How to be a world traveler?

Are you curious to know how to be a world traveler? It’s not easy, but maybe for reasons different than you imagine.

Money

Money is the first thing that comes to mind. So, lets get it out of the way from the outset.

People think you’ll need a lot of money to travel around the world constantly. But this is not necessarily true. In fact, I’d claim that a couple, earning what an office job would generally pay in a developed country, or even in some developing countries like Brazil, might be enough. I’m talking about a double income here, but not necessarily a big income for each person.

This means that, theoretically, it’s much more affordable than most people would imagine, right? But how is that so? Well, actually, the trick is not so much the paycheck. Having sort of an average salary will probably do. What’s really critical is what you stop paying.

It takes a lot of money to live in developed countries and certain cities of developing countries, like Rio and São Paulo, just to mention two that I’m very familiar with. Housing consumes a big share of the salaries, along with car, other kinds of transport, utilities and other monthly bills.

That’s why traveling tends to be so expensive. When you travel, you keep paying your regular bills and, on top of that, the travel expenses. But what if you don’t have to pay the regular bills back home anymore? That’s precisely where the magic happens.

Since Patricia and I don’t have a house anymore, nor in Brazil, nor anywhere else, we don’t have to pay for these fixed bills that everybody else is paying. Whatever we earn can be used to support our trips.

It turns out that very often we’re spending less on a daily basis being away from Brazil. I remember vividly the last time we spent a few months in Brazil, by the end of 2012. I had to use my credit card every day, several times a day, for things like food, groceries and stuff. These purchases felt kind of expensive to me most of the time. But, since we were there, there was little I could do about it.

Here in Istanbul, my credit card is having vacations. It’s rarely used. Why? Because our daily expenses are so much lower that I don’t even bother to use the card. I just pay cash, since it takes a long time to use all the cash I take from the ATM every time I have to visit it.

So, yes, we had to pay to fly here. But, once we’re here, everything is less expensive. And I should mention that Istanbul isn’t necessarily a cheap city. Maybe it was in the past. But it’s not so much the case anymore. Still, it’s much more affordable than Rio.

Again, we’re paying less here, but we paid for the air ticket. If we sum everything up and average it, we spend about the same that we used to pay monthly in Brazil or less. So, strangely enough, traveling didn’t necessarily make us spend more. And in other parts of the world that we’ve visited before, we used to spend even less.

All of this explanation serves just one purpose: showing that the amount of money you make isn’t really the differentiator here. It doesn’t take that much money to do what we do. But, if you only have a kind of average salary it will probably be essential to stop paying bills at your home country. I realize this can be tricky, since many people have mortgages. Fortunately, we don’t. And by the way, we don’t have kids, either. But I know people who have and travel the world too.

Time

Now we can begin to address the things that are way harder than money. And time might be exactly one of the most difficult ones. Or, should I say more accurately, freedom to use your time as you wish.

Patricia and I work regularly, but we work from “home” on our own businesses, back in Brazil. Because of that, we have complete freedom to use our time however we like. This doesn’t mean we choose to spend our days by the beach sipping caipirinhas. Actually we rarely do that. But we can do that whenever we want. And that’s the big difference!

Most importantly we can move to anywhere, anytime, because we’re not constrained by an office work. It took us years to earn this kind of freedom, but eventually we achieved it.

We have our businesses, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Fortunately, more and more companies are hiring remote workers. So, maybe what you need to do is finding a remote job, so that you can have more control over the use of your own time. By the way, since it’s your own time, isn’t it more natural that you control it, instead of other people? ;-)

English

To me, the most fundamental skill is the ability to communicate in English. Some people are lucky enough to be raised in a mostly English speaking country. That wasn’t our case, since we’re Brazilians and speak Portuguese natively.

We had to learn English well enough to at least make ourselves understood. Not necessarily to chat with Americans, nor Brits, but with people all over the world. It doesn’t matter if you like English or not, for better or worse, that’s the language that you can almost always count on.

Wherever you are in the world you will almost always find someone who can speak at least a bit of English to help you out. But even if that were not the case, there’s a ton of things that you can do with the help of the internet if you can at least read English.

Sadly, most Brazilians have very poor English skills, if any. I guess they know that. But I don’t believe they realize how tragic the situation is, compared to the rest of the world. It’s really, really bad. I have to laugh in Turkey when I see people complaining that many Turks don’t speak any English at all. They should pay a visit to Brazil.

