October 26, 2014

Two Places to Rock to in Malaysia

Travelling might be all about discovery and abandoning our comfort zones. But at times, when your comfort zone is a club with some loud music, well, it’s nice to know where to find it when you are abroad.

As a resident of Malaysia, I feel it is time to give justice to my acquired home talking about two places that host a plethora of local and international touring bands. They are both prominent Malaysian homes for the loudest kinds of music, and as such might not be ideal for everybody. But again, if it’s about going in and out of “comfort zones”, it might as well be great to get out of yours and discover some Malaysian loudness, after all.

 

soundmaker

Soundmaker – Penang

Literally hidden at the second floor of a tattered building along Pengkalan Weld, about half a mile down the road from the main Jetty and facing the entrance of the Lee Jetty, this is the place to rock in Northern Malaysia. Check their show listings before you go because although they have a bar, it is not open every day. It’s a real, do it yourself underground venue, where heavy metal, punk, death metal, alternative rock and heavy derivates spray the walls with sweat. The show room is decently sized and the PA quite OK for an underground enterprise: consider that in Malaysia, a country who forced a ban on black metal music in 2001, and whose Islamic party has given a hard time even to Elton John because he is openly gay, you cannot really get much better than this. Soundmaker is the place to rock away your early nights, as shows usually end by 12 am.
Soundmaker is also a recording studio and jam room, and recently opened a small hostel room. The novelty is, it welcomes travelling bands and musicians to stay and record their music at a fraction of western prices.

rumahapi

Rumah ApiKuala Lumpur
In a place called the “fire house”, you may only expect amplifiers to burst out sparks of white heat, and set your own eardrums on fire. If you know what a real punk house is, and I mean an independent space where DIY is the law, the ceiling is about to cave in, and sitting on torn car backseats slung on the floor a common practice, well,  welcome to Rumah Api then. The only place in Kuala Lumpur that dares to object the city’s rampant, over-constructed technological wealth and high-class-loving youth. A stone throw away from the Ampang LRT station in the northeastern part of the city, Rumah Api stands to KL as the CBGB’s stood to early New York punk. Catch a dose of local and international punk, hardcore, crust, thrash and grindcore bands sweating – literally, as the only wall fan provided resembles a World War II airplane’s engine – on the low stage, and mingle with the most alternative youth in the capital. This place has plenty of character, but you gotta have some too to enjoy it. Otherwise, this could come as kind of a shock.

MARCO FERRARESE is a metalpunk guitarist who travelled extensively and lived in Italy, the United States, China, Australia and Malaysia. Since 2009 he’s been based in Southeast Asia as a writer, hardcore punk musician and researcher. He travelled from Mongolia to Australia in 2009, and hitchhiked from Singapore to Milano through Silk Road routes and the Middle East in 2012. He blogs at monkeyrockworld.com. Marco’s first Asian pulp novel Nazi Goreng  was published in November 2013 on Monsoon Books. Follow him @monkeyrockworld

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Category: Adventure Travel, Asia, Destinations, On The Road

October 25, 2014

On Baksheesh

Egyptian Train

Photo Credit: walidhassanein via Compfight cc
I’m riding a second-class train up the Nile valley when a boy in an official-looking blue jacket beckons me to the other side of the carriage.

“Look,” he whispers, pointing outside. “Beautiful!”

I look out the window to see a red sun streaking the sky with bands of pink and yellow. Beyond the train tracks, the mighty Nile glitters with orange spangles of light. It truly is beautiful.

As I soak in the colors, I wonder why the boy has taken the trouble to show me such a simple moment.

It’s not long before I get my answer.

“Please,” he says giving me a solemn look. “Baksheesh.”

For a moment, I’m not sure how to react. After all, baksheesh may be an accepted Eastern form of tipping — but this is the first time I’ve been asked to pay for a sunset.

When Mark Twain visited the Pyramids in 1866, he reportedly suffered “torture that no pen can describe” from the various Egyptian pleas for baksheesh. One hundred years before that, a French visitor complained bitterly about the amounts of baksheesh it took just to dig up and steal a decent mummy.

These days — while its no longer legal to climb the Pyramids or rifle through mummy pits — baksheesh is still a thriving racket wherever tourists are found.

Take my recent visit to Luxor. Whenever I took out my map, some enterprising soul would hustle over and offer me directions. Whenever I entered a tomb, children would fight over who got to fan me with a piece of cardboard. Had I been eating corn on the cob, I’m sure one of them would have produced some dental floss.

