August 19, 2014

Considering a career break? The time is now: Meet. Plan. Go.

Location Independent

Too many of us are stuck on the merry-go-round of dreaming about a long term travel adventure and a break from the 9-5 of our careers. It seems like something that other people get to do, the lucky ones, not us. So, we stalk their blogs, we wish we knew where to start, we keep dreaming, but we remain stuck where we are.

Sound familiar?

If that’s you, if you’ve been longing to take the plunge, have an adventure and recreate your life and career on your own terms then you don’t want to miss Meet. Plan. Go. It’s a one day event, limited to only 150 participants, in NYC on September 20th. Designed by Sherry Ott and friends to give you the inspiration, encouragement and tools you need to get serious about planning, and more importantly actually taking, that career break you’ve been thinking about.

Rolf is going to be there, along with a whole team of career break veterans who will speak from personal experience about the benefits and challenges of taking the leap. Whether you’re planning a solo trip, or a year of travel with your whole family, there will be experts on hand to help move you forward.

Space is limited. Time is limited. The possibilities are endless.

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Category: Travel News

August 18, 2014

Mike Spencer Bown on the dark side of travel and technology

“It used to be that you would hardly ever see anyone you met ever again. With the advent of email, the half-life of a friendship was about a year. Keeping up with mail tended to fall off at that rate, but with Facebook it lasts forever. There is a dark side, however. Over the last several years I’ve often found entire hostel common rooms, with perhaps 40 backpackers, all absorbed in smartphones and tablets, barely aware of each other’s presence.”
–Mike Spencer Bown, What I’ve Learned: The World’s Most Traveled Man, Esquire, 10/25/13

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day

August 17, 2014

A week in Nepal

Not too long ago my friend and I went to Nepal during our 8 month round the world trip. It was a last minute stop-over (escape) during our three weeks in India, and we were pleasantly surprised with how beautiful and easy it was compared to the chaos we were experiencing in India. We were supposed to take an overnight train and bus from New Delhi, but after missing the train had to book a last minute flight to Kathmandu. We took a cab to Nagarkot, a village in the mountains, and stayed at a cute hotel.

After resting for a day, we decided to go on a three day trek that our hotel helped arrange. We had a great guide named Bikram who works for a Territory Himalaya (we highly recommend him) and left the next day. It was considered one of the easier treks you can do, but it was as hot as can be and by the end of the three days I dropped a few pounds for sure.

After hiking all day up and down and through the woods then back into the sun, we made it to a small hotel for the night. We were hiking towards Chisapani, where we would stay our last night before hiking and then getting a local bus back to Kathmandu.

(more…)

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Category: Asia, General

August 16, 2014

The Worst Tourists in the World

Paris20_6164I read with interest a recent study by the Trans-Global Association for Travel and Tourism Commerce, which rated the behavior of tourists from all the world’s industrialized countries. Consistently ranking last in the study — bottoming out in categories ranging from airline etiquette to podiatric hygiene — were travelers from Great Britain. “This settles it,” a TATTC spokesperson was quoted as saying. “The British are the worst tourists in the world.”

Actually, I’m just kidding. There is no such thing as the Trans-Global Association for Travel and Tourism Commerce. I made it up just now, because I know that people like to obsess over international rankings, and I’ve been looking for a chance to poke fun at the British.

Mind you, I don’t really think the British are bad tourists. To the contrary, I’ve usually found travelers from the U.K. to be friendly, well read, and quite prolific in their wanderings. You can find Brits in all corners of the world, from Valparaiso to Vladivostok, and they most always make good travel companions.

The problem I have with the British, however, is that — to a bigger extent than other travelers I’ve met — they seem to be obsessed with stereotypes of national character.

I used to think that British travelers were just disproportionately gung-ho about bashing Americans (apparently, we’re noisy, over-religious, and we’re supposed to use a “u” when we spell “color”). Over time, however, I’ve discovered that Brits also hold strong preconceptions about nearly every nationality in the travel milieu, from the Swiss (officious and dull), to the Japanese (unimaginative and over-polite), to the Argentines (narcissistic and sex-obsessed).

