Bora Bora or Bust: Why aren’t you getting on the plane?

BOB - 3For several years I’ve been helping people learn how to travel for nearly free using points and miles. There’s something amazing about encouraging people to dream about a place they’ve never visited—one that would most likely never be accessible to them if they had to save the money to get there—and then show a few practical tools to make this a reality.

As I challenge people to learn to travel hack by working towards a goal of a dream destination, I’ve always shared my own dream of sleeping in an over-the-water bungalow in Bora Bora–falling asleep to the sound of the surf, waking up to the fish under my feet, and morning coffee with my toes in the brilliant blue water.

The funny thing was, however, after years of teaching people how to hack their way to Bora Bora, I’d still never actually been there myself.

I had the points, I’d done all the research. If there ever was anyone qualified to hack their way to Bora Bora, I was she. What was I waiting for?

In October I flew to New Zealand. As my plane crossed the Pacific on it’s 17 hour journey I watched as we flew directly over Tahiti and the rest of French Polynesia on the inflight entertainment system flight tracker. Then it struck me. Was this the closest I was ever going to get to Bora Bora? A mile above it in the sky?

The wheels in my brain started turning. What was keeping me from going there if it wasn’t time or money? Why wasn’t I getting on the plane bound for Bora Bora? Was I subconsciously waiting for a significant moment. For my perfect traveling companion. For all the stars in the southern cross to align?

As I watched the sun rise at 37,000 feet, it literally dawned on me that I was waiting for no real reason. I was just putting it off because later felt easier than now. And then I thought some more. What other things was I putting off in my life like Bora Bora with no reason whatsoever?

Why is it that we put off our dreams and desires while waiting for the perfect time or circumstance to magically present itself? Aren’t we old enough to know that the magical present is the actual PRESENT? I made a pledge to myself to make it happen. And since I had to fly over Bora Bora again to get home from New Zealand —I decided that I would just do it now.

And as I typed the draft of this post from the deck of my over-the-water bungalow of my dreams, I can ensure you that NOW was the exact right time.

Whether you’re putting off a dream trip, calling your long lost family, waiting to pick up your pen to write your best-seller (points finger at self),  the lesson is this: The perfect time is now. If you’re waiting for a sign, this is it. 

I guess next time I teach this lesson I’ll be using my own photos and telling my own Bora Bora stories—and perhaps I’ll have to find another travel dream to share!

What are you waiting for?

Wonder how I actually hacked my way to Bora Bora? I knew you’d ask. Keep reading the bonus section below if you want to know how to plan this kind of trip.

BOB - 2

How’d I get there?

Here’s how my travel to Bora Bora worked, how I booked it, and what it cost. The route I took was a little bit different than the one I’ve laid out in my lesson plans, since I traveled via New Zealand rather than direct to Tahiti from my home base of Portland, OR. (Don’t worry, you can easily do this as a return trip originating in the US with flights on Hawaiian, AirFrance or AirTahiti Nui.)

PDX-LAX-SYD-AKL: 72,500 AA miles (or $11,000)

My first ticket was from Portland (PDX) to Auckland, New Zealand (AKL) on American Airlines with a stop in Los Angeles (LAX) and an intentional one day layover in Sydney, Australia (SYD). This ticket was First Class and cost a total of 72,500 American Airlines points with a dollar value of $11,000! As this ticket was on American and Qantas flights, I was able to search for and book the ticket online at aa.com. I booked this flight 10 months in advance as a one way award. (This ticket was purchased prior to American’s devaluation in early 2016- the current ticket cost for this same route one way is 90,000 AA Miles on a First Class saver award). Most of my miles on AA are earned from AA domestic flights and from my Citi AAdvantage credit card.

While the first half of my trip was booked very far in advance, all of the remaining flights were booked at the very last minute since I didn’t decide to fly home via Bora Bora until I was already in New Zealand.

