of my life, conversations that will never hold the same meaning, and jokes that will never be shared with the same crowd, I finally realized something. With the city sprawled out in front of me, I learned to embrace these short-lived experiences - which have become all too common while traveling - and accepted that it's really the moments you can't control and keep forever that mean the most in the end.

Movement, Travel

24 Hours in Vienna: A Photo Journal

vscocam_1408107825.498724.IMG_4118.jpg

I was supposed to go straight from Krakow to Budapest. But we all know what happens to the best laid plans. Or lack of plans. I thought I was cool waiting until the last minute to book my transportation. Turns out, trains sell out weeks in advance during the summer.

So after cluelessly standing in the train station for about an hour, I decided I might as well make a pitstop in Vienna and catch a bus from there to Budapest.

I ended up arriving in Vienna at 5:20AM with absolutely no plans and no idea of how I would pass the time. In my delirious state, I wandered the streets all day, until finally crashing at 9:45PM. Not much of note happened - I didn't take any initiative in meeting people, I didn't party, I didn't set up any sort of routine. It was a means to an end - all I needed was sleep.

Looking back on my time in Vienna, the only thing I did was spend the whole day taking pictures of myself in front of thousand-year old buildings.  Here are the fruits of my labor.

IMG_0728

IMG_0734

IMG_0740

IMG_0741

IMG_0745

IMG_0750

IMG_0755

IMG_0764

IMG_0770

IMG_0777

IMG_0780

IMG_0795

IMG_3715

IMG_3724

IMG_3712

IMG_3737

 

 

Travel

Half-Baked Thoughts from a Night Train through the Austrian Countryside

image-2.jpeg

My weary eyes stare down at my watch. It's 3am and rain is tapping on the window as the train creaks and groans along the tracks. All I can see are the tips of trees, half-hidden by fog, swallowed by the black abyss. I'm halfway through a 3 month solo backpacking trip across Europe, and after a pitstop in Slovakia, I find my mind racing but my body still steeped in slumber. Realizing that sleep will elude me until I reach Vienna, I take this time to look back on my time abroad and cobble together some thoughts, lessons, and semi-lucid run-on sentences. These are the notes I jotted down.  


 

Why did I fly 5,000 miles away from everything I know? The longer I travel, the more I realize it's in search of that crazy, head-buzzing feeling - the rush of endorphins that floods your body the minute that stranger you just met becomes you best friend, at least for the night. At home, this happens every so often, but abroad, this happens every single day. Fate brings complete strangers from opposite ends of the world together to share stories and make new memories - that's the beauty of travel.. As a backpacker, you constantly make small talk and friendly exchanges with the people around you. But in every city, there are always a few people who, even within the first couple minutes of talking make you feel like you've already shared countless dinners with them back home. Whether you spend 5 minutes with them or 5 days, it may not even matter - every shared experience is so warped and intense because time is so limited.

 


 

Stop hiding behind your phone.

My first night in Krakow, I got in late and missed everyone at the hostel who was already on a pub crawl. Around midnight, after grabbing a quick bite and wandering around Old Town, I realized I had two options - I could either call it a night and go to bed early, or do something I've never done before, and head to a bar alone to try to meet people. I opted for the latter.

Now, most people, including myself, turn to their phones to make believe they're doing something important when they're in uncomfortable situations - for instance, times when they're just standing around by themselves in a crowded bar where it seems like everyone else is already deep in conversation with friends. This is the scene I found myself in, but I had made the conscious decision to leave my phone in my room so I couldn't use it as a clutch.

When your eyes aren't glued to a screen, good things happen.

Although the first couple of minutes were kind of awkward, after I ordered a drink, I started chatting up these two girls who each had 5 shots lined up on the bar. I said something completely stupid like, "Hey, there's no way all those shots are just for you two" and chuckled. Before I knew it, they handed me a shot and introduced me to all their other Irish friends. We ended up wandering around the city, in and out of different clubs, and stumbled back to my room at 6am. I'm pretty if I had decided to stare at my phone every time I felt anxious those first few minutes at the bar, I would've left the bar alone 20 minutes later.

 


 

The generosity of others has shocked me.

