Mike visited:

» Thailand
» Myanmar (Burma)
» Laos
» Cambodia
» Vietnam
» India
» Nepal
» Egypt
» Jordan
» Uganda
» Tanzania
» Malawi
» Mozambique
» Swaziland
» South Africa

View a map of his route.

 press/awards earned a few nice mentions in the press, including's vote as best travel blog on the Web. Read about it on the Press/Awards page.

Review of the Journey So Far - Part Two

When I was sitting in my apartment in Chicago dreaming about this trip, I was most excited about visiting India and Egypt. More than any other countries, these two represented the height of exotic and dramatic travel.

India and Egypt did not disappoint, nor did their respective neighbors, Nepal and Jordan. Here's a quick review of the months I spent in these countries, and also some notes on my health, finances, and the project.

Varanasi street scene
In most countries, you just observe what's going on. In India, you participate. You have no choice. If there's a marriage parade marching down the street you don't simply watch it. You get absorbed into it. Before you know it you're gyrating your hips and waving your hands around like you're on Star Search.

In this way, and in many others, India is the ultimate independent travel destination.

India is also a confusing destination. Since my visit I've spent a tremendous amount of time thinking about its history, what it needs, what it doesn't need, and the emotions it evoked in me. Here's what I'm thinking:

  • What's best for the West is seldom best for other cultures
  • It's impossible to solve problems that you don't fundamentally understand
  • You can't use a single measuring stick to judge the needs and achievements of different cultures
  • As much as we'd like to benefit from the knowledge of others, we usually have to learn our lessons on our own, the hard way

Saraswati, Goddess of knowledge
Toward the end of my visit in India I contracted Giardia, a single-celled parasite passed in the stool of an infected person or animal (which is to say I ate a poopy samosa somewhere in Rajasthan). I lost 20lbs (9kg). I was on a gastro-intestinal rollercoaster for a good three weeks. One day I'd be solid, feeling on the upswing, the next day I'd log four hours on the toilet. By the time I reached Delhi, my departure-point, I was clawing to get out of the country. I felt utterly fed up, horribly intolerant, and ashamed of myself for feeling that way.

I think that everybody glamorizes India in their memory, and I knew I'd be no exception. Lest I forget the filth, pollution, rip-offs, hassles, and car horns, I drafted a list of all the things that drove me nuts – a six-pager.

As for the things that I loved, well, I didn't need to draft a list – they're etched in my mind; they grow more exaggerated every day.

Cairn and prayer flags atop Thorung La pass
I got off to a good start in Nepal. On my first day in Kathmandu I checked into a travel clinic, was diagnosed with Giardia, and began treatment that same day. Three days later I was close to 100%. Nepal was looking like paradise.

Kathmandu is legendary on the Asian travel circuit for its Western restaurants and amenities. The hype is true. There are so many traveler-centric niceties that it's easy to miss how fascinating and historically rich the city is.

The Annapurna trek was a major highlight of my travels. Diverse culture, natural splendor, extended time with friends, and great physical challenge – that trek really had it all.

The Nepalese people are what make the country so special. I don't know where you'll find a kinder, gentler, or more humble bunch.

Statue of Ramses II, nighttime, Luxor Temple
I'd been excited about visiting Egypt for 20 years. Egypt has always represented the pinnacle of ancient man's achievements to me. In terms of exoticism and romance, nothing conjured up as strong an impression as River Nile. I'd heard there was good diving in Egypt too.

Incredibly, Egypt surpassed even my most storybook expectations.

Cairo, my entry point, is a teeming, vibrant city. I spent eleven days there before it even occurred to me to move on. I could live in that city.

The Pyramids of Giza did not disappoint, but it was Abu Simbel that really dazzled me.

table coral and goldfish, Ras Mohammed, Sharm el-Sheikh
I'm a museum and temple enthusiast, but after four weeks of ancient Egypt I was ready for a break. Dahab, on the Sinai Peninsula, was just what the Pharaoh ordered. Sun, san, and banana pancakes ahoy! It could have been paradise, if only the available women weren't so taken with Egyptian men (although some of those guys can be pretty smoove).

The diving in Dahab was the best I've ever done. I earned my advanced certification there and did 12 fun dives, including the Thistlegorm, a WWII wreck.

