Lifestyle Strategies, Travel, Adventures--Todd's Wanderings Travel Articles, Adventures and Advice Thu, 03 Nov 2011 15:31:04 +0000 en hourly 1 Trusted Travel Questions and Answers Wed, 19 Oct 2011 16:51:25 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

Trusted Travel Questions and Answers is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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Trusted Travel Questions and Advice by Todd Wassel

If I don't know I'll ask my crackpot team of expat misfits

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Trusted Travel Questions and Answers is my monthly chance to answer reader questions about travel and destinations. It can be hard to find trusted advice on travel from people who have actually been there. Every week I get a number of questions from readers asking for specific advice. This is my way of answering them but also sharing with others who might be looking for the same information.

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8 Days in Sri Lanka

Daniel (sorry but you didn’t actually leave your name!) is heading to Sri Lanka for 8 Days and asked the following:

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I am planning a trip for 8 Days in Sri Lanka. Going straight from the airport to Sigiriya, then Kandy the next day and after that driving to Kitulgala. From there I would like to go to a beach but I am trying to find the shortest most direct way to a beach and I am not sure if I have to drive back to Colombo to get there. Any advice you can give me would be great. Also if you know of any great places to eat local food that would be great. Thank you in advance.

Hi Daniel, first off, you are going to have a blast. I lived in Sri Lanka for 3 years and despite a civil war at the time I loved every moment. I have been all over the areas you mentioned and I’ll have to make a few assumptions first.

Castlereigh Family Cottages Sri Lanka

Yes, it says "Probably the Best in the Up Country" :)

1) You’ll have your own car in Sri Lanka (or at least a driver)

2) You will be driving to Kitulgala through the hill country and not back through Colombo. This route is much more scenic and gets you into the heart of the tea country.

My advice is that you drive through from Kandy through Nuwara Eliya and then down to Kitulgala. If you have a chance don’t miss the quite Castlereigh lake. You can also get a nice view of Adams Peak from this area. If you are looking for a nice place on the water to stay I can recommend Castlereigh Family Cottages. They are warm, friendly, and have two amazing bungalows with verandas that look out over the lake.

How to get From Kitulgala to the Beaches in Sri Lanka

The most direct route in Sri Lanka is not also the quickest! From Kitulgala you are not that far from Colombo and the main road that runs south along the coast towards Galle and the beaches. At the moment (October 2011) this is still the fastest way south. However, the 4 lane toll highway (Southern Express Way) is due to open by the end of the 2011. Once it opens this will be your fastest way South.

Remember that the monsoon switches by season allowing swimming on the West and East coasts at different times of the year. If you are going this season (September to March) you can swim on the West Coast (advice below) and the rest of the year on the East Coast at Argum Bay.

From the coastal road you have basically three choices, first you can stop at the popular party and surfing beach Hikkaduwa. There are a number of hotels where you can stay here, almost all of them right on the beach.

Your next option is just past the fort town of Galle and is called Unawatuna. This small town is my favorite in the south and has a nice mix of clear tropical water, decent accommodation, relaxing during the day but with some parties in the evening. Further along, and probably too far for an 8 day trip are the secluded beaches of Hambantota. They are virtually deserted and offer great value for the intrepid traveler.

Where to Eat Local Food

To be honest this one is the easiest to answer! You can get great local food anywhere in Sri Lanka. Just stop into the local shops along the road and you will get homemade local fare. Everyone and their grandmother can cook amazing curries so you are in for a treat no matter where you go.

If you have your own questions about travel, life on the road or specific destinations Contact me and include the subject Travel Question. If your question can be used by others I’ll include it in my monthly Trusted Travel Questions and Answer section.

*In case you are wondering, some of the links above are part of an affiliate deal I have with Hotels Combined. When you buy or do research on hotels through those links I earn a ton of money to add to my already huge vault of gold and diamonds. Joking aside, I use Hotels Combined myself and would will only ever promote or suggest services to you that I don’t believe in myself. If you do use them, thank you for helping to keep the lights on here at Todd’s Wandering. No worries if you don’t as well, I’m just glad you are here.

Trusted Travel Questions and Answers is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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European Castle Goodness- What European Castle Town is the Best? Fri, 14 Oct 2011 10:04:52 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

European Castle Goodness- What European Castle Town is the Best? is a post from: Todd's Wanderings


Island Church Bled Slovenia

Hands down, the Church of the Assumption in Bled Slovenia puts this Castle town in the top 10 in Europe

Travel Porn delivers visual stimulation from around the world each week (most likely Fridays when I’m not stuck in a backwater somewhere). If this doesn’t get you hot, bothered, and fantasizing about your packed luggage (carry on, roll on, backpack, whatever turns you on) you might not be a traveler…

The Castle Town of Bled, Slovenia

In honor of my upcoming trip back to Slovenia this weeks travel porn is all about the BEST castle towns in Europe. Yes, I’m going out on a limb here by putting Bled in the Top 10 Castle Towns in Europe. I’m going even further out on a bending branch by not showing you a picture of the Castle!

What town in Europe do you think has the best Castle Town?

Put your vote below in the comments and feel free to link to an article, pretty picture or the comments of a supportive (but paid) relative who agrees with you :)

European Castle Goodness- What European Castle Town is the Best? is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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Can Travel Make the World a Better Place? Wed, 12 Oct 2011 10:22:15 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

Can Travel Make the World a Better Place? is a post from: Todd's Wanderings


Travel to make peace

Blending of Cultures

Is travel an inherently selfish indulgence or a vehicle to bring about world peace? The travel and tourism industry is huge, and in 2010 over 940 million people traveled outside their own country as tourists and generated $919 billion dollars in global revenue.

That is a lot opportunity for both mischief and genuine interaction. So the question comes back to: is the opening of borders leading to greater understanding or a hardening of stereotypes?

I’ve been on the road for the past 12 years, both teaching children and working in international development. I’ve been a traveler, a tourist, an expat, and an undocumented worker (yup). In all this time I’ve become convinced of the power that travel has on people, both good and bad.

The Bad in Travel

Yes, let’s get this out of the way. Bad things happen when bad people travel. But, then again, bad things happen when bad people stay at home too. I’ve seen women exploited for sex by humanitarian workers, international police, and drunk college kids.

I’ve seen kids trafficked and begging on the streets, usually by internationals who only care about money.

I’ve seen rude Americans, drunk Brits, demeaning Australians, paranoid Japanese, and threatening Indians. I’ve seen poor people yelled at in restaurants because a cook messed up. I’ve seen people yell at taxi drivers who don’t understand their language. I see people trying desperately to make another country just like their own. Usually they get angry when the other side doesn’t understand they are “doing things wrong.”

These are all shades of the negative side of travel, but also the human condition. Are you depressed yet?

The Good in Travel

Despite seeing all the lousy things that humans do to each other I still feel that travel is making a positive impact on the world. Anyone who travels finds their belief system and world view challenged almost immediately. When you see desperate, stupid poverty (the kind where kids die from lack of food) there is nothing that you can do but help. Or at least start to appreciate everything you have and begin to share it.

Travel is experiential education. You learn by doing. Sometimes you make mistakes, and when you are away from your support system those mistakes tend to have bigger consequences. This can lead to more responsible actions, an opened mind, and tolerance.

One of the worst diseases spreading through our modern world is a lack of tolerance. Partisan bickering, sensationalism in the news, and the desire to gain political points through an “Us” vs “Them” mentality. All this does is lead to isolationism and a lack of tolerance in views, thoughts and expressions.

Travel can be the cure to intolerance. Bad people may travel. Stupid people may travel. But each time they do my bet is they are forced to think a little bit harder than if they stayed home.

How to Save the World

I have been involved in a lot international development projects, in peacebuilding initiatives, employment generation, women’s empowerment, etc etc. But all the things that have made a difference in my life have come from two simple things given freely by a few extraordinary people in my life:



Saving the world can be a daunting undertaking. But I guarantee that if each of those 940 million annual travelers show kindness and gave some time to the people around them, the world would be a better place. Just be kind to the person next to you. It really is that simple.

I heard the internet pioneer Chris Brogan say recently (paraphrased):

We are living through a revolution. When the revolution is over what will you have accomplished? Now is not the time to try to earn $$ on cheap tricks and scams but to build something lasting, transformational and that makes an impact.

I think his statement holds true just as much for the breaking down of borders through the internet as it does the liberalization of travel.

Can travel make the world a better place? Share your thoughts below.

Can Travel Make the World a Better Place? is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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Travel Porn: Fresh Seafood, How Brave a Traveler are you? Fri, 30 Sep 2011 15:57:15 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

Travel Porn: Fresh Seafood, How Brave a Traveler are you? is a post from: Todd's Wanderings


Fresh seafood in Split Croatia
Are you a brave enough traveler to ignore the dead head and focus on the fresh tuna?

Travel Porn delivers visual stimulation from around the world each week (most likely Fridays when I’m not stuck in a backwater somewhere). If this doesn’t get you hot, bothered, and fantasizing about your packed luggage (carry on, roll on, backpack, whatever turns you on) you might not be a traveler…

Fresh seafood in Split, Croatia‘s fish market.

It may be my years in Japan, or the fact that I grew up on an island but a fresh chunk of tuna really gets me going. If you are traveling down Croatia’s Dalmatian coast you are obligated to eat the fresh seafood available everywhere. Skip the touristy areas to make sure you are eating local fare and not frozen shrimp shipped halfway around the world.

I usually post pictures from my travel porn box, but if you want to guest post with you own visual stimulation (any type of media goes) contact me and we can discuss.

Travel Porn: Fresh Seafood, How Brave a Traveler are you? is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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Dragash Kosovo Backcountry HDR Photo Trip Tue, 27 Sep 2011 08:36:43 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

Dragash Kosovo Backcountry HDR Photo Trip is a post from: Todd's Wanderings


Recently I took a mixed group of diplomats, aid workers and tourists on a hiking trip to Kosovo‘s most remote region, Dragash. Not only is the area the focus of my upcoming first guidebook (The Mountains of Dragash, Kosovo: Hiking and Nature Tourism Guide) but is now the area where I’m working for the United Nations to develop a rural tourism strategy for the Municipality.

How to Take Stunning Travel Photos With your Iphone

The trip and guidebook are secondary to my true secret, how I use the Iphone to take amazing photos. OK, OK, I think they are amazing anyway. While I’m also guilty of lugging around a proper camera, many of my most beautiful shots come from my easy to pocket Iphone.

I use a photographic technique (is it a technique if it is an app?) called High Dynamic Range (HDR) which takes photos at varying light levels and merges them together. The effects can be stunning and with a simple App called TrueHDR ($1.99) all the processing work is done for you. Of course you still need to frame, pick beautiful views, and keep a steady hand. Dragash, Kosovo really is this beautiful, but with a little help it’s possible to draw out the wild beauty of the area even further.

Enjoy the photo essay and leave your best travel photography tip in the comments below.

Camping in Brod Kosovo

Our beautiful camp site at the base of a 2 river canyon system

Dragash Kosovo Canyon

Hiking in Dragash Backcountry

hiking through river gorge brod dragash

beautiful combination of green vegitation and brown rocks

Hidden Valley near Brod Dragash

Watercolor HDR photo of rocky nature

HDR image of Mount Koritnik Dragash Kosovo

rays of sunlight HDR photo dragash kosovo

Mount Cule in the Distance

Rose Hip Dragash Kosovo

Mountain Canyon Dragash Kosovo

Solitary Nature HDR photo

Rocks and mountain grass

Exploring Dragash Kosovo

 The hiking guide will be available soon, and for FREE! Check back soon for details.

If you liked this post and want more of this world wandering goodness delivered fresh to your inbox please consider signing up for updates.

Dragash Kosovo Backcountry HDR Photo Trip is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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Travel Porn: Shiraito Waterfall Karuizawa, Japan Thu, 15 Sep 2011 15:52:14 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

Travel Porn: Shiraito Waterfall Karuizawa, Japan is a post from: Todd's Wanderings


Shiraito Falls Karuizawa Japan

Secluded waterfall in Japan anyone?

