This book found me, not the other way around. Tucked between a hat from the Karen region in the north of Thailand, an Indian pashmina and a pile of silk and cotton shawls plucked from market stalls across Indonesia. I pulled a long, tie dyed piece from the depths of the cardboard box, draped it over my shoulder, and gently picked up the book: The Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India The treasures were selections made by my friend Chris on his last winter wander through Southeast Asia. We’d traded stories and laughs late into the night before and in the morning, he appeared with his trove of tangible memories and insisted I choose something as a souvenir of our friendship. I chose the scarf, and the book.
Rory MacLean is a magician. His story weaves past into present in a way that simultaneoulsy makes the reader long for the good ol’ days and celebrate the present journey. If the early days of hippie travel, overland between Istanbul and India sing to your soul, read this book. With an amazingly lucid eye he examines the often romanticized era and ties the strings between those first intrepid journeys into parts of the world that were relatively unexplored by western travelers and the resultant changes, for better or for worse. His stories made me long to camp in the caves near Cappadocia, and renewed my desire to walk, alone, across Iran. If you’re looking for a winter escape, may I suggest hopping on the Magic Bus and reliving a journey that defined a generation of travelers?
“Out in the great wide world, foreign reporting can be depressingly narrow, especially in the post-9/11 climate. Sometimes it seems as if there are only two possible subjects for stories: people we should fear and people we should pity. But those aren’t the individuals I met while living abroad.”
–Peter Hessler, Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West (2013)
What if you could filter water in 15 seconds or less by simply pressing down? What if that motion also purified your water so it was delicious enough to drink?
Water’s a big deal when you’re traveling. In a matter of a few gulps, you could jeopardize your health. That’s why purifying water on the road is so important. But shaking, pumping, waiting, squeezing to purify your water can take a while.
Especially when you’re so thirsty even mud-water looks yummy.
What’s why Grayl cup was invented. It purifies water like working a French press. Push down. Clean water rises up in the inner cup. What’s even better? A clear, plastic cup that purifies your water, switches filters easily, and works like a mug so you can drink your freshly-pressed clean water.
Enter the new Grayl Quest cup.
Disclaimer: the nice folks at Grayl were generous enough to send me their newly launched Grayl Quest cup with some filters to test out.
Unlike it’s predecessor — the Legend — the Quest comes with a clear outside cup. So now you can fill up the outer cup with water and easily see the water line. The Legend is a hybrid design of stainless steel inner cup with a hard-plastic outer cup.
Plus, the Legend was all stainless steel and almost 4.5 ounces heavier than Quest. Fill that stainless steel up with water, and suddenly your cup adds some substantial weight to your bag.
With the Quest, that heavy-duty plastic takes weight off where it matters.
Not only did Grayl add another cup to their line, but they also added another filter. Now you have three filters to choose from:
Each one is designed for different uses.
The tap filter is designed for urban uses. It removes many chemicals and heavy metals that may affect flavor, odor and health. Filters water in 7 seconds. Best used for traveling in developed countries where the water doesn’t taste as lovely as bottled.
Hitting the back woods? Take this filter with. It’s crafted to fight the protozoan cysts and waterborne bacteria found in mountain streams. It removed 99.99% of bacteria like salmonella. Filters water in 15 seconds.
Specially suited for the uncertainty found in traveling the world. It removed 99.99% of viruses like Hepatitis A, bacteria and protozoan cysts like salmonella and Giardia. And the filter is derived from coconut husks to filter and absorb odors and flavors from the water. Filters water in 30 seconds. Call it your best friend in times of need.
There’s nothing big I don’t like about Grayl Quest.
Nothing that would prevent me from buying Grayl. Nothing that makes me hesitate. Even the prices and expected life (about 3 months) for the filters seem reasonable. In fact, I wish I had this cup while backpacking through Europe. It would have saved me hundreds of dollars on bottled water and filled up dozens of Nalgenes.
I can’t wait to take it on my next trip — whether it’s to a city, mountain, or misty lands far beyond. Well done, Grayl.
