March 26, 2015

Lessons learned on the road vs. lessons learned in school

What happens when the education you receive on the road starts to make you question the lessons you learned before you left?

History is one of those subjects that never fails to look a whole lot different once I’m in a different country. Despite the tragedies that occurred in the region during my lifetime, I don’t remember learning much about Central America. I knew the region officially spoke Spanish. I knew that much of our fruit was shipped in from various countries in the area. I heard whispers about those fruit companies but I was too nervous to admit ignorance so, I never really understood what the whispers meant. In my textbook, there was a paragraph about Reagan’s  “failed policies” in the region. I memorized the words, regurgitated them on tests and never really understood what was behind the big hulking bush everyone seemed to be beating around. I am embarrassed to say that I never even really put two and two together as a kid to realize that the ancient Mayan civilization that conjured up mysteries in my head were from Central America.

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one. Was I?

As an adult, I learned more about American policy in Central America and was confused as to why I had never learned about it in school. I formed conspiracy theories on a government hiding facts from the masses to hide their awful mistakes and stay in power. When I finally touched Central American soil, I realized that the reality of why I had never learned about things like the genocide in Guatemala and the Contras in Nicaragua was far more devastating. A very quick exploration into the reality of what was left behind in these areas makes it clear that the people affected were simply not considered people. They were enemies; the other; a symbol of a greater monster the US thought it was fighting. The people who lost limbs, dignity, and lives were nothing more than obstacles to be removed in the pursuit of certain international goals. The truth stung as it became clear. It made me question a lot about the “education” I received. You can’t put that in a 9th grade history book.

Similarly, I was thrown completely off guard when I visited Kolkata for the first time and found that Mother Theresa was not as revered in the region as she was claimed to be. Christian or not, every kid in the US knows who Mother Theresa was and knows that everything she did was saintly. Right? Apparently, not so much. Refusing to give medicines or medical care to the poor and ill, rough treatment of wards, babies whose wrists were tied to their sides, physical punishment for infants in her care, and a complete separation of any child with a known disability were not my idea of what this “saint on earth” had been doing. I currently hold a more balanced, if complex, understanding of Mother Theresa, the human, and her work. At the time, however, I found it unsettling and frustrating that no one wanted to talk about the complexities of being a human being who is seen as a walking icon of perfection, help, and love. It seems humans have a hard time worshiping their heroes if they show signs of being human. That  is a conversation I could have really learned something from as a young person.

Yes, history has a way of looking a little less absolute once you are standing on different soil, surrounded by different vantage points. Similarly, science, medicine, human rights, and art are all areas of study where I have found myself thrown off kilter once I left the confines of the US borders.

At some point, I started wondering- does everyone question their schooling, just a little, when they travel to new countries? Does everyone see gaps, inconsistancies, or lies in the textbooks they remember?

It seems the answer is, yes.

I have met travelers who were embarrassed to admit that they truly thought Indians worshipped cows in the street before the went to India themselves; travelers who thought antibiotics were where it was at for every medical professional in the world before discovering ancient holistic practices on their journeys; travelers who couldn’t believe the difference in opinions over how to speak English “correctly”; travelers angry at language teachers who had promised them they were fluent based on textbook quizzes and state exams drafted by non-native speakers; travelers who cried when they visited memorials to genocide victims they never knew about. It seems that everyone I have met along the way has had at least one moment of questioning the education they received before they left their home countries.

And how could they not? Every educational system must ultimately pick and choose what to share with students. Even if, in an ideal world, the very human hand that guides the education of the masses had every desire to share as much information as possible with students, choices would still need to be made. The amount of knowledge available to any human being on earth today is staggering. One only need consider the constant flow of information that is available, literally at our fingertips, to become aware of just how much one person could take in in a lifetime. At some point, a conflict, hero, or medical option will get left out of the textbooks.

And this is precisely why travel is so incredibly important.

Those moments of confusion over the lessons learned before, the ones that no longer jive with your current world experience, are incredibly valuable. More valuable than most people realize. Understanding that educational systems are limited, that making one educational choice means not making another, that the facts we learn are filtered long before they get to us, is the first step to understanding what an education truly is. That understanding opens the door wide to an entire world of learning and, hopefully, keeps us aware that education is never really “complete”.

