Elephant Rides in Thailand Are Bad… For Real

Posted on September 27, 2017Categories Blog

Elephant Rides in Thailand Are Bad… For Real

I must preface this post by admitting that, yes, I have been on elephant rides. At the time I was utterly convinced it was fine and that the elephant was more than happy to carry me. That was a year ago and I was definitely wrong.

My experience with elephant rides

I happened to be in Thailand in March 2012 and one of the things I had planned was, of course, to ride an elephant. I’d been romanced by the idea such that I believed these beautiful creatures would actually enjoy the experience with me. “I’m having a blast, Joe!” The elephant would say, and I’d reply “Indeed… Onward!”

My brain was clearly malfunctioning, but I know that other people convince themselves in much the same way.

To cut a medium-length story to blog post size, I arrived where the elephants were kept, climbed aboard and off we went. It was all downhill from there (metaphorically speaking).

There was a small, irritable Thai man sat on the elephant’s head and he had a wooden stick which at one end had a metal spike and hook – I’m no Freud, but it’s my understanding that rage and sharp objects tend not to mix positively. The man prodded and poked the poor, grey beast as it moved reluctantly through the jungle, and I imagined that the elephant was filled with resentment.

It was clear from its groans that the animal did not want to cooperate, but was forced into doing so knowing that, should it refuse, it would receive a painful blow to the forehead from the spiked tool.

I wanted to get off.

This was not at all the way I’d imagined it, but then these things rarely are. I hated every second of it, but then realised that however much I disliked the experience, my suffering paled in comparison to the suffering of the elephant.

Let me next explain how to catch an elephant.

First you must break the elephant’s spirit using a centuries old method known as ‘Phajaan’. Information varies from source to source as to the exact process, but we know that when an elephant is around 4 years of age it’s forcibly removed from its mother (forever breaking their natural bond), caged and then immobilised with ropes and chains. The ‘trainers’ proceed beat the schnitzel out of the elephant with heavy, sharp things till it becomes forever submissive to human beings. I’m told that the most effective area to attack is the inner ears and eyes, as they’re the most painful.

Here’s a shocking ‘PETA-esque’ video of Phajaan in action – Bear in mind that, as far as we know, every domesticated elephant in Thailand has experienced this

After a few weeks of torture you have a tame elephant that you can ‘use’ for… well, whatever you want really.

The elephants are either kept, or sold off to new owners who use them to make money through offering rides and putting on shows – they can even be trained to paint pictures, which I find terrifying.

To me this process is heartless – intentional or not.

I understand that one shouldn’t judge the people that participate in this process, as I’ve no idea what their motivations are or what sort of strange path led them to this sort of life, but ultimately there needs to be local and accessible education that animals aren’t for people.

As a ‘higher’ species we should take it upon ourselves to discuss this sort of thing – in many parts of the developed world we already know better, plus it’s really shitty karma. Even Lonely Planet haven’t got the message yet.

Am I a hypocrite for eating farmed meats? Probably. Am I a hypocrite for having a pet dog? Probably. But I believe that taking small steps is better than taking no steps, provided that they’re steps in the right direction.

So, what I’m saying is: elephant rides in Thailand are bad… for reals.


…And now, a funny cat:

A Happy Life is Not Spent Chasing Happiness

Posted on September 1, 2017Categories Blog

A Happy Life is Not Spent Chasing Happiness

Spending your life searching for things, events, people or places that will make you happy is a fool’s errand. Aristotle was right, however you look at it. The line that follows this quote says, “…similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.” – the message seems clear.

A happy life is not spent chasing happiness

Happiness is hot topic right now – in fact it’s probably the hottest topic of all time because it’s something we seem to search for relentlessly. Being happy is so important to us that it dominates almost everything we do, and new ways to get there are always being studied.

But the problem is that looking for happiness leaves us dissatisfied. It leaves us dissatisfied because happiness isn’t something that can be found in the way that you can find a lost set of keys. To truly be happy is a constant state of being.

Our understanding of happiness is based on the assumption that it’s something that can be pursued. That assumption has even spawned its own film with Will Smith in it – how could we not be convinced?

The problem is that looking for a happy life in things, people, places or future events is that those things are all transient – they don’t last.

The only thing you can find true happiness in is the one consistent truth: you exist.  Your sense of self, your own existence, is the only thing you can ever be absolutely sure of – so try starting there.

