Category Archives: Expat life

World Travel without Moving

Some of you may have noticed that I’m currently not doing a lot of exotic travel. In fact, that’s okay. Sometimes you have to sit in a place in order to understand things better.

Lao Tzu said that “Without opening your door, you can see the world” and he said it way before Google Street View or virtual travel were even a remote possibility. What he meant by this can be argued from quite a few different directions, but what I’ve always thought he was saying was that sometimes it’s important to sit still in one place and stop endlessly rushing from one place to another. Watch the seasons change, see the way people live.

I like to think of the Tao Te Ching as a sort of Vagabond Bible. I first discovered it while I was hitching across the Southwest USA in 1997. Sitting by the side of the road, watching cars pass by, the words spoke to me. The idea of wu wei especially resonated…this idea of do nothingness. So I sat and I waited and I watched some deer come and drink from the Colorado river. I watched a gorgeous sunset. Then a big RV came along and two very kind old people offered me a lift, a sandwich, and a beer. Imagine if I would have just walked to pass the time. Maybe I would have seen something else, or maybe I would have just worn myself out walking and gotten pissed off that no one picked me up. Either way, I’m glad I stayed put and did nothing for a while.
Take time to sleep on the watermelons

And that is sort of what I am doing now. I’m in Manisa, Turkey. Making friends, working, navigating the bureaucracy to get a residence permit so I can stay legally for a while, and learning as I go.

So, to those of you who want to see new travel adventures every day, I’m afraid you might be a bit disappointed.

However, instead, I am going to continue to share my past adventures, find great travel gear and services to recommend such as the World Nomads Travel Insurance (it’s cheap, reliable, and worth every penny- just click on the ad above and have a peek at how much they offer you-Travel insurance from , continue to write about great vagabonds of the past, and share the hard won travel tips and travel advice which I’ve picked up along the way (hopefully you caught the important piece of advice above, if not, be sure to reread the part about wu wei.

And, of course, I am going to write about life here in Turkey, my small adventures in Manisa and the surroundings, and probably a bunch of other things as well.

I just felt like it is important to let you guys know about it. If you are taking any great travels and want to share them with readers at Vagobond, please just use the submit travel news or stories button and let me know about them so I can share them.

Got any great travel stories?

Culture Shock – World Travel Syndrome

Culture shock is something that all world travelers are familiar with, but not everyone knows how to deal with it. If you don’t believe me, here is a list of some of the best travel sites out there – go  and see what they are doing, be sure to have a look at  world travel stories.

Culture Shock

culture shock
It happens to everyone, even the most seasoned travelers as you will see below.

It is common to experience culture shock when living in a foreign country for an extended period of time. Culture shock is defined as the feeling of disorientation, insecurity, and anxiety one may feel in unfamiliar surroundings. Values, behaviors, and social customs we routinely take for granted may no longer serve us in our new environment.

Arriving in Morocco, I was overwhelmed. I’d spent the day hitch hiking without success in Spain, found all the guesthouses and hotels in Tarifa closed, and on a whim, I bought a ferry ticket to Tangier since at least the ferry office was open. On the ferry, I tried to remember a little bit of Arabic, decided to not stay in Tangier since a traveler in Valencia a few nights before had told me it was full of thieves and touts, and since a friend had told me Fez was wonderful, I decided I would head there…

Getting off the ferry in Tangier I was accosted by touts, I found a taxi (rather the driver harassed me long enough that I decided to hire him) and I went straight to the train station. A late night train and a 3 am arrival in Fes where I was accosted by more touts and finally I found my way to Bab Boujaloud the next day, booked a cheap room, and locked myself in. Over the next few days, I found myself avoiding Moroccans, not ordering food that I didn’t know, and in general acting like a suspicious and unhappy guy. This was culture shock.

At the time, I can tell you that if you had suggested that a year and a half later I would be living in Fez, married to a sweet Moroccan girl, and building a life here, I would have told you that you were nuts. And maybe you are, I certainly must be, but here I am, none the less. And while I still periodically experience small bouts of culture shock, the initial spell wore off after about a week in country….

