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Have you felt the London Vibe?

A few years ago I was on my way to a member’s club to meet friends when I stopped in a small corner store for a couple things.  I guess I had an odd look on my face as the store clerk asked “Are you ok mate”?  “Yeah,” I replied, “I’m just tired”.  He looked at me with a smile and said “Everyone in London is tired”.  I think the store clerk may be right.

London is a city full of energy.  Everything moves fast and furious.  You wake up, get ready for the day, step outside onto the pavement and before you know it, it is time for bed again.  Seriously, this is how it feels for me most days.  The days race by in what seems to be an instant.  March through September fly by and the next thing you know is the Christmas lights are switched on in Oxford Street.  It’s incredible.

Being in London is living.  I always say – I go to London to live life and I go to Texas to sit down and take a breath.  There is a rush of energy in London that can only be matched by New York City.  You can feel this lightning speed energy simply by walking down any London street.  You can’t look anywhere and not see something moving.  Everything is in motion it seems.

People are always in a hurry, waiters in restaurants move fast, cars zip by, and tall double decker buses zoom past one after another after another.  Lights constantly flash in your eyes. Motion doesn’t stop underground as “The Tube” stops at a platform every few minutes.  Nothing stops.  Commuters rush through underground tunnels like ants bringing home food to their queen.   It’s crazy.

Have you ever had a quiet moment on the streets in Central London?  I haven’t found one and I’ve been walking London’s streets for more years than I can count.  I remember being on Oxford Street on a Saturday once and literally having a panic attack.  I never have panic attacks.  That’s not me.  On that particular day, however, all I wanted to do was get away from the crowd and the noise.  Now I avoid Oxford Street at all costs and I’ve even found an alternative route when I head that direction.  Since that day I learned quiet is inside me and that’s a bit of comfort when I find myself in a tense London situation.

The fast paced energy of London is actually a good thing.  The vitality of the city makes you feel alive.  You might even find there to be an extra step in your skip so to speak.  It’s a good feeling, if not a bit exhausting.  I always think better and my creativity is sparked simply by being aware of my surroundings as I walk.

London is a city where you can be anonymous and even alone amongst a million people.  As long as you like yourself and can keep yourself company, being anonymous and alone is great.  I love it myself.  If you need constant attention and validation, you might find London a wee bit hard, cold and callous.  Can you imagine walking through a city so crowded as London and never speak to someone and no one speaks to you?  It’s interesting.

I like the anonymous bit to be honest.  It’s especially nice when I’m out with my camera.   I can get lost in London without being literally lost.  I zone everything and everyone out.  It’s me, my camera and London.  Sometimes I feel as if I have the entire fabulous city all to myself.   If anyone speaks to me, it’s tourists and not Londoners.  Tourists want to know what I’m doing or how to capture a great photo.  Londoners might glance over to see what I’m doing but mostly they could care less.  It’s great.  It’s brilliant and part of the London vibe.

London is not for the faint of heart.  If it’s rainbows and butterflies you’re looking for, go to the Rainforest Café.  When you want the vim and vigor of a city full of liveliness, step out onto to the streets of London.  

London will challenge you.  Challenge her back.  Walk with your head held high, look people in the eye, offer the odd smile and don’t let anyone tell you London is not for you.  London is for everyone of all walks of life.  She is especially great when you contribute to her energy.

At the end of the day when you go home and prop your tired feet up, or you return to your hotel exhausted on your bed, remember the day you had.  Rewind everything that happened during the day.  Remember all the sights, sounds and motion that engulfed your senses.  And when you’ve done all that, remember what a brilliant city London is.

No matter how, when, why or where you travel around the world you are sure to receive one of the best educations of your life.  The lessons you learn may be small and unnoticeable or they may be huge and life changing.

A foreign culture may make you realise something you didn’t know about yourself and sometimes even move you to tears.  My visit to Bhutan took me to a state of peacefulness I’ve not found anywhere in the Western world.  I can’t begin to describe the effect the tiny kingdom had on me except to say when I viewed photos and video from the journey, tears rolled down my cheeks.  It’s a mystery to me why the tears came even today.  All I know is Bhutan touched me beyond measure.

The taste of new food, aromas, colors and even travel sounds can leave an impression on you well after you leave a destination.  The sensory elements of travel may inspire you to add them to your own creative adventures in cooking or music or handicrafts.

You may be in awe of Big Ben or Mont Saint Michel glowing against the night sky.  Istanbul’s Blue Mosque or the Old Medina in Marrakech send your senses into sensory overload.  A sunset on a beach in the Caribbean or Bali may change the way you look at the world.

But most of all, it is the people you meet along the way who will touch you in ways you never though imaginable.  Maybe you’ll understand that we are all just trying to make it in this world.  We just happen to speak differently or pray a little different.  Inherently, we’re all good people.

And so when I wanted to show the many places I’ve travelled throughout the world, I decided to do it in one go in one epic video presentation which I’ve titled “Travel Around The World With The Gentleman Wayfarer.”  There are approximately 3000 photos in the fast-paced presentation that span all the way around the world.  The places and people I’ve included have impacted my life in one way or another.  This is my tribute to every one and every place that has made a difference in my life.

Travel with an iPhone or any mobile phone is very common today.  If you are keen to improve your travel photography skills, a mobile device is a great way to do it.  Phones are easily accessible, they fit in your pocket and you really don’t have to think too much.

