January 17, 2015

Vagabonding Case Study: Jarryd Salem

 Jarryd Salem

nomadasaurus.com Jarryd Salem Portugal Cabo Da Roca Vagabonding

Age: 27
Hometown: Sydney, Australia
Quote: “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost

(more…)

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Category: Vagabonding Case Studies

January 16, 2015

Field Report: Port Lincoln, Australia

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Cost per day?

We camped at the Big 4 campsite which was a fantastic campsite, but you can pay through the nose in peak season. We paid $40 a night but were reasonably central. There are various other sites but if you want to enjoy a drink or just a short stroll into town then you could find yourself too far out to walk. The campsite also had great kitchen and BBQ facilities, so cooking was cheap, however part of the appeal of Port Lincoln is its various bars and restaurants, as well as its entertainment. I would say $100 a day would get you a great day out.

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Describe a typical day?

Port Lincoln is beautiful and needs to be explored, so I put on my running boots and ventured out. The local council seem to have invested a lot of money in taking care of its water front. The agriculture is well maintained from the great pines to the grassy lawns, everything feels fresh and alive. The great weather gave a fantastic glow to the area and the aroma of fresh sea air allowed you to grasp what makes this town truly fantastic. Rolling hills stretch up to the skies and made for a good run which gave astonishing views of the town. Unintentionally I found myself lost, however that was half the joy. I didn’t need an excuse to explore further and found myself running the beach track back to the campsite.

Catching up with my better half, we decided to make our way out to the various viewpoints that look over Port Lincoln. The walking trail was quiet, which was a great opportunity to take in the beauty of the town below. It’s not a long walk but is worth it for a romantic stroll. We took many pictures to capture these beautiful moments.

Time to undo all my hard work, we strolled into town for afternoon lunch. A pub on the local green served chicken parmagana with unlimited salad bar which we washed down with a beer. We sat out on the terrace looking out on the green. The lawns of the town centre were busy with various families, tourists, and locals gathered eating picnics and ice creams. The mood was joyous as we sat and watched the world go by. A small funfair was in town so rides lined the waterfront, the sounds of laughter and excited screams filled the air.

Well fed, we took a look round the various shops. Like most Australian seaside towns the shops would sell merchandise that would let you know just how great they thought their town was. Every other shop would sell various t-shirts, fridge magnets, bumper stickers etc. tagged with Port Lincoln insignia – we bought a sticker for the camper and strolled back to the lawns. Treating ourselves to an ice cream we sat on the grass and lapped up the sun.

Stopping by the local butchers it was time to grab some burgers and sausages and head back to the campsite. We watched the sun go down by the pool. The Big 4 put on a film each night through its outside cinema. We sat back and enjoyed a BBQ and a film. The night was mild and various holiday makers sat around the pool and BBQ area eating and drinking. So we night capped with a glass of wine before retiring to bed.

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What did you like? Dislike?

I couldn’t find anything I didn’t like, if anything there is little in the way of tours but this wasn’t an issue, the appeal is the town itself. However, there are various activities to enjoy. I loved the great atmosphere and the friendly service we came to find. The great couple that ran the campsite were lovely and had a lot of time for guests. It was obvious they had invested a lot of time in bringing up the standard of the site. The town was beautiful.

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Describe an interesting conversation?

The couple that ran the campsite had settled some years ago after leaving England in order to tour Australia. A spontaneous decision had led them to turn their whole life around and eventually to run this campsite. He had been a lorry driver that was struck off and out of work, with little else to lose they had decided they would to take the risk to move to the southern hemisphere and neither have ever looked back. It was inspiring as you could clearly see their happiness shine through and above all you could see they were a truly happy couple. It just goes to show you can find happiness if your willing to take a risk for it.

Where next?

Sydney for New Year!!!!

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Category: Oceania, Vagabonding Field Reports

January 15, 2015

Do short trips have their own value?

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We long-term travelers sometimes get caught up in the length of a trip. We advocate taking a year to backpack, using a summer break to explore the far corners of the earth, and digging into a new culture for longer than the average winter break from school. There is a reason we do this- long-term travel has limitless benefits. But what about the shorter trip? The weekend getaway, the week spent across the border, the brief vacation between longer journeys? We forget sometimes that these shorter trips have benefits as well.

Brief trips can be windows into what we want to see next. For some, shorter trips are like dipping their toes in the water to see what they can do, what they can handle. For others, shorter trips can be a respite from the day to day- even if the day to day is being experienced on the road. As any long-term traveler knows, traveling quickly resembles any other “normal” life in many ways. Bills still have to be paid, planning must be done, visas need to be obtained or renewed, hostel rooms must be cleaned, dentists may need to be visited. Of course there are long walks on beaches, spectacular sunsets, unbelievable meals, personal growth on many levels, and conversations with locals that go on for hours but long-term travel is not always glamorous and for many it’s just… life!

