Five Things You Can Lose To Make Travel Easier

Note: This post cross-posted from my self-hosted blog.

One of the questions I get asked a lot is what sort of things a person can do to make it easier to travel or lead a nomadic lifestyle. My answer is usually that the biggest change you can make is in the way you think about your personal belongings. To be a nomad, you must think like a nomad. If you look at virtually any nomadic culture, you will see that they do not generally have much. When you have to be able to carry your life around on a cart/camel/caravan, you learn to really pare down what you “need” in life. I have a separate post coming soon about how I went from having 3 truckloads of belongings to 4 plastic bins of them, but I felt I should write about some of the bigger things that can really tie you down, that you should consider getting rid of if you are interested in leading a more nomadic lifestyle. These are not easy, and they’re all things that society claims that we “need” in order to have a “good” life, so be prepared to do some reevaluating of your own values. Anyway, here you go:

  • Vehicles. Admittedly, in most places in America, vehicles are a necessity if you want to be able to have a job/buy food/go anywhere. My response to that is this: avoid those places. There are plenty of places in the US that have good public transportation systems that aren’t astronomically expensive to live in like NYC, and you should be able to find somewhere that you can live without needing to own a vehicle. The internet has made it easier than ever to be car-less; with services like Zip Car, you can now get a car on-demand if you want to head out on a weekend road trip. Why to lose it: Between vehicle payments, insurance, maintenance, and property taxes, vehicles are expensive! Not only that, but once you have one and have invested so much money in it, you’re likely to be loathe to get rid of it. If you have a vehicle and want to spend an extended amount of time abroad, you will have to either find someone to look after it for you or you will have to sell it (most likely at a loss). What to do instead: Live in a city with at least moderately decent public transportation (a good bus system will do). Invest in a Zip Car membership and a bike. If you absolutely must have a vehicle, look into getting a scooter or a small (250cc or below) motorcycle. They don’t take up much space, are often eligible for free parking, are far cheaper than a car to both purchase and maintain, they get great gas mileage (even a larger motorcycle like our 750cc Ural gets around 30mpg, and a small bike or scooter may get over 100mpg), and they maintain their value much more than cars and are easier to sell. Being “Car Free” does still cost you some money (a bike, a zip car membership, taxis, etc), but in the end it is far less than what a car would cost, and if you decide to move abroad, you don’t have to worry about having something expensive and complex to sell. In not buying a car/vehicle, you’re effectively buying your freedom.
  • A House. One of the major causes of the current recession is the havoc that has been wreaked by a largely-unregulated lending industry, with particular blame on mortgage lenders. Americans place a tremendous amount of self-worth on someday owning a nice house with a white picket fence and a swing in the front yard. This is really just social conditioning. People in most of the rest of the world do not feel the same drive to own their own housing that Americans do. Even in Europe, it is not unusual (or stigmatized) for families to rent their housing well into their 40s, and in places like Asia, many folks never own their own place. Why to lose it: Housing is one of the main assets that ties a person to a particular place. Not only are houses expensive (maintenance, fees, taxes, mortgage), but they also have a sort of magnetism that ties their inhabitants to them. Once you are settled in one place and are financially and emotionally committed to it, you are less likely to want to change your circumstances. What to do instead: Apartments are great in that you are only committed to them for a limited period