A Map of My Life

SN859272Every month I am honored to be a contributor over at gumshoeblog.org – It’s a fun place. “Gumshoe features a collection of writers who are full of curiosity and are armed with an adventurous spirit. A gumshoe is a cultural curator who is looking for what is unexpected, beautiful, frustrating, and inspiring. A gumshoe digs deeper to attempt to understand how art and culture live and interact in our world. Gumshoes love the act of discovery and sharing.” Rad, huh?

So, this month we writers were tasked to make a map… of anything. I was a little dumfounded at the idea because I never like to put effort into anything that I believe will end up being ordinary. If I make a map I want it to be spectacular! So after ditching a few maps to fantasy realms, I decided to make a “map” of my life… with drawings.

The idea here is to show where I have lived over the past couple of decades. I travelled a lot over the years, but this little map shows where I have lived. Where I have planted myself. Where I have earned a living, paid taxes, etc. I’ve moved around a lot and I don’t regret it.

SN859274I started in So. Cal and then moved to San Francisco. From there I moved to Oakland, and then back to L.A. for a few months before moving to Prague. I stayed in Prague for about three years before moving to Mexico where it was ridiculously hot and I got paid very little. So… back to Prague for another four years. When I got tired of the Czech lifestyle, I moved with my partner to Texas, his home. We lived in Houston and Austin, but mostly Austin. I did not care for Texas. We left Texas in January of this year and packed our little car with everything we own. What didn’t fit didn’t come. (Now that’s a minimalist lifestyle!) We drove to Ratna Ling Buddhist Retreat Center. (I wrote a series of pieces about my time there. This was the last one) It was supposed to be a six month commitment, but they asked me to leave after one month. From there we drove back to Berkeley where we stayed with an awesome couple, their one year old and three legged dog. They were kind enough to let us stay and recoup before we repacked the car and headed to Seattle. And that’s where I am now.

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Travel: Why I Move

Welcome to Washington!

Welcome to Washington!

Leaving Prague after seven years was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I worked hard to make a life over there. I had to make new friends every two years since the life span of a Prague Expat is pretty short. I also had to endure the evil machine that is the Czech Foreign Police. Living there was fun, but it wasn’t exactly easy. People often think I was over there just drinking and partying for seven years, and while that might be true, it doesn’t paint a full picture of my life in Prague. So when I get asked “Why did you leave? Prague sounds awesome!” My usual reply is, “Well, everything gets old after a while. And there is a lot of the world I ain’t seen yet.”

I still love Prague, but I have finally decided that my decision to leave was the right one. Staying in one place for too long, even a place as beautiful as Prague, makes you complacent. A realization I made while living in Austin. I met so many people in Houston and Austin that had never left their home state. Never. Just like the dozens of Czechs who had never left the CR. They didn’t want to see America, Asia, or even or travel outside of the Czech Republic because “Everything I need is here and it is the best.” Texans were the same. I had a three-year old in Austin tell me that daddy said “travel is a waste of time and money since everything you need is right here in Texas.” Ugh.

I don’t share that opinion. I think Prague is awesome, but I’m pretty sure there are other awesome places in the world. The only way to find out is to see these places with my own eyes. Movies and TV shows and books are great, but nothing replaces a first hand experience. It’s not easy living this way, but the rewards are pretty amazing. If a place doesn’t feel right, then it isn’t home. People change as they get older and so do places. I was lucky to be in Prague at the perfect time in my life. Leaving was hard, but I was tired of trying. And honestly, there are only so many times you can hear stories about how wasted someone got last night. Been there. Done that.

My new city

My new city

So, here we are in beautiful Seattle ready to give it a try. We are prepared to settle down for a while, and possibly plant some roots here. If we like it. And all signs point to likeability. I’m a big fan of cold weather, and I love hiking and camping. Portland is just a train ride away, and Seattle boasts some great food, beer and coffee. I’m ready to dive in.

We had the opportunity to visit friends we made in our time in Europe on the way here, and that was pretty awesome. It made me really happy to see how great everyone is doing, and how happy they are. I saw people I hadn’t seen since they left Prague years ago. I am happy to report that all of my “Prague Family” is still kicking ass and taking life by the balls. We might have scattered in the winds, but we are all living the life we want.

