Hiram Bingham and the Search for Machu Picchu

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Hiram Bingham was the grandson of a famous evangelical preacher that brought Christianity to the indigenous population of Hawaii. The mission failed miserably as the Hawaiians distrusted them completely and treated them with hostility. The family stayed in Hawaii though and continued to preach and live there. When Hiram was a kid, he hated the life of a simple missionary and sought out adventure and glamour. He wanted to be a part of high society.

He was smart so he studied hard and was accepted to Yale University where he finally had the contemporary class he wanted. Yet it still wasn’t the way he had dreamed. His classmates treated him like an outsider and would never accept him into the fraternities. In the late 1800s very few middle class kids went to college and even fewer went to Yale.

Bingham was the type of person to never be stopped by obstacles. He continued to study and was friendly to his peers. Eventually he was introduced to his future wife Aldreda, the heir to the Tiffany fortune. He decided to become a history scholar as a way to elevate his status and become an appropriate match for her.

Part of his family background, growing up in Hawaii made him more interested in the history of Latin America. He realized that much of the old traditions and tales had never been recorded so he decided to make Yale the first and best expert of Latin American history.

With the support of Alfreda’s family, he mounted an exploration of Peru. The trip was disastrous. The locals hated and distrusted white men particularly Americans. They often asked Bingham where the Incan gold was even though it was lost hundreds of years ago.

The most inspiring part of the story is how Bingham consistently tried to bring the history of Latin America to a western audience. He knew it would bring Peru more influence in politics. He was met with resistance by the native, the Peruvian government, and Yale University. From every angle he was discouraged from finishing his guest but persevered. Yale still has one of the best Latin American history departments and the history of the great Inca Empire was brought to light after nearly being lost.

When you’re doing something for good intentions, the world will start to align in your favor. You can argue that this was just another rich American taking advantage of a poor country. Yet the entire exploration was so important as a precedent. Peru was about to maintain ownership of it’s artifacts and its culture was put on the map.

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Weight Loss Update

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A couple weeks ago I set the goal to lose 20 pounds before Thanksgiving. I was at 198 so I set the goal weight of 178. Currently I’m at 185.

So basically I failed the goal, but I don’t feel like a failure. I lost 13 pounds through my own effort and I’m not discouraged enough to quit.

I still struggle with eating right as I tend to over eat on the weekend as a way to cope with stress. And it’s still not second nature to go to the gym after work instead of coming home and watching TV in bed. Those struggles will never go away so I need to find the strength to eat healthy and work out as often as possible.

It’s been so exciting to notice the differences in my body. My legs have shrunk the most from all the squats I’ve been doing. My thighs used to rub together really bad in the summer when it was humid and now I almost have a thigh gap mother fucker!! They’ve toned up so much it’s happening naturally. I’m also starting to get abs underneath the fat on my lower stomach. My top half was never that heavy (I’m more of a pear than an hourglass), but there is a noticeable difference with my arms and shoulders being a lot more muscular than they were.

When I struggle with eating I have to remind myself how far I’ve come and give myself some slack for not being perfect. I used to binge on pasta and candy late at night by myself. Now if I over eat at least it’s been healthier food. This weekend part of my binge was celery and cheese. That way of eating still isn’t the best way to live, but at least I’m working on more permanent solutions.

Even when I eat really bad now my body gets rid of the extra faster than before and doesn’t seem to take it on. Losing weight is so much more psychological than you could ever imagine. People who start out confident and believing in themselves are at such a hug advantage in this game.

Part of my journey has been building up the confidence to work toward the things that I want and another part has been letting people see me struggle.

I think a lot of overweight people tend to be people pleasers and perfectionists. Because they can’t get eating right perfect the first time, they stress themselves out and then never want to try again.

One of the ideas that changed my life was thinking about working out as something to strive toward. If you can only lift 5 pounds hopefully next time you’ll be able to lift 8 and the time after that 10. Thinking about it as a challenge to apply yourself to is a game changer. When I was younger fitness seemed impossible.

Another part I’ve learned from losing weight is that I’m capable of a lot more than I ever would have thought possible. Working with a trainer has been a great start. She’ll tell me to do 12 burpees and I think that’s impossible. Then 10 minutes later she’ll tell me to do another 12 and I’m sure again it’s impossible yet it never is. You really can push yourself much farther than you do on a regular basis.

