Travelversary Part III: Let Go

I’ve been living out of a backpack for three years. Sleeping on couches, having adventures, being unfortunately poor, and man-handling jet lag.
The following is the final part a three part series on hitting the road! Read Part I here.

When I first started writing this part I spent weeks dreaming up all the tips and tricks on how to travel successfully. Here are the highlights:

+Have a bit of a plan and be prepared to drop it at a moments notice.
+Pack as close to nothing as possible. Save yourself the hassle of checking a bag.
+Talk to strangers, as many as will listen. Tell them what you need, they’ll help you get it. Be mysterious, they dig it.
+Be the last one on the airplane and sit in whatever seat is available. No one will bother you. Be the first one off the plane to avoid the line at customs.
+Bring something to comfort you. My staple is a 1 lb bar of belgian chocolate. It also makes a good present for the people who will comfort you even more.
+Do not judge, accept everything and everyone for who and what they are.
+Live in the moment. The past is long gone, the future is a mystery.

However, that’s only the distillation of thousands of words from the definitive “how to guide” that was supposed to give you some insight on how to get around effectively. I scrapped the whole thing after the third draft. Why? I realized that the document was essentially me bragging about my ability to find myself in incredibly unique situations. In order for that to happen it takes something entirely different…

Story time? I think yes!


There is no way to prepare for the moment a panamanian drug dealer stops you and in perfect english explains how “you will be killed if you go any further” because of the gang infestation down the road. I cannot further describe what kind of either stupidity or intuition it took to then ask, “Can I have a tour?” of said neighborhood. After years of dealing with strangers I felt he was okay simply by the way he looked me in my eyes. “You want to go down there?” he asked. “Yup.” He looked me up and down, laughed, then called me crazy.


Most every drainage grate and manhole cover was missing as we criss crossed through alley way after street corner “They sell em for scrap. It’s good money.” The gangbangers stood on street corners like vultures, my guide yelled in spanish to each of them as they stared me down. I couldn’t exactly tell if he was saying “he’s cool” or “don’t worry I’m going to bash his head and steal his wallet”.

“In that house the biggest drug lord was killed a few weeks ago” he pointed down a street with row after row of collapsed apartments. “Down that street a Canadian girl was raped. Stupid tourist.” He spit. “I’ve killed some people too. You got to. It’s how you survive.” I nodded my head, almost approvingly, as if I hear that kind of thing every day.


We stopped at the Central American equivalent of Kentucky Fried Chicken, I bought him some deep fried liver. He squeezed hot sauce into the bag, squished it around, and then dug in with his grime covered fingers. He took me to a bar where the girl commanding the front door didn’t make eye contact. “She’s cheap. She’ll suck your dick for ten bucks.” We wandered around, the whole place was lit in blue. He yelled at some of his friends in spanish. We passed the girl again as we walked out. “Ten bucks man…”

When he took me back to my original destination I gave him 5 dollars and he as he folded the bill to put it into his tattered jeans he looked at me, “You’re fearless kid.” I responded, “nah, I’m just an idiot- thanks for not selling me into slavery.”

After a bit of wandering, I found myself on the roof of a hotel drinking amongst a throng of well dressed men who jeered on the competitors of the future “Ass Queen of Central America.”

Let go. See where life takes you. You’ll always be surprised.

This is the final part of a three part series. Read Part I here: Why Haven’t You Left Yet?.

Travelversary Part II: Why the Youth Can’t Travel

I’ve been living out of a backpack for three years. Sleeping on couches, having adventures, being unfortunately poor, and man-handling jet lag.
The following is Part II of a three part series on hitting the road! Read Part I here.

For many, the following story is pounded into the collective consciousness as the guide to a successful life:

Go to school, so you can find a job.
Get a job, so you can earn money.
Spend money, because it makes you happy.

Nowhere in that list is there a mention of “live your dream” and for those that aspire for something a little more risque than the 9 to 5 there doesn’t seem to be many options… In fact, as I get older, I have watched as many friends exchange their aspirations for financial responsibility. They’re drowning in debt instead of a sea of adventure. For many of the people I am closest to the above story has played out like this:

Go to university and become saddled with tens of thousands of dollars of debt and a degree in something that may or not be an actually enjoyable career. Get a job (if you can find one in this economy) and immediately realize how the working world isn’t particularly interested in accommodating your dreams. Sick of the 9 to 5 life either (a) go back to school and rack up more debt or (b) start buying things– cars, a house, etc. for entertainment purposes. Both options ensure that you’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

I met a young woman the other day who is paying $50,000 a year to attend photography school. I thought aloud, “for $50,000 we could send you around the world three times, for over a year, with the best camera to live the life of a National Geographic shooter. Why don’t you just do that?” She responded, “I wouldn’t have a degree, I couldn’t get a job.” I cried a bit on the inside, because my academic history is sordid to say the least, and I’m doing just fine. After four years of school this young woman is going to be $200,000 in debt, all for a piece of paper.

