Creativity, Wanderlust, and the Mind

 

Let me know what you think.

There are plenty of things to be gained from going abroad: new friends, new experiences, new stories.But living in another country may come with a less noticeable benefit, too: Some scientists say it can also make you more creative.

Writers and thinkers have long felt the creative benefits of international travel. Ernest Hemingway, for example, drew inspiration for much of his work from his time in Spain and France. Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World, moved from the U.K. to the U.S. in his 40s to branch out into screenwriting. Mark Twain, who sailed around the coast of the Mediterranean in 1869, wrote in his travelogue Innocents Abroad that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

In recent years, psychologists and neuroscientists have begun examining more closely what many people have already learned anecdotally: that spending time abroad may have the potential to affect mental change. In general, creativity is related to neuroplasticity, or how the brain is wired. Neural pathways are influenced by environment and habit, meaning they’re also sensitive to change: New sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain and may have the potential to revitalize the mind.

“Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms,” says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School and the author of numerous studies on the connection between creativity and international travel. Cognitive flexibility is the mind’s ability to jump between different ideas, a key component of creativity. But it’s not just about being abroad, Galinsky says: “The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment.” In other words, going to Cancun for a week on spring break probably won’t make a person any more creative. But going to Cancun and living with local fishermen might.

In Galinsky’s latest study, published last month in the Academy of Management Journal, he and three other researchers examined the experiences of the creative directors of 270 high-end fashion houses. Combing through 11 years’ worth of fashion lines, Galinsky and his team searched for links between the creative directors’ experience working abroad and the fashion houses’ “creative innovations,” or the degree “to which final, implemented products or services are novel and useful from the standpoint of external audiences.” The level of creativity of a given product was rated by a pool of trade journalists and independent buyers. Sure enough, the researchers found a clear correlation between time spent abroad and creative output: The brands whose creative directors had lived and worked in other countries produced more consistently creative fashion lines than those whose directors had not.

The researchers also found that the more countries the executives had lived in, the more creative the lines tended to be—but only up to a point. Those who had lived and worked in more than three countries, the study found, still tended to show higher levels of creativity that those who hadn’t worked abroad at all, but less creativity that their peers who had worked in a smaller number of foreign countries. The authors hypothesized that those who had lived in too many countries hadn’t been able to properly immerse themselves culturally; they were bouncing around too much. “It gets back to this idea of a deeper level of learning that’s necessary for these effects to occur,” Galinsky says.

Cultural distance, or how different a foreign culture is from one’s own, may also play a role: Surprisingly, Galinsky and his colleagues found that living someplace with a larger cultural distance was often associated with lower creativity than living in a more familiar culture. The reason for that, they hypothesized, was that an especially different culture might come with a bigger intimidation factor, which may discourage people from immersing themselves in it—and no immersion, they explained, could mean none of the cognitive changes associated with living in another country.

Traveling may have other brain benefits, too. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, an associate professor of education and psychology at the University of Southern California, says that cross-cultural experiences have the potential to strengthen a person’s sense of self. “What a lot of psychological research has shown now is that the ability to engage with people from different backgrounds than yourself, and the ability to get out of your own social comfort zone, is helping you to build a strong and acculturated sense of your own self,” she says. “Our ability to differentiate our own beliefs and values … is tied up in the richness of the cultural experiences that we have had.”

Cross-cultural experiences have the potential to pull people out of their cultural bubbles, and in doing so, can increase their sense of connection with people from backgrounds different than their own. “We found that when people had experiences traveling to other countries it increased what’s called generalized trust, or their general faith in humanity,” Galinsky says. “When we engage in other cultures, we start to have experience with different people and recognize that most people treat you in similar ways. That produces an increase in trust.”

This trust may play an important role in enhancing creative function. In a 2012 study out of Tel Aviv University, researchers found that people who “believe that racial groups have fixed underlying essences”—beliefs the authors termed “essentialist views”—performed significantly worse in creative tests than those who saw cultural and racial divisions as arbitrary and malleable. “This categorical mindset induces a habitual closed-mindedness that transcends the social domain and hampers creativity,” the study authors wrote. In other words, those who put people in boxes had trouble thinking outside the box.

Of course, although a new country is an easy way to leave a “social comfort zone,” the cultural engagement associated with cognitive change doesn’t have to happen abroad. If a plane ticket isn’t an option, maybe try taking the subway to a new neighborhood. Sometimes, the research suggests, all that’s needed for a creative boost is a fresh cultural scene.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Late Night Bukowski

Roll the Dice

if you’re going to try, go all the
way.
otherwise, don’t even start.

if you’re going to try, go all the
way.
this could mean losing girlfriends,
wives, relatives, jobs and
maybe your mind.

go all the way.
it could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days.
it could mean freezing on a
park bench.
it could mean jail,
it could mean derision,
mockery,
isolation.
isolation is the gift,
all the others are a test of your
endurance, of
how much you really want to
do it.
and you’ll do it
despite rejection and the worst odds
and it will be better than
anything else
you can imagine.

if you’re going to try,
go all the way.
there is no other feeling like
that.
you will be alone with the gods
and the nights will flame with
fire.

do it, do it, do it.
do it.

all the way
all the way.

you will ride life straight to
perfect laughter, its
the only good fight
there is.

