Adventure, Ask Me Anything, Business, The Great Adventure, Travel

How Do You Make Money and Travel Without a Visa?

Photo by Jonathan Blocker

Calluna asks:

It seems to me that getting permission to live/work/travel in foreign countries for long periods (3 months or more) can be silly complicated. How are you navigating these legal issues in your travels?

Answer: by making sure they don’t apply to me.

I’ve never actually asked for a visa in any country, because I’ve intentionally never needed one. The same goes for work permits. Here’s how.

Visas

I’m fortunate in that Mexico actually allows foreigners to visit up to six months with no visa. That’s twice as long as most countries. I’m sure this is a win-win: it encourages Americans to come and stay for long trips, long Spanish courses, and long work assignments, spending money the whole time they’re here.

(Of course, there is a “tourist card” you have to get on entry, and you pay a fee for it on exit. But you don’t need to apply for an actual visa.)

With the six months to play with I’ve never needed a visa. To put it in perspective, the  entire bike ride from one end of Mexico to the other took only 90 days.

Looking ahead, the next countries on my route all have 90 day limits. But these are small Central American nations, and by my math I’ll make it through each one on time even if I walk. That’s including rest breaks in cities.

So I’ve never actually applied for a visa. If you wanted to live here long-term, of course, you might consider it. But even then it could be easier just to make a border run. Leaving the country and re-entering starts the six month period over again. I’ve heard that Mexican customs officials can get cranky if you do this too many times, but having been here five times in three years I’ve never had a problem.

Work Permits

The other issue is permission to work. To get a job in a country as a foreigner you need a permit, which helps that country make sure you’ll pay taxes. Getting these is very hard unless your employer helps you (such as a language school).

Luckily I don’t need one. I’m fully employed—in the United States. I’m a freelancer, which means I may be working on my laptop in Yucatán, but the work I do is for US-based clients, who pay me in US dollars deposited into a US bank account. I spend money in Mexico but, like most tourists, I don’t earn money here.

(And yes, I continue to pay my US taxes every year.)

High Leverage Travel

I don’t believe that one lifestyle is right for everyone, and a lot of people are happy with very different lives than mine—with or without travel. But I will say that there are an insane number of benefits to the kind of lifestyle I’ve chosen, that most people don’t realize. For example:

  • Lower cost of living. In Mexico, rent is laughably cheap and most other stuff costs only 60% what it would in the US. Living abroad saves me money.
  • Strong income. Since I work for US dollars, I have the same income as other Americans in my field. Travelers who work locally don’t get this.
  • Continuous income. I freelance, which means even though I may be off enjoying traveling, I still have money in every month. People who save up to travel have a limited budget.
  • No deadline. Because of the above, there is no time limit on my travels.
  • Less hassle. Since I go from country to country, and do not work locally, I don’t have to worry about visas and work permits. That’s rare. Even friends who work for language schools often can’t get the permits they need.

It’s not a perfect lifestyle. Like any freelancer, sometimes I’m up working till 3 am on a Saturday night. Other times I have to cancel amazing travel adventures because a rush project comes up. But I think it’s one of the best career paths you can choose, especially if you value freedom. So if you’re thinking you’d like to travel, or even just save money, I’d consider freelancing.

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Adventure, Ask Me Anything, Personal Development, The Great Adventure

Why Didn’t You Lose Your Mind and Go Nuts Being Alone?

Photo by Evan Mitchell

I just received another great question from Pixi. She asks:

“You have mentioned in blog posts about how being a fellowship of one wasn’t super awful, you met a ton of cool people along the way, and how you found friends and supporters all along the route. But I am interested to hear more of your internal process on that front. If you want to share… What was it like doing it on your own when you had planned to have people?”

I think loneliness is normal when wandering. For those of us who have never fit in it’s even more pronounced—even among our friends or loved ones we feel alone. So the journey can be intensely lonely at times, but it will eventually show you your role in life. Your purpose.