The important thing is to have one honest reason why you want to lose weight. There’s the surface one you want to tell people like “Oh I just want to be healthy” or “I want to be hot in a bikini next summer”. Yet most people that successfully change their lives and get in shape also have a personal reason of why they want to change like “I want to walk my newborn daughter down the aisle one day and right now I can barely walk” or “I want to look better than I did in high school so that pretty girl that dumped me will be secretly jealous on Facebook that she let me go”.

It doesn’t matter if the reason is stupid to other people as long as it motivates you.

My reason is that I don’t want to hide away from the world anymore. I used the weight to protect myself from conflict or too much attention. It was easy to blame the weight instead of admitting that I was terrified to open up to new people and be vulnerable. I want to be the kind of person that is able to inspire others to change their life. Right now I’m not in a position to travel a lot so fitness is what I’m focused on.

Between fitness and travel, I can’t think of better hobbies to make yourself force yourself out of your comfort zone. Both activities challenge the mind in body in new unexpected ways. Particularly being able to do both alone when no one is watching is so different than participating to please another person.

The important part is to be a little bit better than you were yesterday. The big changes are made by following through consistently with little changes. They will start to add up in a big way eventually.

 

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Book Review: The Element

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A while back I saw a Ted Talk by Ken Robinson titled “How School Kills Creativity” that changed my life. At the time I was getting burned out with teaching and couldn’t understand why I was feeling that way. It turns out that most people feel this way when they think about work and it starts with education.

The Element is about finding your passion to create meaningful work. One thing he’s noticed about people that are very successful is that they consider their work to be the most important and fun thing they could be working on. From a Math professor to musicians, each story he mentioned an example of someone who blended natural talent with dedication and hard work to create a life centered around their passion.

One of my favorite examples from the book was about Debbie Allen. She was a fidgety little girl that couldn’t focus in school. They sent her to a psychologist to find out what was wrong with her. Rather than put her on Ridalin the psychologist told her mother to step out of the room for a minute. When they left the room, Debbie immediately stood up and started dancing. The psychologist told her mother there was nothing wrong with her and she should take her to dance school. Debbie Allen is now one of the most famous choreographers in the world.

These days schools only tell students what they’re doing wrong and then they find the quickest way to shut them up. When I was teaching, I felt like I was part of that machine to kill creativity and standardize children into neatly packaged products.

I ordered the book from Amazon so there were notes in it that someone else had taking reading it. It’s hard to tell if the person that read it was a student or teacher. The surprising things was how negative the notes they were. It was like having a heckler in the crowd while I was trying to read. The sarcastic comments remind me of what I hate about society when someone is trying to break the status quo. They’re always met with opposition and hostility.

Those are the people that have given up on their dreams. They’ve already accepted that they aren’t good enough and can’t pursue a different life for themselves. Maybe I’m too dreamy, but I can’t accept that until I try every avenue possible.

One of the comments that stood out was when Robinson was talking about the guy from Fleetwood Mac quitting high school to be a drummer, the note was written that most people aren’t good enough to to this and he got lucky. Robinson mentioned that a big difference between successful pasionate people and the average person is their view on luck.

Musicians in particular always talk about how lucky they are. Most of the successful ones talk about how hard they worked though. They met with everyone. They practiced constantly and they slept on the floor of a friend’s apartment eating Ramen noodles so they could buy better equipment. Almost every successful band has a story like that. They dedicated every second of their day to being a musician. Why would luck have anything to do with their success? Hard work and dedication had just a big a role.

People that haven’t “made it” are quick to say the other person got lucky and then quickly blame their situation for the reason they never followed through with their dream. This is a clear difference. Are you willing to dedicate everything you have to your goal? Or are you going to give up at the first sign of trouble and blame your parents?

I know this attitude because I’ve often blamed my parents or discouraging teachers from high school for the reason why I can’t follow through on things. My senior English teacher told me I was a terrible writer because I could never master essay structure. Through that I was discouraged from writing as a profession since I wasn’t good enough.

Yet my dream never really went away. I remember wanting to be a writer at a very young age. Being 5 years old and walking around a book store, I remember thinking “I want my name to be on the shelf”. I wanted to be able to tell people I wrote a book.