Questioning those lessons that came before is usually a struggle. There is confusion, then wonder, then possibly anger or frustration, and then once again… wonder. Wonder that the world is actually that complex, that ‘bad guys” and “good guys” don’t exist simplistically, that between the black and white pages of a textbook is whole lot of gray, that there really is that much to learn.

In my experience, travel is the catalyst for an insatiable thirst to know. That knowing takes time but, thankfully, so does travel.

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Category: Ethical Travel, Ethics, Youth Travel

March 24, 2015

Must-have smart phone travel apps

The day that smart phones became available, travel changed forever. Immediately, my smart phone became my watch, my alarm clock, calendar, address book, notebook, mirror, and even my flashlight, lessening the number of devices and the weight I needed to carry. As more and more travel apps became available, my smart phone quickly became my most valuable travel accessory. But with literally thousands of apps related to travel, figuring out which are truly useful can be daunting, so I put together the following list of my favorite and most beneficial apps:

Maps With Me:

Maps with me travel apps

Maps with me

Maps With Me allows iOS and Android users to download detailed maps of countries on their phones, so no wifi or cell connection is needed to use them. Once downloaded, users can zoom in on any city or area of the country, right down to the smallest street or attraction. The quality of their maps is so good that I am able to follow along as I ride trains through remote areas, to make sure I don’t miss my stop in countries where I don’t speak the language.

 

XE Currency Converter:

XE Currency Converter

XE Currency

One of the most confusing issues that travelers deal with is currency conversions, but with XE Currency Converter, the process is simple. This app provides live exchange rates and historical charts with wifi access, and the most recent rates are stored for offline use. The app is available for iOS and Android. The free version allows tracking 10 currencies simultaneously, while the pro version ($1.99) allows  for 20 currencies, though both versions show the conversions for 180+ different currencies.

 

Mobile Passport:

Mobile Passport app

MobilePassport

First launched for Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and now operational for Miami International Airport, this free app lets you lets you skip the Custom and Border Protection line. Simply set up your profile in the app, then upon returning to the U.S., launch the app and answer CBP’s questions and go straight to the “Mobile Passport Control” express lane at the airport – no need to fill out the customs and immigration forms! CBP intends to expand the app for other U.S. airports.

 

Google Translate:

Google Translate app

GoogleTranslate

Gone are the days of struggling with languages you don’t speak in foreign countries. Now the free Google Translate facilitates translations in 90 languages. The app uses computer programs to perform the translations, so they are not always perfect, but in my experience they are good enough to be understood. Select the language and either key in or use your finger to write the words for which you wish a translation. Pressing the speaker button will speak the translation aloud. The newest feature of the app allows taking a photo of a sign written in a foreign language, which is then translated on the screen.

 

Skype:

Skype app

Skype

An oldie but still a goodie! The free Skype app allows phone calls to be made over any wifi network, using smart phones, tablets, and computers. Calls between people who have Skype accounts are always free, no matter where in the world they are located. Calls to a person who does not have a Skype account are extremely affordable, costing just a few cents per minute (charges vary according to country). I maximize Skype by purchasing a subscription that provides me unlimited free calls to any landline or mobile in the U.S. or Canada, and by purchasing a Skype U.S. phone number that allows friends and family to call me no matter where in the world I am for the cost of a local phone call.

WhatsApp:

WhatsApp

WhatsApp

The only communication problem that Skype does not solve for me is texting, so for this function I turn to WhatsApp, a free chat/texting app that sends free texts worldwide whenever the user is connected to a cellular or wifi network. In addition to basic messaging WhatsApp users can create groups, send each other unlimited images, video and audio media messages. The first year is free, with a charge of 99 cents per year thereafter.

 

 

1Password:

1Password

1Password

To ensure security, it’s advisable to use different passwords for every site, but doing so presents another problem – how to remember all those passwords. My preferred app for password storage on my phone is 1Password, which creates strong, unique passwords for every site, remembers them all for you, and logs you in with a single tap. Everything in your 1Password vault is protected by a Master Password that only you know. The free app encrypts all your data using authenticated AES 256-bit encryption and auto-locks to protect your vault even if your device is lost or stolen.

