Lessons: Part Two – A Conclusion

rock

Sitting here in my mother’s living room, I can’t help but constantly reflect on my experiences abroad and what they mean to me.  While I may not have been gone as long as I anticipated, my only goal for this trip was to “go to the Isle of Skye” and everything else after was extra.  So in that sense, my travels were many times more satisfying than I thought they would be.  And for that, I am extremely grateful.  And all this introspection has led to me feeling the need to make another post about the lessons I’ve taken from my experiences and share them with you.  I hope to inspire as many people as my last “Lessons” post did.

glennbrittle

First off, now that I’m home and have my old computer back, I can edit my photos and make them look even more beautiful like the way I perceived them in person.  Exciting!  I’ve picked out all my favorites and will be posting them here.  There are alot, so have another.

flodigarry

One thing that surprised me while staying at Drew’s in Germany was how much people care about and support other people’s dreams.  Readers from this blog donated over $700 to my travels just so they could hear more stories about my adventures and maybe even to learn more from my lessons.  Like I said, I didn’t initially like the idea of asking for money, but there was something else that didn’t sit well with me about it either.  Don’t get me wrong, I am beyond grateful for the donations, but I felt like somewhat of a hypocrite telling people to save their money for their dreams unless I need it instead.  I even talked to some of the people who sent me money and used the word, “hypocrisy,” when referring to them telling me that I inspired them to start saving money for their own adventure, and then they turned around and spent money on me.  I felt kind of bad.  Why is it that in my experience, people are more likely to support someone else’s dream instead of commit to their own?

fairypoolslunch

Most of these people can’t just get up and leave their homes because of family, kids, or some other commitment that I don’t understand yet.  It’s one of those situations that I don’t have any advice or even a response for.  I don’t know what to tell you about your kids and maybe there’s nothing to say.  They know something I don’t, and that’s the sense of having their own home and family to be responsible for.  So maybe the people I can help most are the ones that haven’t made those life commitments yet.  So if you’re in that demographic, please, I urge you.  Do it now, whatever it is, before life happens before your eyes and it’s too late.  It happens to everyone and it will happen to you if you let it.  The only time that matters is now.  (I can’t say it enough.)

portreeharbor

That’s not to say that if you’re in that other group of people that literally cannot leave home for any reason, you can’t find happiness or fulfillment.  As I’ve said multiple on here, it’s all about attitude and making the best out of your current situation, regardless of what it is.  To be able to do that in a situation most would consider to be undesirable is to be truly happy.

So basically, thanks for the money, but I wish you spent it on your own dream.  Do that from now on.

rock

While drinking my free iced frappe at the Studio Arabas in Thessaloniki, Costa was showing me the best places in town to go see.  I asked what was the best route to get to the tower in the northeast part of Old Town.  He asked what I meant by “best.”  I said, “The quickest.”  He said that the quickest was the ugliest way and showed me the main road I could take to get there.  Then I asked  what the prettiest way was and he showed me on my map the way I could walk through Old Town through the different churches and following the ancient wall surrounding the town.  I smiled, thanked him for the tip and took the long way.

greekhouse

I think it’s pretty easy to assume that I took this as a metaphor for life.  When you start a project or are just completing a mundane task like driving home from work, it’s all too easy to just get on the highway, yell at everyone on your way there, then pull in to the driveway annoyed, watch TV, read Facebook, then go to sleep.  What a life.  From time to time, I’d leave work or home just stressed out for whatever reason and would go on a scenic drive around Lake Hefner with my music turned up, and you know what?  I felt alot better afterwards.  There’s an old saying that goes a little something like, “Stop and smell the roses.”  The next time you’re walking somewhere and see some flowers, I want you to literally stop walking and smell them (now that allergy season is over).  Every time I leave a building I stop to look at the clouds or the trees around me, feel the breeze, and just appreciate it for a second.  I feel much better doing this than when I used to just walk around with my head down only thinking about what I have to do next.  Afraid you’ll look silly?  Who cares?  Remember, all that matters is how you feel.  That’s why positivity and appreciation are so important.

londonpark

Some of the lessons I have this time aren’t as philosophical as my last “Lessons” post.  This one is just kind of a tip for the longing drifters like me out there.  When going from town to town without a plan or anything, it’s pretty easy to get caught up or excited with moving on that you don’t give yourself enough time to enjoy the place you’re currently in.  For example, when arriving in Greece, I knew I wanted to go to Bulgaria next so after booking my hostel for the night, I found the bus station and bought my ticket out of town for the next day.  I figured I’d explore the town during the day then go to the part of town Costa showed me to take in the Greek nightlife.  I didn’t want to spend too much time there as I was looking forward to getting to a much less expensive place so that my travels would last longer.

thessaloniki

Well here’s what ended up happening.  After waking up at 3am to catch my 6am flight and walking all day in the sun, I was exhausted that evening when I was relaxing at the hostel.  And then I passed out for twelve hours.  I missed out on seeing alot of the sights I wanted to see because I had a bus to catch the next day.  I though I had given myself enough time, but I didn’t account for sleep.  So don’t do that when you get out there.  We only have so much energy and you’ll regret not giving yourself enough time to explore a beautiful city.  I know, I know, drifting is cool, but there’s nothing wrong with staying in a place a little longer to truly appreciate it.  That’s why we went there in the first place.

edinburghgarden

I did realize some things wandering the streets of Greece and Bulgaria though.  The world most of us live in is full of “First World Problems” and it’s hard to understand the real struggles that are going on in other parts of the world.  Greece is going through a really rough time with their economy right now and a third of adults under 27 are unemployed.  There are no jobs and the few businesses that are still operational are disappearing quickly.  So many buildings are vacant and vandalized.  Graffiti everywhere.  I didn’t understand why until Nick, from Denmark, explained it to me while walking back from lunch.  I’m not going to give you a global economy lesson, but don’t take your community for granted.  You have a job?  You have a home?  A car?  Air-conditioning?  Food?  You’re better off than many people not only in Greece, but your own city.  So next time you feel the need to complain about you losing a charger chord or someone being mean to you, it’s time to stop and just be grateful for a second.  Look around you.  I guarantee there’s something to appreciate that someone else in the world would literally kill for.  Don’t take it all for granted just because something trivial isn’t going your way.

neistpoint

I took some things for granted during my bus travels.  On the bus from Greece to Bulgaria, I thought it was kind of boring at times and was annoyed at the poor movie selection.  I didn’t understand why one of the drivers would only give out soda and not water to the passengers.  Then I experienced the ride from Bulgaria to Germany.  I missed the personal TV with movies in English.  I missed the free refreshments.  There was only one far away screen and it was in Bulgarian.  The person in front of me and behind were constantly speaking in a language I couldn’t begin to understand and I was feeling kind of lonely.  Then I experienced the ride from Florida to Oklahoma.  I missed not having someone sit next to me on the bus so I could stretch.  I missed the single TV playing a movie.  I missed not being able to understand the petty complaints spewing out of these people’s mouths.

kraimorie

Looking back at all those trips, the ride from Greece to Bulgaria now seems like a first-class pampering.  I had a personal TV, free drinks, snacks, and all the space I needed.  The ride to Germany wasn’t crowded so I still had my space and I still had the entertainment of movies being played during the day.  I took every single one of the things for granted at the time I had them.  “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” and all that.  But maybe it goes a bit farther than that.  On the bus ride to Germany, after I was disappointed by the conditions, what if someone had said, “These compromises are also blessings you don’t recognize yet,”?  The Bulgarian bus line to Germany had qualities that were less desirable than the qualities the Greek bus to Bulgaria had, therefore I was disappointed.  But really, the less desirable qualities in the Bulgarian bus line were still blessings.  This is because I had yet to experience the Greyhound bus line.  After the first 12 hours with Greyhound, I had missed the once-disappointing qualities of the Bulgarian bus line.  It’s hard to explain, but I hope you get what I’m trying to say.

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All of that to say, when a new development comes along in your life that seems undesirable or disappointments you, remember to have faith in positivity and the fact that these negative developments could very well still be blessings.  They may only seem bad because you’re comparing them to something else in your head, making the situation worse than it really is.  So I’m going to try to stop comparing things and just keep the positivity flowing.