of time, and even if you need to break that contract, the cost is comparatively small. Thanks to places like Craigslist, it is no longer difficult to find a wide variety of rooms, apartments or even houses to rent, and many of them can be surprisingly flexible about lease durations. If you want to be really hardcore and plan on spending most of your time on the move, rent an indoor, climate-controlled storage facility (about $50/month) for the belongings you aren’t taking with you but you really want to keep (bedding, off-season clothes, etc) and rely on the kindness of friends, family, and couchsurfers. Remember, home is where the heart is.
  • Debt/Credit Cards. One need only look at the wonderful blog Man VS. Debt to see what you can do when you don’t have debt hanging over your head. For many, this will be the most difficult to get rid of, but it is also the item likely to cause the most profound change. Society has managed to convince us that we need credit cards because we need to buy things we can’t afford in order to keep up with the Jones. Why to lose it: If you don’t have debt payments to make, you only need to make enough money to survive, and that opens up a lot of options. Also, the only person who benefits from debt is the credit card companies. Period. What to do instead: Stop caring about having stuff. Some people advise you to think about whether or not most people in the rest of the world do without your purchase, but that’s a little too detached for me. Instead, before you buy something, think about what you will do with it if you go abroad. If it’s going to have to go into storage, think long and hard before you purchase it. Also, don’t buy for the future; if it’s not something you are going to use now, you don’t really know if you need it, right? (Exceptions are off-season clothing that is on sale, etc.) If you have a lot of student loans hanging over your head, look into programs abroad that will make payments for you while you are abroad – the Peace Corps is excellent about this – or find work while you’re overseas. Another option is to sell your belongings, if you have them. It’s stuff you’d probably have to put into storage anyway, so why not make some money off it instead?
  • Pets. I know that having fido or fluffy gives you something to look forward to at the end of the day, but pets are pretty much a no-go for nomads unless you have someone who stays back home to take care of them. Believe me, I love animals – I’m a professional dog walker and I have had around 30 pets over the course of my life – but I also am acutely aware of the limitations they can place on your mobility. Why to lose it: Unless you want to put your animal through the emotional trauma of being pawned off on your friends or relatives for extended periods of time, having a pet is not a good move for a frequent traveler, nor healthy for the animal. What to do instead: Buy a plant (when pawned off on a friend, these become gifts, rather than burdens). Become friends with the dogs at your local dog park. Offer to pet sit for people. Spend more time outside your home.
  • Contracts. In particular I am thinking of things like work-duration contracts (you agree to work for them for 1 year, etc) and things like cell phone contracts. Contracts are the ultimate representation of restriction, but they hide this by often offering benefits (a guaranteed job, a cheaper phone, etc). Why to lose it: By their very nature, contracts punish you for making your own decisions. Want to leave your job early and work somewhere else? Well, you’ve broken your contract and now lost a reference. Want to get a different cell phone carrier before yours sucks? It’s going to really cost you. Contracts claim to help you, but in reality, there are generally very few benefits to signing anything that restricts your free will. What do to instead: Find a job that does not require you to work for them and only them for a specified duration, or alternatively, offer to work for a reduced rate in exchange for not being bound to a piece of paper. For things like services, find out if there is a “pay as you go” option as can often be found with cell phones.