If there is any saving grace about baksheesh, it’s that Egyptians use it among themselves as well as on tourists. Most Egyptians earn low wages, so tips and payoffs are seen as a way to provide incentive and supplement an income. Nobody in Cairo, it is said, can get basic services such as mail or electricity without slipping a little baksheesh to the right people.

So, as with any local custom, the best way to get the hang of baksheesh is to watch how the natives do it. Thus, I no longer hesitate to plunk down a few piasters when I get fast and friendly service in a coffee shop, or when the baggage-handler climbs on top of the bus to fetch my bag.

In the end, the baksheesh ritual becomes a matter of trusting your instincts and acting like you know what you’re doing.

And this is why I reach into my pocket and give the boy in the blue jacket 50 piasters.

After all, 15 cents isn’t such a bad price to pay for a sunset — and I might have missed it otherwise.

 

To hear the audio version, read by Rolf, visit Savvy Traveler

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Category: Hospitality, Languages and Culture, Travel Writing, Vagabonding Styles

October 23, 2014

Why you should be reminded about “mistake-fares”

Everyone’s had those days where they’re day-dreaming about a trip they can’t afford and they just wish to themselves that flight prices would magically drop and they could magically afford that trip to Milan, Italy or Kenya or wherever.

Well…I can’t tell you that magic is happening but I have honestly booked flights to Milan, Italy and Nairobi, Kenya for $300 or less each, roundtrip.

If you’re asking yourself, “Is this some kind of joke?  Is this a mistake?” then the answer is…well…one of those things is true.

I know I’ve blogged about this before, but you seriously need to be reminded about this. Because mistake fares are exactly the kinds of deals you daydream about.

Milan

What is a mistake fare?

Most basically, a mistake fare is any time there’s some kind of mistake in the process of pricing a ticket (or hotel room) online. Most often, this happens because there’s some kind of error in the process of programming that price. For instance, whoever is plugging in the formula for that price somehow misses plugging in the fuel portion of that price.

How cheap can these mistake-fares get?

These mistake-fares are all over the place in terms of price. We don’t tend to pay attention to them until their as low as $400 or less for an international ticket. Once there was even a “$0″ United fare that cost only $5 in airport taxes, but it wasn’t honored.

Which brings me to another important point…

Do these mistake-fares actually get honored?

The airline mistake fares almost always get honored. The $0 United example didn’t get honored because no one actually bought anything. But for the most part a mistake fare is going to be cheap enough to be a ridiculously good deal, but cost you enough for the airlines to make the decision to honor it.

For whatever reason, hotel mistake-fares on the other hand are not always honored. In this case, the hotel will generally reach out to contact you and inform you of the mistake and offer the chance to cancel.

How do you find these mistake-fares? 

There is only a little bit of “finding” involved in mistake-fares. For the most part, the best way to “find” mistake-fares is by connecting with other “travel-hackers” who might publish these mistake-fares on their social media. For instance, my husband and I try to share the mistake-fares we hear of on our Facebook page. Because this network of people is so big, and thanks to the forum “Flyertalk”, the word tends to spread.

However, like I said, there is still some “finding” involved.

Here’s what I mean. Because this pricing mistake is usually an error in how the price was code, it can take some trial and error to figure out what the mistake actually is.

For instance one person may be browsing “fill-in-the-blank-bookingservice.com” and stumble upon a ticket to Milan in February for only $150 roundtrip. The error is existing on fill-in-the-blank-bookingservice.com, so you’ll know right away that you need to be booking your ticket there. But maybe you aren’t free in February, so you try out June. No luck. Or maybe you’re not interested in Milan so you try Rome. No luck.

Many times these mistake-fares are somewhat specific and restrictive, but maybe less than you’d think.

In the example I just used with Milan, there were some people booking in other times of the year, but not all times of the year were revealing the mistaken price. Or, in the case of the Nairobi mistake-fare mentioned, some people were finding that mistaken price for other destinations, but not all destinations.

Finding the mistake-fare you want can take some playing around, but be careful. They don’t last long.

These mistake-fares are such a fine line between amazing and inconvenient, because not only do they tend to be specific, but they go quickly. So sometimes in the time it takes  you to find out if you can get the vacation time off, or in the time it takes you to call up a travel-buddy, the mistake gets fixed and it’s gone.

Because of this, figure out the cancellation policy right away. If the cancellation policy allows any decision-making time at all, then you can feel free to book a mistake-fare speculatively. Which is to say, you can book the first mistake-fare that catches your attention as possibly feasible, without worrying about working out the details ahead of time.

