Category Archives: Global

Cross-Cultural Connections

Last night I randomly found myself on a date in beautiful Nagasaki. His name is Hiroaki and as I announced to my hostelmates that I was going in search of conveyor belt sushi, he followed me out the door and asked if he could join. I should add that Hiroaki doesn’t know much English and my Japanese vocabulary includes about all of 10 words. This should be interesting.

Hiroaki is from Chiba, and he’s backpacking through Japan. He’s staying at the Akari hostel while he helps them out with some work. I also found out that he’s a drummer, and he showed me a fun video of his band performing.

Even though I was a little nervous about how much we would have to talk about, having him join me for sushi turned out to be fantastic. He took care of ordering all my favorite stuff (unagi, and now ika thanks to Timmy!), and I tried new pieces that he suggested which turned out to be delicious. Moreover, I was pleasantly surprised at how easily conversation flowed, even with such a large language barrier. Sometimes he would pick up key words, and other times we just somehow figured out what the other was saying. It was fun, easy-going and quite frankly one of the best dinner dates I’ve had in a while.

It made me think about a conversation my cousin and I had back several years ago. This is on a whole other level here, but we were discussing marrying someone from another culture and whether or not it would cause problems down the line. I understand her point of view as to how it could potentially complicate things when dealing with each persons’ traditions, but I think the benefits of being with someone who comes from a different culture can far outweigh the issues. And when you take a larger look at it, this can be applied to any kind of relationship really. Think about how much we could learn from each other. I’ve already learned so much from the friends I’ve made in my journeys, and its because of this reason that I am such an advocate for travel. If we didn’t have these connections with people outside our circles then we’d just be stuck in our own lifestyle, never being challenged to think about things differently. And what fun is that?

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The Power of Photography: *March Forth With 100cameras

Photo by Buba, a 14 year old girl at St. Bartholomew’s Orphanage

I know a lot of you travelers out there are obsessed with photography like I am. What is it that draws you in about it? Yes, its great to capture memories from your vacation, and most people don’t travel without one (or three) cameras on hand, but for many of us photography is more than just having pictures from your last trip to show off to your friends. For me, photography got me through a low point in my life a year ago when I was feeling inadequate and very unhappy. I decided to take part in a photography project where you take a photo a day, and soon I found myself seeing the world in a different way. Suddenly the park I walked by on my way home every day was now full of amazing images of children playing, beautiful graffiti art, and bustling NYC city life. It’s going to sound cliche here but seriously, the city felt more alive and beautiful than ever and I was thrilled to be a part of it. More importantly, I found joy and pride in photography and took back a feeling of self-worth that I had started to lose.

When I was at the Eventbrite “Do Right Be Brite” brunch last month, I heard about this fantastic organization called 100cameras. Cameras? Helping out disadvantaged youth in South Sudan? My interest was piqued. 100cameras is a non-profit that provides children with cameras so they can take photographs in their towns and share their story and their own personal viewpoint with the world. 100cameras sells the photos on their website and 100% of the profits goes towards the children’s physical needs and creating sustainable growth in their community. Not only is 100cameras raising funds to assist children in need, but they are also empowering these kids by teaching them new skills, increasing their self-confidence, and helping them create a positive change in their community. Furthermore, its also increasing global awareness and providing an easy (and fun!) way for us to give back and help out these communities. Amazing.

Photo by Kiden, a 16 year old girl at St. Bartholomew’s orphanage

Photo by Josephine, a 14 year old girl at St. Bartholomew's Orphanage

Tots on Pots, photo taken by 100cameras staff

Currently, 100cameras has projects in South Sudan, Cuba and New York. Interested in learning more? Visit the 100cameras website where you can read the bios of each child photographer and see the photos that they’ve taken. They are also always looking for people interested in volunteering their skills, whether it be through event planning, photography, marketing, etc. Feel free to check out the 100cameras Facebook page and find out more about the organization and ways to get plugged in.

Maybe now you’ll look at your camera a little differently.

 

*March Forth is a campaign where 100 bloggers like yours truly are talking about the awesome work that 100cameras is doing. Get it? March Forth on March 4th? Those clever kids. Get involved and help spread the word!

