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Would you spend four years circling the globe alone without ever setting foot in an airplane? Niall Doherty is doing just that.

Back in November while we were up in Chiang Mai for the Yee Peng and Loy Kratong festivals, we had a chance to finally meet up with Niall.

The three of us not serial-killing each other in Chiang Mai.

The three of us not serial-killing each other in Chiang Mai.

He’s someone I’ve blog-stalked for years, learning the ins and outs of how he lives his somewhat unusual lifestyle. I probably initially heard of him through one of the other people I was learning from while planning our travels.

Like all the travelers I’ve met over the years, he didn’t serial-kill me either, and seemed to be an okay sort. Maria & I have remained in contact and he’s one of the featured travelers in my upcoming book.

Yeah, the one I’ve been talking about for a while. That book of resources and helpful people you should know about if you are looking for a different sort of lifestyle. It’s coming along nicely with some helpful input from a handful of bloggers, travelers, and others living unusual lifestyles. I’d put a release date on it here, but I’m too afraid to miss a deadline.

Which brings us back to Niall’s new book: The Cargo Ship Diaries.

With a title like that, you’d think it was about his most recent trip aboard a cargo ship to maintain his goal of circling the globe without flying. And much of it is. An unusual way to travel for sure, but the book is only partially about his 26 days spent at sea that ended only a few weeks ago.

He wrote the book during this trip, but it details his storied travels around the first half of the globe, from leaving Ireland, and crossing Europe, Iran, India, and Thailand before making plans to hop a cargo ship as the only paying passenger to get to Brazil in time for the World Cup.

This isn’t a travel guide or a how-to.

While Niall’s first (excellent) book Disrupting the Rabblement was more of his philosophy about life and trying to make your own way in a world that wants you to walk a certain path, this new volume gets more personal.

There’s lots of sex, but only a smattering of violence, but we can’t have everything, I guess. It’s not really about sex, but more about dealing with the fears and uncomfortable social situations many people seem to suffer through in daily life.

So while he updates the list of his current worldy possessions in the book, this isn’t really about a guide on traveling the world. It’s more a guide on how Niall chooses to travel through this wacky thing called life. Very little of that has anything to do with where you are on a map.

You’ll consider more than just an odd way to travel. You’ll also consider whether you’re living life fully, or just going through the motions of life trying to ignore a building mountain of regret.

I do recommend things at times, but this isn’t a paid endorsement. Niall sent me a preview copy yesterday, so I read it this morning I read a lot. Maria read it last night).

I’m not recommending the book because he’s my friend. On the contrary, because I was a fan of his writing and travels, I made sure to get out and make him a friend.

If you’d like to order the book, you can go order it here in Amazon’s Kindle .mobi format or .epub, as well as an audio version read by Niall himself in his allegedly real Irish accent.

Cargo Ship Diaries

Cargo Ship Diaries

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Who’s Flying This Brain?

I heard an analogy about our brains the other night while sampling a new tv show. I’m going to butcher both the analogy and our anatomy a bit here and use it in a way I think is more accurate, at least in my head.

Our brains are basically made up of two parts: The older, more animal part that actually makes most of our serious decisions. And the logical, thinking, part that “knows things” and thinks it’s running the show. Even knowing about these two distinctions, our commands from this animal segment will still override the rest of the “smart part” in many situations.

This base-level animal part of our brain goes by many names.

  • Seth Godin calls it the Lizard Brain.
  • Steven Pressfield calls it the Resistance.
  • Latin people like doctors call it the amygdala and it’s about the size of an almond.
  • Most of us know it as the “fight or flight” thing in our brain that makes us throw up and piss ourselves when we think we’re about to die.

The obvious places it runs you are during these fight or flight situations: you’re attacked by a group of zombie ninjas while getting gas in a mall parking lot at 3am. You’re either running or fighting for your life. Hope you watched a lot of Jackie Chan movies growing up.

Otherwise challenging decisions like whether the electric bill is late and what color to paint the den simply disappear at times like this.

But this smaller, more resolute part of your brain is in control of your actions in far more situations than we know. It believes every situation is life and death.

Everything becomes a worst-case scenario if we don’t know how to get control here. Everything becomes a fire, or will turn into a fire if we dare step out of the warm confines of our comfort zone.

It’s like you’re an airplane (you can make the airplane noises if you want. Nobody’s watching). The smart, reasonable part of your brain thinks everything is great back here flying first class. That almond-sized thing is the part flying the plane, and since that’s also you and your brain, you believe you’re logically good.

The problem is that almond-boy is locked up in the cockpit with his headphones blasting power ballads from 80s hair bands. He’s turned off the intercom, and knows flying near the ground is the most dangerous part, so he is going to keep you safe by flying high. NO WAY is he going to get us anywhere near the ground.

You notice the plane passing your desired destination, but the pilot isn’t answering your knock on the cockpit door. He’s making circles over the airfield, but he ain’t coming down.

He knows where you want to go, but this shit’s dangerous. He’s doing it for your own good.

Your intellect starts doing math to figure out how much longer you can stay aloft before the tanks are dry and you fall from the sky.

You try to bang, kick, and smash your way through the cockpit door to get to the controls. You know the plane will come down either way. It can come down when and where you want, but only if you get into the cockpit to fly the damn plane.

With all that hullabaloo back there, he just cranks the music over the intercom.