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I’ve been following the positive path of adventure and it led to some awesome experiences, as well as a few dangerous ones.  But you know what?  The dangerous experiences are the ones I find myself thinking back on the most with pride.  It was something difficult or scary that I’d never done before.  The feeling after doing it or sitting down to write about it in my journal is one of accomplishment.  I may have overcame a personal fear or impressed myself with how I handled completely unknown territory.  Like relying on strangers, for example.  Since we were kids we were told not to talk to strangers.  But I’m so glad I broke that rule pretty much every day because I don’t think I would have gotten very far otherwise.

luciefabiencharles

Even after being shown the negative side of strangers at a Bulgarian bus station, I kept faith in myself and others and didn’t stop talking to people I don’t know.  If I hadn’t accepted a ride from a random guy driving down the road in Kraimorie, I wouldn’t have met Valentine, who made me coffee at his place and let me use his computer for as long as I needed to and then drove me to the Burgas bus station to buy a ticket out of there.  My blog is full of stories about how wonderful complete strangers can be.  Richard, Sue, Charles, Lucie, Fabien, Jordan, Renee, Martin, Nicolas, Andrea, Melanie, Jan, and so many others are all people that made my trip as special as it was and it all started with a simple introduction, and maybe a thumb.

hitchhiker

That’s another potentially dangerous thing I’m glad I did.  Hitchhiking is so “dangerous” where I am that most people gasp at the idea and have urged me not to do it.  But when I got out there and tried it for myself, I saw that this might be another thing we’re told all our lives and that maybe it’s okay to question it.  And I’m happy I did.  More than just because it was a free form of transportation, or because I made friends doing it, but because it makes for a better story.  That’s what I’m after.  Look at the title of the blog.  “And then I conquered my extreme fear of heights and walked out on the ledge to get to higher ground.  And I even looked down,” is a much better story than, “And then I avoided the situation because it scared me and I wasn’t sure of the outcome.”  Heck, I’d even prefer, “And then I passed out and got robbed in Bulgaria,” over, “And then I sat on the couch and looked at my phone for an hour.”

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In an attempt to keep my story away from couches and phones, I decided to go to the cheapest country in Europe to make my donations last as long as possible.  But the cheapest country in Europe is the cheapest for a reason.  I knew the coastal cities of Bulgaria would be different, but I had no idea how run-down the place would be.  I haven’t talked much about it because it’s hard for me to describe parts it without being negative.  I wouldn’t say that it’s a Third World country, but it’s definitely not First World.  When everybody you see is either poor or homeless and the grey, abandoned buildings are all you see for days, the best thing for morale might be to move on.  I know this lesson isn’t that philosophical, but yeah, you get what you pay for.

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Now I’m not trying to say that you can’t have fun in Bulgaria.  I personally believe you can have fun in any situation.  Even the bad ones.  You just have to train your brain to get past negativity and create your own positivity.  Here’s one of those times I’m referring to.  I’ve recently been robbed, my trip is suddenly over, nobody speaks English, and I don’t know if I’ll have enough money to get home.  I’ve been walking around slums for days, it’s been raining all day, and all I have to look forward to is five days straight of travel.  Yeesh, what a whiner.  Sounds like someone needs some time to just relax and get his head on right.  After the rain let up, I grabbed my camera and headed to the beach one last time.  I felt alot better afterwards and I’m glad I did it.  I made a video and just talked about what was on my mind.  I say that it’s one of those times when it’s okay to just forget all the bad things and just enjoy what’s going on in front of you.

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Sometimes we might be so hurt, stressed, or confused, that we just lose our way.  It happens.  It’s part of the human experience.  In my last “Lessons” post, I talked about how important those situations are.  When the universe is stacked against you and things are so bad it seems wrong to be happy, that’s when it’s most important to practice positivity.  So the next time you feel the world crashing around you, just step away for a little bit.  Be alone or do something you like and just take the time to enjoy the present moment for a while.  I know some people say it’s not healthy to just forget your problems, but there’s nothing wrong with clearing your mind to regain a little sanity and happiness.

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Here’s another unphilosophical piece of advice.  Taxis are a ripoff.  I paid a guy $15 to take me from Burgas to Kraimorie, then another guy $8 to go back.  Then I figured out the bus system and realized that the same trip on a bus is 50 cents.  UGH.  Just a heads up.  The buses are where it’s at.

neistcliff

But guess who found something positive about being ripped off my taxi drivers!  Me.  I was walking from my shack back to the village to try and find the bus stop for the first time when a group of people asked me what I was looking for in almost unintelligible English.  When they figured out I was trying to get back to Burgas, that’s when one of the guys offered to take me there for less than taxis.  I asked if he was a taxi driver and he just pointed at his beat up old car.  I took him up on the offer (because i had yet to realize that buses were FIFTY CENTS), and he tried to talk to me the whole way there.  His name was Kari and he was actually very helpful.  He took me to their grocery store and showed me where to get the cheapest beer and gave me more advice about the town.  A couple days later, I saw him on the street and he recognized me, waved, and yelled something.  I got to look cool, wave, and yell back.  So there it is.  I got valuable information, got a new friend, and I got to look cool to the locals.  Ha!

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Now Kari didn’t seem like the nicest guy in the world at first glance.  He was older, had a black beard, and kind of a shady car.  Some might even look down on me for getting into his car with him.  But why?  Because you’re judging a book by its cover?  Good thing we all understand that things are never what we expect them to be.  Like Valentine, the big Bulgarian that offered me a lift to his place to use his computer.  Most people would probably say no, but he was one of the nicest and most helpful people I’ve ever met.  And I got to meet his entire family who made me drink out of a 2-liter bottle of Bulgarian whiskey.  And don’t forget about the group of drunken hooligans who accosted me in the middle of the night in the streets of Frankfurt.  If I hadn’t stopped to talk to this rowdy group of seemingly dangerous degenerates, I wouldn’t have gotten a private tour of the city and laughed all night.

Just because someone might seem rough or unpleasant, doesn’t mean they are.  Give people a chance.  It might be the most helpful decision you ever make.

churchofscotland

That whole, “judging” thing goes both ways though.  On my last night in Bulgaria, I had all my travel plans paid for and all I had to do was wait for a 1:30am bus.  I decided to eat at a fancy restaurant and have a nice meal before heading home.  So I walked around downtown Burgas for a long time looking for a good place.  Most restaurants were bars that were watching the World Cup, but I found a few “fancy” ones.  The fanciest was called, “Malibu,” and I went all out.  I got a tasty beverage, a sausage dish over bread, and a side of “bread crisps.”  It was disgusting.  The servers were annoyed that I didn’t speak Bulgarian and the food was so gross I couldn’t keep going after I’d only eat a third of one of the dishes.  So I finished my drink, paid the fortune of a bill ($5), and left.

fairypoolswaterfall

…and then I got a hotdog down the road for a dollar and it was amazing.  I’ve told this story on here before, but it has different context this time.  I had judged Malibu as a place I wanted to eat because of how it looked.  I thought, “Well if this place has the most decorations/displays and the nicest patio set up, it has to be good!”  But not only was the food better at the tiny stand down the street, the guy working it was much friendlier and even gave me free fries.  So while judging that a person or place is shady or undesirable (strangers on the street) could make you miss out on some of your to-be favorite experiences, judging that a person or place is special just because it looks good on the outside could easily lead to a disappointing experience.  So let’s all just stop judging, yeah?  Might be impossible, but I’m working on it and I’m liking the results so far.

meedinburgh

Why is it that the most busy places in a town are the new downtown areas?  It’s true everywhere.  It’s where the trendiest shops are, all the most advertised restaurants are, and therefore, where all the action is, right?  Not really.  I’ve been all over the new and old parts of towns all over the world and the best places I’ve experienced are the “old parts” of town.  In Thessaloniki, the best hostel, restaurants, views, and people were all hiding in the beautiful streets of ancient Old Town.  That’s where I met Nick, Nahweed, and Costa.  And it Frankfurt, you have to cross a river leading away from downtown to get to a street that looks like Diagon Alley from Harry Potter and that’s where all the fun is.  The pub that’s been making Apple Wine since 1291.  The hookah lounge showing the soccer game to hundreds of screaming Germans.  The group of kids celebrating the end of exams with strangers.  Sure, it’s off the beaten path, but that’s exactly where I want to be.  Think about your home town.  Do you like to chill at your own local hangout spot with your friends?  Maybe a place that’s not too busy?  Or do you prefer to go to a downtown Chili’s or some other chain full of shoppers and worn out employees?  Then look for the Old Town.  It’s awesome.

frankfurtbridge

While in the “old” part of Frankfurt, I experienced the world-wide craze of soccer, or “football.”  Before that night I had never actually watched a whole game.  I had seen the game and walked away within a few minutes of watching the guys run around and accomplish nothing, but never just sat down to watch one.  But the street was lined with televisions and people watching them getting excited and having a blast. So I decided to join them.  And it was alot of fun.  Drinking a 700 year old apple wine recipe and cheering on whoever the yellow team was had left me with an unforgettable memory.  So one lesson I learned was that under the right circumstances, soccer can be exciting.

