August 26, 2014

Are you afraid to travel?

graffiti

Aren’t you afraid?

In a word: No.

It’s a question people ask us in lots of quiet ways.

Aren’t you afraid of the political climates in less than first world places?

No, but we’re aware of them. Of course they colour our travels. We make choices to go some places, and not others, based on political climates, but that doesn’t mean we’re afraid of them. We’ve been in Mexico, Guatemala, Indonesia and Australia during various elections. It’s an educational time to be in a place, there are discussions taking place that don’t otherwise. We’ve stayed with members of politically subversive groups, we’ve attended political rallies in some countries to learn, we’ve intentionally spent time in dictatorships, and in Muslim countries, and in communist countries, as well as monarchies and countries in various stages of development specifically so that our kids will have a bit of perspective on the concept of democracy, but we are not afraid.

Aren’t you afraid of terrorists in “Muslim” places?

We are not. I’ve met thousands of Muslims, become friends with a very few, and lived in some of the most volatile Muslim regions of the world. We’ve been discriminated against, our website has been hacked and plastered with pictures of dead Palestinian children, our kid was once slapped hard for no reason that we could see. We’ve been watched by the secret police and our activity logged because of our nationality. It gives a person a bit of perspective on the American treatment of Muslims within the USA. It’s good for us, and for our kids, to get a grip on the beauty of Muslim culture, the open-handed generosity of the vast majority of the people who call themselves Muslim, and even the hard experiences have been good for us. There are folks who behave badly and occasionally blow stuff up within the Muslim world, but then, there are dudes who roll up into schools in Connecticut and military installments in DC and blow stuff up too. I’m not afraid to enter a school, or visit DC as a result; likewise, we are not afraid of Muslim terrorists.

Aren’t you afraid of the drug war “raging” around us in Central America?

The drug war of the American making, you mean? No. Families are not the targets of those behaving badly. Reasonable precautions are, well, reasonable. Take a quick look at the statistics, and you’ll quickly see that even with the “drug war” Mexico is a safer place than the USA. We’re not glibly blowing off the “danger;” we’ve had guys on a raid with locked and loaded AK-47‘s between us and our kids in northern Mexico. That’s a moment that gives a traveling parent pause, and makes a person happy to have reasonable Spanish in her aresenal. Honduras has it’s moments; we had one of our scariest travel moments there, but in the end, it was fine. Our community in Guatemala had a group of local men who took it upon themselves to patrol the road in and out of the valley after dark to keep a lid on the nefarious business. In every single case, even the scary ones, the reaction to our presence has been one of protection and care for our persons. We are not afraid. In fact, we are so “not afraid” that we let our daughter take off on her own with her friends when she was 14, and we are drawn back to that corner of the world as one of our homes.

Aren’t you afraid of not knowing where you’re going or where you’ll sleep tonight?

Nope. We’re just not. One thing you learn after traveling a while is that things just work out. We’ve never had to sleep under a bridge. We’ve never been so lost that we were unable to find “home” by nightfall. These things just work out. Keeping a sense of humor is the tricky part! :)

Aren’t you afraid of being taken advantage of?

No, we aren’t, because we fully expect to be. Next issue.

Aren’t you afraid of having stuff stolen?

No, we aren’t because we know stuff will be stolen, at home or abroad, makes no difference. We had both mirrors very carefully stolen off of the van in New Orleans over Mardi Gras a few years ago. We had ipods lifted in Vietnam. It happens.

Aren’t you afraid of getting sick in some godforsaken place?

We have been, and we will be again. It’s not something we’re afraid of, it’s something we prepare for to the fullest extent possible. Including insurance, immunizations, a hefty first aid kit, and a habit of taking note of where the nearest hospitals are.

Aren’t you afraid of getting lost?

Nope. We made friends with the concept.

Aren’t you afraid of strangers?