And that’s what it’s really all about. Live the life you want, and be open to what other people are doing. I move because I am an explorer and because I want to know first hand what it’s like out there in the world. I don’t judge anyone who likes where they live and wants to stay there. I get it. Stability feels good, if I remember correctly. But don’t judge folks like me because we travel, or choose to live out of a backpack. The way I live my life is not a reflection on your life. Unless you make it one. Live and let live. That’s what I say. Well, me and Cole Porter.

 

20 Things I’ve Learned From Being a Vagabond

passportinsideIn a world ruled by pressure to conform, to uphold a “reputable” job, have a family, a car, and “stable” lifestyle, these are some things I’ve learned while doing the exact opposite.

  1. True friends are the ones who support you in your adventure, offer you a sofa, and don’t judge you for being a little different.
  2. There is a big world out there, and watching The Amazing Race doesn’t count as seeing it. Either does a two week holiday in a luxury hotel.
  3. The only way to really learn a city is on foot (or bike). Tours only get you so far. Get a map and start walking.
  4. Accept loss. You will eventually lose your phone, keys, wallet, flat, money, sleep … but you’ll be alright. Those things don’t matter so much in the long run. Keep your passport protected and you’ll be fine.
  5. Travel light. Less stuff = more freedom.
  6. Some people are going to be mean, jealous and scornful. You are living the dream and that makes people nervous. Anytime folks walk outside of societal lines, people get nervous. Don’t let it bug you. Haters gonna hate.
  7. Keep your pack in sight at all times when traveling on a train or bus. Hold your purse on your lap, sleep on top of your pack, and don’t wear headphones. Be alert.
  8. Take books over an eReader. Books can be helpful in making friends, trading, sharing, and even for reading. Local expats will appreciate any reading material they don’t have to pay for, and books spark better conversation than an eReader.
  9. Comfort is subjective. Some people need three televisions, a car, fancy sheets and a house to feel comfortable. Some people don’t. Don’t cave to other peoples ideals. Stay true to who you are and you will be happy.
  10. Meeting people is key to having a good time. The more people you meet, the more information you’ll get. Don’t just talk to other Americans, talk to locals – they have the best knowledge. And steer clear of asking the same old questions – What do you do, How long have you lived here, etc. Instead, ask where the best place to get a burger is, or where to go hiking. You’ll get more useful information and you won’t annoy anyone.
  11. Carry a notebook and a pen. Take notes on what you see, who you meet, phone numbers, addresses, reservation numbers. I promise, it will come in handy. Even if you have a smart phone – keep a notebook. No one wants to steal your notebook.
  12. Learn the fine art of detachment. It sucks to leave your friends (over and over and over) but it gets easier each time. You can always go back and visit them again, and you are never far away from anyone when you have FaceBook.
  13. Take pictures, but don’t worry about taking pictures. Put your camera down for a few and just be in the moment. Those memories are more important than pictures.
  14. Getting lost is just part of the deal. I found some of my favorite places by getting lost. But, carry a map. There is a difference between getting lost and being stupid.
  15. Travel smart. Carry a map. Tell people where you are going. Don’t take unnecessary risks like walking home drunk, in the rain, at 4am. Just trust me on this one.
  16. Never challenge an Australian or a Czech to a drinking contest. No matter who wins, nobody wins.
  17. Don’t fear the unknown – that’s where the magic is. The more you travel, the better you get at it.
  18. Be proud of your accomplishments. Living a nomadic life isn’t easy. It takes dedication, perseverance, and commitment. Don’t let other people try to make you feel small for living life a different way.
  19. Keep snacks handy. You never know when you’ll be delayed.
  20. If you are not happy where you are, you can leave. The best part about being a vagabond is not having roots. I don’t have a mortgage, car payments, bills or a schedule. I wasn’t happy in Texas, so I’m moving on. That’s the joy of being a vagabond.

My Life as the Hero’s Journey

myth_quest_model_heroes_journeyMost narratives, stories, books and films are based around the monomyth, or Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey”. A young, naive, nobody from an ordinary, boring world (think… Luke Skywalker) is called to an unknown world on a quest. He must slay a “dragon”, resist temptation, and eventually triumph over evil. He will then return home to bestow his wisdom on his buddies. It’s like Frodo or Harry Potter or Buffy or Batman. They are all the same myth. Every religion has its own version of it from Jesus to Buddha to Osiris to Moses, this myth is the basis for every story ever told. Even mine. Even yours.

