Survivorman Fan Challenge 2015

Today I’ll be writing about my experience appearing in the Fan Episode of Survivorman with Les Stroud. Where to begin?…..I guess a little background on my outdoors experience is in order. For the past 10 years I’ve backpacked extensively around Europe but at the end of the night I’d always end up at a hostel, cabin or campground, so my survival camping skills were quite low. I didn’t have a fear of sleeping under the stars going into the Survivorman show and I knew that most likely….I’D ACTUALLY BE SLEEPING UNDER THE STARS because I didn’t have the necessary skills to create a functional shelter. I’d watched the show for years, so some of the survival concepts were in my base of knowledge, but I’d never had the practical experience. And apart from my irrational fear of bear attacks, which has now subsided, I was comfortable with a trial by fire situation. Though….I wasn’t remotely aware of how uncomfortable I’d actually get.

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First off, for those of you Survivorman fans and/or haters who have been wondering all these years…Yes, Les Stroud is the real deal. The show is NOT faked. Working in the film/tv business I’m always a bit skeptical of reality shows because sometimes shows are bogus (though I was never skeptical of Survivorman for obvious reasons). There were times when I would’ve loved if the show was a farce and some production assistant would’ve come out from behind a tree and given me a piece of fried chicken…but no. Not a chance. It was real. And being on Survivorman was one of the most amazing and most awful experiences I’ve ever gone through. Hanging out with Les Stroud in the woods was amazing….but still, it’s survival and come dawn on the last day….I was so exhausted, defeated, cold and starving that I just wanted to get out of there, eat a hot meal and sleep in a warm bed. Entering into it I knew there’d be some hardships, but I never knew that hunger would’ve had such a detrimental effect on me (as I’m sure you’ll see on the show). I’d gone without food before for about 36 hours, while sedentary, so being deprived of food while physically exerting myself and depleting calories was no easy feat. I got to the point where my brain just said, ‘Hey. You’re starving and tired. But you’re on this tv show. Do a good job. Use what skills you have. Put your eye in the viewfinder and just keep filming’. Hunger was by far… the worst part. Being alone, having anxiety from lack of sleep, being freezing cold at night, struggling to make fire, hurting my knee while hiking, getting soaking wet in the cold, getting sick….those were bad…yeah. But the lack of food just made those other problems even worse because I couldn’t think straight.

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There were good times and opportunities for growth, for sure. And I’m going to focus on those good moments as opposed to giving a linear rundown of the journey. Because that’s why you’re going to watch the show, right? To see the journey. One of my favorite off-camera moments which still makes me crack up, is on the last morning, probably around 4-5am, I woke up to see Les staring at me. He said, ‘Did you get some sleep?’ to which I replied, ‘Yeah. Maybe about 15 minutes’ and he goes, ‘Come on! You slept for like an hour. And you weren’t kidding. Your snoring is world class. Do me a favor. If you ever get married, please get that surgery’. My backpacking buddies have told me for years that I sound like a dying caribou when I snore…and having Les Stroud agree with that sentiment is pretty funny to me. This is part of the reason I feel so bad staying in dorm room hostels (see snoring blog here). At least I don’t have to worry about wild animals sneaking up on me at night because….they’ll think I’m one of them.

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Another great off-camera moment was after one of our long hikes. Les and I got into really thick bush and it seemed we were on an endless trek. I felt like we were Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings traversing unholy terrain. The trees were thick and spaced inches apart. The footing was horrible. There were huge swamps blocking our path, followed by boulders and small cliffs. We just kept hitting obstacle after obstacle and we were getting turned around and lost in the woods. This is when I started complaining and Les looked at me and said, ‘Hey, you signed up for this’ and I said, ‘I know. It’s ok. I’m just bitching’. After getting soaked crossing this huge beaver dam, Les and I climbed up on this rock and sat down. We didn’t say anything to each other. Just sat there looking at the beauty of that lake that the beavers helped create. It was a beautiful, crisp sunny day. I had the thought to take out my camera and snap a photo but no….it was too perfect to photograph. A remote spot in the Canadian wilderness that only a handful of avid hunters might see. It was unbelievable. And then after 15 minutes of admiring the scenery, Les and I stood up and continued the unending journey in the thick bush. Moments. That’s what we live for. Moments like that.

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Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat. I made mistakes. I faltered in areas where I didn’t think I would. I was overwhelmed at times and let fear make decisions for me rather than strength. I felt ashamed for letting such little things get to me…but that’s what it’s all about. Survival. Testing yourself. I don’t regret any of it because I learned so much on that journey that I can add into my already large wealth of backpacking knowledge and I had a remarkable experience. And now….I’ve got so many more skills to bring with me in any hiking/backpacking situation. Why did I apply to the contest and accept the invitation? Well, it’s Survivorman….duh! But also, what’s the point of life if you’re not willing to take chances and greet opportunities with open arms, however crazy they may seem? Maybe I did this to prove to myself that I was stronger than I thought. Maybe I did it because I missed my dad and just wanted him to magically come down from the skies and give me a handshake and say, ‘Good job. I’m proud of you’. Maybe I was just bored and wanted to do something wild. Maybe I was thrilled to hang out with Les Stroud and go on an adventure with him! Or all of the above! Either way, I’m just a regular dude who made a good video and was lucky enough to get chosen by Team Survivorman to be on the show. And that’s AWESOME! And I am and will be eternally grateful to Les, Laura, Ian, John, Max, Wendy, Lauren, Web Girl & the rest of the crew for inviting me into their world and giving me an experience of a lifetime.

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We shot a lot of footage so I’m just as excited as you are to see the final product. I honestly have no idea what the episode looks like….and I’m pretty stoked for it. I think this season of Survivorman is going to be one of the best. And maybe after the episode I’ll put up another blog of more of my experiences and anecdotes. As always, be good to yourself. Be good to others. People, animals & plants alike. Do your best. And follow The Golden Rule. Thanks for reading. Have a great day!

And don’t forget to tune in. Saturday November 7th 2015 @ 10pm/eastern on the Science Channel.

 

 

Snoring & How to Deal With It!

It’s a SNORE subject (har har har) for all backpackers. Snoring. Some of us snore. Some of us don’t. Personally, I’m a snorer…90% of the time. Now for most people, on a regular night when we’re sleeping alone in our room, the fact that we snore or don’t snore isn’t a problem because we’re ALONE. If you’re in a relationship, ok, one partner will likely wake up every night to alert you of your snoring (which does nothing! It’s not as if snorers can hit the ‘off’ button). And if you’re snoring after a one night stand….it’ll probably end up being just that…. a one night stand….because people HATE SNORERS!!! Now that’s in the regular world of single people and couples. Backpacking is very, very, very different and it would greatly assist the ‘backpacker’ to review some unspoken rules that I’ve put together.

