Xlj Photography: Blog https://www.xljphotography.com/blog en-us (C) Xlj Photography (Xlj Photography) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:24:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:24:00 GMT https://www.xljphotography.com/img/s/v-12/u928760926-o1022861724-50.jpg Xlj Photography: Blog https://www.xljphotography.com/blog 120 120 "The Land of Street Vendors" https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2019/2/the-land-of-street-vendors India

The Golden Triangle consists of 3 popular tourist destinations fairly easily accessible from Dehli Airport; Taj Mahal, Agra, and Jaipur.

Some things I've come to realize from traveling around the world. The larger the financial gap between tourists and locals the larger the issue of safety/security arises. Looking outside our hotels in India you could see bonfires and tents where the locals lived. It doesn't give the "lets wonder the streets" feel as you feel in many more developed countries. Did you know that India has over 100 million street vendors!? What do you get when you mix all these vendors with one of the wonders of the world? You get a very unwelcoming and potentially dangerous environment.

Taj Mahal- Wonder of the World

Let me tell you about our Taj Mahal experience. We decided to visit the Taj Mahal on a weekday at sunrise to avoid the crowds and to capture the ever famous Taj Mahal picture at sunrise. Our driver recommended a guide and said the vendors can be aggressive. My dad and I looked at each other and said, nah I mean how aggressive could they be?  We know how to ignore them or say no thank you. So we pull up to the Taj pre sunrise, dark, with the only light coming from a bonfire near the parking lot. Before the taxi stopped we were greeted by about 7-10 vendors surrounding the taxi like pigeons on feed. We looked at each other nervously, and said "crap, here we go." We get out and immediately they start offering ride to the Taj, guide for the Taj, magnets, etc for sale. We sat in the shuttle waiting for it to leave, they said we have to wait for it to fill up before we can leave. As the minutes passed (and a million no thank you's) by we realized the only way to get there was to either walk (we had no idea where we were going) or pay for a guide. So we reluctantly got a guide and went on our way. Thankfully the guide kept the vendors at bay so we could enjoy the place without anymore hassle. 

PRO TIP- Get a guide- more to keep the vendors at bay and not feel like you have to grip everything you have tightly the whole time. He also provided very cool information regarding the Taj that we would not have gotten otherwise. 


Agra

Our next stop was Agra Fort. It's about a 5 hour drive to Agra Fort with many culture telling views along the way. You could see everything from goats, cows, and dogs rummaging through the trash to streets overpacked with bikes, scooters, and Tuk Tuks. When the driver suggested a tour guide for Agra Fort we immediately said yes to avoid the inevitable vendor feast on us. This was even worse than at the Taj. Luckily most of them did not enter the gates of the Fort so it was only crazy entering and exiting the Fort. The only issue with the guides is that they also have their own agenda. Both times we were shown to specific people to listen to their life story and sales pitch, which was normally something they hand made and a story on how the money would help them and their communities. It was easier just to say yes and buy something than to continue to say no thank you over and over and over again. We were not a fan of the sales tactics. Overall Agra Fort was lackluster, especially coming from the Taj, and the vendors....

Jaipur- The city of Kites

Another 5 hour drive took you to this "Pink City", but we found the city of kites to be more appropriately named. When you look over the horizon of the city you see what looks to be birds in the sky, but as you look closer you will notice they are actually small kites. From rooftops to streets, seemingly everywhere you look was a smiling child holding a kite. What a difference in cultures a few hours makes. You see the shash's change from brightly colored to black as seen with the increase of Muslim population. We went to Jantar Mantar, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which houses a collection of 19 architectural astronomical instruments included the worlds largest stone sundial. No vendors! We couldn't believe it! We walked the streets surrounding the site checking out the shops and vendors without hassle, and a very culture rich town it was. To end our trip we visited Chokhi Dhani, a very unique place that offered everything from camel rides to magic shows in a mock town environment. We had a very authentic Rajasthan meal there made with all the dips, sauces, and spices you come to expect, without of course, the silverware and chairs. 

 

India is a very large place and I realize I have only dipped my toe in the culture/sites that it has to offer. That being said, here are the top 3 things I loved and the top 3 things that I did not enjoy.

Loved

1. They have butt washers! If you've read my earlier posts you'll know how much I love them.

2. Rich culture with each state being very diverse.

3. Food, food, food! Amazing food with all the spices you would expect, spicy=very very spicy.

 

Not a fan

1. Aggressive vendors-really ruined a lot of otherwise cool cultural destinations.

2. Pollution- One of the first things I noticed was smog found in the airport as soon as we got off. It is also noticed in any large room, including hotels. Weird to see indoors so frequently.

3. The "tourist treatment", this is where the prices are jacked up just because you are a tourist. I hate this and avoid places that practice this. Very unauthentic/Disingenuous.

 

Check out the whole India Photo album HERE

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2019/2/the-land-of-street-vendors Sat, 02 Feb 2019 20:55:52 GMT
"Surprise" https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2018/1/-surprise  

Soo I am back in the States. What a ride! My original plan was to explore Japan until the first couple weeks into January, but I decided a few months back that I wouldn't have another opportunity to spend the holidays with my parents so I decided to surprise my Mom for Christmas. I couldn't write about it as she reads my blog, so sorry for lying to all of you but you understand. Since I decided to extend my Thailand trip and I had already bought my return flight home from Tokyo, I flew into Tokyo Dec. 18 and left Dec. 20. Sorry Japan, I know you deserve MUCH more time but I had to go with the flow. No regrets. As the Terminator said, "I'll be back."

Post Travel Transition

I am writing this as of Jan 4, 2018 so I've been back for about 2 weeks now. The last few days I was in not the best of moods and I couldn't figure out why. Earlier today I received an email from a family friend (at the time I didn't recognize the name, so I thought it was just a viewer of my blog) regarding my photography and blog. In this email he went on talking about how much he enjoyed my photos and story even though he read it backwards (I wonder if its better? I'll have to try it). He also went on to tell me about Robert Monroe who, known for his research into altered consciousness, was a writer, a director at two Ohio radio stations, and founder of The Monroe Institute. I had not heard of him before and quickly did some research to see who this was and how the Monroe Institute could relate to me. Not only is his work very interesting and very relevant to my spiritual journey but after watching quite a few you tube videos I found myself reenergized to sustain my mental health. Although my travels have ended (for now), I shouldn't have my mental state revert back to old habits. I've realized that sustaining my mental attitude takes some work and I could no longer rely on my travels to take me to my happy place. What my friend didn't know was that his email was exactly what I needed to not only get me out of my "funk" but to reenergize my mental thirst. I now feel like there is so much information that I need/want to learn regarding Robert Monroe and his books/theories. Did you know he invented Hemi-Sync? Basically it uses specific frequencies (or vibrations) that resonate with the body to change or alter something such as states of consciousness, mental issues, relaxation, etc. Sounds pretty crazy right? Well it resonates with me and my beliefs because as you may remember in my blog, I speak of using energies to stay positive and ultimately manifest your goals and dreams. His methods take a very scientific approach in applying the power of the mind for a various of uses. Fascinating!

To recap I thought it would be fun to tally all the places and things I've experienced along my journey.  They are as follows:

Out of my home in California since June 1, 2017 (7 months and counting)! I stayed in 40 hostels over 9 countries! Flew on 13 flights and missed 3 of them! Traveled on 3 trains and missed 2 of them! 7 Ferry rides and 10 bus rides! Hiked 12 miles and drove over 7000km in 1 rented car, 1 ATV 4 wheeler, 3 motorbikes, 1 of which I bought and sold. Visited 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 2 National Parks. Lost my phone, charger, my one and only book, and some sweet elephant pants. Took over 200gb of photos and about the same of drone video. Met countless friends that I hope never to forget and enough memories to last a lifetime. 

I want to thank each one of you for supporting and following my journey through the thick and the thin! I have a feeling I'll be back on the road again soon, until then, Happy New Years and make 2018 everything you want it to be!

 

 

If you have any questions about my journey, prints or shoots feel free to email me @ xljphotography@gmail.com.

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2018/1/-surprise Thu, 04 Jan 2018 23:29:56 GMT
"Dawn of Happiness" https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/12/-dawn-of-happiness Thailand

So buying the motorbike kind of backfired on me in the sense I bought it to be able to go wherever I wanted but as it turns out it prevented me from doing just that. In thailand when you buy a motorbike you must register it, and that takes about 3 weeks to process. You also can not cross boarders without registration, so my Vietnam/Cambodia plans went out the window. Well I wanted to go with the universe right, well I guess its telling me to stay in Thailand. There's plenty of cool temples and sites to see in central and south thailand that I can see with the bike. I rode for over 3000 km from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and back visiting a variety of temples. I will go over a few spots that you may not have heard of that I think are worth a visit.

Sukhothai Historical Park-

Sukhothai was the first Thai capital back in the 13th century and is designed a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its numerous sites of historical significance. It is an uncommon site due to its location located a 7hr train ride south of Chiang Mai and a 7hr train ride north of Bangkok; Right in central Thailand. This permitted small crowds in the park but the sites were amazing none the less. Downsides are less english speaking people, but if you've made it to central Thailand you probably can figure out how to survive by now. 

Wat Ban Rai-

Otherwise known as the elephant temple, this temple is very interesting. It sits on what looks to be a man made lake and is covered with paintings and decorations inside and out. I was hoping to see it lit up at night but I guess it only happens for special occasions. 

Dhammakaya Cetiya-

This is also known as the temple of 1 million buddhas. It is not a tourist destination as they say but rather a temple to give merits. They offer a free tour which includes free meditation lesson from a real monk, you can feed the monks (they aren't not allowed to make their own food any rely on the sustenance of the faithful to survive), participate in chanting around the clock (they had a goal of 1 million chants this year and have already surpassed 2 million!), and pay your respects to the temple. They believe in world peace through inner peace. A very local and enriching experience! 

Ayutthaya-

This is one of the more popular tourist destinations due to its location just north of Bangkok. This is also recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the second capital of Thailand after Sukhothai. It is a little more crowded than Sukhothai but just as remarkable. Here you will find temple remains and amazing Buddha statues.