So why do we turn our collective noses up when others describe shorter trips? After all, more than one of us has visited a hot spring in Guatemala to “get away” for the weekend and many of us have taken advantage of a visa run across the border to enjoy a brief “vacation” of sorts. If even we, the never-conform-travel-until-we-drop tribe, need a brief change of scenery every now and then, why do we deny the same need in those who live the “normal” life?

There is no denying the benefits of long-term travel and I am admittedly one of “those people” who thinks everyone should take a genuinely long trip at least once in their lives, thinks every education should include a major travel component before it is considered “completed”, and believes that exploring unfamiliar countries, corners, cultures, and cuisines is best done in a deep manner without regard or how many stamps have been collected. I believe in long-term travel as much as the next traveler. But I also recognize the regenerative nature of the short trip.

I am currently writing in Fort Myers, Florida. It is not exactly my idea of a dream destination but it is warm and sunny none the less. We will only be here for a few short days- hardly long-term travel. Previous to this, my husband and I traded our constant journeying to spend one year, somewhat cooped up in upstate NY, homeschooling two lovely young people. The experience of co-creating individualized educations for two unique individuals is wonderful. Right now, it also happens to be hard work in a cold area of the world. The snow hits our tiny area and we can’t even get out of the driveway. My wanderlust is screaming from within on most days. There is so much I love about how we spend our days and yet… there is so very much I need a break from. So, we packed up the car and drove all the way down to Florida to visit family, get re-accqauinted with Vitamin D, and, most importantly, to enjoy a change of scenery. Do I wish I were in Thailand, snorkeling by day and enjoying a coconut by night? Do I wish I were planning our next visa run, getting ready to cross another border? Sometimes. But for now, a day spent on the beach, searching for shells, is enough to recharge these batteries.

Sometimes I think there is a belief that if you can’t get away for months at a time that it “isn’t worth it”.  I wonder what “it” is because sometimes a short trip can lift spirits, bring already existent perspective into focus, and make life seem exciting again. All of those “its” are certainly worth something!

How many of us can think back to our first weekend in NYC, our first week spent on the beach in Costa Rica, our first three week cross-country trip with family, our first weekend camping trip, our first class trip to France? Even those short trips were enough to get us excited about exploring and planted the very first seeds of wanderlust. Digging deep into a foreign land and culture is beyond amazing but, in truth, feeling that wonderful sense of freedom as you drive coast to coast, in a borrowed car, within the boundaries of your own home country can be pretty amazing as well.

Life is truly a journey. It cannot really be broken up into segments of experiences as it all flows together and creates the one unique path we are traveling. Short or long, any travel is a part of shaping our experience of the world. Next time your cousin tells you he is headed to Mexico for a week, fight the urge to tell him it “isn’t worth it” unless he can go for longer. Instead, smile, wish him well, and take joy in knowing that he will soon experience a break from his own “norm”- a break that just might expand any number of things for him. If you can muster that, than maybe you can cross your fingers that his wanderlust will grow ;) If it doesn’t, at least you know you might have a buddy for those mini-breaks you’ll inevitably need from your own long-term journeys!

 

What do you think? Do short trips have their own value?

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Category: General, On The Road

January 13, 2015

What the frugal foodie eats in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Stroll past the dozens of stalls serving food to the fascinated tourists excitedly pointing at giant, steaming woks of noodles, dried sticks of skewered insects and whirring blenders filled with local fruits, and you’ll find the experience to be an exquisite assault on the senses. Bright lights above each stall harshly illuminate the menus, which are rarely also in English. If the menu can even be seen through the steam and smoke from the never-ending cooking, the blended smells will only confound customers looking for something recognizable for dinner.

Although the intense variety of culinary choices attracts some foreigners to Thailand, many more are drawn by the comparatively low cost of living. Begin always by knowing what the currency conversion rate is so you can have a strong understanding of what prices really are. One Canadian dollar works out to about thirty Thai baht, but I wouldn’t get too hung up on being precise; Thailand ends up being so cheap that it’s not worth counting pennies over it. 

Chiang Mai is a city that is always in motion, yet retains the slow, old-world charm that Bangkok seems to have long ago left behind. The centre of Thailand’s second-biggest city is a grouping of several blocks consisting mostly of old temples, schools, and residences, and shaped almost as a perfect square. Protecting the old city is its moat that symbolically keeps modernity from encroaching too far inside. The food, however, hasn’t been able to maintain the same degree of separation from the influences of the new millennium and the globalization that increased tourism brings.

For the traveller looking for something delicious and different from the norm, Chiang Mai not only offers reliable favourites, such as the ubiquitous Pad Thai and green curries, but lesser-known meals such as Khao Soi and Som Tam salad can be sampled for about a dollar. International dishes are very easy to locate, as one can find a bacon burger or cheese pizza being served beside someone else grilling an entire squid over a barrel fire.

The way to really travel and eat cheaply is to seek out the food stalls and put aside any unfounded lingering fears over the possibility of food poisoning. Cooks take great pride in serving tourists something authentic, clean, memorable, and probably a little spicier than expected. It can all be done without making a significant dent in anyone’s wallet.

