Category Archives: Smart Travel

Do you feel imprisoned by life?

Life should not feel like a dungeon...
Life should not feel like a dungeon…

Do you feel like you have to put up with the following?

1)  Tedious bumper-to-bumper commutes

2)  “Mandatory” office meetings that make you want to poke your eyes out

3)  Passive aggressive or straight-up-abusive people at work

4)  Living in fear of a massive layoff at work

5)  Wondering where all your money went at the end of the month

6)  Being unhappy with life

7)   Feeling like you HAVE to keep sprinting away in the rat race because you have to maintain your current lifestyle.

Well, then I know exactly how you feel.  I felt trapped on the corporate hamster wheel for years and, even worse, I felt helpless to do anything about it.

You can choose!

I felt that way until I decided that I had to do whatever it took to make sure that the number one commodity that I would seek in life was the ability to choose.  I needed to wake up to the fact that I had options.  Not stock options.  ACTUAL options, as in having the ability to make life-enhancing choices.

Hardly a revolutionary idea but definitely a shot of adrenaline when I actually started pursuing it.

San Francisco Beginnings

This is how it all started:  On a cold, fall night, on a visit to San Francisco, I locked myself into a bathroom stall and decided that enough was enough.  This was it.  For years I had dreamed of having the guts to do one thing: claim my right to options.  And that night I decided that I needed to do what I had wanted to do for years: travel the world and volunteer, not as a short term trip but as a lifestyle.

“We need to do this!”

Within days I told Jammie of my decision.  I still remember where I broke the news: in her workplace parking lot during her lunch break.  “We need to do this!  We’ve talked about it forever. Let’s quit our jobs, travel the world and do service projects.”. It didn’t even take her a minute: “I’m in.”

It’s impossible to exaggerate how much happier and fulfilled we now feel. Now we wonder what took us so long.  Why did we wait so many years to choose differently?

Jammie and I dedicate CultureMutt to talking about how we can all live better lives by claiming our right to options in life.  To claiming our right to serving those around us by doing what we are best at doing.  Join us in that quest.  Thank you for being part of the CultureMutt community!

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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:

Consulting
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.

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A park where you can rest in peace — literally

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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 visitberlin.de)

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.

 

Is Edward Snowden Jason Bourne?

http://static4.businessinsider.com/image/51b728346bb3f7c77700000e/booz-allen-has-fired-edward-snowden.jpg
Edward Snowden, the real-life Jason Bourne?

John McCain went there over the weekend:  he compared Edward Snowden to Jason Bourne.  Well, at least in what he considered to be the minds of “a young generation”.

“There’s a young generation who believes he’s some kind of Jason Bourne,” said McCain to Fox News Sunday.

To back up his point, McCain shared his views on how this new American generation thinks: “Right now there’s kind of a generational change.  Young Americans do not trust this government.”

That may be true, but let’s focus on the deep stuff and get back to his Jason Bourne comment.  Just how Jason Bourne is Edward Snowden?  I’ll let you be the judge of that after you read through my super objective list of Bourne/Snowden similarities:

They have similar backgrounds.  Seriously.  Both have really boring names and come from boring towns somewhere in the US.  Neither one of them is a life of the party type.  Pretty chill, actually.  They are both military-trained (at least until Snowden broke both his legs and got out while still in training) and then went into intelligence work.

They date girls on tropical islands.  They both have a thing for not-a-model-but-still-attractive girls on tropical islands.

They dress alike.  Jason Bourne is no James Bond.  He dresses down and he dresses drab.  So does Edward Snowden.  I mean, that one shirt he seems to wear in all his pictures is getting seriously old.

They are both seen as traitors, at least by some.  The political class sees these guys as traitors.  Cool kids do not.

They leak juicy stuff to The Guardian.  This is almost spooky true but they both leak juicy intel to Britain’s The Guardian.  If you don’t believe me, go back and check the movies.

They have a thing for international travel.  They are both jetsetters.  They are all over the place in the game of cat and mouse with authorities.

