Saturday, March 30, 2013

I've moved to Travel Pod

Hey there!

If you like this blog, follow me on Travel Pod. Its got the same posts as below, as well as plenty of new ones.

Enjoy:
http://travelpod.com/members/jeffwright

Sunday, June 17, 2012

How to Use This Site

Explore the places I traveled to by clicking through the "Blog Archive" located on the right side of the page. E-mail me if you have any questions or want to get in touch!

Cheers,

Jeff

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All content on this website--including all original text, photographs, and the like--is the property of Jeff Wright and protected by United States and international copyright laws. 

What I Learned After Eight Months of Travel

A number of people have asked me what I learned from the experience of traveling for eight months straight. Here's some advice I'd like to offer anyone who is about to travel alone for any length of time:
  • Be careful of expectations. The fewer you have, the better.
  • Know the difference between reasonable and realistic. It might be reasonable to plan out every aspect of your day, but in some places it's more realistic to pick one goal and focus on it.
  • Humor makes setbacks easier to cope with.
  • There are a lot of misconceptions out there about foreign countries, including your country (which is foreign to anyone who isn't from your country).
  • Foreign cultures might seem weird, but in reality we're all weird. We're all going off some variation of "normal".
  • Things always work out for the best if you adopt the attitude that something can be learned from every experience. It's the "worst" experiences that always seem to offer the most potential for growth.
  • Follow your dreams and attempt to fulfill your fantasies. It's scary, but stretching my capacities in this way has always made me feel happier, healthier, and more authentic.
  • Be aware of your ego. I've been told it's like an elephant in the room. When you're uncomfortable in a social situation, ask yourself why, and really think about why it makes you uncomfortable.
  • Don't get attached to people or things when you travel, but instead goals. Simple goals.
  • In that same vein, things will get lost, broken, or stolen. People will disappoint you. It's inevitable, especially when you're traveling. It's better, I think, to realize this and to understand that you'll still be okay--maybe even better off than you were before--after something unfortunate happens, rather than hope that good luck never leaves your side.
  • Localize your assumptions. Even in Morocco, where it seemed like everyone wanted to take advantage of me because I was a tourist with money, I met a number of people who were very nice.
  • It's impossible to characterize a person based on their nationality or race. When I found that I was automatically (i.e. subconsciously) doing this in Morocco, I started to realize how negatively it impacted all of my interactions with Moroccans.
  • Traveling is a huge privilege. Many people cannot leave their home to travel, either because they don't have the money, they feel obligated to their family, they don't see the value in it, or because their government (or other governments) won't let them.
  • There are some things you can learn best in the classroom, and some things you've got to learn "out there" in the real world. 
  • There's always more to see. Even if you go to all of the countries in the world, there will still be regions unexplored and strangers you have yet to meet.
  • The world is huge. It's better, I think, to try to understand how you fit into this massive planet than to try to find out how you will be able to fit the planet and all of its people into your life.
  • As a tourist, you are owed nothing. You might think that people should respect you or treat you with decency. That is not the case--you are a guest, and you weren't invited into the country in the first place. As soon as i realized this, I lost my sense of entitlement and discovered that respect, and pretty much anything else in this life that's worth having, is earned rather than given freely.
  • There is a huge distinction between the politics of a place (i.e. a government and its policies) and the people that live in that place. Many people don't like what their government is doing, and don't like it when other people make the assumption that they support their government. This is especially true when you meet a person who comes from a country that was once at war with your country. There's an awkward tension there that can be overcome when you and the other person realize that the fight was, at bottom, between governments, not people.
  • Trust everyone, but understand the limitations of human nature. If you don't trust people, they won't trust you, which is a frightening situation to be in when you're abroad. If you are reckless--i.e. if you flash money, visit sketchy places alone and/or at night, or leave your belongings unattended--you might be tempting others who are less fortunate than you are to rip you off, steal from you, or hassle you. 
  • People in many countries practice price discrimination. They believe that if you are a foreigner, you must make much more money than they do, and as a result you should be able to pay a higher price for certain things. Don't be afraid to haggle for or refrain from a purchase, but keep in mind that you cannot change the way that many people see this issue. And always remember that spending a little bit (or sometimes a lot) more for something will probably make a much bigger difference in someone else's life than it does in yours.
  • I once read that if I want to learn more about myself, I should: 
    • Be conscious of what you think and say, be aware of how you act. Read up, learn and absorb everything you can. Think about what you’re thinking about and why you’re thinking it. Talk to people about what you think and if they tell you that you’re wrong, ask why and listen.
  • I learned a lot about kindness from my Couchsurfing hosts. The hosts I stayed with exhibited the most genuine hospitality I've ever experienced. The Couchsurfing project has allowed me to realize that the meaning of kindness is to do kind things without expecting anything in return.
  • Get acquainted with your gut.
  • There are many things in life that you can't plan or control.
  • Write down quotes you love. Re-read them when you're feeling down about yourself or about life.
  • Love life and all of the strange and beautiful life forms that inhabit it.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Saint Andrews, Scotland

Saint Andrews, Scotland
April 13-April 17

I left by bus on the morning of April 13th for the Madrid airport. From the plane, at 6:30am, I could see the sunrise over Madrid as I jetted towards Charleroi, Belgium. Once I touched down in Belgium, I looked for a nice place to sleep during my eight-hour layover. I finally ended up under a tree outside of the airport. I bundled up in a scarf, a jacket, and slept right on top of my small backpack, letting the sun warm me up whenever it appeared.

