Sunday, January 30, 2011

So I've been in heavy re-writing mode for Kenya, which drains most of my sanity and typing muscle strength (Epson salt does wonders). The plus side is that my mind has been drifting off to beautiful places, full of smiles and beautiful people...
And kids seeing their faces on a camera for the first time. I'd be excited too :)
For now, I'll be locked in my office, diligently typing away until my forehead decides to rest on my spacebar. Happy Almost-Monday! New content this week, pinky promise!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Kiwi Chronicles - Chapter 1, Part 1: Fiji

Note to reader: this is a the 2nd part of a continuing series entitled "The Kiwi Chronicles". To read the prologue, go here.

There's always something romantic about airplanes. It may be our infatuation with flying. Maybe, at one point in our evolution, we wanted to sprout wings and soar above the clouds. Instead, we decided that remaining earth-bound and flinging feces at each other was a more responsible evolutionary choice for our species. Not much has change, considering we still fling crap at each other. We just do it dressed in suits and housed in very impressive buildings while letting the poo-flingers play congressman or president. You know...nothing too important.

Regardless, flying is awesome. You're harboring all this excitement for the new places you're about to see and all the new adventures you're about to embark on. If you're flying over the ocean, you can see for hundreds of miles without seeing a single light. The earth seems so far away when you're up here. Left alone with your thoughts for 10 hours like that is enough to drive anyone mad. Thank goodness for international flights, because after two fairly strong vodka cranberries (I was 19 and naive and only now realize that it was a poor choice for my first legal drink) I was out for the night.

The next morning our pilot politely woke us up as we made our decent into Nadi, Fiji. It was still very early in the morning, so there wasn't much to see. It didn't matter...I was excited to get off this plane and be all touristy. As Emma and I made our way off the plane, the tropical air hit us like a brick wall. I had been to Hawaii when I was a kid, but the heat and humidity in Fiji was absolutely absurd. If you've never been to a tropical climate before, here's how you can acclimate yourself: crank your shower to as hot as it can go, and then lock yourself in the bathroom for a couple million years. To tell you the truth, I kinda liked it.

We grabbed our bags, made our way through customs, and headed for the taxi to take us to our hostel. Inside, I noticed the date and time on the meter. It read Tuesday at 4:30am. Whoa...wait a second. That can't be right. I left Sunday night, what the hell happened to Monday? I mean, I know we all hate Mondays, but I'm pretty sure we can't control time yet.

And you thought time travel was difficult...
As it turns out, we crossed the international date line overnight, and in turn lost a day. I know, it's weird, but here's a quick geography lesson to help the geographically impaired:

The International Date Line runs down the middle of the Pacific Ocean and is the imaginary line where the calendar resets for the next day. There are two boundaries like this: the date line, and wherever 24:00 local time occurs. The International Date Line is stationary and is responsible for keeping our calendar days moving. To put it in simpler terms: the countries directly west of the line are the first to experience the new day, while the countries directly to the east are the last. So, if it's 4:30AM in Fiji on Tuesday morning, it'll be 2:30AM in Hawaii on Monday. It's crazy, I know, but you learn quick when you're trying to call back home.

Anyways, after mourning the lost of Monday, we arrived at the 4:45AM...a good 5 hours before we could check in. Our plane was the only plane of the morning, and so there was a dozen other people there waiting to check in as well. The town was shut down and there was not much to do, so most of us locked up our luggage in the back room and lounged around on the deck.

5AM rolls around, with the sun just over the horizon, and I notice on the deck that one of the gentleman working there was opening up a stand inside. The entire lobby is open to the beach outside, and the deck and lobby combined was no bigger than a normal classroom, so we all noticed what he was doing. I noticed on the wall behind him that there were two beer taps, and immediately pieced everything together. This was the bar...and it was opening at 5 in the morning. Holy crap...