As you can see, by choosing not to have these things, you are also choosing to reject large portions of the status quo. You know what? That’s okay. Not everyone needs a house, car, spouse, two kids, desk job, and a golden retriever. If the white picket fence isn’t your dream, then why bother picking up all the trappings? Live your own vision, not someone else’s. To do any less is to shortchange yourself at life. Do you want that? I doubt it.

In the interests of disclosure, here’s how I stack up against my own advice:

  • Vehicle: None, though I am on the title of our Ural sidecar motorcycle. I am supremely lucky in that I am able to use Marc’s car without having it be a ball and chain around my own leg. If I were not able to use Marc’s car, I would put more effort into getting our Ural running daily, or I would find a job that I could use public transportation to get to.
  • Housing: Marc and I live in an apartment now, but prior to this and prior to Korea, I lived for a year via the storage unit/couch method I described above. I had minimal costs, I was able to visit people and places I had never seen before, and I got to know many of my friends far better than I had known them previously. In an entire year, there were only a couple nights that I had to actually sleep in my truck, and it wasn’t the end of the world.
  • Debt: This is the #1 issue I still struggle with. It took me years to finally learn that I didn’t need more stuff, and thankfully this lesson has largely stuck. I still have a reasonable amount of credit card debt to pay off, but it was largely accrued while I did not have a job. But, debt is by far the largest stone I carry, and it’s pretty much the only thing that prevents me from being able to get up and go work in low-paying countries like Vietnam and Mongolia. I’d sell my belongings, but I already did that, two years ago, and I didn’t sell them, I gave them to charity. The only two valuable things I own are also the two items I need to make a living: my computer and my camera equipment.
  • Pets: Marc and I have two cats, but I would not have gotten them if I were living alone. Marc’s job does not permit him to travel with me (unfortunately), so I have a built-in pet sitter that the cats are already familiar with.
  • Contracts: My job is blessedly free of a contract, and I have a tendency to seek out work that is often temporary in nature (retail, waitressing, freelancing, etc). In Korea, I did have to sign a one-year contract (breaking it means deportation), but that’s not unusual when working abroad, and I consider that to be an exception. As for other contracts, the only binding thing I’ve signed in recent memory is my iPhone service from AT&T. I would not be able to do my job without a GPS-enabled phone, and there are none available on a pay-as-you-go basis, so this is a sacrifice I had to make. Thankfully, iPhones can be made to work in foreign countries, so it’s not a total loss.

In defense of my vice: Nail Biting

Nail Biting

I've been biting my fingernails for as long as I can remember, and I suspect I'll probably do so for the rest of my life. I've tried willpower, cayanne pepper, that foul-tasting coating you put on your nails, nailpolish, a $1000 bribe, everything. Nothing has even remotely worked. You see, I don't bite them when I'm nervous – I bite them when I'm bored, which is an awful lot of the time.

At this point in my life, I see little wrong with my habit. They don't look awful, I made it through a year in unsanitary Korea without dying from any illness I may have picked up through the habit, and I wouldn't want a job that cared about what my nails looked like anyway.

Sure, sometimes I'd like to have nice looking nails, but due to photography, I'd probably have to keep them cut quite short anyway, so it's something of a moot point.


Public Service Announcement

At the request of a few folks, I have created a new blog, hosted on my own server, which integrates posts from a few of my blogs, and this is one of them.

Basically, I have several separate wordpress blogs because many people are only interested in one aspect of my life (teachers read my teaching blog for lesson plans, other Korean expats read my Korea blog, and various people read my personal blog, etc, etc).  It makes it easy for folks who don’t want to have to scroll past a post about my own life, etc.

However, some people *are* interested in all aspects, or at least more than one, and so I have made a new blog on which I post my entries from the most relevant/popular of my other blogs.  The default view is to see everything, but if you want, the categories at the top sift the blog into only posts from a particular wordpress blog.

You are welcome to continue reading this blog, but if you are also interested in getting a broader picture of my life, I would recommend checking out the new one instead, as it will contain not only my posts from here, but from a few other of my blogs as well.

The new blog is HERE.


An Explanation

Many of my friends often tell me, in regards to my photography, that I seem to always be in the right place at the right time, as if it were completely random.  Now, that does sometimes happen, but usually I have help.

You see, part of being a good photographer is knowing where “the right place” is, and when “the right time” is.  Predicting this kind of future can be a bit like playing darts while blindfolded.  It’s difficult, but if you do it long enough, your darts do start hitting closer to the center.

Take this photo, for instance:


This shot of a homeless man with his cup outstretched to the man covered with shopping bags on the most expensive street in Boston is one of my favourites.  Sadly, it could be composed a little better, but I literally had a split-second to get the shot, and I didn’t have enough time for fine-tuning.  I was walking down Newbury street, when about 200 feet ahead of me I saw this man and his two daughters (in the blue jackets ahead of him), and then about another 50 feet ahead of *them* I saw the homeless man.  I knew that this meant they would have to walk past him, and I was almost positive that there was the opportunity for a good shot.  Despite the sidewalk being relatively crowded, I started running down the street, and right as the man passed him, I fell down to one knee and clicked off a shot.  While the shot is far from perfect, I was definitely rewarded for my running.

