September 27, 2014

The Dark Side of Travel Romance

shadowWhen it comes to the ways of love and romance, no aphrodisiac is quite so potent as travel. On the road — freed from the dull routines and restrictions of home — you become more open, more daring, more willing to seize the moment. Away from home, the people you meet (be they locals or fellow travelers) seem sexier, more exotic, less repressed — and this makes you feel sexy, exotic, liberated. Freed from your past, happily anonymous, and filled with a sense of possibility, you are never more willing (or able) to fall headlong into a love affair.

The only downside is this: Rekindling things when you get home almost never works. Regardless of how great you and your lover felt in Rio; regardless of how seamlessly the two of you bonded in Paris; regardless of the memories you cherish from Koh Samui, you are risking heartbreak if you try to resume the romance in Hackensack or Burbank or Minnetonka.

I used to wonder why this was the case — why, after sharing intense travel experiences, my relationships with the intriguing women I met in Cuzco or Tel Aviv would sour into a series of uninspired emails, awkward phone calls and (on occasion) anticlimactic reunions. Why would everything change once we’d stopped traveling?

I finally got a clue to the problem several winters ago in Thailand, when I met a Belgian lass I’ll call Katia. Willowy and doe-eyed, with a sexy pout and effortless European grace, Katia would have been out of my league back home — but in the colorful madness of Bangkok, we somehow fell into an easy love affair. Together, we took a train down to Khao Sok National Park in southern Thailand, where we stayed in a tree-house hotel, swam the jungle-rivers, drank Mekhong whiskey, and shared the stories of our lives. After a week, when it came time for Katia to fly back to Brussels, I felt like we had really connected — that our time together had amounted to something special.

Katia must have felt the same way, since — over the course of the next several weeks — she told me how much she missed me, how much she cared for me, and how much our time together had meant to her. When she eventually invited me to join her in Brussels for Christmas, I didn’t hesitate: I bought a plane ticket and flew out as soon as I could.

Once I arrived in Brussels, things fell apart almost immediately. When I tried to put my arm around her as we walked to meet her friends at a bar, Katia curtly warned me not to touch her in front of her friends (“They know I’m not sentimental like that,” she told me). Once in the bar, Katia continually scolded me: for eating too much; for not sitting up straight; for not asking her friends the right kind of questions. For some reason, I’d suddenly become an embarrassment to Katia — an uncultured American fool who couldn’t do anything right.

The disappointment went both ways: Back in Thailand, Katia was laid-back and affectionate, and she’d talked about her passionate calling to design jewelry; in Brussels, I’d quickly discovered that she was a shrill busybody who used her art studio mainly to play computer games. When we visited Belgian museums, Katia sneered at my ignorance of art history; when I read a book on the train to Louven, she scolded me for not looking out at the scenery; when we ate dinner with her parents, she lost her temper when I didn’t pay enough attention to the conversation (which, I reminded her, was mostly in Dutch). In Thailand, Katia had found pleasure in the simplest moments; in Brussels, the only times she seemed remotely satisfied were when we were arguing.

After a week of being trapped in a small Brussels apartment with Katia, I had a realization: despite everything that had happened between us in Thailand, she was still complete stranger to me. I had fallen for Thailand as much as I’d fallen for Katia, and she had done the same. The world we’d experienced together as travelers was, in many ways, a transient fantasy world — and the mountaintop experiences we’d shared in Asia amounted to a sandcastle by the time I’d arrived in Europe.

Indeed, if the anonymity and renewal of travel makes love bloom easier, returning to the noise of your home-life makes road-romance reunions that much harder. Despite all the memories you’ve shared on the road, you can’t pick up the relationship where it left off, because that place is now thousands of miles away.

Last summer, after having not communicated for four years, Katia sent me an email suggesting we meet up and talk. We met — as friends — in Paris, and I felt like I got to know my old Belgian lover for the first time.

[This Rolf Potts article originally appeared in Yahoo! News on Apr. 10, 2006. All rights reserved.]

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Category: Europe, Sex and Travel, Vagabonding Advice

September 26, 2014

Vagabonding Case Study: Norbert Figueroa

Norbert FigueroaNorbert Hobbit

globotreks.com

Age: 31

Hometown: Carolina, Puerto Rico

Quote: The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. – St. Augustine

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Category: Vagabonding Case Studies

September 25, 2014

Reaching the bottom of the Grand Canyon

As magical as the Grand Canyon is from the top, peering down into red and purple shades of rock so far down your eyes lose an ability to judge the distance, it is yet more magical from the very bottom peering up. Perhaps because of the feeling of accomplishment that comes from a journey down, and perhaps from a feeling of quiet, peaceful seclusion from the modern world.

