First Two Days in Tokyo

I have only been in Tokyo for a couple of days, but it’s already been filled with a lot of new adventures, tastes, and people with ups and downs. When I arrived at the Narita Tokyo Airport, I decided to sleep there to get a early start hitch hiking to central Tokyo (it’s a huge city) in the morning. I went out of the airport and using Google Maps (could’ve used the free map provided at the airport,) found which roads led to central. I stood at the on ramp, because the only way to get there is by highway and there are signs that show it is illegal to walk on the highway, with my sign that said “TOKYO.” After about a half hour, a black SUV passed me and when I did not notice it stop, the driver got out and called to me. It felt great getting my first ride in Asia, and when I got in, the driver and the man sitting in the back asked where I wanted to go; this was a time I wish I had prepared a bit before coming. I decided I wanted to go to the Imperial Palace, I thought this would be a central spot with the popular area’s close by (I was wrong, it was in the boring business district with nothing around,) and to my surprise, they took me all the way there. The driver, who I originally thought was the son of the man sitting in the back, was actually the employed driver who did not speak English, so the man in the back and I talked off and on throughout the ride, and when we arrived, the man asked for a photo, which I always take anyways, but for the first time, I realized that this was likely more of a novelty for the wealthy man to show off to his friends than actually trying to help out a traveler. Although I realized this, we both got what we wanted, so I did not mind.

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I explored the Imperial Palace’s Eastern Garden and saw a woman trying to use a selfie stick to take her photo and offered my assistance. We started talking and since we were going the same direction, walked together for a while as we explored and later searched for a view of the actualy Palace (it was closed when I got there, so we could not see it.) I learned that Jackie Leila ( http://wildonfood.com) is actually an attorney turned amateur-chef-travel-food-blogger who was recently on the Food Networks reality show Chopped and will be on again on St. Patricks Day, she is also being interviewed for her own reality TV show. She was a really awesome person to spend time with, very down-to-earth, and although, self-admittedly a bit materialistic, through travel, has learned that things are not what is really important in life; it’s the experiences and memories that we create as we live our lives everyday.

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Later, after Jackie and I went our separate ways, I started walking to the popular Tsukiji Fish Market and on the way met a business man who was living in Tokyo, he told me that I shouldn’t have any trouble wild camping in Japan, cops do not really bother you if you are not from Japan and not to worry about crime; it is nearly nonexistent here due to the pretty extreme punishments – a minimum of 28 days in jail whether you actually did anything or not. With this information, I figured I could probably sleep anywhere, so after getting some ramen at a hole in the wall restaurant (I was going to play eenie-meenie-minee-moe until the man sitting next to me translated and informed me I was about to order plain noodles,) I set up camp behind a building where it seemed I would receive at least some privacy. After a few hours of sleep, at 1:30AM, my biggest worry when wild camping came true; I was woken and told by security to pack up and find somewhere else to sleep, and that I should ask the police for help finding a place. They were no help, but I found another spot and again, right after I got all set up and into my tent, was told to pack up. After 2 hours of trying to find a spot, at 3.30AM, I finally settled into a cramped spot under a foot bridge, barely large enough to lay in, on big, though somewhat smooth, rocks. I couldn’t pitch my tent, so the rain seeped through my rain cover and bug net to me. The temperature was 43°F, but felt like it was below freezing and there was a lot of traffic making noise, the night was very similar to my miserable night on the Volcano Tajulmulco in Guatemala last year, minus the noise, and I can not decide if it was the most or second most miserable night I have ever had!