For another example, take this photo:

Jindo Island Beauty

Now, my desk is positioned in front of my huge window in my apartment, and while it’s partly so that I have a nice view, it is also so that I can keep an eye on the light.  There’s both buildings and mountains in my panoramic view, and that gives me a decent idea of what the light conditions will be on different parts of the island.  If certain atmospheric conditions seem like they might be good soon, I head down and get on my bike.  Now, sometimes after work, I ride a little randomly around the island, looking for potential future shots.  When I head down to get on my bike, I start trying to remember those spots, and think about what the light will probably look like in 10/20/30 minutes, and think about where I can get to in that time.  In this case, I noticed that the sky was particularly blue, the sun was not yet setting but was low enough on the horizon to create nice shadows and add dimension to the clouds, and I knew that I could probably get a reflection off the river just outside of town.  So, I drove over there, walked about 200 yards, and took this shot, when I saw the farmer and his cow.  I used my flash with a hand-held bounce card to create some fill so as to get the flowers in the foreground properly exposed in addition to everything farther away, but that was about it, and I always carry an index card (for bouncing) in my bag, so it wasn’t something I prepared specially for that trip.

For one last example, I’ll give you my favourite reenacting shot:

Looks so real...

I took this shot at a private WWII reenactment in Kentucky that my Soviet unit attended.  We were under attack and I, being the medic, was not attacking, and instead was laying down in a gully.  Since I was not shooting with a gun, I decided that I should probably be shooting with my camera, and I turned towards the friend in front of me.  He was crouched down a few feet in front of me, ready to shoot at the approaching Germans.  I figured he would do *something* interesting soon, and I trained my camera on him, focused it, and waited with my finger holding the button half-depressed (so that the reaction time of my finger would be even faster).  About 5-8 seconds later, he jumped up to take a shot, and I clicked the button.  It was a little dark in the forest, which meant that my shutter was slower, creating the slight motion blue that I feel really makes this photo look like an original, rather than something taken a year ago.

So, there you have it.  That’s my take on being “in the right place at the right time”.  It is partially coincidental; I did not place the shopper or the homeless man on the street, I have no control over the weather, and I did not know if the enemy would get close enough for my friend to attempt to take a shot.  But, the key here is that I was paying attention to my surroundings, was thinking ahead of time (by anywhere between a few seconds to half an hour) to try and make an educated guess as to what shot I could potentially get, and then attempted to put myself in what I felt was the best position for a good shot.  Those three things really are at least half, in my opinion, of what goes into creating a good photo.



3075946401_4aebe48144_oThings have been kinda crappy here for the last week or so.  Without going into detail, I’ll just say that I hate working for Koreans and that the exchange rate is at the bottom of the garbage bin right now.  In two months, my salary has dropped by more than 1/3rd.  It’s rather depressing.

At least I will be back stateside soon.  Exactly when is still under negotiation, but it looks like I will be headed back to the states either January 24th or 31st, and then will be heading back on February 28th.  I’m hoping I can convince my school to let me go on the 24th, but I’m not holding my breath.  But, even if I return stateside on the 31st, I still have essentially a full month back at home in DC before I have to return to Korea to go back to teaching for 3 more months.  It’s less time than my Korean co-workers get, but more than I will get in the US unless I can actually make a living freelancing, so I suppose I can’t really complain too much.


I’m looking forward to being back in the states.  I have two kickass reenactments to attend in February, both of which are hosted by groups I am a member of (being the host is always great), and I will get to see some of my friends, and my family is going to come visit Marc and I in DC, and, of course, I will be staying with Marc for the duration of my vacation, which will be nice.  I miss him quite dearly, and I know for a fact that the sentiment is mutual, and it’s good that I have such a relatively long vacation.  By the time I see him, it will have been 6 months since I last saw him, and even with the strongest of relationships, that is a very long period to be apart.  I miss my Frenchman.  After I finish teaching here in May, we might spend some time in France, before he starts work.  We can visit his sister and I can work on my French, and we can just in general use that as decompression time; me from Korea, him from grad school.  I think it would be good for both of us.  Plus, after having lived for a year here in Korea where bread is pretty non-existent and cheese is unheard-of, I think my body would appreciate some good French food.


