Tag Archives: travel

Changing my mind

2 Nov

There have a been a few times in my life when I’ve had large shifts in my position on various ideas and ideologies. I remember back in 11th grade AP US history reading about atheists in the context of their attempts to remove “under God” from the pledge and thinking how silly and stupid they sounded. I was a Christian at the time, but starting to have trouble with my faith. Slowly I was moving into Buddhism and I comforted myself by thinking “well at least I’m not an atheist.”

I remember doing the same thing with politics. The earliest political memory I have is from 2000, sitting on my mom’s bed late at night watching the election results of Bush v Gore, and rooting for Bush to win. Everyone around me wanted Bush to win, and I remember seeing some political cartoon about how Gore sounded like a robot. That was enough for me at the time.”

Later, as I started to begin my slow but steady drift left I remember defending myself to other people by attacking anarchists. I guess I wanted to appear still mainstream by calling out a group of people with a position I perceived as more radical than my own.

“I could never be an anarchist, that’s just ridiculous. You need order and government.”

Of course at the time I was attacking anarchists I was doing so without knowing anything about them except what was common societal knowledge on them; namely that they were violent punk teenagers that threw bricks through store windows and wanted absolute chaos.

I knew nothing about anarchists. I feel a lot of people make judgements on a groups based off of this type of common societal knowledge, aka ignorance.

Now that I’ve been reading anarchist essays I see myself starting to change. I’m at a crossroads in my life right now. I’m on the verge of making large, life changing commitments like moving to another country and lately I’ve been feeling a little lost and overwhelmed.

I’ve been struggling with what I want to do with my life, unsure if my current plan is really what I want. To be honest, I’m still not entirely certain what I would like to do in life. I’m afraid of walking away from something good, but I’m  know I can’t stay still.

In the midst of all this I’m also struggling to define myself and the society I exist in. Developing and solidifying a new concept of society is important because it’s the framework for how I examine and adjust my life priorities.

Anarchism has been very attractive because it provides the framework for I’ve been looking for. I’m finding many of the ideas very compelling and satisfying, even if I’m not overly sure of the practicality.

In an effort to be intellectually honest I’m trying to approach the ideas I’m finding in anarchism with skepticism. I want them to try and convince me, though I will admit, I am eager to be convinced.

Far from the brick throwing chaos punks of my previous understanding, I’m finding anarchism to be a life affirming philosophy focused on building healthy and beneficial relationships between individuals and society.

The wonderful thing is that there is just a wide variety of anarchist philosophy to explore. For example, there’s mutualism, anarco-collectivism, anarco-capitalism, anarcho-syndicalism,  anarcho-primitivism, and anarco-feminism, just to name a few.

I’m in the process of listening to arguments from all the various subsets and trying to decide which align the most with my views on reality. So far, the one underlying principle I’ve identified is simply “Coercing another individual into doing something they would not freely do is wrong.” From this everything follows. This principle informs how anarchists look at governments, laws, violence, sex, employment, etc. It’s really quite fascinating. Just about every aspect of life and interaction is affected by this axiom.

I’ve been viewing this experience, of changing my mind, a bit in the third person. I’m aware that it’s happening and I just find it really interesting to watch, even as I’m actively participating in it.

Alaska update 4

29 Oct

So I got up a few hours after making that last post, had breakfast, and checked out of my room. Before I did, I managed to snap a quick picture of the survivalist guy I was sharing a room with:

After packing everything into my car I decided to walk back down to the river to see if I could catch any wildlife on camera. To my delight I did.

I was walking along the beach and I saw a couple of bald eagles sitting in a tree. It took a little while but I was able to approach them and snap this picture. You can see he’s staring at me, watching what I’m doing. While I was taking pictures of the eagles I saw something move out the corner of my eye. It was a red fox! Even better, it didn’t seem to care that I was there taking pictures! It came right up to me, within 5 feet! The entire time I was stunned, just taking pictures of it.

After a little while he just turned around and went off in search of food. I wandered the beach a bit more then headed back to my car and started my 5 hour drive back to Fairbanks, but not before stopping to take a picture of the airstrip. (Air tourism of Denali park is Talkeetna’s big industry)

 

That drive down and up from Fairbanks to Talkeetna was one of my favorite part of the trip. I really love driving an blasting my music, but I was able to do it to the beautiful scenery of Alaska.

