Category Archives: Berlin

What it’s really like to travel on Ryanair

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’d heard the stories about budget airlines in Europe: how sometimes it costs less to fly than take the train, how you could pay fares so low you were basically only paying for the cost of fuel. My inner cheapskate was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to take advantage of the low fares and begin jetting all over Europe.

And then I discovered why the fares were so low.

Bjorn and I recently traveled to England from Berlin on Ryanair to visit his parents and celebrate his dad’s birthday. My in-laws wisely reminded us to check the luggage requirements before we left. Feelings of unease began to creep up as I read through them. For starters, they charge you to check-in bags. OK, fair enough. But you pay from $33 (25 euros) – $134 (100 euros) to check in one, 33 lb. bag during  high season.

But I quelled the jitters as we were just going for a long weekend and using carry-on luggage. Then  I saw the requirements for the carry-on luggage:

– Strictly one item of cabin baggage per passenger. That means only one piece of luggage can be in your hands.  Handbags/briefcases/ laptops/shop purchases/cameras etc had to carried within the carry-on. They thoughtfully and generously added that infants were not seen as cabin baggage. (Although maybe they meant that babies couldn’t have cabin baggage. Or maybe they meant babies could have MORE than one item of cabin baggage. You never know, babies do seem to travel with a lot of accessories. Boy,  that’s some imprecise  wording. But I digress.)
-The cabin baggage can weigh at most 22 lbs (10 kg).
-The dimensions of the bag can not exceed 55 cm x 40 cm x 20 cm (21.7 in. x 15.7 in. x 7.9 in.). As our Internet connection was down, I racked my mind trying to remember how many centimeters are in an inch and  tried to do the conversions in my head, but I only ended up developing a throbbing pain behind my right ear. I gave up and packed all my stuff into a large, squishy, reusable shopping bag, reasoning that if it proved to be too big, I could (hopefully) crumple it down to a more appropriate size.

As we approached our gate at the airport, we were greeted by the sight of a line that looked like it spanned the length of a football field. Oh, I thought, they must be in line to board the plane already.

But no. It was just the line to get into gate area’s waiting lounge. When we finally made it in, my eyes couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing at first. Why were there so many people in here? Surely they couldn’t all fit into one plane. And why were most of them standing? I estimated there was seating for less than half of the passengers of that flight. People were standing, sitting on the floor, wedged tightly into corners. It didn’t resemble an airport lounge so much as a crammed cattle pen.

Bjorn and I squeezed ourselves into a space between 3 banks of seats. They announced our plane was here. I expected everyone to get into orderly lines and file onto the plane according to their boarding groups. Silly me.  Everyone sprang up out of their seats (if they had one) and flung themselves out the doors, of course. It was pandemonium, contained (barely) by the walls of the room and the narrowness of the exit.

Fortunately, Bjorn and I happened to be seated near the exit and managed to get two seats next to each other on the plane. And that’s about the only thing we got on that flight.

Ryanair gives out nothing for free to its passengers, not even the paper for your boarding pass (you must print it out yourself). No snacks, no coffee/tea/soda, not even water.

Now I’ve flown budget airlines before, notably Southwest Airlines in the United States (although it probably isn’t fair to put Ryanair and Southwest in the same class. Southwest is indubitably better than even the larger commercial airlines like United, Delta or American Airlines.) On Southwest flights, funny/cheerful flight attendants hand out free snacks (peanuts or pretzels, but sometimes both!) and drinks. Pro tip: If asking for water, you can ask for an entire can. It’s better than scrabbling after a flimsy cup that always seems determined to fly out of my hands. Plus, you don’t have to leave your seat tray down so you can have a place to put said cup. You can just stuff the can into the seat pocket in front of you.

Ryanair doesn’t even give you a seat pocket. No, seriously. The first thing I noticed was the smooth, plastic back of the chair in front of me. No barf bags, no magazines that are little more than pages for ads, no place to surreptitiously stuff your trash. They don’t even have buttons to recline the chair (although I must say I was grateful for that feature.)

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Their tagline is the “Low Fares Airline” not  “You’ll love the way we fly.” They don’t claim to be “doing what they do best” or that theirs is “the way to fly.”

To be fair, both of our flights were on time, we got to all our destinations safely and at the end of the day, that’s what really matters.

So Ryanair, despite your shortcomings, I may be seeing you again. After all, I love to fly and it shows.