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But not too long after the soccer game ended, everybody returned home or to their hotels and the bars started closing.  I didn’t have a hotel so I bought a Doner sandwich and just walked down the street until I found a friendly-looking outdoor hookah lounge.  I sat down to pass the time and noticed that the place was full of people who were middle-eastern.  They were all speaking other languages and I was quiet in the corner.  But when the server who knew a little English came by and asked me about where I was from, the guy sitting next to me told me he was also from Oklahoma.  He was going to school in Weatherford but was born in Saudi, and we spent the rest of the establishment’s open hours talking about our travels and life back home.  His name was Omar and he gave meaning to the phrase, “It’s a small world.”  After meeting a fellow Oklahoman at a German hookah bar at 2:00am, take it from me, it really is.

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I wouldn’t have learned that if I hadn’t followed through on the previous lesson: Abandon fear and shyness.  Because just a few minutes after saying bye to my new Saudi Arabian friend, I was introducing myself to a group of strangers on the sidewalk.  I’m going to try my hardest to keep being so outgoing and willing to just start talking to people I’ve never met before in public.  It’s not very common nowadays, but after experiencing the upside to just not caring and going for it, I don’t want to go back to my old ways.  I don’t need to repeat how many new friends I’ve made because of abandoning fear shyness.  Friends I still talk to and will stay in contact with for the rest of my life and probably visit the next time I’m abroad.

edinburghfriends

But because I had expected a short walk back to the bus station after the bars closed, I had put my boots in storage with Gautama and was only wearing the 1 Euro flip flops I bought in Greece.  After that evening turned into an all-night walking tour, my feet were killing me.  I had a bad limp all the way to the airplane because of it and regretted putting away my boots.  Good thing the trip was about over.  So here’s another travel tip: Always be ready for a long walk.

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And, of course, the overarching lesson I felt teaching me the whole time was Positivity.  I really put my ability to find positivity in every situation to the test on this last leg or my adventure.  From lack of sleep cutting my Thessalonian experience short, to getting robbed in Sofia, to getting rained on, ripped off by taxis, isolated from conversations, and being crammed into a series of worse and worse buses, I can say with more confidence than ever that I am a positive person.fairypools

So now when I’m faced with the minor annoyances of “normal” life, it’s easier than ever for me to shrug them off and keep my good mood going.  Traffic’s terrible?  More songs for me to sing to.  Someone was rude to me?  It felt good walking away from them to go have fun and enjoy myself.  Someone cancelled our plans to hang out?  You know I’m always down for some good ol’ Me Time.  I couldn’t think of someone more fun to travel with.  Even the tougher problems are easier for me to just let go and move on from.  There are just too many great things out there for us to experience to be lingering on the bad.  As one of my favorite philosophers who was also a fish said: “Just keep swimming.”

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What a long post.  I guess I had alot to say regarding my final thoughts on my European excursion.  It’s somewhat sad to be ending this blog so soon.  I’ve gotten so many good responses from my stories and I’ve had  alot of fun sharing them with you.  Some people have suggested that I make a post about life back in OKC complete with pictures and stories.  I think I just might do that, but I know that although this part of my story is over, I will be traveling again soon now that I know how possible it is and how much fun it can be.  Then I’ll just get back on here and pick up where I left off.  Sounds exciting to me!

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So what do I have to say here at the end of all this?  After quitting the best job I’ve ever had, selling all my possessions, accomplishing my number one dream, living on a military base, and being robbed, I’ve gotta say: Get out there.  Get out of your comfort zone.  Way out.  The farther the better.  I’ve spent the last 23 years living the same way everybody else does.  Get up, go to work, eat, drink, hang out, go to sleep.  I am never spending another night staring at the four walls I work every day to pay for just because that’s what I was raised and taught to do.

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There is far too much indescribable wonder out there to just sit in your safe little box and let your life pass before your eyes.  You’re doing it right now on your phone or computer.  We do it every day and for so many it seems impossible not to.  I get it.  I do.  The unknown is scary.  Anything can happen.  You could lose all your money.  You could become homeless.  You could lose your friends.  You could go to jail.  You could die.  It’s a surprise.

flodigarryhostelview

But I believe that’s what we all really want: A surprise.  It’s what I hear most from people who “have it all together.”  Charles from France had a great job with good pay as an engineer, but he  described it as a “prison” and likes to spend his time off getting away from home and camping.  Jordan had a steady job in Australia for the last seven years but realized he was stuck in a lethal rut that he ran away from with a one-way ticket.  There are countless articles quoting people on their death beds saying they wish they’d taken more risks, had more adventures, tried more new things.  “It’s better to look back and regret things you did than the things you didn’t.”  None of those people say they were glad they played it safe and worked a 9 to 5 every day for 30 years without ever stepping outside their comfort zone.

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We’ve all been raised to go to school, secure a job, claim a space to exist in, settle down, start a family, then prepare for retirement.  Anything outside of this structure is considered “strange” or “wrong” and is looked down upon or discredited.  I’m not trying to preach; I just want to say that it’s okay to stray wildly from the “norm” and not be ashamed of enjoying the hell out of it.  The pressure to fit in to the idea we all have engrained into our expectations can make us completely terrified of taking that road less traveled.  And it’s either because we’re afraid of the unknown or “what everyone else will think.”

cliff

Here it comes.  Who cares what everyone else thinks?  Why do you care what I have to say about what you’re doing?  I’ll tell you why.  Social evolution.  It goes back to prehistoric times when human beings made it a priority to carry on the species.  If people think highly of you, they’ll be more likely to be your friends and you’ll flourish.  However, if people think lowly of you, they will spread rumors about you and you’ll be less likely to find a mate and reproduce.  But guess what.  We’re grossly overpopulated and it’s no longer necessary to rely on primal animal instincts.

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It may go against everything you know, but throw normality out the window and separate yourself from the crowd.  Things are way more exciting out there because you’re getting something the crowd shies away from.  A surprise.  It’s the unknown!  Anything could happen!  You could discover much better things to obsess over than money.  You could make new lifelong friends.  You could realize your passion.  You could find happiness.  You.  Will.  Live.

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I know these are just words on a website, but I have faith that I will reach someone with my stories and that person will gain the courage to take that extreme risk that might jeopardize the stability of life as they know it so they can reach out for happiness with both hands.  Take it from me; it’s worth it.  Because remember, at the end of the day, all that matters is how you feel.  Why do we want people to like us?  Because having friends makes us happy.  Why do we want money?  Because we believe it will make us happy.  So if all we want is to be happy, then does it really matter what we do, as long as it makes us feel good?   (As long as it doesn’t harm anybody.)

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Maybe we shouldn’t associate what we normally do with happiness.  Money, a job, what people think, a house, a new car, new shoes, a new phone, all these things are an attempt to make us happy, but like I said in the last Lessons post, true happiness comes from within.  It’s how you feel.  So if happiness truly doesn’t depend on any of those things, then why cling to them?  There’s no reason to be afraid of letting go of the norm because you will be doing what you know will make you happy.

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So, including Part One, here are the lessons we can all take from my experience:

  • Get rid of expectations
  • People are nicer in small towns
  • Don’t settle for comfort or contentment
  • Happiness is a state of mind (not a person, place, or thing)
  • Have faith in yourself
  • Abandon fear and shyness
  • Seize the Kairos
  • Live lucidly
  • Always smile, even if you’re not happy
  • Never worry
  • The situations where things seem to be the worst are when it’s most important to stay positive.  Otherwise, it has no meaning

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And from Part Two:

  • People care about other people’s dreams, but why not more about their own?
  • The easiest way isn’t the best way.
  • It’s easy to forget to account for sleep while drifting.
  • It doesn’t have to be a Third World Country for there to be suffering.
  • Don’t take the little things for granted.  Compromises can be blessings, too.
  • Dangerous situations make for better stories.
  • Bulgaria is really cheap, but it’s for a reason.
  • Taxis rip you off.
  • Just because somebody looks shady, it doesn’t mean they are.
  • It’s okay to forget the negative to enjoy the positive.
  • The fanciest place in town might be nowhere as good as the hotdog stand down the road.
  • Boring layovers can be exciting if you let them.
  • Look for the “old” part of town.
  • Soccer can be exciting in the right circumstance.
  • It’s a small world.
  • Abandoning fear and shyness pays off.
  • Always be ready for a long walk.
  • There is something positive in every situation if you know how to look for it.

neist

I believe that’s it.  It’s strange and kind of sad to finish this story, but now I’m facing the beginning of another one.  And I’m going to do whatever I can to make it exciting.  The next time I go on an epic adventure, I’ll make sure to bring a camera again so I can share it with you.  But don’t forget to have some amazing adventures yourself.  There’s too much out there not to.  So good-bye for now.  Thank you for reading my story and supporting my dream.  I hope nothing but the best for you and I’d like to talk soon.  See you out there.

meflodigarry

The End.

quirangview

Greyhound Across America: An Exercise in Positivity

The experience I had getting to Oklahoma from Florida was a trying one, but I took it as an opportunity to prove my ability to stay positive in less than desirable situations.  Let’s see how I did.  Hopefully you can take these examples and apply them to some negative things going on in your life.  My apologies for the lack of photos.  I was on day 3 through 5 of constant travel and wasn’t really in the picture taking mood while switching buses.  My storytelling will have to suffice.