Essentially this is the basic reason why many young people who want to travel can’t travel: most are up to their eyeballs in debt because society tells them that having an education guarantees them a job, money, and ultimately happiness. Please don’t sacrifice your dream of travelling for a piece of paper. Don’t be an indentured servent to your creditors.

If this is your story and you’re stuck with an inordinate amount of debt the only solution for you is, you guessed it, to travel. In 1998 a law was passed that made it almost impossible for American students to discharge their loans by a bankruptcy. I’m not sure what the rules are for other countries, but essentially, those loans are with you for the rest of your life… Unless you move to a different country. You can wait several decades to pay off your debts to the man or simply expatriate and travel.

In my opinion if your choice is to go to college, don’t waste your hard earned money and time going to an expensive one. Give yourself enough room to ensure you have the flexibility to do as you please when you graduate.

Next up Part III: Let Go

Travelversary Part I: Why Haven’t You Left Yet?

I’ve been living out of a backpack for three years. Sleeping on couches, having adventures, being unfortunately poor, and man-handling jet lag.
The following is Part III of a three part series on hitting the road! Skip to Part II here.

I meet a lot of people who want to travel. They say to me jovially, “I’d love to do what you do Kosta!” and I ask, “why don’t you?” immediately they start rattling off excuses. The two major excuses:

  1. I can’t afford it.
  2. I’m scared (Biggest three fears: I’ll be lonely, I’ll get raped, what if I get lost).

The following bit of information is going to read like something straight out of the self help section.  I apologize in advance.

For those who think they can’t afford leaving the comfort of home, I want to share with you a very short morbid story:

Once up on a time,
a woman was gently sleeping, safe and sound, in her puffy bed. Out of nowhere a meteor came blasting through her roof and ripped her in two.
-The End-

The odds of such a thing happening to you are pretty slim, but the reality is, your life is finite. It can be taken from you at any second, and so, every single moment of your life is a gift (as this blog tries very hard to illustrate). If any of those moments aren’t being lived to their fullest potential, you just may be doing yourself a tremendous disservice. You never know when it will be your turn to depart this planet.

And so, with all that in mind, how can you not afford to experience as many things as possible? I could get into the technical details of why travelling for a year is probably cheaper than the way you’re living right now (I travelled the globe last year and spent $6k) but I will spare you the details. Essentially: if you can hustle, you can travel mostly for free. It will not be very comfortable, but you’ll be having the adventure of your life.

Some things to consider:

  1. If you have a job now, you can probably get another.
  2. If you’re broke take a look at what you’re buying: short term consumer happiness can come at the price of living your dreams. You can buy that $30,000 car and spend the next five years paying it off, or you could buy a piece of junk and toss it the minute you have a few thousand dollars saved up for your travelling adventure.
  3. You can work under the table in plenty of places, and the cost of living can be substantially lower than what you’re paying now. For example: in Montreal Canada you can get by on $300 a month.

The other excuse I hear is “I’m scared.” I understand this completely. Three years ago you couldn’t pay me to get on an airplane. There was no doubt in my mind that the flying coke can would depressurize and I would be sucked from my chair into a jet engine to be shredded alive. I also used to be afraid of: elevators (metal death coffins), being away from my family (certainly mom and dad would come down with cancer and die the minute I left), being alone (how will I make friends?!), getting lost (this was before smart phones), and ninjas (okay not really.)

Some Solutions:

  1. Flying – I signed up to get a pilots license. After a tremendous amount of mental effort I got into a cessna, almost shat myself during take-off, and learned how to fly it. I also purchased aviation training manuals which taught me about how many fail safes are in an airplane (plenty). Every fear needs to be faced in order for it to be conquered.
  2. Elevators/being away from family – Start small. I moved onto my cousins couch on the 14th floor of her Boston apartment. Taking the stairs got tedious, the elevator just made sense. And because it was my cousin it was still family. She’s required to love me no matter what happens. When mom and dad didn’t come down with cancer I realized this was a silly fear. They aren’t going anywhere, it was time for me to go everywhere.
  3. No friends/being alone/getting lost – The easiest way to make friends is to get lost. Go a bit off the beaten path and when you’re good and lost wander up to the guy/girl of your choice and in whatever language you choose announce: “I am lost/Ich bin verloren/Je suis perdu.” As a general rule the more vulnerable you are the more likely people will become close to you quickly. People want to help. Travelling alone increases your vulnerability, you will always have friends.

A note for the ladies:
Please don’t be scared. I have had the honor of spending time with beautiful women who have gone to the worst corners of the world. I have asked specifically if they have ever had any bad experiences no one had any stories to share. I’m certain it happens, and of course great care should be taken, but don’t allow fear to be your guide.