Phra Prang-

Otherwise know as the monkey temple due to the monkeys located in and around this area. They are literally everywhere and you must be careful with these guys. They are very curious and will take anything that isn't attached to you. I found it quite amusing watching them climb all over the tourist that weren't aware how to deal with them. I had done some research and if they climb you, turn around repeatedly until they fall off. This worked for me, obviously after I got a few pics with them. I heard of a couple bad stories of getting bit by them so I didn't let them stay on me for too long. Not much to see here but a temple and the monkeys, but for me it was worth it. 

After my Thailand journey I was all set to go to Tokyo to spend the last leg of my journey and with everything ready including my plane ticket being booked the universe told me otherwise yet again. I met someone in Chiang Mai and decided to travel down to the islands with her. I didn't really have plans other than the flight I booked and it just felt like I truly needed to go with the flow. So 1 night bus, 1 flight, and 1 ferry later we're in Koh Phangan (a small island in southern Thailand). We also went to Koh Tao and Koh Samui over a weeks time. It became very clear that we were meant to cross paths for one reason or another and we had a great time exploring these islands together. Our journey was pretty epic and included infamous half-moon parties, beer pong champions, almost missing flights, days of intense sickness, and days of pure bliss. I'd glad I changed my plans for this excursion and if you have the chance to go with the flow on your journey I highly recommend it. 

To recap of the small time I spent in the islands-

Very backpacker centralized, not a lot of culture, not as cheap as the mainland, lots of parties catered to travelers, lots of diving sites. Of the islands we visited I enjoyed Koh Samui the best as it seemed the most clean and the least supported by backpackers. 

The good- very clear water, gorgeous landscapes, nice weather, good scuba diving, has full/half moon parties

The bad- backpacker party central, can’t trust the food or water/ice, little culture, dangerous driving (due to all the careless backpackers), party destination, beaches and streets littered with trash

 

Realizations- Something I realized recently after talking with some fellow travelers is that the journey is really made not by the destinations but by the people you meet along the way. The destinations are pretty and I will remember them but the people are what makes each place special. Looking back I can remember each person along the way that made my journey special and I really can’t believe that I am just now realizing this. From the beginning of my journey until now I can see how I’ve changed my traveling style.  At the beginning I was more a lone solider on a mission to see the world.  Towards the end I am more open to allowing the universe to guide me where I need to be.  Being okay with changing plans or planes to what feels right in the moment. 

Looking back at my first couple blog posts I wanted to give back or make an impression along my way and didn't know how or what I could do. I thought I had failed because I didn’t come up with anything but then thinking of all the special people and the conversations I had along my journey it hit me. I had already been giving something back along my journey, and it wasn’t necessarily photography based as I was originally thinking it would be. It hit me during a recent conversation where I was talking about my spiritual journey and my beliefs on energy and the power of your mind. They told me that even if we never meet again it would still have been great because my positive outlook and beliefs have already changed the way they looked at the world. She went on on how differently she had been living her life where her energy was being focused on vs only focusing your energy on the things you want not the fears you have. It really touched me to see the impact I made and how clearly she saw how easy life could be with a slight change in perception. Then I kept thinking, while I can’t say I had this conversation with everyone (as I feel everyone may not be on the same page or open to accept it) the people who I did mostly had similar reactions. So I am left feeling more fulfilled in that I was able to leave an impact in my own way and help others along the way. 

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/12/-dawn-of-happiness Wed, 20 Dec 2017 06:19:28 GMT
"Pai in Love" https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/11/-pai-in-love Pai, Northern Thailand

I spent the last week in Pai which is about 3 hours north of Chiang Mai nestled in the mountains. The journey from Chiang Mai to Pai is quite famous for its beauty and fun driving. You will experience 762 curves on this ride up that consists of switch backs and sharp curves through the jungle mountains of Northern Thailand. There are a ton of bikers that take this ride bc of this. You can't help but feel like a motorbike racer around these turns, and with a powerful bike you were the fastest thing on the road (this is good thing bc you don't want vehicles passing you). Don't let the popularity fool you though, it is a very dangerous road. Parts are unpaved, without cell service, pot holes, and changing conditions are all things to prepare for on this journey. I saw 3 different flipped over vehicles on the way to Pai alone. Once there you'll notice it is quite smaller than Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai. It has a mountain hippie backpacker vibe. The city consists of a main "walking street", which is used primarily for the night market where you could buy anything from hand made soaps and meat skewers, to sweet crepes and waffles. There are numerous hot springs to relax in and cool hiking areas such as Pai canyon. There is also a huge white buddha that is nestled in the mountains that overlook Pai, plus you can see it from the center city which I thought was pretty cool. I think my favorite part of Pai was the music scene. Almost every bar featured live music and you could hear anything from American classics to live Dj's playing Techno. Plus I could walk down the street without getting barked at by prostitues! The average price of the rooms at a hostel was about $6 US dollars. Food you could expect to pay 60-120 Baht ($1.50-$3) and drinks about the same. The street market food ranged from 5-60 baht ($0.15-$1.75) . Massages 150-350 baht ($4.50- $9). Cheap!

About 10 min outside the city was where I attended a yoga retreat with Xhale Yoga. The week consisted of 3 daily yoga classes that ranged from Asanas (postures) and Pranayama (breathing techniques) to Yoga Nidra (deep relaxation). We also had vegetarian eating (actually very good!), nasal cleansing, and mediation 2x daily. The goal was purification of the mind, body and soul. I was expecting to be relaxed, and "lighter" by the time it was over which I definitely was. What I didn't expect was to meet a group of amazing people that I would connect so well with. The instructor Bhud was such an amazing and loving person that made the whole experience really magical. By the end of the retreat we all were like family and it really made the experience special. I made a small clip of the retreat. Click here to watch it! I really fell in love with Pai would recommend it to anyone looking for some escape from the "noise" and wants to enjoy life. 

One of the biggest take aways I had from the retreat was one day during our Yoga philosophy session we talked about "stealing." Not the materialistic things, but more time and energy. How do you steal these things you might ask? You are the one stealing, no one else can steal your time and energy. Waiting, waiting for you to be off work, waiting for the weekend, waiting for your next vacation. When you "wait," you immediately stop enjoying the moment and essentially living life. You know how you feel sometimes right before your next vacation, you can be a waste at work and just be ready to escape. Why escape though, the vacation will still come, why not enjoy each moment until then. I was an offender for sure and can remember sometimes at work before a day off or even shortly before closing you "check out." I stole so much of my time and energy. This is something that I will do my best at moving forward when I feel myself "checking out." Tomorrow is not promised and time is precious. Things will come up that you may think will waste your time, that's all mental, only you can decide whether its wasting your time. Everything that happens is a lesson or a blessing.

The good: Everything lol! Cheap food and accommodations, excellent music scene, welcoming community, beautiful scenery.

The bad: It will make you want to change your plans to stay longer there! 

Check out my Thailand photos here!

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/11/-pai-in-love Mon, 20 Nov 2017 12:17:23 GMT
"Land of Smiles" https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/11/-land-of-smiles Chiang Mai, Thailand

Ok I have a phone, no service yet but moving in the right direction.

Of course google maps won't allow offline maps for Thailand (licensing BS) so new tip maps.me does same thing but works in Thailand. I of course booked my flight from prague with a 5 hr flight to Dubai, 8 hr layover in Dubai, 6 hr flight to Bangkok with a 6 hr time change. Left 11/30 11:30pm arrived 12/1 2:30am; talk about a long day. After learning many lessons I arrived after doing research on the metro. I'm confident I can do it with no issues this time. Arrive at airport and metro is closed! Aargh of course it would be. Taxi it is and luckily the hostel put a number for taxi to call for directions. Easy peasy. They have traffic lights with count down timers on them?! Genius, how many accidents would that avoid? Due to my poor planning (an honestly confusion of when I was actually arriving) I was only in Bangkok for less than 4 hours (nap time) then back to airport to Chiang Mai. Missed that flight due to maps.me and their horrible driving estimation (say 20 min- ended up being 45 min). Note maps.me app is great for walking and driving directions but not at estimating how long it will take. Double check on google maps if you have internet for the accurate time!

The time change and the travel had me in and out of naps for the next 2 days. I managed to get out one night to Loi Kroh street, a famous street in Chiang Mai where the nightlife is. I found it very interesting that it cost extra to buy a drink for ladies. My guess is that a group of "lady workers" (prostitutes) work with a specific bar and help to bring in traffic amongst other things. Then at the bar they say, aren't you gonna buy her a drink, I say sure. Hand her double the cost and she say "it cost more" and points to a disclaimer at the bottom of the menu saying "drinks for ladies is 50 baht extra" ($1.50). I guess I was naive and didn't realize that the girl I was playing pool with was after more than my 8 ball, lol. After the game I left (sorry no extra fun), but I did get hit up by at least 4 other ladies on the way back. Man it was a zoo there; girls grabbing you, stopping you, cat calling. Is this was girls have to go through on the regular??

So the next day was the start of the Loi Krathong festival which also hosted the Yi Peng festival. It is celebrated on the 12 lunar month on the full moon each year. Loi Krathong means to float basket in the river for the river spirits. Yi Peng is where you launch sky lanterns into the sky, also for good fortune. This was what I came to see. Our hostel was coordinating an event so that they would provide you with a candle float, sky lantern and taxi service to and from the event. That was nice since traffic was a nightmare and I wasn't sure really where to go to watch it. I met some really cool people there as everyone was very nice. What an occasion it was! There must have been what seemed to be millions of lanterns in the sky and with the full moon behind them.....WOW. A must see!

The next day I was recommended to go to this elephant sanctuary that was nearby. So I went not knowing really what to expect and ended up having a blast! They people who hosted it spoke very broken english were very funny. We got to feed them, give them mud baths, then play in the river with them. They are surprisingly very gentle and each had their own character. 

