October 11, 2014

Native eye for the tourist guy: Avoiding fashion no-nos

65055278_17b40a903cPhoto Credit: tarotastic

A couple of years ago, while riding my bicycle down Burma’s Irrawaddy valley, I somehow managed to destroy my khaki trousers. These were the only pair of pants I had with me at the time, so I stopped off in a town called Pakkoku and — faced with no other realistic clothing options — purchased a long, cotton lungi to cover my legs for the rest of the trip.

In the event that you aren’t familiar with fashions in this part of Asia, a lungi is a tube of silk or cotton cloth that Burmese men wear around their waists. Essentially, it looks like an elegant, ankle-length skirt. And, unless you count the kilt, there is no fashion equivalent for men in the West.

Thus, having no instincts for wearing a skirt, I encountered all kinds of functional challenges while wearing my new lungi. For starters, I invariably tripped over the hem when walking on any surface that wasn’t completely level. Somehow, Burmese men could stride up staircases in their lungis while still looking perfectly masculine, while I was forced to lift the cloth and mince up slight inclines like some kind of “Gone With the Wind” debutante. Even more difficult was riding my bicycle.

The more the Burmese giggled, however, the better I got at wearing the lungi. By the time I arrived in Rangoon nearly two weeks later, I was able to walk and bike gracefully on all variety of surfaces. Impressed locals gave me the thumbs-up at the sight of my dapper Burmese threads, playfully asking me if I was from Burma.

I had, it seemed, successfully “gone native” with my travel wardrobe. And it felt good.

When I flew on from Rangoon to Bangkok, however, I quickly learned that – - by backpacker fashion standards — going native is far more complicated than simply buying local clothing and learning how to wear it.

As I strolled in my new lungi through the Khao San Road backpacker ghetto (where I’d hoped to buy a new pair of khaki pants), I noticed that many of my fellow travelers were giving me funny looks. Since Khao San is a place where Westerners with, say, chicken bones through their noses and dreadlocked armpit hair hardly garner a second glance, I wondered what the problem was.

That afternoon at my guesthouse, a sun-browned Australian traveler clued me in. “Look at ya, mate,” he said. “You’ve got it all mixed up.”

I looked down at my outfit. In addition to my lungi, I sported a nylon fanny pack (which made up for my lack of pockets) and a North Face dry-wick shirt (which had kept the sun off while biking). This ensemble didn’t strike me as particularly strange, but — according to the Aussie — wearing a fanny pack (stereotypically favored by middle-aged tourists) and a boutique safari shirt (which, while functional, is the modern fashion equivalent of a pith helmet) effectively canceled the lungi out.

The problem, it seemed, wasn’t that I had “gone native,” but that I had gone native in an incomplete and bourgeois manner. “From the looks of it,” he said, “you don’t know if you just walked out of a jungle or a shopping mall.”

Going native to one degree or another, of course, has always been a part of the travel experience. Until the past couple of centuries, in fact, going native wasn’t a travel option so much as a travel necessity. From Herodotus to Marco Polo to Lewis and Clark, eating local cuisines, learning local languages and wearing local clothing was simply how the traveler survived in foreign lands. This all changed, however, as British travelers and expats alike were increasingly expected to maintain the same decorum overseas as applied back home. Fraternizing with locals was discouraged, safari parties trotted off into foreign jungles sporting woolen raiment and, as late as the 1930s, officials of the British Empire could be fired for wearing native clothing.

What this colonial protocol overlooked, of course, was that going at least partially native has always been an important step in experiencing other cultures. Wearing native clothing isn’t necessarily a prerequisite, but abiding by local dress codes (particularly in regard to modesty) is essential if you want to be accepted within the cultures you visit.

But it’s often difficult to determine where the propriety of “going native” begins and ends. Travel is not the same as emigration, after all, and no combination of culinary and fashion savvy can truly make you a part of your host culture. At some point, then, many attempts to “go native” cease to be an inquiry into other cultures and begin to be a token of status within travel culture itself.