Of course, the similarities dry up after a while.  Jason Bourne would never have gotten holed up in the Moscow airport for a month making Russian language flash cards.  But hey, for a real life guy, Snowden gets really close.  I think we’ve got someone to play Snowden when his movie comes out…

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How to marry a girl that travels

April 3, 2011
April 3, 2011

“Bjorn, you are going to need a very rare kind of girl.”  The year was 2000, I was a freshman in college in France.  I was getting lectured on women by an older friend.

He was right.  I had quite the list of qualities I wanted in a girlfriend.  And close to the top of the list was an openness to travel.  I knew that things would never work out between me and someone “stationary”.  Not that there was anything inherently wrong with being a homebody.  On the contrary, I sometimes envied those that were content staying in one place, those that didn’t have the traveler’s itch.  Being able to stay in one town and go with the flow sounded temptingly simple on some level.

But the reality was that I was born into a family that traveled and lived internationally.  I had grown up traveling and I knew that I would never be happy if I gave it up.

The right girl:

I knew what I wanted:

A girl whose world was more than just her own country.  A girl that valued experiences over possessions.  A girl that dreamed of oversees adventure and discovery rather than six bedrooms and a white picket fence.  A girl that was open to seeing things from other perspectives.  A girl that was willing to adapt, to learn.  A girl that was willing to serve internationally.  A girl, in short, that was going to be very difficult to find.

10 years later…

And difficult it most certainly was.  After that freshman-year conversation, it took 10 years to find the girl.  On April 3, 2011, Jammie and I got married.  Two years later we took off to travel the world long-term.  I am so grateful to have found someone that shares my passion in life.

The wedding pic above is like the victorious “after” shot of people that lose a ton of weight.   The “before” picture was full of the blood, sweat and tears (lots:)) that it took to get here.  This post is aimed at making that process easier for others.

Here are some things I learned that make deciding if she’s “the one” easier (ladies, the same tips hold for finding a guy who travels):

Listen to her dreams.  As you start spending time with or dating a girl, listen to what she really gets excited about.  It’s hard to fake genuine excitement.

What does she talk most about, future-wise?  Is the dream a big house in her hometown or a career that would require her to stay put?  Where does she see herself 10 years from now?  What does the dream look like?  Don’t interrogate her. But do encourage her to talk about the future.

Be careful not to judge.  It is OK to value different things.  This isn’t about being right or wrong. But be practical, too.  If what she values requires you to stay put years on end, then realize that this may not be the girl for you.

Hell on earth…

I remember a friend from several years back who was incredibly miserable because he had missed the warning signs.  He had married a very attractive, friendly girl and they had started a family.  Everything was good except for the fact that she was adamant that she could never leaver her hometown.  He felt trapped and cheated in life.  He wasn’t going anywhere and it was a depressing situation all round.  Don’t end up this way.

Check out the family.  Go to as many family functions as possible and talk to everybody.  It is a good idea in general to be on good terms with her family but consider this sleuthing time as well.  Ask yourself some questions:

Does everyone live in the same place?

Are those that move away equally respected and accepted or are they shunned for their decisions? Culture plays a part in this.

Is it culturally appropriate to want to spread your wings, travel and see the world?

Chat to her parents.  Have they ever traveled?  Do they smile and get excited when you talk about other countries or can you see them tense up?  Ultimately, you and the girl will need to make the calls in your lives but it would be great to have the parental blessing, right?

Float the topic.  There are ways to bring up travel with your girlfriend that aren’t too blatant.  Here’s a very basic tactic I used with girls I met:

Share some travel experiences and see if she reciprocates with her own.  If she likes travel or is in anyway interested you can count on her being enthusiastic about telling you stories or listening to yours.  If she yawns and changes the subject, take notice.

If the two of you don’t share a passion for travel, consider the long-term implications. Are you looking forward to being landlocked the rest of your days?  Don’t throw away your happiness and hers by glossing over a big difference between you.  Lifestyle is a big deal.  Staying indefinitely in the same town can start to feel like prison if you are interested in mobility.

Test runs. There’s no need to get too crazy too fast.  Start simple.  Try taking some mini-trips with this person.

The ultimate relationship test is travel.  Expect some bumps in the road, so to speak.  But look at how this person deals with the unexpected and the unknown.  What is the chemistry like between the two of you on the road?  Do you like discovering new places together or are you perpetually at each others’ throats?

