Investing in experiences is probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It all started in 2016. My best friend told me he’d purchased a one-way ticket to Iceland for $99. Up until that moment I hadn’t actually thought about traveling. If anything it was an after thought. I’d been so consumed in the day to day routine of life that I’d neglected the idea of ever traveling abroad.
Since that fateful day, I’ve traveled to 14 countries and it’s been the greatest experience I’ve had to date. More than that, it’s been the greatest investment. Yeah, investment. There are some things that money can’t buy, for everything else there’s master… just kidding haha. BUT! There really are things you won’t get from material objects.
Here are a few experiences I’ve had abroad that have made it all worthwhile.
Getting Pulled Over By The Cops In Mexico
Back in 2008 (ok, so I traveled once abroad before 2015) I went with my friend to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We crammed an early 2000’s Dodge Caravan with him, his dad, and a few of his relatives and began the 48-hour journey. Along the way we made pit stops at various taco shops and eateries. I also drank beer legally for the first time at 18-years young. It was grrrrrreat! (Insert Tony the tiger voice).
What was not so great was being stopped at one particular check point. I believe it was in Nogales, Mexico. About 50 miles or so south of the city, there was a check point that I was not able to cross because I was an American. I was visibly fairer skin toned than my friend and his family members. I vividly remember my friends dad talking with the checkpoint officer and after a few words exchanged and a handshake, he let us pass.
He comes back to the car and my friend says, “you owe my dad $50 bro.” Apparently he paid the man to let us pass. That was the first time I had actually seen the power of the U.S. dollar abroad. You can really cross borders and check points with this paper. Everyone has their price I suppose.
While in Puerto Vallarta, my friends cousin and his friend were in the front seat driving doing some “extra curricular activities” shall we say. Not paying attention, the cousins friend storms past the red light. “Wooooooop wooooop!” Cops behind us. Frantic as can be, they try to get rid of “the stuff.”
I grab my money, about $300 US Dollars, and shove it down my crotch region. My friend looks at me, “shut up and don’t say anything.” Aye, Aye, Cap’n! Lips sealed and fear in tact, I was pulled out of the car by an officer and he began frisking me. I was sure we were going to jail in Mexico. These dudes had “stuff” on them. If they found it, we were toast.
After a quick frisk and loud yelling, the officers got back into their car and let us go. Turns out they were just looking to get some extra cash for themselves. Mexican officers aren’t paid that well themselves, so they’ll do a little extra to get some cash. $100 USD later, they let us off the hook and we were free to go.
Hiking Glaciers In Iceland and Visiting The Infamous Blue Lagoon
Ever since Facebook travel videos blew up, everyone has been wanting to go to Iceland. It wasn’t until my friend actually bought his ticket to Iceland that I did some research on the tiny Island of a country. Turns out, Iceland is actually one of the safest countries in the world. They don’t even have an active military. Probably because they’re also one of the most armed countries in the world. Don’t mess with Texas you say? I say don’t mess with Iceland!
In the months leading up to our Iceland trip, my friend invited one of his friends and I’d invited a girl I was talking to at the time. Then, last minute. My friend says, “bro, I can’t go.” Turns out he hadn’t renewed his passport in time. Apparently if your passport is within 6-months of expiration, you can-not-fly. So being the good friend that I am, I went to Iceland with his other friend and the girl I was with. He was a bit salty but forgave me later.
9 hours in the air later, we were in Iceland! We stayed in the city center at an AirBNB and went and hiked a glacier! We even went into this really cool ice cave. Definitely one of the coolest experiences I’ve done. And exploring the landscape, off-roading, checking out the landscape, and visiting the Blue Lagoon was awesome. I also experienced a bit of a culture shock.
While at a local thermal bath, I saw a bunch of guys walking around naked in the locker room with their sons (also naked). They looked at me weird for having clothes on! Haha I was tripping balls. So I decided to join in on the local culture, got butt naked, and strutted my stuff. That is of course until I noticed walking outside naked wasn’t a thing. I put my trunks on and proceeded to the baths.
The Blue Lagoon is also an amazing place. They give you these cool wrist bands that essentially act as your pre-paid debit card and you enjoy drinks and the warm waters while wearing a mud mask. If you’re into paying $15 per beer, this is definitely the place to go.