In “The Songlines,” Bruce Chatwin observes that nomadic animal species tend to be less dependent upon hierarchies and shows of dominance, since the hardships of the journey naturally weed out the weak. However, now that humans’ nomadic life rarely involves natural selection, travel culture seems to have utilized fashion as one subtle kind of litmus test. Ostensibly, a Shan jacket worn with a Mao hat and cotton pajama bottoms implies that you had the Darwinian oomph to survive northern Burma, communist China and the Punjab. As with all fashions, however, the accepted vogue for going native tends to be fickle. In Jordan, for example, scores of Westerners trade ball caps for Arab khaffiyeh scarves to better keep the sun off — but few of those same travelers would don conical peasant hats for the same purpose in Vietnam.

In the end, then, “going native” is a mixed endeavor — part attempt to understand your host culture, and part extension of how you want to selectively showcase your travels to others. Properly balancing these urges is part of the challenge and fun of travel.

Just for the record, I now own three Burmese lungis — two cotton and one silk. I find them comfortable, functional, and stylish. And chicks dig the look.

But until they make them with pockets, I will — fashion be damned — continue to wear them with a fanny pack.

 

Originally published by SFGate, March 14, 2004

 

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Category: Asia, Backpacking, Destinations, Vagabonding Styles

October 10, 2014

Deciding to Get Off the Road (well… for a bit)

 

Off the Road

(photo credit: ocarchives on Flickr)

I book my bigger trips a up to a year in advance. This way I know they’re set and I won’t succumb to “I’m too busy, I can’t do this now” syndrome. Last year I put a deposit down on a trip to Peru. Not just any trip – this was with The Adventurists. A bunch of us get together down in Piura, learn to ride old, unreliable mototaxis. Then we’ll attempt to ride them across the Andes and through the jungle to Urubamba, Sacred Valley. By all accounts, one hell of an adventure and I’ve been excitedly looking forward to it.

mototaxi

(this is a mototaxi and yes, it is a bit sketchy. photo credit: yonelcampos on Flickr)

For some reason, some part of me wasn’t. A little voice has been telling me, “Should you really go?” and, “Don’t you have other things you need to do?” Now I’m normally the one who encourages people to ignore the little nervous voice in their head and get out of their comfort zone. Except this wasn’t one of those. It wasn’t the skittish nervous voice, worried about the risks of the adventure. It wasn’t the stiff workaholic voice, encouraging me to spend another weekend in front of the computer. It wasn’t the sweet lazy voice, lulling me into spending a week glued to the couch. This was a deeper voice… and so I sat down and contemplated what it was saying.

I’m sharing because we all go through this struggle eventually. Now I advocate travel — as a way to expand your comfort zone, to get back into the moment and out of our heads. Heck, look at this whole site. It’s dedicated to traveling. Sometimes, though, staying home is the right decision. Here’s how I weigh things.

First – do a gut check to see which voice you are listening to. If it is the workaholic or lazy voice, take it with a grain of salt. Take both of them with a whole shaker of salt. Push through anyway.

The more difficult ones to sus out are the nervous voice versus the fear voice. I may not be using the right words, so let me explain. The nervous voice is the one that fills us with anxiety and dread. It’s the one that keeps us from doing something, not because there’s an eminent danger, but because it’s afraid of leaving the status quo. Worse, it’s afraid of succeeding. This is the voice that tells us not to ask out that person that we’re interested in. The one that tells us we aren’t good enough. It fills you with self-doubt. When you hear this voice, it is often a pointer for the exact direction that we should be moving in. When it says don’t do something, that may be exactly the thing you should do.

The fear voice is the one that tells you, instinctually, that something is wrong with a situation. The hairs on the back of your neck go up and your gut gets tight. This voice tells you that something is wrong with the situation. That the alley you’re about to go down is dangerous. That the person you just met isn’t being honest. This is a voice you listen to. Now, it isn’t always right; but you should pay closer attention. Your subconscious has picked up on something and you need to take it into consideration. I’ve honed this voice and it has saved me in some sketchy situations.

Sometimes the voice is even deeper – something akin to Jiminy Cricket, guiding you like a conscious.

After I figure out which voices I’m listening to, I consider the risks intellectually. I weight the the intellectual and intuitive together. The result is a decision that I can stand behind, knowing that I’ve taken the whole of me into consideration.

In the case of this trip, I decided not to go. It wasn’t easy. I was supposed to leave on Wednesday, October 1st. I know that the amazing people who do go down to Peru will have an incredible time. I know that I’ll be slightly jealous of the stories they come back with.

