July 22, 2014

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

Camping with kids

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

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

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

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

You have to really WANT to do this.

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

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

Marriage is like that.

Raising kids is like that.

Traveling is like that.

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

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

You have to really WANT to do this.

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

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

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

What do you really want to do?

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Category: Family Travel, Oceania, On The Road

July 20, 2014

My top beaches around the world

Since it’s summer and the beach is on my mind, I thought I would do a recap of my favorite beaches I’ve visited over the years. I’m not really one for the crowded party beaches, or cold weather beaches, both of those seem to have made my list because of how beautiful they are. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that there’s nothing much better than walking a quite beach at sunset, reading a good book in the shade, or enjoying a tropical drink with the ocean in view. Most of these beaches took a bit of traveling to get to but they were worth it.

We’ll start with Italy, specifically the Amalfi Coast.

A friend and I made the trip here a few years ago and I was amazed at how picturesque it was. We rented a car and had to drive up along the coastal cliffs, which for me was a bit nerve-wrecking. The roads were narrow and windy and people drive insanely fast. In September we were able to find a last minute hotel for around $40 a night, with a beautiful ocean view. To get to the beach you had to follow steep switchback stairs for about half an hour through charming coastal neighborhoods. Some parts of the beach are crowded, others very secluded.

Beach number two, Gili Meno, a small island in Indonesia.

Getting here required a flight to Bali, then a flight to the island of Lombok, then a taxi to the harbor, and then a long boat to the second island in the Gili chain. My friend and I were dropped off on the beach after sunset with no hotel reservations and no plan, but as we walked the coast we easily found a hotel with friend staff right on the beach (as are all of the hotels there). You can walk the perimeter of the entire island in one hour, and the sunsets are supposedly world famous.

(more…)

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Category: General, Images from the road, On The Road

July 19, 2014

Skepticism and salvation in Cyprus

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Photo Credit: TeryKats via Compfight cc

Perhaps I never would have met the Iranian had it not been for the influenza
epidemic raging across Europe at the time. Because of the flu,
Larnaca — a holiday beach town on the southern coast of Cyprus — was
nearly empty of tourists. I was walking along the deserted beachfront
promenade when a lone man in coveralls approached me.

“I am from Iran,” he said. “I think you are not from Cyprus.”

I smiled at both the man’s abrupt introduction and his unusual appearance.
He looked like he’d just come in from bow-hunting deer in Idaho: dark-green
coveralls, heavy boots, a bright orange stocking cap. He wore thick
glasses and looked to be about 40 years old.

“Yes, I’m not from Cyprus,” I told him. “I’m from America.”

“America!” the man exclaimed. “I have an American nickname: Harrison.
Like Harrison Ford. I made up this name because I like Harrison Ford, and I
love America. In my mind, I think that America must be like Paradise. Is
it wonderful to live there?”

“Well I wouldn’t call it Paradise, but I like living there.”

“I wish I could go to America, but I cannot get a visa. So last week I came
here to Cyprus instead.”

“Vacation?”

The Iranian scoffed. “For me, there is no vacation. I come here to fix
satellites.”

“Satellites?”

“Yes, that is my work. The police in Iran don’t like satellites, so I have
to come to Cyprus. There are many satellites in Larnaca.”

Since I was quite certain Cyprus didn’t have a space program, I decided to
clarify. “What kind of satellites?”

“Satellites!” Harrison exclaimed. He pointed skyward and waved his hands
around. “In Iran, the police say they are bad for women, so I have no
work.”

“How are satellites bad for women?”

“With a satellite, women can see too many things. They can see Dallas.”

“Dallas?”

“Dallas! Julia Roberts! CNN! The police think women will forget their
duty to Islam.”

“Oh, right. You fix satellite dishes.”

“And many other electronics. But Iran is not a good place for me to live or
work. I hope Cyprus is better. Tell me, did you come to Larnaca for
living?”

“No, I’m just here for a visit.”

“A tourist! You come for the beach, or to see Lazarus?”

“What’s Lazarus?”

“Lazarus. He was friends with Jesus. His tomb is here. Don’t you read the
Bible?”

