2014 – A Year of Travel In 65 Color Photographs

As 2014 comes to a close it is time to look back over the year and to highlight some of my favorite photography. In 2014 I traveled less far-afield than during previous years but simultaneously spent more time familiarizing myself with the intimacies and breadth of texture present within Denmark. The image above is of the the Sand Buried Lighthouse, Rubjerg Knude, in North Jutland, Denmark. I’ve started this post with it because it embodies the spirit of this post; the re-discovery and excavation of memorable photos that might otherwise get lost beneath the persistent march of the sands of time. With this post I’ll be dusting away the sand and re-visiting highlights from a gorgeous year. I hope you enjoy the photos.

Turning 28 Abroad and Reflecting on Success

Hiking Tirol Region, Austria

As I sit here in a small internet cafe on a blustry Turkish day in the small coastal town of Bodrum, I find it hard to believe that I’m already celebrating my 28th birthday.  I suppose it isn’t the most remarkable of birthdays.  It’s not one that signifies becoming a man, earning new rights, or one of life’s cornerstones.  Yet, this past year was one of my favorite so far.

At the risk of sounding like an overly optimistic braggart, I’ll confess that life is good.  Or, if I throw modesty to the winds it would more accurately be described as spectacular!

At this time last year I had just returned from my introductory visit to Turkey. I was preparing to head to Italy where fantastic new opportunities and friends awaited.  I was also finally getting settled and adjusting to life in Copenhagen. The remainder of the last 12 months saw me continue to fall madly, deeply, passionately, in love with Copenhagen.  Bolstered by the support of my parents and brother, it also saw me visit Africa for the first time in the form of Zambia and Botswana, as well as a return to Asia by way of Dubai. Later we would pause in the Czech Republic, Germany, England and Scotland.  I  spent Halloween in Canada having just wrapped up a polar bear safari, and then prepared for the new year with a re-visit to Prague. The new year came and with it a quick trip up to Norway. Now, as I write this post, I’m on the tail-end of a trip to Austria where I learned to ski in the heart of the Alps and, a culinary and cultural meander through Turkey.

Each of these adventures provided fresh, exciting, and wonderful learning experiences. They fed my voracious appetite for new stimuli and a better understanding of the world. They were also largely made possible, either directly or indirectly, through the endless support of family, close friends, and you, my readers. It was one of my best travel years to date and it really pushed (and tore down) a lot of my old comfort boundaries.  Last week I broke 500,000 views on youtube (thank you!). The website continues to perform well and I’ve been approached about a number of exciting opportunities which will help showcase VirtualWayfarer, my photography, my writing, and my videos. It is an exciting time with a lot of irons in the fire.

Beyond pure travel though, the year also brought challenges and change.  I’m in the midst of finishing up my Masters degree and will be polishing off my thesis come August (assuming all goes according to plan).  I’m very happy with my progress, the grades I’ve gotten as part of the program, and above all the wonderful experiences I’ve had while doing a two-year masters abroad.  Still, it has been 21 months since the last time I was back in the US. That in and of itself poses a wealth of challenges. Over the past year we lost several extended family members and several close family friends. Those are always some of the most difficult moments while abroad.  It is easy to beat yourself up for not being there or being able to return to say goodbye.  They also make you wonder if you’re making a horrible mistake and doing a grave disservice to friends and loved ones by spending time so far away and apart. Luckily, Skype and Facebok help bridge that gap in a way that still amazes me. Not a week goes by that I don’t spend an hour or two in casual conversation with my folks and brother, despite the long distances between Zambia, Arizona, and Denmark.

Positive Choices and Perspective

This past year was possible because of decisions I made and priorities which I set and stuck to, despite significant challenges.  I’ve chosen to keep my daily expenses low, not to adopt a dog or cat, and to avoid buying a house. At a certain level my tangible ties to a specific place and things are limited – something which is rewarding, but also has a certain cost to it and comes with a periodic sense of weariness and transience.  I’ve had two succesful careers outside of my time spent as a student, but even those were selected, honed, and sustained only so long as they moved me in the general direction I have chosen for myself financially, intellectually, professionally, and personally.

What only a few select friends know and truly understand is just how difficult it can be for me to drive myself forward towards the goals I’ve set for myself. To overcome the doubts, the false turns, an inclination for stability, fear of the unknown, to face the profound weight of expectations, and then persevere.