Consider these iPhone Travel Photography Tips during your next journey.

1) Strengthen your travel photos with different focal lengths.

The iPhone is equipped with two lenses, a wide-angle 28mm and a portrait lens, 56mm. Different focal lengths tell different stories. A wider angle generally gives a better sense of place, while a telephoto brings the viewer into the details of the subject.  Consider this while you’re shooting and experiment with both.  And remember – one key element to great photo composition is filling your frame.

2) Keep Using Your iPhone in Low Light

Some of my favorite images have been shot well after the sun has gone down.  I love the challenge of low light photography.  In the past, I would have put my iPhone away thinking the images wouldn’t be usable, but now with a new sensor and faster aperture (f/1.8), the iPhone autofocuses and captures substantially better in low light.

3) Be In The Moment But Also Think Ahead

Travel photography is about capturing the unknowns and unexpected.  Always be looking forward, and consider using the iPhone’s burst mode so you don’t miss a moment as it happens.   To use burst mode, press and hold the shutter button until rapid fire begins.

4) Buy An Unlocked iPhone So You Can Switch to Local SIM Cards.

Communication is super important while traveling.  If you’re roaming internationally, the cost can be astronomical.  Buy a local SIM card as it allows you to make new plans, call someone, google something, and more, while you’re on the go. In photography, this means your GPS data will be recorded with your photo.  The iPhone’s memories feature can organize your images together by location and create simple and fun video vignettes.

Later, you can also look on a map in Photos and see exactly where you captured different photographs.  I use this feature as I don’t always remember the names of the places where I’ve taken photos.

5) Bring a Small Tripod

A small, compact tripod can be helpful and is a great way to capture time-lapses, low-light images, and more. While the iPhones now all have a stabilizer built in, the extra support from a tripod can be especially helpful with the iPhone optical zoom.

Keep in mind that shooting with a longer focal length, like the iPhone optical zoom, amplifies camera shake.  You’ll find it will naturally be more difficult to get a sharp clear shot while shooting with 2x, especially in low-light environments or unstable foundations, like a moving vehicle.  To compensate, use a mini-tripod or experiment with burst mode. Sometimes I’ll shoot a 20-shot burst just to ensure that I have the sharpest shot possible.

6) Upload Your Photos to the Cloud Daily

Thanks to a the iPhone’s water-resistant feature, you won’t be losing our pictures during accidental swims, but it could be left at a hotel, or worse, picked from your pocket, which happened to me in Ecuador. At the end of the day, the iPhone can be replaced, but your pictures can’t. Don’t get two weeks into a trip only to lose them all in a moment.

If you don’t have your laptop because you’re traveling light, consider a SanDisk iXpand.  It’s essentially a USB flash drive with a Lightning connector, so you can quickly and easily off-load your images each day.  I love mind and take it everywhere I travel.

Be sure to keep your backup and your iPhone in separate bags for extra safety.

7) Play it safe.

Don’t put your iPhone—or any valuable—in the tray when going through security. Instead, put it in a pocket of your bag before sending it through the x-ray.  This way it’s protected from being accidentally—or intentionally—carried off before you get through the metal detector.

8) Play To The Strengths of the iPhone

One of the greatest strengths of the iPhone as a camera is its agility.  You can focus on getting to the best shoot spots instead of worrying about lugging gear. Don’t weigh it down with a bunch of unnecessary DSLR lens adapters.

Try leaving your DSLR at home and travel super light.  The iPhone  doesn’t replace your DSLR, but it’s plenty powerful and a really fun way to experience and capture the environment around you.  You’ll love leaving the extra chargers, batteries, lenses, and big tripod at home for a change.

Having travelled the world so much, I’m all too familiar with tourists and how frustrating they can be. Sure, most are friendly and upbeat once you have the chance to meet them, but they don’t walk or talk with consideration to the locals, they’re finicky and tough to accommodate in restaurants, cause a cringe-worthy scene whenever a celebrity is around, and tend to display a general lack of situational awareness.  And what do they usually all have in common? They haven’t done their homework on local culture, which is the only way to seamlessly blend in with native strangers in unfamiliar territory. Feeling at home in a new city can be simple once you’ve studied up a bit, and it doesn’t take a ton of effort to appear respectful, in-the-know, and completely comfortable in new surroundings. No matter the destination on your suitcase tag, you can bet that a bit of preparation will make your transition go a lot more smoothly.

Study the Local Manners

Most people who haven’t ever left the United States would be shocked at how something as simple as a handshake can have all kinds of nuances depending on where in the world you’re travelling. So keep in mind that every country has its own unspoken social rules, manners, and customs. You can’t take it for granted that even your best manners will be understood or properly interpreted abroad. Before the landing gear deploys, you should be familiar with the local dos and don’ts of navigating and interacting with your temporary home. Learn how to greet people casually and respectfully, get familiar with proper local table manners, study up on what culturally taboo topics you’ll want to avoid, and memorize a few foreign language keywords you’ll need to get around to avoid fumbling through a translator app every time you need to ask for directions. This’ll make it simple to avoid stepping on any toes and will help to make each interaction with strangers a positive and memorable one.

Dress the Part

While you should always be comfortable and dress to your preference, it’s embarrassing (and potentially dangerous) to be labelled a gullible tourist at first glance. Looking too casual or travel-ready (I’m talking cargo pants, big backpacks, and gym sneakers) is a dead giveaway.

