Tag Archives: Smart Travel

How to Change Everything with One Bold Decision

In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, about 12 months after the decision that changed our lives forever
In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, about 12 months after the decision that changed our lives forever

 

What is one decision that would change absolutely everything about your life?

I am not talking about some flimsy resolution to change breakfast cereals.  I am talking about the boldest kind of decision.  The kind of call that makes you shudder at its potential impact.  The kind of decision that few make but that, once made, completely changes your life.

In the fall of 2012, Jammie and I made one such decision.  It was to quit our jobs to travel the world and do service projects in 2013.  Our lives have never been the same since.  Here are some of the biggest changes:

Action = Liberation! – A year of travel and service is easy to talk about.  We know.  We talked about it for years and did nothing about it. It was just too scary.  Taking action involved quitting our jobs; uncomfortable conversations with family and friends and diving into the unknown.  But we finally decided that we simply could not put off action any longer.  When we, at last, quit our jobs and set our plans into motion we learned that bold action is one of the most liberating things in life.

Risks are less scary once you take them – Less than three months into our year we realized that we had been foolish to fret so much about the risk we had taken in opting to reinvent our lives in 2013.  We were offered jobs; we made friends thousands of miles from home and began to see life-changing opportunities that we had never before noticed.  The risk we had taken in leaving behind the old turned out to be not very scary at all.  It was exciting!

Relationship magic – A lot of people say that travel is the ultimate test of relationships.  Both Jammie and I say that we grew closer in 2013.  Travel taught us to handle disagreements better and gave us a LOT more time to spend together.  We had conversations about things we simply had not talked about in our first year and a half of marriage when we had been stuck in the rat race, running faster and faster for lack of a more healthy perceived alternative.  This year we learned to appreciate each others’ qualities more than ever.  Quite simply, we are better friends than ever.

Seeing the value of  money- 2013 taught us to be frugal.  We had planned carefully for 2013 financially but even so, the fact that we were living off of reduced income streams and savings meant that we learned to be more careful.  Little savings tricks really helped.  One I use a lot is converting prices into Thai baht (there are about 30 Thai baht to 1 US dollar) and reminding myself how much I could buy in Thailand with what I am about to spend on, say, a Starbucks Frappaccino in Los Angeles (I can eat out for two days in Thailand for the $5 I would spend on that one drink).

Learning the limits of money – Even if our financial planning was a big reason that we were able to do what we did in 2013, we have noticed some very clear limits to what money can provide.  What good is money if you spend your every waking hour in a dreary office trying to accumulate more?  I’m not knocking hard work but living in the illusion that postponing real enjoyment of life for some nebulous future “retirement” is dumb.  You have absolutely no idea how your health or closest relationships will look by retirement.  Find ways to enjoy the benefits of retirement (time with loved ones, travel, service and personal growth) using your current budget.  It is probably not as expensive as you think.  For example, living in a place like Bangkok for a month can be done for less than $500.  Don’t have a month?  Start with relocating somewhere for two weeks.  Even two weeks of completely unplugging in a new environment can do wonders for your outlook.   If you really want to see me get on this soapbox, read this: Retirement is fool’s gold, live your life now!

Leaving the United States makes more sense than ever – Growing up outside the US, I was always convinced that America was the land of greatest opportunity.  That may technically still be the case but the magic seems to be fast evaporating.  On the flipside, the pace of progress in Asia and other fast-developing parts of the world makes even a bustling city like Los Angeles feel like a sleepy backwater.  I’m no hater, just stating facts.  Dare to think bigger than life in the US.  Trust me, you will thank yourself.

A quick word to my American friends: this is NOT about being unAmerican or lacking patriotism.  Surely one of the best things about American thinking is the pragmatic, no-nonsense pursuit of opportunity.  You are not being a bad American by pursuing opportunities outside the country.  What do you think the future pilgrims lives would have looked like if they’d stayed in the Old World?  Moving East is to the 21st century what moving West was to the last five.