Be patient and give her time. Here’s a biggie:  Chances are that one of you is going to be more of a travel enthusiast than the other.  This was certainly true with Jammie and I.

At first, Jammie was not at all as into the idea of world travel as she is now.  I still remember the day when she told me that she would be fine living in her hometown the rest of her life.  I about died.  But I am really grateful that I did not completely freak out.  We talked about it and eventually we found some common ground where we realized that we both valued the adventure, discovery and service opportunities that travel, done right, could bring.  But this took time.  It taught me some patience.  It was good for me!

Straight talk. It may be good to start with a “softly, softly” approach but don’t stop there.  Have patience, but also realize that you need to be real.

If international travel and living abroad are important to you, then don’t wait until it is too late to share it.  No need to come storming in, but be honest.  Frame it as something you really value in life.  Invite her to be part of it.  Respect her response either way but know that this is an area that requires common ground for there to be happiness.

If she’s game, SEAL THE DEAL!!! OK, here’s the most important part:  If she is game for travel and you guys are compatible, don’t let her get away!  Marry the girl and hop on a plane:)

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Don’t Waste Your Life

Adventure time!!

Are you wasting your life?

When you get up in the morning, do you feel like you are one day older yet not a step closer to what you have spent your life dreaming you could do? Do you feel like you are just working for the paycheck? Do you feel like you are in a self-made prison? Do you wish you had the guts to call things as they are? I felt that way for a very long time.

OK lives

In many ways there was nothing wrong with our lives. Jammie and I had respectable, sought-after jobs. We had wonderful, supportive friends. We lived in a fun little college town in Northern California. We made decent money for a young couple. We were active in our communities. On the surface, our lives looked fine. If life continued as it was, we could really settle down, live comfortably, start a family and raise kids who would repeat the cycle.

The burning desire

But for years we had harbored a will to do something bold and fresh. Something that wasn’t just about a paycheck, benefits and water cooler conversations… about going through the motions. Something that would change our lives completely.

The secret plan

We knew what it was and for years we had secretly been talking about it: a trip around the world. But not just any trip. This would not be just a vacation. It would be an extended trip. A long-term adventure where we helped other people through service projects. This would be something idealistic. Something radical. Something completely, utterly life-changing that launched us on an international, meaning-filled life of service for years to come.

Every time we talked about it we got more excited. We knew this could change everything.  And every time we put off the trip off we grew more frustrated.

Enough is enough

In the fall of 2012, Jammie and I decided that we could not wait any longer. We simply could not put off our plans any more. If we didn’t take the step now, life would make it harder and harder to escape and we would just grow old, fat and frustrated bemoaning the lives we wished we’d pursued.  We simply could not let that happen.  We made a pact:  “We are doing this and we are doing this now!”

ACTION!

We did all the scary stuff as fast as we could so we wouldn’t back out. We told those closest to us of our plans. Job resignation letters were drafted, re-drafted, signed and delivered. We sold, gave away or dumped a ton of stuff that we had collected over the years. We bought round-the-world tickets. And we got on a plane.  This was it!

Five months in… 

We are now one month into living in Buenos Aires (city #2 of our Bangkok-Buenos Aires-Berlin-Bombay tour) and starting the  fifth month of our year.  We are starting to adjust to our new life. I am not going to pretend that we like everything.  We often miss family and friends.  I could do without the nightly mosquito bites and I could kill for some decent Mexican food.  But for the most part life has improved drastically.

I could spend several posts listing all the ways our lives are better but for now I can say this with all honesty:  For the first time in years it feels like everything I used to dream of doing is still possible.  I walk around unbelievably excited about life.  I am no longer as cynical.  I don’t roll my eyes when I hear people talk about their lives being happy.  I am happy.  And I am rapidly gaining perspective on how I want to live the rest of my life.

Here are some things I have learned:

Don’t waste your life thinking things will change – Part of what kept us from taking the bold step to get on a plane and follow our dreams was the vague feeling that things would change if we just put in a little more time. Maybe things would change with a little more money… or a more adventurous week of vacation time or a slightly better job. The truth was that none of those things would really change anything. Every little step we took on the same conventional path confirmed the obvious: more of the same would lead to a lifetime of boredom and regret.