Statistically, we should be afraid of the people we know. They’re the ones most likely to kidnap us or harm us in some way. Strangers have no reason to wish us harm, and consequentially are a safe and delightful bunch. “Stranger Danger” is a pernicious idea. I can’t imagine a worse thing to teach a kid than that the world is out to get him, when the exact opposite is the reality. Discretion is worth developing, the ability to “read” people is important to study and discuss with emerging adults, but to seed fear and distrust? How awful. Are we afraid of strangers? No, certainly not.

Aren’t you afraid of picking up hitchhikers?

We pick up loads of hitchhikers, the legit looking ones. I’ve never been afraid to pull over and pick up a traveling brother or sister, even when I’m alone. You can argue the hypothetical dangers until you are blue in the face and I will ask you one question: What is your PERSONAL experience? If you’ve never hitchhiked, or never picked up a hitchhiker, then frankly, I don’t think you get to weigh in. Statistically, there is less danger to picking up hitchers than there is driving your car to Walmart. Here are the facts from our personal experience: We’ve met dozens and dozens of fantastic people. We’ve made life long friends of a few. We had dinner with a real live knight because we picked up a hitchhiker. And here’s the icing on the cake: Are you ready?

This very day we are surfing east around Melbourne, Australia, on our way to spend a few days with dear family friends. How did we meet them? They picked up my mom and dad when they were hitching their way across North Africa forty years ago.

Now tell me again, how dangerous it is… and not in hypotheticals; back it up with personal experience or real data, then we’ll talk.

Aren’t you afraid of taking rides from strangers?

Nope. Not ever. We’re also not stupid about it, but we’ve never had a bad experience, nor do we know anyone who has (and we know hundreds and hundreds of pretty hard core travelers.)

Aren’t you afraid of running out of money and being stranded somewhere?

Ha! Always, and never. Money is a constant worry for everyone, isn’t it? This is one of those “7 P’s” moments, as my Uncle Dick would say: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. We’ve run out of money (the 2008 market crash found us in Italy and swept away our entire trip savings) We had back up plans. We applied strategy to the situation. We’ve gotten stranded, but not for long. You figure it out, you know? Just like at home. I’m very glad not to find myself out of money and stranded somewhere in suburbia which is the antithesis of living my dreams. So yes, we’re afraid of running out of money and being stranded, just like you are, but we work through that, just like you do.

Here’s the thing about fear: You’re either paralyzed by it, or you’re actively overcoming it.

There are things to legitimately fear and there are precautions every traveler should be taking to minimize the risks. However, most of the fears that keep people from taking their dream trip are minor things, or things that can be planned for and risks reduced if not eliminated.

Read the full article, including why I’m not afraid of traveling with my children 

 

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Category: On The Road, Travel Safety

August 24, 2014

An interview with Freelance Writer Joe Henley

As part of some tips for successful travel and freelance writing, I decided to interview Joe Henley. He is a Canadian freelance writer and death metal singer for Taiwanese band Revilement who has spent the past few years living in Taiwan, and will released his debut novel, “Sons of the Republic”, on American imprint Library Tales Publishing on September 12th 2014.

He’s an example of someone who set out to live in a foreign country and worked hard to realize the “writer’s dream”. I asked him a few questions to bring his experience as a useful example for other budding wannabe Vagabonding writers. read on… and as Joe says, keep writing.

How did you become a writer in Taiwan? Is being a white English native speaker an asset to break into a foreign country’s journalistic and media scene?

I started off working in academic publishing. I worked a somewhat dreadful desk job for years, actually, churning out articles and test materials for ESL publications. For that particular job, being a native English speaker was definitely part of what got me hired. There are labor laws here preventing companies from hiring anyone for jobs related to the ESL field who don’t come from certain countries wherein English is the official language. Then I started off getting freelance gigs on the side, and gradually built up my stable of regular jobs to the point where I was able to quit that job almost two years ago. It was fucking glorious.

Joe Henley (11 of 33) copyIs writing your main source of income, or is it still some sort of a part time job?

Now it’s my main source of income, though I do still supplement with other work. I’ve got a bit of a radio voice so I can get gigs doing voice overs for various things here and there. But mainly it’s writing and editing now.