After arriving on US soil, I walked out of the Fort Lauderdale Airport in and was in a taxi to the Greyhound Station within two minutes.  That’s what I call convenient!  It was in a somewhat scary part of town and the heat/humidity had me melting.  Fortunately, I had enough time to walk a mile down the road to buy sandwich ingredients before my bus left on its two-day expedition across America.

There were people sleeping at the station and the unattended children had plenty of time to inspect my bag.  My constant talking to them made me seem approachable by a 15 year-old named Rick.  He was trying to get to Indiana and was facing a long series of bus transitions and was nervous about catching the right ones.  I compared our tickets and it turned out we were going to Atlanta together so I told him I’d make sure he got there.  It was a good opportunity to continue paying forward the help the Bulgarian woman gave me on the way to Germany.  So after the bus got there fifteen minutes late, we were en route to Atlanta.

The completely full bus stopped in Orlando at 2am where we learned that twelve tickets were not printed with the correct bus schedule on them and had to be fixed and completely reprinted out one at a time at the desk.  Mine was included in this list, but luckily, mine was not one of the many that were delayed by several hours as I made sure Rick and I were at the front of the line for service.  So after chatting up some fellow travelers in line for our hour and a half layover, we were aboard the correct bus.  I was glad it was still dark out so I could thoroughly pass out for a couple hours before the bus stopped again.

The whole next day was full of stopping over and over again to pick up random people until the bus filled up completely again, but the entire time, I got the window seat.  Score.  I didn’t mind the prison inmates at all because I had my sandwiches and a comfortable place to rest my head on my makeshift pillow.  One of the last passengers to board sat next to me.  It was an older man.  At first I was annoyed that I didn’t have my extra leg room next to me, but I made the best out of the situation and decided that it was a good time to make a new friend.  So I pulled off my headphones and introduced myself.

His name was Dennis and he was a software engineer.  He loved movies and TV shows about time travel and had the mathematical background to be able to talk about the physical possibilities of such things.  This actually made for hours of intriguing conversation.  I now know more than I ever have about quantum mechanics and theoretical wormholes and he knows more about sci-fi films and television.  Thank you for making the trip more interesting, Dennis.

That night, I was on a bus to Nashville with all new people.  The girl that sat next to me looked around at the crowded bus full of screaming children, people complaining about the available seating, and the people complaining about showing up too late to get a seat, then she turned to me and said she was thankful to be sitting next to me where it wasn’t so stressful.  In response, I fell asleep.  Though I must admit, I was not only grateful for having a seat as well, but also being able to keep myself from behaving as negatively as some of the other people sharing this predicament.

On the last morning, I was in Arkansas, and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I was now relying on the idea of returning home to my loved ones in just a few hours to keep my sanity and positivity about me.  One of the last stops consisted of people complaining about being on the bus all day and how hot it was outside.  I sat and listened quietly and enjoyed the last of my sandwich provisions from Florida.  I tried to get some sleep during these last hours since I hadn’t been too successful on the packed buses the night before, but I couldn’t because the woman behind me had a terrible cough that was giving me a headache after a while.  But you know what?  I was thankful that I was healthy and without what sounded like a painful cough.

It wasn’t long after that when we arrived at the Oklahoma City Greyhound Station where my parents were waiting for me.  It was all worth it.  The confusion on the Bulgarian bus line to Germany, the all night layover in Frankfurt, and the Trial of the Greyhound.  All of that struggle led me to having a wonderful lunch at one of my favorite restaurants with two of my favorite people.

In that exhausting exercise, I had the luxury of knowing the ultimate positive outcome of my situation, but it took conscious effort on my part to see the bright side of every single thing that went wrong during the trip home.  I know there are much worse things that could happen to me, but this whole post is to demonstrate what I talked about in my Lessons: Part One post regarding positivity.  It’s easy to stay positive when things are going alright.  But it’s when the  bad things happen, the things that really annoy you or make you extremely angry, that is the only time positivity matters.  Otherwise, it’s completely meaningless.

So here’s something I hope for you, specifically.  Go the next 24 hours without complaining.  Not once.  No matter what bad things happen, especially if something bad happens, don’t complain.  See what happens.  I bet you’ll be in a better mood than you think you’ll be in.  And that’s because you’re taking the first steps to being a truly positive person.  And positive people are happy.  Isn’t that what we all want?  Let me know how it goes.

I’m so inspired I think I’ll make a Lessons: Part Two post to end this part of my story.  Thank you for reading and stay tuned.

A Frankfurtian Stupor

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The trip to Germany was pretty intense.  I didn’t understand a single word of what was said or written anywhere, so figuring out what to do each time the bus stopped was interesting.  I was the only white person on the bus for the entirety of the trip,  And at every border we crossed, everyone had to get off the bus and walk through border control in a single file line while they checked our passports.  The first time somebody spoke to me in English was the policeman at the Serbian border.  He asked what I was doing in Bulgaria followed by more questions which ended in him asking, “So you’re just backpacking all over Europe for fun?  That’s awesome.”  Then he laughed, stamped my passport, and waved me on.  It feels good every time.

I drove through the countryside of Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, and Germany over the course of two days, and boy, was my butt tired.  I don’t know if I would have made it if it weren’t for a nice woman who was also going to Germany who let me follow her around.  She was going to see her son who was going to school in Munich.

At least I was able to spread out and sleep when I needed to.  The drivers also played some obviously bootlegged DVD’s of some Kevin Costner movie and a paranormal teen movie two days in a row.  They were in Bulgarian so I just imagined my own dialogue.  The most exciting thing that happened was me beating two girls in a very long game of Uno.  Turns out, you don’t need English to play; just one word of Spanish.  But on Monday morning, we finally arrived in downtown Frankfurt.

Here’s bus/train station:

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Pretty impressive.  I was just excited to be somewhere that used Latin-based letters in their signs.  The downtown area was so cool, I had to explore.  So I put Gautama in a storage locker and started wandering.

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I eventually made it to a pedestrian bridge that crossed the river and the view it presented was beautiful.

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I decided to stay up all night instead of paying for a downtown hotel room and I figured it would help me get to sleep on the plane the next day.  I put my camera up and showered at the bus station so I wouldn’t smell like I’d been on a bus for two days straight then left for the pub area of town.  There was one thin street in particular that was lined with dozens of small bars and outdoor sitting areas.  That night it was full of TV’s and groups of people watching the World Cup.  I decided to sit at a place I read about on the street.  This old bar had been there making Apple Wine since 1291 and let me tell you, they’ve still got it.  I stayed there for the entirety of the ‘football’ matches and found myself getting into it because of the hundreds of cheering people lining the street.  I hung out there until the bar closed shortly after the game and walked to get a Doner.

Which reminds me, Germany has some of the BEST food.  I love their Bratwurst so  much.  And their Doners.  They’re kinda like super tasty pork sandwiches.  I also quite enjoy Frigadellas.  They’re a German variation on hanburgers.  They know their meat.

Anyway, I walked back through that street and stopped at a hookah bar that was still open and passed some time there.  The guy I sat next to overheard me tell the owner that I was from Oklahoma and he told me that he was originally from Saudi Arabia, but was studying marketing at SWOSU in Weatherford, Oklahoma.  We had alot to talk about and became instant friends.  He was waiting on a plane too to go visit his family since school just got out for him.  His name is Omar and we might hang out back in Oklahoma.  Small world, huh?