 

SignEasy:

Sign Easy app

SignEasy

When traveling, life doesn’t stop, and occasionally I have needed to sign a document. It has always been challenging to find a way to print out the document, sign it, and then fax it off, especially when in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language. SignEasy allows me to access and sign documents on my phone with my actual signature, wherever I am in the world. The free app works with 15 different file formats and works with popular cloud storage services such as Dropbox and Google documents. You can fill up your paperwork on a iOS, Android or Kindle device and seamlessly switch between devices to carry forward your paperwork. All your files remain safe even if you lose your device or even if it’s stolen.

TunnelBear:

TunnelBear app

TunnelBear

Whenever I perform sensitive activities on my phone, such as Internet banking, I take extra measures to ensure my IP address is hidden and my data is not visible to hackers by using the free TunnelBear app, which connects my phone to a secure Virtual Private Network (VPN). It also has the added advantage of getting me around censorship in countries like China, where sites like Google and Facebook are blocked sites.

 

 

Kindle:

Kindle app

Kindle

Last but not least is my Kindle app, which I use to read the 10,000 or so books I have stored on my phone. Though it is commonly believed that the Kindle app can be used only to read books purchased through Kindle, this is not true! It is easy to load any book on Kindle. Simply connect your phone to a laptop or computer where your books are stored, launch iTunes, and when your device appears, click on the app tab. Scroll down until you see the Kindle icon and drag and drop any mobi formatted books onto the icon.

 

These are my favorite ten smart phone travel apps, but I’d love to hear about any others that you’ve found particularly helpful when traveling.

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

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Category: Female Travelers, Senior Travel

March 23, 2015

People from cultures that prize individualism tend to misapprehend cultures that don’t

“We were leaving not just a place but a consciousness — one in which the “I” was different for the Asmat than for me. It was group, tribe, family, tied together in ways difficult to grasp. For me, as an American, “I” is the biggest, most important unit. For us, freedom is everything. The right to do as we please, unbound by clan or village or parents — to move two thousand miles at will, to make a call home or send an email or say hi via Skype. We can reinvent ourselves, changes churches or religions, divorce, remarry, decide to celebrate Christmas or Kwanzaa or both. But these men in Otsanjep are bound to each other. To their village and its surrounding jungle, to the river and the sea. Most people will never see anything else, know anything else. I kept wondering if I was as guilty as Michael [Rockefeller], also filled with a Western conceit that I could just walk into a place and not only get it but also dominate it. Could I make the Asmat spill their secrets? Would they ever? Should they?”
–Carl Hoffman, Savage Harvest (2014)

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day

March 21, 2015

Mister Universe

World

In the remote southwestern Ethiopian town of Jinka, Charles Veley and I were drinking araki sorghum whiskey in the bar of a dirt-lane guesthouse full of Mursi tribesmen and their families. Mursi women are usually recognizable by the clay disks that stretch their severed lower lips, but on this night, in an informal setting (where families had paid the equivalent of 20 cents a person to sleep on the packed-dirt floor), most of the women had removed their ocher-painted plates. Their lower lips sagged around their chins as they nursed babies in the dim light; the Mursi men, who had checked their fighting staves at the door, silently watched television and sipped araki.

For most of the Mursi, this town of 22,500 people, a minimum two-day walk from their villages, is the biggest metropolis they’ll ever know. The next day they would trade their butter and grains for manufactured goods at the Jinka market, but on that night, as they watched Ethiopian music videos on a flickering black-and-white TV, they seemed as giddy and disoriented as I felt in this peculiar setting. We were all travelers here, it seemed, each of us far from home in our own way. In fact, the only person who looked completely at ease was Veley, who worked the room like a V.I.P., casually flattering and flirting as he bought Mursi women drinks. Dressed in quick-dry trekking pants, Hi-Tec boots and a crisp white button-down shirt, he acted as if he were walking through a climate-controlled R.E.I. store instead of a smoky, lamp-lit room with grimy turquoise walls and the rich, rotten aroma of fermented sorghum and hand-cured goat leather. “This is why I travel,” he told me at one point in the evening. “For moments like this.”

For Veley, a 43-year-old San Franciscan, travel is no part-time endeavor: over the past nine years — ever since he resigned as a vice president at the software company MicroStrategy, which he co-founded — he’s logged almost three million miles and spent nearly $2 million in an effort, as he puts it, “to go everywhere in the world.” This seemingly quixotic project has won him a fair amount of notoriety in travel circles. I first met him in a television studio, where we were both serving as experts for a Travel Channel special on classic world destinations.