I was only in Jordan for a week, so I can't really comment on it extensively. I just went to see Petra on a spontaneous detour from Dahab. Petra was a worthy diversion, but what impressed me more was the hospitality and openness of the Jordanians. I look forward to returning to the Middle East for a more extensive tour.
The Treasury as seen from Siq gorge, Petra

On Traveling Alone
Traveling alone continues to open doors that would otherwise remain closed for me. I think you're just so much more approachable when you're on your own. I wouldn't have met half the people I've met if I were part of a group.

Although I'm traveling alone, I'm seldom on my own. There are always people to meet up with at guest houses or on journeys.

As I said in my first review of the journey, I've had my share of solitary dining experiences. But that's part of the deal.

It was nighttime; I was lost. Where was the main road? I sensed that the group of young men behind me was getting closer. I could hear them muttering and laughing; out of the corner of my eye I saw that some were carrying crowbars…

Just kidding. I haven't had a single security or safety issue yet on this trip. I've never felt in personal danger or in danger of having my stuff stolen.

I really feel safer here than I do at home. And I seldom felt unsafe at home.

That said, a girl at my guest house in Kampala just had her pack stolen off the back of a matatu (public minibus); I'll have to take care.

Still, I'm convinced that the most dangerous aspect of traveling is crossing city streets.

Excluding the parasite in India, I've been in excellent health over these past months. In Nepal I regained most of the weight I'd lost. I also took up yoga, which I still practice three or four times a week (physical exercise is a key component to maintaining a positive frame of mind – which, in turn, is a key component to having fun and meeting people on the road).

my Fujitsu Lifebook P2000
I had a scare with the laptop today. The fully-charged battery had died after a long, bouncy matatu journey, and, even with AC power, the computer refused to start. Finally, after a long process of trial and error with battery removal and disc checking, I managed to recover the system from a serious error.

Yikes! If this computer died in East Africa it'd probably shut the site down until I got home (which would be tragic because I've got some great new video I want to cut up).

When the computer finally started I realized how rugged and reliable all my equipment has been. I've put this stuff through conditions no gadget should have to endure, and everything has held up beautifully.

(I've elaborated on the kit I'm carrying on the About > Equipment page.)

I'm still averaging around $30 per day for everything – flights, hotels, transportation, food, entertainment, etc. And by no means have I been scrimping, skipping meals, or staying in the cheapest rooms available.

The Project
In terms of my motivation and enthusiasm, the Vagabonding project is still going strong. In nine months I have:

  • shot 35 hours of video
  • taken 5,357 photographs (and posted 316 good ones)
  • written 37 travelogue articles
  • produced 30 video shorts got some crazy traffic after being chosen as a Yahoo! Pick (3428 unique visitors in one day!). Traffic has since mellowed to an average of 750 visitors per day. Which is still extremely exciting to me.

In June over 13 gigabytes of data was downloaded from the site. There are currently 909 newsletter subscribers.

Africa Awaits
I'm in Masaka, Uganda as I write this, en route to Bwindi Impenetrable National park. I'm tremendously excited about the coming months. I'm also spinning with the shock and foreignness of East Africa. Which is a good thing. When travel ceases to surprise – and sometimes frighten – it's time to hang up the backpack.

Posted on July 07, 2003 04:41 AM


Comments (post your own below)

Dear Mike

I confess, I'm one of the 3428. And now one of the regular 750 as well. Yours is a fascinating trip, and one that I enjoy living vicariously. 'Tis a pity you didn't have more time to spend in the Middle East - it's a much maligned and misunderstood part of the world, and your insights from Jordan have been repeated manifold in my own experience living and working in the Gulf. Come back and spend some quality time! Enjoy Africa - I look forward to the next installment.

Best regards

Posted by: Jonathan Castle on July 7, 2003 08:27 AM

I visit every day... and even when there isn't a new article, the site never disappoints.

Keep up the great work!

Posted by: vis10n on July 7, 2003 09:24 AM

Dear Mike,
I traveled a lot and basically agree with your comments. Just one piece of advice: you say you are looking for very kind and friendly people? Try Iran. In spite of common thoughts about that country, they are the kindest people I ever met. Of course the Iranian government is one thing, people in the street are another. I don't like Ayatollahs, but I love Iranians. And the country is very very beautiful.
Thanks for an interesting site. Bye

Giovanni, from Italy

Posted by: Giovanni Briolini on July 7, 2003 09:43 AM

I also found you through yahoo picks, and I have been hooked ever since. I have also told all my friends about this site. The site design is great, the photos are awesome, the travelouge's are interesting and easy to read. I wish I could travel, so I get to pretend travel with you.