Don’t waste your life thinking that “benefits” are a valid reason to stay in a job – Medical, dental, paid time off, growing retirement funds… we couldn’t just walk away! Or so we thought. But the golden hand cuffs were surprisingly easy to shake off when we realized that they were standing between us and doing what we really wanted with our lives. Security is fine but not if if means being handcuffed securely to a suboptimal life!

Don’t waste your life dreading risk – Within two weeks of landing in Bangkok we were offered four jobs between the two of us. We were not interested in taking them just then but we did the financial math just for fun anyway and the reward for shaking off the golden handcuffs was clear immediately: If we were to get jobs we could easily save over twice what we had been saving in the US. So much for our risk-averse golden handcuff thinking!

It was already clear that this world was full of opportunities and that risks where never quite as scary once you took them.  The rewards of action are great.  Everyone’s circumstances are different but don’t make the mistake of living your life dodging risk.

Don’t waste your life worrying about acquiring stuff - Traveling has taught us a lot of valuable lessons but one of the most important is this:  acquiring more “stuff” is one of the most pointless things we do in life.  Jammie and I ended up donating a ridiculous amount of our possessions to our local thrift store when we left Northern California.  I mean it was crazy. These were mostly things that had cost quite a lot to buy.  And in the end it was all just stuff… stuff that was in the way of us and a better, freer life.  This stuff didn’t add value; if anything it was a hassle, a nuisance.  The hours we spent giving or throwing it all away have taught me one thing as we walk past shop windows around the world: Keep walking.

Don’t waste your life chasing the American Dream – The house, the car, the white picket fence.  Keeping up with the Joneses is less and less attractive when you realize that they are upside down on their house, their possessions own them and living life chasing the American dream has them tied down and miserable, running faster and faster on the hamster wheel while their finite days on Earth slip away.  The American dream is not what it is cracked up to be. People should get over it.

Let’s end with some good news:  It is never too late to make a change… to make the jump.  If you are wasting your life, the time to stop is right now.  Right this second.  Stop it.  Seriously.  Don’t rationalize away this moment.  If you are tempted to do so, accept this absolute truth: This post was written for you.

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Travel allows for the new you

 

By the famous Reclining Buddha in Bangkok's Wat Pho temple

Maybe you feel the way we did before my wife Jammie and I decided to take a year to travel the world. Life felt entirely too cluttered. Our daily schedules were full of important obligations, useless time wasters, emergencies and commutes. Our apartment was cluttered with a bunch of stuff we never used. All the clutter got in the way of life.

Clutter consumed our lives with the unimportant. It distracted us from more important and meaningful pursuits. It was so hard to focus because our schedules were impossible and there was just too much junk surrounding us, fighting for attention.

The solution

This round-the-world trip (3 months each in Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Berlin and Bombay) has been a godsend. In a way, it has given us a clean slate. We’ve been able to get rid of the clutter.  Here’s how this has happened and why I am absolutely convinced travel allows the new you to emerge:

Less stuff to carry

At first glance, airline luggage limits are a pain. It was frustrating to have to obsess so much about what we really needed to bring on the trip. We could only take one 50 lb check-in bag each. We had to make some difficult decisions.  What did we take and what did we leave?  What was nice but not necessary? What did we really need?  These were hard questions as we were leaving for a whole year.  I dreaded leaving something behind that I would really need and then have to buy again.  (And yes, there were a number of these items that we did leave behind only to have to re-buy in Bangkok.)

Now that we are here in Bangkok though, it is really fun looking around at our apartment. We basically only have what we need. There is a sparse, zen-like feel to the place. Our stuff doesn’t stress me out the way our belongings did in our apartment in Northern California.

Less in the daily schedule

I used to be the king of over-commitment. I had a full workload at my job and on top of that I would pack business mixers, various community club commitments, volunteer work, a busy social schedule, etc. Cutting all that out with this trip has been one of the most liberating experiences of my life.  The new you that travel allows can really be whomever you want.  Your schedule is your own.  This has been an amazing realization.

Less forced upon you

I want to drill down here and address meetings specifically. Meetings are often a waste of time. We all know this. But between work and other organizations that we are part of, most of us spend a lot of our time frustrated in nonproductive gabfests that go nowhere. This changes when you travel because the new you can say no before meeting creep sets in. You make the calls.  Did you feel as though your schedule controlled you back home?  The new you doesn’t need to put up with that.

