Barcelona is easy to love

Ah Barcelona. Bright, beautiful and exotic to the American mind. The home of Gaudi, the stunning architectural master that adds yet another flavorful layer to the Catalan city by the sea.

I visited Barcelona in the early summer 3 yers ago. It was my first time in Spain (A country I have come to love the fuck out of). I had spent the majority of my travel time off the beaten path as it were. Trekking through the rapidly changing regions of Eastern Europe and the former USSR. Friends and colleagues, fellow travelers and Instagram alike had hyped Barcelona to impossible heights. “The absolute best city in the world”.

I had to go right?

And thus I did.

And I get it. I truly do. Barcelona is the topless beach, where someone passes you a joint and invites you to hacky sack. Barcelona is all night sangria. Barcelona is shockingly gorgeous people of damn near every stripe. (Seriously though, where did all of you beautiful people come from??) It’s mostly safe and enchanting enough.

But therein lies the rub. Not to sound like a wanker, but I’ve been at this for a bit. I thrive on finding that travel magic and at this point I gotta dig for it. Barcelona…is like Disney world. Barcelona is a dream, an idea. This City is the myth that keeps you working over time to be able to pay for that vacation. So, it shouldn’t be shocking that It’s a place SATURATED with tourists. Now, I recognize that I am one of those tourists. Albeit not in a backward ball cap and flip flops getting blind wasted in the afternoon and cat calling passing ladies.

I had an idea that since the world and everything in it changes so damn fast (who’s getting old?!) that perhaps Barcelona would be different 3 years later. Don’t get me wrong, as I’m not overtly hating. Every place has elements of awesome. Barcelona certainly has more than its fair share. If you go, and if you most certainly should, stay outside the Las Ramblas area. When you venture near grace yourself for heat, crowds, that overpowering scent of urine and airport style prices.

Stay anywhere else, and try to at least make an effort to engage some aspects of Catalan culture. Don’t be a sack of asses and enjoy your holiday.

This August Barcelona was under 300$ RT from the midwestern US. The best option on the continent and a great hub to explore the Mediterranean regions I am keen on.

Did I enjoy it? Abso-fucking-Lutley. Barcelona just doesn’t have that magic for me. The primary industry is tourists, who flock to its sunny shores and bars like a European Cancun…only without the resort culture.

Loads and loads of people love Cancun, and even more love Barcelona I’m sure. It’s a personal preference thing. I don’t really dig cruises or theme parks. I’ve always been on the hunt for something more…visceral. For a first trip to Europe, I would still go with Barcelona over London/Paris. I would land in Barcelona, then head elsewhere in Spain or the region. Which is exactly what I did.

More on that next post!

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Airport reflections

Some days I feel old. Especially in airports. My ass is planted in a plastic formed seat in the small regional airport of Udon Thani, north eastern Thailand. 35 WiFi networks and none of them public.

Why?

Because fuck you. That’s why.

Time on the road can jade you just a bit. Cranky ass old people are a fixture of modern day life. As I sit here and embrace my inner cantankerous bastard, some glorious truths shine their benevolent rays of goodness light upon me…and I soften a bit.

Let me explain.

Am I a bit sore/tired? Sure. Why is that?

Well it happens to be because I averaged around 10 miles per day hiking all over the lower regions of Laos. The small yet charming south East Asian country being #72! and having evaded me (barely) this time last year. Now, this entire shot was just a bit over two weeks, and as it’s winding down, I’m absolutely elated. I’m grown man giddy. I have so much to write about, so many memories and sordid tales. Pictures, conversations, connections…the real shit that gets the blood flowing.

I know for many of us, we get lost in the worlds dumpster fires. Blind tribalism, shit strap politics, and overall doom and gloom.

I left that shit behind. I had no choice. This year certainly had its share of suck. Big epic balls of suck. But I’m still here, and I’m still standing. Pushing forward and stoked on what’s ahead. If it’s toxic, let it be. Don’t carry it around with you. Shits heavier than lead. Instead I’ve focused on making a difference, making my dent, and never giving in to the quiet desperation that seems so prevalent. Wrapped around all of this goodness is a fluffy, warm, slightly crispy pressed tortilla of stupendous optimism. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a feel fucking good burrito. The power of unbridled optimism feels weird at first, but then a euphoria settles in. It’s like a savage orgasm, only for your personality.

