May 15, 2015

Vagabonding Case Study: Cat Gaa

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sunshineandsiestas.com

Age: 29

Hometown: Wheaton, Illinois

Quote: “Remember that, wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure.” – Paolo Coehlo

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Category: Vagabonding Case Studies

May 8, 2015

A couple ways to avoid travel burnout.

Traveling the world long-term rewards people with unforgettable adventures, timeless memories. However, long-term travel often comes with a price in the form of travel burnout. \

Long-Term travel means that you are most likely moving consistently. It is a wild experiencing jetting around the globe immersing yourself in vivacious cultures, colossal temples, and unmatched landscape.

However, after months or years travelers can start to get tired of the road, seeing temple after temple, packing and unpacking every few days can become a burden, and the passion that was once reserved and awe that once drove your love for travel is lost.

Travel Burnout is real and if people are not careful it can ruin traveling for you. Throughout my travels I have learned how to avoid travel burnout to keep my travels feeling fresh and my passion for life on the road strong.

Here are a few ways that I have learned through personal experience on how to avoid travel burnout.
Travel slower

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traveling slower does wonders for a nomadic soul. When I first started traveling it was not uncommon for me to switch cities every few days and countries every few weeks. After months of this I was exhausted. I couldn’t take making new friends and have the same conversation every three days. I was sick of packing and unpacking my backpack.

I soon learned that slower travel is better travel. Staying in the same city for least a month lets people make lasting friendships, and discover all the little unique things that make the city special.

The good thing about traveling slower is that it can be mixed and matched with fast travel.  Sometimes I travel fast for a couple months and when I find a place I connect with I slow down and stay for a while.

Traveling slower lets you reenergize your love of travel and relax for moving at a fast pace.

Travel creatively

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Traveling creative is something I have been striving to do for years. Taking insanely cheap flights, overnight buses, and long distance trains have their place traveling the world. However, thinking outside the box and being creative on how to get between places can restart your wanderlust if constantly moving is starting to grow trying. It is one reason I drove 1/3 the planet in the Mongol Rally, and right now I am on the Oliver Hazard Perry, a full rig ship, sailing between destination around the east coast of America.

Traveling outside the box is adventurous and lets you see the world in new and exciting ways. It has always changed my view of travel, increased my love for it, and helped me grow as a person.

Traveling is one of the greatest things a person can do and it is important to keep that passion fresh. Travel burnout is detrimental if you do not stop it. These are a couple of ways I use to keep travel refreshing and new and I know they will help you avoid the tragedy of travel burnout.

Stephen Schreck is a passionate traveler wandering around the globe. You can follow his adventures on A Backpackers Tale, Instagram, or Pinterest.

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Category: General

May 7, 2015

A chance to study writing in Paris this summer

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Creative Writing Workshop
at the Paris American Academy
July 1st through the 29th, 2015

I’ll be teaching an intensive, month-long creative writing workshop at the Paris American Academy this July. College credit is available for this hands-on English-language writing program, which includes courses in:

In addition to taking classes and amassing writing portfolios, students will participate in one-on-one critiques with professional writers (including myself) and give readings in Parisian cafes. Other instructors include O. Henry Award-winning author and playwright John Biguenet, novelist Laura van den Berg, and memoirist and actor Dinah Lenney.

Between classes and tutorials, there will be ample time to experience the city, attend cultural events, visit museums, learn history, take day-trips to the countryside, read books, hang out in cafes, dance by the Seine, and make friends from around the world.

For more information, including costs, course descriptions and testimonials from past students, click my Paris American Academy page here.

To receive an application, email an inquiry to info@pariswritingworkshop.com.

The Paris American Academy is located in the heart of the Latin Quarter, on the rue Saint Jacques, a block from the Luxembourg Gardens, and less than a mile from the Seine and Notre Dame cathedral.