In the end, the decision was clear. I’ve been on the road since January and have put almost 10,000 miles on various motorcycles. I realized that going on another adventure would have been an escape; that I now need to get shit done. The deciding factor, though, was the nervous voice. It didn’t make a peep about going to Peru, but it sure made a fuss when I thought about spending the next 2-3 months off the road. It recoiled at the thought of recuperating and focusing on things that I’ve been putting off for the last year. Things that make me nervous and anxious. Things that, if I do them right, will open up a new path next year. Yeah, it wasn’t easy, but I’m pretty sure I made the right choice.

For those of you out on the road – travel safe and have a hell of a good time! To those continuing on in Peru, enjoy one incredible adventure! I’ll be with you again shortly.

Chris Plough writes and podcasts at oznog.com, where he shares stories and advice from his adventures and from the incredible people that he’s met along the way. You can also follow him on twitter: @chrisplough.

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Category: North America, Vagabonding Life

October 9, 2014

Favorite cash-back card for travelers

The travel-hacking hobby is all about getting miles and points by signing up for credit cards that have good bonuses. Usually these are travel rewards cards put out by airlines or banks who allow transfers to airlines and hotels. For instance the Citi AAdvantage card which helps you earn American Airline miles or the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which helps you transfer to a number of travel programs.

While many are satisfied to spend on cash-back cards, 9 times out of 10 we travel-hackers will opt for the travel rewards cards mentioned above, confident that we can actually get more value out of miles than cash-back. But every now and again a cash-back card comes along that’s great for travelers and travel-hackers alike.

One such cash-back card is the Barclay Arrival Plus card. (Not to be confused with the other Barclay Arrival card.)

wallet

A bit about the card

Currently the Barclay Arrival Plus card is offering a 40,000 point bonus which you can receive after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days. This 40,000 bonus points will transfer into $400 worth of travel reimbursement. This includes hotel charges, airline charges, and rental car charges that exceed the minimum of $25.

You can also earn as you spend at a rate of 2 points per dollar spent.

Also note that after the first year, (which comes without a fee), the annual fee will be $89.

Why we recommend this card

While we definitely rely on frequent flyer miles and hotel points, there are some expenses we can’t cover with these currencies. Rental cars are a great example. But also many reward flights will come with a few residual charges, even if you’re choosing a low-surcharge mileage program like American Airlines and United Airlines. For instance airport taxes and the like. These are charges you can cover with the Barclay Arrival Plus points.

We just experimented with an entirely free trip to South America; a trip whose travel costs would equal zero. Now, keep in mind that for this trip we considered meal expenses to be unavoidable expenses that we would have whether we were at home buying groceries our out on the road buying food from food stands, so those expenses were not included in the $0 calculation.

This experiment would have been impossible without the opportunity to use the Barclay Arrival Plus points for expenses not covered by frequent flyer miles and hotel points. While we did still have a few expenses we hadn’t predicted, we quite nearly made it.

Being smart about your credit card strategies

I must make a disclaimer that is quite crucial in making any credit-card-related strategies successful. Perhaps it goes without saying, but these credit-card strategies are not worth it if you let the credit card get the best of you. the idea is to get the credit cards for their perks and make certain you can make on-time payments, and keep minimal balances on the card, ideally paying off the card before interest kicks in. If you already have a habit of treating your credit cards more like debit cards that you pay off in full on a regular basis, then the travel-hacking strategies are right for you. But if this will be a challenge for you, then it’s not worth the risk. Debt is a serious issue and should not be a part of the travel-hacking strategy.

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Category: Travel Bargains

October 7, 2014

5 Ways to finance your travel dreams

Money

One of the most interesting aspects of traveling is meeting the fascinating array of people who manage to make their travel dreams a reality.

We’ve met young people and retirees, couples, single parents and families of every sort you can imagine. One of the things that always strikes us is the resourcefulness of this community and the many ways that people find to create income and finance their dreams.

The world economy is changing. The financial “security” that our parents generation enjoyed is not nearly as secure. The way people make money and work jobs is changing as fast as the technology that is pushing us forward. Whether you’re saving to take off on your dream trip or realizing that you want to make it last forever, these five strategies can help you fund it!

