Reflecting on my Ecuador-ing

It’s my last day in Ecuador — on what’s been a 5 week journey through this little west-coast, eastern-time-zone country. I came to Ecuador with few expectations and even less planning. I had heard good things about Cuenca (which was right), Baños (which I never made it to), and the Galapagos of course (which will have to wait).

All in all, Ecuador turned out to be a blast — a great winter getaway that included solo time, friends, plane rides, bus rides, and a whole lot of dollar coins. Folks, this is where all of these went. It’s truly all you need to get by here.

I’ll break my journey into 5 parts, for each of the 5 towns I went through.

Solo in Quito

20150123_105957I started my trip alone. I hadn’t been alone in a long time — since my travels in the months previous had all been to see friends, familiar places, family, etc… I wrote a note to myself on day in Austin back in December that said, “I’ve gotten used to having my personal time in other people’s spaces.” It’s not something that comes easy, and when I talk about the un-perks of my lifestyle this is one.

But I came to Quito alone, posted up in a Airbnb near the city’s most famous park, and enjoyed some solace.

Each day, I’d take a walk around the city — sometimes in the heated sun, 20150117_120627sometimes in the cooled darkness, and often getting a little bit of rain. I didn’t have anywhere to go — but found adventures along the way.

I checked out the Mariscal, Old Town, the Guayasamin Museum (which quickly climbed the ranks of favorite museums) and a ton of restaurants and coffee shops. And Parque La Carolina of course.

At the apartment, I’d cook dinner, work-out, meditate, read. The internet would come in and out and sometimes leave me alone reading my old writing and taking trips down memory lane. I got to write my review of 2014 and other posts — some of the projects I had put aside for months and months. It was good to be alone in a new place, with no obligations and no one to meet. Don’t think I can do it for too long, ever the extrovert, but it was a refreshing change for sure.


If Quito was an adventure into the self surrounded by the mountains and city, jonahs montanita picsMontañita was a return back into indulgence. This little “sleepy” hippie beach town really wakes up at night and thousands of backpackers gather on the street for drinks, music, and anything else. Literally, anything else. One mantra of the town, as told by the cab driver on the way in is that “anything goes”. Was lucky enough to be joined by two friends on this excursion, who made the most of out of their days whiled I worked, but we made sure to have a little fun at night.

If you’re a fan of beach towns, stepping out of the real world for a few days, and places where beautiful Argentinian girls are the majority, then this place might be just for you. I don’t know how anyone could make it there longer than a week though — the town, the sun, and everything else tend to wear you out a bit.

From our mansion up on the hill, it was les bon temps rouler in Montanita for sure — a foray back into the backpacker nightlife that I’ve been through in different places and continents by now. Good to see an old face, as always.

La Entrada & Guayaquil

20150129_183608In Montañita, our Airbnb host happened to be a sort-of real estate mogul for the area (or as close to that as you can get). She was as committed to making sure we had a good time as any host I’ve ever had. After Montanita, I told her I was looking for some R&R and she really hooked it up.

Rocio, our host, brought me to a town called La Entrada — down two beaches away Montanita thought it might as well have been two countries away. La Entrada was truly a sleepy town, with no more than 50 people there and no cars allowed on its one street. The town was beach, a few houses, and a shack that sold fresh fish fry lunches for $2.

The other thing in town was a large mansion ON the water (over it) which belonged to my host. For most of the time, I was the only inhabitant of a 20-room house. And I spent the entire weekend in a hammock. It was the first place I’d ever been where the tide affected the wi-fi — the winds from the tide (3-5 feet from my hammock) messed with the signal too much to work.

From La Entrada, I got a ride with two folks I met to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s biggest city. There I met another friend who came down to work and travel in Ecuador. We stayed for three days in Guayaquil, mostly walking around our neighborhood, and checking out the boardwalk and old neighborhood (Las Peñas), before getting out of dodge (Guayaquil isn’t exactly a draw for anyone not from there).


cuenca window picThere’s really not enough good things I can say about Cuenca. The city is old, but clean — Europe in the mountains of South America. It has ex-pats and locals seemingly living in harmony, and is a city dedicated to its own safety. All of this plus a huge coffee shop scene, great parks, and four rivers that rumble through it.