That sense of purpose is a big part of why I didn’t feel so alone on this trip. I will admit that when I first found out it was just me, in Saltillo, I was worried. I had been pretty miserable bicycling Texas on my own. I expected it to be a repeat of that, hard days and lonely nights. But a lot had changed since Texas.

For one thing, by the time I started the Mexico leg I had a very clear idea of my job in life: I’m a writer. When you know your purpose it’s easy to feel like you have a place in the world, even if you’re alone or don’t fit in. And writing gave me a lot to keep me busy. Nights that might have been “lonely” for others often involved drafting road logs or outlining short stories. If anything, I felt like I didn’t have enough writing time.

The surroundings were also different. Texas is boring. It’s essentially one endless plain of cookie cutter towns. But Mexico is beautiful. Every town in Mexico has its own unique character that’s different from the next place down the road. I had a sense of discovery every day. It’s not that there were no repetitive or difficult parts, but I could always look forward to something new up ahead.

(It helped that I was a successful freelancer now, and stayed in cheap hotels every night. Basic comfort makes other hardships easier to endure.)

Last, I just had more confidence. Early in my trip I struggled to know that what I was doing was important. I looked outward for affirmation from other people, as if people joining me would mean the trip was worthwhile. But that’s not really where meaning comes from. Before the Mexico trip, I proved that I could attract lots of interest and excitement—14 fascinating people wanted to come along, and countless others helped support it. But by then I didn’t really even need anyone else’s affirmation. It’s my journey and I’m doing it for my own reasons. Whether others join doesn’t change that.

Within about a week after Saltillo I was having fun and knew this was going to be a good trip. I never seriously questioned it after that. I knew my purpose, and with a purpose nothing feels overly hard.

At least, that’s my experience.

Have a question? Ask me anything. 

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Ask Me Anything, Mexico, Travel

Is There Anything Besides Nescafe in Mexico?

Pixi asked:

“Out of curiosity, how often did you find places that had coffee that was not Nescafé on your trip? I was under the impression that was pretty rare.”

This question made me smile. I have consumed a lot of Nescafé.

I poked fun at this a few times in the road logs, and Pixi was with me for the first three Nes-tastic days. If you’ve never had the pleasure, Nescafé is an instant coffee product (made by Nestle) which dominates the Latin American cheap-coffee market. It’s pretty bad, and it was the only coffee Pixi and I experienced for that first week, even at restaurants.

Café de olla (definitely NOT Nescafé). Photo via Fumi Chronicles.

Answer: It depends. In Mexico, anytime you’re in a city it is easy to find “real” coffee (which is to say coffee not made from powder, but often still as bad as a bad diner). On the other hand, in villages or on the road it’s almost always Nescafé. The exception is when a place has café de olla, common in the central highlands, which is brewed in a pot with spices and way too much sugar.

However, even in the cities if you go to a cheap open-air place it could be Nescafé and there are actual coffee houses with super good coffee… so you have options.

To be clear, Nescafé is probably no worse than any other instant coffee powder. But in the US, even the cheapest truckstop wouldn’t hand you a spoonful of instant coffee, whereas in Mexico most cheaper places are basically someone’s front living room and they’re giving you whatever their family uses.

I got used to it pretty quick. I’ve had some friends say that they would just skip coffee altogether if they couldn’t get “real” coffee, but those friends are clearly not coffee addicts. Plus, I like doing things the way the locals around me do them, and being a coffee snob in a small desert village is probably not a great way to make friends.

Do you have  question? Ask me anything.

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Ask Me Anything, Religion

What do you think about the teachings of Jesus?

Leah asked:

Simply curious: what do you think about the teachings of Jesus?

This is where I’m supposed to say that even though I don’t believe he’s the son of a god, I do think he was highly enlightened and was one of the great spiritual teachers of history.

But that’s not exactly what I think.

First off, I should disclose my bias. For a long time I felt that Christianity as a whole was fundamentally flawed, and that Jesus’ teachings did more harm than good. I no longer believe that, and I’ve tried to distance myself from that former hostility toward Christianity.