When I got back I checked into my old hostel again and waited for my friend, the lady I met on the plane when I missed my flight, to get off work. When she was off I called her and she invited me to come hangout with her and her boyfriend at a local bar just outside of Fairbanks. I got my gear and went out to meet them. It was really great to hang out with all the locals away from everything. They were even kind enough to buy me two beers and dinner! They’re really “pay it forward” type people, so next time I meet a traveler I’m going to buy them dinner and some beers.

I got back to the hostel around 9-10 at night and crawled into bed. My final night in Fairbanks was really cloudy, but nonetheless I told my friends to wake me if the lights came out. I ended up sleeping all night, not realizing I was that exhausted.

In the morning I went out and got some Christmas shopping/travel gifts taken care of. I found a really neat local artist outside of Fairbanks that my friends at the bar tipped me off too. It was a fun drive out there as well since her shop is in this small collection of houses in the woods.

 

When I returned from that I still had about two hours to kill before I needed to get to the airport for my plane home. I decided to drive one of my German friends out to this Large Animal Research Station, hoping to see some muskoxen. Good thing I did because the station was closed and she would have walked a really long way to get there. Instead we ended up just driving around the woods looking for animals and happened upon a moose, so the trip wasn’t a total loss.

Understandably I was not looking forward to getting back on the plane and heading home. I’m still trying to digest my whole trip. I’m not sure I really accomplished as much introspection as I wanted. I was too busy having a blast in a new location.

Now that I’m back at work everyone is asking me “how was your vacation?” That really irks me for some reason. I guess it’s that I don’t like the assumptions built into the idea of “vacation’ that they’re asking about. I know it’s an innocent enough question, but even my parents said “back to reality.”

Back to reality. The idea is built into the question “how was your vacation?”, the idea that constant work and toil is the reality, that a vacation is a short and rare break from this bleak reality.

That really depresses me. Is this notion of work/life balance really the pinnacle of all human development? I’m not saying that I reject the notion of work, some work can be pleasurable and a fulfilling part of life, but what I reject is this notion of a sort of forlorn submission to a life fated to bleak and dreary toil.

Oddly enough I find people here in the states get really defensive when you question this mentality of “work yourself to death in a grey office.” The US has the worst work/life balance of any industrialized country and I’d argue that our healthcare costs show it. But I’m really getting off topic here.

There has to be more to life then how we live here in the states. There has to be other ways of balancing work and exploration of the world around us. I know these other ways exist because I see people doing it. One of my favorite podcasts, The Indie Travel Podcast, is a couple that make their living traveling the world.

It’s just that the dreary work existence is familiar, it’s stable, it’s predictable  it’s safe, and so well meaning people defend it.

Alaska update 3

25 Oct

What a day. The past 48 hours have been insane. At the time of typing this I’m sitting in Talkeetna Alaska, 5 hours south of Fairbanks, 2.5 hours north of Anchorage, sipping hot chocolate. Where did I leave off? Oh, the hot springs. I’ll pick up there then.

(A little something extra: if you want to feel what I felt while taking these pictures, listen to this song while looking at them. At least it’s the track I was playing on repeat while writing this. It really capture the mood I’m in.)

So yes, the hot springs. My new German friends and I, along with Kirk, a guy from Florida who just moved to Fairbanks, crammed into my little rental car and drove to the Chena Hot Springs about an hour east of Fairbanks. Our goal was to walk around a bit, see the ice sculpture museum, soak in the geothermal springs, and hopefully see the northern lights. Funny side fact, apparently there is a Japanese superstition that a child conceived under the northern lights will be born with extraordinary intellect. As such, Chena Hot Springs is a prime location for Japanese tourists, so much so that many of the signs are in Japanese and many of the staff are bilingual in English and Japanese.

When we arrived at the springs it was freezing. Well hell, everything was always freezing, but today it was a chill -12 degrees Fahrenheit. Nonetheless we donned our coats and went for a short 40 minute hike around the countryside.