This is a new feature here on Todd’s Wanderings. Well, that’s not true, I have been delivering beautiful photos (pat on the back) for a while now. Travel Porn is the new name to this section and delivers visual stimulation from around the world each week (most likely Fridays when I’m not stuck in a backwater somewhere). If this doesn’t get you hot, bothered, and fantasizing about your packed luggage (carry on, roll on, backpack, whatever turns you on) you might not be a traveler…

Shiraito Falls is located in the summer resort area of Karuizawa in Japan at the base of the active volcano Mt. Asama (3 1/2 hour drive from Tokyo). Seventy meters of fine, silky, sexy strands of groundwater fall like threads from the rock face. I love a good waterfall in the hot summer months, and in the fall the trees around explode in hues of red, orange and yellow. Yes, it is as beautiful as the picture suggests, but be careful of the crowds in the dead of summer.

I usually post pictures from my travel porn box, but if you want to guest post with you own visual stimulation (any type of media goes) contact me and we can discuss.

Travel Porn: Shiraito Waterfall Karuizawa, Japan is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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Proof it All Works Out in The End Mon, 05 Sep 2011 05:29:30 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

Proof it All Works Out in The End is a post from: Todd's Wanderings


Old man bowing in Japan

Don't worry, everything will be OK

I think apologies are in order. No, no, not you to me. I owe YOU an apology.

I thought I was being honest with you

You see, I have always tried to tell you the truth about my life. I have tried not to hold anything back…even my finances.

I thought I was revealing myself through my wit and story craft

By giving you Travel Narratives I thought my personality would shine through when you read about my adventures in far off lands (well far off for you). I worked hard to embarrass myself, or share stories that might get me fired from work, accounts of when I almost died, and even times when I have saved others from dieing.

I thought that you would get updates on my Facebook Page

You see, I started my Facebook Page to help fill in the gaps here in on my website. There is no way I can post every place I visit, every strange thing that pops into my head, or every wonderfully odd picture I take. Trust me, if I posted everything that came into my head you would get overwhelmed and would run for the digital hills.

I thought you weren’t interested in learning more about my life

Sure, you might say your interested, but really you just want to read pretty words, look at beautiful pictures, and discover wild adventures. But it turns out that many of you want to know me better, and that the details of my life abroad are in fact interesting to you. All I can say is:

Thank you and I’m Sorry

Many people believe that saying sorry is a sign of weakness, or that it signals that you were wrong and thus you deserve to be blamed. Many people at work think that saying sorry is a liability. That Evil Bob will use it against you to get ahead, get the higher paycheck and score with the cute secretary. But really, you never had a chance with the cute secretary. Plus all she is interested in is your money so let Bob lose it all while you work on making your life better, happier, and filled with people who love you.

Starting today I’m going to start giving you more personal updates, let you in on the ups and downs of living this kind of lifestyle. I’m actually going to tell WHAT this type of lifestyle is!

Take a Deep Breath and Let’s get Started

A few months ago I offered my advice on how to Manage Uncertainty- Don’t. Instead of freaking out about losing my job at the same time my first son was born, I took a different route. I decided to enjoy and be thankful for what I had, rather than worry about what I didn’t. Many of you are probably wondering how that worked out for me.

Today I’m here to shine some light onto my life for you, and show you what has happened in an incredibly short but eventful 3 months. At the very least you can guess that I still have internet access, but are we homeless, are we able to pay the bills, are we still in Japan mooching off my parent’s in law?

The Baby and Japan

Traveling with an infant

I've been to Japan, Kosovo and Greece! I like to Fart too.

First things first! On June 22nd, 2011 we welcomed Kaito Andrew Yamagiwa Wassel into the world. He is by the far the best thing that has every happened to me in my life. After spending 2 wonderful months living in Japan with him, we moved back to Kosovo (more on that below). He did great on the 11 hour flight from Japan, 4 hour layover, and 2 hour flight from Vienna to Prishtina. Soon we are heading for a family vacation to Greece. That means he’ll have 3 countries under his belt in 3 months…such a good little traveler :)

Living with your in-laws can be difficult in general. But living with in-laws in a different country and in a different language is especially difficult. Our visit could have turned into a darker Lost in Translation but it didn’t. My Japanese Parents are wonderful people and we all had a great time. It was not all roses and I did get tired of a strict structure of Japanese living. But we managed and learned to find the gems amongst the stress.

At times I had to work, even though I was not getting paid (more about that below). We were exhausted at times due to lack of sleep. Although, in general Kaito is a mild mannered kid who seems happy with his lot in life. I also used the time to see more of Japan and catch up with friends.

Work and Kosovo-Getting Paid to Hike

Not having a source of income and welcoming a new baby to the world can be stressful. Insurance, international flights, and buying expensive baby items can make any worry. Instead of stressing I took action. I worked to finalize the Hiking and Nature Tourism Guide to Dragash, Kosovo. It will be available (right here!) around September 19th. We were always committed to returning to Kosovo even if a job was not waiting. After all, we left our stuff in our apartment and let’s face it, living in Kosovo is MUCH cheaper than living in Japan without a job.

Working for free has paid off and I’m happy to say I’m about to enter into a new contract with the United Nations in Kosovo. The twist is that I’m now blending my travel writing with my peacebuilding work. Sounds impossible…right? I will be taking the hiking guide a step further and will develop a rural tourism and mountain strategy for Dragash, Kosovo. I’ll be working with the UN and the Municipality to develop strategies to increase tourism and protect their natural assets at the same time. Basically, I’ll be getting paid to hike and write. This consultancy is a direct result of this site (, yes, this little website right here!) and my willingness to take action for free with the guide book.

I will also be helping the UN to manage the change in my old peacebuilding program in Northern Kosovo. If you have been paying attention to news recently this summer has been difficult up there (riots in the North). I’ll be evaluating the past 3 years of work and helping them with raising 11 million dollars (yes, you read that correct) for the program that I co-developed on my last contract.

So, I have “stability” until March 2012. After that I have no idea what will happen. I have plans (yes, you will be hearing about them soon) to take this site to the next level. I’ll need your help as this site is nothing without you. Well, that is not true. It is still something, but it would be a lonely, sad place without your sexy, well traveled, and witty eyes.

It All Works Out in the End

So, what are the lessons you should take away from this post. I’ll be so bold (yes, it is my site) as to offer a few myself, but I’d love to hear your thoughts down in the comments.

1) Don’t worry about what you don’t have and instead focus on what is in hand. You’ll just waste energy that can be used to enjoy what is around you.

2) Work hard on the opportunities you do have. I could have complained about working for free but instead I focused on providing value.

3) If you work hard and are passionate about something you will attract attention and work.

4) Without my website none of this would have been possible.

5) My son is super cute.

6) Everything in life is not as simple as it is sometimes presented on this Blog (due to editorial constraints). My wife and I have been tired, we have fought, we have snapped at each other, I have been stressed by lack work, she has been stress by lack of work etc etc etc. But through it all, everything has worked out in the end.

So, what are your lessons from this adventure? Do things really work out in the end or am I just a biased upper middle class American who had the world handed to him?

Photo Credits: Bowing in Japan, My Son

If you liked this post, please consider sharing it or subscribing to my Wander Updates and Free Lonely Planet Photo Book by e-mail OR new posts by RSS any way you like.

Proof it All Works Out in The End is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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Experience Tokyo’s Creative Youth Culture in Yoyogi Park Wed, 31 Aug 2011 12:06:43 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

Experience Tokyo’s Creative Youth Culture in Yoyogi Park is a post from: Todd's Wanderings


Creative culture in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park on the Sunday

See, Japan is not all about modesty and Samurai! Japan accepts quite a bit of eccentric freedom.

It is hard not to drool cliches when writing about Japan these days, especially when talking about the eclectic youth culture located in Harajuku, Tokyo. Just about every guidebook (this site included 10 Free Things to Do in Tokyo) recommends “people gawking” along the Jingu Bridge where you can usually catch Japan’s insanely strange youth fashion. You’ll find everything from Lolita to goth, french maids with a sweet spot for fake blood, to cross dressing little bow peeps.

At times the Jingu Bridge area just next to Harajuku station feels a bit contrived, teenagers dressed up waiting to have their picture taken by photographers, hoping to land in a fashion magazine. Don’t get me wrong, it is fun to gawk, and if you are headed to Meiji Shrine you have to pass over the bridge anyway (this is another must see in Tokyo). But if you are looking for a slightly more authentic creative spirit continue past the bridge towards Yoyogi Park.

Travel Tip: Your best chance at premium gawking is on a Sunday when most people are out on the bridge and running around Yoyogi Park (yes, rebellious youth have to work and go to school on the weekdays too).

Map of Harajuku, Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park

To get to Yoyogi park, just cross the Jingu Bridge and instead of turning right into the Meiji Shrine with the large, beautiful, shaded, wooden torii gate, take a left and follow the sidewalk around the corner to the right. You’ll see the Harajuku entrance to the park right in front of you along with some delicious street food vendors!

Do you like these maps? Let me know if you find these helpful and I will try to include more detailed instructions on retracing my wanderings for those who want to follow along.

Guide to Yoyogi Park Tokyo

Yoyogi Gyoen (park) is Tokyo’s largest and has a number of wonderful wooded areas that will make you forget about city life for a short while. The park comes into its own on Sundays when groups gather from all over Tokyo to meet and share their mutual interest in just about anything you can think of. This includes everything from skateboarding, to freestyle cycling, African drum circles, dance troupes, cross dressing senior citizens, bird watchers, musicians, jugglers, martial arts and students practicing for upcoming plays.

For me this is where the excitement of the Japanese culture is on display best. You will still get outrageous fashions of the young and bored. But what you will get more of is the Japanese predilection for forming groups and trying to perfect a certain task. It doesn’t matter what that task is, what matters is being part of the group and progressively getting better (or trying to).

Click the Video Below to Watch My Day in Yoyogi

So while most guidebooks will tell you to come and witness “crazy” Japanese society, I’d challenge you to come and witness “normal” Japanese society. Sunday is a time for groups to gather, for creativity to be let loose, and for people to polish their stones with a singular conviction. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dancing elf, a cross-dressing little bow peep, or a juggler. They are all welcome in Yoyogi, they are all involved in the same cultural experiment, just expressed differently at times.

Once your done in Yoyogi don’t forget to take a walk around the Meiji Jingu grounds for a more subdued expression of Japanese culture. Once you are calm you’ll be ready to shop for the crazy costumes in Harajuku’s back streets and especially along the always crowded Takeshita Street, just across the street from the train station.

What do you think? Are the Japanese youth in Yoyogi creative or conformists? Is this a must see for a visitor to Tokyo?

Experience Tokyo’s Creative Youth Culture in Yoyogi Park is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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How I Paid for 12 Years of Continuous Travel Fri, 12 Aug 2011 12:19:35 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

How I Paid for 12 Years of Continuous Travel is a post from: Todd's Wanderings


Hiking in Dragash Kosovo

Anyone who says you can't have it all is more worried about what they don't have and that you might end up with more than them.

Recently a number of people have written me to ask EXACTLY how I have been able to travel the world for the past 12 years. After reading a friend’s wonderful post explaining in detail how he has traveled for over 10 years as well at Wandering Earl (yes, people with Wandering names have to stick together) I decided to post my own account.

For those of you who don’t know my background, I left the US in 1998 to visit Japan. Coming from a middle class family, it was my first time on an airplane and I was 21 years old! Over 40 countries (I’m sure I’ll forget to mention a few below) and various different jobs later I’m still on the road, now with my wife and my recently born son.

WARNING: This is a long post.  For word nerds, it is exactly 2,382 words long. For time nerds, it will take the average reader 15 minutes to read and 10 more seconds to understand. Proceed carefully as you will not get this time back. You can of course just read the headlines in about 3 minutes if you don’t want to understand anything that I spent so long writing.

