June 19, 2014

Keep calm and collect miles: Miles, points, and last minute plans

My husband and I are not very good planners but we like it that way. Many times we are minutes away from checking out of one hotel and have not yet made a plan for our next one. It happens quite frequently in fact.

Or, as is the case today, our Thai visa is days away from expiring and we don’t yet have a plan of where to go next.

 

How can we be so care-free and unplanned?

For us the answer is frequent flyer miles and hotel points.

Flights

Last minute plans can get expensive, especially when you’re talking about flights. But the convenient thing about frequent flyer miles is that not only are the prices fairly fixed and consistent, there is also a likelihood that availability suddenly starts to open back up last minute.

You see when award flights are concerned, you’ll find the best availability either a few months before you plan to travel or mere days before you plan to travel. This is because some people will book tickets speculatively, then cancel the tickets when the time approaches if they realize that they are unable to travel. This means that last minute planning can actually reveal similar availability as advanced planning.

However, there are a few down sides to this last minute planning strategy. Most airline mileage programs will charge a fee of around $75 for last minute award bookings. In this case “last minute” refers to bookings made less than 21 days in advance.

$75 and a handful of frequent flyer miles is still more affordable than paying for a thousand dollar or more flight, not to mention more affordable than a full-fare ticket with minimal restrictions for post-booking adjustments. And if we think of that $75 fee as the price we pay for flexibility, in our opinions at least, it’s worth it to be able to make our plans as we go.

The other down side is that it can be a bit of a gamble.

For instance on one occasion we had plans to meet friends in Chile. Because of a few changed plans we didn’t book our tickets until the very last minute (a day or two before traveling). Unfortunately in this instance, availability didn’t open up by the time we knew we’d need to leave, so we ended up routing all over the place. We flew from NYC to Toronto to Asuncion to Buenos Aires and then finally to Valparaiso where our friend was waiting for us. While at the airport in Toronto we saw that availability was opening up for a direct flight from Toronto to Santiago. So we attempted to change our flights to this more convenient option, but alas, our layover wasn’t long enough for the necessary process and we had to follow through with our miserable series of connections.

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Still, it got us to Santiago affordably and at the end of the day, that is our goal. We’ll sacrifice some comfort for affordability and flexibility when we need to.

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Lets contrast that less-than successful anecdote with a more successful one. In another instance we arrived in Thailand quite ignorant of the visa details. Just by chance I thought to glance at the stamp in my passport and realized that because we’d entered via land (from Malaysia) rather than by air, our visa only allowed a 15 day visit. This realization was made a few days before our visa was to expire and we did not feel like we’d seen much of Thailand at all, so we had to plan a “visa-run” quickly.

We wanted to do this visa run by air so that we’d get the 30 day visa on arrival rather than 15 days so we hopped online and booked a roundtrip award ticket to Sri Lanka and back.

We ended up loving Sri Lanka. Without miles, our visa-run options would have been minimal. Again, in this scenario British Airways technically charges a fee around $75 for bookings made less than 21 days in advance, but in our opinion, it was worth it to visa-run somewhere we were truly curious to see and return for another 30 days in Thailand.

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Hotels

The last minute planning strategy is much easier when it comes to hotels. We’ve made award bookings online ten minutes before check-in with no greater hassle than needing to show the reference number to the hotel if the booking hasn’t yet showed up in their system.

 

The value of “last minute” planning

Sometimes there’s a deal you just want to jump on or sometimes there’s a place you hadn’t realized you’d love so much and you want to extend your stay. The nature of travel is that you just don’t know all the pieces of what’s ahead. Still, planning is not impossible. It’s quite possible.

But is it preferable?

For someone who feels anxious without a plan, perhaps it is. But there are certainly some people for whom the greater anxiety comes from a lack of flexibility. For these people, it’s nice to know that flexibility doesn’t have to break the bank.

As far as hotels are concerned, last-minute planning is rarely a problem. And where flights are concerned, it may cost you ~$75 and an extra half day to follow the last-minute route. So it’s all a matter of what that flexibility is worth to you. But at least by keeping a collection of miles on hand, last minute plans are not going to cost you hundreds as would easily be the case with paid tickets.

 

How do I keep miles on hand?