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Above: The Paris American Academy, in the heart of the Latin Quarter

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Category: General

May 7, 2015

How to give ethically after a disaster

The travel community is truly one of the most giving I know of. Most people who travel do so because they recognize how much our world has to offer. We want to connect. We want to help. We may not always have lots of money, but we do have very big hearts.

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When tragedy strikes, as it most recently has in Nepal, there is a collective itch within the travel community to do something. Sitting by and watching the suffering of others is not an option once you have made friends in countless locations around the globe. While others may feel a slight detachment from tragedy abroad, many travelers can visualize exactly where those tremors hit. We wonder if the hostel owner, the painter down the street, and the cab driver we hired for a day, are alright. We remember watching little girls sip water at Patan Durbar Square and we recall  the warmth of that last handshake we shared with a local who quickly became a friend. It feels personal because we have designed our lives around connecting with people around the world. And now, those people are suffering.

Doing something  is in our nature. However, our experiences also tell us that where there is tragedy there are also unscrupulous people. People who take advantage of desperate situations and do not always operate or funnel help the way they should. So, how do we help in a manner that we are certain is actually beneficial?

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1) Do your research. Know the organization you are giving your money to. Know where there money goes and what it does. Know who runs the organization and what there agenda is, if any. Just as you ask questions on your travels, ask questions of those who take your money to help victims. If you’d like to start researching organizations with good reputations, Charity Navigator is a good place to start.

2) Consider your skill set before hopping on a plane. In an emergency, there are bound to be some travelers with open itineraries who have the ability and the means to fly to the disaster area to offer assistance. Before you do that, consider what you can really offer. If you do not have a skill set that lends itself directly to a current need in the area, do not go. More people in a disaster area means a bigger drain on already strapped resources.

3) Think before you donate goods. No one needs old prom dresses or teddy bears with missing legs in a disaster situation. This may sound obvious but when disaster strikes and people just want to help in any way they can, sometimes they don’t think through what they are putting in a bag. Often, shipping donated goods isn’t a good idea anyway. Many things can be bought in country, often for far cheaper. Saving the shipping costs and donating money to an organization that can buy local is often a much better idea.  Doing so will benefit a local economy that will be struggling for a long time to come due to a loss of infrastructure and tourism. Buying local also allows things to be purchased as needed instead of spending time, space, and resources sorting and storing things that may or may not ever be needed.

4) Consider helping local organizations. Organizations like The Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders have undeniable ability to work on a large scale in disaster situations. However, there are many small, local run organizations who were doing good work before distiller struck and they still have people to serve after. Small, local organizations know the area, the culture, and the needs of the populations they serve better than anyone. If you know anyone in the area, ask them to tell you what organizations are in need and worthy of some support as they rebuild. Global Giving has a current fundraising campaign that focusing on identifying and funding local organizations that are in the best position to help Nepal rebuild.

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It’s natural to want to help when disaster strikes. It’s also important to make sure we are helping in ethical ways. Our connection to the world is exactly what makes travelers such good helpers and that connection is also what requires us to be thoughtful before we give.

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Category: Ethical Travel, Ethics

May 6, 2015

Vagabonding Field Report: Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

A popular backpackers stop off, Gili Trawangan (Gili T) is part of a very small chain of islands just off of Lombok and near Bali. Many people come here to learn to dive because it’s prices are competetive and the island has a reputation for parties. It’s also unique in that there are no motor vehicles or dogs allowed and the only form of transportation on the island apart from your own two feet is either a bicycle or a horse drawn carriage.

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Cost per day:

Prices are higher in Indonesia compared to cheaper countries like Thailand or Vietnam. A large Bintang beer will cost you about 40,000 rs which equals about $4. A cheap meal at a local food stall can run about 20,000 to 30,000 rs and any western style food or foreign dishes will be closer to 60,000 to 100,000 rs. The money saver will be your accommodation. A single night will still be quite high but booking a homestay for an entire month will only cost you between 1,500,000 to 3,000,000 rs. Don’t let the high numbers scare you, that’s only about $150-$300. These accommodations are very simple and wouldn’t be suitable for families but finding a place for more than one month can get you something with more for the same price if you’re willing to get into a six month contract or more. If you’re a certified diver the fun dives on the island are only $35 and an Open Water course will only set you back $395.