In fact, were I to base my perceptions entirely on the basis of Britannic generalizations, I could very well conclude that the world’s worst tourists are roughly categorized as follows:

  1. Americans: Ignorant. Loud. Oblivious to surroundings. Insincere.
  2. French: Rude. Bigoted. A trifle out of touch with reality.
  3. Germans: Humorless. Rule-obsessed. Unfriendly. Stubborn.
  4. Israelis: Rude. Cheap. Arrogant. Cliquish.
  5. Canadians: Exactly like Americans, but more polite, less ignorant, and twenty times more boring.

Before I go any further here, I will admit three things. First, I realize the circular logic inherent in making generalizations about the generalizations of British travelers (and I apologize if you happen to be one of those Brits who isn’t a nationalistic busybody). Second, I realize that half the readers who’ve stumbled across my column this week have skipped straight from the headline to the above list, and are now typing angry things in the comments section below (especially if they happen to be American, French, German, Israeli, or Canadian). And, third, I’ll concede that the British fixation with national character reveals an impressive knack for world geography (in contrast to us Americans, who associate “Vienna” less with a European city than with canned snack sausages).

Were I a more meticulous analyst, I might posit that this British tendency is the cultural residue of Victorian-era self-superiority (vivid examples of which can be found in most any 19th century British travel guidebook, one of which described Valencian Spaniards as “perfidious, vindictive, sullen, mistrustful, fickle, treacherous, smooth, empty of all good, snarling and biting like hyenas, and smiling as they murder”). Since I’m no scholar, however, I’ll just point out that the British affinity for stereotyping their fellow wanderers is a mostly harmless amplification of what all travelers do from time to time.

The problem here is that assessing your travel companions by nationality is rarely an earnest inquiry so much as it is a dull parlor game — an empty exercise in rhetorical one-upmanship. The worst travelers in the world are, after all, the rude, small-minded ones — and rude, small-minded travelers can hail from any nation.

Moreover, most hostel-lounge arguments about which countries export good or bad travelers fail to take in the local perspective. A few years ago, a survey conducted by international tourist offices found that the oft-disparaged Germans and Americans were rated most favorably by host communities around the world. This rating didn’t hinge on cultural or aesthetic opinions, but the simple fact that Germans and Americans spend money more generously than their tourist counterparts. Economic benefit, it would appear, was more important to local hosts than the common traveler obsessions with fashion, geopolitics, and collective behaviors in tacky backpacker nightclubs.

My point, then, is a simple one: The next time you find yourself in a heated argument over which nation produces the best or worst tourists, this is probably an indicator that you’ve been spending too much time yapping in hostel lounges and not enough time outside having engaged adventures.

And that, in its own way, means you’re a bad tourist.

Tip sheet: How to avoid being an ugly American (or wherever it is you’re from)
1) Study up on the local culture.

Get to know something about a place before you go there. Read novels and travel books about the region, and study guidebooks to learn about customs, manners, and cultural norms. Learn a few phrases of the language (such as greetings, thank yous, numbers, and food terms). Keep in mind that culture expresses itself at an instinctive level — not an intellectual level — and that different standards of time, courtesy, and personal service may apply in far-off lands.

2) Listen, and ask questions.

On the road, make it a habit to talk less and listen more. Travel is hardly the time to extol the virtues (or shortcomings) your home country; instead be curious about how people think in the place you’re visiting. Ask follow-up questions. Seek to maintain open-mindedness, which is a process of listening and considering — of muting your compulsion to judge what is right and wrong, good and bad, proper and improper, and having the tolerance and patience to try and see things for what they are.

3) Avoid arguing politics.

Avoid political proselytizing, regardless of which end of the political spectrum you think you represent. At home, political convictions are a tool for getting things done within your community; on the road, political convictions are a clumsy set of experiential blinders, compelling you to seek evidence for conclusions you’ve already drawn. If you really are liberal and enlightened (or conservative and informed) you will stop yammering about politics and learn something about the culture you’re visiting.