 

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Back in the saddle…featuring new writing tips!

I know, I know. Its been a month. A few days ago, I received a distressed Whatsapp message from a friend letting me know how much they missed my occasional posts.  I have some projects in the works, but wanted to share something I came across recently that both made me smile, and inspired me to write more.

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The below excerpt is from James Altucher.  (www.jamesaltucher.com) I stumbled over his stuff a few months ago. I was struggling with some melancholic bullshit, and I hit the web hard to read through it, as I often do. One  late night trek down the web based rabbit’s hole I discovered Mr.Altucher. Hes quite an eclectic character, but his stuff gave me a good old fashioned and much needed jolt of inspiration.

 

I want to be creative, I want to write, travel, and push myself as far as I can go.

 

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“Back in college, Sanket and I would hang out in bars and try to talk to women but I was horrible at it.

Nobody would talk to me for more than 30 seconds and every woman would laugh at all his jokes for what seemed like hours.

Even decades later I think they are still laughing at his jokes. One time he turned to me, “The girls are getting bored when you talk. Your stories go on too long. From now on, you need to leave out every other sentence when you tell a story.”

We were both undergrads in Computer Science. I haven’t seen him since but that’s the most important writing (and communicating) advice I ever got.

33 other tips to be a better writer:

1) Write whatever you want. Then take out the first paragraph and last paragraph

Here’s the funny thing about this rule. It’s sort of like knowing the future. You still can’t change it. In other words, even if you know this rule and write the article, the article will still be better if you take out the first paragraph and the last paragraph.

2) Take a huge bowel movement every day

You won’t see that on any other list on how to be a better writer. If your body doesn’t flow then your brain won’t flow. Eat more fruit if you have to.

3) Bleed in the first line

We’re all human. A computer can win Jeopardy but still not write a novel. If you want people to relate to you, then you have to be human.

Penelope Trunk started a post a few weeks ago: “I smashed a lamp over my head. There was blood everywhere. And glass. And I took a picture.” That’s real bleeding. My wife recently put up a post where the first line was so painful she had to take it down. Too many people were crying.

4) Don’t ask for permission

In other words, never say “in my opinion” (or worse “IMHO”). We know it’s your opinion. You’re writing it.

5) Write a lot

I spent the entire ’90s writing bad fiction. Five bad novels. Dozens of bad stories. But I learned to handle massive rejection. And how to put two words together. In my head, I won the Pulitzer prize. But in my hand, over 100 rejection letters.

6) Read a lot

You can’t write without first reading. A lot. When I was writing five bad novels in a row I would read all day long whenever I wasn’t writing (I had a job as a programmer, which I would do for about five minutes a day because my programs all worked and I just had to “maintain” them). I read everything I could get my hands on.

7) Read before you write

Before I write every day I spend 30-60 minutes reading high quality short stories poetry, or essays. Here are some authors to start:

  • Denis Johnson
  • Miranda July
  • David Foster Wallace
  • Ariel Leve
  • William Vollmann
  • Raymond Carver

All of the writers are in the top 1/1,000 of 1% of writers. What you are reading has to be at that level or else it won’t lift up your writing at all.

8) Coffee

I go through three cups at least before I even begin to write. No coffee, no creativity.

9) Break the laws of physics

There’s no time in text. Nothing has to go in order. Don’t make it nonsense. But don’t be beholden to the laws of physics. My post, Advice I Want to Tell My Daughters, is an example.

10) Be Honest

Tell people the stuff they all think but nobody ever says. Some people will be angry that you let out the secret. But most people will be grateful. If you aren’t being honest, you aren’t delivering value. Be the little boy in the Emperor Wears No Clothes. If you can’t do this, don’t write.

11) Don’t Hurt Anyone

This goes against the above rule, but I never like to hurt people. And I don’t respect people who get pageviews by breaking this rule.

Don’t be a bad guy.  Was Buddha a Bad Father? addresses this.

12) Don’t be afraid of what people think

For each single person you worry about, deduct 1% in quality from your writing.

Everyone has deductions. I have to deduct about 10% right off the top.

Maybe there are 10 people I’m worried about. Some of them are evil people. Some of them are people I just don’t want to offend.

So my writing is only about 90% of what it could be. But I think most people write at about 20% of what it could be. Believe it or not, clients, customers, friends, family, will love you more if you are honest with them. We all have our boundaries. But try this: For the next 10 things you write, tell people something that nobody knows about you.

[Related: How to Self-Publish a Bestseller: Publishing 3.0]

13) Be opinionated

Most people I know have strong opinions about at least one or two things… write about those. Nobody cares about all the things you don’t have strong opinions on.