AKL-PPT: 30,000 Miles (or $1,400)

Starting in New Zealand, I booked a flight from Auckland (AKL) to Papaetee, Tahiti (PPT) on Air Tahiti Nui using American Airlines Miles. The cost was 30,000 miles for a one way business class ticket at a cash value of $1,400 (or 15,000 for economy class). Booking this ticket required making a call to AA reservations as the tickets are not searchable online. It’s the only airline I’ve ever flown that gives you flowers for your hair and serves pre-flight mai-tai’s. (Also, I think I was also the only person on the flight traveling alone)

PPT-BOB-PPT: $220 each way in Travel Credits

Air Tahiti (not to be confused with Air Tahiti Nui) has a monopoly of the French Polynesian skies and is the only way to get to Bora Bora once you’ve made it as far as Tahiti. I flew PPT to BOB and came back to Tahiti via Moorea—another island that connected to Papaetee by ferry. The only way to hack this leg is with lots of points on a credit card with a “travel eraser” or cash back travel credits like my Chase Sapphire Reserve. The cost of the flight is about $220 each way and doesn’t fluctuate much. I booked the flight directly through airtahiti.com to receive travel credits on my credit card. The most important thing to know about this flight is that you want a seat on the left side on the way out and right side on the way back. Catching a view of Bora Bora from the sky is worth the cost of the flight alone.

* Note: if you make it this far, and are hoping to use points to stay at hotels in Tahiti and Bora Bora, you’ll want to stock up on Starwood, Hilton or IHG points. These are the chains that operate properties around French Polynesia. I used points from my IHG and SPG Amex Credit cards to cover my hotel nights.

 PPT-HNL-KON: 27,500 Hawaiian Miles (or $950)

To get from Tahiti back across the Pacific to the US, there are very limited choices of Airlines: Air Tahiti Nui, Air France, and Hawaiian Airlines–and not all of these airlines fly to the island every day. Since I had a stash of Hawaiian airlines miles that I’d never used after signing up for a Hawaiian airlines credit card, I decided to take the once a week Hawaiian flight to Honolulu (HNL) and then connect onward to Kona (KON) for no additional cost. An economy class ticket for the 5 hour overnight flight was 27,500 (at a cash value of $950) and bookable online at Hawaiian Airlines. The same flight was also bookable online via AA.com using American Advantage points, but cost more at 37,500 points.

KOA-PHX-PDX :$220 (or 20,000 miles)

Since I had to fly through Hawaii anyway, I took the opportunity to explore the big island for a few days before heading the rest of the way home via American Airlines. There were dozens of flights to choose at all times of day from on an assortment of airlines for about $220 or 20,000 miles on American. I went with a paid AA flight so the redemption value was low. Buying the ticket allowed me to earn qualifying miles and a paid flight allowed me to request a complimentary upgrade with my status..

All together, I saved more than $14,010 on flights by using points and miles!  But more importantly than getting something of high value for a fraction of the cost. I finally got to see Bora Bora for myself!

Roots and Regrets: Travel Lessons from Italy

255770_10200641354510145_265673010_nMy first trip to Italy was in 1993. I was a young and hip backpacker, too cool for the universe—as most teenagers are—and especially too cool for my family. Or so I thought.

Now that I’m much older and a little wiser I’ve come to realize that this whole time my family is awesome.

My family has deep Italian roots. My father is Italian. His parents were Italian. My great grandparents were Italians straight off the boat. (See above, those were the immigration papers of my Grandmother’s mother).

I don’t know enough stories about that boat and why the patriarchs and matriarchs of my “Italian-American” family came to the “new” world of their time. Perhaps they were “explorers” rather than “settlers”. Maybe this is where my genes of adventure come from. If I am cool now, it is only because it is hereditary.

There is one story that I do remember well about my learning my family history. Sadly, it is both my own story and a story of regret.

In 1993 when I took my very first trip to Europe, my Italian grandparents were alive. They religiously hand wrote me letters nearly every week during the duration of my first study abroad semester in London. I’ll never forget my Grammy’s perfect cursive penmanship or the way she and Pappy always tucked 20$ bills into their tri-folded drugstore notepad letters.