Less needed to survive

Money can also be clutter. We need it, sure. But if I think back to life in Northern California and all the ways I ended up spending money, I find it shocking. Life now is more streamlined. No car insurance, no gas expenses, far less spent on the necessities (our monthly budget for all our expenses here in Bangkok is about $600).  The new you really does not need to keep up with the Joneses because you have left the Joneses at home with their white picket fence.

I could go on and on.  The longer Jammie are here in Thailand, the more we meet people that left Europe and the US years ago to live here and redefine their lives.  Their new approaches to life are more deliberate, more thought through than what they endured at home.  Travel allows this.  The new you is what you make it.

What is the first thing you would change about your life and schedule if you were on a long-term trip?  What would the new you look like?  I would love to hear in the comments!

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Bjorn Karlman

Bangkok, Thailand


 

 

Hate the Bangkok Traffic? The Chao Praya River is Your Friend.

Chillin' on an Express Boat...

I love Bangkok.  It is one of the most amazing cities I have ever experienced.  But as with most great cities, traffic is a problem. One way to get around this is to get creative with your choice of Bangkok transportation. One of my favorites is the Express Boat on the Chao Praya River. It is fast, it is fun and there’s an amazing view of the city. Here’s a video I put together on the basics plus a few steps below on how to get from A to B using this form of Bangkok transportation:

1) Decide where you want to go.  Each of the stops are both numbered and named and there is a map of the river at each stop.  Express Boats go very regularly so there won’t be much of a wait (an average of 5-10 minutes)

This screen shot was captured on my phone while we were on the river...

2)  Board the Express Boat quickly when it arrives.  You have to be ready exactly when the boat arrives or you will be left behind.  As you can see from the video, the staff are loud and adamant about the fact that they are on a schedule.  Don’t mess with them.  Just board and move into the boat as quick as you can unless you want to get yelled at.

3)  Pay your fare.  Depending on where you are going you will pay 10 – 30 baht (the upper end is just over $1.00 USD).

4)  Enjoy the ride. The Express Boat has offered me the best panoramic views of Bangkok so far.  Even as pure sight seeing, this is a lot of fun (and cheaper than other more touristy tour options).

5)  Keep track of where you get off.  As you approach each stop, look out for the sign with the name of the stop and the number.  This way you won’t miss your stop.

6)  Hop off quickly.  As you can see from the video, hustle is key on the Express Boat.  Get with the program and make sure you don’t hold up the line…

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Bjorn Karlman

Bangkok, Thailand

 

How to get a tourist visa for Thailand

Here's what I gave the Thai embassy in Laos

The food, the smiles, the sun and endless adventure opportunities make Thailand one of the most hospitable countries on earth. Once you get to Thailand you often end up staying longer than you first intended. The problem that a lot of tourists come across is that they have not thought far enough ahead to get a 60-day tourist visa for Thailand at the Thai embassy before they left home for Thailand. Instead, they simply get the 30-day stamp at immigration when they land in Bangkok. When they realize they want to stay longer, they are in a mess.

Jammie and I freely admit that we belong to this latter group that did not seek a tourist visa for Thailand before leaving home. We had assumed that we would be given a 90-day stamp at the airport.  No such luck.  All you get in Thailand is 30 days.  So we had to leave Thailand on a “visa run” to the Thailand embassy in Laos. Luckily, it worked very smoothly. Here’s what you do:

1). Pick a visa run service. Don’t do a visa run on your own. It is technically possible but it takes longer and it is very messy. If you have an experienced agency working on your behalf you benefit from their experience and connections at the border. You are less likely to be ripped off and there will be less waiting around. We picked Meesuk Travel based on great reviews from friends and we highly recommend their services.

2). Pay up. All told we paid 6,500 baht each (about $220). This was an all-inclusive fee. All the steps that follow (with the exception of a few dollars spent on incidentals) were covered by this upfront fee.

3). Speed through the night. We met the group at a KFC at 7:00 in the evening. Fees were paid and papers processed by 9:00 PM and then we were off to get our tourist visa for Thailand. The trip up to the Laotian border was fast (about 9 hours), even with bathroom breaks every two hours.