We see more options than ever – Even if I theoretically knew that I had options in life, I was too jaded to really think about them before we took off in 2013.  Whenever layoffs took place at either my workplace or Jammie’s, I would get really worried.  What would happen if we lost our jobs?  How would we survive in a weak economy?  I would let such concerns influence my decision making and my overall happiness.  I grew much less adventurous and assertive.  I put up with things in the day-to-day that I should not have.  Looking back at 2013 and the improved work and life opportunities we now have, I wish I had been bolder before our trip.  There were always better options.  Fear blinded me to them.

What is the one decision that would change everything for you?  A new year is approaching.  You’ve got it in you to make a decision that would change just about everything for the better.  What is it going to be?  Investing in a relationship?  Completely changing what you eat?  Firing a bad boss?  Traveling the world?  Please don’t waste time the way we did before making our life-changing big decision.  Boldness now could mean a world of difference.

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Change of Plans

Sooooooo, we’re not in India.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, so bear with me as I take a rather circuitous route to the explanation.

September and October were rather busy months for us, travel-wise. For my birthday, we took a little trip down to Milan, Italy, because hey, we were nearish (actual reason: I wanted to try real Italian gelato and pizza. Yes, a separate blog post is forthcoming.)

We flew back to Berlin for about 3 days, and then we headed out again, this time to Berrien Springs Michigan, U.S.A. for about a week as Bjorn had a speaking engagement at his alma mater over the weekend. I was excited as this trip was my first to the Midwest and I had the chance to see some really related relatives (Filipinos understand) and snuffle some very cute kids. (Post is coming, blah blah blah.)

We returned to Berlin, Germany, but only for 2 days. Then we were off to merry old England.

V is for visa problems
Now before we left Berlin, it had come to our attention that we needed visas to get into India. Between my American passport arrogance and Bjorn’s smugness in his Swedish one, we had blithely assumed that we would either get a visa waiver like we had in
Bangkok and Berlin, or could just pay a fee at the airport, like we did in Buenos Aires.

Nope. Turns out if you don’t have a visa, you can get deported. Some people said they were sure we could probably bribe our way through the airport. However, as we didn’t know the language or anyone there, I didn’t want to take the risk, especially after reading about the Indian prisons in “Shantaram,” which some well-meaning friends had loaned to me. And you know, all that stuff about bribing being illegal and immoral.

Instead of an hours-long layover in London, we decided to stick around and try to get our visas in England. Unfortunately, we lost the last leg of our round-the-world ticket as British Airways couldn’t seem to comprehend that we wanted to leave later, nor would they give us any credit for the flights we didn’t use (why British Airways, why??)

It was Oct. 2. We set about the task of getting our visas to India from England, only to discover that we had to mail our passports in and it would take 15 working days to get them, not including mail processing and delivery time. This proved to be a problem, as we were attending a wedding in the United States (in Georgia! My first time in the South!) and were planning to leave on Oct. 17.

We decided not to apply for the visas in England after all, as we didn’t want to chance mailing our passports in and then not having them for our trip to the States.

We spent a few pleasant weeks in England with Bjorn’s family, taking brisk walks which did nothing to mitigate the vast amounts of food we were consuming. Then we were off to Hotlanta! (Forthcoming post, yadda yadda yadda.)

After a spectacular time in the South that included copious amounts of Coca-Cola sodas and a wedding assistant marveling at my multiple plate, double-fisted eating style at the wedding buffet, we jetted back to England.

Looking for a shortcut
We had learned that it only took 6 days to get a visa to India from Bangkok, Thailand, so we bade a fond farewell to England and arrived in Bangkok around the end of October.

We went to the visa office the very next day, after spending two hours filling out forms online and another hour and a half spent in getting our visa photos and traveling to the office.

The very first thing we were asked: “Have you booked your hotel and flights already?”

Well, no. But we did have the numbers for the flights we would like to take and the details for the hotel we would book when we got our visas.

But it wasn’t good enough. We countered with, “If we book our flights and hotel tonight and come back tomorrow, can you guarantee that we will get the visas on the sixth working day?”

Well, no, she couldn’t. In fact, she couldn’t guarantee that we would get a visa at all.
If we did get one, she told us it might take up to 10 working days.

If we booked our flights and hotel with the 10-working days timeline In mind, it meant that Bjorn and I would only be in India for a week before we had to catch a flight back to Bangkok and England.