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Category: Asia, General, Vagabonding Field Reports

May 4, 2015

There is no conflict between tourism and traveling

“Disdaining tourists is the last permitted snobbery, a coded way of distancing oneself from the uncultured classes. And it drives me beyond bonkers to incoherence — so I shall try to settle down. Examined calmly, there is no conflict between tourism and traveling. Just as one may eat one day at McDonald’s and the next beneath Michelin stars, so one may both romp about the beaches of Lloret de Mar and trek through the Sarawak rainforest (or visit the Hermitage Museum). These experiences are not mutually exclusive. But the shudders remain, and the scorn pours forth, resolving into phrases such as “tourist trap”, “tourist tat” and, daftest of all, “touristy”, as if the term itself signified a conspiracy against good taste. As if we weren’t all tourists most of the time.”
–Anthony Peregrine, Are you a tourist or a traveller? Telegraph, August 3, 2012

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day

May 3, 2015

Review on Tortuga Air Carry On Backpack

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The seat belts sign flashed off. Immediately the aisle filled with people, reaching overhead for bags, hauling suitcases from the ceiling. Slowly the plane emptied. Finally, it was my turn to step into the aisle to freedom.

I reached below the seat in front of me, pulled free my bag, slung it over a shoulder and jogged for the terminal. Outside, while waiting for the train to take me to downtown Vancouver, I shrugged on my jacket, and admired the svelte black bag at my feet. It was the only bag I’d brought with me.

Packing only in a carry on is a form of art.

Each time I pack, I search for the perfect balance between necessity and excess. I hunt for the elusive feeling of success where I’m light and fancy-free, yet enough Bear Grillis’ed to face the world.

Recently, Tortuga Backpacks graciously gave me a Tortuga Air Carry On Backpack to review on a long weekend trip to Vancouver, Canada. My trip was exactly the kind the Tortuga Air backpack was designed to tackle: shorter than a months-long jaunt around the world, but slightly longer than your normal weekend getaway.

tortuga air backpack

Unlike a typical backpack, the Tortuga Air has a clamshell opening so you get the best of both luggage worlds: a backpack’s unencumbered freedom without the chaotic mess inside and a suitcase’s organization without the dreadful wheels clunking over cobblestones.

While exploring Vancouver, I tracked three main things on the Tortuga Air to test it:

  1. Comfort,
  2. Packability,
  3. Durability.

Comfort

With a backpack, you carry your home on your back, and sometimes that home can get heavy quickly. Then your shoulders rub raw. Or your lower back begins to ache. Or you start to despise the look of your bag after only day two.

You need to pick a backpack designed with your comfort in mind:

Tortuga Air hit all those marks, plus some like a padded handle on the backpack’s top. Sliding the Tortuga Air on was like shrugging on my coat: warm and comfortable.

Both my shoulders bore the backpack’s weight and never complained about it, thanks to the padded straps. (This backpack doesn’t come with a waist belt since it’s designed for shorter trips, hence a lighter load.)

Against my back, the weight distributed evenly. Even the padding felt sturdy and ready to take on the world.

Some extra thoughtful perks that Tortuga Air had were: a padded handle on top of the backpack that didn’t bite into my hand for quick grab, no thin layer of padding but thick cushiony padding, no confusing plethora of pockets so you can’t find your passport when you need it now, and a separate padded laptop compartment.

My favorite part is that the bag never felt bulky. Some backpacks feel like you’re hauling a Lincoln around by two straps.

The Tortuga Air amazingly felt like a part of me.

No more swinging around suddenly and whacking a line of people behind me in the face with a backpack. No more running for the last train and squeezing on-board only to find my backpack hanging outside the doors.

