Travel

Distractions? What distractions?

If you’re traveling is tourism, you have a great many ways to occupy your time. I can kill a day in a museum with the best of them. If you’re traveling is work, however, then chances are you will need to find some way to distract yourself from your new lifestyle, at some point. Things become much more mundane when they are a daily occurrence. It’s just the way things are in the world.

Distractions come in many forms. They can be elaborate and well thought out projects. They can also be simple things that someone else would take as a break away from the norm. And, also, they can be more traveling. Escaping your exotic location for another exotic location, as crazy as that sounds, can be quite liberating.

Since I have come to live in the desert, I have used all three of these devices as distractions from my daily grind of super-hot weather, horrendously bad drivers and sand storms. I find that each one has its individual merit at any given point. Sometimes, you need an escape, and sometimes you just need to get your head right.

In a world full of social media, it is much easier to stay both distracted and connected at a distance than when I initially started traveling the globe. Back in the 80s, you called home collect or wrote a letter and mailed it. That was high-tech communications. The rest of the time, you were just wherever you were. These days, you can hop on your smart phone from pretty much anywhere on the planet and talk or text with anyone you want. Still, other times, you need a better distraction from where you are than that.

If I want a big distraction, I travel. Getting away is very liberating. It cleans out all of the bad karma and lets you just be. It usually also has a lingering affect, once you return to wherever you escaped from. If you are a follower of this blog, you already know that I tend to blog when I travel. I find it lets people know I’m still alive (Mostly my mom and dad).

On a more important note for other travelers, it can also be extremely cost-effective. If you have uprooted yourself and moved a significant distance for work, say to another continent or completely across a continent, then exploring new places can be considerably cheaper with the reduction in new travel costs. Once I made it to the Middle East, I realized that I could travel around this side of the globe considerably cheaper than when I was always looking at traveling from the USA to wherever I wanted to go. Since that realization, I have done a fair piece of traveling around. The cost savings for nearby plane tickets make it too good to pass up.

For simple distractions, I usually like to go with movies. I’ve said it a thousand times and it still holds true; every movie theater looks the same in the dark. The coke pretty much tastes the same everywhere in the world too. There may be subtitles running across the bottom of the screen, but that’s okay. Most places tend to have a showing in some form of English. You can usually find one. If you want a social experiment, you can try the native language. When I was stationed in Germany, the local town had a second-run movie theater located just off base. We would find out what they were going to show, go rent the video, watch it a half-dozen time, and then go to the movies and see it in German. It was good fun. Usually, the parts you couldn’t understand didn’t drastically affect the movie.

As far as more elaborate ideas go, find a hobby. I think everyone knows by this point, but I write books. Fictional novels keep my otherwise unoccupied mind in check. I am currently working my way through editing revisions for publishing my fifth novel, while trying to find some time to keep writing my eighth novel. As hobbies go, I find writing books to be extremely cathartic and easy to practice anywhere on the planet. If I have a couple pens and a tablet of paper, I’m pretty much good to go. An internet connection is good for researching idea and items, but at the end of the day, that’s why they call it fiction. I highly recommend finding a hobby that is easy to pack and travels well. As a side note, all the travelling gives me great inspiration for my writing. You never know when the great ideas are going to come along.

I have developed several different distractions to keep my head in-check as I move about the globe. Like I said, if you are travelling for tourism, great. If you are traveling for work, I find a thought-out distraction to be a good way to keep me both happy, and mentally challenged. Find something that appeals to your own individual style and throw it in the bag next time you head out. Having something to distract you from your surrounding can be mentally lifesaving, even in the middle of a holiday (Me going to see Avengers while in Bangkok would be a good example of this. Hahahahaha).

Now, get out there. Have fun!

A picture of my latest creation. Well, the various pieces of it anyway.

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Travel

Sometimes, you just need to exhale. And, be.

