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…)

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (0) 
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…)

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (0) 
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?

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (0) 
Category: Asia, Europe, Images from the road, Oceania

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

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (0) 
Category: Adventure Travel, Asia, On The Road

July 11, 2014

Lesson from Siberia: making it till morning

Camping in Siberia

(Camping in Siberia)

Earlier this year, I rode a Ural motorcycle and sidecar through Siberia, up 1800km of ice roads and ending in the Arctic Circle. It was one hell of a journey which taught me how to survive in extreme sub-zero temperatures. More importantly, it expanded my limits and showed me what I was capable of.

One of the most important lessons happened on the second night of the trip – our first attempt camping out. Now, I don’t know about you, but I had never camped in extreme cold before. Sure – I had tested out my equipment on a -20C night in South Dakota, but there is a world of difference once you get below -30C. That night was mild, compared to the rest of the trip, but it still hit -32C.

So – we setup camp and tried to building a fire. We could make a lot of smoke, but couldn’t get a strong fire blazing. Fortunately, with the help of a good MSR camp stove, we were able to boil enough water to fill our bellies with pelmeni. Around 9pm we called it a night. I was riding solo, so I had a tent to myself. Quickly I stripped down to base layers and stuffed the upper layers into my sleeping bag to keep them from freezing. After the long day, I fell asleep quickly.

Waking up inside the tent

(Waking up inside the tent)

Around midnight, I woke up and realized that I couldn’t feel my toes. Now, one of my biggest fears was getting frostbite and loosing a few digits. I could feel the panic rising; but, after a few slow breaths, I was able to get it under control. I tried flexing my toes, but they wouldn’t move. I took a moment to think about my options – get up and try to get my blood flowing? Aside from my feet, I was warm enough in the sleeping bag. I didn’t know how much body heat I’d lose by getting out. I wasn’t sure how well I’d be able to stand on my numb feet. Too many unknowns, so I decided to stay where I was and move my legs to get blood flowing. After a few minutes of that, my core was getting warmer, but my toes were still numb. Time for a different tack. I had just enough room in my sleeping bag to bring one foot at a time up within reach. I used my hands to manually flex my toes and warmed them up by contact. After a few minutes, I could feel them again and was able to move them just a bit. I switched feet and repeated.

Each time I would put a foot down to work on the other one, it would go numb again. I just couldn’t seem to keep them going without working them with my hands. I kept at it. After I was sure eons had passed, I checked the time, only to be disappointed that only a few minutes had gone by. I began to think things through – I had several hours to go until the sun would come out and temperatures would begin to rise. Would I be able to make it until morning? Did I have another choice?

So that eternally long night, I kept at it – switching feet every few minutes and wishing I could fast forward to morning. I couldn’t control time, though, all I had control over was my will to endure. I began to relax and just focused on the task at hand.  Eventually, the sun began to rise. As soon as the inside of the tent began to glow, I breathed a sigh of relief and knew that I would be okay.

The moment I knew I'd be okay

(The moment I knew I’d be okay)

I’ve been taught that lesson before – but sometimes a reminder is necessary. Relax, breath and just focus on what is right in front of you. Keep at it long enough and you’ll eventually make it through to the other side.

Later on during the trip, I camped out in harsher temperatures (-43C) but had a much easier time. Partially I’d say it was due to my body acclimating the the environment and also because I learned a couple tricks — like filling a water bottle with boiling water and putting it at the bottom of your sleeping bag to warm it up. That definitely prolongs your comfort and allows you to get a bit of sleep – but trust me, either way, the mornings are still painful.

It’s funny how that these moments turn into a fond memory. Time and distance do strange things.

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

 

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (0) 
Category: Adventure Travel, Asia, On The Road, Vagabonding Advice

July 2, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: UNESCO World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang, Laos

Cost/day:

$30/day per person

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

A stroll through the Luang Prabang morning market brought something different to my senses every time. One morning, I saw a woman with a pile of chickens on the ground for sale. I thought the chickens were dead, but one of them started to get up and the woman shushed it like a dog and it laid back down. A little further down, a large tub of massive frogs awaited purchase next to huge cuts of fish and pig faces staring back at me. Most of the food lay on the ground on tarps.