I was in Cuenca for about ten days. The days were sunny, open, and free. Work was busy but I made the most of the experience by getting out in the mornings,  coffee shopping in the afternoons and being lucky enough to stay at an Airbnb with a great cafe nearby. I also had a great weekend excursion to Cajas National Park that took a few wild turns along the way.

Cuenca ranked quite highly on the cities I’ve been to in the world. It certainly doesn’t have the size of some others, but its quaintness and ease of life are spectacular. Its churches, squares, parks make it a place of immense public beauty, and the price ain’t bad either!


Mark got foamed

Ambato was my last stop before heading back to Quito for a last few days before flying home. Ambato isn’t normally a destination for foreigners, that title usually belongs to the nearby Baños – but we were rolling through at Carnaval time and Ambato has the country’s biggest festival — The Festival of Flowers & Fruits. Both, I can assure you, were in full force. The event has a hoard of street vendors, parades with floats made out of…(guess), flower shops, and, unfortunately, little kids with foam cans spraying everyone.


I’ve had a recurring oddity happen to me over the last few months or so. I keep having flashes of memory, not wholly unlike deja vu, but I can tell it’s not a repetition, just a reminder. It’s nice, these flashes are all memories of travel and foreign places and times and doings, but the strange part is in I can’t place, for the life of me, where some of them happened. I see a flash of me standing outside an old mansion and I don’t know if it was in Indonesia or Argentina. San Diego or Prague. I put some effort into tearing the scene apart to recognize location-specific items, but my brain will not allow it. The world, it seems, has meshed itself into one indistinct place. I suppose that’s what I’ve always wanted.

Ecuador, you lovely little beauty, thanks for what you’ve given me. I wish I could give you the promise of eternal and distinct memory, but alas, soon you’ll become part of the whole — the nonspecific parts that make up my whole.


Sometimes on a Saturday — Adventures in Ecuador

Sometimes you half-ass plan a Saturday.

And you somehow string together a ride for you and a friend to go to the National Park the next day. Early. You heard they limit the number of people they let in.

You hike. For 5 hours. Up and down. You slip on rocks, go ankle deep in mud, land on your ass. Eat nuts for breakfast and lunch. Take pictures. See trees you’ve never seen before. Get sunburned because you’re 14,000 feet in the air and the sun doesn’t need to beat down to turn you beet red.

And after you hike, you decide to get lunch. There are two places. One is a new restaurant right alongside the road. The other is a restaurant in an actual house 50 meter down from the road. You decide on the latter.

You eat. It’s good food. The house is nice. Spacious. Home-y. Comfortable. The old lady who cooked your food is kind and smiles. She tells you how to get back to your city.

Then she starts talking about something called “temescal“. You don’t know what that is. She mentions something about “cultura” and lists names of other countries. She says it’s nearby and she thinks you and your friend would like to check it out. You kind of brush it off and smile.

You go to pay the bill. You thank the woman. She asks if you want to see the temesecal. Quieres ver? She asks. OK, you say. Why not see something happening.

It’s out back behind the house. You’re introduced to an American girl who has moved to Ecuador. She’s from your college town. She’s enthused about temesecal which she explains is a sweat lodge — a personal purification ceremony that’s popular with the native people and tribes of your country.

They are performing a ceremony here — in the background of the restaurant you just ate lunch at. She asks if you’d like to join. You and a friend think about it and decide it’s unpassupable. We’ll do it, you say.

You wait sometime. You learn more about the ceremony. You meet the leader of it, the man who is running the fire (where he burns 28 volcanic rocks which will be used later in a tee-pee like tent (called “the womb”) to heat it (and trap that heat) to a temperature your body surely is not used to) and some other participants.

When it’s time to begin, you strip to your boxers. You enter the womb with 15 other people. The ceremony begins. It’s all in Spanish. It’s absolute black inside — no light. You are asked if you want “medicina” which you oblige to. It is San Pedro. You’ve just taken a natural hallucinogenic while put into a tent where you can only move a few inches side to side with other mostly-naked people.

The ceremony goes for 2 hours. It is mixed with songs, chants, prayers, and heat so hot it feels like your face will melt. You sweat, and sweat, and find new places to sweat from and cannot even rub sweat out from your eyes because all else — fingers, palms, arms — are wet too.