Packability

This the how the bag feels mentally when you pack it. It’s the feeling you have right after you zip up your bag. The moment when you feel burdened by the amount of things you’re bringing, or invigorated by your amazing ability to pare down the necessities into a few must-haves.

It’s the feeling when you wonder how much the bag will hold after shopping in several cities. Or browsing a few too many bookstores, in my case.

What’s the feeling I had when I zipped the Tortuga Air shut the night before takeoff?

Surprise. Pride. Elation. I felt like the best version of myself.

For the first time, I wasn’t debating if I should bring this red shirt versus that blue shirt, and do I have room for it? Usually, I’m a light packer and have managed to visit Alaska in finicky fall weather by packing only in a Timbuk2 bag. Yet inevitably when I pack, I’m fine-tuning the contents of my bag, seeking the spot of nirvana where I have just enough but not too much.

Instead I unzipped the Tortuga Air, packed what I thought I’d need, and still there was room in the bag. This was unusual. Four shirts, two tank tops, underwear, socks, pajamas, cardigan — yup, the gang’s all here. Nothing was missing.

Wait, I can pack more if I wanted? What is this feeling of space in a carry on?

The backpack’s inside is divided into two compartments: 1) a mesh zippered section on one side, and 2) a slightly deeper compartment with buckles and straps to cinch down your clothes. Thanks to the clamshell design, it was super easy to keep my bag organized during my trip and find exactly what I needed, when I needed it.

 

tortuga air unzipped

Through the trip, that feeling of surprised pride didn’t vanish. Tortuga Air made me feel like I was Captain America’s superslick alter ego: Packing Hero. Heck, if I wanted to buy a couple shirts (or books) in Vancouver, I could. I had the room, no question.

And if I went overboard with shopping, simply unzip the expandable section and watch the bag grow by three more inches. But the beauty was I didn’t have to use it.

Durability

Let’s face it: durability is where most bags fail. They do a great job of holding our stuff until the third trip and then they fall to pieces. Here a zipper breaks, there a pocket rips.

I’m willing to spend extra money to get a bag that will last me years. I like the thought of a bag traveling with me through countries, like a best friend.

And Tortuga Air is my next best friend in three big ways:

1) Fabric: tough outer fabric that feels ballistic, like it can take a beating on the train and repeatedly shoved under an airplane seat.

2) Industrial zippers (that fit a lock!): I hate it when a bag dies just because of faulty zippers. These bad boys on the Tortuga Air are heavy in your hand and feel like they aren’t going anywhere.

3) Good-sized pockets: for me, durability is more than just the fabric. Durability is also the way a bag is designed. You’ll reach for a thoughtfully designed bag more often than one with awkward pockets and unhelpful compartments.

Tortuga Air has good-sized pockets, a nice large front pocket large enough to fit a hardback book, a zippered side pouch, and a zippered pocket on the bag’s top for small items that are always wandering off like your sunglasses.

As a (crazed) bag devotee, I’ve tried a lot of bags over the years, always hunting for the bag that strikes the threefold lucky strike of comfort, packability, and durability. Never have I found a bag that makes me a better packer (and feel so good about myself) and is so comfortable to wear — until the Tortuga Air.

Laura Lopuch blogs at Waiting To Be Read where she helps you find your next awesome book to read — and points out a few you might not know about. 

 

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Category: Travel Gear

May 2, 2015

Dancing at the Blood Festival

Blood Fest

Since I hadn’t had time to change my clothes that morning, I arrived at the Jordanian customs station in Aqaba with the bloodstains still on my pants. The blood had dried to the point where I didn’t look like a fresh mass murderer, but no doubt I appeared a bit odd walking through the ferry station with scallop-edged black droplets on my boots and crusty brown blotches soaked into the cuffs of my khakis.

The blood was from the streets of Cairo, which at the time had been in the midst of celebrations marking the Islamic Feast of the Sacrifice, known locally as the Eid al-Adha.