As the end of my time in the U.K. neared, I prepared for my first backpacking trip through Italy–Rome, Florence, Pisa, and Venice were on the list. I was excited, and in advance of the trip received one of Grammy and Pappy’s letters with a 20$ travel bonus! This time, however, the letter wasn’t the ordinary update with the regular news of their local Italian choir and spaghetti dinner club they hosted. In preparation for my first trip to Italy, they had carefully created a list of the names and telephone numbers of all of my relatives in the cities I would be visiting so I could connect with my roots. It was a treasure map.

Unfortunately, the thing about teenagers and treasure maps, was that I wasn’t smart enough to know the value of this letter at the time. It was just a piece of the same old drug-store notepad paper from my grandparents with the names of people I didn’t know on it. I put the 20$ in my wallet, tucked the address list into my Let’s Go guide, and hit the road!

As a teenager I thought of my relatives as the people who I saw at family reunions and funerals. They were the ones who brought funny Italian dishes like cold pizza with no cheese they called tomato pie, and pinched my cheeks, and always asked me if I remembered their names. (And of course I didn’t.)

One day in Florence, where some of the relatives on the list lived, I pulled out the piece of paper from my guidebook, admired Grammy’s perfect cursive, and picked up a hostel payphone. And then I got scared and put the receiver down. I didn’t know who these people were. Maybe they were somehow related to my ‘old’ grandparents, but I didn’t know them, I didn’t know what to say to them, AND they didn’t speak English. Game over.

I never made that call. I put the list back in my book and never looked at it again. I had assumed that I was living my once in a lifetime chance to visit Italy and I didn’t want to waste it with cheek pinching strangers who might serve me funny food and not be able to talk to me in 18 year old English. I had no inkling that I’d spend the next 20+ years traveling.

I’ve been back to Italy at least ten times since, and I’ve thought about this moment dozens of times. I’d give anything to be able to pick up the phone, dial into the past, and get to know the family on that list. I’d call them all and mumble in my best incoherent Duo-Lingo Italian.

Sadly, I lost that paper, and within a few years after that trip I also lost both of my grandparents who were my connections to these living stories. For some reason, however, I’ve never lost that memory of putting down the receiver and making that choice not to call.

Sure, it was just a phone call in the past that I didn’t make, but moments like these also go by another name. We call them regret, and regret strangely has a way of sticking around—even longer than estranged relatives and cold cheese-less pizza.

Perhaps regret sticks and stings because it so badly doesn’t want us to forget the lesson it teaches. She stays with us to remind us to run the other way from our fears and failures. Not to condemn, but to condition us for the better and to prepare us for the future. To make us stronger and more willing to pick up the phone the next time we get the chance.

I’m headed back to Italy next week, making my own mission to chase my roots into the village where my great grandparents came from. I’m not sure what I’ll discover, but I know one thing that won’t be hanging out there: Regret.

You may never get a rewrite of that moment from your past, but you do get to write the end of your story.

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5 Lessons from a Half a Life of Travel

TRAVEL LESSONS - 1 (1)It’s official. I’ve now been traveling over half of my life. And I don’t regret it for one minute.

Now that I’m twice as wise as I was when I got my first passport stamp on 01/26/93, I thought I’d share a few of the hundreds of lessons I’ve learned from 23 years on the road. Be warned, these aren’t the normal things people tell you on travel blogs.

1. Travel Will Not Help You Find Yourself

You can read Eat, Pray, Love as many times you want, and wish upon a star that getting on airplane to a distant land is going to unravel all your emotional baggage, solve your life problem, and reveal who you truly are inside, but this is fiction. YOU are not lost, and you will not find yourself by traveling.

In 23 years of travel, I didn’t find myself at all. I became myself. Travel, like any other life journey, will press you and shape you, make you uncomfortable, and open your eyes to new things that will change the way you think about the world and perhaps even your place in it.

Of course, you will definitely get actually lost at some point, but even then you won’t find yourself. Hopefully you’ll find where you were meant to be, or enjoy the discovery you didn’t mean to have.
2. There is No Such Thing as “Location Independent”

In the past few years the concept of being “location independent” is the trendy new terminology in the travel scene. This is a fancy way to say quit your office job and apartment, and “live and work on the road.” As a way of life, there is merit in modern day long-term wandering, but as a self proclaimed title, this is nonsense.