But once that bar closed, he went back to his hotel and I decided to walk toward the bus station.  Now I was planning on spending the rest of the night at a 24-hour bar across the street from the bus station, but those plans were doomed to the same fate most of  my other plans were.  I was walking down the sidewalk past the river when I saw a group of loud kids all hanging out with bottles on the ground next to them (which is totally allowed in Germany).  I waved at them and a girl named Ida from Morocco called me over and started speaking German.  I asked if they spoke English and they said yes and asked where I was from.  Once they found out what I was doing, they thought I was really cool and asked me to hang out with them for the rest of the night.

They had finished their last exam earlier that day and were celebrating.  They wanted to show me their favorite parts of Frankfurt and we started wandering the streets again.  So here’s another example of letting go of plans working out.  I ended up getting my own private tour of the city.  These guys were cracking me up all night and made my night much more interesting.  I’m very glad I ran into Jan, Leo, Leon, and Tom.  Here’s a picture they took of me.

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They were ridiculous.  At sunrise, we were standing on the bridge that overlooked the city and we just stood there for a while enjoying the view.  The buildings with the orange and pink skies emerging.  It was a very picturesque moment.  After several moments of silence and appreciation of the beauty of the sunrise, one of them yelled at the top of their lungs, “HEIL HITLER!” and we all just about died laughing.  You super can’t do that in Germany.  Then we peed off the side of the bridge and went to McDonald’s for breakfast.  Good morning, Frankfurt!

On the way back to the bus station, I asked Jan to take a picture of me in front of this pretty opera house we passed.

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After breakfast and some coffee, we all said our good-byes and they said I had to let them know if I ever came back so we could “really party.”  Boom.  New German friends.  Thanks for the unexpected great time, guys.  It was fun.

Then I got ready for my flight and slept all the way to Florida.  I had no clue being forced to wait for a flight in Frankfurt would be such an exhausting experience, but it is one I’ll never forget.

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Burglary in Beautiful Bulgaria

The bus ride to Bulgaria was a pleasant experience.  I had my own personal TV at my seat that had several movie channels on it I could watch during my long trip.  One of the drivers even passed out free drinks and snacks periodically.  I watched Prometheus, American Reunion, Rock of Ages, and Five-Year Engagement.  All this combined with the gorgeous scenery of Bulgaria made the voyage more enjoyable than any plane ride I’ve been on.

I arrived in Sofia at about 10:00pm and had a hard time getting a ticket to Burgas, a coastal city I’d read about, because the only people working in the closed bus station didn’t speak any English.  A kind woman who did translated for me and I got a ticket for the midnight bus to Burgas.  I went out to the bus terminal and waited for two hours.  Because it was another long travel day, I was very tired and accidentally fell asleep outside waiting.  That’s when it happened.  I kept my passport, wallet, and phone in a secret pocket in Gautama, but had my cash in my zipper-protected pocket in my pants.  I had decided to withdraw a good amount of money in Sofia as I didn’t want to accrue multiple international withdrawal fees and I wasn’t sure if the tiny town of Burgas would give me much of a chance to do it again.  Well…I woke up to my bus pulling up and all my money was gone.  I had been pick-pocketed while I was sleeping.  Awesome.

Remember my post about positivity?  This was one of those times where it was extremely difficult to see the positive side of the situation.  It was honestly a pretty dark moment for me.  At least it was a painless robbery and I still had my phone, passport, and wallet.  I decided that I wanted to have at least one fun day in “the cheapest country in Europe,” so after doing some math in my head, I got on the bus and decided to cope with the dilemma and keep going forward.  Let’s see how it works out, right?

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I arrived at Burgas on the Black Sea at 5am and decided to walk down to the beach and watch the sunrise.  And boy, was it beautiful.  It was a slightly rainy morning so I sat there until it picked up and stood under some nearby trees until it passed about 30 minutes later.

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After cleaning up in a restroom, I went to the town center to eat breakfast while all the kids were walking to school.  It was exploring time again.  This city was much more run down than Thessaloniki.  Like, depressingly so.  Every other building was abandoned and vandalized.  Every person was either poor or homeless.  The cheapness was a result of the economy here.  After getting tired of literally slumming it, I took a taxi to the seaside village of Kraimorie.  It was much smaller and quieter and there was a hotel that let me stay at my own private beach shack for just $10 a night.  Pretty sweet deal, I would say.  It was beach time.

After a long walk, I showered and got a ride back to Burgas from a man named Kari for less money than a taxi, who stopped at a “Billa,” which was basically their Wal Mart.  There, I got a 2 liter of 10 point beer for a dollar.  Awesome.

Back in Burgas, I took a free shuttle to the mall for funsies and ended up watching 22 Jump Street.  Pretty funny, plus a tub of popcorn was a dollar.  This place had its upsides for sure.

After the movie, it was heavily storming outside, but it passed after a bit and I took the shuttle back to town and enjoyed the night life at the local pubs.  I got back to Kraimorie pretty late and ended up sleeping until like 5pm the next day.  Whoops.  I shook it off and decided to assess the situation. I needed to find a computer.  I saw a sign for “Tourist Information” and decided to ask them where I could find a library or an internet cafe.  I looked all over town for a long time and couldn’t find it.  I walked into a bar and asked the woman running it if she knew where I could find Tourist Information.  She and the people around her laughed and told me in terrible English that it had been closed down for years.  Yikes.  But then she motioned for me to come inside and she let me use her laptop.

After some research regarding the robbery, I came to the conclusion that it was time to go home.  At first, this was a disappointing revelation, but therein lied the positive side I was looking for.  What did I have to be disappointed about?  I reminded myself that my only goal for this trip was to get to the Isle of Skye and everything else was extra.  I then considered myself extremely lucky and returned to the state of thinking that made me appreciate everything that was happening no matter what it was.  I suddenly found myself getting excited about returning to the US and seeing my friends and family again.  I missed them very much and really wanted to see them.  I also couldn’t wait to have a conversation with someone in English, as I was starting to talk to myself on a regular basis.  I caught the last bus to Kraimorie and slept in my totally rad beach shack and decided to get ready to leave the next day and just enjoy my last day in Bulgaria.  And you know what?  I did just that.

I woke up early the next day to get some more research done and buy my tickets.  On the way to the bus stop, a man pulled up next me and waved me over.  It took me a second, but I recognized the guy from two days earlier when I was looking for a place to stay.  He had guest room in his house in Kraimorie, but it was full of Russians so he helped me find the place that was renting out shacks.  His name was Valentine.  He asked what I was up to and he offered to take me back to his place so I could use his computer.  This just about made my day.  I hopped in his car and he told me he was having family over because his grandfather had passed away three days earlier.  He was still in good spirits and I couldn’t believe he was going so far out of his way to help a stranger on such a potentially sad day.  He even made me some coffee.

So while I was buying tickets home, I met his whole extended family and his father, Demitri, was excited to practice his English and made me drink Bulgarian whiskey.  The cheapest ticket home left on the 24th from Frankfurt, Germany.  Ticket booked.  Valentine then offered to take me to Burgas so I could get a bus ticket to Germany.  I accepted and thanked him a thousand times for his hospitality.  His response was, “Well what else could I do?”  What a great guy.

Back in town, a woman from “Karats,” a Bulgarian bus system, who barely spoke any English at all, figured out what I wanted and got me a 1:30am ticket to Germany that left that night.  Perfect.  Her name was Valentina (no relation to Valentine…) and she was very nice and helpful.  So now with everything in place, it was time to take in the rest of the day.  I went back to Kraimorie and got my camera.  I had been so stressed the past couple days, I didn’t really think about taking pictures or bloging, but now my mind was at ease.  So here we go!

This is the walk from the bus stop at Kraimorie to the entrance to the hotel complex that booked my shack:

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After getting my things together, I wanted to go the beach one last time while the sun was out.  It was a nice short walk.

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This was the place by the beach to buy super cheap beer:

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Then it was chill time.

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From here you could see the city of Burgas up the coast.

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Feel free to make this your desktop wallpaper:

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It looks pretty chill, but this photo consisted of me pressing the timer button then sprinting over to the rocks, sliding into “chill” position, sitting there for two seconds until I heard the click then checking to see if I got it.

And here’s the view of Kraimorie from the beach:

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After a nice relaxing swim, I got Gautama and hung out in the village before going back to Burgas for the night.

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I got to Burgas around nightfall so I tried to take some photos of this already shady-looking city and they ended up looking downright creepy.

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That night I decided to eat at the fanciest place I could find in town.  This is what I got.

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All that together cost around five bucks.  It was actually so gross I couldn’t eat a third of it.  So I walked down the street to a hot dog stand and got a hot dog for 50 cents and it was way better.  I talked to the guy running it about surfing around Europe and he gave me fries for free.  Score.

