Find the people who give you more energy than take

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter a couple weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

I just got back from a week driving around Campania in Southern Italy, including Naples, the Amalfi Coast and the tiny town of Tufo. I was there to eat and drink but, really, I was there to see the remarkable work my best friend Patrick McNeil is doing there. Patrick, whom I’ve known for 15 years, is a homelessness advocate in Philadelphia and a fiction writer. Meanwhile, with his aunts, he is maintaining his grandfather’s childhood home in the rural Province of Avellino, both by hosting guests and, most interestingly, with an artist’s retreat.

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The Incan state employed professionals to remember their history. Plenty was lost following the disease and colonial greed that followed European contact with South America.

Earlier this month I returned from a breathtaking, if short, weeklong vacation with SACMW in Peru, and it proved one of my favorite trips. We spent time in cosmopolitan Lima, alpine Cusco and Machu Picchu, which might one of the most impressive sights I’ve ever experienced. The modern cuisine (with roots in pisco, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers) was exquisite, and I got to dive into history that is a passion of mine.

I filled up on the destructive and greedy legacies of Pizzaro and Cortes and learned about the remarkable Incan history and more modern successes.


Driving through small towns in Morocco, you’ll see mosque minarets, like spiritual lighthouses.

I started with year after couple weeks welcoming in the new year in Morocco. It was the first time ever SACMW and I hired a translator and guide to help deepen our engagement. It was well worth the investment. (Much love to Badre (“full moon”) our driver!)

I used a little French and loved learning about the distinctive character of Moroccan Arabic. We started in Casablanca (though everyone finds it a dull, ugly industrial city) and drove through mountain and desert to visit Fez and Marakech with small towns in the middle. The food was lovely. Olives and Roman influence was a surprise, as was the Madfona Moroccan pizza

Negotiating: I like asking “what has someone else paid for this?” I often say I don’t want to insult the person with a low price and make them ask for one. Don’t translate into USD until a final check Find some other photos here.



A week in the dense, central heart of Panama, the small, narrow pathway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans was the memorable international trip I was privileged to get the chance to take on this month.

Panama, a country of less than 4 million people on land less than that of Pennsylvania, is best known for its powerful Panama Canal that was American operated until 1999. Until 1989, it was run by the dangerous despot Manuel Noriega but since then democracy has flourished and, with the New York Times profile in toe, is growing its tourism sector to try to compete with more popular Belize and Costa Rica.

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I spent the last week on a road trip dotting across the southern half of cloudy Ireland.

Touring with longtime friends Michael Butler and James Spadola, I knocked off a couple items on my list. We drove more than 600 miles and roughly hit this map. Our itinerary here and expenses here.

See highlights of the tour below.

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Tokyo: Archived Podcasting and Blogging from Junior Year Abroad with NBC

Four years later, I’m finishing this piece of archiving business.

A couple months ago, I announced I had moved my honors thesis to a subdomain of this site for the sake of organization and archiving. Following up on that resolution to make more tidy a rambling online portfolio, I have brought another dated, collection of work of which I am proud under this house.

I spent the better chunk of 2006 in Tokyo video podcasting, writing, traveling and learning on behalf of NBC Universal Digital Studios. Now all of that work can be found at

See all the Episodes here and all the Archives here. Go and explore.

A few things interested me from my work in 2006:

  • Short, bad titles — The post headlines were all short and sometimes not even descriptive. I didn’t recognize then the importance.
  • I wrote a lot — I far outpaced all of my fellow castmembers in output, which is great, but I could have made much of the content terser and more straightforward.
  • I actually had comments — On many posts, I had a handful of comments. I haven’t transferred them… yet.
  • I never linked — I didn’t have a single link to a past post.
  • Photo albums, not in posts — Photos and the video episodes were never embedded. This is the one major change I’ve made, by incorporating them.
  • Yes, I called posts ‘blogs’ — But that was 2006. What’s the excuse today?
  • I learned and experienced so damn much — I interacted with an audience and explored and created multimedia, but ultimately, I was just a young kid learning. ..And what a clear stepping stone toward the WDSTL podcast I did while in Western Europe.

The exotic nature of local: or why generic foreign gifts suck

On Christmas Eve, why not discuss gifts.

For, what, the past few hundred years, the more far-flung and exotic the purchase or discovery, the better. Those emotions are mixed up into colonialism and exploration and Manifest Destiny and so many human and American spirits that I don’t care to explore them.

But I think there’s something changing there.

In 2005, I spent a small fortune in the local currency on hand-crafted wood carvings and jewelry from new friends and acquaintances in a Ghanian mountain village, all to be given to friends and family at home. I was back home for no more than two weeks before I showed off a necklace I was particularly fond of and someone remarked how similar it was to something she had seen at Target.


I was brought back to this thought and what it means by a great last-page essay in the strong Philadelphia sustainability magazine Grid.

Continue reading The exotic nature of local: or why generic foreign gifts suck

Inquirer: My first couch surfing experience

A full-length travel story of mine focused on the five year anniversary of at first destined for the Philadelphia Inquirer last January never found a home there. After a back and forth, I went another direction and it got a tad stale for the daily’s travel editor.

So, because I’ve shared other stories that didn’t run as planned, I’ll do so today. Additionally, as always, I also like to share some grafs that were reworked and items I cut from my original story, which also can be seen below.

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Travel writing and why no one wants to hear about your European backpacking

Travel is most often the privilege of the privileged. Two years ago last month, I was returning from a trip that was certainly a great privilege.

If you can’t go out to eat with friends without referencing something you learned or experienced from some travel experience you had, then I think you’re doing it wrong.

Great travel writers, I think, tend to have always done so for a personal love for travel — not primarily to be a travel writer or to tell someone else about what you did.

Of late, I was reminded.

There are nearly a dozen different, conflicting things I believe strongly about travel:

Continue reading Travel writing and why no one wants to hear about your European backpacking