The Runaway Guide http://www.runawayguide.com Run Away & Travel The World Sun, 05 Jul 2015 17:04:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 The Best Regions For Budget Travel http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/the-best-regions-for-budget-travel/ http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/the-best-regions-for-budget-travel/#respond Sun, 05 Jul 2015 16:50:29 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=9020 There’s a lot of debate over which region is the best.

But there are only 3 main contenders;

They are:

Southeast Asia | Eastern Europe | Central America

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So what sets these regions apart from other popular destinations?

1) They’re all composed of unique countries located in close proximity to one another.
2) They’re relatively safe and easy to get around.
3) And most importantly, they’re all budget friendly.

So which one of these regions is the best?

In the guide below we’ll take a look at the most important budget travel indexes. These include Safety, Friendliness, Deliciousness and Daily Budget.

Then we’ll put these regions head to head, and let you decide which region is best for you and your next adventure.

(Certain generalizations have been made out of necessity. These generalizations aspire to reflect the dominant themes of the region. They do not attempt to characterize the countless smaller unique peoples and cultures that compose them.)

 

Southeast Asia

(Exc. Indian Subcontinent)

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I love Southeast Asia. I fell in love with it the first time I visited in 2006 and I fall in love with it every time I return.

It’s got beaches and bungalows, and temples and big Buddha’s. It’s got all the world’s religions and all those crazy wonderful people that come with them. It’s a place where you can both surround yourself with other backpackers on island paradises or immerse yourself in traditional ways of life. It’s also budget backpacker cheap.

Safety: 4.4 out of 5

Southeast Asia is one of the safest regions in the world for travelers.

Although there does exist violent groups in the Philippines and on the border between Thailand and Malaysia to name a few, the vast majority of the region is extremely safe. Governments are relatively stable and the rule of law is strong.

In tourist hotspots, there is always the possibility of pickpockets and bungalow break-ins, but harsh punishments and the law of karma makes petty crime relatively rare.

Perhaps the biggest threat to one’s safety is disease. Although tropical diseases such as Dengue fever, and Malaria exists, you’re far more like to get travelers diarrhea. Fortunately, most pharmacies will prescribe you an Antibiotic course with no hassle, and for around just 15$.

Friendliness: 3.9 out of 5

It’s very hard to generalize, but from Singapore to Thailand and Myanmar to Laos, there’s an exceptional amount of emphasis on being polite, staying calm, smiling before interactions, and maintaining harmony. Most people smile at and will help foreign travelers in need. Even if it’s a fake smile out of politeness, it still feels welcoming.

However, there are always places, especially in Thailand, where locals have been dealing with backpackers for so many years that they’re absolutely sick of us.

Deliciousness: 4.8 out of 5

Don’t even get me started on the food. Mango with sticky rice, Won Ton Soup, Pork Sandwiches, all kinds of BBQ’d things on sticks and coconuts in countless incarnations.

If you’re a spicy food addict, look no further than Thailand. If you’re looking to try authentic Indian, Malay, Chinese or a fusion of all of them, SE Asia is your region.

Daily Budget: 23/Day

Aside from Singapore & Malaysia, prices range between 30%-50% less than Western Europe and the US (and even more if you get off the full moon circuit).

Cheapest countries in SE Asia: Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia
Most expensive countries in SE Asia: Malaysia, Singapore

Price Index
Beach Bungalow: 10 $
Pork On A Stick: 1 $
Wonton Soup: 1.50 $
Sugar Cane Juice: 0.50 $
640ml Beer At 7/11: 1.50$

A comfortable daily budget for travel in tourist areas: 25$/day
A comfortable daily budget for travel in the countryside: 18$/day

Recommended Minimum Budget: 23$/day

*budget is an average based on 3 meals & cheap accommodation across region

Verdict

SE Asia is safe, definitely the most delicious, friendly enough, and as cheap as they come. In Thailand you can hop skip from one island paradise to the next with a coconut curry in hand. In Cambodia you can explore Angkor Wat like Indiana Jones. In Indonesia and the Phillippines you can surf some sizable and consistent breaks. And in Vietnam, you can overdose on Buddhist temples if you want.

Maybe it’s because my Japanese Grandmother, Haruko, imparted upon me some Asian tastes buds. Or maybe it’s because the cultural mélange of Malaysia and much of the region reminds me of my hometown of New York. Whatever the case, Southeast Asia always feels like a second home and it’s one of my favorite regions to travel through.


 

Eastern Europe

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The very first time I traveled to Eastern Europe, I thought one thing; this region is ghetto and I love it. City blocks were in disrepair, buildings were bombed out, and Soviet era trams ran the streets.

Everyone seemed to be rougher around the edges, yet somehow nicer at the same time. Although I didn’t have any money, the train ticket checkers would let me stay on the train. If I asked politely, restaurant owners would even invite me to eat. Everyone was poorer than in Western Europe but people helped me much more.

This hospitality inspired 3 more adventures that took me through nearly every country in the region. During this time, I furthered my understanding of a diverse mix of people and cultures scattered across an even more diverse and beautiful landscape.

Eastern Europe is much cheaper than, just as naturally beautiful as, and arguably as safe as Western Europe for travelers. Although the region is kind of ghetto, it’s ghetto in the best kind of way, making it one of the best regions for budget travel.

Safety: 3.9 out of 5

Although Eastern Europe has a bad reputation for being dodgier than it’s Western counterparts, it’s really not as dangerous as you might think. I was never once robbed, picked on, or felt threatened throughout two months of hitchhiking.

Different and a bit ghetto yes, more Roma people yes, more traffic law breaking yes, more road side prostitutes yes…more dangerous? not so much as long as you take common sense precautions.