JuneVaga10

Describe a typical day:

After breakfast, homeschool and work are completed in the morning, we head out to do things like swim in the Mekong, visit the unexploded ordinances center, take a hands-on class in traditional weaving and natural dyeing or rice farming. We did a lot of wandering around the beautiful, quiet town just getting lost and finding little gems as well as riding a motorbike on the outskirts of town.

JuneVaga4

 

JuneVaga2

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

It was interesting talking with our guide from the rice farming course. He graduated from college, spoke English very well and told us he could have chosen to work in an office. In fact, for a time he had worked in an office. But he grew up near the farm and the idea of being able to work outside everyday was more appealing to him than sitting in an office, even if it meant he would be paid less.  (more…)

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (0) 
Category: Asia, Vagabonding Field Reports

June 17, 2014

Visiting Sulawesi Indonesia: Guide recommendation for Dodo Mursalim

Dodo Mursalim

We spent a couple of weeks researching Sulawesi and found very little information for independent travel on the island. Then, I lucked into Dodo Mursalim’s contact details on a TripAdvisor forum.

Dodo turned out to be a gold mine of information and he bent over backwards to help us do Sulawesi our way.

He rented us his little house behind the mosque for a fraction of what the cheapest hotels in Makassar could offer, and it has a kitchen and washing machine! He arranged an 8 seater van rental for us for the price of a much smaller car through any of the agencies we’d contacted on the island (car rental on Sulawesi can be expensive!) and he was willing to let us self drive, which is not commonly done on this island, with terrible roads and questionable signage. He taxied us all over Makassar for three days out of the goodness of his heart, helped arrange our three days on Samalona island, and sent us off on our road trip armed with his recommendations for hotels in various towns and a list of phone numbers of contacts in different places.
Dodo has an almost uncanny network of friends and cohorts on Sulawesi.
Four separate times during our very unplanned journey around the island, complete strangers would walk up, shake our hand and say, “Mr. Dodo says, “Hello!” He wanted me to make sure you knew that his recommendation for a certain hotel is full… or can I help you with a guide… or do you need help finding….” He was attentive to the highest degree, calling to check in with us, calling ahead of us to be sure that the arrangements we had made (independent of him) and just mentioned in passing, were properly sorted and awaiting us suitably. We have never encountered a tour guide of his calibre anywhere in the world, but certainly not in the developing world, where we expect things to go a little haywire.

Nothing goes haywire on Mr. Dodo’s watch; nothing.

He also does magic tricks, tells jokes, and speaks nearly perfect English. If you’re inclined to an adventure on Sulawesi, have Mr. Dodo be your man on the ground in Makassar. He can arrange any journey you want, guided, or solo, and he’ll take care of you like you’ve never been taken care of before.

Contact info for Dodo Mursalim
donow77(AT)hotmail(DOT)com

https://www.facebook.com/dodo.mursalim

http://dodopenman.blogspot.com (visit this page and you’ll see our picture and entry in his guestbook!)

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (0) 
Category: Adventure Travel, Asia, Destinations, Hospitality

June 4, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Experiencing life on a river in Nong Khiaw, Laos

Cost/day:

$20 per person.

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

Both strange and incredibly, incredibly sad was seeing the many uses of empty US cluster-bomb shells. Laos was shelled continually by US planes during the Vietnam War. Injuries and deaths are still occurring to this day due to unexploded ordinances from these bombs, mostly cluster munitions. Seeing the use of the empty bombshells for flower pots, tables, etc. was shocking. Learning of this continuing–and mostly silent–tragedy was disturbing to put it mildly.

LaosVG

Describe a typical day:

After breakfast we usually do some work and homeschooling. We then head out to explore the area. We may hike to a cave that was used by the local people, including government offices, during the bombing mentioned above. Or we take a boat upriver and tube back, stopping along the way to relax on little islands in the river and watch the water buffalo. We may ride bikes to other caves and explore them with the help of the on-site ten year old guides. Or we may take a boat with a guide and then hike up 100 Waterfalls.

Exploring during the day was generally to a new place, but we always made sure to be back near the river around sunset. Watching the sun go down as the river came alive with children playing and adults coming down for various chores was a highlight. The river was the ultimate meeting point for the town.

laosvag4

laosvag5

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

It was fascinating listening to our guide from the 100 Waterfalls hike. He had been a Buddhist monk for nine years before leaving that life two years prior. Apparently that was enough time outside for him. He was planning to soon reenter the monastery.