I was watching the last Joel Fleischman episode of the best show ever, Northern Exposure. It’s called “The Quest”. As his final fling in the Alaskan Wilderness Joel (with Maggie) sets off to find the Jeweled City, somewhere beyond the Aleutian Islands. The episode is one part “Good-bye Dr. Fleishman” and one part “Hero Quest”. There are riddles to be solved, gatekeepers to be appeased and dragons (albeit metaphorically) to be battled on the journey. Joel’s life as Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, and Joel is self-aware, and smart enough to know it. He comments throughout the journey about the stages, calling Adam “gate-keeper”, for example. It got me thinking about my own life as the Hero’s Journey, and where I am in it.

epicThere are 17 stages in the monomyth. I am pretty sure that stage one was when I left America and moved to Prague. “The hero begins in a mundane situation of normality from which some information is received that acts as a call to head off into the unknown.” Yep. That pretty much describes my life just before I made the decision to move. I had to move out of my home in Oakland. I didn’t know what to do, or where to go. I didn’t want to move back to L.A. because… it’s L.A. I didn’t want to stay in the Bay Area because I hated my job and I wanted to be far away from pretty much everyone I knew. I saw an ad for a TEFL program, and the rest is history. In fact, looking back it is VERY clear that this was “The call”.

In one of my very early blog posts I wrote about what led me to move to Prague. I had read my horoscope and it was eerily accurate. It told me the choices I make will shape my future. It said it I was beginning a new phase in my life that would have consequences for years to come. At the time, I thought it was weird, or at least that’s what I wrote. But I know me, and inside I was sure this was a sign. I was supposed to do this. I had that feeling in my belly telling me “This is it. Either you go now or you will stay here forever. Don’t be one of those assholes who looks back at their life in regret. You are better than that“. I knew it then. My friend Heather knew it, she told me I was on a Yoda mission. I was to do great things. I had a quest. I was the hero and this was The Departure. (Which BTW was the last movie I saw in America before I moved overseas. Just sayin’)

My mission was clear – to unlearn what I had learned. I wrote that in July of 2006. And sitting here in my living-room in Texas, in 2013, I can see each stage of my journey very clearly. My quest is almost over.

My “departure” was my flight to Europe, alone. I landed in London and met my “Supernatural aid”, or in my case, a friend named Zach who gave me tools to help me on my journey. He gave me shelter, a map, and confidence. He let me know it would be ok. From there I crossed “the first threshold guardian” (Czech Customs Officers/Passport control) at midnight in October, 2006. I was thrust into “the belly of the whale”, or in my case a tiny, cramped room with a single window. I sat there alone, staring at the drain on the floor wondering how I had gotten there in the first place. I broke down and cried. I wept. But I didn’t let it break me. I got my head straight and took control of my situation. Who else was going to do it? I’m the hero.

That was the beginning. Looking back it is easy to see the temptress and the dragon. It is easy to solve the riddles with the power of hindsight. My “Road of Trials” was long and arduous. I mean, if you think Frodo had a difficult journey, then you have never ridden a bus into Mexico in the middle of the night. In a thunderstorm. But I can’t go into that right now. Those are stories for a different day.

In my heart I feel that this journey, my quest to unlearn what I had learned, is coming to a close. I will have come full circle when we roll into the Bay Area and I begin my six month stay as a volunteer at Ratna Ling. (Hopefully! Fingers still crossed!) Maybe it’s the final step in this journey. Or maybe not.

I can’t figure it all out today.

My Other Life

cubiclesMy life feels like it was lived by two different people in two totally different worlds – before Prague, and after. Some of you knew me in my other life. I was small then, not like I am now. I was afraid of the world around me, I was afraid of taking chances, and I was afraid of failure. Funny thing about failure – the more you fear it, the more you fail. But I didn’t know that in my other life. I was trapped.

My other life was lived very quietly. I was docile, housebroken. I had a car. I had a job. I even had a husband. My other life wasn’t designed by me or for me. My other life was a culmination of decisions I made because I felt pressure to conform. I did things I didn’t want to do. I held down jobs that made me miserable. I worked 9-5 jobs in windowless rooms alongside people I had no interest in and nothing in common with. I woke up every morning feeling heavy. I didn’t know it then, but my spirit was dying. My spirit was screaming out for rescue.

