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.

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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.

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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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Category: Adventure Travel, Asia, On The Road

July 25, 2014

Lost in the crowd when traveling?

Lost in a Crowd

(Lost in a Crowd – photo by Keoni Cabral)

This week I’m in San Francisco, after riding my motorcycle from Washington. First, I have to say – the ride down the PCH was in-damn-credible! Thanks to a friend’s suggestions, I got off the PCH near Fortuna and took the Avenue of the Giants scenic route. Who would have thought that there was a scenic route to an already incredible scenic route? I’ll write more about this another time. Take my recommendation, though, if you are ever in southern Oregon, take 199 West and to 101 South, then just take that as far as you’re able. Here’s a couple pictures to wet your appetite.

Trinity at the Pacific Ocean

(Trinity and I at the Pacific Ocean)

Avenue of the Giants

(Avenue of the Giants)

Now – this week, I wanted to ask a question. When you travel to busy, vibrant locations (big cities and such) – do you feel a bit lost? A bit secluded?

The other night, I was talking with my friend Boris, who I met when trekking through Siberia (a real awesome guy, btw). Anyway – we were discussing what it was like to visit a large city like San Francisco when you’re traveling solo. We both felt that if you don’t already know someone there, it’s easy to feel a bit alone. It’s the reason he gave me some things to do in SF; recommendations that would get me started and he also introduced me to some of his friends.

Truth is – often when I’m traveling solo, I feel the need to some alone time to acclimate. I remember going to Göteborg, Sweden a few years ago. It was a great place to hang out with a vibrant night life. Before I could venture out, though, I had to spend about a day alone in the hotel to absorb the new environment. Only after that did I feel comfortable in going out to explore the city. Yet, on every adventure I’ve been on, I’m often traveling as part of a small group. In those instances, I felt comfortable in most situations (well – except for some really sketchy ones). I was able to jump right in and explore the surroundings.

I noticed the same thing at World Domination Summit a few weeks ago. I was fortunate to have a lot of friends to hang out with and springboard from; but, it’s something that I would have struggled with otherwise. I find that with small, intimate destinations it’s much easier for me to get involved and to be a vibrant part. Once there’s too many people, I tend to step back and observe, rather than participating.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts – is this just part of my introvert tendencies – or is this a more common feeling?

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: North America, On The Road, Solo Travel

July 22, 2014

Long term travel with a family: You have to really want to do this

Camping with kids

“You really have to WANT to do this, don’t you, Dear?”

Ann’s words have echoed in my mind as her sweet, octogenarian face has pleasantly haunted my afternoon walks. We wandered slowly through the natural bridge outside of Waitomo with her and her husband, Ross. I quietly got the kids’ attention and encouraged them to walk more slowly behind him, and not press forward as he did his aged best to step over tree roots and up the rocky stairs to the high meadow where we laughed together about the crazy idea of standing in the presence of 3 million year old oysters. Tony gave him a leg up over the fences. He laughed, good-naturedly, when the boys leapt out from behind blackberry bushes with a roar, as he had undoubtedly done forty years before I took my first breath.

Ann was hand washing for the two of them in a little tub out the back of her camper van, using water that Ross was bringing, one bucket at a time from the bridge. He’d lower the bucket the twenty or so feet to the surface with a long rope and then haul it up, mostly full, hand over hand before delivering it to his white haired wife. By the time she was done rinsing he was there to help her wring out his trousers, one on each end, twisting hard, and hang the clothes from a line he’s strung under the awning.

She commiserated with me over hand washing for six, producing meals for an army on two burners in a three foot square space, and the difficulties of adventuring with children. She’d raised a tribe too, in her day, and they’d camped the length and breadth of their island homes. Perhaps she’s a premonition of myself.

You have to really WANT to do this.

I’ve been thinking about that statement, and the layers of meaning it embodies.

Truth be told, living this way is a lot of work. Staying home is far and away easier. But the best things in life are always the things that require the most from us, that we have to work our rear-ends off to achieve. The things we are proudest of mean so much to us because they’ve cost us the most.

Marriage is like that.

Raising kids is like that.

Traveling is like that.

All three together is the perfect storm of all that and two bags of chips.

There was so much encouragement in Ann’s face as we talked and washed and shared “mama” stories. The older I get the more I appreciate the stories of old women. I think because I’m just beginning to understand the many-layered thing that a woman’s life is, stretched thin over the better part of a century. Perhaps it’s because I can see myself in their eyes more clearly than I could at twenty, or thirty.

You have to really WANT to do this.

So many people give up. They give up on the thing they really, really want to do. There are so many reasons: It gets too hard. It costs too much. It hurts too badly. It isn’t what we signed up for. Someone else fails us. We fail ourselves. It’s inconvenient. It’s easier to stay home, in some capacity. We feel that we don’t deserve it, aren’t “worth” it. It’s a fight.

I’ve been thinking lots about the things I really want to do. The big things and the small things. The hard things and the harder things.The things that seem mundane, like staying married until I’m in my eighties, raising kids who are productive citizens and learning to write. The things that seem like pipe dreams too: seeing Antarctica, changing the world, and successfully handing my parents’ legacy to my grandkids.  I really, really want to do these things.

For tonight, the things I really want to do included cooking 3 kilos of meat, enough potatoes, cheesy cauliflower & salad for an army, making a double batch of ginger cookies and making my husband laugh until he was squirming to get away from me, which is an accomplishment. I want to sit and sip my tea, munch my still warm ginger treat and thank the gods that be for friends who love me enough to mail me the exact type of tea that keeps me from killing the children; who I want so desperately to strangle sometimes when we all are living in 126 square feet. And I’m willing to live in 126 square feet of rolling space because I really, really want, quite desperately, to make their childhood epic and not to miss a moment of it.

