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!)

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Category: Adventure Travel, Asia, Destinations, Hospitality

June 13, 2014

Working on the Road: Austin, TX

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(Working on this article in Austin – Vintage Heart Cafe)

My last couple of articles have been a bit higher-level (How lessons I learned while traveling have helped me through family tragedy and Becoming a better person via the kindness of strangers). Today, though, I’ve decided to post something much more tactical – the places I’ve enjoyed working over the past couple of weeks while in Austin, TX.

I’m riding my motorcycle across the western United States, in order to catch up with friends and interview them for my upcoming podcast. That means balancing a lot of work with a lot of fun. Austin seemed like the perfect starting point, since I’m considering moving down here. It was also a central place to meet up with my dear friend Stephen Blahut, so that we could decompress and brainstorm on our upcoming creative projects.

While I was here – I started looking for places to work. Coffee shops are always easy to find and Yelp reviews help – but I couldn’t find the info I was looking for: Internet speed, access policies, likelihood of finding a table, power outlet options, …); so I decided to start compiling it myself. In the process, it’s made me aware of the specialties of each place. Bennu is great for late-night work because they’re open 24/7. Hot Mama is a great place to record podcasts and to upload videos. Vintage Heart is a great place to come download a bunch of media. Cenote is just plain cool.

Now, this is by no means a comprehensive list – hell, it doesn’t even cover a fraction of Austin. If you’re caught on the east side, though and are looking for a place to work, here’s the places I can recommend. Got a favorite spot? Leave a comment and recommend it.

(Note: I’m not affiliated in any way with these shops – just appreciate what they offer.)

WorkingInAustin-Cafes

(Cafes in Austin – click to enlarge)

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

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Category: General, North America, On The Road, Travel Tech, Vagabonding Life

June 11, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Living the beach life in Las Peñitas, Nicaragua

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Cost/day: $30/day

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

After crossing two borders in one day, and hanging out in León and Las Peñitas, we’ve finally found a place to stay for a little while.

My oldest son discovered a bat on the floor in the room where’s he’s staying in our rented beach house. He tried to let it go outside, but it doesn’t fly. It crawled up a coconut tree, then glided into the attic of the neighbors house… oops. Sorry neighbors.

Describe a typical day:

In the morning we do study time with the kids, then they spend a few hours working on their projects (like creating with clay or drawing and coloring) while my husband and I do our work (with breaks for meals, which we eat together). Every evening we take a walk on the beach and watch the sunset. When we need groceries, we drive into the colonial city of León.

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What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

Like: Loving this beach. It’s great for beginner surfers (like my husband and kids — I’m not surfing, because I’m 7 months pregnant). It has beautiful sunsets, great sand and is good for wading and swimming at low tide.

León is a quaint city, with dozens of cathedrals. Doing our shopping there is a pleasure.

Dislike: Mosquitoes. Bats. We moved here in November and it was mosquito season. We were eaten alive. Hundreds of mosquito bites. Ahhhhh! And there’s a couple of families of bats that have taken up residence in the roof.

Las Peñitas has a great beach, and a great surf, but the town itself is run down. It’s up and coming, and there are a couple of nice rentals, but many of them are sketchy.

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Describe a challenge you faced:

Dealing with the mosquitoes was an annoying challenge, until we moved into a house that was on the beach. The ocean breezes helped to eliminate them, although we still put on pants and long sleeves in the morning and evenings, and slept under mosquito nets.

Oh, and I’ve had to take multiple cold showers per day, and sit in front of a fan from 10 am until 5pm. That’s what comes of living on the coast while 7 months pregnant.

And where will we have this baby??

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What new lesson did you learn?

Every travel experience offers joy and disappointment, pleasure and pain, beauty and the unsightly. Traveling well is learning how to embrace both.

Where next?

A housesitting opportunity has come available in Costa Rica. I think it will be a good place to have a baby.

Learn how to become location independent this year, connect with me on Facebook, or join our Fantastic Family Fridays.

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Category: Central America, Family Travel, Vagabonding Field Reports

June 10, 2014

How to sell a campervan in Australia

A 12 month working holiday visa is becoming a rite of passage for those graduating college and university. Offering the opportunity to take a step into the unknown, it is a time to sit in on a master class at the university of life.