However, for many people the damage that’s been done by Christianity as an institution outweighs the good that Jesus did. Obviously, there’s a difference between Jesus Christ the individual and Christianity the religion, and he didn’t directly found any of the churches. Even so, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people to be gun shy. When a person creates a movement that goes on to do awful things they have to bear at least part of the responsibility. And if you’ve been on the receiving end of a church’s bile and rhetoric, it’s not much consolation to know that their founding father was a swell guy.

So, to anyone out there who has a very bad taste in their mouth about Christianity: I understand.

I personally however have warmed up on Jesus. I’m intrigued by alternative readings of his teachings. For example, in this amazing podcast theologian Don Cupitt argues that Jesus was a radical humanist. He bases his argument entirely on Jesus’ actual sayings in the Gospels rather than any of the rest of the Bible. If that’s accurate then Jesus and I agree on a lot of things.

Rarely, I’ve also seen people truly live by his example and it really is a marvelous thing to behold.

(For a delightful, irreverent book that combines both of these things—Jesus as radical humanist and people daring to actually follow his example—I highly recommend A Very Minor Prophet by James Bernard Frost.)

A Very Minor Prophet by James Bernard Frost

Anyway, on to my thoughts.

I’m a polytheist. That means I believe the divine appears with many faces, and that there’s value in relating to them as a plurality. Likewise, as a polytheist I believe we need a plurality of beliefs and doctrines as well. We need them because no one religious structure will reach everybody. So I’m in favor of embracing multiple gods, multiple doctrines and multiple religious organizations—as all polytheists should be.

In my view then there’s no reason to exclude Jesus. I realize that many polytheists will hiss to hear me say that—monotheism! forced conversion! universalism! But as a committed polytheist, if the teachings of Jesus speak to people, I don’t see why they aren’t just as good an addition to the pantheon as the teachings of Apollo or Dionysus.

And his teachings are valuable. As far as I can tell, Jesus’ main message promotes a sort of deep and committed selflessness, not just love and forgiveness but a commitment to love and forgiveness so deep that they can stop the cycle of violence and revenge. Jesus, like Socrates, challenged an eye-for-eye moral system and taught people to put each other first, to be the first ones to put down their swords.

That teaching was, I think, fairly novel in ancient Europe. (Socrates taught something similar, and was also killed for it.) I admit I get rankled when people pretend that Classical religion was all brutish and awful before Christianity. The ancient Greeks and Romans had a concept of charity, they valued generosity and kindness, and they had a beautiful moral system based on striving for virtue. But did they have a sense of selfless mercy, or forgiveness for the sake of peace? If they did, it wasn’t prominent.

Other polytheist systems, like Hinduism, already have a concept of this kind of compassion; no outside messiah is needed. (Jesus is neatly folded into Hinduism as an avatar of Vishnu, the god who incarnates as a mortal to guide and help humankind.) But I don’t see that kind of selfless compassion in Classical ethics—nor Celtic or Germanic ethics. Compassion and kindness were reserved for one’s friends or countrymen, never for one’s enemies.

A lot of other ideas got mixed into early Christianity—Heaven and Hell, meekness, the resurrection—that are terrible whether they came from Jesus or not. But to the extent that we can separate Jesus’ teaching of compassion from all the rest of it, I believe he made a much needed addition to Western religion.

Happy Christmas, all of you who celebrate it. I hope it’s a wonderful, magical day and a time for reflection on how to be the people we imagine we are.

Tomorrow, if you can pull yourself away from the festivities, I’ll be unveiling a major new development in my quest for the heroic life. I hope you’ll take the time to read it and offer critique.

Happy holidays!

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Adventure, Adventure Prep, Ask Me Anything

Advice for a confused dreamer?

Diego asked:

I just decided to take a break for four months to go travelling in Asia. My younger self applauds my decision, but at 29 I have this niggling feeling at the back of my mind that I’m somehow trying to escape. I’m not one to be influenced by others as we all leave our lives differently, but I still find it difficult to fully ignore the fact that others now seem to have it “sorted out”.

The question is, what advice would you have for this slightly confused dreamer who’s about to leave a pretty stable job to try and find some adventure and maybe even some purpose?