Sebastian Bach can drown out that racket with his sirenous wail… I’ll keep you safe…”

Get Your Own Brain in Order

I’ve been on my plane making a hatchet out of armrests and other parts to chop my way into the cockpit. I’d like to land the plane where I want to go with the thinking part of my brain instead of just letting junior fly around until this thing augers.

I don’t know how all of it works, but I know I’ll figure it out. I know the plane has to go somewhere, and I got in the cockpit to fight for the controls.

That’s what I’m trying to help you do: get into the cockpit so you can land the plane, preferably wherever you want.

Because you are coming down, whether you want to or not.

That scared part of your brain can find any number of reasons not to Do the Thing you want to do.

It is hard to share your art.
It is hard to start a business.
It is hard to make drastic changes to your life.

It’s especially hard when you’re fighting yourself. You’re your own worst enemy.

You can stay safe in your comfort zone, or you can get your head on right and do the thing.

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A minimalist world traveler living out of carry-on luggage while running a business is not how I’ve always done life. A few years back was the worst collective set of experiences of my life so far, and I thought everything was over other than being actually dead. But I have to back up a little further still… (***SPOILER ALERT***: I didn’t die.)

We’re all familiar with the default life model laid out for us as we’re told to live by parents, teachers, employers, and anyone else involved with making our decisions on life plans growing up in the consumer culture of the United States:

Go to school, get good grades, get a job, buy a house, buy some other stuff, have a family, and someday retire so you can enjoy your own time.

I did most of that, accumulating more toys than I had time to play with. They were stored in my big garage of my big house filled with big piles of things the ads alluded would make me happy and solve all my problems. There was so much shit in the garage that only one of the multiple cars I had at any given time would fit in the 2-car garage, and only if I wasn’t working on a project in there (usually fixing or maintaining one of my other toys).

I worked a lot for someone else, helping build their company while I tried to keep up with maintaining all the cars and toys and other shit I never had time to enjoy because I was too busy working to keep it at all.

Giving it Away

If you weren’t aware of this already, divorces can get expensive. Especially divorces that aren’t happy divorces. Is there a happy divorce? I don’t know, but mine didn’t go the way I hoped.

Among several other obvious problems during this period of my life, I clung to the idea of keeping all my stuff. All these things that meant so much. These cures for any form of discomfort that made my life so much better. I fought pointlessly as I watched all my precious stuff disappear in a variety of new ways I hadn’t even considered prior to this new period of divorcery.

When the debris finally finished falling, I had about 2 bags of clothes, an old desktop computer, and a mountain of debt for things I didn’t even have anymore.

All seemed lost and all that dramatic sounding stuff as far as I was concerned. Here I am in my 30′s with not a thing to my name. This is not the way it’s supposed to be. All that money and stuff I lost. “Wah, wah, wah!” all day long I could whine about it then, and did so.

But a funny thing happened in this new reality I’d never considered once I got a lot of the whining out of my system. I felt relieved.

Not just because the divorce ugliness was over, but because I had a fresh start. I knew somewhere deep down that all this stuff was actually a burden. The ads had lied all along. The feelings you’re supposed to get from having the outside things never actually give you that. Not if you aren’t well on the inside. I suspected it even while I had everything, but it was lost among the thoughts that the next new thing would be the thing that made it all better.

The things are never the answer. Sure, things can help if you have them for the right reason. Nothing wrong with having stuff. So long as it doesn’t really own you.

Now that I had no more things, instead of the dread I felt at losing all my important nonsense from this probably worst situation I’d ever encountered to this point, I felt that situation was really a blessing in disguise. Certainly wasn’t the way I’d have written it, but I was determined to make the best of it.

The Funny Thing About Stereotypes

I can’t tell you how many people tell me now how they envy my lifestyle now. How they “wish” they could do what I do, like it’s some impossible task to slow travel and run a location independent business from anywhere on the planet in the 21st century.

I’m not talking about the stereotypical cube farmer who hates their entry-level office job that tell me this either. I’m talking doctors, lawyers, business owners of all levels. All who feel trapped by their own lifestyle. Feeling like they were sold a bill of goods to do this “right thing” and it would solve all their problems just like buying that ski boat would do for me back then.

It doesn’t matter how much stuff you have or what section of the white collar or blue collar workforce you’re in. If you aren’t doing what brings your life joy every day, you might just be doing it wrong.

Not joy as in “there are never any problems at all in life” and you’re always comfortable and you’re partying “Jordan Belfort before that little FBI thing” -style kind of joy. This isn’t about always being comfortable and partying constantly.

It’s doing the things that you’d be doing even if you won the lottery.

It’s doing the things that you’d do if money was already taken care of for you.

It’s doing the things that don’t make your Sunday evenings a period of dread for the following day.

The things that get you juiced to go spend the day doing because you want to.

Even when the things are hard. Even when it isn’t a party. Even when it isn’t glamorous or fun.

Just the things that must be done for the larger picture. For what you’re building. For the life you’re living. For the childlike joy you used to have before you were taught all these fucking rules about what you’re supposed to be doing instead.

How far will you go?

I didn’t invent any new lifestyle. I am not the first person to do this or anything like this. I am not special or unusual (depending on your definition of unusual). Anyone can do the life they want. It may be tough to get started. You don’t have to do anything dramatic to change your life Fight Club style.

Don’t just dump your husband, moon your boss, and burn your house down with all your stuff in it. You can do it over time. Make changes as you learn.