Making Friends In Barcelona, Spain
The second time I went abroad was with my friend who originally purchased the $99 ticket to Iceland. We went to Europe for a 4 1/2 week Euro trip. He started in Iceland and later I met up with him for a night in Dublin, Ireland. We got wrecked and even protected this kid Ahmed who was from Libya. I say “kid” because this crazy Englishmen we were supposed to be cool with punched him in the face because he didn’t have cash to put in for the cab at the end of the night.
Ahmed, if you’re reading this. We got your back bro! He was a really nice guy who genuinely just wanted to travel and experience life. He told us about his roots growing up and how he’d escaped war. How he’d seen family members and friends die. And although I never wanted to feel grateful at the expense of someone else’ loss, I could feel nothing but immense gratitude for how I grew up. Maybe America wasn’t soo bad after all?
Fast forwarding to Barcelona, Spain. My friend and I made friends with the bartender at the hostel we were staying at. She asked if we were American. Next thing I know she’s wanting to get married so we could trade citizenship’s. Not a bad idea I thought. Can we at least get to know each other before the divorce? haha
Her and her friend took us out for sushi. Essentially we went on a double date in Spain. It was really cool. She was from Manchester, England and her friend is originally from Barcelona. We went clubbing that night and they took us into these side streets into some after hours parties. We had the time of our lives in Barcelona.
Racism In Munich
Never would I ever have thought I’d experience racism as an adult. As a kid on the school yard, I can remember being called spick or beaner. For some reason it didn’t affect me. I look back now and think, “forgive him for he did not know.” As kids we’re really sponges and will repeat what we hear without knowing what consequences really are. As an adult however, never did I ever think the racism experience would hit me.
We had just landed in Munich, Germany. I personally was excited because Bayern Munich (famous soccer club) plays there. The idea of exploring a city where a big European powerhouse club plays was exciting to me. After we checked into our hostel, we walked right around the corner to a club we’d been recommended. While waiting in line, we met a few girls and stood in line with them to get in. In between then and reaching the front door, there was a Burger King next door that was selling beers. So me and a girl named Sasha from Scotland, bought some beers and brought them back into the line.
An hour or so had passed and the girls decided they were going back to the hostel. It was a bit cold and the wait was too long for them to endure. Within about 30-minutes we’d reached the front of the line and put our arms up to be frisked and showed our ID’s to be let in. Standard procedure anywhere.
When all of a sudden, we’re hit with a series of reasons as to why we weren’t allowed in:
“You two don’t know the music or the artist.”
“The artist doesn’t want anyone in who doesn’t know his music.”
“We’re at capacity.”
“Because I said no.”
“Not tonight guys.”
I was in complete fucking amazement. I could not believe that racism was happening. Not directly to me but specifically to my friend who is an African-American Male. Visibly upset, my friend says. “Is it because I’m black?”
“DON’T BE RIDICULOUS! IT’S NOT BECAUSE YOU’RE BLACK.” He seemingly shouted this phrase aloud so that everyone in line could hear him. As if to proclaim his innocence and validate his authority. His other bouncer friend then approached us and began pushing us back. I pushed the bouncer back and told him not to touch me or I’d knock his ass out.
Despite our cries for help to the same people we were mingling with in line, no one said a thing. It was sad to see that no one stood up. That no one wanted to take a stand if it didn’t affect their night. We later went to a club down the street called Milk or something. Maybe it wasn’t racism? We wanted to give Munich another shot.
The same exact thing happened. The bouncers looked at us and said they were full. Then a group of white women and men with blonde hair walked up and they opened the velvet rope right open for them. White privilege was alive and seemingly doing well. For them at least.
It was the first time I’d seen my friend punch a wall and cry. I’ll never forget the amount of pain I saw him in. For the first time in my life I’d felt helpless as a friend. I did my research and not to my surprise, this is an ongoing matter in Munich’s nightlife scene. Here’s a link to an article where a Kurdish guy and his friends went to various nightclubs in Munich. They were told the same exact phrases we were told.
Operation Prague Police Extortion
If you’re ever in the Czech Republic or in Europe in general, be sure to validate your train tickets. When you buy your train ticket, that isn’t enough. You actually have to then validate your ticket by getting it time stamped by a separate machine. Usually they’re located on the railway route or inside the actual train themselves.