Barry Ritholz told me that he doesn’t start writing until he’s angry about something. That’s one approach. Barry and I have had some great writing fights because sometimes we’ve been angry at each other.

14) Have a shocking title

I blew it the other day. I wanted to title this piece: “How I torture Women” but I settled for “I’m Guilty Of Torture.” I wimped out. But I have some other fun ones, like “Is It Bad I Wanted My First Kid To Be Aborted” (which the famous Howard Lindzon cautioned me against).

Don’t forget that you are competing against a trillion other pieces of content out there. So you need a title to draw people in. Else you lose.

15) Steal

I don’t quite mean it literally. But if you know a topic gets pageviews (and you aren’t hurting anyone) than steal it, no matter who’s written about it or how many times you’ve written about it before. “How I Screwed Yasser Arafat out of $2mm” was able to nicely piggyback off of how amazingly popular Yasser Arafat is.

16) Make people cry

If you’ve ever been in love, you know how to cry.

Bring readers to that moment when they were a child, and all of life was in front of them, except for that one bittersweet moment when everything began to change. If only that one moment could’ve lasted forever. Please let me go back in time right now to that moment. But now it’s gone.

17) Relate to people

The past decade or more has totally sucked. For everyone. The country has been in post-traumatic stress syndrome since 9/11 and 2008 only made it worse. I’ve gone broke a few times during the decade, had a divorce, lost friendships, and have only survived (barely) by being persistent and knowing I had two kids to take care of, and loneliness to fight.

Nobody’s perfect. We’re all trying. Show people how you are trying and struggling. Nobody expects you to be a superhero.

18) Time heals all wounds

Everyone has experiences they don’t want to write about. But with enough time, its OK. My New Year’s Resolution of 1995 is pretty embarrassing. But whatever… it was 16 years ago.

The longer back you go, the less you have to worry about what people think.

19) Risk

Notice that almost all of these rules are about where the boundaries are. Most people play it too safe.

When you are really risking something and the reader senses that (and they WILL sense it), then you know you are in good territory. If you aren’t risking something, then I’m moving on. I know I’m on the right track if after I post something someone tweets, “OMFG.”

20) Be funny

You can be all of the above and be funny at the same time.

When I went to India I was brutalized by my first few yoga classes (actually every yoga class). And I was intimidated by everyone around me. They were like yoga superheroes and I felt like a fraud around them. So I cried, and hopefully people laughed.

It was also a case where I didn’t have to dig into my past but I had an experience that was happening to me right then. How do you be funny? First rule of funny: ugly people are funny. I’m naturally ugly so its easy. Make yourself as ugly as possible. Nobody wants to read that you are beautiful and doing great in life.

21) The last line needs to go BOOM!

Your article is meaningless unless the last line KILLS.

Read the book of short stories “Jesus’ Son” by Denis Johnson. It’s the only way to learn how to do a last line. The last line should take you all the way back to the first line and then “BOOM!”

22) Use a lot of periods

Forget commas and semicolons. A period makes people pause. Your sentences should be strong enough that you want people to pause and think about it. This will also make your sentences shorter. Short sentences are good.

23) Write every day

This is a must. Writing is spiritual practice. You are diving inside of yourself and cleaning out the toxins. If you don’t do it every day, you lose the ability. If you do it every day, then slowly you find out where all the toxins are. And the cleaning can begin.

24) Write with the same voice you talk in

You’ve spent your whole life learning how to communicate with that voice. Why change it when you communicate with text?

25) Deliver value with every sentence

Even on a tweet or Facebook status update. Deliver poetry and value with every word. Else, be quiet.

26) Take what everyone thinks and explore the opposite

Don’t disagree just to disagree. But explore. Turn the world upside down. Guess what? There are people living in China. Plenty of times you’ll find value where nobody else did.

27) Have lots of ideas

I discuss this in “How to be the Luckiest Man Alive” in the Daily Practice section.

Your idea muscle atrophies within days if you don’t exercise it. Then what do you do? You need to exercise it every day until it hurts. Else no ideas.

28) Sleep eight hours a day

Go to sleep before 9pm at least four days a week. And stretch while taking deep breaths before you write. We supposedly use only 5% of our brain. You need to use 6% at least to write better than everyone else. So make sure your brain is getting as much healthy oxygen as possible. Too many people waste valuable writing or resting time by chattering until all hours of the night.

29) Don’t write if you’re upset at someone

Then the person you are upset at becomes your audience. You want to love and flirt with your audience so they can love you back.

30) Use “said” instead of any other word

Don’t use “he suggested” or “he bellowed,” just “he said.” We’ll figure it out if he suggested something.

31) Paint or draw.

Keep exercising other creative muscles.

32) Let it sleep

Whatever you are working on, sleep on it. Then wake up, stretch, coffee, read, and look again.

Rewrite. Take out every other sentence.

33) Then take out every other sentence again.

Or something like that.