One afternoon late last year, I went out for lunch at a restaurant not far from the south Thailand guesthouse where I’d been staying. My landlady ran the place, and on this day she seemed particularly pleased to see me. “We have new English menu!” she exclaimed, presenting me with a glossy list of entrees.
I took a seat and scanned the menu, which listed the kinds of dishes I’d always eaten there—red curry, paad thai, tom yam. Then, amidst the standard delicacies, I noticed a dish I’d never before sampled in this part of the world: FRIED RICE WITH CRAP.
Concerned, I took the menu over to my landlady. “I think this dish is a mistake,” I told her.
“Oh, no!” she replied brightly. “We make seafood for you! Fresh from water!”
I gave my landlady a skeptical look. “But surely ‘crap’ is not what you meant to write.”
“Yes, crap! Very delicious!”
I considered this. “Do you by chance mean ‘carp’?”
“No!” she laughed. “Crap!” She splayed her hands and mimicked the scuttling movement of a crustacean.
“Oh, you mean crab. C-R-A-B. Not C-R-A-P.”
“Yes!” she said, handing the menu back to me. “Crab. Both sound same to me.” Then, almost as an afterthought, she asked: “What means ‘crap’?”
This was not the first time I’d chanced into such an awkwardly comical situation in Thailand. At the central market in Ranong, one could buy packets of “COCK CONDITIONING PILLS” (which I very much hope are for roosters), and the local supermarket did fast trade in a brand of toilet paper called “Sit and Smile.” Perhaps most notably, however, a toy vendor along the main street sold packs of tiny plastic animals that came with a sober warning for parents: “BE CAREFUL OF BEING EATEN BY SMALL CHILDREN.”
To be sure, Thailand holds no monopoly on poorly translated English. Some years ago, a series of forwarded e-mails made the rounds, describing bizarre signs posted in Kenyan restaurants (“Customers who find our waitresses rude ought to see the manager”), Norwegian cocktail lounges (“Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar”), and Russian monasteries (“You are welcome to visit the cemetery where famous Russian artists and writers are buried daily except Thursday”). A similar round of emails celebrated the linguistic gaffes that resulted when American corporations introduced new slogans into foreign markets. In Mexico, for example, “Got Milk?” translated into the decidedly un-hip slogan, “Are You Lactating?”
No doubt this tradition of global mistranslation goes back to the days when Greek and Roman tourists frequented the sights of Anatolia and Egypt (one can imagine shaky Latin letters scrawled onto papyrus outside an Alexandria dry-cleaner: “Let us put happiness in your toga!”), but the modern practice of publicly butchering English can be traced back to the American occupation of post-war Japan in the 1940s and ‘50s. There, amidst the sudden rush to emulate all things Western, G.I.‘s were able to buy tubes of “Snot” brand toothpaste, and the Japanese brass band that played at General MacArthur’s election reputedly commissioned a banner that read: “We pray for General MacArthur’s erection.” To this day, Japan still leads the world in mistranslated English (see Engrish.com for a splendid collection).
Other societies are rapidly catching up to the Japanese example, however, mainly in proportion to how fast they modernize. Korea, where I lived for two years as an English teacher in the late ‘90s (“Praise the Load!” read posters for my school’s Bible club), boasts a fine tradition of mangling the English language. Indeed, as both a Koreaphile and a former EFL educator, I didn’t know whether to be inspired or horrified in 2002, when the red-clad South Korean World Cup team stormed into the semifinals, and (according to news reports) 5 million soccer-crazed Koreans went out and bought T-shirts that exulted: “BE THE REDS!”
If there is a growth market in dodgy English, however, look no further than China, where one billion increasingly globalized citizens will soon start translating area signage into English in anticipation of the 2008 Olympics. Brian Baker, a fellow Kansas émigré who spent a year teaching English in China, once found the following tourist information posted in a Wuhan statue park:
1. The tourists must care for the statues, consciously avoid carving, writing, climbing, and damnification. Trying to be a civilized citizen.