Chiang Mai Food

Typically, a cheap walking-street dinner is done by visiting several carts that sell a few bites of some sort of tasty local dish. A meal might start with a light appetizer, perhaps a fried spring roll, sliced curry sausage, or a piece of grilled chicken on a skewer. Patrons jostle for the vendor’s attention, and those clutching exact change will find their order quickly filled. My large elbows are a blessing in times of hunger, and my stomach thanks them for their unwieldy size as they help keep my position at the front of the queue. I’m not a monster, I’m just hungry.

In Chiang Mai, it’s crucial to try the regional dishes that are nearly impossible to find back home, and that includes Khao Soi. With neither pictures nor translation for one to point to, the cook will only need to shout its name and everyone will know what to expect. Served in a bowl, it is a wonderful lightly spiced chicken curry sauce poured over fried yellow noodles, topped with pickled vegetables, often accompanied by a stewed chicken drumstick. The server directs customers to sit at a nearby folding table and it is lined with locals working their way through their own bowls. One serving could fill the void in most travellers’ stomachs, yet I must remind myself to avoid the compulsion to order a second bowl, for Khao Soi is oily, and there remain far too many other things to try. 

A voracious appetite might need a plate of Som Tam to fill the cracks at this point. It’s a papaya-based salad that is tossed with sweet and spicy ingredients, mixed with a clay mortar and pestle only at the moment it is ordered. Although sublimely refreshing, Som Tam can set one’s mouth ablaze if proper care is not taken as to the level of hot pepper added; it has the potential to create a serious need to guzzle a gallon of ice water or beer. Speaking of beer, the cheapest brand of lager is Chang, followed by Leo, Tiger, and Singha. None is particularly remarkable in terms of quality, but I am not one to complain about cold beer after spicy food.

Dessert is acceptable, no matter how full the last three dishes have made anyone feel. On the off-chance that fried dough with sweet milk seems too heavy, there is always the Thai classic: ancient ice cream. Ancient ice cream surprises most with its rectangular shape, and that it is served on a stick. Made with coconut milk and ice, individual portions are cut from large slabs, and can be eaten as is, or inside a piece of bread. With no dearth of flavours from which to choose, the usual suspects such as vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry are common favourites. While coffee, caramel, and coconut are some of the more subtle flavours, the few brave will try durian, matcha, or maybe red bean. The alternative to ice cream is roti, a flattened piece of soft dough, which can then be filled with bananas, chocolate, egg, or any sweet fruits, then fried gently on a large pan. It is wrapped up in itself, chopped into bite-sized morsels, and never runs more than a buck fifty.

The reaction inside my body at this point of dinner is overwhelming. It is not from excessive spice, nor is it something possibly undercooked that my stomach is trying to digest. The feeling is one of incredulity at how much time I’ve wasted in life not eating this amazing cuisine. It is appreciation for the opportunity to travel just to appease the foodie nature of the heart. It is a sense of smug satisfaction at having spent only four dollars on stuffing my belly so completely that I feel like giving away the rest of my budgeted money. It is contentment. Chiang Mai is accessible to the world, and it is a place of deep exploration for the lovers of food. It can be pursued and discovered again and again in every meal eaten.

 

Tony Hajdu writes more over at Unknown Home. Head over there and bookmark it!

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Category: Asia, Food and Drink, General

January 10, 2015

The Difference: Living Well vs. Doing Well

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In March of 1989, the Exxon Valdez struck a reef off the coast of Alaska, resulting in the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Initially viewed as an ecological disaster, this catastrophe did wonders to raise environmental awareness among average Americans. As television images of oil-choked sea otters and dying shore birds were beamed across the country, pop-environmentalism grew into a national craze.

Instead of conserving more and consuming less, however, many Americans sought to save the earth by purchasing “environmental” products. Energy-efficient home appliances flew off the shelves, health food sales boomed, and reusable canvas shopping bags became vogue in strip malls from Jacksonville to Jackson Hole. Credit card companies began to earmark a small percentage of profits for conservation groups, thus encouraging consumers to “help the environment” by striking off on idealistic shopping binges.

Such shopping sprees and health food purchases did absolutely nothing to improve the state of the planet, of course — but most people managed to feel a little better about the situation without having to make any serious lifestyle changes.

This notion — that material investment is somehow more important to life than personal investment — is exactly what leads so many of us to believe we could never afford to go vagabonding. The more our life options get paraded around as consumer options, the more we forget that there’s a difference between the two. Thus, having convinced ourselves that buying things is the only way to play an active role in the world, we fatalistically conclude that we’ll never be rich enough to purchase a long-term travel experience.

Fortunately, the world need not be a consumer product. As with environmental integrity, long-term travel isn’t something you buy into: it’s something you give to yourself.

Indeed, the freedom to go vagabonding has never been determined by income level, but through simplicity — the conscious decision of how to use what income you have. 

And, contrary to popular stereotypes, seeking simplicity doesn’t require that you become a monk, a subsistence forager, or a wild-eyed revolutionary. Nor does it mean that you must unconditionally avoid the role of consumer. Rather, simplicity merely requires a bit of personal sacrifice: an adjustment of your habits and routines within consumer society itself.