As with everything in Cairo, the Eid al-Adha was an inadvertent exercise in chaos. For the entire week leading up to the holiday, the alleys and rooftops of the city began to fill up with noisy, nervous knots of livestock brought in for the feast. Cairenes paid little mind as cattle munched clover outside coffee shops, goats gnawed on empty Marlboro packs in alleyways and skittish sheep rained down poop from apartment building balconies. For Egyptians, this preponderance of urban livestock was part of the excitement of the feast — and it was certainly no stranger for them than putting a decorated tree inside one’s house in anticipation of the winter holidays.

In Islamic societies, the Eid al-Adha is a four-day feast that commemorates Abraham’s near murder of his son, Ishmael, to prove his obedience to God. Since tradition tells us that Allah intervened at the last minute and substituted a ram for Ishmael, Muslim families celebrate the Eid by slaughtering their own animal for the feast.

Consequently, on the first morning of the Eid, all of the thousands of sheep, cows and goats that have been accumulating in Cairo during the week are butchered within the span of a few bloody hours. In keeping with tradition, devout Islamic families are instructed to keep a third of the butchered meat for themselves, give a third to friends and family and distribute the final third to the poor. For Muslims, it is an honorable ritual.

For infidel visitors to Cairo, however, the Feast of the Sacrifice seems much more like a Monty Python vision of pagan mayhem. This has less to do with the intent of the holiday than with the fact that Cairo is a very crowded city where almost nothing goes as planned. Thus, on the first morning of this year’s Eid, the lobby of my hotel resonated with vivid secondhand reports of gore: the lamb that panicked on the balcony at the last minute and avoided the knife by tumbling five stories to the alley below, the cow that broke free from its restraints with its throat half-slit and lumbered through the streets spraying blood for 10 minutes before collapsing, the crowd of little girls who started puking as they watched the death spasms of their neighbor’s sheep.

Regardless of how accurate these stories were, there was no disputing that free-flowing blood was as common as Christmas mistletoe on the first morning of the Eid. By the middle of that afternoon in Cairo, puddles of blood stood like rainwater around drainpipes, and doorjambs and minivans alike were smeared with clotted red-brown handprints.

I’ll admit that there is much more to the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice than public displays of carnage. Unfortunately, Cairo has a way of drawing one’s attention away from nuance and subtlety. By the end of the day, I was so accustomed to seeing blood that I didn’t even realize that my pants and boots had been stained until I boarded an overnight bus headed for the Gulf of Aqaba.

For most Westerners, Islam is a religion that doesn’t quite make sense. No doubt this is largely the result of the Western press, which tends to portray Islam only in terms of its most extreme and violent factions.

When I first traveled to the Islamic world earlier this year, I’d hoped that the Arabs’ legendary hospitality would break down such barriers to religious understanding in a direct and personal way.

After 10 weeks of traveling through Egypt, I’d found that Islamic hospitality more than lived up to its reputation: Most of the Muslims I’d talked to were amiable, kindhearted people who practiced their faith with natural sincerity. By the same token, however, none of the Muslims I’d met seemed to know why they were Muslims; they just instinctively knew that their faith allowed them to live with a special sense of peace. Whenever I tried to qualify this faith in objective terms, people became defensive and impatient with me.

Reading the Koran didn’t help. Perhaps when studied in its classical Arabic form, the Koran is a heart-pounding page turner. Its English translation, however, has all the narrative appeal of a real estate contract. Nearly every page is crammed with bewildering sentences that seem to have been worded at random. An example: “But when they proudly persisted in that which was forbidden, we said to them, ‘Become scouted apes’; and then thy Lord declared that until the day of the resurrection, he would send against them those who should evil entreat, and chastise them” (Sura 7:7).

After a while, my only reaction to such verses was to stare at the page while my mind wandered about aimlessly. In this way, I ultimately found that my reflections on Allah were being offset in equal portion by thoughts of breakfast, girls I should have kissed in high school but didn’t and the lyrics to “Rhymin’ and Stealin’” by the Beastie Boys. I gave up on the Koran less than a 10th of the way through.

