Burning Man is now a massive spectacle, but it had humble origins on San Francisco's Baker Beach. What meek little event will grow up to be the next big thing? Here's one dark horse racing out of Europe's most underappreciated capital city.
Do you know another burgeoning event that captures the Burning Man spirit? Tell me about it in the comments.
Serbia is poised to be the world's top European destination. It will do it without the things tourists are trained to want, because the world is about to change its mind about travel.
Cheap flights and growing economies have created a massive populace of new tourists. The industry which funnels them into the world is based on creating inflated expectations.
Think about how much fun you'll have on your 5 day tour through Europe!
This paradigm is good at making money, but terrible at providing what we deeply crave: connection. Expectations ultimately let you down. Things are never as rosy as imagined, or as glossy as their marketing. The romance of Paris will evaporate when a local is rude to you, the "cultural experience" in Vienna will sour when you notice the only Austrians in the room are being paid, and Stonehenge won't provide the wonderment you hoped to feel because you were quickly marched around it by a person holding a mini flag.
This disappointment will lead this new populace to the same conclusion most travelers eventually reach: Travel is better without expectations. A destination is more impactful when it's allowed to define itself.
Enter Serbia: a country with a minuscule presence in the travel market. You probably know nothing about this destination. Perfect! Come without reading a single article. What a treat to open a destination like a Christmas present, with no idea what's inside that big box.
Serbia has dodged the mainstream trap because it doesn't have many marketable checkboxes. There is no Everest, no Vatican, and no Eiffel Tower. It has a subtle charm and beauty which can't be easily defined in a tourist brochure. It's simply genuine, open, and honest. What that means to you will have to be defined through direct experience.
When today's multitude of new tourists mature they will desire a deeper level of travel. Serbia is ready to provide.
Coffee is one of the world's favorite drinks. It has many health benefits. It's the centerpiece of pleasant morning rituals, business meetings, and casual dates. So why stop? A temporary break from caffeine could make a profound impact on your perspective. Principally in these five areas:
1. Sympathy for your fellow addict: Go cold turkey on your coffee habit and you will quickly realize you are an addict. Moreover, there is a good chance you will relapse before breaking free (while reciting the classic excuses used by all drug addicts).
The rough attempt to quit caffeine will create sympathy for the staggering amount of people in prison for drug possession. Perhaps you could become an ally in changing the world's draconian policies to something more like Portugal's successful model of decriminalization.
2. Boost your self control: One of the great virtues in life is self control. Are we a slave to our passions or do we have choice? Whether it's porn, coffee, or refined sugar; the only way to prove control is to confirm the ability to stop. You've got a whole lifetime to indulge. Can you abstain for just one month?
3. Reframe views of happiness: There are many folks who would benefit from anti-depressants but don't utilize this resource. Why? There is a societal disapproval of chemical cures... a belief that a person should be able to make themselves happy through pure willpower.
Quitting a caffeine habit will smash this perception in the teeth. A day or two into the cleanse a chemical reaction will plunge one into a deep state of grumpiness. A grey raincloud will hang above. Watch how fast it evaporates just minutes after drinking a coffee. Everything is right in the world again.
While contemplating a new appreciation of chemical cures, the caffeine abstainer can also seek other methods of finding well being, such as meditation and mindfulness.
4. Get a grip on anxiety: There is a heap of worry in our modern world. We are inherently anxious creatures. But what is our baseline and how much is the caffeine? Temporarily removing this stimulant provides a more accurate assessment of the stress we process.
5. Unleash caffeine's power: To the addict a dose is like scratching an itch. Its appeal is the sensation of relief. To the casual user a dose provides the full potential of a drug. After breaking a coffee habit, one will discover that caffeine becomes a useful tool for moments when a boost of energy and alertness is most useful. The addict doesn't get the same reward.
The research say coffee consumption is positive, but committing to a cleanse has many benefits. I'm a fan of the beverage, but also dedicate myself to the occasional break**. It gives me a sense of self control, makes me more understanding of the delicate nature of brain chemistry, and has given me more sympathy for people who struggle with other addictions. Hope it does the same for you.