Thanks again, and stay safe.

Posted by: Joe on July 7, 2003 04:36 PM

Thanks for the equipment run-down.

Posted by: C on July 8, 2003 10:15 AM

Mike - Good to know you're still having a blast out on the road. I maintain that yours is the best travel site on the internet. Keep up the good work.
Not supporting narcotics - but the next time you get laid up w/ giardia try eating a small ball of opium. It might knock you out for 24 hours, but you'll be right as rain when you come to!

Posted by: Aeon on July 8, 2003 12:19 PM

Hello Mike, this is Jamie's mum (you did the trekk with him in Nepal). I read your travel comments regularly and want to say "thank you" for such interesting coverage. Jamie is in Northern India at the moment and is really enjoying it. Take care and happy travelling.

Posted by: lily dodds on July 8, 2003 02:55 PM

Your photography & writing are beautiful. You are doing what I so desperately wish I had the time & money for.

Thank you for allowing me to live vicariously.

Be safe, have fun; I look forward to more.


Posted by: cyberangel on July 9, 2003 10:43 AM

I'm glad you mentioned your budget. We Americans are quick to fall back on the defense that "I can't afford to quit my job," but that's just a cop out. We're scared to travel. Thanks for demonstrating how worthwhile and possible it is. For all of us.

Posted by: ray on July 9, 2003 12:40 PM

Oh Mike,
Sorry for you. Yeah i'm referring to the giardia infection. Hope things stay good and safe in Africa. Excellent travelogue so far. You really are doing a great job in inspiring most of your website visitors to take a journey without any fear or prejudice.
Good luck, enjoy the rest of the travel too.

Posted by: Arul Subramanian on July 11, 2003 07:15 AM

I am thinking much like you should sell me your women, yes?

Posted by: jousef al-akbar on July 11, 2003 08:08 AM


And it keeps getting better!

Posted by: Dan on July 12, 2003 03:06 PM

I'm lucky to be one of those who've followed your journey pre-Yahoo, almost from the beginning. Your writing and photos are really inspiring and motivating. And I'm still amazed that in the midst of all the wonder and excitement of traveling you still set aside time to edit photos and video, write travelogues, and update your website.

Sorry to hear about the giardia. That's something that everyone who travels or spends time outdoors always dreads thinking about. But it's good to know you got over it fairly unscathed.

Your trip is coming to its last quarter. Are you really going to end the journey or just keep going? I don't know how you can come back now.

Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Todd Adams on July 13, 2003 12:52 PM

I really enjoy reading about all your experiences. Have fun in Africa and take care.

Posted by: Javier (Spain) on July 13, 2003 05:13 PM

I’m also a pre-Yahoo groupie and one of the faithful 1000. I'm already afraid of "vagabonding" withdrawal so please give us advanced warning when you decide to hang it up!

Your costs sound very reasonable. In 1999 my wife and I did a similar yearlong trip for $55/day including all transportation and souvenirs. ...Also agree with an earlier post re: Iranians being welcoming. We were treated like rock stars in Uzbekistan, the friendliest country we visited, but this experience seemed to pale in comparison to stories from travelers who had ventured into Iran and northern Pakistan. NP received glowing reviews for friendliness and hospitality, while one solo traveler gave this summary of Iran: “The friendliness of the people was so overwhelming, that at times I was afraid to leave my hotel for fear of being mobbed by people who just wanted to have a conversation with me.” Iranians seemed also quick to draw a distinction between governments and individuals. One quote “Your government and my government don’t like each other but you and I, we can be friends.”, displays an open-mindedness that goes wanting here in the states. Of course, this was prior to our government unleashing its fury on the Taliban and Baath party. NP is probably only for serious thrill seekers at this point.

A couple questions:
1. Perhaps it’s on the site and I’ve missed it, but with all your electronics I’m curious as to how much weight you’re carrying.

2. I’m sure you’ve spent a fair amount of time word processing, editing video material and stills, uploading, etc. while on the road. It’s one thing to do it at home in the everyday world, but another to spent time in an “exotic” setting doing the same. Since your travel days are numbered, I wonder if you have thoughts on whether or not you’ll look back and regret the time spent futzing with the turn of a phrase or tweaking a page layout when you could have otherwise been out exploring a town or village you’ll never pass through again?