South Rim GC

Whatever the reason, it’s well worth a trek down just to spend the night at the bottom in either Phantom Ranch or nearby Bright Angel Campground. It may not feel that way as you wade through the tedious reservation process for Phantom Ranch, but that is not the logistical detail I’ll be going over in this post.

In this post, I’d like to give a little bit of insight for potential hikers trying to decide which trail to take, as there are 3 major trails leading down to the bottom, North Kaibob, South Kaibob, and Bright Angel Trail. Having hiked the entirety of each of these trails at some point, I’d love to give a hiker’s perspective.

 Bright Angel Trail 

Distance to Phantom Ranch: 9.9 miles

Access points: Phantom Ranch and Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim

Bright Angel Trail is probably the easiest trail to recommend because of its frequent water stops and moderate distance. Hikers who are not interested in going all the way down to the bottom of the canyon can hike down to the Indian Gardens region 4.9 miles down instead.

But what this trail is especially good for is the journey back up, regardless of which trail you’ve taken down. While it’s not the shortest of the trails we’ll talk about, it is the shortest one with water stops. Both of these details are extremely important for an upward journey. Hiking up the canyon can take significantly longer than hiking down and can be far more fatiguing.

The atmosphere of this trail is interesting as well. It will lead you through a quintessential red-rock desert type of environment until you reach the lush area of the Indian Gardens. After this point, you descent towards the river and complete the last part of your journey walking alongside it.

 

South Kaibob Trail

Distance to Bright Angel Campground: 7.1 miles

Access points: Bright Angel Campground and Yaki Point along the South Rim.

I chose this for an ascending hike one year and it was the most difficult Grand Canyon hike I’ve done. It is steep, has no water stops, and leads you through a dry, winding cliffside that offers little relief from the sun at times. Hikers who choose this route should be very intentional and realistic about the supplies they pack with them. It is indeed a shorter hike, as the shortest of the trails we’ll mention today, but the most strenuous one, so take this into account.

I recommend this trail mostly for descending. Particularly if a person is concerned about making it to the bottom in time for a scheduled dinner. (All meals at phantom ranch must be reserved and fall into a strict schedule). And while it’s not impossible to use this trail for ascending, it’s not to be taken lightly.

 

North Kaibob Trail

Distance to Phantom Ranch: 14 miles

Access points: Phantom Ranch and the North Rim Trailhead.

I chose this one to discuss last because it is my favorite, and I’d like to share a piece I wrote about it after hiking it last month.

But first, the logistical details: This trail is the longest of those mentioned today. Significantly so. And yet, it is not a strenuous 14 miles comparatively. It is not as steep, and the environment transitions frequently. There are plenty of water stops and as long as you are providing a realistic amount of time for the hike (anywhere from 5 – 9 hours), this is a wonderful choice for a descending hike. Anyone considering this hike for the ascending trip should remember that ascending hikes take significantly longer than descending.

This is not a very popular trail, as the only trail leading up to the North Rim, but I’d like to reference the thoughts I made in a post last month to advocate for this trail as a favorite.

 

“The North Rim is quiet.  If you stand and listen for a moment you don’t hear the chatter of a high traffic tourist destination as you would on the South Rim.  Instead you hear the wind through the pines.  In fact, the beginning of your trek does not feel like quintessential Canyon red rock dust and desert.  Instead you’re in a gentle pine forest.  In fact the first stretch of the North Kaibab Trail hike begins in this setting until the vegetation shrinks back and you can see the height of the cliff you’re standing on.  The view opens up and you make your way down along cliffs into the floor of a side canyon.  And then the landscape changes again.  Every few miles, in fact, the landscape of the North Kaibab seems to change into something new as the canyon walls rise around you, layering back until the rim disappears behind the cliffs nearest your path.

These early miles of the trail find you descending through an ancient solidified display of the earth’s history- a core sample of the layers of earth in front of your very eyes till you reach the most ancient layers of subtly glittering Vishnu Shist, so ancient it lacks any traces of organic, biological matter.  This amazing artifact of geological history lines the later miles of the trail like gravel, kicked along humbly by the feet of hikers.