Friendliness: 4.0 out of 5

From Poland to Bulgaria I noticed a similar theme. Although at first people had tough shells, after a few minutes or beers, they quickly dissolved into welcoming smiles.

People either ignored me out right or, and most often, tried their best to help. When they found out I was American, they wouldn’t hesitate to break out an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie line.

Deliciousness: 3.4 out of 5

Aside from Greece, Eastern Europe isn’t really known for it’s food, which is a shame because they really do excellent meat, cheese, and stews.

For example, no one can do Goulash better than the Hungarians. And few countries can match Croatia’s wine and seafood.

More, if you’re on a budget, it’s all about the baked goods, most notably the Burek. In almost every country in Eastern Europe you can find some form of Burek. It’s basically a cream and feta cheese filled pastry with yogurt drizzled on top. It’s simple but delicious, and best of all, extremely cheap.

Daily Budget: 26$/day

Aside from most capitol cities, prices are around 15%-25% less than Western Europe.

The Cheapest Countries: Moldova, Albania, Poland
The Most Expensive Countries: Croatia, Hungary, Greece

Price Index
Hostel Dorm: 10-15 $
Budget Hotel Room: 15-20 $
Burek Pastry: 0.50 $
0.5 L Beer: 1$
Mid-range Restaurant Meal: 4-7$

Comfortable daily budget for travel in cities: 33$/day.
Comfortable daily budget for travel in the countryside: 24$/day.

Recommended Minimum Budget: 26$/day

*budget is an average based on 3 meals & cheap accommodation across region

 

Verdict

Prices from Poland to Albania tend to be considerably cheaper than Western Europe. The people are poorer on average but often considerably friendlier and welcoming. Everything is generally kind of ghetto, but ghetto in a really good, let’s break the speed limit and paint graffiti, kind of way.

If you’re interested in backpacking Europe but looking for a cheaper experience off the beaten path, Eastern Europe is where it’s at.


 

Central America

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Even while I hitchhiked through Sudan, the thought of traveling through Central America still made me nervous. I always envisioned the whole region being awash with gangsters and wannabe gangsters. I put off visiting for ages.

It wasn’t until Oct 2013, after finding a 79$ flight from NYC to San Salvador, that I finally decided to jump. Not only did a net appear but the net was just a buck and there wasn’t a gangster in sight.

Central America is arguably the cheapest and possibly the best region in the world for budget travel. If you like tacos, you won’t find them more delicious than here. If you got ants in your pants, there’s always a bar where you can dance. If you want to immerse yourself into indigenous culture there’s no better than the Mayan. For all of this and more, Central America is one of the world’s best budget travel regions.

Safety: 3.4 out of 5

Chances are you won’t run into any gangsters unless you venture into ghettos and go looking for them.

In reality, the biggest threat to your safety are thieves that prey on gringos. I myself have even fallen victim to them. The last time I was in Antigua, Guatemala, I was beat up and had my camera stolen from around my neck. Just glad I had travel insurance.

However, situations like these are easily avoided if you take precautions. For example, don’t get too drunk and wander around dark backstreets in the middle of the night. Definitely learned my lesson the hard way.

For the most part, you will feel relatively safe as a traveler in Central America.

Friendliness: 4.6 out of 5

I found the people, especially the indigenous people of the Guatemalan highlands and Nicaraguan jungles, to be the kindest, warmest, and most welcoming people I’ve ever found anywhere.

Although some people are opportunistic and looking to profit from friendships, most people generally want to help you out and then hang out.

Deliciousness: 3.8 out of 5

If Central America was a single country the national dish would be rice, beans, and chicken. Aside from this, the most common budget meals are tacos, corn tortillas, funky sandwiches filled with too much ketchup, Papusas, burritos, and plantains (fried bananas).

Although Central America has cheap and delicious food, unless you’re in Mexico, it’s hit or miss from little town to big city.

Daily Budget: 20$/day 

Prices across Central America tend to be 40%-50% less than the United States.

The Cheapest Countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua
The Most Expensive Countries: Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico

Price Index
Hostel Dorm: 6-12 $
Budget Hotel Room: 14-24 $
3 Tacos: 2.25 $
0.5 L Beer: 0.65$
Mid-range Restaurant Meal: 3-5$

Comfortable daily budget for travel in cities: 22$/day.
Comfortable daily budget for travel in the countryside: 16$/day.

Recommended Minimum Budget: 20$/day

*budget is an average based on 3 simple meals & cheap accommodation across region

 

Verdict

Central America is full of quaint colonial cities, sky scraping volcanoes, enticing surf, tasty tacos, diverse cultures, and a wonderful melange of Latin rhythm and local hospitality.

If it’s you’re first time traveling, you can easily make friends and get a taste of the region along the Gringo Trail. If you’re looking to get off the beaten path, you can venture into the Guatemalan highlands for a true Maya experience.

Central America is an excellent region for first time budget travelers, and it’s also my favorite region in the world.


 

The Best Region For Budget Travel

Safe

#1 SE Asia 4.4
#2 EE 3.9
#3 CA 3.4

Friendly

#1 CA 4.6
#2 SE Asia 3.9
#3 EE 3.4

Delicious

#1 SE Asia 4.8
#2 CA 3.8
#3 EE 3.4

Cheap

#1 CA 20$ (+5)
#2 SEA 23$ (+2.5)
#3 EE 26$ (+0)

So Which Region Wins?

#1 Central America Total Score: 17
#2 Southeast Asia Total Score: 15.6
#3 Eastern Europe Total Score: 11.3

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Krakow: Charming, Cheap, Delicious & Just Ghetto enough http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/krakow-charming-cheap-delicious-just-ghetto-enough/ http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/krakow-charming-cheap-delicious-just-ghetto-enough/#comments Sun, 28 Jun 2015 11:32:15 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=9019 brick building in krakow poland“So what will we do with you now?