Within knowing someone for 2 minutes, I've had rounds of drinks bought for me. When I looked lost and felt stranded on a street whose name I couldn't even pronounce, a nice Hungarian woman walked 5 minutes out of her way to point me in the right direction. When I've tried to buy coffee but was short two dollars, the barista just handed it over and smiled. All over Europe, and I'm certain now that all over the world, people just want to do good. We're always bombarded by news of hate and terror, but step away from the screen and into the real world and you can see that the vast majority of people really care for one another.

 


 

I'm traveling solo, but I'm definitely not alone.

Whenever I talk to friends back home, the same question always comes up, "What are you doing and who are you with?"

Surprisingly, I don't feel like I've had enough "me" time. There's always someone to talk with, get lunch with, or go out with. Whether you'll ever see them again is another story.

I've said a million times that meeting other people from different parts of the world is my favorite thing about traveling, but sometimes the best days can be spent alone, wandering the streets or falling asleep under a tree in a park by yourself.

 


 

Forget what you're supposed to do.

Although Krakow is steeped in tradition and medieval architecture, these days it's a huge party destination in Europe. The beer is cheap, the girls will make you weak in the knees, and an early night is considered to end at 5am.

On my last night, I decided there was no way I could possibly be out until sunrise again. My whole hostel started loading up on drinks at 9pm, and usually I'd be right there in the mix, feeling like if I wasn't, I'd be missing out on some unique experience. But, sometimes when you realize you've been there and done that way too many times, it's better to try something different, even in the midst of peer pressure. I ended up heading to an amazing jazz club with different student bands rotating on stage. At about 1AM, I found myself alone in the middle of town, with a McFlurry in hand, just soaking in the energy of the city. Groups of kids all around me were stumbling into bars, getting their night started - but somehow, in that moment, I felt so content just sitting there by myself. I guess as you get older you realize you're not missing out on much if you take a night off. Although most people would rather end their night with a crazy dance party than sitting on a stoop drinking a McFlurry, it's some of these rare moments of solitude on my trip that stand out in my memory the most.

 


 

Take more chances. Life is more fun that way.

 


 

Embrace the unknown.

My plans have gone by the wayside. I missed my bus to Budapest and now have two weeks of absolutely nothing planned until meeting friends for the last half of my trip. I've always been a fan of winging it, but not knowing where you're sleeping in 24 hours will definitely make you think on your feet. It may be stressful and chaotic at times, but it's definitely more exciting. So, you have two choices - freak out or go with the flow.

 


 

There are still good days and bad days on the road.

Trust me, I'm not complaining, but every so often you have a bad couple hours on the road. These are usually days when you're moving from city to city. You've got a huge backpack weighing you down, walking through a city you've never been to, when it's either too hot, or too rainy, and no one understands what the hell you're saying when you ask them for directions. There have been times where the metro has been shut down so I've had to spend an extra hour figuring out bus routes to get to my hostel. There are other times where you ask someone for directions but you still end up heading the exact opposite way of your room for the next 20 minutes. Your legs are sore, you're back is aching, then you get to your hostel and realize you can't even get to your bed until check-in time 4 hours later. But, it's all part of the experience.

There's also the occasional sting of homesickness - it's only natural. The first 4 weeks of my trip, I'd hardly given a thought to how life in LA with family and friends was. But, one day in Poland, all of a sudden I started thinking about what a good night's sleep in my comfy bed would feel like, without 6 strangers in beds next to me, where I could wake up and have a massive breakfast - rather than go on an hour long quest through the city on foot to find a decent meal. I wonder how that party was that all my friends went to, or how family dinner on Sunday night was. But, it's like inception - the minute you let these thoughts creep into your head, they grow and grow until it they consume all of your thoughts.

But, just as fast as these ideas infiltrated your mind, they're shaken off the instant you find yourself in a new conversation with someone at a bar or at the hostel, or realize, "Hey, this time 2 months ago, I was sitting at a desk staring out the window daydreaming of this moment."

 


 

When traveling, you have to open up. Quickly. Your first day in a city is always someone's last. Make that time count.

 


 

Find your own groove and stick to it.