Popular amongst those who spend a year in Australia is the quintessential Aussie road trip. Encompassing some of the world’s best driving routes an overland adventure offers an education quite unlike that which you’ll find in a classroom.

While the adventure itself offers the chance to overcome challenges and problem solve on the fly, the logistics of buying and selling your vehicle provide a valuable lesson in the economics of trade and the finer points of investment.

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Crossing the Nullarbor Plain by Benjamin Jones

In part one of this series I looked at the best way to go about purchasing a suitable campervan in Australia. I highlighted the importance of understanding the market, checking every aspect of a suitable vehicle and ensuring you consider all the factors impacting your budget.

Today I’m going to take a look at the best practises for selling your vehicle after you’ve travelled the length and breadth of the hinterlands, rural outback and rugged coastlines on offer in Australia.

For those with an eye for detail there’s a potential profit to be made on your initial investment. Having already followed the advice laid out in part one of this series and invested wisely in a reliable and well maintained vehicle, now is your chance to recoup your money.

Preparing your campervan for sale

 

The first step to sell your camper is to prepare it for sale. Remember that when it comes to online advertising it pays to look good.

 

Often buyers are unable to see potential in grubby vehicles in need of small repairs. Every suggestion listed above will add value to your camper.

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The Great Australian Bight by Benjamin Jones

Preparing your advert

 

The next step is to list your vehicle for sale.

I highly recommend doing this as far in advance of your departure as feasible. Include a suitable hand over date on your advert and inform buyers of your itinerary up until that date should they wish to view it.

It’s much better to have interested buyers waiting for you rather than desperately searching for buyers last minute.

Now that your camper is clean remove all of your belongings and take some photographs with which to advertise the camper online.

 

The more information you can pack into your advert the more interest you will have from buyers who believe your camper to be the most well equipped to carry them around Australia.

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Crossing into the Northern Territory by Benjamin Jones

Advertise

 

Once you’ve collated all the information for your advert.

Maximise your coverage by investing time into covering as many outlets as possible.

Public noticeboards

As you approach the end of your road trip post details of your camper on public notice boards in supermarkets and hostels close to the location in which you plan to sell. Make up some cards detailing the basic specs, asking price and your contact info and carry them with you.

Online Classifieds

There are a number of places online where you can advertise your vehicle for free. Note that some charge a final selling fee if sold as a result of your advert on their platform.

Free to list;

Gumtree

Cars Guide

Just Think Cars

Locanto

Oz Ads

List at a fee;

Trading Post

Caravan Camping Sales

eBay

Car Markets

Sydney Travellers Market

In Print Classifieds

Investigate the value in advertising in local newspapers and circulars. Consider readership numbers and the type of buyer you will be accessing through this format. I would suggest that publications aimed at the retired and student market would be most worthwhile.

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Hiking through Katherine Gorge by Benjamin Jones

Pricing considerations

 

Consider psychological price barriers when listing your campervan for sale.

$3, 990 is much more appealing to a buyer’s subconscious than $4,300. Price your vehicle accordingly.

Don’t forget to factor in room for negotiation. It is unlikely that a buyer will offer you your asking price so have in mind your minimum price when constructing your initial sale price.

Channel your inner car salesman

 

When a prospective buyer comes to view your campervan make sure you highlight its best features, talk about the superb experience you’ve had travelling the country and how the campervan has performed.

Make sure your insurance policy covers prospective buyers taking a test drive.

Answer any questions as thoroughly as possible and be honest with regard to any damage or broken features.

Have all relevant paperwork organised in a folder. This not only allows you to show the buyer the full service history but it promotes an attitude of responsibility and care.

Barter respectfully, if a buyer makes a low offer explain why you can’t let the vehicle sell for that much and then give them your lowest price.

Complying with state regulations

 

Just as was the case when you purchased your campervan, buyers and sellers are required to comply with regulations set out by the state in which you plan to sell. Below I’ve collated some useful links pertaining to requirements of the seller in each of the seven states;

Victoria

New South Wales

Queensland

South Australia

Western Australia

Tasmania

Northern Territory

Australia Capital Territory

Note that while not all states require the seller to provide a recent vehicle safety inspection certificate, having one to show potential buyers instils confidence and may provide you with a stronger position when the inevitable negotiations begin.