By this point, we were plenty fed up with all the hurdles and hassles, and couldn’t see how we would be able to find and do meaningful service projects in that amount of time. Why not stay in Bangkok where we had connections and could pick up where we left off on our previous service projects?

So we did.

The best-laid plans…
Our plan to live in four world cities that begin with “B” is ending up more like 3 1/2 cities (I have to give Bracknell, England, props as we did spend a good amount of time there), but one thing I’ve learned about international living and travel: You have to be determined enough to move, but flexible enough to stay.

Besides, there’s a Little India here. Maybe that will be close enough. (I’m kiiiiidding. Relax.)

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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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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


 

 

We have quit our jobs to travel the world!!

 

We’ve never done anything this huge: My wife Jammie and I have turned in our resignation letters, quit our jobs to travel the world, write and do service projects for 12 months. We have picked four major world cities – Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Berlin and Mumbai – and we are going to spend three months in each. We are ridiculously excited.

Why are we doing this?
Years ago we started planning for this kind of a move. We had always wanted to live and work internationally, to get involved with international humanitarian nonprofits. We did not want to be stuck in one town or country working office jobs for the rest of our lives. We had always wanted to free up our location and really live the tag line for CultureMutt: savvy, global do-gooding.

Why now?
This huge step was easy to put off. We had already put it off twice. Twice we had told ourselves that we were going to take the bold leap to travel and work oversees. Twice we backed out.

It took a dramatic, late-night conversation with one of my closest friends to finally decide to activate the plans we kept postponing for a “better”, “more convenient” time.

“You are young and you have so much to offer!” my friend, shouted in my ear over the din of a rowdy San Francisco lounge. “Why are you playing it safe as if you were middle-aged with a mortgage and kids?! You are selling out! This is the time to go for your dreams and take some risks. If you fail you can rebuild but if you succeed you will be living the dream. Do it!!”. That conversation was the final push I needed. Within days we decided to finally act on our plans and go for our dreams 100%.

How can we afford this?
How are we paying for 12 months of international travel and living without jobs? For starters, we picked very affordable cities that we had either lived in, visited or at the very least, researched. Then we put aside enough of our savings to cover the basics of tickets, rent, food, etc. For any additional expenses we will make money the way both of us have in the past: through freelance writing, consulting and teaching. The beauty of making money using these methods is obviously that you can use them to make money anywhere in the world.

Why Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Berlin and Mumbai?

Bangkok  – We both love Southeast Asia. And there is no Southeast Asian capital with quite the same dynamic mix as Bangkok. The food is amazing, the country is beautiful and we already have a non profit that works to prevent sex trafficking that we are going to be volunteering for in Thailand.

Buenos Aires – I spent four amazing months studying Spanish in Buenos Aires in 2005. Weeks before leaving I was already missing this awesomely stylish city. The tango dancers in the streets, the amazing artistic scene and the roar from the “futbol” stadiums are unbeatable. Also, on the volunteering front, I have friends in Argentina that are well-connected to some education and healthcare nonprofits for which we would love to work.

Berlin – The buzz about Berlin as a European youth culture and arts capital is well-deserved and growing. Not only do we want to sample this but we want to establish relationships with some of Berlin’s emerging, young entrepreneurs. Young creative minds have descended upon Berlin in droves in recent years. This a city on the move and we want in.

Mumbai – Mumbai is India’s biggest, baddest city. It is also home to Bollywood, the second largest film industry in the world. Put simply, we want connections within this industry. They could be very helpful in our quest for savvy, global do-gooding. So far we have some friends who have worked in Bollywood. We aim to make more of them. We might even land a cameo:)

When does this all start?
After Christmas in England with my family, we fly to Bangkok in the first week of January, 2013. There starts our series of four, 3-month world city relocations. This is happening!

There – now you know. Wish us luck and if you have world travel tips for our gap year or any specific advice on navigating our four world cities, leave them in the comment section.

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Bjorn Karlman

Why You Should Drop Everything and Travel

Source: indulgy.com via Nazneen on Pinterest

 

Here’s a harsh reality: there’s someone that is a lot like you who is far better than you in just about every way. Your boss likes this person more than you. Your work friends do too. It gets deeper: your closest friends like this person better. Your siblings think more highly of this person than you. Your significant other and yes, your own mother prefer this person to you. Who is this? This superior being?