For the regular readers out there I thought I had already told you how, especially in:

5 Steps to World Travel and Getting Paid to Do What you Love

or maybe in 3 Strategies to Help you Succeed and Travel the World. Still not convinced that I’m not trying to hide anything, then check out How to Manage Uncertainty—Don’t where I lay out 7 steps to help you travel and live free of worry.

We Want the Dirty Details including Money Money Money…Money!

But I also know that it can be difficult to relate to such a life sitting behind a pile of bills, late payments, and screaming kids demanding your attention.  I was sitting in my hometown bar a few years ago reminiscing with a buddy about the countries he visited me in. A hard drinking, hard working local took exception:

“Who the fuck do you think you are? Stop lying, no one could have been to so many places. What are you 30 years old? [I was 28] Get the fuck outta hea (that’s New Englander for “here”)

My sister was bar tending that night and told him to quite down. Drunk Dave turned quiet, grabbed his beer tighter and just repeated softly “it’s just not possible”.

Well it is possible, but I’ll be honest, it does require a number of sacrifices, leaps of faith, and the ability to go against the collective wisdom of just about everyone you know and love.

I try not to speak too much about money here on Todd’s Wanderings, since I do like to keep some privacy to myself (most of the bad things I have thought and done in my life qualify). But in this post (and probably the only time) I’m willing to open up about my non-blogging finances and show you just how little you really need to travel the world. As you will see, you can do it while heavily in debt, you don’t need nearly as much as you think, and long-term travel doesn’t have to equal abject poverty. In fact, due to lower costs of living, beneficial tax breaks, and a personal desire for simplicity and lack of acquiring “things” I think I have led a higher quality of life outside of the US than I could have if I stayed (wars and bombing raids included).

1998- Study Abroad in Osaka, Japan

In 1998 I was all set to go on my university’s study abroad program to Japan. At the last minute it was canceled as there were only 2 people signed up. Undeterred the two of us created our own program, found a school to enter and arranged everything ourselves. I was a poor collage student, paying for my school all on my own through student loans and scholarship. I had saved roughly $1,000 for extra expenses (yes, I worked during college). That was not nearly enough, but as a first time traveler what the hell did I know.

Luckily, as we organized the whole trip ourselves I had to pay the tuition upon arrival. Japan is a cash society so I carried $12,000 in traveler checks (yeah that is a lot of $100 checks!) with me on the plane. As I flew over the Pacific Ocean for the first time the exchange rates went crazy and when I landed I didn’t need all $12,000 to pay for school and was able to use the savings to live and travel.

I also cashed in a $1,000 in inheritance to pay for the 900 mile, 88 temple walking pilgrimage I went on after school ended. Life has never been the same since.

Counties Visited: Japan and Jamaica (yes, spring break called)

Money Saved: Nope. Maybe your expectations are too high for me.

Balance Sheet: Still sinking in student loan debt

1999-2001 Shiga, Japan- JET Program

I was lucky and graduated university with only $30,000 in debt. Yes, that’s a lot but that is also how much my private university cost per year!

After graduation I got a job as an assistant language teacher with the JET Program in Japan. This was a fantastic first job and I earned roughly $36,000 per year. I got 20 days of paid vacation, left work at 4 pm everyday, and didn’t have to work in the summer time. I spent all of my money traveling around South East Asia, and exploring Japan.

Counties Visited: Japan, Spain, Vietnam, and Thailand

Money Saved: $0

Balance Sheet: Still sinking in student loan debt

2001 Peru, Parent’s Attic, Chiba-Japan- Private English School

After 2 years in Japan I was looking for a change and returned to the US. I didn’t have a job so I moved back in with my parents and lived in my old room. Despite not have much money in savings I headed down to Peru for a few weeks to hike the Inca trail and explore the Andes Mountains.

Deciding it was better to be working abroad than unemployed in the US I found another job teaching in Japan for about $30,000 a year and moved to Chiba (near Tokyo).  Living near Tokyo was tough but I stilled traveled and managed not to save any money. I kept paying the minimum on my student loans and saving money for travel.

Countries Visited: USA, Peru, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore and Thailand

Money Saved: $0

Balance Sheet: How long can I keep treading water before I drown?

2002-2004 Shiga, Japan- Elementary School English Teacher

Unfortunately, I had to admit that being broke and living near a big city like Tokyo was just not fun.  So, I called in some contacts and found a new job back in my old area of Shiga Prefecture, Japan. Getting back to the Japanese countryside was great as was the return to my JET salary of $36,000 a year.  Money and free time still went to paying for jaunts to South East Asia as well as slow travel around Japan.

Countries Visited: Thailand, Myanmar, South Korea

Money Saved: $9,000

Balance Sheet: Getting smaller. $20,000 still in the hole.

2004-2006 Graduate School in Boston, Thailand and Japan (yes again)

Five years after graduating I was out in the world but making the exact amount of money as when I started. I was also chained to a job and was only able to travel during vacations. Plus, teaching English might be great for some people, but it was decidedly not my passion. It was time to make a change. I got into graduate school for International Relations and moved to Boston.

I visited Japan (yes, an ex-girlfriend) over winter vacation, broke up and then for the summer between year 1 and 2 I got an internship in Thailand. I lived in Bangkok for 2 months, toured the country, visited Cambodia again, and then headed back to Japan for 1 month to walk the Shikoku Pilgrimage again. I paid for it with a $2,000 grant and with a work for shelter and travel agreement with the NGO where I volunteered.

I paid for 2 years of graduate school the only way I could, I took out massive amounts of loans (private and government subsidized), blew through my $9,000, worked part-time, and maxed out credit cards. In the end I decided I would rather live the life I wanted and owe money than be miserable with a mortgage :)

Countries Visited: USA, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, Canada, Las Vegas (trust me it’s like another country)

Money Saved: Ha!

Balance Sheet: took a beating- $100,000 in debt (Credit Cards and Student Loans)

2006 San Francisco, Timor Leste (East Timor)- Intern, Governance and Conflict Consultant

Biking in Timor Leste

Life is serious business filled with nice hats and big glasses

When you are $100,000 in debt, what is the smart thing to do? I did the opposite and took another internship, this time in the expensive city of San Francisco for 3 months. I was paid exactly $3,000 to keep me alive and slightly breathing. I cobbled together a string of couch surfing and sublet agreements and slept in 5 different houses over the 3 months. I even managed to drive the length of route 1, party in La Jolla for the 4th of July, and enjoy Big Sur on the way back.

The phone rang one day, 1 week before my contract was up, and I was offered a 1 month assignment in Timor Leste (yes, the number “one” seems to be important here).  I said yes without the slightest hesitation, dropped a bag and flew out a few days later with no intention of returning. I lived in Timor for 6 months, traveled the country, and explored Bali and the rest Indonesia.

Oh, by the way, Timor Leste was when I first created Todd’s Wanderings!

Countries Visited: Timor Leste, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Singapore

Money Saved: Just glad I was able to start eating again

Balance Sheet: Still $100,000 over my head.

2007-2009 Sri Lanka (the civil war years)- Human Rights Advocate

With a few months of experience under my belt in my new profession I followed a girl (now my wife) to Sri Lanka right when the civil war was starting back up. It took me about 3 months to find a job, but I found one, worked my ass off as a human rights advocate, and eventually turned it into a Country Director position. The NGO had no idea that I was going to do that, but it just shows what you can accomplish if you try something new.

During this time we enjoyed the hell out of Sri Lanka and I got to start enjoying traveling for work and adding fun to the end of each trip. It is an amazing thing to get paid to travel! I also set the stage for my debt reduction and retirement savings plan. Read the post How to Manage Uncertainty—Don’t to see my strategies here. Basically, I cashed in some investments and paid off my credit cards, rolled the monthly interest savings into my student loan payments, started saving for retirement, an eventual house, travel, and food when I had a chance.

I started off earning $38,000/year and left making about $47,000 a year. But with no taxes and low cost of living, life was good.

Countries visited: Sri Lanka, Maldives, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Switzerland, England, Japan, Dubai, USA

Money Saved: Probably about $15,000 over 2 years

Balance Sheet: Owed about $89,000. I was beginning to learn to how to swim.

2009-2011 Kosovo- Consultant, Peacebuilding, Rural Tourism

The war finally ended and it was time to move on. We did the only sensible thing and my wife and I packed up and moved the Balkans. She took a job with the UN and I started consulting. When consulting work dried up I landed a job working for the United Nations in the divided town of Mitrovica in Kosovo, and moonlighted pro bono writing a hiking guide to southern Kosovo. Yes, this was the beginning of combining my travel writing with development work.

Let’s just say working for the UN in a non-family duty station (yes, I had my family with me) is very good for the bank account. This part of my life is a bit too fresh to share all the details with you but you’ll get an idea in the overview at the end of this section.

Between the UN, consulting, and having a baby boy in Japan I did quite a bit of traveling these 2 years. I am also a firm believer in saving money when it is available so I kept my normal lifestyle and socked the savings into paying off debt, saving for a house and…you guessed it… traveling.

Countries visited: Singapore, Timor Leste, Sri Lanka, Austria, Kosovo, Turkey, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Croatia, Slovenia, England, Netherlands, Jordan, USA, Japan, Maldives, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Italy

Money Saved: $40,000

Balance Sheet: Owed about $56,000 in student loans. All private loans with high interest rates have been paid off, I never carry credit card debt, and the rest of the loans are at a low 3.25% interest so they get the minimum payment for life and the savings will go into investments.

You don’t have to be rich, or poor, to Travel the World

I don’t expect you to run out and mirror my life. But I hope that you realize that traveling the world is a decision that you have to continually make. Sometimes you will have money, other times you won’t. That is the nature of having a freer life. But it can be done. I’m still doing it, my wife is doing it with me, and now our son has joined the party. Besides the travel aspect we are doing the type of work we love and getting paid for it.

In terms of my blogging money I earn about $1,000 or more a month. Most of this goes back into the business in one form or another. I have plans to implement a new strategy that will hopefully expand this income but even if it doesn’t I’m quite happy with it and the additional security it brings me and my family. My goals for my website and writing endeavors are to provide for my family when we don’t have other jobs, eventually replace our current income, and continue to prove we can get paid to do the things we love.

Never underestimate the value of living in a cheap country, or following your dreams!

What are your secrets for traveling the world?

How I Paid for 12 Years of Continuous Travel is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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A Night with a Sri Lankan Gangster Mon, 01 Aug 2011 09:02:25 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

A Night with a Sri Lankan Gangster is a post from: Todd's Wanderings


Drinking black Label scotch in Sri LankaSome names and circumstances have been changed to protect my ass.

Not too many things get your heart beating like downing a half a bottle of Black Label whiskey and being hugged by a killer

In the bathroom I called my friend who worked for the Sri Lankan government. It was 3 am and yet somehow he answered. “Where are you?”

“Have you ever heard of (name to remain anonymous)?”

“Of course I have. Where are you?”

“I’m in his suite at the (fancy hotel to remain anonymous).”

“What? Get the fuck out of there! I’m coming to get you.”

Whiskey does strange things to people, and after downing a half a bottle the world seemed like a gentle, gummy bear filled place. A night out, or rather in, with a group of gangsters sounded like a great idea. I hung up on my friend with assurances I was OK and headed back to finish the rest of the bottle.

Clubbing in Sri Lanka During the War

I have always had a problem with curiosity, and the chance to drink with a group of gangsters just couldn’t be passed up. I was worldly; I could take care of myself. Who knew the evening would end with me worrying for my life. Well, probably a sober me would have known that. But Whiskey Todd went with the flow and didn’t let anything stand in the way of a good time. After club hopping amongst Colombo’s hip, sweaty, young and extremely wealthy with the gangster’s nephew for the evening, I was ready to head anywhere.