The ceremony has four sessions (or puertas as they’re called). You smile, sweat, and breathe in the rocks as water is poured over them. you learn the spanish words for lemongrass, for rosemary, for amber.

When it’s over, you’re offered a ride back to your apartment from two people you just sweat with for two hours.

You’re wet with sweat, tired from the hike, burnt, and a bit broken — and yet that seems so unimportant. Experiences reign supreme.

Sometimes you half-ass plan a Saturday…..and wonderful happens.

When Traveling Kicks Your Ass

Depending on how you want to look at it, I’ve been traveling for over 3.5 years now.

In that time, I’ve traveled through Asia, North American, South America — and did several trips across Europe before that.

Travel gives me a rush and perspective that nothing else does. It’s a way of life as much as a passion, interest or hobby. I’m lucky enough to have a job that lets me travel the world — much like this guy.

In all of those years, my travel has mostly been seamless. Sure there’s been canceled trains, nights spend in dingy hotels, and dark roads I wished I had decided not to walk down.

Yet, I’ve never been mugged. Never been stuck in a place without a bed, or without money. Never been sick abroad (well once in Rome — but I recovered with some over the counter meds).

(There’s no wood around me in this Colombian hotel, but I’ll knock on the wicker chair I’m sitting in.)

One of the biggest things too — I’d never lost my passport before.

Until this week. Let me go into my Wednesday a bit.

I woke in the morning in the beautiful Tayrona Park. I had slept in a hammock there since that’s one of your few options. To get back to Santa Marta in time for my flight, I had to leave at 6:30am (and drag my fellow travelers with me, thankfully they were willing…).

We trekked for 2 hours. We were supposed to find a bus there but didn’t. We trekked for 45 more minutes until we flagged down a pick-up that drove us 10 minutes to the park exit.

Wolfed down some breakfast. Caught a bus. It’s 95 degres in humidity in Santa Marta.

Get back to Taganga (after taking a cab) where my friend lived and go to pick up the laundry I dropped off before I left. The guy is hanging it up outside to dry. He just finished the wash.

SO, wet laundry. I have no other clothes except the rotten and sweaty ones on my back. (The back mind you that’s aching from two straight nights sleeping in a hammock). Ass-kicking #1.

Oh, and I have 132 unread work messages to catch up on.

Take that same cab to the airport in Santa Marta. Airport is beautiful. It’s ON the beach. I try to read my emails on the cab ride there but get carsick from that.

Go to check in. Passport isn’t in usual spot. Hmm.

Go through computer bag. No passport here. Rip out everything. Coins from nine countries. Cell phone from Costa Rica. Kindle. Plugs. Tickets from Pearl Jam show in Oakland in November. Crap. Papers. Pens. Lots of Pens. No passport still.

My big bag. Rife through it. Take out everything. Wet laundry. Smells horrible. I have a corner of the airport to myself and my disorganization. No passport.

Did I mention it’s 95 degrees with humidity. Sweating already. Sweating more now.

Nothing. Shit.

Go through stuff again.

Where is it?

Shit. Nothing.

What to do? Is there anything worse than Airport Panic?

Go to the airport’s information stand. Guy pays no attention. No tengo mi passaporte, I say. Perdido!

He doesn’t move. He starts speaking. Not just quick Spanish but under his heavy breath. All I hear is Policia Nacional and he points to the end of the wall.

I go there.

Open the door. Four Colombia policemen sitting in an office watching the Disney Channel.

I repeat my Spanish sentences. Perdí mi documento, I say again.

They start going off in Spanish. I give them my driver’s license. I give them my passport #.

This goes on for an hour. They ask my questions and I don’t understand. They draw pictures on their police notepads. Finally, they print out a document with my name and some info on it.

I ask, “puedo viajar con esto?”

Yes, they say.

I email my mom with the cafeteria wi-fi. My flight boards in 8 minutes. I buy a muffin.

They let me on the plane.

But, my passport is gone. No idea where it could be. I have my IL drivers license which Colombians can make much sense of and a printou from the police that I can’t read. Ass-kicking #2.

Make it to Medellin on the flight. Grab my bag. Grab a cab. Supposed to meet a friend at 4:15pm. Cab driver tries to rip me off. Does actually but for not as much as he asked for. We wait in 30 minutes of dead-stop traffic because of road construction. I;m late to meet my friend. I start to panic on what to do.  I’ve already had a day of it. I hope this doesn’t make things worse.