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A misty morning on the Nullarbor Plain by Benjamin Jones

 

Closing the deal

 

Put it down in writing, make up a receipt for any money that changes hands, detail exactly what has been paid and the terms of the sale. The NRMA have a great template here.

Always write ‘Sold as is, where is’ on the receipt and make sure the buyer is aware of this agreement.

Be sure to sign the registration document and retain the buyers’ section to send to the local traffic authority.

Remember to cancel any insurance and roadside assistance plans.

For those who invest their time and money wisely, buying and selling a campervan in Australia can be a great way to utilise your travel fund for a cost effective Aussie escape.

With the potential to recoup your investment in full, take advantage of free transport and accommodation for the duration of your trip, and possibly earn some additional funds to offset the cost of fuel, it is well worth considering buying instead of renting a vehicle for your epic Australian Road Trip.

Have you sold a campervan in Australia? Tell me about your experience. Do you have any advice to add?

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Category: Oceania

June 7, 2014

Slumming the Golden Arches

Golden Arches, Barstow Station

Image credit

This month marks the beginning of student-travel season in Europe, which means that — at any given moment — continental McDonald’s restaurants will be filled with scores of American undergraduates. Quiz these young travelers, and they’ll give you a wide range of reasons for seeking out McDonald’s — the clean restrooms, the air conditioning, the fact that it’s the only place open during festivals or siesta. A few oddballs will even claim they are there for the food.

European onlookers will tell you (with a slight sneer) that these itinerant Yanks are simply seeking the dull, familiar comforts American culture. And this explanation might be devastatingly conclusive were it not for the fact that European McDonalds also happen to be crammed this time of year with travelers from Japan, Brazil, Israel, New Zealand, Argentina, Korea, Canada, India, Taiwan, Australia, Mexico, South Africa, and — yes — neighboring European countries.

Indeed, despite its vaunted reputation as a juggernaut of American culture, McDonald’s has come to function as an ecumenical refuge for travelers of all stripes. This is not because McDonalds creates an American sense of place and culture, but because it creates a smoothly standardized absence of place and culture — a neutral environment that allows travelers to take a time-out from the din of their real surroundings. This phenomenon is roundly international: I’ve witnessed Japanese taking this psychic breather in the McDonalds of Santiago de Chile; Chileans seeking refuge in the McDonalds of Venice; and Italians lolling blissfully in the McDonalds of Tokyo.

Before I traveled overseas, I never knew McDonald’s could serve as a postmodern sanctum, and — save the occasional Taco Bell burrito — I rarely ate fast food. This all changed when I moved to Pusan, South Korea ten years ago to teach English. Overwhelmed by the onslaught of new sights, sounds and smells my first week in-country, I retreated to a McDonald’s near my school, where I was able to stretch a Big Mac Meal into three hours of Zen-like oblivion. The appeal of this environment came not from the telltale icons of franchise culture (which I’d always found annoying), but in the simple opportunity to put the over-stimulation of urban Korea on pause. Once I ended my Pusan stint and started traveling across Asia, I retained this habit of occasionally seeking out McDonalds during times of mental exhaustion.

I’ll readily admit here that, within certain hipster circles of indie travel, announcing that you patronize McDonalds is kind of like confessing that you wet your bed or eat your boogers. For many politically minded travelers, McDonald’s is less an eating establishment than it is a broader symbol of cultural degradation and corporate soulnessness. In fact, fast-food franchises have been the target of so much protectionist, environmentalist, and anarchist ire that firebombing a McDonald’s has become a globally standardized symbol of protest — a McDonaldization of dissent, if you will.

(Interestingly, Marlboros are sold worldwide — and American cigarette brands are just as unhealthy and aggressively marketed as American fast food — but for some reason there is not a similar activist reaction. Perhaps this is because there are no Marlboro outlet stores to firebomb — but I suspect it also has to do with subliminal, adolescent-style favoritism. The Marlboro Man is, after all, a handsome tough-guy, whereas Ronald McDonald is a makeup-and-jumpsuit-wearing dork.)