This way better person is YOU… after a well-planned, transformational, life-altering trip. Very few things in life are more valuable than smart travel. Quite simply, it must be done.  Sooner rather than later it is very important to travel the world. Here’s why:

Travel is one of the best ways to examine your life

It is almost impossible to be objective about your life when you are living the day-to-day of the rat race. If you are distracted by work, traffic, bills, time pressures and all the other realities of life at home, you rarely get to give serious thought to what needs to change about your life. Instead, you hunker down and run faster on the hamster wheel. Life passes and before you know it, huge chunks of it are gone and you’ve lived your life on autopilot. You’ve wasted your life.

If this thought depresses you, plan to go on a major trip. Everything changes. Your schedule is different, your scenery, the people around you and the entire culture around you. This allows you to look at your life with some healthy distance and decide what is working and what really isn’t. This objectivity will allow you to examine your life and make critical, life-changing decisions before it is too late.

Travel allows for forgiveness

The space that travel allows is very healing. It is a time that allows you to let go of frustrations and realize that there are bigger things in life than holding on to grudges and anger – whether directed at others or yourself. This is really healthy. It is almost spiritual.  And it is really doable when you are traveling because your dramatically new surroundings help you look at old hurts and problems in a new way.  You will be able to see how past wrongs – whether those of others or your own – should in no way be allowed to dictate your future.

Travel is the ultimate adventure

If you dictionary.com the word “adventure”, this is definition #3 “a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome”.  If we go by this definition, there is nothing that holds a candle to travel.  For those who prefer less “hazardous action” there is always the #1 definition “an exciting or very unusual experience”.  However you choose to look at the adventure of travel and regardless of how much risk you want to rack up, travel is a complete from with the soul-sapping dreariness that defines the 9 to 5 grind that most of us put up with in exchange for vague visions of a retirement at 65+ when we can hopefully get some rest from it all.

Travel gives you more to offer the world

Travel is not at all a selfish undertaking.  In fact, if you approach it with a service-focused mentality, it will grow you in all the right ways. There is nothing that completes your education quite like travel.  It broadens you.  It makes you a better person.  It sounds funny, but in many ways you are doing those around you a favor by exposing yourself to the education that is travel.

Travel is the ultimate freedom

One of the things we crave most in life is the freedom to spend our time doing what we want with the people that are closest to us.  No matter how much money you make, if you cannot spend it on meaningful experiences with those you love, what exactly is the point of it all?  Travel can offer a taste of exactly this.  I love the way the amazing travel writer/blogger, Rolf Potts describes vagabonding/extended travel: “a privately meaningful manner of travel that emphasizes creativity, adventure, awareness, simplicity, discovery, independence, realism, self-reliance and the growth of the spirit.”

Many of you CultureMutt readers are big travelers.  Feel free to add to the above list.  Hit me up in the comments!

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Bjorn Karlman

How Not to Get Robbed on the Trail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I was a kid growing up in the Philippines, I grew up petrified. My friend’s dad was kidnapped in Manila by two guy’s posing as police officers. Another friend’s dad was tortured, shot dead and buried in the sugar cane fields a few miles from our first house. Burglars tried to saw through the bars on my bedroom window and only took off when an armed guard on patrol fired a warning shot. Almost every one had a story of either them or someone close being robbed in some way in Manila. To prove how easy it was to be robbed, a friend of ours stuffed his wallet full of paper, put it in his back a pocket and walked through an open-air market. Sure enough, it was gone by stroll’s end.

Needless to say, I developed a heightened sense of caution. To this day I am notoriously redundant about checking and double checking that doors are locked, money is hidden and that I cross the street if anybody suspicious is walking up to me. I am perpetually paranoid because I have seen too many bad things happen to good people. And the bad stuff often happens in unfamiliar environments.