2. The tourists climbing the statues must be fined from 5-50 yuan.
3. The tourists carving or scratching the statues must be fined from 50-500 yuan.
4. The tourists making a breakage for the statues’ instruments must be fined 1000-5000 yuan.
5. The tourists making a breakage for the second half of the statue must be fined 2000-8000 yuan.
6. The tourists making a breakage for the first half of the statue (without the face) must be charged 3000-10000 yuan.
One can imagine tourists sizing up such vandalism options with the kind of anticipation usually reserved for fine wine lists (“Ooh look, honey, let’s make a breakage for the statues’ instruments—it’s totally within our price range!”).
Brian’s most vivid experience with Chinese English, however, came in a provincial grocery store. “There,” he reports, “between the Natural Powdered Jellyfish and the Yak Ham, I saw what looked, to my hungry eyes, to be a package of sliced turkey. Imagine my surprise when, upon closer inspection, the label clearly read: ‘CHOICE AROMATIC LION BUTT.’ I still can’t imagine what Chinese-English dictionary yielded that monstrosity of translation.”
The potential flip side to all this, of course, lies in the recent Western vogue for Chinese characters on clothing and skin art. As a case in point, I once bought a T-shirt that, according to the vendor, featured the Chinese symbol for “Lucky.” It wasn’t until months later that a Hong Kong friend informed me that it wasn’t even close to “Lucky”—that it really meant “Super.” Had it read “Dork,” or “Kick Me,” I would have been none the wiser. Similarly, all the hipsters who went out and got Chinese ideogram tattoos over the past decade could be in for a nasty surprise if they ever travel to China. After all, a “Crouching Tiger” buttock tattoo purchased in good faith in Seattle might eventually be revealed as provincial slang for “Impotent,” and a Melbourne tattoo artist who designs stylized “Freedom” ideograms might accidentally miss a stroke and send his clients off with a symbol that means, say, “Adult Diapers.”
Beneath the dangers of dabbling in other languages, of course, lies an optimistic truth: that, regardless of syntactic differences, the basic human meanings behind our languages remain the same. After all, “Sit and Smile” is indeed a desirable activity after having used toilet paper, and even the most diabolical of restauranteurs wouldn’t literally serve you fried rice with crap.
To be on the safe side, however, I think I’ll stick to the red curry and tom yam
Originally published by World Hum, Dec. 3 2004
Hometown: Conroe, Texas
Quote: Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain
(It is on my business card)
The other day a reader told me she had saved up for a gap-year of travel. She said that she hadn’t yet decided whether or not to do some remote contract work while traveling or not.
In my opinion, she was right to think decisively about the matter, because there are two very different types of travel she can experience. Traveling with a goal to work as you go is very different than taking a year off to collect incredible travel experiences.
Don’t get me wrong; one is not better and one is not worse…just different. Let’s look at how.
5 ways working-as-you-go travel is different than a gap year:
1.) You can move more quickly during a gap-year.
When you’re trying to work as you go, it’s very much like anyone else’s work life in that you’ll have work-days and off-days. Luckily, you can schedule the work days and off days according to your travel whims, but it often means doubling or even tripling the amount of time you would have ordinarily spent in a place, or just adopting a slow travel pattern in general. You don’t have to see less with the work-as-you-go travel pattern, but you will have to fit the sites into off-days, evenings, lunch-breaks, etc.
With a gap-year, you can let other travel preferences dictate how long you stay in any given destination. You can stay as long as it will take you to see all the sites you had your heart set to see, then move along!
2.) You need to pack more intentionally when working as you go.
When working as you go, you may need more technical supplies than a gap-year person might. If you’re working digitally, you’ll need a reliable laptop, possibly hard-drives. Perhaps you need a better or safer file-storage system. Not to mention if you appear for conference calls or Skype sessions, you may need work-appropriate attire.
For a gap-year, you might still want some sort of internet device, but it could be as simple as an iPod touch or an iPad. Not to mention your wardrobe will be more dictated by the weather than it is by professional expectations.
3.) Traveling with others is harder when you’re working as you go.