Is travel writing a viable market in Taiwan, or do you have to write across different topics/platforms to make ends meet?

I think you definitely have to write across different topics and platforms to make a living. I do some travel writing for various publications, but it’s such a niche thing when you’re only dealing with one country, and a relatively small one at that. One of my regular jobs besides travel writing is covering the local music scene, but I also write about politics, sports, the arts—anything, really. You have to hustle to make ends meet, and that means being as diverse as possible. (more…)

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Category: Asia, Expat Life, Lifestyle Design, Travel Writing, Vagabonding Life

August 22, 2014

When adversity strikes, two things are under your control…

Working on Trinity

(Working on Trinity)

As you may have guessed from the photo above, the situation with Trinity went further downhill from my last post. Here’s the video I shot at the end of a very long day – when it was clear that Trinity just wasn’t going to make it home.

When Adversity Strikes - Video

(Click image to watch video)

(Note: excuse the hokey way I linked the video in – I couldn’t figure out how to embed it into the blog!)

From there, I continued limping in to Grand Junction, CO and arranged to pick up Uma the U-Haul. The last few hundred miles were going to be a different type of journey — one where I had to remember how to drive a big(ish) truck! I’ve been on the motorcycle for a few months, so there *was* a learning curve!

Meet Uma the Uhaul

(Meet Uma the U-Haul)

He’s a shot while crossing the Rockies. I really wish I’d been on bike for this, but that just means I’ll have to make another ride down – once Trinity is back on her wheels!

Uma and the Rockies

(Uma and the Rockies)

Until next time – travel safe and enjoy the ride!

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: On The Road, Vagabonding Advice

August 19, 2014

Considering a career break? The time is now: Meet. Plan. Go.

Location Independent

Too many of us are stuck on the merry-go-round of dreaming about a long term travel adventure and a break from the 9-5 of our careers. It seems like something that other people get to do, the lucky ones, not us. So, we stalk their blogs, we wish we knew where to start, we keep dreaming, but we remain stuck where we are.

Sound familiar?

If that’s you, if you’ve been longing to take the plunge, have an adventure and recreate your life and career on your own terms then you don’t want to miss Meet. Plan. Go. It’s a one day event, limited to only 150 participants, in NYC on September 20th. Designed by Sherry Ott and friends to give you the inspiration, encouragement and tools you need to get serious about planning, and more importantly actually taking, that career break you’ve been thinking about.

Rolf is going to be there, along with a whole team of career break veterans who will speak from personal experience about the benefits and challenges of taking the leap. Whether you’re planning a solo trip, or a year of travel with your whole family, there will be experts on hand to help move you forward.

Space is limited. Time is limited. The possibilities are endless.

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Category: Travel News

August 16, 2014

The Worst Tourists in the World

Paris20_6164I read with interest a recent study by the Trans-Global Association for Travel and Tourism Commerce, which rated the behavior of tourists from all the world’s industrialized countries. Consistently ranking last in the study — bottoming out in categories ranging from airline etiquette to podiatric hygiene — were travelers from Great Britain. “This settles it,” a TATTC spokesperson was quoted as saying. “The British are the worst tourists in the world.”

Actually, I’m just kidding. There is no such thing as the Trans-Global Association for Travel and Tourism Commerce. I made it up just now, because I know that people like to obsess over international rankings, and I’ve been looking for a chance to poke fun at the British.

Mind you, I don’t really think the British are bad tourists. To the contrary, I’ve usually found travelers from the U.K. to be friendly, well read, and quite prolific in their wanderings. You can find Brits in all corners of the world, from Valparaiso to Vladivostok, and they most always make good travel companions.

The problem I have with the British, however, is that — to a bigger extent than other travelers I’ve met — they seem to be obsessed with stereotypes of national character.