“Our crude civilization engenders a multitude of wants… Our forefathers forged chains of duty and habit, which bind us notwithstanding our boasted freedom, and we ourselves in desperation, add link to link, groaning and making medicinal laws for relief.”
— John Muir, Kindred and Related Spirits

At times, the biggest challenge in embracing simplicity will be the vague feeling of isolation that comes with it, since private sacrifice doesn’t garner much attention in the frenetic world of mass culture.

Jack Kerouac’s legacy as a cultural icon is a good example of this. Arguably the most famous American vagabonder of the 20th century, Kerouac vividly captured the epiphanies of hand-to-mouth travel in books like On the Road and Lonesome Traveler. In Dharma Bums, he wrote about the joy of living with people who blissfully ignore “the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn’t really want…general junk you always see a week later in the garbage anyway, all of [it] impersonal in a system of work, produce, consume.”

Despite his observance of material simplicity, however, Kerouac found that his personal life – the life that had afforded him the freedom to travel – was soon overshadowed by a more fashionable (and marketable) public vision of his travel lifestyle. Convertible cars, jazz records, marijuana (and, later, Gap khakis), ultimately came to represent the mystical “It” that he and Neal Cassidy sought in On the Road. As his Beat cohort William S. Burroughs was to point out years after his death, part of Kerouac’s mystique became inseparable from the idea that he “opened a million coffee bars and sold a million pairs of Levi’s to both sexes.”

In some ways, of course, coffee bars, convertibles and marijuana are all part of what made travel appealing to Kerouac’s readers. That’s how marketing (intentional and otherwise) works. But these aren’t the things that made travel possible for Kerouac. What made travel possible was that he knew how neither self nor wealth can be measured in terms of what you consume or own. Even the downtrodden souls on the fringes of society, he observed, had something the rich didn’t: Time.

This notion – the notion that “riches” don’t necessarily make you wealthy – is as old as society itself. The ancient Hindu Upanishads refer disdainfully to “that chain of possessions wherewith men bind themselves, and beneath which they sink”; ancient Hebrew scriptures declare that “whoever loves money never has money enough.” Jesus noted that it’s pointless for a man to “gain the whole world, yet lose his very self”, and the Buddha whimsically pointed out that seeking happiness in one’s material desires is as absurd as “suffering because a banana tree will not bear mangoes.”

Despite several millennia of such warnings, however, there is still an overwhelming social compulsion – an insanity of consensus, if you will – to get rich from life rather than live richly, to “do well” in the world instead of living well. And, in spite of the fact that America is famous for its unhappy rich people, most of us remain convinced that just a little more money will set life right. In this way, the messianic metaphor of modern life becomes the lottery – that outside chance that the right odds will come together to liberate us from financial worries once and for all.

“Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing…”
— Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road”

Fortunately, we were all born with winning tickets – and cashing them in is a simple matter of altering our cadence as we walk through the world. Vagabonding sage Ed Buryn knew as much: “By switching to a new game, which in this case involves vagabonding, time becomes the only possession and everyone is equally rich in it by biological inheritance. Money, of course, is still needed to survive, but time is what you need to live. So, save what little money you possess to meet basic survival requirements, but spend your time lavishly in order to create the life values that make the fire worth the candle. Dig?”

Dug. And the bonus to all of this is that – as you of sow your future with rich fields of time – you are also planting the seeds of personal growth that will gradually bloom as you travel into the world.

 

Excerpted from Tim Ferris’ blog, originally published 10/05/12

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Category: Vagabonding Life

January 8, 2015

New Years Eve vs. St. Stephen’s Day for fireworks in Budapest

If you’re like my husband and I, you can’t help but do a little bit of research or at least some Google-Image searching when you’re about to embark on a trip you’re particularly excited about.

For instance we spent New Years Eve in Budapest, Hungary this year and made sure to get a hotel right on the river (using our IHG rewards points for a free room with an incredible view.) This was, we believed, where the New Years Eve fireworks would go off.

Why did we think this?

Because that’s where the St. Stephen’s Day fireworks had been the year before on August 20th.

That fireworks show had been so impressive, so long, and so extravagant that we expected to be in for a treat. What we saw instead was an entirely different experience, yet not without its own…explosive qualities.

 

First let me share a bit about St. Stephen’s Day.

St. Stephen’s Day is essentially Hungary’s independence day, celebrating not only the foundation of the Hungarian state, but also Stephen, the first king of the kingdom of Hungary.

Much like the United States’ independence day, Hungary celebrates this day with a huge fireworks display in the capital city. Unlike any fireworks show I’ve seen in the States however, this show is a 45 minute explosion of non-stop fireworks, bursting forth from the famous Chain Bridge and casting vibrant reflections on the surface of the Danube.

When my husband and I accidentally happened upon this holiday and thus, the fireworks show last year, we could not believe the extravagance. It is still on my list of 5 most serendipitous travel moments we’ve ever had.