Why I Love My Hobby

One of my reenacting units (that I actually am a founding member of), the QRF, is hosting an AWESOME private Korean War event in February. I am so stoked about attending. Here’s Marc’s “ad” about how fun it’s going to be, to try and get more participants. The event isn’t really open to outsiders, but I figured this would give you a bit of an idea of why I love reenacting.  Enjoy:


Hiya guys,

A group that I am active with, the QRF (Quick Reenacting Force) is going to host it’s second annual Korean War tactical event near Danville, VA, in February. 

Generally, it’s an all-immersion, first-person, 36 hour tactical event which seeks to recreate the actions of early 1951 before the fronts stabilized. Last year we had a great time. 

This year we expect something on the order of 50 GI reenactors and 2-3 jeeps. Right now we are in the process of recruiting people who would be interested in doing CPV, or Chinese People’s Volunteers.

“Now hold on a minute,” I can hear you ask. “Why the hell would I want to volunteer to do a new impression with people I barely know with maybe half a dozen other Chinese reenactors? We’ll be butchered!”

Well you see, that’s just the thing. Because of our few numbers, CPV members are there to portray an OPFOR (opposition force) for the GI’s. We’re almost like event staff. We will be in constant touch with the American commanders (also members of the QRF) and as such we will be ready to strike at all times. That means that we will be springing ambushes, launching tactical strikes against static allied positions, and of course, spend the nights sleeping well and drinking Tsingtao around a fire while the Americans freeze their asses off wondering when we will strike next.

There will be full autos on our side. Booby traps. Flares. Grenades. Patriotic music and propaganda broadcasts over our bullhorn at 2am. Ambushes. Inflitration. Psy ops leaflets. Artillery barrages. And of course the inestimable satisfaction of making sentries shit themselves when we slink into their foxholes and slit their throats with rubber knives 😉

For equipment, all you need is…

  • An Ushanka without insignia
  • Telogreika trousers and jacket (preferably with nondescript buttons)
  • Some kind of old-timey civilian shirt
  • A canteen
  • Canvas sneakers/ “kung fu shoes” or leather low boots
  • an Arisaka, Gew98, M91/30, M44, M38, PPSH, PPS-43, K98, M1 Carbine, or M1 Garand.

Let me know if anyone is interested!



Now, doesn’t that make you want to be a reenactor?


A Book List and a Note about North Korea

So, since I spend a lot of time on buses, there is a good online used bookstore here in Korea, and Marc left me some of the books he brought with him during his visit in July, I have accumulated a decent number of books while here in Korea.  Here is the list (ones I have completed are crossed out, those I am close to finishing are in italics):

I prefer to read two books at once (keeps me from getting burned out by a book), and I think that my next two will be Frontsoldaten and North Korea: Another Country.  I need to read a German memoir or two from WWII before I go portray one at the reenactment I have in February, and Frontsoldaten seems to be one of the better ones.  As for North Korea: Another Country, well, given that the collapse of North Korea seems on the horizon, I figured I should learn a little bit more about that last relic of Soviet times.

On that note:  Last week, the Chinese moved an invasion force to the North Korean border that is slightly larger than the force that the US sent to invade Iraq.  My friends in the military (including those who are serving here) say this is very significant, if that wasn’t obvious enough already.  It has been almost confirmed that Kim Jung Il is very sick, and possibly already dead and replaced by a double, and the country seems to be destabilizing.  The reason the Chinese movement is doubly significant is that while South Korea has spies in North Korea, China actually has ties with North Korea, and they communicate regularly.  If anyone knows what’s up, it’s the Chinese.  So, the fact that they have seen fit to make such a large and sudden troop movement should be taken as a rather important sign.

On one hand, that scares the bejesus out of me.  On the other, I’m a photojournalist and an opportunist, and if shit goes down, it could be a boon to my career.  If there’s one truism about us press folks, it’s that our priorities are royally screwed up, and I am certainly no exception.

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