He said it long and slow, biting into W’s and licking his L’s.

“Are you joking?” I said, my heart racing faster than it should of been.

“Not joking you. You must pay.”

All I could see was his big dumb polished head reflecting the bus stop information screen.

“Ok, ok, look. I tried to buy a ticket but I couldn’t figure out that machine. I just arrived and I’m trying to find my hotel. Can you please cut me a break or at the very least just back off a little bit.”

Only in Eastern Europe would bus ticket checkers resemble some kind of gang. They had no uniforms, piercings in their eyebrows, and seemed to know no other way to converse than by physical intimidation.

As you might expect, I wasn’t thrilled by my first experience in Krakow. I even regretted coming for a few minutes.

But this is the kind of thing that Eastern Europe is all about. It’s rough around the edges. And I was definitely expecting this.

Fortunately, Krakow got better. It got a lot better.

Although Krakow retains a level of Eastern European ghetto-ness, it’s more refined, historic, delicious, and budget friendly than I could have ever imagined.

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Krakow Isn’t like The Rest Of Eastern Europe

I was always under the impression that all everybody ever did here was drink vodka. But the very first thing I saw, before I nearly got beat by ticket controllers, were hundreds of fit people jogging along the river in the evening light.

There’s also something very peculiar about the population of Krakow. In all my time here, I never once saw a Roma, an African immigrant, or really anyone foreign who wasn’t a tourist. It was a bit bizarre, and raised a lot of controversial questions for me. At the same time, I have to admit, never once being hassled was really refreshing.

It’s not just the people of Krakow, who seem health conscious, liberal, and ubiquitously Polish, but it’s also the history that sets this city apart. Unlike many European cities that suffered complete destruction during the wars of the 20th century, Krakow was never bombed. This means that all of it’s 150 churches and it’s castles, some of which date back to the 13th century, are all in tact. You can also find Schindler’s factory, along with the whole set of the movie, practically as it was in the 1940’s.

Each block transports one to different eras. It’s nostalgique, melancholic, and simply charming.

fred astaire painting poland

Eastern European Cheap

The architecture is antiquated and prices seem to be too. Everything in Krakow is cheap. The 30 minute bus ride from the Airport to downtown costs just 1$ (Unless you don’t have a ticket and then it’s 35$). And tram and bus tickets around the city go for 50 cents a ride.

Krakow is also full of cheap eats, from 4 and 5 star restaurant dishes for around 10$ to street food for just a buck.

You can sleep cheap too with a dorm bed in a quaint centrally located hostel for just 10$ (Good Bye Lenin Hostel). Or you can splurge a bit and get a private cabin in a boat hotel for 2 for just 26$ – Excellent breakfast spread included. (Hostel On The River Marta)

hostel on a boat poland

Hip & Delicious

The beauty of the cities is only rivaled by it’s traditional fare. In Kazimierz, Krakow’s Jewish quarter, Polish Jew’s are rediscovering their rich traditions and cuisine. At street side cafes you’ll find the most delicious Kosher Polish fusion in the world. Definitely try the Perogies, Polish dumplings filled with cabbage and potatoes.

Just a few blocks away in Ploc Nowy, the ‘hipster’ square, you’ll find vodka bars (aka Bania Luka) and beer gardens with drink and food all for just 75 cents a glass/plate. Be sure to try a Zapoekanka, Krakow’s ultimate drunk people food. It’s basically a huge French oven pizza smothered with mushrooms and cheese, and whole lot of ketchup on top for just 1$.

cheap vodka bar in krakow called bane luka

An Unfortunate Past

Just 60 kilometers away from Krakow lay the largest and most notorious concentration camp of Nazi regime, Auschwitz.

Here, nearly 1,300,000 Jew, Poles, and other enemies of the Reich were murdered. It’s an extremely sobering day trip and something everyone should experience, whether you’re interested in this history or not.

halt sign at auschwitz concentration camp

Eastern European & Ghetto?

Yes, there are some aspects of Krakow that make it unmistakably Eastern European and a bit ghetto.

But the city is ghetto is the best kind of way. Delicious drunk people street food and modern Polish fusion at sidewalk bistros thrive side by side. Everything is remarkably cheap from food and accommodation to transport and attractions, but the city is anything but poor. And crumbling streets aren’t simply in disrepair, they’re just really old and charming.

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Jetwing Sea: A Perfect Start To Sri Lanka http://www.runawayguide.com/runaway-hideouts/jetwing-sea-a-perfect-start-to-sri-lanka/ http://www.runawayguide.com/runaway-hideouts/jetwing-sea-a-perfect-start-to-sri-lanka/#respond Tue, 23 Jun 2015 16:21:13 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=9001 P1060360I wanted to give myself some time to relax before the start of Travel Blog Conference Asia. To be honest, I was pretty nervous about meeting everyone and definitely didn’t want to be jet lagged.

So I decided to accept an invitation to stay at a hotel for the first few nights.

The hotel was located close to the airport and right on the beach. The room was unexpectedly luxurious. The breakfast buffet made me excited to start each day. The private balcony on the beach allowed for lots of quiet wrting.

It was, in short, a great value, and the perfect place to start to my Sri Lankan adventure.

This Runaway Hideout is Jetwing Sea in Negombo, Sri Lanka.

*Like all Runaway Hideouts, all opinions expressed are always 100% my own

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Location

Jetwing Sea is located in Negombo, which is just 12 kilometers or a 20 minute drive from Bandaranaike International Airport. It’s ideally situated on a somewhat secluded stretch of beach, where you can enjoy a jog or bathing without the crowds.

Unfortunately, as a result of it’s relative isolation, the fishing village of Negombo and it’s attractions is a good walk away.