Sanket didn’t want to go to grad school after we graduated. He had another plan. Lets go to Thailand, he said. And become monks in a Buddhist monastery for a year. We can date Thai women whenever we aren’t begging for food, he said. It will be great and we’ll get life experience.

It sounded good to me.

But then he got accepted to the University of Wisconsin and got a PhD. Now he lives in India and works for Oracle. And as for me…

I don’t know what the hell happened to me.”

 

find the link here :

https://jamesaltucher.com/2011/03/33-unusual-tips-become-better-writer/

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Bourdain…

The news hit hard this morning. “CNN reports Anthony Bourdain found dead this morning”…it was around noon here. The sun was bright, and we were planning to explore more of Valletta, the amazing capital of Malta.

See, I started traveling roughly 15 years ago, and over these years Bourdain, his show, his spoken word tours and especially his writing inspires me every step of the way.

He was the main motivation that pushed me to Vietnam. Then Cambodia, and to really rediscover south east Asia. I went to see him in Grand Rapids, East Lansing, and Detroit Michigan. All at different periods of my life.

I can’t understand why he would do this, what demons he was facing, but I know we all have them. The New Yorker pieces and his own essays cast him as so completely driven and talented, he was the rockstar of more than just food, but of culture. He hit 60 and showed no real sign of slowing down.

I love his work, and over the years my favorite compliment anyone would post on my travel material was a mini comparison.

The front of this website adorns a few of his quotes. For so many of us, he had the dream life. He admitted he fucked everything up until 40, then landed the most amazing gig ever.

I’m so sad you’re gone, but I’m grateful we were all able to soak up some inspiration.

It’s never easy when you lose an idol.

Rest In Peace Tony.

A Note on Spontaneity

Just fucking go.

 

Seriously.

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There will always be a thousand excuses not to. Some more pliable than others.  Is it the perfect time? Probably not. Do you have wads of disposable income with no other designated purpose than making you smile? Probably not. On the flip side, however, do you need to eat out 3~ days a week? Probably not.  Lease and drive a new wanker mobile? Most likely not.  Do you really need that 5$ a day latte habit? Certainly not. Do any of these things actually make your life better?

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Find a way, buy the ticket, take the ride.  adventure is the one purchase that will always make you richer. Set the goal, embrace the unknown, and love taking the plunge. Love yourself enough to say “Lets do this”!  Even if this means finding yourself post leap, hurdling toward certain disaster, then at the last minute  building your wings on the way down, and coasting into bliss. I’ve never encountered anyone, late in life that said “I wish I didn’t adventure as much” or “I wish I would have spent more time at the office”…because that shit simply does not exist.  This is your life, and its ending one minute at a time. Why are you wasting these precious minutes on shit relationships, craptastic jobs, or toxic friendships?  There is a freaking world out there to discover. Literally billions of people, crazy flavors, insanely great cultures, traditions, and collective experiences.

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I want to help you. In fact, I am dedicated to helping you. In this vein, I want you to maximize those travel dollars and inspire you to get up, get moving, and get into having your mind blown.  I have posted about some crazy airfare deals in the past, its one of the main pillars for cheap travel. In recent years there’s been a monsoon of activity for the LCC (Low Cost Carrier) segment.  What is this all about?

 

Funny you should ask.

 

I will take the plunge for you. I’ve just booked 200$ (USD) roundtrip flights to Iceland…for a weekend…Two weeks from now. This is exam season, and I don’t have a ton of time. Who goes to Iceland for a weekend?! Who books transatlantic travel less than two weeks out!?

The GypsyProfessor, that’s who. I’m going to detail the experience, and let you know how twisted it gets, and how bare bones it can be. Savage plastic lawn chairs aboard an airbus for 6 hours. Will it prove worth it?

This way when the next dirt cheap fare pops, you will have all the info you need to pull the trigger. Just a mini weekend run before we prep for a run through the jungle after the semester finishes!

Reykjavik! Prepare for my triumphant return!

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Wish me luck, and leave some love!

The Power of Failure…and Resurrection

Every one falls.

Creative types especially. Nothing great comes easy. Turns out that failure is an absolute necessary component to the equation.

Some Easter Motivation comin at you.

Why Writers Must Practice Resurrection

It’s almost Easter, which is a pretty good time to get reborn, if you ask me. Especially if you’re a writer. What do I mean by that?

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Every writer as a creative entity “dies.” And every writer, in a manner of speaking, must be resurrected. If you choose to ignore or avoid this fact, it could be mean the end of your art and even, possibly, your life.

Let’s unpack this a little.

Every writer dies

To create is to suffer. Just ask any mother. It is a painful, grueling task of bringing new things into existence. This is why, among many reasons, there is an unmistakable sadness to most creatives, even God.

And this is also why writers commit suicide, why painters cut their ears off, and why actors go through serial divorces. Creativity is a hard business.

There is an inherent frustration to it. And if you don’t know what to do with the inevitable pain, it could be the end of you. (It was for Hemingway.)