All you have to do is start. Learn. Look around. Open your eyes. Ask questions.

Always ask questions!

Don’t accept the status quo if it doesn’t suit you. Your friends may think you’re crazy and your family may disown you. But if the way you’re living isn’t leaving you feeling alive most days, it may be time to change something.

It won’t be easy. It won’t be painless. But it will be worth it.

I don’t specifically recommend the tried-and-true method of “Go through unpleasant divorce, lose everything, and flail around figuring it out on your own for several years.” But even it it seems that bad, it may turn out to be a pretty good thing.

What is your experience with things you thought were the worst thing that could happen, and how did you heal the wounds? Let me know in the comments below. Use a fake name or hit the contact page to send me a message if you want it private.

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Do the Thing

There are things on my to-do list that I’ve pushed off for months. Things I didn’t want to do.

Call it fear, call it resistance, call it excuses. All of those are truths.

Lately I’ve done work to get beyond these things. To feel the fear and do it anyway. To move beyond the resistance, ignore the fears, and just do my best anyway.

I don’t know the outcomes. The results are out of my hands. They don’t mean anything. Getting the result I don’t want is not going to kill me. Embarrassment won’t kill me. Making an ass out of myself to people who I respect won’t kill me.

Not doing the things I know I need to do will kill me. Slowly.

Doing nothing is a guarantee of failure. You will absolutely not attain a goal if you fail to take any action at all. 100% guaranteed.

Every time I do the thing, I get stronger.

You may have little chance of success on the first or even the 100th attempt to do the thing. Perhaps you’ll hit the mark and the outcome will be better than you expected. Maybe you’ll flail for years before getting there. But you must act.

You must do the thing.

Action is the only possible way to get anywhere. You must take the steps and walk the walk.

You may embarrass yourself. You may fall on your face. You may die.

You may die trying to do the thing.

You may die hiding in a cave hoping the failure doesn’t happen (which you know is the only way to guarantee the failure).

One of these days you’re going to wake up dead anyway.

Do the thing.

This is not the thing.  But this too.

This is not the thing. But this too.

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Early in life, I wanted to be a writer. Not necessarily a teller of stories, but just that writing seemed easy and thus enjoyable to me.

Perhaps I got better grades early on and associated good feelings to writing with that positive reinforcement. It was easy to me, so it was less like work or even practice than play. I struggled with math, and therefore made up my child mind that I was no good at it. I reinforced that lesson in my own head for decades after.

As with everything else, those were my choices at the time. Those choices became my beliefs. And beliefs left unquestioned are realities.

The mind is a powerful thing. Even the mind of a child.

As I’m writing this, I’m recalling various stories I wrote as a kid (I’m 44 right now). I had completely forgotten until now.

Another example of the power of beliefs: even as I’ve been calling myself a writer for a few years now, I always clarify it with, “not stories and books and stuff. I just write copy for websites and businesses.”

Do you see how powerful words are?

I’ve kept myself from growing at the thing I do best with that choice of words. The thing I have wanted my whole life. The thing that has kept me dreaming.

With just my language and that simple qualification.

I started that qualification to avoid the next question about whether they’d read anything I’ve written. Since the answer was no, as I didn’t have any famous clients I’d written copy for, or to directly answer their question: no, you won’t find my work in a library.

That in itself is a way of telling myself that I am not good enough. I don’t have those things because I’m not “really” a writer. I don’t “really” have what it takes, so I’ve not even tried to get a story out of my head. Not even tried to pitch a client for a major project. They know I won’t be good enough, like I clearly do in my head while comparing myself to famous authors.

So my answer to my work is that I don’t have anything they’d want to read. Automatically disqualifying myself from being outstanding or successful in their eyes. Keeping my life just vague enough that they will still see me as something fancy-sounding with the title of writer, but not giving them enough information to realize I am the fraud that I am, and what I do is fail to thrive as a writer the way I really want.

This is sounding darker than it is, but there is a bright side. Acceptance is the key and all that. I’m talking about this here because it is so fucking absurd. The shit we say to ourselves, the shit lessons we take with us from childhood, and the shit beliefs we end up taking as gospel.

The actual reality is that there is no such thing as good or bad. There are only results. You get one result, you adapt and adjust, then try again. You get better. You may fail at something. You may flounder. But if you get better, you’re already successful.

Comparing yourself to others is a sure way to flail at your craft. Life is not a competition. Even actual competitions are really just metaphorical. They’re competitions against other foes or whatever on the outside. But unless you’re playing for your life, you’re just playing a game. You’re entering a contest. This isn’t the Hunger Games.

The point of any competition is not to gauge how well you do against others on the outside. It’s not to demonstrate that you’re better than everyone else. Not exactly. That’s just what it seems like.

The point of life, growth, and even competitions against others is the same thing: Becoming a better version of yourself.

Don’t like your current life? Change it! It’s yours.

If you win over others at a silly game or contest, that doesn’t make you better than them. It means you’re better than you were yesterday.

If you wake up and push back against this mental resistance we all have on some level that tells us to hide and be safe. It tells us we aren’t good enough so don’t even try.

Bullshit! Do it anyway. If you’re growing, you’re improving, and you’re getting better.

That is success.

Failing to grow is dying. Failing to grow is losing. Not even trying is failing life completely.

I’m implementing a scorched-earth policy on failure to grow from here on out. You’ll want to cover your ears if you’d rather be comfortable.