Truth is that I had no idea who I was out with that night. He was a friend of a friend and needed a drinking buddy for the evening. With my wife away for the week on business I stepped up. Nothing good happens when wives are away.

At that time Sri Lanka was still embroiled in its 20 year civil war. The Tamil tigers had control of over a third of the country, and the tropical city of Colombo was packed, corner after corner, with checkpoints. Young soldiers with automatic weapons stopped everyone who approached, hoping one of the frequent bombings didn’t occur at their checkpoint.

We left our last club for the evening with the nephew asking me to join him. “My uncle’s in town and I need to say hello. It’ll just take a few minutes.”

As we approached a check point in his large black Mercedes-Benz ML5500 SUV a soldier waved us over. We were both drunk. “Should I run it? I’m drunk and have an arrest warrant in Slave Island.”

“No, stop.” I was lucky I got it out in time. I was starting to get my first hints of whom I was with. Yes, like I said, a half a bottle of whiskey dulls the brain a bit. “They only care about bombs, and as soldiers they won’t call up your info.” Thankfully he stopped and a few minutes later we were on our way across town.

Into a Gangster’s Room

“Listen, I have a confession. My uncle is a big deal, and not exactly on the right side of the law. Just keep your cool and you’ll be ok.”

I followed him into the enormous roof top suite and into a world one assumes only exists in movies and cheesy crime novels. The Boss, his Lieutenant and the Muscle sat around a coffee table drinking Black Label. South Asians love their Johnny Walker Black Label. The bedroom door was open and a passed out Ukrainian hooker lay sprawled across the bed. (Please don’t read into the fact that I called her a hooker. I’m sure she was a perfectly nice person).

Everyone except for the Muscle was smart and handsome. I sat in the free spot next to the Muscle, who could only be described at thick and slow. I kept quite as the family reunion took its course. Inquires into business, questions about family, affectionate offers. Next it was my turn.

“Do you want a hooker? I can have her call a friend.” The Boss nodded toward the bedroom.

I declined politely.

“Don’t like Russians huh? How about an Asian?

I explained that I was married.

“We can hit the Casino and I’ll get you a Chinese hooker.”

I convinced him I only needed the whiskey.

The Love of a Killer

Suddenly, the Muscle next to me shot straight up and lunged at me, giving me the strongest hug I’ve ever experienced in my life. That is if a hug and being squeezed to death were the same things. The boss jumped and everyone tensed.

“It’s OK.” I gave the Muscle a hug back. “I like you too.”

“Let him go” the Boss said quietly but forcefully.

“It’s OK,” I repeated. Was I trying to convince them or myself? The Muscle squeezed tighter, not wanting to let go. The boss stepped forward and looked the muscle in the eyes. He finally released me, sinking back into the couch in a drunken haze.

“He’s too drunk, and he killed someone the other day.”

Oh…I just realized where the fuck I was and it was time to leave. I sat through offers of being taken to the north to meet the rebel leader, offers of drugs, offers of guns, and more offers of hookers. After what I assumed was a polite amount of time, given the circumstances, I made my way to the door promising to meet them again when they returned to Sri Lanka from their homes in England.

The sun was rising, and the nephew walked me out to catch a cab. Just a friendly tip to anyone who finds himself or herself in a similar situation: When you have made it out of a criminal suite alive, leave it there and don’t pick a fight.

I don’t know how it happened but between the suite and the road the nephew and I ended up in a screaming match. I spent the next week trying to smooth things over behind the scenes before my wife returned. It took 6 months before the nephew and I could be in the same room together, and I could stop worrying about suddenly disappearing.

Eventually things got worked out. But I learned a lot about choosing my drinking partners more carefully, especially during war time.

What is your craziest drinking story while traveling?

Photo Credits 1

A Night with a Sri Lankan Gangster is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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Drinking in the Back Alleys of Shinjuku Golden Gai Mon, 25 Jul 2011 09:18:42 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

Drinking in the Back Alleys of Shinjuku Golden Gai is a post from: Todd's Wanderings


Just about every visitor to Japan searches for that stereotypical traditional atmosphere where they can sit and breath in the “real” Japan. The truth is that this “real” Japan is fading fast, and has been relegated to the shadows and corners of mainstream Japan. One place that still pulses with the traditional back alley street culture can be founded tucked into a corner of Shinjuku Tokyo’s red light district, Kabuki-cho.

Drinking in Golden Gai

Golden Gai in Shijuku TokyoGolden Gai is a small city block east of Shinjuku station made up of over 200 shacks, formerly brothels. The area consists of just 6 narrow alleys with even smaller passageways connecting everything. This atmospheric drinking area is renowned for the artists, actors and directors that frequent each nomiya (bar). Each small bar is big enough to fit a counter, stools and between six and fifteen patrons. The seedy image of Kabukicho, with its strip clubs, massage parlors, and breast bars (yes, you can suck on the breasts of waitresses and try not to think about the last guy doing the same) keeps all but the most knowledgeable/adventurous visitor from discovering this oasis of small town Japan in the heart of one of the world’s largest metropolises. Each bar typically has a theme and caters to a slightly different crowd with the dimly lit streets and shanty-like building preserving one of the last areas of Tokyo not to be redeveloped.

In fact, despite a career of living in and passing through many of the seedier places on earth, I had yet to fully explore Golden Gai, assuming it was dangerous and controlled by the Yakuza. It turns out it’s anything but dangerous, but still has a grit to it that ensures you’ll walk away with a memorable night.

Finding the Right Fit in Golden Gai

Finding the right bar can be challenging in the labyrinth like streets but is also part of the fun as you try to find the right atmosphere for you. My friends and I found our way to a typical bar with a Portuguese theme. Each time a patron made a move towards the restroom everyone had to stand and press against the bar counter. Portuguese Port (where else could it be from) was the house specialty, along with three cute bartenders who just managed to fit behind the bar together, ready to keep the conversations going and the single customers engaged and feeling welcome.

Small bar in Shinjuku's Golden GaiThe bartender closest to me started working in the area a few months ago, moonlighting after her regular job as a theater actress for historical dramas ended. She figured she got around 3 hours of sleep a night and saw her French boyfriend even less. Next to me sat an architect who taught at a famous University nearby, next to him a women half his age hung on his elbow. Down the bar one man was too drunk to engage in conversation and the next was a political correspondent for Japan’s national news service NHK.

As three young Australian’s entered the bartender leaned close and said more and more tourists were stopping by as the area became fashionable in guidebooks and as the area cleaned up its seedy image. I guess I wasn’t a tourist as we were speaking Japanese ;)

Golden Gai Etiquette

Most bars are welcoming to visitors and happy for you to share their night. However, remember that many of these bars are filled every night with regular customers and taking their seats can cause a bit of an issue. Bartenders are generally good about letting you know if you are welcome or not. Just ask if it’s OK to sit down when you first enter. If they say no, don’t take offense or think it’s because your a foreigner. Most likely the seats left are for regulars. Say thank you and move on down the street, with 200 holes in the wall you’ll find someplace to call home for the evening.

The Curse of a Popular Traditional Area

It’s difficult to know exactly what Golden Gai is any longer. It is a remnant of a bygone era, the playground of the rich and famous, a bohemian wonderland in a stifling city, or a tourist cliche recommended by every guidebook and their grandmother. Yes, I realize the irony of posting this article!

The truth is bound to be different for everyone, on a different night in the Gai, and upon stumbling into different bars. Golden Gai sums up the Japanese experience better than just about anywhere else. It is a place with enough personalities to be different for each visitor, allowing you to interact superficially or to find a home amongst those of similar hearts. If you want to get pissed and walk away with a story, that’s fine too, the bars are happy to take your seating charge (usually between 800-1,000 yen).

Whatever Golden Gai is or isn’t, it is definitely unique. It’s a place that you should walk into with an open mind and not in search of the exact atmosphere, story, or experience related in a guidebook or travel blog. It’s one of those amazing places where the story writes itself and all you need to do is keep flipping the pages (buy more drinks).

Map How to Get To Golden Gai:

The entire Golden Gai is situated on one block just 5 minutes walk from Shinjuku East Exit-  1-1-8 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku

View Shinjuku’s Golden Gai Drinking Area in a larger map

Do you have a favorite place to drink in Tokyo? Share it with us in the comments below.

Drinking in the Back Alleys of Shinjuku Golden Gai is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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Japanese Hambagu Recipe (Japanese Gourmet Hamburger Patty? WOW) Tue, 19 Jul 2011 11:48:43 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

Japanese Hambagu Recipe (Japanese Gourmet Hamburger Patty? WOW) is a post from: Todd's Wanderings


This post is by Kay, who writes the K’s Kitchen section of Todd’s Wanderings. She also happens to be Todd’s lovely wife!

How to make Japanese Hambagu Paddies

Only the Japanese can turn a meat loaf into a gourmet dish!

First of all, I have to apologize for my looong absence from K’s Kitchen. Here is my excuse…I was on bed rest from February to June due to some complications for my pregnancy and I couldn’t use use the computer much. The good news is that (A) our son was born in good health 4 weeks ago; and (B) K’s kitchen is back now :)

Today, I would like to introduce you to a ‘Japanese Western Food’ called ‘Hambagu’. Basically this is a dish made from ground beef and is similar to a rounded meatloaf or a salisbury streak. This dish originates from ‘Tartar Steak’ in Germany. It is not known exactly when this dish arrived at Japan but it’s sometime during Meiji Era (1868-1912) that similar dishes started to appear. In fact, beef was not common prior to this period in Japan. Since the 1950s, Hambagu (yes this is a very Japanese way to pronounce Hamburg) has become really popular as a home dish and its popularity continues today.

According to my husband (who is American and is familiar with the Japanese culture), the uniqueness of Hambagu in Japan as a foreigner is that this dish can be an expensive and posh dish and an economical dish at the same time. (Todd here: I mean seriously, who would serve a meatloaf at a five star restaurant!)

The recipe that I am introducing to you today is my mom’s special recipe (again!). The particular point for this recipe is that you bake the dish in an oven, while we normally only use a frying pan to cook it in Japan. This way, the juicy taste of the meat will remain. Enjoy this Japanese Western Food!!

Hambagu Ingredients (for 4 people)

Ground Beef: 240g

Ground Pork: 160g

Bread Crumbs: 60g

Milk: 100cc

Egg: 1

Salt: 1/2 teaspoon

Pepper, Nutmeg: a pinch or two each


Sherry (alcohol) 3 Tablespoons (if not available, you can also substitute with whisky or brandy)

Ketchup: 3 Tablespoons

Worcestershire Sauce: 1.5 Tablespoons

Chicken broth: 3 Tablespoons

Mustard: 1 Tablespoon

Mushrooms- sliced finely (as much as your like to cover each patty)

How to cook Japanese Hambagu (cooking/preparation time: 45-50 mins)

(1)   Chop onions finely, sauté, and cool them down.

(2)   Soak the bread crumbs in milk

How to Make Japanese Hambagu Mix

The Pate, trust me it gets better looking as the cooking continues

(3)   Put onions, bread crumbs in milk, salt, pepper, eggs, and nutmeg in a bowl and mix them.

(4)   Add ground beef and pork into the bowl and mix well with the ingredients in (3). Divide the pate into four.

(5)   Throw each piece from right to left hand to get rid of air in the pate and make a rectangular shape with 2 cm thickness. Push the middle part to make a dent.

(6)   Put 1.5 tablespoons of vegetable oil into the frying pan, heat it up, and fry the outside of the pate for 2-3 minutes to brown them.

(7)   Put vegetable oil onto the oven pan, put the hamburg pate, and bake them for about 13 min with 220 C.

(8)   Take out the hambagu patties from the pan, remove grease from the pan, and collect the remaining meat essence into a small pot.

(9)   Sauté mushrooms and put into (8), add the ingredients for sauce, and heat up until it boils. Serve the hamburg with the sauce on top.

You can also serve a side vegetable dish such as carrots grasse or sautéd beans, as you like.

