Categories
Festivals United States

Everything’s Bigger in Texas – SXSW 2012

South by Southwest is an annual film/music/interactive festival that overtakes the beautiful city of Austin, Texas every March. I’ve attended for two years now because it’s an incredibly cost-effective vacation that provides two things I need on a regular basis:

  • A smooth blend of relaxation and chaos
  • Interesting and intelligent people to meet

It’s essentially a few thousand sponsored parties, shows, and events all designed to make you have a good time (and usually remember a brand or an artist). For the common man it means enjoying free food, open bars, live music, and creative people for twelve days.

When combined with CouchSurfing/staying with friends and airline miles it gets even more affordable. Just don’t buy an official badge. You don’t need it.

A few things I did at SXSW 2012:

  1. Ate heaps of burgers sourced from local, grass-fed beef
  2. Drank loads of Tito’s vodka, Lone Star, and Dos Equis
  3. Learned about truffles and truffle oil (and truffle fries)
  4. Watched at least 30 live music performances
  5. Saw a fight at a local grocery store
  6. Became jealous of Austin’s Car2Go service
  7. Watched the Austin Music Awards from the third-tier VIP section and saw Bruce Springsteen’s surprise performance
  8. Met dozens of incredible personalities from Austin, New York, Mexico City, and Toronto
  9. Consumed massive amounts of free BBQ and tacos
  10. Saw a concert in a church at midnight
  11. Personally returned a lost wallet
  12. Won a Sphero at a tech party
  13. Saw a mobile Occupy SXSW street movement and the police response
  14. Watched Jeff Who Lives at Home at an Alamo Draft House – my new favorite theater (you can silently order food/drink with little slips of paper during the film)
I highly recommend checking out Firehorse – the live performance gave me goosebumps.

 

Categories
Southeast Asia United States

The End Is the Beginning Is the End

Current Location: Louisville, KY, United States of America
Current  Weather: 32°F (feels like 24°F)
Days Gone: 201
Days Remaining: Zero
Home provides its own type of chaos. Perhaps the chaos and uncertainty craved by the traveler is really just a craving for simplicity. Unknown means no planning. It means your time is yours and yours alone. For me, unknown is easy. With too many variables, calculation becomes impossible. You can’t suffer from analysis paralysis if you can’t analyze the situation. I’ve said before that the present is all we have. Well, it turns out that while traveling the present is the only thing worth considering. Even for someone like me, a person who considers every option and almost subconsciously plans for every consequence, travel makes careful planning impossible. With an unwieldy trip such as this, the possible futures which cascade outward from every event are so multitudinous and varied that I can actually allow myself to not think about them. Mental peace.

But home is where I am now. I’ve been breathing cold Louisville, KY air since early December. My trip was cut short suddenly when I received an email that my grandfather was in the hospital for what would be the last time. Twelve hours (and a bus ride to the capital) later I was on the side of a Malaysian highway helping my cab driver change his flat tire. With only minutes to spare I jumped out at the airport, abandoning in the backseat the sandals I’d worn for seven months and two thick books, jetsam that would have kept my pack from fitting in the overhead compartment. I was living in rewind. It was eerie, the speed at which I was able to backpedal. The speed at which I was able to circumnavigate the entire planet at a moments notice. You know that montage in Fight Club where Edward Norton is flying around the country and experiences a disconnected sort of deja vu? It was like that with less bandages and more security. Malacca-Kuala Lumpur-Bangkok-Tokyo-Chicago.

Chicago about killed me. It was snowing. I’d gone from 100 degrees to 30 in 24 hours. By the time I made it from the plane up the walkway to the airport (in my lightweight rain jacket) my shivering was indistinguishable from a seizure. I’d consumed eight cups of coffee and four back-to-back in flight movies. My plan was to beat jet-lag preemptively. I hadn’t slept. My vision was obstructed by tall people in rough, gray coats. I found myself drowning in English, loud and obnoxious and everywhere. Sickly looking people all across the terminal bared their teeth and screamed into cell phones. Surely they were complaining of their cold, bleak surroundingstheir gray floors and gray walls and gray-filtered sunlight. It was a zoo exhibit. Or an ant farm. The giant planes on the tarmac watched us silently through the glass. I found my way to the domestic terminal and huddled next to a vending machine. I was afraid to sit down, fall asleep, miss my flight. I counted to stay awake. I counted “people who stared at me,” “people without cell phones,” and “people who smiled.” I spent 90 minutes next to that vending machine. Smiles lost.