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Sunset over the river in Vang Vien, Laos.

The past year has seen so many changes and new experiences in my world, that I’m really struggling with where to begin to try to convey them to you.

Obviously, a big change for me was moving overseas. After spending the first 35 years of my life in a 300-mile circle, followed by a move across the U.S., I finally decided to see more of the world and moved to Thailand. Since it’s what I’m doing and where I am, there will continue to be posts about these things I’m doing over here. I realize it may not directly apply to your situation if you’re living in a van and exploring North America, but I think you’ll still find some of the lessons and projects useful even if you never plan to move to Asia.

Things that went well

  • I moved to Southeast Asia. Visited, lived, and explored in 4 new countries I barely knew anything about last year. Kind of different. Kind of a big deal.
  • Saw lots of stuff. Met dozens of great local people. Had more great experiences so far than I can count.
  • Stayed debt free and lived on a quarter of what I lived on in the States. People ask how can I afford this all the time. It’s much easier than you think. And cheaper than you live now, probably.
  • Played with Tigers a few times. Something I’d wanted to do my whole life. I don’t think I’ll do it again, as I’m becoming less of a fan of animals in captivity.
  • Visited the Killing Fields of Cambodia and was able to show a friend in California what the hometown his family escaped from in the 70′s looked like today.
  • Half-filled my passport with stamps and visas. This part is probably more expensive than transportation expenses. Visas are entire industries in some places.
  • Spent my first pretty much everything outside the country. Birthday, xmas, etc. I’m not real big on holidays in general, but they make easy reference points.
  • Got to see the Yee Peng Lantern Release in Chiang Mai. The thing that solidified my decision to travel abroad for a bit.
  • Got to work with and spend (not enough) time with Dwight Turner and the kids of In Search of Sanuk.
  • Got to help teach English to smart kids in Laos with the S.M.I.L.E. Project.
  • Made amazing new friends from and in various countries.
  • Maintained work with all my clients, no matter where I was.
  • Watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument.

Sunrise over Angkor Wat

  • Lost 50lbs, got stronger and healthier.
  • Built a bunch of new positive habits like writing 1000 words a day for the last 200+ days, and got rid of some habits that didn’t benefit my life. Most of the bad ones manifested as procrasturbation in various forms.
  • Struggled yet strengthened my relationship with my fiancé, who I get to do this amazing life with (she also blogs more about our specific travels on her blog at FieryTree.com).
  • Got a good year’s worth of travel experience, which should help to serve us on further travels and adventures. Other potential fears seem less significant as we know we can handle this.
  • Oh and we moved to Malaysia for a few months just last week. We didn’t know anything about it, so it seemed like a good reason.

New view in Penang Malaysia

Things that did NOT go so well

Of all the fun things that did happen, I also slacked off a bit in a few areas and things didn’t always go as well as I’d have liked. Thankfully nothing drastic or calamitous happened this year. It’s all just life happening anyway. Most of them just more procrasturbation and taking the easy path, which I don’t recommend as a helpful or healthy habit.

  • Not posting much or keeping up to date with this blog is obviously a big one.
  • Didn’t grow much in my business or income. I stayed content with existing clients and didn’t strive to push as hard as I could for more business.
  • I did nothing to help any of you guys reading this, as far as helpful guides, tips, techniques, and such.
  • Though traveling and living abroad, I still stayed inside doing work most of the time, and don’t feel like I got out enough to explore even more. It seems silly when I sift through all my photos from the past year and compare things from when we left in march to now, but there is still so much to see and do.
  • Broke just about every piece of tech I own, and had to replace much of it. But my next updated packing list is bound to be smaller and have better options. I combined a few things into fewer items better suited for digital nomads. I still don’t check bags whenever we fly.

I have a bunch in the works, and have more specific plans for getting things done this year. I don’t want to list it all here, as I prefer to just do it and let you see the results as they come along.

You know those people who buy an annual gym membership and get so busy congratulating themselves like they accomplished something significant, but quit 2 weeks later when they realize that shit’s hard? I don’t want to be that guy.

So I’ll just show you when I do it.

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Lanterns AloftThere was one thing that I saw while I researched different paths to take, lifestyles to live, and places to go that really stood out. It solidified my desire to travel the way we are now. The thing that I saw that changed it from a vague “that would be neat…” to the absolute certainty of “Decision made. I MUST see that with my own eyes!

That was the lantern release at Yee Peng in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

I’ve grown up reading about faraway places and cultures in National Geographic and other travel magazines and shows, so have always wanted to travel. But it was so often still in a traditional pipe-dream status in my mind like it stays for so many of us. The amazing places were always just something that existed in faraway lands where those Nat Geo photographers dared travel. Where I grew up, nobody ever left their home town.

As I dug deeper into the lifestyles of different travelers and unconventional people as time went on, I began to realize that this old way of thinking was holding me back. There were plenty of regular people doing amazing things and traveling to these amazing places. They weren’t all just rich or from other more travel-savvy cultures. They were just like you and I, and just decided to do the things they wanted.

As my views began to expand about these different possibilities, I began to see almost too many options. Do I travel around in an RV or van? Do we sail around living on the sea? Go native, fill a backpack, and see the world?

When my friend Shannon posted photos of the lantern release at Yee Peng, I knew what we were going to do.