What do you really want to do?

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Category: Family Travel, Oceania, On The Road

July 13, 2014

Lessons from a tour guide, part I

This week I returned from a month and a half overseas working as a tour guide, helping to lead two different groups on an epic Best-of-Europe grand tour. The experience was a new one for me; after years of exploring the continent’s cobbled backstreets and ancient cities as a solo travel writer, I found myself with the unique opportunity of being a guide for one of America’s most well-respected touring companies.

plane image for blog

A couple of concerns dogged me as I flew over the Arctic Circle, the plane making its slow path from my home base of Seattle to the tour departure point of Amsterdam. Questions like, how would I be able to handle a large group as we steam across the continent day in and day out? And, how will the mechanics of moving groups from one site to the other in an efficient way work? But these concerns paled next to the most significant challenge: Helping the scores of American travelers connect to the history and culture of the places they came so far to experience.

Staring out my window at the endless expanse of the north Atlantic, I began to feel the weight of the responsibility settle into my gut. How do I curate this experience for our flock? I’d always done it for myself just fine; teaching others how to appreciate the richness of Europe was something I’d never needed to do beyond my writing. It was easy enough to crank out articles about the places I’d visited and about the treasures—the food, the history, the people, all the things that make up the culture—those places had to offer. Would I be able to help our travelers connect to them and appreciate them in the same way that I did?

A final goodbye to the group near the Eiffel Tower at dusk.

A final goodbye to the group near the Eiffel Tower at dusk.

The teaching I’d done before—giving free travel talks at public libraries to would-be travelers who were interested in learning how to create their own independent European adventure—was indispensable. The classes I’d taught had given me a sense of what tickled a traveler’s fancy and what common-sense issues they worried about. This gave me the advantage of being able to anticipate questions and concerns, sometime before the group members even knew they had them.

The true challenge was facilitating the tour member’s experience of the culture. It was in trying to cast new food experiences as a part of good travel, as “sightseeing for your palate”. It was in helping them fend off museum overload by urging them to see the art of the Louvre and the Accademia with their hearts rather than their mind. It was in not rushing through another “check the box” locale (don’t rush through St. Mark’s square, I counseled, just take your time and find your own way to relate to the space). And it was in fending off cathedral overload by teaching that architecture was art we walk through—art that took generations of devoted believers and craftsman to create—rather than just another drafty old building.

Helping the group appreciate the elegant, historic decay of Venice is a challenge when the city is crowded and hot.

venice 1

Finally I kept the old teacher’s maxim close to my heart: “The task of the teacher is to honor the integrity of fact while at the same time igniting the student’s imagination.”

Over the course of the following weeks I’d work on striking that balance, always trying to bring long-ago stories and long-dead people to Technicolor life. Success for the tour guide also means the tourists returning home knowing that the struggles, the tragedies and triumphs of those who inhabited the majestic castles and cobbled city streets so long ago set the stage for the world as we know it today.

The trick to achieving that was helping them forge an emotional connection to the events a given site had witnessed; that its history was not just a collection of faceless dates and facts, but human beings with hopes and dreams who lived in similarly dramatic times of war, economic uncertainty and dramatic social change. Those folks tried to make the best of it, and somehow got through it. We can too. But more than just the appreciation of history, it’s the appreciation of the culture that really informs a successful travel experience. My hope is that the tour members came away with a renewed perspective on how Europe’s endlessly varied tapestry of cultures, while wonderfully diverse, are similar to our own in the most fundamentally human ways.

If you ever find yourself in the trying but satisfying role as tour guide, I think you’ll find that those lessons are your tour members’ best souvenirs.

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

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.

 

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Category: Adventure Travel, Asia, On The Road, Vagabonding Advice

July 9, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: flat tires and bumpy road adventures (while pregnant) in Costa Rica

Playa Bejuco - 21

Cost/day: $50/day

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

We left the beach life in Nicaragua and are housesitting in the mountains of Costa Rica, above San Jose.

I’m 8 1/2 months pregnant, but that doesn’t stop us from taking a trip to the beach after we’ve been here a couple of weeks. You can see the ocean from our house in the mountains of Costa Rica, but it appears deceptively close. What we think will be a short drive to enjoy the sun and waves, turns into a 2 hour bumpy, off-road adventure and a flat tire.

I hope I don’t go into labor. ;)

Playa Bejuco - 06

Describe a typical day:

Our days have been spent at home at the mountain house, preparing for the birth of our sixth child.

But today we decided to take a trip to the beach today. Two bumpy hours and a flat tire later we finally arrived. The beach was large, the sun shone high, we picked fresh coconuts from the tree and found sand dollars in the sand.

Playa Bejuco - 41

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

Like: Costa Rica is a beautiful country. We love being back (we lived here in 2007-2008). We’re excited to explore it once more — the beaches, rainforests, oceans, waterfalls and rivers.

Dislike: After living in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua for the last 1 1/2 years, Costa Rica is comparatively more expensive — housing, food and activities… but I think we’ll adjust. We’re loving it here.

Playa Bejuco - 32

Describe a challenge you faced:

I’ve had all my babies at home (except for my adopted daughter ;) ) I’d like to have this one at home in Costa Rica, but we’ve been working out logistics… can the midwife make it in time? Is there a hospital nearby?

Greg Rachel Pregnant Costa Rica

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… still true.

Where next?

Staying put here for a while… I’m sure you can guess why. ;)

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
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