I am often asked why I travel. What is the benefit? Is all the work, preparation, and planning worth it? So, I set out to identify what it is I really feel I have gained through travel. While this list may not be the same for everyone (and I expect it wouldn’t be), I bet most travelers can identify with each item on this list. So, here it is…. the top five gifts travel has given me.
5. Patience. Anyone who travels long term will tell you that patience is a major key to making it all work. Waiting for a train in New Delhi, cooking a meal for 4 on a single burner in San Marcos, dodging touts in ChiChi market, crossing the border into Panama, getting pushed around on a NYC subway at rush hour, avoiding eye contact with leering men in Egypt, or trying to coordinate travel plans in a foreign language in Nepal- the longer you travel, the more you value your own ability to call on your patience like a super power. Cultural differences and language barriers make time, space, and dimension very subjective terms. Patience is a virtue that gets practiced and (almost but not really) perfected the longer you travel.
4. Connection. True human connection, that which transcends cultural barriers, is something I value on a very deep level. Traveling allows me to see, smell, touch, taste, feel, and experience what visitors and immigrants to my home country hold in their memories and consciousness. Travel presents the opportunity for me to recognize the common human experience between myself, a circus performer in El Salvador, a business woman headed to work in Switzerland, a genocide survivor in Guatemala, and everyone in between. I get to connect with people all over the world, all the time and experience our shared humanity on a regular basis.
When I attended my friend’s wedding in India, I didn’t need a transistor to explain the side ways smile on her groom’s face as she walked towards him or the joy she radiated when she finally got to see him after a full week of ceremonies and preparations. When her parents visit and I am offered a cup of chai I am reminded of hot, humid, monsoon mornings in Mumbai and I can almost hear the chai wallahs, just like they can. When I beg her to make me mattar paneer and she chides that it’s “not really healthy, you know”, I know that she is smirking because she is (not so secretly) thrilled that I loved an Indian dish so much and that I know exactly how it tastes in her hometown. When she asked my friend and I to be present at her son’s birth, her parents hugged me and told me to take care of her, knowing that only true friends would have traveled to India to see their child get married years ago. My friend is an awesome person and I would be friends whether I had traveled to India to watch her get married or not, but travel has added a richness to our friendship that can’t be replicated. Sometimes I think we over think things and place too much emphasis on cultural differences (as beautiful as they are) and forget to look for the moments that don’t need translation. Do you have to travel to find connection? No. Does travel magically make connections happen? No. But travel has expanded my understanding of what connection can mean, presented opportunity after opportunity to explore human connection, and made my circle wider and deeper than I ever thought it could be. My connection with this friend and every single person who has touched my life along the way, is a gift I carry forever.
3. Clarity. Time spent away from home and all things comfortable has a way of clarifying that which is most important. Trekking from place to place with everything you own strapped to your back will make you think twice about your material “needs”. Watching a mother drop her child off at an orphanage because she doesn’t have the money to feed all three of her children will make you reconsider what “good parenting” means. Working with an NGO in a foreign country will forever make you look more closely at where your donated dollars are going. Visiting Mother Theresa’s homes in Kolkata will make you question the party line about mission work in the third world. Watching the sun cast shadows over ancient Mayan temples will make the history you think you know look dull. Meeting living victims of your country’s foreign policy will make you wonder just what else is being done in your name.
If it sounds like travel raises a whole lot of questions and not a whole lot of clarity, that is only partly true. Travel certainly and inevitably does raise innumerable questions…but the clarity lies within those questions. Clarity does not mean “figuring it all out”. Some questions will be answered, some will not. The very realization that the questions exist is clarity in itself.
2. Empathy. Over the course of this long, continuous journey, I have come to the conclusion that pity and empathy do not look the same. Pity is what I had for people who were “less fortunate” than me back before I had met any of “those people”. Pity allowed me to see myself in some small way as “better than” and in no way did it serve me or those I thought needed me to do something for them. Pity paralyzed and disconnected me.