To sum it all up:
Life is a gift, don’t ever procrastinate on living your dreams.
The only thing to fear is fear itself.

Next up Part II: Why the Youth Aren’t Travelling.

Only a moment in time

Montreal, Canada 2011

From my journal.
All night she cried. It had nothing to do with me. They were existential tears, they had no reason, and simultaneously, all the reason in the world. I’m good at solving problems, but in this kind of situation, problem solving is about as comforting as a calculator. So I held her and asked questions that really had no answers- in fact, the questions were the answers.

Feeling useless, I took a break from the tears and moved to the kitchen, where I opened my laptop, and then for no damn good reason other than carelessness I dropped it on the floor. The hard drive chirped and the screen zig zagged into an inter-cosmic acid trip. Everything was lost. I sighed, picked up a banana, and munched on it couch-side while staring at my toes.

I went to the bathroom, the toilet wouldn’t flush.
I moved into the dark bedroom and tucked myself into her arm. I tried to sleep while she sobbed on my shoulder.

Three hours later, 6:00 AM, three alarms went of simultaneously. I put on my backpack, hugged her goodbye, and trudged out into the snow, it was -20 degrees. A stranger from the Internet was to pick me up and drive me six hours south. An hour later, as my toes turned to ice, she finally appeared- chewing gum loudly, and looking generally disorganized she apologized for her tardiness. As I chattered in the front seat I explained, “It’s good to be out of that mess, it’s good to be on my way to somewhere new.” And in that instant a pothole appeared out of nowhere and as fast as you can say “kathump kathump” the drivers side wheels were flattened.

“I don’t have a credit card, I don’t have money. They’re all maxed out.” She admitted as we pulled over to the side of the freeway. And so I pulled out my card and handed it to the sour-faced tow truck driver who seemed to appear almost immediately. $127 is a lot of money for a man living off of $500 a month. …The poor giving to the poorer, how egalitarian.

While the car was dragged by winch onto the back of the tow truck the dark sky opened up and snow flakes started to pepper the windshield– like dandruff from God. My only thought was how the saying “when it rains it pours” applied to snow. “When it snows it snows” even that sounded defeatist.

From there it only got worse. Tires needed to be ordered in from another store which took three hours to arrive. My 42 year old driver needed to call her mom to get a credit card number to pay for the $500 worth of new wheels. When we finally hit the road a blizzard stormed on the highway while we inched along.

When I arrived home, I dropped all my bags and hurled myself upon my bed. I turned the electric blanked up to 9 and buried myself deep into the sheets.

And although I was tired, I couldn’t help but think: Today was a gift, and tomorrow will be a treasure.

Greece Riots 2010

On December 6,  2008 a Greek police officer fatally shot 15 year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos with no cause.  The officer was convicted of homicide on October 10, 2010.  His partner was convicted as an accomplice.  The riots that happened in 2008 lasted for over three weeks. Today was the two year anniversary of the death of Alexandros.

Thousands of protestors took to the streets.

Many armed with gas masks.

Using hammers, large rocks, and clubs they beat at the marble curbs, statues, and walls of buildings in an effort to create stones to throw.

Thousands of stones.

And throw them they did…

At the police, at windows, at anything and everything.

And from there…

…it went to hell.

The Flowers of Hiroshima

Associated Press Photo

You don’t need to be reminded of what happened when the Enola Gay opened it’s cargo bay doors and let fall The Bomb that hazy August morning in 1945.

But I will remind you, if for some reason you had forgotten:  70,000 men, women, and children were instantly vaporized. Square miles of sleepy buildings were ripped from foundations and exploded into matchsticks.

Which then ignited,
and burned,
for weeks.

Hundreds of thousands writhed as their cells were swiss-cheesed by nuclear radiation– they vomited their insides out until they died.

It is a horror story, a horror story that everyone knows.  Why? Because it demonstrated that we, as humans can kill more people in one second than we had ever been able to kill before.  In a few hours, we could kill the population of planet earth, without much of a problem.

But I’m not hear to tell you this story.  I’m here to tell you about the week that followed, I’m here to tell you about the flowers:

“Over everything – up through the wreckage of the city, in gutters, along the river banks, tangled among tiles and tin roofing, climbing on charred tree trunks – was a blanket of fresh, vivid, lush, optimistic green; the verdancy rose even from the foundations of ruined houses. Weeds already hid the ashes, and wild flowers were in bloom among the city’s bones. The bomb had not only left the underground organs of plants intact; it had stimulated them. Everywhere were bluets and Spanish bayonets, goosefoot, morning glories and day lilies, the hairy-fruited bean, purslane and clotbur and sesame and panic grass and feverfew. Especially in a circle at the centre, sickle senna grew in extraordinary regeneration, not only standing among the charred remnants of the same plant but pushing up in new places, among bricks and through cracks in the asphalt. It actually seemed as if a load of sickle-senna seed had been dropped along with the bomb.” — Excerpt from “Hiroshima” by John Hersey

I want to remind you, that with every bit of bad news, comes the good news.  I want to remind you, that no matter how bad things may seem, it gets better.  I want to remind you, that you do not need to fear your own mortality– because even after the treachery of Hiroshima– there will always be flowers.