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Cutting up a fish while searching for sushi

The following day turned out to be a much better day. In the morning I met a group outside the gate to the fish market, a couple of Japanese women, Michelle and Mika, and a couple of men from France, Audrick and Damien. We started talking and I told them about my trip and miserable night and almost immediately, Mika offered for me to stay at her house with her husband and the two men; the Japanese (despite not letting me sleep in peace) are very kind and helpful when they know you need help. I hung out with them all day, we walked around looking for sushi for lunch, and when we went into the restaurant, everyone ordered meals. I had already eaten and as not a big fan of fish, decided just to order a single cheap piece of fish to try, but soon my plate was full of different types of sushi, wraps, and soup because each one gave me a bit off of their plates. Yes, Japanese sushi is as good as its fame suggests. On top of that, when I tried to pay for my fish, Mika wouldn’t let me, and covered it.

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My fish before they filled my plate

Mika soon had to go home and rest, due to her pregnancy, so we agreed to meet her at 5PM for dinner. The remaining four of us went to explore the popular Shibuya area, you know the area in the movies where hundreds of people from every direction all enter the intersection at one time and becomes an incredible chaos that looks similar to Times Square.

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After exploring Shibuya, we went onto the Meiji Jingu shrine and did the traditional kind of prayer to the deities of the temple; throw some coins into the offering box, bow twice, clap your hands twice, and bow once again. The shrine was very impressive, it felt very traditional with everything you would imagine a Japanese shrine to have.

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After the shrine, we met Mika at the metro station near her home and she showed us the way to a delicious restaurant nearby. I had requested a terriyaki meal because having experienced terriyaki pork intestines in Las Vegas, possibly the best thing I had ever tasted, I wanted to find out if it even compared to the real Japanese terriyaki. I decided to order Mikas favorite, a slight variation of the most popular meal that had vegetables along with Chicken, rice, soup, and salad, along with the beloved terriyaki sauce. It was delicious, although I can not say it was as good as Las Vegas; the hunt continued! After the meal, I waited in line to pay, and when I got to the counter found out that no more was owed, Audrick had paid, so I tried to pay him and he wouldn’t accept it.

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Mika and her violin, process of cleaning her room

We went to Mika’s place and finished the night with a few games of UNO. It always amazes me how much kindness can be found from complete strangers. Not only did this group let me hang out with them, Mika let me stay in her home, the group paid for two meals, paid for a couple of subway rides, and showed me around the city, but Mika also extended her offer to let me stay in her home to when I return to Tokyo after traveling to other parts of the country. I was very happy when I started making my bed that she did not stop me and let me help her around the house for a few hours to show my appreciation (it is very difficult for her to maintain the home because of her pregancy.)

My goal of this blog is shifting; while I will still focus on extreme budget traveling and will write about travel hacking and everything that goes with it, I want this blog, this community, to be mainly focused on kindness and grace that we experience everyday. I want to invite my readers to share their stories and friends stories of random kindness and favor that they are shown by strangers or new friends while traveling, in their own state, country, or abroad. The world is full of people who want to help if you let them or ask, and it is our responsibility to show the world that there is kindness everywhere and the world is not some big and scary place!

Help me spread the word of these wonderful experiences!
-The Travel Economist

Flexibility – Darian Gap

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One of the most important factors in traveling economically is flexibility! It is great when we make a plan and set out to do it and everything goes accordingly. Many times though, we run into obstacles, and sometimes because of these obstacles, we may realize that the original plan is not the best option anymore, that continuing on the planned route may bring your trip costs up substantially or it may be too difficult to face this unforeseen obstacle on the current trip. While we want to fight through the obstacle, no matter what the cost, to continue on the planned route and not give up or be beaten, we must remember that flexibility is key in our travels.

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When I planned my trip from Costa Rica to South America, I had no idea what the route would look like, but I felt I was prepared to take on any obstacle in my way! I had not known about the Darian Jungle that stood between Panama and Columbia, the only gap in the Pan American highway, littered with drug lords, bandits, and a forest so thick that a machete is necessary to pass through. The photo below is one of many wanted banners hanging in the Darian, his name is Gilberto Torres “The Calf” Muñetón, a commander of the notorious Colombian FARC guerrillas. Wanted for drug trafficking, arms smuggling, kidnappings, and a bombing that killed 80 people along the border of Panama & Colombia.

