A 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.
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.
Of all the buzzy web companies that will define my generation, Airbnb is likely the one I’m most jealous of not creating.
As a traveler and host on Couchsurfing.org since 2008, like millions I missed the too-obvious opportunity that people would pay for a better experience with a similar global community. It’s brilliant and connective and exciting and has a solid revenue plan — and if it has become the primary example of racial bias in the sharing economy, that’s something to be corrected, not a reason for it to be destroyed (Likewise, criticism of it driving up rental costs is probably not true yet)
I joined the peer-to-peer housing platform in December 2011 and took my first trip using the service in February 2012 to Birmingham, Alabama with my then girlfriend SACM. More than four years later, I continue using the service to book travel accommodations, preferring the service for homey placements in residential neighborhoods with hosts who can give local recommendations. I just find it far more interesting than a hotel — it helps that they’re almost always more affordable too.
So I was excited that I could combine these interests — welcoming guests, offering advice and making some additional money — as an Airbnb host when SACM and I bought a home together a year ago.
Last month marked a year of our hosting guests via Airbnb. To celebrate, I wanted to share lessons, advice and, yes, data from the experience.
Joe is a friendly Filipino private car driver who has lived and worked in Doha, the capital and dominant city of tiny Persian Gulf country Qatar, for the last decade. He forces a laugh and answers “maybe” to any question I ask him that seems to make him uncomfortable.
Last month, I was in Qatar to mentor at a hackathon organized by Aljazeera, the global news organization based in Doha. Leading up to and during my time there, I did a lot of reading about the Gulf. I had a couple dozen conversations with people who live there, like Joe, and I did a fair amount of exploring parts of Doha, or at least as much as I could considering I spent most of my short few days there inside a convention center.
I found the country so interesting (and complicated) that I wanted to share nearly everything I learned about the Arab desert nation state. Find that below.
I just got back from almost two weeks in Greece. I went silly with the history, using wifi before bed to deep dive on the background on places we visited. I also ate as well as ever — don’t get me started on the baked feta.
Above, that’s the Acropolis of Athens seen from Temple of Hephaestus on the ancient Agora in Greece.
Back in November, I hosted Ka Ho (who went by Leo), a couchsurfer from Hong Kong, in my home in Fishtown, Philadelphia.
Now my girlfriend is moving in, and, as she is somewhat less keen than I am to welcome strangers into our home, he’ll likely be my last couchsurfer. He was sweet and curious, a fine final guest to host.
Initially I mostly only couchsurfed myself, using the community to find free places to crash anywhere I traveled. My first experiences were part of a backpacking trip through western Europe in late 2008. (I wrote an Inquirer story about my first). Then when I bought my first home in 2009, I knew I’d have the chance to return the favor.
I welcomed people from Scotland and Germany, from Brazil and Japan, from France and China, from Nigeria and Spain, and many more. Most often, they’d quite literally get a couch, the pullout in my living room. My home isn’t particularly lavish, but it is a real place in Philadelphia, and I make up for the lack of amenities with eagerness and charm.
More recently, my girlfriend and I have used the Airbnb service to find paid opportunities, which tend to be somewhat nicer. We did that for the first time in Birmingham, Alabama back in 2012. Both services have a similar spirit: meet real people who live in that place you’re visiting for a chance at real insight.
I’ve loved my time on couchsurfing. I’ll miss it, and I’ll always be thankful for it.
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.
The trip included a handful of Class Four rapids, a half dozen Class Three rapids and consistent Class Two water. I had done a trip on the Delaware River that I enjoyed, but this was even more thrilling.
With my good buddy Mike Butler, I just came back from two weeks road tripping and hiking Utah and Colorado and what a trip it was.
Overall, we spent $3,021.85 on the two week trip. That means each of us spent at least $1,510.93 driving some 2,100 miles and visiting six national parks, crashing in four hotels, two campgrounds and lots of tent spots.
Below, find a quick run down with hopes of going into greater detail later.