(You can click on all the pics to see larger versions)

After that we came back, took a break in the lounge and waited for the next tour of the ice museum to kickoff. When we got in there it was pretty neat. The stuff that they carve out of pure ice is pretty amazing! The ice museum itself felt colder than outside, though it was actually a bit warmer. They have to keep it chilled to keep the sculptures from melting. They even have ice beds you can sleep on if you’d like, though you’ll need plenty of blankets.

After the tour we grabbed a bite to eat and then went swimming in the hot springs. I thought my top half would freeze the moment I was in the water, but the air all around was warm. The only chilly bit was getting in and out. Being a geothermal spa there was some trace gasses that gave the water a strange smell, and every now and then you had to catch your breath, but it was really beautiful in there. Unfortunately no lights while we were swimming.

After we dried off we had dinner and headed back to the hostel after it became clear the forecast for the lights looked bleak.

I was pretty tired and about to go to bed when I got a call from a guy I met on reddit who was a pretty big northern lights photographer. He told me that the lights were out right that moment, but that I’d have to go 20 miles out of town to see them. I rushed inside, told everyone, grabbed my gear, and we all piled in to my car again to go see them. My reddit contact then asked if we could pick him up so he could come. We were already packed, but I said sure anyways. He gave us his address and we drove to his house…or at least what we thought was his house. We ended up banging on the door of the wrong house. After about 10 minutes in the driveway I saw a light on with someone inside getting dressed and a little dog barking. It was at that point I got a text “Hey, where are you, I’m outside in my driveway.” We went to the wrong house. I quickly got back in the car and drove further down the street and found him. He piled in and off we went.

And finally, it happened. The whole point of me coming up here.

We drove to a little place called Cleary Summit, about 20 miles north of Fairbanks up on a hill. From there it was pretty dark and we could get good pictures of the lights. My new photography friend even had a nice DSLR camera that he let me use to take some pictures. (My camera worked too, but his was in a higher price range and so the pics were sharper)

After about half an hour of taking pictures everyone was freezing and wanted to go home. We piled back in the car and drove back into town. The next day was a little uneventful. The Germans and I drove around to some shops, got breakfast at The Cookie Jar, a bakery/restaurant, and then went to the Museum of the North where I saw this bear:

That night I was staying at some people’s home as a couchsurfer. (It’s a network where people host travelers for a night or so). Unfortunately two of my German friends were leaving town the next morning and so I gave them a hug and bid farewell. I drove over to my adopted family’s house for that night around dinner time. The couple taking me in were a school teacher and a school administrator. They were very nice and had an excited dog that loved to play. They had a nice room all set up for me and cooked me dinner.

Later that night my friend called again and said the lights were out. This time it would be just the two of us so we could stay longer and get some better shots. We went out to the same place as before, but drove a little further up the mountain to a ski resort that was closed. The display was technically pretty low, but breathtaking nonetheless.

It was amazing. I can’t really describe it. The light pulsated and moved like clouds across the sky. They actually look more grey in real life, since it’s hard to see color at night, but you can still see the faint green. The color really comes out on camera though. Along with the northern lights, the stars were breathtaking as well. Even with the naked eye I could see so many that I couldn’t see in South Carolina. There isn’t nearly the same amount of light pollution here as there is back home. Around 4am we headed back into town and I back to my new place for the night.

The couple I was staying with had to be at work by 7. They offered for me to stay and sleep as late as I wanted, but I felt weird about the idea of staying in someone’s home while they were gone. Instead I got up at 6 with them, and left at the same time they did. My plan for the day was to drive to Talkneeta. For some reason I thought it was 2-3 hours away. I figured I would get there before lunch, take a nap, then go about my day. Turns out it was 5 hours. Oh well. I got up anyways, with only 1.5 hours of sleep and started the drive. I actually wasn’t that tired. I was too excited to be tired. The landscape on the way over was amazing!

(Departing before light, off on a journey across the Alaskan mountains)

While driving down the highway I saw something big move out of the corner of my eye. I hit the breaks, turned the car around (there was nobody else on the road) and went back to the small road where I thought I saw something. Turns out I did.

After getting  photo op with some moose (who shortly after this ran away) I continued on my journey.

Eventually I arrived at Denali National Park. Unfortunately the park is closed this time of year, but I was still able to drive into it for a few miles.