The most valiant attempt at savvy, global do-gooding can easily be ruined if you are robbed the minute you step out of the airport. It takes street smarts of an international variety to stay safe and unrobbed while traveling. The good news is that there are some common sense principles you can digest to enjoy your international do-gooding sans drama. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

You are not special
When you are trying to do some good abroad it is tempting that karma should be on your side. Humans have an optimism bias. We assume things will go well. This is often a good thing. But this kind of optimism also leads to complacency – you flash big dollar bills; bust out an iPad; ask to get dropped off by a fancy hotel… Rookie mistakes that result in people thinking you are rich and you getting held up.

Don’t try to look cool
Whatever you do, don’t “wear” your money when traveling. Don’t be that clueless tourist with the big camera and flashy Tag Heuer watch. That’s for amateurs. You are there to do some good and learn about the local culture. You’ll accomplish neither if you act like you are on a freaking cat walk. Travel as simply and as low tech as possible. Don’t be that walking target for a criminal.

There’s adventure and there is stupidity

Do not be an idiot. As much as you may be a thrill seeker, you want to avoid the ridiculous. Do NOT let the friendly taxi driver talk you into staying at a different hostel from the one the guide book recommends. Don’t go on bootleg tours of the city offered by someone’s “uncle”. Think twice about extreme sports or anything that could place you in significant physical danger.

Be super cheap

Want to gain respect quickly at the local market? Learn to bargain like a local. Do it with a smile but be a good negotiator. Many developing countries have a very developed bargaining culture. You will not only disappoint if you don’t bargain, you will establish yourself as a big gullible target.  Be the opposite.  My mom taught me this as she took me with her to go to market in the Philippines. She developed good relationships with merchants by being a loyal customer but she made sure she never overpaid. They liked her but had a sense of respect for her market savvy.

Over to you. Tell me the tips that work for you in the comments. Or tell me what has backfired. Either way I am interested!

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Bjorn Karlman

 

How to reinvent yourself by leaving the country

 

Several times in my life, I have decided to move abroad for an extended amount of time.  It wasn’t for aimless travel or party hopping (although there were elements of both in each big trip), instead I wanted to take time out to better myself in some way.  I wanted to reinvent myself.

Here’s how how my reinventions worked:

Trip #1 – 12 Months of volunteer work split evenly between the Philippines and Sweden (Age 16)

Desired Reinvention:

I was in my mid-teens and this was my first big trip away from home.  I had just finished high school as valedictorian and I was a total nerd.  While I was great academically I wanted to improve socially.  I wanted to be stronger socially than I was academically.  I wanted to stop hiding behind book smarts and develop some social savvy.

The technique:

To achieve this social makeover I completely dispensed with academia for a year.  Because I was working with other volunteers that I did not know, I decided that I could be whoever I wanted to be.  Instead of a bookworm I decided to be the life of the party.  I threw caution to the wind and pushed myself to be bolder than I had ever been, louder than I had ever been and to literally “try on” a different personality – a far more gregarious one.  If I failed the stakes were low because I would go home in a year and nobody would need to know about my little experiment.

The results:

How did it work out?  Well, the year was a tough one.  I missed home and my family.  I had my share of work and social failures.  But, to an almost shocking extent, I was a VERY different person at the end of the year.  True, I was definitely in one of the more formative stages of development because of my age.  But there was more to the transformation than that.  I found that people accepted me for the gregarious, extroverted personality that I projected.  I never heard, “Aren’t you supposed be more studious and serious?”  or “Where’s the nerd I know?”  People didn’t know better and they accepted my reinvention.  A transformation that would have met a lot of resistance at home, happened almost effortlessly.  It worked!  I was ecstatic.  And I knew that this was just the beginning.

Trip #2 – One year of language study in France (Age 19)

Desired Reinvention:

The next reinvention was in language acquisition.  I had grown up bilingual, used to speaking Swedish at home and English at school.  Now I wanted French.  And all I had was school French.  I knew that if I wanted to improve I would need to move to France.

The technique:

I relocated to France for my entire freshman year of college.  I immersed myself in French classes, made French friends and traveled as much as I could.

The results:

By the end of the year I tested at university-level French and felt very much at ease switching into any of the three languages that I spoke at the time.  It felt very liberating.  Mission accomplished.

Trip #3 – 12 months of volunteer work at an international school just north of London (Age 22)

Desired Reinvention:

Halfway through college I was feeling restless and I wanted to put to practice all the theory I had been absorbing in my International Public Relations classes.  I wanted to know what I was talking about because I had practiced it in real life, because I actually had experience.