The face many see is one of confidence. Of someone who unflinchingly tackles the unknown and the exotic.  Who embraces new things and new challenges with a smile and a laugh, while leaving behind the stable and the comfortable again and again. Yet, beneath the confident image is a raging sea of uncertainty and discomfort.  I am, by my very nature, a long-term thinker.  I weigh potential benefits, and if left to act based on impulse, operate conservatively.  I’m rarely reckless, and seldom completely impulsive.  When I was younger, I suffered from a fairly strong case of social anxiety. It is something I’ve overcome and mostly conquered but, at times I still feel physically nauseous when preparing for important social events or acting outside my social comfort zone. It can still be so strong that I’ve been tempted to consider anti-anxiety medications and similar tools – but I’ve always come back to the same conclusion.  It would treat the symptoms but do little to overcome the source or to help me truly move forward in my personal development. After all, discomfort is not necesarilly bad, and sometimes it is a strength. Part and parcel of that inclination towards conservative action is a strong desire not to come across as appearing silly or ignorant.

Perhaps that is why I find travel so addictive. It constantly forces me to push each of these boundaries and to become a stronger person. I still get slightly sick to my stomach before a long bus ride or flight. Figuring out public transportation in a new city is not only an exciting challenge to unravel, but also an unnerving one. Travel takes simple things that we are used to and familiar with – such as toilets and bathrooms – and turns them into new challenges.  It provides new foods, new peoples, new languages, and new cultural norms. It also allows us access to new communities we have previously avoided or missed out on.  Most recently, this was embodied by my trip to the Tirol region of Austria to learn how to ski. It took until I was 28 to learn, in no small part, because I was deeply anxious over my complete lack of knowledge and skill.  Sure, there were plenty of excuses to justify the delay, but at the end of the day, it came down to a fear of the unknown, looking like a fool (even in front of complete strangers half a world away), and failing to perform at the level I expect of myself.  As has happened so many times before, the fears I had built up in my head and the what-ifs were mostly hollow.  Oh, sure, there were moments of embarassment as I had to ask basic questions and as I stumbled my way through the ski and spa culture.  Challenges that included figuring out everything from what to tip my ski instructor to what (not to wear) and how to get comfortable (quickly) with sitting naked in a sauna across from a mixture of German and Austrian men and women.

As I reflect, this year has re-affirmed time and time again that it is all about moving forward.  About constantly pushing the comfort zone, and re-visiting past successes.  It’s not only a matter of pushing our personal comforts, it is a matter of re-visiting those new conquests until they become comfortable and burned into our muscle and conscious memory.

In my Ignite Phoenix talk a few years ago I told people to “Just Say Yes”.  This is something that was re-affirmed in a major way once again this past year, but it is hard and seldom gets easier.  It is a constant challenge and for every two uncomfortable YES!s I manage, there is at least one “No” or “Not Today” to go with it.  Still, I consider myself a YES person, not an “If only…” person.  The truth of it is that if you’re unhappy with (or merely content with) the opportunities life has presented you with, if you look at other people and dream of doing things they’re doing, or wonder what that life might be like – then you’re probably justifying inaction with excuses.  While luck may exist, it is more often a matter of choice. Of not putting things off, or justifying passing on opportunities by qualifying everything with, “If only I…” or “If only it…”.  The choices we make and the role of fear in shaping those choices is paramount to crafting who we are and who we want to become.  We can justify inaction by looking at others and using their own success and appearance of confidence to justify our inaction or we can drive ourselves forward one small step at a time.

As I prepare for life after my Masters degree, which will entail a return to the corporate world, I know that I have to fix my end goals in mind’s-eye and then strive to work towards those goals while being very aware of how I may act (or fail to) in order to hedge my bets. It’s the small things – like failure to book a flight or to get paperwork filed before an application deadline that are fatal to our success and pushing our comfort zones – not big decisions.