Now understand, I was 19 at the time. I wasn't legal age in the States and had never ordered a beer before, let alone drank one in public. But I was a new Ryan, full of adventure and excitement. And frankly, it doesn't get more exciting than drinking at 5 in the morning. Without hesitation, I dropped a whopping $1.50US for a pint of Fiji Bitter on tap. The legal age of drinking being 18 never tasted so good.

Within 15 minutes, Emma and I were sitting at a table with people from all around the globe playing King's Cup. Sharing cultures and making friends became exponentially easier with alcohol. That's when I also learned part of the reason Americans are hated so much. As it turns out, most of the Americans that travel are rude and obnoxious, and it only takes you a couple moments to pick out the Americans in the crowd. They're the group of kids with the giant neon-pink luggage and demanding service and attention from everyone. They also flash money around and say "like" alot, and once you notice that you can't ever un-notice it. Nails on a chalkboard...

Emma and I had a sound strategy, however, and it worked to our advantage: hang out with the Canadians. We were never like that at home, so we didn't fit in with those people anyways. And, since our accents are nearly identical, from far away we could blend it. It worked, and by the time we checked in we had a new group of friends to travel with for the week.

Our first stop was to go inland and have a Fijian 'spa' treatment (it's ok to laugh. You're just jealous). It was midday by the time we left the hostel, and we could finally see the island we were staying on:
You can see Tom Hanks and Wilson out there if you squint really hard
This place was crazy beautiful. Rivers and ponds were everywhere, and your eyes couldn't get use to the amount of green on everything. I mean, I did grow up in a desert, but regardless...there's a reason why people go to an island to escape. In the distance, you could see tiny islands everywhere. At one point, we stopped on a vista and try to count them all. I counted somewhere around 20....insane.

We were on the big island for the first couple days, and to get to our 'spa' we had to travel towards the mountains inland. Our taxi/landrover was plowing over rivers and plants at a very uncomfortable speed, dodging traffic and people with a beautiful finesse. Driving in the 3rd world is a demented sport, and I often caught our driver laughing as he narrowly missed school busses and ran stop signs. 
Someone should have bought a Landrover
Leading up to the 'spa', we turned off on this mud road. Yes, I typed that correctly, it wasn't a dirt road: it was mud. Mud that, when you stepped in it, your legs disappeared to your knees. Apparently it rains on an island....alot. We had a couple stuck cars on the way, but we didn't stop. We had a strict 'spa' appointment, and we weren't going to miss it.

There is a reason why I've been throwing 'spa' in quotations this whole post. Our car stopped in the middle of the forest and we were instructed to get out. Ahead of us was the 'spa': an old guard shack about 10' x 10'. The driver honked his horn and a very nice Fijian lady and her daughter came out. They lead us on this muddy path into the forest. Everyone's all excited, and I'm thinking "Oh great, I've been out of the country one day and I'm already getting kidnapped."

This is what heaven looks like. Ahhhh....
As I am here and not floating face-down in the Pacific Ocean, it is safe to say that I wasn't kidnapped. Far from it....I was lead to paradise. In the middle of these plains was this pool of crystal-clear water. We were instructed to hop in, and I was immediately greeted with the sensation of the most-perfect temperature of warm water. It turns out that this is an active volcanic area, and the springs in this area are all thermal-heated, and insanely healthy for you to boot.

The Fijian women then proceed to take mud from the bottom of the pool and coat you from head to toe in this volcanic soil, all while massaging your legs, arms, back and shoulders. You then wash off in the pool and relax for 20 minutes, enjoying the tropical air and the wonderful feeling of extreme relaxation. We chatted with her for a little bit before going back to our hostel.

Now, what would you pay for a treatment like this? $50? $100? And that's without the volcanic soil?