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Accommodations

Jetwing sea has 3 types of rooms, the standard for around 60$, The deluxe for 150$ and the Suite for 500$. The rooms epitomize a high 4 or even 5 star hotel. They brilliantly blend tropical aesthetics with a modern design. The resulting feeling is one of luxury and relaxation.

resort hotel in negombo sri lanka

Food

The breakfast buffet was the highlight of my stay. They really thought of everything.  They had omelet, crepe, and fruit bars. Lots of different fresh fruit juices and smoothies. And a range of European breads and pastries. The best part about the buffet, it’s included with the room.

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Activities

Jetwing beach is all about eating well, enjoying swims in the pool, and exercising on the beach. However, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can catch a cab into town and check out the famous fish market and colonial Dutch fort. Additionally, you can also go out on a traditional Sri Lankan fishing boat located just steps from the hotel.

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Conclusion

Jetwing Sea is a luxurious hideout at a great value. It’s a place where you could easily spend a week simply relaxing and getting a taste of Sri Lanka. It’s also a hotel whose proximity to the airport makes it the perfect place to start any Sri Lankan adventure.

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Best & Worst Travel Moments Of 2014 & 2015 http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/best-worst-travel-moments-of-2014-2015/ http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/best-worst-travel-moments-of-2014-2015/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 11:49:27 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=8918 DSC01999The year started out with a fireworks show on the mystical Mayan Lake Atitlan. From there I traveled to Sicily, France, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Japan, Sri Lanka, back to Italy, England and finally New York in time for Christmas.

Not only did I visit heaps of countries, even by my standards, but I also pushed my own limits, and sought out new experiences in ways I never had in years past.

I helped a good friend escape from Sudan, kicked a deadly habit in Sweden, ate way too many bugs in Cambodia and explored Sri Lanka like a king to name a few.

These experiences taught me about myself. They furthered my understanding of the world. And they prepared me for what I know will be another enlightening year of travels.

In chronological order, here are the worst and best moments of 2014 (and a bit of 2015).

1) Living On Lake Atitlan (Jan)

I decided to make Lake Atitlan a home base and the idea felt good. I started a destination blog about the lake, Atitlan Living, I met loads of cool expats, and began contemplating some kind of Runaway Tour. Simply eating papayas, writing, and brainstorming the future reminded me that it’s ok to do nothing and take it easy. DSC02148

2) Successfully Smuggling My Friend To Sweden (May)

It was incredibly gratifying to follow through with my promise to help Ashenafi escape Sudan and get to Sweden. He experienced so many “firsts”;  first beer at a bar, first Thai lady boy on the TGV to Paris, and first time he wasn’t afraid of being beat by crooked Sudanese cops. Now he’s becoming a Swedish citizen. I feel grateful to have been able to help him, albeit just a little bit.

lady boy on the train in france

3) Plight Of African Asylum Seekers (May)

Learning of our mutual friends drowning was numbing. Trying to console Ashenafi was heart breaking. Hearing of a sadistic smuggling operation based out of Libya was maddening. Learning of the enormous scale of immigration via the Mediterranean made me realize that it isn’t going to stop until the much larger issue of global inequality between the developed North and underdeveloped south is addressed.

In the end, this experience taught me many things, but ultimately reminded me to be grateful for all that I have, all of the opportunities I’ve had throughout my life, and the privileged position I’m in to make a difference.

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4) Eating Lunch At Statoil (June)

After I got Ashenafi to Sweden, I popped into a Norwegian gas station chain called Statoil. Here I feasted on a bacon and cheese stuffed hot dog over instant mashed potatoes covered in crispy fried onions, ketchup and mustard. Conclusion, happiness can often be found in a hotdog.

5) Thailand In The Low Season (Aug)

Although I had visited Thailand 4 times before, I had never been during the low season. At this time, the weather was cooler, prices could be haggled down and there were far fewer people, making it the perfect place to contemplate a future Thailand tour.  Travel lesson: Don’t base travel plans around weather forecasts. Rainy seasons aren’t as bad as they say they are, plus everything is cheaper!
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6) Trying Crickets In Cambodia (Oct)

Following some peer pressure at a Cambodian bus stop, I crossed bugs off the bucket list (Although they were never on it). Some things taste exactly how they look…not so good. Not so good at all.

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7) Meeting This Guy! (Nov)

I had just arrived in Tokyo. I had nothing planned for the day and I didn’t even know where I was going to sleep. So I ended up just hanging around Shibuya with this guy. Even though I speak decent Japanese, I had no idea what he was on about. Still, it was better than hanging out by myself. Sometimes any company is good company, especially if it’s this character(/model for Mugatu’s garbage fashion line).   

homeless guy in japan

7) Exploring Sri Lanka Like A King (Nov)

I couldn’t quite believe it when I got the email. Out hundreds of bloggers, I was chosen.

They (Sri Lankan Airlines & Cinnamon Hotels) flew me there, took me to see the best of Sri Lanka, fed me 5 star food, and flew me out to anywhere in the world I desired. Never in my life had I traveled in such style.

Not only did I get to experience Sri Lanka like royalty but I got to hangout and travel with other travel bloggers, all of whom turned out to be wonderful mixes between hardcore travelers and computer nerds. Among them, I really hit it off with Kate from AdventurousKate.com and eventually ended up leading a tour with her through Central America.

The whole trip reinforced the fact that traveling isn’t about where you are, but who you’re traveling with. 

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8) Losing My Tooth (Early Dec)

I fought a baguette in Rome and the baguette won. I always wanted to try out the toothless look and finally got my wish. But 1 week in and I was ready to get it fixed. People just don’t take you as seriously without a tooth. The missing tooth reminded me that I really need to be careful for what I wish for sometimes, and that I really need to floss more too. 