Denis Pulis from Travel With DenDen found more than she expected as she moved from Malta to Switzerland:

When approximately ten months ago I announced to my friends and family that I was moving to Zurich, Switzerland, I was greeted by the usual Swiss stereotypes. ‘It must be squeaky clean and full of green spaces’, one friend commented. ‘I love Swiss Chocolate!’ another one exclaimed enthusiastically. ‘Send me some when you get there.’ My parents were simply grateful that I wasn’t going to go to South Korea or Japan, as I had previously wanted. ‘It’s only two hours away’, my mother said, breathing a long sigh of relief. ‘I’ll try and come visit’, my dad said. ‘I love nature’.

Precisely because of the fact that Switzerland and Malta were so close, before boarding that plane bound North, I had had no expectations. It’s Switzerland, for god’s sake, not Afghanistan, I had found myself thinking – True to some extent, but so deceiving on many others. Why? Because now, 10 months after the day I touched down on Swiss soil, I know clearly that what I had thought to be a familiar place was not familiar at all. I discovered that the land of chocolate, cheese, friendly smiles, impeccable service and picture perfect views is the land of the tourist. The land of the immigrant is something else entirely. I discovered strange things, seemingly ridiculous things, and things which were only skin deep. The following are my thoughts and impressions of what it really means to live among the Swiss (in Zurich, in my case).

And culture shock can go both directions as Gayle Pescud found when she contemplates returning back home from her life in Ghana in a post titled The Topless Insanity of Itchy Appreciation

Find the cheapest flights with the Vagobond Flight Tool and find hotels worldwide with the Vagobond Hotel Search Engine

While Sasha writes about the difficulties of food appreciation and doing what you say you will do when that food is actually composed of a partially developed duck fetus in a partially cooked egg in Vietnam.

baloot, culture shock Check out this description at BarefootInk and see if it makes you hungry:

I am one who is true to my word… today in Vietnam I found this delicacy – which is perhaps not exactly the same as Balut – but close enough to count I’m sure. In Vietnam it is called Hot Vit Lon… and basically it is a fertilised duck egg with a baby duck inside. This egg is then boiled, the top is cracked off and the liquid (embryonic fluid I guess) is then drained into a cup and shot down by the consumer – in this case, me.

But the shock of a culture isn’t always bad, sometimes it’s just that it is different as Katya from True Bulgaria writes

Have you seen a real Gypsy camp?
Small huts made of almost anything – blankets, carton boxes, plastic bags…
Small fires smoking here and there…
Horses calmly grazing…
Garbage scattered everywhere…
Kids running around bare feet…
Friendly Gypsies, proud to live in the camp…
Large, empty, rusty tin is the stove and the heating…
The next day a popular pop-folk star was going to sing at a wedding in the camp for a wage of 1000 euro per hour…

Of course, most of culture shock is simply a matter of the patterns we’ve learned not being the same in a new place. This can be seen at My Bella Vita as Cherrye undergoes a Calabria checkup in ways she never imagined

It was time. In fact, it was past time-way past time-for my annual gynecological check up. So, like any modest American girl, I made my appointment, then dreaded the day and counted the hours until my visit. I always postponed and procrastinated this ever-so-invasive exam in America-where they spoke English-so you can imagine I was none too thrilled with this new addition in my cultural experience repotiore .

You see. I had been to a Calabrian doctor’s appointment before so I knew the doctor’s office, complete with desk, computer and phone and the Examining Room were one in the same. I’d also been warned not to expect a private changing closet, stiff little pink paper gown or a tissue-blanket to cover my legs.