Despite my own passion for travel, my fascination with Veley’s project isn’t exactly a matter of common interest. My first book is an extended argument for the merits of slow travel and downplays the notion of counting countries as an arbitrary exercise. When Veley invited me to join him on a journey to East Africa, I accepted out of sheer curiosity about what drives such an endeavor, and about what a Charles Veley journey might actually look like.

In just eight days of travel, I watched Veley negotiate a series of buses and hire cars from Kampala up to the isolated Ugandan province of Arua, which shares a porous border with Congo. I accompanied him on a bone-jarring, daylong Land Cruiser journey across the semi-autonomous southern region of Sudan, along roads that were cleared of land mines less than a year ago. I waited as he climbed into an air-traffic control tower in the flyblown Sudanese city of Juba and negotiated our way onto a chartered aid flight to the Kenyan frontier town of Lokichokio. I followed along as he raced to meet a chartered boat to cross Kenya’s Lake Turkana into the Omo River valley in Ethiopia. Veley tackled all of these challenges with uncanny skill and obvious relish, but I have yet to divine exactly what motivates him. Whenever I asked him why he feels called to travel in such an exhaustive manner, his answers were frustratingly vague — “I travel so much because I can,” he told me once.

At a certain level, Veley’s project has been an effort to set world records and distinguish himself as a sort of extreme traveler, a far-ranging geographical trophy hunter. In 2003, at age 37, he became the youngest person to visit all 317 countries and provinces recognized by the Travelers’ Century Club, an organization of globe-trotters who’ve visited at least 100 countries or territories. A year later he approached the Guinness World Records to certify his status as the world’s most traveled person, only to discover that the Guinness authorities had discontinued the category, because, he said, they could no longer agree on an objective standard. “It was like finishing a marathon to discover that all the officials had gone home,” he told me. “It was very frustrating.” Unable to find an organization to verify his “most traveled” claim, Veley created his own arbitrating organization in 2005, a community-driven Web site called Mosttraveledpeople.com that has more than 4,800 members. Veley hopes to make the site the final word on the topic.

Our journey into East Africa, however, was not making Veley any more traveled than he was before — at least not by the standards of Mosttraveledpeople.com, which makes no geographical distinction between the isolated tribal corner of Ethiopia we went to and the rest of the country. In fact, while Ethiopia was the sixth African country Veley visited in just over two weeks (he’d spent time in Rwanda and Burundi the week before I joined him), none of those countries constituted a new visit, according to his site’s ever expanding master list of “countries, territories, autonomous regions, enclaves, geographically separated island groups and major states and provinces.” Instead, this African journey was what he called a “go back,” a return to places he had seen only briefly before. Such is the paradox of racking up so many countries in such a short span of time: once you’ve collected enough geographical entities to declare yourself the most traveled person in the world, the next step is to go back and actually experience those places for more than a day.

Veley made no excuses for the expensive whirlwind nature of his initial visits. “One way to look at this is to think of the world as a giant buffet table,” he said. “I wanted to go everywhere, to taste everything first so I’d know where I wanted to come back to for seconds and thirds. I’m doing that now — coming back for more — and it’s really enjoyable.”

Attempting to sample every dish from any buffet table might seem compulsive, but other Mosttraveledpeople.com members I talked to noted that this was not unusual for people who collected countries. “There is a degree of compulsion to this kind of travel, but I think any collection is by its nature compulsive,” noted Alan Hogenauer, who at 568 regions visited is tied for No. 5 on the Mosttraveledpeople.com list. “I think it’s the dogged pursuit of something valuable as opposed to some irrational pursuit.” Lee Abbamonte, a 30-year-old New Yorker who is trying to break Veley’s record of becoming the youngest traveler to reach all the countries on the Travelers’ Century Club list, added that list-driven travel tended to create its own unique worldview. “I don’t consider myself obsessive or compulsive, but sometimes you have to be both when it comes to traveling,” he said. “Most people look at my itineraries and think I’m nuts, but for me that’s the only way to go.”

Since Veley has a wife and three children under the age of 6 back in San Francisco, he covers a lot of ground fast and rarely lingers in places. “Maybe if I was single I could take my time,” he said. “But with a family back home, I’m always on the clock.” Indeed, Veley on the road didn’t resemble Livingstone or Magellan so much as a multitasking American office manager. At one point, when he and I visited the headwaters of the Nile near Jinja, Uganda, he called home on his iPhone to discover that his oldest daughter had just won a ribbon for learning how to swim.