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9) Everything Coming Together (Dec)

By the time December rolled around I found myself right back where I had started, on Lake Atitlan. The tour that I had planned the year before was set to begin in January. The destination blog had grown. And I realized that I had shaped 2014 exactly how I wanted it to be. 

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So What’s In Store For The Rest Of 2015?

Since 2015 is already half over, let’s get caught up a little bit more.

1) More Runaway Tours (Jan, Feb, Mar, 2015)

1 tour of Central America somehow turned into 3 more. It was tough and stressful at times but these tours helped me evolve as a person more than any travel experience before. They instilled a kind of take-charge confidence that had been lacking in my life. And through them I made loads of new friends, 5 of which are actually going to join me again on Runaway Tours in Thailand and Japan.

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2) I Got My Tooth Replaced & Met A Really Nice Girl(Feb 2015)

West Nyack Dental quoted me 6,000$ to fix all my dental problems. So how did I get my tooth fixed?

  1. Took a 129$ flight to Guatemala.
  2. Found an incredibly talented dentist named Dr. Titi
  3. Got everything fixed for just over 1000$
  4. Met a Swedish/Croatian girl named Matea.

I actually met Matea before I lost my tooth, which just goes to show that you don’t need a full mouth of teeth to get a girl. 

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3) The Best Bad Decision I Made (Feb 2015)

I could easily walk anywhere I wanted to. I would only be able to use her for 2 more months. I wouldn’t be covered by insurance should anything happen. Plus, at 1,200 dollars I really couldn’t afford her.

Nevertheless, I decided to buy a 125 cc Yamaha enduro motorcycle! And boy was it worth it. I rode to a coffee plantation in the Guatemalan highlands, and even started offering day trips around Lake Atitlan.

Happiness can come from things, if things are surfboards and motorcycles.

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4) I Quit Smoking! (March, 2015)

After over a decade of at least two packs a day, I finally kicked cancer sticks! I had tried countless times before but never succeeded.

So how did I finally quit?

I simply got sick of it. I got tired of being tired. I could feel my brain slowing down. I had 1,000$ in tobacco induced dental work. (I also met a girl who said that if I didn’t stop we couldn’t be together. So there’s that too ;)

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So What’s In Store For The Rest Of 2015?

Now I’m back in Sweden for the summer. I’m here to learn me some Swedish, make pepper steak BBQs, run in the forest, celebrate Midsommar (theSummer Solstice), and finish writing my book with the help of the midnight sun.

But I won’t be in Sweden the whole summer. On June 24th I’m taking the train down to Croatia and stopping in Poland and Hungary on the way. On July 14th I’m back in Sweden and taking a week to discover Stockholm. On August 16th I’m flying to Bangkok for Runaway Tours: Thailand Island Hopper.

After that, it’s Indonesia or maybe Sri Lanka for a month. Then it’s Japan for the Japan Tour and finally back to Guatemala on Nov 1st for Runaway Tours: Central America.

If you want to keep in touch and follow the journey, subscribe to my bi-monthly news letter below.

Safe travels!

-Leif

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How To Celebrate Swedish Midsommar (VLOG) http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/how-to-celebrate-swedish-midsommar-vlog/ http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/how-to-celebrate-swedish-midsommar-vlog/#comments Sun, 21 Jun 2015 19:42:06 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=8959 swedenmidsommarOn June 19th I celebrated my first Swedish Midsommar! I danced like a frog around a flower covered pole, drank 6 shots of schnapps and ate enough pickled herring to feed a small viking family.

In Sweden, Midsommar is arguably the most celebrated day of the year and understandably so. It marks the summer solstice and the longest day of the year, which in Sweden can be as long as 24 hours.

Although I wasn’t far enough north to see the midnight sun, I was far enough to experience an eerie dusk that never seemed to end.

It was one of my favorite days in Sweden to date and one I will not soon forget. Huge thanks to Maria and her family for letting me crash their celebrations at their lovely summer cottage in Vastervik.

 

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The Best Way To Get From Bangkok To Ko Pha Ngan http://www.runawayguide.com/runaway-adventures/the-best-way-to-get-from-bangkok-to-ko-pha-ngan/ http://www.runawayguide.com/runaway-adventures/the-best-way-to-get-from-bangkok-to-ko-pha-ngan/#comments Wed, 03 Jun 2015 19:29:05 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=8768 P1010617You’ve spent the last 5 days in Bangkok. You’ve defeated your jet lag and gotten your bearings. You’ve seen the temples and the ping pong show. But now you’re fed up with the big Bangkok and ready to relax on the island paradise of Ko Pha Ngan.

How To Get To Koh Pha Ngan?

The easiest way to get to Koh Pha Ngan is to fly, and tickets can be found for as little as 50$.

The cheapest way to go is by bus but there’s nothing more uncomfortable than a 14 hour night bus.

That leaves one final option. Take the train. Not only is it budget friendly but it’s also the most adventurous, and my favorite way to go.

In the following guide, you’ll find out exactly how to get from Bangkok to Koh Pha Ngan by train.

Step 1: Taxi To Bangkok Hualumpong Station (15 mintues, 65 baht)

Trains depart to Surat Thani in Southern Thailand at both 6:30 and 7:30. So you’ll want to head to the station no later than 4:00pm. To get there, first find a metered taxi. Depending on traffic, Khao San Road to Bangkok’s Central Station should take around 15 to 20 minutes and will cost between 55-65 Baht. Although you can take local busses, the savings isn’t worth the time or energy.

Travel Tip: If you’re traveling during the high season you need to book your train ticket in advance. This means going to the train station a day or a few days before you want to travel.

Step 2: Train To Surat Thani (12 Hours, 680 Baht)

When you enter the station, head directly to the ticket booth and ask for a 2nd class fan only sleeper train to Surat Thani. You can choose from either a lower bunk, which costs a few baht more or an upper bunk. The advantage of the lower bunk is the window, which you can open to stay cool.