You can’t go wrong with well-fitting, slightly dressed-up gear in neutral colours. If it fits well and it has a collar, chances are it’ll look great no matter where you are. And avoid wearing flashy jewellery and accessories, or risk being a target for pickpockets. Yeah, your Rolex looks great and makes being on-time easier, but it’s probably not the best idea to flash it in a foreign environment where your street smarts are lessened.

Plan Your Menu

Authentic, local food is indisputably one of the best parts of travelling. And while playing it safe and sticking only to stuff you’re already familiar with (I’m talking to you, picky eaters) isn’t necessarily disrespectful or rude, it’s a massive missed opportunity. A trip to a new country is the perfect time to experiment with new cuisines impulsively, but it doesn’t hurt to get familiar with some of the local delicacies, and the way they’re commonly served and eaten before you arrive. So do a bit of research, make a short list of a few dishes your host city or country does best, and gravitate towards those when you bib up at a new restaurant. No need to memorize every dish or local ingredient; if you’re lost on what to order, it’s always an option to ask your server for a recommendation as long as you’re polite. With those details in mind, you’ll get more out of your trip – and then return home a more experienced, well-rounded traveller. Now, have fun out there. And don’t forget to grab meaningful memories to share with everybody back at home.

“No matter where you go, there you are.” – Buckaroo Banzi

“While armchair travellers dream of going places, travelling armchairs dream of staying put.” – Anne Tyler

“We should come home from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day with new experience and character” – Henry David Thoreau

“People don’t take trips . . . trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

“The more I travelled the more I realized that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends.” – Shirley MacLaine

“Take only memories, leave only footprints.” – Chief Seattle

“People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.” – St. Augustine

“There is one voyage, the first, the last, the only one.” – Thomas Wolfe

“NOT I – NOT ANYONE else, can travel that road for you, You must travel it for yourself.” – Walt Whitman

“You don’t choose the day you enter the world and you don’t choose the day you leave.  It’s what you do in between that makes all the difference.” – Anita Septimus

“Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends… The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere but to go.  I travel for travel’s sake.  The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark

“A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for” – John A. Shedd

“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” – Rudyard Kipling

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley

“Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of the experience.” – Francis Bacon

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

“I like animals.  I like natural history. The travel bit is not the important bit.  The travel bit is what you have to do in order to go and look at animals.” – David Attenborough

“Travel teaches toleration.” – Benjamin Disraeli

“All travel has its advantages.  If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own.  And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it.” – Samuel Johnson

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharal Nehru

“I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth.” – Steve McQueen

“A wise traveller never despises his own country.” – Pamela Goldoni

“Every exit is an entry somewhere else.” – Tom Stoppard

“Travel is very subjective. What one person loves, another loathes.” – Robin Leach

“Adventure without risk is Disneyland.” – Doug Coupland

“An adventure may be worn as a muddy spot or it may be worn as a proud insignia.  It is the woman wearing it who makes it the one thing or the other.” – Norma Shearer

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going.” – Paul Theroux

“If God had really intended men to fly, he’d make it easier to get to the airport”. – George Winters

“Every man can transform the world from one of monotony and drabness to one of excitement and adventure.” – Irving Wallace

“Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.” – Charles Kuralt

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine

“Remember what Bilbo used to say: It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.  You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – JRR Tolkien

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

“A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

“The traveller sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” – G.K. Chesterton

“Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves” – Euripides

“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.” – John Hope Franklin

“You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going because you might not get there”. – Yogi Berra

“A tourist is a fellow who drives thousands of miles so he can be photographed standing in front of his car.” – Emile Ganest

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman

“Just to travel is rather boring, but to travel with a purpose is educational and exciting.” – Sargent Shriver

“For many people, holidays are not voyages of discovery, but a ritual of reassurance.” – Philip Andrew Adams

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost

“Of all possible subjects, travel is the most difficult for an artist, as it is the easiest for a journalist.” – W. H. Auden

“Voyage, travel, and change of place impart vigour” – Seneca

“You lose sight of things… and when you travel, everything balances out.” – Daranna Gidel

“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.” – Rosalia de Castro

“I think that travel comes from some deep urge to see the world, like the urge that brings up a worm in an Irish bog to see the moon when it is full.” – Lord Dunsany

“The traveller was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes “sight-seeing.” – Daniel J. Boorstin

“We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfilment.” – Hilaire Belloc

“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” – Susan Heller

“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe. ” – Anatole France

Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.” – Paul Theroux

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.  Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice.  And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey.” – Fitzhugh Mullan

“I have wandered all my life, and I have also traveled; the difference between the two being this, that we wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” – Hilaire Belloc

“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” – John Muir

“Without travel “I would have wound up a little ignorant white Southern female, which was not my idea of a good life.” – Lauren Hutton

“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” – Rudyard Kipling

“It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves – in finding themselves.” – Andre Gide

“Adventure is worthwhile.” – Aristotle

“In both business and personal life, I’ve always found that travel inspires me more than anything else I do. Evidence of the languages, cultures, scenery, food, and design sensibilities that I discover all over the world can be found in every piece of my jewelry.” – Ivanka Trump

“Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel’s immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad new sights, smells and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way.” – Ralph Crawshaw

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

“Too often…I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen.” – Louis L’Amour

“If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light. Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness and fears.” – Cesare Pavese