The “how” of keeping miles on hand does require a little planning but luckily there are resources.

For instance this Complete Guide to Miles Earning with Credit Cards is the perfect how-to to start with.

I recommend visiting the complete guide but the basics are as follows. Provided you have a credit score in the 700′s, you may consider applying for a variety of travel rewards cards.  Some of these cards will earn miles directly into your mileage program account and others will earn points that can transfer to a variety of hotel or airline programs.

But all of the recommended travel rewards cards generally come up with a  sign-up bonus to get you started out. In most cases the bonus is enough for a round-trip international flight. And if you learn how to use your miles wisely, perhaps you can go even further with those bonuses.

 

Application Strategies

The reason I’ve said that this can take some planning is because keeping a healthy credit-score requires spacing out credit-card applications. The credit bureau has reason to worry when a person looks desperate for credit. And applying for a slew of cards all at once will definitely make you look desperate.

That’s why we recommend spacing applications out by no less than three months. Ultimately, credit score does matter and is definitely worth intentionality.

You can find out all the details about how travel rewards cards relate to this in our post about improving your credit score.

 

Conclusion

Ultimately, keeping a “safety fund” of miles is much like keeping a “safety fund” of money. If you are budgeting in such a way that you have money set aside for those occasions where a last minute plan is needed, than that puts you in a position to keep calm and care-free.

But maybe you can make that monetary “safety fund” last even longer by also having a “safety fund” of miles and points on hand. After all, that is the currency of travel and thanks to travel rewards programs and credit cards, you can save them up simply by spending on the cards that reward you.

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Category: General

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.)

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(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 8, 2014

There’s never a perfect time

“I just graduated from college.”
“We just bought a house.”
“We just had a kid.”
“My son just started middle school.”
“I just started a new job.”

“Now just isn’t the right time.”

We’ve all heard it. Hell, we’ve all probably said it.

When making any decision that will result in a drastic lifestyle change, “Now just isn’t the right time” is an easy sentence to utter. Change can be hard. And even if you are really unhappy with your current lot in life, changing that is much easier said than done.

“Now just isn’t a right time” is actually a true statement in most of those cases.

But here’s some more truth for you:

There will never be a perfect time to make that change you so desperately want to make.

Whether it’s leaving a comfortable life to travel the world or finally quitting that job that makes you miserable, at some point, you’re going to just have to bite the bullet and do it.

There will always be an excuse not to do it. There will always be a reason to rationalize staying in your current situation. There will never be a checklist of items for you to tick off and say, “Well, everything’s done now, so we can go ahead and do it (whatever ‘it’ may be).”

Maybe you need a kick in the pants? Maybe you need someone, or better yet, a group of people, who have been in your exact situation?

The beauty of the age we live in is that we’re not bound by the walls of our house anymore. We aren’t limited to the city, state, province, country, or even continent we live in.

The world is literally at our fingertips.

And if traveling the world is something you’ve dreamed of doing but have always said, “Now just isn’t the right time,” then maybe you should reach out to others who have made it happen?

There are countless blogs and websites out there that provide inspiration, tips, and advice for how to go about vagabonding. But BootsnAll is one of the oldest and largest communities out there that deals solely with long-term travel. If you’re looking for more than that 1 or 2 week vacation but don’t know where to begin, or you don’t have the support network at home to make it happen, then join us.

Our goal is to help you stop making excuses and make your travel dreams a reality.

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Category: General

May 31, 2014

Embracing the online travel community

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Out there in the world of the Internet, there’s a community of people. Whatever your focus in life, you can find a twitter chat, blog post, Facebook page or Instagram feed to showcase your interests and connect with others who have a similar concentration. Today’s online world has pros and cons just like everything else. Often it takes sorting through drivel to find truth-but isn’t that true in anything we do? There’s that feeling of connection just waiting and although we might be sitting in our own homes instead of sharing meals in a hostel breakfast nook, making those travel connections can still take shape. When traveling we try to be safe, keep valuables close and protect ourselves-remember the same goes for the world of travel on the web. Find a new friend about to embark on that same tour, grab advice for the perfect time to stop at a natural wonder or connect with those who share dreams that your ‘home friends’ just can’t quite grasp-it’s all available in the online travel community.