No joke, at the end of the 'spa' session, we each handed the lady $5.00US. Five dollars! I tried to tip her like 10 more, but she said no. It must be a pride thing, and you can tell when you're in the pool. Hand-lined rocks are all inside the water. The trees right next to it are planted and irrigated with precision. Everything is done with care and attention to detail. That's hospitality at its best. There's some lessons to be learned here, America. (I'm looking at you Red Roof Inn)

On our way home, all the exfoliation made us pretty hungry. So what do we do? Why, we go to McDonald's of course!
Nothing says "I Love You" like a Big Mac
The Big Mac I ordered tasted fresh...which is unheard of from the Golden Arches. More importantly, they were promoting their Valentine's Day 'Candle Light Dinner'. You're reading that right...McDonald's has a Candlelit dinner with a free sundae on Valentine's Day. I'm sure if any guy here were to take their date to McDonald's, they'd be promptly single the next day. Then again, this was a different country, and this burger was pretty damn good. Are the Golden Arches finally considered fine dining? Let that seep into your head for a bit.

Our first day in Fiji was pretty remarkable. I made some new friends, and came off that plane searching for memories to create. Not to mention, including hostel, taxi, food, beer, and a spa treatment, I only spent about $35. Fiji's definitely a bang for your buck. The people are very friendly, and to this day it is the only 3rd world country that I felt remotely safe in. The nit and gritty is pretty bad, but the people are good people. Generally, anywhere you go you're bound to meet good people. Sappy, but true. 

My next stop in Fiji would be the Beachcomber, an island that lives up to the reputation as 'party island of the Pacific.' Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Backpack, Backpack....Yeah!

I was watching Dora the Explorer with my baby niece the other day (none of that Go Diego crap....the old-school Dora and her boyfriend monkey, Boots), and we were just about to embark on our standard 3-part adventure when the backpack song came on. Now, if you aren't familiar with the show, each episode Boots and Dora go off on an adventure to help one of their friends or return some item to some person. It's your stereotypical fetch quest....for kids.
I wish my backpack could talk....
Right before you head off for your adventure, you 'gear up' by singing the backpack song, upon which the backpack starts spewing out boats and cars and an unrealistic amount of crap that you need for your adventure. Now, minus the fact that backpacks can't talk and I don't plan on fitting a Dodge Neon in one anytime soon, Dora teaches us travelers a very important lesson: what's on your back matters. And Swiper the Fox is a bloody thief...

Most of my adventures are very spontaneous, and I often have a 10-15 minute window to pack and leave. That leaves very little room for beef jerky shopping, so to help free up some time I keep a backpack that's always packed and ready to go. By the time you can say 'Swiper, no swiping' I'm out the door, kicking that fox in the face on the way out.

Now, I am a photographer, so this list isn't for everyone. But I've learned that, often, the photographer is the most useful person in a group of travelers. He's like a mobile REI, pulling out exactly what you need at exactly the right time. So take note, just in case the photographer of your group isn't as awesome as I am. And now.....

Ryan's Backpack Breakdown: Everything You Need to Travel in Style

The Backpack
Choosing a backpack is like choosing a soul-mate. You have to be compatible. You have to give and take. You have to learn to co-exist in cramped spaces for hours at a time. Sometimes, you have to hold an umbrella up to keep her out of the rain...because you're chivalrous, dammit, and that's why she married you in the first place. Plus, my backpacks last just as long as some marriages, so it's an investment in your collective future.

Mountainsmith Borealis AT Recycled Camera Bag, BlackMy backpack that I sport is the Mountainsmith Borealis AT Recycled Camera Bag. That bottom pouch can hold 2 DSLR's and a couple lenses, all in an easy-to-access fold out compartment. The top pouch isn't anything special....just a giant pouch to house all your knickknacks and snacks and such. You have a couple quick-access pockets on the front, as well as a tripod strap so you can look like Boba Fett from Star Wars

The two secret pockets make this essential to the traveling photographer. On the side is a laptop pouch, completely separate from everything else. This pouch must be a product of NASA design, because the design of it is mind-boggling. One day, I was bored and tried fitting 2 17" Macbooks (with cases) inside this pouch. Not only did they fit with room to spare, but upon placing it on my back I didn't feel like I was being backstabbed.