If there is any flexibility of cancellation at all, book first and work it out later.

Who are mistake-fares good for?

While this may sound complicated, it is perfect for anyone with a free spirit and a spontaneous nature. Or, for people who want to see the whole world. If you have one specific destination in mind for your next trip, and are uninterested in other destinations, then mistake-fares are not for you. But if you are always up for an adventure, and curious about travel of all kinds, then you may just find a mistake-fare fitting your next spontaneous travel needs.

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Category: Travel Bargains

October 9, 2014

Favorite cash-back card for travelers

The travel-hacking hobby is all about getting miles and points by signing up for credit cards that have good bonuses. Usually these are travel rewards cards put out by airlines or banks who allow transfers to airlines and hotels. For instance the Citi AAdvantage card which helps you earn American Airline miles or the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which helps you transfer to a number of travel programs.

While many are satisfied to spend on cash-back cards, 9 times out of 10 we travel-hackers will opt for the travel rewards cards mentioned above, confident that we can actually get more value out of miles than cash-back. But every now and again a cash-back card comes along that’s great for travelers and travel-hackers alike.

One such cash-back card is the Barclay Arrival Plus card. (Not to be confused with the other Barclay Arrival card.)

wallet

A bit about the card

Currently the Barclay Arrival Plus card is offering a 40,000 point bonus which you can receive after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days. This 40,000 bonus points will transfer into $400 worth of travel reimbursement. This includes hotel charges, airline charges, and rental car charges that exceed the minimum of $25.

You can also earn as you spend at a rate of 2 points per dollar spent.

Also note that after the first year, (which comes without a fee), the annual fee will be $89.

Why we recommend this card

While we definitely rely on frequent flyer miles and hotel points, there are some expenses we can’t cover with these currencies. Rental cars are a great example. But also many reward flights will come with a few residual charges, even if you’re choosing a low-surcharge mileage program like American Airlines and United Airlines. For instance airport taxes and the like. These are charges you can cover with the Barclay Arrival Plus points.

We just experimented with an entirely free trip to South America; a trip whose travel costs would equal zero. Now, keep in mind that for this trip we considered meal expenses to be unavoidable expenses that we would have whether we were at home buying groceries our out on the road buying food from food stands, so those expenses were not included in the $0 calculation.

This experiment would have been impossible without the opportunity to use the Barclay Arrival Plus points for expenses not covered by frequent flyer miles and hotel points. While we did still have a few expenses we hadn’t predicted, we quite nearly made it.

Being smart about your credit card strategies

I must make a disclaimer that is quite crucial in making any credit-card-related strategies successful. Perhaps it goes without saying, but these credit-card strategies are not worth it if you let the credit card get the best of you. the idea is to get the credit cards for their perks and make certain you can make on-time payments, and keep minimal balances on the card, ideally paying off the card before interest kicks in. If you already have a habit of treating your credit cards more like debit cards that you pay off in full on a regular basis, then the travel-hacking strategies are right for you. But if this will be a challenge for you, then it’s not worth the risk. Debt is a serious issue and should not be a part of the travel-hacking strategy.

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Category: Travel Bargains

October 5, 2014

How to pick a good traveling jacket and jacket review on FlyLow Vixen

2014-08-30 13.59.05Next to shoes, choosing the right jacket for a trip is my hardest decision. It’s more difficult when you’re spanning several cities, leap-frogging continents, or criss-crossing the equator in both directions.

How can you choose a jacket lightweight enough for a cool fall night but warm enough for a snowy trek through the city? And let’s not forget the waterproofing aspect if you get caught in a Parisian rainstorm.

How can you pick the perfect jacket for all conditions? It boils down to three items:

  1. Waterproof/rain proofing
  2. Fabric
  3. Flexibility for changing conditions (venting)

1) Waterproofing or rain proofing

Nothing is worse than getting caught unexpectedly in a cold rainstorm. Usually, rain jackets are super lightweight and designed only as the outer shell.

But you can find a jacket that is waterproof and designed as a warmth-holding jacket. Where?

In the ski gear section. Many of these jackets are designed to be wind-resistant and waterproof to keep up with ever-changing elements on the mountains.

What to look for:

- Waterproof breathable material

- Durable Water Repellant (DWR)

- YKK waterproof zippers or “fully seam sealed” (means the zipper teeth are coated to prevent water from leaking through)

- A large hood to shield your head

2) Fabric

I’ve found my favorite jackets have a bit of stretch to them. They move with my body. They adapt to my circumstances. They like movement. If this is you, check the label for Lycra in your jacket.

