A lot of blogs out there preach how to live a life of travel and make it sound all so easy. The truth is however that the majority of us still work in a regular job with all the constraints and obligations that come with it. This next traveler portrait in the form of a guest post is by my friend Alex, who has found his unique way of maintaining a demanding career while still traveling as much as possible. Very much different from the last traveler portrait but just as inspiring.
While some people struggle financially to achieve their nomadic dreams, a common struggle many of us face is balancing travel with a full-time job in the corporate world. Typically the average American worker receives only 10 vacation days a year. Europeans have considerably more time off, but for intrepid travelers, even 20-30 days of vacation never seems like enough; after all, the world is a big place.
So how do you manage a demanding career while fulfilling your wish to see the planet? For me, a framed photo on the wall in my office boils it down to a simple mantra:
“BOOK A TICKET AND JUST LEAVE”
Of course, life is never so simple-but it is amazing how much you can see and do on a trip with a limited amount of time. You just have to approach your free time as a sprint race rather than a luxurious excuse to relax; sometimes, under such pressure, you even appreciate your vacation more knowing that it is so precious, with not a moment wasted!
One of the most rewarding-and exhausting-trips I experienced was 3 days spent exploring the Golden Triangle of India (Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur). This circuit takes the average traveler 7-8 days, but I only had 3 to spare (I was there for work and could only afford to be away from the office for an additional few days after my meetings concluded). I hired a driver for a portion of the Triangle and took the public train through the countryside for the remainder so I could experience a slice of everyday life with India’s working class.
In order to complete my wishlist of touring the Taj Mahal and the various palaces, forts, museums and ruins in Jaipur and Delhi, I would wake up before sunrise to hit the road, and I would not check in to my hotel until midnight. I barely slept, but it was an experience I will never forget.
Exhausting? Sure. But for a travel junkie like me, the adrenaline kicked in and the thrill of discovery was all the fuel I needed. Of course, I would prefer to spend 3 weeks or months in India (and some day I will); but for the limitations placed upon me I made the most of every moment. It was an exhilarating bonus to a trip that would have otherwise been spent in drab offices and hotel conference rooms—and an added benefit was that I slept the entire 20-hour flight back to Los Angeles which made the return journey seem very quick indeed!
Another example of squeezing the most out of my available free time was the aforementioned 3-day trip to Palawan last September. I was already in Hawaii for an open ocean swim race, a 5-hour flight from my home in Los Angeles. But the Hawaiian islands are also nearly halfway to Asia. So to maximize my 4 days off from work (including a national holiday), I decided to leave Hawaii after the competition and head to the Philippines. This quick-and tiring- jaunt afforded me an opportunity to explore a new country, which is always preferable to sleeping on a beach in my opinion!
A late evening flight got me into Manila the following morning with the time change, but my connection to Palawan was still several hours away. Rather than waste time in the airport on my laptop, I hired a tour guide to take me on a three-hour morning tour of Manila. While this would not have been an intended vacation destination for me, I was surprised and delighted to find a city full of warm, friendly people and interesting sights such as Rizal park, the gorgeous architecture of Intramuros and San Agustin church, the Coconut Palace, and the Mall of Asia. I sampled street food and got a taste of a major world city I would have otherwise never seen.
Once I arrived in Palawan, it was decidedly more relaxed than the few hours in Manila…but with only 3 days to enjoy, I immediately jumped into a dive boat and headed out for some cool dives in the calm, clear lagoons that the region is known for. It was not disappointing. As tired as I was without sleep for over 24 hours, the beauty of my surroundings and the lively conversation of the locals on the boat kept me engaged and happy.
That evening, the boat captain insisted I taste balut, since I had asked him about it. We went to his mother’s house and she prepared the eggs containing duck fetuses inside. I was very tired, but the balut was delicious and my hosts were giggling with disbelief that an American tourist would so readily eat not one but two samples of the local delicacy.
Obviously, three days in Palawan was not enough-and I would have loved to move into one of the inexpensive beachside resorts with my suitcase and swimsuit for several more days and nights of diving, sailing the lagoons, hiking the karst limestone cliffs…and even balut. My heart ached as my tuk-tuk took me back across the dirt roads to the airport when it was time to return to California. But I would not trade the 3-day experience for the world, to have been there and enjoyed the life for a brief moment in time. If anything, it convinced me that I have to come back, and stay longer the next time.
There are even weekend trips you can take to inspire your wanderlust, if you are willing to take a night flight on a Friday and return Monday morning in time for your first office meeting. This year, I have taken weekend trips from Los Angeles to several faraway places: Mexico City, Cancun, Alaska, Vancouver, and even Colombia. These were three-day national holiday weekends, but what I lost in sleep I certainly made up for with unique experiences I will never forget.
From climbing Aztec pyramids (Mexico City) to swimming with whale sharks (Isla Mujeres), from hiking glaciers (Alaska) to diving in freshwater cenotes (Cancun), from landing on alpine lakes in a seaplane (Vancouver) to sampling street food in the world’s most colorful town (Guatape, Colombia)-all possible, all done in 3 days or less, and all within reach if you’re willing to do it.
I make no pretensions about my travel style; I recognize it is not the proper way to really absorb and appreciate a foreign culture, nor is it even remotely how I would explore the world were I not committed to my job. But short trips, however challenging the itinerary, actually can invigorate you in spite of the sleep-deprivation. A few days in a foreign place that you would otherwise not visit will inspire you to make the most of every moment, to witness the sunrise and see the sunset, to soak in your surroundings and be grateful for every waking moment.
Sometimes, it is a very simple decision. BOOK A TICKET AND JUST LEAVE.
Alex Kostich is living in Los Angeles, California USA. As a member of the US National Swim Team, his love of travel was sparked when he toured the world competing internationally (most memorably the Pan American Games in Cuba where he met Fidel Castro and won two gold medals, and competing in East Berlin shortly before ‘the wall’ came down). Currently, he is an advertising executive at Sony Pictures Studios, where he has worked on the international marketing campaigns for films such as the “Spiderman” and the James Bond series. When he is not working or racing in long distance open-water swim competitions, he is traveling or planning his next weekend ESCape.
I hope you liked this traveler portrait / guest post. For me personally, Alex is one of the most inspiring persons I have met in a long time. Feel free to drop a comment or a message for Alex below. If you know someone whose story is inspiring and worth sharing, please let me know.
Disclaimer: All images copyright by Alex Kostich