A happy life of travel

Happiness is not a destination. You can’t get on a plane and get to happiness, and no amount of time will bring it closer. Again, I understand where this idea comes from – so much of what the western materialist viewpoint teaches says if X then Y.

  • If you work hard, you will be rich.
  • If you eat food, you will be full.
  • If you drink too much vodka, you will be unconscious.

If you try and apply that reasoning to happiness, you’re at risk of chasing your tail which can actually do more harm than good.

World travellers, myself included, are often massively guilty of this. We seek experiences, which isn’t a bad thing by itself, but when we’re seeking experiences in search of  a buzz, we’re definitely doing it wrong.

Moving from country to country when you get bored goes against what most seasoned travellers will recommend – instead try to stay, and be, in one place. Start to look a little deeper into your present experience – the here and now – rather than letting your thoughts take you into the future.

Remember: less is more.

It’s inside yourself that you will begin to cultivate happiness, rather than find it.

A happy life starts inside

Things that are external to us cannot bring us a long-term happy life – they can influence our mood in the short term, but nothing beyond that. The first bite of the Big Mac tastes great, but we always end up with the McSweats, and they stink.

All of these external stimuli have a ‘happy limit’ that we hit after a while, and this leaves us looking for the next quick fix.

The path to solving this problem starts with realising that there’s a problem to begin with, and the sooner we realise this the sooner we can start to pay attention to the ‘me’ that’s here right now.

Slow down and breathe for a moment. Try a simple meditation and turn inward, presently. Quietly observe what the weather’s like inside yourself and how it’s constantly changing, chasing thoughts that appear from nowhere.

Is what we want what we think we want, or is there more to happiness than a 6-week round the world ticket and a new Macbook Pro?

When we’re able to stop taking happiness like a drug and focusing on contentment in the present moment, a long-term happiness at the core of our very being will emerge before we even recognise that it’s there.


Did this post strike a chord? Let me know in the comments – your feedback is the most valuable thing I have, because it’s for you that I’m writing.

7 Signs Your Journey of Self Discovery Is Overdue

Posted on August 29, 2017Categories Blog

7 Signs Your Journey of Self Discovery Is Overdue

Travel does many of things for us.

Facilitating journeys of self discovery is one of those things. It’s okay, most of us are confused about who we are and what this life thing is all about. But rarely do we have time to search for the answers.

I’ve experienced identity crises like everyone else, but these days I’m driven by meaningful purpose. I’m driven because I’m quickly waking up to the essence of who I really am, deep under the surface.

But I had to be able to recognise when it was time set-off  on my journey before I was able to take the first crucial step.

Here are some signs that might signal that it’s time for you to wake up and start asking questions.

You feel disconnected from the world

There’s a gap that seems to appear between us and the world when we’re unsure of ourselves. We can even feel completely cut off from our friends and family. When our sense of who we are comes into question we often turn inward to find the answers.

But what many of us don’t get is that it’s partly through our interaction with other people that we come learn the truth about ourselves.

If you’re feeling disconnected, maybe a journey of self discovery is for you.

You’ve got itchy feet

Hands up if the voice in your head enjoys nagging at you.

Yep, me too.

The nagging can manifest in many different ways. We might feel like quitting a boring job, moving house, leaving a bad relationship, killing a smoking habit, or anything else that would mean a fundamental shift in perspective.

Our minds are tired and want out of the game. A chance to breathe.

And the only way to satisfy a persistent voice is to listen to what it has to say. It might be time to listen to your voice and uncover your true self by experiencing all the diverse contexts the world and its people offer up.

You daydream about self discovery

Simply put, your head is in the clouds.

You don’t like getting up in the morning

I know that a lot of people find getting out of bed about as attractive as a grenade, but that says something about the way we’re living. To be alive should be a great joy. We should be able to welcome every day with positivity.

“And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?” – Rumi

But sadly the thought of waking up, both metaphorically and literally, becomes too challenging when it feels like there’s no escape from the cycle.

The good news is that it’s never too late to realise that things can be different. The path of self discovery is infinite because we never stop learning. But thats okay because when we live in the moment, the journey becomes the destination.

You distract yourself with stuff

Hands up if you buy crap that you will probably never use.

Yep, me too.

We do this because it offers us a temporary pleasure – a distraction from the terrifying prospect of self discovery. It lets us forget all the ‘problems’ we’d rather sweep under the carpet, or put aside to think about another day rather than confront them.