I used to think that British travelers were just disproportionately gung-ho about bashing Americans (apparently, we’re noisy, over-religious, and we’re supposed to use a “u” when we spell “color”). Over time, however, I’ve discovered that Brits also hold strong preconceptions about nearly every nationality in the travel milieu, from the Swiss (officious and dull), to the Japanese (unimaginative and over-polite), to the Argentines (narcissistic and sex-obsessed).

In fact, were I to base my perceptions entirely on the basis of Britannic generalizations, I could very well conclude that the world’s worst tourists are roughly categorized as follows:

  1. Americans: Ignorant. Loud. Oblivious to surroundings. Insincere.
  2. French: Rude. Bigoted. A trifle out of touch with reality.
  3. Germans: Humorless. Rule-obsessed. Unfriendly. Stubborn.
  4. Israelis: Rude. Cheap. Arrogant. Cliquish.
  5. Canadians: Exactly like Americans, but more polite, less ignorant, and twenty times more boring.

Before I go any further here, I will admit three things. First, I realize the circular logic inherent in making generalizations about the generalizations of British travelers (and I apologize if you happen to be one of those Brits who isn’t a nationalistic busybody). Second, I realize that half the readers who’ve stumbled across my column this week have skipped straight from the headline to the above list, and are now typing angry things in the comments section below (especially if they happen to be American, French, German, Israeli, or Canadian). And, third, I’ll concede that the British fixation with national character reveals an impressive knack for world geography (in contrast to us Americans, who associate “Vienna” less with a European city than with canned snack sausages).

Were I a more meticulous analyst, I might posit that this British tendency is the cultural residue of Victorian-era self-superiority (vivid examples of which can be found in most any 19th century British travel guidebook, one of which described Valencian Spaniards as “perfidious, vindictive, sullen, mistrustful, fickle, treacherous, smooth, empty of all good, snarling and biting like hyenas, and smiling as they murder”). Since I’m no scholar, however, I’ll just point out that the British affinity for stereotyping their fellow wanderers is a mostly harmless amplification of what all travelers do from time to time.

The problem here is that assessing your travel companions by nationality is rarely an earnest inquiry so much as it is a dull parlor game — an empty exercise in rhetorical one-upmanship. The worst travelers in the world are, after all, the rude, small-minded ones — and rude, small-minded travelers can hail from any nation.

Moreover, most hostel-lounge arguments about which countries export good or bad travelers fail to take in the local perspective. A few years ago, a survey conducted by international tourist offices found that the oft-disparaged Germans and Americans were rated most favorably by host communities around the world. This rating didn’t hinge on cultural or aesthetic opinions, but the simple fact that Germans and Americans spend money more generously than their tourist counterparts. Economic benefit, it would appear, was more important to local hosts than the common traveler obsessions with fashion, geopolitics, and collective behaviors in tacky backpacker nightclubs.

My point, then, is a simple one: The next time you find yourself in a heated argument over which nation produces the best or worst tourists, this is probably an indicator that you’ve been spending too much time yapping in hostel lounges and not enough time outside having engaged adventures.

And that, in its own way, means you’re a bad tourist.

Tip sheet: How to avoid being an ugly American (or wherever it is you’re from)
1) Study up on the local culture.

Get to know something about a place before you go there. Read novels and travel books about the region, and study guidebooks to learn about customs, manners, and cultural norms. Learn a few phrases of the language (such as greetings, thank yous, numbers, and food terms). Keep in mind that culture expresses itself at an instinctive level — not an intellectual level — and that different standards of time, courtesy, and personal service may apply in far-off lands.

2) Listen, and ask questions.

On the road, make it a habit to talk less and listen more. Travel is hardly the time to extol the virtues (or shortcomings) your home country; instead be curious about how people think in the place you’re visiting. Ask follow-up questions. Seek to maintain open-mindedness, which is a process of listening and considering — of muting your compulsion to judge what is right and wrong, good and bad, proper and improper, and having the tolerance and patience to try and see things for what they are.

3) Avoid arguing politics.

