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Abu Dhabi & Dubai: When doing your best is not enough

April 23, 2015

Abu Dhabi and Dubai were vastly different to any other places I’ve lived in or travelled to.

The first thing I noticed was the heat that left me feeling faint. The next thing I noticed was the odd shaped buildings – like the one in the picture that looks like a wave. After climatising to the temperature and the view composed of funky skyscrapers, it hard to miss the fact that Abu Dhabi and Dubai tries their best to be the best in the world in everything.

They have the world’s tallest man-made structure – Burj Khalifah.

They have the world’s biggest mall – Dubai Mall.

They have the world’s fastest elevator – Elevator in Burj Khalifah takes only 22 seconds to reach the top.

They have the world’s only 7-star hotel – Burj Al-Arab.

They have the world’s busiest airport – Dubai International Airport.

They have the world’s largest carpet – Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Mosque.

Mosque

The danger in being the world’s best is when someone else surpasses you. The world’s next tallest building is now being constructed in Saudi Arabia and will be completed in 2019.

Sometimes it is easy to feel like our best is not enough. Sometimes I feel like my best is not enough.

This happens when we compare our failures to other people’s achievements and think that we fall short.

But I try to remember that bringing my best is enough.

It is enough to take small steps of improvement. It is enough to focus on being the best version of myself.

And maybe, just maybe one day we will achieve greatness and become the world’s best.

Travel

New York: Stories that inspire

April 12, 2015

We went on an around the world tour recently. Auckland – San Francisco – New York – Abu Dhabi – Dubai – Hong Kong – Auckland. Inspired by my travels, I am starting a series telling stories about the places from our trip.

New York is the heart of the world. Coming from slower-paced Auckland to bustling New York, I was blown away by the ingenuity of the locals.

The skyscrapers, the view of Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge during sunset and the Latin American café that served free sangria were some of the long list of places that provoked a feeling of wonder in me.

Just as people always remember not your actions and words but how it made them feel, I may not remember the details of each place but the emotions evoked during my visit.

 The Halal Guys Street Eats

A food cart on 53rd and 6th that serves meat on rice – with the most amazing white sauce.

Two hungry tourists who just arrived in New York, a little jet-lagged and craving for a hearty meal. In the back of their minds, they remember hearing three raving reviews about this food truck called The Halal Guys.

They arrive at the food stall, the aroma from the sizzling meats incites a tummy rumble. It smells heavenly.

The food arrives within 3 minutes of ordering. It’s fast.

There are three types of sauces, white, spicy and bbq sauce. It is unlimited for all. It’s generous.

They dig in. The flavours, the tenderness of meat, the warmth from the meal come together in perfect harmony to evoke a feeling of wow.

The portion was so large that they threw out some of the meal, they wished they could finish it all but it was just impossible.

That was my experience with The Halal Guys in New York.

Every step of the journey they exceeded my expectation of what a regular food truck would do. They are fast, cheap, flavourful and generous.

We had the Halal Guys five times over the six nights in New York.

The unique combination of this Egyptian American fusion dish, the experience of eating it by the street next to the Hilton hotel and the flavours infused make me think that Mohamed Abouelenein (founder of the Halal Guys) is a very smart guy.

He pioneered the food cart 20 years ago and has since started a food truck culture in New York.

This food truck is so successful because he recognised a demand and he filled it.

Uber Taxi Service

An instant cab service that is cheap, fast and convenient. (Originally from SF not NY)

Sounds like just another taxi service? Uber is different.

My first experience started with our ride to SF airport. Within minutes of ordering a cab on the Uber app, a Toyota Prius in pristine condition pulls up. The driver offers to place our luggage in the boot, the car is jasmine-scented and classical music is playing in the background. I feel instantly relaxed.

In the front seat there is another passenger. We are ridesharing. Great, the journey will cost less than expected.

It ends up costing us $15 each, which is less than what it would cost to take a train. We would also have had to lug our bags between stations and walk for at least 15 minutes.

Once again, I am amazed at the cleverness behind this idea. Uber founders Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp are definitely geniuses. They met the basic need of transport by creating an app and jobs for those looking to earn money.

  • Efficient, the Uber taxi arrives within 5 minutes (Thanks to the smart algorithm behind the Uber app that optimises waiting time)
  • Cheaper than regular taxis, sometimes
  • Drivers are everyday people like you and I looking to supplement their income (All you need is a car less than 10 years old)
  • Rideshare option reduces cost, congestion and engine emissions

Other noteworthy moments:

  • Airbnb Accommodation
  • Lottery and stand-up tickets for Broadway musicals

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  • Momofuku soft serve made from cereal milk
  • Bauhaus pork belly buns
  • Free stand-up comedy at a random bar
Travel

How to travel well (and make the most of your trip)

April 3, 2015

“The traveller sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” ― G.K. Chesterton

Today, I write to you from my hotel room in the US. Everyday has been an adventure, a series of ups and downs.

In San Francisco, I got to tick one thing off my bucket list – I cycled across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was the highlight of my time there.