Some people are going on 3 years of travel, while others are on a 3 day escape from their routine. Some have quit their jobs, others are in school. Some have big plans and ambitions, others have no idea where they'll be sleeping tomorrow night. A while back, a good friend had told me something along the lines of, "I used to think life was a race, but recently I'm learning that it's more of a dance." We've only got one shot at this thing called life - go at your own pace, do what gets your heart racing, and don't be afraid to take some time, find your groove, and stay a while.

 


 

Something I've been doing while traveling is making a point to have a meaningful conversation with at least one new person a day. This means getting past the small talk and really learning about where that person is from and what keeps them ticking. While it's easier when traveling, I'd really like to try this back at home - whether it's at work, at a coffee shop, or at a supermarket, put yourself out there and see what happens.

 


 

Sometimes the destination makes no difference - it's great to travel and see sights in parts of the world you've never been. But, my favorite things about traveling are the people you meet and the liberating feeling that anything is possible. Whatever city you wake up in on any given day, the fact remains, that there's no structure or routine - the day holds endless potential.

 

SOUNDTRACK - THE LONG HAUL

Movement, Travel

Stockholm Syndrome

Screen-shot-2014-07-30-at-4.47.01-PM.png

My head is dizzy as we zig-zag through the dense pine trees of the Swedish forest. The engine growls and we top 100mph as heavy rain beats down on the hood of the car. I'm in a red Mustang with a Swede and two Australians I'd met a couple minutes earlier. The Swedish heavy metal band that's blaring through the speakers is too loud. But it's keeping us all awake.  


 

Flashback to a few minutes before, I had just landed in Vasteras airport, about an hour and a half outside of Stockholm. Nestled between the picturesque lakes and islands of Sweden, I had finally been able to relax - catching this flight was no easy feat. I left London 30 minutes behind schedule, trudged through the rain and missed the train I needed to catch to get to the airport. I caught the next train anyways, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Once in the airport I had no time to waste, but of course, my ticket didn't scan so I had to argue with Ryan Air reps for a couple minutes until they let me through the gate. Then came what seemed like miles of sprinting with luggage strapped both on my back and my chest. I was spent and I was stressed, but I'd made the flight.

Once we landed, I struck up some small talk with the guys next to me in the Passport Check line, who ended up being from Sydney and were also backpacking around. Knowing me for less than 5 minutes, they offered to have their Swedish friend give me a ride to my place in the city. Without even thinking about it, I thanked them immediately and loaded my bags into their red Mustang. Traveling for a couple weeks now, I've learned that all it takes to make new friends is just a couple minutes and an open mind - some small talk, a few laughs, and some "No way! I'm traveling for a couple months too!" This would never happen at home.

It was a gloomy day, but spirits were high as we all got to know each other in that ride through the forest to the city. After they dropped me off, I set off to grab a bite since I hadn't eaten anything but two croissants all day and it was now 4pm.

I had high expectations for this city coming into it - I imagined blonde supermodels walking down every street, canals intersecting picturesque buildings, and parks filled with stylish Swedes soaking in the sun.

There was none of that. It was Saturday afternoon and it felt like a ghost town. The streets were empty, most of the restaurants I had planned to eat at were closed, and it felt like the energy of the city had been sucked out. Coming from two bustling cities, Copenhagen and London, I was hoping to find the same buzz here, but even after three days, it just seems like a very mellow, quiet city, with a couple of main drags filled with tourists (imagine if New York just consisted of Times Square and a bunch of quiet suburbs).

I will say, though, that parts of the city are jaw-dropping. And I'm not just talking about the girls. Since it's built on a set of islands, and has similar lego-like architecture to Copenhagen, it's definitely picturesque. And although the streets aren't filled with Victoria's Secret models in every corner, every once in a while a girl with piercing blue eyes and porcelain skin will walk by you and make you weak in the knees.

Aside from the superficial beauty of the city, I had a hard time finding any real culture or personality here. Everyone is very mild-mannered, unlike cities such as Barcelona or even LA, where people are passionate and energetic and take pride in their city (multiple Swedes have asked me why I would ever decide to visit Stockholm - not a common question in any other big city). In the same vein, shops and restaurants are usually part of chains and have no unique qualities - every street looks the same.