Ironically, those who destroy themselves never learn to die — they don’t know how to grieve loss and let go of past seasons. Are you struggling to let go and reinvent yourself as a writer and an artist?

Every writer must be reborn

When you write, you share a piece of you with the world. You put your very soul on display for all to see.

Sometimes, the world doesn’t reward creativity. Sometimes, it stones prophets and crucifies saviors. Sometimes, the world scowls at genius and scoffs at insight.

Every creative has critics, and every critique is an arrow. There is no getting around this. Creating is painful, and every writer gets wounded. In order to move out of wounded-ness (“My God, why have you forsaken me?”), we must face the injustice of unfair criticism, and heal.

We must get reborn and become whole again.

The art of practicing resurrection

This is the season in which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Even in non-Christian contexts, the earth is teeming with rebirth. It’s hard to ignore.

Trees are budding. Flowers are sprouting. All of creation is collaborating to share one message: New life is here.

I struggle with these cycles — the ebb and flows of the seasons. My creative self wants to camp out in the wilderness, to to sulk in its travail. It’s been hurt, and it wants to wallow in its pain. It’s scared of trying again.

Currently, I’m coming out of a season of death — of letting go of what once was familiar and beginning to walk in newness of life. But I’m taking these first few steps slowly.

There is grief that needs to happen — losses to be mourned, disappointments to be acknowledged. We must grieve before we can move on. We must acknowledge what was before we can welcome what will be.

Death before life

We writers must acknowledge failure. We must come to grips with death. And we must practice resurrection. There is hope beyond the story of a tragic hero. There is health. There is freedom.

If this describes you (and it might), I hope you can move out of the pain of dwelling of what’s been lost and start creating beautiful art once again. It begins with honesty — with acknowledging the rejection you’ve experienced without excuse or justification.

As an exercise, try writing it all down. Then, if you’re comfortable, give it to God. Receive healing. And welcome a new day. Like I said, this is a great time to get reborn.

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Baltic Success on the Solo Road

Some things work out quite nice as a trifecta. When I began thinking about the importance of traveling alone, I thought of my first time truly taking the plunge, and sharing that story became a necessity. Divided into three parts, this my mini narrative.

As you might recall the two previous chapters are On the Path to Solo Travel

and here: The Silver Lining/Solo Travel Pt2

So, after a crushing defeat, we find glory. (A proper silver lining) This glory is two fold. One of the first aspects is that when it comes to travel, toss those expectations right out the fuckin’ window. Toss em. I’ve known folks who have the most insane itineraries, allocating absolute minutia, building in “15 min break” slots into their schedules. Control wound that tight…is going to lead to a tense, frustrated mess.  No thanks.  Learn to embrace some element of flow and flexibility for a much improved experience.

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I had found my ticket, but it was last minute. My Balkan fantasies would be put on hold for a bit, because my only real option was Vilnius Lithuiania…With a 12 hour stop over in Stockholm, Sweden.  This sounded great to me. I was hell bent on embracing this new sense of enlightened adventure. I had completely  transformed my feelings of disappointment and anxiety into ones of wonder and excitement. I was doing this as a personal journey as well as a European adventure. As I mentioned before, this was a starting point of epic proportion. I booked this ticket last minute, and was set to arrive home the night before the fall semester began.  Logistics be damned, lets get on the road!

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I made it to Chicago, and boarded my flight. Watched a few movies, and promptly woke up in Sweden. That morning is mostly a blur. I took an incredibly nice, and incredibly expensive train to the city center. Grabbed a pastry and walked the Swedish capital.  Stockholm is clean, efficient and easy to navigate. Swedes are courteous and a bit cold in an appropriate “Nordic” style. 38894251235_5d6da2898c_b

Stockholm was an appetizer. I was here, and I did it solo. after a day of wandering about, meatballs, and viking heritage, I made my way back to the airport, for the propeller powered jump over to Vilnius.

 

I was only a bit nervous, but mostly excited. I had planned on a few days in Vilnius, then taking a bus to Riga, and then finally onto Tallinn. I had no reservations, no expectations, no damn travelers checks, just my phone and serendipity.

I land, clear customs, and make my way to the ATM for local currency. The person in line ahead of me turns around and says  “Go green”!

I was a bit shocked and tired, so I didn’t immediately grasp his meaning. Pointing to my

t shirt, I realized I was sporting a large Michigan State University Spartan logo.

This guy hailed from Royal Oak, Michigan, and was visiting a friend who had moved to Lithuania. I was stunned.

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His local based buddy had a great group of friends and I was soon welcomed with open arms. I found a local boutique hotel in the old town, and  most nights we met for beers and general debauchery.  I absolutely loved it. Vilnius is large enough to have a plethora of activities, and yet small enough to maintain at least a somewhat intimate feeling. I implored  my new comrades to join me for Riga, and we took the party on the road.

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Before this trek, I was racked with doubt about logistics, about enjoying that amount of solo time, etc. Mid way through this journey, I had embraced the uncertainty and was never going to look back.

