September 16, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Escaping to the real Hawaii

Catnip to adventure travellers in search of an authentic Hawaiian escape, Molokai is often referred to as ‘The most Hawaiian island’. With little other than true Aloha on offer, those who board a tiny turboprop plane in Honolulu should expect to step back in time when they land in Ho’olehua.

Unlike its neighbours Molokai does not cater for the package holiday goer. There are no major chain hotels or supermarkets, no luxury resorts and very few tour operators. Without the usual selection of restaurants, activities and tours to occupy your time Molokai encourages you to connect with the heritage of the Hawaiian people, to drink in the lush landscape and immerse yourself in the tropical waters.

Cost/day

Hawaii is not a low cost destination however there are a number of ways you can keep your travel expenses to a minimum

Connections to Molokai – $98 – $140 return

With no major airlines flying into Molokai a connection is essential, this can be obtained via Mokulele Air on Oahu or Maui, or via the Hawaiian Ocean Project Ferry on Maui.

Accommodations on Molokai based on double occupancy – from $120/night

Despite the closure of the island’s only resort in 2008, there are plenty of places to lay your head. Self-catered options are by far the most popular, with limited dining options on the island kitchen facilities provide the flexibility to be budget and health conscious should you wish.

During my week on Molokai I rented a one bedroom Vacations-Abroad.com Wavecrest Condo which offers self-catered accommodation, a private lanai with views over the ocean to Maui, and use of a private pool. It was also equipped with snorkelling gear, beach towels, games and a small library of reference books detailing various aspects of the island and its heritage.

If you’re feeling adventurous check out Pu’u O Hoku Ranch. Offering a rather more rustic retreat this biodynamic and organic ranch and farm is set on 14,000 acres of protected land, immersed in the transcendent beauty of forest, sky and ocean.

Transport on Molokai – from $40/day

There is no public transport on the island so a rental car is a necessity if you are to avoid high taxi fares throughout your stay.

For international visitors Alamo offer standard car rental packages, I paid around $280 for one week rental of an economy class car however on arrival I received a free upgrade to a convertible sports car as the depot were sold out of economy options.

If you hold a valid US car insurance policy of your own, you can rent from local resident Pat who operates Mobettah Cars.

Describe a typical day

Although to some it may appear as though Moloaki has little in the way of entertainment there’s ample to keep you occupied during your stay.

After a breakfast of tropical fruits and pancakes it’s time to hit the beach, and at just 38 miles in length you can be at any beach on the island with ease.

I spent a number of afternoons exploring the island’s coastline, lazing on Papohaku Beach and diving on the fringing reef which runs like a marine highway between Molokai and neighbouring Maui.

Action & Adventure – from $100pp

If outdoor adventure is your cup of tea then head to Molokai Outdoors who will outfit you for guided sea kayaking, scuba diving and hiking excursions. I chose to dive the fringing reef and had a close encounter with some of Hawaii’s turtles!

History & Heritage – $199pp

Molokai is renowned for its rich cultural heritage and breathing in the island’s past is an integral itinerary addition.

Those keen to immerse themselves in Molokai’s darker side can take a guided mule ride or hike down through the Kalaupapa National Historical Park to a remote peninsula that was once home to those islanders afflicted with Hansen’s Disease. As I was on a restricted budget I opted to visit the spectacular Kalaupapa Lookout which offers a dramatic view of the peninsula and the island’s vast sea cliffs.

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

There are no traffic lights on the island!

Molokai is home to just 8,000 people. There is one major road which links the east and west coast and another which links the north and south. In all honesty there’s just no need for traffic management.

For a brief snapshot of my week long stay on Molokai check out this video or refer to my handy Molokai travel guide for more information.

Have you explored the island of Molokai? Share your trip report with me below.

 

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Category: North America, Vagabonding Field Reports

September 14, 2014

Finding new perspectives on familiar places

It can be difficult to find new angles through which to view places you already know well. Human nature being what is, it takes a conscious effort to see anything through new eyes. We tend to see only what we’re familiar with, and what strikes our vision on the most surface levels: the old buildings, the people, the streets, the here-and-now bustle that is so easy to get caught up in. But shifting our approach is sometimes needed if we are to really appreciate all the layers and the richness any place has to offer.

As a travel writer I’m always forced to do this, and though it’s challenging, it always rewards me with a much deeper perspective of a city’s beating heart and long-hidden scars.