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

“I met a lot of people in Europe. I even encountered myself.” – James Baldwin

“The man who goes alone can start today, but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” — Pat Conroy

“Hitler didn’t travel. Stalin didn’t travel. Saddam Hussein never travelled. They didn’t want to have their orthodoxy challenged.” — Howard Gardner

“To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” —Freya Stark

“Traveling tends to magnify all human emotions.” — Peter Hoeg

“The cool thing about being famous is travelling. I have always wanted to travel across seas, like to Canada and stuff.” – Britney Spears

“A wise traveller never despises his own country.” – Pamela Goldoni

“Every exit is an entry somewhere else.” – Tom Stoppard

“Travel is very subjective. What one person loves, another loathes.” – Robin Leach

“Adventure without risk is Disneyland.” – Doug Coupland

“An adventure may be worn as a muddy spot or it may be worn as a proud insignia. It is the woman wearing it who makes it the one thing or the other.” – Norma Shearer

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going.” – Paul Theroux

“If God had really intended men to fly, he’d make it easier to get to the airport”. – George Winters

“Every man can transform the world from one of monotony and drabness to one of excitement and adventure.” – Irving Wallace

“Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.” – Charles Kuralt

“Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends… The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy

“The great difference between voyages rests not with the ships, but with the people, you meet on them.” – Amelia E. Barr

“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” – John Steinbeck

“Travel is the frivolous part of serious lives, and the serious part of frivolous ones.” – Anne Sophie Swetchine

“Travel and change of place impart new vigour to the mind.” – Seneca

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Scott Cameron

“He who has seen one cathedral ten times has seen something; he who has seen ten cathedrals once has seen but little, and he who has spent half an hour in each of a hundred cathedrals has seen nothing at all.” – Sinclair Lewis

“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.” — Lawrence Block

“You do not travel if you are afraid of the unknown, you travel for the unknown, that reveals you within yourself.” – Ella Maillart

“I travel the world, and I’m happy to say that America is still the great melting pot – maybe a chunky stew rather than a melting pot at this point, but you know what I mean.” – Philip Glass

“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” – Andre Gide

“When overseas you learn more about your own country than you do the place you’re visiting.” – Clint Borgen

“Half the fun of the travel is the esthetic of lostness.” – Ray Bradbury

“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” – Mark Twain

“After a lifetime of world travel I’ve been fascinated that those in the third world don’t have the same perception of reality that we do.” – Jim Harrison

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home.” – James Michener

“To travel is to take a journey into yourself.” – Danny Kaye

“Make voyages!  Attempt them… there’s nothing else.” – Tennessee Williams

The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.” – Anna Quindlen

“Travel makes a wise man better, and a fool worse.” – Thomas Fuller

“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you travelled.” – Mohammed

“Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” – Benjamin Disraeli

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

“I am a passionate traveler, and from the time I was a child, travel formed me as much as my formal education.” – David Rockefeller

“What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” – William Least Heat-Moon

“To get away from one’s working environment is, in a sense, to get away from one’s self; and this is often the chief advantage of travel and change.” – Charles Horton Cooley

“Too often travel, instead of broadening the mind, merely lengthens the conversations.” – Elizabeth Drew

“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

“There is no happiness for the person who does not travel. For Indra is the friend of the traveler, therefore wander!” – Brähmann

“One of the gladdest moments of human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of habit, the leaden weight of routine, the cloak of many cares and the slavery of home, man feels once more happy.” – Richard Burton

“A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.” — Moslih Eddin Saadi

“Better far off to leave half the ruins and nine-tenths of the churches unseen and to see well the rest; to see them not once, but again and often again; to watch them, to learn them, to live with them, to love them, till they have become a part of life and life’s recollections.” – Augustus Hare

“People who don’t travel cannot have a global view, all they see is what’s in front of them. Those people cannot accept new things because all they know is where they live.” – Martin Yan

“A man of ordinary talent will always be ordinary, whether he travels or not; but a man of superior talent will go to pieces if he remains forever in the same place….” – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

“I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth.” – Steve McQueen

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It’s a wonder my right hand is not tightly gripped to the Toyota 4×4 south of Doha.  I always think of myself as the adventurer sort though off-road was never on my list of things to do.  No doubt it’s a control issue for me especially if I’m not driving.  Don’t misunderstand.  My aim is never to control people, but when my safety is involved, I want to be in the driver’s seat.

That said, exploring Qatar is delightful especially if you’re partial to desert landscapes.  Being a desert dweller myself, and having grown up in Tripoli, stark arid landscapes feel like home to me.  

This day the Inland Sea topped my list of things to do in Qatar.  If you’re unfamiliar, the Inland Sea (Khor Al Adaid) is where the Arabian Peninsula encroaches deep into the heart of Qatar’s desert and sand dunes.  The inland sea can’t be reached by a direct road.  Instead, the expanse of water can only be reached by crossing the rolling sand dunes.  It is one of only a few areas like this in the world.

One popular activity in Qatar is dune bashing.  To be honest, I didn’t really understand what dune bashing meant until the driver lowered the air pressure in the tires, got back into the driver’s seat, then revved the engine and raced toward the dunes.  This is the point where my right hand grabbed the car door’s armrest.   When I let go, I don’t remember.

Given the dune bashing video, which you can view above, you’d think I’d expected a driving thrill as my GoPro was attached to the engine hood.  The opposite is true.  I had placed the GoPro to capture the entire journey and stunning Qatar landscape.  