” You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book… or you take a trip… and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.”

This was my moment of awakening. On the long bus trek to Riga, and then onto Tallinn, I had decided. This was the road for me.

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After Riga my comrades went back to Vilnius, and I went on to Tallinn.  I want to write a more indepth review of these cities, and this post isn’t that. This bit is meant more to discuss the journey.

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This ten day journey covering a few thousand miles proved absolutely what I needed. By the time I made it back to Vilnius for the flight home, i was already looking at tickets for winter break. I was going for a long haul month long trek after exams to the Balkans. It was going to a twisted savage affair that would change me again forever after.

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Exploring these Baltic streets of the three capitals  in late August has stayed on my mind over the tears. I met so many incredibly friendly and inviting people. I left the region utterly inspired on every level to keep exploring, and never stop wandering this incredible world of ours.

 

 

 

 

Writing tips from Nomadic Matt

If  you ever venture through the world of travel writing, you will run across Nomadic Matt.  I dig his stuff.  I wanted to share a recent post on writing tips that I found super  helpful Find the site here

His site is a kind of institution, and deservedly so. He’s been in the game for quite a while, and is typically ranked as one of the busiest travel blogs on the web. I found this guide a great primer, and wanted to share with the community here.

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This post is a little inside baseball about travel writing. It’s a follow-up to my semi-ongoing series on travel blogging that started with this post, continued with this one, and will now (probably) end with this post here. To me, the crux of all online endeavors is good writing. With so many blogs out there, if you can’t write engaging stories, you’ll never get anywhere! So today, I want to introduce one of my favorite travel writers, David Farley, who is going to share 11 writing tips for fellow bloggers and writers out there! Here’s David:

I always thought that once I started writing for glossy travel magazines, I could relax a bit because I’d “made it.” Nope! Then I thought that once I began penning pieces for the New York Times, I could say I was successful. Not. At. All. OK, maybe when I had a book out, published by a major publishing house, things would get a bit easier for me. I wish!

Writers, in some way, are a sorry lot. Rarely do they ever look at something and say “perfect!” Maybe for a moment — but give a writer a day and he or she will come back to that same article and find dozens of mistakes. Writing is a craft you never perfect.

We’re always striving to be better. Creatives tend to be perfectionists. Writing requires you to keep learning and improving.

But that’s good, because that drive makes writers improve their work. And only through practice and effort do we end up with the Hemingways, Brysons, Gilberts, and Kings of the world. (Matt says: I once heard that until the day he died, Frost never loved “The Road Not Taken.” He was constantly reworking it!)

If you’re a travel blogger, you probably started off not as a writer with a journalism background but as a traveler looking to share your experience. You probably didn’t have any formal training or someone to peer over your shoulder and give you advice.

So today I wanted to share 11 tips that will help you improve your travel writing or blogging. Because the world always needs good writers — and good writing helps get your story heard more! These tips, if followed, will better your writing and make a huge difference in the reach of your writing!

11 Ways to Improve Your Travel Writing/Blogging

an ope notebook on a desk, photo by @waferboard (flickr)
1. Read. This is number one. because whenever a budding writer asks me how they can improve, it’s my first piece of advice. Read good writing. Absorb it. Let it sink into your soul. Don’t think it’s possible? When I was first starting out, I was sick one weekend, so I spent three days lying in bed reading every page of that year’s Best American Travel Writing anthology. After I finished, I opened up my laptop and started writing for the first time in days. What came out surprised me: it was the highest-quality writing I’d done to date. And it was all because I was absorbed in good writing and it filtered through me back onto the page in my own writing.

(Matt says: Here’s a list of my favorite travel books.)

2. Do it for love. Maya Angelou wrote, “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love.” Don’t get into travel writing for the money — after all, that would be totally unrealistic. And please don’t gravitate to the genre because you want free trips and hotel rooms. “Instead,” Ms. Angelou added, “do [it] so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.” Or, in other words, strive to become such a good writer that the editors of all the publications you have been dreaming to write for can’t ignore you anymore.

3. Don’t be attached to linear writing. You need not compose a piece from beginning to middle to end. Sometimes that’s not the ideal structure of the story. Sure, maybe you’ve already figured that out. But if not, it’s OK to just get a few scenes and paragraphs of exposition down “on paper.” Then you can step back and take a look at the bigger picture and rearrange what you have, figuring out the best way to tell the story.

4. Tap into your own sense of motivation and drive. The students of mine at New York University who have been most successful were not always the most talented in the class. But they were the most driven. They’d read enough quality writing and thought about it — understanding what made it so wonderful — that there was just something about writing that they got. They weren’t born with that understanding, but ambition drove them to seek out better writing and then to think about it, to analyze what made it good (or not so good). Drive also inspires future successful writers to go out on a limb, to render themselves vulnerable, by reaching out to more accomplished writers to ask for advice, or by introducing themselves to editors at events or conferences. Don’t be shy! Standing in the corner quietly won’t get you as far as putting your hand out to introduce yourself will.