None of us are ever independent—especially as travelers. We are always interdependent on whatever place we find ourselves in and on whichever people we find ourselves among. You are always somewhere even if you don’t have a fixed address or a permanent cell phone number. (I mean, you do need an address after all to register for your points and miles earning credit cards to fund all this travel).

Call yourself whatever you want right now and #hashtag the hell out of it until it stops trending, but remember you can’t go everywhere without being anywhere. And after a half life of traveling, you may very well wish you had nourished some roots along the way.

3. The More You Learn, the Less You Know

Travel teaches you a lot, but it isn’t like school. The lessons you learn on the road are not cumulative. They are actually kind of reverse cumulative (if that’s a thing).

For example, you plan a trip to Italy and read all the books in preparation to learn as much as you can about the history, language, people, and culture. Even if you learn a lot in advance, when you get there  you realize that you know very little. Then you stay for a few months or even a few years, and you realize that even though your knowledge has increased exponentially, you truly understand that you aren’t an expert on Italy at all.

The more you you’ve been exposed to, the greater your understanding becomes that you know very little. After nearly a quarter century and the memory erasing effects of chronic jetlag, I’m pretty sure I now know nothing. Thank God for Google.

4. The World, Like You, is in a Constant State of Change

It’s a fact, I look absolutely nothing today like I did in my first passport picture in 1992. I have changed not only in how I look, but also in how I act and think, and how I see the world.

Guess what, the world has also changed a lot in in the past couple decades.

Since I first started traveling, I’ve been to Thailand more than 100 times. (In addition to being obsessed with Thai food, I also have lived and worked there for extended periods of time). You know what? The Thailand of 2016 looks very little like the Thailand of 1997. The country is never the same twice. There is always something new to be discovered. And I’ll keep going back every chance I get.

I’ve traveled to a number of countries with my friend Chris who has been to every UN recognized country in the world (that’s 193 of them if you’re wondering), and even he has barely scratched the surface of the globe (he also knows very little-see point 3).

My friend Lisa has a pet peeve about people who talk about “doing” countries. I like to say, “Oh, we did Colombia for Christmas,” because the thought of “doing” a country, and checking an entire nation and people group off your bucket list makes her crazy.

No matter how you personally feel about this terminology, countries aren’t something that you “Do”. They are art, life, and culture in motion. You can only experience a place in its present moment. Some countries you may go back to experience again, the others will keep right on changing after you’ve graced them with your presence and departed. They aren’t waiting for you to return to continue their progress.

Keep count of your countries, continent, and passport stamps however you like (and enjoy counting—it’s fun). But remember that you’ll never be done. The world is on constant refill. There will always be more to experience.

5. You CAN Start Any Time You Want

The pictures in my series of expired passports prove it. I’m not the young backpacker I was in 1993. I know less, I care more, and I like to shower when I travel (even on an airplane sometimes). Sometimes I have the fleeting thought—“Maybe you’re too old for this, maybe you should finally settle down.” And then I snap back into reality and remember this truth: There are NO age limits to travel. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m still just getting started.

 When I climbed Kilimanjaro, I distinctly remember my guide telling the story of a 80+ year old woman he led to the summit a year before. Maybe he was telling that story to encourage us up the mountain on our 6th day of trekking in hail, but nevertheless, I hope in another 23 years, I’ll be that grandma training for Everest.

Traveling doesn’t care if you’re young or old. Families are traveling long term, empty nesters are spending their retirement on the road, heck, even elderly ladies have traded in knitting for mountain climbing.

The world is more accessible now than ever before. You don’t need any special skills to get on an airplane. The cost of international travel is no longer prohibitive. In fact, the airlines and credit card companies have made it easier than ever in history to fly for nearly free.

If you want to travel—be it a single getaway to a destination you’ve been dreaming about or selling all you have and trading in your 9-5 for a life of living and working on the road—it is possible.

What are you waiting for? Get out there: Find yourself, be location independent, master the world, and do as many countries as possible.

Or maybe just enjoy the journey, love the people you meet, and try to learn as much as you can along the way. You and the world will be much better because of it.

Onward.