To be honest, I still tense up while watching the video.  I go right back into the passenger seat of the 4×4. 

To provide a full-on show for the action cam, the driver revved the engine a bit harder and drove a lot faster than normal.  He wanted me to have the best possible video.  That’s all well and good except the rambunctious driving caused a hard bounce onto the ground which cracked the car’s radiator.  No one could have predicted a stalled 4×4 in the middle of the sand dunes of Qatar but this is what happened.  I look at the incident as good intentions gone awry and part of the adventure.

Good fortune was on our side and a fellow driver passed through about forty-five minutes later.  With a rescue at hand, I did indeed see the Inland Sea, an incredible sunset and I made it to the airport in time for my flight to Bali.

What is dune bashing?

Dune bashing means driving at increasing and decreasing speeds over sand dunes.  As the surface of the sand keeps shifting, it takes a special skill and a special type of car to navigate the terrain – usually a sports utility vehicle (SUV).  Expect a stop to let the air out of your tires as reducing the pressure gives the vehicle more traction against the moving sand.

What to expect

The experience starts with pick-up at your hotel, followed by a 45 minute to an hour-long drive out to sparse desert landscape where there are no city noises to obscure your hearing and no towering buildings to block your view.

The dune bashing part of the trip is a bumpy and thrilling ride that lasts about an hour.  You will experience the slipping,  sliding, the skidding and the spinning – all punctuated by sporadic seat-gripping.  And sand, lots and lots of sand!

Map Showing Where Dune Bashing in Qatar Takes Place ::

I tend to be more introverted than extroverted meaning I am inside of my head a lot.  I’m not shy, however.   I have my best ideas when I am by myself, in a city or the outdoors, or in a relaxed and open social environment.  I don’t function well in large crowds, or when “noise” takes me out of being present in the moment.  I’m also an observer of life – people, cultures, things and places.  I drink everything in.

I’m passionate.  If I choose to do something then I do it to an almost obsessive degree. In my world, my mind is black or white. I am either all in or nothing at all.  There is no in between.  This type of thinking is what leads me to drop everything and hop on a plane to anywhere in this world by myself.   The thinking also led me to literally hang out of a plane.

There is not a moment to lose in our lives.  I don’t hold back, which is also how I find my extended family growing year by year. Hakim, Gede, Kuenga, Putu, Anna, Ivani, John – they are all my brothers and sisters now and they all live in different countries and are from foreign cultures from my own.   Although they were strangers to me when we met, we quickly bonded and I felt comfortable knowing that we had all met for a reason.  Perhaps a mystical guiding hand led me to this family.  Kuenga tells me we were brothers in a former life and karma has brought us together again in this life. I’m not Buddhist, but it comforts me to believe Kuenga.

When travelling “Pura Vida” rules each day, which literally translates to pure life.  It’s similar to “Hakuna Matata” from the Lion King movies. There are no distractions.  No mobile phone and definitely no social media.  No worries about life, work nor the constant invasions of personal space you find in the city.  Just enjoying the moment for what it is and opening myself to learning about the world around me. There is no rush but there are open arms waiting to welcome me everywhere I go.  Honestly, it is something that must be experienced and cannot be fully explained.

A couple of years ago I was speaking with an acquaintance in Las Vegas.  He asked about my travels and I started telling him about the time I walked over a hundred and twenty miles with a nomadic Berber tribe in Morocco.  I got as far as when I met the Berber father and I couldn’t get the words out to explain what I experienced.  Instead, tears came to my eyes.  My friend put his reassuring hand on my arm and said, “you have a bond with the nomads that only you can share with them.  You can’t with me.”  It’s true.  I can show the photos from the nomad experience and I can tell you superficial bits and pieces from the journey, but the feeling is embedded deep within me.  The bond with the nomads is mine and theirs.

After the conversation with my Las Vegas friend, I began to realize that life isn’t about knowing; it is about being.  And, you can’t always put that into words.  What’s more is some experiences should not see the light of day on social media.  What truly matters is being in the moment, being present with the people around you, and treating every day as if it were your last.  In fact, not a day goes by that I don’t think this could be my last journey.  I’m thankful for every day whether I’m traveling or not.

I’m far from perfect.  Who is?  I don’t worry too much about what others get worked up about.  Our world has become senseless in so many ways which is why travelling is so important to me.  I can be transported out of manufactured madness into genuine settings and relationships.  Life is too short and we only get one chance to make the most of it.  Every day is a new chance.

The “I only get one chance at this life” way of thinking leads me to do a lot of things.  Talking my way backstage at a tango show in Buenos Aires; staying in the Sri Lanka jungle by myself, or watching a sacrifice at a full moon ceremony in Bali.  I rarely pass on an experience even if it opposes my personal beliefs.  Travel helps me grow as a person.  And, if I have the opportunity to help someone, I do it because I may never get the chance again.

So, if I have a choice between playing “it” safe or doing what a guidebook tells me not to miss, and an experience that could be life-changing I choose the life-changing approach every time.  Do I jump, or not?  That’s how I think and approach life and travel.  Travel made me realize I’m stronger and braver than I ever thought possible.  A lot of people ask me how I have the experiences I have while travelling  This is the best explanation.

Can you have similar experiences?  It depends on your thinking and how you approach life.