We don’t just do it with stuff. We do it with TV, movies, video games, alcohol, drugs and all sorts.

We hide because we’re afraid of the truth. And we’re afraid of the truth because we don’t know what it is.

You’re always tired

Our physical wellbeing is inextricably linked with Our mental wellbeing. Having a tired body and a tired mind only serves to block life’s answers from view.

When we find that we’re always tired, we might be spending too much time involved in soul-sucking activities that totally drain us. It’s not always easy to tell what those things are without a change in perspective

World travel offers us limitless, dynamic perspectives that can guide us toward what we’re looking for.

You feel like there’s so much more

If you can recognise any of the following, you’re probably in this category :

“I’m ready to conquer the world, but I’m afraid to step outside my comfort zone.”

“I feel like there’s so much more out there, but worry about taking action.”

“My rational mind files away my dreams for another day.”

What’s funny is that the times when we’re truly afraid to make a leap of faith are often the times we need to leap the most.

The truth is that there is much more out there, but it’s not going to fall into your lap.

The fruit of life is low hanging and incredibly sweet. Take it, it’s yours to enjoy.


In the next post we’ll look at how travel helps with all of the problems listed above. Subscribe to my mailing list to get it in your inbox. There’ll be no spam. And that’s a promise.

5 ways to not waste money in Marrakech

Posted on August 27, 2017Categories Blog

5 ways to not waste money in Marrakech

5 ways to not waste money in Marrakech


Marrakech is billed as one of the best cities in Morocco to visit and I believe this to be true. However, Marrakech isn’t without its traps and pitfalls, so it’s best to stay vigilant and make the best use of your time and money without getting scammed. While it’s true that there are scams all over the world and in every country, Marrakech is a hunting ground for locals wanting to make a quick and easy living from sun-stroked tourists that are otherwise unaware. Here are my 5 top tips for holding onto your money when enjoying Marrakech.

1. Don’t follow ‘helpful’ people


You might think that young man is being mighty friendly offering to show you how to get to the tanneries, but alas he is not. “Oh hello! Where are you going?”, he’ll say. If you tell him where you’re going he’ll take you the longest possible way to nowheresville and charge you to help find your way out.


Whatever you do, don’t stop or it’ll become more difficult to leave, instead just politely explain that you’re just out for a walk and head off. Be warned that these young men are persistent and can become angry if you refuse them, so be as friendly as you can when  you decline their ‘generous’ offers.


2. Don’t be persuaded by the ‘aggressive sell’


If you’re not fond of bartering and aren’t filthy rich then you probably won’t like the markets. In the markets of Marrakech, or ‘souks’ in the local tongue, are hundreds of empty-bellied, money-hungry salesmen waiting to help you part with your cash. If you’re not vigilant and don’t stand your ground it’s more likely that you’ll be taken advantage of.


“Come inside, come inside!” or, “No charge for looking!” they’ll say. But be warned, once you’re inside a shop it’s extremely difficult to get out without experiencing the owner’s aggressive sales manner. Once I was almost hassled to death and despite being polite the owner thanked me by saying something inaudible and spitting at me.

3. Don’t buy the drugs


If you buy drugs in Morocco you’ve got to be a little bit crazy. One of the oldest scams in the book involves drugs and it goes a little something like this – Man 1 tries to sell you drugs. You say yes. Man 1 gives you the drugs. Man 2 (a police officer), will then arrest you and tell you that you owe him (insert obscene amount of money here) or you’ll be taken to prison.


Just don’t do it.


4. If someone says something is free, it probably isn’t


Speaking from experience in the souks I had items forced into my hands on several occasions being told that they were free, and when leaving told that I had to pay or they would call the police. Don’t be threatened by this, it’s just the way in which things appear to be done. Again, politely refuse any free offers (including a cup of mint tea) and walk away if you have no intention of buying.


5. Don’t get into a taxi without agreeing a price


Don’t get into a taxi without agreeing a price. You will be ripped off if you don’t negotiate terms or make the driver turn on his meter. You’ll probably hear “Sorry the meter is broken”, so negotiate a price before you even enter the vehicle.


Despite some pretty stark advice it’s not all doom and gloom in Marrakech. It’s a fascinating city with many cultural heritage sites to be in awe of and as long as you’re up for the challenge there is much enjoyment to be had.