I was stopping pretty frequently along my way to take pictures, so my 5 hour trip ended up taking around 7 hours. I pulled into Talkeetna mid afternoon and checked into my new hostel, the Roadhouse.

I was thinking I might have the entire room to myself, but another bed was booked by a rugged survivalist named Josh. I wish I had a picture, but I can’t think of a non-creepy way to get one. He’s tall, skinny, mid 30’s, mid-length unkempt beard, lazy eye, and smells like the creek that he apparently fell through the ice and into. (At least he said he fell through the ice) He seems like a nice enough guy, though at first glance people might think he’s an axe murderer. Apparently he lives out off the land around town here, building bridges out of fallen trees for his four-wheeler. He loves to talk about four-wheelers, or at least his quest to fix his broken one. Right now I think he’s asleep as I type this. I’ll have to quietly sneak back into my room afterwards.

Once I got to Talkeetna I went down to the river to have a look. It’s really beautiful and the ice on the beach are like shards of glass.

Here’s the place at night:

Oddly enough, I come 3500 miles away from South Carolina and what do I find in the inn? A Clemson flag.

Ok, that’s it for tonight. I’m going to get some sleep. Tomorrow (today) I’m going to explore around Talkeetna a bit more, drive back, and have a beer with the lady I met on the plane on Saturday.

Goodnight.

Alaska Update 1

20 Oct

I spent most of yesterday packing all my gear. I created a super checklist of everything I could imagine needing and crossed it off as I went. I also wrapped just about everything in individual zip lock bags for easy sorting. It’s a really useful trick. This way everything is together and you can even shrink wrap it sorta by sitting on the bag and pushing all the air out. Oh, and Loki helped.

 

 

It was a friend’s birthday yesterday and so I met up with them for a quick birthday dinner. I had most of my packing done and figured that if I was tired I could just sleep on the plane. Well I got home around midnight and so I only got three hours of sleep.

I made a playlist of songs to listen to over the trip before I went to bed and I wanted this one for takeoff. There’s a great part in the song that just sounds like an airplane climbing up into the sky. (Skip to 3:35)

Anyways, I woke up, grabbed my things, and went to the airport. The world takes on a strange and different quality when you’re driving to leave somewhere in the dark to board a plane. Everything becomes more ephemeral. The roads and street lamps begin to blend in with any other road and street lamp in the world and thus your location on the ground loses its importance. They might as well be the roads or streetlamps of any other place. You’re about to get on a plane, a portal where the rest of the world is swallowed into oblivion by the distance.

Ready to go.

I got to the airport and had to go through one of those body scanners. I hated it, and there are probably naked pictures of me on the internet now, but there really wasn’t anything I could do. Making a scene at 4am in the airport over the loss of my civil liberties would not have accomplished anything other than to possibly ruin my day. So I continued on, silently. My first flight from Columbia to Atlanta was very short, only 40 minutes. There was nobody next to me so I could spread out. I landed in Atlanta and had no trouble finding my gate and boarding the next plane.

The flight from Atlanta to Seattle was not to be as nice as the one from Atlanta. I had the dreaded middle row seat, you know, the one with a large person on both your left and your right, with nowhere to lean, no space to stretch out. I sat hunched over for the entire flight. Worst still, I found out that my game client didn’t download a computer game I was expecting it to, so I didn’t have that as an escape, and I had forgotten the CD for my other backup game. There was no escaping the uncomfortable flight or making it go by faster.

Odd side note, I was surfing the on screen menus and found an ad for homeopathic cream. I never new Delta was into pushing scam products like this to passengers.

 

(I also thought it a little sexist that the flight attendant button was a woman, but I’m one of those rabid feminists, so what do I know) But I survive and I make it to Seattle. I stopped in a burger restaurant in my terminal and had lunch. The cool thing about Seattle is that the announcements are in English and Japanese. Apparently this place is a big hub for travel from Japan, so much so that they even have the signs in Japanese.

I had a two hour layover here in Seattle and so I got on my computer and ran internet to it from my phone so I could skype with my girlfriend. While talking to her I realized there was nobody at my gate.

I looked at my ticket and it was the right location, but there was this tiny asterisk saying that the locations are subject to change. Panicked, I ran to check the sign and sure enough, they moved my flight to a gate on the other side of the airport….and it left in 2 minutes.