Do meet my friend, thank god. Hotel has wi-fi but doesn’t work in my room. I stay up working in the lobby of a Colombia love motel until 2am.

Wednesday is over and it kicked my ass.

On Thursday, the full effect of a lost passport took place.

Find an assistant at Zirtual that speaks fluent Spanish to call a bunch of places that my passport might be. Have to find flight numbers, have to remember cab companies that I took but can’t. Have her call the hostel I got dropped off at but didn’t stay at to see if somehow they have it.

No one does. Find out that US passports can go for $10k on the black market. Find out I 100% need a passport to fly to the US.

The only US embassy in Colombia is in Bogota. Have to go there. Have to hope they’ll give me a temp. passport or else I’m staying in Colombia past my flight back to the US. Have to get my documents in order.

Have to fill out the forms. Get pictures. Prove my identity with 2 forms of identification. Stay in Bogota for the day. Not that big of a deal but these are never easy things when traveling and living out of a bag.

What’s more. The AirBnB that my travelers and I (who already in Medellin) had booked cancelled on us. Just like that. We have nowhere to stay.

We try to find different places in Medellin for 3 people wiht good internet. Easier said than done. Every AirBnb listing is really just lead generation for apartment renters who have other sites and other emails and want to work something else on the side. Nothing seems to be working out.

Among all of this, the housing situation in Medellin cancelled. It’s not easy to find accommodations for our group on short notice. Ass-kicking #3.

I’m not even sure I’m going to be in Medellin that long. So that adds confusion to our booking. If I can’t get the temp passport I’ll be in Bogota for the 10 business days it takes to get new passport. I’ll miss my planned weekend in NYC and most of the conference I’m attending in Boston.

That, all of that, is how traveling can absolutely just kick your ass sometimes. 

And that brings me to now. Sitting in that Colombian hotel.

We found housing in Medellin. I’m going tomorrow morning.

The hotel saw all my wet clothes on the floor and offered to dry them for free. They smell great and the hotel folded them all so nicely.

I have a flight to Bogota on Tuesday and the embassy says as long as I have all the right documentation I can get that temp. passport. My awesome ZA Jillian is on top of the documentation I need so I should be good. Have to find a place in Medellin to take my picture and print some documents, but that’s easy.

The lost passport will probably end up costing me about $400-500 but that’s okay. It’s just money. I’m safe. I get to see Bogota. I should get home on time.

I got to see friends in Colombia. Got to see Tayrona. The beautiful little hillside town of El Carmen de Viboral. I’ll see Medellin tomorrow and meet my friends again there.

While walking around the beautiful junglebeach mix of Tayrona, I had a conversation with two fellow travelers about what traveling does for you.

It’s a favorite conversation among jetsetters and backpackers alike. We do this because it brings something beyond so much — words, currency, pictures. It brings the wonder of experience.

This all, too, is an experience. And one that challenged me. At home, the days when I feel dejected and beat down are days with traffic jams or broken phones or arguments. These are small things.

My story isn’t huge. Again I wasn’t mugged or beaten. I didn’t get sick. All will be good. But it just shows that with traveling the stakes are higher. The highs are high, the lows can be really low. But we thrive on that; the adrenaline runs through our bodies as they ache for a shower or a good bed or warm laundry.

And even on the low days, the rewards are so grand. So wondrous. So available only to the brave that wander with their legs and minds. The world isn’t open for anyone, and sometimes to see it all you gotta get your ass kicked from time to time. It’s what keeps out anyone without the courage to take the ass-kicking.

tayrona beach

What I Bookmarked in 2013

I don’t bookmark too many sites. For articles, I try to throw them into Pocket. Other sites will get a note in the notebook or an email to a friend. For some reason, though, I don’t hit that star in Chrome too often.

And when I do, there are a variety of folders that things go into. Writing, sites of Zirtual interest, education material, etc…..For everything else, there’s been a folder simply called ‘2013’.

At the end of the year, here’s the randomness that made my bookmarks.

Find The Conversation Concept Map — perhaps still the best designed website I’ve come across. A great database of articles on various topics, but an even better aesthetic.