Speaking of that, here in Istanbul I met only two people that have visited Brasil. One Turk and one Algerian. Both reported the same thing: while in Rio, a touristic city, they couldn’t find a single soul they could have a conversation with in English. Both spent at least a week in the most touristic part of Rio, and yet, no luck for them. I wonder how they survived and I’m particularly curious about the World Cup next year.

Planning

Planning comes next. And this one was really hard for me. You see, I’m a Brazilian. Two important things about this lovely people from South America: most of them don’t speak English, but you already know that, and they don’t plan. It’s all about spontaneity. :-)

Now, seriously, planning isn’t the most developed skill among Brazilians, but on the other hand, we’re super flexible and we adapt fast.

I used to have such a hard time when I began to travel like that. Because I really needed to plan and it was a torture to me. But, fortunately this time is over and now I plan like a pro, simply because I desperately need to. Which means, by the way, that being organized is quite essential to live this kind of life.

And since we’re at it, let’s talk about focus. Do you realize how much surrounded by distractions we are? This very article is probably a distraction for you now, since you should be working, right? :-)

The most difficult thing is really to keep focus on what we have to do. Specially if you consider that we’re often in such amazing places, that we want to go around all of the time to explore it. Istanbul, just to mention one, is completely mind blowing in every possible way. I can’t tell you how much I love this place and will suffer when we move somewhere else. So how to keep the focus on the work?

I don’t have an answer for that. Maybe we’ve trained enough and traveled enough to be at peace now, even when we’re at home, working voluntarily, while this fantastic city is out of the door waiting for us.

Anyway, I think now the planning helps me a lot to keep the focus. I plan the week, I prioritize tasks and I execute them as well as focuses as I can during the week. But even this is something that I only began to do recently, after struggling with planning for so long.

Positive attitude

Out of our country “strange” things happen. People are different, the culture is different, the food is different and we don’t know exactly how things work. Although everybody around us looks like ETs, it’s actually the other way around. We are the ETs. We are the strangers. So, we can’t be too demanding, right?

Keeping a positive attitude in the face of the uncommon situations that may arise is quite important. But, don’t worry, most of the time everything is just fine. And as long as we remind ourselves that we are the actual ETs, it all goes well.

Permanent training on change management

The first time I backpacked around Europe, it was overwhelming. I’d change countries every night, traveling by train.

In the morning, I’d arrive in a new city, in a new country, with a language I didn’t speak, a currency that I didn’t understand yet, a people that seemed strange and streets that I didn’t know how to navigate. In the beginning, it was a lot of stress and worries.

Eventually I realized that every morning was weird because of so many changes, but by noon I was already acclimatized to the new place and by sunset I felt like a local, proud of my knowledge of a few streets and places. Only to change everything again on the next morning.

The good news is that whichever stress I had in the morning was latter replaced by an amazing feeling of joy and gratitude for all of the cool places I was having the chance to visit and the nice people I eventually met.

We don’t travel so frantically these days. But it doesn’t matter. We became used to changes and I think this is wonderful. Cause, as cliché as this might be, truth is that change is the only constant in life. So learning to live with it and actually welcoming it, is like a blessing for us. It’s a sort of permanent training that help us to improve everyday and keep us well alive.


Author: Vinícius Teles

The origins of Casal Partiu

I was coming back from a gig that night. The bus ride would last eight hours. In the morning I’d still have to hop on a plane for a two hours flight. All in all, a long travel back home. Enough to change the rest of my life.

Five years have past since that night of December 2007. The night when I decided it was about time to quit. I didn’t exactly quit a job. I quit almost everything.

Some background

In 2007 I was kind of a successful consultant in Brazil. I specialized in Agile Software Development and managed to create a good reputation in the field. Having published a book (Portuguese) on the topic in 2004 certainly helped a lot. Many people knew me around Brazil and I was asked to speak at several companies, universities and events.

I’ve been passionate about this job for years. But somehow it began to frustrate me more and more. Not because it was a bad work, but because I wanted something even better. I wanted to create products, instead of helping others create their products.

This feeling consumed me for more than one and a half year. I knew I wasn’t happy with that consulting career anymore, but I didn’t have the courage to change. And to make matters worse, I was more and more successful as a consultant. Which only made it more difficult to change.

It’s hard enough to change when things are bad. It’s much harder when everything is perfectly fine. Because it’s more difficult to justify the change.

I couldn’t sleep in the bus, so I turned to my iPhone and began to listen to some podcasts. Moments later I was listening to the famous Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Speech. I’ve listened to it before and I certainly agreed that we shouldn’t spend our lives doing something we didn’t like. But this time, another part of the speech got my attention.