-Photos by Bjorn Karlman



Things I wish I’d known about long-term world travel before I quit my job

August, 2013 - On a visit to London from Berlin
August, 2013 – On a visit to London from Berlin

It’s been nine months since Jammie and I quit our jobs to travel the world and do service projects. Nine months provides a lot of perspective. Here’s what I wish I knew about world travel back in the office worker days:

It’s cheaper than you think.

Living abroad can be cheap. Here are some monthly spending comparisons (each are totals for Jammie and I combined) showing the difference between our pre-trip California expenses and subsequent costs around the world:

Rent and utilities
California:  $900
Bangkok:  $200
Buenos Aires:  $450
Berlin:  $700

Transportation (the costs of getting around locally)
California:  $500
Bangkok:  $60
Buenos Aires:  $30
Berlin:  $150

Groceries & Eating Out
California:  $500
Bangkok:  $150
Buenos Aires:  $300
Berlin:  $300

As you can see, travel and international living can be cheaper, a LOT cheaper than staying put.  International adventure as the sole privilege of the super rich is a total myth.  Even after you add the price of your international plane ticket to your dream destination, the combined monthly savings of even a temporary relocation are often very big indeed.
There are other ways to make money

“OK, I understand that living costs may be lower abroad but how am I supposed to make money?” is one of the first questions people ask when contemplating extended world travel/relocation.  That’s the fun part.

If you are willing to be a little creative there are lots of ways to make money while traveling. Anyone who tries to deny this simply hasn’t done their research.

These methods will not only make you “survival” money. If you apply yourself you can often end up saving more money than you did at home because, again, your expenses are lower.

Here are some ways Jammie and I make money on the road:

Blogging (ad revenues)
Article writing for various paying publications
Other freelance/contract work

Want some other options?

Here are some ways friends of mine and other liberated vagabonds make money while traveling:

English teaching
Online businesses
Selling their other skills – You would be surprised how many businesses and organizations would love to use your expertise abroad. For example, I was shocked how often individuals and organizations wanted to use what I had to offer in the way of fundraising coaching. What is your current profession?  Often there is a great way to use it to finance a more liberated life of travel.

It’s something that you can easily put off but you really, really shouldn’t.

No boss is going to fire you if you put off a dream like world travel. Typically the only person that knows if you put off this kind of life achievement, is yourself or, at best, your inner circle of family and friends.

This is horrible because it means you can delay action on something that has tremendous positive potential to change your life.

It’s better for your most important relationships.

Let me take this one in two parts.  Firstly, if you are traveling with the one (or ones) you love, travel, by its very nature, allows you to invest far more time and quality attention into the relationship than you could normally.  Secondly, even if you are not traveling with those you are closest to, travel often gives you the space and perspective that allows you to consciously appreciate your key relationships in life far more than if you are sprinting madly in the rat race.

Your health improves with travel.

In my first nine months of travel I’ve lost 20 lbs.  I feel healthier, I don’t suffer from sleep disorders the way I did before we took off.  The other day I discovered some old pictures on my iPad of me back in the office worker days. I was shocked. I was puffy-faced, clearly world-weary and my eyes were bloodshot.  It brought back the memories of sleep deprived commutes, torturous, mind-numbing meetings and a very unhealthy liquid diet of energy drinks just to get through.  Gone are those days…

You really can be a lot happier.

This is going to sound cheesy but I haven’t been this happy in years. And I’m not the only one that is noticing.  Friends of mine that I’ve known for years are saying things like, “Wow! You’re back! This is like meeting Bjorn 10 years ago!”  Travel allows you to reconnect with a younger you, to rediscover your actual passions, the things that really make you tick.  This is exciting on a very deep level.  You owe it to yourself to experience it.

You need to stop making lame excuses.

I’m being this blunt because it took a number of people being very blunt with me before I sat up and noticed:  STOP MAKING EXCUSES.  No job or imagined disastrous consequence is worth your putting off the better life that long-term travel can bring.

There are enough corporate cop-outs out there already, shuffling towards the fools gold of an ever-distant retirement.  Don’t stay in a job because of fear or tired, conventional thinking.  Be bold.  Take the leap.  A far better world awaits.