** The first break from coffee, done while filming in Romania, was a bitch. The withdrawal lasted 10 days. Sleepy, lethargic, and grumpy most of the duration; although I'd occasionally wake up at 4AM wide awake. Now I no longer cold turkey my breaks from caffeine, but will slowly decrease consumption over the course of a week until I'm off the sauce. However, that cold-turkey experience was extremely valuable for self growth and understanding the addictive power of drugs. I recommend everyone try it once.
President Trump’s April 26th Executive Order requires a review of national monuments dating back to 1996. Our time to influence this review is coming to an end. Bears Ears National Monument comments are closed on May 26, all others on July 10th. This is a closing opportunity to tell our government our values.
Some of you feel helpless in today's political climate. Will this really make a difference?
All comments go on public record. The Department of Interior must take into account the balance of "yeas" to "neys". If the department's decision goes against our wishes the process will almost certainly lock up in legal battles. The result of those battles will be heavily influenced by our input. Leaving comments and opinions creates a vital paper trail for the courts.
What if I'm a Trump supporter and want to stay loyal to my leader?
Trump's order puts national monuments under review, which means he's asking: How much do you care? The best way you can support your president is to give him an honest answer to his question.
Big oil is answering the question. They are submitting these forms right now. Corporations view the world in terms of growth and profit. That's simply the nature of the beast. A shark is designed to eat without regard for the seal's feelings. A corporation wants to grow without regard for the value of tranquility, recreation, or natural beauty. If we value these things as individuals we must exercise our political power to protect them.
What if you came home to find someone carving out a piece of your lawn for a project that would pay you zero money? That's exactly the nature of this looming threat. National monuments are your land. You can't grab your shotgun, but you can fill out this form.
But.. They probably just want a teeny tiny slice of land.
The promise of protecting national monuments is a promise of forever. That's how the Antiquities Act was designed. That promise is broken if a piece of land is forfeited. With this precedent it will become easier to lose more and more of our land to industry exploitation.
We can put flags on our cars, and sing the national anthem with pride at the big game; but there is nothing more patriotic than defending the land. It's where the rubber meets the road.
For every Republican, Democrat, or Independent there must be a serene place that we cherish: A favorite fishing spot where we bond with good friends, that epic hike which provided new perspective, or the camping trip that crowns the memory of a great romance.
Some of my life's best moments happened on land which is now in danger. Join me to protect these spaces. Now is the time to act.
Send THIS FORM (with an adjustable letter provided by an action committee)
Or fill out THIS FORM (from the official government site)
Make your voice heard. Defend your land.
P.S. Here is my letter to the Secretary of the Interior:
Protect Our National Monuments
Dear Secretary Zinke,
I officially oppose any concession of Bears Ears or our other national monuments. I believe Teddy R. would agree that the promise to protect these lands is a promise of forever. A forfeit of even an acre breaks that promise and sets a dangerous precedent to carve out more and more of our protected land.
These spaces have been valuable to my mental well being and enjoyment of life, and have inspired thousands who have seen them on our show Road Less Traveled.
These historic sites represent a crucial part of our American heritage – they protect Native American sacred ground, preserve areas of historic and scientific value, and drive local economies with opportunities for recreation and tourism.
The authority given by the Antiquities Act is well-tested and clear, and the process by which each of these 27 monuments was designated included significant local input in conjunction with a broad view of our shared national interests. President Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act in 1906 to protect our shared American landscape from corporate looting.
I urge you to protect and preserve our nation’s national monuments from any changes.
New travelers often make the same error as young bucks: They put too much value on the count. Months later, what is left from that quick night with Jennifer or blazing through Italy in five days? Both were better than staying home, but an opportunity lost to go deeper.
The era of social media and cheap HD cameras has exacerbated this old traveler pitfall. Destinations are now edited down to highlight reels. Production teams, eager to push out content, fall into the same ruts that steer the banana-pancake backpackers: Laos becomes a drunken float tour and waterfalls, the Philippines is about a party in Boracay and paddling kayaks around Coron; Italy is about hiking Cinque Terre and eating pasta.
This content is not without virtue. It inspires folks to travel, which is intrinsically a good thing. However, it inadvertently encourages the idea of checklists: You gotta do this. You have to go here.
