All I Could Jet 2010

After more than 39 hours in the air and nearly 19,000 miles flown across 15 flights I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of Jet Blue’s All You Can Jet promotion. With that much flying I had the in-flight commercials memorized and had no problem deciding what snacks to choose (plantain chips are interesting but you can’t go wrong with the Munchies Mix).

I touched down in eight states and three countries over the course of 29 days this fall. Although it could be argued that this promotion is environmentally irresponsible, I’ve been consoling my guilt by remembering that these flights would have left even without the additional AYCJ passengers. You can see my route below—highlights were definitely Washington D.C. and Colombia but I enjoyed seeing family, friends and sights in all of my destinations.

All You Can Jet 2010 Route

Chicago Satsang

Posted by on Oct 21, 2008 in Chicago, India, Post-Trip | No Comments

Sunday night I got a little travel fix, or at least an international culture fix. The girlfriend of one of my old high school friends is planning a trip to Southern India and she was interested in ashrams. When she discovered that I spent eight days at Sivinanda Ashram in Nyer Dam on my last trip she was excited. She frequently attends satsang at the Chicago chapter of the organization, Sivinanda Yoga Vedanta Center, on the North side. When she invited me to satsang on Sunday I jumped at the chance to do something that related to travel and to see how the service compared to the ones I was forcibly waken up at 5am for in India.

The service consists of thirty minutes of meditation followed by chanting and singing. Some of the same chants that you hear in my videos from Nyer Dam were used on Sunday night. Sitting indoors on carpet with ten people was a little different than sitting outside at dawn with seventy people but it was similar enough to leave me with a smile, remembering the good parts of my yoga vacation in India. Sivinanda has centers all over the world and satsang is usually free so if any of you are interested in seeing what it’s like I suggest you go for it. I am not a religious person but I do find the cultural aspects of satsang interesting. Just because we’re not on the road doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the effort to find some culture when we can.

Living in Chicago

Posted by on Oct 21, 2008 in Chicago, Post-Trip | 5 Comments

It’s time to update when strangers are leaving posts asking if you’re still alive. I am still alive but a lot has changed since I got home over a year ago. I was waiting to write a long, insightful post but it never happened. You might laugh when I say that I’m a very private and cautious person, but I am and when I got home and was deciding if I should freelance or look for a full time graphic design job I felt it best to keep my feelings private from the internet.

I have some great clients and decided to stick with freelance, working for myself in my home, rather than looking for an eight to seven job (it’s rarely 9?5 in the design world!). That could change at some point but I’m enjoying the freedom working for myself brings. Most of you know that I lived at home to save money to travel after university and then spent 2004?2007 traveling or preparing to travel. Because of that I never got my own apartment or made any long-term commitments (like a lease or a phone contract) because I always intended to leave on another trip. I just moved into a new place with two bedrooms and a porch all to myself in Chicago so I’m definitely settled in for a little while. For the first time I’ve had the space to unpack my souvenirs and put them out on display.

For the first year I was home I didn’t miss travel as much as you would think. I missed the excitement of seeing new things and I missed drawing in my sketchbook but I didn’t miss bucket showers on the roof of a hotel in Moyale Kenya or a 30-hour bus ride through rural China. Now I do. Traveling has changed my life in an amazing way but it also sometimes makes it harder to relate to ‘normal’ people back home. For the first six months after I got back literally every response that came to mind when making small talk was a story from one of my trips. I’ve finally gotten the impulse to talk about my experiences under control, and meeting other travelers in Chicago has helped give me an outlet to talk when I need to.

I’ve kept in touch with a number of people I traveled with but I’ve also spent time with some of my readers who passed through town. David, who I couchsurfed with in China, came into town a few months ago and returned my travel towel which I had left at his place in October 2006. I met another traveler who’s story was eerily similar to mine on Boots N’ All and we’ve traded war stories over beers this year. I’ve also decided to pay back the couchsurfing community by opening my couch to other travelers. I’m a little cautious of who I let stay and plan to take it slow. My first CSers will be two Canadians who apparently don’t mind sleeping on wood floors in third story walk ups. I’ve received a number of requests, but no one has traveled to more than a handful of countries. I’ve always envisioned meeting other travelers like myself on Couchsurfing but I’ve come to realize that not that many Couchsurfers have traveled to 50 countries and those that have aren’t stopping in Chicago.

I do intend to keep updating this site (I’ve redesigned it and just need to find the time to program) and have a lot of content, advice in particular, that I want to post. Many travelers continue to email me for help with their upcoming trips and I’d like to provide a better resource for them with all of the common questions I see. I realize that my suddenly mundane existence might disappoint some of you, but it’s not possible to travel non stop without settling down either on the road or back home to recharge. I’m certainly not done traveling, you know me, but it’s time to restock my bank accounts and reconnect with my friends and family.