Going from one weather extreme to another or one working situation to a completely different working situation is always trying. I have had this experience more times than I care to reflect upon after a 25-plus year career as a contractor. The majority of the time, the transition isn’t that cataclysmic of an experience. But, every now and again, you really end up doing something crazy.

When I decided to migrate to the Middle East for work, I was thinking that it would be hot. I had done hot before. I spent a couple years working in Texas before I came this way. Texas is a hot house in the sunny summer time. It can get pretty hot down that way. Way hotter than New York or Chicago, that’s for sure. HOWEVER, I was in no real way prepared for the extreme change in climate that came with a move to the desert. The Middle East, in the summer, can really only be described as a furnace.

I always used to laugh when someone would say that the heat drove someone crazy. It never really made any practical sense. The cold doesn’t drive people crazy, why would the heat do that? Let me assure you, the heat will drive people crazy! It’s actually crazy how the heat will drive people crazy. (Yeah, I just said that.)

To work outside effectively, you need to plan around the heat. This is hard to do when it is still 100 degrees Fahrenheit at midnight. You try to go do the work during the morning, and hide in the air conditioning in the afternoon. The wise people over here realize that the air conditioning actually makes it worse most days. If you don’t let your body acclimatize to the extreme heat in one way or another, it makes it much worse when you are out in it for extended periods of time. This is an idea that you can’t sell to anyone here. They aren’t buying it, especially if there’s any air conditioning to be had.

Even though it is really-almost-unbearably hot outside, I force myself out into it as much as is practical. I walk places instead of driving the car. I do the outside jobs that need doing, dragging the crew outside against their will. I drink an ever more extreme amount of water to compensate. And, like everyone else, the rest of the time I hide in the air conditioning.

With the weather being what it is, you have to find ways to mentally compensate for the summer heat. Strangely, one of my favorite ways to compensate is to go out to the smoke area and have a soda and a cigar. I don’t do it every day, maybe one day a month or so. I find that it’s always quiet out there, as the heat makes people not want to go out and smoke. Or if they do, they do it as quickly as possible. They don’t linger. This allows me a nice break from the rigors of life in the desert. Granted a Pepsi isn’t a nice glass of whiskey, but in a dry country substitutions have to be made.

The point of this isn’t that you should do seemingly crazy things or that you should go take up smoking or anything like that. The point of this is that if you transition yourself from one environment to another, that transition comes with obvious adjustments, and you need to find things that will add to your calm. Adding to your calm will make the adjustments not be so bad. People tend to get miserable after transitions because they can’t or won’t make an effort to adjust to their surroundings. For people that travel extensively or work all over the planet, this idea of finding something that gives you some calm is very intuitive. For people that are new to the traveling game, or are fixed in their ways to the point that they are no longer pliable, this idea is much more elusive. Well, may not elusive. Let’s say abstract.

Out in the desert, I find that the Bedouin idea of coming together around the tea pot a similar idea as my idea of finding a way to find clam in an extreme setting. They use tea, and I use a cigar and a warm can of Pepsi. Whatever it is that you use to find grounding, I say search it out and use it. Not every day, but now and again. The calm is what you are chasing. Calm can be hard to find in extreme climates and extreme work situations. You need to go out and actively look for it. Knowing when to decompress is as important a part of long term traveling as the movement from one place to another is. You just have to stop once in a while, and exhale. Look around, and see where you are. And, just be.

That’s my two cents anyway….

 

A boiling hot can of Pepsi and a surprisingly fresh Rocky Patel. Sitting in the shade of the smoke shack. Waves of heat rippling off of the sand in every direction. It’s just good stuff.

 

 

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Travel

Where did I put that bag at? I gotta go!

I tend to get quizzed, from time to time. A friend of mine asked me about my luggage situation the other day. This seemed like a worthwhile topic for an entry, so here we go.

To start the discussion, I will say that I am not opposed to buying luggage. I have bought lots of it. I have used lots of it once, and then given it away. My old office manager can attest to the fact that I was randomly coming in with backpacks, and camelbacks, and such for her. I guess I’m picky.