The technique:

To get this experience I talked a principal friend of mine into taking me on as a Public Relations officer at an international boarding school just north of London.  I drafted up a list of duties that I felt I could perform and pitched the idea to him.  He took me up on the idea and I started one of the most interesting years in my life in which I got to learn about British media relations as well as travel worldwide recruiting students for the school.

The results:

By the end of the year in Britain, it was hard to leave because I had enjoyed myself so much.   I had been able to transition from doing mock press releases for class to pitching real ones to real media outlets and fighting with them when they screwed up.  I was able to take my class presentations and turn them into actual business pitches in Thailand, Sweden, France and elsewhere.  I landed the school one of its biggest accounts – a group of students from Hong Kong that started coming over for English Language study.  It was really exciting.

Trip #4 – Half a year of language study in Latin America (Age 25)

Desired Reinvention:

When I moved to the United States I was almost immediately notified that as fun as it was that I spoke French and Swedish, both would be fairly useless in America and the foreign language to learn was Spanish.  I took a couple classes in the US and a night class during my year-off in the US but I wanted to improve and actually feel confident in the language.

The technique:

So I country hopped in Latin America.  I started off with a month of Spanish tutoring in Lima, Peru and then spent several months in Buenos Aires, Argentina, improving my Spanish.  I tried to learn from the mistakes I had made learning French.  I went to a language institute AND hired a private tutor.  I restricted contact with the English speaking world, I immersed myself in Argentine culture and I made sure I made a lot of close Argentine friends.  Even simple things like joining a group that played soccer every Sunday morning helped me immensely with language acquisition.

The results:

At the end of my half year experience in Latin America my Spanish proficiency had grown by leaps and bounds.  My Spanish proficiency was stronger than my French and I took a lot of pleasure in coming back to the US and eavesdropping on conversations that had been impossible for me to understand before.  When I moved to LA several months later I was able to navigate the city so much more easily because I spoke Spanish.

How About You?
I have heard so many stories of how people have used travel to reinvent themselves and grow in their quest for savvy, global do-gooding.  Do you have a story you want to share?  If so, tell me in the comments…

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Bjorn Karlman

 

Why Travel Should be Mandatory

 

Here’s my Part II on Lifestyle Design.  To recap my last post, I am taking the Tim Ferriss definition of Lifestyle Design and fully embracing this quote from the 4-Hour Workweek:

“Gold is getting old.  The New Rich (NR) are those who abandon the deferred-life plan (living the rat race until retirement and then trying to live it up when you are old and wrinkly) and create luxury lifestyles in the present using the currency of the New Rich: time and mobility.  This is an art and a science we will refer to as Lifestyle Design (LD).”

For this post you’ll have to allow me to be absolutely dogmatic about the mobility element in Lifestyle Design.  Here’s something I believe with every fiber of my being:  Travel should be required of every able-bodied person on earth.

Here’s why:

It is one of the best ways to gain perspective

Travel is one of the best ways I know to hit the reset button in life.   Being away from the familiar and mundane, being exposed to new things is like an injection of objectivity for your life.  As soon as the plane leaves the tarmac I am able to sever contact with my day-to-day life for a while and reflect on what is going well and what isn’t.  It is very liberating.  Some important decision making and fat cutting can happen when I leave it all behind for a while.  Try it.

It does not cost a lot of money – lack of funds CANNOT be an excuse

Here’s the thing:  You do not need to be rich to travel.  To experience the beauty of travel you don’t need to go far.  A simple relocation will do.  Go to a different town and walk around.  Sit in a cafe and think.  Meditate.  Drink in the differences.  Even overseas travel doesn’t have to be pricey.  There are volumes of books written for the budget traveler.  There are options for heavily discounted travel and free accommodation.  Stop making excuses for yourself.  You can do this.  It is not that difficult.  You can travel in style for WAY less that you are spending per month in your apartment… but that is another post.

It is the antidote to small-mindedness. 