When I say I want to travel, I don’t mean I want to stay at resorts and go on tours with pre-programmed tour guides or buy key chains from souvenir shops.

I don’t want to be a tourist.  When I say I want to travel I mean I want to explore another country and be part of it.  I want to touch a country’s soul and be a better person for it.

I want to discover the streets of Macau – the ones away from the big casinos where real life happens.  I want to walk on beaches in Oman with a camel looking over my shoulder, then climb down to the Bimmah sinkhole for a swim.   I’ll celebrate the arrival of the season’s newborn animals with Mongolian nomads, and feel free amongst the dunes at Moltsog Els.

I’ll browse the bookstores of England; not the new ones but the old musty ones that remind me of the odour of my grandmother’s basement.  I want to hike the rugged edges of the Himalayas again and perhaps give Nepal another chance.   What is it like to ride with the gaucho’s in Argentina or the Uruguayan Pampas?  Maybe both.  I want to know.

The Trans-Siberian Express has a ticket with my name on it for an epic journey from China to Moscow.  I want to go during the dead of winter to know firsthand the bitter cold of Siberia.  I want to feel Tahiti’s soft white sand beneath my bare feet away from the crowds and contemplate what’s right in the world.  Then I want to be amongst the tribes in West Papua immersing into the secretive tribal lives of the Dani people.  I want to wear a Koteka during a ceremony.

I want to meet people who are not like me, but people who I can like all the same.  Their culture, how they pray and their way of everyday life interest me greatly.  I want to see their smiles, listen to their hopes and wonder if what I offer them is anywhere near as valuable as what they give to me.  I want to take compelling photographs of places and people I meet.  I don’t want a selfie.  I want to be a part of their story, not the other way around.

I want my mind to be in constant awe of life on earth and everything that’s in it.  I want to see the world with new eyes.  I want to look at a map and be able to remember how I was transformed by the places I’ve been to, the remarkable experiences I’ve had,  peculiar things I’ve seen, and more importantly, the people I’ve met.  The people who changed me.  The people who unconditionally took me into their lives as part of their families.

I want to come home and realize that I have not come home whole, but have left a piece of my heart in each place I have been.  Part of me is already in many places around the world.  I want to leave more.

This, I think, is what is at the heart of adventure and this is why I’ve made my life one.

There is a magic in travel because it can be complex, yet fulfilling.  True life unravels throughout a journey and you discover parts of you that you never imagine.  There is beauty in discovering new places and cultures.  There is also beauty in discovering more about yourself.

 

 

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We never want to believe that there is a special place where we can withdraw from everyday life.  Each day we’re faced with an avalanche of rush hour traffic or sirens blaring through the heavy city air.  We’re lost in a sea of people avoiding eye contact and we’re bombarded with advertisements whether we’re walking through town or skimming through Insta-Ad.  And by Insta-Ad I mean Instagram.

Some days are maddening and we simply want to check out of the routine.  There must be a magical place in this world calling our name, calling us away from our habitual lifestyles.  Daydreams lead us to an idyllic place.  Then, snap!  A text message arrives or a pencil drops.  Our gaze reluctantly drifts away from the window, our virtual break.  We’re jolted back to the routines that keep us from where we really want to be.

A lot of people don’t want to believe there is a place where we can go to escape the rigorous demands placed on us every day.  We all to often choose to ignore the wide-open door leading elsewhere, and instead live vicariously through fictional characters beamed onto our televisions or computer screens.  That’s what television and the internet are – escapism.  I often call both the biggest black holes of our time.

Perhaps the outskirts of town is a foreign land as you get tangled up in everyday life.  When I’m home, I think driving ten miles is a day trip and I should pack a lunch.  Maybe even the thought of hopping on a plane seems like more hassle than it’s worth.  Air travel isn’t easy today with security demands and oblivious fellow travellers.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in our day to day routines.  I always think if I stay home and work at my desk, I’ll forget how alive I feel when I travel.  The urge to go anywhere foreign will go away.  I stayed home in 2017 and I’ve never felt so empty in my life.  There wasn’t one positive thought in my mind.  There wasn’t anything I could look forward to.  I won’t go as far as saying I was depressed but definitely unhappy.

That’s not true of everyone, I realize.  Instead, so many people want to live uncomplicated and simple lives staying put.   Some want to swim in their reality and remain in their safety zone.  But, while swimming through it, you miss out on so many idyllic landscapes, vibrant cultures and amazingly handsome architecture waiting to be discovered.

Yes, you get a glimpse of another world by watching television or surfing the internet without realizing at times there is no substitute for travel.  In fact, no matter how much you have learned in a classroom, there is no better education than experiencing a land beyond your own country.  The sounds of Jamaa el-Fna, clouds swirling around your head in the Himalayas or the colourful sight of a ceremony in Bali can’t be replaced by television, an Instagram photo or a YouTube video.

The truth is this – travel spins us around in more ways than we can imagine.  Travel teaches each of us life’s lessons we can never find in a book or screen.  It shows us what is really important in life especially if you’re immersed in a foreign culture.  The values and issues we might ignore on any given day are in our face typically accompanied with a genuine smile and a warm hello.  And even deeper, travel shows us all the parts of ourselves that are buried beneath the smothering routine we subject ourselves to.