Side Trip to Chiang Mai in Beautiful North Thailand

We made several other decisions along the way to get ourselves to Thailand. Many things were on the list that we wanted to experience, and we’ve done many of them already (some several times, such as the Tiger Temple, where we went to again this month when a friend visited from the States), but the lantern festival was worth planning a special trip.

My dad and his girlfriend also planned to be there, so we were able to go as a group. We only stayed in Chiang Mai for a week, but we can see why so many expats and digital nomads tend to congregate there: we fell in love with the place and expect to return to see more.

The Yee Peng and Loy Krathong Festivals happen over a series of nights coinciding with the end of the rainy season in Thailand. Each evening leading up to the main lantern release on the full moon, the city got more crowded with arriving tourists during this week-long celebration. The gates near the moat were always busy with beautiful lanterns lit and lofted into the night sky. It was a beautiful sight to see and made for a nice time just walking to and from dinner each night.

But that was nothing.

On the day of the main lantern release, we were told to arrive early to get a decent spot to sit on the main lawn of the ceremony site near Mae Jo University. We hired a taxi truck driver to take us there and back for a reasonable price, and made it there with plenty of daylight to spare.

The event is a Buddhist ceremony that is very important to the Thai people. It is a huge attraction for tourists, so you see all kinds of people there crowding the lawns for a spot to sit.

Monks on stage during the ceremonies.

Monks on stage during the ceremonies.

The announcements are in Thai, English, Japanese, and one of the Chinese dialects, and are easy to hear over the crowd. Throughout the evening, the announcer admonishes the crowd not to let your lanterns go until the main ceremony, but there is nonetheless a constant stream of beautiful orange lanterns glowing as they rise mostly from spectators outside the official grounds of the event. I was admiring them the whole night as the ceremony went on.

But that was nothing.

As the night grew darker, the announcer continued to remind people to keep your lanterns unlit until the official ceremony release. Also increasing was the number of jack-wagons who completely ignored those instructions and sent their lanterns aloft anyway. The skies were getting increasingly crowded with lanterns, and it was gorgeous.

And still that was nothing.

As the cue was given for the wonderfully helpful student assistants from the University to begin lighting the lamps that we would use to then ignite our lanterns, the crowd got increasingly excited. We’d all been sitting in the grass for up to several hours and were ready to go!

The four of us each got a lantern of our own, as well as one for the group. We decided to pair up and help fill the first two in pairs. The crowd gets louder with anticipation as they work to fill their paper lanterns with hot air without setting it aflame. Most people succeeded in this.

When the signal is given for the main release, nothing can really prepare you for the sight of thousands of these going up at once. I’m not sure how to be descriptive enough. The video I shot can do a better job, so I embedded it here.

As part of the Loy Krathong Festival of Thailand each year, this event is something truly remarkable to see. I can’t recommend it enough. As amazing as the photos and videos you can find here or elsewhere on the internet look, it pales next to being there.

It was not nothing.

How to Get There and Details

The lantern release takes place each year during the full moon in November. Being the largest annual event in the area, the crowds are huge. Expect the delays getting there, as well as trying to get out. Don’t be in a hurry. That won’t work.

You won’t be close to the center of town to attend the main event. The University is fairly far to the North of central Chiang Mai and the old city. You could go yourself on a rented scooter, but you’ll be no closer to getting out of there on your own. It’s a traffic jam. If you want to pop for the extra cost, get an air-conditioned car to take you there and back. Sitting int he back of a taxi truck sucking diesel fumes for hours is not a grand time, but still probably beats walking.

Don’t be tempted to buy any of the lanterns for sale at any of the vendors outside the gates of the main event. You won’t be allowed to bring them in, and they’re no cheaper than the lanterns for sale inside the gates. They’ll make you leave them outside or deny you entry with them.

Admission to the event itself is free.

There are restrooms, but there may be long lines for those as well.

Figure out photos and video with your group ahead of time, especially if doing both. Or just enjoy the experience and point to the many photos online.

Maria wrote a couple of posts on one of her blogs here with more spectacular photos and here with more helpful tips if you plan to attend next year!

Enjoy!

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It’s popular to look at the lives of other people and make judgments about specific lifestyles in the Lifestyle Design or Location Independent spaces. Well in every area, actually.

Judgments about the things they do, the places they go, or the way they get there. Sometimes this is helpful, but other times it simply gets in the way. It obscures the point if it’s distracting you from the actual issue or lesson.

If you think sites like this about traveling in Thailand or *insert any other place* is the point, you’re missing it. Badly.

If you’re interested in Thailand and life here, then I hope you find the things I post about that subject useful or in some way inspiring. But if you’re taking it as “well, I don’t want to travel to Thailand or anywhere else,” but are still unhappy with your life and are looking for ways to make it better, don’t discount the whole concept.

You don’t have to move to some exotic country to change your life or otherwise find some sort of happiness or fulfillment.

Don’t look at the specific way I’m applying the freedoms I’ve created in my life if the path itself doesn’t interest you. I didn’t come to Southeast Asia because all the cool kids were doing it. I learned what I could from them as research for that specific thing I wanted to do.

I didn’t come here as part of the location independent success formula because that’s what Sean Ogle or Cody McKibben did it like it’s one of the required steps to become a digital nomad. I found them because I was looking to travel around Southeast Asia, and they showed me ways I could. I copied some of their activities because it was interesting to me. I wanted to do these things. It’s okay if you don’t want the exact recipe, but there are many lessons you can learn about designing your own ideal life in various places.