5 Worst Travel Itinerary Mistakes

Posted on August 10, 2017Categories Blog

5 Worst Travel Itinerary Mistakes

I completely understand the desire to plan; I plan every working day down to the minute with a strict routine. I do this to increase my productivity, as without it I’d almost certainly spend 90% of my time on either Facebook or Reddit.

But travel is a different beast.

We’ve all sat down and made that pretty travel itinerary that outlines our trip day by day, or hour by hour. And, because we’re creatures of expectation thanks to our swollen frontal lobes, we like to have things set out for us.

We’ve developed a fear of the unknown that in the present world doesn’t do us much good.

Playing it safe as a result of fear can flat-out ruin a travel experience before you’ve even left for the airport, so be sure to make a note of…

…The 5 Worst Travel Itinerary Mistakes

  • 1. Planning your travel itinerary too rigidly

Travel planning is a part of travel culture which makes it hard to challenge, but challenge it we must. A whole lot of people love the idea of going with the flow, but when it comes down to it line-by-line plans seem to win out.

Downloading an itinerary template and filling out the spaces makes us feel good, because it lets us believe we’re in control. The reality of the situation is that we are not.

If we’re unwilling to change our plans at short notice, there’s a good chance we’re going to miss out on spontaneous experiences. These unexpected experiences are crucial to our development. They loosen the grip of our expectations and help us appreciate the present moment for what it is; the only moment we have.

  • Squeezing too much in

Don’t try to do too much.

How can we enjoy the simplicity of a life on the road if we don’t take the time to breathe things in?

It’s okay, I get it – some of us only have a limited time to see the places we travel to. But surely being in a place allows for a deeper, richer experience.

Learning how to really exist in an unfamiliar place takes time. We need to invest that time, slowly, to develop an appreciation of what the here and now really gifts us.

  • Building expectations

Another danger of over-planning a travel itinerary is building expectations.

An expectation is a form of attachment – an attachment to or belief in a future that hasn’t yet happened. If that belief turns out to be nonsense, we can find ourselves deflated.

“We assumed that everything would be fine, but then there was a bus crash and it took 6 hours to get to Bangkok instead of 3. We missed our connecting flight to Indonesia and our weekend plans were ruined.”

The stress that comes from well-established plans going wrong, or things being different to the way we imagined, is far worse than the challenge of sorting things out when we arrive at the destination.

Don’t just take my word for it – try it yourself.

  • Forgetting to add breathing space

If we absolutely have to make a travel itinerary, which I still do from time to time, we can’t forget to include time for reflection.

I don’t mean 30 minutes breathing room in case your taxi is late picking you up, I mean creating a true mental space to appreciate what you’re experiencing.

If our schedules are filled with back to back adventure, we don’t have time to let our minds settle. If we don’t let our minds settle to absorb the experiences, we’re not giving ourselves the chance to grow.

Sometimes I’ll take a whole day out of travelling to meditate and go out for short walks. The space allows me to root myself deep in the experience and enjoy myself all the more for it.

  • Letting your itinerary rule you

Letting travel plans rule us is the most potent poison on this list because it’s such an easy trap to fall into. It’s better to think of a travel itinerary as a list of ideas rather than a binding contract.

I once saw a couple’s travel itinerary become more important than the trip itself, and that led to all sorts of problems.

Control may be an illusion, but choice is not. It’s up to us to decide whether to follow plans we’ve outlined or throw them away.

Travelling the world and engaging with the people in it has the power to change us fundamentally. If we open our minds to what these experiences have to teach, we become stronger, happier and more compassionate people ready to do real good in the world.

What does your travel itinerary look like? Do you have a story about a time when a strict schedule did more harm than good? Share your experiences in the comments below.

5 Travel Enriching Essentials

Posted on July 27, 2017Categories Blog

5 Travel Enriching Essentials

At twenty-past seven in the evening outside Shinjuku station, Tokyo after I’d finished a shift at the school I was teaching in I had a revelation; I needed to rid myself of addictive technology or I’d go completely mad. The revelation came as a surprise to me as I love technology with a capital L. I was finally living in a country I’d wanted to visit since before my teenage years and I was doing nothing but wasting time on my laptop and checking Facebook on my phone.

I sold my phone almost immediately and told people they could contact me via email if absolutely necessary and starved myself of technology. ItThe experience changed the way I use modern tech forever.

So, this list isn’t necessarily a list of things that will make your travels easier, but one that will make them richer.