So what now. I have left this part of my journey pretty open as I wanted the universe to guide me in the direction that was best. So I started looking online of things to do and see in Thailand and surrounding areas. There were some cool temples in Chiang Rai (about 3hrs north) and some cool yoga retreats in Pai (also 3 hrs north in the mountains). I was told about Pai before from a traveler and he said I had to see it. I also came across quite a few posts on riding motorbikes down Vietnam and everyone seemed to think it was the most amazing experience of their lives. This seemed like something I would enjoy, a little adventure, a little danger (Vietnam is the #1 most dangerous place to drive in the world) (sorry mom) (coming in second is Thailand), and some views/pictures that wouldn't be the typical Phuket Island postcard overdone pictures. So my mind was made, buy a bike, check out Chiang Rai, check out Rai, maybe do a yoga retreat in Pai, head to Vietnam and go south, go to Bangkok and explore there, sell bike, and fly to Japan. My timeline was roughly 8 weeks. 

Well I managed to find a bike pretty easy (craigslist) from the nice old American guy that was living out here that just couldn't safely ride anymore. We chatted for a while (you could tell he was a little lonely) and I managed to talk him down to a more than fair price. So I am now a proud owner of a 125cc Suzuki motorbike with 20k km on it! I picked up for $450 which I hope to sell for the same. Funny in Hawaii I bought a 50cc bike for $500. This thing was waaay faster and definitely suitable for highways and mountain roads. 

I found a pretty cool yoga retreat called Xhale Yoga that decided to book with in Pai. It is a 5 night 6 day retreat, where my days will consist on Hatha yoga, Yin yoga, 3 vegetarian meals, cooking class, Pranayama (breathing exercises) and Meditation, hot springs, Yoga Philosophy, and Chanting (mindful meditation). Mind you I do not currently do yoga but am very interesting in how it connects the mind and body whereas meditation is more mind. 

Just me, a motorbike and my camera. This is gonna be wild. And right after my retreat. I'm very excited and pretty nervous too. 

Currently there is massive flooding in much Vietnam due to a Typhoon that hit them. I'm still 2 weeks before I plan on going but things may end up changing once again.

Well I'm off to Pai! Will check back after the retreat and after I decide the next steps whether that be the original plan in Vietnam or something entirely different due to weather conditions. Laéw-jer-gan!

 

Check out my Thailand photos here!

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/11/-land-of-smiles Fri, 10 Nov 2017 02:35:07 GMT
"No pain no gain" https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/10/-no-pain-no-gain Berlin, Germany

 

IMG_1837-EditIMG_1837-Edit

So I decided to have an old phone shipped to me with delivery estimated Wed. morn by 9am, my flight from Madrid was at Wed. 12:40pm. hmm cutting it close, better play it safe and have it shipped to Berlin and it’ll be there waiting for me.

Getting to my Berlin hosel with no phone was no easy feat. I was able to get train ticket to where I needed to go (very proud of myself), I assumed it would have the platform number on the ticket, it didn’t. I walked around aimlessly for a while then finally found someone who told me it was at platform 15, nowhere did it say that on the ticket?? How is someone supposed to know? Very confusing! 

Once that was complete according to google I was close to the hostel. I managed to remember the “directions” to the hostel  (left, left, left, right, right) (seriously those were them), well that didn’t work. Luckily I was close enough to see the name of the hostel (PLUS Berlin) on a building right down the street of me. So I finally arrived, what a mission! Now to check in and get my phone. I couldn’t wait to check up on my Instagram and Snapchat to talk to some friends. Well they said no package, wtf. I immediately tracked and it said it was “being held at customs for export invoice for duty relief???” New estimated delivery Friday (ok not great but not bad I was in Berlin till Sat so should be good). Ended up doing more hostel organized events such as a pub crawl, I figure they’ll be semi responsible for making sure I get back to the hostel (again no phone) and luckily there were a bunch of people form the hostel so either way I was in good hands.

Saturday came no phone, same message in UPS. So do I stay in Berlin another day or 2 to wait for this thing or just F it and leave Berlin without the phone……Well I waited to book my train and hostel till Sat morning to see if anything changed. No change, no phone, I’m outta here. So still no phone and now no plans to get one (well at least not the one that was shipped to me) crap. Oh guess what I found the last night in Berlin at the hostel, someones iPhone just laying there. I didn't really even think twice and turned it in but come on man. I figure if I cant get a phone at least i can help someone find theirs. Karma

PS check the water label before ordering from vending machine. Nothing worse than being thirsty as all hell and you get a water from a vending machine and its sparkling water! WFT they literally have the same label as normal water but says natural or still on it to tell it apart.  Well natural to me sounds like no bubbles. Well still is without bubbles, geez. This happened once to me in Italy but I forgot about that stupid option. GRR

The good: amazing techno clubs open till 7am and some even 24 hr (yikes), had decent food like Donor kabab (the closet thing to a gyro I've found yet). Berlin wall has some really cool graffiti (I think I'm gonna do some kind of graffiti book or album or something- I have all kinds of graffiti pics from all over the world)

The bad: cold, rainy, poor weather, hard to get into clubs- they screen you to see if you're a tourist (they don't like use I guess)(keeping it local I get it). They drink sparkling water lol

 

Prague, Czech Republic

So I made it to Prague, now for the journey to the hostel. Still no phone. No maps at the train station…well I walked outside to a bus stop in hopes to find a map, no luck. I see a bridge though, ok I’m near water. I had the location of the hostel on my laptop only I didn’t have the location of myself. I found a Mcdonald’s nearby, jumped on wifi and boom got it. Seems like an easy metro ride to my destination. OK feeling better. Go to buy a metro pass, only accepts coin…and not euro coins….crap. I remember seeing an ATM at the original train station, so I went back there got cash, went back to Mcdonald's, bought something to get change, back to metro, successfully got ticket. Geez. According to the map it was just a right for about 10 min and I should see the hostel. Well I did, thank god. No lockers in this hostel…. or keys….hmmm. Decided to do another pubcrawl bc i had so much fun at the last one and its a good activity to meet people and also not worry about getting lost. The pubs were stone inside almost like the inside of a castle. Pretty cool! There's one thing that I still cant get over every time I hear it in a club, 90's American music blasting! USA clubs would never play this, but I actually really enjoyed it. It's like karaoke night and everyone sings along. I did a free Castle walking tour also which was pretty cool, Prague has the largest Castle in the world located here so I had to check it out. 

PS I got a phone in Prague that was compatible with my drone so I am started to feel whole again, although when I got it I felt weird looking at it with people, like rude. Even though thats what everyone else does, I just got used to not needing it.

Good- The food was dare I say better than Italy?? Some of the best lasagna I've ever had really. Homemade pasta and recipe from Italy. Bars were very lively and almost underground like.

Bad-very windy, rainy almost everyday, don't use euros

I am currently at an 8hr layover in Dubai (I don't know what I was thinking or if I even saw it). I think the last few weeks being without a phone, poor weather, no drone, really didn't leave me much to do but go out and party lol. It really drained me and I'm really looking forward to what SE Asia will offer. I have very few plans, but I do plan on relaxing, finding some me time and reflecting on the last 4 months traveling. I think this will be a good "last leg" to my travels where I won't be as pressured to "see everything" bc even if I came home today, man I've seen a lot. Well thank you for putting up with my grumpiness the last few posts, and I assure you things are looking brighter.  Some family (and a friend actually) told me that without the pain you can't know joy, and the first 2/3rds of my journey were really painless so I guess this is a reminder of the 2 sides of the coin.  

 

Check out my Europe photos here!

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/10/-no-pain-no-gain Tue, 31 Oct 2017 07:21:35 GMT
"Lost in Spain" https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/10/lost-in-spain Barcelona

I decided to stay at Kabul Hostel, this was considered a “party hostel” as they described it on the website. I was in a 22 bed dorm room! It actually wasn’t that bad at all, very large room and curtains that went around my bed to make it feel like my own little room. After checking in around 1:30am (a few hour time diff) so I wasn’t that tired and I wasn’t ready to go to sleep. Luckily the city was far from sleeping, the hostel was located in the middle of this square surrounded by restaurants. Right next door had a dance club, so I decided to check it out. Despite being the most sober person there I had a good time checking out “the scene.” I few $5 beers later I decided to hit the sac. The next couple days were rainy so I didn’t do much- which was actually perfect bc I was getting pretty tired from driving, hiking, walking, constantly moving from one place to another. The Hostel offered dinner, had a cool hangout area with pool tables and TVs, and a rooftop bar that offered great views when not raining. The 2nd night I was there was a Barcelona game and the bar offered free beers every time Barcelona scored! Score! I stayed for dinner and 1/2 the game then went to another bar to watch the 2nd half. The next night (still rainy) I met a few guys at dinner that offered to go to a cool cafe, why not. Only this was not your normal cafe. This was a “invitation only” cafe where you could buy and use marijuana legally. What? I thought it was illegal in most of Europe but I guess they have a few cafes that allow it (only they can’t have signage or advertise, and you have to be invited by a member)(luckily the guys went there before from another friend and were members). So we had a few beers, a few joints and made our way home (pouring cats and dogs). We had no choice but to get wet, luckily we were in the right “mood” to not give a F#$%. My shoes didn’t dry till 3 days later, and I was forced to wear sandals the rest of the trip (OK until I tried to go to a club-the laughed at my sandals but still let me in). Finally I was rewarded with sunshine, I was able to check out some of the sites I had read about. La Familia Secrada was by far the coolest architecture feats I’ve ever seen.  This is a church that started construction in the 1896 and isn’t scheduled for completion until 2026, it was designed by Goudi ( I wonder if the work gaudy comes from this architect?). The walls were glowing red, orange, tree, and blue from the stained glass large windows while the pillars where curved and huge. What a sight. 