Sean is golfing daily now. I have no interest in that specific activity, but it doesn’t discount that he’s set up his life to be able to do that thing he wants to do. The lessons available from him and his work are not the golf itself, just that he’s doing his thing. How is he able to do what he wants, not how to golf every day. He does what he wants with his life: It’s his job. See the difference?

I told Chris Guillebeau that his travel to every country in the world was interesting to read about, but I had no desire to do that. That goal isn’t the lesson he is teaching with his body of work. If you wanted to do that specific task, he can certainly show you how he did it, but it’s not the act of visiting all 193 countries in a few years that is the point. The point is you can apply parts of the recipe to fit the specific thing you’re trying to do or create.

I’ve learned a ton of things from these people (and many others) over the years despite my specific goals looking very different than theirs, and it’s why I recommend their stuff over there on the sidebar affiliate links. Because each of them has helped me get to where I am today, and saved me a lot of money and headaches in the process with their products.

Don’t want to leave your hometown? Then don’t!

Happy and fulfilled at your job? Keep doing it!

Don’t get caught up in the semantics. We all want something different.

Do you. Don’t do me.

If I’m doing something specific that you specifically want to do, do that. But don’t discount the lesson because I didn’t do the one thing you wanted to do instead.

How do you do you?

This is the reason so many people just let life take them wherever it goes, instead of leading it in the direction they choose. You must figure out your “Why” if you want to ever feel like you’ve found your happiness purpose or passion. If you don’t know where you’re going, it really doesn’t matter what you do. You’ll never get there, because you have no idea where “there” is. The Cheshire cat even knows that.

This popular TED Talk from Simon Sinek will explain better than I can.

If you’re just doing something you were told was the way, but want something different: Do that. Learn from everyone and from everywhere.

  • Why are you doing your life that way? Is it what you want?
  • Do you even know what you want?
  • Can you describe your perfect day?
  • If you had $10 million and otherwise never had to worry about money, what would you spend your time doing?
  • Would you go to your cube farm every day if you won the lottery?
  • Would you blow through it trying to figure out which toy or other expensive thing would make you happy like the ads told you it would?
  • Would you keep doing what you’re already doing?
  • What would you do if there were no restrictions on your life?

If travel doesn’t interest you or the idea of golfing all day makes you suicidal like it does me, don’t get caught up in that. Just figure out what the people doing their thing are doing to get them there.

“Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own.” -Bruce Lee

There is no magic secret. There is no shortcut. There is no way to avoid hard work and hustle. If you find that thing that you enjoy doing every day, it no longer has the 4-letter word connotation that work often has.

A day in a hammock on the beach sounds great, but could you do that every day? Most people can’t, despite how inviting it looks in the commercials and magazine ads. Find your why or you’re just buying the BS being sold on tv.

Is this about avoiding work? No. This is not a permanent vacation. There is still work, whether passive income or exotic location. May not be physical labor that you dread waking up to every day, but you can choose to move your life in a direction in line with your why. Whether that’s moving to Thailand, golfing every day, or spending more time with your family in your hometown. If you think Tim Ferriss works only 4 hours a week, then you missed the point entirely. (He works harder than you, guaranteed.)

Location Independence: Don’t focus on the Location, but pay close attention to the part that brings the Independence. That’s the part that lets you do whatever you like. The Location is up to you, and it really becomes location irrelevant.

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In preparation for our long-awaited trip to Cambodia, we researched all the travel options from Bangkok, Thailand to Siem Reap, Cambodia. There are many ways to make the trip, from a short flight into Siem Reap airport, to a train to the border then onward via bus or taxi, to taking buses the whole way.

Each of those has pros and cons. There are no shortage of travel story horrors about each land method, and flights were not at all cheap. Whether derailing trains that only go to the border, to the border scams, and the Khao San Rd. buses that abandon you at the border instead of waiting on the other side to take you the next 2 hours into town.

We decided on the bus system as both reasonably priced and simple. Of the variety of buses heading there and back, we found that there is a new bus managed by the Thai government that goes direct all the way to Siem Reap. One bus from the time you get on at MoChit terminal to the final destination in Siem Reap proper. No switching buses, no nonsense of being left at the border or questionable people in your business, and most of the scammy type stops bypassed.

I’ll walk you through each leg of the trip as it went for us. When researching this trip, I heard rumors of this new bus, but there was very little information on it out there. Most mentions of bus trips from Bangkok to Siem Reap on the internet and various travel forums reference the Khao San buses. So I wanted to get this out there to add to the news of the newer bus route. This way was perfect, and could not have gone any better.

One of the main concerns aside from reliable transportation from Bangkok to Siem Reap is the border issues at Poipet. This border has a reputation of being one of the seediest in all of Southeast Asia. If you read too much on the internet preparing for this trip, you’ll scare yourself away from even doing the trip at all, with all the horrors you imagine lying in wait for you at this crossing.

While that wasn’t my experience, and we were only approached by a single child begging through the whole process, that may also have to do with the particular bus trip we took, as I’ll get to later.

Preparations and Research: e-Visa and Bus Ticket

The issue of bribes and fake border stations in and around Poipet is one of the bigger concerns here, and much of it can be bypassed altogether with a Cambodian e-Visa (Be careful with fake sites. This link is the only official government site.)

