Originally published for my exclusive Monthly Email List.
Greetings from the Gobi Desert, Mongolia! I’m about to begin the last leg of the Siberian/Mongolian ride from Moscow to Beijing – a perfect time to share some thoughts. This month, I want to touch on:
– The Transsiberian Railway – Thoughts and a Few Photos
– How to Survive a Drunk Russian Attack + Travel Safety 101
– Mid Year Review + How to Deal With New Opportunities
Let’s get into it:
1) The Transsiberian Railway – Thoughts and a Few Photos
I left Moscow’s Kazansky railway station roughly two weeks ago, and from there on headed to Kazan and Ekaterinburg for roughly a day each, to Lake Baikal for around three days, and to Mongolia for about a week. I’ve also stopped a couple of hours at multiple random places as Ulan Ude or Barabinsk. It’s been incredibly fun!
I’ll touch on a few key thoughts, and, after that, share a few photos from my favorite places:
– Russia According to the West vs. Real Russia. Moscow is shiny and modern. Aeroflot is nicer than most European airlines. The Transib trains are spot-clean and run on time to the minute. While Russians don’t speak much English (if at all), they’ve been very friendly to me the whole way. The West paints Russia as a dysfunctional, corrupt, and decaying place – but, once in Russia, you see a different picture. While it’s far from perfect, it’s also not so bad.
– My Ridiculous ‘Paradox of Choice’ Case. I’m incredibly grateful for finally being able to take this trip, but at the same time, to my amusement, I was “sad” for going to Beijing and not all the way to Vladivostok – the “real” Transsib. This is, of course, ridiculous – but, as it’s often the case, if you’re ambitious and think big, once you complete an objective, you set sight on the next one.
It’s good to keep ambitions high, to keep driving yourself to achieve more and to become better, but there’s a fine line to when that attitude can turn self-destructive. The key, at least in my case, is to keep ambitious, always!, but, at the same time, to stay also grateful and ever-present in the moment. For the latter, it has helped me to:
a) meditate every morning, as it helps with present-moment awareness,
b) journal every morning, specifically writing three things I’m grateful for that specific day,
c) make a ‘grateful prayer’ (for a lack of a better word) before bed, thinking or writing down multiple things I’m grateful for.
You’re lucky, always remember that!
(With that said, I do plan, eventually, to do the rest of the Transsib – from Ulan Ude to Vladivostok, or maybe even the more exotic Baikal-Amur Railway which is a few hundred kilometers further north. That time, though, in winter! :D)
– Lots of Time for Books. I’ve read four books so far (plus went through a couple more in audio) during the trip. Ironically, the quotes/passages that stuck to me more during the trip are not from these books, but from one other one I was re-reading, Scott Adams’ “biography”:
. “You can’t directly control luck, but you can move from a game with low odds of success to a game with better odds”.
. “If you find yourself in a state of continual failure in your personal and business life, you might be blaming it on fate or karma or animal spirits or some other form of magic when the answer is simple math. There’s usually a pattern, but it might be subtle. Don’t stop looking just because you don’t see the pattern in the first seven years.”
. “If you want success, figure out the price, then pay it.”
Few Highlights of the Transsib
Here’s the mighty Lake Baikal – by volume the world’s biggest lake, holding ~20% of the world’s fresh water. The scenery is fascinating – with the calmness of the lake, mountains in the background, and small shamanic shrines by the shore.
(Note: I didn’t take this photo – I’d it as a desktop background, and it looks much better than all the ones I’ve taken myself :D)
Here’s the Nadaam National Mongolian Festival in Karakorum. I was, by chance, in the local festival in Genghis Khan’s “capital” – could see Mongolians shoot arrows, wrestle, race with their horses, and more.
That’s the train, here the 002 ‘Rossiya’ – more comfortable than you would imagine, and a cozy home for a few days.
The Trans-Siberian Guide
I haven’t found a proper internet guide that can help arrange all the multiple details for the Transsib – the train tickets, the flights, the tours, the packing, etc. I’ll then probably write one myself. Do you think you would be interested in that? If so, let me know – specific questions/points to add would be appreciated!
2) How to Survive a Drunk Russian Attack + Travel Safety 101
In Yekaterinburg, I was sitting on a bench circa 8.00am when a 30-something, nice-looking, though slightly drunk Russian guy came up to me and tried to talk. I couldn’t get a thing of what he was saying, but he didn’t look menacing – so I smiled and let him go his way.
A minute or so later, he came back. He looked a bit more insistent, though still not menacing – but, as you’ll see below, I’m not the trusty-type, and I quickly got up, started walking, and moved on. The guy didn’t try to stop me, and just stayed there hanging out.
Soon after, though, I saw he was walking in the same direction I was. Coincidence? I don’t take anything for granted, so I started walking much faster. We’d maybe 50-80 meters between us, a safe enough distance.
Then it got spooky. Less than a minute later, he started to walk much faster as well. It was suspicious enough, so I decided to go to the main street, some ~5 blocks away. I didn’t know what the guy wanted, but better be at a place full of people instead of some random side street.