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Close Encounters in the Amazon

I was recently asked to write about one of my most memorable travel experiences. That’s kind of hard to narrow down, seeing as how there’s so many incredible places in the world. So I decided to write about an unforgettable furry friend I met while in the Amazon, who still continues to haunt me…

One of the most incredible places I’ve ever visited has to have been Peru. Sure, I visited Machu Picchu and was absolutely in awe of its beauty, its sheer size and incredible history, but this is not about my time there. Instead, I would like to tell you about another part of that trip that I will never forget: my time in the Amazon.

My family and I went to a part of the Amazon so remote that we had to take a boat ride for several hours to get to our campsite. When we arrived at camp, we were greeted by a host of friendly and courteous locals that worked there and they showed us to our rooms. And when I say rooms, I use that term very loosely – rooms typically suggest privacy, and in this case we had very little. Not only were the walls made of tree trunks that you could see between, but the back wall was completely missing to ensure that you were truly one with nature. Furthermore, there was no electricity in the camp, and you had to use lamps in your rooms and when walking around at night. After coming to terms that my hair would not be straight for the remainder of my time there, I embraced it all and started to really enjoy this eco-friendly lifestyle in the jungle. Meals became more intimate by candlelight, the small and cozy size of the camp enabling more interaction between other guests staying there, and soon it felt like we were one big family. Each night I fell asleep to the sounds of crickets and other animals outside my room, enjoying the natural soundtrack but also praying that they were at a comfortable enough distance from my bed. And for the most part they were… until one night when I met a new roommate.

It was the end of a long day and my sister and I were in our respective beds with the mosquito nets tucked in. I had just finished reading, and needed to take my contacts off before I could get some sleep. I realized that I had left them in my bag on the other side of the room and, since I’m a little afraid of bugs, I was not happy about the fact that I would have to leave the safety of my net. Grudgingly, I got out of bed, reached for a flashlight and started rifling through my backpack. There was a ledge right above where my bag was, and suddenly something caught my eye. I raised the flashlight and to my absolute horror came face to face with the largest tarantula I have ever seen in my life.

“Big…

spider…

furry…”

I was so scared that I could barely get any words out. I can’t even handle regular house spiders back in the States, the last thing I’d want to be near is a furry tarantula. In my state of shock I started slowly backing up from the spider, not taking my eyes from it in fear that it would leap onto me and bite down with its massive fangs. Meanwhile, my sister is in her bed, ignoring me because she assumes that I am getting scared by some trivial insect. Only once was I back under the safety of my mosquito net was I able to collect myself and actually verbalize what I just saw. We eventually were able to get someone that worked there to come, and even he gave a low whistle when he saw the size of the tarantula, admitting that it was one of the bigger ones he’d seen. And then, to my utter amazement, he fearlessly chased down the tarantula and captured it in a plastic bag so he could set it free on the other side of the campgrounds. When I asked what would have happened had I been bit, he nonchalantly responded, “We have anti-venom. You would be okay.”

The next day we had a beautiful day in the wild. We went bird watching and saw different species of birds including the beautiful macaw. We visited a medicinal garden and met a shaman, and learned about the different uses of some of the plants there. Our guide also stopped to tell us about the different types of insects and spiders on our trails, including one tarantula that was crawling out of a hole as we walked by. I remember looking at it blankly and just thinking, “You are tiny compared to the friend I made last night.”

While coming face to face with a tarantula was not one of the most enjoyable travel experiences I’ve had, it is definitely something that I will always remember. The great thing about traveling is that you find yourself in unique situations all the time and as a result you walk away with amazing stories to share. And of course my close encounter did not ruin the beauty of the Amazon; I loved my time at that campsite and enjoyed learning about the fascinating culture of the locals. I hope to be able to return someday and have more incredible adventures in Peru, just maybe next time without spiders being included in the story.