A Journal/Diary

photo by Barnaby Dorfman on Flickr

Let’s start with the most obvious – a diary. Writing down your thoughts every day has more value than most people realise.  A diary will not judge you like ‘friends’ on Facebook – it’s an open forum for you to have a private conversation with yourself. Only you can judge what appears on its pages.

Carrying a diary can help you free yourself from a social media addiction by giving you a space to brain vomit through the best and worst of times. You might even develop a deep relationship with the most important person of all – yourself.


A film camera

photo by Garry Knight on Flickr

I have a digital SLR, but that’s not to say I’m not an advocate of a good film camera – in fact I infinitely prefer them. It’s not about the quality or the convenience, but about the restrictions. This blog is all about being restriction-free, but when you’re working with something like a film camera the importance of getting the right shot the first time around is paramount.

Knowing that you don’t have a screen to review what you’ve just taken means that you’ll take much greater care when taking photos. It will encourage you to be more intimate with your subject and the surroundings and help you develop a sense of perspective, both literally and metaphorically.


Photos of home

photo by Kurtis Garbutt on Flickr

These can work in two ways…


They can:

a) Remind you of the people who mean the most to you and in turn give you a willpower boost


b) Remind you of what you’ve escaped from

Both of which I think are incredibly useful motivators for winning freedom.


A book about something you’ve always wanted to learn

photo by Cal Evans on Flickr

No matter what anyone tells you, travelling can be a lonely affair even if you’re not travelling alone. When you have your moment of self-realisation you’ll likely realise how isolated you’ve become from ‘the world’, and you’ll grasp at the air to find ways to reconnect.

The trick is that it’s not ‘the world’ you need to reconnect with – it’s yourself. One of the best ways to get to know yourself is to try and learn something new. Pick something that you’ve always wanted to try and is easy to do on the road – whatever the results may be you’ll learn heaps about who you thought you were and have a lot of fun in the process.


A list of jokes in the local language

photo by Gavin Bobo on Flickr

This has served me well in more instances than I can remember. Making people laugh is just about the perfect way to gain access to any culture if you know the right things to say.

Google a few jokes in the language of the places you’re headed and, when you get the opportunity, read them out to the locals. You might end up making a complete fool of yourself, but either way they’re going to laugh with you or at you.


Do you agree with these? Is there a piece of technology you couldn’t bear to travel without? Whatever your answer let us know in the comments below.

The 5 Worst Travel Apps

Posted on May 27, 2017Categories Blog

The 5 Worst Travel Apps

The 5 Worst Travel Apps


We might as well face up to the fact that the attention depleting smartphone in your pocket isn’t going away anytime soon. The best thing to do is fill it with things that help you in your day to day experience of the world. In this case we’re looking at apps, although it’s worth noting that the five apps below are ones you’re probably never going to find useful. Think of it as me being kind and doing some BS filtering for you.

1. Find Nearest McDonalds

I have nothing against free-will. Not a thing, but i will say this: If you’re so desperate for a McDonalds that you need an app to find one nearest to you, you’re in serious trouble in life. what’s more is that if you have any map application all you need do is type McDonald’s in the search field and it does exactly the same thing. When you’re in a foreign country, please do your best to try the local food rather than eating burgers and fries. The app isn’t even free!

2. iWasHere

Was I? Several times while using this app I ‘checked in’ at places I’ve never been to. It’s a bit like Foursquare but much worse. the user experience is poor and when you’ve used the far superior Foursquare it’s difficult to see the point of iWasHere. There are several functions that I won’t describe here that seem to encourage intrusive, stalkerish behaviours and that alone is enough to put me off. Don’t waste your brain power on this one.

3. Coppertone MyUVAlert


This is an app that beeps at you when you need to reapply sunscreen and suggests products to buy. I think that’s all I really need to say.

4. EHU

I might be going crazy, but an app that measures the electrical output of your travel gadgets seems a bit counter-intuitive. Using electricity to measure how much electricity you’re wasting is just bonkers. I’ve come up with a much better solution: Use your electronic devices as little as possible or not at all when you’re away. Why not enjoy your trip instead of wasting energy by wasting energy.

5. Swearport

I’m in two minds about this app. On the one hand it’s hilariously funny in that it lists an enormous number of expletives in foreign languages, but on the other it’s useless to you while travelling unless you want to start a fight and get thrown into a Thai prison. In fact I’d go as far as to say it actually hinders you because it teaches you how to insult people in their home country. Not something you want to be doing as an ambassador for the country you’re from.