This is also where you reach a little canyon creek that slips like melted glass through desert rock and brings green life wherever it goes.  Most of the remaining 7.2 miles of the North Kaibab follow this creek. As I looked at it, I wondered at how different it seemed from the forest creeks I grew up with in Ohio, clouded with decaying plant life and stirring up mud.  This water, cupped by canyon rock seemed more pure and more lively.  And the plants that line the banks are so foreign to someone who grew up far from the desert.  Prickly, spiny, spindly little plants keeping themselves as inward as possible, not spilling out clumsily into one another like the leaves and grasses of the east.  Orderly, linear plants.

The creekside portion of this trail levels out significantly and you find yourself anticipating each bend will reveal the little cabins of Phantom Ranch.

It’s always further than you think.  But I don’t mind in that environment.  Even tired and hungry, I’m happy to be there.”

North Kaibob

North Rim GC

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Category: Adventure Travel, Destinations, North America

September 24, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Blue Mountains and a full English

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Cost/day:
We chose to do the blue mountains as a holiday getaway, so we invested a little more in accommodation and opting to eat out each night.

We found an affordable accommodation about 6 kilometres from central katoomba, The Skyrider Motel. It cost $100 a night a little over our usual expenditure but worth it for the luxury of one of the comfiest beds I think I may have ever slept on.

We searched some of the local bars and restaurants for a good meal, again lossening the belt around our budget. Most meals per person could range from a $15 pub grub special to upwards of $40 for a sit down dining experience.

Describe a typical day:
It felt like a chore getting out of such a beautiful an comfortable bed but we rose nice and early and set out for breakfast.

A small independant cafe in the heart of Katoomba offered a range of breakfast dishes from a bowl of muesli to a full English breakfast. So I opted in for the latter which I washed down with a fresh cappuccino. The cafe had a great vibe, the walls pasted with old rock posters and bank notes from around the world. It was run by what seemed to be fellow travellers, who kept the eatery lively and vibrant. It was Coffee with smile.

Once stuffed on sausage, beans and eggs we went in search of the local tourist center. I weighed up the idea of taking a tour or going it alone. Later choosing to make our own way round the scenic mountainous site.

So we purchased an all day pass for the Scenic World, this allowed us on the several attractions that offered the many views of the valleys and mountains.

A tip for any would be travellers to Katoomba from Sydney, it’s worth buying a 3 day public transport pass. Not only can you use it around Sydney on all public transport but it can take you out to Katoomba by train and allow you to use all public transport here also.

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So we hopped on our designated bus and took it to Scenic World’s Skyrail. This is a cable cart with a class bottoms that takes your over the beautiful gorge. Be wary the cue was long for little reward however it did give a perspective of the depth of the gorge below.

Jumping off the other side we chose to walk along the footpath that takes you along the Gorge with a promise of a view of the 3 sisters, A trio of rock spires that stand out from the cliff face. It’s a long walk but many vantage points give a beautiful view of the blue mountains. A tremendous vastness of green forestry, rock faces, all clouded in a blue haze of which the area gained its name.

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The beautiful sight of these 3 three rock formations didn’t disappoint, we stood and took in the moment for some time. Taking in every crevice, jagged rock that made up theses 3 sisters of rock.

Once finished a short bus ride took us to another beautiful site, only this time we would have to walk for 45mins down into the gorge. We were making our way down to the Katoomba Falls waterfall. For us we knew this would be a beautiful picturesque platform but what we found was more astonishing than we could have estimated.

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The platform was a flat rock that led to a cliff edge. On one side if us was the beautiful cascading waterfall, spin 180 to an amazing panoramic of the blue mountains. Just when we thought we had seen a beautiful view from the top of the gorge, suddenly it felt like we had been transported to a secluded paradise. The long steep boggy walk down made this spot quiet with only a small many sharing the spot with us.

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We splashed around the water for a while enjoying the relaxing soothing sounds of the crashing water. We could have stayed here all afternoon but we had to make our way back to the top. We stopped at several lookouts along the route back up. Then finally reaching the the busy road above we set out for a nice eatery.

The bus dropped us outside the old City Bank. This quaint 2 story pub was bustling with travellers and boasted a bohemian atmosphere. Before we stepped through the door we had decided where we would spend the evening. With a little taste of home Guinness flowed from the taps and helped wash down the delicious homemade burger. Bacon Cheese and a 3/4 pound if meat, complimented by the hand cut chips and a touch of BBQ sauce. We drank until the last bus that took me back to the comfort of that beautiful bed.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
The Skyrider Motel was a complete surprise, from the outset it seemed like a pay by the hour Bates motel. However once inside, the room is a cosy well equipped room. The couple that ran the motel are also friendly and very helpful.