What causes snoring

I will preface this by saying that 2 months prior to my latest backpacking journey I researched remedies for snoring and I religiously went to acupuncture to curtail my snoring (which cost me almost $300 and that’s a lot for a traveler to put into snoring prevention). Did the acupuncture work? Yes. I recorded myself during the time periods between visits and I wasn’t snoring. But….it didn’t last into my journey. So, I wouldn’t recommend this treatment for a traveler. I would recommend it though for stationary maintenance . And now we start the list.

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#1. Most importantly. Know what you’re getting into. If you’re roughing it…you’re going to be sleeping in a tent with one or several people. If you’re staying in a hostel and trying to save money, you’re going to be sleeping in a room with four, eight or possibly 20 different people. There’s a give and take. You’ll get off paying $10-$30 for a bed and will have to put up with snoring, farting, people who talk in their sleep, people who have night terrors, rude people who talk on their cell phone in the bedroom, smelly people, messy people, drunk people, people trying to bang and people having different sleeping habits than your own. Don’t expect it to be ‘your space’. Sometimes you’ll luck out because most backpackers are respectful and hey….they’re just trying to save money while they travel too.. so they ‘get it’. But….know what you’re getting into. ANYTHING GOES. Just like the guy who was talking non-stop to himself in his sleep saying, ‘Tomorrow I have to brush my teeth’, ‘I should’ve taken a shower tonight’, ‘I really need to buy a new toothbrush’…did I find that annoying? No…I found it hysterical and laughed myself to sleep. It’s all part of the experience.

#2. Invest in some good ear plugs. If you’re a non-snorer or a light sleeper. Get some ear plugs! They’re cheap and there are a lot of good brands out there. Get several different ones. If you want to sleep…you’ll need em. If you’re a snorer…BRING EARPLUGS EVERYWHERE. I brought a stock of about 6 ear plugs with me to each hostel. I would write a note that said, ‘Hey. I snore. I’m sorry. Here are some free ear plugs’…and I’d leave it on the desk, sink or couch in the common area of the room. I was just being courteous because I know how annoying snoring can be. At least if you do that…fellow travelers won’t sneer at you when you pass them going to the bathroom in the morning.

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#3. This one is really important. DON’T BLAME THE PERSON WHO SNORES. Seriously dude. They can’t help it. And if they can…there are very few effective remedies for snoring that snorers can employ while traveling (see #4). When backpacking, I feel bad EVERY NIGHT that my snoring keeps people up. Sometimes I even stay up as late as possible, until 3-4am just so most people can have a good nights rest before I start wailing away like a monster. Occasionally, I’ll sleep in the lounge if there is one in the hostel…just in case I snore. Should I (or other snorers for that matter) have to do that? Should we sacrifice sleep and go on 4 hours a night of rest just so the 7 other people in the room can relax? No. Not at all. I mean…we paid for a bed too. But most people give snorers a lot of crap… like this weener. And in reality it’s the non-snorers fault. If you can’t handle snoring…you should do the research & testing and find a pair of good earplugs for yourself. Or book a hotel or B&B where you can have complete silence for your sensitive ear drums. You’re in a hostel. Deal with it. Take some responsibility. Don’t blame anyone but yourself. I love when I walk into a room at 2am and a few people are snoring….it makes me feel like less of an asshole. When in truth the guy who’s tossing and turning underneath me that DIDN’T TAKE THE FREE EARPLUGS I GAVE HIM is the bigger asshole.

#4. This is for snorers. Remedy the problem as best as you can. Are you a fellow snoring backpacker? Don’t have 10 grand for the sinus surgery that probably won’t work? Want to know what works? BREATH RIGHT STRIPS. That’s right. Breath right strips. Invest in them. I brought bag of them with me on the last trip. They don’t eliminate your snoring….but they do cut it down by 20-30% and that’s pretty good. That means your heavy, dying sea animal snore has now turned into a light, waves crashing in the ocean snore, and that’s awesome & acceptable for most people (not that you should care because other people SHOULD HAVE EARPLUGS). What else works? Cut your alcohol consumption. REALLY difficult to do while you’re traveling but…alcohol has an effect on the muscles in your throat and you’re guaranteed to snore (or snore louder) when you’re drinking. So if you’re a drinker, just get DAY DRUNK, it’ll make your trip extra exciting OR just stop drinking 1-2 hours before bed. Lastly, steaming your throat will loosen up your throat muscles and your sinuses. 15 minutes of that before bed and you won’t snore at all. But who has time for that while backpacking? So…a cup of tea or a hot shower will suffice.

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If you’re reading this…you’re most likely wide awake at 3am, scanning the internet on your smart phone to find a way to deal with the snorers in your hostel. And that’s just it. DEAL WITH IT. Go get some earplugs that work. They’re cheap. Some hostels even give them out for free. Don’t complain about how hard you’ve got it because you can’t get your precious sleep while you’re backpacking the globe, something a large majority of the worlds population will never get to do. Suck it up. Train your mind. Put aside your petty troubles. Meditate. Do your best to become a heavy sleeper. Be a sleep magician like me. Once I put my head down on the pillow, I’m usually out in 3 seconds. You’re in a hostel. Anything goes. Someone could stumble into the room screaming. Someone could snore. Someone could break a window. Someone could pee on you in a drunken stupor (happened to me). Who knows…..but ya know what I know? I’m getting my sleep…loud room or not. Once again. Acceptance. Earplugs. Courtesy. Respect. Breath Right Strips. Sleep. Repeat as often as necessary.

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Thanks for reading this M.A.V.B.L.O.G. I hope it’s helped your current hosteling sleep situation and/or enlightened you to the world of backpacking. As always. Do your best. Do better. Be good to yourself. Be good to others. Even plants, animals and rocks. Follow The Golden Rule. Now get some rest…

 

A Backpackers Mind

Life….a series of seemingly significant or insignificant moments that are strung together throughout time forming an individuals very essence, one who will interact with tens, hundreds, thousands, millions or billions of other humans that inhabit this vast and mysterious world that we constantly try to control and understand. Interactions that on the surface, one might think are inconsequential, but possibly lead to events that bring into being the treasures of a life well lived and/or the foundations for opportunity and growth. Life….can you tell me what it is? Can the worlds most renowned scientist, spiritual authority, politician, mystic or philosopher tell you or I the ‘reality’ of what is going on in the world? What does it all mean? Why are we here? What is my purpose? Can anyone answer for you the largest questions that have ever existed?  Absolutely not. They’re questions that only you can answer. And that brings us to the backpackers philosophy and the travelers mind, which I feel is important to cultivate, with whatever label you may give to it. Because it can help you answer those questions that everyone is bound to have and help to improve your life. What I’m saying isn’t entirely new…..it’s just coming from a different person.