“Of course, but I’m pretty sure his tomb should be in Israel. And it should
be empty, since the story is that Jesus raised him from the dead.”

“Yes, but after Jesus gave him life, Lazarus decided to come to Cyprus. If
you wish, I can show you where is his tomb.”

“Sure,” I shrugged. “Let’s see it.”

As I followed the stocking-capped Iranian away from the beachfront, I
couldn’t help chuckling at the thought of Lazarus choosing to come to
Cyprus (of all places) after his resurrection. I kept getting this mental
image of a post-miracle press event at the open tomb in Bethany, with
reporters shoving in to ask questions. “Lazarus,” I imagined them saying,
“Jesus just raised you from the dead after four days in the tomb — what’ll
you do now?” And instead of Disneyland, Lazarus tells them he’s going to
Larnaca.

“Why do you smile?” Harrison asked me as we went down the winding back streets of Larnaca in search of the tomb.

“I’m just wondering why Lazarus came to Cyprus,” I said. “I’m wondering
what he did when he got here.”

The Iranian shrugged. “He died again, I think.”

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -
Lazarus or no Lazarus, I had never planned on going to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus in the first place. Originally, my plan had been to find a direct flight from Rome to Cairo. I’d soon discovered, however, that Cyprus Air offered passage to Cairo at less than half the cost of other airlines. The only catch was a 24-hour layover in Larnaca. Always a sucker for cheap airfare, I went for it.

The drawback to this was that I arrived in Cyprus without any idea of what I
could see or do there. The tourist authority at the Larnaca airport gave
me a stack of brochures, but it seemed self-defeating to spend much time
studying them when I had only a day in the country. When I’d skimmed over
the parts about how Larnaca featured the St. Lazarus Church, it never occurred
to me that Lazarus himself might be there. The Iranian who called himself
Harrison set me straight.

“Do you believe in Lazarus?” he asked as we made our way to the tomb.

“Well, I don’t really believe he was raised from the dead after four days,”
I said.

“But his bones are here in Larnaca! Don’t you believe in the Christian
God?”

“I believe in God, but I also believe in a healthy dose of skepticism.”

“What is ‘skepticism’?”

“Skepticism is like doubt. A skeptic is someone who doesn’t believe very
easily. That’s me.”

“Do you believe in artificial blood?”

This question threw me a bit. “Artificial blood? Like in the movies?”

“No, in real life. The blood that people use.”

“I don’t think I know about that.”

“It comes from America, and doctors use it. I read this in a magazine, and
it sounded crazy. Still, I am not a skeptic. I think it is real. I want
to see it and know what color it is. I want to know how it is made. Do you
know where I might see some?”

“Actually, this is the first I’ve heard of anything like artificial blood.”

“You are a skeptic.”

I laughed. “Or maybe just ignorant.”

Harrison reached out and took me lightly by the arm. “Do you know how to
get a visa to America?” he said in a quiet voice.

“Not really,” I said. “I’m from America, so of course I don’t need a visa
to go there. Why do you want one — you want to see artificial blood that badly?”

“Iran is a bad place,” he said, ignoring my clumsy joke. “There was some
hope before, but things are getting bad. The elections will make things
worse. I don’t want to go back; I want to leave.”

“What about Cyprus? Aren’t you going to stay here?”

“My visa is only for three months. But while I am here, I want to get an
American visa. Can’t you help me?”

“I’d like to, but I don’t know anything about the visa process. Especially
for Iranians.”

“Can you write down for me your name and address in America? Maybe it would
help if I had an American friend.”

“I don’t think having an address will make a difference. Especially the
address of someone you just met in the street.”

Harrison looked a bit hurt by this comment. “But I think we are already
friends,” he insisted.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -
St. Lazarus Church is a sturdy stone structure in a clean courtyard not far from the old Larnaca Fort. Harrison waited outside as I entered to discover a narrow maze of wooden pews, vaulted ceilings and curving stone-block columns. Ornate chandeliers hung from the stone arches, and an intricate gilded iconostation dominated the front of the church. Byzantine saints with golden halos peeked out from every wall and corner. A painted wooden altar in the middle of the church contained a silver crucifix and large glass disc fastened down with a ruby-studded rim. Beneath the glass was the yellowed crown of a human skull.