Me-go Mix: Track 9

Posted by on Sep 15, 2008 in Madagascar, Post-Trip | No Comments

Me-go Mix: Track 9
“Analakely” — Lola

To download using Windows “right click” and save to disk. Mac users, you know what to do.

The sprawling market at the end of Analakely Street in downtown Antananarivo

Sometimes when you’re traveling in a country you hear a handful of popular songs over and over. Lola’s songs were everywhere in Madagascar. When you don’t speak the language it can be hard to figure out what you’re listening to, but if you’re willing to engage in a little pantomime you can usually figure it out. The song I heard the most in Madagascar was “I Gaskara”, which I’ve already posted. It started playing in a craft shop in Ambostra and, after pointed to my ear and into the air, the woman started singing the song and then wrote the name down on a piece of paper for me.

I didn’t find many music shops until I got back to the capital, where there are stands of CD sellers lining Analakely street, the main thoroughfare in town. The stands had a lot of strange music, including old Billy Joel CDs and Gospel recordings. I was surprised to find no Lola CDs for sale on the street and started to ask around. One man with a bag full of CDs came up with a Lola CD which was obviously pirated and began to sing Lola’s “Manahirana” to me. The serenade attracted a crowd of young men selling a variety of cheap plastic goods who surrounded me and joined in. Buying CDs off street sellers is always a risk because you never know what’s on the disc. In this case I bargained him down to 1/4th his asking price, an amount I didn’t mind losing if the CD was blank.

When I popped it into my laptop back at the hotel I discovered it wasn’t blank, but it was a VCD disc with various artists including Lola, but not the Lola song I was looking for. The next day I tracked down a brick and mortar record store carrying real Lola CDs on Analakely Street near the market (a photo of the store is in this post). I was shocked at the price of CDs, which were cheaper than the U.S. but too expensive for a local to afford. Two Mormon missionaries dressed in black suits and ties came in and we discussed the price of CDs. In my travels I often run across missionaries, but the ones from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints always lend a bit of surrealness to my surroundings. Young men dressed in suits, pasty white and always in pairs, they tend to stick out even in the United States so you can imagine how strange they would look in a record shop in Madagascar on a 90 degree day. I ended up getting a full Lola CD (not VCD!), and having the opportunity to listen to it before I handed over my money. “Analakely” is the third, and last, Lola song on my mix. Enjoy!

Published in Everywhere Magazine

Posted by on Aug 8, 2008 in Madagascar, Post-Trip | 7 Comments

The email just came… my photo of a lemur in Isialo National Park in Madagascar will definitely be in Issue #4 of Everywhere Magazine! I haven’t seen a publication date for the issue yet (I’m guessing August/September) but you can catch a sneak peek or click through the whole issue here. My photo is toward the end of the National Parks stories on a spread with a bunch of wildlife shots. Despite the fact that, as a graphic designer, I’ve had the opportunity to have my photos and illustrations in numerous books and even photoshop my face into a spread or two this is still very exciting.

Ghostvoting for Obama

Posted by on Jun 4, 2008 in Post-Trip | 5 Comments

I was searching for an email address last night and came across this appropriate email from my dad, who passed away almost three years ago.

It is over. Kerry conceded this afternoon. He couldn’t win Ohio even with the provisional ballots yet to be counted. Bush gave his triumphant winning speech.

The stock market went up dramatically today. The really big winners were the oil and drug company stocks. They will benefit greatly from the Bush victory. I guess that Bush subscribes to the trickle down theory that if these industries do well it will somehow benefit everyone.

At least Crane is out and we will have a great new senator from Illinois (Obama).


At the time of the 2004 U.S. election I was traveling by bus on dirt roads from Jinghong, China to the Vietnamese border. Besides a horrible Danielle Steel novel, the only thing that helped pass the time was the anticipation of election results once I got back to civilization. Email and TV access in SaPa, Vietnam was scarce and my dad sent me updates on the whole vote counting mess. I knew about Obama from his campaigning before I left for phase I of my trip and I was just as excited to see him elected as I was the see my long-time nemesis Phil Crane defeated.

More recently, I had some long conversations with locals in Africa who were incredibly excited about Obama. A 15 year-old Kenyan boy asked me about the odds of him winning the Democratic nomination and we talked about racism vs sexism in the U.S. The conversation was one of the few highlights of my overland trip in a cage from the Ethiopian border to Nairobi. All of Kenya must be going nuts right now (in a good, non-riot way) with the news that Obama is the presumptive nominee. When entering Kenya from Uganda the border guard noticed my place of birth on my passport (Illinois) and with a big grin asked me to tell Barack she said hello.

My dad would have loved this election and I’m sorry he won’t be able to cast a vote in November. He always supported my interest in politics and never discouraged me from setting out a democratic-themed pumpkin on Halloween in my heavily Republican town. I was only 15 in the picture below, and wasn’t old enough to vote for either candidate on my pumpkin but today I feel the same sense of excitement and hope for the future of U.S. politics that I felt back then.