Avoid political proselytizing, regardless of which end of the political spectrum you think you represent. At home, political convictions are a tool for getting things done within your community; on the road, political convictions are a clumsy set of experiential blinders, compelling you to seek evidence for conclusions you’ve already drawn. If you really are liberal and enlightened (or conservative and informed) you will stop yammering about politics and learn something about the culture you’re visiting.

4) Avoid traveling in large groups.

If your sorority or church group or wiccan pilates club decides to travel to Paris or Quito or Bangkok as an eight-some, do everyone a favor and split into groups of two. This will make you less noisy, less self-enclosed, more approachable, and more open to what’s going on around you. If nobody wants to split off from the group with you, tackle the day solo. I guarantee that you will have more memorable adventures on your own than with a big group of travelers.

5) Give respect and you get respect.

Having rigid stereotypes about individuals you haven’t taken the time to know is silly in all contexts. As a representative of your own country, the best way to win respect is to show respect to everyone you meet. Odds are, your hosts will return the favor.

[This Rolf Potts article originally appeared in Yahoo! News on Oct. 9, 2006. All rights reserved.]

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Category: Hospitality, Hostels/Hotels, Travel Writing, Vagabonding Advice

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 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

August 8, 2014

Remaining flexible and happy travel accidents

Overheated near Barstow

(Overheated near Barstow.)

Well folks – a small change in plans! I was going to do a different type of post this week and upload a video of some gorgeous canyons that I rode through in Arizona. Alas it isn’t to be. First, I’m can’t find an Internet connection with a decent upload rate. More importantly, I’m fixing poor Trinity (my beautiful companion — i.e. the Triumph above). That photo was taken near Barstow (or Baker – I don’t remember) and was the first time she’s ever overheated. It also wasn’t the last. Then, last night, I must have pissed off the biker gods, because this happened:

My poor tire

(My poor tire. Must have run over a hardware store.)

So – you can imagine that I’m pretty upset and pissed, right? Nope. If there’s one thing that travel has taught me, it’s to remain flexible and adapt to changing circumstances. I see travel and adventure as an inoculation against petty anxieties and fears. It just puts things into perspective. Sure, I have a troublesome bike and a flat tire – but I’m also traveling through some gorgeous roads in Utah. The scenery is amazing, the weather isn’t bad and there are lots of people and supplies around. Hell, I’ve broken down in Siberia with temperatures dipping below -35 degrees. I’ve broken down in the Gobi Desert after a flash rainstorm which turned everything to impassable mud. In comparison, this breakdown is pretty tame.

Then I was reminded about all the happy accidents which happen when things go awry. I was gathering supplies to tune-up Trinity and (hopefully) fix the overheating problem when I discovered the flat tire. I went back into the store for more supplies. When I came out, I noticed that a van had pulled up next to my bike. The driver introduced himself as Steve and wanted to check if I was okay. Caring people just make me feel good.

We began to swap stories and I learned that he was a retired school teacher and when he was younger had lived in the Ukraine and Latvia. What are the odds of running into someone who also enjoys the people of Eastern Europe and Russia? He also let me use his compressor and made sure I got to a nearby motel. Now I have another story to tell and a great experience.

This seems to happen over and over again. Things go off plan, we begin to improvise and happy accidents happen. I remember running getting lost, running late and thus meeting an incredible Polish family outside of Auschwitz. They gave us a a private tour of the surrounding town and invited us have dinner with them. The time we made a wrong turn in Siberia and had to turn back after half a day of battling impassible roads, only to run into a man and his son. Their snowmobile had broken down, so we gave them a lift back to the nearby village where they invited us in. That turned into one of my favorite nights on the Siberian trek. The time I crashed an ambulance into a huge drainage pipe in Mongolia. We met a wonderful man who invited us into his yurt for a traditional Mongolian meal and set us up for the night.

Some of my best memories began when things went wrong. 

How about you? What are some of your stories? When was your last “happy accident”?

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: On The Road, Vagabonding Advice

August 3, 2014

What’s the best water purifier for traveling?