According to church tradition, Lazarus went to Cyprus in about A.D. 33 to
escape persecution at the hands of the Jews in Bethany. He settled in
Larnaca (then called Kition) and was consecrated as the first bishop of
Kition by the Apostles Paul and Barnabas. During his time in Cyprus,
Lazarus never smiled save on one occasion, when he saw someone stealing a
pot and said, “The clay steals the clay.” His melancholy demeanor was said
to be a result of the four days his soul spent in Hades before Jesus raised
him from the dead. He died for the second and final time in A.D. 63, and
the present stone church was built on the site of his tomb in the late ninth
century.

Harrison was waiting for me outside when I’d finished peering around inside
the old church. “Was it a good place?” he said. “Are you glad I showed it
to you?”

“Yes,” I said. “It was very interesting.”

“Do you believe in Lazarus now?”

“No, I’m afraid I’m still a skeptic when it comes to Lazarus.”

“I am not a skeptic. I believe in Lazarus.”

“Are you a Christian?”

“Of course not!” he laughed. “I am a Muslim.”

“Do Muslims believe in the miracle of Lazarus?”

“The Koran does not speak of Lazarus. But the Koran does say that Jesus
could do miracles. I think it is bad to be a skeptic. I think you should
believe.”

“A skeptic believes in many things, but he also doubts. All I’m saying is
that I doubt the miracle of Lazarus.”

“But how can you doubt miracles if you believe in God?”

“God is God — I just don’t believe he deals much in miracles. I don’t much
believe in believers, either. That’s how skepticism works.”

Harrison nodded solemnly. “There are too many believers in Iran. I think I
am a skeptic sometimes, too.” He paused for a moment, then went on. “Do
you think I am a good man?”

“Sure, I think so.”

“Then can you please give me your address for an American visa?”

“I don’t think my address will make a difference on your visa.”

“But will you give it to me?”

For some reason, I didn’t want to encourage what seemed like a doomed
enterprise. “It will take a lot more than my address to get you to
America.”

“But will you give it to me?”

I gave Harrison a hesitant stare, still not comfortable at being the object
of such blind hope. “OK,” I said finally. “Give me some paper.”

Harrison unzipped his coveralls and took out a small, dogeared notebook.
“If anybody asks, you must tell them I am your friend.”

“I think I can do that,” I said. I took the notebook and wrote down my
American address — touched by Harrison’s desperate sense of optimism, but
still skeptical at his odds for a new life.

When I’d finished, Harrison thanked me profusely and made vague plans to meet me that evening. After he’d gone, I stuck around the courtyard to stroll
through the Byzantine museum and examine the marble graves in the adjacent Protestant merchant cemetery.

Before I went back to the waterfront, however, I returned to the St. Lazarus
sanctuary to get one more look at what may or may not have been the bones of a man who may or may not have been raised from the dead.

 

Originally published by Salon.com in February 2000

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Category: Rolf Potts, Travel Writing

July 15, 2014

Vagabonding Book Club: Chapter 10

Offerings, Bali

“Thus, travel compels you to discover your spiritual side by simple elimination: Without all the rituals, routines and possessions that give your life meaning at home, you’re forced to look for meaning within yourself…. Indeed, if travel is a process that helps you “find yourself,” it’s because it leaves you with nothing to hide behind– it yanks you out from the realm of rehearsed responses and dull comforts, and forces you into the present. Here in the fleeting moment, you are left to improvise, to come to terms with your raw, true Self.”

Chapter 10 Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts

This chapter falls in an interesting week for me, having just finished walking the Camino de Santiago, 800 km, France into Spain a little over a week ago. It was an interesting thing, to make a pilgrimage as a non-religious person. My experience, over the years of travel, has been the same as Rolf’s, in that the moments of greatest spiritual impact and growth have, invariably, been mundane moments and not visits to great temples or sunrise yoga sessions. For me, the forward motion of travel has become a meditation of its own; a ritual that draws me back to the essentials of my internal life. Lightening my physical pack and lightening the internal loads as well.