What Book?

Posted by on May 29, 2008 in Post-Trip, Travel Talk | 11 Comments

One thing I hear all the time is “when are you going to write a book?” I’m sure most RTW travelers hear similar requests and reply with the same ambivalence as I do. Every once in a while I ask what kind of book they suggest I write and I’ve been surprised by the answer.

One would assume that they mean a book about my travels, maybe an anthology of short stories or possibly a memoir but that’s not the case. Although some people suggest a typical travel memoir, most suggest something entirely different. A number of people seem to think I should write a “how-to” travel advice book or even compile a book of photographs or drawings.

For my own curiosity I wonder what you, my readers, would have me write. I’m putting a poll in the sidebar, but feel free to leave any brilliant suggestions in the comments.

Favorite Souvenirs

Posted by on May 16, 2008 in Post-Trip | 2 Comments

If there’s one thing that I could spend less on when I travel it’s souvenirs. When I first started traveling around Europe in 1997 I bought few souvenirs at all. Europe’s expensive and I couldn’t bear to pay for lunch, let alone cheap imported “stuff” to fill up my backpack. Over the years I’ve bought a lot more, especially when I’m on my way home or ready to ship a package.

There are a number of souvenirs from my two around-the-world trips that I love—like my Ethiopian chair, the paintings I bought in Udaipur, India and my Akha headdresses from Myanmar. Since you can see all of those over at my souvenirs page, I thought I’d show a few of my favorite souvenirs I bought on non-rtw trips. I use #1 often and it’s by far my favorite souvenir of all time. If any of you find yourselves in Rome and are able to find a similar object featuring Benedict XVI pick up one for me.

#4 Hand beaded traditional jacket — Budapest, Hungary 1998

#3 Wooden bracelet, Christmas Market — Prague, Czech Republic 1997

#2 Platform shoes — Barcelona, Spain 1998

#1 Popener — Rome, Italy 1998

Me-go Mix: Track 8

Posted by on Apr 28, 2008 in Kenya, Post-Trip, Tanzania | No Comments

Me-go Mix: Track 8
“Wanaume Mabinti” — Lady JayDee

To download using Windows “right click” and save to disk. Mac users, you know what to do.

At the end of my trip I wanted to buy some music that reminded me of my time in Eastern Africa. A lot of the music heard around town is not local (Shakira is quite popular), but the local music I did hear varied and no one song stuck in my head. I ended up buying a compilation called “Bongo Flava” from a music shop in downtown Nairobi. A quick listen at the shop confirmed it was the sort of music I heard around town. I don’t have a lot to say about this song other than Lady Jay Dee’s music was some of my favorite on the CD. It turns out she’s from Tanzania and has had a number of controversial hits in the past few years.

Below is a video for a different song by Lady Jay Dee, “Distance.” She sings in Swahili, Zulu, Lingala, Kinyarwanda, French and English in this song.

Me-go Mix: Track 7

Posted by on Apr 15, 2008 in Ethiopia, Post-Trip | 3 Comments

Me-go Mix: Track 7
“Gondar” — Madingo Afework

Traveling around Northern Ethiopia I spent a lot of time on buses, including four days round trip to Lalibela. The long rides were always accompanied by upbeat and high-pitched music. Before I left Addis Ababa I wanted to pick up a CD of music that would remind of me of my long bus rides through the North. The music shop next to my hotel, where I rented DVDs to watch while I was in bed with the flu for three days, had a small collection to pick from. The woman working was confused as to why I wanted to buy traditional music instead of more modern imports (but she also didn’t understand why I would want to watch a movie that didn’t star Denzel Washington, her favorite actor). We weeded out anything too traditional and decided on Mandingo Afework. The music has the rhythm I heard all over Ethiopia but wasn’t played with only traditional instruments.

Gondar is a city in Northern Ethiopia famous for it’s castles and the beautiful Debre Birhan Selassie Church. In the video for “Gondar” below, you’ll see some shots of the city as well as Lalibella, Axum and a few shots of the South. Most interesting are the beautiful dancers in traditional white robes. The dancers show off Ethiopia’s distinctive shoulder dancing, often laughingly attempted by tourists. Fast forward to 5:00 in the video for a good example of an enthusiastic shoulder dance.

Below is a video I took on a bus in Northern Ethiopia. Although bus music was often more traditional, you can hear a local recording of “Staying Alive” playing. The music on each bus was usually chosen by the bus driver or his assistant from a collection of cassettes. Once I witnessed an older man, probably a farmer, insist a driver play his own tape. This incited a lot of discussion among the other passengers—most objected to the traditional “folksy” music he wanted to play.

Ethiopian Bus Music from Megan Kearney on Vimeo.

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