 

Capture the Things that Move You

w4gcapture - 1I have a love hate relationship with my smart phone and my computer. One minute I want to hurl them both off a cliff, and then two minutes later, I accidentally drop one of them or forget one in a restaurant, and my breath gets caught in my throat, and I suddenly feel like my life is going to end.

There are lots of reasons to hate the technology that surrounds us every moment of every day. But, then again, there are lots of reasons to love it too. Maybe you’re firmly in one camp? Or maybe you straddle the technology lover/hater line like I do.

I love that technology allows me to live an untethered life. That my work can travel. That I can literally have an office wherever my laptop can go, and I can easily stay connected to the people I love. I wrote Upgrade Unlocked while eating pad thai in the street in Bangkok. I’ve written thousands of words from 37,000 feet in the sky. I’ve Facetimed into family holiday gatherings from far aways squares in Cambodia and Colombia. I’ve even been known to hike into the forest with my computer and my hammock when I need to get away to a “quiet” office to think. I’ve been able to build the life I have because the world is more connected than ever.

Yet, sometimes I miss the days when my computer was as big as the desk it sat on, and there was no chance that I’d ever try to pack it in my carryon for a trip around the world. I miss the days when a vacation was a vacation, when you checked out paper books from the library, and going out with friends included more time spent in deep conversations than in checking in and live posting every moment from the evening on instagram or snapchat. I miss the days when my friends were in my neighborhood and stopped by for a cup of coffee rather than liking the picture of my coffee in my social feeds.

As my new year has been starting out, I’ve been contemplating this paradox. I want to make sure I’m living fully in the real-life present, and using technology as a tool to capture the memories I want to keep, rather being captive to them–living tethered to my phone and awarded for my loyalty with notifications of pavlovian likes.

This year, I will choose to be at my sister’s wedding, rather than live stream it to Facebook. I will choose to share dinner conversation with my friends rather than posting the play by play demolition of our magnificent four course kale salad on instagram.

I will be present in the moments.

I will capture the moments that move me.

I will share memories.

I will not make memories for the sake of sharing.

 

If you don’t see me online every minute of every day this year, don’t worry. I haven’t died. It’s just a sign that, I have rather chosen to live, a little differently.

I hope you will join me. I think we’ll all be a little happier this way.

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7 Lessons from 7 Continents: Europe + Possibility

I didn’t grow up traveling. In fact, I didn’t even grow up believing that international travel was an option for me. 

The family of my childhood defined travel as road-tripping from Pennsylvania to Florida twice a year. Our “vacation” ritual including driving down the I-95 corridor, sitting on the beach, and stopping by Disney World to have breakfast with Mickey Mouse.

Each year when we made the pilgrimage to the sunshine state, my highlight was getting to ride “It’s a Small World”, my favorite Magic Kingdom ride, over and over again. It was as if somewhere deep in my DNA I already knew that my soul was destined for something bigger than the Eastern Seaboard.

As I grew older, I knew the world was out there, but it never felt accessible. As a student of French in high school, I used to think, “If I could only get to Paris once before I die, my life will be complete.”

Travel was in my heart, but it wasn’t in my practice. 

As a sophomore in college, I got my chance and set out on what I believed at the time was going to be my once in a lifetime adventure of studying and traveling in Europe. I was young and impressionable, but I had no idea how much this trip was going to change my whole perspective on the world.

Possibility was biggest lesson I learned during the five months I spent in Europe on my first trip abroad. Getting across the ocean to a place I’d never been was a high hurdle, but once I reached a new continent, being there was easy and the opportunities felt endless.

While I’m not very scientific, one of the laws of physics presented by Sir Isaac Newton in 1687 and memorized by most of us in eighth grade science, teaches this:

A body at rest will remain at rest until an outer force is applied to it to cause motion.

For the first time in my life, this opportunity allowed me to experience what it was like to see travel from the “in motion” perspective, rather than from the sidelines of something I hoped to do someday.

Once I was in the UK, Paris felt possible. Once I was in Paris, Spain and Italy and Austria were all right there too. And if you’re in Austria, why not pop over into Prague?

Law #2: An object in motion remains in motion. 