The official border entry fee is $20 US at the border, but anyone who has been here knows it is $20 US + 100 Thai Baht, according to the handwritten signs the border officers show you. Many will tell you to object and point at the actual wall sign that says it’s $20 US, but since most people tend to just pay the extra 100 Baht, they keep doing it.

That’s if you even make it to the actual Visa checkpoint, and haven’t fallen prey to the many “Official” Visa services all over Aranyaphathet that charge double the actual $20 fee or more.

The Cambodian e-Visa helps alleviate many of these concerns. You get your visa ahead of time after applying online. It took us a day to have pdf files of our approved e-Visas to print and cut out to show at the border. Not only does this do away with the worry about any issues that might come up with being allowed entry, but it basically renders 99% of the border visa scams impotent. If you already have a visa, you don’t need one from the several official-looking people otherwise insisting that you do.

Another nice thing about the e-Visa is that you print it out yourself, so they don’t need to waste an entire page of your passport with a page-sized visa sticker. Very nice if you’re crossing a lot of borders on your travels and running low on space.

They staple the copy onto a page and stamp a small square like any other entry stamp.

So while the e-Visa is $25, you are paying for this convenience. It may or may not be worth it to you. As our first crossing, it was worth the extra 5 bucks for the extra peace of mind alone.

The next preparation for this trip was for our transportation. I actually was getting quite confused about the bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap, as everything I could find on the internet was in reference to the standard Khao San Rd bus companies, and every single one of those said to stay way the hell away from those. Everything from getting left at the border with no bus waiting on the other side to sneaky luggage ninjas sifting through your bags in the luggage bays and stops at 10 different places to grift some business out of it’s customers or “breakdowns” occurring at the same restaurant each trip.

None of these stories sounded fun at all, and the unanimous consensus was to avoid them at all costs.

So when friends told me to check the “new bus” making this trip, I wasn’t sure what they meant. It took a bit of digging to find the one they were talking about, and why I wanted to add to the links to make this trip more widely known. There are already a few helpful write-ups here and here that made my life easier once I found them, but I wanted to add to the news about this bus service, because frankly it was a pain in the ass to find much current info out there aside from those 2 great write-ups.

The new service had been long-rumored around here. That the Thai authorities growing weary of the same stories I was reading online that there was no actual safe transportation to Siem Reap from Bangkok. It appears it was started and stopped at least once before, but I can’t really speak much on the history. I appears it was officially launched in Feb 2013.

We were able to buy tickets online at Thai Ticket Major after finding more info and deciding it was a legit ticket office. We could have picked up our tickets the morning of at the bus station or at any of their locations ahead of time. Since I wasn’t too sure about all the new places we’d be going that morning, I went ahead and picked them up when I was there to see a movie already (the office is next to the movie theater, though there are many others). They had my order, and printed out tickets for us.

You should see something like this if there are seats available. This is the trip you want.

You should see something like this if there are seats available. This is the trip you want.

Ordering was simply a matter of picking the date and destination in the form. Coming from BKK/All as the departure and selecting “Siemreapt / Sa Kaeo” as the destination. The bus leaves daily at 9am, and will show you only one option if there are any seat available on the day you selected. The 750 Baht price is the same for any day.

Now that we had our Cambodian Visa and bus tickets that took us all the way to Siem Reap in hand, all we needed to do was show up the morning of, and get on the bus when they said it was time!

Bus Station at Mo Chit

It seems every time I’m around Chatuchak park, someone is lost and looking for the bus station. It’s not really near the BTS and MRT stations there, but it’s on the other side of the parks to the Northwest. Mo Chit BTS station and Chatuchak MRT stations are next to one another by the park, so either train is fine to get there.

Any taxi in that area can get you to the terminal. Just say “Morchit Mai?” or show them a photo of the building and they will take you there. There’s probably a better way to say it, but my Thai is terrible.

Once at the station, you don’t need to go to the ticketing windows if you did what I did, but if you still need to pick up tickets, you’ll go to the correct window to get them as instructed on your ticket receipt or here on their map link.  It should say “The Transport Co. Ltd.” at the window.

Once you have your ticket you can do whatever you need to do before you leave. There is at least one 7-11 and several other vendors in the station, so you’ll have everything you forgot to bring or eat that early in the morning.

Mo Chit Terminal Platform 106

Your bus will meet you at platform 106 on the ground floor, and is easy to find.

A lady came around and checked tickets and marked our bags as we waited.

Once the bus was ready, they told us to get on. Ours was full that day, so we were glad we bought the tickets ahead of time. Pro tip: Seats C9 and D9 recline further and nobody is behind you. We were told ahead of time, and picked them. Best seats on the bus!

The bus itself was nice. They fed us a light snack and gave us water. After a couple of hours, we stopped for a smoke break at a gas station complex. The restroom on the bus is fine, but it’s easier to use one that isn’t bouncing down a Thai road.

Closer to the border, there was a short stop at a military checkpoint. A soldier got on and looked for Burmese stowaways according to the “Royal Thai Army Burma Task Force” sign. It took 30 seconds or so. The only other stop was a brief stop to resupply the bus with snacks and water. No untoward sales pitches or anything up to this point.

Border Crossings Shenanigans

Once in Aranyapathet, they did stop at a shady border stop to get suckers to do their visas. We already had our e-Visa, of course. We told a few passengers that this was not an official visa place, but those who didn’t know and bought the service here paid 1200 Baht for their Cambodian Visas (about $38 US).