2014-06-15 12.26.05

Water is a huge deal when you’re traveling. Drinking contaminated water is the quickest way to sabotage your health. But water quality can vary greatly outside the United States, especially in developing countries.

You could stick exclusively to bottled water. But your budget (and the environment) would hate you.

But don’t worry — there’s a better way. You can purify the available water. This method eliminates the protozoa and bacteria so the water is safe to drink.

Perhaps you’ve done some research on water sanitizers. In your research, two words have popped up: purifier and filter. They seem to be used interchangeably. And they appear to both clean your water.

But they’re for two different functions and one is better for traveling than the other.

Difference between purifier and filters

Filters attack the visible gunk in your water. They transform muddy water to clear, pretty water.

Filters are commonly used when camping or hiking. Typically mountain streams are clean of the bacteria found in overpopulated areas. Instead, this water is laden with twigs, mud, and other debris. The filter separates all that out of your water.

Whereas, the purifier works on a microscopic level to cleanse your water of nasty bacteria. Water-related illnesses are linked to 1 of 3 types of pathogens (disease-carrying pests). Purifiers rid your water of all 3 pathogens.

Typically while traveling, you’re not worried about twigs in your drinking water. Instead, you’re worried about the bacteria that will make you sick. That’s why purifiers are best for international travel, so your water can be sterile and safe to drink.

Some devices offer an integrated filter and purification system. However, most of the devices on this list are strictly for water purification.

How to purify your water

You have three options to purify your water:

  1. Iodine/chemicals
  2. UV light
  3. Boiling
  4. High tech filters

Top three water purifiers for travel

grayl

Grayl

A water purifier that works like a french press and comes in its own handsome bottle. You simply fill up the bottle with water, press, and clean water fills up in the inner reservoir. It filters 16oz of water in 15 seconds. It’s G3 filter captures 99.999% of bacteria and protozoan cysts like Giardia and viruses like Hepatis A.

If that wasn’t enough, it’s stainless steel body is sleek and handsome. And, my favorite part: it doesn’t have a straw, but rather a snap lid. Perfect for the traveler who aims for minimalism and one-device-for-all.

Pros: It purifies in 15 seconds. The container is attractive and looks more like a to-go coffee mug than high tech water purifier.

Cons: It’s designed for one person’s use. So to fill up a Playpus or Nalgene for later, you’ll have to clean another bottle of water and wait 15 seconds.

Cost: Total cost, including filter: $70

Replacement purifier: $40

Lifespan of purifier: 150 L

lifesaver-bottle-300x300

Lifesaver Bottle

This is the only purifier and filtration combo device on this list. Resembling a biker’s water bottle, this device removes all bacteria, viruses, cysts, parasites, fungi and other microbiological waterborne pathogens without using any chemicals. And it doesn’t use any batteries, power or UV light. So it’s ideal for going totally off the grid.

Simply fill up the bottle with whatever water is available, swiftly pump two or three times, and drink clean water. When the cartridge is depleted, the bottle shuts down. All parts, including cartridges, carbon filters, and sponge pre-filter, can be replaced.

Perfect for the countries where you can’t count on clear water and need heavy-duty water purification, without relying on power.

Pros: I like the purifier and filtration combo. And that the water is clean quickly, without relying upon outside power or technology that could break down.

Cons: The initial cost is the priciest purifier on the list. Plus, parts and filters are expensive to replace.

Cost: Total cost: $170

Replacement parts: $100 per cartridge, $8 per carbon filter, $6 per pre-filter

Lifespan of bottle: 6,000 L

steripen

SteriPen Ultra

UV light kills 99.99% of waterborne bacteria in 16oz of water in 48 seconds. You simply put the upside-down pen into the water and stir the water to treat. You can use this UV light pen in any water container (like Nalgene bottles and store-bought bottles). The Water Quality Association awarded SteriPen with a Gold Seal, certifying its effectiveness.

Lightweight and slender, this little guy is a perfect match for the lightweight traveler.