It is impossible not to have your perspective grow from travel.  Most of the narrow-minded people you meet are people that never experience the education of travel.  They don’t want to be reminded of the fact that they are from a very little pond.  They can’t deal with different rules.  Different ideas.  New ways of seeing things.  Don’t join the ranks of these ostriches, burrowing their heads in the sands of provincial oblivion.  You can do better.

It teaches the value of experience

Experience is a currency that not a lot of wealthy people are rich in.  Often, those that have prioritized accumulation of wealth and traditional careers have sacrificed time and attention for these status symbols of yesterday. Experiences are a far more valuable currency than cold cash.  Experiences are what we remember.  Experiences cannot be bought.  They are forged through the correct use of time.  They require courageous decisions to embrace better priorities.

It shows other ways of being human

One of the best things about travel is the fact that it exposes you to other cultures that show you ways of life that can be extremely valuable.  Travel allows you to learn from these cultures and incorporate them into your own lifestyle.  You can treat world cultures like a buffet – you get to pick and choose the best of the best.  Some of the most interesting people out there are people that have successfully fused the highlights of a several cultural traditions.  They are CultureMutts:)

It makes you a better person

It is hard to travel and not be edified by the process.  It is often a spiritual experience to be on the trail.  Life as usual is life on autopilot – not particularly enlightening or challenging.  It is lazy living.  Don’t settle for this.  Determine to grow.  Determine to become better.  Determine to travel.

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Bjorn Karlman

 

Patriotic Party People

They are a special breed.  You meet them in hostels and and tourist hot spots and volunteer hubs the world over.  They play hard but rarely work hard.  This is often their first time abroad. They are rebelling from very structured backgrounds.  They party a lot.  Too much.  And its often on their parents’ dime.  They are on a quest to find themselves.  Being away from home has them feeling insecure. So they over-compensate by big talk.  Often political talk.  And its typically deeply nationalistic.  It’s harmless patriotism gone harmful.  In every conversation they need their country to come out the victor.  It is nauseating.

Before you think I am singling out a certain country as the source of these patriotic party people I want to emphasize that I have seen all kinds of them.  From pretty much everywhere.  After all, it only takes a crude surplus of time, cheap beers and inexperience to have the perfect conditions for an (often young) traveler to start sounding off about how their country is the best and so clearly superior to the host culture for a litany of reasons.  What typically sets them off is a bad experience.  Someone was rude to them.  Their girlfriend / boyfriend back home broke up with them.  They embarrassed themselves in some way.

Their rhetoric is often deeply critical of the local situation.  I have often met them in volunteer contexts such as English language schools or humanitarian construction projects.  They are there as volunteers and visitors but they quickly let everyone know how much they wish they were home and how everything is better at home.  They disagree with how things are run locally.  If you have visited their home countries and dare to challenge their overly rosy picture of life there they quickly learn to despise you.

How do you help them?  I have found that very little works.  The answer is certainly not to try to fight them.  If you contradict them or try to humiliate them with superior knowledge of politics or (if you have it) a stronger understanding of their country and its place in the world, you will only put them on the defensive and intensify their vitriol.  One option is to ignore them.  But this may not be an option if you are working on a small team together in a volunteer context or if you both are staying in the same small hostel.

What sometimes works is befriending them and gradually showing them the benefits of toning down the rhetoric, letting up on the combative spirit and actually enjoying the host culture.   They are behaving the way they are because they come from a place of insecurity.  So if you can provide them with the security of friendship and a local connection, chances are they will appreciate it.  Surprise them the next time they start ranting about how bad the food / TV / service / transportation is locally and invite them to a local sporting event.  Bring your most mature local friend (briefing him or her on the patriotic partyhead’s tendency to be crudely nationalistic) and show the young irate one the time of his or her life.  Treat them extraordinarily well.  Hit the best local eatery after the game.  Introduce the young nationalist to some of the coolest locals you know.  Show him or her the  benefits of savvy, global do-gooding: Amazing local friends.  Ease of travel.  Adventure minus the agitation of stupid fights.  The buzz of experiencing the beauty of a culture that is not your own.  Get creative.  This may be your only chance to make an impression.

You may fail.  But chances are that regardless of the outcome they will remember the experience.  This, their first trip abroad may be a lost cause but the next time they set food overseas they may have a different perspective.

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Bjorn Karlman