Political gestures aside, I’d wager that the contempt sophisticated travelers hold for McDonald’s has less to do with ethical principle than the fact that fast-food franchises ruin the fantasies of otherness that are an inherent part of travel. To be sure, the aesthetic enjoyment of the Taj Mahal or the Jardin des Tuileries can often feel compromised when the Golden Arches are just a few blocks away.

Look closely, however, and you’ll discover that (despite their placeless ambience) the McDonalds in far-flung places are culturally discernible from the McDonalds you’ll find in Modesto or Milwaukee. In India, for example, a McDonald’s serves chicken “Maharaja Macs” instead of Big Macs (due to Hindu and Muslim taboos against beef and pork), and a door-greeter is often available to assist the middle-class clientele. Moreover, as any Pulp Fiction fan will note, Paris McDonalds offer the option of ordering a frothy beer with le Big Mac.

At times, an international McDonald’s franchise can serve as a kind of measuring stick for cultural nuance. In China, where familial identity is a core virtue (and where a sexually ambiguous bachelor-clown mascot might seem a little weird), Ronald McDonald is known as Uncle McDonald, and he has a wife, Aunt McDonald. In parts of Bangkok, where the laid-back Thai concept of sanuk (lightheartedness) threatens fast-food efficiency, McDonald’s staff members use James Bond-style digital countdown clocks to ensure the food arrives in a timely manner. In Cairo, I witnessed young, middle-class Muslim couples going on chaperoned first-dates in a McDonald’s; in Tel Aviv, the teenage staff got so flustered when I ordered non-kosher cheese on my Big Mac that they forgot to add the beef patties.

Just as fascinating as these local variations of American fast food are the local food chains that copy the McDonald’s model. In Jeddah, for instance, you can join Saudis for a round of halal chicken-burgers at Al Baik; in Tokyo, you can compare the teriyaki burgers at McDonald’s to those served at the Japanese Lotteria chain; at Jollibee in the Philippines (which has exported its franchises to the United States), you can sample chicken, burgers, or a startlingly sweet variation of spaghetti.

Ideally, of course, fast food should play a decidedly minor role in any international sojourn. Still, it can be interesting to learn how the simplest experiences overseas can affect the way you see things when you come home. I recall how, after returning from my first year in Korea, the understated calm of a Great Plains Christmas left me with a severe case of reverse culture shock.

My solution? I headed over to the west 13th Street McDonald’s in Wichita, where my sense of place melted away the moment I walked through the front door. Indeed, as I ate that Kansas Big Mac Meal, I may have as well have been back in Asia.

Tip sheet: A few pointers regarding travel and fast-food
1) Street food is the true fast food.

Remember that fast food didn’t originate with Ray Kroc: Street vendors, who cook local delicacies right in front of you, mastered the art centuries ago. Any city or region you visit will have plenty of street-food specialties: samosas in Mumbai, roasted sweet-potatoes in Quito, crepes in Paris, kosher-dogs in New York, sheep’s-brain-and-falafel sandwiches in Damascus, mandu dumplings in Seoul. And fresh squeezed juice from a guy pushing a cart always trumps a Super-Sized Coke.

2) Save franchise food as a last resort.

Visiting a McDonald’s to temporarily escape the urban hubbub of Kiev or Curitiba or Kuala Lumpur is perfectly normal — but eating there every day is silly and escapist. Granted, travel can be taxing and disorienting, but overcoming these challenges make a journey invigorating. One visit to a Burger King or KFC per week on the road is plenty; any more is a cross-cultural copout.

3) McDonald’s (and other fast food) is easy to avoid.

Irritated by the fact that you can spot the Golden Arches from the Acropolis, Tiananmen Square, or Copacabana Beach? Not to worry: McDonald’s doesn’t make Greece any less Greek, China any less Chinese, or Brazil any less Brazilian. Just hike a block in any direction, and it will be easy to find authentic local food (and the farther you get from the tourist attractions, the cheaper that food will get).

[This Rolf Potts article originally appeared in Yahoo! News on June 5, 2006. All rights reserved.]