What do you think? Have the Japanese perfected the meatloaf?

Japanese Hambagu Recipe (Japanese Gourmet Hamburger Patty? WOW) is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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Determine the Fate of Todd’s Wanderings Mon, 11 Jul 2011 08:03:11 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

Determine the Fate of Todd’s Wanderings is a post from: Todd's Wanderings


Todd's Wanderings Logo

Same Logo, More of it

Well, OK, maybe that title is a tad bit dramatic, but it is true nonetheless. Here at Todd’s Wanderings I am always trying to make the website more user friendly and to enhance your experience. I like it when you are happy, I’m also a bit anal and I need everything to look fresh and cutting edge, and of course I want my site to be more popular than twitter, I’m almost there…15 million more readers to go!

Over the past few months I have been working with a designer to give my website a facelift. I have been trying to make the design and the brand as appealing as possible before I engage a coder. What I have realized is that I forgot to ask YOU what you think.

Yes, I get carried away sometimes.

So, I’m here to not only give you a sneak peak at what the next version of Todd’s Wanderings will look like, but to also get your feedback.

I’d love to know what you think of the proposed new design.

1) What do you like, what do you hate?

2)What else would you like to see?

3) What do you like better or worse compared to the current design?

The internet and blogging is such a wonderful thing. When I’m wondering what my audience thinks, I can take the unusual step of Just Asking You. We often forget it’s that simple.

So here I am asking you what you think. I’ll take your suggestions on the design, add in my own concerns and then we will finalize and roll out a brand spanking new Todd’s Wanderings in the near future.

Todd’s Wanderings New Homepage

Todd's Wanderings Home Page

Oh, and don't worry about hurting my feels :)

Please leave your comments below, and thanks again for being one of the most attractive, well read and intelligent audiences around! I couldn’t be this egotistical without you :)

Determine the Fate of Todd’s Wanderings is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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My 7 Links that May or May not Deserve to See the Light of Day Wed, 06 Jul 2011 05:35:50 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

My 7 Links that May or May not Deserve to See the Light of Day is a post from: Todd's Wanderings


Recently we were nominated by Cam and Nicole over at Traveling Canucks to take part in the 7 Links Project started by Trip Base. First off I like the Traveling Canucks because they only use one “L” when they spell “traveling.” Yes, I can be that superficial! Oh, they are also a fun couple to follow around the world.

The Goal of the 7 Links Project

Todd's Wanderings little wanderer

Even I can tell that Daddy is full of s#@&, just like my diaper!

What you are about to read is lifted directly from Trip Base (yes, I steal sometimes too):

To unite bloggers in a joint endeavor to share lessons learned and create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again.

My son is only 2 weeks old and he is already questioning whether ANY of my posts should have been allowed to see the light of day, let alone subject the world to another round.

But since he can’t speak, or type, to warn you to avert your eyes and do something more useful with your time, I’m going to rush on ahead.

The Process (yeah, they are actually Rules, but I’m feeling rebellious today)

1)    Sexy Blogger is nominated to take part
2)    Successful Blogger publishes his/her 7 links on his/her blog – 1 link for each category
3)    Funny Blogger Nominates 5 More Sexy, Successful, Funny Bloggers

4) Reader loves every word and relishes the visual porn (not in a creepy way please) that Todd puts out and spreads the word through social media voodoo, or what the old folks use to call “talking” (whatever that is!)…OK, this one is not part of the rules. But since you are participating you might as well indulge my whims.

My 7 Links

1. Most Beautiful Post-Petra, Jordan: A Walk Through History

Donkey Negotiataions Petra Jordan

Trust me, there are more beautiful pictures in this post than me on a Donkey

Visiting the ancient ruins of Petra was a dream come true and unbelievably it lived up to all the hype I had built up in my head. This photo tour should be viewed with the Indiana Jones theme song playing in your head.

2. Most Popular Post- First Time I Almost Died in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay Vietnam

Death and Adventure in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

I think that any post that begins with the words “By the end of this story a number of people will be dead.” is destined to get a little bit of traction. I was surprised that so many people are interested in narrative travel writing as opposed to bland, worn out top 7 lists about the BEST beaches in the world the writer had actually never been to.

3. Most Controversial Post- When to Bribe, How to Bribe, Do you Bribe

Should I pay bribes when I travel

Are bribes necessary sometimes?

Is this my most controversial post? I’m not sure if this one beats out the large dicks on Japanese statues at Buddhist temples, but as I wasn’t responsible for building the statues, just pointing them out I guess we go with Bribes. The fact that the world is dirtier than most people would like to admit hits all travelers at some point in their journey. This post explores what to do about it.

4. Most Helpful Post- 10 Free Things to Do in Tokyo

Sensoji Temple Tokyo

Sensoji Temple with its vibrant gate and pagoda

Tokyo can be a very expensive destination and in this post I lay out my 10 favorite things to do in Tokyo that cost no money at all. I was taken aback as to how popular this post ended up becoming and it even made it into a recent book by a writer for The Japan Times newspaper. Yeah, that’s right, someone else is profiting off of my work…yes, I took free in Tokyo to a whole new level.

5. Post whose Success Surprised Me- “Real” Life, Travel and Work: Lessons from 10 Years on the Road

Todd in Shikoku

Don't believe anyone who says this can't be your office

This was one of those posts that I wrote on a whim, didn’t edit, and felt very uncomfortable with. I have since learned that my lifestyle, and the things I often take for granted are exactly what interests readers. This was also a general rant against everyone in my life that kept telling me I needed to be normal, and who now are so proud to talk about me since I have apparently succeeded. Apparently, like this post, things are never a success until someone else says so…wait, that’s exactly what I’m arguing against in the is post :)

6. Post I Feel Didn’t Get the Attention it Deserved- The Hermit in Seclusion

Nice man I met on the Shikoku Pilgrimage

This may be the happiest, nicest man on the Planet.

One reason this might have not been very successful is that it was posted before I had all of you lovely readers. Just look at the watermark, yes, I used to be on Blogger! This is the story of a vengeful Buddhist Monk, yes I was shocked to learn I could inspire hate in a man of the robe, and a simple grounds keeper who smiles like a turtle.

7. Post I’m Most Proud Of- Should you Give Money to Beggars When you Travel

Children begging in KosovoThis is one of those uncomfortable honest posts about my own shortcomings, and the challenges we face as travelers when poverty comes knocking on our door. It is also one of the posts that sort of launched Todd’s Wanderings into the range of W List blogging celebrity. If I can only get a few more loyal stalkers I might be able to qualify for the V List. That’s right, I’m living the dream!

Great, so now you are able to judge if I was right or wrong to subject you all to my Shameless Self Promotion. My son just pooped his pants, so I guess we have his answer :)

Now, to give you some other Attractive Bloggers to share their own 7 Great Links.

1. Exotic Visitors

2. Top Backpacking Destinations

3. Ogijima

4. LoneLee Planet

5. World Travel for Couples

My 7 Links that May or May not Deserve to See the Light of Day is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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Guide to UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan Mon, 04 Jul 2011 09:55:19 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

Guide to UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan is a post from: Todd's Wanderings


In Japan, UNESCO World Heritage Sites are extremely popular and there is even a weekly travel show dedicated to showcasing sites from all over the world. The United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) aims (among an incredibly long list of other duties) to designate and help to protect cultural or natural sites that show “outstanding universal value.” “Sekai isan” or World Heritage Sites, are so popular that Japanese tour companies do a steady business developing mass tours all around the world as well as within Japan itself.

While many people of heard about World Heritage Sites, I was shocked to discover while researching for this article that despite the large sums of money invested to win World Heritage status, and then the vasts amounts of sums needed to protect and maintain those sites (with of course some funds made available from UNESCO) that there is very little interest on the internet for Heritage Sites in Japan.

As little as 170 people per month, GLOBALLY,  actively search for information in English on Japan’s World Heritage Sites. While the marketing value of making the list seems to be quite high, there does not seem to be a subsequent push by the ordinary tourist to find information on them over the internet. Compare this low search level with “Japan Sex” which comes in at 201,000/month and you see what the heritage of the world is up against. Yes, I somehow was able to weave “sex” into a World Heritage post ;)

Despite the lack of knowledge on World Heritage Sites, Japan is filled with them (relative to other countries) and boasts some impressive and incredibly preserved sites.

Travel to Japan’s World Heritage Sites

If you are planning a visit to Japan, you can hardly go wrong by including a few of Japan’s 16 World Heritage Sites in your itinerary. To help you out, and because I know you are not going to search for them on your own, here they are. I have been to over half of these and can’t wait to visit the rest. They are grouped by region starting north to south and include the 2 new additions that were just added in June 2011!

Cultural UNESCO Sites

Hiraizumi – Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land

Winter at Chuson-ji Temple JapanNew to the list in 2011, Hiraizumi, in Iwate Prefecture boasts a long history of beautiful temples that rivaled the size of Kyoto back in the 12th Century. The area comprises five sites, including the sacred Mount Kinkeisan. The sites boast the remnants of  government offices dating from the 11th and 12th centuries when Hiraizumi was the administrative center of the northern realm of Japan. The realm was based on the cosmology of Pure Land Buddhism, which spread to Japan in the 8th century. It represented the pure land of Buddha that people aspire to after death, a type of enlightened realm. The highlights of the area include Chuson-ji Temple, with its spectacular Konjikido golden hall, Motsu-ji Temple, and the former garden of Kanjizaio-in Temple which is representative of a combination of indigenous Japanese nature worship and Shintoism and Pure Land Buddhism that developed a type of garden design unique to Japan.

Shrines and Temples of Nikko

Changing leaves in Nikko JapanThe shrines and temples of Nikko have long been associated with the wealth and power of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and together with the beautiful surrounding nature illustrate the architectural style of the Edo period. The mountains of Nikko were first worshiped as a sacred Shinto area and in the 8th century the first Buddhist building was built. The area highlights the unique nature of Japanese religious centers blending nature worship with adapted Buddhist principles. One of the main highlights is Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu’s grand, elaborately (gaudy?) decorated mausoleum – the Toshogu – that was built in the mid 17th century. Watch out for the monkeys that are known to terrorize the town and the visitors alike.

Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama

Autumn colors at Shirakawa-go in JapanLocated in a mountainous regions in Gifu Prefecture (Shirakawa-go) and Toyama Prefecture (Gokayama) are cut off from the rest of Japan. These villages have Gassho-style houses with their steeply pitched thatched roofs that were designed to protect from the massive amounts of snow dumped on the area each winter by moisture extending from the Sea of Japan and are the only examples of their kind in Japan. The resident lived off of the cultivation of mulberry trees and the rearing of silkworms. It is difficult to find a more rural traditional lifestyle in Japan.

Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities)

Yes, this is three cities in one and the monuments are shared between Kyoto Prefecture and my former home Shiga Prefecture. With so many amazing historical temples and shrines in the area it would have been impossible to grant them all UNESCO status individually. If you manage to hit all of these temples and shrines then you are way ahead of the most tourists who spend a few days seeing just a few of these sites. The full list includes:

  • Kinkakuji Golden Temple in winterKamigamo Shrine (Kamowakeikazuchi-jinja)
  • Shimogamo Shrine (Kamomioya-jinja)
  • To-ji Temple (Kyouougokoku-ji), Minami-ku Kyoto-city
  • Kiyomizu Temple (Kiyomizu-dera)
  • Enryaku-ji Temple, Otsu-city
  • Daigo-ji Temple, Fushimi-ku Kyoto-city
  • Ninna-ji Temple, Ukyo-ku Kyoto-city
  • Byodoin Temple, Uji-city
  • Ujigami-jinja Shrine, Uji-city
  • Kozan-ji Temple, Ukyo-ku Kyoto-city
  • Saiho-ji Temple, Sakyo-ku Kyoto-city
  • Tenryu-ji Temple, Ukyo-ku Kyoto-city
  • Kinkaku-ji Temple (Rokuon-ji), Kita-ku Kyoto-city
  • Ginkaku-ji Temple (Jisho-ji), Sakyo-ku Kyoto-city
  • Ryouan-ji Temple, Ukyo-ku Kyoto-city
  • Hongan-ji Temple, Shimogyo-ku Kyoto-city
  • Nijojo Castle, Kyoto-city

And yes, I have been to them all!!!

Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area, Nara Prefecture

Horyu-ji Temple in NaraWith around 48 Buddhist monuments in the Horyu-ji area, in Nara Prefecture, you could spend a whole day taking photographs. A number of them date from the late 7th or early 8th century, including the Hyoru-ji gate, main hall and pagoda, making them the oldest surviving wooden buildings in the world. These masterpieces of wooden architecture illustrate the adaptation of Chinese Buddhist architecture and layout to Japanese culture, as well as the with the introduction of Buddhism to Japan from China through the Korean peninsula.

Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara

todaiji great BuddhaLike Kyoto, there are so many sites in Ancient Nara that one can spend a few days trying to discover all of the UNESCO sites. Japan’s capital from 710-784, it is a classic site that every visitor should see. Stop to pet the free roaming deer located throughout the city and the park, visit Todai-ji the world’s largest wooden building housing Japan’s largest statue of the Buddha, or marvel at Kofuku-ji’s 5 story pagoda. Don’t forget to walk along the paths in the surrounding hills and discover centuries of stone statues and Buddhist symbols.

Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range

Set in the remote and dense forests of the Kii Mountains three ancient sacred sites- Yoshino and Omine, Kumano Sanzan, and Koyasan, reflect the inter-linkages between the native nature based worship of Shinto, and Buddhism which arrived from China and Korea. The sites are linked to the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto along pilgrimage routes that are still used today for hiking and ascetic disciple. The natural landscapes and the sites themselves have a long and well documented tradition of use and pilgrimage for over 1,200 years. The rugged mountains raising from 1,000-2,000 meters and the natural beauty of the area, which was once thought to have been the origin of the Japanese Shinto Gods, are still visited by millions of people each year. Each of the sites are worth a visit but are spread out quite a bit. Koyasan is the headquarters of Shingon Buddhism, a form of esoteric Buddhism and its founder Kobodaishi is one of the great Japanese historical figures. He is also the founder of the Shikoku Pilgrimage.

Kumano Sanzan on Kii Peninsula in Japan

Approaching a small Shinto Shrine in the Kii Mountains

Yoshino and Omine is the northern-most site near to Nara. The Yoshino or northern part of the site was the most important sacred mountain in Japan by the 10th century and was the object of mountain worship, Shinto, in the 7th and 8th centuries. Later in the 8th century it became one of the prime sacred places for the Shugen sect of ascetic Buddhism, and the Omine in the southern part of the site was also known for its harsh mountain ascetic rituals and particular fusion of Shinto and Buddhism.

Kumano Sanzan is the furthest south and has three main shrines, and two temples, connected by a pilgrims’ route. The site also reflects the Shinto and Shugen sect of Shinto-Buddhism and the wooden architecture is considered some of the best in Japan.


Himeji Castle JapanThis is possibly Japan’s best preserved and most beautiful castle. The castle site includes 83 buildings with highly developed systems of defense and and creative means of protection dating from the beginning of the Shogun period. The original castle was built in the 14th century and the existing castle was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1580. It was further enlarged 30 years later by Ikeda Terumasa. This is one of those sites that is a must see for any visitor to Japan.

Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape

Inside Iwami Ginzan Silver MineThe Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine in Shimane Prefecture in the south east of Japan’s main island, Honshu, is a mountainous area reaching 600 meters cut through by deep river valleys featuring the archaeological remains of large-scale mines, smelting and refining sites and mining settlements worked between the 16th and 20th centuries. The mines produced most of silver and gold in south-east Asia in the 16th and 17th centuries with shipping routes to China and the Korean peninsula. The site includes fortresses, a number of temples that catered to the short life expectancy of silver miners of the time, and three port towns Tomogaura, Okidomari and Yunotsu, from where the ore was shipped.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome)

Hiroshima Genbaku DomeThis used to be the Industrial Promotion Hall, but after being at the hypocenter of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 the partially standing remains are now a reminder of the world’s first atomic attack. It was the only building in the area to survive the blast and has been kept in its original state by the city of Hiroshima. Each year on August 6th, services are held at the dome in remembrance and a moment of silence is observed. The Dome stands opposite of the Peace Memorial Park.

Itsukushima Shinto Shrine

Miyajima and Itsukushima ShrineThe island of Itsukushima, in the Seto inland sea, has been a sacred place for Shintoism since the earliest times. The shrines main torii gates, better know as the “floating shrine,” rises out of the the ocean during high tide and is one of the enduring images of Japan. The first shrine buildings were around the 6th century with the present shrine being erected in the 12th century. The shrine plays on the contrasts in color and form between mountains and sea and is a remarkable illustration of Japan’s sense of beauty which highlights the balance between nature and humans.

Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu, Okinawa Prefecture

View from the walls of Shuri Castle OkinawaThe Ryukyu Kingdom in Okinawa served as the economic and cultural hub between Japan, China, Korea and the rest of south-east Asia for several centuries. The area is dotted with fortresses and castles with the main attraction being Shuri-jo a castle with a particularly Chinese flavor to it. The castle was the seat of power in the area from the 15th century to 1879 when Okinawa was taken under full control by the Japanese government. Unfortunately the castle was almost fully destroyed during WWII and the current building is a reconstruction.

Natural UNESCO Sites


Shiretoko Hokkaido's Oshinkoshin WaterfallIf Hokkaido is often refereed to as the most American area in Japan with it’s wide open spaces then Shiretoko must be the Alaska of Japan.The Shiretoko Peninsula in north eastern Hokkaido is a remote, untouched wilderness accessible only by boat or a long trekking expedition. The Peninsula is 65 km long and 25 km wide, houses a number of rare plant and animal life and is home to the world’s highest number of brown bears. The site is globally important for threatened seabirds and migratory birds and for marine mammals including Steller’s sea lion. Good luck getting there!


Lake in Shirakami Beech ForestLocated in Akita Prefecture in northern Honshu the area consists mainly of virgin Siebold’s beech forests that once spread all over Northern Japan. Black bears inhabit the area and a traditional faith ceremony and traditional bear hunting still takes place from time to time. The beech forest is almost entirely undisturbed with few access trails or man-made facilities. There is occasional use by bear hunters but in general the area is protected and has a buffer zone around it.

Ogasawara Islands

Ogasawara Isands JapanOne of two new Heritage sites listed in 2011 the beautiful topical islands of Ogasawara are technically a part of Tokyo but are located over 1,000 km to the south and consist of over 30 islands. Often call the Galapagos of Asia the islands have never physically been attached to any other part of Japan leaving the flora and fauna millions of the years to evolve into distinct species, including the Bonin Flying Fox. About 2,500 residents live on the islands which can only be reach by a 25 1/2 hour ferry ride from Tokyo. The surrounding ocean is home to an abundance of sea life and is an ideal place to watch Humpback and Sperm whales.


Yakushima Island JapanThis island located just to the South of Kyushu, Japan’s southern most main island, is a wonderland of ancient cedar trees and an abundance of plant species with over 1,900 recorded. The massive Yaku-sugi, are endemic to the island transforming the island into enchanting land. Combined with the monkeys, and sparking blue waters around the island it is impossible not feel in awe of the natural wonders.

If you want to find out more detailed information on any of the above sites you can visit the UNESCO page for Japan.

What do you think? Are World Heritage Sites a must when you visit Japan, or are there better ways to spend your time?

This post is a part of the J-Festa July blog carnival. To join in check out the guidelines.

Photo Credits 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16

Guide to UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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Camping and Hiking in Kosovo’s Backcountry: Brod to Lake Shutman Mon, 27 Jun 2011 02:40:10 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

Camping and Hiking in Kosovo’s Backcountry: Brod to Lake Shutman is a post from: Todd's Wanderings


Just outside brod village, Dragash Kosovo

You can walk here in just 5 minutes from the village of Brod

Working for the United Nations and as a Travel Blogger/writer has its moments…sometimes they intersect in an amazing experience or opportunity that just leaves me wondering how I ever became so lucky. If anyone ever tells you a dream job does not exist, share this link with them and then get working on making it come true. In the run up to my new guide book release (The Mountains of Dragash, Kosovo: Hiking and Nature Tourism Guide) I led a group of 30 people into the Dragash back-country for a weekend of hiking, camping, and getting back to nature (ie getting very wet on the hike in and out). The trip was part of a larger effort to develop a nature tourism strategy for the isolated Municipality of Dragash, and to create a series of value chains to help locals benefit from increased tourism. The project is sponsored by the Finish Government, and is being implemented by the United Nations Development Programme.

Group hike south of Brod on the way to Lake Shutman

Hiking in Dragash

Hire horses in Dragash Brod Kosovo

If you don't want to carry all your gear you can hire horses in the village of Brod

We have been working on this hiking guide for about a year now and I have written about hiking in Dragash a number of times on Todd’s Wanderings as the work has progressed. Some of the hikes include:

Brod to Mount Cule

Brod to the Old Macedonian Smuggling Pass

Restelica to Brod

You will notice a pattern here as the picturesque village of Brod features heavily in my hikes. The beauty of this little village, tucked into a protective valley and wrapped lovingly in a series of crisp rivers, is undeniable. Add in the cultural traditions of the locals, numbering about 1,000, delicious cheese, succulent lamb and a dramatic landscape accessible just a few minutes from town and the tourism potential becomes clear.

camp site dragash brod kosovo

Our little camp site in a very large valley

The hike below is the same one that we arranged for the 30 person weekend. The text is the same as you’ll find in the soon to be published hiking guide, due out in July 2011. The Guide contains 12 of my favorite hikes and 3 mountain biking trails around Dragash Municipality, along with tourism information, easy to follow maps and local knowledge. Oh, did I mention it will be free both Electronically and for a limited time in Print? Yeah, I know, pretty amazing.

If you are looking for a more serviced experience feel free to contact me and I’ll can pass along your message to a contact person in the village. We organized horses to pack up our tents, and for food to be prepared for dinner and breakfast the next morning. This is just the beginning of  mountain tourism in Dragash and we are hoping to lay the foundation for sustainability where locals benefit monetarily, the environment benefits from conservation and tourists have a unique amazing experience.


This is one of the best known hikes in the Brod region with a well worn path, and stunning views through the Brod Gorge and into the southern rolling alpine fields where Lake Shutman/Šutman lies. The lake is more of a pond and is shallow with a muddy bottom but beautiful nonetheless. These small lakes are called mountain eyes due to the resemblance of human eyes when viewed from the mountains above. This hike can also be combined with 2 other hikes in the region, Mt. Vraca or the 3 Peaks hike, which begin and end at Lake Shutman/Šutman. The lake also provides a nice place to camp for those wanting to explore more of the southern area of Dragash/Dragaš.

Dragash Hiking Map Brod to Lake Shutman

A larger map will be available soon

STARTING POINT/ ENDING POINT: Arxhena Hotel or Old Road near Brod



DISTANCE: 8.82 Km.

DURATION: 6-7 hours round-trip along the same path

DIFFICULTY: Easy. There are very few steep parts to this hike.

Hiking Route Description

You have two options where to start. You can either start directly from Arxhena Hotel and climb up the steep ski slope behind the hotel which meets the path further on; or you can start from the beginning of the main path along the Old Road closer to Brod which is longer but has a more gentle climb up into the mountains. If starting from the Old Road, follow the main dirt road out of Brod towards Arxhena Hotel with the river on your right hand side.