So my ass might be numb. I might be a bit sunburned. I may have believed my death imminent in the back of a tuk tuk today, I may feel a bit battered from vans, planes, boats, border crossings, and all the rest…I have longer pieces to finish and some logistics to sort…in short, I might feel a bit old in this airport…But I also feel the power of hope, and the concept that if I were to get creamed by a fruit truck next week, or my plane were to go down, I couldn’t be angry. I’ve been fortunate enough to jam on my dreams for over a decade now. I’ve pushed my self, my goals, and my ambitions farther than I ever thought possible. I’ve had a chance to love the fuck out of so many people. I’ve counted on and been saved by those same folks more than I should admit.

Seeing the world, sharing glimpses with you, and blasting ignorance in the pills every semester in my classrooms. Thank you for coming along, and helping me along the way.

More soon.

Back to Bangkok, Time to Rock

When you roll the travel dice, and tempt the divine powers that be, you can never really tell what’s going to happen. I’ve relied on fate mixed with a bit of intuition, thrown down with a dash of inspiration to steer my wayward ass on countless occasions. This time around, I was coming out of a savage yet rewarding semester. I had taken on more classes than ever, and drowning in bluebooks, prepping like a madman and holding it all together along with the backdrop of an incredible year of change had left me optimistic, yet a touch depleted. More on that shit possibly later.

I waited until the last possible second.

“I need to get the fuck out of here”

“Tickets look kind of pricey”

“Well shit”

I could have stayed home, tended to a few things, prepped for next semester, etc…but lo and behold, after scanning possible routes for a few weeks, in the midst of finals, days before departure what falls into my lap?!

A scuzzy bargain basement fare to Bangkok Thailand. Don’t go and read the reviews. Stop being scared. Stop wasting all of your fucks thinking about what could go wrong. Embrace what could go right, tap into the stunning ass power of ridiculous optimism instead. Kick fear in the dick, and let hope reign supreme. Buy the ticket, take the ride.

Boom. Do it. Don’t look back.

For two months worth of most people’s cable bill, I was out of here. 15 ass numbing hours to Shanghai , then five more to Bangkok, this adventure was underway. I had finally finished grading in the wee hours the night before with my trusted buddy Frank, courtesy of some amazing friends. (Reason #16578 not to be a twat, friends make the world go ’round)

Frank always offers stellar moral as well as academic support

Thus I was able to grab a bit of shut eye. My flight from China landed at 2:00 AM after 25 hours, and 10,000 Miles. All grades submitted, everything graded. 2018, mostly survived. My cab driver despite lack of English kicked on the jams, and him, I and Neil Young rocked into the city.

Late night eats and into my hotel. I’ve been loving the simple things as of late, and so many aspects of Thai culture resonate with that. From outlook, all the way to flavor profiles.

This is my third time to the land of a thousand smiles, and this journey is just getting started.

Ready to get lost with me??

Leave some love, or don’t.

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.

Ode to the Digital Detox

I have written about the benefits of a kind of “digital detox” before. Especially within the context of traveling. Like this; From Cartagena with love.

Stowing our devices from time to time allows us to be more connected to the moment, and especially to the people around us. Thinking about the process of building new habits, this recent post by Aj Jones struck a chord with me.

the full article can be found here: https://medium.com/s/story/the-digital-detox-is-dead-but-we-still-need-to-use-technology-more-wisely-31f7964a96d8

Jones argues that the detox is dead, and that instead we simply need to be more responsible with our technology use.  What say you? Is the detox dead?

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“Who amongst us hasn’t heard of the “digital detox”? In essence, the digital detox is the process of ridding oneself of toxins and unhealthy substances generated by prolonged technology use. In the past few years, digital detoxing has grown from an idea to a brand to, for many, a guide for how to think and live.

Today I’m writing to note that the digital detox should die, and for good reason.

Let’s get to the facts: There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that in our current era of TVs, computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets, we overuse technology. These tools of technology have fundamentally changed how we communicate. Today, these tools function as essentials for completing everyday tasks at home and in the workplace.

The usage figures themselves are more than a little shocking:

For personal research, I’ve even used an online survey to assess how much technology people I know use per day, with over half of my participants reporting a daily use of over five hours.

This technology overuse is increasingly, though often indirectly, linked to conditions including stressanxietysocial isolationdepression, and insomnia. All of these are known to contribute to burnout, but I predict that the digital detox is just the wrong solution to this problem of technology overuse.


