I learned a new word in Vietnamese class the other day: nhu cầu. It means demand, as in people often have many demands.

My teacher asked me to use it in a sentence. I said that when I was in the United States I had many demands. In Vietnam, I had few demands.

Let me elaborate. In the U.S., I was a lawyer and I did pretty good for myself. I had a nice house all to my self. I had a flashy Nissan Cube (no comments, please). I had money to eat out at restaurants all the time and to buy myself the newest toys.

Photo via Philip Taylor

Lots of demands. And lots of time spend servicing them.

In Vietnam, two of us lived in a one-bedroom apartment. I had a motorbike that looks like it dates from the early 1980’s and runs accordingly. I normally ate street food and had coffee by the lake. I arrived with one suitcase and one carry-on full of the things I thought I would need. Short of toiletries and other disposable items, I bought nothing else.

Few demands. Little time spent servicing them.

What did I do instead? I read. I walked around. I drank tea with old Vietnamese people. I drank beer with my friends. I took photographs. I wrote.

And you know what? I was a hell of a lot happier in Vietnam without all that shit than I was in the United States. It was all nice but it was all…unnecessary.

But, I haven’t been able to wrap my head around why it took me moving to Vietnam to begin living like that. No one forced me to have all the demands I used to have.

Is it our society in the West?

The constant barrage of advertisements constantly lets us know that we are unworthy or unhappy in some aspect or another. They also helpfully point out the one product that is sure to solve the problem.

Maybe it is the people?

Speaking from experience, it is hard to go through life at 90 mph when all the stores close for afternoon nap time.

It’s definetely hard to justify spending $700 on a new iPhone when you stand at your window and watch old women selling homemade cakes for $.20 and know that they probably don’t make $700 in a year.

I haven’t turned into an ascetic. The new iPhones, to use my earlier example, are terrific. I just can’t justify spending the money on one when 1) I really don’t have that much money in the first place and 2) so many people around me live on so little.

I think one of the fears about returning to the West was that I would get pulled right back onto the hedonic treadmill and all of those demands would return full force.

Now I am in the West again and I can see it happening. Today, my landlady upgraded her Internet. Nerd speak: I am pulling 50 mb/s down. In Vietnam, I was lucky to get 10 mb/s. Already, I am wondering how I ever lived without these speeds. But I did. And I didn’t notice.

I hope that as I readjust to life in the West, I remember my experiences in Vietnam and in other less-developed places in the world. I hope that I will be able to remember the happiness of fewer demands.

Another year has passed! If you’re reading this, congratulations, you made the cut!

As I’ve written before, New Year’s is my favorite holiday. It’s a chance to review the changes that have happened in your life, whether intended or not, and the changes that you want to make in the new year.

So, me…

One year ago today, I was planning my move to Hanoi, Vietnam. It happened and, like everything else in life, was not exactly what I planned. Even so, it was rewarding in so many ways and the year I spent there was one of the most rewarding of my life, full of wonderful people and new experiences.

I am fortunate beyond words.

But, sometimes, as happy as you are, new challenges and new opportunities present themselves. And that is how I find myself in St. John’s, Newfoundland as 2016 begins, but more on that in a later post.

I didn’t go to Hanoi and expect to be in St. John’s one year later. But, when the opportunity presented itself, I came up with the only appropriate answer: why the hell not?!

I’m unbreakable. There is nothing that will stop me.

So, dear reader, I wish you a wonderful 2016. I hope you see the opportunities that arise in the most surprising ways. I hope you embrace fully that you, like me, like all of us, are unbreakable. There is no risk that we can take that will not pay off in some way.

Happy New Year to you, dear reader! To paraphrase Walter Bankston, you’re unbreakable, you’re alive damn it, it’s a miracle! Treat 2016 like you believe it.

 

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris were a frightening reminder that the world is not always a safe place. People were killed while they listened to music, ate at cafes, or were otherwise going about their business and enjoying life.

The horrible images that are currently being splashed across televisions and computer screens worldwide do not do a good job of telling one important thing, however. The world, and travel, is safer than it has ever been.

It is easy to see these images and think that the best thing to do is hunker down in your hometown or city and never leave. The thought is that if you don’t go to these places, you won’t be a target.

But, it is so important to realize that you really aren’t much of a target anyway, no matter where you are.

In its Country Reports on Terrorism 2014, the United States State Department reported that, in 2014, 24 U.S. citizens were killed as a result of terrorism. To put that in perspective, the Centers for Disease Control reports the following for causes of death in 2013.

  • Heart disease: 611,105
  • Cancer: 584,881
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 149,205
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 130,557
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,978
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 84,767
  • Diabetes: 75,578
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 56,979
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 47,112
  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 41,149

Oddly enough, hippos kill over 300 people globally every year.

Quite simply: you are not at risk.

Rick Steves, my own personal travel hero, had an interesting post on his Facebook page after the Paris attacks. The message was the same as mine. At times like this, it is important to separate the cerebral from the emotional and recognize how minimal the chances are of dying in an attack of this sort.

If anything, as Steves points out, Paris and France will suffer economic blowback from this so, if you really want to support the people and the country, and show that your life will not be dictated by hateful people with a bankruptcy ideology, book your flight to Paris now!

The comments section to Steves post was typical of most comments section. People agreeing and people disagreeing, often not very nicely. Steves wrote another post responding to some of the comments.

One woman said the following:

Our travel days in Europe are over. I do not have faith in the ability of the police to protect my family. We are in a World War. These so-called isolated incidents will increase and become more sophisticated.

Really? The continent of Europe has 500 million people and approximately 50 countries. This woman is prepared to write it all off because of her fear.

At the same time, I bet she doesn’t think twice about getting in her car (32,719 fatalities in 2013), going for a swim (an average of 3,533 fatalities per year from 2005-2009), or eating a meal (3,037 food poisoning death in 2011).

I think this gets to the crux of the problem Because the chances of being killed in a terrorist attack are close to zero, when it does happen it makes for sensationalist news. News that our ratings-hungry media outlets can’t wait to drive into the ground, exaggerating the threat, and terrifying viewers.

I think the quickest way to rebut the terrorists’ presumption that it’s an us-against-them clash of civilizations is to do exactly as Steves suggested: travel more.

When I travel I am consistently amazed at how similar I am to so many of the people I encounter. We all want the same things: a roof over our head, a good meal, a cold beer, someone to enjoy life with.

Travel breaks down barriers. It helps people on both sides realize how alike we are and how small a place the world really is.

Yes, there are scary people who want to hurt you in the world. That is undeniable. But the numbers of those people pale in comparison to the numbers of people who want to share a smile and shake your hand, who will pay for your tea if you practice English with them a bit, and who excitedly ask if you have pictures of your family that they can see.

Despite what the news has you believe, by and large, the vast majority of the people in the world are not out to harm you in any way. Travel helps you bust through the artificial media lens and realize this firsthand.

So, where are you going next?