I got there in 5 minutes, all out of breath, having taken several flights of stairs and trains. No luck. It was sitting there at the gate, but the door was closed.

And so now I’m sitting here in Seattle for another SEVEN  THREE (four down) HOURS.

FML.

The night is fucked. I was originally going to get into Fairbanks at 4pm. I won’t get their till 11pm. I needed to pick up winter clothes from Prospectors, but they won’t be open by then, so I’m going to have to wait until 11am the next day. I’ll probably wake people up when I check into the hostel at midnight.

My nerves have finally calmed down a bit, but now I’m worried about losing my bag. It will have gotten to Fairbanks several hours before I did. I’m going to get in really late and have to run to get my bag and my car and to the hostel before it closes.

On the plus side I did download Civilization III from my game client in the time I’ve been sitting here. I’m glad I have unlimited data. Airport internet isn’t free and I’ve used a solid 2GBs of data through my phone today.

I also like to imagine that the flight I missed was packed full of screaming babies, and that this new flight will have peace and quiet and martinis.

Expedition: Alaska

16 Oct

It’s on. I’m doing it. My flight departs Columbia Metropolitan Airport at 5:49am this Saturday. I’m going to Alaska.

14 hours, 3,500 miles, 1 goal:

I originally was going to try and cram it all into a 3-4 day weekend. Not anymore. I took a week off work to give me the time I need to explore the area and have a better chance of seeing the aurora.  My exact plans are not finalized yet and I kind of like it that way. I really want the ability to change my plans on a whim. I rented a car with unlimited miles for that exact reason. If I decide I want to go to Anchorage 6 hours away to see something amazing, I’ll do it. I put out a couchsurfing request to see if I could stay with anybody, but I haven’t heard back yet. If that fails I’ll just find a hostel. All I need is a power outlet, heat, and a warm shower.  I’m in the process of putting together a travel folder with places I’d like to see during the day time and places to go filming at night. I also need to add contingency plans in case something falls through. I’m extremely excited about this, it’s practically all I’ve been thinking about this week.

I still have to pack. I know some people hate packing for trips, but I love it. It’s like picking out specialized gear in Oregon Trail, which actually isn’t too bad of an analogy given that I’m trekking into the Alaskan interior in October. I plan on writing up an entire blog post on my gear and what I’m taking. I just have to assemble everything. I also am going to try and write a blog post for each day that I’m up there, covering what I did that day and how it went. Right now one of the biggest obstacles I foresee is the need to sleep. I’m not going to want to sleep. I’ll be staying up till the wee hours of the morning hoping to catch the aurora, and then wanting to spend the day exploring the countryside.

Anyways, just wanted to announce that expedition Alaska is a go. I’m thrilled and can’t wait till takeoff. More to follow.

 

It’s never a “good time” to travel.

4 Oct

I’m extremely frustrated right now.

There is and endless supply of movies and books out there with the theme of “Follow your dreams! Ignore others and do your own thing!” yet all this is just platitudinal dribble. It’s extremely hard to do that in real life. What’s harder still is when the thing trying to hold you back is well meaning people such as family and friends. Almost none of my friends/family are enthusiastic about my plans to leave the country. They’ll grudgingly wish me luck, but none of them are excited about it like I am. It really hurts to be the only one passionate about something and to have to constantly endure the people in your life either showing no interest or going as far as to shoot you down. The resistance is like trying to walk through water and it takes every ounce of your effort not to give in and stop fighting for what you want.

The most recent way in which I’ve run into this resistance is in regards to a trip I’m planning to Alaska.

One of the things I’ve wanted to see for a very long time is the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights. I want to see them before I leave North America in a few months. Trying to get from the southern hemisphere back to the northern hemisphere, to a location high enough in longitude to have a decent chance of seeing them would be a massive pain in the ass, extremely expensive, and completely out of any direction I’d normally be going. I have a much better shot of making my dream come true while I’m at least on the same continent as where I’m trying to fly to.

Not surprisingly, I get just about nothing but reasons why I shouldn’t go. There are always reasons not to do something. I feel that most people waste their entire lives away because of all the reasons they invent for themselves not to experience things. Job commitments, social commitments, soccer practice, errands, fear of the unknown, fear of the work and effort to plan something out, the list goes on. Point is, you can always find some reason not to travel.