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I have found many solutions to the jungle, there are many ways to get from Panama to Columbia by air and by boat, such as those listed on Overlandtraveller.com, thedariangapster.com, mamallena.com, or use google traslate for this site my Costa Rican friend found for me, viajerosustentable.com. This trip will cost anywhere from $120-$600 for anything from a flight to a leisure boat, catamaran, or sailing vessel with multiple days of sailing and visiting beautiful uninhabited island beaches to an uncertain amount of very adventurous, difficult, and often boring days of switching boats and rugged towns with nothing to do and so dirty that a person may not even want to shower.

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With all of this being said, I started my trip in Costa Rica, being able to decide which direction I want to go. I have not traveled any further in Central America than Cozumel and one town on the mainland in Mexico and have not done any in South America yet, so I decided to go South because of Peru and Brazil. I decided that I will return to Costa Rica to fly home at the end of my trip to save hundreds of dollars by traveling with Spirit airlines where flights can be purchased for a total of around $150 or less. Knowing that the trip to Columbia and back will cost at least a extra $120 each way, I have decided that I will tackle South America and the Darian Gap another day on another trip when I have prepared for it. I have not been defeated nor am I giving up, I am simply taking a step back to reevaluate the task to find the most economical solution to this obstacle. That is the point of The Travel Economist, to find the most economical solutions to usually expensive trips and obstacles!

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A young indigenous girl in the Darian

I will now spend a few days in Panama before heading back into Costa Rica and beginning my journey into Nicaragua, Honduras, and continuing North into the rest of Central America! Always remember during your travels to be extremely flexible; the original plan may not always be the best plan, so do not get too attached to the idea of it and be prepared and willing to do a complete 180 and throw away all of your plans in exchange for another adventure in the budget of your plans!

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-The Travel Economist

I would like to thank the Expert Vagabond, Matthew Karsten, for giving permission to use his photos of the Darian Jungle in this blog. His full photo essay of his trip into the Darian can be found here; expertvagabond.com/darien-gap-photos/

The Nerves Before a Long Trip

After my short break back home in Florida from my six months of traveling, I am about to resume my trip. I have just over a day left before I get on a one way plane to San Juan, Costa Rica. I will be arriving at nearly one in the morning their time, nearly three my time. I have no plans. Have you ever went on a trip and been caught off guard without plans? Or purposefully put yourself in that position? It can be an incredibly scary experience, but also very fun and rewarding!

When I arrived in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, I was caught off guard by the two hour late arrival time and my Couch Surfing host backing out of his commitment. It was intimidating at the time, but looking back, I’m glad it happened the way it did. When struggles show up during a trip, they force us out of our comfort zones and we end up learning and experiencing things we may never have without the struggle. Struggle is what keeps us growing and the trip moving forward and when things don’t go as planned, if there are plans, do not worry about them. Go with the flow and enjoy the ride that is life, especially since we have decided to jump on the biggest, baddest, roller coaster of them all, backpacking!

My “plan” is to arrive in San Juan, very likely sleep in the airport with my backpack in my arms, or start walking until I find a somewhat hidden area to put up my bivy sack. From there; see where life takes me and what adventures are awaiting me. I will admit, I am very nervous, as I always am at the beginning of a trip. Thoughts run through my head, “What if you miss your plane again? What if you forget something? What if you get robbed again? What if you can not find a safe place to sleep? Are you crazy??” But these thoughts must be silenced, life will happen, if I miss the plane, I’ll break into my budget and get another, if I forget something, luckily, nearly anything can be bought pretty much anywhere, especially the necessities. If I get robbed again, that’s what travel insurance is for, if I can not find a place to sleep, keep walking until I do, and no, I am not crazy, there are many backpackers out there like me! Well, maybe not just like me, because most do not travel the way I do… So maybe I am.

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-The Travel Economist