5. Try to figure out what gets your mind and writing flowing. Let me explain: I can sit down at my laptop and stare at a blank Word document for hours, not sure how to start a story or what to write about. Then I’ll respond to an email from a friend who wants to know about the trip I’m trying to write about. I’ll write a long email with cool and interesting anecdotes about my experience and include some analysis about the place and culture. And then I’ll realize: I can just cut and paste this right into the empty Word doc I’ve been staring at for the last three hours! Several of my published articles have blocks of texts that were originally written as parts of emails to friends. The “email trick” might not work for everyone, but there is inevitably some trick for the rest of you — be it talking to a friend or free-associating in your journal.

6. Understand all aspects of storytelling. There are two types of travel writing: commercial and personal essay (or memoir). In commercial travel writing, you should make the various parts of the story an intrinsic aspect of your knowledge: from ways to write a lede to the nut graph, scenes, exposition, and conclusions. For memoir and personal essays, know what narrative arc means like the back of your typing hands. It helps to get an intuitive understanding of these things by paying attention to writing — to reading like a writer — as you read nonfiction (and travel) articles.

7. Don’t stress if your first draft is shit. Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” And he wasn’t kidding. I find this true when I’m writing a personal essay or travel memoir. I write and I write and I write, and I’m not exactly sure what I’m putting down on paper. What’s the point of this? I ask myself. Why am I even doing this? But here is where patience comes in: eventually, the clouds part, the proverbial sunbeam from the heavens shines down on our computer monitors, and we see the point of it all: we finally figure out what it is we’re writing and how to best tell that story. It just happens like magic sometimes. And not all at once: sometimes it’s bit by bit, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. But as I mentioned, patience is key, because we never know when that divine magic is going to be activated. But sit around long enough and it will happen, I promise you. (Just be cautious when taking Hemingway’s other writing advice: “Write drunk, edit sober.”)

8. Write what you know. “Start telling the stories that only you can tell,” said writer Neil Gaiman, “because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you.”

9. When you’re finished with a draft, read it out loud. Preferably, print it out and read it out loud. This will allow you to better hear how the piece sounds, and unacceptable segues and clunky sentences or turns of phrases will jump out at you in a more obvious way.

10. Always get another set of eyes on your writing. While all writers make mistakes, it’s harder to spot them without an editor. Editors are very important, but they don’t necessarily have to be someone with formal training. While hiring a copyeditor is always great, if you can just get a friend to read your blog or story, that might be good enough.

It’s even better if you have someone who doesn’t know about travel. I have a friend who doesn’t travel much; she reads all my blog posts because she helps me make sure I include the important details I might have skipped. See, when you’re an expert on something, you often fill in the blanks in your mind. You go from A to C automatically; step B becomes subconscious. And when you write, you skip step B because it seems so obvious. Getting someone who doesn’t know the steps will help ensure you include explain everything in your post and don’t leave your readers going, “Huh?”

11. Finally, learn to self-edit. This is where many people go wrong. They write, they read it over, they post. And then feel embarrassed as they say, “Oh, man, I can’t believe I missed that typo.” You don’t need to be master editor, but if you follow a few principles, it will go a long way: First, write something and let it sit for a few days before editing. After your first round of edits, repeat the process. Get another set of eyes on it. Print out a checklist of grammar rules to go through as you edit. (Note: Matt created one here for you.) As you review your work, say to yourself, “Did I do this? Did I do that?” If you follow the cheat sheet, you’ll catch most of your mistakes and end up with a much better final product!

Writing is an art form. It takes a lot of practice. When you’re a blogger out on your own, it can be harder to improve your work, because you don’t have an experienced voice giving you tips and advice and pushing you to be better. If you don’t take it upon yourself to be better, you never will be. However, even if you aren’t blessed to work under an editor, these 11 tips can help you improve your writing today and become a much better blogger, writing stories people want to read!

David Farley has been writing about travel, food, and culture for over twenty years. His work has appeared in AFAR magazine, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Condé Nast Traveler, and World Hum, among other publications. In 2006 and 2013, he won the Lowell Thomas Award from the Society of American Travel Writers for magazine articles he wrote. He has lived in Prague, Paris, and Rome and now New York City. He is the author of An Irreverent Curiosity and was a host for National Geographic. He teaches writing at Columbia University and New York University.

 

The Silver Lining/Solo Travel Pt2

p8cvVmW“I want to travel, but i’m scared to go alone”.

I was too once upon a time, and an unlikely turn of events kicked my ass right out my front door. 

 

Disaster strikes at the most inopportune times.  From my last post, here: (https://gypsyprofessor.com/2018/01/24/on-the-path-to-solo-travel/)

I was all set to book tickets to south eastern Europe, only waiting on my friend to stop by and pull the proverbial trigger on airfare.  We had waited for weeks. I was pouring over Instagram and travel forums looking at pictures of Sarajevo, Skopje, and Dubrovnik. I was obsessed with getting over the pond. It had been far too long. I missed the feeling of the unknown, the swirl of foreign languages and the assault on the senses.  We were all set.

