Travel

And, the bags are stuffed with stuff.

We all like stuff. One could say that travel is partially the acquisition of stuff. Pictures, nick-knacks, t-shirts, ticket stubs and receipts, and memories. All the things that make travel rewarding collect in our bags and end up leaving them overstuffed. Its the great part of the experience.

Back toward the beginning of this blog I championed the idea that less stuff was better. That downsizing was a good way to make a travel lifestyle easier. Where this was, and still is, quite true … it doesn’t address how we usually end up collecting all that stuff to begin with. It would seem that I acquire mine through travel.

In the last year I have spent in the deserts of the Middle East, I have given in to my inherent need to collect stuff. I find that stuff gives memories context. They are memories in physical form.

My particular weakness in life is t-shirts. I collect t-shirts. I can’t seem to help myself. I own bins and packing totes full of t-shirts from far-flung parts of the globe. Some have been worn once, and others many times. A couple hadn’t been worn at all. That being said, I continue to buy more. It seems true that I really can’t help myself. I see a t-shirt … and after talking myself through not needing another one, I go buy it anyway.

Sometimes, buying the shirt is the memory itself. I remember talking to this older gentleman in a shop in Lisbon, Portugal. After pointing to the t-shirt in the window and saying something like ‘extra-grande’, he laughed and countered with ‘no-American size. Too big’. Needless to say, we both laughed and then went back to the business of making a sale. I still have and wear my Lisboa t-shirt, though I admit it is a little small.

Since I have been in the Middle East I have acquired several new pieces for my collection. Got me some t-shirts, a coffee mug, countless pictures, and a random stack of ticket stubs, receipts, brochures, and change.

Where I am still a proponent of less is more, every experience should have a souvenir. Wether that be a t-shirt, a fridge magnet or a scar. Don’t short yourself the chance of reliving the memories later-on. Travel makes memories.

A footlocker full of memories, headed for the storage unit. Hahahahaha

Get out there. See stuff. Buy t-shirts!

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Travel

Picking the right side-hustle.

A couple posts back I was promoting the idea that everybody needs a distraction from what they are doing, now and again. My normal distraction from the realities of daily life is writing fictional novels. There are many times when fiction is much more comforting than the drudgery of reality. This is especially true in the Middle East.

The problem with escapism is when it too becomes reality. (I don’t mean as in mental collapse. Just stay with me for a second.) The writing of stories is cathartic and makes me happy. It can be done basically anywhere, and every new place you go to adds locations and ideas that can be used in new stories. The publishing of those stories, and the book making process in general, too can also be done basically anywhere. It is not, however, cathartic or enjoyable when you are working with a publisher on the other side of the planet. This logistical inconvenience is where fantasy becomes reality.

I’ve been continuing on with the writing while abroad, independent of the work hours. It helps keep me distracted. Somewhere in this, I decided to publish my next book. Where the publishing process is never one I have anything good to say about, I quickly learned that doing it while abroad gave it another layer of issues. Publisher people and consultants all like to talk on the phone, usually at length. They all think whatever they have to say is life altering. Obviously, with the time difference back to the USA, I don’t like to talk on the phone. So, I had to explain to each new person that email was the best approach. I mean, if you can run multi-million dollar project via email, you can certainly publish a book that way.

….. this actually wasn’t intended to be a ranting type of post. Not sure where I started sliding off topic?

Anyway! I guess what I’m trying to say here is that some hobbies are better suited for the vagabond lifestyle than others are. The writing part definitely is. I like to write. It clears my mind of clutter.

Now in my travels, I’ve learned that actually publishing the stories is best left for when I’m back in the states. I wouldn’t have thought that at first, but we learn by doing. And, isn’t that the point of travel? To have new experiences and learn new things?

I find that writing, wether it is books or blogging, is a great travel distraction. It helps compile and organize thoughts into memories. It also hopefully adds something enjoyable to someone else’s day … eventually. Just keep in mind that some distractions are better than others. Some add to the experience, and some detract from it. For me, personally, the writing adds and the publishing detracts. But, as with every new place I go and every new experience I have, I’ve learned something from it. And that, my friends, is why we do this thing call travel.

In an act of shameless self-promotion, which I’m not very good at, Shadow Of The Fall is out now, and available at most online book sellers, in paperback and ebook formats. (I recommend searching Amazon by title and author) (okay, I’m done.)

Keep traveling. Keep doing. Keep having new adventures!

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Travel

Sandstorms. Again.

