All Roads Lead to Rom…ania!

When i rode my bicycle from Copenhagen to Istanbul in Autumn last year, people along my way kept asking me, “isn’t this a bad time of the year to be doing this?” They might have been right — so, this Autumn i decided i’ll try hitchhiking instead 😀

What? Why!? Where!!?

I suppose you can imply the answer to the last one from the title — for the other two, read on 😉

The premise

An earlier draft of this post contained a lot more words and i could certainly make this sound a lot more complicated — but the process this time was actually quite straightforward.

I’m currently stationed in L’viv, Ukraine — that’s where i decided to take a break after The North Cape Hypothesis, my attempt to ride my bicycle from Niš, Serbia to Nordkapp, Norway via Eastern Europe and Russia.

I plan to stay in L’viv at least until leaving on my next big cycle touring project next Spring/Summer — potentially indefinitely. While i don’t sort out my residence permit, i can’t legally stay in the country for more than a total of 90 days out of every 180 running days though — i had to look for a place nearby where to be for the remaining 90 days.

Sounds like the perfect excuse to return to Romania!

The plan

Once again, quite simple — though perhaps intention is a better term than plan to describe my mindset — plans may change, while i expect the intention laid out below to remain somewhat stable.

As in previous projects, i intend to reconnect with old friends as well as make new ones. I will also once again travel solo and rely largely on the hospitality and creativity of the locals for a safe place to sleep, although self-supported in just about every other regard.

On the other hand, there are many ways in which i expect this to be quite different from previous projects. This time i will be hitchhiking, thus largely relying on the locals for my transportation also — at least for much of it. Interacting with people will remain my focus, but i hope to take that to the next level. I want to stay longer at fewer places this time. The bulk of this project will take place in the Romanian speaking world, and one of my goals is to acquire a conversational level of Romanian. I’m not only seeking to document my encounters better than i have but also to go further out of my comfort zone and ask some of the questions i might not have had the courage or resources to ask before!

But as far as planning is concerned, that’s about all i have to say right now 🙂 — i’m leaving on Friday (November 3rd, 2017) towards the village of Runcu (Dambovita), where i’ll meet my homestay host, and we’ll take it from there 😀

As i expressed in my previous article, i loved Romania the first time i was there earlier this year, and i’m super excited about this prospect!!

The plea

I’m slowly phasing out of social media. I want to focus more and more of my time and energy on creating relevant content for this website and the organic growth of a genuinely interested and engaged audience. If you find what i’ve been doing valuable, or interesting, or inspiring, or promising, or entertaining, or whatever it may be that you like about it, there are two quick actions you may take to help me with that 😉

#1. Sign up for my mailing list!

I am hard at work on a budget long-term traveling tutorial consolidating what i’ve learned over the past couple of years from my personal experience on the road and interacting with other travelers — indeed, a significant component of the present project will be doing some research for that! Those of you who are signed up for the mailing list before the tutorial is released will be the first to see it!

Meanwhile, being on the mailing list also gives you early access to my weekly Trelograms series, which will be delivered straight to your inbox a couple of days before they’re published on the blog, as well as manageable monthly summaries of what i’ve been up to for you to stay in the loop without going insane 😉

#2. Forward this to someone who might care!

I’d rather have you send it as a direct, personal message to one person or a few people you feel might be especially interested — if it’s that much easier for you to mindlessly share it on your social media i’m also fine with that though :p

Thank you so much for your attention, and see you on the road!!


Why I Support Give Directly

This piece is cross-posted on the Give Directly blog, for which it was originally written.


What would you do with an extra $1,000?

I would personally take a couple of months off and ride my bicycle solo from Copenhagen to Istanbul. In fact, that’s what I just did, and $1,000, the size of a typical Give Directly grant, is just about how much the whole operation cost me — including travel insurance and transportation back home. Growing up in a mid-lower class family in Brazil, I had always dreamed of traveling and experiencing the world like that. But I hadn’t had the financial means and opportunity until recently, after a couple of years at a well-paying job which allowed me to save some money and fund the trip myself.

Those were what I judged to be my needs at the moment. Neither cigarettes or alcohol, nor another job, nor anything else. I don’t believe anybody could have made a better decision on my behalf. In fact, few people even understand what I chose to do with that time and money. And yet this experience, which I would hardly call an extended vacation, has made me feel alive in a way I hadn’t for years, and dramatically changed the course of my life. I came back a different person, with a whole new set of values and opportunities to pursue.