Are you really trying to escape? I felt this way when I started but very fleetingly—mainly just because other people told me I must be “running away.” But I never really felt that. I felt I was running toward something.

My advice for someone about to leave their stable job is to make very, very sure you have enough savings to make your new start. I left my old job on a deadline I had set for myself, but it would have been smarter to wait one year longer. I wasn’t willing to do that, and I don’t regret it, but I probably wouldn’t have regretted having a better starting situation either. It took me two years to build up a good freelancing income and finances are still precarious sometimes.

Adventures are always more fun when you know you can eat, sleep somewhere safe, and survive a few months between jobs/clients.

But ultimately it’s all up to you. If you believe the time is right, then no one else can tell you it’s the wrong time to go.

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Adventure, Ask Me Anything, Travel

Do You Doubt Your Journey Sometimes?

Photo by Brett Davies

Last month I got an email from a reader named Tobes, who is planning his own great bicycle journey across Europe, ultimately to place his mother’s ashes in India. I can’t think of a more beautiful quest.

After we chatted a bit, Tobes had some questions for me. I love the questions I get from fellow adventurers, because they tend to go a bit deeper than the standard fare like, “What do you eat?” or “How many miles in a day?” So I thought I’d share them here, starting with one that cuts right to the bone.

1. Do you doubt your journey sometimes?

Constantly. Maybe every day. If there’s anything I have faith in it’s that a journey will change you, will remake you… But I always doubt whether I’m on the right journey. Whether I’m doing it the way that’s best for me, or if I’m speeding past things I should stop to savor or, on the other hand, dallying too long. My journey also taught me that I’m a writer, that writing is my “purpose” in life—so should I still be journeying instead of staying in the chair and writing?

And why am I so dedicated to doing this journey powered by my own body, when that choice could get me in trouble? Wouldn’t I be a smarter adventurer to just bus past the worst areas? Is it stupid to bicycle them? Or would taking a bus be giving up, admitting defeat, backing out? And does that matter, or is it just pride?

Those are some of the doubts I have every single day.

2. Do you present yourself to new faces—those you seek shelter from—with a version of yourself or your true self?

I think we all present different versions of ourselves, sometimes even to ourselves. So I’m surprised I don’t “change” more for strangers. Even though I could reinvent myself in every town, I catch myself with the same habits, the same ticks, the same basic personality. Only Vodou has really changed the face I put on. After my initiation when my patron spirit was in my head all my self-doubt fell away. I just acted from instinct. I think that was my “true self” coming through without all the social baggage. It lasted for several weeks and now it comes through at certain times.

I’ve also noticed that, despite originally thinking this journey would make me a badass, I don’t try to market myself. I don’t like to impress people with my adventure. Sometimes I wish I could avoid mentioning it at all. So when I’m buying camping supplies or a neighbor hears I’m a cyclist, I often downplay it. “Yeah, I’m doing a three day ride next week.” No mention of the 2,700 miles before that or the 5,000 more to go. Unless a friend is there and brags for me, it never even comes up.

That isn’t so much from a sense of humility (which I’m terrible at) but from sometimes just from fatigue. It can get tiring to tell your story all the time. If my purpose is to inspire, maybe I would do better to talk about it whenever I can. But I think my purpose is just to adventure.

3. Do you differentiate yourself from the homeless you see on your travels and are you wary of them?

Amazing question. I like the romantic idea of sitting down next to hobos and striking up a conversation with no barriers and no fear. The reality is a little different. They can see I have professional equipment and travel in a different way from them. I think they appreciate that I treat them as equals and will chat with them, but I don’t think I could be accepted as one of them. If I tried to stay in the jungle by a railroad yard I’d likely lose my equipment. My laptop is how I get my work done, and it’s tucked in a dry sack inside an $80 waterproof saddlebag. Hobos don’t carry that stuff.

On another level there’s my own hangup. I know I travel with a lifeline; if my trip becomes too dangerous, or too difficult, or I have a breakdown or an illness or a crisis, I place one phone call and someone who loves me is there. I can book a bus ticket to New Orleans anytime I decide to rest. When I talk to the homeless I feel this safety net hanging from me, like an invisible but conspicuous sign of class difference. I suspect that makes me more timid around them than I have to be.