My new roommate

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The Soapbox Chronicles: One’s A Party – Reasons Why You Should Travel Solo

Happy Valentine’s Day! Oh wait, are you one of the many people who don’t have a Valentine this year? Is this day, in fact, an annoying reminder of your single status? Well, don’t fret! There are many times when being single actually trumps being in a relationship, and traveling is definitely in the top 5 here. Some people are still wary of traveling solo, but if you ask me there are definitely pros to embracing your singledom (or just ditching the friends or main squeeze) and venturing out on your own. So next time you are throwing a pity party about how you wish you had someone to go away with, put down the glass of wine and start planning your next adventurous solo getaway. Here are some reasons why sometimes one’s a party and two’s a crowd:

1)     Freedom to choose your destination (and to change your mind)

Before I backpacked through Europe, I made a rough outline of the cities I wanted to visit and about how many days I would stay in each place. However, once I hit Prague, I realized that I wanted to change gears by skipping Budapest and exploring Kraków instead. If I was traveling with someone else, they might not have wanted to leave the confines of our Eurail pass or take the 10 hour train into Poland, and then I never would have seen Kraków, the Jewel of the Nation, or been silenced in awe by overwhelming Auschwitz.

Traveling solo also gives you the flexibility to plan your days how you want them. When I was recently in Paris I was so happy to skip the crowded tourist lines and instead enjoyed relaxing at the Luxembourg Gardens or having a lazy day with a baguette on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower. I slept in when I wanted, and other days I got up at the crack of dawn to catch an early train. Not having to worry about what someone else’s ideal itinerary is makes the journey a lot less stressful.

 2)     Being forced outside of your comfort zone

The number of times I had to eat at a restaurant by myself when backpacking in a month is probably more than the number of times I’ve eaten alone over a span of years here in the city. And I’m not talking about hiding behind a book or magazine either. Sitting at a café with coffee or a glass of wine became one of my favorite parts of the day when traveling, and I soon grew to love the time I had to myself to sit outside and people watch. Sometimes this even led to interesting conversations with people around me who I probably would have ignored had I been eating with a friend. Eating solo is obviously just a small way to be pushed outside your comfort zone, but when traveling alone you often find yourself in situations where you need to be a little fearless and striking up conversations with people is just one part of it. Which leads me into my next reason…

 3)     Meeting awesome people!

I can’t tell you the number of amazing conversations I had with people I had just met, and how easy it was to meet people when I was traveling on my own. I remember first arriving into Madrid, Friday morning at 7am. I was exhausted, looked pretty scary, and was in desperate need of a shower. The hostel I had just arrived at was serving breakfast so I went over and grabbed some cereal and snagged a corner table. Within a few minutes, I was chatting with a kid from London, and that night I ended up going out with him and several other hostelmates around Madrid. If I can meet people in zombie-mode (note: I am NOT a morning person), then I think it’s safe to say that you can too.

It’s natural that most people are nervous of traveling alone – one of my biggest worries about traveling by myself is not having someone there in case something goes wrong. I’ve mentioned this before on here but I think it’s worth repeating: when I was traveling I was so impressed at how people in the hostel all watched out for each other. I think in our daily lives we get so wrapped up in our own circle of friends that we often overlook the kindness and friendliness of random strangers. It was so interesting to see how people that are from all different corners of the world can really come together so effortlessly when we are outside of our normal lives. They do say strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.

Hostelmates out in Barcelona. Justin (to my right) and I hung out more in San Sebastian, and Şenay (left) and I had a fun day out in Amsterdam a week later.

4)     Self-reflection

I just wrote about this in more depth in my latest post, but I think self-reflection is one of the most impacting parts of the solo traveling experience. And it really encompasses all of the above things I mentioned.  I didn’t anticipate how much I would learn about myself by putting myself in unfamiliar, and sometimes uncomfortable, situations each day. It wasn’t always easy, and I had a few days where I did feel really lonely (especially in romantic Paris, ::shakes fist::) but in the end I was grateful to be able to have had this journey on my own.

If you have never done a solo journey, I highly encourage you to put it on your to-do list. It doesn’t even have to be a long-term trip either, you would probably feel rejuvenated just by taking a long weekend away somewhere closeby or a week off during Spring Break to volunteer abroad. And no, this isn’t something that is only for college kids or for those who are taking a gap year after graduating (why should they have all the fun?) so don’t limit yourself because you fear you are too old to be backpacking on your own. Enjoy, and make sure to tell me about your experiences!

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The Soapbox Chronicles: Self-Reflection & Rediscovery Through Travel

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

– Albert Einstein

This week was the birthday of one of my closest friends. She, like many of my friends, is unhappy at her job. However, she’s having a difficult time grasping the work and as a result its really affected her self confidence and professional capabilities. The above quote reminded me of her.