He explained that he was fired from his own company. He was devastated and suffered a lot. But later, he became involved in other projects, like NeXT and Pixar. Fact is that he’d never get into these projects if he were still at Apple. So, in the end, being fired turned out to be very liberating.

I thought to myself, damn, I wish I had a boss to fire me. Then I wouldn’t have another choice. I’d have to leave behind this consulting work I didn’t love anymore and try new things.

That night I realized that I had to fire myself. I had to quit. It was the only way. And so I did it.

When I arrived at the airport, I opened the notebook and began to write a blog post where I made it clear that this was my last consulting gig (Portuguese). And that was my resignation letter.

The product

The year of 2008 saw the birth of Be on the Net (Portuguese), our beloved product. It was a different year. I didn’t have to travel anymore to attend the consulting gigs. I was working at home with my team all of the time. It was fun and full of excitement, but also a bit frightening. Would we be successful with the product?

We launched it about a year after my resignation from the consulting career. It wasn’t the most successful launch in the world. But it was good enough for a bootstrapped product.

We kept working on it and improving it on the following months. Eventually we managed to grow a customer base large enough to pay the bills.

Buenos Aires

When things settled down, Pati and I took some days off and went to visit Buenos Aires. It was the first time we went there together and we loved it. So much so that we began to discuss this crazy idea: moving to live there.

At the time we had a wonderful life at home. It was a large apartment in Niterói where we had an office for my team, another office for Pati’s team, a huge living room, a Wii room, and even a cook. Life was great there and we had a lot of fun. But that’s the thing, we’d stay there all of the time. We’d almost never leave, for reasons that I might write about in another opportunity.

This bothered me. The trip to Buenos Aires gave us the perfect excuse to begin a new change. But it wouldn’t be easy nor fast.

The transition

Pati is this incredibly awesome wedding photographer and she was completely booked not only for 2009, but also for 2010. So, in the best case scenario, we’d have to wait until the end of 2010 to move to Buenos Aires.

We used this time to prepare for the transition. We changed the way we worked with our team, so that we could work well remotely. A big change, actually, if you think that we worked together until that point, in the same work space.

On August of 2010 an apparently catastrophic event put our product at risk of extinction. Actually, we thought it would be the end of the product and the company. It was really nasty and it felt like the end of the world for us. We saw our plans going down the drain before our eyes.

Those were probably the most difficult days of our lives and we suffered like never before. What happened in those days would be enough to fill a book. It was painful but also very instructive. It taught us that even the hardest problems can eventually be solved with tons of energy, focus, time and perseverance.

One month later, things were back on track. Even better than before, despite losing a few customers in the process. We kept on with the product, the company and our dream of moving to Argentina. But we weren’t done yet.

We needed to sell all of our stuff. Together with some friends we created this great website. An auction system that was really simple to use and yet good enough to display and sell what we had. And the truth is that we had too much stuff. We’re not consumerists ourselves. But a large apartment attracts an immense mass of stuff over time. Ours was no exception.

The birth of Casal Partiu

We finally left Brazil on the 30th of December of 2010. We headed south, to Bariloche. A gorgeous town south of Buenos Aires, in the Argentinean part of Patagonia.

It was summertime and we didn’t want to be in hot Buenos Aires during those months of January and February. So we went to Bariloche firstly, where the summer is mild. We finally rested. But not for long.

I began to read a few books and two of them called my attention: Vagabonding and The Art of Non-Conformity. That’s how I learned about this concept of people traveling permanently. New kinds of nomads. They travel from place to place, but still work normally using new technologies that enables them to do things that were unthinkable just a few years ago.

Eventually I realized that Pati and I already had all of the necessary prerequisites to live like that. So I asked her: what if we don’t stay only in Argentina? What if we travel all of the time, like I read in those books? And once again she said: that sounds cool. Man, I love this woman!

Two years and dozens of countries later, we can’t get enough of it. Thank’s God for that uncomfortably long bus ride. That was the beginning of the best years of our lives.

Travel with a local guide

Panorama of the Golden Horn

We’ve been in Istanbul for two weeks mostly working at home. But we’ve managed to have great moments with some amazing people in the few times we left. And since there’s an important lesson we’ve learnt, I’ll describe some events to illustrate it.

Turkish breakfast

We’ve met some nice people on the three Couch Surfing meetups that we attended in Istanbul. Among them, there was this great couple, Anna and Cenk. She’s German, he’s Turkish.

We chatted a lot in the last meeting and they invited us to a traditional Turkish breakfast on Saturday, followed by a walking tour. The restaurant is called Hatay Sofrası and it serves Hatay specialties. If I understood it correctly, Hatay cuisine is very appreciated and Cenk told me this restaurant serves some of the best Hatay food in town.