The second secret pocket is on the top and houses the extendable rain-poncho, protecting not only all the stuff in your bag but anyone else in a 3 foot radius. Remember how you're suppose to be chivalrous and shield the lady from the rain? Well, it's time to question who's wearing the pants in this relationship: you, or your Borealis. Oh, and it's standard issue for all Mountainsmith bags.

The Passport
This is self explanatory. Mine permanently resides in my backpack, just in case our overnight Vegas trip turns into a spontaneous flight to Canada or Cuba. There is no excuse for anyone not to have a passport. It's $100, lasts for 10 years, and is literally a ticket to go wherever you want. Instead of buying a keg shell, invest in your traveling future.

The iPad
Now hear me out...I am not an Apple snob. And yes, the iPad at times resembles a giant iPod touch. I wasn't a fan until I actually owned one and rejoiced in knowing that I could lose about 5 lbs from my back. Often, on the go, you don't need your laptop for anything other than checking emails, watching movies, and the occasional game of online Scrabble in the airport terminal. The iPad gets this done with style. For a photographer, it's essential. You can take your entire portfolio with you and show it to clients, rather than giving them a website to visit. I've gotten gigs simply because I was able to show them what I could do on the spot. And there's just something all too entertaining playing Flight Control while waiting for your plane to board.

The Camera
Pics or it didn't happen. You need proof that you were partying with Brad Dourif or that you saw the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile.

For most people, a standard point-and-shoot will get the job done. But now and days, the DSLR's are giving point-and-shoots huge competition in terms of price. And, for some God-awful reason, everyone claims they are a photographer....

In my bag, I carry a Canon EOS 7D 18 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3-inch LCD (Body Only). It's a $1000 little cheaper than the 5DmkII (I have one on the way....I'm giddy with joy right now) and has nearly all the same basic features. I won't plague you with photography lingo (maybe on a later post), but the 7D is fully capable of doing everything you need in terms of picture-taking. Oh, and the dual DIGIC 4 processor means that the thing is super fast. That'll come in handy when you're shooting at 8fps to capture the Weinermobile speeding by you on the interstate.

Most DSLR's this day are also very competent video cameras as well, and the 7D is no different. It's capable of 1080p24 as well as 720p60....all essential in capturing your memories in the glory of HD. The 7D's and 5D's are so good that a ton of filmmakers are turning to them for their productions. Now, they won't be producing RED quality footage anytime soon, but for $2000 you'll have a solid camera unit that can get a ton of stuff done.

Any Canon EOS camera is perfect for travelers. They're all rugged and take phenomenal pictures and video, and you can pick up the younger siblings of the 7D for as little as $400. Just don't buy Nikon...if you like Nikon, we are by law required to hate each other.

The Kindle
Kindle Wireless Reading Device, Wi-Fi, Graphite, 6" Display with New E Ink Pearl TechnologyFor me, the Kindle Wireless Reading Device was love at first sight. I was an early adopter of the 1st generation Kindle, back when eReaders were the size of real books and super geeky. In the past 3 years, Amazon has evolved the Kindle to near-perfection with this 3rd generation Kindle. 

When I accidentally rolled my car over last year and broke my first Kindle, I was heartbroken. I had hundreds of books yet to read, and I felt like I lost a member of the family. Each and every night before bed I would read for an hour or so. I did that for 2 years. And, just like that, she was gone...

So, when the 3rd generation Kindle was announced, I knew it was time to love again. Upon opening the package and booting it up for the first time, I noticed that it was downloading something....alot of something. I went to cook myself dinner, and when I came back I found all the books I had lost on my first Kindle. Not only that, but all my page numbers were saved as well as the goofy notes that I made in the margins. It was like my Kindle was resurrected from the dead and proceeded to go to a plastic surgeon. She was alive again, and sexier than ever.

Anyways, if you've never owned a Kindle, find a friend who has one and check them out. The eInk technology isn't perfect, but it's pretty damn close. It looks and feels like paper, which is essential. You're going to be waiting at bus stations and airport terminals alot. Reading from a computer screen will tire you out over time. That just isn't the case with the Kindle. It feels like a book....or a couple thousand books, as you can put that many into the little thing. It's big enough to read but small enough to fit snugly into your backpack, safe and sound. It disappears in your hands as you read, which is what it's designed to do: to keep you focused on the book itself. And, it's only $139. That's cheap.