Empathy is what I hold now that I have helped birth babies, cook meals, and define education with people who would have previously been considered “less fortunate”. The key word in that last sentence is WITH, not FOR. I recognize the core of our shared human experience reflected in circumstances I will never fully understand. I have learned to actively remind myself that poor is not synonymous with “less fortunate” any more than rich is synonymous with “happy”. I still struggle with the “why” of our world’s inequality but I now know that the “how” for doing something about it depends on our ability to empathize, not pity.
1. Perspective. Triumphs and tribulations have a way of seeming really, really big when we have nothing to compare them to. Exploring our vast and varied world has given me the opportunity to step outside of the day to day that we all get caught up in and see the larger picture. Long term travel reminds me regularly that no matter the political, philosophical, or economic agendas being pushed back home, this is the one and only shot we have got at this life. I could spend every day hemming and hawing about the socially acceptable way to live this life (according to my home culture) or I can actually live it. The mundane must still be dealt with and the day to day must still be lived but at the end of my life, I will be damned if I look back and think ” I should have done more”.
What have you gained from travel?
What’s the most exciting thing that’s happened lately?
I’m finally having a baby!! (Our sixth.)
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’ve all been a little antsy just waiting around (which is why we took a trip to the chocolate farm, just an hour from our house, on my due date
But now the day has finally arrived. It’s beautiful, the sun is shining and my labor has started. Our new baby will be joining our family soon!
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
Like: The house where we are living has a beautiful ambience. From the balcony of the master bedroom I can see the Pacific Ocean off in the far distance, surrounded by deep, verdant hills that are often clothed with soft, white clouds. Toucans, green parrots and other exotic birds perch in the trees outside my windows.
I feel loved and supported by my husband and children, as well as my cousin, mother and step-dad and midwife who are all in attendance. Pura vida!
Dislike: The only thing I dislike today are my intensifying contractions… but they will result in a miraculous experience, so they are worth the discomfort.
Describe a challenge you faced:
Deciding to have this baby was a huge challenge for me. My fifth birth was extremely difficult, and although I felt that having another child was the right thing for our family, I was scared to death to give birth again!
Now the day is here, and I’m feeling peaceful, confident and surrounded by love and inner power and strength.
What new lesson did you learn?
I did it! She’s here!
She’s beautiful and perfect, and I was strong.
The birth was perfect, and I feel empowered.
Saige Journee Denning, 9lbs and 21 inches long.
Staying put here and enjoying the ‘babymoon’.
You can read the full birth story here.
It was December of 2004 when I took my first Contiki trip for two weeks in Australia. On the first night I met two girls from Minnesota and that’s where the love affair with the State Fair began. For years Cara has been teaching this New Yorker about all things Minneapolis and although I’ve now been many times I was never able to hit it at the right time to take part in the festivities. It took just about a decade but I finally made it to the Minnesota State Fair.
I learned a lot from Cara. I learned about ‘Minnesota nice’, throwing my hat by the Mary Tyler Moore statue and the structural brilliance that is the Spoon and Cherry. I’ve spent time making s’mores on Lake Superior, walked across the border into Wisconsin and listened to loons at a few of the twelve thousand lakes. There has been fun at the mall, a visit to the Jolly Green Giant, photos at lock and dam number one which was a first for this ocean loving New Yorker and then a return visit for her wonderful wedding. And let’s just talk about the fabulousness that is an ice-house and an ice party-Oofdah! Minnesota is a wonderful place.
We were finally were able to schedule a trip at the end of August 2011. We were even able to catch up with another travel friend (who also lives in Minneapolis) we met two years prior in Europe. When Hurricane Irene hit our Long Beach shores and the ocean waves were quickly encroaching up the beach nearing our car park and sea wall, we were safely ensconced in the twin cities waiting for the day we would get to head to the fair and finally see the truth behind the heads carved out of butter. Ten years ago I heard of these butter heads and couldn’t come close to picturing what it would be like at all. Would I really get to meet a Dairy Princess?
