Q. What are the best travel hacks?


I have always been afraid of entering the system and being sucked into mindless daily routines of office jobs. I wanted to be adventurous and creative in my own way. And this inability and unwillingness to conform led me to discovering quite a few interesting alternatives. When I told my friends I am going to live in a Zen Buddhist temple and learn kung-fu and meditation for free for 3 months, they could not believe it’s possible. When a year before, I said I am going to live in Italy trying out my business ideas while being funded by local province?—?it was also something beyond their understanding of how the world works. But it works. And there are plenty of unconventional opportunities out there which are fun and free. I call them alternative lifestyles. Of course, one can’t do it for years, but it’s a good way to take a break from anything that you’d call “a normal life”. What's an alternative lifestyle? That can be pretty much anything different from what you are normally doing. But let’s assume that normal lifestyle is study and then ”work–occasional vacation” in a continuos cycle. I should warn you though, it’s not for everyone. You should be comfortable with being on the road, facing challenges and ambiguity. You should enjoy meeting people and seek out new experiences instead of chasing status in the society and career ladder. You should be adventurous and ready to take risks. All these programs are potentially life-changing and a great opportunity to define a new way of life for yourself. 1. Startup Accelerators Examples: Techpeaks Italy, StartUp Chile, SEED Brazil. It’s a safe playground where you can test your business ideas and an excellent runaway for your startup. Some programs like TechPeaks provide you with accommodation, co-working space, monthly allowance and if your idea is good enough?—?with non-equity funding so you can kickstart your company faster. Other provide only grant which you can spend on your company and to cover living expenses. And these programs are all over the world in amazing places. Techpeaks is in Trento, a city in the Italian Alps. Startup Chile is in Santiago, one of the coolest cities in South America. Think about it?—?you get to work on your own idea and you’re paid to do that. You meet ambitious creative people from all over the world and build your dream projects together. And you get to travel to exotic places and live in a new country for 4–6 months. All that if you’re chosen of course, so make sure your application stands out and your idea is worth pursuing. 2. Artist-in-Residence programs (AiR) Examples: TransArtists, the most complete database of available AiR programs all over the world. If you are an artist of any kind, joining an artist-in-residence program can be a valuable experience and an alternative way to pursue your creative avenue of choice. I came across AiR programs everywhere. There’s one in Medelin, Columbia, in Finland, in Japan, in Thailand. Whether you’re a painter, a musician or a clay potter?—?there’s always something for you. And often in an exotic location. Many of them are fully sponsored so you can focus on pursuing your art and not thinking of paying the bills. Set up is normally a guest house with a personal or shared studio where you work on your art?—?music, painting, glassblowing or whatever your creative urge forces you to do. Most programs require a plan for your project and what you’re trying to create in the process, so make sure you know what you are actually working on and set clear milestones. 3. Workaway and HelpX Examples: Workaway, HelpX. Now, this is a truly inspiring source of all kinds of alternative lifestyles. Every time I surf through new opportunities there I get an adrenaline rush and a feeling that I will never settle in one place. Idea is simple?—?people and communities around the world offer a place to stay and cover living expenses in exchange for help with local project. And it can be anything! Educational potential here is enormous. You can help developing surf camp on Bali, assist kayaking resort in Canada or be assistant at Yoga retreat in Sri Lanka. Build houses in eco-village in the Philippines, grow organic mangoes in Brazil and whatnot. You can even help shamans at Ayahuasca retreat in Peru (would love to post about that). Whichever weird interests you have and wild experiences you’re looking for?—?often you can find it there. 4. WOOFing Examples: WOOF, WOOF Australia and many others. In some ways a lot like projects at Workaway and HelpX. But WOOFing is mostly about staying with a family on a farm and helping them with whatever they need. You’ll learn a great deal about organic farming, sustainable living and local culture. That’s a good fit when you want to learn languages and see authentic side of the country you travel to. Normally, you work 3–5 hours a day helping farmers and the rest you’re free to explore and wander around. Why not go to Argentina to learn Spanish while living with a family in the suburbs of Buenos Aires? Or explore wild life in Australia? WOOFing is probably the most well-known option on this list. And that’s because it’s one of the simplest and cheapest ways to learn about the country from the inside. 5. Zen and meditation retreats Examples: Humanistic Academy of Life and Arts in Manila, Vipassana Retreat in Thailand’s landmark temple Wat Prathat Dot Suthep, Mindfulness Project (permaculture meditation community) and many more. As cliched as it is, but understanding yourself is a key to living a fulfilling life. Cliches are cliches because they speak truth. If you’re still soul searching and not sure which way to go, why not meditate on that, look into yourself and learn some Eastern wisdom? There are various programs ranging from simple meditation retreats in Thailand or South Korea to more complex programs on Eastern philosophy and culture, like HALA in Manila. I once lived alongside Buddhist monks in Taiwanese mountains and I can say it’s an experience that re-shaped my world view in a very positive way. Next I guess that would be fair to say that those who go through all these programs have a serious case of ADD combined with acute wanderlust. But I believe it’s not a bad thing. You can always go back to wherever you started and settle. So why not explore things while you can? This was just an attempt to show you that there’re plenty of unconventional ways to live your life when you’re young and free. There are many other similar programs all around the world. Everything starts with your decision to do something differently and follow your heart. And once you decide?—?opportunities will arise. P.S. I am often asked how do I finance such projects. While obviously you need at least some money saved upfront (at least for tickets) or some passive income?—?all those programs are free.