I love the image of how travel systematically strips away all of the things that we hide behind: material possessions, relationships, jobs and titles, busy-ness, social constructs and a million other things. We’re left standing in the world, naked, with no one looking except ourselves. It is in that moment that we begin to see who we really are. Sometimes it’s necessary to walk naked for quite some distance before we can begin to pick up a few things and clothe ourselves intentionally in the lessons we’ve learned and the discoveries of self as we relate to the whole, in both the temporal and spiritual sense. To me, the truest of spiritual revelations have their boots fully grounded in the mud on the trail.

How about you? Do you travel for spiritual reasons? Where have you been? What have you learned? What surprised you about the journey?

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Category: Travel Writing

July 13, 2014

Lessons from a tour guide, part I

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

plane image for blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

venice 1

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

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

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

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

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

July 11, 2014

Lesson from Siberia: making it till morning

Camping in Siberia

(Camping in Siberia)

Earlier this year, I rode a Ural motorcycle and sidecar through Siberia, up 1800km of ice roads and ending in the Arctic Circle. It was one hell of a journey which taught me how to survive in extreme sub-zero temperatures. More importantly, it expanded my limits and showed me what I was capable of.

One of the most important lessons happened on the second night of the trip – our first attempt camping out. Now, I don’t know about you, but I had never camped in extreme cold before. Sure – I had tested out my equipment on a -20C night in South Dakota, but there is a world of difference once you get below -30C. That night was mild, compared to the rest of the trip, but it still hit -32C.

So – we setup camp and tried to building a fire. We could make a lot of smoke, but couldn’t get a strong fire blazing. Fortunately, with the help of a good MSR camp stove, we were able to boil enough water to fill our bellies with pelmeni. Around 9pm we called it a night. I was riding solo, so I had a tent to myself. Quickly I stripped down to base layers and stuffed the upper layers into my sleeping bag to keep them from freezing. After the long day, I fell asleep quickly.

Waking up inside the tent

(Waking up inside the tent)

Around midnight, I woke up and realized that I couldn’t feel my toes. Now, one of my biggest fears was getting frostbite and loosing a few digits. I could feel the panic rising; but, after a few slow breaths, I was able to get it under control. I tried flexing my toes, but they wouldn’t move. I took a moment to think about my options – get up and try to get my blood flowing? Aside from my feet, I was warm enough in the sleeping bag. I didn’t know how much body heat I’d lose by getting out. I wasn’t sure how well I’d be able to stand on my numb feet. Too many unknowns, so I decided to stay where I was and move my legs to get blood flowing. After a few minutes of that, my core was getting warmer, but my toes were still numb. Time for a different tack. I had just enough room in my sleeping bag to bring one foot at a time up within reach. I used my hands to manually flex my toes and warmed them up by contact. After a few minutes, I could feel them again and was able to move them just a bit. I switched feet and repeated.

Each time I would put a foot down to work on the other one, it would go numb again. I just couldn’t seem to keep them going without working them with my hands. I kept at it. After I was sure eons had passed, I checked the time, only to be disappointed that only a few minutes had gone by. I began to think things through – I had several hours to go until the sun would come out and temperatures would begin to rise. Would I be able to make it until morning? Did I have another choice?

So that eternally long night, I kept at it – switching feet every few minutes and wishing I could fast forward to morning. I couldn’t control time, though, all I had control over was my will to endure. I began to relax and just focused on the task at hand.  Eventually, the sun began to rise. As soon as the inside of the tent began to glow, I breathed a sigh of relief and knew that I would be okay.

The moment I knew I'd be okay

(The moment I knew I’d be okay)

I’ve been taught that lesson before – but sometimes a reminder is necessary. Relax, breath and just focus on what is right in front of you. Keep at it long enough and you’ll eventually make it through to the other side.

Later on during the trip, I camped out in harsher temperatures (-43C) but had a much easier time. Partially I’d say it was due to my body acclimating the the environment and also because I learned a couple tricks — like filling a water bottle with boiling water and putting it at the bottom of your sleeping bag to warm it up. That definitely prolongs your comfort and allows you to get a bit of sleep – but trust me, either way, the mornings are still painful.

It’s funny how that these moments turn into a fond memory. Time and distance do strange things.