I was prepared. Kind of …

Calabria check up, culture shock
And Culture Shock isn’t just shocking at the doctor’s office, it can also affect you with something as simple as making lunch…

Every morning during the “vamos a la escuela” rush, I yearn for the simplicity of making the kid’s lunch back in California. I used to mindlessly throw together ham and cheese sandwiches, fill little containers with granola and a banana. Now, after living in Spain for over a year, I think about preparing three-course meals – a primero, segundo y postre. That is standard for brown baggers and school-cooked meals. And forget brown bags. Here kids bring three-tiered insulated containers to transport their lunch. And, don’t forget the mini bottle of olive oil for their primero.
Read the rest at

culture shock
From the biggest countries to the smallest countries, travelers always run the risk of the dreaded Culture Shock, even in the countries with the heaviest monarchs…

Tonga, or Pule?anga Fakatu?i ?o Tonga, is the only monarchy in the Pacific. A constitutional monarchy in theory, a bit more feudal in reality. Former king, Taufa’ahau Tupou IV was once famous for being the world’s heaviest monarch.

See what Sophie found in her Travels in Tonga

And then there is Japan, the Hermit Kingdom. Todd over at Todd’s Wanderings gives us the inside scoop on what it’s like to be The Hermit in Seclusion in the Hermit Kingdom.

Japan can be a difficult place to navigate. Rules about in groups, out groups, superiors and juniors provide fertile ground for new visitors to misstep and offend the wrong person. Five years in Japan had taught me a lot about how to manage relationship, but what do you when you incur the hatred of a Buddhist Monk on the island of Shikoku?


Japan, travel, culture shock
Finally, here are some common sense tips for how to overcome culture shock from Wikihow


Morocco’s Unseen Mountains and Rivers

Morocco towns and riversSometimes the most rewarding trips are close to home. Lately, I’ve been feeling the itch to travel but have been a bit stuck at home because of family responsibilities, work and the weather. Yesterday, though I decided that I needed to take some time to go on a short jaunt from the town I live in, Sefrou, Morocco – a medium sized city in the Middle Atlas Mountains of North Africa.

My wife hates to travel this way, which is perhaps why neither of us have a truly satisfying time when we travel together – I don’t like to make plans. Instead, I walked down to the grand taxi plaza in the center of Sefrou (there are two others that serve other destinations but I’d never taken a taxi from this one) and I stood around for a while seeing if I could figure out where they were going. A taxi plaza is a nice place to loiter as everyone assumes you are waiting for a taxi to fill up and so you can just sit and people watch to your hearts content.

Morocco townsI heard that one destination was Ribat El Kheir, a berber town I’d heard of but not been to and the other seemed to be Asouta – more people were going there it seemed so I called my wife and asked her. Her response (about what I expected) “No, don’t go there, there’s nothing there, it’s too far, you won’t find a taxi back in the afternoon, the people there like to stare.” Oops – I probably shouldn’t have called. Once I promised her I wouldn’t go to this mysterious destination (this time) I jumped in the wait for the Ribat el Kheir taxi to fill up (since I hadn’t said anything about that destination and so hadn’t had to make any promises about it.)

I didn’t know how far or how long, but it was easy to find out it was 20 dirham which probably meant it was about twice the distance to Fes (10 dirham). After about 20 minutes, the taxi was filled with me and six other men. I wondered if I would be able to find a taxi back but knew that even if I didn’t I would be able to find a hotel, if they had hotels, but even if they didn’t I would be able to find a Moroccan family that would accept a donation in return for letting me sleep on a couch in their salon – I hoped.

Moroccan MountainsI had no idea what to expect. I knew a Peace Corps Volunteer last year who worked with a group of women in Ribat el Kheir but aside from that, I knew nothing. The taxi ride took a little over an hour and let me tell you – it blew my mind. The ride to the village of Azzabba was fairly typical of the scenery around Sefrou high desert foothills, cactus, rocky soil, olive trees and not much else – but then the Middle Atlas came into view.

A bit of research when I got home means that you get to hear more detail than I knew as I saw things. Jebel Bou Iblane is the second highest mountain in Morocco and sits 3174 meters high and covered with snow. Like a small white lion, she crouched over the scenery.

Moroccan RiversBut there was more. Soon we came to an astoundingly large river. The Sebou River begins in this region and then winds more than 600 kilometers to the Atlantic Ocean. It is one of the largest rivers in Morocco. Not only that, but it has carved out a sort of mini Grand Canyon that completely astounded me with massive red cliffs, rugged valleys, and more. Sadly, the Sebou is one of the most polluted rivers in the region due to open sewage and industrial waste pouring into it along its entire length. A beautiful river and a huge tragedy all in one. The stretch of the river I saw looked perfect for kayaking, rafting, fishing and more – but not a soul was doing anything but washing clothes along the banks.An historical note, the Sebou River was actually chronicled by the Roman Pliny the Elder.