Thus, I considered my trip to Jordan on the second day of the Eid to be my most immediate and realistic chance of knowing the intimate ways of Islam. Just as a person can’t know Christmas by interrogating shopping-mall Santas, I figured my understanding of the Eid al-Adha lay outside the bloody distractions of Cairo. In Aqaba, I hoped, I stood a better chance of experiencing the Feast of the Sacrifice as an insider.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Aqaba, Jordan, owes much of its fate to the rather arbitrary international borders drawn up in Versailles, France, and London in the wake of World War I. Though the city had been used as a trading post since the days of the Edomites and Nabateans, its port and beaches never found much permanent distinction. This all changed in 1921, when Winston Churchill (who was the British colonial secretary at the time) oversaw the creation of a Transjordanian state that featured a mere 11 miles of coast on the Gulf of Aqaba. Nearly 80 years later, Jordan’s only seaport has inevitably blossomed into a dusty, yet functional resort town. Jet skis and glass-bottomed boats ply its waters, weekend revelers from Amman, Jordan’s capital, crowd its beaches and drab concrete buildings dominate its shore.

Upon arriving in Aqaba, I hiked into the city center in search of a hotel where I could change out of my bloodstained clothes. Because most hotels in Aqaba were full of Jordanians spending their Eid holiday on the beach, my only option was to rent a foam pad and sleep on the roof of a six-floor budget complex called the Petra Hotel.

I shared the roof with four other travelers, from Denmark and Canada. When I told them about my plans to celebrate the Feast of the Sacrifice in Aqaba, I got two completely different reactions. The Danes, Anna and Kat, were horrified by the thought that I would intentionally seek out Arab companionship. Both of them had just spent a week on the Egyptian beach resorts in Sharm el Sheikh and Dahab, where the aggressive local Casanovas had worn them both to a frazzle. The two spoke in wistful terms of getting back to the peace and predictability of their kibbutz in Israel.

Amber and Judith, on the other hand, stopped just short of calling me a wuss. The two Canadians had just returned from spending a couple of weeks with Bedouins in the desert near Wadi Rum. Not only did they celebrate the Eid as part of their farewell party, but they personally helped butcher the goats. To experience the Feast of the Sacrifice any other way, they reasoned, would seem a tad artificial.

“And besides,” Amber told me as I changed into clean clothes and prepared to hit the streets, “Aqaba is a tourist town. The only people you’ll find here are college kids and paper pushers on vacation from Amman. You’d have better luck getting invited to the Eid in Toronto.”

Amber had a point, but she was wrong: I was invited to celebrate the Eid before I reached the ground floor of the Petra Hotel.

My would-be host was Mohammed, a bespectacled 16-year-old who stopped me in the second-floor stairwell. “Where are you going?” he asked as I walked by.

“Well, I’m hoping to go out and celebrate the Eid al-Adha,” I said.

“The Eid!” he exclaimed. “Please come and celebrate with us!”

It was that simple. Such is the gregariousness of the Arab world.

Unfortunately for my notions of authenticity, however, Mohammed’s “Eid” consisted of him and two other goofy-looking 16-year-olds drinking canned beer in a tiny room on the second floor of the Petra. Mohammed introduced his two friends as Sayeed and Ali. Neither of them looked very natural as they grinned up at me, clutching their cans of beer.

I noticed there were only two beds. “Are you all sleeping in here?” I asked.

“Just Sayeed and Ali,” he said. “I sleep at my uncle’s house in Aqaba. My family always comes here for the Eid al-Adha.”

Mohammed poured some of his beer into a glass for me and put an Arabic pop tape into his friends’ boombox. The four of us sat in the room chatting, drinking and listening to the music. After about 15 or so minutes of this, I began to wonder what any of this had to do with the Feast of the Sacrifice. “Aren’t we going to celebrate the Eid?” I asked finally.