For in travelling to a truly foreign place – a place we don’t recognize as home, we accordingly travel to tastes, and sounds and states of mind and hidden feelings that we’d otherwise have reason to visit.  Travel is a quick way to keep our minds energized and awake. Thoughts become clearer and our breaths deeper.

And if travel is like love, and I believe it is, it is mostly because we become aware of ourselves and our world.  We are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed.  That is why, like the best love affairs, special travel experiences never really end.

I’ve visited Bangkok numerous times, though this last visit was the first time I made it to Wat Pho.  If you’re unfamiliar, Wat Pho is one of six temples in Thailand classed as the highest grade of the first-class royal temples.  The temple, one of the oldest in Bangkok, is home to the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, including a 46m (+/- 150 ft) long reclining Buddha.   Often Wat Pho is also referred to as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

Long story short, Wat Pho and the Reclining Buddha are important to Thai Buddhists.  In fact, the temple complex is sacred.  It’s not uncommon to see locals, or Buddhists, pray at various places with the complex – especially at the king-size Reclining Buddha.

Common sense tells us to respect the area and symbols as we would our own churches, temples or mosques.  On the day I visited Wat Pho a small group of three tourists decided it was a good idea to stop the flow of visitors – literally stop them – while they took turns laying on the floor in the Reclining Buddha pose and then snap selfies.  If the selfie-takers weren’t satisfied with their ‘pics,’ they’d retake the photos until they were pleased.  To top off the outrageous behaviour, they took time to post their ‘clever’ images to their social media accounts.

If I had not witnessed the ridicule with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it.  If the vast population did not own smartphones and if social media didn’t exist, it’s highly probably the sort of behaviour I saw wouldn’t take place.  That’s not to say mobile phones or social media are to blame, because they’re not.  People are to blame.  Phones and social media encourage the distasteful acts.

A number of popular destinations around the world experience bad behaviour from visitors.  It’s not uncommon to see angry rallies in Venice, attacks on tour buses in Barcelona and plans to limit visitor numbers in Dubrovnik.  From Venice to Amsterdam, Hvar to San Sebastian, locals are becoming increasingly vocal and vigilant about the negative impact tourism is having on their homes.  Who can blame them?

On Rialto Bridge I witnessed a young Venetian’s date ruined when two tourists burst onto the scene with no regard to who or what was around them.  Their loud voices carried into the night like a crowd cheering at a football match.  The young male Venetian took his stand and let the two female tourists know in no uncertain terms Venice belonged to him and they were not welcome.  The moment was so intense even I backed away and I wasn’t part of the conflict.

It’s easy to say common sense and respect should rule the day.  What does that mean?  Below is a list of some key things tourists can do to make destinations better for locals and ultimately yourselves.

1.  Go Somewhere Else.  If you’re planning on visiting a destination that is up in arms about tourism, consider going somewhere else. Our world is vast and our travel choices are many.  Perhaps choose Utrecht instead of Amsterdam or Siena over Rome.  Going elsewhere will likely improve your holiday experience.  Chances are you’ll also experience fewer visitors and lesser known destinations tend to be less expensive.   I’m not a typical tourist by any stretch of the word.  In fact, I’m more of a traveler than a tourist.  When I travel the road less traveled, I often find a place more interesting, I’m more at ease and it’s more rewarding in the end.

2.  Avoid The Must-See Sights.  In fact, avoid the guidebooks that lead you to the hot spots all together.   If ever I see a headline that reads something like “10 Things You Must Do in Hong Kong,” it is a cue for me to avoid every one of the places on the guidebook’s list or blogger’s lists.  If you do a little research and talk to the locals you’ll learn of better places to visit at a similar site elsewhere. What’s more is you’ll have a much better experience because there are far fewer people visiting it.  Besides, creating your own journey and personal experience in a destination is better and more memorable.  Create your own story that is yours and yours alone.

3.  Forget High Season.  An obvious way to get the most out of your travel is to avoid the time when everyone else goes.  I’ve always visited Venice during the off-season.  When I’m exploring Venice at night with my camera, I often have the island to myself except for St Mark’s Square.  The shops and restaurants operate as normal in off-season.  The added bonus – the hotel rates are less expensive even at high end accommodations.  I love it and I also love that the manager of UNA Hotel Venezia meets me at the water taxi welcoming me back with a hug.

4.  Leave Your Home and Customs At Home.  In Bali, once, I challenged a London friend to leave London behind for two weeks.  I knew he couldn’t stop himself from saying, “In London, we …….”  Each time he’d start, I’d cut him off.  Toward the end of his time in Bali all I had to do was glance at him.   It was sort of a game with my friend, though you can’t expect your habits, customs and way of thinking to be the same wherever you travel.  Do you think Parisians really want to hear (or care) how you eat breakfast at home as opposed to their way?  If you think Parisians do, I want to hear all about it.  The same is true everywhere.  Open your mind and your heart and embrace the diversity you’ll discover along the way.  You’ll grow when you leave home behind.

5.  Don’t Ask For International Chains.  As I travel around the world I notice homogenized cities.  More and more I can count on finding Starbuck’s, Gap, Levi’s, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Swatch, Disney, Lancome and more.  Kuala Lumpur looks the same to me as London despite the cultural differences.  Why would you travel 6000 or more miles to visit the same stores you can find at home?  I’m an avid shopper but if I shop when I travel, I want something local and something I can find nowhere else.   Think about it – do you really want to buy an imported item?  Instead consider spending money on regional products in local shops.