In a way, Veley’s continuing quest to visit each corner of the world is intriguing not because it represents something extraordinary, but because it symbolizes an increasingly quaint notion: a world that might be somehow added up into something knowable, quantifiable and coherent. Once Veley had finished hobnobbing with the Mursi tribesman in this dim little Ethiopian inn, he told me about his plans to return to Iran and Tunisia and his desire to one day sell Mosttraveledpeople.com to a neutral administrator. “It’s not just about the list,” he said. “The more places I go, the richer my regional understanding and the more data points I can bring to bear on relating to people in that next new place. I find a great thrill in imagining a trip in the abstract, then turning it into reality.”

The spreadsheet mentality of Veley’s mission is seductive, but it also struck me as ironic. In an era when ease of transportation and ubiquity of information makes mere arrival at a place less of an accomplishment than it was a generation ago, experiencing one place in depth would seem to be as much a challenge as chasing an ambitious, list-driven itinerary.

After our time together, Veley was scheduled to make his way north to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he would embark on 24 hours of connecting flights to the central Pacific. There, he planned to spend three weeks on a boat traveling 2,500 miles from Samoa to Tuvalu, hitting a number of islands along the way, including three new outposts (Swains Island, the Phoenix Islands and Baker and Howland Islands) that would bring him a little bit closer to completing his master list.

“The list is just a tool that helps me set priorities and stay motivated to see new places,” he said. “It’s not about declaring yourself the winner and being done. For me, there is no done.”

 

Originally published by the NY Times, November 16, 2008

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Category: Adventure Travel

March 20, 2015

Vagabonding Case Study: Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang unnamed    

wildjunket.com

Age: 32

Hometown: Singapore

Quote: Wherever you go, go with all your heart. – Confucius

(more…)

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Category: Vagabonding Case Studies

March 19, 2015

Especially the disasters are worth it

When I’m in the States, sitting on my parents’ couch in the normalcy of the world in which I grew up and my mind begins to wander, it wanders to a moment when my shoes were caked in dust and the Kenyan heat beat on my shoulders. A young Masai boy hung by our side as we leaned against our RAV 4, which sat awkwardly off-kilter in the ditch at the imbalance of a busted tire. The sun worked its way toward the horizon as our only ticking deadline.

On paper, that travel-story was about failure. The Toyota RAV 4, our 4WD vehicle of choice for our self-drive safari in the Masai Mara National Reserve had been a struggle. The pot-holes on the return journey to Nairobi had gotten the best of us not once, but twice, first taking out our tire and then taking out the spare twenty minutes later. We were stranded in the middle of nowhere for 4 hours while half our group hitch-hiked to the nearest town large enough to sell tires.

And when I remember that moment I have to smile to myself. I remember the feeling of half-cynical amusement at the situation we’d found ourselves in and the feeling of adventure in realizing how rugged the Kenyan roads were. All the portions of my attention were awake in that moment, not just for problem-solving, but for soaking in my surroundings. We stood around for hours amusing the curious Masai boy who’d come to see us play with our Go-Pro and pretend to beat-box. The bells of his herd of goats rang softly in the distance.

Kenya flat

Honestly, it’s the disasters that stick in my mind when I’m back in the safe and predictable life of “home”. And those memories don’t bring me exasperation or anxiety or relief. They make me smile. They remind me I’ve had the sorts of adventures that become good stories.

Museums and national monuments and even elephants standing on the roadside don’t quite make me feel that same way.

Why is that?

I’m only sifting through my own travel-stories, but here’s why I think the travel disasters are especially worth it and especially valuable.

1. Stories give us confidence in the value of our journey.

When you can come home and make everyone around the table gasp or snicker or shutter at the things you’ve seen, it validates the fact that you did indeed experience something memorable. “Wow, that is really something.” It doesn’t seem to matter what that “something” is. If you’ve experienced something, you’ve learned that much more about the world and yourself. Which leads me to the next point…

2. Unfamiliar, imperfect situations teach us something about ourselves.

Every time I make it through a new stress or imperfection, I’ve learned a bit more about what my limitations AREN’T. And it can be quite addicting learning how many things DON’T limit you that you thought might.