Maybe I’m not a good writer.

Maybe I’ll never be a really great one.

Maybe that doesn’t matter.

Have you seen who’s publishing books lately?

Almost every celebrity has written an autobiography. Even if they’re a low level D-list one.

Being a writer isn’t impossible if I’m willing to put in the work and dedicate myself. Sure being the next Shakespeare is not possible, but being a creative writer or a blogger? Why would that be impossible? Plenty of people are making a living at blogging without having the credentials to back it up.

The Element was a great book because it described the environment in such a simple way. If you’re able to be dedicated and passionate then the success will follow. The people that never make it like the one that wrote hostile notes in the margins will blame the world for their issues.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

I don’t really fear failing. I fear success. What if someone actually reads what I wrote? What if they love it? What if it changed their life? All these questions terrify me. I’m expecting no one to read it. I wouldn’t know what to say if someone actually read it and praised it.

I know that I have to keep putting in the time to be better. It’s been too long complaining and wasting time with distractions like Huff Post or the latest TV show.

A writer writes.

I’m a writer.

So I write.

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The Second Rule of Travel Hacking

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Is you DON’T talk about travel hacking.

Just kidding 😀

I actually wanted to write about my experiences with credit card companies while travel hacking.

One of the first things I noticed is the system is designed to get you addicted to the card. After spending my first purchase I got a miles bonus immediately credited to my account. After spending the minimum I got upgraded to a premium card. I can definitely understand why the rewards system would get a lot of people. It’s almost designed like a casino game where the lights flash and make loud noises when you win. The real world doesn’t have a lot of positive reinforcement and it’s rare to be rewarded for your actions as an adult.

The credit card system is based on getting people to overspend and get themselves into a bad financial situation. The credit card company is maximizing its profit when you all your money on a card and have to pay it back with 15-20% interest that’s capitalized every month.

The system is not in favor of the consumer.

I realized that I spent a lot more money than I usually would because I was working toward a goal. Instead of spending $1,000 over 3 months, I spent the limit in 1 month.  I charged clothes and fancy lunches in Midtown because at least it was going toward my travel fund. It was unexpected how easy  it was to waste the money on things I didn’t need. I’m still not sure what I spent the money on to be honest.

Another thing you might already know is that credit card companies are shady.

The card that I signed up for wouldn’t post my transactions instantly. It would take about a week for the budget to update so I was less aware of what I was actually spending. When I checked the account it would say spent- $500 or something and I would think it wasn’t that bad, but then I would notice that there was another $100 charge that hadn’t been processed yet.

It’s bizarre that when you spend money from your bank account the transaction posts almost instantly. Sure is might take a couple days to update fully, but the bank will take the funds out as soon as possible because they don’t benefit if you spend all your money and don’t need an account with them anymore. It’s a completely different set up when you’re working with a credit card.

On top of that it’s very difficult to remember how close to the goal you are. When you pay off part of the balance, it’s easy to forget that it counted toward the reward minimum you had to spend. If you charged and paid off $400 then you only have $600 left. You’re not working toward that neat $1,000 number anymore.

Last off, I’m so surprised how high my credit limit is compared to my salary. If you can get approved for 1 card you can easily get approved for 10. I’ve actually been getting lots of offers in the mail now so I must be on the master credit card mailing list now. If I got approved for $5,000 limit on 10 different cards that’s $50,000 I can spend whenever I want. Just so be clear that’s more than I make in a year. No wonder so many people get themselves into trouble with credit card debt.

I’m still not too concerned about overspending because I know it will get old for me really soon.   Even when I was a kid I tended to save money in the bank. By the time I graduated high school I had a couple grand saved up that went toward my semester abroad trip. I’m glad to have the credit card experience because it’s forced me to think more about what I’m spending my funds on. Would I rather blow money on new shoes or save a little bit every month to spend on a trip in a few months? I know I prefer to travel over buying dumb stuff.

I was doing the math on how much it would cost to go on my top 4 travel destinations and I was surprised how little it would cost. I could easily spend the same amount on shoes over a year.