For example, trying to find a topic in which to write about can suddenly have me thinking thematically. In the case of Amsterdam, I was recently casting about for a theme. The picturesque canals and predictable clichés are worn out. I wanted to go deeper.

Clichés are lame.

Clichés are lame.

Of course, a well-deserved reputation for religious tolerance in previously intolerant times is a strong undercurrent in the city’s history, shaping its character. But everyone knows about the city’s lenient attitude towards marijuana and prostitution. The pot-selling “coffeshops” and the brightly painted brothels of the Red Light District are hard to miss, and at any rate weed and sex are not exactly major taboos anymore. So, in doing this “personality profile”, as I like to view travel writing, I decided to focus on the less well-known, more hidden-in-plain-sight landmarks that quietly but effectively tell the story of Amsterdam’s legacy of tolerance in intolerant times.

The point is, looking around the city for these things forced me to look through fresh eyes. I began to notice things I hadn’t paid much attention to before. Statues and plaques commemorating Amsterdam’s history—normally easy to pass over in the bustling, thoroughly modern city—began to emerge from the background, as if reaching out through the centuries to educate me with a silent power.

Paying attention to these small reminders eventually told a story, a long and rich narrative, of how the city’s philosophy of tolerance became a beacon for many persecuted people seeking a safe refuge from their own country’s intolerance in a way that the pot bars and sex shops could not. Small churches emerged from the urban crush and hordes of camera-toting tourists, inviting me into their quiet, solemn interior just as they’d invited minority sects whose beliefs had marked them out for discrimination. Small Catholic churches in times of Protestant intolerance (and vice versa) thrived here, as did humble little synagogues that operated without interference or malice from the city’s fathers.

Around a corner from a busy street, a small brick building in a quiet courtyard bears a faded plaque indicating that English pilgrims came here to worship before heading to the New World. They prayed here, and then boarded the Mayflower to escape persecution in their home country.  They were made to feel comfortable here.

The remnants of more recent times came to the fore as well. I begin to notice the many houses bearing historical plaques indicating that the occupants courageously sheltered Jewish families during the Second Word War.

Not far away a statue of a portly, none-too-attractive dockworker seems at first glance to be a forgettable, bland post-war tribute to laborers. Look closer and you’ll find an inscription indicating that it memorializes the brave stand of the Amsterdam’s dockworkers, who staged the first strike undertaken in Occupied Europe to protest the mistreatment of the city’s Jews by the Nazis.

Statue commemorating the Strike of 1941

Statue commemorating the Strike of 1941

The strike, held a few days after 400 Jewish men were herded together on the spot where the statue now stands, was brutally put down by the SS within hours, and is remembered by few today. The statue’s rotund subject was a real-life non-Jewish dockworker who participated in the strike because he felt it was the right thing to do.

A small room in the city’s historic Dutch Theatre, once a point of assembly for Jews about to be shipped off to concentration camps, holds a humble memorial of three little stones. The memorial seems unimportant. Search for the true story, however, and you’ll find that the three stones represent a local man named Walter Suskind, his wife and small daughter. Suskind smuggled 1,200 Jewish children to safety during the war. In 1945 his work was discovered by the Nazis and he and his family were themselves sent to Auschwitz, never to return.

Hollandsche Schouwburg (Dutch Theatre)

Hollandsche Schouwburg (Dutch Theatre)

Soon I begin to understand how many centuries’ worth of brave Amsterdammers have risked it all to welcome and aid minorities in dark times, and that courage was common place in the face of tyranny. It underscores the strength of Amsterdam’s heritage of tolerance more than any fashionable pot bar or cheesy sex shop ever could.

My point is, the “what” that you look for isn’t nearly as important as the act of searching for new ways to connect to a city’s unique DNA. The important thing is looking from a thematic perspective, searching for that thread of history that informs its culture. This can provide the prism through which you can see through the here-and-now veneer and access the richness of a city’s historical character, forged in the crucible of time and trial.

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Category: Europe, Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel Writing

September 3, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Relaxing on Cambodia’s coast in Kampot

Cost/day:

$25 per person

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

It was strange watching fisherman on the river covered from head to toe, including a sort of ski mask, in scorching heat.

Sept4

Describe a typical day:

Work and homeschool in the early morning, as always. Breakfast would be at our guesthouse.