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Category: Backpacking, Europe, Food and Drink, Travel Health, Vagabonding Advice

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Category: Asia, Ethics, Hospitality, Vagabonding Advice, Vagabonding Life

May 28, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays, in the heart of a Cyclone

Cost/day
Airlie Beach is a small town but quite competitive from business to business. All camping pitches we tried were no more than $25 which is very affordable compared with other campsites around Australia, but all vary in quality. The same competition goes for the bars and taverns that run the main beach street. Every bar on this strip seems to offer some sort of happy hour and in typical Australian style alcohol is cheap and abundant all day on Sundays. Expect to pay about $5-$10 for a pitcher of beer and some include a free BBQ. The most costly element is the tours that run around the Whitsundays. You could pay upwards of $60 but anything worth seeing would be $110 or more.

Describe a typical day
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What would have been a typical day, turned into a 3 day stopover. We had hit Airlie Beach in the midst of a cyclone warning so it was batton down the hatches. All boats were land locked or stranded on the Islands. We did what any good traveller would do and snuggled up at a bar and drank!

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The atmosphere was high at the local sports bar where we sheltered from the storm. A local band played an array of music from Johnny Cash to Guns and Roses. It seemed every disappointed and stranded traveller had made their way here bringing with them the booming atmosphere, so we danced sang and drank beer until our hearts content. The night is a vague memory but from what I gather it involved building 6 foot beer pitcher towers, at least one table dance and singing Bon Jovi as loud as my vocals would allow! I would happily recollect the end of this night if ever I remember!

After a lot of high winds and torrential downpour, two days later the boats were back on the water and after a long wait we finally boarded a ferry trip around the Whitsundays. Despite the cyclone, the weather had become clear and sunny.

We had researched several trips that ran from Airlie, each of them with their own unique take on a Whitsundays tour. We chose the calm Cruise Whitsunday ferries for half a day on Hamilton Island and half a day on Whitehaven Beach. The tours can also be done over two to three days, again they are competitive so each come at varying prices and qualities.

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So we set sail! It is about 45 minutes from Airlie to Hamilton Island. The captain engaged us with several stories about the islands and pointed out any great photo opportunities. However, hold on to your hats when on the top deck the wind and waters can be a bit choppy!

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Soon we were docking on the beautiful Hamilton Island. To describe my first emotion, it was like stepping into the pages of an Ian Fleming 007 novel. The Island set the perfect James Bond scene – palm trees, exotic villas, yachts I could never afford, alongside bars and restaurants that line the Island front. As the hills stretch up from the bay, various hotel and holiday homes were set amongst the luscious greenery.

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We wanted to explore the Island as best we could so we utilised the local transport. Other than the buses, no cars are allowed on the Island; all residents and tourists alike have the use of golf carts. This gave a quirky character to this holiday island. Rental was tempting but not worth the $80 a day rental we would have spent for only a couple of hours use. We opted for the free bus service that tours the island. This is ideal if you don’t mind a 5 minute wait here and there. All three routes will drop you off at all relevant spots each taking a different course around the Island. As Hamilton is relatively small it doesn’t take long to get to any particular area you desire.

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We stopped at various look out points to enjoy the beauty of our surroundings, taking in the vibrant greens and blues that radiate from the Island and the surrounding waters. All of this beauty is illuminated by the beautiful golden sunlight of the cloudless skies above.

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After many selfies and 101 scenic photos later we jumped back on the bus to stop at the Island’ s hotel! Here we found a beautiful family friendly pool. It was busy but calm. A pool bar served us a couple of beers and we relaxed poolside taking in the sun and enjoying relaxation time. It all felt very tropical, the palm trees hang over offering some much needed shade. However, do bare in mind you have to keep an eye on your watch as it is too easy to let time slip away and miss your ferry!

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We rinsed off and jumped back on the bus to stop off at a local eatery. What you will find on the right tour is that a meal would be included in the ferry cruise. So we headed down to the local tavern. We found there is a great selection of great quality food. I do consider myself a somewhat burger connoisseur and so I opted for the double bacon burger and chips. I was not disappointed. I swigged it down with a beer and sat and watched life go by. Before long it was time to climb back aboard the ferry and onwards to Whitehaven Beach, 30 mins from Hamilton.

At this point the seas had become a bit choppy. This gave us a lot of amusement watching the unfortunate few become drenched with passing waves. This also brought about a few green faces as the boat swayed from left to right and also with great force the boat found itself rocking backwards and forwards. After enduring this roller coaster boat ride before long we had reached our beach destination.