Personally, I’m not addicted to technology per se, but I do use it to work remotely, stay connected with friends and family, and stream movies, which, in hindsight, may seem like a lot. I had noticed not long ago that through my technology use I had unknowingly developed a pattern of bad habits, a few of which I have listed below:

  • I would reach for my phone as soon as I woke up (about 8 a.m.) to check Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, emails, and LinkedIn.
  • I’d then grab my laptop from under my bed where I stashed it the night before, head to my desk, and start working. First, I’d respond to emails and messages, then make plans for the day, and finally begin my work (I do work from home quite often).
  • By 6 p.m. I would try and finish for the day, sit on the couch with the TV on for background noise, and then scroll through Facebook on my laptop while chatting with friends via WhatsApp on my phone.
  • At around 8 p.m., I’d grab dinner with some friends before getting into bed at about 10 p.m. Since I’d often struggle with getting to sleep, I would end up watching Netflix until my eyes were sore enough that they’d close on their own.
  • Almost every night for about a year on end, I would wake up at 3 a.m. and struggle to get to sleep again. This would mean that I’d watch more Netflix until my tiredness overwhelmed me, and fall asleep at about 5 a.m., ready to repeat the whole process for another day.

In short, I was exhausted all the time.

The image you probably have of me in your head right now is someone who looks a little like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, and my friends may jokingly argue that this is a pretty accurate representation! But in reality I am a healthy, exercise-conscious person, and always have been. My current lifestyle contrasts with the 10 years of my life which I spent in an elite military unit where my office was the outdoors, and I would literally live for weeks at a time directly under the stars in places all over the world. It wasn’t until I left that career and became a full-time student at a prestigious U.K. university that I began to use technology for hours on end without a break, every single day.

In short, I developed these bad habits during my time as a student, and left them unchecked for so long that I carried them with me into my work life.


So what were the physical and mental effects of all this technology overuse? Well, physically I lost weight. The lack of sleep affected my eating habits and decreased my energy levels. My eyesight, which had always been 20/20, deteriorated. I began to struggle to see objects that were far away, simply because I was spending long periods staring at a digital screen only a few inches from my face.

Mentally, the effects were much worse. My confidence plummeted, and I stopped seeing friends and spending time with my girlfriend. I was exhausted all day, everyday, and used the little energy I did have just to stay on top of my work. I gradually became depressed without even realizing it, which only prevented me from stepping outside more and being around other people. In short, I came dangerously close to being burnt out.

It was at this point that I knew something had to change, so I reflected on my bad habits and tried to begin addressing them; not by detoxing from technology use altogether, but by trying to be more careful about my use.

Be in control of your technology use — don’t let it control you.

Gradually, I began to set boundaries and stick to them. I started going to the gym every morning and didn’t check my phone until I was done with my workout, learning in the process that the world is not going to end if I don’t reply to every email right away. I made a point of meeting and spending time with friends, just chatting and drinking. I now have a definite cutoff time in the evenings for when I stop using my laptop. I also only read in bed now, which has led to deeper, longer, and unbroken periods of sleep.

Very quickly I started noticing myself becoming healthier, happier, and having much more energy. This period of change differs from a “digital detox” the way we understand it today because I didn’t lock all my devices in a box and abstain from technology use altogether, or delete all my social media accounts entirely, or put myself at the metaphorical top of a mountain for longer than a weekend.


My experience teaches me that the “digital detox” needs to die because it is a fundamentally flawed concept. Three reasons explain this: First, the term “detox” has several negative connotations. It implies addiction and dependency, which removes your agency in decision-making and practicing sound judgement over your health and happiness. This, in turn, renders you subject to your digital addiction, unable to make clear decisions and take control without outside support.

Secondly, the idea of surrendering your devices, or deleting your social media and going cold turkey, is actually a rather oppressive and unnecessary approach. It almost creates a prison-like environment in which you can only control your behavior when your distractions are taken away.

Ironically, this in turn creates a situation in which you are rewarded with your devices or apps at the end of your detox period if you are good and obey the rules. If you delete your social media and abstain from using your devices, you get to use them once the detox period is over. It just doesn’t make any sense at all.

Thirdly, it implies that without outside support to motivate you, a detox is, by definition, difficult to achieve. This is wrong, and belief in this prevents most people from managing their technology use much better. For example, 65 percent of Americans somewhat or strongly agree that periodically unplugging is important for their mental health, but only 28 percent of those actually report doing so.