At the border...

4.) Arrive at the Thai/Laotian border before dawn. We were at the border to Laos before dawn. There was an hour-long wait at the border before our papers were processed to enter communist Laos.

5). Let agents work immigration. As mentioned, trying to get your own tourist visa for Thailand on a border-hopping visa run, is a bad idea. Let the agents work their magic. I talked to enough people that assured me that the hookups that the agents bring to the table are worth their weight in gold.

lookin' crazy at the Thai embassy... I was barely awake...

6.) Breeze through the Thai embassy in 15 minutes. We were in and out of the Thai embassy in Laos in under 15 minutes. You have to be physically present to submit your application for a tourist visa to Thailand but as soon as you have done so, you can leave the rest to the embassy and your trusty agents.

7.) Crash at the hotel. We got to our hotel by about 10 AM and were exhausted. So after a buffet breakfast we collapsed in our hotel room until dinner.

Jammie loving the Patuxai victory monument in the heart of Vientiane

9.) Live large in Vientiane. But after dinner we were able to explore Vientiane, the capital of Laos. I’ll talk more about some of the attractions in Laos in an upcoming post but for now I’ll say that it was one of the most charming towns I’ve visited in Asia PLUS it offered great views of the Mekong River.

10). Agents pick up passports. The next day, agents pick up your passport and then it is time to cross the border back into Thailand. This was another hour-long wait but considering we now had our tourist visa for Thailand, we happily ambled around the duty free store, content that the hard part was done.

tired but happy back at the Thai border

11). Go home. It was great to re-enter Thailand! We slept much of the trip home but when we stumbled into our Bangkok apartment at about midnight we were very happy campers. Mission accomplished!

Anyone want to add their tips for getting a tourist visa for Thailand? Have any questions? Tell me in the comment section!

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Bjorn Karlman

Bangkok, Thailand

Filipino Karaoke Parties 101

Last Saturday night.... Let's get loud!!

It is loud. It is passionate. It is unbeatable. Last Saturday night, Jammie and I headed to a Filipino karaoke party with some Filipino friends that teach English here in Bangkok. We loved it. For those wanting to understand Filipino culture, date a Filipina girl, get Filipino jokes or just have a great evening, hitting a Filipinio karaoke party is essential. Here are the basics:

Pretty much any Filipino party is a karaoke party

Whether or not the Filipino party you are about to visit is billed as a karaoke party, chances are that karaoke will be involved. Sure, there will be Filipino party games and all kinds of foods from the Philippines but if nobody busts out the magic mic (top notch, high tech karaoke gear), something is very wrong.

Expect the karaoke songs to start about half-way through the evening. If you arrive, at 7:00 PM, say, the karaoke will likely be starting around 9:00 and will be in full swing by 10:00. It probably won’t fizzle until past midnight once all the karaoke songs that everyone has suggested have at least been attempted.

Give it your all

 

There is no holding back in Filipino karaoke. As with anything at a Filipino party, you had better lose your inhibitions and give it your all. Don’t know any Tagalog karaoke songs? Well, they will have English ones. So if you want to impress that Filipina girl you’ve had your eye on, you had better rock that magic mic. Understand, you do not need to be good in the traditional sense. You just have to be passionate.

No standing on the sidelines

And don’t think that you only have to get passionate if you yourself are taking part in the karaoke singing (as in holding one of the mics). If you try to avoid the action at a Filipino party, chances are that you will be outed with brutal efficiency and recruited into bellowing out “We are the Champions” à la the clip above.

They start you young

See the little boy being held up to the magic mic?  That’s called grooming.  Training in karaoke starts when you are young.  Filipino parties are always teeming with kids.  That’s part of the experience.  Filipino party games are often designed specifically for kids so they are an expected part of the experience.  And because they start so young, Filipinos are absolute naturals at karaoke.

Even old white guys can join

This is often my favorite part.  Even old white guys are handed the magic mic at Filipino parties.  The guy in the vid above (married to a Filipina woman) did super well.  The magic mic software has a grading system and he scored 99 out of a 100.  We were all very impressed.  He was singing “Hey Jude”:)

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Bjorn Karlman

Bangkok, Thailand