Okay, probably a fair assessment. I tend to find luggage that I like and hold onto it until it dies. When I replace it, if I’m remotely unhappy with the replacement, it goes. I want things that work the way that I want them to work. If they can’t do that, I’ll go buy something else. This approach leads to a lot of trial and error.

I have found that my packing falls into two wide types. I am, by nature, a backpacker. If I’m traveling somewhere for a short period of time, say less than a month, I’m almost always going to go with a backpack. I travel light and I travel fast, so I want something that is mobile over all terrain. This is what backpacks were designed for. As for volume, less is more. My small pack, for the weekend to weeklong trips is a book-bag sized North Face (which I have had for some 20 years and I keep coming back to). It’s about 1800 Cubic Inches. For bigger trips, the multiple week stuff, I have a North Face backpack and a Kelty backpack that are both right on 30 Liters. I choose between them based mostly upon my mood when I’m packing. They are different in compartment layout and opening orientation, so I go with whichever one feels right at the time.

It is my opinion that if you pack a lot of stuff, you just end up carrying around a lot of stuff. I have spent much time amused by people with the massive 60 Liter backpack on their back and the oversized day pack strapped to their front. It’s funny to watch them struggle and bumble around. I choose not to do suck crazy things to my back. There are few places in the world where you can’t do laundry or plug in a charger. I just assume that these people are practicing to be hoarders later in life or something.

That being said, if I’m going to be out for an extended period of time, several months to years, I do have bigger bags. My go-to set is a medium and an extra-large roller duffle bag from Eastern Mountain Sports. They are big enough to hold what I need and extremely durable. Both of my roller duffels have been beating around the world with me since about 1996 or 1997 (20 plus years). They are still in good enough shape and all the seams and zippers are still intact. They make good stuff.

Normally, I only pack the duffels if I am driving to a location or have a need to actually check luggage. If I can get away without taking them, I do so. Like I said, less is more. What’s the old saying about packing, pounds lead to pain? I try to avoid that.

I have noticed an increase in the last couple years of people going to roller luggage and just wheeling it around I front of them like it’s a baby stroller or something. I can only assume these people are new to the travelling game. Once again, they’re amusing to watch.

I find from talking to people as I go that everyone has a distinct opinion on travel luggage. It seems to be a very personal kind of decision to make. Everything doesn’t work well for everyone. Prime example of this, I watched a bunch of travel TV in which this soft-sided carry-on bag, that was sized to fit in the overhead was shown as the go-to bag. It had expandable sections and stow-away backpack straps. It looked awesome. I bought one, used it twice, and threw it in the back of the closet to rot. I hated it something fierce. I went back to my old North Face. Like I said, I’m picky.

I guess the boil-down for all this is, I found something that works for me by trial and error. Lots of error. If you are not super-good with your bags, I say switch them out for something else. A good bag actually does help make a good travel experience. It holds all of your stuff, and is one less thing you need to worry about. For me, it’s backpacks. For you, it’s ….

Well, that’s my two cents anyway.

The big yearlong bag and the small weekend bag. Both twenty years old and still going strong.

As a side note, the North Face backpack (the weekend bag) has also been my gym bag for a good fifteen years. So when I say its best up, its beat up!

Now, pack a bag. Get out there!

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Travel

Collecting those memories.

A friend of mine asked me the other day what I used for cameras while traveling. This seemed a good topic for conversation, as I would image that everyone does something a little different. To start this I would think that there are probably two types of people taking pictures while traveling. These two camps can be defined as professional photographer, and the rest of us. The main difference between these two camps is equipment (and the willingness to lug it around).