 

Less is More

Any good financial manager will tell you that the first thing you can do to find more funding is to cut fat.

Doing without your daily Starbucks coffee at $3.00 a pop saves $1000 a year; it doesn’t take a genius to do the math on that. A thousand dollars will buy a plane ticket, but it won’t keep you traveling for long. If you’re looking to build your nest egg faster, consider the following:

If your dream is to travel, learning to live with less and do things “the hard way” to save money will do two things: fund your travel and prepare you for the lifestyle that awaits!

Simplify, live like you’re on the road before you hit the road, and bank the difference!

 

Stretch your 1st World Money

The digital nomad’s ideal is to be able to make first world money and live outside of the first world.

While you’re barely scraping by in the USA on $35,000 a year, that same amount anywhere in Central America would let you live like a king. For some people travel is actually cheaper than staying home and living abroad allows them to get out of debt faster, save for a house or long term goals faster and at the same time they are living their dreams!

Guess what? Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too!

 

Diversify

Most of the people we know who are lifestyle travelers do not have one source of income, they have several.

For us, this means my husband’s day job (freelance in the tech industry) and my online and print freelance writing work. We have friends who have ebay businesses, others with multiple websites, some who consult, others who teach, some who own rental homes for income, many who have simply converted their “old careers” into more location independent versions.

The key is, not to put all of your eggs in one basket!

If you’ve got one goose laying all the golden eggs (whether you live a static life or one on the road) then you’re in a precarious position. What happens when that job, that contract, or that income stream dries up?

Develop new income streams, now, before you go, and as you travel as well!

 

Barter

There is more than one form of currency, and I’m not talking dollars versus euros!

Money is one way to get things done and the more you have the easier it is, to be sure, but it isn’t the only way! You can significantly reduce your reliance on green backs by entering into barter relationships that allow both parties to benefit and save you both a bucket of money.

Some examples:

Make an inventory of what you know how to do, the services you could provide and match that against what you need to keep moving forward. Don’t be afraid to accept, or offer a barter!

 

Leverage Technology

The absolute truth is that if it were not for the advances of technology, we could not be doing what we are doing.

It’s the internet and the ubiquitous accessibility of it that allows us to live and work anywhere for years on end, pursuing our passions.

You can leverage that technology too:

Some of the most creative uses of technology for career transformation that we’ve seen include a psychologist we met in Antigua who does his counseling sessions online, Latin, Burmese and English lessons via Skype, Ebay empires that fund big families on the move, and the lady who teaches our kids art by Skype on Wednesday mornings, from wherever she happens to be traveling, to wherever we happen to be traveling!

Think outside the box. Even things that don’t seem related to technology can be reinvented using it. 

 

What can you do today to fund your dream? 

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Category: Money Management, Vagabonding Life

October 6, 2014

Off-the-beaten-track adventure is still possible

“Rather than lament the fact that trips would have been better in some golden age of travel, we might as well celebrate the fact that we are enjoying the tail-end of an era in which a certain kind of off-the-beaten-track adventure is still possible.”
–Nicholas Danforth, World travel can be all about timing, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/20/2012

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day

October 5, 2014

How to pick a good traveling jacket and jacket review on FlyLow Vixen

2014-08-30 13.59.05Next to shoes, choosing the right jacket for a trip is my hardest decision. It’s more difficult when you’re spanning several cities, leap-frogging continents, or criss-crossing the equator in both directions.

How can you choose a jacket lightweight enough for a cool fall night but warm enough for a snowy trek through the city? And let’s not forget the waterproofing aspect if you get caught in a Parisian rainstorm.

How can you pick the perfect jacket for all conditions? It boils down to three items:

  1. Waterproof/rain proofing
  2. Fabric
  3. Flexibility for changing conditions (venting)

1) Waterproofing or rain proofing

Nothing is worse than getting caught unexpectedly in a cold rainstorm. Usually, rain jackets are super lightweight and designed only as the outer shell.

But you can find a jacket that is waterproof and designed as a warmth-holding jacket. Where?

In the ski gear section. Many of these jackets are designed to be wind-resistant and waterproof to keep up with ever-changing elements on the mountains.