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Now I’ll spend just a moment detailing New Years Eve in Budapest

When the concierge at the InterContinental Budapest told us that there were no official events to speak of in Budapest New Years Eve, we were quite skeptical. Our skepticism was enhanced by the fact that tourists were beginning to crowd along the river, as if to catch a glimpse of another huge fireworks show.

Perhaps they too had done a quick Google-Image search of “new year’s eve Budapest” as we had.

Besides…since when has the internet been an infallible resource for FACTS? :)

Instead of the glorious and extravagant display of impeccably choreographed fireworks, we found the streets littered with spontaneous explosions. Venders paced along open courtyards, store-fronts, and sidewalks selling fireworks to tourists and locals alike. And once purchased, for this night alone, the fireworks could be detonated just about anywhere.

We watched fireworks shoot off with lopsided angles, sometimes straight into the crowd that circled the open square. We watched debris cast off from the firework’s cartridge fall down into the crowds. The haphazard explosions of amateur fireworks exploded literally right in front of our faces and I wondered to myself why I wasn’t hearing a constant noise of ambulances.

It was thrilling. But also, in a way, quite harrowing. The videos I snapped on my phone look just like scenes from a war film.

We spent most of the last hour of 2014 standing observing these sporadic explosions from a safe distance back where we could see both the fits and spurts of the courtyard and the subdued anticipation of the tourists along the river.

Nothing much happened over the river that night. Just a few explosions could be seen of other amateur fireworks displays in other open courtyards across the river. Just as sporadic. Just as haphazard. And from the distance across the river, quite small.

 

I suppose the moral of this story in my mind, is to remember that Google-Image search is indeed fallible.

 

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Category: Europe

January 7, 2015

Why making mistakes while traveling is important

Making-mistakes-backpacking “What If” – two powerful words that potentially stop travelers with crippling fear.

It is natural to worry about the possibilities of being stranded alone in a city where you don’t speak the language, having your passport stolen, or missing a train and spending the night on the street. However, to allow these “What If’s” to keep you at home is a huge mistake.

You will definitely make mistakes while traveling; it is part of life on the road.

Usually, they are little mistakes that hurt your bank balance and pride more than your health. A comforting thought is that at this moment there are hundreds of travelers around the world making mistakes, and if they can recover, then so can you. I have spent more than three and a half years on the road and haven’t gone a single week without making a random travel mistake. Some have been big, like not booking accommodation which meant spending a few nights on the street, and some have been small, like heading to the wrong airport. As time went on, I saw these mistakes for what they really were – opportunities.

Looking at your errors in a positive light, will change your entire outlook. Mistakes make you a better traveler and a stronger person. Now I cherish these crucial moments as they have taught me valuable life lessons while traveling the world. make-friends Meet other travelers

Once on the Greek island of Paros, I missed my ferry. Looking around, I noticed four other people had also missed it, so I walked up and started a conversation. By the next day when a new ferry showed up, we had all become fast friends. In fact, we got along so well that I changed my plans to travel with them for the next month. Today, I still stay in contact with them, have met them regularly in different countries, and consider them close friends.

You might think this is a fluke, but it happens over and over again. I’ve met most of my closest travel friends because I have missed a bus, train, or ferry. The next time you make a mistake, look around. There is a good chance you are not the only one. After all, misery loves company. Use this as an opportunity to start a conversation and make new friends. This is a good way to meet locals as well as travelers.

Live in the moment

Some people want a planned itinerary from the second they step onto the plane until they arrive back at their doorstep. However, nothing goes according to plan when traveling and when plans go awry, you need to think on your feet. Spontaneity sets you in the moment completly. It helps people come out of their shells, and shows them that the world will not end if they stray from their schedule, or get off the beaten path.

Mistakes usually end in unexpected adventures and exciting stories. Think about it. When people tell you stories from their travels, they do not spend an hour describing every painting they saw in the Lourve, but they will excitedly share all the funny misadventures that happened to them on their way. Losing wallets, missing trains, or driving a day in the wrong direction becomes the highlight of the trip.

Discover your strength

As you make mistakes, one of the first things you will figure out is that you are not a fragile human being. When everything goes wrong and you have the patience and determination to figure it out, you will discover you are stronger than what you thought.

I have learned that I possess not only the courage to face my fears, but also the unknown.

This realization has given me confidence not only when traveling but also dealing with everyday problems in my personal life. Honestly, I love making travel mistakes. They have opened doors and have given me a fresh perspective on traveling. If you embrace your mishaps and learn from them, you will make valuable friends, gain a deeper understanding of yourself, and experience traveling on a new level. Let’s embrace our travel mistakes and venture into the unknown.

Stephen is a long-term traveler and enthusiastic adventurer. You can check out more of his musing of life on the road at his website A Backpackers Tale Travel Blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

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Category: Vagabonding Advice

January 6, 2015

The brotherhood of traveling children: on friendships

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We are asked, on occasion, what we “do” about the social needs of our children.