Now, spas and boutiques offer more affluent clientele opportunities to digitally detox while partaking in their services, and companies prioritizing employee health have started treating their staff to bespoke packages or retreats in order to get them away from their devices for certain periods of time.

A more practical approach to the digital detox is to work with the simple fact that most of us do not suffer from a severe addiction to technology and do not actually need, or are not realistically able to, engage in a hardcore detox from it. For those who do suffer from an actual addiction to technology, help can come in the form of professional behavioral therapy, or a rehabilitative experience that promises the necessary services and support to address issues of addiction.

Instead of detoxing, many of the rest of us should get comfortable with the idea of detaching from our technology periodically.

Instead of detoxing, many of the rest of us should get comfortable with the idea of detaching from our technology periodically. Detaching means keeping our devices and social media apps, but using them only when necessary or within an ordained limit. Many of us, for example, don’t need to aimlessly scroll through our phones on a bus or train to help pass the time, since it is bad for our eyes and is almost always unrewarding. Instead, read a book and expand your mind. I’m currently reading The Worst Journey in the World — a true story about the early Antarctic explorers and Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated final expedition — which is pretty fascinating and inspiring stuff.

Unlike a digital detox where you either surrender your devices, delete all your social media apps, or, ironically, use an app to block all your other apps (a digital response to a digital problem?!) a detach requires you to make conscious decisions about when and how you use your technology. In this is a more powerful lesson which gives you the power to pull back at any time or context.

When you detach you are in control all the time. It is a mind game in which you play against you, and in which there can only be one winner in the end.

I challenge you to forget about detoxing and embrace the concept of detaching. Choose a time when you would usually use your device; for example, just before bed. Rather than pulling out your device to watch Netflix or scroll through the news, make the choice to read a book in bed. Instead of taking your laptop to a café to work or catch up on social media, make the choice to go for a coffee with a friend, leaving your laptop at home and putting your phone on silent, so you can really be in the moment without any digital distractions.

In short, be in control of your technology use—don’t let it control you. I think you’ll find, as I did, that you’ll be much healthier and happier as a result.”

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.

Europe, on sweet training wheels.

You know I’m all for savage adventure. After Colombia and a brief respite back in the mitten, through chance and a bit of luck I’ve found myself back on the road. An easy flight to Amsterdam, and a few days on the canals turned into a run to Brussels and the push down to the Mediterranean. I’ll start by saying I love the Netherlands. I’ve used Amsterdam well over a dozen times to base invasions or departures from Europe. Winter, summer, spring…never a bad time here. Stroll the Red Light district, have a waffle, enjoy the people watching and the canals. Take it all in and relax. You’ve arrived! This is the perfect starting point. I’ve come to look at Amsterdam a bit as the perfect beginners gateway to Europe. Or, as the title suggests, Europe with training wheels. Let’s start with the airport. It’s big, sure, but easy to navigate. Make your way through customs and viola, the train station is in the basement of the airport. 25 min and 6$ and you are now in the city center.

How easy was that?!

Arriving in the morning is cool as the city is disarmingly quiet. Make your way to your accommodation, drop your stuff, grab a shower/charge your things and get out there! The people here are used to tourists. Don’t worry too much, if you’re confused about something, ask. There are tons of foreigners here, especially in the center. Find a cafe, grab a coffee and start your exploration. I’m a total sucker for canal shots as you can tell. These make for the ideal morning wander as they have a tendency to get jammed packed as the day goes on. You will log serious miles marveling at the old world architecture, waterways, and other sordid attractions. As this is the red light district, you will walk past people engaging in the time honored wake and bake, hitting it hard in the various coffee shops as well as on the street.

Yes. Weed is legal, taxed, and regulated. Enjoy that shit. Just don’t be a wanker about it.

One of the other big taboos for Americans is legalized prostitution. Get over it. Also, respect the ladies. Don’t try to take their picture or waste their time. Smile and walk by. Enjoy the ambiance. How many places like this exist in the world?!

Enjoy the European cafe culture, walk this city, and see how much different things can be. The Dutch are awesome, and as an American they may just ask you why everyone in the States is so sensitive. Grab a beer at one of the dozens of eclectic bars and think about this question. Hang around for the night life, and soon you will be with people from 10 different countries, sampling beer and snacks that simply don’t exist at home, expanding your mind with conversations you never thought you’d have.

A mind stretched by new experiences has a terrible time being closed again. Instead, it will leave you hungry for more.

Buy the ticket, take the ride, and let the good times roll. Amen.