Some six hours later I got up, made my way back to the airport, ate some food, and then boarded my flight to Edinburgh. The flight was easy, and so was getting to Saint Andrews via bus and train. It was strange being back in an English-speaking country for the first time since July, but undeniably convenient for things like communicating and getting around.

Once in Saint Andrews, I ran across the street to hug my friend Kim for the first time since I left Tucson in July. Kim and I went to high school together. She’s in Saint Andrews—a town of 17,000 inhabitants—for one year on a Fulbright scholarship, getting a research masters degree in medicine at the University of Saint Andrews.

Kim and I walked down the old streets of Saint Andrews, which were wet from today’s rain, in our winter clothes. The weather in the low 40s in Saint Andrews, a crisp contrast to the beaches in Spain. Since I had been to Saint Andrews before, my intent on this trip was to spend time with Kim and her friends, while enjoying Saint Andrew’s Spring landscape and student nightlife.

As Kim and I walked from the Saint Andrews central bus station towards her dorm, we began to brief each other on the latest happenings in our life. Barely five minutes later we had reached her dorm, which is located about five minutes from the coast. We resumed our conversation over a locally brewed Saint Andrews Fife Gold and a plate of quinoa, veggies, and chili sauce—a dish Kim had prepared the night before.

That night, Kim and her friends were planning on getting together for drinks in the common room of her dorm and then heading out The Lizard, a small and vibrant club frequented by St. Andrews students on Friday nights. In the common room, I met a lot of interesting people from all over the world.

Arian, a girl who has lived in both England and Germany, is one of Kim’s best friends at Saint Andrews. She’s getting her masters in management with a specialty in the creative industries. Anna Marie, from Chicago, is another of Kim’s friends who is getting her masters at Saint Andrews. Jenny, a girl from Wales, lives and works in Saint Andrews. Mike, from Michigan, is getting a masters degree in public health before returning to the U.S. to begin a PhD program in public health at U. Michigan. I also met a guy from India, one from Greece, and two from Finland. I met Kristin, a German girl who’s getting her masters in economics, and Olivia, a girl from Belgium.

Perhaps my favorite of Kim’s friends in Saint Andrews was Diego, a warm guy from Guadalajara, Mexico who is currently getting his masters degree in International Economics at St. Andrews. Diego is fluent in Japanese, a language he acquired while studying for his undergraduate degree at a university in Kyoto, Japan.

All of us promptly left for The Lizard just after 11pm. In St. Andrews, clubs won’t let people in after midnight in what I’m guessing is an attempt to keep noisy people off the streets and to encourage people to go out (and come home) early. This is yet another instance where Spain and Scotland differ vastly.

Our night at The Lizard was fun. I ended up meeting several Americans that night who are undergraduates at St. Andrews. I was told that St. Andrews is just behind Oxford and Cambridge as far prestigious universities in the U.K. go.

The next day Kim and I took a walk to the coast. During our walk, it somehow it managed to rain, hail, and then return to sunny weather in a period of one hour. After our walk we dropped by a café, North Point, which is famous in Saint Andrews because it’s where Prince William met Kate.

It was really nice to catch up with Kim and hear more about the experiences she has had in Saint Andrews, the people she has met, and the trips she has taken to Berlin, Germany and Lund, Sweden. Kim deferred her acceptance to medical school for one year in order to accept the Fulbright scholarship. And although Kim is thoroughly enjoying the change of pace that Saint Andrews offers, she’s already excited to return to the U.S. so that she can begin studying medicine at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

After our walk, we went shopping for food and returned to the dorms to relax for a bit. That night, Kim made us a quinoa stir-fry for dinner, with carrots and Moroccan hummus as a side. For my contribution, I busted out a mini cheesecake for dessert that I purchased at the supermarket. We indulged and gossiped, just like old times when we had third period free our senior year of high school.

After dinner we left to go get drinks at a very Scottish pub with Mike, Jenny, and a friend of theirs who is studying medicine at St. Andrews. We stayed at this pub until it closed, which isn’t to say that we stayed late or anything. Later that night, I went to meet up with Diego and his friends at another club.

On our way home, Diego and I discovered that we come from very similar family backgrounds. His socially conservative, Christian parents have had a very hard time coming to terms with Diego’s homosexuality. Since Diego has been out for a few years more than I have, he had a lot of insights to share with me, particularly into the parent’s side of the situation. It helped me see my own situation in a new light, with more clarity and a broader perspective.