We spent a lot of time simply relaxing at the beach or on the river. Our days were spent exploring the region by motorbike. We rode over to Kep, a nearby beach town. Other days we found caves, salt fields, little bars with docks we leapt off of into the river below, a national park we biked through and a pepper plantation, a local crop that is renowned the world over.

Evenings we usually spent in the small town, along the river, eating at one of the local restaurants.

Sept1

Sept2

Sept5

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

I talked with one local about her experience living in Australia for two years and her return to Cambodia. She explained that for years she wanted to return to Australia to live because there were far more opportunities for her.

However, she was very happy to report that this slowly began to change, for her, about eight years back when tourism began to take off. She said twelve years ago the idea that she would have more opportunities in Cambodia than in Australia was unfathomable. But for her this was now true.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

I really like the laid back pace of Kampot. After the heaviness of Phnom Penh it was just what we needed. It’s a small town so everything is easy, e.g. finding food, parking, accommodation. People are very friendly and the river is beautiful, especially at sunset.

There was little I disliked about Kampot. If I had to choose something it would be that a lot of the roads are under construction, so, depending on your location, the air can be extremely dusty.

Sept6

Describe a challenge you faced:

Getting lost on the motorbike in the midday sun with no water, Google maps being inoperable and an inability to speak Khmer. There were very few people we could even stop to ask directions and no real way to explain the main road—any main road—we were looking for.

We finally found a small gas station and were able to get our bearings and make it out of there. Three people crammed on a motorbike in that heat, with that much dust and no water is something we can luckily now laugh about.  Not so at the time.

Sept3

What new lesson did you learn?

We’d already learned this lesson before, but I guess we needed to learn it again. When venturing outside of town be sure to bring a paper map in addition to a map on your phone. Being able to point to any spot on the map will save if you have no way of telling a willing person where you want to go. Oh, and bring more water than you think you need.

Sept7

Where next?

Bali, Indonesia

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Category: Asia, Vagabonding Field Reports

August 24, 2014

An interview with Freelance Writer Joe Henley

As part of some tips for successful travel and freelance writing, I decided to interview Joe Henley. He is a Canadian freelance writer and death metal singer for Taiwanese band Revilement who has spent the past few years living in Taiwan, and will released his debut novel, “Sons of the Republic”, on American imprint Library Tales Publishing on September 12th 2014.

He’s an example of someone who set out to live in a foreign country and worked hard to realize the “writer’s dream”. I asked him a few questions to bring his experience as a useful example for other budding wannabe Vagabonding writers. read on… and as Joe says, keep writing.

How did you become a writer in Taiwan? Is being a white English native speaker an asset to break into a foreign country’s journalistic and media scene?

I started off working in academic publishing. I worked a somewhat dreadful desk job for years, actually, churning out articles and test materials for ESL publications. For that particular job, being a native English speaker was definitely part of what got me hired. There are labor laws here preventing companies from hiring anyone for jobs related to the ESL field who don’t come from certain countries wherein English is the official language. Then I started off getting freelance gigs on the side, and gradually built up my stable of regular jobs to the point where I was able to quit that job almost two years ago. It was fucking glorious.

Joe Henley (11 of 33) copyIs writing your main source of income, or is it still some sort of a part time job?

Now it’s my main source of income, though I do still supplement with other work. I’ve got a bit of a radio voice so I can get gigs doing voice overs for various things here and there. But mainly it’s writing and editing now.

Is travel writing a viable market in Taiwan, or do you have to write across different topics/platforms to make ends meet?

I think you definitely have to write across different topics and platforms to make a living. I do some travel writing for various publications, but it’s such a niche thing when you’re only dealing with one country, and a relatively small one at that. One of my regular jobs besides travel writing is covering the local music scene, but I also write about politics, sports, the arts—anything, really. You have to hustle to make ends meet, and that means being as diverse as possible. (more…)

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Category: Asia, Expat Life, Lifestyle Design, Travel Writing, Vagabonding Life

August 17, 2014

A week in Nepal

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

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

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

(more…)

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Category: Asia, General

August 14, 2014

7 paradises for 7 loves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zakynthos

 

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

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

golden temple

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

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

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

rathaus

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

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

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

sheep in new zealand

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

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

switzerland

 

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

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

soup with scallops

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

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

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

what was this thing?