That’s what I’m getting right now from friends and family, reasons not to just pick up and go to Alaska. I think that when I describe to them what I’m planning on doing, they naturally (and subconsciously) imagine themselves doing what I’m describing and decide it’s not for them. Based off of that they then tell me all the reasons why they wouldn’t do it. But that’s the thing. They aren’t doing it. I am. I’m not asking them to come. I’m not asking them to leave their obligations and go with me. Their objections to why they wouldn’t want to do something are invalid because I’m not them!

Right now the most important thing in my life is freedom and the possibility it brings. I need to always at least have the possibility of just picking up and leaving, otherwise I feel trapped. I might not always act on that possibility, but it’s extremely comforting to me to have it there. It might mean that I won’t ever own a big house, or drive a luxury car, or have a true career, but in my eyes those items are prisons. Anything that holds you in place and removes the possibility of spontaneous travel is a prison. You might disagree and think I’m silly, but hey, don’t worry! If you’re happy with your car, your house, and your career then more power to you. I want people to be happy. It’s just that what you’re doing isn’t for me. I don’t want to spend vast majority of my one shot at existence in an office building trying to pay off a mortgage.  I’d rather see and experience as much of this planet as possible before I die.

In regards to my trip to Alaska, my parents are well meaning but they’re frustratingly off the mark. My mother worries about everything and is uncomfortable with me flying to the other side of the continent, to a place I’ve never been before, to go out and do things all on my own. She seems to have forgotten that I’ve done this several times before, and in other countries to boot! I’m not a teenager, I’m perfectly capable of handling myself in foreign situations. Perfect example: I did a study abroad in the North of England a few summers ago. I had never been to that part of the UK before and there were plenty of places outside of my immediate city that I wanted to visit. Not only was I able to adapt perfectly well to my new surroundings, I even researched, arranged, and went on several excursions to neighboring parts of the country, often involving train and bus transfers. This stuff doesn’t bother me, I enjoy it.

Yet my mother would prefer that I take a guided tour with a group. I’ve looked at ten different groups and they all lead you around by the nose from one location to another all while making sure you’re fed, safe, and warm like cattle. That’s not what I want. I don’t want the restrictions of having other people plan everything for me. I don’t want the disconnect that comes from being safely quarantined from the real world, and I sure as hell don’t want to pay extra for it. Those tours are best aimed at elderly retired couples or rich business people who are generally aloof and too busy/uncomfortable with planning things on the fly.

My father has been trying to help look at flights, but has told me that he thinks I should just wait and try to do this another time, that I shouldn’t take off work, and that the plane tickets are just going to get more expensive the closer I book to my departure date. The last bit is true, but I don’t really have a choice.

Going up to Alaska to see the Aurora depends entirely on the weather, both space and terrestrial. There needs to be an adequate level of solar activity in order to produce the aurora. At the same time it needs to be clear enough outside to see it in the first place. If both types of weather don’t line up, there’s no point in going. Being that this is the case, I can’t book a flight 2 weeks in advance without knowing if the weather will cooperate. I need to wait till the week of to see if what probability I’m looking at. I really am itching to go this month because October is statistically the 2nd most active month in the year for Auroras. I was going to go earlier, but then I got my job and couldn’t take off the first week of work. If I don’t go this month and shoot instead for the first weekend in November, I’ll miss my mother’s birthday. If I wait till work lets out for fall break (I work in a school) then I’ll miss Thanksgiving. It’s the same problem as there’s never a good time to go on a diet because there’s always a holiday, or birthday party, or something right around the corner. There’s never a “good time” to travel. Weather permitting, I’m going to try and stick to my guns and go.

No country is perfect

3 Oct

As regular readers will know, my dream is to leave the US for greener pastures. I’ve had this goal for several years now and I’ve been working hard to make it a reality. When I first got serious about doing this, I remember brining Canadian immigration forms to my parents to show them. At the time my destination was Vancouver. I looked all around Canada and that seemed like a great place. The landscape around the city looked beautiful as well.