If you need a break from the heat, and are willing to spend a bit more, you can also ask for a 1st class air conditioned sleeper. Although it costs 1100 baht, it’s much quieter, cooler, and definitely a better nights rest. I always go second class though cause that’s where the backpacker party usually is.

The ticket agent will try and sell you a joint ticket to Koh Pha Ngan, which includes the connecting bus and high speed ferry. (least hassle) This boat gets you to Ko Pha Ngan in 1 ½ hours, while the slow boat takes 4 hours. If you get seasick, definitely take the fast boat (Lomprayah ferry company Joint Ticket Price= 1350 Baht). But if you want have an adventure, save money and hang out with locals, definitely take the slow boat (Raja ferry company/ Joint Ticket Price= 878 Baht).

For the latest fares and timetables see Thailand’s Railway Website.

Train Travel tip 1: Before getting on the train, pop into a convenience store for some water and snacks. Although you can buy food on the train, it’s always nice to have backup sustenance should you get hungry in the middle of the night.
Train Travel tip 2: If you’re small enough, it’s best to sleep with your bag in your bunk. Otherwise it’s a good idea to tie your bag on the bunk side rack with an intricate knot. Although these trains are relatively safe and generally filled with other backpackers, it’s better to play it safe.

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Step 3: Bus To Don Sac Pier (1 ½ Hours, Included)

If you caught the 6:30pm night train, you should arrive in Surat Thani at around 6:30am. If you bought the joint ticket, a bus will arrive at the train station for you to take you to the boat.

If you didn’t buy any joint ticket and want to go the local way,  you need to get a local bus into the center of town (20 min). Ask the driver to drop you at the Raja  ferry company office in town, where you can buy a bus/ferry ticket. DSC08789

Step 4: Slow Boat To Ko Pha Ngan (4 Hours, 210 Baht)

This is my favorite part of the journey. All you have to do now is enjoy the sea breeze, that soulful thai dude with an acoustic guitar and your cold beer.

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Step 5: Taxi To Your Resort/Bungalow (15 min, 200 Baht)

You made it to Ko Pha Ngan! Welcome to paradise! The only thing left to do now is find a taxi to your bungalow.

First check out Koh Pha Ngan Hideouts and chose a place to stay. Then tell any one of the pick up truck taxi drivers the name of the resort. The standard price is 200 Baht/person. However, if you can manage to find a group of people who all want to go to your part of the island you may be able to haggle the driver down to 100 Baht/person.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can pick up a map, rent a scooter, and go yourself.

Conclusion

Remember to try and stay positive, take it as it comes, and enjoy the ride. Traveling isn’t just about arriving at your destination, but all the wild and crazy experiences you can have along the way. Plus when you finally do arrive on the island, it will be that much sweeter.

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One Day In New York City By The Runaway Guide http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/one-day-in-new-york-by-the-runaway-guide/ http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/one-day-in-new-york-by-the-runaway-guide/#comments Tue, 02 Jun 2015 17:56:21 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=8741 DSC01611If you want to see a Broadway show and actually want see the whole show, this itinerary isn’t for you. If you can’t stand sleeping through wonton soup fumes wafting up from the restaurant below, move on. If you would rather pay full price than wait on line for 30 minutes…fo-geta-bout-it.

Who’s this itinerary for?

This itinerary is for travelers on a serious budget. It’s for broke adventurers looking to push boundaries and meet locals. It’s for people who want to maximize experiences while minimize costs in one of the greatest cities in the world. Let’s go!

1) 12:00pm – Check Into your Hotel (Price: 35$)

In the heart of China town stands the infamous Sun Bright Hotel. They’re main selling point on trip advisor…the linens are included. Up until 1 year ago, a single room went for just 10$!

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You’d be lucky if you got this room! (*Yelp.com)

Unfortunately today, as a result of increased promotion, the Sun Bright has risen it’s prices to match increased demand. Never the less, at 35$, it remains the cheapest private room that’s not a homeless shelter or church in NYC. Definitely one of New York’s hidden treasures or dumps (can’t quite decide.) (Tip: Get a cheaper rate by haggling with the front desk in person) Check out Sun Bright Hotel’s current rates on Agoda.

Your potential neighbor, long time guest, David Rodriquez (Dailymail.co.uk)

Your potential neighbor, long time guest, David Rodriquez (Dailymail.co.uk)

2) 12:30 – A Light Lunch In China Town (Price: 2$)

New York’s China Town is so big and so packed with Chinese people that you might actually think you’re in China. When the smells of Pu Pu platers becomes overwhelming, head to any tea shop for a steamed pork bun, a few lotus cakes and Chinese milk tea for just around 2$. But if you’re in the mood for dumplings, nothing beats Prosperity dumplings at Clinton and Stanton. 8 pork dumplings for 1$!

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Superior pork dumplings for 1$

And when you’re dumpling-ed out, head over to Columbus park where you’ll find Kung fu and Tai chi classes, a few old Chinese dudes playing Chinese chess and a stray fortune teller or two.

3) 2:00 – Subway To 81st Street (Price: 2.75$)

From Canal street catch the C train up to 81st street. Duration 30 minutes.

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4) 2:30 – Museum Of Natural History (Price: 1$)

Although you could get your entrance ticket for as little as one penny, you might want to donate at least 1$. After you get in, head up to the 4th floor for the largest dinosaur exhibit in the world! Be sure to check out the Marine Life and African Mammal exhibits as well.

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5) 4:00 – Stroll Strawberry Fields (Price: Free)

Exit the museum, enter the park, and take the first path south. You’ll wind around the iconic lake and finally into Strawberry fields. Here you’ll see John Lennon’s memorial and hear plenty of acoustic guitars playing beetles songs.