The saving grace for my few days in Stockholm were the friends I'd made. I met a British bloke named Paul at the hostel, who was 32 and a serious traveler - he'd quit his job, traveled for 2 years, and had hit every continent. He told me that the underground metro stations in Stockholm we're decked out in art and were supposed to be super unique. I tagged along and we hopped on and off the train, stopping whenever we saw something cool outside the window. It was actually one of the more interesting things I saw while in Sweden.

And those kids I'd met at the airport? We ended up hanging out every day. They'd pick me up in their convertible, which was a great way to explore the different neighborhoods of the city, and we'd cruise to different lookout points, parks, and bars (shout out to Thiha for being a killer wingman). On one of our last nights, our Swedish friend invited us over to his apartment for a barbecue right by the lake. This is when I finally gave in to the slow-paced Swedish lifestyle. We cracked open beers, threw some racks of lamb, steak, and veggies onto the grill, and traded stories until the sun dipped below the water.

Movement, Travel

London: A Tale of Two Cities

image.jpeg

Big Ben, Westminster, London Bridge, blah, blah, blah. The list of sights to see in this city goes on and on. You walk up, see tons of people in front of some old, classic building, take a picture, then walk away. Googling an image of Westminster Abbey is more fulfilling than waiting in line for tickets with fat German tourists. But, let's start from the beginning.

I arrived after an amazing stint in one of the most livable and comfortable cities in the world - Copenhagen. London, on the other hand, is jam-packed with people racing around the city, bumping into you on every corner. Similar to New York, the tube is cramped and sweaty, where everyone looks miserable. But coming from LA, I actually enjoy the tube and the feeling of being in a "real" city.

Things took a turn for the worse when I checked into my hostel, which somehow had a 90% rating - six people cramped in a tiny, hot room, half of whom don't speak any English, where the bathroom smelled like mold, and this one dude coughed his lungs up all night. A nightmare.

After getting maybe an hour of sleep, I went to the front desk at 6am, demanded my money back, and started looking for another place to stay. I still have no idea how I got so lucky, but one of my best friends was staying at the Four Seasons by Hyde Park with his family  and was nice enough to let me crash there for the rest of my stay in London.

Let's just say it was a little bit nicer than my hostel - complimentary chauffeur service in a Bentley, marble floors in the room, rooftop views of the city, a gym (my body has been falling apart while traveling), and a spa with some sort of magic hot tub massaging jets with a bed inside of it. Ah, the good life.

Having all been to London before, we realized that other than the sights, there wasn't much to do. The city is so big, like LA, that you really need to have it planned out or know locals who can take you to the best spots. After a day of hanging out and drinking in the park and trying to find a good party in SoHo (which just feels like you're partying in Times Square), we had almost given up on London - it felt too similar to America too much like a regular city.

The real energy of the city, lies in East London, which is where we spent the last couple of days. Shoreditch is filled with a much younger crowd, tons of rooftop bars, street art, parks, and live bands. Now, this is my kind of city. Just a 20 minute ride from the center of the city, and you're in a whole new world, packed with much more life and culture.

The thing I loved most about this area, was the fact that by 5pm, when everyone was done with work, literally every single bar, restaurant, and cafe was packed with twenty-somethings just taking a load off. I don't know if this is just me, but in LA I'd fallen victim to a static weekly routine: wake up, go to work, go to gym, maybe meet for a drink in a half empty bar but most likely just watch TV and sleep, then repeat. Maybe I'm doing it all wrong. Maybe New York is different. But all I know, is that I was completely jealous of this lifestyle. Take my favorite place, for example, Red Market - it's a huge outdoor venue called Red Market, that opens at 5pm and serves pints of beer, has a bunch of ethnic food stands, huge wooden tables and beach chairs to sit in, and a DJ or band to boot. It gave me the same feeling I get when I'm at a music festival with friends, just relaxing outside and forgetting the real world for a while.


The East London Hit List - If you go to London, skip the city and head here: -Ozone Coffee -Hoxton Park -Dishoom -Box Park -Red Market -Ace Hotel -Brick Lane -If all else fails, look up - there will probably be a rooftop bar somewhere around you.

Movement, Travel

Happiness is a Warm Gun

Sometimes when you walk into a city for the first time, it can feel like you've lived there you're entire life. Copenhagen, like Melbourne and Berlin before it, seeped into my veins and hooked me from the second I stepped off the train.