For example when we visited Easter Island we decided to camp. Wind howled and rain whipped the sides of our tent almost every night. (They were excellent tents so we were never cold nor wet.)  Even though the conditions weren’t ideal for camping, it was wonderful to teach myself that I do not need ideal conditions to sleep in a tent. (Not to mention I learned what a difference a quality tent makes!)

The disasters often teach us what we can endure, and that is an empowering thing to learn.

3. Unfamiliar, imperfect situations teach us about our destination.

It is amazing how insulated travel can be if you aren’t careful. If you book a tour that shows you all the highlights of a place, you may never know what the real heart and life of that place is. Take for example the alternative route to Machu Picchu. The popular train ride from Cusco to Machu Picchu is, no doubt, a fabulous way to see some beautiful scenery.

And it is less havoc and headache, no doubt, than taking a series of collectivos for two days until you reach the waste water treatment plant behind Machu Picchu where you either luck out on hitching a train or trek along the train tracks for two hours before reaching Aguas Calientes.

Drew Machu Picchu

Both options will show you some part of Peru. But the messier option will show you, in my opinion, a slightly more authentic spectrum. You’ll see the beautiful views from a spot squished between locals in the back-seat of a 25-year old van that smokes when you stop. You’ll see the bus driver hop off the bus at a little shack deep in the Andes, to bring his mother some clothes before taking off again up the winding mountainside.

 

All of the experiences I’ve referenced in this (rather personal) post were in some way uncomfortable.

And I love it that way. I learned something. I felt something. I saw something.

 

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Category: General, On The Road, Vagabonding Life

March 16, 2015

The secret of travel is to approximate the life of a local

“When I started traveling professionally, I was surprised and delighted to find that I could still make emotional connections to places. I discovered this for the first time in Portugal, where — after having schlepped around Spain — I met a young Dutch woman who introduced me to a her friend, a colorful poet, who invited me to dinner (this after weeks of solitary meals) and then took me to a dive to hear men singing fado. It was in Lisbon that I discovered the secret of travel writing, which is also the secret of memorable travel: You approximate, as best you can, in the short time allotted you, the life of a local. Once back home and writing, I stumbled upon another secret: The best trips make the best stories. Though I had known this in theory from books like Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, which are nearly as crammed with friends as they are with learning.”
–Thomas Swick, A Moving Experience, The Morning News, December 3, 2013

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day

March 14, 2015

A day spent wandering a city never gets old

gallavanting through Huntsville, Alabama

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

–Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Travel and time are two topics bantered around by those in the world of travel, those who want to travel and those who don’t understand how it can possibly happen. ‘How do you afford to travel?’ ‘How can you take so much time off of work?’ ‘Don’t you just want to settle down and stop moving around so much?’ Whether it is a conversation amongst those choosing to live a travel-focused lifestyle or those wishing to have one, a day spent wandering a city never gets old!

Too often when traveling, days are filled with things on a ‘to-do list’. Don’t get me wrong, this list is far more inviting than the one including ‘pay bills, do laundry, clean the bathroom or even go to work’, but positive or otherwise it can lead to exhaustion. Those who retire from a lifetime of work talk about how ‘everyday is a Saturday’ and many tell a story that includes how they’re much busier now than they ever were when working. Whether traveling, being a tourist in your own city or just taking a twenty-four hour period to exist, a day spent wandering a city never gets old!

If it’s your home city, you might just take the opportunity to experience a part you’ve never before explored providing your very own ‘travel day’. Perhaps there’s that special restaurant you’ve always wanted to try but never before took the time to do so. Maybe you’re just looking for a chance to meander by the water, through the park or down the busy streets to truly see the city with open eyes. It’s not often you can take the time to stop and look around or stop at the market you’ve just upon stumbled. Is there a museum you’ve wanted to check out or an event about which you’ve been excited? Take the time to just go. It’s not often you can sit or be or enjoy and taking that time to do so is revitalizing, reinvigorating and reaffirming.

When moving to a new place whether for a few weeks, months or years, I find it incredibly helpful to spend a day wandering. Really able to get to know a city through its pathways, its people, its sights, sounds and smells provides information that no online search ever could. Sure, you can Google map your way to the nearest whatever, but standing on the street utilizing all of your senses is much more authentic. The Internet search of the public transport map can tell you where the trolley goes, but not what it feels like to actually ride on it. The specific app search can give you the ‘best’ or ‘most visited’ hole in the wall café, but how do you really know until you get to taste the delights on your own palette?