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

 

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

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

August 13, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Organic Chocolate Farm in Costa Rica

Chocolate Farm and Swimming - 83

Cost/day: $20/person

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

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

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

Chocolate Farm and Swimming - 24

Describe a typical day:

We’re staying in the mountains of the Central Valley, with a gorgeous view of the ocean waaaay off in the distance. Grandma and grandpa have come to visit, in anticipation of the birth of our sixth child. We’re all a little antsy just waiting around, so we decided to have an adventure. Enter the trip to the chocolate farm, just an hour from our house.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

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

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

Chocolate Farm and Swimming - 32

Chocolate Farm and Swimming - 37

Chocolate Farm and Swimming - 46

Chocolate Farm and Swimming - 42

Describe a challenge you faced:

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

What new lesson did you learn?

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

Chocolate Farm and Swimming - 60

Chocolate Farm and Swimming - 69

Chocolate Farm and Swimming - 75

Where next?

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

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

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Category: Central America, Destinations, General

August 12, 2014

A budget guide to roadtripping Australia

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

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

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

Transport and accommodation

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

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

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

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

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

Relocation deals

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

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

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

Take a look at;

imoova.com

DriveNow.com.au

Relocations2go.com

Apollo Camper – Relocation deals

Vroom Vroom Vroom – Relocation deals

Britz – Relocation deals

Pimp your ride

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

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

Stay for free

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

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

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

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

Be a savvy saver

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take advantage of free stuff

Seek out free WiFi in cafes and public spaces.

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

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

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

There’s an App for that

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

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

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Category: Oceania

August 10, 2014

The Value of Time

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

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

Enjoying life.

Enjoying life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 27, 2014

Enlightening Self-inflicted Ruin Travel

JakartaPunkMarcoFerrarese

The air is unbreathable, hot, and terribly humid. The air conditioner perched at the top of the wall at my right is just an empty plastic shell that reminds me that there could be some extra comfort, if someone had cared to replace the wiring. Instead, rivulets of sweat pour down my forehead and temples, sliding down my spine and flowing over the small of my back, soaking into the elastic of my underwear. I had to take my shirt off to endure this first Indonesian live test.

               “Cut the set short, I can’t breathe…” Sam screams from behind the drums, his man-boobs twitch, lucid with sweat.

               “Why man? They are loving it!” I answer screaming on top of amplifier white noise between two songs.

               “I said cut it fucker, I can’t fucking breathe! I am feeling sick! There’s no air!”

OK then, roger.

This is the best travel I have done recently, hands down.

We are at the back of Khansa Studio’s rehearsal room in Pamulang, somewhere in the sprawling suburbs of Jakarta, nestled between a row of halfstacks and a small melee of young Indonesian hardcore punk believers. They are probably twenty, but the room’s so cramped it feels like they are hundreds, all blowing hot air in our faces. One has just finished walking up the wall to my right, supported by a bunch of other lunatics pushing him at the small of his back. From my perspective, I believe for a moment that the room is rolling sideways, and this guy’s trying to run with it. When Sam hits the last of four strokes with his sticks, we launch into the last song of the night, and I wonder if this still makes sense. Looking at how the kids spin and jump and crawl on top of each other, forcing me to step back against the amps, I am tempted to say “yes”. But reflecting on the fact that I am sweating as if I were playing guitar inside of a Finnish sauna, our drummer is having a respiratory crisis, and tonight – and for the rest of this tour – we will never get paid a single rupiah, my European heritage materializes with a hammer to smash the bubble of underground dedication right before my eyes. Why are you doing this, Marco?

I don’t know. Probably because these days I only conceive traveling as a concoction of brutal anthropology, self-inflicted ruin and mind-numbing exploration of the weirdest fringes available in the world. But it does indeed make me feel good, for I know that I’m probably not the only one, but certainly one of the few, to have had this vision and this cross. Suddenly all of the problematic divides among travelers and tourists disappear, because they are not important anymore. I’m only trying to make my time on Earth meaningful to my own self, I guess. Is there anything wrong with it?

MARCO FERRARESE is a metalpunk guitarist who travelled extensively and lived in Italy, the United States, China, Australia and Malaysia. Since 2009 he’s been based in Southeast Asia as a writer, hardcore punk musician and researcher. He travelled from Mongolia to Australia in 2009, and hitchhiked from Singapore to Milano through Silk Road routes and the Middle East in 2012. He blogs at monkeyrockworld.com. Marco’s first Asian pulp novel Nazi Goreng  was published in November 2013 on Monsoon Books. Follow him @monkeyrockworld

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