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Stinger suits were handed out, these give protection from the deadly Box Jellyfish that were in the waters for the summer season. We were dropped off at the shore by a barge and made our way onto the beautiful white sands. If we wanted to find paradise this was it. The beautiful sands stretch for over a mile without any disruptions or eyesores to spoil the view. Other than the tourists brought in from the ferries, this island was uninhabited which made it peaceful and calm. I proceeded to scream Wilson in my best Tom Hanks castaway re-enactment, something that apparently only I found funny! So swiftly moving on, it felt good to see a piece of the world that hadn’t been spoiled by a Hilton Hotel or beach condos.

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In our very unforgiving stinger suits we made for the crystal clear waters. It felt good to just lie back and float, staring into the vast blue sky above. We headed back to land, peeled off our suits and led out, topping up our tans and enjoying the warmth of the beautiful sunshine.

The short amount of time on this beach shot by yet again before we soon had to climb back aboard the ferry. We enjoyed a familiar English cream tea with scones, jam and clotted cream, along with various fruits. The only fault with this is trying to devour a cream covered scone and drink a hot cup of coffee with a ship almost doing backflips off a choppy sea. This was a messy affair!

Back on terra firma and after a long day it took all of ten minutes to fall off to sleep in the comfort of our campervan.

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local
The best conversations were with the knowledgable pilot and hosts on the ferry. We were given a detailed history of Captain Cook’s discovery of the Whitsunday’s and the reason it was named so. The trivia is this, Cook discovered the passage on the Christian day of Whitsunday. The Sunday after Whitsun, interesting. We were indulged with brilliant facts of island prices and the vast fortunes spent on developments in various areas. It seemed for a small dent in a billionaire’s fortune you could obtain a small holiday island of your own. I can but dream!

Describe a challenge you faced:
The only challenge for us was waiting and biding our time during the cyclone. We were unlucky to have reached Airlie at this time. We sat watching every detail from the weather reports and talked to locals asking what they predicted. We had our hearts set on seeing the Whitsunday’s and this was put into jeopardy. We had to make a decision as time was not on our side and our schedule was slowly becoming disjointed. Fortunately we stuck it out and despite having to sacrifice other elements of our trip we didn’t regret waiting and exploring the islands.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
I thoroughly enjoyed the Whitsundays, it feels like no other part of Australia. The feeling that you have escaped to a small pocket of paradise. The only dislike was the little amount of time spent on Whitehaven Beach. As we were fortunate enough to have taken the half day trip to Hamilton, we felt we had seen as much as we could have done in the time given. I felt that those who had only paid for a half day trip to Whitehaven were short changed with only 45 mins spent here.

What new lesson did you learn?
Good things come to those who wait!!!

Where next?
Jervis Bay!!!

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Category: General, Oceania

May 25, 2014

Camping Hawaii

A few weeks ago I had the chance to shoot a wedding in Hawaii, and since the flight there is so long, not the mention the fact that Hawaii is my most favorite place ever, I decided to make a week long camping trip out of it. I hadn’t been to the big island (Hawaii) before, so I decided to spend most of my time there.

I managed to get a week’s worth of clothing, a tent, sleeping bag, and a couple pairs of shoes into my larger pack, and all of my camera/computer gear into a (slightly) smaller one. I landed in Oahu on a Wednesday night, and the wedding was on Friday, so I had just over a day to deal with a six hour jet lag. I planned to put my money towards renting a car for $15 a day and camping instead of spending at least $100 a night on hotels. However, I got in a little late the first night, and the people at the rental car agency insisted that I would have a hard time finding my campsite on my first visit there in the dark, so I got a last minute hotel and went straight to bed. Waikiki is a little too urban for me, so I got up to the north shore first thing in the morning and set up my campsite. I camped at Friends of Malaekahana, and I highly recommend it.

They have bathrooms and outdoor showers, which is all you really need on the beach. I spent my downtime reading in the sun, and there was a grocery store nearby for food. Low maintenance camping. My only complaint about this campsite was that it was EXTREMELY windy, so windy that it was difficult to sleep at night with the noise of the wind blowing my tent around. It would be a good idea to try and find a place to pitch your tent where you have a little more coverage from the elements.