Granted, the question has never been asked by anyone who’s actually met our children.  Spend an hour interacting with them and you’ll know a few things:

  1. They love to talk.
  2. YOU are their socialization of the moment.
  3. They have friends all over the world (get out your note pad so you can keep track of names and places, they’ll expect you to remember later!)
  4. They don’t really know they’re kids.

Well, they do know they’re kids, obviously, but they don’t really see why that matters. They have friends of all ages, and that seems very normal to them. Perhaps because, it is.

What people mean, when they ask that question, is, “What do you do about your kids’ need to hang out with other kids?”

And that’s a fair question.

Obviously, they’re not in school 8 hours a day, 5 days a week with 20 other urchins of exactly their same age and experience, so there must be a social deficiency, right? They must be missing out on hanging with their buddies and doing “kid stuff,” right?

Erm… no. Not really.

The first thing I’ll freely admit is that being a family of six is different, socially, than being a family of two. 

My kids are friends with each other, so each of them travels with three unique friendships in their backpacks. They hang together sometimes, they pair off sometimes. They like to be alone sometimes. If we had just one kid, it would be much harder to provide the diversity of friendship and interaction that happens quite naturally with six of us.

Just this morning, as Hannah was crouched by the woodstove, hanging her hair over the vents trying to dry it, I asked, “So Peep, what are ya going to do today?”

“Well… I’m going to work on my book project with Jessie… then I think I’m going to do something with Ez.” 

At that very moment Ezra and Elisha were talking through an elaborate lego game that I do not understand but that they love passionately.

Where was Gabe? Out the door to work for the day. He’s got a gig working with an older man who’s become his friend while they haul brush, cut stuff up and rake.

So the first answer to that question: They have each other, and siblings really can be good friends.

I’ll bet your kids talk to their friends every day, don’t they?

My kids do too. 

I often wake up to updates about Will’s progress on his novel or how his trip to the Czech went. (Will lives in Germany.) I get daily reports on the status of the Wood children and their little ones’ antics. (The Woods live in the USA.) Gabe occasionally plays games with boys spread between three continents at the moment. Emails fly back and forth around the planet like notes passed in my seventh grade homeroom behind Miss More’s back. The classroom has just gotten exponentially bigger!

The second answer: Technology helps

There’s another obvious answer as well: They make friends.

Everywhere we go, and across culture and language barriers, they make friends. Some of their friends are people they’ve never even met!!

A list of people considered “best friends” that we’d never have met if we hadn’t started traveling:

More “buddies” they wouldn’t trade:

 

When one of the kids reads this post I’m going to get in trouble for forgetting someone important, but honestly, I can’t keep track. I should also note that the age range of the above set of friends ranges from five to seventeen and my turning 13 year old would be FIGHTING mad if you suggested that he can’t really count the five year olds as his real friends. Age only matters if you let it.

Please note: these are ONLY their traveling friends, there are, of course, the long list of their long term bestest friends who they keep in touch with religiously, and who send us sweet little packages and cards and who we Skype with whenever we can.

There’s another factor at play though: Our kids have “friends” they’ve never met. 

These are kids whose blogs they follow, or who live in other traveling families that we haven’t crossed paths with. These are the kids they are sometimes in classes with or that we get updates on via Facebook.

Ezra is quite keen to meet a child we are sure to be his brother from a different mother, they’re the same age, the same “bent” and are equally traveled. For now they snicker at each other’s antics from afar.

The whole tribe is on the edge of their seats this week worrying about a boy who took a nasty fall from a horse in Mongolia this week. He’s being airlifted to Hong Kong for surgery. He’s Elisha’s age.

The second week we were in New Zealand our friends, the Alboms, hosted a dinner party for a group of traveling families. We are all converging on Auckland for one night, taking flights in and out, weaving our threads through the same city for one day. There were about ten kids between 7 and 16, none of whom had met in the real world. All of whom hugged hard when they left and swapped emails like day traders. The parents got on just as well.

There is a brotherhood among traveling children.

It’s not that our kids don’t fit “in the box.” Au contraire; I’ve never seen our kids in a situation where they couldn’t find common ground and enjoy their compatriots, even when they’ve visited “school” for a day. It’s that we’re raising our kids to be able to box hop, and peek over the top to realize that there is this whole space between the boxes that is also fair game.

Other traveling kids get this. No one told them. It has never been explained. It’s just part of their reality as what is sometimes called “Third Culture Kids.” 

You know how, when you get together with people you went to high school with, you all start swapping stories about this teacher, or that clique, or that time SOMEONE dressed the Virgin Mary in a bikini with a lei and propped a sign behind her praying hands that said, “Mother Mary goes to Hawaii!” there is instant camaraderie?

It’s like that. 

Okay, maybe not giraffes and whales.

I love those moments. Those moments are the BEST because those are the moments, and the friendships that are happening in the space between the boxes, you know?

Are our kids socially weird?

Definitely.

It is the family joke… kind of… that the only real social downside of our travels is that Ezra is quite convinced that his peers are the 24 year old backpackers we hang with in hostels. And they are… and since one day he’ll be 24 (and then 34, and 44) we’re not worried. It will all come out in the wash.