Even though he wasn’t quite back in the monastery, he told us that once that decision had been made he once again took a vow of poverty. All money he made being a guide was sent home to his mother.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

I like that it is a small town. I like that the river is the lifeblood of the town. The people are kind and welcoming. The sheer-walled mountains abutting the river create such dramatic beauty. The Lao food is a welcome surprise; so healthy, unique, fresh and flavorful.

The only thing that I didn’t like was the accessibility of the town. The road from Luang Namtha was akin to being on a dusty roller coaster for six hours.

Laos2

Laos1

Describe a challenge you faced:

If I had to pick any challenge in such an easy and peaceful place it would be the minivan ride over. The roads in Laos are notorious for causing motion sickness. They are both winding and full of potholes and ruts. Often the road turns from potholed to dirt and it creates a pretty unpleasant, dusty and jarring experience, hour after hour.

Just sitting back and accepting that this experience was going to be at the very least six hours was a bit of challenge. Not having any control over the situation is hard for me. Traveling full-time has challenged me in this area and after nine months on the road I think I’m marginally better now than when I started. Progress. All in all, though, if that’s the biggest challenge, life isn’t too hard, and it wasn’t in Nong Khiaw.

What new lesson did you learn?

Just remembering to slow down and revel in simple experiences. The majority of my most memorable travel experiences haven’t been seeing the big sites that we all travel so far to see. Many of my favorite moments have been things not listed in a guidebook or shown on travel shows. Simple things in Nong Khiaw like sitting by the river every night, swimming with my wife and daughter, making mudballs with local kids that we kicked around, and just watching and listening as a little town comes alive by the river at dusk. The beauty of the place and those experiences are treasured memories now.

River

Where next?

Luang Prabang, Laos.

 

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (0) 
Category: Asia, Vagabonding Field Reports

May 30, 2014

Becoming a better person via the kindness of strangers

Family in Siberia

(The family we met in Siberia – one of the most memorable nights of the entire trip.)

Last week, I heard that a friend of mine had been in a serious motorcycle accident in Bali. A serious accident – broken ribs, fractured pelvis, collapsed lung. He wrote about the experience – about his injuries, about being restricted to the fetal position in the hospital and now, 2 weeks later, being able to finally stand up for the first time. All amazing things to hear for someone that you care about, but what really struck me about his story was the stranger who helped save his life. A Balinese man, Kung, dropped everything and drove him to the hospital. He then stayed by his side, even skipping meals, to update friends and family, to contact the right people and to translate.

This isn’t a one-time occurrence, not even just once this year. In February, while several of us were riding Urals across the ice roads of Siberia, another friend of mine was in an accident and suffered a compound fracture of his tibia and fibula. Blood everywhere – rushed to the hospital. Many of us were spread across Siberia and weren’t even aware of the accident until days later. Again, a near stranger – in this case a mechanic we had met in a town many kilometers away, dropped everything and rushed up to meet him at the hospital. He then helped translate and ensured things were taken care of.

From my own personal experience, we wouldn’t have been able to make it through Mongolia without the help of strangers. Our ambulance (Volga) just wasn’t the right vehicle to tackle that type of terrain (surprise, surprise) — especially after a freak storm turns the Gobi Desert into an enormous mud bog. We were pulled out of the mud several times by passing truckers and had locals pitch in and help us locate parts to fix our failing steed. After one of our toughest days, and after I plunged off the road and crashed the ambulance into a huge steel pipe, we were taken in by a kind man named Bolt. He gave us a warm meal and a safe place to stay for the night. The next day, when one of our team members decided that he’d had enough, Bolt helped him make arrangements to make it to Ulaanbaatar and fly out.

Again and again, I’m struck by the incredible kindness of strangers and how I, or my friends, may not be here without their generosity. And then I think about whether I live up to these ideals. If I’m honest – sometimes I do, and other times I don’t. I’m generous with my friends and I try to help strangers out when I can, but too often, I pass people and think, “Someone else will help them out.” I want to help, but usually I’m late for X or have Y many things to do. I let my urgency overpower their need. But, I’m making progress. Over the last few years – especially since my trek through Mongolia, I do that less and less. I realize that it’s more important to push back on my “urgent priorities” and focus on the importance of helping someone truly in need. I am beginning to live up to the examples that these strangers have set.