I remember going to a few happy hours with coworkers while at my last job. The conversation eventually turned to real estate (I worked with a bunch of brokers) and I always felt tongue tied or that I didn’t have enough to offer. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to do my job well – I was there for several years and felt that I was pretty darn good at what I did if I do say so myself – I just wasn’t able to be engaged by the topic. I remember feeling that I must just really suck at networking.

Fast forward to 6 months later where my life has become a little different. I left that job and spent a few months traveling, having the time of my life, and doing some major self-reflection. During those few months I also started engaging in the travel community through my blog and in other ways, and I realized that I wanted to pursue travel as more than just a hobby. When I returned to New York I wanted to hit the ground running and look for new opportunities in the industry. I connected to a few travel related events in the city, and I soon found myself wrapped up in long, fascinating conversations with people I had just met. The problem wasn’t that I was bad at networking or talking with people, but that I just hadn’t found an area where I could really shine.

I’m still learning a lot about the travel industry, but what’s important is that I found something that truly sparks my interest and where I can connect with others in a way that doesn’t seem, well, like so much work! The truth is that if I hadn’t taken a chance to step outside my comfort zone and explore other sides of myself while traveling, I may never have figured that out. And if you are in a job that doesn’t suit you then chances are you may have some doubts about your potential as well. If that’s the case, then I hope you’re not afraid to step off the beaten path and search for what’s right for you, or to take a career break, explore some other options and get your hands a little dirty. Hey, an around the world trip is just one way to find some inspiration – I can personally attest to that.

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Robbed in San Sebastian: Tips on Hostel Safety

When I was out with my hostelmates in San Sebastian, we met two guys who were staying at a nearby hostel. They were in a dorm room of about 6 people, and last night their entire room got robbed. Apparently their hostel security was horrible and someone must have made a copy of the keys and let themselves in. While everyone was asleep in their beds, this person (or perhaps two people) went to each guest and stole their valuables right out of their packs. One of the people in the room even woke up during this time, but they assumed that the robber was staying there since he was standing in their room and he went back to sleep. Thankfully no one was hurt, but that night at least two rooms were robbed.

I felt so bad for these guys when I heard that story. It was the first time I backpacked, and also the first time I traveled alone, and getting my stuff stolen was one of my fears. Even now I’m excited for my next backpacking trip, but I’ll admit I still get a little nervous when I think about losing my stuff. I feel blessed that nothing major went wrong when I was traveling, but what if the next time I’m not so fortunate? And I know a lot of people have these fears when thinking of backpacking and staying in hostels, especially those that are looking to travel solo. The crazy thing is that San Sebastian was one of the safest cities I’ve visited, so you really never know when you might be a victim of theft. I think its important to remember that while certain things are out of our control, there are some ways we can better prepare ourselves and minimize our risk, especially when it comes to hostel safety and keeping our stuff from getting jacked:

1) Purchase the right gear

I think this is a bit of a no brainer, but it is so important that it needs to be said again: you MUST have a good lock. No actually, you should have several good locks! Before my trip started, I went to my local REI and stocked up on a few combination locks and a cable lock, and even still I felt like I could have used more. Depending on how much stuff you have, I would have one combo lock for each bag (this includes your daypack), and the cable lock because its great for locking your bags together, or maybe to your bed (or yourself!) if necessary. My first night in Madrid, my combo lock malfunctioned and I had to cut it – not a good start, but at least I had some backups so I didn’t need to worry about buying more while traveling. And another no brainer: make sure to keep the majority of your stuff in your bag when you’re sleeping or when you go out – some of the people that got robbed had left their stuff out of their bags for easy pickings.

2) Research your hostel wisely, and know what to look for

The brilliance of hosteling nowadays is that its pretty easy to get a good feel for the type of hostel that you are looking at before you book. There are so many great websites (two bigger ones are Hostelworld and Hostelbookers) and you can skim through hundreds of reviews from people who recently stayed there. When booking my hostels, I tried to make sure that each room had a large enough locker to fit my backpack, and also that each room had its own key. Sometimes hostels don’t have room keys which I find completely bizarre (a few in Japan had this, and the one those guys in San Sebastian stayed in didn’t have a room lock either.) These two things should be first on the list of what you look for when choosing the right spot, and I would also keep an eye out to see if they have people working the lobby 24 hours a day. In addition to general cleanliness and location of the hostel, the hostels that I always picked were the ones that had top safety ratings. In an upcoming post, I plan on listing the various hostels I stayed at in Europe and whether or not I recommend staying there.