There's a classic scene in every movie where the protagonist steps into a city for the first time, and the world seems to spin around him as the camera spirals to capture the magnitude of the moment. The bursting energy of Copenhagen - with bike riders whizzing past in every direction and colorful lego-like buildings splattered across the horizon - triggered this vertigo-like effect as I stumbled through the cobblestone streets for the first time.

I had a flash of something I hadn't felt since my first months in Europe - a mixture of ignorance and a loose, "what the hell" kind of confidence that comes on a man when the wind picks up and he begins to move in a hard straight line toward an unknown horizon.

-Hunter S. Thompson

The Copenhagen Jazz Festival taking place all week meant music was echoing from every corner of the city. Bands set up right on the street, between cafes, jamming proudly as crowds gathered. I spent hours wandering through tiny alleys following the music - the best band being a reggae trio that got everyone in the street moving their feet. During the set, an old man bought a rose, handed it to his wife as he grabbed her hand to dance, and slowly a circle of us crowded around them, all singing and dancing. Times like these made it pretty easy to see why Copenhagen is the happiest city in the world.

I came to Copenhagen with one definitive plan - to do absolutely nothing. And I'm pretty confident I succeeded. Though filled with world class museums and known attractions, I never understood why you'd fly halfway across the world to hang out with other tourists and see art you could see at home. And so as usual, my itinerary consisted of soaking in the vibes of the city, napping in parks, and eating my way through different neighborhoods as spurts of productivity spilled out of me at an array of sun-soaked cafes.

By my last day in Copenhagen I had a pretty comfortable routine I could've spent a lifetime doing:

8am: Wake-up a little foggy-headed and retrace our steps from last night's party.

9am: Killer breakfast at Next Door Cafe - eggs, bacon, pancakes, bread, and jam. Got to fill up for a big day.

10am: Hop on the bike and head to one of the understatedly hip neighborhoods, either Vesterbro or Norrebro. Find The Coffee Collective immediately and get wired.

11am: Get some writing done at a 3-story underground cafe (or cave?) called The Living Room. 

12pm: Stumble into one of the city's free concerts and jam out for a bit.

1pm: Meet back up with friends from the hostel at the outdoor market, Torvehallerne. This is one of my favorite places in the city - it's a way better version of a farmer's market that's open everyday and is always buzzing with locals. People pack into the place to eat everything from gourmet chocolates to Spanish tapas while drinking champagne and sangria.  A typical lunch there consisted of an amazing French shredded Duck sandwich, a farmer salad, Lebanese dips, the freshest lox I've ever tasted, and pressed juices.

2:30pm: Ditch everyone and head to King's Park or the Botanical Gardens with some sort of chocolate Danish pastry in hand. Read. Write. Snap pictures and act like a photographer. Try to hit on pretty blonde Danish girls.

3:30pm: Walk into Atelier September for coffee round 2. Say hi to the baristas I now know and end up eating avocado toast with two blonde girls who work in fashion and a guy who claims he's an "artist" from London. Confirm that this is my favorite cafe in the world.

5pm: Head back to the city center. Grab a beer and follow the music to a concert in one of the promenades.

6:30pm: Meet back at the hostel and try to find the friends from before. If that fails, try to meet as many people from as many different parts of the world as possible (surprisingly easy). Convince whoever I'm with to trust me and follow me the Meatpacking District for pizza at Mother or cocktails at Neighborhood while vinyl tracks echo in the background. Grab a beer at Mikkeler or a glass of wine at Malbec to keep the juices flowing on the ride back to the hostel.

8pm: Happy hour. Starts out civilized by playing drinking games at 8 but gets completely out of hand by 9.

10pm: Someone names a bar or club and we all blindly follow.  A stampede of 10-20 of us stumble through the cobblestone streets in a haze of laughter, without the slightest care of where we're going . We get lost, try to ask old Danish couples how to find our way by slurring words in English, but finally follow the music to find a dance party that most likely wasn't the place we planned on going to.

8am: Wake up, shower, repeat.

It's my last day in Copenhagen, and I'm currently sitting in King's Park under the morning dew, trying to figure out what, exactly, it was about this city that drew me in so quickly. I was pretty skeptical when I heard it's ranked the happiest city in the world because I had no idea how anyone could quantify something like that. But people here really are that happy - they're always smiling, helping neighbors out, and taking loads of time to help tourists out - especially me. They’re insanely friendly, and I've witnessed, as well as been a part of, so many random conversations in the middle of the street between two total strangers.