Reddit ‘what are the best websites for NOT wasting your time’ thread — self-explanatory

Letters of Note — great blog of correspondences through the years. Lots of famous back-and-forths here for the literary minds & historians.

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling — self-explanatory

GetInspired365 — new inspiration for each day

37 mind-expanding subreddits — for the Redditor in me.

The Complete Guide to Interval Training — early seeds of a healthy year. workouts on the go.

The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re Going to Miss Almost Everything — great NPR article on living in the age where anything can be in your hands in minutes. Daunting, mystifying, yet wonderful.

Maggie Appleton — great artist I discovered. Love her sketches with quotation additions.

Jason Collins is the Envy of Straight Men Everywhere — a good reminder of the first openly gay professional athlete. Big step for sports in 2013. This is author Sherman Alexie at his finest — shoving our own presumptions and cultural norms in our face.

The Big Dot — more people live inside this circle than outside of it

Radical Openness — video on new paradigm. Dig it.

How Do You Define Yourself? — Alan Watts asking the important question. He was good at this.

Mindful in May — a month of mindfulness. Good links to be found here.

What? You Didn’t Fall in Love with Rome? — great little sentimentality trip here. I know not everyone loves the eternal city. But their wrong. Simple.

Ernest Hemingway’s Reading List for a Young Writer — self-explanatory. and how.

Reddit’s r/malefashionadvice The Basic Wardrobe — good for dressing on the road. plan to follow this more in 2014.

The Dark Side of the Digital Nomad — blogger Mark Manson on some things you lose out by living on the road.

The Inside Story of the Moto X — goes into the phone Google released this year, and some of the reasons for its acquisition of Motorola. Good read.

100 Alternatives to ‘So whaddya do?’ — good list of interesting questions to spark a conversation other than, well, the standard.

Vancouver pic — this is nice to look at it. Can’t wait to make it back to all the glass.

Milesimizer — helps determine whether to use miles or $ when booking plane tickets

Note to Selfie — great article on why using social media doesn’t take people ‘out’ of the moment. A truly potent analysis of the world we live in today.


And that’s all. 23 sites. Not the best or the worst  I’ve found. Just the ones that found their way to the 2013 folder.

Matt Kepnes’ 18 Life Lessons Learned From Traveling The World


I never thought I would still be nomadic. My original round-the-world trip was only supposed to last one year before I went back home, found a “real” job, settled down, and by now, be married, have a house, 2.5 children, and complain about my retirement fund to my friends.

Yet life took a decidedly different turn and here I am, seven years later, writing this from an overnight train to Copenhagen with the same desire to explore the world and no sign of stopping soon.

After so many years on the road, there are a few life lessons I’ve learned from travel that I never would have learned otherwise and I wanted to share with you today.

1. It’s not that hard.

Every day, people get up, go out the door to travel the world, and survive and thrive. Kids as young as 18 make their way around the world without any problems. All that worrying and fear I had before my trip was for naught – this traveling thing is a lot easier than people make it out to be. You’re not the first person to do it and there is a well-worn trail that makes it easy for first times to find their way. If an 18 year can do it, so can you.

2. You learn a lot of life skills.

People who travel are better adjusted and less socially anxious people and traveling around the world has taught me to how to be more social, be adept and more flexible, and, most importantly, understand non-verbal communication a lot better. It has made me more independent, more open, and, overall, just a better person. There’s no reason to be scared that you might not have “it” in you. You’d be surprised how often you’ll surprise yourself.

3. You are never alone.

It may seem scary just throwing yourself out there and talking to strangers, but we are all strangers in a strange land. At the end of the day, everyone is very friendly. It took me a while to get used to just saying “hello” to strangers, but now it seems like second nature. Everyone is just like you – they are alone in a strange place and are looking for others to be with. People travel to meet other people and that means you. Don’t be afraid to approach other travelers and locals. You’ll find that when you travel alone, you’ll never really be alone.

4. You meet some of your closest friends traveling.

Whether it was in a restaurant in Vietnam, on a boat in Thailand, or walking into a hostel in Spain, when I least expected (or wanted) to meet people was when I met the best and developed the longest lasting relationships. And even though you may not see them for years, you still end up at their wedding, Christmas dinner, or family celebration. Distance and time cannot break the bond you formed.