Here’s an example

Edinburgh

Flight from NYC = $800-$900 (AirLingus)

Hostel ($20/night)= $140

Food ($30-50/fay)= $210-350

Fun Stuff= $200-300

Souvenirs= $100

Total= $1500-1800

Taking out the flight if you travel hack= $600-900

That’s really not that much when you think about how much rent costs or a car payment. It makes my dream of traveling around the world a lot more possible.

Top 4 Travel Spots

Edinburgh= $1800

Paris/Camino de San Tiago= $2395

Machu Picchu= $ 1280

Vietnam/Cambodia= $2790

Total= $8,265

Taking out the flights if you travel hack= $3965

So to comfortably travel for 2 and 1/2 months would be about the same price as living in NYC for a month. That’s so much more possible than I thought! These estimates are actually high because I remember during my semester abroad food in Spain was way cheaper than in the US. You could get a huge meal with drinks for like 7 dollars. In NYC I can barely buy a hot dog for the same price. In Vietnam or Peru I’m sure these costs are even lower. It’s also a lot cheaper to use hostels if you don’t mind sharing a room with other people. Every time I stayed at one before it was always a really good experience. Hostels are full of nice young adventurous people that are excited to meet new people. Usually the hostel sponsors some sort of event at night too so if you’re traveling alone it’s an easy way to make new friends and have a group to go out with.

I’m so excited about this new goal!

I think I would only have to be at my job for a year before they would let me freelance or work from home. I don’t see why they wouldn’t let me. It’s the kind of company that they realize the work is very intense and it’s in their best interest to have as many freelancers as possible. If they have someone that was trained internally it’s a bonus for them.

More updates to follow over the next couple months! I already have enough saved up for 1 trip.  Only 3 more to go!

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The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment

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One of my favorite contemporary artists is Russian-born Ilya Kabakov. He’s known in the art world as the collector because he saves everything and uses it for these hug installations.

In one he recreated Soviet Style apartments and filled it with so many odds and ends it looked like a real apartment. Another, he built a life size version of Noah’s Ark and filled it with momentos from Russia’s past.

One of my favorite installations, is The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment. It was a smaller work modeled to look like a Soviet apartment. The walls were plastered with communist propaganda and a large slingshot was stretched across the room with a seat. The roof was caved in as if something was propelled with the slingshot through the ceiling. The narrative is that there was a man obsessed with space so he created a slingshot to escape. The room felt familiar and the story brought the audience back to childhood where the kind of fairy tales where ordinary people went on wild adventures.

Kabakov left the Soviet Union at a young age, but seems to look back often at the differences between Russian and American life. Through these large installations he’s able to show a window into a world that doesn’t exist any more. As the Soviet Union gained more power, the traditional Russian folklore was consumed by the machine. There wasn’t room for fairytales in a the modern state set on being the most powerful nation in the world.

Yet you could argue that Kabakov’s view of Russia never existed. It’s half remembered stories from his childhood and half creation of his own.

His artwork makes me crave to sit by the fireplace and have my parents tell me about the man that flew into space. Even though I’ve never been to Russia and my family is not even close to being Russian, Kabakov’s installations automatically make me miss home. Part of what makes his work so unique is that there’s a certain sadness looking back. It’s like the audience can only see the ruins of these scenes. They will never be sure what happened or if everything turned out all right for the people involved. His work has a haze of mystery and fantasy, where the real world overlaps so slightly with the magical one.

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Why The Road Less Written?

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Metaphors for roads have always intrigued me.

Maybe it started with the yellow brick road as the way to start off a big adventure. Follow the path and you’ll get where you need to go. Follow the road away from home. Most of my life I have thought about leaving the familiar and entering the unknown, like I was always drawn to the call of adventure.

I hoped that someone would lead the way.

The wise mentor never showed up to help me start so I’ve had to mentor myself and convince myself of a few things:

1. I deserve to pursue the life I want

2. No one can stop you from achieving your dreams

3. It’s my story and I intend to write it

Lately I’ve been at the crossroads with a decision to keep on the path or veer off to the left. I choose left because I know which way the path I’m on will go. It will lead to dissatisfaction and eventually heartache from letting go the love of my life, adventure. It’s daunting to know I’m at the beginning and there’s so much to learn.