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What is backpacking? What is travel? It’s just seeing new places, having fun and experiencing different cultures, right? Yes…..at first. What it really is, is a lesson in risk-taking. A constant lesson (depending upon how much you travel and/or if you can maintain that mystical energy field one can foster around oneself while you travel). Something happens to the adventurer that embraces the fact that he or she isn’t in control of anything. That they are at the whim of the world that they’re about to experience. You’ve got to let go of your plans and travel books and pre-conceptions of what a vacation ‘is’ to tap into that field. You take risks. Risk after risk. Large and small. Why? People who travel are escaping something. A stressful job. A life without flavor. A death in the family. A chance to recapture their youth with friends. A break-up. An overbearing spouse. A dead end job. On and on. People are escaping. What they can unlock when they start to take risks is…. their true essence. The absence of fear. Their human potential. Each moment they will transform into a better version of themselves. Travel is not just about sitting on the beach sipping margaritas. That is fine and it has it’s place…especially if you’ve been hiking for the past 2 weeks. But to find the travelers mind, one must move outside of their comfort zone, in small and in large leaps.

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What am I talking about? I’m talking about those moments where you can ‘follow the white rabbit’. Those moments when you can push yourself. An opportunity gets presented and you can walk through the door, or not. Do I cancel my trip to Austria because the cute girl who was drawing a sketch of me on the train is going to Poland? Do I follow her there? Do I go with the guy to an absynthe bar? Do I cancel my flight to see this once in a lifetime concert? Do I stay in a hostel, even though I’m terrified of sharing my space with complete strangers? Do I walk alone at night for 3 miles through this part of the city or do I take the tram? Seemingly insignificant moments that can have a huge bearing on what you are about to become. Me? I didn’t follow the girl. Maybe she and I would have fallen in love. I did follow the guy, drank absinthe, had wild hallucinations and spoke fluent French to strangers when I was lost, although I don’t speak French (I only studied it briefly in school). I did cancel my flight and had a spiritual experience at the concert, which stirred up emotions from memories past that I needed to re-asses and cleanse. I stayed in the hostel (and many, many others) and broke down my misconceptions that we all live ‘the exact same way’. I walked through the city, in the quiet hours of the night when no tourists are clouding the truth that lay there, and got to observe what it’s like to be a homeless drug addict.

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Are those few moments that I’ve shared from my life really what amounts to cultivating the travelers mind that I talk about? Yes. However unremarkable as they were, they led to hundreds of other instances, where I could have chosen the familiar road or the unfamiliar road. And as you grow and enjoy it….you begin to take more risks into unknown territories. You may even find peace…without meditation. Your meditation was your risk taking. The adventure was your drug. Because that’s what we’re all after too, right? Peace. A life without stress. A life without fear. Complete freedom. That’s why we read so many self-help books, are members of organized religions, take so many pharmaceuticals, go to therapy and exercise like maniacs…..because we want to quiet our mind. Our mind….that is the root of all our problems. Because it’s our mind that is or isn’t afraid, that is or isn’t sad, that is or isn’t accepting of situations. Our mind….is also our greatest ally and given the proper shift, is capable of transforming your perspective into a perfect, dream-like life, where next to nothing can rattle your cage.

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Then comes the hardest part for a backpacker… you realize that the journey has to come to an end. As do all things in life. That’s the second most important thing you learn. How to say goodbye. On a whim you went to a country that you knew next to nothing about…and you found a place that was like a childhood dream. It was a place without equal. And you only had two days to enjoy it. You knew in your present situation, it may be years, if ever, that you return to this place. So you do something that’s harder than a break-up, maybe even harder than putting your favorite pet to sleep…..you say goodbye to perfection. You let go. Constantly. You say goodbye to the great friends you made at the hostel in Prague. ….will it really ever be the same if you meet up with them again? You travel and you keep moving. You say goodbye hundreds of times, to people, to places, to things that you fell in love with. You cultivate a giant garden of fantastic moments. Moments that never would have happened unless you took those risks. And each place you go to….you find more things in this world that you fall in love with…..another town, another city, another person, another bar, another restaurant, another meal, another church, another farm, another mountain, another tree, another hostel, another beer, another wine……and you think to yourself, ‘How can there be so many beautiful things in this world? If I were to see it all, how could I even comprehend how vast and amazing this world is?’ (A blog is a poor excuse I know). You start to let go of all the horrible things you’ve seen and read in the news and start to realize that……for every bad thing…..there are 100 indescribable things that overcome it.

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And however many times you have to say goodbye, is how many times your heart breaks. You get filled up with joy and then torn apart so many times….that nothing can harm you anymore. Your ego explodes and reassembles continuously in the self analysis that inevitably happens as you step outside of your comfort zone…that you forget who you are. You forget where you are. You forget why you were so damned afraid or so damned shy. You burn up and then rise like a phoenix out of the ashes…over and over again. It’s as if you’d been asleep your whole life….and all of a sudden you’re filled with energy and alive. You can become so addicted to this energy, that you yearn for it constantly. It’s not a drug addiction. Or an adrenaline addiction or some other man made disorder. It’s an addiction to life. What life really is. And once you experience it….you want it again, and again, and again. Just like Bill Murray in Scrooged (1988). Because who wants to go back to being afraid and boxed in once they’ve been set free? It’s like a hell in it’s own way to return from a life changing experience. How can one come back to their former life….when their life, rather their perception of it, is no longer the same? How can you be stagnant…living in one place….when you’ve stayed in a different bed in a different city every night for months? It is something that I’ve struggled with each time I return from a journey….

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And ‘an’ answer, not ‘the’ answer, in keeping that favorable aura about yourself, is that there’s always another journey. Even if you’ve been gone backpacking for 2 years…..the coming year upon your return home is another great journey. What is home? There’s no need to be miserable, living in bitterness because you left a great expansive adventure behind you, but to be happy because you know deep inside that nothing is set in stone. Nothing can be controlled. Nothing can be answered but with the answer that you give to it. Nothing is irrational or unrealistic or impossible. Because there is no answer that you can contend with, that is any better than your own answers. You become so in touch with your emotions, your spirituality, your morals & ideals that you feel a step above the rest, but you know that you’re no better than any other human being….you can just see it clearly, is all. And there’s always a new adventure to be had. Sure, you’ll go back to a ‘normal’ life and a ‘normal’ set of ideals, laws and societal expectations. But when you’re there, in the travelers mind frame, you can just sit back and laugh at it all….because it’s all man-made. And the knowledge that you gained….is probably more valuable than all the power in the world. Your family & friends will think you’re the same old person and will treat you accordingly. The rules will pretty much be the same….but you won’t. It’s like The Wachowski’s described in The Matrix…you’ll start to see the code, in a sense. And songs like this will start to make sense to you.