I was never interested in the things I was supposed to be interested in – things like earning lot’s of money, having a big house full of fancy things, a husband, a job or kids. I never wanted a car (I didn’t get my licence until I was 20 years old) and I never cared what kind of car other people drove. My interests were books, philosophy, nature, art and adventure. But, these were not acceptable aspirations in my other life. I was made to feel stupid or silly for wanting to explore these things. People told me to “get serious” and find a way to make “real money”. A phrase which still makes me wonder… How much money does it take to become “real money”?

Guaymas, Mexico - I lived here, too

Guaymas, Mexico – I lived here, too

When I moved to The Czech Republic I left my other life behind. I left the attitudes that belittled me behind and I left the lifestyle of excess behind. But a funny thing happened when I did that. The people from my old life became defensive. They called me “flakey” and told me to “grow up”. In my mind it was pretty mature, pretty grown up, to move to a non english speaking country ALONE. I didn’t know a soul in Prague when I got there and I didn’t know any Czech, but I managed. Something I wouldn’t have done in my old life. But after about a year in Prague I realized I wasn’t that person anymore. I wasn’t that person anymore because I had left behind all of the people who told me I was.

Those people who met me in Prague (or in Mexico) met a different person. They met an outgoing girl who wanted to see the world and have fun doing it. I turned into the person I had always known I could be. I was that person who hopped a bus to Mexico in the middle of the night… all by herself. I was that person who was brave in the face of fear. I walked strange streets and met strange people. I went to the movies, took flights and trains and busses, I went out to eat, and I landed jobs. By myself. I realized that not only were the people in my old life wrong about me, they never really took the time to get to know me. I didn’t fit the mold and it threatened them.

Good old Zizkov

Good old Zizkov

I am still facing this, but I am getting better at handeling it. There are plenty of people from my old life who do support me, and who are excited for my journey. Because that is the way I see my life – A journey. My life isn’t about accumulating things or having a career. My life is not about attaining social status – reflected in where I live, what kind of car I drive, or how many rooms my house has. That’s cool for other people, but for me it’s all about the journey. And the journey doesn’t have to end.

I don’t need much, not really. I need a place to rest my head, someone who cares about me in a real way, creativity, passion, and love. My happiness doesn’t depend on what anyone thinks about my life. My values do not need to reflect yours or anyone else’s.

I am pretty sure that the secret to life is knowing that.

Nope, I Don’t Want Kids

imagesIt happened again today. I was at a new salon getting a super cute summer do, enjoying a glass of white wine, when the stylist asked me if I had kids. “Nope”, I said. And I politely changed the subject.

Like many, many women the world over, I won’t be having kids. I thought about it here and there, but it never seemed like the type of commitment I was willing to make. It costs a lot of money, time, and energy to raise an upstanding human. I choose to spend my time, energy and money differently. That’s my choice. Don’t get me wrong – I love kids. We get along great! I have been teaching preschool (infants – six years) for a while now and I’m a very popular teacher. I’m strict but fair, and I’m one of the only teachers who plays with the kids. I like coloring with them, drawing with them, sliding, swinging, talking about Star Wars and dinosaurs, or correcting misinformation they might have picked up along the way. I love kids. I just don’t need one at home.

I am 39 years old and I can’t tell you how often complete strangers, parents of the kids I care for, or people who actually know me ask me why I don’t want kids. First off, it’s none of your business! If you have ever asked that question, please stop. It’s rude. So is saying “It’s not too late” or “Why waste that DNA?” Second, when I say “I don’t want kids” It has nothing to do with you or your choice to become a parent. Don’t get so offended, and don’t take it personally. I’m not abstaining from parenthood in order to prove a point, or to say parents are bad. It really, really has nothing to do with you or anyone else. It’s a personal choice. Lastly, please stop with the condescending looks. And stop telling me I’ll regret it. I won’t. It’s pretty simple: I don’t want to sacrifice the things necessary in order to raise proper humans.