On the last day I woke up to cleaners in my room, they said it was almost 12, my train was at 11, checkout at 10, and alarm set for 9am. WTF. I lost my phone. After searching my room I verified i did not have my phone, what could have happened, there's no way I didn’t have it coming home as I use it for directions, my only thought was that someone from my room stole it. I dunno. I even googled device manager it and it showed last seen in my hostel but when I clicked ring for 5 minutes nothing rang. So I need to get to the train station and see if they can refund or change my ticket, where's the train station, fml, I dunno I don’t have my phone. After staring at many maps and pulling about 1/3 of my hair out, I determined what station I needed to be at. Bought a metro ticket, realized I was on wrong side of metro (going wrong direction) had to buy another ticket to get to other side, I realized I left my cc in the machine after I went through ticketing, so I went back and of course had to buy another ticket. 2 metros and 3 tickets later I arrived at Sant station where my original train was scheduled to leave from. 3 counters later I found the train customer service station, they said bc it was past 30 minutes that I had to buy I whole new ticket (tickets were 100 euro), I pleaded with them as i was a victim of theft (maybe), and no mercy.  So I bought another ticket (111 this time) and the next one was at 4pm (it 1pm now). SO long story short, I have no phone (which has everything that I could possibly need). SO I’m headed to Madrid with no phone. I can’t even fly my drone without my phone, I need it for maps, booking hostels, alarm clock, etc etc. Today's the day I check in with my parents and its not gonna be via phone… I hope to find wifi soon and message them. The question is, do I buy another phone capable with google project fii (only select phones) or have my dad ship an old phone I have there and work off sim cards? i dunno damn. How could this happen to me, I’m so confused, theres no way I didn’t have my phone when I went to bed, I even remember setting the alarm, how did they get it, where did I leave it?? Luckily I’ve booked most my flights and hostels for the next few weeks and I still have my laptop which can retrieve all my boarding passes and confirmations.

The good-very lively city, plenty of delicious sangria, plenty of nightlife, amazing architecture, legal smoke shops 

The bad- pic pocketers galore, confusing metro

 

Madrid

The first few days in Madrid I felt lost, sad, helpless, and a lil down. My main means of communicating with some of my friends was via text/instagram/snapchat all of which I had no access to. This really made it hard initially. I was expecting Madrid to be a little more boring of a city but to my surprise it was not. Very lively as as well, it seemed like it was a little larger than Barcelona and not as walking friendly, although not bad. Metro was pretty easy to use and could get you almost anywhere you needed. A ton of Tapas restaurants. So it seems the Tapas are split into a few categories, your Empanadas (meat/veggie filled pastry), Montaditos (bread topped with fish/meat/chz/etc), Croquettes (ham /veggie cream filled small balls?).  There was one place I went called 100 Montaditos (it offered 100 diff choices of these ranging 1-2$), kinda tough to order bc theres no translations (and no phone to translate for me), but being so cheap I just had to get a few and hope for the best. Most of them were very tasty. All of Spain seems to be big in Jamon (ham), only not the ham we are used to in the states. Big ham legs (4ft) dried and aged then finely sliced and served on bread or by itself. They had these jamon shops everywhere. 

The good- lively city, plenty of tapas restaurants, good food, tasty sangria, easy to use metro

The bad- large city-can’t walk everywhere need to use metro, 

 

Side note- after loosing my phone there were a few things I realized/felt. 

Its really hard to navigate without google maps

It’s really hard to use paper maps (as most of the time I’m looking for locations not addresses)

There were so many pictures that I missed by not having my phone and not lugging my big camera around.

There really was no way of communicating with certain people and that made me sad.

 

I’m in the final week in Europe. I will spend it in Berlin, Germany and Prague, Czech Republic. My next leg will be to Bangkok, then north to Chiang Mai for the Yi Peng festival (the festival of lights) for some amazing photography opportunities. I will then spend the next couple months exploring thailand, cambodia, vietnam, etc etc. 

 

Check out my Europe photos here!

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/10/lost-in-spain Fri, 27 Oct 2017 14:05:56 GMT
"Dolomites" https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/10/dolomites Rome, Italy

So I after looking at my travel options to get to the Dolomites I was recommended to head over to Rome as another way to get to Venice besides going through Croatia and Slovania. This ended up being one of the cheapest options plus I got to see Rome (Rome was on my “if I have time list”). Rome reminded me of Florence meets SF. A lot to see in terms of museums and such. My hostel gave me a map and drew out directions to see all the sites in the 3 days I was there, very helpful! They also gave me a free bottle wine and let me use a towel at no charge. Pretty cool! Vatican city was a must see destination, I had no idea it was considered its own country at only 110 acres. Did you know it has the highest crime rate/capita? Well it's a little deceiving bc A. there’s a very small population there and B. most the crimes were petty thieves pickpockets stealing from tourists. Next stop was a long train ride to Venice, then to rent a car, then to drive to the Dolomites to spend a few days exploring the mountains.

The Good- Lots to see, good food, friendly people

The bad- must buy train/metro tickets from station or tobacco shops that close at an undisclosed time. So on a couple occasions I was stuck taking a taxi/uber. Large city can be very long walks if you don’t figure out the metro/bus and/or buy a ticket in time.

Tip-

Download TheFork app- it lets you book reservations to many restaurants at usually between 30-50% off. 

 

Dolomites

OK, so the Dolomites are a mountain range in Northern Italy and are definitely not to be missed. I will go over just a few spots that I highly recommend if you will be in the area. I rented a car from Venice (only 16 Euro for 4 days...total!)(recommended due to the distance between locations) and it was just a couple hour drive to get to my hostel. I did spend almost $150 in gas during these 4 days (mix between high gas prices and a lot of driving). Inafarawayland.com has a great list of epic spots that I used to help get an idea of what was out there. The list was too big to tackle but it did show me a few places that weren't on my list that ended up being spectacular. Plus they have this google map layer that shows you where each spot is so you can get directions to each! 

 

Day 1- Baiita Segantini

First on the list is Baita Segantini- this place was maybe top 1 or 2 of the places I visited here. There is a dirt road that takes you almost right to where you want to be. I of course hiked up to a little peak to get some cool drone footage. The peaks here are just insanely beautiful, the contrast between the granite sand, gray peaks, and the shadows was something you could stare at for hours. Oh and as the sun sets and casts its red glow on them, mmmmm. I ended up jetting over to Lago di Carezza but came back to shoot the milky way. Very clear skies but unfortunately Milky Way season is ending so the core (brightest part) is barely visible over the horizon and it's right after sunset so the skies aren't that dark yet. I think I managed to get a decent pic you'll see soon enough.

Lago di Carezza

Turquoise lake with a mountain backdrop, not bad (gosh I'm getting spoiled) but very crowded and you can only experience it from a viewpoint. I think at sunrise would be a better time to see it.

Day 2- Trek to Tre Cime di Lavaredo

Both Lago di Misurina and Lago di Antorno are pretty much along the way to Tre Time de Lavaredo and each lake has its own beautiful mountain backdrop. I would recommend to check them both out, only a few minutes off the course to Tre Cime. Very pretty scenes and each different. Another hour away you reach the Tre Cime park. Its a hefty 25 Euro per car fee but the views are worth it. Drive all the way to the top to see some of the most jagged and surreal landscapes. I recommend staying until sunset as the shadows and orange sky make it a truly magical sight. Now when I got there I was a bit confused bc I was expecting to see the traditional view of the 3 distinct boulders that was Tre di Lavaredo. This was not the sight I was hoping for. The road ends on the other side of the peaks, while pretty, it wasn't the view I had hoped for. After asking a few people and checking the internet I deducted the view I was looking for was between 45 min and 2 hours hike away (got conflicting information). I didn't come this far not to see this. So I emptied my bag of all non essentials (learned my lesson) and began the trek. It turned out to be about 1 hour (to my relief) to the other side where it was at an elevation of over 8k ft with visible snow on the ground. I was a little bummed bc I was hoping to stay for Milky Way, but being it was so cold and with an hour hike back I decided against it. This is is also probably best seen from sunrise. I stayed for sunset and began the walk back. The views on the original side were quite amazing, lush green moss covered fallen granite stone littered the ground. This would be a spot I'd like to camp at so you'll have some of the best sunrise views. 

Day 3- Seceda Ridgeline

This was one of the spots originally on my list and one I was very excited to see. My flight wasn't until around 10:30pm out of Venice so I had a good 1/2 day to spend there. There is a cable car you take to reach the summit where you'll be rewarded with some of the most beautiful views of this epic ridgeline. So I woke up early and made the 2.5 hour drive only to find that they closed down for the season October 8 (it was October 17), I had just missed it. Crap, I was so bummed. Luckily there wasn't a shortage of sweet views to keep me and my drone occupied. I went in search of a local winery as the landscapes were scattered with vineyards. I stopped by 3 different ones before I got the point (you needed a reservation to get a tasting/tour 2-3 days out) Geez. So I settled for a local restaurant and drank their wine and ate. 

Well I'm just waiting at the airport for my flight to Barcelona, Spain where I'll spend 4-5 days before heading up north to Salamanca to see some relatives. Until next time!

 

Side notes: All the roads that wind through these mountains are great for motorcycle riding as it seems to be the thing to do in the non winter months.

Italian radio has better American music playing stations.

The drivers have been trained to use the left lane as a passing lane only, and they all obey it. It is very nice.

Oh yeah trains are more like flights than buses, the price goes up closer to departure date, don't wait to buy at station.

 

Check out my Europe photos here!

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/10/dolomites Wed, 25 Oct 2017 13:28:15 GMT
"Kings Landing" https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/10/-kings-landing Croatia

Two bus rides and 8 hours was in between me and Dubrovnik, Croatia. On the way at a "layover" I got some food and turned around only to see the bus was gone, I panicked, all my luggage was in there, camera, drone, laptop, back up drive memory cards, everything. I frantically looked for someone familiar (like the driver) or someone who worked there, I asked him if he spoke English and then where the bus went, he said it went to park. Omg thank God! I literally was freaking out and thought my life was over lol. During the journey I booked a hostel in Dubrovnik for a couple nights, never being there or really hearing much about it, I booked one in "Old Town." I thought ok cool. On the way you could see a castle lit up at night, I thought, cool a castle, maybe ill check it out. I took an Uber to the hostel from the bus station he pulled up to this castle entrance and said "here you are." I thought, what? But as I started to walk closer I could see a whole city in there. I learned "Old Town" is enclosed my a massive stone wall constructed in the 16th century. It was pretty unique in there. The streets are paved in limestone and it is booming with shops and restaurants. Theres also is a nearby island, Lokrum,  (15min ferry ride) that has bunnies everywhere amongst other wild life. Scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed here, Kings Landing is essentially Dubrovnik. All in all I was pleasantly surprised with the few nights there, there was even a nightclub within the walls, it felt like I was partying in a castle (and I guess I really was)- all stone, 50ft arched ceilings, incredible!