That roughly summarizes why I have supported Give Directly, and will continue to donate 10% of my gross earnings to them, as well as promote them in social media and real life. My vision is a world where everybody has the autonomy to decide their own fate. Give Directly’s diligent and incredibly transparent work, repeatedly vetted for several years in a row by reputable charity evaluator GiveWell, has shown that giving cash directly to the poor and letting them judge for themselves, within their context, what to do with it to improve their own lives might be a great way to realize that vision — if not the best!

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Featured image: a GiveDirectly recipient managing their grant on a cellphone; image source: https://www.givedirectly.org/img/socialshare.jpg


Going with Plan A

UPDATED March 6th, 2019 — the journey alluded to at the end of this piece concluded a few months later in Fall ’17 — check out the North Cape Hypothesis to find out more about how it went — if you want to follow me in real time, sign up for my weekly newsletter!


Yet another friend of mine has just landed a sweet programming job.

I’ve been flirting with the idea of pursuing a career in programming myself for the past several years. For some reason i could never quite put my finger on, this has never panned out, at least not as smoothly as it seems to have been the case for dozens of my friends and acquaintances from graduate school or the effective altruism movement.

I believe i may have finally understood what’s going on — despite having taken several courses, used a fair amount of programming in my mathematical research, and occasionally enjoyed playing with an Arduino, i simply don’t think of myself as a programmer.

I’m not talking fixed mindset here — on the contrary. To me a programmer is more like the person who spends a whole month of their lives figuring out how to put this together — indeed, when i look close enough at anybody i know who’s eventually become a full-time programmer, i see a clear story arch under which programming is not merely instrumental to their interests, but rather the key interest itself.

What’s my narrative then?

Well, if coding won’t keep me up all night, planning a hiking trip in Iceland, researching visa requirements and weather patterns along the Silk Road, or checking out how to become an Uber driver and deciding whether that’s a plausible source of travel money will! Anything related to world travel and exploration will not only keep me up late, but also wake me up obscenely early — i’m an explorer!

I have a public confession to make: when i left Brazil in 2008 to attend graduate school in the US, what i was mainly looking for was an opportunity to live abroad.

Unlike many of my friends’ families, mine didn’t have the means to send me on an exchange program while i was in high school. I continued to pursue my path to financial independence by going to college study math, which i had become quite passionate about and understood to be a scalable degree which could eventually place me anywhere between a teaching or actuary job. As soon as i realized that many of my professors in college had gotten their PhD degrees abroad — and with a scholarship from their host institution! — i knew that that was going to be my way out 😀

This is not hindsight bias — anybody who has interacted with me during graduate school can probably attest to this — i was pretty openly not there primarily for the degree — in fact, i couldn’t even relate to how seriously most of my peers seemed to take what they were doing!

As much as i have enjoyed doing Mathematics, what interested me the most about attending Rutgers University, in New Jersey, was the priceless opportunity it awarded me with to meet people from all over the world, and have experiences i could have only dreamed about up until then.

Towards the end of 2013, i was about to graduate and, just like most of my peers also about to graduate, applying for academic jobs for the following year. A close friend of mine noted at the time, and i paraphrase, “dude, i really like how chilled you are about this whole process, everybody else is so stressed out.”

I felt pretty relaxed indeed — not because i was overly confident about getting a job, but rather because i had a pretty neat plan B — if i didn’t get a job, i’d sell all my stuff, spend a year or so riding my ’96 Honda Rebel all the way back from New Jersey to Brazil, and take it from there.

Plan B it was

I ended up getting a job, selling the motorcycle, keeping much of my other stuff, and moving to Denmark for a two-year postdoc instead.

When the next job application cycle came about towards the end of 2015, i started thinking very seriously about whether a proverbial motorcycle ride across the Americas shouldn’t actually be plan A that time around.

After my contract ended, i packed my belongings into a few boxes in my landlady’s attic, hopped on the cycle touring rig i’d been slowly putting together for the past year or so, and set off from Copenhagen to Istanbul!

Along the way, i turned down an otherwise tempting offer for another two-year postdoc and kept going. I arrived in Istanbul on November 24th, 2016, after two energizing and rejuvenating months on the road. I had not felt as alive and present since i was preparing to leave Brazil almost ten years before!!

Now what?

Yes, i could see myself back in academia at some point in the future. Most likely not as a researcher though — i feel like i belong much more in a liberal arts setting, as an educator, particularly somewhere with a large international student population. I’d love to apply my training as a mathematician and teacher, as well as the deeper understanding of people’s needs i’ve developed through my travels, to promote and facilitate the self-actualization of others.

My global learning has barely begun and, for the moment, we go with plan A though: first, i’ll go spend some quality time with my grandmother, family and friends back in Brazil — i haven’t been there for more than just a couple of weeks ever since leaving in 2008, and we all need that — i’m then getting back on the road in the end of March, and we’ll just take it from there!