A day spent wandering a city never gets old! Regardless of its size or location, a walk through an entire city, or a specific area is an eye-opening experience. You get a chance to see real life happening before your eyes. You get an opportunity to breathe in and experience and let wonder and curiosity lead your journey. This is a rare chance to let your choices carve your path and spend as much or as little time in one spot before moving on to the next adventurous avenue. It’s not often in life (traditional or travel-focused) when you can enjoy a prospect of no plans and a find as you go sort of day. This is a memory-making day.

Time is a gift. Time is talked about regularly in any arena as it feels as if there’s never enough. Travel embraces this view and breaks the mold. Travel forces its followers to take time to do, be, choose, embrace and explore. Travel flings your eyes upward away from the virtual world and plops you smack dam in the center of the real one. If you let it, travel shows the best and worst of people, the true character of cities and authentic everything. If you’re willing to let it-travel can teach, share, welcome, surprise, enrage, encourage, change perceptions and create anew. Who knows what can come from time, but what I do know is that a day spent wandering a city never gets old!

“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So…get on your way!”

–Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go

For more of Stacey’s musings check out her writings here.

 

 

 

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Category: General

March 13, 2015

Vagabonding Field Report: Exploring the vastness of Rome

Rome with ancient ruins, delicious pastas, and red wine never fails to disappoint. The eternal city, once the center of the world, still captivates and amazes people from all over the globe. From the gorgeous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to the cobblestone alleyways in the old city, travelers can not get enough of Rome.

Rome-L

Cost per day

Compared to the overall prices in Europe, Italy is midrange. In big cities like Rome, Florence, and Milian prices are much higher than in the small medieval towns and quiant countryside villages.

Every time I visit Italy, I budget around $2,000 a month or $65 a day. This covers staying in a hostel, eating out a couple times a week, and going out for drinks with friends.

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

I have come to terms that there is no shortage of strange events when living in hostels. Recently, I saw a traveler with a backpack that was bulging, almost ripping at the seams. The pack also had an odd square shape to it.

Curiosity got the best of me, so I approached him and asked why his backpack looked so strange.

He smiled as he unzipped it showing me a massive speaker. Seriously, he packed limited clothes and accessories to carry a giant speaker with him around Europe.

Of course, I asked him why. He smiled as he said, “I can’t travel without being able to play loud music.”

[More.. Break]

Describe a typical day

Rome is a city made for walking, and I have a basic routine I follow every day. I wake up late in my hostel dorm, head to a nearby bakery to get some crumbly Italian bread and fresh mozzarella that is so soft it almost melts in your mouth.

I throw it all into my daypack and start walking to whatever site I feel like seeing first. A usual favorite of mine is the Colosseum where I sit on a nearby wall while enjoying the weather and eating breakfast. I spend the rest of the day hopping between shops, cafes, and sites.

Rome is a very personal city for me. It is the first place I traveled solo almost ten years ago, and my experiences in the city have turned me into the traveler I am today. You could say Rome completely changed my life, and I love to reflect on that when I am here.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

Trevi-Fountian-Rome2

The locals, history, and culture are things I like very much about Italy. One day I was eating a meal of bread and cheese when a woman and man approached me.

They started asking my opinion on Rome. After chatting awhile, they noticed what I was eating.

“Come on,” they said as they grabbed me and led me to their favorite restaurant. They bought this poor backpacker a meal and gave me a tour around the city for the rest of the day.

Another thing I sincerely love about Rome is the sites. I am a history buff, and so Rome is a mecca to me.

One thing that makes Rome precious is that they built the city around the ruins. Often just walking around a corner, you will stumble upon ancient remains from another age.

One thing I do not appreciate is that Italy does not like my debit cards. Most ATM’s refuse to give me cash which is extremely irritating. While I have credit cards, which work fine, I prefer to have a safety net of cash on me at all times.

If my credit cards ever got stolen, I would be in a world of hurt while in Italy.

Describe a challenge you faced:

Recently, a challenge I have been dealing with is being alone. Rome is a romantic hotspot and everywhere you look, couples are holding hands and softly kissing. It is also the off-season for backpackers, so there are fewer people to meet at hostels.

What new lesson did you learn?