 

Good- awesome castle setting. No shortage of restaurants or shops. Good nightlife. Feels like your walking around in Kings Landing. 

Bad- very expensive, probably due to the high tourism. Lots of stairs, no vehicles within the walls.  

 

Plitvika National Park

Ten hours later (2 more bus rides) I arrived at a cool little hostel just outside the Plitvice Lakes National Park. They were very helpful and suggested a few routes throughout the park to see everything in 1 day. They even offered a shuttle to and from the park for a small fee. This park was absolutely amazing, not too big that you can't see most everything in 1 day, and no shortage of waterfalls and turquoise lakes. It has over 16 lakes that pour into each other providing some pretty epic views. I spent 2 days here and met a cool guy at the hostel to explore the second day with. He turned out to be an aspiring photographer so it was nice to have someone to stop longer for that perfect shot and/or explore the "off limits" sections to get unique viewpoints. Luckily I came just during off season so there was less crowds (still quite busy though) and the trees were reds, yellows, and oranges. Very gorgeous! Put this on your list for sure.

Good- everything! Waterfalls, turquoise lakes, colorful trees, plenty of hikes to keep you busy

Bad- Tour groups with no manners (standing in the middle of a bridge with their selfie sticks taking pictures without any regard to others around them). Kinda of confusing maps of hiking paths. Park closes at 6pm (I wanted to shoot the milky way and/or sunset :().

 

 

 

Check out my Europe photos here!

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/10/-kings-landing Tue, 17 Oct 2017 19:22:30 GMT
"Silver Lining" https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/10/silverlining “Cold sweat”

Theth to Valbona hike (11 mile one way)- part of the Peak of the Balkans Trail- A 120 mile circular trail created in 2012 to increase tourism and promote unity amongst the once hostle Balkan countries. 

We decided to start the hike at 9am, I woke up to a message saying that my buddy (a random guy I met on the bus that asked to join) no longer could make the hike… Crap. I wasn’t going to back out now, so I kept on. After I started this hike, I began debating each step for the next hour whether this was a good idea or not. After this first 15 min I was out of breath and needed a break. I didn’t have water with me bc after reading notes online it seemed there were guesthouses along the way you could get refreshments plus the extra weight wasn’t something I wanted. Luckily I found a small waterfall along the trail and filled up water (to seemed thats where everyone got their water so I felt ok about it). It was a lot steeper than I had originally thought and by an hour in I was soaking in sweat and I began to get cold. The temps were cool but the weight of the pack made me sweat. I wasn’t sure what to do, if I put a jacket on I would sweat more and if I didn’t the wet shirt would keep my chilly. I decided to dry off and change shirts. This worked for a while until that shirt got sweaty too. Honestly I was aiming just to make it 1/2 way, bc I knew if I made it 1/2 way there would be no point in turning back and I was free from the thoughts of turning back. I took many breaks to prevent the sweat/chills and kept on. I knew my body could handle it if I could push my mind pass the physical challenges. About 2.5 hours in I approached a guesthouse. I took a load off and had a turkish coffee while my shirts dried in the sun and allowed my muscles to relax. They said it was another 4 hours to Valbona but only 2 more hour of uphill (crap lol). I finally made it 1/2 way, it was still uphill :( and my legs were dying. I finally made it to the downhill part, yay! This was a temporary relief as the last part was a steeper decent for about 2 hours. My legs quickly became very weak and I wished for more uphill. I learned you could walk backwards to relive the pressure so I did this on and off. I eventually made it to the bottom and I figured I was home free, plus I had made pretty good time! What I didn’t realize was that once at the bottom I had about 4km more to walk along a rocky dry river bed to get to the city of Valbona where they had guesthouses. I knew the brunt of it was over so I powered through, my front clip on my pack had broken so I didn’t have shoulder support as I started with. Once I hit paved roads I knew I was close and decided to hitchhike the rest (relax its legal here). Once there the pain in my shoulders set in, and it only got worse as the night progressed. The information online had told me the bus left at 10:30am that took you to a ferry that would take you back to Shkoder and from there I could take north to Croatia. Against my better judgement I decided to not double check the info and just try to sleep. I thought I could get up around 8am to double check the info, to my surprise I found out the only minibus left at 7am, so I missed it. Looks like I was spending another day in Valbona. This turned out to be a very nice relaxing day. I explored a little and took some much needed quiet time “taking a hit of life” (a friend described my experience in this way and I thought it was perfect). I had fun flying the drone around doing my best trying to capture the natural beauty of this place. Valbona was very similar to Theth as it was in a valley surrounded by the Alps. The next day I caught the minibus to the ferry which I had 4 hours to wait until the ferry came. More me time. Well my ferry is about to arrive, next stop back to Shkoder then to Dubrovnik Croatia, I imagine ill have to stay in Shkoder another night knowing how the minibus’s run. Some travelers I met here said Croatia is more developed so I’m hoping for more public transport and more english speaking, fingers crossed. See my post "Land of the Eagles" to read more about Albania.

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/10/silverlining Fri, 06 Oct 2017 10:59:13 GMT
"Land of the Eagles" https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/10/landoftheeagles Albania

While I definitely wanted to visit some of the more popular sites in the world I also wanted to discover the not so popular sites. Not many people (myself included) have heard about Albania nor its sites. My main purpose for visiting Albania was to see the Albania Alps. I flew into Tirana to start my journey. From there the plan was to head north to Theth National Park and explore the sites. I had no idea how I would get there and as the journey progressed I learned that it was not going to be any easy feat. Coming from Italy and Greece I was accustomed to decent public transportation, Albania was a different world. From the airport in Tirana I was greeted by learning the bus had stopped running and I would need a taxi. I was also learned there were no english signs and few english speaking people. I was approached by a “taxi” driver that offered to give me a ride to Tirana for 15 Euro (30min drive), luckily I had done some research and had read of them charging upwards of 50 euro so I figured I got a deal and accepted the ride. I quickly realized that this was just some guy driving and not an official taxi, something that I would soon become very familiar with. I became a little nervous being a foreigner in a random guys car driving to what I hoped to be Tirana center city and not somewhere else to get robbed. Luckily my phone had service and I was able to verify on the map that we were indeed going the right direction. After a few phone calls the driver made I began to think, who is he calling? Is this a set up? Luckily I remembered that google translate has a voice translator built in, so I turned it on and it transcribed what the driver was saying in english, to my relief it was just his father. Once in Tirana I stayed at Trip’n’hostel which was recommended by a friend in Greece. They had home brew beer on tap, super friendly people, and the aroma of spliffs (weed/tobacco mix) filled the air. Needless to say it was a pretty cool spot. I had planned to stay there for only 1 night and continue my way north to Theth (still quite aways away). Some of the fellow mates invited me to go out on the town and I decided to check it out. Long story short I ended up staying out till 8am and had a blast. I learned the only way to Theth was to first stop in Shkoder, then from there I could get to Theth the day after. The next bus was 7am so I had no choice but to stay another night. After getting to Shkoder I checked into a hostel and asked where the bus station was. I guess minibus’s are the main form of public transportation here so no real bus stop or website, just word of mouth. Minibus’s were pretty much just a big off road van that they stuffed with people by private vendors. After a 3 hour drive (2 of which was on a off road high clearance road) I arrived in Theth. In Albania the national parks do not have any gov budget so there were no stores or info just guesthouses, where they each offered rooms, a restaurant, wifi, and a bar. I kept getting asked if I was doing the Theth to Valbona hike (a popular 11 mile 1 way hike that was described as easy) the only issue was I had 40lbs of gear to lug around. After debating my options for a bit I decided what the hell, lets do it. I met a guy on the bus that asked to join me, I gladly accepted as I was not stoked to do this hike alone. Oh the views in Theth were spectacular, it reminded me of a underdeveloped Yosemite valley as there were little houses and farms everywhere surrounded by "The Accursed Mountains" (alps mountain range). I have a separate post regarding this hike see "Silver Lining" for the nitty gritty. Once on the other side I arrived at Valbona Valley National Park, very similar to Theth with the Alps surrounding this little town. From Valbona the only way out is by ferry. This ferry ran the length of the Koman lake (a man made lake created to produce hydro electric energy). Did you know that Albania produces 97% of its electricity from its 150 hydroelectric plants with Lake Koman being one of them? The ferry from Valbona to Koman was a gorgeous 3 hour ride with towering cliffs surrounding you. Well I'm off to Dubrovnik, Croatia on my way to Plitvice National Park. Talk to you soon! 

The good- very cheap to live. You could get large beers for $1, food for about $2-$4. Still felt very safe walking by myself at night. Raw natural beauty can be had if you don't mind a little travel.

The bad- little to no public transportation, very little english spoken.

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/10/landoftheeagles Fri, 06 Oct 2017 10:58:56 GMT
Opa! https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/9/opa Well today I leave Greece for Albania and feel I should share a few thoughts I have on Greece.  I was in Greece for about 3 weeks split between, Tolo, Athens, Mykonos, Santorini, and Zante.  I really ended up liking Greece, I felt very safe walking at night and the people I met were very nice. Food was very good, I lived off Gyros most of the time. So the traditional way to serve a Gyro is with some type of Gyro meat (usually chicken or pork), tomatoes, onions, tzatziki sauce, and french fries all rolled up in a fresh pita. Yes french fries, I initially thought it was weird but it made for a very filling and tasty snack that never cost more than 3 Euro. Oh and the pronunciation of a Gyro sounds more like Euro (not guy-row); its ok I used to butcher the word too. Another popular quick bite are souvlaki which are pretty much just meat skewers, around 2 euro. One of my favorite dishes I had was Patitsio which is like a lasagna with meat, penne pasta with white sauce, baked with melted cheese on top, mmmm. Plenty of fresh seafood available on the Islands. One cool thing that seems to be a norm is to get an after dinner free shot or dessert. It seems it happens when you have a group of 3 at least and all are eating (spending $$), although it did happen to me by myself once. Its the little things like that which really make me feel welcome as a visitor.