They would tell you that they have no desire to be “normally” socialized teenagers. Hannah and Gabe shudder at the thought.

Are they socially deficient?

No. There’s no deficiency… just difference; and difference is okay. It’s better than okay, in fact, it’s good.

Because they’ve been socialized differently they aren’t uncomfortable in the same ways that many teenagers are. They like the “teen box” but they like the other boxes too.

Their favourite place?

Running amok between the boxes with the handful of other kids who they love more than life and live there too. And the adults they run into between the boxes, now those are the people who are socially challenging and inspiring. Those are the folks I hope my kids crash headlong into whilst playing hide and seek and shouting from box top to box top and careening around corners out there in the real world.

So what do we do about the social needs of our kids? 
We introduce them to the world.

 

Originally published on Jenn’s blog: Edventure Project

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Category: Family Travel

January 4, 2015

Top 5 travel apps to stay organized on the road

IMG_0723 (2)

It’s hard to be organized constantly.

It’s hard when you’re at home. It’s more difficult when you’re on the road, trying to remember where exactly you put that super-important sticky note with the really-super-important booking confirmation number for your hotel.

Thankfully there’s an app for your troubles. I rounded up the top five travel apps I regularly use to stay organized, both on the road and at home.

evernote

1. Evernote

iOS // Android // Free

Imagine if your brain could immediately access every website, memory or note you ever encountered. Imagine if you eliminated your wagging Post-It notes, your notebooks crammed with places to see, scribbled recommendations passed along by friends, or the couple last night at the table next to you.

Imagine if you could search those notes by a single word. Or organize them according to a simple yet effective filing system.

Welcome to Evernote: a virtual library of your must-sees and must-dos nicely organized in one place.

Install the app on your phone that automatically syncs to the website. Should something indescribable happen to your phone, panic not. Your entire precious database is secure and easily accessible via the Internet.

Save pages from the web, forward special emails, input notes, capture thoughts and pictures, record voice memos and share all your goodies with friends with a click of the button.

Evernote is my favorite. He keeps my mind organized and clutter-free while planning my greatest adventures.

I used this bad boy to plan multi-city trips, plot our route through Europe, and dream up new adventures. I also use it daily to record recommendations on what to see and where to stay on my next trip.

It serves as my highly organized personal assistant who even prods me to complete my daily to-do list. So I can never forget to check into a flight again.

dropbox2. Dropbox

iOS // Android // Free for 2GB

Call it your personal CYA plan. Call it your never-forget-a-document-again plan. Call it your ultimate back-up plan. Call it your storage in the cloud.

Call it what you want, but Dropbox is vital to life on the road. You can access your whole library of files from your smartphone or the slow computer at the Internet cafe down the street. Back up your photos from your iPhone into Dropbox for a complete database of hundreds of sunsets you’ve seen around the world.

Or keep writing, page by page, at the novel you’ve been dreaming of while clacking over train tracks in Siberia. It even saves former drafts of the same document so you can pull that sentence from five drafts ago back to life.

Dropbox holds your music, photos, videos, and files while you explore the world. It’s all organized by folders and as many sub-folders as your little heart desires. And if you drop your phone or computer in a lake or off a helicopter, no big deal. Your virtual world is still safe.

tripit3. TripIt

iOS // Android // Free

Finally, an app that organizes all your convoluted, brilliantly messy flight plans into a nice, neat pile that actually makes sense. And that others — like your grandparents — can understand. It’s a master itinerary, with all your plans, in one place.

My favorite part is the notifications that kindly tell you of gate changes at the airport. (It’s unbelievably empowering to arrive at the airport already knowing your new gate when the airport’s computers haven’t updated yet.) And it reminds you of when to check in for flights.

It’s easy to use. Simply forward your confirmation emails for flights, car rentals, transportation, hotels to plans@tripit.com. The app automatically organizes your plans. When you step off the plane, it gives you directions to your hotel from your current location.

The TripIt Pro version ($4.09/mo) gives you a slew of other helpful, awesome features like syncing plans with your calendar, real-time flight alerts, and finding out when a better seat is available. I use the free version, but have had a couple chances to try out the Pro thanks to TripIt’s generosity in allowing users to limited-time access.

trip advisor4. TripAdvisor City Guides

iOS // Android // Free

TripAdvisor lets you see how other travelers rate attractions, hotels, and more. But you already knew that.

The better part of TripAdvisor is their maps and City Guides. You can see a map of the city’s transportation system, star favorite places, and navigate your way back to the hostel, even if it’s your first night in the new city.

Use the “point me there” feature to get oriented in the correct direction — very useful if you’re like me, twirling on a sidewalk, trying to figure out which direction is correct. Or ask the app to give you directions to your destination.

My favorite part is reading other travelers’ advice and recommendations. You can quickly get a flavor for the highly touristy areas of a city, so you can skim through them on your way to the meatier, juicier aspects where the locals live.

Best part? It works completely offline.

wifi finder5. Wi-Fi Finder

iOS // Android // Free

A database of hundreds of spots offering free WiFi around the world.