I love meeting people who have a travel mindset. Many are those who work whatever job necessary to save to travel or keep the same old couch just a little longer to book that ticket. There are those with that same desire to embrace new cultures and step into a world different from their own. Trying to find adventure around every corner whether leaving home or not; for many of us, travel is the center point from which all other decisions are made. Returning from a journey is always difficult as the adventurer within is constantly nudging the subconscious and what once felt familiar now possibly foreign; so the online travel community of like-minded individuals staring at similarly faced screens has been a welcome delight. Finding and connecting with others on similar paths (that are very possibly different from the norm) is just another of travel’s gifts. There are those who dream of journeys not yet taken, those in the saving and planning stages of an expedition, those in the middle of their bucket list and ones who are happy to reminisce. They may be faces hidden behind an ‘at’ sign or a ‘hash tag’, but they are available to talk, share, hint, tip and be there with their keyboard to share dreams in the moment’s travel urge.

 

Pros of the online travel community

 

Cons of the online travel community

 

There’s a variety of social media, blogs, and websites within the online travel community. There are tourism boards, travel bloggers, twitter chats, visitor centers, Facebook pages and Instagram feeds and so much more to find, read, like, follow and connect. For those who want the details without the huge conversation or connection, it’s there. For those who are looking to join the community, it’s available at any and all hours. As is true with any voyage there are a few things to remember: trust your judgment, don’t share everything at the start, protect yourself, embrace the culture and you’ll find a community out there just waiting for you to join.

How do you feel about the online travel community?

To hear more about Stacey’s thoughts, advice and journey follow The Gift of Travel.

 

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Category: General, On The Road, 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 21, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Brasov, Romania

Cost/day: $30

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

Probably the strangest thing one sees in Brasov is some of the food, at least if you’re from a country like the US. Seeing stuffed pig stomach and intestine sitting next to smoked whole heads is just something you don’t come across every day in many countries.

Smoked pig heads

Describe a typical day:

Brasov was a place we used as a short-term base for a few months, so our daily routine will be much different from a typical visitor’s. Market day usually consisted of at least a couple of stops—farmers market for produce and raw milk and the supermarket for other things. We found some of the best produce we’ve had anywhere in the world while in Romania.

Farmers market

When we wanted something a bit more out of the ordinary, it involved an almost 30-minute bus ride to the outskirts of town so we could shop at the giant Carrefour. In fact, that was the only store that sold whole turkey, which we had for our Thanksgiving dinner.

I never really got tired of walking around the historic area. The old buildings, streets, and fortifications made me feel like I was in another time.

Brasov

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

Probably the most interesting conversation was with a taxi driver outside the train station. Anywhere else in town the drivers will use the meter without asking, but the taxis at the train station will try and take advantage of you if you aren’t Romanian. One time we were returning from a trip to another city, and this driver was trying to charge me more than double the metered rate. I explained that we lived there and know the right amount. He tried to justify it by comparing the metered rate for my trip to the cost of buying a pack of cigarettes. My favorite line from him, and one my son remembers as well, was when he said “You’re a man. You should understand what it’s like.” My response left him speechless: If I was Romanian, you wouldn’t be charging me that rate.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

I love the friendliness of the Romanian people, the flavor and freshness of the food, and the general feel to the area. It has a great, chill vibe. The area has a lot of natural beauty which combines well with its man-made side. It’s easy and inexpensive to get around and explore the country by train.

While it’s a place we loved living, and it felt like home, there just isn’t enough to do once you’ve been there a couple of months. You can only explore the same sites so many times.

Brasov and its mountain

Describe a challenge you faced:

Really, my biggest challenge was learning numbers in Romanian. Most people speak basic English, but you want to be able to communicate in their language as well. I remember being so excited when I understood a complicated number in Romanian.

What new lesson did you learn?

When we came to Brasov, it was with the idea of making it a long-term base. After two months, we were chomping at the bit to leave. I realized later that the biggest mistake we made was not getting involved more with the community. Granted, that was a bit more difficult because of the language barrier, but I think we could’ve done some things that would’ve enhanced our experience.

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Category: General

March 5, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Two weeks in a Thai rain forest eco-lodge

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Cost/day:

$60-75/day including nearly all organic meals, outdoor adventures and lodging for three people.  A single person or even couple could probably get away with around half of that by eating at local restaurants or finding a way to cook some meals.