It's hard to put the energy of this city into words, but it sort of combines the best aspects of all my other favorite cities: Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, and Melbourne. It's got that unique small town/big city vibe where it feels like you're part of a tight-knit community, while all the excitement of a big metropolis is just a bike ride away - like Melbourne and Amsterdam. Then it throws in the edginess of Berlin - with a high fashion, art, and music scene, as well as plenty of graffiti-soaked neighborhoods. On top of it all, cafe culture is the beating heart of the city. There are tons of cafes in every nook and cranny of the city, with people enjoying the sun outside, or if it's raining, candle-lit interiors that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside (Danish people have a word, hygge, that loosely translate to cozy - they love the feeling of closeness and warmness, which translates into how they treat each other as well). All of this makes it so hard to leave Copenhagen, but London's calling.

Until next time, Copenhagen...

 

 

Movement, Travel

96 Hours in Tel Aviv: Vodka Shots and Rocket Launcher

IMG_2992

Let's get one thing straight: Tel Aviv isn't a "nice" city in any way. It's aesthetic and attitude are gritty, aggressive, and in your face. The first thing I noticed walking out of the train station is the deafening sound of roaring engines and honking horns. There's graffiti everywhere, abandoned stone-walled fortresses, and mysterious liquid dripping from every balcony right onto your head. This whole scene didn't bode well for my hangover and post-Birthright delirium after 3 hours of sleep. I got off the train, strapped on the 40 pound backpack that holds my entire life for the next 3 months, and treaded into the city looking for a place to rest my head.

Easier said than done.

After asking 7 different Israelis and spending an hour going 20 different directions in the suffocating humidity, I finally found my hostel. Wanting nothing more than a shower and a bed, of course I had to wait 2 hours before I could check into my room. With sweat dripping from my forehead and no solice in sight, there was only one thing to do - hit the beach.

This is when everything changed. The aches and pains that had pierced my body washed off as the waves crashed into me. The clear blue sea and towering skyline reminded me why I was here and a smile stretched from ear to ear.

I wandered up the coast, met some locals, and found a private beach to decompress after the 12 hectic and jam-packed days of birthright. Somehow 5 hours flew by, and after filling my belly with my 100th schwarma of the trip, I found my way back to the hostel. Still super tired, and being the first day of "solo travel,"  I thought I'd kickback, check some emails, and have an early night.

I was dead wrong. In the past, when I'd travel with friends, we'd just stick together and ignore most of the people at the hostel.  I had no idea how easy it was to meet people when there's no one from home to confide in - when you're by yourself, you're way more inclined to start conversations with strangers and make a new connection to fill that void. Within 5 minutes, I was trading traveling stories with 10 new people on the sunny rooftop terrace. A girl I'd met said her Uncle owned a restaurant out in a suburb of Tel Aviv and he was closing his restaurant for the night and setting up an authentic Israeli dinner for her and her friends. I couldn't refuse.

Not knowing where we were going or any of the other 12 people who were tagging along, we hopped on a train and headed 40 minutes south to Ashdod.

Needless to say, we were all having a blast. Her uncle insisted we take shots of vodka with him, and plate after plate of hummus and kebab was flying onto the table. I took a second and thought how insane it was that in LA I meet maybe 1 or 2 people a month, and here I'd just made 15 new friends in the matter of a couple hours.

We were laughing, and toasting, and high-fiving - it seemed like things couldn't get any better. Then everything changed.

All of a sudden, alarms rang though the city. We heard screaming from the chef inside the restaurant for us to run in from the patio - traffic in the street halted and as we slowly realized what was going on, we threw our chairs out of the way and sprinted inside. During one night of Birthright, we'd heard bombs in the distance but really didn't think much of them - this was the first time I'd heard a bomb siren go off and had to run for shelter.

We crammed into the tiny kitchen, surrounded by the burning stoves and butcher knives. I looked around and saw the shock in all of our faces. Two old women had also run in from the street - one was sobbing while the other was praying. The Americans couldn't stop asking questions while the Israelis acted as calm as they could. The moment was surreal.