October 2009

“YOU REMEMBERED TO BRING YOUR PASSPORT?” they asked as they stuffed us into the idling bus. To where we were headed, no one knew.

Most thought we were going to Poland, after all it was the closest country to Berlin. I hoped we were going to the Czech Republic, and was taking bets. I curled up in my chair and tried to sleep, only to be awoken an hour later as the bus pulled off onto a dirt road. A man ducked into the bus and announced in a thick German accent: “You will now need to put on life vests. We will go down the river.” I asked, “We’re kayaking to Prague?” But my voice was lost in the zipping noise of heavy jackets being put on. It was 50 degrees out.

Some of us were more skilled at navigating our yellow canoes than others.

…And then it appeared: The Schloss Tornow castle. Through chattering teeth I thought to myself: “It better have internet access.”

It didn’t. It had a sauna in the basement, tens of bedrooms, a magnificent fireplace that crackled day and night, a piano room, ball rooms, living rooms, room rooms, staircases, and secrets– like the freshly killed and skinned boar we found in the kitchen..

Lunch was being served, and while our guides laughed about how they managed to trick everyone into packing their passports, I went exploring, and picked a room on the top floor.

It was Halloween and although most of the group had been tasked with a big project, a few of us dressed up as Americans (scary), and went out trick or treating. We soon learned, as we knocked on the doors of the seven houses in the square mile surrounding the castle, that Germans adhere to the idea that Halloween is only for the kinder. Arguing that I am 12 years old at heart didn’t get me very far. A man with a junk heap in his backyard gave us four shots of jägermeister, a kind woman gave us each a bottle of beer. We needed it. It was cold.

The others were hard at work creating a face made out of wood. It was destined to be burned to the ground in a ceremony. They had commandeered a tractor and were busy hauling wood cleared from the forest. They brought in load after load, tools were distributed, and they got down to business creating a two-story tall wooden face

Ernst the project leader approached me as the others built, “Kosta, you must make the fire! The eyes, they must glow like a beast. It is very important!” I asked for clarification, and instead of explaining further he pulled out a bag of red powder “Dragon’s Breath” (essentially ground up road flares). The pyro in me twitched with excitement. I asked if he had any gun powder, or explosives, for added effect. “I will make a call,” he said.

Soon I found myself in the backseat of a beat up Volvo driving to the home of a hunter named Paul. He looked me up and down and unceremoniously handed five vials of black powder to me. “You must be careful.” He warned. I could barely blow up a mailbox with the miniscule amount, I don’t know what he was worried about.

The team was frantically trying to put the face onto its support structure. Hans, a severely ADHD wonder, was teetering on a ladder trying to hacksaw through a branch that was in the way. Everyone shouted their opinion on how he should be doing things.

After a few hours of experimentation we decided to fill aluminum pouches with dragons breath, gunpowder for sparkle, and use bomb fuse. They pyrotechnics were wrapped up in bailing wire and tied to the face in the exact location where the mouth and eyes were to be. We dipped them in kerosene to make sure they would catch fire. My contribution was done, and the others were busy writing a note and affixing it to the face. We were to burn our fears, our insecurities, and our egos. The face was not a stranger– it was our own.

I was uncertain whether our pyrotechnics would light. We hadn’t made done any tests—we simply assumed they would work. I affixed a torch to the end of a long stick and leaned it towards our creation. The lips crackled to life, and the eyes soon followed. Everyone cheered.

We huddled together in the bitter cold and watched as our hard work, our fears, and our egos turned to smoke and drifted into the night sky. The moon hung full, watching over us. All was perfect, as it always is, and always will be.

–fin–

Palomar 5 was a “social-experiment” designed to understand how groups can innovate in unique environments. 30 participants from around the world came to Berlin Germany for six weeks in the fall of 2009. The event described was part of the Palomar 5 experience.

Dumpster Doven

Scotland, 2009

We were sick of the pasta mornings, middays, and evenings—
as we passed by it called to us,
it’s mouth beckoning “climb in”,
so we could taste each other.

Pigeons and doves who had been standing guard scatter walked away,
as it pursed its lips, and smiled wide,
revealing its treasures.

We dove inside,
and stuffed our pockets with new flavors,
our faces gaunt and smiling.

We threw some to the birds,
inviting them back to their post.
And while they neck-walked to us,
the giving mouth closed.