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

 

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

July 10, 2014

Finding a good working environment for travelers with online incomes- the travel-hacker way

It is hard to get work done in a hostel, if only for the flurry of social activity vying for one’s attention.

The number one reason that my husband and I really appreciate having status with a few of the major hotel chains is for one important detail: free wifi. We work online so honestly, we wouldn’t be able to travel without wifi.

Or some statuses come with free breakfast, lounge access, business center access, and upgrades. All of these things are in no way necessary. Absolutely luxuries and nothing more. But they happen to be luxuries that are perfectly suited for a person working as they travel. It all makes sense really seeing as these statuses were somewhat designed top make life easier for and reward the loyalty of those traveling on business a bulk of the year.

But these perks are just as convenient for travel bloggers, photographers, programmers or anyone else creating an income online.

Traditionally status is for people who stay a ton of nights with a hotel and spend an exorbitant amount of money with them. (Or rather…someone whose business does so). But luckily there are a few hotel statuses that come as perks for having the hotel credit card. Now, this does require a good credit score and an ability to be smart with your credit, but if you make sure that you are using the card for the perks and not as an excuse to spend money you don’t have, then check out the list below of cards that come with hotel status as a perk.

(For a more thorough rundown of hotel loyalty programs, I recommend our infographic about the Best Hotel Rewards Programs.)

I’ve ordered this list from lowest annual fee to highest.

1.) Hilton HHonors Visa: (no annual fee).

Status earned: Silver

Perks of the status: This is one of the lesser impressive statuses as its only real benefit is a 15% increase on points earnings for paid stays. However, the card comes with a 40,000 point bonus after spending $1,000 in 4 months and has no annual fee.

Status earned: Silver

Perks of the status: This is one of the lesser impressive statuses as its only real benefit is a 15% increase on points earnings for paid stays. However, the card comes with a 40,000 point bonus after spending $1,000 in 4 months and has no annual fee.

2.) IHG Rewards Select Visa: ($49 annual fee, waived for the first year).

Status earned: Platinum Status

Perks of the status: This status is a bit more helpful in that it gives 50% increased points earnings as well as free wifi. Also occasionally (though unofficially) you’ll get a free drink voucher or upgrade as well. It’s not a listed benefit but platinums may still get upgrades when visiting the more budget members of the chain like Holiday Inn, Hotel Indigo, etc.

Also worth mentioning, this credit card comes with an anniversary gift of a free night at any IHG property.

3.) Hyatt Credit Card: ($75 annual fee).

Status earned: Platinum

Perks of the status and perks of the card: Again, this status gives 15% increased points earnings as well as free internet. Better than the status perk however is the credit card’s other perk- a certificate for a free night at any category 1-4 Hyatt property. And, after spending $1,000 in 3 months on this card, you’ll earn 2 free night certificates for any Hyatt property.

4.) Club Carlson Visa: ($75 annual fee).

Status earned: Gold

Perks of the status and perks of the card: Much like the others, this status earns %30 more points for stays and comes with free wifi. The card offers 50,000 points (quite generous) after just the first purchase with a possibility of 35,000 more points after spending $2,500 in the first 90 days of having your card.

This card needs some special attention though because of my favorite credit card perk ever: for every stay you reserve with points, card-holders automatically get a free night added on, including for 1 night stays. It’s almost like a buy one get one arrangement! I cannot tell you how much use my husband and I have made of this perk. Obviously this means that we try to use our Club Carlson points in two-night increments (with the second night being free). Then, since you aren’t allowed to just do back to back two night stays and still receive the extra night perk for both of them, we might make a paid stay in-between our two-night blocks for a total of 5 nights, 2 of which are paid for in points, 2 of which are free, and one for which we pay with cash.

5.) Marriott Visa Signature: ($85 annual fee, waived for the first year).

Status earned: Silver

Perks of the status and perks of the card: This is one of the lesser impressive statuses again as it only gets you a %20 increase on points earnings. The perks of the card itself are alright though, earning 50,000 points after spending $1,000 in 3 months as well as 1 free night certificate for a category 1-4 Marriott property. (On the anniversary of this card, you’ll get a category 1-5 certificate.)

6.) Hilton HHonors Reserve: ($95 annual fee).