We were a party of five people. Lisa, a friendly young lady from Austria, is spending a couple of months in Istanbul. She also met Anna and Cenk at a Couch Surfing meetup and they invited her to join us.

We binged like there’s no tomorrow and we loved the food, the explanations, the company and the whole experience. And that was just the beginning.

Walking tour

After breakfast Cenk took us around the streets of Fatih. We stopped in front of a bakery and Cenk described each of the breads inside. Then we walked to the Fatih Mosque and finally we made it to the honey shop that Cenk has told us about during breakfast.

The owner is very hospitable and knowledgeable. He explained the properties of several of the honeys on stock. Always making sure that we were tasting a little bit of each. I don’t remember another moment in my life that I tried as much honey.

There is a special kind of honey called “crazy honey”. It’s special because you can only eat a little bit of it. Otherwise you’re in trouble. It’s made of the nectar of a highly toxic plant indigenous to the Black Sea. So if you eat more than a small spoon of it per day, you begin to feel symptoms like illness, nausea and hallucinations.

Overconsumption of this honey is dangerous, but small quantities are good for health. Do you think we got scared after listening the stories? Sure we did. Even armies where defeated with the help of this honey. But our adventurous spirits couldn’t resist the temptation of tasting and buying a small jar. So far, we’ve been eating a little bit of it every day and we’re still alive and kicking. Yeah!

Tasting tour

We resumed our journey and soon enough we were in the middle of a square, near the Valens Aqueduct. Cenk pointed to a restaurant that serves one of the best Kebabs in town. At this point, we had already forgotten we’ve eaten a huge breakfast. So we decided to try a durum (wrap). Delicious, of course.

We moved on but not for long. We saw a place selling rice mixed with chicken and chickpeas. Cenk told us that stalls selling this mix usually proliferate on the streets of Taksim late at night to cater for the people coming back from the night clubs. Since it’s so typical of Istanbul, we had to taste it, right?

Boza time! We went to this old establishment to try Boza  It’s a fermented drink that tastes like, well, Boza.  I liked it, but Patricia wasn’t as enthusiastic. We mix it with toasted chickpeas that Cenk bought across the street. I haven’t eaten these before. But I really liked it.

Back to the walk we wandered through old narrow streets until we arrive at the Süleymaniye Mosque, the largest mosque of Istanbul. Very beautiful interior and magnificent views from the gardens. Great explanations from Cenk.

Almost across the street there was this cafe with a privileged view of the Golden Horn. Time to take some pictures and drink some tea. It was raining most of the time during this walk. But who cares? With so many interesting things to see and delicious food to taste, we’d not be put off by rain.

From there we descended to the Spice Bazaar. And, of course, it was necessary to do a brief stop at this small restaurant that serves delicious kofta. Then a stop at another place to buy some spices. And the other one to buy some Turkish coffee, until we finally arrive at one of the most important places of the day. The one that sells the best Baklava, of course. :-)

Busy day you’d say. But it wasn’t over yet. We took the ferry and went to the Asian side where we called the day at the bar of this authentic restaurant with a good pint of Efes. I probably should mention that brain was offered among the appetizers, but no, we didn’t try it. We still need to teach our brains to accept it as a kind of food. :-)

Lesson learned

Could we have done all of this on our own? Theoretically, yes. But pay attention, because the devil is in the details.

Even if we had done a careful research about all of these places beforehand, and even if we had gone to all of these places on our own, it wouldn’t be anything close to what we experienced and definitely not as rewarding. Why? Because visiting a place with a local is a completely different history.

To mention only one example, when we visited the Süleymaniye Mosque, Cenk pointed me several details about the interior and about the life that went on around the mosque long time ago. He explained the role of the hamam near the mosque, the beauty of the Friday prayers, some details about Islam and his personal views about the way people sometimes twist the teachings of the Koran to take some kind of advantage.

These explanations and points of view help us make a picture of the city, the country and it’s culture that is much richer than what we could have learnt without a local. And in this case, it was even richer because Anna has been living here for a while, but she’s not Turkish. She’s a foreigner like ourselves, with a deeper understanding of the local culture, but aware of the things that would naturally call the attention of newcomers. So her inputs complemented Cenk’s and helped us to picture this place in a way that we couldn’t imagine before.

We can’t thank Cenk, Anna and Lisa enough for their company and for all that we’ve learned with them. Hope we’ll be able to reattribute somehow. And I also hope that we’ve learnt this lesson carefully and try very hard to meet local people everywhere we go from now on.

