This site is dedicated to showcasing the real people behind the politics of our world. I want to shed light on the cultures of our world and end the notion of isolationism and elitism in hopes that we can embrace our differences and live in harmony. I hope that my collection of travel stories and educational pieces will inspire you to get out and see the world for yourself. Pura Vida!
Cuba might be a mystery to most Americans. Just 90 miles across the Florida Straits, it’s the Caribbean’s largest island. The US has been giving mixed signals about travel to Cuba over the last several years. Although American tourism has dropped significantly since the U.S. has returned to its more hardline stance on the socialist republic, at the time of this writing it is still possible to visit. However, check the U.S. State Department’s regular updates on Cuban travel even though American authorities are not necessarily sure of the latest regulations. Cubans tend to love Americans and seem grateful for the economic boost. Personally, I find Cuba to be a safe and inviting country. You’ll find yourself lost in the…
What you need to know about how we got here. The story of Cuba is a bizarre one. It has a destiny based on its geographic position as the gateway to the Caribbean. It has long been sought after by world powers and somehow remains somewhat of an enigma. The large island is full of friendly people with a very checkered past. For the past 60 years, Cubans have been living under one of the most polarizing and misunderstood leaders of the modern era. They are proud of their country’s past and love to share their history with anyone who will listen. I have collected what I think are the pertinent facts in understanding the last 60 years and why US…
There are a few basic tips that I use when traveling abroad. Some are quite simple but can be easily overlooked. Some come more naturally than others but I find them to be very useful for getting the most out of your trip. I am notorious for visiting places in a short time frame, so I have come to lean on some of these tips to maximize my exposure to the people and culture on a quick trip. So, in no particular order, here are my 15 essential tips. Use Instagram and Pinterest to identify places of interest before you go. I find that this is more reliable than TripAdvisor and other touristy sites. I have often found hidden gems…
If you’re like me, you have heard people and places referred to as communist, socialist, or capitalist. You probably already know the basic differences between them but hopefully this article will dive just slightly deeper into their meaning. Is Russia a communist country? The answer is no. Does China operate under a capitalist economic model? The answer is mostly yes. Is Venezuela a socialist country? The answer is not exactly. Let’s clear up a few things about the definition of each term because there meanings are often misunderstood and unfortunately used to label political enemies. I’m going to start by taking a stab at explaining the differences between capitalism, socialism, and communism in terms of economic theory. I often hear…
GETTING AWAY TO REMEMBER THE BASICS My first childhood memories are learning to ride a bike on an American Compound in Taif, Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s. My father, a US Air Force officer, was stationed there as a helicopter instructor pilot to the Royal Saudi Air Force. Growing up in this environment instilled a sense of American patriotism, as well as a deep respect and curiosity for foreign culture, countries, and people. It may seem strange, but returning to the United States to start kindergarten was a culture shock for me. Riding in the car with my mother driving and not getting stopped at checkpoints every few miles was a weird concept for me upon my return to…
I recently met 31-year-old Matthew Toomi in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. He had both knowledge of his own culture and a desire to share it with those who will listen. Matthew seemed like an old soul, in touch with the past and relating well with older generations. This, I thought, is something I can relate with. I went straight to the “official research website” and started looking for him. I needed to interview this guy. Within minutes I had located him on Facebook. I sent him a message and he responded with enthusiastic punctuation, another thing that I can appreciate! We decided to meet in Cherokee, North Carolina at Qualla Java Café, a coffee shop that was surrounded by “indian souvenir stores”…
If you have never traveled a long distance before, here are some tips on how to get started and how to make sure your trip is nice and safe. We talk about this in our blog posts a lot, so please make sure to subscribe to stay ahead of all the news!
How to choose your destination
If you’re anything like me, it can be hard to choose your destination. There are so many places I want to go that narrowing it down can be hard. I suggest making a list of places that come to mind for you without looking at a map or thinking too hard. Then, if you can, try and prioritize them as best you can. Then, follow these steps
First, I like to consider the time of year that I plan to travel. Think about the season for your destinations. You may not want to visit if it’s in the middle of the rainy season, the middle of winter, or the peak tourist season. Depending on what it is you want to do or see, this can help me in narrowing down my options.
Second, use Google Flights to explore destinations and flight prices. It is my favorite search engine when looking at flights. The desktop site is better because you can use the explore function to search prices to entire regions and then narrow down your interests. For example, you can select your departure city and then select a broad area such as “the United States” as your destination and then look at pricing to multiple cities at once. Sometimes, places that I want to visit have very expensive flights but then I end up finding something else at a great price that I hadn’t even thought about.
Third, I consider currency exchange rates, cost of accommodations, travel time (especially if it’s a short trip) and number of flights it takes to get there. These can all be as big or as small of a variable in choosing a destination as you want them to be. There have been times I have found cheap flights but the accommodations were outrageous (perhaps because of a special event or the time of year) so I ended up changing destinations. If I am planning a short trip, flight times and length of layovers can make a difference in the location I choose.