Status earned: Gold

Perks of the status and perks of the card: This is at last quite a rewarding status. It earns only %15 extra points for stays but comes with free wifi, lounge access, and free breakfast. The lounge access is sometimes just as good as having access to a business center. Not always as sometimes printing and scanning still costs, but some lounges will have a set-up for free printing etc. But the best part is the free food. Not to mention a great, quiet place to work and sip your free coffee.

Otherwise, the only perk of this card is 2 free night certificates after spending $2,500 in the first 4 months of having your card.

 

As you can see almost all of these cards will get you free wifi, though with an annual fee can you really call that free? Ultimately these cards will only truly be worth it to you if you also take advantage of the points bonuses and/or the free night certificates. You see, travel-hacking is all about maximizing your benefits or at the very least, making sure you’re taking full advantage of all the benefits you’re entitled to.

Here we are enjoying the outdoor seating at a Club Carlson hotel’s lounge in Salzburg.

salzburg2

 

salzburg1

It could be a very helpful thing to start thinking intentionally about status and points when it comes to hotels. In the case of Club Carlson you could hop across Europe spending your points in a buy-one-get-one fashion and getting free wifi in a comfortable working environment as we did this past year.

 

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Category: Hostels/Hotels, Working Abroad

July 6, 2014

Best Five Fitness Trackers for Travel

2014-06-07 12.58.39

Travel with its long flights and sitting in transport can wreck havoc on your health. But how can you avoid both while traveling?

The answer is simple: give yourself a challenge. The challenge is in the form of a fitness tracker. As Peter Drucker, an Austrian-born American management consultant, says, “What gets measured, gets managed.”

Fitness trackers aren’t just one-function pedometers anymore. Most track your steps, measure the distance you’ve walked, and time your sleep. A few even capture heart rate, perspiration, body motion, and types of sleep, including how long you spend in REM. When you use a fitness tracker in conjunction with a sleep app, you can kick jet lag.

When I’m traveling, I walk more than I do at home. A fitness tracker not only can measure the quality of my sleep, but also the distance my feet have traveled or how much water I’m consuming — two valuable measurements after recycled air and cramped quarters on flights.

So I rounded up the available fitness trackers and picked the top five based upon factors that are important while traveling:

misfit

1. Misfit Shine

Waterproof, minimalist design and has a watch battery rumored to last four months. It has the awesome ability to discern between swimming, walking, running, and cycling. Thanks to its jewelry-like design, you can wear this tracker in a variety of ways; like as a necklace, a watch, clipped to your pants. An interesting sidenote for you startup business fans, Misfit Shine was a successfully funded Indiegogo project. The tracker works in conjunction with an app, available on Android and iTunes.

Downside: you will need a smartphone to get info off the tracker. It doesn’t have a display on it.

Price: $102

jawbone

2. Jawbone UP24

Sleek wrist band that has a vibrating reminder to urge you to move if you’ve been idle for too long — perfect for a quick walk during a long flight or train ride. Also, the alarm will wake you during a lighter sleep period so you wake easier and quicker. This feature is perfect for adjusting to new time zones. The design looks more like a wrist band than a tracker busily measuring your activity. It claims to have up to 7 days of battery life.

Downside: the unusual design snags on your clothes and you need a smartphone with the app to check your info since it has no display.

Price: $150

fit bit flex

3. Fitbit Flex

A slender, comfortable wrist band holds the small Fitbit tracker. Tap on the tracker and lights show your progress to your daily 10,000 step (or any other step!) goal. The tracker works in conjunction with a smartphone app (available on Android and iTunes) which tracks your sleep, water intake, daily mileage walked, total steps, exercise with GPS monitoring, calorie intake. It even has a vibrating alarm to wake you. This is the tracker I use and I can’t wait to try it out on my next trip. My battery life is roughly one week between charges.

Downside: it doesn’t wake you during a lighter sleep period like Jawbone does.

Price: $100

basis

4. Basis

The new kid on the block, this fitness tracker does it all for a great price. It looks like a watch, but thanks to little sensors under the face, it tracks your heart rate patterns, motion, calorie expenditure by activity, perspiration and skin temperature, and sleep cycles including REM. It’s akin to having a doctor strapped to your wrist. This tracker would be very valuable if you are traveling to hotter climates where you run the risk of dehydration and you’re on the move. Battery life is claimed to be up to 4 days. And the strap is carbon steel.