No need for batteries as the SteriPen comes with a USB cable and you can easily charge it. You can even hook it up to a solar charger. You get about 40 treatments per charge.

Pros: The compact size and that you can purify any bottle of water in less than a minute. The geek in me loves the idea of the UV light killing bacteria. I also like that you can charge this device almost anywhere thanks to the USB charger.

Cons: Your water has to be clean (i.e. no floaties or sediment) to start with. According to some reviewers online, your water container has to be very, very clean. Beware, some Amazon reviewers reported faulty LED screens, the device has the tendency to turn on in your backpack and drain its battery.

Cost: Total cost: $99.95

Lifespan of UV light: 8,000 L

Which one would I pick?

Before this article, I would have chosen the SteriPen based on the compact design and ability to sterilize any bottle of water.

But now, it’s a toss up between the Grayl and the Lifesaver. I like to camp, and the purifier and filtration combo is very attractive because of that. Combined with the fact that the Lifesaver doesn’t rely on any outside power and seems perfect for any traveling situation.

However, the Grayl would be my choice for a traveling-only purifier. You can’t beat sterile water in 15 seconds and the low initial cost price.

But, keep in mind, I have not tried any of these devices and real life may alter my decision.

Laura blogs at Waiting To Be Read where she explores the benefits of reading and traveling, is forever making “best of” lists, and writes three-second book reviews with actors cast as the book’s main characters.

Laura blogs at www.lauralopuch.com where she explores the benefits of reading and traveling, makes tons of lists, and writes book reviews with actors cast as main characters. – See more at: http://www.vagablogging.net/how-to-combat-jet-lag-and-win.html#sthash.8HGThmRr.dpuf

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Category: Travel Gear

August 2, 2014

Around the world in 80 hours of TV

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Photo Credit: alvaro tapia hidalgo via Compfight cc

PRELUDE

Day 5, Hour 77: 9:53 pm.

Twenty-three hotel floors above the gritty neon splendor of downtown Las Vegas, I am nearing the end of a bewildering travel experiment: For the past five days, I have been watching the Travel Channel for the entirety of my waking hours, without ever changing the station or (save a few key occasions) leaving my hotel room.

My goal has been to create an intensive, vicarious televisual adventure — to glean five days’ worth of travel experiences from the glowing parameters of a single TV set and figure out what the Travel Channel might be saying about how one should see the world.

In the 77 hours since my experiment began, I have witnessed many wonders. I have, for example, seen three grown men shriek like schoolgirls while locked overnight inside a dubiously haunted English inn. I have learned that ants in the Ecuadorian Amazon taste like lemons, that Gulf Coast raccoons taste like turkey, and that Andean guinea pigs taste like roast pork shoulder. I have learned that nachos are not authentic Mexican food, and that the Japanese have invented a toilet that can both wash and blow-dry your ass. I have seen two separate shows that sing the praises of deep-fried Twinkies, and I’ve heard the phrase “like a party in your mouth” used to describe the culinary merits of three separate food products. I have seen a restaurant full of Americans cheer like hockey fans while watching two guys devour a 10-pound pizza in less than an hour.

I have also watched commercials — more than 2000 of them in the course of five days. According to the tally marks in my notebook, I have been invited to visit Jamaica 16 times, been warned 51 times that my existing health insurance might not be adequate for my retirement needs, and thrice been asked to ponder how Cheez-It is able to bake so much cheesy goodness into such small bites.

I have left my hotel three times in the past five days, and been nearly robbed once.

In exactly 7 minutes (once the guy who ate the 10-pound pizza finishes eating a 4.5-pound steak), my TV marathon will culminate with two back-to-back episodes of a show called America’s Worst Driver, which — like many shows on the Travel Channel — doesn’t appear to be about travel.

Brandishing my notebook, I stare at the screen with a fatigued sense of resolve and ponder the events that brought me to this moment.

Read the rest of Rolf’s TV adventures on Gadling

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Category: Rolf Potts, Travel Video
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