I got pretty used to being interrogated while living in Prague because most Czech women are very old-fashioned when it comes to gender roles. If you aren’t on your third kid by the time you are 25, you are doing something wrong. Honestly, one Czech woman told me that no Czech man would want me if I didn’t “give to him a child”. I told her I was cool with that since there was no Czech man who I would be willing to have sex with. Many childfree, American women have experienced this in Prague. One of my Czech bosses told me I had better “hurry up” and have a baby before I run out of time and get old and fat. No joke. MY BOSS.

rosalind-russell-as-Auntie-Mame

Rosalind Russell – Auntie Mame

But it’s not just Czech women. It happens here too. A few months back I posted something to FB about what a great day I was having… doing something… (I don’t remember what) and how happy I was doing it. A “friend” (who just happens to be a mom) said, “Must be nice to have all that time to yourself! Wish I could just run off and do what I want. Oh responsibility!” Not only is this just rude and disrespectful, it is also ignorant. To assume that women who don’t have kids are riddled with free time is just ridiculous. Most of us who made a choice not to procreate made that choice so that we could have more time. More time to spend the way we want. I spend 40 hours a week with kids and I get paid for it. That’s the way I like it. Taking care of kids for free isn’t my idea of fun.

Not every little girl dreams of growing up and being a Mommie. And that’s ok. I didn’t. When I was little I dreamed of living a grand life, full of adventure and costume changes. I wanted to be an actress or a singer. I dreamed of dancing on a midnight cruise in a huge ball gown like Ginger Rogers. I dreamed of having a Penthouse in a high-rise overlooking Central Park. I even dreamed of joining the circus… or the army. I had a vivid imagination and I wasn’t going to limit myself to a house, a husband, children and yearly holidays. No sir. I wanted want more. I guess I always aspired to be like the role models of my youth: Amelia Earhart, Oprah Winfrey, Auntie Mame, Katharine Hepburn, Julia Child and Harper Lee. All great women, all smart and funny, all great thinkers, great dressers, and great humans. And not one of them a great mom.

I’m So Over… Spring Edition

SN856851It’s that time again. Time to clean out the closets and let my readers know the stupid stuff that is getting on my nerves at the moment. And of course, to bring balance to the universe, the next post will be a Spring edition of “Things I’m Crazy About”.

  1. Allergies – Although Austin apparently fell 38 spots on the worst places in America for allergies list, it still sucks. People who don’t suffer from allergies normally will be a sneezing ball of snot after a week here. People here talk about the Spring being “amazing” because of the weather, (beg to differ) but forget to mention the constant stream of polan in the air. I have never suffered from allergies like I have here. Yet one more reason to leave Austin in my wake. 
  2. Wine is the new Cupcakecougartown_240Can someone please tell me when women in their late 30’s had a meeting to decide that wine was the new accessory of choice? It’s really embarrassing. All over my FB, (and on TV) I see women embarrassing themselves by talking about how many BOXES of wine they are going to have. And then doing it. Courtney Cox even has a show about drinking wine in your 40’s called “Cougar Town”. Yeah. I know. I for one don’t want that association. Please don’t think that all women are that silly. I don’t want to look like a 40 year old lush who uses my shitty job, my boring husband, or my wonderful children as my raison d’être. It’s not a classy look for an adult. These are the women who get together at restaurants in order to pick at salads get drunk. Oh, and talk shit about their husbands/boyfriends. I know, I used to serve them. Gross. Cut. It. Out.
  3. Pictures of your shitty meal – Maybe we could all agree that not every meal we make, buy or happen to see deserves to have it’s picture taken, hm? This goes for pictures of the inside of your freezer or what your cat ate.
  4. Austin, TX320954-austin-texasYep, not a fan. It’s funny. I have lived in a lot of different cities, states and a few countries. When I say a place doesn’t cut the mustard, I have a wealth of personal experience that it is based off of. Most of the people I have met here who “LOVE IT” have never lived anywhere else. I’m not shitting you. I hear “It’s the greatest city in the world” from people who haven’t been outside the state. It’s really frustrating to try and have a constructive conversation with folks here about the city’s vast problems because nobody wants to hear it. My fella (who is from Texas) feels the same way. This city feels dated and unwelcoming. The division between the yuppies and the rest of the population is startling. Anyway, y’all can have it. I’ll be outta yer hair next year. Til then I will keep on letting the folks of Austin know that they are behind the times on just about everything. Disagree? That’s what having your own blog is for…
  5. Guns: I think we should find a remote island. Or maybe just reclaim one of the Dakotas. But we should have a place where all of the nice freedom loving gun assholes can go live and be free with their guns. Did you hear about the little boy who shot his sister while he was PLAYING with his rifle? The rifle was a gift he received for Christmas from his family. So now… how are guns a good idea again, or is this kid another terrorist.
  6. Calling your kid “Monkey”: spider-monkey_719_600x450I’ve got news for you – Just about every parent calls their kid “Monkey”. I see it at work, I see it on FB, I saw it in Europe and I see it in the states. I see it on TV and in movies. I guess it’s not that big a deal, but I assure you, if I ever have a kid I will not call them “Monkey”. Or “Bean” that’s another popular one. People go out of their way to come up with original names for their children and then just call them “Monkey”. What a waste. For those of you without kids (Yet?) – may I suggest some of the following, less used, adorable nicknames for babies: Stinky, Tank, Gus, Chief, Speedy, or Smigel.