The building was a block from the actual border, literally on the other side of the wall of their property, and the runners from this place just ran a scooter to the same place we’d be going next to get passports stamped, then returned from the other side of the wall.

Those of us who knew what was up just waited on the bus or got out to stretch legs. They didn’t like pictures taken inside the building. You can grab an arrival/departure card for Cambodia from them to fill out on the bus while you wait. This is the basic entry/exit form that most countries need when crossing their border (you should have the departure form from Thailand in your passport already when you entered).

After the runner got back with everyone else’s passports, the bus started up and went around the wall to the border to drop us off.

We were given neck badges so they knew how to find us in the chaos. There was not a lot of instruction from the bus people as to what to do, and several confused passengers asked me for help at different stages.

Stamp out of Thailand

We got funneled through to stamp out of Thailand. Get into the line for either Thai or foreigner passports, and it curves around the left side of the road into the building shown in the photos below. We got an extra line just for us with the neck badge people, so that went quick. No photos in here! Lots of signs say so.

Once out of the Thai exit checkpoint, you’re basically into the no-man’s land of debauchery that is the border area of Poipet. You can get into many casinos there for the several blocks between checking out of Thailand and before you ever get to a spot to officially enter Cambodia. All you need to do is walk over the bridge on the left side like in the photos. If you still need a visa, the real building is the small tan building next to the Khmer-style decoration over the road, on the right side. Photos in the section below for reference.

It was here that one begging kid approached us, and we were quick to shut that down. There were a few others milling about, but they seemed to ignore us when they saw our badges. I could be putting too much on that, but I got that impression from about a dozen people in this area: don’t mess with the people with the badges. Not because we are better or something, but because we already have transportation all the way to Siem Reap, so there are fewer scams to run on us.

Find Visa for Cambodia if still needed (Skip if e-Visa or you paid a tour office for one already)

The actual Cambodian visa office is here in this photo. If you need a visa for Cambodia, didn’t get an e-Visa, and made it past all the fake official visa offices, this is where you need to stop to get a Cambodian visa. It’s the only official place to get one at the Poipet border, and the only place you actually need to go if you made it this far without a visa. You won’t be able to enter the country at the next stop without one.

We waited with a few people who listened to us at the fake spot, and they got their visa here after filling out the quick form and paying the fee and bribe ($20 US + 100Baht). It took them about 10 minutes total. The official told me to just go up the road when I told him I had an e-Visa. He could do nothing for me there, and I needed nothing from him. The e-Visa bypasses this office and line. “GO DOWN STREET!” he begrudgingly told me without a way to get my extra money.

Stamp entry into Cambodia

This is where you need to go to officially enter the Kingdom of Cambodia. Walk further up the road on the right side of the street. It was further than I thought. Not that it was a difficult walk, but just that there were so many casinos and places to go in between that it was ridiculously insecure as a border. We did see our bus waiting by the side of the road in this area, and our driver waved us forward to the border station ahead.

We finally entered the cramped room to get stamped into Cambodia. There were 4 windows to get stamped. We waited to get stamped in with the others. The line moved reasonably fast, and we were probably there waiting for another 15 minutes at the most. I’m sure different days would make for different wait times.

The procedure is smile for the official, hand them your passport with Visa and completed arrival/departure card, and wait for them to scrutinize it while you stand there smiling and friendly. When directed, they’ll have you look into the camera for a photo, then direct you to use the scanner for fingerprinting. First the 4 closed fingers of your right hand, then right thumb, then repeat the process for the left hand.

Get Back on the Bus

Once stamped in and walking out the door, we just walked back the way we just came to where the bus was waiting for us. We got into the same seats we’d had since we left Bangkok, and settled in for the rest of the trip as the driver pushed forward and into Cambodia! You’ll see hordes of tuktuk drivers and other touts waiting for people to come through the gates into the country, but you’ll be passing by on the bus.

The remainder of the trip was uneventful. The countryside was beautiful. We had more food and water, and didn’t make any stops until we were pulling in front of a travel agency in Siem Reap.

We’d made a reservation with the wonderful Seven Candles Guesthouse that was recommended to us by our friend Iris (who we met at a wonderful guesthouse in Vientiane, Laos months ago). That place deserves a whole post in and of itself, so here’s a link to my review on TripAdvisor.

Seven Candles had a tuktuk driver waiting for us where the bus dropped us off at the Nattakan Cambodia Co. Ltd., just north of Pub Street in Siem Reap. The address is 22 Sivatha Road, if you want to let your guesthouse know where to pick you up. We arrived sometime between 4-5pm.

Once I saw the guy holding up a sign with my name on it, I knew we were good. The bus people immediately take your luggage out of the bays and carry it into the office, so you’re forced to walk through the throngs of tuktuk drivers determined to get you to wherever you’re going.

If you have a reservation, your hotel or guesthouse will pick you up free of charge, so don’t be shy about asking. Otherwise pick a guy and see which guest house he works for. He’ll be happy to get you there!

I’ll add a series of Cambodia bus posts here. This one is long enough as it is. But we had a great experience both from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and back from Phnom Penh to Bangkok on different companies.

Just a small taste of the magical scenery looking out the window of your bus bounding down the road through rural Cambodia.

Just a small taste of the magical scenery looking out the window of your bus bounding down the road through rural Cambodia.

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