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Gratitude. The third most important thing for a backpacker. Do you know how amazing it is that you were born? That you were formed into the person that you were? That you positioned your life to have the opportunity to travel? That you picked those certain places to travel to? That you met the people you did and experienced very strange synchronicity’s in those places you went to? Do you think a football player like Ryan Tannehill (Go Dolphins!) could just hit the road, backpack Europe, have fun and get crazy without being recognized and criticized the world over for it? Do you think a movie star like Tom Cruise or Jim Carrey could have that same experience? No way! I mean…maybe they could try…..but it’s highly unlikely that they’d go incognito for more than a few days. Do you know how lucky you are to backpack and how unimaginable that escapade is to most people? Be grateful for each second. For each good and bad experience. Each girl kissed and each ankle sprained. Backpacking makes you realize, however slowly for some, that life is REALLY F$*%ING PRECIOUS!! And AMAZING! Just look at it! And if you can transform yourself….each time that you return home you’ll become a better version of you, with a new lease on life. Of course you’ll tell your boss that he’s an @$$hole and get fired. Of course you’ll ask the girl out that you were always shy around. Of course you’ll call an estranged friend that you haven’t seen in 5 years. Of course you’ll tell someone that you love them. Because it’s such a laugh, isn’t it? All those shortcomings and imaginary fears. We all die. It’s inevitable. And we have this gift of a life……to live… and to be free. Truly free. Not the freedom that George W. talked about.

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No matter how perfect you feel after the journey ends. No matter how clear headed you’ve become. You’ll always get dragged back into human drama, pain and suffering (greatest movie ever, watch it). You’ll spin in the same circles that you’ve spun in before. You might make mistakes….but you’ll know why. You’ll take the risks….knowing that things may end poorly….and you’ll do it because you’ll know that there’s no point to life unless you take risks. Big ones. You’ll keep stepping outside of your comfort zone because you won’t want to become stale….so you’ll try to be a little unpredictable, just to hang on to that travelers mind. And you might pull stunts to keep that feeling. And it might leave you. For a long time. Who knows…you might turn into who you once were before the journey began. But if you’re looking for it….it’ll come back around. The winds always change.

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You might be saying, ‘Great. You feel awesome. I’m happy for you…weirdo. You’ve got a good lease on life. Why do I need to save my money and allocate all this time to travel just to find….a better outlook on life? What if I don’t find it? What if I don’t need it?’ Well, you might not find it. I’ve traveled at times and didn’t have the same explosive experience as others. It has a lot to do with your head space when the journey begins. But if you’re open to it….there’s a good chance that you’ll have a great experience. It’s entirely up to you. The meaning of life is your own meaning. Your purpose in life is the purpose that you give to yourself. I can’t tell you who you are. I can’t tell you what to do. Neither can your boss, or your lover, or the President, or the Pope. It’s your call. Always. I’m just a guy sharing my experiences. And I’m sure that you’ll do the right thing for yourself….but I hope that some of my words have rubbed off. And maybe you will go backpacking, however close to or far from your home. And maybe you’ll open your mind to see just how unbelievably amazing this world is, how unbelievably amazing you are and how important you are to this world that you live in. And here I am….trying to push you off the cliff.

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Thanks for reading this M.A.V.B.L.O.G and learning about the backpackers mind. As always. Be good to yourself. Be good to others. And follow The Golden Rule. Have a great day.

I have a (backpacking) dream!

I’m not Martin Luther King Jr. nor do I think that I’m the backpackers version of Martin Luther King Jr……but I HAVE A DREAM!! I have a dream that one day the US Government (and all other governments too) will institute a broad, cultural & educational internship/ambassadorship for all its young citizens. As soon as the youth would graduate high school, and before attending college/university or entering the work force, they’d be required to complete a full year of travel, study & work-study, which was completely sponsored by the state. A year where the youth would have the opportunity to broaden their minds, stimulate their brain cells, socialize with foreigners from around the globe, where they’d visit museums and monuments and great feats of architecture. A year where the people of the world would have the chance to integrate their ideas, beliefs, dreams and passions with one another. I have a dream!!!

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I have a dream where all adults would be fulfilled in their lives, de-stressed and content with their jobs because of the opportunities afforded to them by their government when they were in their youth. Where all people would be appreciative of the great memories they’d created while traveling abroad. Where all people would be given the opportunity to find themselves and find their true calling before being shuttled into our current higher education monstrosity. I have a dream where countries would tolerate one another’s differences, without resorting to horrific wars, because of the seeds sown amongst generations of travelers. I have a dream where the youth, whether rich or poor, for one year, would be treated as equals by the entire world. Where they could study, travel, work, go on pub crawls, have relationships, fall in love and go on adventures with one another. A year where the daughter of a CEO and the son of an inner-city factory worker would be in the same strata. A year where the youth would be forced out of their comfort zones into an expansive world that would leave them appreciative and in awe of the world that they live in.

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In short, I have a dream for a brighter future and a better world where everyone gets to know the joy of backpacking, visiting monuments & museums, seeing that street band play in a foreign city, going for a walk in the woods in a different country, drinking glacier water as it melts on the mountain, kissing the girl you met on the train, taking a class at a foreign university, getting into an argument with someone at a hostel and then drinking with them and realizing that your cultures aren’t all that different, going to Oktoberfest in Munich for the first time and just missing your train connection at 1am and the next train isn’t until 7am, eating a pizza in Rome and seeing the Champs-Élysées. It’s a dream that is far-fetched right now but it is certainly possible. Some countries such as Germany have had similar programs during our modern time where you could either join the military or join a volunteer service. So maybe it’s not as outlandish an idea as I think it is?

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Human beings are not just a commodity to be pegged, prodded and used as fodder. Each moment, each word and each step in a persons life has long lasting psychological impacts on them and sociological impacts on society. Parts of the world are broken and intelligent thinkers in charge need to make positive changes or else we’ll see more radical groups like the Islamic State and the reckless governments who view people as numbers and not living beings. Maybe if we were afforded the chance to speak, learn and bond with foreigners, on a large scale, then we wouldn’t view certain cultures as radical, evil or dangerous….and vice versa. I once met a North Korean fellow during my travels….we hung out and drank beer together….he was a funny dude….he told me….’I don’t like George Bush. I don’t like what he does. But I like the Yankees. And I like you’. Well maybe when he went home he told his family & friends….’Hey I had a good time with this American. He was nice. They’re not all bad’. And there you go….tolerance. Progress. One small step at a time. I certainly told people about the awesome North Korean guy who was obsessed with German beer and the Yankees. How he got out of North Korea and traveled? Beats the crap out of me!

