10 Lessons I’ve Learned After Traveling For 10 Years

Dear friend,

There is no right or wrong way to travel— but I will just share with you how I travel:

First of all, I never fly first class or business. Only economy.

Why? Because I wanna save money. Not only that, but I know if I got used to a first-class/business-class lifestyle — I would end up blowing way more money, feeling entitled, and feeling upset when I don’t fly first-class/business-class.

I also wanna share with you some hacks on traveling:

1. Always stand in the business line

I have an asshole move which is pretty good: I always stand in business class lines (the quicker, expedited lines) even though I always fly economy. I walk with confidence, chin high, and chest high. I pretend like I belong there. Very rarely do people tell me to go to the economy line. Sometimes they do (only 20% of the time they kindly ask me to stand in the economy line). But most of the people let me slide, and just check me in.

Also, when I am about to board onto a flight, I always play dumb tourist and go into the business class line. Except, I do it with confidence. Like today, on my international flight from Hanoi to America that is what I did. And I didn’t have to stand in line like a sucker for an hour or so. And nobody said otherwise.

But Eric — isn’t that a dick move?

Yes. But I am a selfish person, and it has made my life more pleasant.

Homework assignment: Stand in the first-class line

Just try it out. I think a lot of people are afraid of just rejection — or they don’t know it is an option. Treat it like a social experiment.

Try this out at the airport, or anywhere else where there is a ‘priority’ line. Push your comfort zone, do something a bit weird and crazy.

2. Only two pairs of everything

I only travel with two pairs of whatever. One pair on my back, and one pair in my bag.

For example, when I travel, I only have two Uniqlo Airism V-Neck Mesh Black shirts, two Drymax Black Socks, two ExOfficio boxer briefs (black), one black cotton UNIQLO dress shirt, one pair of black ‘jean leggings pants’ (super-stretchy, also from UNIQLO), and one pair of black shoes (Nike Free Run Flyknit Motion RN, black/white).

Every night, I wash the boxers, shirt, and socks in the shower with shampoo. I then wring it in the shower, and hang dry it. It is dry by the next day.

This strategy will save you so much headache. I wish someone taught this me sooner. Most people are suckers— traveling with way too many clothes. This will make your life easier and less stressful.

3. One backpack

I currently use the ThinkTank Perception 15 backpack (black). It is all I need. It carries my laptop, my Ricoh GR II camera, my earbuds, one pair of extra clothes, toiletries (I like the MUJI travel toiletry case— in black), and Carmex chapstick.

Honestly, the benefit of traveling with one backpack: it makes your life soooooooooo much easier.

You don’t need to be a sucker and wait in line to check in your luggage. You are a lot more mobile while traveling. You can walk miles without fatigue. You can easily put your backpack in front of your airplane seat; no issues.

Homework assignment: One backpack

Next time you travel or go away for a weekend somewhere, just bring one bag.

It can be a gym bag, a shoulder bag, a camera bag, a school backpack — whatever.

Treat it a fun little game— a ‘creative constraint.’

And figure out what you don’t need for a trip. It will make your trip more fun.

4. Bring your laptop

One thing I believe in is you should always travel with your laptop. Yes, even if it is heavy.

Why? To be frank, when you travel— you will want to do creative work. For me, that means writing, blogging, looking at photos, making music, making videos, etc. So if you have your laptop — you have more ability to produce and create things.

Of course you can just travel with only your smartphone. I think that is pretty cool too — if you wanna be super-light.

However I have experimented with both. And it is always better to have a laptop.

If you travel, you will want to write about your experiences, blog, and connect with friends back while you’re on the road. And you don’t wanna just consume experiences while you travel. You wanna produce and create stuff even while on the road.

Homework assignment: Travel with your laptop, always

If you have an old-ass PC laptop that weighs a brick, either strengthen up and bring it along — or buy a new laptop.

I recommend buying a used 11-inch MacBook Air. I used it from my only machine from 2011-2014 and it was great, until it got stolen.

If you can afford it, I recommend the 12’’ MacBook (get maximum processing speed and RAM).

If you are on a budget, just pick up a cheap ChromeBook for $300 USD.

5. Spend more time in fewer places

For example, if you have 5 days to travel — spend the entire 5 days in Hanoi, rather than spending 2 days in Hanoi, 1 day in Dalat, 1 day in Hoi An, and 1 day in Saigon.

Traveling is exhausting. It is better to spend more time staying put in one place, then traveling and seeing a lot of stuff.

Why? First of all — you will get to know a place deeper and better. You will be less exhausted; so more energy to do shit you actually wanna do. Also you will save money.

So now when I travel, I will try to spend the entire time in just one place. So for example, when I go to New York, I spend the entire 5 days in the Lower-East side— rather than trying to see the entire island or sight-seeing in Brooklyn.