People don't care about numbers as much as we estimate*, and numbers don't build a sense of self-worth as much as we hope. Investing time in a culture or a person creates connection. Connection opens the mind by exposing us to different perspectives. Connection creates a sensation of belonging and inclusion. Connection fosters understanding and love. This is the essence of travel.
St. Augustine famously said "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page."
The world is more like a library. Those who do not travel read only one book. Those who speed travel are only reading the back covers.
The wealth of emotions, the complexity of the human experience, and the novel perspectives can only be reaped deep in the pages.
* With the exception of social media numbers, which is a currency that continues to gain value.
One night 500 Californians were killed and thrown into the ocean. There were smashed and drowned by a fifty meter wall of water as it tumbled violently down a series of valleys. Bodies were recovered as far south as Mexico. The catastrophic collapse of the St. Francis Dam was the second biggest tragedy in state history, and the epic downfall of California's favorite son: William Mulholland.
Despite the dramatic story and stunning setting this spot is rarely visited. Southern California's grand disaster has become a traveler's secret spot. Here are my recommendations if you'd like to discover it:
1. Hike Up the Abandoned Road: Take San Francisquito Canyon Road about a hundred meters north of San Francisquito Motorway. On the east side of the street you'll see this abandoned road barricaded off. Walk towards the lush forest growing where the old lake water pushed against the dam. Emerging from the forest there will be piles of rubble to your left and a small hill to your right. These are both worth exploring.
2. Scramble over the Rubble to the Left: Climbing over big chunks of the old dam notice metal pipes and other curiosities poking out of the ruins. Once you surmount the first pile you'll find a serene little creek and pool on the other side. It's a good spot for a tiny picnic. I took a dip on my first visit, but saw an unidentified snake slither off in the deep. There may also be more concrete with metal attachments underwater, so I'd advice against leaping in unless you thoroughly explore the depth.
3. Climb up the Ridge to the Right: After scrambling around the rubble to the left of the road, go back and scale that ridge on the other side. It has very clear remains of the dike which was a 3 meter extension of the old dam. From the top it's easy to see the exact placement of the doomed structure. Also, looking north, you get this gorgeous view of the forest, dramatically lush in contrast to the dry hills around. Notice your parked car off in the distance by the new road.
4. Head for the Big Rock in the Distance: From the ridge, looking across the rubble of the old dam, a prominent rock is visible. To get there drive down San Francisquito Motorway about 1.3 miles until a fireroad appears on the left. From there it's a fairly easy climb up to a T junction. Go left on the narrower trail which will lead straight to that rock. From the top one can see the remains of the entire old dam and trace the path of the water as it plowed down the valley before hooking a right around Castaic Junction, following the Santa Clara River Valley to the Pacific Ocean.
5. Extend your Exploration: To make a full day of the St. Francis Dam story, follow the water course down towards Ventura.
Before going, read the dramatic story of the St. Francis Dam and the rise and fall of Mulholland. It's a doozy of a tale which will make this adventure all the more impactful.
What are your favorite drugs? Chances are they match up closely with The Aztecs'. Pulque (An alcohol beverage) and chocolate (caffeine and theobromine) were consumed throughout Pre-Hispanic Central America to connect with the divine.**
The fertility goddess Mayahuel (the Dionysus of Mexico) is still well-represented today with the addition of beer and mescal in the national palate.
But Mayahuel's matriarchal status is in danger. A new substance arrived with the Europeans. Like them, it has gone on to conquer.
Mexicans are now the world's most avid consumers of soft drinks. Diabetes kills more people every 2 years than the drug war has in the last decade. The government, detecting an epidemic, introduced a sin tax on such beverages in 2014. The effort is proving to be an effective counterbalance to a product that gives the brain a bigger dopamine kick than cocaine.
On the summit of a jagged cliff, a temple to the alcohol gods stands exalted high above the town of Tepoztlán. Beside it, a small refreshment stand dishes out drinks to thirsty hikers. Pulque is nowhere to be found and ice cold beer is off the menu; but rows of plastic cups are filled with brown and yellow soda, fizzing like a chorus of praise to the sticky-sweet usurper.