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So, how would this dream actually work? Well it’s fairly simple…in principle. Students would have to sign up for their accommodations (state sponsored hostels) and air-fare/train-fare (State sponsored) similar to the way they sign up for classes in college. There would need to be some ‘Backpacking Counselors’, which initially I’m sure the government could find amongst the travel bloggers and travel enthusiasts out there. Those people would staff the hostels, lead tours and help the students. Then eventually, those ‘Backpacking Counselors’ could be staffed by some of our youth that just fell in love with backpacking and they made it their career to assist others in their journeys. Those folks could work at any of the state sponsored hostels around the globe. They’d be viewed as college professors sort of….but KICK ASS college professors. Those counselors would also make sure students were getting enough culture and work-study. Each sponsored hostel could also have a tiny military presence (country of sponsorship or NATO or what have you) just to ensure that student travelers are safe and also to give certain soldiers a better job than cleaning out the latrines at their local military installation. It’s the technological age….so each student would have a data-chip in their ID card, which would be linked to their personal ‘student travel website’. All information would be cached/collected so that their counselors could make sure they were 1. Doing enough cultural activities (museums, guided tours, plays etc.) 2. Doing enough work-study (example: they’d need to work for 2 months out of the year at state sponsored hostels in food service, office work and janitorial duties) and 3. Seeing enough of the required cities on the list (example: each student would plan their own custom trip but would be required to see such places as- Dublin, London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Rome, Barcelona, Moscow, Athens, Istanbul, Cairo, Hong Kong, Brazil, Tokyo etc.). Also, for Americans (or any locals and their own country of residence for that matter) they’d be required to visit a certain portion of their own country too. I mean, how can you broaden your horizons when you don’t know about the place that you’re actually from…..right?

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Obviously there’d be some exceptions to the rule. You wouldn’t want criminals traveling around or people who didn’t complete their high school education and were looking for a freebie. There’d have to be some type of incentive to getting this state-sponsored opportunity. (For example, ‘you must receive your high school diploma and have volunteered X number of hours in your community and have a clean criminal record [within reason of course cause cops LOOOOVVVEEE to arrest people these days]) And there you have it. The basis for a world of adventurers that would learn from each culture and eventually work in every industry….from simple people who farm and cut trees, to people who become CEO’s, bankers and politicians. Would this proposed system work? Of course it would. Education fills your head. Travel opens your mind and stimulates your senses. Meeting people from other cultures and walks of life educates you even more, makes you tolerant and expands your world view. And instituting a program like this for the youth of the world….well……give it a try and see how AWESOME the world would be a generation later. You can educate yourself (great!) and watch all the news and all the documentaries that you want, good or bad, but they’ll still never be the same as putting your feet on the ground, smelling the smells, hearing the sounds & conversations, eating the foods and immersing yourself in another culture. And back to those bad eggs or youth with a less than favorable background. We wouldn’t want to exclude them because that’s not entirely fair. Maybe they’d have the option to join a branch of the military and get their world travel through a 2-year volunteer service with NATO or some type of world sponsored guard service. Hey, the ‘World Guard’ just like the ‘National Guard’.

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I’m just a regular guy. I don’t have an ivy league educational background that would put me into a decision making spot in politics, nor do I have the desire nor the connections to do so. I don’t have the fame, money or prowess to create a foundation and lobby our policy makers in this area. I don’t even have a full-time job right now. But what I do have is a voice….and a lot of experience. I know what I’m talking about. And I know that this is something that is progressive, has high potential and that the governments of the world need, especially the US government. It wouldn’t even cost that much when you put 2 and 2 together. Maybe it’ll take 50 years. Maybe it’ll take 100 years or even 200 years. But it’ll happen whether it’s sponsored or not. People are waking up. They’re realizing that there’s no adventure left in the world and the life that we’re spoon fed to live isn’t a life that they want. So, for those of you that read this….maybe you’re already in a place of power, maybe you’re a student who will one day become a senator or a young genius who will become a renowned scientist….and maybe you like my idea. And maybe, just maybe….you’ll go backpacking and have an adventure of your own….so that you’ll know EXACTLY what I just talked about. Turn off that TV. Stop saving up your money for the same vacation to Ocean City that you’ve gone on for the last 10 years… and do something new for a change.

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Eventually we’ll all realize that the various Gods we worship are essentially the same. That some of the religious rules we follow are outdated and need to be amended or thrown away. That the differences in our cultures can be appreciated and tolerated….and some of those differences are merely in text books and in the news and aren’t differences at all. That our own mind is the only thing preventing us from taking that next leap into an unknown realm of understanding and a better existence. The old ideas may not be working anymore…..and we’ve gotta start somewhere new….or else we’ll continue beheading others who in a different world we’d be having a coffee with, running crusades and blowing up buildings that in another world we’d be taking tours and snapping pictures of, having unending wars instead of having unending symposiums and we’ll constantly live in turmoil as if we’re on thin ice instead of living as if anything is possible.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this M.A.V.B.L.O.G. Maybe you agree. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’ll give this legs and run with my idea. Who knows? I’m just writing stuff on the interwebs for people like you to find. As always, be good to yourself, be good to others, be good to animals, follow The Golden Rule and have a great day.

Vienna, Austria for Backpackers

Vienna. What comes to mind when you think of Vienna? Classical music concerts, Beethoven, The Vienna Opera House… Some of the staples of Vienna. Right? Those things are great about this city and well worth getting immersed in….but Vienna actually is a pretty cool place apart from the classical music scene. Is it a party city? No. It’s not Berlin. But, it’s certainly worth a visit. I’ve spent a good amount of time exploring Vienna over the years and will provide some tips & hints for discovering Vienna. It’s not the cheapest city, but it’s certainly do-able if you’re budget minded. First up…..Schnitzel.