There’s no way I would have ever even thought to travel from my Alabama college town to Czechoslovakia during the fall of communism as an 18 year old, but once I was already so close, and the possibility was dangled in front of me, it didn’t feel difficult or crazy at all (although I didn’t tell my parents until after I did it).

I had discovered both motion and possibility, and the powerful combination of these forces changed my entire trajectory.

It was a big lesson for me, but the lesson for all of us is this: Whether you travel or not, living in that sweet spot where motion and possibility meet is the key to whatever you want to accomplish.

You want to experience the possibility of the world? It’s not going to happen by sitting on your couch and watching the travel channel. Buy a plane ticket. (Or learn how to go places for free)

You want to experience the freedom and possibility of working for yourself? Change careers? Move to a new place? (Or fill in your own dream here) Whatever desire you have–it isn’t going to happen until you put action into your intention.

Making your dreams come true is a possibility. And once you’ve committed your feet to motion, I’m sure you’ll be surprised how much more in the world is out there beyond what you’ve ever imagined.

It’s a small world after all.

How Travel Hacking Can Change the World

 

The habit of collecting points and miles started when I was a teenager. I never realized that this hobby would eventually change the way that I viewed my place in the world.

I’ve been doing a lot more work in the realm of travel hacking lately. If your shaking your head and wondering what that is, Travel Hacking is the practice of getting a whole lot of points and miles and using them to see the world. You can call it loyalty, you can call it frequent flying. I call it trying to figure out how to get airline miles and hotel points for everything I do. 

Since I’ve shifted from full time humanitarian work to consulting, I’ve also been paying more attention to what I’m saying Yes to in my life. I want everything I’m pouring my energy and effort into to align with my personal mission to be a world changer. But I kept saying Yes to opportunities to teach people how to earn mileage bonuses and book first class tickets for free. I worried I was losing focus.

And then it occurred to me. Travel had been the key to changing the trajectory of my life for good 20 years ago. There were many things I never cared about or couldn’t understand until I walked the streets of foreign places and took in the sights and smells and sounds with my own senses.

Travel Hacking opens a door of opportunity to the world. Points makes it possible for all of us who don’t have deep pockets to be able to fly to the Middle East or Asia or Africa. It enables those who otherwise can’t afford globetrotting to be able to see and touch and smell for themselves.

The last year that I lived in Cambodia, my youngest sister and my 17 year old niece flew on miles to come visit me for an Asian adventure. I drug them through smelly markets, walked them through temples, fed them street food and had them visit a drop in center for abused boys where I’d done some work.* (I even tried to get them to eat bugs but they refused.) For a brief window in their lives, they had an opportunity that they’d never had before: to understand that the world is much bigger and different than they’d ever imagined. 

Having them around that week was a bit magical for me. It allowed me to wipe the dust of 100 countries worth of travel out of my own eyes and relive the wonder of seeing things though the lens of a new traveler. Though Cambodia had become every day and ordinary to me after living there for 3 years, for a brief moment it was all rich and extraordinary (and smelly) again.

The week reminded me of how life changing travel is–especially when you’re new at it. Especially when it’s your first opportunity to see the world.

And so, I go on sharing my secret strategies for points and miles. Knowing that it isn’t just about the free ticket, it’s about giving to others the priceless opportunity to open the Pandora’s box of the world to the uninitiated. And once you’ve seen and smelled and tasted, I truly believe they’ll join me in my mission to make every corner of the world they touch just a little bit better!

Happy Travel Hacking.

PS. If you want to learn more about travel hacking, check out the Frequent Flyer Master (I was a contributing author to this), join the Travel Hacking Cartel (I moonlight at the content editor here), or sign up for the CreativeLive course I did last fall with my friend Chris. And stay tuned, there is something new and exciting I’ve been writing to share with you soon.

* Visiting orphanages and volunteering with children when you travel isn’t always the best idea. It may change your life, but it isn’t always the best for the children your visiting. The program we visited in Cambodia was a place where I had long term relationships with the staff.  Check out these two amazing resources for information before you volunteer overseas: Child Safe Tourism and Child Safe’s Children are Not Tourist Attractions Campaign.