I crossed the street and turned right to another street, trying to get rid of him. It didn’t work – he made the same turns, gazed after me, and started running. Oops.
As soon as I saw him running, I immediately started a sprint towards the main street as well – and, though I had my backpack with me, I was still faster than he was. I could build up some distance, and two things definitely helped: a) I travel with a light and small 35L backpack, and b) I wear my running/sports shoes when in a “dodgy” city and never flip flops, even if it’s hot, just in case I need to run.
I ran full-speed two, maybe three more blocks, and I got to the main street, turned left, and kept sprinting towards the safest place around – I saw a bus stop around a block and a half away, with what looked like 5-10 people.
Then it got frightening – the guy was running full-speed after me.
I get to the bus stop, surround myself with all the Russians, and, once the guy finds me, I hide behind the people and start shouting “Police”, “Police”. The bus stop people start questioning the guy, but he plays it friendly, and keeps following me inside the stop. I keep my distance, I keep shouting “Police”, but the guy doesn’t go, and looks angry and with a “killer look” in his face.
Less than a minute later, two buses arrive and people start boarding, leaving the bus stop mostly empty, and leaving me, again, alone with the guy. In a snap, I decide to leave the shaky place and board a bus, even though I had no clue where it was heading. He stays put, looks to me with frustration, and just goes away.
This small ‘incident’ is one of many I had while on the road, and inspired me, that day, when back on the train, to write down some of what I believe are the keys to stay safe while on the road.
Like most things, the most important tips are simple enough to fit in just one page. It’s mostly common sense, so no need to over do it.
Overall, remember that there’s never a sure-proof way to keep 100% safe.
Level 1 – The Basics
– Leave Valuables at Home or Insure. If you’re going to a “risky” place, leave valuables at home, or get an insurance for in case they get stolen. I brought my computer to Siberia, but I knew that if it got snatched by a thief, the insurance would pay for it.
– Spread Valuables Out. Don’t put all your cash, cards and documents all in the same spot. I leave some on my main bag, carry most in my daypack, and stash emergency cash in my zippered belt.
– Don’t Trust. 95% (or more) of the people you’ll meet are good people, but there’s a 5% who are willing to a) rip you off, or b) steal from you, or c) take advantage or harm you in any way. If you want to stay safe, don’t trust by default, and open up after taking a good deal of time to read the people.
Level 2 – Advanced Tips
– Get a ‘Travel Safe’. I’ve the Pacsafe Travelsafe 5L, a small pouch with doubles as a portable safe. It fits, if necessary, my computer, iPad, all documents, and a bit more. (There’s a bigger version fitting even a DSLR too, but it’s way too big in my opinion.) The safe is useful for hostels, or when you stay in places that are suspicious or hard to lock. While I don’t always take it, it came for Siberia, for instance.
– Get a Loud Whistle. Ideally, attach it to the bag, or as I did, get a bag with a built-in whistle. In case you’re being followed as I was in Yekaterinburg, it helps a lot to draw attention.
– Be Politically Incorrect. Just in case, profile people. For example, in Argentina, the majority of crime is done by teenage or young boys in groups and from immigrant background. It’s easy to spot these small gangs, and, to be safe, it’s much better to keep distance. It’s a similar case in parts of Brazil with black teenagers, or in Eastern Europe with gypsies. If you want to be safer, better stay away of or avoid those groups.
(This is, of course, sad. It’s not nice to profile people like this, but it will keep you safer in the long-run especially if you’re alone. Ask locals in advance. With that said, I once got mugged in Ukraine by a blonde, blue-eyed man 😉 You never know.)
3) Mid Year Review + How to Deal With New Opportunities
(As you can see, I finished writing this email in Beijing. Oops).
Half of 2016 is gone, and, I thought that, with a good chunk of time to fool around while doing 9.000km on the rails, it would be good to do a “Mid Year Review”. So far, 2016 has been intense – I’ve made it to #100, plus a lot more travel, I got engaged, I started a new job, and more.
I could’ve done better, though, so it’s good to capture the lessons and plan ahead. Specifically, I’m sketching 3-5 broad, long-term objectives, and, once I’m done with the detailed planning, I’ll share them with you. With that said, though, a couple of notes:
a) Routines Beat Objectives, Every Time. As I write in my book, the key for long-term success is to set up habits/routines that, if you do them every day, will make it inevitable for you to complete your objectives. For example, if you want to write a book, write ~2.000 words per day. If you do it, every day, and for three months, you’ll have a book. It’s very hard to find the right daily routine for every single objective – but if you do, and if you keep that daily routine over the long term, you’ll eventually get what you want.
b) Be Flexible and Plan for Optionality. As I write this, I’m about to close an opportunity that, though was absolutely not in my radar or plans, in the long-run looks like the better path to go. If I go for it, it might be even be counterproductive towards my new objectives for a year or so, but could pay off in the longer term. Thus, I don’t keep my immediate objectives sacrosanct – instead, I can adapt them as long as the new ones keep me in line with my final objectives and give me more optionality in the future.
I’ll touch more on this specific opportunity next month, as it was something that I had to think quite a bit about – and I’m curious about what you think.
With that said, all the best, and hugs from the Far East,
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