When working as you go, the need to spend time working can be hard for other travelers to understand. I can’t count how many times we’ve heard others say to us, “How often are you in [fill in the blank destination]? Just take the day off today and site-see with me!” It’s hard for other travelers to understand that working while you travel mostly requires as many, and sometimes more working hours as a stationary job would. Or it is hard for them to understand that your travel is sustained by the hours spent not site-seeing. So by saying no to the activities of the day, you are actually making it possible to say yes to the activities of another day.
Also the pace of a vacationer is different than the pace of a work-as-you-go-traveler, as mentioned in the first point. So when we have traveled with friends on their vacation time, we’ve gone at a faster pace than we’re used to and thus, we have needed to skip things. On our own time, we may spend 7 days in an area so that we can work for 5 of them and site-see for two. But with vacationing friends who only have so many vacation days, we may spend 3 days in a place, requiring us to fit site-seeing into evenings or lunch-breaks.
During a gap year, it is much easier to be flexible with your pace or site-seeing preferences. Therefore, it’s easier to travel with others and accommodate whatever pace they’re after. That is one of my favorite parts of gap-year styled travel. You can say yes to any excursion that suits your fancy or your budget without any kind of thought towards whether or not you should be working instead.
4.) How you choose a hotel changes.
When working as you go, your hotel decisions might need to include stricter preferences than gap-year travel. For instance we’ve talked about digital work a lot. Indeed, you may need to assure you’ve got a strong internet connection, free or affordable internet, and a space in which you can spend 8 hours working. Unfortunately this sometimes eliminates hostels as an option.
During a gap-year, you may be much more flexible when it comes to accommodation. In our gap-year travel we spent many more nights in hostels and homes-stays than we do now. We tried to find ways to access internet maybe once a week or so, but it was not something we felt we needed every day. Now, we fall behind in our work-load if we go more than a day without internet.
5.) During a gap-year that has a defined end, you may feel less pressure to stay connected with friends and family from home.
Working as you go often means that there is not necessarily an end in sight. For instance my husband and I are full-time travelers so there is no set-time for when we’ll “go back home.” Because of this, I feel a greater need to connect with home on a regular basis. I try to stay in touch with my family members ever week or two.
During our gap-year on the other hand, I had an idea of when we would be returning to our friends and family. This made me feel a little less discouraged by long gaps without communication. At that time Skype was our only option for calling home for free, but we rarely had strong enough internet connection for a good Skype call. But I was reassured by the thought that I could tell my family and friends all about my travel when we returned home at the end of the year.
Now we’ve discussed 5 ways in which gap-year travel and work-as-you-go travel are very different. But in the end, either style of travel is going to require money. Either money you’ve saved, or money you make as you go. How much money depends on how you want to travel and is going to be a little bit different for everyone. But if you want a ball-park figure of what your travel budget can be using miles and points to help buffer that cost, I recommend jumping over to my stats page to see exactly how much it costs for us to live nomadically.
Cost/day: $2 for adults, $1 for children
What’s the most exciting thing that’s happened lately?
Today was our first outing since she’s been born. We went with grandma and grandpa to the Children’s Museum (Museo de los Ninos) in San Jose.
Describe a typical day:
We’re staying in the mountains of the Central Valley, with a gorgeous view of the ocean waaaay off in the distance. Grandma and grandpa have come to visit, for the birth of our sixth child.
Before she was born, we took a trip to the chocolate farm.
It’s been a couple of weeks since Saige Journee was born, so we’re ready for another (little) adventure — the Children’s Museum in San Jose, about 45 minutes away.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
Like: This is our second time living in Costa Rica. It’s a beautiful country with beautiful, friendly people, idealized in their most common saying, ‘Pura vida’ (pure life).
It’s a country with a lot to offer — mountains, beaches, cities, country. Living in the mountains, we’re not too far from all the conveniences of a major city.
The museum was wonderful. So much to see and do, and lots of learning — chemistry, biology, natural history and tons more. An old helicopter to explore, a ‘banana plantation’ to work, a big mouth with teeth chairs… a great time was had by all.
Dislike: The mountain roads from the house down to the city are windy… I feel a little nauseous.
Describe a challenge you faced:
There was some confusion about how to get to the museum, but after asking directions a couple of times, we found our way.