It’s amazing how your view of a place can change over time. Things you think are crazy become commonplace with the passage of days and months. Stay in one place long enough, those same things become the platform for jollifications and witticisms.

I remember when I moved to the Great State of Texas. I thought to myself ‘why would any live in a place with tornados?’ What kind of idiot would live where the wind blows SOO HARD that it blows your house away? It seemed a reasonable question to ask of the situation. Yet, a year or so under the big Texas sky and I don’t really care too much about those tornados anymore. If they come, they come. If there are problems, then there will be problems. Otherwise, it’s beer drinking time.

This same slow building lack of concern could also be applied to living in the desert. There aren’t any tornados here in Kuwait (or no one that I’ve noticed anyway), but there are two other small inconveniences. One would be the summertime heat. The other one would be the sandstorms. As far as the heat goes, okay it’s hot out. Find some A/C and drink a bathtub full of water every day. It’s the sandstorms that cause me angst.

Currently, it’s been blowing a gale for about 3 of the last 5 days. When I say gale, I mean that you can’t see more than about a 100 yards. Sometimes, you can’t see across the street. It is literally awful! The fine grit sand blows through all the door seals and window seals into your apartment or work area. I clean the blown-in sand from the tables at the apartment every evening when I get home. Your computer, books on your desk, everything in the drawers of your desk in your work area, all of them have been covered with anon-removeable layer of grit for days.

Unlike the tornados referenced above, the sandstorms do not fade into the background. They literally drive you inside to wait them out. They also make it rather hard to breath. I’m certain that is why people that have been working here for a long time take more sick days than newcomers. The dust and grit is hard on your sinuses. The whole situation is jollification-free.

I will say that when it is nice in the desert, it is very nice. The desert has a certain kind of charm to it that people come to respect. However, it also has an aggravating side that seems to descend upon everyone with equal fury. When it is upon you, you accept it and drive on. It’s really all that can be done about the situation.

It seems that the heat in the summer produces more sandstorms than the other seasons produce. That is anon-scientific observation from my time here. There don’t seem to be as many sandstorms in the winter months. I don’t know that I would let this affect a decision to visit the region of Kuwait. I would certainly factor the time of year into the decision. Unlike rain or snow, sandstorms can’t just be dealt with when they start. Most often, you are just going to wait them out … and complain a little bit about it while you’re doing it.

Well, that’s my thoughts on sandstorms. That being said; get out there! Go experience stuff!

 

Here, when it’s crappy outside, we go eat. Or, at least we did last week when the sandstorms kicked up bad. The place is super-local, and has a great curry. Just sayin….

 

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Travel

Work and Play.

Its been a little while since I’ve been here. Work has been a bit like work lately, and summer in the desert has been brutally hot the last several weeks. So, I’ve been just trudging through life.

One of the things about traveling for work and adventure is that, at the end of the day, there is work to be done. A lot of strings you will read only talk about the cool things going on and skip over the everyday drudgery of life. I’m guilty of this as well. I like hitting the high points. Mostly, because they’re high points. Everybody loves cool stuff. The rest of the time, its work and the daily grind.

It has been this way here, since I got back from Thailand. I pretty much just put my head down and settled into my desk for a while. A couple days ago I decided it was time to take a day. Not a vacation day or a sick day, but a me day.

At the start of my Me Day, I started writing a new chapter of a story. The last story wasn’t holding my interest, so I shelved it for a bit. The writing was good! It came right out of my head like nothing.

After the writing and a pot of coffee, I was out the door. I walked out the front gate of the building and found a ready cab. Cabbie saw me and swung right over to the curb. It took goggle maps and a little hand language to get him to understand I wanted the Harley Davidson dealer on the north side of the city. We got on the same page, he turned around and we headed north.

Fortunately for me, the cab driver was hungry. We no more than got to the dealership and he asked if I wanted him to wait. I said yes, since the shop is in the industrial area. Several hundred dollars later and we were headed south. Traffic was kind of light and the drive was good both ways. Just a nice morning to be out in the city.

The afternoon consisted of a couple movies from the iTunes Store and a large takeout shawarma from the shop next to the apartment. I tried to stay up to watch Shark Week on Discovery, which doesn’t come on until 2300 here, but decided against it.

All in all, a good day off. Every now and again you need to stop and look around. That way you don’t miss what’s going on. Even here, in the middle of the desert.

Quiet traffic out on the mean streets of Kuwait.

Now, get out there. Go do stuff.

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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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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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