What made the bike ride so special – the crisp wind blowing my hair out of place; the rush of adrenaline as my bike sped downhill, too fast for comfort; the fatigue in my quads as I climbed up a steep slope. (I’ve found that the key is to pedal hard with your butt lifted from your seat and to not stop, even when you feel like you cannot continue anymore. Once the momentum is lost, the ride is over and you will have to push your bike for the rest of the journey uphill)

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The Tourist vs. Traveller Mindset

Our accommodation was rented through Airbnb, a place to rent lodging from people like you and I who rent out their rooms or apartments. I got talking to one of the locals who is couch surfing in New York.

While spitting out a list of all the places we have visited and things we have done, she admitted she has not done half the things we have done on our trip. Not the Empire State Building, not the famous MoMA, Met and Guggenheim museums, not the Statue of Liberty.

So I asked myself, “What did I travel here to see?

I love being able to connect everything that I have seen on TV shows and movies to what I get to see in person. These are the famous landmarks that will be on the top of the list of recommended activities on Tripadvisor.

I also love seeing how people are living their lives in the US, how it differs to living in Auckland.

Tourist: Someone who travels to a place with a list of things to see and do

Traveller: Someone who immerses himself in the local culture – may avoid “touristy” activities

Let me redefine the eyes through which a tourist and traveller sees the world.

*Tourist: Someone who travels to a place with childlike enthusiasm, wanting to experience everything that he has seen and heard about the place

*Traveller: Someone who immerses himself in local culture in order to understand what makes one place different from another

Both the tourist and the traveller have their benefits. I know I will regret not seeing the Museum of Natural History (where Night at the Museum was filmed) because I love the movie, yet I know this is something that is quite “touristy”. At the same time if I did visit all the museums, I will be quite “museum-ed” out at the end of my trip. I wouldn’t have learned of the couch-surfing flatmate’s view of the US – the Empire State Building really isn’t that big of a deal, you know. Some walk pass it everyday to get to work.

We can all travel and make the most out of our travels by doing these things.

  • Try things that you have never tried before nor will you usually try.
  • Travel with an open mind.
  • Do the touristy things, but also travel to the dirtiest, poorest streets to get a real taste of the city.
  • Do your research and plan your schedule to the T, then be flexible.
  • Share your experiences with others, allow them to live vicariously through you.
  • Walk around at night and notice if you feel safe or are you constantly looking behind your shoulder, thinking that something is lurking in the dark.
  • Learn and embrace culture, understand how history has shaped it, see it from their perspective.
  • Talk to locals where possible, understand what their daily routine looks like and you’ll be surprised at how similar it is across the globe.
  • Walk until your feet hurts.

Most importantly, let us always travel to learn more, to widen our perspective and our worldview. Let us travel with childlike enthusiasm and wonder; absorbing and embracing everything that we experience with awe. Let us choose to see everything with fresh eyes and never lose the wanderlust of travel.

Travel

Why I decided to spend that 10k on travel (than on a house)

March 24, 2015

My colleague’s son quit his banking job of three years and took 18 months off to travel every single country in the world, including places like Mongolia and Somalia.

Another colleague’s high school mate is planning a trip to visit the world on bike – with the motorcycle company sponsoring for it.

My colleague just quit her job of 11 years to move to London, claiming easy access for travel as her reason. She wants to do something different before settling down with kids, something her parents never did and will never be able to do.

When we hear of such stories, we instinctively go ‘Wow!’

Inside all of us are the yearning to have the courage to take off on an adventure, defy the need for security and fight society’s expectation to settle down.

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There was a point in my life where I struggled with this. I desperately wanted to purchase my first home, stop paying for someone else’s mortgage and start contributing towards my own home. At the same time, there were so many places on the world map that I wanted to visit – Paris, Rome, Maldives, South America.

The tension inside left me incapable of making a decision.

Should I save that 10k dollars for my first home and give up travelling for a while, or travel and gain life skills plus experiences that will largely widen my perspective on life?

I received mixed responses.

Some suggested that travelling is expensive, a luxury I cannot afford. Tightening up and saving for a house, they say, will guarantee future financial stability.

Others have done the right thing and bought a house a soon as they could afford to, started a family, got stuck in the rat race. They would give anything to be able to backpack across Europe now and see the world. Tied down by a large mortgage and kids, they say, go and travel. Don’t think twice.

There was one thing that stood out and pushed me to make my decision. There was regret in the eyes of those that did not make travel a priority. It made me sad.

The ones who had travelled would always light up when they told me stories about their experiences. They describe it as the best time of their lives, the freedom that travel brought of not having to go to work, the sadness that they felt when visiting the Holocaust museum, the exhilaration of being driven around in a taxi in Mexico.

  • While money is important, money should not dictate your life choices.
  • The money you spend on travelling is negligible in the scheme of a lifetime; eventually you will buy a house anyway but you may never get the chance or time to travel in your youth again.
  • You will never regret travelling, but you will regret not doing it.
  • You gain life experience, something that you cannot put a dollar value against.

It dawned on me. If there is one thing that I live by, it would be that I never want to live with regret. I want to live a life of no regrets.

This time next week, I will be on my way to experience these things:

  • Times Square
  • Tandem cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
  • Dining at the Burj Al Arab, the world’s only 7 star hotel, where I’ll be sure to pay a visit to their toilets made of gold

Whether it is 5k, 10k or 50k, travelling is priceless and the money spent is well worth the investment. What do you think? Leave a comment if you agree or disagree.