We of course, being the tourists that we were, didn’t validate our tickets and this validation box surrounded by people. We couldn’t get through even if we wanted to. Within 15-seconds of getting on the train an undercover officer comes up to us and asks us for our tickets. We show him and he says in a thick Czech accent, “you pay!”
Thinking he’d be cool and let us validate our tickets. He saw that we didn’t speak the language and almost seemingly targeted us. We were escorted off the train station at the next stop and he called for back up. Another officer showed up and the two of them began asking us for money for about 45-minutes. I didn’t want to get extorted so I kept telling them I had no money.
We eventually paid them $80 USD and they let us go. I wasn’t willing to risk giving up my passport and spending the night in Czech jail. Now we know to validate our tickets.
Russian’s Are Great People
This past summer I was fortunate enough to visit Saint Petersburg, Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. I must admit, even though I don’t watch the news, the idea of Russia had me shitting in my pants a bit. I was actually a bit skeptical to say I was American. Especially since the USA didn’t even qualify for the World Cup. On paper, I had no business being there.
I had purchased one of my tickets on StubHub. When they sent me a confirmed location for picking up my ticket, it was a solid 45-minutes outside of the central part of the city where we were staying. Thankfully Uber was super cheap out there. 45-minutes later, we arrive at a what appears to be a war damaged warehouse. The building looked abandoned. The modern cars outside told a different story.
Turns out, this wasn’t where I was supposed to get my ticket. The translator app I was confusing wasn’t working properly. The Russian driver was getting pissed off and my friend and his dad weren’t helpful. I was on my own with this one. So, using what resources I had (my two legs), I walked into this run down looking factory and began using my own made-up version of sign language.
I’d imagine I looked like I lunatic trying to speak Russian and waving my hands around in certain mannerisms. “Wheeeeereeeeeee cannnnn eyeeee (points to eye) peeeeeek upppp myyyy teeeeeekittttt (points to piece of paper that looks nothing like a ticket.)” The old man I was speaking to looked at me. Gave me a quick look. Then raised his index finger. The universal sign for, “one moment please.”
Finally, a middle aged Russian woman came out, and to my amazement spoke perfectly good English. She informed me that the address with the post office and her plastics factory get confused often. She told me she’d take us and that we wouldn’t need a ride. Not only did I experience Russian hospitality but I got my ticket in a timely manner and we were able to make it to the game on time. Mission accomplished.
Experiences Live Forever, Things Don’t
I enjoy new things. I’m writing this to you from a $3,300 MacBook Pro. I absolutely enjoy this thing and am glad I spent the money on it. I didn’t buy it to show off. I look at it as a tool to get my message out there through the form of writing, photography, and video content. This tool does exactly what I need it to do. It also sometimes acts as a three-thousand dollar Facebook machine. Yes, I get lost on social media sometimes as well.
But when I’m not getting lost in social media, I’m finding myself through traveling. I’m putting myself in uncommon and often times uncomfortable experiences. All of which make me ponder the existence of life itself. I also learn to appreciate humanity much more because of these experiences.
For some reason experiences last forever. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Not all experiences are pleasant in the moment. Some are actually very painful. Some make cry like a baby and some make you question your decision making. The hardest heartbreaks hurt the most. It isn’t until the pain has subsided and the time has past that we look back at those experiences and realize how much stronger they made us.
We also somehow tend to find the appreciate in those that hurt us. I like to think I still love all of the friendships that didn’t work, relationships that weren’t meant to be, policeman that extorted me, and club bouncers who were racist at the time of our meetings.
Life brings people together in harmonious and in sometimes not so harmonious moments. Everything is a learning experience that will later be turned into a laughing experiences. You’ll look back on certain times and will be happy you went for it. You’ll be happy you took the trip and went through whatever it was that was happening.
As someone who’s almost died, I’d encourage you to buy experiences, not things. While I’d love to own property someday, a Tesla, multiple apartment complexes, and maybe even a private island––the now is much more important to me over a not so certain future.
And while I’ll certainly strive to achieve my material goals, experiences in the mean time, will do just fine.