While I don’t look for anything in return, I these actions often pay dividends. I’m reminded of another story from Siberia. After an incredibly hard and frustrating day, we were forced to backtrack many kilometers. We were disheartened and incredibly cold. Along the way back, we saw a man walking in the darkness with his son. We learned that their snowmobile had died and they were trying to get back to town. We gave them a lift and when we arrived at their home, they invited us in. Trust me, after freezing all day, the thought of warming up for a few minutes was irresistible. That few minutes quickly turned into a whole evening. We were invited in to clean up in their sauna. (Oh man, I wish I was a better writer – simply to convey how incredible a hot sauna is after you’ve spend the day trying to keep your fingers and toes moving.) Then we were invited to sit down and share a home cooked meal with them – one that never seemed to end. Then we spent the night getting to know each other, sharing stories and finally they made room for us to sleep in their daughter’s bedroom. (Again, if only I was a better writer – having a warm place to sleep after camping our first night camping out in -32C weather was… incredible.) What we did was kind, but in the grand scheme of things, relatively small. We saved them from walking several kilometers back to their home. The evening they gave us in return was one of the best nights of the entire trip.

So – here’s my question for you. When was the last time you helped a stranger? I don’t mean donating to charity (which is noble) or giving someone a couple of bucks or even giving someone directions. When was the last time that you saw someone in need and went out of your way and really put in the effort to help them out?

Many of us give credence to the Golden Rule – let’s make sure we live up to our side of the bargain.

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

 

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (1) 
Category: Asia, Ethics, Hospitality, Vagabonding Advice, Vagabonding Life

May 16, 2014

How lessons I learned while traveling have helped me through family tragedy (and can help you)

While this is my story, I’m sharing it because we all have family and those that we love. When we least expect it, tragedies happen and the skills that we hone while traveling can be invaluable in getting us through.

Chris Plough - Siberia - 20140218

Camping in Siberia en route to the Arctic Circle (-43C)

Truth is – this year has been a roller coaster of euphoria and darkness. In February, I rode a Ural motorcycle through some of the harshest ice roads in Siberia and into the Arctic Circle. Hitting the finish line was exhilarating – an accomplishment that I will remember forever. Just hours after reaching Salekhard, I was faced with some devastating news – that Al, a man who had been a mentor and a father figure since I was 16, was gravely ill. I immediately began planning my trip home, so that we could spend what time was left together. By the time I hit Moscow, however, I had learned that he had passed. I’ll tell the story of that night another time, but suffice to say – I’m glad that I was in the company of fellow travelers (thanks Dalbs, Dylan and Karan). After returning home and helping with his arrangements, I was also faced with the challenge that both of my grandfathers are fighting terminal diseases.

Now, this may sound like the pit of despair – and that I’m likely kept from all sharp objects and belts – but the truth is that I’m doing as well as can be expected. Of course, some days are better than others – but the lessons that I’ve learned while traveling have been key to putting all of this in perspective.

Face difficult things
Many of my travels have included an element of danger – from surviving sub-zero Siberia to breaking down in the middle of the Gobi Desert. Time and again, I’ve been taught the value of facing difficult situations head-on. I’m not perfect – all I wanted to do when I learned about each of these tragedies was to put my head down and ignore what was happening. If I don’t acknowledge it – it isn’t happening, right? Wrong – ignoring the problem only allows it to grow larger or saps away the time we have left with those we love. As conscious beings, we can’t control what happens, but we can control our reactions. Regardless of what I “wanted” to do, I chose to face reality and accept the situation as it stands – which then gave me the freedom to act upon it, instead of hiding from reality.

Freedom to move
Once I had accepted the situation, the next step was to travel and spend time with my family. To some, this may seem trivial – but many people (including myself a few years ago) are mired down with false responsibilities and material possessions that keep us cemented in place. One of the greatest benefits to the Vagabonding lifestyle is the freedom it creates to follow the next adventure and travel as you desire. In this case, that power allowed me to immediately fly to El Paso to help Al’s family and then up to Washington to spend quality time with my grandfather. Soon, I will ride to Missouri to do the same with my other grandfather. This doesn’t mean that I dropped everything, but simply that my lifestyle allows me to work wherever I am and my “home base” is wherever I happen to be. I know that years from now, I’ll be able to look back on this time and realize that this flexibility is one of my greatest freedoms.