Later that night, I was sitting at the bus stop getting constantly harassed by homeless people, taxi drivers, gypsies, and some random tourists.  But eventually the bus came.  Valentina from earlier actually showed up around 1:00 to make sure I got on the bus okay.  What a strange part of my adventure.

The next place I went to was Frankfurt.  I was supposed to stay there all night waiting for my flight so I was expecting it to be a long and agonizingly boring stop, but it turned out to be one of the most exciting nights on my entire trip.  I’ll tell you all about it in my next post!

Greece is the Word

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Thanks to donations from my blog readers, I left for Greece on a 6am flight.  After hugging it out for a while at the Frankfurt Hahn Airport with Drew, I boarded my Ryan Air flight to Thessaloniki.  Getting out of the airport was pretty easy and no one even checked my passport when I got off the plane.  So I hopped on the next bus to the city and I think I was supposed to pay someone at some point, but got off downtown without spend a dime, or whatever the Euro equivalent of a dime is.

My first objective was to find a hostel called Studio Arabas in Old Town so I could leave Gautama while I explored the city sans 40 pounds on my back..  Thanks to their helpful website instructions, I made it there right after lunch.  Now Thessaloniki is split into the southern “New Town,” which is over 300 years old, and the northern “Old Town” up some pretty steep hills, which is literally ancient.  As in Ancient Greece.  So cool.

Upon entering the front gate of Arabas, I was greeted by Costa, who runs the hostel.  He told me to take off my heavy bag and sit and talk with him.  He he made me an iced frappe while I told him about my travels.  He gave me a map of the city and pointed out the best places to go for sight seeing. I wanted to see it all, but I knew I would only be there for one day.

You see, before leaving Germany, I researched the cheapest places to go in Europe and the cheapest country was just north of Greece: Bulgaria.  In order to get the most out of the donated money, I needed to go there, and my bus left the next day.  So I decided to make the most out of my limited time in Greece.  I set out to do  my favorite thing: Explore.

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Old town was so much different from any other place I’d been before.  All the buildings looked so old and there were historical monasteries and churches everywhere.  None of the locals passed by them without making the cross gesture over their heads.

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One thing I immediately noticed about the town was that alot of the buildings were abandoned and graffitied.  And the apartment buildings were a little…run down.  It was beautiful for a guy that had never been there before, but it made me curious as to how this lovely town got to this condition.  Apparently their economy hasn’t been doing so well lately.  Nonetheless, it was a blast discovering it all.

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Costa had told me of a restaurant on the other side of Old Town called “Odysseus,” where I could get good, local, cheap food.  I found it and had a fantastic filling Greek meal for just $4.  While I was eating, two guys walked in whom I recognized from earlier at the hostel.  I asked them to pull up a chair and join me and we all ate together and swapped travel stories.

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Their names were Nick and Nahweed.  They both just finished studying at Edinburgh University and were traveling across eastern Europe together for vacation.  They drew a map on the table as depicted above and showed me exactly where they went and what they did.  I am for sure remembering these beautiful places they described for future reference as they were touring the cheap countries with a view as well.

After lunch, they had to catch a flight to Athens so we hung out a little while longer then said our good-byes.  It was time to check out New Town.  Just as I thought, most of it was department stores and restaurants just like most touristy downtown areas.  But I couldn’t resist having a drink on the Thessaloniki pier overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  Just beautiful.

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Because I had to wake up at 3am that morning to make it to my 6am flight, I didn’t really sleep the night before, so I had an early night back at the hostel.  And then I slept for 12 hours straight…

But that just meant I was ready to go to Bulgaria!  On my way to the bus station, I decided to buy a pair of 1 Euro flip flops because of how hot it was.  (Not optimal hiking boots and wool socks weather.)

One thing I will say is that the Studio Arabas hostel was fantastic.  Costa is one of the most friendly people you will ever meet and is very knowledgeable about the town and what goes on in it.  He will not hesitate to answer any questions in detail while providing a complimentary frappe.  What a great find in the heart of Ancient Greece!  Thank you, Thessaloniki, for the lovely experience.  Ciao!

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The Journey Continues

Just when things started to get predictable, I went and shook things back up again.  The last time I made a post, I was applying for jobs on base here in Kaiserslautern and started to get bummed out when I wasn’t getting any calls back.  But thanks to a friend from the past randomly messaging me and suggesting that I give out my Paypal account info, I get to do something much more exciting.  Within a few days of putting my email out there, readers donated enough money for me to embark on another adventure.  I’m not going to name any names, but I’m going to thank every single friend that helped me out in person, no matter how small they think their contribution was.  I cannot begin to tell you how appreciated it all is.  It showed me that my story is affecting people so much that they are literally investing in its continuation.  It’s enough to choke a dude up.

Now I don’t know how long this money will be able to keep me on the run for, but that’s been the case since May 14.  And it’s been working out pretty well so far.

Anyway I went ahead and accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to get work right now so I looked up cheap tickets to anywhere.  One of the cheapest and most fun options that popped up was Greece.  That’s where I’m going to tomorrow morning.  I’ve been tempted to research things to do there, but I’m really going to put the whole “no plans” things to the test.  I have no idea what I’m going to do after getting on the plane at 6:30am, and I haven’t been this anxious since this whole thing started.  Exciting!

Now I’ve got a few shoutouts to add to my story.

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This is Monique.  She’s works at a major veterinary hospital and takes care of working dogs that have been wounded on duty.  One of her recent patients is on the cover of National Geographic!  How cool is that??  Since I’ve been here she’s gotten two coins of recognition and has put up with my and Drew’s antics for the past three weeks.  This picture was taken on her 21st Birthday celebration last weekend and she might kill me for posting it.  Hopefully I’ll be in another country when she sees this.  Thank you for being such a wonderful host.  Drew’s very lucky to have you.

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This is Atlas and Sookie.  These goofballs run amok fighting each other over toys all day and are always down to play a rough game of Tug of War.  I’ve gotten to know them quite well as I’ve been their babysitter while the Owens’ have been at work.  They crack me up.  Here’s a video I just took of them playing.  It’s pretty adorable.

Alot of my time here has been spent doing what I was dreaming of doing on those days in Skye where I was miles from civilization and home comforts.  I’ve been catching up on my Netflix time.  In the weeks before leaving the US, I was cherishing nights of sitting on the couch, doing nothing because I knew it wasn’t going to happen again for a while.  Thankfully, I got to relax and enjoy myself like that again sooner than I expected and now I’m cherishing it again before I fly away from it for the unknown.  I’m honestly just glad I got to watch the rest of Game of Thrones.

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While Drew and I spent many nights drinking, playing games, and generally goofing around, we shared several good, long conversations about life and what we hope for in the future.  It’s hard to believe we are now on our 13th year of friendship, but I look forward to the next 13.

We’ve gone to festivals, bars, clubs, castles, we’ve had friends over that I’d never met before, and I’ve had a blast.  I really needed this.  Here are some pictures from that castle.  It was really cool.

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And here’s the day we went to the dog park:

My friend made a neat little life here and he seems very happy.  And I am happy for him.  Thank you for sharing it with me.

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It’s hard to believe I knew only one of the people in that last photo before I got here.  I hope I never stop meeting people and hearing their stories.  I’ve never been this happy in my life and things are about to get even more exciting.  See you in Greece!

Lessons: Part 1

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A couple years before I left my country, I devoted myself to becoming a better person and learning everything I could about who I am and who I want to be.  I’m not going to sit here and talk to you about why you should try meditation (though I’d highly recommend it), but I do feel that it is my responsibility to share what I’ve realized with as many people as possible.  It’s hard to work these things into casual conversation in person, but this is one of the reasons I started this blog.  So if you like my pictures, videos, and stories, I think you should take a minute to hear what I have to say about everything.

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Now most of these lessons, I’d already read about and reflected on, but there is a massive difference between thinking about something and experiencing it for yourself.  Every single day, I’ve seen the teachings I’ve studied be tested and proven over and over and the feeling I get every time is excitement.  It’s like my own beliefs are being confirmed in front of my very eyes.  So if you’re reading this post, nodding your head, I urge you to log off our computer and start experiencing the world.  How?  It’s different for each person, but there’s always a step one.  My step one was buying a passport.  Try starting there.

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On the plane ride to London, I read a book called, “An Open Heart,” by the Dalai Lama and the main thing that stuck out to me was that he felt solely responsible for the happiness of others.  I understood that I was responsible for my own happiness, but the happiness of others seems like such an undertaking.  But I wanted to give it a try.  I decided that from here on out, I would try to help ease the suffering of every single person I met as well as increase their happiness.  I really tried my best and I hope it worked regardless of whether or not they knew I was doing it.  We’ll come back to that.