This app has gotten me out of a pickle once or twice while trying to decipher transit maps in Dublin and when exactly the next bus comes when no timetable is posted.

It’s not always perfect, but it sure helps when you need WiFi and no Starbucks’ free WiFi is in sight.

Laura blogs at Waiting to Be Read where she dishes about awesome books to read, what actors work best as main characters, and why thinking is a dying sport.

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Category: Travel Tech

January 3, 2015

What’s in a name? On pronouncing difficult country names

Laos

When I traveled through Southeast Asia some years ago, I was amazed by the number of fellow backpackers who ridiculed me whenever I pronounced the “s” in Laos. Apparently, I was supposed to pronounce it “Lao,” just like locals do.

The thing is, those same “s”-dropping travelers never insisted on calling Bangkok by its proper name (“Krung Thep Maha Nakhon”) when they were in Thailand — and when they recalled journeys to East Asia, they mentioned Japan and Korea, not “Nihon-koku” and “Daehan Minguk”. But Laos was “Lao,” and anyone with the temerity to pronounce the “s” ran the risk of being branded a travel-greenhorn in the backpacker haunts of Vang Vieng and Muang Sing.

Oddly enough, Laos seems to be the only place where backpackers are rigid fundamentalists when it comes to nation-state pronunciation. Rarely do you find such tenacious commitment to cultural-linguistic accuracy in the travel cliques of Misr (Egypt), Shqipërisë (Albania), or Suomi (Finland). (One possible exception might be Latin America, where otherwise normal patter among English-speaking travelers is frequently offset with trilled r’s and h-sounding g’s when mentioning places like Honduras and Argentina.)

What makes Laos an exception? Since the Westernized pronunciation is just one consonant away from the local pronunciation, my guess is lazy opportunism among backpackers hoping to showcase their cultural knowledge. Whereas referring to Morocco as “al-Maghrebia” or Greenland as “Kalaallit Nunaat” would make you seem like a jackass show-off to fellow travelers, calling Laos “Lao” allows you to avoid confusing your compatriots while still insinuating that you’ve been in-country long enough to pronounce the place as locals do. Hence, in the goofy realm of backpacker pecking order (where displays of cultural expertise reign supreme, yet all pretensions must be subtle), Laos-pronunciation is the perfect shorthand for distinguishing salty wanderers from newbies.Interestingly, Laos provides a good example for how complicated things can get when dissecting the names of nation-states. The “s” in Laos, for example, dates back to the late 1800’s, when a number of largely autonomous, mainly Lao-speaking kingdoms (including Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Champasak) were united under French colonial rule. The “s” was silent in French pronunciation, and only came into spoken use when Anglophones intoned it according to their own rules (much as we do when pronouncing “Paris”). Perhaps the most famous mispronunciation of “Laos” came in 1962, when President Kennedy called the nation “Lay-oss” — reportedly out of apprehension that the American people would resist sending military aid to a country that sounded like the singular of “lice.”

Though it could be easy to write off the “s” in Laos as an insidious remnant of Western imperialism, place-names in Europe are similarly indicative of bygone intrusions. When a Cardiff-born traveler refers to himself as “Welsh,” he is actually using a Germanic word that means “foreigner” (as opposed to the Celtic word for Welsh, “Cymry,” which means “compatriot”). Similarly, the official Laotian name for Laos — “Meuang Lao” — probably sounds a tad strange to the 31% of native-born citizens (including the Hmong, Dao, and Khmu) who are not ethnically Lao.

British historian Norman Davies has noted that place-names aren’t necessarily a fixed concept. “They change over time,” he wrote in his 1996 book Europe: A History. “And they vary according to the language and the perspective of the people who use them. They are the intellectual property of their users, and as such have caused endless conflicts. They can be the object of propaganda, of tendentious wrangling, of rigid censorship, even of wars. In reality, where several variants exist, one cannot speak of correct or incorrect forms.”

This in mind, I’ve decided I won’t worry too much about the “correct” way to pronounce Laos. Outside of backpacker circles, I’ve found that native Laotians don’t mind when I pronounce the “s” in Laos — just like citizens of ” Ellīnikī́ Dīmokratía” understand when I make reference to “Greece,” and residents of “Al Mamlaka al Urduniya al Hashemiyah” don’t scold me for calling their country “Jordan.” Were I conversing in Lao or Greek or Arabic this might be a different matter — but host cultures tend to understand that non-fluent outsiders have their own names for things. When I’m asked by local people to use local pronunciations (or when it makes communication easier) I’m happy to drop my Westernized vocabulary for something more culturally correct. This is, in fact, a normal part of the travel-education process.

I suppose it’s also part of the travel process to foist that linguistic correctness on other travelers, but this can sometimes get obnoxious. Just as rose by any other name would smell as sweet, Laos will remain of terrific place to travel, regardless of whether or not you pronounce the “s” in the company of your fellow backpackers.

 

Originally published on Gadling 10/07/2011

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Category: Languages and Culture
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