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6) 4:45 – Get Grays Papaya (Price: 5.95$)

Exit the park at 72nd street and walk two avenues west to Broadway. Here you’ll find Grays Papaya, home of New York Cities most celebrated hot dog. Get the recession special for 5.95$, which includes two dogs with everything and a pint of the most delicious papaya juice you’ll every wash down greasy hotdogs with.

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7) 5:00 – Train To Union Square (Price: 2.75$)

Right across the street is the subway where you’ll head back downtown to 14th street/Union Square.

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8) 5:30 – Wait On line For Fuerza Bruta (Price: 20$)

Fuerza Bruta will change your conceptions about going to the theatre. Without giving too much away, let’s just say you will be dancing, slobbering on confetti, and maybe even getting wet.

Ticket prices are 80$ in advance but if you show up at the door at 6pm, two hours before show time, you can get them for 20$/person. I would recommend getting online at around 5:30 on a week night. See here for more info about the show, Fuerza Bruta.

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9) 6:00 – Walk to Bleecker St Pizza (Price: 2.75$)

With tickets in hand it’s time for a 15 block walk south to experience the best pizza place in New York, Bleecker Street Pizza! On the way downtown be sure to stop off at Washington Square park where you’ll usually find some street performers jumping over tourists.

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10) 8:00 – Get Back For The Show (Price: Free)

Although the show starts at 8 it’s not a bad idea to go early and socialize with other theatregoers at the theatre bar. Keep in mind that it takes about 20 minutes to walk back to the theatre from Bleecker street.

11) 9:30 – Out On The Town 

The shows over, you’re potentially soaking wet, and you’ve got a good buzz going.

You could either:

1) Go back to your hotel (Price: Free)

2) Walk back downtown to Greenwich Village/Ludlow St in SOHO and wander into any dive bar/music venue. (Price: Be prepared to pay a 5-10$ cover)

3) Take the L train from Union Square to the ‘Charleston’ on 174 Bedford ave in Williamsburg. They’ve got ski ball, Big Buck Hunter, and a Jukebox specializing in 90’s hiphop. Plus a beer, a shot, and a pizza goes for just 5$. (Price: 7.75)

Conclusion

So how much did the day cost? Just around 75 bucks depending what deal you scored at Sun Bright hotel. Not too bad considering you attended an acclaimed show, saw 100 million year old dinosaur bones, slept inside, and ate all of New York’s finest street foods.

If you’re coming to New York and are on a serious budget, give this itinerary a shot. I always take my out of town friends on this route and no one’s ever disappointed. Fortunately for them, they get to stay with me and not in a prison block above a Chinese restaurant. Don’t let the Sichuan bed bugs bite ;)

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If You’re Ready To Run Away… http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/if-youre-ready-to-run-away/ http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/if-youre-ready-to-run-away/#comments Sun, 29 Mar 2015 23:00:14 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=8323 The time is now!

It’s not too late to join Kate and I in Central America this April 16th.

In fact, you have until April 10th to sign up. Just send me an email and I’ll get back to you ASAP with more info about the tour and how to reserve your spot. TheRunawayGuide@yahoo.com

So far we’ve got 5 awesome runaway’s aged 24-34 from Canada and the US, and we’re looking for at least 5 more.

If you’re ready to experience the very best of Central America with an intimate group of like minded travelers it’s time to run away!

If you’re open minded, searching for new experiences, looking for opportunities, enjoy different cultures, and partying on beaches and on boats, we want you!!!

For more info, e-mail me today or check out the itinerary on Runaway Tours.

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Run Away In 6 Simple Steps http://www.runawayguide.com/preparation/run-away-in-7-simple-steps/ http://www.runawayguide.com/preparation/run-away-in-7-simple-steps/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 22:19:32 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=8241 DSC02001Those of you who know me know that I’m constantly dreaming up and planning bigger and crazier run away adventures.

I want to ride the Trans-Siberean this spring from Beijing to St. Petersburg. I want do the Mongol Rally and drive an underpowered Hyundai 10,000 miles to Mongolia. I also want to walk the Camino De Santiago from Rome to Western Spain.

So how do I decide where to go? And how do I turn it into a reality? The short answer, I follow my heart and won’t let anything stop me from getting there.

But if you’ve never really traveled before, just deciding on where to go can be overwhelming. And planning a trip can be stressful as well.

So, if you want to run away and travel the world but have no idea where to begin or how to make it happen, you’re reading the right guide.

Step 1: Choose Your Country

Choosing a country is simple. Maybe you saw it in a movie or read about it in a book and thought I would love to go there one day. Well, that’s the place you need to go!

Don’t worry about how expensive it might be or how you don’t speak the language. If you truly want to go, everything will fall into place, and by one way or another you’ll adapt and make it happen, I guarantee it. If you’re interested in beginning a backpacking adventure, check out The Best Countries For Beginner Backpackers for a few ideas.

Step 2: Buy A Flight

Now that you know where you’re going, it’s time to buy a flight. Don’t worry about buying a return ticket yet, you can always buy that later. For now, just focus on getting there.

Get on Skyscanner and browse around. In order to find the cheapest flight, set the departure date to display departures for the ‘whole month’. Once you’ve found a flight you can afford, don’t hesitate. Just click purchase.

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Step 3: Find A Place To Stay

In the words of Martin Lawerence in Bad Boys 2, ‘shit just got real.’ You’ve got a ticket to your dream country and there’s really no turning back. Now you need to find a place to stay. I would recommend just booking 2 or 3 nights at a budget hostel or hotel. This will give you enough time to rest and get acclimated to your new surroundings.

For hostels, I recommend HostelWorld.com. For budget hotels, booking.com and Agoda.com  are solid companies with excellent rates. Finally, for longer term rentals, check out AirBnb.com. If you sign up with this link, they’ll give you 25$ towards your first stay.