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One of the first things I noticed about London was that it was just like any other downtown area I’d been to before.  Everyone was in a hurry and smiling at someone on the subway made you look like a weirdo.  There was only one person on the street that even tried to talk to me without selling me something.  I learned not to put foreign places on a pedestal just because they’re different from where you are.  If you dream about going to London, then please go there, maybe I missed something.  But there’s a Starbucks on every corner and it’s impossible not to look at a billboard, advertisement, or some kind of commercial at any given moment.  No different from any other metropolitan area.

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Then I got to Inverness.  It’s the largest town in Northern Scotland, but it’s not even comparable to London.  Around every corner there was something I’d never seen before as well as a person willing to help.  I was staring at a hostel because it was the first one I’d ever seen and a man stopped walking, told me where a cheaper one was, and where the best and cheapest restaurant in town was.  Then we split ways.  I was walking around looking confused in an indoor shopping center and a woman with her son stopped me and asked if I needed anything.  I said I was looking for a restroom and she told me where the best (secret) one was and that I could ring a bell on the wall and someone would come open it for me.  And while I was resting by a bridge, a man named Woz stopped and asked me about Gautama, my backpack. He asked where I was going and what I was doing and he told me about how he was walking across the UK in support of cancer research.  We walked together and talked all the way back to the bus station.  Much smaller and less famous town; completely different experience.

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Portree: population 2,491.  By far, the largest town on the Isle of Skye.  Literally every person I passed on the street smiled and said ‘Hi’ to me.  Every single one.  In my time there about twenty people, like Lucie and Fabien, stopped their cars to give me a ride to wherever I needed to go.  Strangers like Richard and Sue Dorrell opened their homes to me and  fed me.  The first person I talked to literally seconds after getting off the bus, Charles, travelled with me for five days straight.  He’s not even from there.  I think it’s the vibe small town like that give off.  We waved at two girls from Germany on the street who had backpacks and we ended up talking to them all that evening and at breakfast the next morning.  Bus drivers, fellow passengers, roommates, librarians, bartenders, drunk people, innkeepers, I was never declined a smile followed by a full conversation if not multiple.  Sotiria, the Greek desk worker at the hostel stayed up until 3am talking about her hopes and dreams.  Good luck stopping me from going back there.

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Everybody’s heard some version of the phrase, “People are nicer in small towns,” but it was just as meaningless to me as it is to you until I saw and felt the difference myself.  That is a major lesson that has changed the way I look at the future.  I can’t believe it used to be my dream to live in New York City.  No way, man.  Give me a Scottish village any day.

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Charles taught me many things, but one of our first conversations was about our jobs.  He talked about his job at first describing it as “good pay” and “fine.”  He was “comfortable” and “content.”  Two words I’ve heard from so many people throughout my life and two words I have learned to run, no, sprint away from.  This came up again with my Aussie friend, Jordan.  It’s WAY too easy to be content with just going through the motions of life with a sort of glazed look on your face.  It’s easy.  Most people do it, and chances are, you’re probably most people.  Jordan had been doing it for the last seven years and ‘woke up’ one day and got himself a one-way ticket out of there.  Sound familiar?  It’s a scary feeling to realize that maybe everything you thought was the ‘right thing’ to do was wrong.  Maybe there are infinite things better than comfort and contentment and settling for anything less is a wrongdoing onto yourself.  Maybe that’s what the cause of a mid-life crisis is.

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Another life-changing realization I had during my time with Charles was that you need to get rid of expectations.  I know, another meaningless sentence, but let me explain.  Our first morning, we wanted to make it far from Portree and camp on “The Ridge.”  But it started rain storming and the wind was trying to throw us off the mountains.  He kept saying that we couldn’t camp in this, so he convinced me to go back to town to stay at an inn or something.  I had a choice.  I could have clung to my plans and gotten upset that we weren’t doing them, or I could have let go and stayed positive.  I thankfully knew to do the second, but I hadn’t experienced real life consequences of it yet.  And if I hadn’t gone with the flow, I wouldn’t have met Andrea and Elanie.  I wouldn’t have gone to the local pub that night with Charles and danced with a bunch of locals or received the hardest high-five of my life from a drunk girl named Ellie who could speak Gaelic.

The next day, we were determined to get to the Quirang and I tried hitchhiking for the first time.  Silver and Paulina were the first people to pull over and they said they were going to the Old Man of Storr.  I had a choice.  Cling to my plans or go with these nice people.  I let go again and ended up conquering the hardest physical challenge I’ve ever experienced.  I was euphoric at the end and it was worth all the rain, wind, slippery rocks, Gautama, and the constant uphill battle.  At the end of it, we were done and had to hitchhike to the nearby village of Flodigarry.  Our hostel had one of the most beautiful views I’d ever seen.

This occurred every day (except for the one time I just walked alone to the Quirang) and I’m so glad it did.  I was reminded of something someone told me: “Ride the wave instead of fighting it.  You’ll have a way better time.”  Like I said, kind of a meaningless idiom without the real life experience to back it, but hopefully my stories can give it some meaning to you.

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My favorite ‘meaningless idiom’ is “Live life to the fullest,” or, “Carpe Diem.”  We hear it so often, you can’t help but roll your eyes at the stupid kids that yell, “YOLO!” before giving themselves alcohol poisoning.  I get it.  I never thought about it either.  But one last thing from Charles.  He told me a story.  It was hard for him to convey in English, but it was so beautiful to me and I’d never heard it before.  It was about the Greek Kairos.

The Kairos is more of an idea than how the greeks used it, but it’s a great metaphor.  In a ‘supreme moment,’ the Kairos appear.  A moment of great change in time where you have to make a decision.  The Kairos are only visible to those open to them in these moments and they’re described as beautiful angels with long hair.  And if you’re lucky enough to see them, then you should reach out and grab on, or else you’ll miss your moment.  So as motivation whenever we were facing a challenge or he was telling me to go introduce myself to someone we would say, “Seize the Kairos!”  And we did.  It is now one of the most meaningful lessons I’ve learned.

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So let’s go back to that whole “happiness” thing.  You may have heard that there’s a difference between pleasure and happiness.  It’s so dangerous to confuse the two that it usually leads to addiction or dependency to the point of self-harm.  And harm is a no-no.  Pleasure is anything outside of yourself that brings you happiness.  This could be a person, place, or thing.  It’s not inherently wrong, but like I said, don’t confuse the two.  True happiness can only come from within.  And this scared me a little bit before I left.  Whenever something happened that would put my voyage to Skye in jeopardy, I panicked.  I felt like my happiness depended on going to Skye.  Which is a pleasure.  If happiness isn’t a person, place, or thing, I should be happy regardless of whether or not I went.  And yet I knew I would be devastated if I couldn’t go and would stay that way until I either went or died.  Or maybe I wouldn’t be.  Oh well.  I guess we’ll never know. 🙂

But after getting to Skye, I felt such relief.  I did it.  I accomplished the number one thing in life I wanted to do before I die.  The pressure was gone.  I felt free.  After realizing the importance of letting go of plans and expectations, I knew that it didn’t matter to me what happened or where I went next.  I could have gone on to Amsterdam, France, Germany, or home and I would be satisfied and happy.  It’s very freeing to be free of desire.  But maybe there is value in working toward a goal.  But keep it simple.  Like “Go to the Isle of Skye.”  When I ask anyone what they want to do in their lives, I hear people say things like, “Change the world,” or, “Help my family,” like those aren’t things we can do every day or aren’t vague, high concepts that don’t really have an attainable end.  So sorry if I sound like a broken record, but please take the time to sit down and figure out what that one thing is, then set out to accomplish step one.  Don’t feel discouraged if it’s hard to figure out what that is.  It took me months of thinking and research to realize mine.  But try not to confuse it with happiness.

Happiness isn’t a goal.  It’s a state of mind.

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Hey!  Speaking of happiness, you know what else is kind of a cool trick?  Making the decision to be happy.  Yes, happiness is a choice.  There’s a certain physicist in Edinburgh that would disagree with me, but from what I’ve experienced, it’s true.  You can wake up in the morning, look at yourself in the mirror, and ask, “Do I want to be in a good mood today, or a bad mood?”  Try it.  I dare you.  Make the decision to be in a good one and start smiling.  If you find this impossible like I do on occasion, try meditating, or just being quiet for a while.  Count to 10, count to 100, and try again.  If you can’t control your own mind, it’s probably because something is clouding it.  Most likely something negative.  The silence helps calm your mind down to a more controllable state and it becomes easier to say, “I am happy,” and mean it.