Upside: the larger display shows you info at a glance, no need to pull out the smartphone to check it.

Price: $200

garmin

5. Garmin Vivofit

Best part is you don’t have to charge it for a year. Reviews by the users back up that stat. When it needs new batteries, they are  common batteries found at any store. This tracker does everything else all the other trackers listed do. But it also pairs with a heart rate strap. And the display provides more information like time, steps, distance, calories.

Price: $130

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

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Category: Travel Gear

July 5, 2014

The death of the Mile High Club

Take off...

I want to take this opportunity to declare that the Mile-High Club is, for all practical purposes, defunct. Much like the practice of phrenology or the fad for goldfish swallowing, the notion of having sex on commercial airplanes is no longer worthy of serious consideration.

Before I get inundated with angry e-mails accusing me of being a prude, let me be clear about one thing: This is not about sex. For die-hard Mile-High Club practitioners, I’m sure there’s still nothing more arousing than the heady scent of disinfectant and sewage as you wedge yourself against a paper towel dispenser to consummate your passion with the person you love (or as many Mile-High Club tales seem to imply, with the person you met at the boarding gate).

In reality, the death of the Mile-High Club is tied to the decline of the commercial air travel experience in general. Back in the late ‘60s, when the advent of the Boeing 737 began to make jet travel affordable for the masses, I’m sure everything about the experience of flight was somewhat of a thrill. Nearly four decades later, however, a couple generations of travelers have known nothing but air travel for long journeys. We’re still flying in those same 737s (and comparable aircraft), yet the level of comfort and service has actually declined: Security lines are longer, seating schemes are more cramped, in-flight snack services are disappearing, and—in a startling development—some aircraft manufacturers have reportedly considered maximizing passenger capacity by installing standing-room seating, wherein you are strapped, like a mental patient, to a padded backboard during takeoff.

In short, commercial air travel has become hopelessly mundane and unpleasant—and aspiring to have sex on a commercial flight is now as tacky and pointless as aspiring to have sex in a Wal-Mart.  (more…)

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Category: Air Travel, Rolf Potts, Sex and Travel

July 1, 2014

Vagabonding book club: Chapter 9: Be creative

directions

“In retrospect I see that my stress wasn’t the product of indecision; the conflict arose from my impossible desire to be in all those places at once. in knowing that so many destinations were cheaply accessible at that very moment, I suddenly feared that I would never again get the chance to see them. Travel, I was coming to realize, was a metaphor not only for the countless options life offers but also for the fact that choosing one option reduces you to the parameters of that choice. thus in knowing my possibilities, I also knew my limitations.”

I was raised by vagabonds. My parents hitchhiked continents and hopped freighters in between before I was born. When I was 8 they rolled my brother and I into the back of a 1964 Ford Econoline van that my Dad named “vagabunda” and drove us into the deep south for the winter. They did it again when I was 13. Who needs third or eighth grades? We talked a lot in my childhood, and even now, about this very point that Rolf elucidates: That to choose one life, one path, one moment, is to actively NOT choose a myriad of others.

It is a thought that has stuck with me as I’ve built my own life, followed my own passions and traveled with my own family. It’s not that any one path is inherently better than another, it’s just that they lead in very different directions and one must have the presence of mind to think long term enough to see past the first bend in the road. The necessity of commitment to a path, of releasing the ties other paths might have on one’s heart, the ties that lead to indecision, questioning, and regretful “what ifs.” On the flip side of that coin, the necessity of flexibility, the willingness to trust a path to the fates and follow where they leave, and the willingness to change your mind, change your path and create a new one if needs be. Ultimately, there is much to be said for being able to come to grips with the choices you’ve made, the parameters you’ve set for yourself, the limitations of the current set of choices, and live within the moment. Accepting what is. Changing what you can as it suits you. Moving forward with purpose. Exercising creativity to keep passions fresh and alive.

How do you choose a path and then keep it interesting as you go?

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Category: Travel Writing
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