And we should have gone earlier in the day… we didn’t have enough time to see everything before the museum was closing up!
What new lesson did you learn?
Sometimes we put labels on countries — first world versus third world. But all countries have cities, towns and ‘states’ that are in varyied levels of development.
Culture, refinement and fantastic infrastructure can be found in many countries that are labeled ‘third world’.
And the worst internet we’ve found in our travels (so far) was in Homer, Alaska, USA — a ‘first world’ country.
Don’t be too quick to judge.
Staying put in Costa Rica, but we’re having a humble lunch at the home of a Nicaraguan friend.
Learn more about Worldschooling, Education and Funding Travel here.
Planes, trains, buses and more. We’ve gotten good at waiting over the years. Our secret weapon? Games. We play games while we wait. We always have.
When the kids were little we played “I spy” and sang nursery rhymes and told jokes while we waited. We counted things and looked for patterns and we read stories and made shadows with our fingers.
When they got a little older we went nowhere without our chapter book. We plowed through Ben Hur and Watership Down, the Narnia series and the Jungle Books while we rode in the car and waited at doctor’s offices.
Since we’ve been traveling full time we’ve elevated waiting to an art form. If you’re looking for a few activities to fill the long minutes that stretch into hours with kids as you wait, we have a few suggestions:
We play a lot of cards in our family and we have for generations. I remember learning the fine art of bluffing over the euchre table from my grandfather and uncles as a small child. We play Five Crowns, War and even travel with a little fold up cribbage board. The kids learned a little Poker from their cousins last time we were in Indiana. I much prefer euchre. Last month we spent a few minutes between pick-up truck rides explaining the finer points of the game on a dirt floor patio on the banks of the Mekong in Laos.
If you’ve been paying any attention at all, you know that our family reads aloud a lot. Since the kids were little we’ve read aloud over meals, sneaking in much of their history and literature study while they chewed. Tony always has a “fun” book going, and he’s the kids’ favourite reader, because he does voices. We’ve had whole train cars full of enthralled listeners as Daddy plows through the next chapter of The Princess Bride on a train in the Czech. Carrying books and reading individually can be a great way to pass the time, but reading aloud to, and with, your kids is a great way to bond as a family and to pass on a rich culture of literacy from generation to generation.
Charlotte Mason introduced me to the concept of Nature Notebooking when my kids were small. I loved the idea of studying science in the early years by drawing things from the natural world that interested each of us individually. We’ve long made a practice of finding something small to draw: an acorn, a slug, paying particular attention to it’s breathing pore, a squirrel. It doesn’t really matter. I carry a pad of tiny blank papers, 3.5 X 5 inches, and water colour pencil crayons at all times. The best nature drawing we’ve done recently: painting the sunrise over the main temple complex at Angkor Wat last month. Stunning.
My kids are big now. A 14 hour bus ride doesn’t phase them. No one asks when the bus is coming or if we’re there yet. They just ride and find ways to pass the time. But they were little once, and they remember what it’s like to feel tired and bored to tears. Time always passes more quickly with friends and we learned early to pack a few things with “share potential” in our bags: marbles, cars, an inflatable ball, balloons, and plastic animal toys are all examples. Our kids still do this. Then, they look for little children who are struggling with the wait and they offer to play and share with them. Everybody wins! Elisha is the best at this, he is never without a pocketful of treasures for newfound friends!
Do you have strategies for passing the time? What do you do while you wait?
“Since the end of the Cold War and the opening of the world for travel, tourism has become an important source of foreign exchange for the world’s poorest nations, often the only one. While tourism requires some infrastructure, from airfields to modern highways, it is less expensive than building factories. In theory, poor countries should be able to use the new revenue from the tourism industry to pay for the infrastructure whole raising standards of living and improving the environment. One hundred of the world’s poorest nations do earn up to 5 percent of their gross national product from foreign tourists who marvel at their exotic customs, buy suitcases of souvenirs and take innumerable photographs of stunning landscapes. * But just as tourism is capable of lifting a nation out of poverty, is it just as likely to pollute the environment, reduce standards of living for the poor because the profits go to international hotel chains and corrupt local elites (what is called leakage), and cater to the worst of tourism, including condemning children to the exploitation of sex tourism. Like any major industry, tourism has a serious downside, especially since tourism and travel is underestimated as a global powerhouse; its study and regulation is spotty at best. Tourism is one of those double-edged swords that may look like an easy way to earn desperately needed money but can ravage wilderness areas and undermine native cultures to fit into package tours: a fifteen-minute snippet of a ballet performed in Southern India; native handicrafts refashioned to fit oversized tourists. What is known is that tourism and travel is responsible for 5.3 percent of the world’s carbon emissions and the degradation of nearly every tropical beach in the world.”