I slipped into my old life the way one might slip on an old shoe. Everything worked the way it shouldI could still drive a stick, run the microwave, answer a cell phonebut it was all very surreal. I’m chalking it up to jet lag, reverse culture shock, and sunlight withdrawal, but I can barely remember my first two weeks stateside. I was my own apparition, out of touch with reality. I found myself constantly recoiling from everyday things. I became physically ill the first time I walked into a Bed, Bath and Beyond and saw a $40 piece of metal designed to hold toilet paper; available in bronze, nickel, and chrome. Thanks but I’d rather have five days on a Cambodian beach.

I’d like to think I’ve become more empowered. I’ve learned to accept my own strengths and I know how to take full control of my life. By living simply, eating meals of rice and sharing dirty accommodations, I have become comfortable with my “worst case scenario.” I can now take bigger risks without fearing the consequences, because I’ve already faced them. In many ways the things gained on a trip such as this one are intangible. And most intangibles cannot be defined without metaphor. The writer in me is gleeful at this conundrum. But the reality is that I cannot tell you what I’ve learned, lost, and gained. Our language is not yet that robust.

I spent two-hundred days wandering throughout Southeast Asia. And I did it on my own. Through my self-reliance I have achieved, if nothing else, self-trust. And it is with this I move forward, comfortable in my non-conformity, one step at a time.

The Breakdown by Numbers

Total cost (including airfare): less than $4,600
Airfare: $1150
Cost per day on the ground: ~$17.25 (ranging from $6-60)
Weight lost: 18 lbs (From 158 lbs to 140 lbs)
Days abroad: 201
Distance traveled (by land): 11,000 km / 6,800 miles
Distance traveled (by air): 31,600 km / 19,630 miles
Total distance traveled:  42,600 km / 26,480 miles

This was an experience that will continue to shape me for the rest of my life. I cannot imagine what else I might have done with that seven months that would prove more valuable. For those of you who have stuck with me through the whole journey, I am beyond grateful.

Last thing consumed: Quite a bit actually. I’m focusing on regaining all the muscle I lost. I’m eating 3,000 calories/day at the moment. Since my return I’ve regained 16 lbs.
Thought fragment: I’m driving 1,000 miles to Austin for SXSW in a couple weeks. It will be good to get back on the road again.

Did you enjoy reading this post? That’s great because it’s the last one for a long while. Feel free to subscribe to start getting updates when my next adventure rolls around.

What did you think of my final undertakings? This may be your last chance to ask questions pertaining to the trip. Leave your questions and comments below!

 

Categories
Thailand United States

How to Get to the Other Side of the Planet

Current Location: Bangkok, Thailand – Khao San Road
Current  Weather: 91° F (feels like 104°F)

Days Gone: 2 
Days Remaining: 213

I’ve had a hell of a time getting to Bangkok. My route was supposed to be Louisville-Chicago-Tokyo-Bangkok and my total travel time was supposed to take about 24 hours. For those curious, the flight was purchased from CheapoAir.com for $1160 (pretty cheap to get to the other side of the planet) and, of course, was non-refundable and non-changable. After a delayed flight out of Louisville (SDF) caused a missed connection in Chicago by approximately 73 seconds – I was told I would be stuck in Chicago for the night at my own expense (weather-related delay). The next flight out was the following day at the same time, 24 hours later exactly.

So, I needed a few things. First, a place to sleep for the night. Second, food to sustain me. Third, something to occupy my time to maintain sanity. Keep in mind that I am now in backpacker budget mode, a terrible mode to be in while still inside the United States. But all was not lost, I managed to stay fed, sleep in a hotel, and contact home for under $20. First, I made a friend with a phone, a girl in the complaints line missed the same connection as me for the same reason. I then found us a free way to get wifi, the complimentary Westin shuttle; the McDonald’s near the Westin offers free wifi (and a dollar menu to boot).