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That little trick is something you can do to stay positive.  Do you consider yourself a positive person?  When?  When it’s a nice day out?  On payday?  When you’re with your loved ones?  Oh, cool.  Impressive.  What about the rough times?  What about when you start to feel alone?  Or when someone you care about exits your life?  “Staying positive” is absolutely meaningless if you can’t do it when things don’t go your way.  I’m talking about the absolute worst situations.  The kind of situation when you feel nothing but anger or misery.  When things are so bad it seems like it would be wrong for you to be positive or when you think, What kind of psychopath would be positive at a time like this? THAT’S when it is most important to be positive.  Otherwise it’s meaningless.

I can’t tell you the amount of times I failed at doing this in Oklahoma.  But this was one of my beliefs that was put to the test out here too.  I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of the wind and rain destroying my tent.  I could feel the sides bending too far and I felt some of the rain getting inside.  It was cold and I knew that there wasn’t another human being  anywhere near me for miles.  Talk about that alone-ness feeling creeping in.  At first, it was kind of a downer moment.  Like I was wondering if I was cut out to do this thing I set out and sacrificed everything in my life to do.  Fear and doubt.  Ick.  But then I thought, No.  This is awesome.

Somewhere, somebody’s stressing out about how much to tip their waiter.  Somewhere somebody’s worried about how much they’re going to get tipped.  Right now, somebody’s maxing out their credit card to fix their totaled car.  Somebody’s visiting their family in the hospital.  And I’m in a tent in the middle of the Isle of Skye.  This is exactly what I wanted.  And I couldn’t help but laugh at myself and all of a sudden, that fear and doubt went away and I went back to sleep.  Now it takes a certain amount of control over your own mind to be able to do this, but if you want to truly be a positive person, then maybe it’s time to start training your mind to be able to cope and stay in that positive place, no matter the situation.  Even if you’re the one in the hospital.  That’s when it’s most important.

Now hear me out, I get that sometimes it’s impossible to see the positive in some situations.  A couple years ago, I was fired from my management job at AMC Theaters, and I was devastated.  My family was devastated.  I was in the process of being transferred to the theater in Burbank, California.  It was one of the worst things that ever happened to me.  That job was my life.  My social life was AMC.  And just like that, it was gone forever.  The only thing I could do is feel sorry for myself and find another job as a server.  It wasn’t until months later that I heard about a video editor job at a local PR office.  I applied and scored my first job that I went to school for.  It was by far the best job I’ve ever had and I wouldn’t have applied for it or have even been looking for a job if I hadn’t been fired from AMC.  I would still be there clinging to this all-important security of a steady job.  So that situation, when I was at an all-time low and there was no way I could see the positivity in it, was really one of the best things that ever happened to me.  I just couldn’t see it.  I’ll always remember to have faith that there is positivity in every situation and I hope you do too.

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Ah, faith…  Reminds me of a conversation I had with Jordan from Australia on the bus to Edinburgh.  He read me a quote from George Jackson about having faith in yourself.  I forgot exactly how it went, but I remember the message.  It resonated with what I’d been saying to people that pray for the strength to get through whatever’s going on in their lives.  The people that do this are prideful in their faith, but I challenge them to take that faith even further.  Have faith that you were born with enough strength to endure anything that happens to you.  Have faith in yourself.

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Jordan also read a quote about abandoning fear and shyness.  Fear and shyness are what made me doubt my ability to talk to strangers on the street, on the bus, or in the pubs.  It made me think about my theory regarding dreams.  Why are dreams always more exciting than real life?  It’s because when we’re dreaming, we abandon alot of our fear.  When a giant, scary monster is destroying the town, what do we do in a dream?  We grow wings and fight it off with our superpowers.  When that girl you like approaches you in a dream, doesn’t it usually work out better than in real life?  Maybe it’s because you weren’t afraid to say that one thing you want to say to them.  And scientists have proven that the way the brain perceives dreams is no different from the way it perceives in waking state.  So instead of trying so hard to master lucid dreaming, why not try to live lucidly?  I’m trying to coin the phrase, “Live as if you’re dreaming.”    Abandon fear and shyness, have faith in yourself, and just go for it.  I guarantee your life will get much more exciting.

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One last thing regarding my talks with Jordan.  He helped me remember a handy flow chart that he shared with people he met in Edinburgh at a cafe.  It’s genius and should help you decide when to worry.

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And the last thing I wrote down in my journal is to always smile.  This seems kind of cheesy, I know, but it’s also very important.  Both Charles and Jordan told me that one of the things that made them approach me was that I smiled at them.  I smiled at everybody.  Part of being happy is smiling, but there’s more to it than that.  I’ve read too many suicide notes from people saying that if just one person smiled at them or treated them with kindness, it would have changed their mind.  To know that just one person gave enough of a crap about them to brighten their day just that little bit could save lives.  Have you ever been down and then your mood changed because a kind person on the street smiled at you?  It happened to me in London.  I was kind of angry because of how expensive everything was and it started raining.  I was tired, hungry, and all the hostels were sold out, but a girl on a bus was waving her arms out the window to catch my attention.  I looked at her and as the bus pulled away, she put on a huge grin and just waved.  I smiled, waved back, and laughed at how it almost felt like the universe sent that girl just to smile and wave at me.  My day got alot better after that.

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I know this was a long post and kind of preachy, but the whole point of this blog is to teach and inspire people.  Which reminds me, I now feel solely responsible for the happiness of every person that reads my blog, much like the book I read on the plane to London.  I hope that something I said or did helps you decide to make that change in your life that you’re afraid to commit to.  I helped Charles entertain the thought of quitting his job and getting away comfort and contentment.  I encouraged Jordan to continue down this intimidating path he’s walking and tried to give him some ideas on what to do once he’s made it to the states.  I gave Nicolas, the Belgian physicist, someone to talk to and intellectually debate with regarding the nature and origin of the universe.  Something he doesn’t get to do much while working at a hostel.  I taught Francesco, from Italy, and Rumy, from Estonia, how to play guitar.  I motivated Sotiria to start a blog in order to share her experiences with and inspire her family, then helped her make that blog.  Every single person I encounter, I make a conscious effort to help in some way by sharing my positivity.  And in return, they teach me without even realizing it.

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Before I go, let me share one last thing that I’m working on.  I don’t consider myself a Buddhist, but alot of their teachings have helped me clear my mind and set myself down this path of positivity.  I’ve been so moved by it that a part of me wants to go to Asia and visit (maybe live at) a monastery for a while and truly hone my ability to stay positive and practice compassion.  I must admit, I am afraid to do it.  As much of a culture shock it was to come here, it would be ten-fold more challenging to make it there.  But Jordan encouraged me to do it, and one of the people that gave me a ride on the Isle of Skye told me a story that will haunt me until I actually do it myself.

Lucie and Fabien, from France, joined me and Charles at a pub in Portree the night after we met.  Lucie told me a story about how she went to Laos and walked up a mountain alone.  There was a monastery at the top.  A monk who had taken a vow of silence approached her, and by using gestures, invited her to meditate with him.  They sat in the forest and meditated for two hours.  She said when she came to, she felt very…peaceful.  She then encouraged me to follow that passion inside me that was pulling me to it.  The same passion that got me to the Isle of Skye.

Like I said in my last post, my journey might end in Germany because of money.  I have enough to get back home and that’s it.  I’ve applied for some jobs at the US military base out here, but if I don’t get hired there’s nothing else I can do.  When reading this, some of my friends asked for my Paypal account so they could donate to my travels.  This really hit me hard because it means that I am genuinely affecting people with my Story Adrift.  It’s so moving, I’m still getting emotional about it.  I was ashamed to ask for money, but they offered to help, and another thing to keep in mind is to never refuse help.  If you feel this way too, my Paypal email is zakmiller91@gmail.com .

I don’t expect anyone to donate, but I’ve been encouraged to share that.  I’m just glad someone took the time to read all of this.  We all have much still to learn, so let’s help each other get there.  I’ll try to make a post soon to let you guys know how my job search is going.  In the meantime, remember these things:

  • Get rid of expectations
  • People are nicer in small towns
  • Don’t settle for comfort or contentment
  • Happiness is a state of mind (not a person, place, or thing)
  • Have faith in yourself
  • Abandon fear and shyness
  • Seize the Kairos
  • Live lucidly
  • Always smile, even if you’re not happy
  • Never worry
  • The situations where things seem to be the worst are when it’s most important to stay positive.  Otherwise, it has no meaning

Good bye for now!  I love you all!

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