The next day, Kim and I went to Dundee to visit the mall. We visited several different stores, all the while enjoying the atmosphere of Dundee and one another’s company. Later that evening, we took a walk on the beach in Saint Andrews. It was in the mid to upper 30s and a tad breezy. The colors and the clouds in the sky and setting sun easily made up for my numb, uncovered ears. We took a picture at a small bridge on Saint Andrew’s Links, the home of golf, before returning to the toasty confines of Kim’s dorm.

On my last day in Scotland, I went with Diego to St. Mary’s library. For lunch, I ate by far the most delicious fish and chips I’ve ever had, from The Tailend, smothered in vinegar and salt. I blogged alongside students in Saint Andrews and occasionally glanced out the window at a gigantic tree that Diego said was planted by the Queen of Scotland hundreds of years ago. For dinner, Kim and I went to a noodle bar—one of the only restaurants in St. Andrews that stays open after 6pm—and grabbed some delicious noodles cooked in coconut milk.

I left the next morning to Glasgow. After a tuna sandwich, I caught a flight to Keflavik, Iceland, the same airport where my journey began in August. After a very pensive hour spent gazing out at the Martian landscape and eating overpriced peanuts, I boarded a flight to New York. 










































Monday, April 9, 2012

Valencia, Spain

Valencia, Spain
April 9-12

We arrived in Valencia on Sunday evening at about midnight and attempted to take a metro over to Las Arenas beach, near where our airbnb host, Joan lives. Since the last metro had left hours ago, we ended up taking a taxi instead.

It took us awhile to find where Juan actually lives because Google, after putting in Juan’s address, directed us to the wrong location. After using a stranger’s phone to call him, we were able to get there after only a few minutes of walking. We crashed as soon as we put our stuff down in our room.

The next morning, Jeff and I left to find some breakfast. We ended up at a small restaurant close to the beach. We took note of the fact that this little restaurant serves a wide variety of authentic Spanish foods for a pretty good bargain. After Jeff ate, we went back to the room to collect David, and then back to the restaurant to get some lunch (tortilla sandwiches made from egg, potato, and spinach) on our way to the beach.

Our first day on the beach was sunny and pleasant. Spring was in full swing in Valencia, which meant that the air was crisp and breezy, and the sun’s warmth felt fantastic. And since it was the Monday after Easter, almost every bank, restaurant, pharmacy, supermarket, store, and bar was closed. The streets were empty, the beaches were filled with sun soakers, and apartments with open windows let free the sounds of music and chatter.

We spent our first day on the beach playing hacky sack, taking sips of water and beer, and putting our toes in the hot sand. Sometimes I looked up from my book to see Jeff and David killing it at sand volleyball, or getting killed by some of the skillful regulars. For dinner, we grabbed some popular tapas—croquetas (fried cheese), olives, chorizo (Spanish sausage)—and a thin pizza topped with salmon, cream cheese, cheese, and arugula.

That night, all of us went out for some beers in Valencia’s historic center. We ended up at a bar that serves beer in a pitcher with a thin spout. We started talking to a group of other 20-somethings who were from Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. They taught us how to play a game where you try to pour the beer in your mouth from the tiny spout without spilling it. It was a very fun game, so this ended up attracting a group of German girls to our table. All of us formed a giant group and began talking about a variety of topics from fashion to culture to American TV shows and movies. After this bar, we decided it would be fun to go to Fox Congo, a nearby club. I taught some of the Germans some “American” dance moves.

The next day, while David slept off his cold, Jeff and I ventured into Valencia. We saw a great view of town from the top of the Miguelete Bell Tower, walked by the central market and the Torres de Serranos stone gates, marveled at the Plaza de la Virgen, saw the Valencia cathedral, and admired the tiny streets in the historic center that were still fairly empty due to the Easter holiday. For dinner we had Paella, an incredible rice dish that originated in Valencia. The Valencian Paella, which is what we had, is made with rice, veggies, seasoning (saffron and olive oil are key ingredients), meat (rabbit, chicken, duck), beans, and land snails. In the afternoon, we went to a café that was located right on the beach so that I could get some work done and David could plan the next leg of his trip.

The next day, we went back to the beach for another fun day in the sand. This time we sat in the shade as much as possible to avoid burning our sunburns. We ate paella for lunch, served with lemon wedges. We also ordered some torrijas, which are soft, sweet, and cinnamony bread slices that are soaked in honey and/or maple syrup. You could call it Spanish French toast.

That evening, Jeff and I walked over to Europe’s largest aquarium. It was closed, but we enjoyed looking at the nearby area, which featured a park and a modern bridge. On our last night, Jeff and I went out and had some drinks. We met the members of a band after they finished playing at a bar. Most of them were Americans from the New York area.

The next morning, our last in Valencia, was cloudy. We walked for a little while on the cool sand and saw some beautiful sand castles, some people that were doing flips and tricks in the air after jumping off of a bouncy surface planted in the sand, and a group of men that were playing sand volleyball without using their hands (is this what happens when talented soccer fanatics play beach volleyball?)

We boarded a bus for Madrid after saying bye to David, who by the way has been doing very well. He ended up checking into a hostel in the historic center where he started working for free accommodation and dinners. He has already made lots of memories with travelers from the U.S., France, England, and Ireland.