This year has also led to conversations that have re-affirmed and helped me better formalize my understanding of the pressures that go with success.  The truth is that the more success you enjoy, the greater the yoke of responsibility that comes with it. Years ago, one of my college suite-mates committed suicide. It was a shock, in no small part because he was profoundly succesful, both socially, academically, and within the local community.  Despite being in the final stages of University, I remember noting that one of Arizona’s State Representatives was present and spoke at the funeral. His death, and others like it, have contantly reminded me that while we often look at our peers and those people we view as profoundly succesful, inspiring, and (perhaps) useful for a bit of introspective self intimidation, what we overlook is the unspoken pressure to perform that goes with success.   My old suite-mate had one failiure that he felt so overwhelmed and doomed him, that he lost sight of all his other assets and successes.  While his was an extreme case that resulted in extreme action, we all take similar, if greatly diluted, actions on a regular basis.

There is a deep fear of failure. To even admit its existance potentially shatters that image of confidence, success, and casual ease.  As I push myself to succeed and I face the prospect of failure, I am constantly reminded of the lesson his actions taught me. I am reminded that failure, while daunting, is seldom half as uncomfortable as the fear of failure itself.  I am reminded that to enjoy success and to grow as an individual, I have to come to terms with the challenges of failure, of external judgement, and of decisions and actions that may be the right course for me, but which may differ from those otherwise expected of me – be it by family, by friends, by culture, by work, or by social contract.  I must also remember that inaction is often every bit as damning as a failed attempt. Luckily, this past year – as with those before it – has shown me that I won the familial lottery and have been blessed with incredibly supportive parents.  That alone makes it much easier to push myself forward and develop as a man; to grow as an indivdual into who I choose to be – not what fear and failed opportunities leave me. It also makes it easier to be selective as I seek out the friends I choose as company and the people I surround myself with.  People who inspire me, who drive me forward, and who challenge me. These are the foundations which sustain true success.

So, as I reflect on the past year, I invite you to join me in looking at your own lives, choices, fears, and the challenges that go with them.  It need not be something as major as jumping out of an airplane, or catching the next flight to the most war-torn part of Africa.  Instead, start simply and aim for repetition.  Order something outside of what you would normally eat, take a public bus for the first time, or force yourself to ask a question or voice your ignorance when a topic arises that is beyond the scope of what you know now, at this moment. Read, research, and browse. Surely, the end result will be new perspective, new opportunities and new confidence. All of which will better prepare you to say YES the next time opportunity presents itself.

So, I leave you with these thoughts and a heartfelt thank you for your support, your wisdom, your knowledge, your curiosity, and for helping me challenge myself and mature.  Each year, and each new experience, moves me closer towards who I want to be as an individual.  Which is not to say I am not deeply happy with who I am now.  Today.  But, life is a process of continuing growth and for the chance to craft who we are into something even wiser and more capable.

Safe travels, open roads.

My Top 5 Travel Videos From 2012

Alex Berger Year In Review

In 2012 I filmed a ton of HD video footage as part of my mission to do more videos.  A lot of that footage still needs to be edited.  My equipment has also improved a lot over the course of the year as has my understanding of how to create and edit a video.  Ultimately, I ended up uploading 22 videos that highlight everything from student life here in Copenhagen to polar bears waging fairly epic mock battles in Churchill, Canada.  I’ve gone through and picked 5 of my favorites, but you can see all of the videos over on youtube. I’ll also be adding a bunch of new ones over 2013 (already have the footage from Prague and Scotland lined up!) so make sure to subscribe.

1. The Great Polar Bear Migration

2. The Death of a Hippo (May make you cry)

3. A Video Tour of Cappadocia in the Snow

4. Tasting Olive Oil (watch to the end)

5. The South Luangwa Safari (Wildlife Footage)

These are just a few of the year’s videos and there are quite a few that just barely missed the list (underground cave cities and sleepy lion cubs to name a few).  Now that the year is winding down and i’m forced to pause for a breather and reflect on the past year, it’s amazing to recall just how different the start of the year which was spent in Turkey and Italy was from the summer which I spent in the heart of Africa and Northern Scotland and which was a stark contrast to end of the year which I rounded out in rural Canada.

Video was shot predominantly on my Canon Vixia HF200 and my Canon T3i (600D) dSLR. Voice overs used my iphoneor the built in microphone on the HF 200.

Thank you all so much for your support in 2012, your feedback, your kind words, your likes, your shares, and your attention.

Have special requests for 2012 or questions? Let me know!