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

I hesitate to call it strange, but it was really interesting to see the cultivation of betle nut all around us. Intensely arduous work with some sort of pole tool is needed to harvest the nuts from the top of the tree. Seemingly every home had betle nut drying in various stages in the yard, from the just picked bright orange to the fully dried dull gray.

Once they got to the optimal point, entire families would sit around and remove the nut from the husk. The husks were then burned in piles in various locations throughout the yards and the nuts bagged in large sacks. It was truly a family affair.

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Describe a typical day:

Waking up in a bed surrounded by a mosquito net to the sound of a small river nearby.  Flipping open the laptop to do some work.

Later, we head up to the restaurant, where we have the option of Western or Thai food, all of which is organic and local. We engage in conversations about life and travel with other guests or volunteers.

We then head out to explore the area, maybe visit a school, hike to a waterfall, or take a bamboo raft down the Paksong River.

We come back in the evening and do some homeschooling and work, maybe at the lodge, maybe in our room, maybe in a random spot by the river.  We maybe take a yoga class or mandala drawing workshop.

We head up to the lodge for dinner where we eat a buffet style meal of fresh Thai food with our new friends and talk and listen, hearing accents mostly from all over Europe.  Some evenings people get out their instruments to play music and sing.

We head back down to the room, where the daily ritual of teeth brushing and bedtime reading ensues.

After our daughter falls asleep, my wife and I will talk until the symphony of frogs, geckos, insects and the river sends us to sleep.

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Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

Probably the most memorable conversation I had was with some local boys. We first met them at their school when we visited for a few hours. We learned from them the very basics about their lives at home and school.

We were completely charmed by their excitement when, a few days later, they found us at a festival.  They hugged us and flashed enormous smiles.

We sat around and talked a little more but with a very limited ability to communicate, we were all happy to just sit and share food and drinks with one another.

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What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

I like that it’s peaceful, that I somehow feel at home, that there is great company, that the town isn’t overrun with tourists, that seemingly everyone smiles at us and that it is so stunningly beautiful. I honestly can’t think of one thing I disliked during our two weeks there.

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Describe a challenge you faced:

Getting to and navigating through the local hospital so that my wife could get one of her series of rabies shots, which she needed because of a monkey bite.

What new lesson did you learn?

I wouldn’t say that I learned this lesson, but instead that I was  reminded of one I already knew, which is that when I disconnect from the internet I am generally happier and more at peace.  Being at the eco-lodge allowed me to disconnect from the computer for all purposes other than work and reminded me of this valuable yet often-forgotten lesson.

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Where next?

We’re headed to Chiang Mai, Thailand for some city living.

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Category: General

February 25, 2014

New Direction: Your input on Vagabonding is requested

New direction

I can’t believe it’s been eleven years since Rolf’s first book, Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel was published.

I remember picking up my first copy, thumbing through, and thinking, “This guy… this guy has nailed it.”

I wasn’t a new traveler, having been raised by gypsy parents, but that book grabbed my by the nomadic heart strings and reminded me of all of the best things about life and the world. Subsequently, I bought Vagabonding by the case and gave it away to young friends, old travelers and as freebies on our website, on my own dime. The message matters that much to me. 

Surprisingly, I didn’t discover this website until I was invited to write for it. It was like coming home. My people are here. I’ve continued to write weekly for the same reason that I continue to buy and give away the book: because the message matters and, philosophically, there’s no better match for me in the travel world.

Rolf’s invitation to take over as Managing Editor of the site caught me off guard. We talked for a few weeks about what that would entail and the very big project of overhauling the treasure trove of content that’s been slowly accumulating for over a decade and creating something that will continue to be a hub of resources and community for the adventurous souls of the world. I’m really excited about the project. I’ve got lots of ideas.

There are going to be some big changes. But before I dive in and shake things up around here, I wanted to give you, the reader, a chance to weigh in.

 

Would you be willing to take a minute and help us make Vagabonding better, for everyone?

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Category: General

January 2, 2014

Vagablogging: Call for contributors!

Happy 2014 to all of you vagabonds!