Athens-

DCIM\100MEDIA\DJI_0101.JPG The good- I really loved Athens, I stayed at Athens backpackers as well as City Circus. Both have epic roof top areas that overlook the Acropolis. Athens Backpackers however has a cool bar at their roof that is great to meet new people. I highly recommend either of these places to stay (both were about 20-25 euro a night). Tons of nightlife, restaurants, bars/pubs, and shopping. Easy to get around via metro or bus, most places are walking though. A big hub for any bus/metro to get to any of the islands and usually cheapest flights are from here.

The bad- Hmm...it can get very hot (35 celsius/95 fahrenheit) and the crowds can get crazy at the sites if you travel during mid day. I went to the Acropolis right when it opened (8am) and had only a few people to deal with as I wanted a few pictures of the Acropolis without the crowds. Some of the bus/train stations (and their websites) don't have an English version so booking/checking rates can be very difficult. I recommend going to one of those little travel agency places and they can do everything for you and explain in english where to go. I chose not to do this and had a flight cancelled (without any notification), missed a train transfer, and missed another train bc I didn't give myself the proper time or wasn't 100% sure where to go. But it was a good learning experience and really, I got nothing but time. 

Tip- if you go to the Acropolis (which you should), place your hands on the marble steps of the parthenon, there is a belief they can help you with self fulfillment and what not. Needless to say I sat there for a few minutes and soaked it up.

Tolo- 

DCIM\100MEDIA\DJI_0070.JPG

The good- plenty of beach front bars/restaurants. Very local area (not many tourists). Relaxing, slow pace. I should mention I was here with my family as my dad was looking at property to retire out there, I probably would not have chosen this for someone less than 50yo. Nafplion is the nearest city and is pretty cool with shops and restaurants right on the water.

The bad- Little to no nightlife beside restaurants. Older crowd, didn't really see many people my age. A lot of the restaurants didn't open till 18:00 (6pm) and I had a hard time finding a Gyro when I wanted one.

 

Mykonos-

"Greece's most famous cosmopolitan island"

Mykonos nightsMykonos nights

I was recommended by a few people to go here for the nightlife, as this island is known to be the party island. What no one told me though was that the season was just about to end (last week literally) which means the clubs were about to close so no big DJ names were booked and it wasn't that busy.

The good- World class bars/Music venues right on the beach that you can find Artists like Tiesto, Afrojack, Nerve just to name a few. IF you are in season (the season ends in September). Still plenty of bars/clubs to go to and very young scene. 

The bad- Well going to a party island when the party's over I think speaks for itself. 

 

Santorini-

"An island for lovers"

The good- Plenty of picture perfect blue and white churches nestle in between shops, restaurants, and hotels right along the cliffside. 

The bad- Not much else to do besides the views. Now if you had a significant other with you then I imagine the views and an epic hotel view is all you would need.

 

Zante (Zakynthos)-

"The flower of the east"

DCIM\102MEDIA\DJI_0026.JPG The good- This was by far the best spot I visited in all of Greece. It had nightlife, epic 200ft+ granite cliffs that drop into the most beautiful water i've ever seen, excellent food, very green and lush, and lots of wineries. Some must see places are shipwreck beach (theres a ship literally right on the beach that crashed there once and they left it for visitors)-you can only get to beach by way of boat but the views from the top I think are better; Xigio is a pretty small beach but has very turquoise water due to sulfur content that comes from the caves nearby. It is said to be very good for the skin due to this mineral content but with it comes that rotten egg sulfur smell.  It honestly wasn't that bad as some of the reviews had indicated. There is also Cameo (private island with a entry fee) that has this bridge that goes to it, very picturesque. 

The bad- no extensive metro/bus routes.  I ended up renting an ATV to get around (thats what they do there) which turned out to be a blast and I could get anywhere around the island I wanted.

 

Check out my Greece Photos here!

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/9/opa Fri, 29 Sep 2017 15:35:24 GMT
Me, Myself and I https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/9/justme Sept 21, 2017

As I lay in my hotel comfy bed Sept 17 early am (the day my family left to go back to states) staring at the ceiling just thinking, what the F am I going to do now.  Well I have so many plans, but it's just me now. I could easily just waste away and not do half as many things as I wanted. That's when it really sunk in, this was no longer just a long vacation as it may have been for the first couple months since I was staying with family/friends. This was going to be a full time job figuring out what to see, when to see, how to get there, how to understand things in different languages, timelines and still remaining flexible for the spur of the moment change of plans. I spent over 4 hours today trying to figure out the next 10 days. Well to be fair I had to work backwards from the end of my trip to today. The only non flexible plan I have so far is to go to Thailand for Yi Peng in early November to see the festival. So I had to work back from there and to see how much time I could/should spend in each place. What I've come to realize is I don't have much time. But JJ you planning to travel for almost 7 months?! Well as I start to research each country that I am on going, there's always so much to see and not enough time. So I either change my plans and stay in a certain region for longer or I spend little time in each place. I am split with this decision, as a photographer its easy to just spend a few days in one spot for some photos and move on, but as a person you begin to meet people and see the culture which you only start to see after a few days which is when I typically leave. But being by myself it is easier to push myself to see more than with a companion that may not be so eager. So for now I'm staying on course, I've shortened/removed some greek islands so I can spend more time in other places. If I wasn't doing a lot of this for my photography passion the answer surely would be different. The way I see it, is that I'm doing a big tour to see what each part of the world has to offer to return (hopefully with a wife) later to really dig for longer to enjoy the stay. For now I'm doing recon work.

One thing I've realized in living in hostels, well there's a few actually; first, there's almost always someone to talk to and or hang out with. Literally every night you can go to the common area, hang out for a bit (sometimes there's a bar) and next thing you know you're out till 6 in the morning with people you just met from all over the world having a blast. I saw this as initially a good thing but as I travel more I realize that it can also prevent me from spending that quality time by myself and finding the joy of solitude that I originally thought I'd be forced to deal with. Second, while I am meeting people from all over the world I am never really meeting anyone from the country I'm in. So far I've met people from Canada, Germany, India, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Netherlands, Oregon and Washington DC. And I've only traveled to Italy, Greece and Hawaii. So while I do enjoy meeting these people and there are a few that I plan on visiting again, it wasn't what I initially expected. The inner joy I seek really has to come from the effort in building that relationship, just as in any typical relationship with another human. I guess thats what drove me to be writing this, to collect my thoughts, course correct and keep truckin.'  Tomorrow I leave for Mykonos which after booking everything and then talking with a few people I wish I would have not gone there and instead Eos, but there was too many things booked to change. Plus I feel I could stay visiting every island here so I need to keep moving for the sake of time. After Mykonos I'm traveling to Zante, then Albania, then to Croatia. There's some pretty magical places there that I hope to capture, and I'll save the location names for my pictures to do them justice.  

TIPS:

Hostel World is a great website/app to help with finding and booking hostels.

Skyscanner is an awesome website/app that searches cheap international flights.  You don't even have to put a destination, it tells you whats cheap from the departure place, pretty cool and pretty easy to get lose yourself on a Euro trip (in a good way).  

Rome2rio is an awesome website/app that tells you how to get from point A to B via bus, car, plane, ferry, and/or train. Very powerful in conjunction with skyscanner. 

Google Translate has a cool feature that uses your camera to translate pictures of foreign languages to your own. Some websites here don't have an english version and even the web browser won't translate it. Very frustrating when you're trying to book the metro.

 

 

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/9/justme Wed, 20 Sep 2017 19:44:27 GMT
"Moment of clarity" https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/9/-moment-of-clarity One of the nights I was out on the town in Italy I got into a pretty nasty fight with a friend who will remain nameless. While I didn’t really want to share this story, I had what I call a moment of clarity in my spirituality that I can’t keep out of my internal journey.  People argue, fight, scream for all different reasons. Before I get into the details there’s a few things that I feel I should explain. We are made of of what I will call layers of consciousness. We have the ego layer and a what I will call a higher level that isn’t influenced by the ego. The ego layer is the need to be right, the need to put someone in their place or show superiority, or hurt someone. It is very powerful and can completely blind you in making sound decisions. The difficulty here is most people aren’t aware that we have this part of us. I for one used to be very egoistical and would have to be right all the time. I was the best. As I explained earlier in my enlightenment, the biggest thing that happened was that I let go of my ego (by let go I mean I realized what was influencing my emotions at least now have the option to fight it). It no longer ruled me, I didn’t care what people thought as much any more and was more focused on making people happy. That being said, during this fight I saw very clearly who was arguing and I was allowing it. I realized that with each second that past I was shaping my reality in a negative way by allowing my ego to rule me. When I realized what was going on I (not sure what I did if anything) I made a conscious effort to not allow it to control my decisions. From that second moving forward I was at peace. I had never been so calm during such a heated moment. I no longer felt the need to be right or prove my point.  All I wanted was for my friend to realize who was controlling him and make the change just as I did. While I really hated how it ended up, realizing that I have the power to step out of a toxic situation was very moving and encouraging to me.

“A man who practices 1 book of knowledge hold more power than one who reads 1000.”

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/9/-moment-of-clarity Thu, 07 Sep 2017 17:04:52 GMT
"Bonjourno" https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/9/-bonjourno Italy

So I spent 3 days in Venice and 3 days in Florence and I have to say they couldn’t be more different.  Venice is a floating city, no cars, no bikes, only boats and walking. Very unique city. The good- Romantic gondola rides with singing Italians just like you see in the movies. Picturesque views around every corner. The bad- very expensive boat taxis and gondola rides, $80 Euro! NO thank you. Very rude people, I bought a gelato from a store and the lady yelled at me for standing in front of a window in front of a shop across the street, not even her shop. Plus there was a sign that stated NO SITTING in front of window, not no standing. I can read signs not your mind. Why did she even care what I was doing at another shop? Geez. The food was OK, not great, just OK. No nightlife, a few very tiny bars but thats about it. 