Enjoy the moment
When I’m in the middle of an adventure, I’m much more in the moment – my thoughts are nearly all present, rather than lingering on the regrets of the past or stuck on the fears of the future. There’s a lot of research around this state (being in the zone, mindfulness) and ways to achieve it (meditation, focus, etc) – but put simply, it is a practicable state and the more you experience it, the easier it is to achieve. When I’m spending time with my family, there are a lot of emotions that try to pull me out of the present, and into past memories or anxiety about the coming days. The truth is, neither of these are the right place to be – instead, the right place is here and now, while we are together and enjoying each other’s company. For us, sharing meals and playing cards at night, while joking with each other is a special time that I’m grateful for.

The journey is long and ever changing
One of the greatest lessons that my adventures taught me is that he terrain change down the road. So – no matter what is happening and how dark the times in front of you may be, with persistence and endurance, you can make it through. This is a lesson that I often need to be re-taught, which is exactly what happened while I was in Siberia. I’ll share the full story another time, but the core of it is – on the first night camping, I spent several hours waiting for the sun to rise, while manually flexing my feet with my hands in order to stave off frostbite. It was a long, torturous night that I wasn’t sure I’d make it through. Minute-by-minute and flex-by-flex I did. Eventually the sun rose and I can say that all of my lil’ piggies are warm and pink today. This lesson helps today when days get tough and emotionally dark. I know that if we just endure and continue on, that there will be lighter times ahead. Sure enough, there always are.

Knowing my life will be full by the time I get there
As I watch my grandfather’s body get weaker and as he becomes more dependent on the rest of us, I can’t help but realize that there will be a time when I reach the same point. We all will. It’s inevitable – we get older and die — quickly, quietly or slowly. I do find comfort knowing that, like my grandfather, whenever I reach that point – my life will have been as full as possible. Sure, there are opportunities that I didn’t take, too many hours spent in front of a television and potential lovers that I shied away from — but on whole, I can look back at my life satisfied. I know that I took advantage of the time I had and made a difference in the lives of those around me. Like the boy scout motto – try and leave this world a little better than you found it.

Look – there is no silver bullet when facing family tragedies. Nothing is going to make all of the pain go away or magically make it better. Like every test, however, you control how you perceive and respond to difficulty. Every challenge has a silver lining and in the case of mine, I’m fortunate to have the freedom and wherewithal to make the most of our time together. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Neither should you.

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

 

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (1) 
Category: Asia, Ethics, Vagabonding Advice, Vagabonding Life
Main

Bio

Books

Stories

Essays

Video

Interviews

Events

Writers

Marco

Paris

Vagabonding.net

Contact


Vagabonding Audio Book at Audible.com

Marco Polo Didnt Go There
Rolf's new book!


Vagabonding
   Vagabonding

RECENT COMMENTS

here: The various Hindi language state based news papers in Uttar Pradesh are fantastic...

source: My friends, there is certainly an reply to this problem: News blogs or on-line...

counselling services luton: It’s nearly impossible to find educated people about...

Airport Transfers Barnet: Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you...

http://mrcriders.x4x.us/short-article-reveals-the-undeniable-facts-about-finance-major-and-how-it-can-affect-you/: ...

http://foros.cinvestav.mx/UserProfile/tabid/60/userId/4792/language/en-US/Default.aspx: ...

organic farming research foundation: Tough the main intention is to provide food and...

probiotic products: Hi there it’s me, I am also visiting this site on a regular...

Susan (was)Oliver: Travelled to Katmandu from Gravesend (Kent) inApril 1965 with the...

Caroline Macomber: :) indeed, a longing

SPONSORED BY :



CATEGORIES

TRAVEL LINKS

ARCHIVES

RECENT ENTRIES

Is all writing travel writing?
Thomas Swick on the merits of traveling alone
Vagabonding Case Study: Michael Hodson
Why We Buy Dumb Souvenirs
Vagabonding Case Study: Ligeia and Mindy
The power of nostalgia for travel
Vagabonding Field Report: The Great Ocean Road
Are you afraid to travel?
William Least Heat-Moon on why we travel
An interview with Freelance Writer Joe Henley


Subscribe to this blog's feed
Follow @rolfpotts