Oh, and screw the Nook. Don't even compare the two, because there is no comparison. The Kindle is the super hot and ridiculously smart Harvard graduate who does Sports Illustrated swimsuit photoshoots to pay for school, while the Nook is like Bella from 'Twilight': dumb as a rock and as attractive as a root canal. You know how much I hate the Nook? I shot one....right in the face:

The Basics
Here's a list of basics...your 'survival' kit. Time to put those pockets to good use:
  • Flashlight. For spelunking.
  • Chapstick
  • Cell Phone Charger
  • Snacks: nuts, raisins, Spam (if you're feeling adventurous)
  • Mini toiletries. Gotta look good...or at least less homeless.
  • Pocket knife. Not safe for planes.
  • Bottle opener. Not safe for planes either. Even if you bring the beers...
  • iPod or music equivalent
  • Pen and paper. Archaic but classy.
  • Flares. For spelunking. 

And there you have it: everything you need for your backpack to be awesome. You'll be prepared to tackle any obstacle your adventures throw at you, and you'll be able to chronicle them with style. Naturally, cater to your immediate needs. It's probably a bad idea to take your iPad into the slums in Nairobi, so use your head. Love your backpack and everything inside. And feel free to sing the song if you'd like, I won't judge :)

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Kiwi Chronicles - Prologue

Prologue: I'm taking a page out of my good friend Aly's playbook and chronicling my study-abroad experience from 2008 with a weekly (or more frequent) edition of "The Kiwi Chronicles" (Her blog can be found here, she's much better than I am). 5 months living abroad provides you with a lifetime's worth of stories...but do not worry, I don't plan on writing Atlas Shrugged here. Enjoy!

In the fall of 2007, I was a pretty pissed-off sophomore in college, pursuing a degree in Electronic Media and Film and doing Theatre on the side. I was just getting off a lack-luster freshman year that consisted of Mountain Dew towers and sporadic midnight trips to the dorm laundry room.

Seriously, what was I thinking?
After changing my major from Computer Science to Film, I was seriously questioning what I wanted out of my life. I had given up financial security for a life of art and adventure...but I hadn't really had an adventure yet. This was all before the Orange Sweater and my philosophy to live every week as if it's shark week, and I was remarkably boring. One night, I was lying in my apartment (I shared a 3 bedroom with 5 guys and 2 girlfriends, it was absurd) staring at the ceiling, thinking about how I wanted to see myself in 5 years. Did I want stories of drunken shenanigans from a cramped Flagstaff apartment? I mean, the keg on the porch from Halloween was cool, but it didn't feel right. 

One day in November, I come home to my roommates with a packet in my hand. Earlier that day, I walked into the Center for International Studies office because I had gotten lost looking for a friend's dorm room. In the lobby they had a map full of little pins for all the places that people went to. There must have been a good thousand of them, and they were all over the globe. God bless my curious nature, because I marched up to the receptionist and questioned her to no end about studying abroad. I had heard about it, but I was too busy trying to find my own footing here at home to really care about 'seeing the world' or whatever. She said applications were due tomorrow. I sat down for an hour and filled one out for New Zealand (it was the farthest country away that I could go to), not really caring about programs or universities or anything. Flash-forward to me standing in my apartment living room, packet in hand. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey guys, so....I'm moving out next month.
Roommates: Why?
Me: I'm going to New Zealand.
Roommates: What for?
Me: Study abroad.
Roommates: How long?
Me: 5 months. I'll be back next Fall.
Roommates: What about us? You going to pay rent?
Me: No....
Roommates: *judging glares*

Yeah, I could really give a crap. I was sharing the smallest room with another guy, yet everyone paid the same for rent. It made no sense, and I think their rent went up to $250 from $200. Crybabies...