Less is More: My Journey Towards Minimalism

tajak_019This is the tale of how one wee lass (me) unwittingly became a Minimalist, and how finding greater happiness through simplicity is changing my life. This is not an attempt to get anyone to hop on my bandwagon, or to pass judgement on the typical “American Dream” lifestyle. This is purely an effort to show how at first by chance, and then by design I have become a Minimalist – thus improving my own life.

There is a movement taking place in America and around the world. People are becoming tired of trying to keep up with the Joneses and of never having enough stuff. The pursuit of happiness was replaced by the need to buy things regardless of whether or not you actually need it. Perhaps the problem is a cyclical one. We are replacing happiness with things – it leaves us empty – thus making us want to shop for more to fill the void. It is a frustrating endeavor. You work and work to get money to buy things and never have time to use those things because of work.

I think I have always been a Minimalist at heart, I just didn’t have a name for it. I can remember giving lectures to the other kids on my block about the evils of corporations, the deceptiveness of marketing, and why buying Guess Jeans makes you “a sheep”. I am not lying when I tell you I was talking like this at age 10. I grew up in a wealthy, white, republican community that valued things a great deal. My family wasn’t poor, but we were not in the same tax bracket as any of our neighbors. Mom and Dad both worked, and when we were able my brother and I got jobs as well. I didn’t get a brand new car on my 16th birthday, and I didn’t have a fancy graduation gift. We didn’t have enough for extravagances, so I grew up not really caring about having any.

campingAs I grew older it became obvious that money and the stuff you can buy with money didn’t interest me. I didn’t want to spend my life working in an office to make money to buy things that I didn’t need. Over the years I have slowly been getting rid of “stuff”. Moving helps with that. I don’t pack every little thing I have ever bought. No sir. I have a large suitcase, a backpack and a carry-on size suitcase. That’s it. If it doesn’t fit in my bags I get rid of it. This helps me from keeping clothes that are a little old, or that don’t fit anymore. I don’t own a T.V., a microwave, a coffeemaker, a smart phone, ipad, or a car. Most of our kitchen things were hand me downs, as was the bedroom stuff.

Moving back to America after 7 years was an eye opener. I didn’t have much in Prague, and I didn’t want or need much there either. But almost as soon as I stepped foot on American soil I was bombarded with pressure to conform and pressure to buy. Ads everywhere the eye can see, and on the radio more ads telling me to go out and buy this or go out and eat that. There are homeless people everywhere I look here in Austin, and there are fast food wrappers lining the streets. Our need for high-speed convenience has gotten out of hand. The reality is that we have an incredible excess in our lives and the bigger problem is that we feel we deserve it. It’s hard for me to listen to complaints of a “Great Recession” when I see so much excess. America is bigger, fatter, and more greedy than ever.

54a65bea9630d3772e0b871030c7c230I left America because I was overwhelmed, stressed and depressed. I was looking for answers and not finding any. So I changed my perspective and that changed my life. Leaving the country was my first major step towards Minimalism. I couldn’t take much with me, so I was forced to abandon or sell all of my things. Since that first time back in 2006, I have abandoned my “stuff” at least 5 other times. I spent the last 7 years simplifying my life. There is no hand book out there for how to live minimally, so I take it day by day. I know that getting rid of clothes you haven’t worn in over a year won’t make you instantly happy, but it will set you on the path to freedom.