Last, I let my mood guide me. Sometimes, you just need to relax. Other times, I want adventure and culture, and I need something high adrenaline. Consider all of these factors and then write down the pros and cons of each of your top picks. You will soon be on your way to what I call my “short list”. At that point, it can be as simple as a price decision. With such a big planet to explore, its really hard to go wrong!
Packing in a carry-on
Carry-ons can be challenging when traveling to harsh climates or for more than a long weekend, but it can be done. Here are a few suggestions that have worked well for me and will make your life easier when you’re having to lug all your stuff through an airport or down the street to the nearest train station.
Make a packing list and then review it and reconsider each item and the quantity you have allotted each. Usually, you can cut your clothing in half of what you think you need. Also, think about the weight of each item you’re taking. Avoid heavy (or clunky) shoes, larger sized toiletries when you only need a little, heavy fabrics such as denim and try to layer instead of taking that big heavy coat. This all seems obvious but it’s always good to think through this when making your list. If you are taking larger shoes, make sure to use the real estate inside the shoes for packing smaller items that may need extra protection.
Keep everything you may want to access during your flight or before your arrival in an easy to get to location. Have chargers, cords, passport, etc. in a front pocket and some where you can get to easily so you’re not holding up that line on the plane when boarding or digging through your entire bag in the middle of the airport.
Rolling your clothes can be a good option if you still need to consolidate (which I normally do). Check out the army roll on YouTube for a demonstration. Also, I have found that using air compression bags work well to save on prime real estate in your bag. In addition, packing cubes are helpful to sort out your items and help stay organized (especially when you plan to be moving around and not staying in the same location every night).
Pack an additional collapsible bag of some kind. I always like to purchase things to bring home that tell the story of my trip. If you plan on hitting up the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or just know that you’ll be treasure hunting, this is a great option for getting it home when your out of space and don’t want to buy that cheap luggage in Chinatown that you’re just going to toss when you get home. Plus, I like to have a small bag to take with me when I’m heading out for the day and I don’t want to necessarily empty the contents of my carryon backpack for it.
Use performance fabrics or quick-dry fabrics to reduce the amount of clothing you need. These can often be washed in a sink and hung up to dry for the next day. I also like long sleeve performance shirts. You can always roll up the sleeves when its hot and they make good layering pieces. Also, performance socks that dry fast are great and the quick dry moisture wicking underwear is a must! My favorite brand is ExOfficio.
Consider the 1 to 6 rule or a similar alternative. This may seem simple but if you need a little extra coaching to take out those unnecessary items, use the following.
2 pairs of shoes
3 pants or shorts
5 pairs of socks
6 pairs of underwear
Be realistic, consider alternate forms of travel
Sometimes things happen not the way we plan them. No worries, there are always alternatives that might be even better!
Meet the locals
In my opinion, this is the single most important thing you can do. When traveling, I make it a point to interact with the locals whenever possible. More of. ten than not, it has made my trip exponentially better. I have received good advice and recommendations, made lasting friendships, and experienced things that you’re likely going to miss by just following than standard tourist route.
I was in Casablanca, Morocco traveling alone a few years ago. I had not planned properly for my day in the North African country. I met a driver at the airport that agreed to be my guide for the day. There was a significant language barrier and I hadn’t taken my own advice and downloaded Google Translate for offline use. And to make things worse, I had no mobile Wi-Fi, so I was at the mercy of my driver for the duration of the day. I can usually get by in Spanish speaking countries but Arabic and French made for a real challenge. We ended up using a lot of hand motions and facial expressions to communicate. Fortunately, he used Google Translate on his phone and we had some actual conversation but by the end of the day, I was mentally exhausted from having to focus so hard on communicating and understanding each other. I digress…
It didn’t take me long to appreciate having a real local with me. He took me to his favorite restaurants, helped me to bargain with merchants at the bazaar for what he knew was a fair price, and helped to show me the must-sees in my short trip to his country. The best part was at the end of the day. As I mentioned, I was exhausted from the long day and it was obvious. Yassin invited me to his modest apartment where his wife had prepared some homemade breads and cake. I ended up staying several hours with him and he prepared some Moroccan mint tea and we enjoyed dinner together. And the best part? While we were sitting down for tea in near silence, you could hear the call to prayer over the city’s loudspeakers. The window in his living room was open and with a light breeze blowing through the room, the call to prayer sent chills up my spine. It was a moment I’ll never forget, and I realized that I would never have had this experience on an organized tour!
Since then, I have had lunch with Cuban friends in their home, had tea with friends in Turkey, and wine with my friend in Venice. I met these people by interactions with them while traveling. One of my best friends in Nashville is from Iran. I met him because he was my Uber driver one evening and we connected on WhatsApp! Don’t be shy, you’ll make some lasting memories if you just let your guard down some and start a conversation.