The blue mountains and the surrounding areas themselves are a beautiful sight to behold and was worth every cent and every second spent there.

The only downside is the World pass. The glass bottom Skyrail we did on the first day and the Skytrain really aren’t worth the money. Long waits in quiet season for crowded bustling carts gave little reward. Above all of this, once you reach the bottom of the valley you can only walk back up, there is no option to return to back of the cue. As able bodies explorers we were happy to walk back up but for anyone who may be impaired I could imagine this to be a burden.

Describe a challenge you faced: We really underestimated the walking trail to the Waterfall, it is very steep and in some places boggy and flooded. Our real mistake was deciding to wear our flip flops. We struggle more than most but we never gave up and it was worth the struggle

What new lesson did you learn?
Always be prepared, a good pair of walking boots will never fail you no matter how much you like the wind between your toes.

Where next?- It’s magnetic island

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Category: General, Vagabonding Field Reports

September 23, 2014

5 Ways to eat healthy while traveling

Hannah eating-Chiang Rai

Eating healthy is important to us.

I’m a relentless “do it myself” sort of girl. I was raised freezing and canning a lot of our own food. I make most things from scratch. It’s really important to me to feed my family healthy things so that the children grow properly and so that healthy eating patterns are established for life.

Lots of people ask us what we do about that while we’re traveling, since traveling is a lifestyle, not a two week event. There’s not one answer to that and there’s no easy answer. We’re in continual renegotiation of nutritional terms in this family. The most basic answer is that we do the best we can with what we have on any given day, on any given continent. The following are five of our strategies:

Eat Fresh

Most nutritionists will agree that fresh food and raw food are the most healthful choice. We eat as much fresh food as we can. Of course in many of the places we choose to live this also means adhering to the bleach-boil-peel rule. We’ve replaced “bleach” with Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) as a more natural fruit and veggie wash and we carry a knife in our backpack for a quick fruit peel while walking in a market.

With GSE we’re even able to make salads (often cited as a no-no in third world places because of the water used to wash the lettuce) daily.

For us, the best way to stay healthy is to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and enjoy the fabulous diversity of the planet. One of the best parts of travel is the food!

Eat Local

Eating Local means eating things grown or produced within the region we are living in. We don’t often buy pineapple when we’re living in Canada. We don’t often get apples when we’re living near the equator.

Eating local foods means that you’re also getting slow doses of the local bacteria, which will help build immunity as well as tolerance for the differences in diet and “gut bugs” as we travel. Moving slowly helps too, dropping in by plane is always an intestinal shock!

Lots of the guidebooks will tell you not to eat street food. We actually take exactly the opposite position. I would much rather eat a meal that I see cooked right in front of me than one cooked in a kitchen facility that I can’t see from the table where I’m seated. That way we know the food is hot and fresh and reasonable sanitation standards have been adhered to. There is nothing quite so local as food off of a street cart! Yum!

Make Our Own Probiotics

This is where you decide I’m crazy. In my backpack I carry cheese and yogurt cultures as well as water kefir grains. Yep. We make soft cheeses and yogurt out of dried milk and the first thing I do when we set up a new base is get my kefir grains going.

Travel naturally exposes us to a wider range of intestinal risks than living in New Hampshire did, and one of the ways we stack the deck in our favour is by making sure our guts are populated with the right kinds of bacteria!

Portable Nutrient Dense Greens

Believe it or not, it can sometimes be hard to come by fresh vegetables. We hit this wall immediately when we landed in Bangkok. There was a ton of street food available, but most of it was meat, wheat or rice based. We could get fruit, no problem, but we were quickly feeling the lack of veggies.

It sounds completely nuts, but I carry sprouting seeds in my backpack. It only takes a couple of days to get a batch ready and we love them. They can be added to salad, or made into the salad themselves. We love having almost instant access to high quality veggie sprouts and they make a big difference in our diet on the road!

Take Supplements

We take vitamins. Not religiously, but when we feel like our diet is not up to par, we add them in. We also carry essential oil and herbal concoctions to combat basic illness (oregano oil & rosemary oil) add vigor (spirulina), and sort out basic gut bugs (GSE).

What are your secrets for staying healthy and improving your nurtrition on the road, or at home?