5. Relationships come and go on the road.

I’ve met lots of people on the road, including members of the opposite sex I’ve found attractive. But the nature of travel doesn’t always lend itself to long-term romantic relationships. It’s hard to make something last when everyone moves in different directions and holidays end. If you get too attached too often, you’ll have nothing but heartache as people come and go. But I’ve realized you need to simply enjoy your time together and live in the moment. Dwelling on the future will only keep you from making that leap.

6. But chase the ones you like.

Yet once in a while, you’ll find someone you really connect with. Meaningful romance on the road does happen. And when you have nowhere to be and no place to go other than where you want, sometimes there is no reason not to follow. Don’t force yourself to say another good-bye if you don’t have to. Pursue it even if the distance seems too vast and the circumstances not right, because you never know where it could lead or how long it might last because, once in a while you meet the one and when you do, you should do everything you can to stay with them.

7. It’s good to try new things.

I used to be a very rigid person, but traveling has helped me loosen up and expand my worldview. I’ve pushed myself to the limit, eaten new food, taken cooking classes, learned magic tricks, new languages, tried to conquer my fear of heights, and challenged my established views. Travel is all about breaking out of your comfort zone and enjoying all the world has to offer.

8. Be adventurous.

Doing the canyon swing was tough. So was jumping off the boat in the Galapagos. As was eating the maggots in Thailand and caterpillars in Africa. Then I got my butt kicked in Thai boxing. And, while I won’t do most of those ever again, I don’t regret trying new things. Scare yourself once in a while. It makes life less dull.

9. There is no such thing as a mistake.

No matter what happens on the road, it’s never a mistake. As was once said, “your choices are half chance, and so are everybody else’s.” When you go with the flow and let the road just unfold ahead of you, there’s no reason to have regrets or think you made a mistake. You make the best decisions you can and, in the end, the journey is the adventure.

10. Don’t be cheap.

When you travel on a budget and need to make your money last, it’s easy to be cheap. But why live like a pauper at home while you save so you can skip the food in Italy, the wine in France, or a sushi meal in Japan? While it is good to be frugal, it’s also important to splurge and not miss out on doing once-in-a-lifetime things. Who knows when you will get another chance to dive in Fiji?! Take every opportunity.

11. That being said, don’t be wasteful.

But remember you aren’t made of money, so don’t always feel like you need to party with your new friends every night or do every activity in a new place. Sometimes it’s OK just to sit around and relax or cook your own meal. Be frugal, but not cheap.

12. Drop the guidebook.

Don’t be so glued to a book. You can travel fine without it, especially with so many good alternatives on the Internet these days. You’ll buy it and hardly use it anyway. Just ask people for tips and information. That will be your best source of information, especially for those off-the-beaten track destinations and hole-in-the-wall restaurants that no one’s ever heard of but serve the best food you can imagine.

13. It’s never too late to change.

Even if you aren’t the traveler or person you want to be in your head, it’s never too late to change. Travel is all about change. The more you say “tomorrow,” the less likely it is that tomorrow will ever come. Traveling has shown me aspects of my personality I wish I didn’t have and also shown me I’m really lazy. I’ve always lived by the phrase “Carpe Diem” but sometimes I don’t really do it. It’s never too late though and realizing that has made being more pro-active a lot easier.

14. Relax.

Life is amazing. There’s no reason to worry. The universe unfolds as it should. Relax and just go with it. You can’t change the future – it hasn’t happened yet. Just make the best decisions you can today and enjoy the moment. Don’t get caught up trying to see all the “must sees.” There’s nothing wrong with spending a day playing games, reading a book, or lounging by the pool.

15. Learn more languages (seriously).

There’re some great benefits to not knowing the local language – like miming out “chicken” to let the lady know you want eggs for breakfast – but learning languages is very helpful when you travel, and works out great when you meet other travelers. There’s also nothing like surprising people by speaking their language. Moreover, knowing basic phrases will endear you to locals who will appreciate the fact you went the extra mile. You’ll find people will be much more helpful, even if you struggle to say hello.

16. Wear more sunscreen.

Seriously. Science has proven it helps, and with all that beach time you do when you travel, you could always use a little more. Being tan is great. Having skin cancer is not. SPF up.