Definitions being established, I can attest that I am firmly in camp two. I own a nice camera. It’s in a laundry basket in the storage unit, I think. Needless to say, I don’t use it a lot. I tend to use a nice DSLR and lens system when I am going somewhere that I am sure I am never going again or if luggage weight/size is not an issue. If I am driving and my bags are behind the seat of the truck, the big camera is a good idea. If I’m doing something that is only going to happen once, like watching the space shuttle lift off from Kennedy, I take the big camera. These are situations where I have made a conscience decision to carry extra weight and go for quality. There are times when quality is important.

The vast majority of the time, photo quality is a position of compromise. A thing where, good enough is good enough. Let’s be realistic about some things. The majority of us do not take vacation photos and enlarge them to 36×48, so heavy pixel density isn’t necessary. My largest enlargements tend to be 11×14. The vast majority of us don’t use our vacation photos for promotional brochures or book covers. I have used many photos for book research, but none for inclusion in finished books. The vast majority of us, me included, post or photos on Facebook, Instagram, in blogs they write, and twitter. I do all of the above except twitter. Then, they get stored in a digital file and left to wait out the ages.

I have spent a long time traveling. When I was young, the military taught me to travel fast and light. It was a lesson that I learned so well, that I still do it to this day. If it doesn’t fit in the ruck or the ruck is too heavy, it gets left behind. This mode of travel limits the amount of electronics that I tend to bring along. I almost NEVER travel with a laptop computer. I don’t carry a tablet or gaming device to pass the time. Weight can be much better utilized. My inclusions, currently, consist of an iPhone, a small digital camera, and a GoPro. I have also added a Bluetooth shutter button for the phone camera. I did this for purely practical reasons. The timer function on my phone takes a burst of between four and five pictures at one time. This chews up storage space on the phone that I can use for more pictures, if I use the Bluetooth button.

At this point in time, I use the GoPro (Hero 5) almost exclusively for underwater footage. This is because I haven’t owned it a long time, and really haven’t come up with a good alternate use for it. I am very comfortable using my phone and my canon digital camera. The canon is your standard pocket sized digital with an 8x zoom. It works well for all the tourist architectural photos and landscapes. And, as stated, fits in my pocket.

I find these three cameras to do everything I want them to do. I rarely run up against a situation when traveling that cannot be handled by one of these three cameras. Now, I admit, cameras are kind of like clothes. EVERYONE has an opinion about what is best. Everyone also has firm views about bad ideas. All I’m saying is these work for me. And, considering there is limited room in the backpack, they work well while requiring little room and adding little weight. Like I said, I travel fast and light.

That’s just my two cents.

For full disclosure, I took this with my older iPhone 4 so my current iPhone 6 could be in the picture. This explains the lack of picture quality. (I know. I can’t tell the difference either. 😬)

Get out there! Take lots of pictures!

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Travel

Good Morning World.

Well, I made it back to my apartment by 11:00 pm. I talked to the roommate, and watched the end of the Roma v Liverpool match to wind down before I crashed.

A quick 5 hours later and my alarm was going off. Ah, yes. That work thing needs doing again.

I think this is one of the great unspoken elements of travel. It seems many people tend to plan extra out time before going. No one likes to be rushed getting out of town. You want to check your bags one last time and make sure you didn’t forget anything important (passport, etc.)

Not too many people ever seem to add this consideration to the back end of a journey. To leave a little time at the end to decompress and get it together before wading back to reality. I used to do it a lot. I’ve been forgetting it lately.

So, now i’m up with bloodshot eyes. Catching my ride to work, so I can spend the morning wading through a sea of unread emails. Good times.

Hopefully, coffee will fix this?

Get out there! Go see stuff!

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Travel

Headed back to reality.

I was up before the alarm this morning. Good bed. Good sleep. Great room.

The morning has consisted of a shower, a very nice breakfast, and a taxi ride to the airport. Taxi driver didn’t have change for a 1000B, so he went hustling off to find some. The migration from sidewalk through tickets/customs and on to the gate area took all of about 15 minutes. Koh Samui airport isn’t very big, and all the people along the way are quite friendly.