 3) Keep an eye on your stuff

Ok, here I’ll admit that I may be going a little overboard, but better safe than sorry! When my rooms had lockers (and the majority did) I would keep almost everything in there before I slept. But there were a few times when my room didn’t have lockers, or when the locker provided wasn’t big enough to fit my pack. Those were the nights that I got pretty close to my pack because we spooned in bed together. Ok, maybe not, but if I wasn’t 100% comfortable in my room I would keep my pack at the foot of my bed, or on the inside of the bed so it would be difficult to get to. Even with a lock, if on the off chance a stranger does get into your room (or you happen to have a bad apple hostelmate with no conscience) then they could just take off with your pack while you’re catching some zzz’s. You don’t have to do this, and I’m sure you can somewhat gauge the safety of your situation by seeing if the room you’re staying in has locks, if people are able to easily enter the hostel whether or not they’re a guest, etc, but I always felt better having my stuff closeby. Oh also, I used my cell phone as an alarm so I made sure to keep it under my pillow when I slept. Let me just say that my hostelmates were great, and many of them I became friends with and still keep in touch with, so this post by no means is meant to make you wary of who you share a room with. In fact, the majority of people I roomed with had great hostel etiquette and all of them respected my space and my things. The best way to meet people at your hostel is through who you room with, so I would generally suggest a multi-person room over a single anyway.

I think overall its important to have a good attitude about things should something go wrong. While these guys in San Sebastian were telling us their story, I was listening increduously at how unphased they were. When I asked them how they were able to be so OK with what happened, they responded that there was nothing they could do it about and they wouldn’t let it ruin their vacation. I think that is the key to having a successful trip. It reminded me of a story about one of my good friends – a few years ago she was backpacking in Europe and was on the last leg of her trip. During a long wait at the train station, she got her backpack stolen which was full of photos and memorabilia she had collected during her trip. However, she didn’t let that ruin the backpacking experience for her, and she went on another backpacking trip the following summer, and even traveled to Thailand alone after that. Just think of all she would have missed out on had she let that bad experience keep her from further backpacking adventures. I wish you the most incredible, stress/problem-free trip on your next getaway, but if you do encounter problems I hope you’re able to roll with the punches. After all, that’s life and it’s all part of the experience – and most likely the great experiences you have will outweigh the bad.

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Taking Adventure Travel to the Next Level

“I’m not sure I can hold on with my toes with the backpack on too.”

“But at least you have a parachute!”

 

Remember that daredevil who tightroped across Niagara Falls back in 1850? Well, this has got to be the modern take on that with an extra dose of intensity and insanity. My friend Miro sent me this video last night and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. These crazy French guys (who almost seem like they came straight out of a circus) get their kicks from highlining and jumping off of dizzying heights all over the world. It’s on a whole other level from skydiving and bungee jumping, and I am so impressed with their athleticism and fearlessness. Check out this video clip of them and you will become addicted to the skyliners as well. Boys, can I join you on your next adventure?

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Just Dance! – An International Music Tour

Lately I’ve just had the urge to dance. Like, throw my hands in the air like I just don’t care, I’d be on a table if I was still 21, DANCE you know? Admit it, you’ve had your moments too.

Well, to try to mentally satiate my craving (at least temporarily until I can grab a few girlfriends for a fun night out on the town) I started looking into what fun international music events are upcoming this year. I always said that if I could I would spend all my money on traveling and going to different concerts all over the world. So here are some fun international festivals I found to be worth taking a look at if you’re in need of a music (or dance) fix:

Croatia:

INMusic Festival – Zagreb – June 29th – 30th

I couldn’t make it out to Croatia last summer and it is probably one of the few regrets I have from the trip. This would be a perfect excuse to go! The lineup hasn’t been announced yet but headliner I’d want to see from last year’s show was Arcade Fire.