We hopped a bus to the fair, got our tickets and smiled wide as we entered the gates of what could have been many, many football fields worth of fairgrounds. I guess had I been to the New York or any other state fair ever in my life, perhaps I wouldn’t have been as excited, but this was special. My Aussie husband had never been to anything like this either so it was a treat and a half for us both. For Cara, it has been a yearly event for as long as she can remember. When those ten days roll around at the end of August people from all walks of life flood into Minneapolis to take part in, work at, eat at or visit this fabulous spectacle. Concerts take place, competitions are won, farm animals are shown and dairy princesses take center stage in the dog days of summer at the fair. We went, we watched, we ate and we smiled.
First of all, this is one of the best people watching spots I’ve ever seen. Thousands of people wander the roadways and sections and the fashions of decades past forced some of us to raise a quizzical eyebrow-but it was all part of the fair. Our first stop was the Dairy pavilion. Not for my lactose intolerant friends, this is where you can get fresh ice cream & yoghurt, whole milk in abundance and here in all their glory are the butter heads. Children and adults press their faces as close to the panes of glass as possible as if New York City’s Macy’s Christmas windows had come alive. The incredible artist sculptor comes each year to create masterpieces at the fair. She’s an amazing artist and manages to take the exact likeness of these chosen Dairy Princesses and carve their features into blocks of butter. The artist and the princess she’s working on adorn puffy parkas to keep warm in the frozen tundra that encapsulates them so that the butter can stay at a temperature warm enough to carve and cold enough to keep its sculpted form. It’s a huge honour to be crowned a Dairy Princess and after the fair is over the family of the princess gets to keep the butter heads if they choose. We watched in awe of this artistry and marveled at this magical moment that could only happen here in the land of dairy. And then Cara told me that I too could get my head carved out of butter! You should have seen the look on my face! With the help of the Internet, we went to the butter head station, uploaded my photo and within minutes my face appeared as a butter imprint on a pin that I could proudly wear. After years of wondering, I finally got to see a head carved out of butter-this was a huge check off my travel list!
As with any fair, food is a huge attraction. Mat was the first to get a lesson in all food Minnesota State Fair. Cara, being an expert in all things fair steered us to her favourite pronto pup vendor. You should have seen the look on my husband’s face when she said ‘you have to have one of these’! And just like that we learned the difference between a pronto pup and a corn dog and the magical taste sensation that happens when you put anything on a stick! Her reasoning for the pronto pup was that when dipped in pancake batter the hot dog takes on a whole new flair. I photographed, he ate and all was right with the world. Me, I went in the direction of salty and sweet. First there was an oozy and gooey s’more from the S’mores truck that melted in my mouth and fingers. Next, there was the pickle (on a stick of course) that was bigger than Mt. Rushmore. Then when we wanted some French fries we were steered past about fifteen different vendors to the only one Cara said was good enough to try-and again, of course, she was right. Who could say no to a jumbo sized red bucket filled with salty chips?
It’s no surprise that the fair lasts ten days since it would take us that long to be able to see every part. I sat on a tractor at the John Deere section and Mat happily adorned some paper animal hat on our way to the animal pavilion. Visions of Charlotte’s Web and the words to ‘Zuckerman’s Famous Pig’ danced through my head as we ventured into the barns to visit the pigs and goats and watched in amazement as we saw baby ducklings born right in front of us. So far, it has been even better than expected. Passing the prize winning vegetables, more rides and playing our own personal games of Frogger as we weaved in and out of crowds, we even got to have a look in the 4H pavilion taking me back to all of those special summers of my youth spent at 4H Camp in Riverhead, New York.
According to our host, no day at the fair is complete without a taste of her favourite squeaky cheese. What? She hasn’t steered us wrong yet, so with perplexed looks on both of our faces, we followed Cara and her then boyfriend (now husband), Wade, into the only food court that she liked for this mid-west delicacy. For us, this was a first. She ordered. We waited. Within minutes a small basket filled with oodles of fried goodness was upon us. Small dollops of fried cheese awaited and as Cara’s eyes lit up she watched as we took our first bite of these fried cheese curds and we all quietly listened for the squeak….and squeak it did!