“Of course,” Mohammed said. “This is the Eid.”

“Yes, this is the Eid,” I said, “but won’t you be doing something special at your uncle’s house?”

“It’s not interesting at my uncle’s house. That’s why I came here.”

I looked skeptically at my three companions. “But isn’t there something traditional that you do when you celebrate the Eid?”

Mohammed thought for a moment. “We spend time with our family.”

“But you just said that you didn’t want to be with your family.”

“Yes.”

“So you aren’t really celebrating the Eid, are you?”

“No. This is the Eid!”

“How?” I asked, gesturing around the tiny room. “How is this the Eid?”

“We’re drinking beer. Many people drink during the Eid.”

Ignorant as I was about Islam, I was positive that a true Muslim holiday would have very little to do with swilling beer. “I’m sorry guys,” I announced, “but I think I’m gonna have to go now.”

Mohammed looked hurt. “But you said you came here for the Eid!”

“Yes,” I said, “but I could drink beer and listen to music back home in America. I want to do something different.”

“Maybe you want to dance?”

“Maybe,” I said. “Where can we dance?”

Mohammed reached over to the boombox and turned up the music. The three Jordanian teens leapt up and started to shake their hips to the music. There was no room to move, so they stood in place and waved their arms around. The Arabic music was as stereotypical as it could get: a snake-charming, harem-inspiring swirl of strings and drums and flutes. Mohammed took me by the arm; I stood and tried to mimic his dance moves.

“Is this an Eid dance?” I yelled over the din of the music.

“No!”

“Is this Eid music?”

Mohammed laughed. “Of course not!”

“Then why are we doing this?”

“Because it’s the Eid! It’s fun, yes?”

I told Mohammed that it was indeed fun, but that was a lie. As with freeze tag, heavy petting and bingo, many exercises in human joy are best appreciated at a very specific age. To truly understand the appeal of drinking beer and dancing with your buddies in a bland resort-town hotel room, I suspect you have to be 16 years old. I danced halfheartedly to the music, politely waiting for it to stop.

When I sat down after the first song, Mohammed happily yanked me to my feet. Twenty minutes later, the young Jordanians had moved on to the Side B songs without any sign of fatigue. I weakly shuffled in place, desperate for an excuse to leave. It occurred to me that, technically, I could just sprint out of the room and never have to talk to these guys again.

Then the inspiration hit. Leaning across the bed, I shut off the boombox and unplugged it from the wall. Mohammed and his friends looked at me in confusion.

“Let’s go,” I said to them. Carrying the boombox with an air of authority, I led the Jordanian boys up the stairwell to the roof of the Petra Hotel. There, I introduced them to Anna, Kat, Amber and Judith.

Serendipity is a rare thing, so it must be appreciated even in its humbler forms. As Mohammed, Sayeed and Ali exchanged formal handshakes with the Danes and the Canadians, I saw that their faces were frozen into expressions of rapturous terror; they had probably never been that intimate with Western women in their lives. Perhaps charmed by the boys’ awkwardness, the girls regarded the young Jordanians with sisterly affection.

I plugged in the boombox and announced that it was time to dance.

I’m not sure if that evening on the roof of the Petra Hotel meant much to any of the other parties involved, but I like to think that it was an all-around triumph: Anna and Kat were able to interact with Arabs in a charmed, unthreatening setting; Amber and Judith got to boss the boys around in colloquial Arabic and showcase their Bedouin dance steps; Mohammed, Sayeed and Ali — in their goofy, reverent, 16-year-old way — got to dance with angels on the heights of Aqaba.

For me, however, the night was a technical failure: I’d come to Jordan to experience the Islamic soul of the Eid al-Adha, and I’d ended up spearheading a secular sock hop on the roof of my hotel.