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Step 4: Get Prepared

There are only two essential things you need to do to prepare, get a visa and pack your bag.

If you’re from the US, AU, CA, or EU, chances are you won’t even need a visa. But be sure to research tourist visa requirements for your desired country. (google search: ‘Thailand visa requirements for US citizens.’) If you’re a citizen of the USA, check out my Visa Requirements World Map.

When it comes to packing, the lighter you pack the better. I know it’s tempting to bring as much as possible in order to prepare for any eventuality but you really don’t need as much as you think. Even if you’re traveling to the most isolated country on earth, if there’s something you need, chances are you’ll be able to find it there. For more info on packing, check out How To Pack For Any Adventure.

Step 5: Get Organized

If you find comfort in being organized or even if you don’t, I recommend putting all your reservations and plans into a single document.

These days, there are plenty of online trip planners. If you’re interested in something like this, check out Amadeus.net. Here you can get inspired, search for flights and hotels, organize everything in one place, and share your plan with friends.

Getting your travel plans organized will give you peace of mind, and ensure that you don’t miss a flight or book a hotel for the wrong date.

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Step 6: Go!

All your reservations have been made, your documents are organized, and your bag is packed. Now it’s time to put your trust in the travel gods and take that first leap of faith.

Conclusion

I know what you’re thinking. I just simplified an extremely complicated and stressful process. But the truth is, planning a trip really can be this simple and stress free.

Don’t fret the tiny details. Try not to think too far in advance. Keep your options open. Stay positive and adaptable. Envision the person you want to be, and the life altering trip you want to experience, and turn it into reality.

If you need some help planning your trip, you can always connect with me on Facebook. Good luck and stress free planning.

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I Am Stronger Now http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/i-am-stronger-now/ http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/i-am-stronger-now/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 23:54:54 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=8137 DSC00107It’s 9pm in San Salvador.

The streets are cast in dark shadows. A cool wind rustles tree branches and steel doors. I’m walking from my hostel to a store a few blocks away. Halfway there a man blocks my path. With one glance it’s clear what he wants.

Chiki-ton! Chiki-ton! I say with feigned bravado, throwing a limp fist against my chest.

He isn’t buying it.

“Donde? Donde? (Where)” he growls.

“Aqui, aqui (here). Julio Castelo es mi amigo. Chiki-ton!” my voice is quivering now.

He stares at me with the eyes of a shedding snake, twisted and glazed over. I can’t understand what he says next but I know what he wants, the 1,200 dollars in my wallet, the brand new phone, and probably even the apple in my cargo pocket.

Earlier that day I met up with my old friend Julio, the guy from my Funniest Man In El Salvador youtube video. He told me that there’s one guy on the block that’s no good. And that if I ever had a problem I should say Chiki-ton, which roughly translates as ‘I have family in this neighborhood.’ I now realized that this was that guy.

“Amigo, amigo. Mi hermano. Por favore,” trying to smile at him as if he were a good friend who I hadn’t seen for years.

He looks at me in bewilderment, and with slightly less aggression, but still he will not let me pass.

I place my arm amicably on his shoulder, which is at least a half-foot lower than my own. My legs slowly carry me forward. But just as my body becomes parallel to his, he starts to reach for my pockets.

“What the fuck!” My palms thrust him backwards. My eyes drill into his for what feels like minutes. I turn my back and begin walking.

Suddenly, just steps away from the bodega, I can see my own death. A cold steel point is sticking into my neck. He’s got me from behind. I foresee myself bleeding out on this poorly lit road. I hope travel insurance is going to cover this.

I grab his arm with lightening speed. My lips curl above my gums as I inch his hand away from my throat. I see the weapon. It’s not a knife but a long black nail.

My heart is exploding like an adrenaline fueled piston. I feel like a gazelle with a lion’s jaw around my neck. I haven’t fought anyone in years. Can I beat him?

My body is paralyzed. My eyes are fixated on the nail just an inch from my neck.  I need to do something. I have to make a decision. My brain processes possibilities faster than a google search.

At the end of the block is an armed guard. I can see him looking at me but he’s either unwilling or too afraid to help.

Suddenly a panic filled rage engulfs every liter fluid in my body. A bright red burning curtain descends over my eyes. Electricity from the heavens surges through every muscle. The current continues into my throat. AAAAHHHHHHHH! I roar. I roar from the darkest depths of my soul. How dare he threaten my life!

I rip his arm away, spin him around and plow my fist right into his head. He stumbles back. I can taste his fear and I revel in it. I roar again and run at him, ready to use my entire body to eviscerate his being, but he scurries away between two cars like a rat scurrying back to the gutter.

I wait until I can no longer feel his presence. The red curtain lifts; I can see clearly again. I slowly make my way to the store. I apologize to the shop keepers for the commotion, and finally buy my Doritos and a couple of beers, at this point much deserved.

On the 3 block walk back to the hostel I feel good. I feel powerful. I have discovered and summoned a new and unbeatable strength from within myself. I can harness this strength now. I can use it to defends myself. I can use it towards all aspects of my life. I was tested and I survived.

Suddenly the rat scurries out in front of me. A sole street-light glistens across the steel blade in his right hand. Behind me I can hear footsteps.

The strength returns, and a rage filled roar, more intense than the last, bellows from my gut. I jump as high as I can, hoping to crush him into the ground but he swiftly side steps to the right.

“You want more!” I scream, sprinting towards him and his new rat friend. Again they scurry away into the dark of the night.

I curse at them in Norwegian, “ Fy faen jævla, helvete!” and let out one final “ahhhhhrrrrrhrhhgggg.” I can hear doors locking and animals running, and I know I have won again.

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