We could have stayed forever. There were endless rides, countless pavilions filled with amazing sights, vendor after vendor of fried deliciousness and people as far as the eye could see. Sadly, we only had one day to spend at the Minnesota State Fair, but in that one day it far surpassed all of my expectations that started when I first heard about it on a boat in the Great Barrier Reef all those years ago. For a girl who has smiled every time I’ve landed in the dairy land, the fair was a huge success. For me, the end of the official summer season is always showcased by days at the beach listening to the ocean and saying goodbye to our friendly lifeguards-but, I always look forward to hearing Cara’s stories and reliving those moments when I got to meet a real life Dairy Princess at the Minnesota State Fair.
Have you been to the Minnesota State Fair? What’s your favourite thing about state fairs?
For more of Stacey’s travels check out her website.
Age: 33 and 41
Hometown: Baltimore and Toronto respectively
Quote: I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.
The Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road and it’s scenic tourist hotspots come without cost. What we found was fuel was expensive and will eat in to much of your daily allowance. We estimated at least $150 was spent in 2 days. The particular campground we stayed on was around $35 bucks for a pitch. This would probably rise in peak season.
Describe a typical day
The great ocean road is nothing more than a spectacular scenic drive. A 250 kilometre road along the south coast of Australia. 250k is by no means a long drive in terms of driving across Australia which made it hard not to rush it.
We set out from Torquay a small town at the foot of the Ocean Road. Replenishing our food stock and refilling the petrol tank we set off. Putting pedal to metal we began our journey.
It is a hard task not to slow the driving down to a minimum as you peer out the window at the vast Ocean that separates Australia and the Antarctic. Within an hour we had pulled up at several viewing spots. Each spot offering a new perspective of this Vast coast. Our aim was to reach some of the more renowned landmarks but each twist and turn of the road would reveal a new outstanding view that just had to be savoured.
A few kilometres under our belt we pulled into to our first destination, a beautiful vantage point that looked out over the Twelve Apostles. These great natural monoliths stand tall and mighty from the ocean. The towering Rock formations are the result of years of erosion, proof of Australia’s natural beauty.
Although the rocks were once twelve standing spires only 8 remain. Remnants of the other four can still be seen led across the ocean below. A bare footed walk along the quiet beach allowed us time to stop and appreciate the pillars. An ample opportunity to take photos and dip your feet in the water.
We took our time and enjoyed our surroundings before moving on. Hopping back into our camper we carried on down the road. We were in no rush and refused to cram too much into a single day. So we travelled further on and for one last point of interest, the London Bridge.
This scenic rock formation was no longer standing but is still a sight to behold. It was once a free standing arch created by years of erosion. It had collapsed and left behind a small island and remnants that lined the ocean floor. We listened to a local story teller tell a humorous tale of the rocks collapse With an hour taking in this picturesque sight we decided to make tracks.
In no particular hurry we stopped for a fish and chips at one of the many small towns along this drive. Relaxing by the water we researched a place to stay. A campsite 10 kilometres down the road and only a short drive to Airlies Inlet our first destination of our list for day 2.
Settling down we sparked up the barbecue, grilled ourselves some steaks and sat and enjoyed a glass of wine savouring the quiet relaxing surroundings. The stars filled the night sky as the sun fell away. The sound of the ocean gently soothed us as we reminisced on our amazing day.
Describe an interesting conversation
When we stopped at London Bridge a local story teller told the story of the day the rock collapsed. A man and a women had taken a stroll together across the rock to the island. After spending sometime here, the “bridge” had plummeted to the sea below. Both parties were fortunately safe but in need of rescue. With helicopters and sea rescue assisting the couple off the island it had stirred media interest. This was last thing the gentlemen had wanted. His intention was not to let anyone know where he had been that day. He had just so happened to become stranded on the island with his Mistress, an affair he would have rather kept under wraps. Instead he had made headline news and been exposed for all his infidelities. A true test of Karma.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
There isn’t really anything strange to see down this beautiful road.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
The best part of the journey for me was the scenery. It had been the picturesque dream I had imagined Australia to be. Enjoying the road with the windows down and the breathing in the cool sea air. The dream had become a reality
A minor dislike is the road is very short, we had hoped to travel for a few days, this is hard to do as campsites are few and far between. You will find yourself having to cover more distance in order to find a place for the night.
Age: 39 & 36
Hometown: Birmingham, England & Malta
Quote: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
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.