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Being part Austrian, no schnitzel will ever be like Grandma’s schnitzel, but Vienna’s got some KICK ASS choices. I’ve eaten 5 dollar schnitzels in Vienna and even a 50 dollar one (which wasn’t very good). Here are my top two picks. If you’re on a budget, check out Schnitzelwirt. The meal will set you back $10-$15 bucks….and it’s gigantic. You can basically eat the meal as lunch and dinner and you’ll still have some to take home. It tastes great. The restaurant is nice and you’ll be surrounded by Austrian locals. Overall it’s a fun time. Next…and my favorite is Zum Figlmuller. There’s really only one thing you can order on the menu and that is the Figlmuller-Schnitzel. It’s so amazing! It’s huge! It tastes so good! The meat is pounded so thin that the schnitzel will flop over your plate. And you’ve gotta get it with the mixed salad or potato salad. This meal will probably set you back about $20-$25 bucks but it’s well worth it. And you’ll either have leftovers or you’ll be full for the next 24 hours. I recommend going to the Wollzeile location. Make reservations here!…and unless it’s a touristy season the wait is just 10-15 minutes long. Oh yeah…no beer is served. Only wine. Lots of people online give Figlmuller crap and say the schnitzel isn’t good…..but sorry man. THE SCHNITZEL IS AMAAAZZZING!!!!

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If you’re on a really tight budget, go to one of the many Kebab stands in the city. They’re all over the place and they ROCK THE SOCKS. I think I’ve eaten at about 75% of them in the entire city. One visit I was obsessed. That’s all I ate. There’s a really good one in the Naschmarkt, which is another place you’ve gotta visit. It’s a big flea market/food market. Take a 30 minute stroll there and check out the sites and smells of Vienna. It can be reached easily because the U-bahn system in Vienna is really simple to use. Just go to a kiosk and select a 24-hr, 48-hr or 72-hr unlimited travel card (well worth it). After that you’ve gotta check out Stadtpark, Vienna’s central park, and spend about an hour or so just walking around and hanging out. During the night it’s just as pretty, but I’d go during the day because it’s nicer. And not that it’s dangerous, but on occasion you can get the random drunken lout wandering around at night. Next stop….Schonbrunn Palace. It’s a 20 minute U-bahn ride on the U4 green line and about a 45 minute walk to get from the subway platform to the Gloriette at the top. If you’re into the history, take the tour inside the palace, but I’ve always just walked around the immense palace grounds and gardens. Give yourself a few hours for this. The view is amazing. It’s free. Bring a picnic. Take a nap. Meditate. It’s awesome. Also, during the winter they have a Christkindlemarkt there, which is doubly as awesome. Hot punch. Friendly people. Great snacks. Crisp air. Christmas lights. What more could you want? Now if you’ve got the time…go to the Tiergarten Schonnbrun. It’s the oldest zoo in the world and is right next to Schonnbrun Palace. I wouldn’t recommend going there if you only had a couple of days in Vienna. But if you’re there anywhere from 4-7 days. Check it out.

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A lesser talked about destination in Vienna is the Hundertwasserhaus. It’s an architectural and artistic masterpiece. A trip there will change your life and calm your soul. Well worth it and something that you wouldn’t expect in Vienna. Some other fun stuff to do? It’s a big city and I’d advise a little bit of wandering, especially if you have the unlimited U-bahn ticket. Hop on an above ground tram, cruise the main ring (Ringstrasse), and/or just take the U-bahn and ride around. Some good places to see are the Prater (Praterstern U-bahn stop), the Rathaus (Rathaus U-bahn stop), the Karlsplatz U-bahn station used to be filled with bums, but now it’s cleaned up, and there’s the Opera Toilet (you HAVE to see it) and of course Stephansdom (Stephansplatz U-bahn stop). Even if you’re not religious….when you have a chance to see an 850-year old church…..go see it! It’s remarkable. You’ll get hounded outside by 20 guys dressed as Beethoven selling tickets to cheesy concerts, but just ignore them. Once and a while they have nighttime concerts inside the church (well worth paying if available-they sell those at the ticket booth located outside of the church). Up for some ice cream or gelato? Go anywhere that has the EIS sign. They’re scattered throughout the city. My favorite one is near the Reumannplatz subway stop, but that’s just me.

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The Vienna Concert Cafes are really cool. Time your visit right and you can sit and enjoy a classical concert for the price of a cup of coffee. And if you’re smart….you’ll shell out the extra Euros and order the Kaiserschmarren (Austria’s staple dessert). If you’re adventurous you can head over to Bratislava for the day. It’s a good place to see. The commuter train is only an hour long and it’s about a $20 dollar round trip ticket. The exchange rate was awesome and I did some shopping on the cheap there, but that was in 2007 (In 2009 they adopted the Euro). Back in Vienna proper, if you’re a horse enthusiast, seeing The Spanish Riding School will definitely be a highlight, but if you’re not, it’ll be a waste of time and money for you so just take the nice, romantic horse drawn carriage through the cobblestone streets if you’re with your spouse/partner/lover. That way you can see the city from a different vantage point.

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If you’re looking to go out and get some drinks….hang at some of the bars in the Bermuda Triangle (just a grouping of bars in a triangular area of streets). It makes for some easy bar hopping and late night kebab eating. Crossfield’s Australian Pub (near the Opera) is also worth the visit. Beers. Trivia games. A comfortable atmosphere….and you can eat grasshoppers if you want! That’s right. Grasshoppers! They’re crunchy!… Down for Karaoke? Hit up Mai Kai and belt out some tunes. It’s a chill spot. Where to sleep you ask? Well…. Hotel Furstenhof ain’t the cheapest place ($60-$75/night) for a bohemian half-hotel, half-hostel) but it’s certainly got some charm. There’s always Wombats Hostel ($20-$30/night) or you can take a quick look on Hostelworld.com. There’s plenty of em’ to choose from. As for regular hotels…they can be a bit pricey in this town….but look nonetheless. They run some deals and specials from time to time. Hotel Karntnerhof is a good one to try. It’s not too close to the action but not too far away.

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Museums? Yes to them all. If you’ve got the time of course. If you’re gonna pick just one….I’d say that you’d have to see Albertina. Also, take one of the Danube River tours (Stift Melk is a good one [uber awesome if you’re a librarian] and check out Durnstein and Krems while you’re there) or a take walk in the Wienerwald (it’s really special. Autumn is the best time for this). If you’ve hired a car or have the money for a taxi, head out of the city to a traditional Heuriger restaurant. It’s no German beer hall, with the singing and dancing, but it’s just as awesome in it’s own way. Grab a nice lunch and try the new Austrian wines or some ‘Sturm’ if it’s in season. Another very fun ‘free’ thing to do is go to Stephansdom and walk in the direction of Karlsplatz. As you walk, just watch the street performers. There’s a dance group that shows up (almost everyday) near the church and draws a big crowd. Sometimes there are classical music groups or guitar players that are good to watch. You can tip them or just waltz on by.