After the last house between the hotel and the village, just past the rusted skeleton of an old car on its side under a tree, the river passes under the road. As the river moves to the left side of the road you will see a small concrete water-tap structure on the right and the power lines begin to diverge from the road. Turn right here and follow the grass road uphill following the wooden electrical poles. This is the start of the Old Road to Macedonia that was never completed. Eventually the grass route will turn to a dirt and rock path. Follow this further into the valley until you are directly above Arxhena Hotel. It is here that the ski slope intersects with the main path.

Lake Shutman Brod Kosovo

I love a nice mountain lake. These post glacial lakes are often called mountain eyes as they look like eyes looking up into the sky when seen from the mountain tops above.

Continue following the well-travelled path south into the river gorge. Make sure you stay high up on the path and do not descend to the river and cross it. There is a path on the other side of the river but it is more difficult and does not lead directly to the lake. More than two thirds of the way to the lake you will see a beautiful waterfall where the river rushes out of a narrow rocky gap. The top of the waterfall has a nice area to rest and have a picnic. You can access this area by leaving the path behind after the waterfall turning left, crossing the river at its highest point and then walking back to the waterfall. See the map for further indications, as there is no dedicated path to the waterfall from this side of the river.

After passing the waterfall you will come to a point where the path becomes narrow and less clear. This is also where you will see a shepherd’s building which doubles as a sharr dog breeding hut. Stay away from the building, as sharr dogs are very protective, even if they are cute when they are young. Stay closer to the mountain on your right and you will eventually make out the path that leads out of this valley and up into the valley with small but beautiful Lake Shutman/Šutman.

What do you think? Would you visit Kosovo and Brod?

Camping and Hiking in Kosovo’s Backcountry: Brod to Lake Shutman is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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Off Track on the Northern Albanian Komani Lake Fri, 24 Jun 2011 04:06:13 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

Off Track on the Northern Albanian Komani Lake is a post from: Todd's Wanderings


It’s hard to know what is on and off the beaten path these days. Most travelers get their information from the Internet (yes, including you right now) in a way that was never possible before with regular guidebooks. But with the proliferation of information is there still a beaten path? Or are we all beating down the grass as we wander freely here and there depending on the whims of a Google search?

Komani Lake Albania Ferry Trip

Yes, it really is this beautiful!

Whatever the answer is, for most people Albania as a country is off the beaten path and is just starting to open up to tourism. Travel to the northern mountain regions, where the fastest way to travel is by lake ferry, or by foot, and you can be pretty sure you are off the beaten path. I heard about the Komani Lake Ferry in Kosovo and decided to give it a try. It is by far one of the most beautiful, and gritty ferry rides I have experienced. In fact I’d even call it a classic boat journey that most people should experience at least once in their lives. The journey is not made easy for tourists as it caters to residents and traders traveling down to the coastal areas. But it will by far be the highlight of your trip to Albania. The bonus is that you can easily combine this with a hike in Northern Albania, or a trip to or from Kosovo. These are all places most people would consider off the beaten track, although to be honest there were plenty of tourists sitting ride beside my wife and I!

Komani Lake Albania Gourge

Riding the Ferry on Albania’s Komani Lake

Komani lake was Albania first major hydro electric project in 1970 and helped the country not only become a net exporter of energy, but also created an amazing winding system river system of turquoise waters, staggering cliffs, and remnants of a life cut out of a savage land where journeys are measured in days rather than hours. There are no cities or towns along the ride, only solitary houses

Komani Lake Ferry AlbaniaThe Komani Ferry is large enough to carry 50 cars, and scores more passengers. It travels only 2 times a day and leaves from the western side from the town of Komani (kind of near Shkodra) at 10 am and earlier from the eastern side from Bregluma (near the small town of Fierza) at 8 am. The ferry may depart or arrive half an hour earlier than suggested as the above schedule is not fixed!

Komani Lake Ferry

Um...psst...your tie is a bit short...

The timing means that it’s impossible to take the ferry south in the morning and then have time to explore and return on the same day. But the magic of the lake is the ride itself and can be combined with any number of other activities, from visiting the castle town of Shkodra, to hiking the remote mountain passed from Valbona to Thethi.

We drove 5 hours from Pristina on a Friday down to Shkodra on the new highway and in the morning took the ferry back towards Kosovo. Unless you have massive amounts of time, a car is a necessity on this trip due to the lack of public transportation and the remoteness of the ferry terminal itself. In fact, the last 20 km to the western ferry port took nearly 1-½ hours due the rugged road conditions. You will definitely want a 4-wheel drive vehicle for this trip.

Don’t miss the Komani Ferry!

Komani Lake Albania Waiting for the FerryStart the day early and arrive at least an 2 hours before the ferry is scheduled to depart if you are driving a car. The parking area on the western end is just past the damn and you need to travel through a hand carved tunnel to reach the small port area. There is not a lot of room to park here (they charge you for this too! but only 50 lek) so it’s best to get there early and have a coffee while you wait. There are a few small shops along the water. You can also buy drinks and snacks on the ferry, and it’s wonderful to watch the organized chaos surrounding the loading and unloading.

The ferry usually departs a little late as the last inches of space are negotiated to fit as many cars and buses on as possible. There are also smaller boats available for hire and many people use them to move into the mountains in the summer for the harvest. Life in the region is harsh, and money and resources are hard to come by. Many families will toil on their land for the 3 months to earn 20-50 Euros and stock up their food for the winter.

Albania beer and cows

Beer and Cows, this guy has the market covered!

The ferry ride itself lasts about 2 ½ hours and travels through stunningly remote areas, along steep cliffs and mountains that give the Accursed Mountains their name (an area so remote and harsh it could only have been created by the devil). This is one of those experiences that are slowly fading from our hyper connected and efficient world. It’s a place where trade and sweat still have a caloric value and you can feel the worth of your ticket (400 lek per person and 1200 lek per square meter of car…don’t worry they will calculate it for you). All in all I was very happy to experience the trip, and would recommend it to anyone with the time and spirit. Combine the trip with a more in depth travel to the Balkans and you’ll be sure to leave wondering what the hell CNN and BBC are going on about. The region and its people are lovely, and you’ll be hard pressed to find more genuine locals and landscapes.

Have you been to Albania? Would you go? Where did you go off the beaten track recently?

Off Track on the Northern Albanian Komani Lake is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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Advanced Personal Development Sale: better life, save money, be awesome Mon, 20 Jun 2011 16:15:49 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

Advanced Personal Development Sale: better life, save money, be awesome is a post from: Todd's Wanderings


a collection of personal development books and courses

I feel like a better person already

Yay, the 72 Hour Sale is back and this time it jumps into the Personal Development arena. For me travel and working abroad has had a profound effect on my personal development, running the gambit from finances, to minimalism, to becoming a more self confident person. The only thing is hasn’t helped me with is my addiction to self improvement books…

These sales don’t come around often, and it’s a great chance to get a ton of books at a ridiculous discount. I own a couple of the titles included and now own the rest for what it cost me to buy 2 of them earlier.

This is the second 72 hour sale from the genius behind Man vs Debt, a super popular personal finance blog. The concept is simple, for 72 hours you can buy 22 Online Personal Development Courses and E-books for only $97 that would normally cost $1,087 if you bought them separately. Yup, 22 of the biggest names in online Personal Development are coming together to offer their guides and courses in one ridiculous package. I participated in the last 72 hour sale (along with 2,000 others) 7 months ago (yes they are rare!) when Internet Business Books and Courses were being offered. It was so much information that I’m still learning, and benefiting from them!

This time around the 72 hour team is serving up a courses and books on building a better lifestyle ranging from how to focus, to traveling without fear, to being awesome (yes, someone created a guide to this), to how to learn a second (or 5th) language quickly. For those who need help with sex, yes I said sex, there is something for you too!

Added Bonus

What’s better than becoming a better person? Answer: helping others in the process. $5 from each sale will be directly donated to support research and prevention of kidney disease through Team Juggernaut to raise funds for the Kidney Foundation.

The sale runs from Monday, June 20, at noon Eastern time to Thursday, June 23, at noon Eastern time. No sales will be made after that for any reason–when it’s done, it’s done.

Click here to buy the package

No hard sell here. I just wanted to give you the heads up that this deal is on. I bought mine today and will spend the next few months happily reading through everything. If you want to get the books you can find out more information here. If you want  a quick rundown of what they are offering see below. The bonus is that if you are running a website, once you buy the package you are also eligible to become an affiliate and earn a commission on any sale (yes, this is what I’m doing here too. Thank you if you decided to support Todd’s Wanderings).

Focus by Leo Babauta ($35)

  • The full version of the book, including bonus chapters, in PDF, EPUB, and AZW
  • An email fast guide (PDF)
  • A decluttering quickstart guide (PDF)
  • A guide to changing habits
  • 3 Audio Interviews
  • 5 videos

Momentum Kickstarter Kit by Charlie Gilkey ($47)

  • Living the Good Life (PDF)
  • Email Triage (PDF)
  • Premium Planners Set

Reclaim Your Dreams by Jonathan Mead ($47)

  • Reclaim Your Dreams – “Everything Package” (70-page PDF)
  • “I’m Serious About Action” Worksheets (30-page PDF)

52 Weeks to Awesome by Pace & Kyeli ($52)

  • 52 emails, each with a tidbit to learn and a mission to accomplish
  • A 128-page workbook (PDF)
  • Pace & Kyeli’s best-kept secret to living an awesome life

5 Ingredients | 10 Minutes by Jules Clancy ($77)

  • 133 totally NEW 5-ingredients recipes
  • Colour photographs of every recipe (343 pages)
  • 50 videos

Tired of reading Already? You can Click here to buy the package

Rebel Fitness Guide by Steve Kamb ($37)

  • Rebel Fitness Guide (40-page PDF)
  • Rebel Diet Guide (35-page PDF)
  • Rebel Food Fighter (60-page PDF)
  • 6 Separate Workout Exercise Books

Fear-Crushing Travel Guide by Farnoosh Brock ($57)

  • Fear-Crushing Travel Guide (113-page PDF)
  • 7 Fear-Crushing Travel Worksheets
  • 10 Audio Interviews with experienced world travelers
  • Bonus: The Master Travel Preparation Tip Sheet

Overcoming the Fear of Uncertainty by Sean Ogle ($47)

  • Overcoming The Fear of Uncertainty Guide (15,000 words)
  • Using to Change Your Life (7,000 words)
  • Ultimate Guide to Starting a Blog
  • 5 Interviews, including Chris Guillebeau and Pam Slim
  • Worksheets, review sheets, questions, answers, and a remote work agreement template

The Creativity Toolbox by Ali Luke & Thursday Bram ($47)

  • Mapping Your Project: The Big Picture and the Details (22-page PDF)
  • Game Plan: Spark to Business (36-page PDF)
  • Balancing Life and creativity (26-page PDF)
  • 7 interviews
  • Resource Directory
  • 65 Jump-leads for your creativity

Make Sh*t Happen by Jenny Blake ($47)

  • Make Sh*t Happen (80-page PDF)
  • Workbook of all exercises (Google Docs)

The Language Hacking Guide by Benny Lewis ($67)

  • Language Hacking Guide in PDF (129 pages), ePub, Mobi, and printer-friendly versions
  • Full translations of the guide in 23 different languages
  • Worksheets, also translated
  • Almost 3 hours of audio interviews with very successful language learners
  • Lists of free resources for practicing any language

Sex, Love, Liberation by Ev’Yan Nasman ($47)

  • Sex, Love, Liberation: A manifesto for the bold at heart (61-page PDF)
  • Sex, Love, Liberation Workbook (29-page PDF)

Learn More, Study Less by Scott Young ($67)

  • Learn More, Study Less (200+-page PDF)
  • 3 expert audio interviews and PDF notes
  • 12 video modules
  • 6 case study workshops
  • 6 bonus printable workheets

A Daring Adventure collection by Tim Brownson ($47)

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*Now for the small print. If you buy the package then Todd’s Wanderings gets a cut of the sales and we get to keep the lights on for a little while longer and maybe even a beer to keep me cool during the Tokyo summer. Like everything else on this site I would never recommend it if I didn’t a) think it is a good deal or useful to you; b) bought and used it myself.