What to look for:

- Waterproof breathable material

- Durable Water Repellant (DWR)

- YKK waterproof zippers or “fully seam sealed” (means the zipper teeth are coated to prevent water from leaking through)

- A large hood to shield your head

2) Fabric

I’ve found my favorite jackets have a bit of stretch to them. They move with my body. They adapt to my circumstances. They like movement. If this is you, check the label for Lycra in your jacket.

If you want warmth, check the jacket description for the branded elements to hold in body heat, like:

- North Face: ThermoBall

- FlyLow: Intuitive

- Helly Hanson: PrimaLoft

These are simply different types of high performance fabric, designed to do the same thing: hold in heat in damp conditions.

Also, check out how many layers of fabric the jacket has. Some jackets have two layers. Some have three. The more layers, the warmer the jacket. Think back to that flimsy rain jacket you throw on over your blazer. It’s simply one layer of fabric designed to repel rain.

I like a jacket with three layers. It gives the right amount of warmth but still stays lightweight enough that I can cramp it into a tiny spot in my backpack.

3) Flexibility to changing conditions

Adaptability is very important while traveling — not just for your mental attitude, but also for your gear. Due to the demands of hauling your stuff and traveling like a turtle with your house on your back, you need to find clothing that is heavy multi-taskers. Your jacket should be no different.

So what are you looking for to gauge this type of flexibility?

1) Arm venting: so you can cool off and circulate air without ditching your jacket; perfect in cold wind but hot sun on your face.

2) Breathable material: to wick sweat away and cool you during long hikes or dashes for the subway; in the end, this also keeps you more comfortable so you’re not stewing in your sweat.

3) Plenty of interior pockets: stump the pickpockets and keep your valuables in interior zipped pockets next to your body. As a girl, I love a jacket with lots of pockets since that means I don’t always have to carry a purse.

4) Media player compatible: okay, this is a minor item on the list. But it could be a lifesaver when you need a moment to yourself and your personal space is limited to that jacket.

5) Color: a florescent jacket will make you stick out like a sore thumb. Perhaps black is the standard classy choice, but everyone has a black jacket in their closet. Pick a color that makes you feel happy but doesn’t target you as a potential victim.

So what does my favorite traveling jacket look like?

Review on FlyLow Vixen jacket

fly low vixenThis is the jacket I’ve been traveling with for the past six months.

It weathered a downpour in Boston while I watched the Red Sox and steel beams overhead dripped cold rain relentlessly on my legs. It has shielded my head from chilly winds off Seward, Alaska. It soldiered through an early fall snowstorm. I wish I had brought it with to Chicago during a nippy weekend.

I’m in love with it.

What do I like?

- Oversize hood: designed to fit over a snowboarding helmet, this hood is extra large. It prevents any wind from nipping down my neck, overhangs my eyes to guard against driving rain, and I can wear a hat with it.

- The color: a pretty berry color, this jacket was my first non-black one. It brings a pop of color to my cheeks in pictures. And it makes me happy just to see the color. Also, it doesn’t get lost in my bag, blending in with the bag’s dark depths.

- Lightweight but warm: The fabric blocks wind and water, but keeps my body heat in. I have a knack for getting cold in any weather condition. This jacket fights the cold. But it isn’t bulky or heavy-feeling on my body.

- Waterproof: I’m a girl who gets caught in rainstorms in every country. So I love that the seams are fully taped, the fabric is water-repellant, and no annoying little cold raindrops can find my warm center.

- Plenty of pockets: carry it on your body is my motto. So when I can slip my wallet, keys, phone and a book into my jacket pockets and just go, that’s heaven to me. With this jacket, I can do that — and have empty pockets to pick up things along the way.

- Durability: six months in, and the jacket still looks brand new despite being used a pillow multiple times, stuffed into my bag, shoved under plane seats, and exposed to Boston and Alaska’s notorious nasty weather.

What I don’t like:

- The price ($300): it’s a hefty cost for just a jacket. But if you think about it as a jacket that will last for years and look good doing it, it’s worth it. Like my husband says, “you get what you pay for.”

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 Gear

October 4, 2014

Travel…What’s the take home?

Sunset at St. Kilda Beach, Australia

“Can you bring me home a koala? How about a kangaroo? How many pairs of Uggs do you think you can carry?” These were just some of my former student’s comments the first time they heard I was traveling to Australia.” Of course, it’s easy enough to talk about travel’s take home in material things but what about the intangible? Does different travel ‘give’ you different things? Do you head off in search of something to bring home and find yourself pleasantly surprised of what you wind up with upon your return?