 

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Category: Food and Drink, On The Road, Travel Health, Vagabonding Life

September 22, 2014

Ariel Levy on the anxiety that hits just before a journey begins

“I always get terrified right before I travel. I become convinced that this time will be different: I won’t be able to figure out the map, or communicate with non-English speakers, or find the people I need in order to write the story I’ve been sent in search of. I will be lost and incompetent and vulnerable. I know that my panic will turn to excitement once I’m there — it always does — but that doesn’t make the fear before takeoff any less vivid.”
–Ariel Levy, “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” The New Yorker, 11/18/2013

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day

September 21, 2014

Nepal: A last minute escape

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 can 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.

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Category: Asia, Destinations

September 20, 2014

Why Leap?

Why Leap?

Why Leap?

Male to Colombo to Dubai to Milan and finally landing in New York forty hours later was the route we took home from the Maldives last week. The jet lag has been palpable but we’d both say it has been worth it for the perfection we experienced in our beach bungalow island paradise for six magical days. But for most of the people we talked to, the look of disbelief in their eyes when we explained the journey home was enough to say-“no way, I’d never do that!” We’ve gotten the same response countless times with the question-‘how long is the flight from New York to Melbourne? What on earth do you do for that long?’ Travel may mean something different to everyone, but no matter the explanation, we all have our reasons for leaping.

For me, travel is a journey from start to finish. Be it a two-day jaunt or a leap of years-I find magic in every part. It’s hard to believe considering when I even mention a thought about a trip or a move; my mom get’s stressed not liking anything to do with the word travel. For me, it’s exhilarating. There’s the research, the decision, the planning, the packing and then the actual adventure. I enjoy it all, but I actually get excited when I get to the airport, hand off my bags, head through security and know that I’m on my way! Each time I wander around the airport shops like a kid in a candy store knowing something great is about to happen-the anticipation is only the start to the journey.

It’s been called a traveler’s curse, itchy feet, a vice, an escape, running away and a million other things, but for the travelers I know, it’s part of their make up. Check the genetic code and I think you’d find a travel gene as part of many of our DNA compositions. We’ll tell you that our lists continue to grow no matter how many lands our feet touch. Some count passport stamps while others regale you with tales of amazing people and incredible human-interest stories. We’ll save our pennies regularly for that unquenchable desire to spend them on an adventure. Some travel solo on a journey all their own while others go in groups and find they learn even more about themselves than they ever expected. Some seek the world’s wisdom while others have a passion for learning as much as possible through first-hand encounters different than those in which they themselves experienced in their youth.

Why do you travel? What for you is worth the leap or the risk? Does the age old adage, “if you think adventure is dangerous, try routine-it’s lethal” resonate with you? Is it to experience other cultures, food, beer and lifestyles? Do you feel a pull towards nature’s beauty or the UNESCO world heritage site list? Do you like to volunteer in other parts of the world? Is it to get outside your comfort zone or just to know that you’re one small part of a much greater world? For me, it’s a mixture of all of these things. The insatiable curiosity of learning by doing is a driving force but the act of travel encompasses so many others that it’s difficult to put into words. Like many fellow travelers, the rush of travel makes me feel alive and although it comes with risks-I believe they are far outweighed by the rewards. I breathe better when I travel. I feel better when I’m planning an adventure. I smile more when talking to others about their experiences and bantering about ideas for new exploits. I learn more about the world when I’m forced outside my comfort zone and I relish the relationships that have been fostered by these ventures. Even more so, through my travels I’ve learned more about myself and why I leap, and I’ve learned to trust that the net will, without a doubt, appear.

In the end, although I would never tell you that these past few days of waking up at 4am has been pleasant (when you’re not heading to the airport to catch another flight at least), the sunrises have been beautiful and the jet lag undoubtedly worthwhile.

Why do you leap?

To read more of Stacey’s writing check out her website.

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Category: Notes from the collective travel mind

September 19, 2014

Vagabonding Case Study: Chris Backe

Chris Backe headshot

Chris Backe

 
oneweirdglobe.com
 
Age: 32
 
Hometown: eek… Let’s call it Chicago, Illinois.
 
Quote“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain 
 
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Category: General, Vagabonding Case Studies

September 18, 2014

The top five gifts travel has given me

I am often asked why I travel. What is the benefit? Is all the work, preparation, and planning worth it? So, I set out to identify what it is I really feel I have gained through travel. While this list may not be the same for everyone (and I expect it wouldn’t be), I bet most travelers can identify with each item on this list. So, here it is…. the top five gifts travel has given me.