In Mexico I spent a lot of time practicing noticing the similarities between strangers and me, rather than what sets us apart. I need to do that more.

4. How good does your BS detector need to be?

Surprisingly not all that good. When someone is “off” you will feel it right away. It doesn’t take a lot of practice because you’ve been feeling it all your life. The tricky part is listening to it.

On the road, turn down companionship if anything feels off. It might not mean they’re going to rob you, it may just mean they’re going waste your time or make you angry. But trust it. Be rude if you have to. Better yet, just be firm.

One lady felt off to me but invited me to dinner with buffalo burgers. That sounded really, really good after 45 miles of hills. Plus maybe I could spend the night. She said she was going to the store and would swing back to get me right after. I waited hours and she never came. I was stupid to keep waiting but the prospect of food and shelter was too much. I ended up sleeping under a tree by the river.

If you’d like, you can ask me anything as well. Tomorrow I’ll have an update on the planning for the Trans-Mexico leg.

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Ask Me Anything, Primitivism, Religion

Does Outdoors Time Improve Priests?

Photo by Asaf Antman

 

Andrew asked me:

Thanks for your post on returning to the outdoors [here]… Do you think that contemporary priesthood should be more directly rooted to the outdoors? I think we often consider churches as the ‘house of God,’ but I also think that it would be more apt to say the whole planet is the house of God.

This is a good question.

Just to clear the air, I’m not Christian. From the way you phrase your question, with an emphasis capital-G God, I have to assume you’re coming from an Abrahamic background.

I’m a polytheist. We believe there are many faces of the divine—in other words, many deities. These deities did not create the universe nor do they rule over it. They live in it, just like you and me. They are the personalities of forces of nature (the wind, the sea, the sun, love, etc.). Relating to them is not necessary; they are not jealous gods. They were here long before us and they often watch us in silence. But if we choose to listen, we can hear them whisper their guidance.

I’m starting with that because it colors everything I believe about the role of religion and priesthood. Ultimately, priests are people who spend a lot of time building a close relationship with these beings. We learn about them and, hopefully, how to be like them.

For me, it’s easiest to find them in nature. But this isn’t true for everyone. All the natural forces are present in our cities and suburbs. Ultimately, we carry the gods inside ourselves, so we can hear them anywhere there is silence.

In my particular tradition, ceremonies are often held outdoors. Offerings are put outside. We sing to the sun when she rises and the moon when she first peeks out. There is poetry for the sea and the stars. Relating to nature is a powerful practice.

But I don’t think more outdoors time will improve a priesthood. A priest needs to serve a community. More than that, a priest needs to serve individuals, helping them discover their inner selves and pursue lives they’ll find meaningful.

To that end, I think the way to improve any ministry or priesthood is:

  • Don’t try to convert anyone or sell them on a doctrine. Doctrine isn’t as important as practice.
  • Teach practices that anyone can do and that create healthy changes over time. This includes things like meditation, contemplation and exercise.
  • Adapt to new ideas, new technology, and science—even when it conflicts with old beliefs.
  • Refuse to give empty reassurance. Most people go to their church or temple and receive a message that everything will be okay in the end. Then they go home and make no changes in their life, even if they’re unhappy.
  • Instead, show people how to make positive changes, especially when it’s hard and frightening to do so.

I haven’t succeeded at all of this as a priest. I did teach many people to meditate, and helped a smaller number of people find themselves and their purpose in life. But I also found that it’s very, very hard to get people to make changes in their lives. There’s a lot of fear there.

I think that spending time in the wilderness is ultimately for a priest’s own enlightenment and well-being. The question is: when they learn whatever they’re going to learn from that, what are they bringing back to people who live a normal life? That’s what a priest needs to answer. We need to come out of retreat and get our hands in the soil.

Have a question? Ask me anything

 

L Days cover_front only_half size

Lúnasa Days is about leaving home, taking a risk, and believing in magic.

Available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

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