4) Avoid traveling in large groups.

If your sorority or church group or wiccan pilates club decides to travel to Paris or Quito or Bangkok as an eight-some, do everyone a favor and split into groups of two. This will make you less noisy, less self-enclosed, more approachable, and more open to what’s going on around you. If nobody wants to split off from the group with you, tackle the day solo. I guarantee that you will have more memorable adventures on your own than with a big group of travelers.

5) Give respect and you get respect.

Having rigid stereotypes about individuals you haven’t taken the time to know is silly in all contexts. As a representative of your own country, the best way to win respect is to show respect to everyone you meet. Odds are, your hosts will return the favor.

[This Rolf Potts article originally appeared in Yahoo! News on Oct. 9, 2006. All rights reserved.]

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Category: Hospitality, Hostels/Hotels, Travel Writing, Vagabonding Advice

August 15, 2014

Vagabonding Case Study: Johnny Isaak

Johnny Isaak Putuoshan.

Age: 54

 
Hometown: Pocatello, Idaho
 
Quote: “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” — William G.T. Shedd
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Category: General, Vagabonding Case Studies

August 14, 2014

7 paradises for 7 loves

I have recently decided that wander-lusters come in many varieties- many more than I had thought. You know, we like to find our commonalities so it is comfortable to believe that a traveler is a traveler is a traveler is a traveler. But one man’s treasure is another one’s trash. That is true for the non-material treasures we find out on the road just as it is in “real life” back home with material things.

For instance when my husband and I were conversing about the reasons why we travel, one man said that our travel style would not be his idea of a good time at all, even though he considers himself a traveler too. For him, travel is about photography and natural beauty. And if he can’t take his camera lenses somewhere, then it won’t be as joyful to be there.

The fact is, there are as many types of travelers as there are types of people. There are people who love history and that’s why they travel. And people who love people and that’s why they travel. Or people who love animals and that’s why they travel. It goes on and on.

Of course, most of us who love travel probably have many passions sourcing that love. We love people and adventure and culture and artwork and nature…and that is why we travel.

For that reason, it can be hard to answer that question…”Where was your favorite place to travel to?” One place fuels one passion while another place fuels another.

Thus, I give you my 15 paradises for my 15 different passions.

1.) Zakynthos- paradise for the lover of simplicity.

Zakynthos

 

Zakynthos is just the place to go to feel like the rest of the world’s hustle is out of reach. The towns are small and everything is on “island time.” The day’s itinerary often included “jumping into blue water” and “riding a scooter along the cliffs.”

2.) Amritsar- paradise for the lover of culture.

golden temple

Amritsar is essentially the birthplace of the Sikhs and is home of their most important temple, the Golden Temple. Unlike some religious sights, the Golden Temple is both accommodating to tourists and apathetic of them. I love that. They are purely going about their own religious duties here and while tourists are welcome (as long as they cover their heads and remove their shoes,) there are no disgenuine displays for them.

It’s a place to soak up a genuinely fascinating series of religious practices. Men and women bathe in the waters, there is a kitchen dedicated to serving literally thousands of poor people and visitors, and many of the men have enormous turbans and long swords at their sides, important pieces of the Sikh disciplines.

3.) Vienna, Austria- paradise for the lover of architectural beauty.

rathaus

Anyone who’s been to Prague disagrees with me on this but I have yet to see Prague (hopefully this fall). So until I see Prague, Vienna wins out as my favorite city for architectural beauty. Every building has that gorgeous stature of something built in a time when things were beautiful instead of efficient. The effect is quite romantic. Unfortunately the Rathaus, one of the most impressive buildings in Vienna, is frequently hosting private festivals, parties, events, etc. So you cannot always get very close to it if a special event is going on.

Not to worry though. Every other building is beautiful too.