My buddy’s excuses had put pressure on the entire process and played a bit of pinball with my level of anxiety. Almost a month delayed now, he finally  showed up, but not to book…to give me one final, and fatal fucked up excuse.

“Hey man, bad news, I don’t think I can pull it off, I cant get the time off work..etc, etc.

All of the eye roll emojis in the world could not convey my feeling at that moment.

 

I was crushed. 

 

Absolutely crushed.  I felt betrayed, frustrated and pissed. My carefully constructed plans dashed and disregarded. But there was more.

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Now that I was in my doldrums, I walked away from the computer and my buddy  for the remainder of the afternoon. I went for a walk. I  attempted  to console myself with other options, a road trip maybe, or something domestic. I pondered and I plotted. Tied up in a knot of frustration,  and angst, I felt no progress near at hand.

Eventually that night, I ended up back at my place, and in a deep google routed rabbit’s hole. I ended up falling back on some trusted wisdom from some personal favorites. Bukowski, Hunter S Thompson, and Henry Miller.

“We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and—in spite of True Romance magazines—we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely—at least, not all the time—but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.”  -HST
I peeled back a few layers of the onion and thought about why I thought I had to rely on other people for this particular dream.  I realized that nothing great comes easy. The people around me had 1,000 excuses not to pursue their dreams. I had reached a point where I refused to be one of them.
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“Fuck it”
“I’m going solo”
This was one of the most defining decisions of my life. As of this writing I have traveled to 69 countries. Some years I travel over two hundred thousand air miles. Travel becomes an obsession. Words like “tourist” no longer have any meaning for you.    The vast majority of these adventures  have been solo. Christmas in Sarajevo? Or Perhaps visiting an elephant sanctuary in Sri Lanka? Few are signing up for that.  That’s perfect.
“Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it. It’s like boats. You keep your motor on so you can steer with the current. And when you hear the sound of the waterfall coming nearer and nearer, tidy up the boat, put on your best tie and hat, and smoke a cigar right up till the moment you go over. That’s a triumph.”
Either embrace the unknown, or get comfortable in the wet pantload of your excuses to stay stagnant.  It  was time for me to take flight. Lets grab this ticket and make the most of it!
Aw shit. Another hurdle rises in the mist.   My saved routes to Budapest, Vienna, and Zagreb had doubled since the afternoon…I’m in the zone though, I cant be stopped. Embrace uncertainty, shed the illusion of control right?
So I rolled the dice, I frantically dissected the map of Europe, I held my breath for that sheer burst of serendipity, shit, I would have been ecstatic for  divine intervention at that point as well. Into the wee hours of the morning, the siege on my ticket prices finally broke. What a 3 am Rush!   Where am I going to land?!
Ladies and gentlemen… Looks like we are headed to Lithuania!!
Wait, what? Lithuania!?
Giddddddy Up!
Baltic adventure/pt 3  coming up next!
Happy weekend!

On the Path to Solo Travel

3 years ago I was super stoked.  The summer had descended on Michigan, I had a teaching assignment at the college secured and a great group of friends. I had gone through a wrenching breakup a few months previous, and had reorganized/re focused my life in a drastically more positive direction. (You know, that good growth stuff of your late 20’s) Now,  I had traveled before, I had been on a few study abroad excursions, and had made some amazing connections over the pond.  It had been a year or so since I had been abroad.

The itch was real.

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I thought about it constantly. I began mentioning to my group of friends casually.

“We should totally hit Europe this summer”. I wanted  miles under my feet, and crazy new sensations. Those damn motivational prints all over social media haunted me “Not all those who wander are lost” Etc, etc.

I began hatching some carefully constructed plans, seeing how I could convince my buddies to come along.

Finally after a few weeks, one particular friend who had never been outside of the country, declared over beers “Im in”! And the planning began in earnest.

Where would we go? I was keen on the Balkans, and the Baltics. I was planning on roughly 10 days. Swayed by the scenery of Croatia, and the mountains of Bosnia we decided on the former Yugoslavia.

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At this point I was watching flights daily, frantically refreshing, waiting for just the right combination, connections, and overall logistics.  I would text my buddy my findings through out the day

“Dude, DTW-BUD now 550$”

He would reply “Yeah man, lets do it!”

Later, when it was time to book, some sort of excuse would seemingly always emerge. I was getting anxious, watching flights rise and fall like the stock market. While trying to set a day to book I would read more about our intended region

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Sarajevo in particular looked beyond kick ass. The history, the culture…the food! I wanted to book NOW.  It was ultimatum time. Either we are booking or this, or it’s a no go….the day comes, we are getting together after work, its time to lock this in….

 

and then disaster strikes.

 

Pt 2 coming up next!

 

leave some love!