From McDonald’s I checked sleepinginairports.com to discover that the O’Hare airport actually has a chapel in which people have successfully slept in the past. This was my backup plan, but I didn’t want to sleep on a floor the night before boarding 18 hours of international flights. I found a hotel that offered free wifi, shuttle service, and hot breakfast for $70 (the Quality Inn) and booked it using a $50 BRG coupon dropping the price to $20 + $9 tax (read more about how to get these at http://bestrateguarantee.blogspot.com/). My new airport friend also needed a hotel so we split the cost and that made my night in Chicago a mere $14!

My flight the following day was then delayed by five hours due to mechanical problems. At least this time they gave everyone meal vouchers, so I couped up in Chile’s for a couple hours with some more airport friends. To all people who shared my pain dealing with United, I give a special shout out to Vanessia, Melvin O., Katie of Indonesia, and Jessica of seat 57K.


My flight to Tokyo was successful and I did manage to take some cool photos of some mountain range near Alaska. In Tokyo I was greeted with vertical scrolling marquees of Kanji and very high-tech toilets complete with bum-washer and deodorizer buttons. I also had to go through security again where they took my scissors. My Tokyo-Bangkok flight was brilliant because I somehow got an exit row for free and nobody was sitting next to me. Once arriving I made it through immigration with little delay and customs consisted of a nice Thai man waving me onward with no baggage checks. I found an ATM and pulled out 10,000 baht (about $308) to get me started (ATMs will give you the best exchange rate, take out large sums to avoid acruing lots of international charges). I also found a vendor to break down a few of my 1,000 baht notes so that I could pay for my taxi with exact change.

The taxi from the airport was metered so no haggling was reqired, and the roads were clear as it was 4 AM. The 40 minute ride cost me 450 baht ($13.87) and left me on the corner of a dirty street where the driver pointed and said “walk rest of way.” I confirmed that the road I was on was actually Khao San Road before letting the guy leave. After a bit of walking and an offer of prositution, I found an English speaking hotel worker with a map. Thus, I made it to my hostel where they actually had held a bed for me! I’m currently staying at NapPark Hostel. I fell asleep at about 5 am, woke up to sun shining in after what I though was a long night’s sleep only to discover it was only 2 hours later. This time change stuff is weird.Now it’s going on 10 AM and I’m going to go grab a shower and some breakfast and head out to explore the area by day.

I need to buy a power adapter, scissors, a knife or multi-tool (mine tiny multi-tool was taken at Louisville airport security), and a razor or beard-trimmer. Finding these things and remaining awake until a “normal” bedtime are my goals of the day.

Last thing consumed: Chicken Teriyaki (airplane style)
Thought fragment:
I must remember that I can no longer drink tap water nor flush toilet paper.

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Categories
United States

Wanderlaunch – The Legend Begins (in 7 Days)

Current Location: Louisville, Kentucky; United States
Current Weather:
75° F – Sunny

Welcome to Wanderlust! This is where you can read the constantly unfolding story of my adventures backpacking through Southeast Asia. That’s right, in just seven short days I’ll embark on a seven month journey from my landlocked home state to the Far East and back again (I hope). This means you now have the exciting opportunity to watch, from the safety and comfort of your own home, as I battle everything from language barriers to giant spiders to Traveler’s Diarrhea

If that last line disgusts you, you might want to reconsider visiting. There are times when it’s going to get rather sweaty and unpleasant around here. But that’s just one side of travel. If you are intrigued instead of dissuaded, you will undoubtedly be rewarded with colorful tales wrought with peril and a smattering of tasty foods. You will even get to view the results of my attempts to photograph things of exquisite beauty. 
If all this sounds pretty cool to you, feel free to read a bit more about me, learn about my journey, what I’m carrying, and maybe have a few questions answered while you’re here (like why I’m going in the first place). Want to make sure you don’t miss a thing (I mean really, wouldn’t you be pretty bummed if you missed a post where I got bit by a shark, mugged, flooded, or otherwise suffered from humiliation and discomfort)? You can subscribe to Wanderlust via email updates or with your favorite feed reader by using the menu at the top right of this screen. How’s that for convenience!
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If you want to get in touch with me personally about something blog- or trip-related send an email to twocents.wanderlust@gmail.com. Otherwise, feel free to comment below with feedback, suggestions, and exclamation points!