The morning after my wedding I took a flight ($140 round trip) from Oahu to the big island. The flight was short and easy. When I landed there I got another rental car and spent my first day in Hilo. I stayed at Hilo Backpacker’s Hostel in a room with seven other women. I think this was the first time I was the youngest person in a hostel (I’m 31), which is almost never the case. In Europe, most hostels are filled with college aged kids, but here one of my roommates even had a walker with her :) The hostel was clean, nice bathrooms, and the people running it were very friendly and gave me good advice on places to check out. I went to Rainbow Falls, then Googled “best beach near Hilo” and found a beautiful beach park a few miles from the hostel.

After a day in Hilo, I drove to Volcanoes National Park, where I camped for one night at Kulanaokuaiki, which was free with your park entrance fee. I was sad that the lava was not currently active, but the park was strange and beautiful. At the end of the road you can literally see where the lava flow stopped and froze on the pavement. The campsite was pretty secluded and not that easy to find, and there were no showers, but it was a pretty site.

The next day I headed to Kona, and I spent three nights camping at Hookena Beach Park. This was possibly my favorite campsite. There were showers, bathrooms, a shaded area on the beach to set up your tent, and families camping and swimming in the ocean. I felt very relaxed and safe here. During the day I would read and take day trips further north past Kailua, where I saw some of the most beautiful beaches in Hawaii. There is one beach you can hike into that is not as well known, called Makalawena. When I got there I only saw a couple other people who were sneaking in to camp for the night. I read that you aren’t supposed to camp there, but I was jealous and wished I was with them, because it was beautiful and very secluded. I can only imagine how amazing the stars must have looked at night from this beach.

Sadly, after a week in the sun I had to return to the mainland. I would really recommend spending time on any of the islands in Hawaii. The people are some of the nicest in the world, the beaches are unbelievably pretty, and you can have adventure or luxury, whatever you are in the mood for. Camping really helps to cut costs, and having a car makes it a thousand times easier to get around and gives you a place to store your stuff. More photos below!

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Category: Destinations, North America

May 18, 2014

Introducing travelers to Europe’s riches

This summer I’ll be spending several weeks helping to guide travelers through Europe’s best sights. A dream job to be sure, but the stakes are high; the task of introducing people to the richness of Europe can be a heavy burden. Being in charge of a group’s travel safety and general exposure to the rich cultural treasures of any place is a daunting responsibility.

Tuscan countryside

Tuscan countryside

Curating a group’s travel experience is not for the faint of heart. The question is always how best to introduce people to the buzzing urban intensity of Rome, the humid, decadent decay of Venice and the vertigo-inducing heights of the chilly Swiss Alps. One person’s death march through the hot, crowded streets of Florence is another’s carnival of once-in-a-lifetime Renaissance sights. On the other hand, consider that same tour member’s restless boredom in an ancient half-timbered German hamlet. It’s another’s perfect medieval village vacation under the shadow of a ruined castle looming in the hills above.

Venice

Venice

The main task of any good tour guide is, of course, to help people connect to the history, the people and the culture of the place they’ve come so far to see. And different people connect to the culture in different ways. Some come for the food, while others could care less about the cuisine scene. Some just want to take in the sights, while still others need every historical detail you can offer them. One tour member’s Michelangelo is another’s gelato; it’s not right or wrong. It’s just different, because people are different.

Swiss Alps

Swiss Alps

A good guide can gently expose a conservative American mom to the permissive hedonism of canal-laced Amsterdam, and inspire her to think about the Dutch culture’s success in keeping drug abuse and teen pregnancy to record lows compared to our nation’s sad stats. Or bring the history of an otherwise lifeless site to life through a well-rendered story detailing the intense human drama it witnessed. The same guide can introduce the tired, indifferent sightseer to the majesty of the Louvre and the Uffizi Gallery, and walk out with a convert to the flashy, fleshy vividness of Renaissance humanist art.

paris

So the tour guide’s other main challenge, then, is to help one connect to the place in their own way, on their terms. In other words, help them find what they’re looking for—and sometimes what they didn’t know they were looking for. Some come for enlightenment and some come for a good time. There is no reason they can’t leave with both, their bag filled with insights and fun memories that will last a lifetime.

 

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Category: Europe, Notes from the collective travel mind, On The Road, Working Abroad
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