You can get rid of all your material possessions and still be miserable. Trimming the fat is just the first step. Once I found that getting rid of things felt good, it cleared the way for my mind to focus on more important things like health, relationships, passions, growth and travel. I want to be able to give to the world beyond myself. For that to happen the focus needs to shift. I have tried to stop buying new things (food as an exception, of course) and donate my old. When I stopped needing to buy things I suddenly had more money. I was making enough money to cut my work hours in half and still have enough to live quite comfortably. I value my time more than money. Minimalism is a set of rules you make for yourself. It’s about getting rid of the things in life that weigh you down and don’t add value to your life. Even things you have already purchased.

Minimalist (and family man) Joshua Becker explains why getting rid of the old is just as important as not buying new. “Consider this, every possession we own—whether it be a car, a t-shirt, or an extra set of China—takes up space in our lives. This can most easily be seen in a physical sense. They take up physical space. As a result, we build shelves to store them, we move them around, we sort them, we organize them, we clean them.” How many times have you scrambled around your flat trying to find a pair of socks, or the umbrella? If you can’t find your things, you might have too many things. Everything we own from paper towels to cars take up mental and physical space. Trim the fat and make space for new, exciting adventures.”

16 Best Travel Movies

roadto1I have travel on the mind. Maybe it’s the call of the wild, or the open road. Maybe it’s the boring city. Maybe it’s the fact that I was born a wanderer. My daddy used to tell me I was left on the doorstep by gypsies, and I am starting to think that he was telling the truth. Here are the best, and some of my favorite movies about travel, and a few that inspire travel as well. Be it adventure, romance or crime – movies about travel take you places.

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

  1. Lost in America220px-Lost_in_americaMy inspiration. I saw this movie when I was 11 years old and I think it had a big impact on me. A husband and wife in their 30s decide to quit their jobs, live as free spirits and cruise America in a Winnebago. Of course it doesn’t all go as planned, but it still tops the list of travel films. Did I mention that it stars Albert Brooks and it is hilarious? If you are a fan of laughing, then this movie is for you.
  2. The Brothers Bloom – I love this movie. And not just because it showcases Prague. Okay, that’s a big portion of it. But the movie is really fun. The film is about hot con men trying to make the last big con on a equally hot con woman. The con movie that takes place in beautiful European cities –  It’s a fun ride to take. 
  3. The Motorcycle Diaries – Che Guevara decided to travel via motorcycle to figure out this crazy thing called life. This movie is a lesson in taking risks. If you don’t risk anything, you won’t gain anything.  Che gets sick, starves, and even a few brushes with death, but he keeps on truckin’.
  4. Thelma & Louise – Just two ladies and the open road. And a few cops. And a dead rapist, a lousy husband, and a shirtless cowboy played by Brad Pitt. Let’s keep going…
  5. A Map For Saturday – This movie is the closest thing I have to tell you the way I feel about traveling. It’s a lifestyle. And when you come “home” after being away it can feel like a prison. 
  6. Darjeeling Limited – A family road trip – Wes Anderson style. They are supposed to take this trip to heal as a family, and as brothers. They bicker, fight and make up just the way real siblings do. This movie will make you happy and want to travel to India. Great scenery, and do I even have to mention the outstanding soundtrack?
  7. Vicky Cristina Barcelona – Every girl dreams about traveling to a beautiful foreign country and meeting a handsom stranger. That’s what this movie is about. Except that the handsome stranger has a crazy ex wife and he sleeps with your best friend. Actually, that sounds about right for living abroad. This movie reminds me why I loved living in Europe.
  8. Encounters at the End of the Worldencounters_2Werner Herzog is a gifted and talented film maker. He is also brilliant. He is also crazy. All of these things make his films engrossing and entirely entertaining. This movie is like traveling to another planet with Werner Herzog narrating the trip for you. Awesome. Here, check out Mr. Herzog talking about chickens. It is one of my favorite things. Ever. 
  9. UP! – The major theme in this awesome animated movie is – it’s never too late for adventure. Until it is. I was balling after the first twenty minutes of this movie. But I recovered to find a sweet movie about the big, wide world just waiting to be explored by a true adventurer… like you!
  10. Under the Tuscan Sun – Ok. So it isn’t the best movie, but it does a great job of showing what it is like to just up and move to another country. It’s a little cheesy, but you don’t mind too much because the scenery is so amazing. Another movie with the theme “it’s never too late to live your dream”.
  11. Revolutionary Road – A cautionary tale for those with an adventurous spirit. The depressing as shit movie centers around a couple who seem to have it all. But underneath the great job and the perfect house is simmering resentment, fear and jealousy. The couple dreamed of moving to Paris and living their life differently. Instead, they folded under pressure and suffer for it. This movie is like watching my worst nightmare
  12. L’auberge Espangnole (The Spanish Apartment)B0000C9JFOAnyone who has ever lived abroad and had to find flatmates can relate to this movie. It’s funny and sweet and awkward – just like a new flatmate. It shows how opening your eyes to the world, other cultures, and other people is a life changing experience.
  13. The Endless Summer – The first and best surf movie around. It’s simple: Two surfers travel the world in search of the perfect wave. I don’t see anything wrong with that.
  14. The Beach – The opposite end of my worst nightmare: Traveling to an island that is awesome until you find out it is inhabited by psycho killer cult freaks. Both the book and the movie are fun for folks who like exotic locations – the book is better than the film, but the film is still a good time.
  15. The Way – A Hollywood father and son team up to make a heart tugging father son adventure film. Dad (played by Martin Sheen) heads overseas to recover the body of his estranged son who died while traveling the “El camino de Santiago”. He then decides to take the pilgrimage himself. The film is directed by the other star of the movie Emilio Estevez.
  16. An Idiot Abroad (Television show – stream it online free or Netflix) – This is quite possibly the best travel show ever made. “Karl Pilkington has led a sheltered life. Not having done any traveling, he enjoys living within the comforts of what he knows, basically that being what is purely British. As such, his friends, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, decide to send Karl to various parts of the world to experience unfamiliar cultures. Stephen believes that travel is a life broadening venture, and hopes that Karl will indeed feel like his life is enriched by these travels.” Of course he is not as open as one might hope. It is a hilarious show. 