As the dawn of another year begins, we here at Vagablogging are seeking out new contributors to join our ranks, sharing our vagabonding wisdom with a growing worldwide community of long-term travelers.

We’re looking for dedicated weekly contributors to post on vagabonding-related topics of their choice — from travel tips to destination suggestions to reviews of travel media.

The ideal writer should be familiar with Vagabonding and the philosophy behind it. To get an idea what we’re looking for in terms of content and style, take a look at our recent posts and archives. The best posts are informative in nature and conversational in tone. The deadline for submitting is January 31st. We’ll announce our new contributors on February 15th.

Though the positions are unpaid, it’s a great opportunity to build a readership, establish contacts, and create professional opportunities in the travel-writing realm. Vagabloggers who’ve landed lucrative gigs after writing for us include Tim Ferriss (who wrote a little bestseller called The 4-Hour Work Week), Justin Glow (who went on to full-time editing positions at Gadling and AOL), and a number of individuals who’ve landed paid freelance work at World Hum, the National Post, Gadling, US Airways Magazine, Travelers’ Tales, the Los Angeles Times, and other travel-writing venues. Kristin Pope even got a call from The Daily Show after her post about “staycations”.

To be considered for a weekly slot at Vagablogging, please email 1-2 previously unpublished sample posts (200-600 words each) to our managing editor, Ted Beatie (ted *at* tedbeatie *dot* com). To ensure Ted gets your submission, please include the word “Vagablogging” in the subject header. Also be sure to include a little bit about yourself, like where you’re from, your best travel experiences, and anything else you think we should know.

Happy New Year, and may it be one filled with adventure!

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Category: General

December 25, 2013

Christmas in England: music, food and decoration

In the final entry in my series of posts on the subtle but interesting variations in how European cultures celebrate Christmas, I take a look at one of the finest places to spend the holiday season, England. It’s not just a beautiful country with a joyous approach to the holiday; it’s also the spot where some of the most cherished Christmas traditions originated.

Throughout Europe, the sound of carols spill out from churches great and small, and the youthful choir’s heavenly harmonies are carried to the rafters on the cold air, just as they’ve been every year for centuries. Families cluster together and listen to the joyous sounds as their ancestors did, often in the same place.

But the singing of carols is especially beloved and ingrained in the Christmastime traditions of England. In fact, they’ve been a staple of the holiday in England since at least the sixteenth century, as many of the country’s Christmas traditions are. The great cathedrals of England—Wells, Canterbury, Durham, Bath and Salisbury to name just a few—hold spellbinding choral events by candlelight. Outside of the massive churches, colorful Christmas markets buzz with activity.

Once a pagan country with a large Druid population, England is also to thank for the tradition of the Christmas tree. The custom originated with the Druids who would decorate their places of worship with evergreen trees in the dead of winter, which to them represented life that could not be extinguished despite the cold and the dark. The later Christians appreciated this symbolism, as it reminded them of Christ’s promise of eternal life, and adopted the custom.

The holiday dishes are of course a pivotal aspect of any celebration, and the diversity in food served on the big day is one of the widely most varying customs of Europe’s Christmas celebration. In England the regulars like turkey and veggies are served, but desert is the real treat: The all-important Christmas pudding, a fruity desert usually made with figs and brandy, and mincemeat pies, both fixtures since the sixteenth century.

As if England didn’t have enough influence on Christmastime rituals, it was also the originator of the “kissing under the mistletoe” tradition. Dating from the medieval period, there was a tradition of hanging a small treetop called a “bough” upside down in one’s home as a blessing upon the occupants. As the years went by this custom lost its popularity, but was resurrected by the Victorians (nineteenth century) as a holiday decoration under which sweethearts would kiss for good luck.

A particularly English tradition also includes the wearing of a colorful paper crown—everyone is a king or queen at Christmas. Needless to say there is tea involved on this wintry day as well, often at 6pm on Christmas to warm the soul, because every proper English event involves tea.

Trees, teas, carols, and mistletoe: England is a fine place to enjoy the warmth, food and music of the season. Attend a carol performance at a magnificent old church, decorate the tree, have some pudding and kiss your honey under the mistletoe. It’s the most joyous time of the year and England is a great place to spend it.

 

 

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Category: Europe, Expat Life, Food and Drink, General, Notes from the collective travel mind
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