As I always overthink the airport connection, I am here way early. I’m gonna learn how to arrive on-time, at some point. Now I’m just sitting here, drinking a complementary coffee. Bangkok Airways, for the win!

The flight from Koh Samui to Bangkok was trouble free and comfy. As expected, transitioning inside Bangkok airport was easier than last time. I’m learning to navigate this place. I haven’t decided if that’s good or bad. They say that if you travel the world for any good amount of time, you will end up at Bangkok airport. Check that box.

Turned the leftover Bahd back into dollars. Yup, took the hit in both directions. Its wasn’t much, so it’ll be okay. I kept some miscellaneous Bahd, as I did Cambodian Reil, for the collection. About enough to get a couple beers somewhere. You just never know when you’re going to need airport currency.

So, I’m at gate number 2, waiting on plane number 2.

Well, changing in Sri Lanka was chaos. My plane landed when my other plane started boarding. Fortunately, it was only one gate. Got there and they had thrown a breaker or something. No power to the x-ray machines, so no one could go through into the waiting area. Got it up and running after a minute, and there was a gigantic line trying to blister their way through. Apparently, the desk scanners went down too, because nobody went anywhere for a little it.

In the end, plane ain’t leaving without the pilots, and they were behind me. I will make the plane. Good. Good. Don’t want to be spending any more time than necessary here.

Well … I made it on the plane. What a crazy show that was. They made everybody wait while they pushed some old lady down in s wheel chair. That was nice. After, they just opened one door and everybody ran at it with their seat stub in their hand. Men, women, whatever, whoever made it through the door first won. Crazy!! Get me out of this country.

Planes fly, and so did mine. It went something like Entourage (Movie), Pacific Rim, and half of Thor Ragnarok. Kuwait airport was packed but moving fast, and I walked out the door to waiting taxis. After two weeks or so in Asia, the traffic in Kuwait City is positively provincial!

Good night!

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Travel

Island Hoping, Again.

Realized that the ferry off of here and my plane flight out of here were not going to mesh, so a decision was made to get back on the same island as the airport. Booking.com to the rescue with hotel options. Found something decent for the last night in Thailand. Also set up a transfer to the hotel with the ferry ticket. Very cool.

The not so good news is that the ferry doesn’t leave until 1630. So, I’m killing a day before the ferry. I thought about rescheduling the diving for today, but if the ride back in was slow, like it was the other day, I’d have a problem with the ferry connection. I’m actively trying to avoid that.

Got up late. Walked out to the beach and chilled for a little while. Went back yo the room, showered, packed, charged the phone. Went up and checked out. The Thai guy running the place doesn’t really speak English, but I’m pretty sure I got the point across.

Rucked up, the walk from the hotel to the Pier area is a quick twenty minutes. Not sure how adding a couple t shirts and a scarf made the pack so much heavier, but it seems that way.

The Pier is active this morning. Seemingly, more people coming than going. I’m sure it’s probably fairly equal. The Hub, a corner beer, pool, food, hangout joint is stop number one. I like a large portion of the current crowd, plan to hangout. Breakfast and beers for a while, anyway.

General note: in a land built for backpacker, big roller suitcases are basically everywhere. I can’t see how it’s practical, but it seems to work.

A load a casual day drinking, followed by a hangout at the ferry terminal, a kidney jarring ride across to Samui, and I am finally on the same island as the airport.

Got the ferry transfer to my hotel. It was a twenty mi its twisting turning affair that oddly reminded me to Ireland. Well, if you had your eyes closed. This place looks nothing like Ireland!

The hotel is …. damned nice! I mean I have a room with my own pool, nice. The bed is super comfy too! Why didn’t I start here? The Samui Resotel Beach Resort is, in a word, FABULOUS.

Watched the end of Ghost Protocol and wandered over to the restaurant. I need food. And, a beer wouldn’t hurt.

Now, go. Find your own beach.

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