Better Things

austinmoversI’ve made no secret of the fact that I have had a difficult time re-adjusting to life in America. I lived in Prague for close to seven years – longer than I have lived in any one city during my adulthood. I love Prague. For me it will always be my home. You don’t spend 6.5 years in a city you hate. At least I don’t.

But I don’t think I’ve been fair to Austin, or to Texas in general. I have found that its hard for me to say nice things about Austin because, as irrational as it might be, it feels like a betrayal of Prague. I know its silly, but it doesn’t change the emotion. Since my heart belongs to Prague, how can I possibly like a city in… Texas!?

You start by not comparing the two, a sin of which I am guilty on a daily basis. It’s hard not to. My life was there – it’s what I know. Sure, what passes for “public transportation” here is more akin to four horses and a wooden cart, but it’s not fair to keep reminding Austin of that. It’s not fair to me either. The more I think about, talk about, or use Prague as a comparison, the longer it will take for me to begin enjoying my life here.

And my life IS here. I am here. The man I love is here. My job is here. I owe it to my sweetie and to myself to try harder. What I left behind in Prague are lovely memories, people, and a shit load of badass kitchen wares. I don’t see myself living in Austin (or Texas for that matter) forever, but I should probably stop grousing around like someone ran over my new kitten. Nobody forced me to leave Prague, I made that choice. And it was the right one. I can’t forget that either. Genesis was right, it isn’t any fun being an illegal alien.

The plan is a simple one, in theory: Stop complaining about Austin. It’s not that bad. Sure, folks around here are super fat, its hot year round, and its full of college kids. But guess what? There is more to a city than the negative. And Prague had PLENTY of negative! For example, have you ever ridden a Prague bus in the summer? It stinks like old man, beer, and piss. And probably not from one person either. Or how about those super rude folks that work… um… everywhere in Prague? And if its hot in Austin year round, then its fucking cold in Prague for at least 6 months out of the year. I ain’t kidding. And it gets dark at about 4pm. It’s a bummer.

In short, I am going to do my darndest to give this city a fair shake. Or at least a fairer shake. I mean its “winter” here and I wore shorts today. Cool! It’s not a contest. I’m a traveler. And a traveler needs to be open and accepting of new cultures. Even if the new culture is in Texas.