–Elizabeth Becker, Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism (2013)
“Last night while I lay thinking here, some WHAT IFS crawled inside my ear and pranced and partied all night long and sang their same old WHAT IF song: WHAT IF I’m dumb in school? WHAT IF they’ve closed the swimming pool? WHAT IF I get beat up? WHAT IF there’s poison in my cup? WHAT IF I start to cry? WHAT IF I get sick and die? WHAT IF I flunk that test? WHAT IF green hair grows on my chest? WHAT IF nobody likes me? WHAT IF a bolt of lightning strikes me? WHAT IF I don’t grow talle? WHAT IF my head starts getting smaller? WHAT IF the fish won’t bite? WHAT IF the wind tears up my kite? WHAT IF they start a war? WHAT IF my parents get divorced? WHAT IF the bus is late? WHAT IF my teeth don’t grow in straight? WHAT IF I tear my pants? WHAT IF I never learn to dance?
Everything seems well, and then the nighttime WHAT IFS strike again!”
–Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends
My sister and I read this poem over and over again when we were little. Although at the time we felt it acknowledged some of the fears with which an eight and twelve year old might struggle, it seems to have a greater meaning than at first I thought. What if we don’t have enough money? What if we get rid of the apartment? What if we can’t find a storage unit? What if, what if, what if? No matter the age or stage in life, the ‘What Ifs’ have a way of striking. How do you quiet the whispers?
We’ve thought about and heard it all before-when is the right time to have kids, to get married, to change jobs? Seems most of us don’t have an exact date or time and often, the best answer is – ‘it’s never the right time’. The minute you buy a house, you’re offered a job transfer in a new city that you can’t pass up. Wait to take that much-desired journey to a far off land and there’s bound to be a travel warning to the exact place you planned on going. Trying to know when the ‘right’ time is to make that life change is never easy. Do you cannonball into the deep end or wade with trepidation at the top step in the shallow part of the pool? How on earth are any of us supposed to know when the time is just right?
After countless hours of negotiation with the voices both inside and out of my head, I can honestly say I have no idea when the time is right. But, I do think that when it is at the closest level of right for you, you’ll know. One of my best friends jumps into life. When she wanted to try life on a new coast it took her less than a day to make the decision. When that coast didn’t work out and an overseas offer arrived, she was gone within a week. She knew the instant she met her husband and married shortly after and has tackled other life decisions with continued intensity. Me, I’m the opposite. It took me till twenty-five to finally buy the gift my parents wanted to give me at twenty-one. I cried when I went off to university and although immensely excited, struggled with the idea of moving overseas. There were things I ‘needed’ to be able to make the leap, but after leaping once, twice and a third time my comfort zone has been blown open and the needs seem less and less. Everyone has his or her own process. Sometimes you’ll know deep in your toes that it’s right and other times ‘the right choice’ apprehensively knocks on your door and it takes quite awhile to hear it, answer it and let it in.
The process, decisions and choices are yours. Although, sometimes, life makes a few of those decisions for you but for those that are left to your own accord, listen to the message the world is sharing with you and leap when you’re as close to ready as you’ll ever get. John Lennon said, ‘life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans’. Time doesn’t stand still and there are only so many do-overs in a lifetime. Find your do-over and take the plunge. Just because we don’t all openly embrace change, doesn’t mean it’s bad. When the signs of the universe finally become clear or as un-fuzzy as they can to you, do it…..the time is right.
For more of Stacey’s travel musings, check out her blog.