Florence is hands down one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. The Good- awesome food!!! Best pizza I’ve ever had and I eat a lot of pizza. Best lasagna I’ve ever had. Best Fettuccine Alfredo I’ve ever had. Extremely friendly people. Every restaurant we went in you could tell they pored their heart in their craft and man was it tasty. Our first day we visited the grocery for some vino, didn’t spend more than $4 on a bottle of vino!? That night my brother and I decided to explore the city. It was a Tuesday night so we weren’t expecting much. To our surprise the streets were littered with Italians sitting everywhere drinking wine. We were greeted by a guy trying to get us to go to their Hawaii night, being my brother lives there we couldn’t pass it up.  Once there we got a couple tequilas and some expresso. We gave them a decent tip and went outside (tipping isn’t necessary but kinda hard to break the habit and you always want the bartender to like you). Outside there was a hookah bar that we decided to hang out at.  After a few minutes the bartender came out with a couple free shots and gave them to us. Sweet! After the hookah sesh we went inside for more libations. The bartenders really opened up and by the end of the night we were treated as celebrities. They invited us behind the bar, busted out free glasses and started a photo shoot with us. More free shots. They closed the bar but let us stay with them and invited us to an after party with them. What hospitality! On our second day we visited this little bar/grill called “Off the Hook”- a must visit. They served gourmet burgers and various other items. They give another level to hand crafted cocktails.  Each drink was a delight to watch them make and so delicious to taste. They offered us free coffee/expresso after our meal, we’re like umm sure. To anyone who knows me, knows that I don’t like or drink coffee, but when in Rome right? After the expresso the owner of the place (working the bar) came around the bar with 4 different liquors and sets them down at the table, he said for you, self serve. What? We were all like umm what is going on? Mind you this is after our night out when we were treated as celebrities, we had smiles plastered on our faces the whole time. So naturally we started pouring shots and tried each one lol. He recommended we come back later that night for some live music and touted his night bartender as the best one ever. OF course we returned.  Upon returning we tasted a few cocktails such as Mojitos with sugar torched limes and fresh mint as a garnish and a Flying Fish that had a garnish of hibiscus caviar. Free cocktails again as the night bartender was expecting us. We closed the bar down again and were included in the after hours shots with the locals. There wasn’t a drink that didn’t wow me, and I used to bartend for over 5 years. Four of five restaurants we visited gave us lemon chello shots for free after our meals! That would very rarely ever would happen in the US. I could tell you about 3 more bars we went to with similar experiences. Our worst drink was by far more expertly and uniquely crafted than the best ones I’ve had in the US. 

The bad- none.

Overall Italy is very pedestrian friendly with a ton of shops restaurants, historic churches, palaces, all within 30 min walking from one end to the other. Wine is just about as cheap as water and very tasty. EVERYONE SMOKES- that was a pretty big turn off to see beautiful women smoking cigs everywhere, but I guess thats how they roll. Didn’t come across anyone that couldn’t speak english so that was a nice relief. We all left Italy with a sweet Italian accent that you couldn’t help but imitate. 

I plan to return to Italy for some photography of the Italian Dolomites (part of the Alps) in the next few months. Stay tuned!

 

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/9/-bonjourno Thu, 07 Sep 2017 16:43:31 GMT
Backpacking checklist https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/9/backpacking-checklist If you plan on backpacking for an extended amount of time like me you will need to get a few things in order before you go.

 

Budget- {what will it cost to backpack (daily budgets)+ travel expenses +fixed bills+ money needed to get back on my feet once I return} x time gone =total budget

 

Packing- what do I really need? Are there more travel oriented items than others? Where are you going and whats the climate there? What type of photography(insert own activity here) will you be focusing on?

 

These are the things I had to sit down and decide, I will go over each in detail. Again all of this are based on MY desires and MY lifestyle. I encourage you to do your own research that fits YOU best to make the most of of your travels. This list is based a traveling photographers needs/desires that will have a higher % of space taken up my gear and less room for clothes

 

BUDGET- 

After doing much research it seems your daily budget can range from over $100 to less than $20 depending on the country you are in and how you prefer to sleep. Asian countries (japan and china excluded) tend to be much less expensive than european countries. Sleeping options from the most expensive to least are hotels, airbnbs, hostels, woofing, and couch surfing. Free options are WOOFing (workers on organic farms where you get free stay in exchange for a few hours of work on the farm/house/etc) or couch surfing (couchsurfing.com a place where you can sign up to view and/or list your place for someone to crash at—I have heard mixed reviews here, everything from cool people that have extra space that enjoy the company of others to very lonely people that may expect you to spend time with them hanging out. In my case this is not what I’m looking for and am fortunate to have a budget to allow for hostels/airbnb/hotels.  I have decided on a budget of $100/day which will include food, stay, and some travel. I imagine airbnb or hotel would be a backup if hostels are not an option.  In my experience hostels can be a good way to meet like minded people that usually have good insight on places to visit and/or can be a great travel buddies.  I have met some really cool friends that I still keep in contact today from hostels. I have also budget an additional $500 for travel expenses and misc (activities -the fun stuff!) I’ve learned that a 4 month trip doing everything you want is better than a 6 month trip that you are just getting by not living it up. Remember this is more than likely a once in a lifetime opportunity so DO WHAT YOU REALLY WANT! I have roughly $700 of monthly fixed expenses I just can’t get rid of (car payments, insurance, loans, etc). So my budget is {3k daily expenses (100/day)+$700 set expenses +$500 travel/activities fund+ $9k back on feet fund}x 4 months=$25800 is total budget for everything from start to finish. The only thing I really left out was flight to and from the US, my italy trip was already payed for prior to me deciding to take this trip so I really just need to worry about the return flight. This will leave me roughly $9k saving for me to return to reality with, as you will need $ for rent and bills for roughly 3 months as you get back on your feet. I tried to budget on the higher side of things and really hope to come in under the budget. I plan (and recommend) to return and live with some family to not only get to spend precious time with your loved ones (that you may not ever have a chance to do again) will also give you the opportunity to look for jobs, get your mind back in order, and prepare for the next steps pressure (and $$) free. I hope this gives you an insight to what YOU may need when budgeting your journey.

 

PACKING-

This was a really tough one for me.  The big issues are weight and portability. While you want to make sure you have everything you may need, more than likely you will face some tough decisions on leaving behind certain luxuries that you have come to love. After doing a ton of research on what to bring. I settled on a 55L travel photographer bag from F-stop, comes with internal frame for weight distribution, spot for 15’ labtop, ICU (internal case unit for photography gear), and tripod holder. The following fits in the bag filled to the brim! 

GEAR- Canon 6d (3 batteries and charger), canon 16-35mm f/4 (good wide angle lens) (probably using this the most) canon 24-105mm f/4 (good small zoom-probably second most used), and sigma art 35mm f/1.4 (this is my low light king great for sweet bokeh and milky way pictures) I decided to leave my tele zoom 70-300mm, 14mm ultra wide angle, 50mm, 85mm, due to weight and packing constraints.  I debated a while on whether to bring a drone ( I usually use a 3DR solo that I love but it has a bag of its own and therefor would make me carry 2 bags instead of 1- deal breaker). So I took my advice and said this is a once in a lifetime opportunity so I bought a dji mavic pro (2 batteries)(super compact-size of water bottle) that I could fit in my camera bag.  Mefoto backpacker travel tripod (also small enough to fit in my backpack). Go pro (for those underwater activities and anything else too extreme for my DSLR. Macbook pro 15’(for photo editing)(bought 2nd hand via craigslist specifically for this trip and is considered the best in portable photo/video editing, hint check for battery cycle count before purchasing to give you an idea how much life is let- 1k cycles is about the life), WD 2TB external hard drive for backing up my photos (also have copy on computer, hard drive, and cloud backup just in case life happens). Anker power bank 26,800 mil battery pack, you can never have enough juice for your devices! Anker is by far the best value in portable power banks IMO. All supporting cables/chargers for devices (phone charger, drone battery charger, camera battery charger, laptop charger)

CLOTHING- after much research I have decided to jump on the merino wool train. Merino wool is naturally antibacterial and is super fine material which makes it very comfortable. It is VERY expensive but when space is at the utmost importance you either have to decide how much time can you allot for laundry. I am bringing 3 no smell merino wool boxers, 4 pair socks (3 merino wool), 2 pairs of shorts, 1 pair of athletic shorts, 1 pair jeans, 3 merino wool t shirts, 1 merino wool long sleeve, 1 athletic shirt (dry fit), patagonia Nano Puff Jacket (excellent warmth and packs down very small), 1 columbia rain/wind jacket(extremely thin), 1 beanie, 1 pair thin gloves, 1 pair sandals, 1 pair Allbirds-super comfy shoes made of, you guessed it, merino wool. 

MISC- I highly recommend AmazonBasics Small Packing Cube Set to keep everything organized- i.e. shirts in one, shorts in another, or clean vs dirty, etc, really helps me stay sane lol. All in one travel international converter-important not to just get adapter- ok for phones but not other things like drones/laptops as it will actually convert it to your correct output levels. Toiletries, try to get everything in a travel size, except toothpaste/deodorant- I opted for no electric shaver, which I normally use, so i may return a little hairy but i guess beards are in so great. 1 book- divine thought (great book for keeping your thoughts positive and shaping the reality you want), single use tide bags (not pods) t=so you can use a little for laundry in the sink when needed. headphones - I really wanted to bring my noise canceling over the ear ones but again space didn’t allow and i figure it was a better idea since i tend to space out with the quiet ones (making me an easier target for thieves). Other things to consider, car registration (mine expires in dec so ill need to renew beforehand)(if you aren’t leasing/financing a car you can register as non operational and save yourself the insurance payment).  International credit card with no foreign use fee- I recommend some type of airmiles card (personally I use southwest card and love it but not the best for using miles on international flights (which I don’t do as much as domestic). It have gotten probably 5 free round trip tickets out of it so far saving over $2500 easy! Have your mail forwarded to family or a trusted friend. Foriegn visas, while most countries are cool with the USA passports but some you will need a temporary passport (easy to get normally but will need it before you get there). For phone service you can pay your USA carrier but will be the more expensive option. You can also have your phone unlocked and change sim cards as you travel to different regions, this will probably be the cheapest option but may leave you without a phone until you get an international sim. The last option is to switch your service to Google Fii, the rates dont change when you travel and no sim card change is necessary. To clarify the data rates don't change, $10/gb in the USA and in over 200 countries. For calling its 20 cents/min and free texting. For me I usually just need data so this works the best. The down side is it only works on select phones, such as Google pixel and the nexus line-up. 