In fact, I believe most travelers should try to apply this lesson on their trips, cause it’s an amazing way to make the trip much more colorful and entertaining. Besides, it’s fun and we get to make good friends.

And remember, as I wrote before, Couch Surfing is a great way to meet local people and fellow travelers.

Dolmabahçe Mosque and the Bosphorus Bridge

Dolmabahçe Mosque

Beautiful lamps on the streets of Taksim

Wandering the streets of Taksim

Restaurantes and cafés everywhere in Taksim

Anna tasting honey

Arriving at Süleymaniye Mosque

Patricia's self picture in the gardens of Süleymaniye Mosque

Reflection of Süleymaniye Mosque

Anna, Lisa, Cenk and Vinicius at Süleymaniye Mosque

Cenk, Anna and Vinicius at Haydarpaşa Gari on the Asian side

Beautiful building of the Haydarpaşa Gari on the Asian side

Roman cistern

Vinícius learning about the Roman Cistern

Fish in the Roman Cistern

Bagel street seller and Hagia Sofia on the background

Blue Mosque at dusk

Interior of the Blue Mosque

Interior of the Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque under the sunset

Black and white panorama of the Golden Horn

Couch Surfing

You know that moment when you realize how stupid you’ve been? That’s the feeling I’ve had for the last two days. Let me explain.

We’ve been traveling around the world for more than two years now and I’ve always complained that I wanted an easy way to meet people wherever we go. Because meeting locals or other fellow travelers is always the best part of the journey. But how can someone arrive in a new city and connect with people?

It’s actually pretty easy and the solution has always been on the tip of my fingers. I just haven’t tried it before, until yesterday. And I guess many of you probably know that I’m talking about Couch Surfing.

Couch Surfing is a web site created more than a decade ago. Say you’ve got a couch on your living room and you’d like to host a traveler. You go to http://www.couchsurfing.org, create a profile, tell the world that you have this awesome couch and soon enough people begin to ask you for a chance to stay at your place for a few days.

You offer your couch, spare bed, room, or whatever as a courtesy. You can’t charge for it on Couch Surfing.  On the other hand, if you travel using Couch Surfing  you eventually stay in other person’s place paying nothing for it. But you are generally more than welcome to show your appreciation with a gift, or teaching something from your country, like cooking a regional meal, for instance.

That’s super cool, right? But there’s more. Couch Surfers organize lots of activities all year round. And everybody is welcome. Even people that never used Couch Surfing to travel, or to host, can participate. For instance, there are weekly meet ups in many cities. And that’s how we finally joined Couch Surfing.

In Istanbul, there are lots of weekly meet ups. There was one last night hosted in a bar basicly to socialize. There was another one tonight for English conversation. We’ve been to both and it was an amazing experience. How could we miss it for such a long time?

Truth is that I knew about Couch Surfing for a while. But everytime I tried to use it, I got frustrated and kind of intimidated by the user interface. It’s pretty confusing. I could never really overcome this barrier until this week. I told myself: you’ve got to try harder cause there’s something great out there and you’re missing it. And that turns out to be absolutely true.

There were 30+ people last night and 40+ people tonight. Most of then are Turkish. So, those were just perfect places to meet local people as well as people from different origins that are living in Istanbul. But why were there so many people?

I learnt yesterday that traveling abroad is not easy for the Turkish. Aparently, they have to apply for a visa for most of the countries they’d like to visit (fortunately they don’t need a visa for Brazil). Anyway, many people just can’t afford the trip. And learning English at school doesn’t really work. English teaching is generally very poor in Turkey. Same thing in Brazil.

But here some people really want to learn English. And since most of them probably can’t afford to pay for a private English course, they like to attend meet ups to practice English with the foreigners that are visiting Istanbul. Which is absolutely wonderful for everybody.

So they have those meetings every week and they are always packed with people. Pay attention to this important detail. Tonight is Saturday night! They meet to practice English on a Saturday night! That’s really nice.

Patricia and I talked to many people tonight. Most of them were Turkish indeed. But we also met people from Algeria, Canada, Armenia, Romania, Germany, Brazil, Bolivia and Luxemburg. And we learnt a bit about each of these places. As a matter of fact, I even learnt to play backgammon! And I won. Talk about beginers luck. :-)

I deeply regret all the time I wasted not trying to use Couch Surfing.  But I’m delighted that we’ve finally began to use it. And Istanbul seems to be just the perfect place, since people really use it a lot and it works incredbly well.

You can check out my profile on Couch Surfing at  http://www.couchsurfing.org/people/vinicius.m.teles.