If it’s a level 1-10, I’m still at a 2 in my knowledge. There’s so much to gain and not much to lose. The people that won’t think about that. I can’t control their minds. In truth I don’t care too much either way.

It’s my life and no one has a say unless I’m asking for it.

The Road ahead doesn’t have to be about travel or losing weight.

It can be about any challenge you have in your life that you want to overcome.

I want people who read this blog to be inspired to pursue their more authentic self to live their life more open with passion. The biggest regret most people have at the end of their life is that they didn’t do enough. No one ever complains they had too much fun or made too much art or were loved too much.

Kill boredom.

Travel the Road Less Written.

I’ll see you there.

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The Number One Secret To Travel Hacking

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For a long time, I idolized travel hackers.

They seemed so courageous and adventurous. It was so inspiring the amount of time they spent in exploration of the world. I bought Chris Guillebeau’s Travel Ninja Guide and read it over the next week. The ideas were straightforward so of course I put it away and didn’t look at it again.

One day I finally worked up the nerve to sign up for my first credit card. Even though I agonized about it for months, the process was very simple.

The number 1 secret they never mention about travel hacking is that it isn’t nearly as glamorous as taking pictures of yourself straddling the Great Wall of China. There’s a lot of waiting and planning. To sign up for a credit card takes about 10 minutes and it takes 2 weeks to receive it in the mail. Then it has to be activated (only 5 minutes), but afterward I can’t decide what to spend the money on.

While I was unemployed/underemployed I was living paycheck to paycheck. I had a list of wants and a list of needs. Wants were a new camera or cell phone and needs were contact lenses or groceries, in other words things that are necessary to human survival.

Now that I have a stable income I have no idea what do with all the money. Some of it needs to go to student loans or other expenses yet there’s still some leftover, which throws me off my calculations. When you’re used to stretching 10 dollars for a month or waiting until your phone gets turned off to pay the bill, it seems really strange to have so much flexibility with financial decisions.

Do I need a savings account?

What’s a 401K?

Is travel hacking worth the hassle?

My teenage self would have considered it very “lame” to worry about these things. Now it worries me because I’ve realized how little I know about personal finance or economics. I don’t think I’ve ever heard my parents discuss how to balance an online bank account.

No one uses check books anymore.

Let’s be real.

Maybe the second secret of travel hacking is that I’m actually having a good time learning about personal finance. It’s forcing me to make conscious decisions about how to spend and save money. Instead of dreaming about all the places I’ll visit “one day” I’m working each day to put a bit more money away.

And that’s the exciting part.

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The Reason I Write About History

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The reason I write about history is not because I think things were better in the past or traditional values held the world together. I’ve always loved history because it’s proof to me that most of the time things will work out. If you’re a good person and try to do right, history will be kind to you. If you’re a bad person, you’ll go down in infamy. Somehow it equalizes and stabalizes. The world adapts and goes on.

People panic and think the world will end. They’re projecting their fear out onto the world. Inside they’re insecure about their place in the world and being paranoid gives them a purpose. Most people are looking for some kind of purpose. Along the way they get distracted with vices, addictions, or what other people think.

I’ve always wanted to seek out adventure, go to uncharted territory and be the stuff of legend. Winston Churchill said “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” Recently I noticed I don’t like the direction my life is going so I’m re-writing my destiny. I want a bigger life with more fun and more adventure. The kind of life where at 85 I can sit satisfied that there wasn’t a single thing I missed out on.

Maybe you don’t even like history. Maybe it’s always been about dry facts and repetitive dates. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is closer to storytelling. When you’re looking back on your life, what kind of story do you want it to be? Is there action, drama, romance? How close to this life are you now?

If you’re a normal person I bet it seems pretty far waay. The day to day gets boring, drudging on for a paycheck or meeting with the same friends you never really cared for.

What I’m saying is stop right now!

Take a step back and think about those things you always wanted to do.

Why did you stop?

If you don’t like the the answer, good. There’s still hope for you. I’m encouraging you to change your story and change your history. Even if it hasn’t worked out before or you don’t think you have the time or the money. Take a step back and think about what you’ll be saying to yourself in the future. If it’s “I’m glad I didn’t bother.” Then great, you’re done. If you think you’d have regrets then it’s time for a change.

Take one small step toward the life you want.

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