**All cultures in history have roughly two socially acceptable drugs. These two drugs often changed. Coffee was illegal during large stretches of time in the Ottoman Empire and Sweden. Alcohol was blacklisted in the U.S. for 13 years, but you could buy opium over the counter for most of the 19th century.
1. Drop Everything for a Good Time (The Philippines): With 300$ and three days preperation a Road Less Traveled beauty pageant was organized. The secret ingredient was a mayor and people who were willing to prioritize something fun. In many other countries this would have been mired in red tape, but in the P.I. they know that peak experiences are a precious commodity in life.
2. Practice What You Preach (India): India has the most fertile spiritual soil in the world. There exist sadhus who left everything, counting on providence for every meal; monks who dedicate their entire lives to meditation; and black magic practitioners who would have killed me if the conditions were right. I'm not standing behind these choices, but you have to admire someone who does as they say.
3. Talk to Strangers (Ireland): On the way to my hotel in Dublin an older gentleman came around the corner and began speaking as if we were old pals.
"You'll never believe what the lady at the bar said to me," he began.
"What did she say," I replied with a smile.
From there an amusing five minute chat unfolded. We had a good crack.
Recent studies demonstrate we all prefer interaction, but we are afraid to bother others. Therefore heaps of interesting people sit silently together in public spaces, all retreating into phones for mild stimulation. What a shame. Connection is what truly makes us happy in life. If you don't believe it ask yer man in Ireland.
4. Be Hospitable (Serbia, Jordan, Romania): In Novi Sad, Serbia a friend of a friend gave me his apartment keys within 5 minutes of meeting, saying he'd sleep at his girlfriend's.
In Jordan a bus driver suggested the hotels by the Dead Sea were overpriced, but his buddy would host me for free. His friend, a roadside tea vendor with kids, gave up his one and only bed, refusing my offer of money.
In Romania I struck up conversation with a family on a train. They insisted I get off at their stop for a home cooked dinner. After the meal they took heirlooms off the shelves of their modest apartment, insisting they be brought to my parents and sister.
The hospitality experienced on the road is one big reason everyone should travel. It taught me that kindness to strangers is a great virtue. It's something people never forget, carry with them, and often pass on to others.
5. Be Brave (Sarawak): There is an area which was once home to brave hunters (Penan) who would stalk the forests with spears and poison darts. They were recently displaced for a hydroelectric project. The government relocation homes looked decent, but they were truly in the middle of nowhere, with zero facilities around. Moreover, they were almost empty. The Penan came to their new homes and left them.
Where did they go? An old chicken coop, adjacent to a school where their kids could learn the ways of the modern world. The world which had blindsided them. Their choice, sacrificing comfort and pride to give their children opportunity, was a beautiful act of the human spirit. These Penan are not facing savage boars in the jungle anymore, but they maintain indomitable bravery. We all suffer setbacks in life, often at the whim of an uncaring system or unjust people. No one knows this better than Sarawak's indigenous tribes. They teach us that no matter how crappy your hand of cards, you must not fold, but play them as best you can with your chin up high.
People often ask me how to get a job as a travel show host. Although there is a lot more work involved than most realize, I'm very grateful to have my position and voice. Becoming the host of a travel show was a pinnacle moment. I felt like my whole life had funneled towards that destiny.
When opportunity came knocking I didn't think, "I hope I get it." Instead, I realized, "I am this guy." I had accrued a life full of decisions that shaped me into the ideal candidate. Although there are many ways to cook an omelet, these are some of those decisions I made and the path I took:
If yo want to become a travel show host I wish you the best on that journey. Keep in mind that most people I've met in LA who came to "become famous" are long gone. If you want to host a travel show simply because you "want to travel and get paid for it", you only have a piece of the puzzle. You've got to have a "why" and you'll only find it by living the life, discovering yourself, and cultivating a higher purpose before you begin to broadcast.
I'm Jonathan Legg
I went to college, but I still graduated a closed minded young man. The road, however, has been my greatest teacher.. challenging stagnant beliefs, disarming prejudices, and facilitating understanding and appreciation for people different from me. I hope the content on this blog and my shows can bring a sliver of that juju to you.