My friend, Jessica, collects postcard stamps. Every time I travel I send her a postcard knowing that’s her ‘take home’ from my trip. My parent’s friend, Alan, collects beer coasters so that’s what we look for on any adventure. Me, I collect refrigerator magnets and do my best to grab one prior to leaving a new destination. And of course, in the early years there were t-shirts for everyone or little trinkets to hang on keys or wrists, but is that really the take home we’re talking about?

With digital archiving of photos taking over paper scrapbooks and Facebook posts and tweets replacing postcards, is there ever really proof of the traveler’s take home? For many, the take home (aside from the magnets for me of course) is internalized. There are new memories made and more stories to retell, but somehow still, after all this time, there are changes that go on that can only be ‘seen’ on the inside.

After we got married, we traveled around the world for a year and spent some time living in Melbourne, Australia (my husband’s home). When we returned, I went straight back to summer camp as a swim director and then school as a teacher and club advisor. Trying to fit in the same boxes when I was no longer the same was suffocating. The take home was growing and forcing me to sit up and take notice. It was more than the new products on the inside of my refrigerator and the newfound comfort treats in my cupboard. It was more than the few new apparel purchases and the favourite shell that I often carried in my pocket. It was more in how my eyes saw the world and what I felt to be important, crucial and significant. And it was even more in how I saw myself.

Time away from the routine of the everyday is vital. Facing new situations and dealing with circumstances that may need problem solving forces you to see what you find important. Learning about what you really need and how you’d like to make a difference in the world or finding perspective-that’s a take home. For some, it takes seeing the difficulties that so many face on a daily basis to remind themselves how truly lucky they are and then there are those who see those difficulties and choose to do what they can to make life easier in some small way.

We are a product of our circumstances. If you’re born into a vagabonding family perhaps you’ll never know the joys or troubles of a stationary life. Born into a land that struggles to have clean water, equitable education and human safeties one might never know the ease of turning on the tap, sitting in class or the simple act walking down the street. Travel provides a birds eye view into a different world-one that in the blink of an eye could have been yours and the effects are often life affirming. If we’re lucky enough to travel and truly take in what we see, sometimes our life is forever changed. The little voice inside of you may now whisper ever more loudly to make a change. The way your mind takes that extra second to rethink a problem and how it would be seen in another location is front and center. The newfound joy you feel in your own skin and the reawakening of you is on your mind often. The intangibles, the sub-conscious and the ever-changing outlooks…these are the ‘take homes’ of travelers.

What’s your take home?

To read more of Stacey’s travel musings, visit her website.

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Category: General, Vagabonding Life

October 3, 2014

Vagabonding Case Study: Stephen Schreck

Stephen Schreck unnamed

abackpackerstale.com

Age: 30

Hometown: Chillicothe, Ohio

Quote:  “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist; that is all.” ― Oscar Wilde

I take this quote to heart. Someday when I look back at my life, I want say I lived, not existed. This is a major reason I chose the life of a vagabond.

(more…)

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Category: General, Vagabonding Case Studies

October 2, 2014

Connecting spectacular travel moments with our day to day lives

About a decade ago, on a whim, I took a trip to Costa Rica and opened the door to a world I didn’t know existed. I still remember crowding around the computer with my friends and studying ticket prices. I remember feeling a little silly that I had never been out of the country except for one brief trip to Canada when I was 10. I twas confused but determined as I applied for my first passport. Beaches, monkeys, and learning to surf were all I thought about as the weeks ticked by. When I returned I couldn’t shake the feeling that everything I saw- the waterfalls, the monkeys, the flowers- might be different if I were to return. I felt incredibly grateful for having been able to experience what I had at the exact time that I had.

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Months later, already bitten by the travel bug (but not entirely aware of that fact), I was off to India. I touched the walls of the Taj Mahal and drank my weight in chai. I wrapped myself in a sari for a wedding and was genuinely surprised to learn that New Delhi in December is cold. One morning, at dawn, I found myself atop the Golden Temple in Amritsar. As the call to prayer went out, everyone around me dropped to their knees. The newness of the moment and my ignorance of cultural practices made me pause before I followed suit and for a brief moment, I was alone, standing atop the Golden Temple, the whole colorful world around me, on their knees, connected in an invisible way by their love, their need, and their devotion.