Or when I am in New Orleans, I spend the entire time on Royal street.

When I am in LA, I spend the entire time in Downtown LA (between ILCAFE and the Fashion District).

When in SF, I spend the entire time in the Mission (I like to shoot street photography around the 24th & Mission BART station) and hang out at coffee shops near there.

When in Tokyo, I like to spend the entire time near Kitsune Cafe.

When in Kyoto, I like to just hang out with my friend Sean Lotman, near his house.

When in Paris, I always like to hang out in the Jewish neighborhood.

When in Chicago, I like to only hang out in Wicker Park area (with my cousin Holly Pyon and her partner David).

When in Toronto, I always hang out with Neil Ta in Chinatown.

When in Vancouver, I always hang out at Revolver Cafe (and hang out with Terry and Take — aka big head taco).

When in London, I always hang out in East London.

When in Stockholm, I always hang out with my buddies Brian Sparks, Mattias L, and Ola.

When in Berkeley, I always hang out at Artis or Philz.

When in Singapore, I always hang out with Callan, Dav, Adam, Aik Beng Chia, and eat chicken rice and drink kopi near Chinatown/Arab street.

When in Seoul, I always like to hang out in Hongdae.

When in Hanoi, I always like to go to ‘VUI STUDIO’ (the coolest coffee shop in Hanoi), and always eat at Namaste, MUM, U Dam Chay, or Barique. I always shoot photos next to Hoan Kiem Lake with my friend Chu Viet Ha.

When in Seattle I always hang with my buddies Walter, Marcus, Chris, Chris, Jill, Anna, and hang out on the hill with Walter and drink the three V coffee shops (Victrola is my favorite).

When in Hong Kong, always with Gary Tyson, Vishal Somji, Geoffrey, and

Melbourne; Fitzroy with my buddies Costa, Benjamin Thompson, Nick Chen.

Sydney; always with Greg Marsden, mostly in Kings Cross.

Anyways sorry I got a bit distracted; the lesson is— spend the entire time traveling in one place to get to know it really well, to spend less money, and be less stressed.

6. Airbnb over hotels

Airbnb; always. Cheaper, you have a kitchen to make coffee, breakfast, lunch, dinner. More personal than cold hotel rooms, and much cheaper.

7. No tourist landmarks; only coffee shops

When I travel somewhere, I always ask the locals:

What should I not do here?

They will tell you all the dumb touristy stuff to avoid.

For example, in NYC do not go to the empire state building, to the statue of liberty, or time square.

In SF, skip the bridge, fishermans wharf, and just hang out at a coffee shop in the Mission.

In LA, skip hollywood— hang out in Downtown LA.

In London, skip big ben. Hang out in Shoreditch.

In Paris skip the Eiffel Tower; hang out in Bercy Village.

In Marseille, skip the fish and eat the couscous instead.

Just google image tourist landmarks. I spend all my time in coffee shops abroad, enjoy conversation with strangers, long walks, and shooting street photos.

8. Underrated places to travel

Here are the most underrated places which are my personal favorites to travel to, which are affordable:

  • New Orleans
  • Portland
  • Mexico City (went there for honeymoon; has top-10 restaurants in the world, and Uber is very cheap)
  • Kyoto instead of Tokyo (stay with my buddy Sean Lotman on Airbnb)
  • Berlin (my favorite city in Europe)
  • Prague
  • Lisbon (thanks to Walter for the recommendation)
  • Busan instead of Seoul (my family is from Busan)
  • Chicago not NYC (Chicago has better architecture, soul, and is cheaper)
  • Marseille not Paris (Marseille has more grit, grain, and soul — check out the street photos of my friends Yves Vernin and Pierre Balthasan.
  • Hanoi not Bangkok (I feel Hanoi is less touristy, less sex tourism, with the best coffee shops in the world — check out ‘Tranquil Coffee shop/VUI coffee shop.’ I also think Vietnamese food is better than Thai food (sorry).

9. Travel hacks

Other travel hacks:

If you have heavy carry-on luggage, put it on the over-head compartments in the front of the plane (when you first enter).

Don’t lean back your airplane seat. I hate it when others do it to me. So the SILVER RULE: don’t do unto others as you don’t want others to do unto you.

If you are American, get a CHASE SAPPHIRE card for travel — no foreign transaction fees, the weight of the heavy blue card is pretty cool, and it is the only credit card I own.

Don’t wear cotton clothes when traveling if you need to wash it quickly. Cotton takes forever to dry. Either opt for Polyester or Merino Wool. I buy all my travel clothes from UNIQLO or Amazon.

Don’t travel with two shoes. Only one pair. Just buy a good pair of running shoes (I recommend NIKE Free Flyknit, or any of the NIKE Free shoes).