#18 Rainy Day Wave Riding in Cambodia

It’s wet outside where I am wandering today, and the weather has me reminiscing about rainy days in Cambodia. Since it helps to laugh when the sky is grey, here’s an embarrassing tale about mixing monsoons and motorbikes.

Living in Phnom Penh, I drove a mildly beat up blue Honda “Wave” motorbike. When I first got my wheels I didn’t have much moto experience, but with fear of death as a great motivator I mastered quite a few skills quickly.

In just a few days I’d learned normal driving, riding in the dark, riding in rush hour, riding on the wrong side of the road, riding through roundabouts, riding with passengers and parking in a crowded line of other motos without knocking them all down like dominos. After a week the only thing I hadn’t yet attempted was riding in the rain. The rainy season was coming, but I wasn’t worried. I figured everyone else survives driving in the rain, I could too.

I was wrong.

The primary thing to know about riding a moto though a flood is that you must not stop once you start driving or your bike will stall. You also learn some other important things very quickly, like:  

–       you must learn which streets will flood

–       you shouldn’t wear shoes that fall off in the rain

–       you have to know where you’re going because you can’t turn around

–       you must know where the potholes are because you can’t see them

–       sometimes it is just better to stay home.

Here’s how I learned all of these lessons:

One afternoon in Phnom Penh the sky fell out just as I was leaving to go to a dinner at a friend’s house across town. I looked outside at the flooded street and thought, maybe I should skip. Then I looked at myself and said- to hell with it, you’re strong and brave and unstoppable, jump on your moto and go; the worst you can do is get wet.  I put on my flip flops and rain jacket and set out.

I got one block before I hit an intersection flooded too deep to cross. I turned around, reconfigured the route and headed a different way on streets with higher ground. Within minutes I was soaked, but feeling  exhilarated from braving the monsoon on a moto.

The wetter I got, the more problems I began having. My shoes were too wet to shift gears and my feet kept slipping off the pedals. But I drove on.

As I got closer to the neighborhood of my destination the waters started rising. Several times I drove down a street only to drive straight into a knee deep intersection requiring me to about face. After five or six denied crossings I was drenched and beginning to feel discouraged. I’d attempted every entrance to my friend’s street with no success. The last place I stopped was so deep that someone had tied a rope across the road to stop people from even attempting. I stopped my moto and stood there looking as I contemplated my next move. Someone watching me, thinking I might attempt to drive into the deep end came over to me and assured me with “No. No. No. No. Cannot go there”.

In my own drenched determination I decided to circumnavigate the neighborhood and enter her street from the opposite side. It it was still pouring and I was in very unknown and unmarked territory. While I claim to have a pretty savvy sense of direction, I was pretty much lost. I knew I needed to turn left into her street, but I had no way to know which street that was unless I drove down each one.

Every street was flooded. Flooding my engine was basically inevitable, and that’s exactly what I wound up doing. Knee deep in murky, smelly street water, I stood in the road on my dead moto contemplating my next move.

The electric starter was fried and I couldn’t see to kick start my bike because the pedals were underwater. A few people drove by, but no one could help because if they stopped, they would also stall.

I couldn’t get the bike into gear and kept losing my shoe into the grey water in the process. I got off the bike so I could use my stronger right leg to kick it into gear. It worked. Only problem was that my bike took off, and I wasn’t on it.

I lept forward to catch my run away moto with cat like reflexes. Although I was successful, I accidentally caught it with my right hand on the accelerator and just as I thought I might have control, it lept away from me and threw me backwards. Completely backwards onto my back in the flooded street.

I stood up, utterly drenched in stinky street water.  With tears in my eyes I picked up the Wave and attempted to push her to some dryer ground. The damages sustained were minor. My motorbike had a broken handbrake and my ego took a serious bruising.

And my lesson: sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself so you don’t add tears to the already flooded streets.

Just for the record, after three years in Cambodia I became a much accomplished monsoon moto driver. On the odd occasion when I did stall out in a flood I’d cue old school Milli Vanilla on my life soundtrack and hum “Blame it on the rain.”