4.) Queenstown, New Zealand- paradise for the lover of adventure sports.

sheep in new zealand

Queenstown is not only gorgeous but also has at least three different area mountains for skiing, snowboarding, etc. etc, including The Remarkables which are…remarkable! But you aren’t out of luck if you dislike skiing or snowboarding. You can go sky-diving or hang-gliding or hiking. There’s something for everyone.

5.) Switzerland- paradise for the lover of natural beauty.

switzerland

 

Switzerland is full of incredible views at every turn. Just driving to your destination is an activity in and of itself simply for the scenery throughout the Swiss Alps. Unfortunately, it’s heinously expensive.

6.) Bangkok, Thailand- paradise for the lover of delicious, affordable food!

soup with scallops

I love Thai food. Everything from the fried noodle dishes of Pad Thai and Pad See Ew to the soups like Tom Ka Gai and Tom Yum. Thai food is full of the delicious flavors of kefir lime, lemongrass, ginger, coconut milk and other novel things. If you like spicy food go for the Pad Kra Pow (minced chicken in peppers and basil) or if you like the sweeter dishes, go for the Tom Ka Gai, (a coconut based soup with straw mushrooms, pea eggplants and other quintessentially Thai ingredients.)

Bangkok in particular is a good spot for Thai food because you will be able to find Northern Thai dishes as well as Southern Thai dishes. Also Bangkok has lots of street vendors with quality dishes for sometimes even less than a dollar.

7.) Fiji- paradise for the lover of exotic snorkeling.

what was this thing?

Fiji is not only home to some pretty amazing tropical fish, but to some impressive soft corals as well, which contributes greatly to its popularity as a spot for diving and snorkeling. Snorkeling is a beautiful adventure in the Yesawas where there’s no telling what you’ll see in the clear waters. (…anyone know what that thing in the picture is? We could never figure it out!)

 

Next time someone asks you where your “favorite place to travel” is, what will you say? Do you have a favorite place for each of your interests?

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Category: Asia, Europe, Images from the road, Oceania

August 13, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Organic Chocolate Farm in Costa Rica

Chocolate Farm and Swimming - 83

Cost/day: $20/person

What’s the strangest thing that’s happened lately?

Yes, I am nine months pregnant (today is my due date). But instead of sitting at home waiting around, we decided to visit an organic chocolate farm (and swam in a tropical river on the way. Okay, I just took pictures, I didn’t swim.)

We had to travel along the same bumpy, dirt road that we did to get to the beach just a few weeks ago, but only part way.

Chocolate Farm and Swimming - 24

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, in anticipation of the birth of our sixth child. We’re all a little antsy just waiting around, so we decided to have an adventure. Enter the trip to the chocolate farm, just an hour from our house.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

Like: This chocolate farm is run by a family who has been in business for decades. They have volunteers who come and live and work to help out during harvesting. Learning about the entire process of making chocolate from cocoa bean to indulgent treat is very fascinating.

Dislike: The cicadas are in town, and they are very loud. It’s hard to hear our guide as he gives the tour. Oh that, and the biting ants. Don’t stand in one place for too long.

Chocolate Farm and Swimming - 32

Chocolate Farm and Swimming - 37

Chocolate Farm and Swimming - 46

Chocolate Farm and Swimming - 42

Describe a challenge you faced:

My biggest challenge was simply trying to get around with this very large belly!

What new lesson did you learn?

How chocolate is made, and that hands-on learning (worlds-schooling as we like to call it) is one of the best ways to learn, and some of the best experiences you can have. Plus we’re creating memories.

Chocolate Farm and Swimming - 60

Chocolate Farm and Swimming - 69

Chocolate Farm and Swimming - 75

Where next?

Staying put here for a while for sure… we’re having a baby!

I’ve recently written a post — The Mother’s Guide to Funding Family Travel, check it out here. You can also connect with me on Facebook, or join our Fantastic Family Fridays.

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Category: Central America, Destinations, General

August 12, 2014

A budget guide to roadtripping Australia

With 22,292 miles of coastline, 37,117 miles if you count that of the many outlying islands, Australia is a vast continent that provides the perfect mix of terrain for a road trip of epic proportions.