After a minute of chaos, 3 loud bursts from the sky echoed through the kitchen. I felt the ground shake. Everyone's heart was racing and shrieks from the old women only added to the intensity of the situation. After a couple minutes, the locals said it was all over and we were safe. We hugged each other and cautiously went back to our table outside. Still shaken up, the Israeli's calmed us down and brought out more drinks, of course. Before we knew it, kids were playing in the street again, and the energy came back to the table. Life was back to normal. This is how Israeli's live - with the thought of terror always in the back of their minds but a stubborn will to enjoy every second of life.

Waking up in Tel Aviv the next day, I couldn't wait to explore the city and meet up with some friends from Birthright who were still around. We hit the street market, grabbed lunch, hung out at cafe's and had a great time reminiscing about the trip we just had.

That night, with the bombs from the night before still in the back of my mind, I met up with a friend from LA who was working in Tel Aviv.  When I say friend from LA, I really had only talked to her once or twice and thought it would be great to see a familiar face while abroad. So did she. This is my favorite thing about traveling - when you're away from home and out of your comfort zone, it's so easy to put yourself out there and strike up new relationships. It's a total shift in mindset - when I'm back home there's always someone to see or something to do and the effort to meet new people dwindles. When you're by yourself in a completely foreign place, the new shared experiences are so much more memorable - any small connection from the past can easily grow into something more when you're in a change of scenery.

Again, just as we settled in to an amazing dinner, another bomb siren rings through the city and the whole restaurant is forced to run downstairs to the basement. I thought we were safe in Tel Aviv - after all, only one or two bomb sirens have ever gone off that far North in history. Turns out I decided to visit Israel just when Hamas obtained long-range missiles.

Although the bomb sirens can put a damper on your night, Israelis are so resilient and positive. They try to make a point of not letting terrorism get in the way of everyday life - if they stayed in every night and we're scared to go out, the terrorists would have already won.

The last couple days, you could feel a change in the energy of the city. Less people were out and everyone was a bit more on edge. We still had awesome jam sessions in the hostel (one dude shredded on guitar and played a bunch of classics), went to the beach everyday, had amazing dinners with friends, and got lost in the city, but there was always a level of anxiety and worry lingering in the back of our minds. The topic of conversation always came back to the bombs. We always had to be aware of our surroundings and on the lookout for shelters as we walked down streets. I couldn't help but think how unfair it is that a whole country - a whole region - has to live under constant fear of bombs and air-raids - it's exhausting. The silver lining is that these threats bring all of Israel together as a community - similar to how America united after 9/11. Being under constant attack, Israelis may seem brash to outsiders, but they really care about one another and the pride they have in their country is infectious.

Staying in Tel Aviv at this time was definitely one of the most unique and unforgettable experiences I've ever had. It's an incredible city full of contrasts with tons to do - not to mention I fell in love with every Israeli girl I saw - but I hope the next time I go back there's finally some peace and that the positive energy I experienced the first few days is flowing through the streets again.

Thought, Travel

Manifesto

My mind goes in a million different directions at once – just like my plans at the moment. I set up this blog to anchor my thoughts and make sense of it all as I wander through cobblestone streets 8,000 miles from home. Back in June I quit my job and booked a ticket across the Atlantic without knowing a single soul and having only a rough idea of what I wanted to do. I was inspired to take this trip by friends who had strayed from the beaten path and left home to wholly embrace life for a bit. They’re writing got me through long days of work and inspired me to get out from behind that desk and discover new cities and seas, and make friends out of strangers. My biggest hope is that this blog can do the same for just one other person.

While life at home was fun, I was looking for something to challenge my comfort zone and add a jolt of adrenaline to my veins. Days were going by faster and faster as I sat at a desk and did what I was told rather than what I dreamed of. That old Dylan quote kept echoing through my head: "He who's not busy living is busy dying." The road was calling.

I don't want this blog to just recount my day-to-day - those blogs always left me wanting something more. I find it way more insightful and fulfilling to write about how these experiences have affected me - how certain cities make me feel, whether or not I've learned anything, and how my perceptions have changed while abroad. I can't promise the the craziest stories or anything different from what many before me have already done - just an honest narrative of my personal story.