A short distance further we passed through the city of El Menzel – which I visited later in the day – briefly.

Jebel Bou Inana MountainAbout forty more minutes and we reached the surprisingly busy Taxi plaza of Ribat el Kheir. Both Ribat el Kheir and El Menzel had what looked like bright shiny new banks with bright shiny ATM machines – just a few years ago, finding an ATM machine in cities this size was impossible in Morocco, but it just goes to show how quickly this country is changing – though sometimes it’s hard to tell when you are living in it.

Ribat El Kheir is a name that was given to the town as punishment when the Berber residents rebelled against the former king Hassan II in July of 1971 – obviously, their coup failed. Prior to that it was called (and still is called by the residents) Ahermoumou or small white lion in Tamazight. The views of Jebel Bou Iblane and the Zloul Valley were nothing less than astounding. I’m not sure how to reach the mountain, but perhaps a later expedition will clear that up.

Women's Artisanal in MoroccoA shopkeeper I met told me that the city had once been an important stopping point for the railroad, but I saw no signs of it. Later research showed that a narrow gauge railway had run from 1925 until an unknown time when it was destroyed. Not sure if that was in a Berber uprising or perhaps World War II or even later.

A bit of hiking around and searching led me to the women’s artisanal and retail outlet that my friend the Peace Corps Volunteer had helped to organize and set up. A woman named Foudia gave me a tour, showed me how the rugs and textiles are made and told me the prices. Sadly, I hadn’t brought enough money with me but the absolutuely gorgeous rugs ranged from 300-1000 dirham ($45-$130) and were well worth the price. Peace Corps volunteers have done incredible work in Morocco but I’ve heard that this kind of economic training has been discontinued and instead the Peace Corps is focusing on youth development, which pretty much means English classes. I find that very sad.

dream house in Ribat el KheirI found my dream house in Ribat el Kheir, which is most likely owned by the richest person in the town. I wandered the many small streets, hiked a bit on the rough slopes and enjoyed the awesome views before climbing into a van heading to El Menzel. Designed to hold 12-15 people, it was soon filled with about 25 and we kept stopping along the way. Just 6 dirham, but tight, uncomfortable, and very slow since we stopped often for new passengers. A real life experience, that’s for sure.

El Menzel looked interesting but with daylight fading, I wasn’t sure how much longer the taxis would run to Sefrou and I didn’t want to upset my wife by telling her I’d be staying in this village for the night, though I wouldn’t have minded if I had gotten stuck there. I found a small town of nice parks and unlike Sefrou, there were plenty of spaces to sit on benches surrounded by plants and flowers. I don’t really know what is wrong with Sefrou – I suppose it is a victim of too rapid growth but every bench is quickly torn apart and the huge amount of garbage makes the plants not as enjoyable as in other places.

Moroccan sunset from Grand TaxiI found a very comfortable cafe (again, why can’t I find one like this in Sefrou?) enjoyed a coffee for five dirham and then wandered the streets where I found one of my favorite food carts, Baboush – African Snails in herbal broth! Mmmmm.
I think that snails would be considered haram by other Muslims, but North Africans love them and I have to admit – so do I, but since I have no religious prohibitions- it’s all about the taste. Finally, I grabbed a bag of popcorn from another street vendor and bought the two front seats of a taxi. Once four guys had filled the back seat, the driver got in and we drove off – the cost for my luxurious occupation of the entire front seat 26 dirham or about $3 versus $1.50 to have some other guy crammed in next to me. Well worth it as I snapped pictures of the canyons, the Sebou River, and the sunset on the way home.

Getting back home, my wife was just coming back from her mom’s house with the baby “Did you hitchhike? Where did you go?” She asked me.

“Oh, I just took a little drive.” I told her.