While I believe Italy still has a lot to teach me, this visit was more about reflection.

I thought a lot about this path of long-term travel, and how happy I am with the choice I made. I also thought a lot about where I want to steer my life in the future. Italy is a rock for me and helps me sort my thoughts and make future plans.

Where next?

In a few weeks, I am setting sail on a tall ship that will be journeying down the east coast of America and through the Caribbean. I am thrilled and excited as this new adventure is on the horizon.

Stephen Schreck is a long-term traveler, and lover of all things Italian. You can  read his Italy Travel Tips or follow his travels around the world on A Backpackers Tale.

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Category: General, Vagabonding Field Reports

March 12, 2015

How to educate a child while traveling

When families first announce their plans for extended travel, many of them are hit with repeated questions about their child’s education. Too often, the parents of traveling kids are seen as selfish. Adults feeding their own desires at the expense of their child’s education and “normal” school experience.

The reality is that most traveling parents have thought long and hard about what their child’s education will look like on the road. The vast majority are traveling to enhance the education their youngest family members receive. Socialization, academics, and personal growth are on the minds of every parent who chooses a traveling lifestyle for their children. No one has “forgotten” about math, higher education, or socialization but all of them have some up with creative ways to meet these needs.

The educational logistics of traveling with children are challenging but hardly insurmountable. No two families will ever do it the same way but there are a few main paths traveling parents take when designing nomadic educational experiences for their children.

1. Homeschooling – This is a favorite option among the traveling community. Homeschooling your kids on the road allows for flexibility. Curriculum and lessons can be designed around a child’s interests, a family’s current location, or the needs of the child in that moment. There is nothing that says ancient Egypt must be studied in 3rd grade and traveling homeschoolers know it. They use location dependent resources to their advantage and really dig into a topic. Many, but not all, traveling homeschool families carry books and other educational resources with them and complete lessons while waiting for planes, trains, and buses. With the rapid growth of technology, lessons in art, music, and dance can all be taught via video conferencing. Everyone defines homeschooling differently. For some, it’s a structured path that leads to directly to university. For others, its a child-led exploration of life with no ultimate aim as defined by the parents. No matter what, the biggest challenge for traveling homeschoolers can be creating and maintaining a schedule that suits their needs and lifestyle. Worried about socialization? Don’t be. Homeschooled travelers generally finish their lessons in a fraction of the time it takes their school bound counterparts to finish the same, leaving them ample opportunity to socialize with local children, other travelers, and their own families.

2. Local Schools - Some families choose to enroll their kids in schools as they go. Not everyone likes this option as it can require starting in a new school relatively frequently. Still, some families like the experience their kids get from a structured school setting. Their are two main options in this category. Truly local schools are the schools attended by the general population of a given community.  While the quality of instruction, methods used, and general practices can vary greatly from one location to the next, the benefits of this option include full immersion into a culture and language with children of a similar age and exposure to what the general, local population experiences as “education”.

The second option, international schools, are another option within this category and can be found all over the world. Generally taught in English and with a rigorous course load, this isn’t an option for everyone. However, many parents find international schools to be a good option for their kids, especially for those traveling slowly or for students with big ambitions for university and beyond. These schools tend to have a fairly high price tag attached, which may be the biggest negative of this particular option.

3. Undefined- For travelers who are traveling long term but with the intention of returning to “normal” life in a set amount of time, taking time away from a defined experience of education may work just fine. A year of unstructured learning and completely free exploration is highly unlikely to alter a child’s educational course too drastically, especially for younger children. In fact, many children whose parents forgo the workbooks and structured writing assignments for a year find that, when their children return to school, they are on par with their peers, and sometimes even ahead. Most families do not choose this option for continual travel as most people develop educational philosophies as they go and the “undefined” label eventually no longer serves them or their children. But for long term travelers on a defined schedules, this might be exactly what they need to really get out and dig deep with their young travelers.

Every traveling family meets the educational needs of their youngest members differently and none of them takes off without a thought to what education will look like on the road. Within these categories is a myriad of options for tailoring the experience to each child and family. No option is set in stone and as situations and needs change, many will shift course and try something different. That’s part of the beauty of education on the road- it is ever changing and flexible to the student. In a world with vast educational resources and ample opportunities for exploration  there really is no reason to worry that a traveling family “can’t” meet the educational needs of their children.

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Category: Family Travel
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