From the rugged shores of Victoria all the way to the hot and humid deserts of the Northern Territory, many travelers crave the open road experience only Australia can offer.

But what does it really cost to explore Australia overland, and what are the best travel hacks to use en route?

Transport and accommodation

There’s no getting around the fact that to road trip you need a vehicle, and if you plan to be on the road for more than a few weeks it makes sense to buy rather than rent.

If you plan to purchase your own set of wheels check out my handy guides to buying a campervan in Australia and selling it on once you’ve completed your trip.

Remember to consider your accommodation budget when looking for your vehicle. To keep your costs down consider how you can adapt your vehicle to accommodate yourself and your travel buddies. With a little imagination it’s easy to make some simple adjustments so you can sleep and eat on the open road.

Note – This might not be applicable if you’re renting a vehicle. You’ll not be able to alter the fabric of the vehicle in anyway so make sure you try out any potential sleeping positions before signing the rental contract!

If you’re time poor as well as on a tight budget take a look at these clever tricks for securing cheap rentals.

Relocation deals

Rental companies often dramatically discount certain routes in a bid to relocate vehicles that are needed at other centers or have been left with them as part of a one way rental. These deals are often a tiny fraction of the actual rental rate and more often than not the rental agency provide you with a budget for fuel.

If you can find these deals to help you hop about the country they are a great option for those who want to see the country but have limited funds to do so.

Note that time limits are placed on this kind of rental so this not a good option for anyone who wants to explore at their own pace.

Take a look at;

imoova.com

DriveNow.com.au

Relocations2go.com

Apollo Camper – Relocation deals

Vroom Vroom Vroom – Relocation deals

Britz – Relocation deals

Pimp your ride

If you’re a solo traveler or travelling with just one other person, consider advertising for a few travel buddies to reduce your share of the total cost of your trip.

Websites like Gumtree, Trav Buddy and Travel Friend are a great place to start. You can also details of your trip, expected cost and your ideal travel buddy to online travel forums, Lonely Planet have a great forum here.

Stay for free

Accommodation can account for a fair chunk of your travel fund if you don’t actively seek low cost options. Even hostels can be costly in the most popular locations so don’t rely on them for a cheap room for the night.

If you’re happy to sleep out under the stars, or in your vehicle then a copy of the latest edition of the Camps Book is a worthwhile investment. Detailing a wealth of low cost – under $25 AUD/night – and free camping options across the country this guide is worth its weight in gold. It also doubles as a countrywide road map.

Websites like HelpX that detail accommodation/volunteer exchange opportunities can also offer road trippers a break from their daily budget constraints. Take a look at the opportunities listed along your route and consider an alternative to the tourist attractions along the way.

Looking for free accommodation without the volunteer price tag? Consider house sitting. An accommodation/caretaking exchange house sitters step into the shoes of the home owner during their stay. Sign up with the world’s biggest house sitting website Trusted House Sitters to apply for assignments.

Be a savvy saver

The cost of living in Australia is higher than that in other countries on the well-trodden backpacker trail so it pays to be considered each time you make a purchase.

Other than the cost of purchasing or renting your vehicle your other major expenses will be groceries, fuel and activities. Check out this collection of useful links for ways to save on the road.

Motor Mouth – A fuel price comparison website. Find the cost of fuel at all the gas stations close by. Also worth noting is their research which suggests that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the cheapest days to top up on fuel.

Note – If you shop in any of the major supermarkets you’ll find a fuel discount docket at the bottom of your receipt. Watch out for holiday bonuses where savings can reach 75c / liter.

Oz Bargains – A forum for discounts and deals. You’ll find almost anything here, as long as it’s discounted or offered in a deal! Check here for pay as you go mobile sims, great for mobile internet on the road, activates and tickets, and accessories to kit out your camper.

Groupon – A daily deals website. Check here for activities, tickets and restaurant discounts.