Advanced Personal Development Sale: better life, save money, be awesome is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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How to Manage Uncertainty- Don’t Mon, 23 May 2011 05:01:43 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

How to Manage Uncertainty- Don’t is a post from: Todd's Wanderings


Cloud and church patters

What? I can still use churches and clouds for non inspirational posts...right...

When life kicks you in the teeth, smile back. When life gives you a present, good or bad, say thank you. When life changes, accept it as the one rule in life that never changes, things change. This is not meant to be an inspirational post, if it gets wishy washy then I give you permission to click away, shut down your computer, and walk away. Actually, if it’s a nice day out, go ahead and take a walk now, I’ll still be here when you get back.

Things change. Life changes. We change. Our significant others change, our family changes. Jobs come and go. You get the point. But how do we manage all this change? Uh, er, did you read the title? We don’t manage the change, we should just accept it, adapt to it, and move on. I know, easier said than done. But if nothing else, the past 12 years living, traveling the world, and working has taught me it’s a waste of energy to bemoan change.

Child on the Way- I’m Unemployed

But Todd, you have a great life, what do you have to worry about? Well, nothing really. Didn’t you just read my last paragraph? I’m a big fan of giving advice ONLY when I live that advice myself. In the next one month I will be leaving my dream job, having my first child, and will be moving in with my in-laws in Japan. Does my life still sound sexy?

First the job. My contract is up and there is no more money in the project to pay for me. I will miss my job. I loved working for the United Nations in Northern Kosovo. But instead of wishing things were different, I’m working my ass off to leave the project with what it needs to survive after I leave. I want it and the people there to succeed. I’m grateful for the past year, would never change a thing, and will bring the experience from this job forward with me to whatever I do next.

Life Changes

Sometimes you have no choice but take a different road.

Towards the end of June my wife will deliver our first son. Instead of being worried about being unemployed at the same time I become a Dad I’m looking forward to it. I will have 2 months of NOT working to spend with my wife and new child. Who gets that? Not many people. Sure, it requires some sacrifices, like moving in with my wife’s parents, living in a small room with the three of us etc etc. But the rewards are so much better. Two months not worrying about work, living in Japan, being close to family. Amazing.

Don’t be Lazy

Being calm, thankful, and hopeful is not the same thing as being lazy. I’m looking for new jobs. I might have some consulting work coming up that combines my development work with my travel and tourism work. If it works out great, if it doesn’t, something else will.

I’ll use my 2 months off to finish my Shikoku Pilgrimage Book, work further on my blog here, and continue to push my quest for world domination. I’ve worked hard to get to this point in my life: unemployment, wife, kid, no house, no mortgage, savings (yes, that helps not being stressed), amazing friends who understand and support me, and a singular desire to get paid to see what is around the next corner.

Now What?

Great, you have filled my head with ideas of happiness, joy, and fulfillment, but what next? I still don’t have a job, I still have responsibilities, I have bills. Well, life is about making the most of your time RIGHT NOW. I’m sitting here on a Sunday Morning, the sun shining, a cup of coffee (OK ten cups later), writing this post. I’m taking action. I’m reveling in my change, enjoying it, sharing it. I could be sitting on the couch, watching TV, doing nothing. But I’m not. Here is my secret boiled down into 7 steps that range from personal finance to career development. This helps me not only manage the risks of NOT managing change, but it ensures I have the space to enjoy the change:

1) Never Carry Credit Card Debt. I know this sounds easier than it is but it is a fact that you are paying more for what you buy today with credit due to the interest fees. If you have credit card debt, make it a priority to pay it off. Once you pay it off take the money you were paying each month and apply it to another fund (more on this below). Pay off your credit card bill before the end of each month. This way you get the convenience of a credit card without having to pay for it.

2) Make a monthly budget. Cut up your expenses, savings, and discretionary funds. Start with bills, then see what is left for savings (retirement, house, emergency fund etc) and then put the rest into your passions.

3) Establish an Emergency Fund. If you are worried about losing your job and paying the bills than this is a must. Try to have at least 2 months of expenses in the fund but build it up to 1 year. Because you followed point 2, you know exactly how much you need each month to survive.

4) Establish a passion fund. Life is not about squeaking by. You need to ENJOY life. As you know, I love to travel and it would be easy to blow all of my money on traveling. Instead I put a dedicated amount of money aside each month for travel. This keeps me sane and means I don’t go overboard. Last year I only visited 16 countries…This year I’m on 4 so far…

5) Keep things balanced. I paid/saved what I could when I was younger, and as my salary has increased I have made the necessary increases to my funds. Most of my extra money goes to savings and paying off student loans.

6) Always think a few steps ahead. My job is ending now, but I take something valuable from each job to help me get the next. Be strategic and always look at upgrading your skills, knowledge and understanding.

7) Do things for free. If you love something and have a passion for it, do it. I just recently managed a free Lonely Planet Book and I’m working on a free hiking guide to Dragash, Kosovo. Both have led to new opportunities and I don’t regret any of the free time I spent.

Yes, it’s that simple

I know you are thinking that I’m the exception, that these are just general ideas, and it can’t possibly be you. I have been living and working abroad for the past 12 years, and I wish I had started these from the beginning. I didn’t get my finances in order until I made a plan 4 years ago. I left college and moved to Japan in 1999 with $30,000 in student loan debt. I graduated from Graduate School in 2006 and moved to East Timor with $110,000 in student debt. I have a wife, a kid on the way and I’m about to be unemployed. Life is what you make of it, and what you tell yourself it is. I can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner!

Question: How do you deal with Uncertainty and Change?

How to Manage Uncertainty- Don’t is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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My Karate Kid Moment: Bar Fight in Japan Mon, 09 May 2011 05:28:49 +0000 Todd Wassel Read full article...

My Karate Kid Moment: Bar Fight in Japan is a post from: Todd's Wanderings


Karate in Japan

Ok, so this is not the exact photo of that night :)

Three to one. Three soldiers, to me. An ex-girlfriend on my arm, scared. How did I get myself into this situation? More importantly, how did I get myself out of it?

When we are kids we all have dreams of being the karate kid. No, not being lanky and whiny (I didn’t have to dream about that part), but being the guy who fights the bullies in the bar…and wins of course. In the summer of 2002 I had my own karate kid moment in Tokyo, Japan. I know, a very cool setting for the story.

Yes, it seems I jumped straight to Part 2 rather than training on the beach in California with a small Japanese guy who can act really really well. Despite not being in Okinawa, I still managed to find a group of US Soldiers. Note, I really respect all US military personnel and thank you from the bottom of my heart. Although, sometimes a few jerks slip through the recruiters ;)

The Break Up

Fresh off of a break up, I decided I needed a night on the town. My relationship was one of those overly complicated emotional roller coasters where the girl’s ideal ending of the relationship was mutual suicide. Yeah…I really need to blow off some steam, especially after our last talk, “I think we want different things. I’m not ready to get married.”

“I never wanted to get married. I just want to be with you for the rest of my life.” We had been dating for 2 months. The water was boiling, the steam whistled, it was time to take the pot off the stove.

A Night on the Town in Tokyo

Tokyo Dance Club

Dance Dance Revolution!

In Tokyo the options are endless, so I gathered a group of friends and we hit the clubs in Roppongi with the aim to drink and dance the frustration out. Clubs in Tokyo rage all night and after bar hopping in some seedy, sweaty, overly packed clubs in Roppongi we headed down the hill to the more refined, upmarket area of Azabu Juban to find a club where we could dance until the first trains started at the crack of dawn.

It was 1 am and this was our last stop for the night, a dark, smoky sweaty club filled with well dressed 20 somethings. Past 2 am there was no getting back in, you stayed until you were forced to greet the morning sun. We wove our way through the crowds, grabbing shots and beer along the way until we hit the dance floor, beads of sweat flying to the beat of underground Japanese house music. The bass beat deep into our souls, it cleared our minds just as the booze erased the past. Only now existed. The beat, the rhythm, the…why was she staring at me? Through the haze I could see a girl at the bar, looking at me with an intensity you don’t ignore when you’re drunk and looking to forget the world.

Reality is a Bitch

I staggered over, preparing my first clever remark (“hello”) and…smack….I walked right into a wall. The wall of reality. I could now see the girl closely and who was it but my ex-girlfriend. Thirty three fucking million people in Tokyo, 23 city Wards, and thousands of bars and we choose the same one. I don’t want to bore you with the details of our conversation. You know how they go. We rehash the break up, she cries. We rehash why we can’t be together, she cries. I try to be polite but firm, I cry. She tries to emotionally black mail me. Good times.

We are sitting on stools, facing each other when suddenly three heavily muscled white guys, heads shaved, walk up. All were wearing t-shirts that were 3 sizes to small. Maybe they were better at working out than shopping. The leader takes her hand kisses it and says, “You’re the most beautiful girl I have ever seen.” He turns to me “you get the fuck out of here.” He turns back to her. She turns to me with frightened eyes.

Beat the War Drums

Amazingly, as if out of a movie, his two buddies stand behind him staring threateningly at me, cracking their knuckles. I tried not to laugh. The pressure was building and if I couldn’t dance to blow it off then how about a good fight? I was pretty sure I could take 2 of the cocky soldiers, but the third might have been a problem. What to do? My ex was looking scared, and she had no idea what was going on. Time to man up.

“Where are you from?”

“Fuck you. Get out of here before I kill you.” Cracking knuckles danced to the bass pulsing from the dance floor.

He tried to turn back to her. I kept his attention and his lips away from her hand. “Look, I’m here with her.” I kept my voice low and polite, he kept his loud.

“We’re going to beat the shit out of you if you don’t get the fuck out of here.” Why was he talking so slow? “We’re fucking in the army and you’re fucking nothing.”

I turned to face him further. He stepped closer to me. His buddies stepped up. I stayed seated. “If you don’t stop swearing in front of my friend you’ll have to leave.” Calm, controlled. I shouldn’t have been, but I was.

How you Beat 3 Guys at Once

“Yeah, fuck you! What the fuck are you going to do about it.” He released her hand. That’s what I had been waiting for. I raised my hand slowly, high over my head, and extended two fingers. Did I mention I know, Karate, Aikido and few other arts? No? Well, here we go. I extended my index and middle finger and…made a “come here motion.” The boys seemed confused.

Within seconds five extremely large Japanese bouncers descended on the group, wrapping the soldiers up in tight grips. “Throw them out,” I said in polite but firm Japanese.

From the corner of my eye I had seen the bouncers getting more and more tense during the conversation. Three in morning and the guys would never find anywhere else that would let them in. They would be stuck on the streets until the first trains started.

The bounces started dragging the guys out when the leader lunged for me. He got low and began to plead. “I’m sorry. I”m sorry. We were just joking man. It’s cool, we’re sorry.”

“Fuck you.” They got hauled out of the club. My heart pounded to the rhythm of the music. The club gyrated along oblivious to our drama. A bouncer returned with two warm yellow towels for us to clean our hands, to help wipe away the distastefulness of the situation and the unwanted kiss.

Moral of the Story…Nah, It’s Just a Good Story

The girl and I didn’t work out, but that’s no surprise. But I had my Karate Kid Moment. I like to think that Mr. Miyagi would be proud that I didn’t resort to fighting. “Todo-san, you have strooong Karate.” Sometimes you don’t have a choice but to fight, but in most instances there is always a safer way out.

Stay tuned for more alcohol induced judgement impaired situations in future posts. Like how I found myself in a penthouse with the head of Sri Lanka’s mafia and an empty bottle of scotch, and a sleepy Chinese prostitute. But that’s another story…

Have you ever felt unsafe while traveling? How did you handle it?

Photo Credit 1, 2

My Karate Kid Moment: Bar Fight in Japan is a post from: Todd's Wanderings

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