With the same breath I can only say “More, more! Keep the stories coming!”

Posted by: SchmankBomb on July 14, 2003 10:39 AM

Hello SchmankBomb,

Your comments always have an edge, and I like that.

A couple answers:

1. In total, I'm carrying 55 lbs (25 kilos).

2. I spend about one day each week preparing site content, and I doubt I'll regret that time spent. I'm the type of person who needs downtime to recharge my batteries, and working on the site is a constructive way to spend that time.

Working on the site is often a great comfort. Traveling on your own is sometimes lonely and stressful, but I always find release in the work.

Lastly, I'm a geek. If I weren't working on this project, part of my life would be empty.

Posted by: mike on July 15, 2003 12:46 PM

Thanks for the insights. I understand about the value of down days. Working on the site seems much more fulfilling than reading trash novels gleaned off fellow travelers (my general experience).

55 lbs. Whew! ...and after 9 months your load is probably as efficient as it can get. The extra 15-20 you're lugging around is a windfall for the rest of us! Thanks.

Posted by: SchmankBomb on July 16, 2003 09:00 AM

Great overview, I've been following for a while comparing content of personal travel sites while developing my own. I've been planning my around-the-world trip in my head for 5 years. I'm just deciding on a departure date now. When you get back I'd love to pick your brain about your trip (I live in Chicago as well).

Thanks for all the hard work. Although you have a map of your trip so far, I'd love to see a copy of your pre-planned itinerary.

Posted by: Megan K on July 17, 2003 11:20 AM

Hey, I heard about this site on a dvx user forum. There was a discussion about the durability of the camera. Well, not only have you (and the camera) put that issue to rest, you have intrigued a wide array of people all over the world. I'm not sure how that makes you feel... but I think that is an amazing feat. Almost as cool as actually traveling. Great to see.
Safe Journeys,

Posted by: Justin on July 22, 2003 11:27 PM

der :Hile العزيز ه:هيل لك التحبه كنت اتمنا التواصل اللغوي معك لكن ما اود قوله ان رحلاتك رائعه اتمنا ان تزور بلادي ليبيا فهيا بلاد رائعه وسوف تبهرك صحرائها وشواطئها

Posted by: Attia HS on July 29, 2003 07:23 AM

hi man, that's a way to live. right.
I know, maybe, how you're feeling. last yea I spent 4 months travelling around the world (Papua new guinea, india, guatemala, perù, botswana, turkey, belgium , england)as a video reporter for the volunteers' odissey, a great project founded by U.N and crap like this. we were 21 of us, from different countries: our task was to film ONG and people helping other peole. now I'm planning a trip in africa to film pain and beauty, art and ONG. gimme a feedback if you wanna have a flat in rome (I'm italian , 28) or if we can arrange to shoot and edit something together. I use sony pd150, canon xm-2 and edit with final cut and premiere. well, what to say? let's keep in touch man.
walter odissey romeo

Posted by: walter romeo on August 1, 2003 10:48 AM

Great to see your journeys, since meeting your in Rajahstahn and drinking dodgy malt liquor I have followed your journey with interest. I'm pleased you made it to the middle east and didn't wimp out.

As a project is fantastic,

Posted by: jamie on August 6, 2003 05:00 AM

do you ever receive negative feedback or do you erase the comments you dont' like?

Posted by: maged on August 8, 2003 10:38 AM

I've erased only two comments on the site so far (one was offensive, the other was just stupid). I welcome all feedback on the site - good or bad - provided that the author has a point.

Posted by: mike on August 12, 2003 12:46 PM

I'm so proud of you cousin Mike!!

Posted by: Amanda Crist on August 15, 2003 05:05 PM

Fantastic site and I admire (along with envy of course) what you are doing.

Travelling alone; Thanks for putting in two sentences what I have been trying to explain to friends who think I am nuts for travelling alone. Alone but not lonely.

I see you are headed down here to South Africa, hope you hit Cape Town (looking out my office window at Table Mountain right now) for spring as it is really glorious.

Keep it up and I will be checking vagabonding out every day.

Posted by: Paul Watson on August 16, 2003 10:02 AM

The pic you took in Luxor depicts Ladakh in Indian Himalayas. Ladakh is also another fascinating destination.

Posted by: Trek Lover on August 20, 2004 10:52 AM

Comments closed.


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