The next two months were really rough. I had to get a passport and student visa, along with a book's worth of paperwork to fill out. All the while I was packing my room, avoiding the topic of rent with my roommates, getting validations from my professors, and telling people that I would see them in 8 months or so. 

Also, packing your life into a suitcase for the first time is equally comical. You think of all the stuff you use at home in 5 months, then you think about how tiny that suitcase is, and how the hell you're going to fit your Xbox into it (I was a rookie...give me a break). You're doing research on 240v vs 120v and checking all your plugs to see if they are compatible. I bought this terrible voltage converter for my laptop....the thing weighed 10 lbs and was the size of a small speaker. I didn't use it once, and I'm sure it's rotting in some hostel somewhere. 

It all becomes real when your visa comes back in the mail. To get a student visa, you need a booked flight, enough money to survive, an acceptance letter and schedule from your host university, and all your shots taken care of. It's your stamp of approval, and all you need to do is wait to leave. This all came back with one month to go.

That same month, my grandmother died. It was the first death in the family in my recent memory, and I definitely took it pretty hard. I was still in Flagstaff, packing the last of my stuff to put into storage back home. A huge snowstorm was rolling in, and I got the call that my grandmother was getting airlifted to Phoenix. I was naive enough to think that she would be ok, but I made the trip down anyways because I heard there was a Goo Goo Dolls concert that night and I needed to un-wind from packing. Needless to say, I wasn't going to a concert that night....

That drive back up to Flagstaff was unbearably long. I went from hysterical laughing to crying to screaming the whole way up. The snow was piling up, and I just dodged a truck jack-knifing on the highway. I knew then that I had a guardian angel looking out for me, and I would definitely need her for the following years to come.

Up in Flagstaff, it's tradition to go sledding on the first snow of the season....especially at night. The lights of the city light up the sky a bright orange, letting you hit the on-campus slopes at the absurd hours of the early morning. My friends were heckling me to come out, so I did. I sure as hell wasn't going to bed anytime soon. After wiping the tears away, I snow-suited up and hit the slopes.
Gotta pose with that goofy smile of mine...
Although my friends didn't know what I just got back from, the universe sure as hell did, and gave me one of the best nights of my life. Sledding under the night lights with friends let me know that, no matter what adventures or adversity life throws your way, you'll always find a way to get out alright. That mantra got me out of some tough spots, and gave me the confidence to take some leaps that I would have never done on my own.

A couple days later, I was back home killing time till my flight left. I attended a funeral, drove up the coast of California with my sister, and helped tear down my old movie theater with some old friends.
Yeah, that's me chucking a tool box off a movie theater
The days went by fast knowing I wasn't going back to NAU till August. Before I knew it, I was sitting in the airport watching the 16-0 Patriots lose to the Giants, waiting for my flight with Emma (her and I were going to the same university in New Zealand, so we decided to fly together). I was not prepared for this all.

Bust out your nearest map or globe (Google Earth is perfectly acceptable), because we're going to discuss geography here. The longest non-stop flight that this planet has to offer us is from Newark to Singapore, ringing in at 18hrs and 50mins. The flight from Los Angeles to Auckland weighs in at 14 hours. I know, I know, it's nearly 5 hours shorter than the Singapore flight. But when your first international flight is more than half a day, you naturally start to freak yourself out. That lead to a pre-semester vacation in Fiji, which was on the way to Auckland and only 10 hours from LA. Best part is the stop-over doesn't cost next time you're flying to Australia or New Zealand from the good ol' USA, make a stop in the South Pacific.

Our boarding call was broadcast over the intercom, and me and Emma grabbed our backpacks. It was dark outside, with our plane illuminated by the runway lights. If I had known that I was embarking on one of the defining adventures of my life, I'm not sure I would have gotten on that plane. I was leaving everything safe and familiar behind for the first time in my life. Up to that point, I didn't take risks. I was methodical in doing what was expected and required of me. I didn't stand out in a crowd, and I liked it that way. Lucky for me, I was just ignorant enough to have no idea what I was getting myself into. I would wake up 10 hours (and a whole day because of the International Date Line) later in Fiji, and, with some new friends by my side, I would finally know what it's like to truly live adventurously.