 

Thats about it! My backpacks weighs in around 40lbs but fits as a carry on flights so theres never a risk of loosing my stuff or paying for checked bags. If possible I recommend to do a short trip (like a trial run) with your gear to see what you really do and don’t need.  

 

Well today I leave for Italy and then greece with my dad, his wife, a few of their friends, and my brother. This trip will be roughly 2 weeks and will be more a family vacation than anything else.  After that they leave and my really journey begins. :) Details on my next steps coming soon!

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/9/backpacking-checklist Sat, 02 Sep 2017 16:33:06 GMT
OK you’ve decided you want to travel to new and exciting places, where to now? https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/9/ok-you-ve-decided-you-want-to-travel-to-new-and-exciting-places-where-to-now I knew I wanted to explore the world, but the world is a big place and you really have to think about where and what you want to experience before you can set an itinerary and budget. I really recommend not having a set itinerary, and more of a list of must do spots with a lot of room to wander. As you travel, especially when you don’t have a set plan, you start to really enable the universe to guide you to the most amazing places and meet the most amazing people. If you get a recommendation to go to a certain place, well its the universe telling you something, go with it, everything happens for a reason. It will ultimately fulfill your deepest goals whatever they may be (if you don’t have specific goals-its probably time to start thinking what you really want out of life). For me I have 4 basic goals= To expand my photographic library of amazing places, find who I really am - what really makes me tick (you’ll have a lot of time by yourself so better figure out who you really are to enjoy it), to leave some positive impact on the places I visit that will live on beyond me (this was a recent addition to my list)- and I don’t really know what exactly this means but that’s OK, and most importantly to really enjoy the journey. Each day you will make decisions and actions towards these goals, and as small as they may be, each time you transform an idea to an action you are telling the universe what to manifest for you. By the end of my journey I have no doubt each of these goal will be realized and/or become very clear what is needed to fulfill these goals.  It may be exactly what I was looking for, and it may not. I may have to set new more specific goals because my goal while it may have been reached it wasn’t really what I wanted, meaning I need to reword/rethink the goal.  A good example is people who dream of being rich with money, well they may reach it but have an upside-down work/life balance and/or may be flat out miserable BUT hey the goal was realized.  More than likely the people who want to be rich with money really are saying they want to be happy, free from worries, and have ample time to enjoy life.  They have what is known as a disassociation, they associate money with happiness or freedom, which is not always the case. All they really need to do is rethink what they really want and reset their goals. I see this all the time and for a long time my goals were what I call earthly desired based, and not self fulfilling based. My goals have changed from everything from big houses and big salaries to happiness and the ability to help others. While I don’t know what career or house size this will result in but why did I want those goals anyways- to be happy, so maybe I will have a big house, maybe I won’t, but it won’t matter because ill have realized the ultimate goal of happiness and self fulfillment.  I encourage everyone reading this travelers or not to take a deep look at your goals. Do they really align with what you REALLY want or do you have a disassociation going on? Also when dreaming about your goals (a necessary step to keep you motivated to wake up each morning) don’t ever dream of wanting something (or else you will get exactly that), dream of what your life is like now that you have realized your dreams. How do you feel now that you have reached it? 

A wise man once said “A man is not old until his regrets take the place of his dreams.”

 

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/9/ok-you-ve-decided-you-want-to-travel-to-new-and-exciting-places-where-to-now Sat, 02 Sep 2017 16:22:24 GMT
Hawaii! Months 2-3 https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/8/hawaii-months-2-3 Aloha Beaches! Hawaii bound! So I am fortunate enough to have my younger brother living in Waikiki, HI. Waikiki if you don't know is located in Honolulu in Oahu. Oahu is the most populated island of all the Hawaii islands and Waikiki is the center of it all. Shopping, restaurants, bars, beaches, hiking, it has it all! It is literally where you go to vacation and I get to Iive here for 2 months, wee!!  If you plan on staying here for any amount of time I recommend buying/renting a moped. It is so much fun to drive as the temps are always perfect, most everything is very close, and most importantly of all parking is a B#$%$.  I bought one on craigslist for $500 and sold it in 2 months for $500 with ease. I also bought a surf board and sold it same price also.  Craigslist.org is awesome, learn to use it for anything and everything, but beware there is no company that monitors the sales so use your head. I began my Hawaii trip like anyone normal human should, with lots of Mai Tais! I used Waikikimenus.com to find the best happy hours and began my libations. Must tries are fresh Poke, Hawaiin BBQ mixed plates, Loco Mocos, and Malasadas.  There is plenty of typical mainland food but when in Rome right? 

Check out all my Hawaii photos here! Sharks coveSharks cove

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/8/hawaii-months-2-3 Thu, 24 Aug 2017 21:36:40 GMT
Month 1 https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/8/month-1 May 2017

Ok, no job, a few weeks left at my apt, and a crazy idea to travel the world for an undisclosed amount of time. Where do I begin? How would I possibly plan this out? I already had a trip to Italy and Greece planned in Sept. with my dad and his family and I knew I desperately needed to see my family who I only got to see every couple years. I had to fill 3 months before the Italy trip. My brother lives in Hawaii and always is trying to get me out there so I called him up and he offered to put me up from June to Aug.! Alright plans are coming together. I just have a few weeks left in Cali then off to Hawaii! Perfect timing to organize the details and move my stuff into storage and still leave time for a little journey. So I took a week and flew to vegas rented a car and explored the southwest in all its glory. Utah has a ton of amazing parks to explore and some of the darkest skies imaginable so I started to head to Arches national park. Along the way at a gas station near green river I saw a familiar face.  Weird, in the middle of nowhere in a state I knew nobody I saw somebody I knew? Sure enough I saw Ms. Tracy Lee, founder of Milky Way Chasers facebook/instagram group and social media extraordinaire. She was with a group with of photographers doing the same thing, chasing the milky way.  She invited me along for an overnight hike/camping to a remote spot called 5 hole arches. What an experience! You can find this place on Alltrails- a hiking/bike/running app that tells you everything you need to know about trails. This place was this cut out cave just next to a huge canyon with 5 huge holes opening up to this canyon and the skies. Here's the view we had from inside the cave/campsite. How epic is this! Its amazing how the world fabricates the necessary things to fulfill your dreams. From then I went to Canyonlands NP, Goblin SP, Arches NP, Dead Horse SP, Monument Valley, Horseshoe bend, Antelope Canyon, and Grand Canyon NP.  If you have any questions on visiting any of these places or questions about any of how I took these photos I'd love to help you! Check out my Southwest Gallery in latest adventures to see more awesome pictures from this trip. After returning from this trip I was feeling good, I had to whole world at my finger tips and I was ready to dig in!  Next stop Hawaii! "The Explorer"

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/8/month-1 Thu, 24 Aug 2017 21:05:23 GMT
About me https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/8/about-me As some of you may know I have had the travel bug for quite some time now, but with work, and a life full of distractions it makes it hard to take the time to travel like I really wanted to. I had a goal of traveling for 6 months -1 year, mostly international.  I didn't know how I would reach my goal but I knew if I wanted it bad enough I could make it happen.  I started saving and had a 2 year goal for my departure date. I started paying off my bills as i realized that I could travel longer if I had less bills to pay, duh.  At the time I was working as a manager at Verizon Wireless in Santa Cruz, CA and had been for over 8 years.  Verizon decided in May 2017 to reorganize the company and let go many of their long time managers amungst other positions.  I was an affected employee and had the option to apply for another position within the company or take severance pay- 2 weeks pay per year I worked. This equated to about 17 weeks pay and they gave me 30 days pay to decide without having to work.  So 21 weeks pay or reapply and keep my seniority....Hmmmm I wasn't quite ready to travel as I really wanted to pay my car off to reduce my bills further. Having worked at Verizon for 8 years taught me a lot. The biggest take aways I had was that working hard didn't equate to success. I've been working very hard since I was 15 to become what I thought was "successful" and to in many peoples eyes and even society I had achieved success; Good paying job, good friends, nice car, living in a beautiful place but there was something missing. Time with family, time for me, time to find who I really was..."Purpose" to put it in one word. I have always considered myself more spiritual than religious but it wasn't till I stopped working until I really became deeply interested in it. I call it "my enlightenment" and ill never forget the day I had the perception shift in how I see the world. I read a quote from a spiritual teacher Osho who traveled the world speaking of mindfulness, love and how to live a fulfilling life.  His teachings go against what are taught in the "west". Most of us think that if we reach our goals and become materially rich we will be happy. But Osho says this isn't the case. Instead we need to embrace who we are in the inside and only then can we live a meaningful life. This resonated with me and has become more clear with each passing day.  Needless to say I knew I wouldn't have this opportunity to again for this experience.  I was off to see the world! I put my 30 days notice in at my apt and started to plan my journey. This journey is more than just traveling and photography for me, this is about self discovery.  I am creating this blog to document my travels, my life experiences, and the internal changes that I have and will continue to experience. I hope you enjoy my journey!

I might add my "Enlightenment" occurred after the 2nd month of travel and my real reason for choosing to travel was my passion for travel photography. It wasn't until later that things started to make sense. I'll touch on this more in month 3.

 

 

 

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(Xlj Photography) https://www.xljphotography.com/blog/2017/8/about-me Thu, 24 Aug 2017 19:41:36 GMT