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There’s plenty to do in Vienna and I’ll say again that it’s really worth a visit. The best time of year to go is probably in mid to late September or early October. Autumn in Vienna is perfect. Not that other seasons in Vienna are bad. The spring is amazing when the flowers are in bloom, the summer is great (but a bit hot because of all the recent heat waves) and the winter, though a bit dreary in parts of the city, it’s beautiful because the Christmas markets are out and a fresh snowfall in Vienna is pretty stunning. Anytime that you go, you’ll have a good time. I’ve given you a large amount of stuff to check out but don’t limit yourself. Check out the tourist maps (available at most shops and hostels) and see what they suggest. Also, do some of the classical music concerts if that’s your sole reason for visiting. And again, wander around….wander, wander, wander. It’s fun. You might just stumble into this place ‘Burg Kino’, which is perfect if you’re an Orson Welles fan. And if you’re flying in or out, be sure to use the CAT train shuttle (about $15 bucks). The airport is a ways away from the center city and you’ll end up paying 40-50 Euros for a cab ride.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this M.A.V.B.L.O.G. and my tips for Vienna, Austria. If you’d like further assistance in planning your trip, feel free to contact me on twitter @odiemcconnell or via e-mail at mcconnellfavors@gmail.com.  As always. Do your best. Treat others with respect… people, animals and plants alike. And follow The Golden Rule. Have a great day!

The 4 You Hostel

Ok. The 4 You Hostel….well it’s not REALLY for you! Unless you’re in such a drunken stupor that you don’t mind the disgruntled staff, the bland breakfast, the fake wi-fi internet, the uncomfortable beds or paper thin walls, which during Oktoberfest might be fine…..but for this visit….not so much. They do have THE BEST SHOWERS that I’ve ever experienced in a hostel though.

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Look, it’s a simple hostel. It’s there. Not even close to the best. Not the worst either, but it’s nothing special. I’m 6’1 and the beds made it to my shins. There are metal bars surrounding the bed, so your feet can’t hang off. You have to either curl up into a ball on your side to sleep… or have your legs propped up on an incline on the bars. Not too fun for getting a good nights sleep. But, if you’re very short….this hostel might be good 4 you. Also, the rooms aren’t quiet at all, which isn’t a big problem for me….but I could clearly hear people several rooms down at the end of the hall as they talked. So if you’re looking for privacy, you won’t find it here.

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The great internet wi-fi connection and additional computer terminal access that they promise is non-existent. It wasn’t working for my entire 48 hour stay, which is annoying when you’re back-packing and just need to send a quick e-mail. Luckily, there was a computer cafe and a Starbucks close by. It’s conveniently situated near the train station though. So if you’re making a quick transfer on an early train or have a short stop over…it’s a great place to lay your head. But it’s Munich. There are probably much nicer hostels to choose from and I’ll remember that on my next trip there. I wouldn’t advise staying at this hostel…..unless everything else in the entire city is fully booked. And in the worst case, you get a crappy hostel and drown your sorrows at the Hofbrauhaus…..which will make you VERY HAPPY.

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M.A.V.B.L.O.G. Score- 5 out of 10. They have GREAT showers and that’s hard to come by in a hostel….that’s why they get a 5. Otherwise….It’s too noisy, too dirty, the beds are horrible, the staff is miserable, there’s no internet & the breakfast isn’t good.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this M.A.V.B.L.O.G. and will pick the best hostel 4 you!! Have a great day. Be good to all those that you encounter….even if they smell like an old block of cheese.

Backpacking: What’s the best gear to take?

Backpackers, whether you’re a veteran or a newbie, the question always is…..what’s the best gear to take? After the first few times, you find out quickly what you need to bring…..and that’s usually based on you taking along too much stuff and realizing what you DON’T need. As with everything, it depends on where you’re traveling to, what the climate will be and how long you’ll be there.

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Now… I have some experience with backpacking, but I am certainly no SurvivorMan. But….for you inexperienced backpackers, here are some tips.

1. You don’t NEED it. Most of the time when you’re packing for your first backpacking trip, you take too much. It’s good to lay out all the things that you THINK you’ll need, give it an hour…then come back and ask yourself (with each item) do I really need this? Obviously you’ll need clothing (a 5 day rotation of socks, underwear and undershirts is usually good. Along with 1-2 pairs of pants and sweaters/long sleeve shirts. Maybe less for a shorter journey). Most hotels/pensions and hostels have washing machines. And if you’re really trekking it…..you’re bound to find a water source within 5 days to hand wash your clothing. I’ve never needed it but a first aid kit is necessary. Don’t pack all the normal sized toiletries. It’ll just add on to weighing you down. Bring smaller versions of things such as toothpaste, aspirin, mouthwash, hand sanitizer etc. It’s all about cutting out unnecessary weight, your shoulders will thank you for it!!! (Every journey is unique, plan accordingly)

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2. Get a good backpack. You’d think this would be rule #1, but no. It is important….but not THAT important. You have a hand me down backpack? Fine. You buy a brand new one? Great! There are many backpacks out there. I have a Mountainsmith backpack. It’s held up for 8 years on several trips and hopefully will last for many more. The key here is, with whatever brand you choose, make sure that it fits your needs, distributes the weight properly and FEELS GOOD ON YOUR SHOULDERS. You could buy the top of the line backpack but maybe it’s not right for you and not right on your back. So take your time and test them out.  You’d be surprised at how quickly your shoulders will get sore and start going numb.

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3. Get some good shoes. A cross between walking shoes/boots is the best. I’ve learned from experience and paid the price. On my latest journey I bought a new pair of expensive boots, thinking they’d be perfect and much better than my old, trusty (and SMELLY) boots. But….those old, trusty, smelly boots were comfortable and a great fit for me. The new ones? Well…..they were good for a few hours each day. And then it was blister town!! Walking long distances with a backpack is hard enough, you don’t want to add in blisters all over your feet. So do your research and get some good shoes. I’d recommend Wolverine, but there are many good brands out there. It all depends on you & your feet. And waterproof is always good. Even if you’re backpacking across Italy in the middle of the summer. It’ll rain eventually, you’ll get tired and step in some puddles. Take the waterproof boots!

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4. Don’t worry. You’re going to have an amazing time. You’ll probably pack too much or forget to pack a few things. Oh well, don’t worry. You can improvise. They do have grocery/retail stores all over the world. You’ll find something. And if you’re taking a couple days off back-packing to see a film festival or go out to some bars/restaurants for the evening….don’t sweat it. Bring one nice shirt that fits nicely in your pack. Most all of the locals will know you’re a tourist. So don’t worry.