Next: Chapter 1 - Fiji

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Surviving an Awkward Situation

Weddings always force me to re-evaluate my position and path in life. Often, if you know the bride and groom really well, you probably know the vast majority of the wedding guests pretty well too. And, if you are out of school, chances are you haven't seen these people in months or even it's only natural to be concerned with how slick you look in a tuxedo.

I'm the idiot on the left, thinking that big cameras were cool at a wedding...

Now, I know you're stunned by the awesome I'm sporting right now, but if you look deep into my thoughtful gaze, you'll see a mind that's going a mile a minute. These are people I haven't seen in months, and they weren't there for the crazy and turbulent times that I've had since graduation. Most didn't know that I almost died in a car accident, or that I was actually doing something in my field of work (for some reason, that's unheard of for a film person).

It's not that they don't care as much as they just weren't there. They all had lives to live, and the college lifestyle often doesn't change from year to year. You could pluck the kids out of the bunch who were in school versus the ones who weren't...the difference is astounding. I didn't feel like I belonged anymore, that I was with a group of strangers. Thank God I'm a world traveler, right?

If traveling has taught me anything, it's how to be comfortable in a group of strangers. Not just the I'm just here to get through the day comfortable, but legitimately breaking the ice and feeling as if I belonged there all along.

You have to, because 99% of the time abroad you will be out of your comfort zone. You'll know maybe 1 or 2 souls, and if you're going to enjoy yourself at all you better start making friends. Best part is....after being out of your comfort zone for so long, you'll naturally start doing this. It's sink or swim, and nothing is worse than being 6,000 miles away and feeling all alone.

At this wedding, I had never felt so uncomfortable in a group of friends before. I recognized these people, but I didn't know them like I use to. I felt lonely, and it only took me a moment of distress to kick my personality into travel mode. Needless to say, I was able to turn an awkward weekend into a great memory to enjoy for years to come (cue Eve 6 music).

Now if you're as lazy as I am, you kinda want a list of advice for turning any awkward situation around. I know what you want, and lucky for you I spent the weekend creating a list on how to survive your next awkward situation. Next time you're traveling to far away places, or you're at a new job in an office full of strangers, or at a wedding feeling all weird and out of place, remember this blog. Print this out, pull it out of your pocket, read it, and man up. Oh, and tell your friends how blogging's making a comeback and refer them this way :)

And now.....

How to Survive an Awkward Situation
  • Looks are everything when it comes to first impressions, so dress to kill
  • Pack light. You don't need that's your security blanket.
  • Call mom, but only once. Her voice will remind you that home's not as far away as it seems.
  • Money isn't that important, so stop stressing over how much your spending. The memories are always worth it.
  • Dance often and dance hard. People will be jealous of your skills and courage.
  • Be unique. They won't remember the polite, reserved one. They'll remember the kid dancing with the vuvuzela.
  • Say what you need to say, and say it often. Chances are you won't see most of these people again, so let that girl know how much you like her knee-high boots.
  • Laugh till it hurts. Laughing subliminally tells people that you're better than they are, and they'll talk to you to find out why.
  • Put the beer down. 'Liquid courage' is code for 'looking like a creep'
  • Be the last one to leave. You'll collect a scrapbook of last looks....just in case you really don't see these people again.
The biggest myth in the world is the idea that friendships are dependent on the time spent with each other. I don't clock-in when I go to the bars with my buddies and clock-out when I pass out on their couch. Friendships can be made in an hour at an airport bar and can last forever even if you never see them again. It's all about the impression you make while you're with them. That's what really counts. It's like a money-back guarantee: if I never see these people again, they are guaranteed to have the awesome memory of the last time they saw me.

My travels have blessed me with countless friends because I was able to break out of my shell, stop being proper and start being awesome. People are attracted to matter where you go. So, what's your excuse for doing anything else?