17. People are good.

All over the world, I have encountered amazing people who have not only changed my life but have gone out of their way to help me. It’s taught me that the old saying is true – you can always depend on the kindness of strangers. My friend Greg taught me long ago not to be guarded against strangers. That experience when I first started traveling changed everything and when you travel with an open heart, unexpected goodness will happen. 99.9999% of the people in the world aren’t murders, rapists, or thieves. There’s no reason to assume someone is one. Sometimes people are just trying to be friendly.

18. There’s no such thing as must-see.

This is your trip. No one else’s. Everyone’s journey is their own. Do what you want, when you want, and for how long you want. Don’t let anyone tell you aren’t a real traveler for skipping the Louvre, avoiding some little town in Peru, or deciding to party in Thailand. This your journey. You owe no one an explanation.

I’ve learned more about the world and myself in the last seven years of travel than I had in the previous 25 years of my life. No matter what happens in the future, I know that travel has taught me life lessons I never would have learned had I stayed in my cubicle job.

Find a way to travel as often has you can to all the destinations you dream about.  They will change your life.

My 5 Favorite Meals from the First Half of 2013

One of the perks of travel is a constant exposure to new restaurants, new cuisines, and new places your friends insist that you have to go while you’re in town.

The first half of 2013 definitely had its fair share of excellent, excellent meals — on both coasts of the US and down in South America.

Here’s my top 5 favorite meals from January-June 2013:

La Cabrera — Buenos Aires, Argentina

The best steak in the world’s best steak town. There’s almost nothing else that needs to be said about it. But I’ll try.

La Cabrera draws crowds and even though some travel sites will tell you it’s overrated, it’s rated so high anyway that even a little bit over that is still about as prime of a steakhouse as you’re going to get.

Add in the diminishing value of the Argentinian peso and I split an 800g steak (over 1.75 pounds), a chorizo sausage, some bread and a whole lot of side dishes (complimentary with steak orders) for something like $22 per person.

You don’t get that value everywhere. In fact, you really can’t get it anywhere.

The first, and potentially last, time I’ll ever taste steak that damn near melted in my mouth. Don’t steak Argentinian cuisine lightly.

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Au Cheval — Chicago, IL

I had heard about this burger spot in Chicago months before I got there. Chicagoans love to talk food and this is a name that comes up A LOT. So was glad to hop in a car with some friends, show up on a Sunday night and wait at the bar next door for a table to open up.

Nothing disappointed. We started with rich sides (foie gras) and moved on to a helping of delicious burgers (with egg on top, naturally). Burgers are double pattied and just the perfect bite each time going in. In 6 months, I’ve had a lot of burgers, but none of really come close to this guy.

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Torchy’s Tacos — Austin, TX

It’s hard to eat amazing food within the first 20 minutes of being in a new city (or is it?) — but that’s exactly what Austin (and my friend Jordan) provided. With some of the big and established names on this, Torchy’s Tacos comes via a food truck in a very Austin-y food truck lot. We waited and waited for these guys (and a side of deep fried cookie dough) but they were the best tacos I’ve had all year.

Fun names, cheap eats and sitting outside on a warm Texas night. What’s better?

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Thai X-ing — Washington, DC

Any meal that ends with the best  sticky rice you’ve ever had in the States should make this list. When you’re so full of other incredible Thai food that makes the list on its own that you can barely eat that sticky rice, that should tell you something.

This set-but-secret-menu Thai place in DC blew my mind in January and hasn’t left my mind since. Have to go back. Something like $30 got you more food than you can eat in 2 days, all delicious, all varieties of meat, noodles, fruit. In an old house, the food comes from outside and though the door snug open a lot and let some colder winter air in, I was too busy scooping food up to really notice.

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[Seafood Restaurant] — Valparaiso, Chile

Usually when you can’t remember the name of a restaurant it meant you were fast to get out there. Not this place — though i still can’t remember it and google isnt much help at the moment. I’ll track it down.

My buddy and I were on a search for ceviche in the beautiful Chilean seaside town of Valparaiso and stumbled in to the first place we saw near the fish market (after seeing a high speed chase with a hit and run driver, and a cop shooting his pistol). Ordered that ceviche and got a fish drenched in a black butter sauce. We nearly licked that sauce off the plate it was so good.

Perhaps it was the 8 hours of walking we did before it — but truly an unforgettable meal not too far from the famous Valpo docks on the Pacific Coast.