Germany:

Berlin Music Week – Berlin – September 5th – 9th

I was actually in Berlin during Berlin Music Week in 2011 and the energy in the air was amazing because of the crowds that came over for the events. Berlin is a great city in general, but its underground music scene makes it a place that I definitely want to revisit.

India:

Sunburn Festival – Goa – December 27th – 29th (Dates are for 2011, 2012 still to be confirmed)

I Love Goa. It is hands down one of my favorite beach spots in the whole world (please don’t get me started on how amazing all the restaurants are that line the beaches.. ooh the seafood!) So Goa + hot electronic music sounds like a win win to me! The event just passed so there’s no info on the 2012 event yet, but Axwell and Above & Beyond were some of 2011’s headliners.

Japan:

Fuji Rock Festival – Nigata  – July 27th – 29th

So far Radiohead has already confirmed as a headliner. Last year’s music included The Chemical Brothers and Coldplay.

Summer Sonic – Tokyo – August 18th – 19th

Tokyo is an awesome city to hear some great music! I saw Above & Beyond at Club ageHa and had so much fun! Summer Sonic has a mix of domestic and international music at their festival. International performers include Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Strokes, and The Tings Tings. For info on their 2011 event in English, click here.

Netherlands:

Sensation – Amsterdam – July 7th

While Sensation takes place in many countries all over the world, it starts here in Amsterdam, and is one of the wildest dance parties around.

Spain:

Primavera Sound Festival – Barcelona – May 30th – June 3rd

I would love to rock out with the crazy kids from Barcelona! Main performers include Bjork, The Cure, Death Cab, The XX, and Wilco.

UK:

I know I’m not doing the UK justice because they have so many great music events (Glastonbury and Oxegen aren’t happening in 2012) but here are just a few. Other suggestions are appreciated!

O2 Wireless Festival – London – July 6th – 8th

This 3 day festival in Hyde Park sounds awesome, and Calvin Harris and Rihanna have already confirmed for 2012.

Bestival – Isle of Wight, England – Dates TBD (around early Sept)

Some of last year’s headliners were Fatboy Slim, Bjork, The Cure, and Chromeo.

US:

Ultra  – Miami, FL – March 23rd – 25th

Tickets are sold out, but I was there that weekend last year and still got to go to parties with DJ’s outside of the festival. Saw AVICII at an intimate party at the Delano, and went to Swedish House Mafia’s Masquerade Motel on the beach. Loved it all.

AVICII at The Florida Room in Delano Hotel

Coachella – Indio, CA – April 13th – 15th (Weekend 1)  April 20th – 22nd (Weekend 2)

Coachella is not cheap if you’re not currently in CA, but from what I hear it is absolutely worth the cost. This is on my short-term bucket list of events to hit up.

Electric Daisy Carnival – Las Vegas, NV – June 8th – June 10th

There are way too many electronic festivals to choose from, but EDC in Vegas would be awesome. Past DJ’s include Deadmau5, Swedish House Mafia, and Tiesto.

Lollapalooza – Chicago, IL – August 3rd – 5th

I went to Lollapalooza in 2010 and had an incredible weekend. Favorite bands were Arcade Fire, Green Day, MGMT, Phoenix and Metric.

Green Day

Austin City Limits – Austin, TX – October 12th – 14th

Some of my friends go to this every year, and I die a little inside each time I have to turn it down. If I’m still in the States come this Fall, 2012 is the year I’ll be hitting up ACL.

I realize this list is greatly lacking because I didn’t even get to hit South America yet (note: Sensation and Lollapalooza also takes place in Brazil and Chile!) There’s also a ton of awesome events in various countries where you can hear some fantastic local music and learn more about the culture. What are some of your favorite music festivals/events that you’ve been to?

..::..

Need to be inspired by some new music? I know I could update my iTunes playlist. Check out these great music sites for the low down on what’s fresh:

The MusicPhiles

The Maroon Cafe

 

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A friend of mine shared the above Gizmodo video with me and it is simply inspiring. Kien Lam created a time lapse video of his year backpacking all around the world.

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January 2, 2012 · 8:31 pm

Around the World


 

 

Map view of the 30+ cities I visited during my trip, starting in New York and ending in California.

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December 8, 2011 · 6:12 pm