Don’t travel more than one camera. Just bring one small camera. I recommend the Ricoh GR II for traveling—it is the only camera I travel with. Or just bring your smartphone or iPhone. Leave the zoom and telephoto lenses at home if you own a bigger camera.

If you can afford it, I highly recommend getting BOSE Noise-Cancelling headphones (if you can afford it at around 300 USD). For $300 — you have effectively upgraded yourself from economy class to first-class. I used my BOSE QC15 for almost 5 years, and it really made traveling 100 times less painful. The in-ear noise-cancelling BOSE ones are good for some people, but they give me headaches for some reason. Or just have ‘noise isolation’ earbuds, to block out the noise.

When in doubt; leave it out: For 10 years, I always overpacked. Now I try to ‘under-pack.’ If you accidentally forget something, you can buy it while you’re traveling (the rest of the world is not uncivilized).

Learn the local language: learn the 10 most commonly used phrases (hello, goodbye, thank you, can I have a black coffee?, how do I go to ‘X’? as some basics). You will build lots of good-will with the locals, and you will get better service. And you will have a more genuine time.

When at a restaurant; never ask, ‘What is your recommendation?’ or ‘What is popular here?’ You will get the sucker touristy food. Instead, always ask them: “What do you like to eat here?” or “What is your favorite dish on the menu?” The waiters probably have eaten everything there— so they will give you the real recommendation.

Don’t buy a local SIM card/mobile data: Travel without data on your phone. You will find WIFI everywhere. And if not, you will learn to finally not be a slave to your phone. That is one of the best things about traveling.

Don’t answer emails when traveling: Treat this as an excuse to finally disconnect yourself. Even if shit hits the fan, the world will still tick on. Just put on a vacation responder: “Sorry I am traveling in country ‘X’ and will not respond to emails until I get back on [enter date]”

Travel without a watch: Don’t be a slave to time when you’re traveling. Finally — you can create your own schedule for yourself. For myself, I don’t wear watches anymore and I feel more free. If you need to check the time, just ask a stranger or check your smartphone. I also purposefully hide the clock on my laptop not to get distracted.

Don’t use trip-advisor: Trip advisor is for suckers. Go to a city without any research; then ask the locals, ‘Where is the best coffee shop here?’ or ‘What do you like to do when you have free time?’ This will save you a shit-load of time, money, energy, and you will have a more ‘authentic/local’ experience. Local recommendations are infinitely better than sucker recommendations on Trip Advisor for people that travel with flip flops and socks and fanny packs.

10. Keep a blog when you travel

Blogging seems dead. But it is better than any social media. Why? Because you own it. You have more freedom and flexibility.

I recommend registering for bluehost.com and use wordpress.org. Or use Medium.com or WordPress.com as free options.

Blog about your experiences; don’t just Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook your memories. Because 10 years from now, it will be hard to retrieve those memories. Whereas on a blog, you can write about your experiences, and will have more flexibility and freedom.

I really believe that if you are a photographer, and you are active on social media, you should have your own photo blog.

And having a photo blog will lead to opportunities and other cool shit. When I started this blog, I had no intentions making a living from it. And now, I have the extreme luxury and privilege of having 100% control over my time, schedule, I follow my passion, blog, photograph, make art, travel, teach, and make over 200,000 USD a year (with Cindy). I am an extremely lucky and fortunate case— but writing 2,600 blog posts from 2011-2017 has helped, and the fact that I blog for about 8-12 hours a day. You don’t gotta be me — but just blog a little when you’re traveling; and don’t do this silly ‘blog everyday’ thing. Only blog when you feel like it.


Travel is good to meet new folks, to gain new ideas, and to learn from other cultures.

But don’t travel for the sake of travel. The ultimate goal in life is to become more wise.

Will traveling make you more wise? No. But it might help you finally have time to reflect, read philosophy books, reflect and journal and blog on what is important in your life, and also to just have fun and go on a little adventure.

Now I’ve traveled a lot, I don’t ‘need’ to travel anymore. I have discovered true happiness is just making art and having freedom of your schedule. I can never travel again, and be happy — not because I’ve already traveled, but because I know that I am a simple man of simple pleasures— all I need is one good coffee shop (with good espresso), a wifi connection, Cindy, friends and loved ones, and Vietnamese food and I’m happy.

Lastly — don’t wait until you are retired until you travel. Travel within the next month or year. Go on a weekend trip. If you’re an American, travel to Seattle, Portland, New Orleans, Chicago, or Mexico City for just 2-3 days.

If you have more time, travel in Hanoi for 1 month. If you’re European— you probably already travel a lot (but I recommend Prague, Berlin, and Marseille).

If you’re Asian, don’t just go to Tokyo. Hit up Hanoi instead — or Kyoto (if you really love Japanese culture). Also Busan is my favorite city in Korea (much more than materialistic Seoul).

Your life is short. Never delay your adventures. Travel now.

Be strong,

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