Q. What are the worst travel experiences you have ever encountered?


I joined an adventure race last 2011 which required us to travel from one province to another, from one island to the next. Of course, traveling needed budget so we had to maximise all means to save and that meant asking support from friends, friends of friends of friends, relatives (though rare because they didn't understand what we're doing), and random strangers. It came to a point where we had to knock at random homes or at police stations for a night's stay. If we're not lucky, the sidewalk -- it taught us how it felt to be homeless.

So there's this one incident we had to cross borders in the Southern provinces of the country. Our support team arranged accommodations for us and he got us a friend o a friend of a friend's house as a host. The good thing was it's free and we can leave our stuff making us a bit lighter. Our support team told us that the host lived alone and would be happy to make new friends.

From where I am, it's a common expression for hosts to say, "I apologise, the house is a mess" even if the house is squeaky-clean perfection and like the typical local that he is, he said the sentence, which served as a warning.

Now, I don't have Ernest Hemmingway's prowess in describing perfectly how devastatingly horrible the place was but I'll state in bullet points the things I can't unsee:

  • Unwashed dishes for days already infested with maggots (the sink already became a breeding ground for flies)
  • Sofa infested with bed bugs and ticks and dog piss marks
  • Roaches of different sizes and colours (I swear, I saw an Albino cockroach and a pink one) crawling everywhere.

I have this habit of inspecting the bathroom whenever I visit new houses because bathrooms are my deciding point of whether the host is a good host. I don't even know why I did it after meeting our "house mates." But I still did. The restroom looked decent by the host's standard. I never knew he was practicing the art of taxidermy when I saw a foot-long decomposing black rat on the floor.

When everyone in the team came in, they were shocked. Someone shouted, "CHEEZUZ" the awkwardly smiled. The host asked us if we wanted to eat anything because he can cook us dinner. We said we're full (actually we're hungry). I went outside and made an excuse that I need credits for my prepaid mobile phone but actually I want to leave ASAP. Someone from the team joined me. One wanted to join as well. We all made eye contact as if sending telepathic messages to tell each other not go out all at once. The member of our team who was good at rapport and sugar-coating unleashed his best lies to make the host comfortable. He was the last to leave.

And guess what? The host lives in a suburb!

I found a 24-hour chicken-roast pub some 500 meters away. I sent everyone a text message the address of the pub. One by one they came and all we could talk about that night was how horrible the place was. It was so horrible that we already didn't mind eating while talking about what we've seen because feeling and seeing the place was more intense than thinking about it. One team mate said, "I don't care if I have to pay a grand as long as albino cockroaches won't crawl on me."

Since the place was open 24-hours, our excuse was we were drinking. We went back early morning and told the host we needed to go as so and so's cousin-in-law's friend's neighbour 's relative (yes, lies) had a relative nearby. They (I brought my bag) got their bags but inspected them first for "friends" who might join.

We took a cab to the city and booked a room at a 5-star hotel just to feel happy about ourselves and forget the horrid experience. After all, we're tired.