After a while though I changed my mind about Canada. Harper got elected PM and the more I thought about it the more the similarities between the US and Canada started to bug me. What really stuck in my head was that I heard somewhere that Canada has a political lag time of about 10 years behind the US. So wherever the US was 10 years ago politically, that’s where Canada is now. That would put Canada square in Bush territory. I realize how stupid this sounds; they’re two different countries with different issues, but Harper’s pretty bad and Canada has been becoming less liberal as of late.

With Canada off my list, my next destination was The Netherlands. They have a lot of great things going for them and I’ve always admired the Dutch. I was a little hesitant about the language barrier, but they all speak four languages, English being one of them, so I figured of all the countries to try and learn a language in, at least there’s the safety net of English in Holland. For a time I was trying to teach myself Dutch. I was listening to Dutch media, and I even put sticky notes all around my apartment labeling things in Dutch. As time went on I eventually changed my mind about the Netherlands. My language learning attempts weren’t really going anywhere, but more importantly the EU started to collapse. I figured it would be near impossible for me to get into Europe and find a job as a non-EU citizen while the economy was collapsing. Things might still go under if Greece, Spain, or Italy folds and the whole point of me moving is to try and avoid disaster.

England was never on my list for reasons that will be clear in a bit.

Next on my list was Australia. This is where I’ve been for the past few months. I was attracted to Australia because they have a higher standard of living and a higher standard of just about everything else compared to the US. The big draw, however, was the working holiday visa scheme. Basically, I could get a visa to Australia that would let me live/work anywhere in the country for up to a year. I figured this would be perfect as I could sample the country before taking the plunge and attempting to get citizenship.

(Yes. I want to give up my American citizenship and become the citizen of some other place. No, this is not your cue tell me why I should keep it. This entire blog is a litany of reasons why I don’t want to be a part of the US anymore. But I digress)

I have a map of Australia on the wall over my bed. I decided to try and shoot for Melbourne as the climate looked better to me and from what I’ve read/heard I think I’d like the feel better than Sydney or anywhere else.

The problem now is that Australia’s starting to sour on me just like everywhere else has before. Why? Their treatment of Julian Assange, their cooperation with the US, and the security state the are trying to build. My eyes are starting to turn to New Zealand as another possibility, especially since I just found out that they too have a working holiday visa program. I know that NZ needs tech people, their landscape is amazing, and they have even better in standards of living than Australia! Unfortunately, they’re not perfect either. Abortion is illegal and they’ve got internet police problems too, which brings me to the point of this post:

No country is perfect.

The only thing I can do is try and weigh the pros and cons of each country and try to see which one scores the most points. Here are some of the things that are important to me when shopping for a country:

  • Police/security state: This is by far the hardest. England is not on my list for this exact reason. Cameras everywhere. The US is building the biggest, scariest security state in history and is one of the main reasons why I want to leave. The more security state-ish a country is, the less I want to live there.
  • Internet freedom: This goes hand in hand with the above point. I want to live in a place where the internet is free and unregulated. I don’t want things like SOPA/PIPA/ACTA, etc. I don’t want anyone monitoring my internet usage or restricting it.
  • Human rights: I want to find a country that places a high value on human rights and dignity. This includes things like privacy and all the rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Especially important to me are things like reproductive rights like access to on demand abortion and contraceptive. I would also like to retain my right to own firearms.
  • Emphasis on education and a healthy society: I would like to find a country where people put a high value on access to quality education and see to it that children are taught actual science and not stuff like creationism. I would also like for the the people in the society to have a low tolerance for things like corruption, abuse of power, and apathy to the well being of others. In Holland, for example, I heard of an American backpacker who didn’t have much money for a hotel and so he slept the night on a park bench. In the morning he was woken by police officers. He thought they might arrest him, tell him to move on, or at worst beat him like they’re liable to do in America. To his surprise they had food and hot coffee for him and asked if he needed any help.
  • Lastly I’d like to find a country with a low level of religiosity. Generally, the lower the religiosity of a country, the higher the standards of living are.

No country that I know of meets all these criteria perfectly. Some are stronger in certain areas and weaker in others. At the end of the day it will come down to what I’m willing to make do with. I guess that’s all we can ever hope to do in life, make the best out of what’s available to us.