A Year In Review

Preikestolen, Norway

Two thousand ten was a spectacular year.  A year that told the world, “Yes, you’re really in the 21st century and no, it’s not going anywhere”.  It was a year which history looked to with grand aspirations, dreams and expectations. It was a year that brought great strife, both in the form of economic and military struggles as well as brutal natural disasters. Yet, it was also a year that brought a sense of economic recovery, fantastic new milestones in science and reminders that the future will always be bright for those who choose to shape their destiny.

Professionally – On a more personal level 2010 was a spectacular year for me.  Many may be wondering why I’m writing a year in review post nearly two weeks into 2011. Well, the answer lies in just how busy, adventurous and enjoyable 2010 was.  The truth is, this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and type out my thoughts or even to truly reflect on 2010 as a whole.

On a professional level I saw significant growth.  I was able to continue to weather the tail end of the financial recession in a workplace I enjoy with people I have the utmost respect for despite being in an industry that was nearly obliterated by the great recession.

I continued to grow my web-based projects and launched http://travelresourcelist.com which has been well received and supplements my http://ultimatepackinglist.com resource site which has also continued to grow and receive widespread praise.  In addition to these projects I launched http://youtube.com/travelanswers which has been an enjoyable side project.  All the while, these projects further supported the continued growth and health of this site, VirtualWayfarer.com.  2010 saw VW pay for itself and turn a small profit, as well as increase its web presence and following. Not bad for a side hobby!

From a personal branding point of view 2010 saw me rank in several top 100 travel personality/blog lists, quoted on MSNBC Travel, and across a variety of major travel oriented web blogs.  The year also provided an opportunity to return to Ignite Phoenix and deliver a second presentation to a sold out, 700 person audience. This time on the power and advantages of solo travel.  The year also presented me with the opportunity to return to Arizona State University where I gave three guest lectures. Two on Global Communities and Virtual Worlds and one to Journalism students on the value and benefits of blogging and social media. Lastly, the year provided the opportunity to meet a wealth of local travel professionals and bloggers through the Arizona Travel Tweetup series which I organized, launched and hosted.

2010 also saw me begin my preparations and exploration into a return to school in the pursuit of a Masters and PhD.  With 8 applications in to top tier schools last year set what I hope will bring new adventures, challenges and great growth in motion. Exciting!

Alex in Patagonia

Travel/On The Road – I could not have asked for a better series of trips.  2010 offered me a rare opportunity in which I enjoyed both summer solstices (northern and southern hemisphere) in near polar locations.  In the northern hemisphere I enjoyed it in Central Norway, in the southern hemisphere I celebrated it in Tierra del Fuego Argentina, often referred to as ‘el fin del mundo’ or the end of the earth. These locations offered long days, short nights and amazing memories.

In 2010 I added 5 new countries to my list.  Though two of those (Chile and Peru) were only quick airport layovers I experienced Norway, Denmark and Argentina thoroughly for the first time while revisiting Ireland, Mexico and Germany which have become old travel companions and friends.

In total I spent approximately 38 days in 2010 abroad.  This was split between a 20 day trip and a 18 day trip.  Where I welcomed 2010 on a sandy beach in Playa del Carmen, Mexico I bid the year goodbye from a steamy rooftop terrace in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In addition to my trips abroad, I also realized the opportunity for some regional domestic tourism with extended weekend trips to Northern Arizona.  While there I re-visited the Grand Canyon for the first time in years while enjoying a spectacular sunset, photographed the painted desert, explored Flagstaff through the eyes of a tourist and re-visited Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon.

The year also brought the opportunity to connect with old friends. Some of whom I hadn’t seen in years, others of whom I’d met last year on the road during my travels.  They hosted me, entertained me and shared their native culture, cities and lives with me, which was a pure delight and incredible gift.  Similarly, my adventures presented the opportunity to make a wealth of new friends from the world over who I look forward to hosting or visiting in the not-so-distant future.  On a related note, I hosted my first two couchsurfers in 2010 which introduced me to two delightful people, while meeting up with several others for coffee.

Sunset at the Grand Canyon

In Review – There’s no doubt a lot which I’ve left out or overlooked, but in truth it’s just icing on the icing on the cake.  This past year was an incredible one. One which I will remember fondly for the rest of my life.  So, while I’m sorry to see it go, given all the great things it offered I cannot wait to see what 2011 brings.  The promise of new discoveries, new adventures, new growth, new experiences, and new people with powerful lessons and incredible insights.

Goodbye 2010 and welcome 2011.  Let the adventure continue!