5. Patience. Anyone who travels long term will tell you that patience is a major key to making it all work. Waiting for a train in New Delhi, cooking a meal for 4 on a single burner in San Marcos, dodging touts in ChiChi market, crossing the border into Panama, getting pushed around on a NYC subway at rush hour, avoiding eye contact with leering men in Egypt, or trying to coordinate travel plans in a foreign language in Nepal- the longer you travel, the more you value your own ability to call on your patience like a super power. Cultural differences and language barriers make time, space, and dimension very subjective terms. Patience is a virtue that gets practiced and (almost but not really) perfected the longer you travel.

 

4. Connection. True human connection, that which transcends cultural barriers, is something I value on a very deep level. Traveling allows me to see, smell, touch, taste, feel, and experience what visitors and immigrants to my home country hold in their memories and consciousness. Travel presents the opportunity for me to recognize the common human experience between myself, a circus performer in El Salvador, a business woman headed to work in Switzerland, a genocide survivor in Guatemala, and everyone in between. I get to connect with people all over the world, all the time and experience our shared humanity on a regular basis.

When I attended my friend’s wedding in India, I didn’t need a transistor to explain the side ways smile on her groom’s face as she walked towards him or the joy she radiated when she finally got to see him after a full week of ceremonies and preparations. When her parents visit and I am offered a cup of chai I am reminded of hot, humid, monsoon mornings in Mumbai and I can almost hear the chai wallahs, just like they can.  When I beg her to make me mattar paneer and she chides that it’s “not really healthy, you know”, I know that she is smirking because she is (not so secretly) thrilled that I loved an Indian dish so much and that I know exactly how it tastes in her hometown. When she asked my friend and I to be present at her son’s birth, her parents hugged me and told me to take care of her, knowing that only true friends would have traveled to India to see their child get married years ago. My friend is an awesome person and I would be friends whether I had traveled to India to watch her get married or not, but travel has added a richness to our friendship that can’t be replicated. Sometimes I think we over think things and place too much emphasis on cultural differences (as beautiful as they are) and forget to look for the moments that don’t need translation. Do you have to travel to find connection? No. Does travel magically make connections happen? No. But travel has expanded my understanding of what connection can mean, presented opportunity after opportunity to explore human connection, and made my circle wider and deeper than I ever thought it could be. My connection with this friend and every single person who has touched my life along the way, is a gift I carry forever.

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3. Clarity. Time spent away from home and all things comfortable has a way of clarifying that which is most important. Trekking from place to place with everything you own strapped to your back will make you think twice about your material “needs”. Watching a mother drop her child off at an orphanage because she doesn’t have the money to feed all three of her children will make you reconsider what “good parenting” means. Working with an NGO in a foreign country will forever make you look more closely at where your donated dollars are going. Visiting Mother Theresa’s homes in Kolkata will make you question the party line about mission work in the third world. Watching the sun cast shadows over ancient Mayan temples will make the history you think you know look dull. Meeting living victims of your country’s foreign policy will make you wonder just what else is being done in your name.

If it sounds like travel raises a whole lot of questions and not a whole lot of clarity, that is only partly true. Travel certainly and inevitably does raise innumerable questions…but the clarity lies within those questions. Clarity does not mean “figuring it all out”. Some questions will be answered, some will not. The very realization that the questions exist is clarity in itself.

1011405_371339279659647_647328360_n 2. Empathy. Over the course of this long, continuous journey, I have come to the conclusion that pity and empathy do not look the same. Pity is what I had for people who were “less fortunate” than me back before I had met any of “those people”. Pity allowed me to see myself in some small way as “better than” and in no way did it serve me or those I thought needed me to do something for them. Pity paralyzed and disconnected me.

Empathy is what I hold now that I have helped birth babies, cook meals, and define education with people who would have previously been considered “less fortunate”. The key word in that last sentence is WITH, not FOR. I recognize the core of our shared human experience reflected in circumstances I will never fully understand. I have learned to actively remind myself that poor is not synonymous with “less fortunate” any more than rich is synonymous with “happy”. I still struggle with the “why” of our world’s inequality but I now know that the “how” for doing something about it depends on our ability to empathize, not pity.

 

1. Perspective. Triumphs and tribulations have a way of seeming really, really big when we have nothing to compare them to. Exploring our vast and varied world has given me the opportunity to step outside of the day to day that we all get caught up in and see the larger picture. Long term travel reminds me regularly that no matter the political, philosophical, or economic agendas being pushed back home, this is the one and only shot we have got at this life. I could spend every day hemming and hawing about the socially acceptable way to live this life (according to my home culture) or I can actually live it. The mundane must still be dealt with and the day to day must still be lived but at the end of my life, I will be damned if I look back and think ” I should have done more”.

 

What have you gained from travel?

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