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5. Get a good water bottle. Now depending on where you’re going…maybe you won’t need this. But it’s good to have. I prefer the Platypus brand of fold up bottles because they’ve been very reliable for me. Also, if you’re in an area without fresh running water and need to purchase some at the store….you can just fold up your plastic bottle and it’ll fit in your pocket. It’s always good to purchase some water from a store when in a new country to see their offerings and sample the local water brands….but if you’re walking a lot, you’ll be drinking a lot. So if the tap water is clean or you’re in the mountains with fresh water…..it’s good to get some for free.

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6. Take some food. That’s right. Go to the local grocery store. Buy some cheese or fruit or meat sticks or granola bars etc. etc. Just something to keep you going and put fuel in your body. You never know when your planned 4 hour hike will turn into an 8 hour hike. Or when you’ll get separated from your group and stranded. Take me for example. I recently did a hike that I’d done before in the past. Going against my better judgement and thinking the hike would be easy, I didn’t take any food. Well, it turned out that I wasn’t in as good of shape physically as I was the previous time I did this hike. So the 5 hour journey turned into a 7 hour journey…..and I didn’t have any food. What if I had gotten stranded? Yes, I had water….but I would have been miserable and starving & probably also would’ve started to think desperate thoughts and make stupid mistakes.

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And lastly for this blog……

7. Do something stupid. (Within reason of course) …because after all. What’s a good backpacking trip without a few funny or dangerous stories?? Now I’m not saying to go on the super intense trail when you’re a beginner or to jump off the cliff when it’s clearly too high and without a good landing area. But there’s nothing wrong with getting lost once in a while and doing something a little outside of your comfort zone. I’ve gone off the marked trail plenty of times…..occasionally it was a terrible decision (but I lived)…and occasionally it really wasn’t that bad….and I saw some things that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Maybe doing something stupid to you is just getting naked in the woods and going skinny dipping in a really cold lake. Or climbing a tree and sleeping in it. Great!! Do it!! What a great experience!!

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There are many ways to backpack. Simple journeys and extreme journeys. Whichever way you choose, it’s good to prepare yourself because there’s nothing worse than taking time off for a vacation and spending some money…..and then it all blows up in your face and you have a miserable experience. I hope you’ve enjoyed this M.A.V.B.L.O.G. and as always. Be good to yourself. Be good to all those you encounter. And do your best.

If you’d like to learn more about backpacking I’d highly recommend taking a look at SurvivorMan and Rick Steves. There are plenty of other great guides out there so do a quick google search as well.

St. Christophers Hostel

Recently I stayed in the St. Christophers Hostel in Brugge (Bruges). Now for you backpackers out there visiting Belgium, I highly recommend this hostel. It had its pros and cons as I will outline, but overall it was a good stay.

I stayed in a ‘private’ and the room layout wasn’t fancy, but the room was much larger than your average hostel and very clean. The showers were good and spacious, a bit drafty, but not bad….the hot water stayed on!!!… that’s the important thing. The staff wasn’t overly friendly….BUT….they were very helpful in providing maps and locations of sights to see. The bar was pretty decent and had a good atmosphere. It was nice to have a drink seconds before heading off to bed. The Charlie Rockets hostel just down the street had a much cooler bar…..but hey, it’s a hostel bar. The price was AMAZING and extremely affordable, even if I didn’t have the off-season discount. Security and safety was good. I never once worried about leaving my bags or belongings. Laundry facilities were good and there was a nice chill-out area to read & relax. The major downside was location. It was a good 10-15 minute walk outside of the city center where all the fun bars/restaurants are. In normal weather conditions I wouldn’t complain, but when it’s very cold out….the walk can be rough.

M.A.V.B.L.O.G. Score- 7.5 out of 10. It’s a hostel. It gets the job done. No, it wasn’t the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in but I’d certainly go back again. And for you readers who are traveling, it’s clean, it’s cheap and the dorm rooms are quiet so you can actually sleep. I recommend it.

Have a great day. Be good to yourself. Be good to others. That is all.

Backpacking: Push me off the cliff

‘To travel is to understand that  everyone is wrong about other countries’
-Aldous Huxley

I was 22. Just graduated college. Just broke up with my high school sweetheart. Just moved back home. Luckily, I had a spirited and strong-willed best friend, as well as a worldly and passionate grandmother to push me over the edge and get me to use my newfound free time on an experience that I wouldn’t regret. I was scared of flying. I was apprehensive about going to another country. I was afraid of living life.

London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Vienna, Munich, Florence, Rome, sleeping on trains, getting on the wrong trains, not showering, walking 15 miles a day and being so appreciative for a piece of French cheese and a seltzer water while you sit on a park bench, getting caught in the rain, having Italian train workers attempt to extort money out of us, getting stuck in a bad part of town surrounded by drunken psychotic bums, drinking with a cute Australian girl we just met, going to Oktoberfest, having my first Vienna schnitzel, seeing the graves of my ancestors, befriending a local Sicilian cat who guided me through town at midnight, getting so drunk I took my clothes off in the middle of the streets of Florence, giving a gypsy money because a stupid American stole some of his roses…this was life! This was real! My mind was blown. I was exactly where I needed to be and I understood exactly why my Austrian grandmother made me go.

I’ve come across so many people in this world, that want and wish and complain and never act on the things that they truly want to do.. and I want to just punch them in the face and say WAKE UP!!! People who could save money for a month, or a year, or two years…and would easily have enough to have the time of their life…somewhere new. Now it is entirely possible that our lives are devoid of choice and are fatalistic. But it is also possible that our destiny is our own. And….I have to remember that I once was exactly like those people I want to ‘wake up’. We just need someone to give us a push once in a while. And if this blog post can do that for one person, that makes me very happy.

It’s now 8 years later and each opportunity I’ve had to backpack again…I have. I knew all too well that my youth would fade and that I needed to enjoy it. I was blessed in my early 20’s with the chance to travel abroad, a gift given by my grandmother. So each penny I could save since then, I did. Each opportunity that came, I took. I’m not going to tell you who to be, or how to feel, or what traveling abroad can do to your mind, your soul and your spirit. But I will say one last thing…..don’t take a tour bus if you can help it. Walk. Bike. Take a train. Feel every step. Smell all the smells. Be open to meeting people. There are plenty of ways….and you’re never too old to begin.

Times will always change and it will take with it the things you once enjoyed. So enjoy them while they’re still here. Don’t have regrets. One day it will all be over. Live your life. And this is me……trying to push you off the cliff. Enjoy.

And if you have no money. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities that will afford you a chance to travel somewhere new. Go for it. I did….and it’s well worth it.

‘We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.’
-Anais Nin