But, at a very basic level, even this was a bona fide extension of the Feast of the Sacrifice. After all, any holiday — when stripped of its identifying traditions and theologies — is simply an intentional break from the drab routines of life: a chance to eat or drink heartily with family and friends, an opportunity to give thanks to God or fate or randomly converging odds, a date to anticipate with optimism or recall with satisfaction.

With this in mind, I reckon that the ritual intricacies of feasts and festivals anywhere are mere decoration for a notion we’re usually too busy to address: that, at the heart of things, being alive is a pretty good thing.

Six stories above Aqaba, the eight of us talked and joked and danced to the Arabic tunes, improvising our moves when we weren’t sure what else to do.

 

Originally published by Salon.com,  May 9, 2000

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Category: Africa, Asia

May 1, 2015

Vagabonding Case Study: Troy Whitmarsh

Troy Whitmarsh DCIM100GOPRO

 

troy-story.com

Age: 26

Hometown: Ceduna, Australia (A small town of 4000 people – 8 Hours drive from the nearest city.)

Quote: Every bad decision leads to a good story.

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Category: Vagabonding Case Studies

April 30, 2015

Breeze through U.S. airport lines with TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry

Last weekend, I landed at Miami International Airport after spending a week in Cuba. My tour-mates, tired and bedraggled from a week crammed with activities, dutifully queued up behind a long line at Immigration. I breezed through Immigration, collected my luggage, took the Green lane at Customs, and was checked into my airport hotel room in 20 minutes, flat. I didn’t even need to fill out the written customs declaration usually required upon entry into U.S.

Global Entry kiosk

Global Entry kiosk

How did I manage this? I’m not a celebrity, nor did I jump the line. I simply signed up for Global Entry, one of several Trusted Traveler programs offered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). I began by registering as a new user on the Global Online Enrollment System website, filling out an application, and paying the $100 non-refundable application fee, which is good for five years once approved. The CBP reviewed my application, notified me that I was conditionally approved, and instructed me to schedule a personal interview via their website. Although the review process can apparently take up to six weeks, I heard back from them in less than 10 days, and was able to schedule an interview for the following week. The interview took about 15 minutes and consisted of a few cursory questions, followed by verbal approval and fingerprinting. A few days later my Global Entry wallet card arrived in the mail. I dutifully added the 9-digit unique PASSID shown on the face of my card to each of my profile pages on the U.S. airlines I normally fly.

Choose the program that is best for you: Global Entry or TSA PreCheck

Approved Global Entry members are also automatically eligible for TSA PreCheck benefits. Passengers who have provided their 9-digit unique PASSID to their air carrier are issued a boarding pass stamped with the words: “TSA PreCheck,” which allows use of a special security line where passengers are not required to take off shoes and jackets or remove approved 3-1-1 liquids or laptops from carry-on luggage. Passengers who travel mostly to domestic destinations can choose to sign up for TSA PreCheck rather than Global Entry, for a cost of $85 for five years.

Currently, Global Entry kiosks are located at 47 airports in the U.S. and around the globe. TSA PreCheck lanes are available at more than 120 U.S. airports, for passengers flying with Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways, and Virgin America. Global Entry is open to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, citizens of Germany, the Netherlands, Panama, South Korea, and Mexican nationals. Canadian citizens and residents are eligible for Global Entry benefits through membership in the NEXUS program. Applicants under the age of 18 must have the consent of a parent or legal guardian.

Using the Global Entry kiosks. Photos courtesy of GOES.

Using the Global Entry kiosks. Photos courtesy of GOES.

The following day, as I was checking in for my onward flight, I ran into several of the members of our Cuban tour group. All of them had waited at least an hour and a half in just the Immigration line the previous day; no wonder they looked weary. If I only use my Global Entry once a year, that $20 is worth every penny for the time it saves and my personal sanity.

When Barbara Weibel realized she felt like the proverbial “hole in the donut” – solid on the outside but empty on the inside – she walked away from corporate life and set out to see the world. Read first-hand accounts of the places she visits and the people she meets on her blog, Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

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