6.  Learn A Few Words Of The Local Language.  Even if you can’t correctly complete a proper sentence in Arabic, at least try.  If you can attempt to converse with the locals in their language, they’ll love you for it even if they chuckle.  Additionally, the local might be more accommodating to your question if you attempt their language.  The old trick of pointing and talking loudly really is an insult. Trust me, speaking loudly and slowly while asking your question to a local will not gain your foreign friends.

7.  Put Your Selfie Sticks Away.  In fact, forget selfies all together.  I’m sure locals take their own selfies, but when you obstruct a passageway for your own narcissistic reasons, you’re not projecting a positive image of yourself or where you come from.

8.  Be Respectful.  Wherever you to, abide by the local laws, respect the local customs and dress appropriately.  Locals sometimes feel outnumbered by tourists and oftentimes they are.  People in destinations like Venice are becoming increasingly angry that some tourists are disrespecting their hometown.  Don’t be that person.  Ultimately, give the locals one less thing to complain about.  Try being a traveler instead of a tourist.  You’ll be a better person for it.

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A ‘Gentleman’.
Forget travelling like one for a moment – what does being a ‘gentleman’ really mean?

The word, ‘gentleman’ once specifically identified a man of distinguished birth.  As time progressed, ‘gentleman’ was broadened to include a man of good standing.  Today, ‘gentleman’ refers to a chivalrous, courteous and honourable man – young or mature.  I like my own category – modern gentleman.  In a future post, I’ll explain my definition of a modern gentleman.  No matter whose definition or criteria is used, there has been a shift in what being a gentleman means:  it has evolved to describe an acceptable code of conduct that has nothing to do with how high or low in society you’re born.

We commonly call gentlemanly behaviour’ manners,’ which simply put is about being aware of others, considerate to everyone and putting the company you keep at ease at any given time.

All that said, have you tried travelling and keeping your composure at the same time?  Can you be considerate and stay well-mannered as a gentleman should?

Today, travelling anywhere begets its own stresses.  If you’re travelling for pleasure and your journey is one to enjoy, smiles, please, thank you, and sometimes even pardon me can go by the wayside as you trundle through the maddening crowds to get to your destination.  Doors slam in your face after you’ve held the very same door for someone else, you don’t receive the same courtesies you offer and you might even be pushed or shoved with no regard by a host of passersby.  It’s true.

Is there still time for you to behave like a gentleman during these challenging times?  Yes.  Absolutely.

We love our personal space.  I love mine and if people get too close to us, we tend to take a step back.  When in a metropolis, you can expect to have somebody’s armpit in your face on a train or subway on a hot summer’s day.  And, as unpleasant as the armpit may be, we must accept the conditions.  We have little choice unless you step off and wait for the next ride.   While using the London Underground during rush hour, for instance, you can expect to be mashable from all sides.  You must accept to be part of the tin sardine pack or do as I do and avoid rush hour.  A brisk walk across the golden city is far more amenable in my opinion, and the exercise is better for you.

Travel by airplane is no better.  In fact, courteousness has fallen by the wayside as the airport experience has worsened with heightened security and unnecessary fees.  Sometimes I watch flight attendants and think they’re more like bouncers at a nightclub. Perhaps if everyone had and used proper manners flying would feel all the more civilized.

Of course, if you are seated in first or business class on an aeroplane, your travel experience will be different than in economy.  I was shoved aside by a flight attendant during my last economy experience.  If that wasn’t enough, I was squeezed into an uncomfortable spot in my seat because the person sitting next to me spilt over into my space.   The two occurrences happened on a single flight. This was enough to tell me I’d never see economy again.  My choice is not based on elitism, but instead unacceptable instances in flying economy.

The trials of long-haul travel and others habits or discourteous acts will test your tolerance to the max.  One of the biggest irritations on any flight is the reclining seat.  If a meal has been served, you should always consider the person seated behind before adjusting your position.  It’s only right.  Getting up repeatedly and disturbing those either side at inappropriate times also falls within the territory of ungentlemanly behaviour.  After all, enduring a flight seated next to a constant talker who turns into a fidgeter is enough to unsettle even the most relaxed of frequent fliers.

We all like to mentally go into our own zones when we’re amongst crowds.  In other words, we distance ourselves.  Should you choose to ‘step away’ from the crowd with your headphones, be sure to use the noise cancelling sort and keep the volume down. You don’t want to unknowingly disturb others.  Listen to flight attendant’s instructions and act accordingly.  The rules of flights apply to everyone.

Finally, your home away from home – the hotel.  The interaction between yourself and hotel staff defines the success of any hotel; however, it also reveals much about a man’s manners.  A gentleman shows respect at all times to all staff, not only to the concierge or management who might greet you.  Some of my best friends and even experiences resulted from genuine good manners at hotels.  This is true.   Also, remember to observe local customs no matter where you are when it comes to your behaviour and dress.

Being a gentleman is not difficult.  Being a modern gentleman can mean you’re casual but it always means you project yourself in good light.  Be mindful of others, respect everyone and play nice whether you’re travelling on the Underground or 30,000 feet in the air.  The notion of being a gentleman is straightforward.  Being a gentleman demands courtesy, consideration and compromise.

There is nothing old-fashioned or difficult about being a gentleman.  More times than not being a gentleman will benefit you more in the long run.  If you haven’t already, give being a genuine gentleman a go.