A park where you can rest in peace — literally

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When I was little, my siblings and I played this game in a park, “Hot Lava Tag,” where you couldn’t touch the grass (it was the hot lava), and to evade the person who was “It,” you had to hop around on shiny, flat, rectangular stones set into the ground.

Well, that “park” turned out to be the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, those shiny flat stones — gravestone markers; and when our mother found out what we’d been doing, our bottoms learned some hard truths about showing respect to the dead.

But now I’ve found a place in Berlin where you can play AND pay respect. Leise Park was created on the site of the former St. Marien-St. Nicolai cemetery in Prenzlauer Berg. Some of the grave markers and headstones were left intact in the park. Park benches, hammocks and even some playground equipment (!) were put in.

The Visit Berlin site says that seeing the grave stones “doesn’t put you off at all,” but I am here to tell you it is a little weird to see headstones and a family playing jumprope within 10 feet of each other.

But the atmosphere is not creepy or spooky at all. Families and tons of kids gather here. The park rings with high, young voices whooping and galloping about. Single denizens come, too. Although it’s not a large park, it’s still possible to find a quiet corner or two to read a book.

I laughed at the idea of taking naps in a hammock close to a headstone, but I think I have found my new favorite urban/rural juxtaposition. I am fascinated by the entire space. Like much of Berlin, it is green, green, green. (Fun fact: Berlin has more than 2,500 parks and gardens and almost a fifth of the city is covered in trees, according to

Main dirt paths branch off into smaller trails, some barely more than indentations among the tall, overgrown plants. Like I said, it’s not a large park, but the meandering, small trails make it feel bigger than it is. And walking these trails can be quite the adventure. Next time I go, I will know to wear pants and not a skirt. Many of the park’s plants have been left to their own devices and grow in wild abandon; this is not the place to see well-manicured topiaries or prize-winning rose bushes.

If, however, you feel like spreading a blanket and having a picnic, or enjoy running around in your swimsuit while wielding a water gun, this just might be the place for you.


Top 7 ways to be a boring public speaker (compiled from personal experience)

Photo: Yesterday, my first sermon in Germany...
August 10, 2013 – My first public speaking gig in Berlin

Bad public speaking is physical torture to listeners.  I’ve done my fair share of it and received a lot of feedback over the years!  In the process I’ve gone from being pretty horrible at speaking in public, to feeling really comfortable and winning Speaker of the Year Awards at my local Toastmasters (public speaking) club.  I’ve still got a long way to go but here are a few things I have learned to avoid.

Sure-fire ways to bore your crowd:

1)  Start with something boring like a long introduction.  DO NOT thank everyone that invited you and share your thoughts about what what you “thought when first asked to speak today”.  Nobody cares.  People put way too much fluff in their intros.  Hop to something more interesting like a dramatic statement.  Which brings me to the next point:

2)  Lose their attention in the first 30 seconds.  30 seconds is all you have got.  After that, people start playing with their phones or otherwise switch off.

3)  Too many ums and ahs.  I was (and when especially nervous, still can be) a major culprit in this area.  If I hadn’t prepped enough, I would use “fillers” like ums and ahs in between my thoughts.   Don’t do it.  It is super annoying and will totally bore your crowd.  Obama does it way too much when he talks off the cuff —- listen to any of his press conferences.

4)  Use Powerpoint.  Trust me on this one:  you can generally do your public speaking with fewer slides.  You can often completely eliminate slides.  Nothing puts an audience to sleep more easily than stupid charts and bar graphs on a crooked screen in a dim room.  STOP IT!

5)  Too many tangents.  One of the worst things you can do is forget to stick to a very clear structure with your speech.  Make three points or less and then sit down.  DO NOT meander through your speech, recalling random stories and factoids. People will hate you for it.

6)  Neglect to chop your material in half.  Less is better guys!!  I sometimes get way over-earnest and try to fit in every little point I could possibly make on a topic. This is obnoxious.  People will never remember your huge list.  As with #5, stick to the bare essentials and be brutal about cutting the fat.

7)  Thank people at the end.  One of the WORST things you can do in a public speech is say “thank you” at the end.  It may seem like the polite thing to do but it does not add anything helpful to your speech.  It is a boring, standard, crappy way to finish.  Be dramatic instead.  End on a challenge or a rousing quote.  Surprise people.

Last thing: If you want to change the world around you, public speaking is a great way to do it.  Nobody is born a great public speaker so get all the practice you can.  And don’t be boring.