Take advantage of free stuff

Seek out free WiFi in cafes and public spaces.

Fill your water bottles at public fountains, – these can be found in most Australia towns just avoid drinking from any that are labelled as ‘bore water’.

Eat local. Buy produce grown locally to reduce the cost of your weekly shop, and consider going meet free for a proportion of the week to limit your spending.

Choose free activities over those with a fee – check out Noosa’s longboard competition in Queensland or the Rip Curl Pro event at Bells Beach in Victoria – details here.

There’s an App for that

Don’t forget to search for relevant Aussie Apps to assist with your quest for a low cost road trip.

Australia on the Cheap and the Australian Road Trips App are a great place to start.

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Category: Oceania

August 11, 2014

A person who has not crossed an African border on foot has not really entered the country

“A person who has not crossed an African border on foot has not really entered the country, for the airport in the capital is no more than a confidence trick; the distant border, what appears to be the edge, is the country’s central reality.”
–Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown (2003)

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day

August 10, 2014

The Value of Time

It’s an increasingly accepted as fact that, as a nation, we have allowed a work culture to develop where taking time off is seen a sign of disloyalty or lack of care, and where extended time off is more of a concept than a reality. It’s also a given that more and more data suggest that the costs of this approach in stress and lack of free time for rest, recreation and family is having a profoundly detrimental effect on our society.

Traveling in Europe always brings the difference between the US and European cultures with regard to work/life balance was illustrated in sharp relief for me. It’s one thing to hear how the Europeans put priority on the “life” side of the balance, and it is another to see it in action. As many know, the Europeans enjoy social benefits such as maternity as well as paternity leave, and up to six weeks of vacation time per year.

Enjoying life.

Enjoying life.

To see the very obvious benefits of that strategic choice for a shorter work year play out in the lives of everyday Europeans illustrates the point. Watching families strolling in the parks, laughing and chatting happily, on a weekday afternoon or visiting with friends over a drink in a café—enjoying the free time their generous benefits affords them—is to reinforce any stressed-out American’s suspicion that we are on the wrong side of the equation.

Of course, there are economic trade-offs along with such benefits. With less time focused on work and more time focused on free time, GDP is affected and taxes are high to support these benefits. Countries with a historically take-it-easy approach to life such as Italy and Spain had no trouble swapping time at work for time with friends, but how do these policies fare in the more traditionally industrious nations of the north? Does this bother many of them?

Not very much, it seems. “Everyone hates taxes of course,” a German told me, “but we willingly make the trade-off because it’s a good bargain. The time is more valuable.” Another said, “We made the conscious choice to arrange the society this way, with the emphasis on maternal and paternal leave and more vacation time. It has many positive benefits. We just do with a little less material things.”

In a surprising finding that bolsters the arguments of proponents for more European-syle work arrangements, a recent analysis from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (link to the study is here) found that workplace productivity doesn’t necessarily increase with hours worked. Workers in Greece clock 2,034 hours a year versus 1,397 in Germany, for example, but the latter’s productivity is 70 percent higher. In other words, there’s not necessarily the direct correlation that our system is predicated on.

“You Americans kill yourselves with antiquated work policies,” says a French acquaintance. “You have two weeks of vacation, if you are very lucky. We are a very prosperous, industrialized economy with a national healthcare service too. We make it all work.”

I knew it begged an inevitable question, and my friend asked it. “So why can’t you?”

That statement and its inevitable question was put to me many times, in many places. It is a question I brought back to the US with me. It stayed in my mind as my flight arced across the Atlantic and over the North American continent, remaining as an important souvenir. The issue was never about lingering in cafés or visiting the Alps, but rather the stuff of a good life: choices, time and freedom to make of it what we will. Would you be happier and more productive if you had more of these? What will it take for us as a society to finally demand it?

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Category: Destinations, Europe, Images from the road, Languages and Culture, Notes from the collective travel mind, On The Road, Travel Writing, Vagabonding Case Studies, Vagabonding Life
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