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Travel is full of these moments. The moments that take your breath away. Moments that suddenly illuminate a belief that had always lived inside of you but you never knew you had. Moments that happen in an instant that you will replay in your mind and retell to your friends for the rest of your life. Cliche as it may be, these moments feel nothing sort of magical, especially in those early days of travel.

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But here’s the thing about moments- if we don’t take them out of the memory box they don’t do us much good. If we romanticize the moments and forget to employ the lessons those moments taught us, the growth it encourages within us, then those moments become great stories and not much more. Travel is gift but if we forget to actively employ the breathtaking moments and incorporate them into our everyday thoughts and actions, we miss the opportunity to “connect the dots”. Travel cannot fix all things. It cannot replace the day to day work of being a thoughtful human being, connected in a meaningful way to one’s core beliefs and values.

If we do not do the work in our day to day lives; If we let the lessons we have learned slip by the wayside when we return; If we write blog posts about our experiences but forget to turn our philosophical ponderings into action, then those moments never get to work their real, transformative magic.

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Having that brief moment of realization at the Golden Temple was amazing. It is a moment I replay over and over and it still takes my breath away a little, each time I think of it. The real gift, however, has been the constant development and deepening of my belief that we are all connected by our shared humanity. That moment has touched my life far beyond the 60 seconds it took me to take it all in, take a breath, and drop to my knees. It is a moment that reminds me to never forget connect the dots between the other wondrous moments and my day to day life.

Moments like these do not have to happen atop the Golden Temple. Where have you experienced wondrous moments?

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Category: Ethical Travel, Ethics

October 1, 2014

Slowing down in Ubud, Bali

Cost/day:

$28 per day per person

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

There are many interesting and strange things to see on Bali, but if I had to pick just one it would be the statues you come across in seemingly random places.

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Describe a typical day:

Our morning routine stays the same wherever we are. We wake up, make breakfast and do work and homeschool.

After that we typically would go explore an area, temple, mountain, beach, etc. via motorbike. The countryside in Bali is so bright green and beautiful that we would often take longer routes to our intended destination just to see more of it.

Evenings we would relax, make dinner and simply enjoy the tranquility of being surrounded by rice fields.

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Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

I went to a birthday party for an eighteen-year-old local, Wayan. I talked with his friends and teenage family members for a while and had few shots of whatever local drink they were consuming. Unlike the other times when I’d been with Wayan, where we talked about an array of things, I barely spoke with him.

When I arrived, he sat me down with his cousin, gave me food and a drink and explained that he now would be attending to the others at the party. For the rest of the two hours I was there he spent that time making sure everyone, including me, had enough to eat and drink. He served people at his own birthday party. I have no idea if this is normal in Balinese culture, but I found it incredibly endearing. Certainly a drastic difference to how I, ahem, behaved on my eighteenth birthday.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

There is so much to like about Ubud. I liked the people. We met so many kind and smiling people. I liked the amazingly beautiful temples and natural environment. I liked the traditions that were on display with so many aspects of life, from daily offerings (see picture below), to decorating temples, parades and ceremonies, one of which  happened in the middle of the rice field where we stayed. After being in southeast Asia for several months, I really liked the ability to get clean, organic food.

I disliked the traffic in Ubud. It is horrendous on some days. Too many buses on tiny streets causing massive traffic jams. It is not fun inhaling diesel exhaust on a motorbike. I disliked how touristy Ubud is. It is touristy in a different way than is the south of Bali, which is a beach destination, but it is touristy nonetheless.

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Describe a challenge you faced:

We planned to spend a month in Ubud. It actually took about a week of settling down to enjoy the slower pace of life. After having moved every 3-5 days for so many months, being able to relax and not plan our next destination took some adjustment. I guess it was just a feeling of being restless. But in the second week I settled in and had no problem whatsoever enjoying my time there.

What new lesson did you learn?

That I need a break from traveling sometimes. It is so easy to try to see everything in a country. I just had to except that I cannot see it all and to attempt to do so will only lead to burn out, which I was until we recuperated in Bali.

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Where next?

Penang, Malaysia

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