If you want warmth, check the jacket description for the branded elements to hold in body heat, like:

- North Face: ThermoBall

- FlyLow: Intuitive

- Helly Hanson: PrimaLoft

These are simply different types of high performance fabric, designed to do the same thing: hold in heat in damp conditions.

Also, check out how many layers of fabric the jacket has. Some jackets have two layers. Some have three. The more layers, the warmer the jacket. Think back to that flimsy rain jacket you throw on over your blazer. It’s simply one layer of fabric designed to repel rain.

I like a jacket with three layers. It gives the right amount of warmth but still stays lightweight enough that I can cramp it into a tiny spot in my backpack.

3) Flexibility to changing conditions

Adaptability is very important while traveling — not just for your mental attitude, but also for your gear. Due to the demands of hauling your stuff and traveling like a turtle with your house on your back, you need to find clothing that is heavy multi-taskers. Your jacket should be no different.

So what are you looking for to gauge this type of flexibility?

1) Arm venting: so you can cool off and circulate air without ditching your jacket; perfect in cold wind but hot sun on your face.

2) Breathable material: to wick sweat away and cool you during long hikes or dashes for the subway; in the end, this also keeps you more comfortable so you’re not stewing in your sweat.

3) Plenty of interior pockets: stump the pickpockets and keep your valuables in interior zipped pockets next to your body. As a girl, I love a jacket with lots of pockets since that means I don’t always have to carry a purse.

4) Media player compatible: okay, this is a minor item on the list. But it could be a lifesaver when you need a moment to yourself and your personal space is limited to that jacket.

5) Color: a florescent jacket will make you stick out like a sore thumb. Perhaps black is the standard classy choice, but everyone has a black jacket in their closet. Pick a color that makes you feel happy but doesn’t target you as a potential victim.

So what does my favorite traveling jacket look like?

Review on FlyLow Vixen jacket

fly low vixenThis is the jacket I’ve been traveling with for the past six months.

It weathered a downpour in Boston while I watched the Red Sox and steel beams overhead dripped cold rain relentlessly on my legs. It has shielded my head from chilly winds off Seward, Alaska. It soldiered through an early fall snowstorm. I wish I had brought it with to Chicago during a nippy weekend.

I’m in love with it.

What do I like?

- Oversize hood: designed to fit over a snowboarding helmet, this hood is extra large. It prevents any wind from nipping down my neck, overhangs my eyes to guard against driving rain, and I can wear a hat with it.

- The color: a pretty berry color, this jacket was my first non-black one. It brings a pop of color to my cheeks in pictures. And it makes me happy just to see the color. Also, it doesn’t get lost in my bag, blending in with the bag’s dark depths.

- Lightweight but warm: The fabric blocks wind and water, but keeps my body heat in. I have a knack for getting cold in any weather condition. This jacket fights the cold. But it isn’t bulky or heavy-feeling on my body.

- Waterproof: I’m a girl who gets caught in rainstorms in every country. So I love that the seams are fully taped, the fabric is water-repellant, and no annoying little cold raindrops can find my warm center.

- Plenty of pockets: carry it on your body is my motto. So when I can slip my wallet, keys, phone and a book into my jacket pockets and just go, that’s heaven to me. With this jacket, I can do that — and have empty pockets to pick up things along the way.

- Durability: six months in, and the jacket still looks brand new despite being used a pillow multiple times, stuffed into my bag, shoved under plane seats, and exposed to Boston and Alaska’s notorious nasty weather.

What I don’t like:

- The price ($300): it’s a hefty cost for just a jacket. But if you think about it as a jacket that will last for years and look good doing it, it’s worth it. Like my husband says, “you get what you pay for.”

Laura blogs at Waiting to Be Read where she dishes about awesome books to read, what actors work best as main characters, and why thinking is a dying sport.

 

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Category: Travel Gear

September 28, 2014

Book Review VANISHING TALES FROM ANCIENT TRAILS by James Dorsey

VANISHING TALES FROM ANCIENT TRAILS by James Dorsey, 2014, Vagabundo Magazine Publishing. Buy on Amazon.

DorseyVanishingTrailsWhen I first found his writing on celebrated travel webzine Perceptive Travel, there was one thing that made me an instant James Dorsey’s fan. It was the amount of literary adrenaline he was able to inject straight into readers’ eyes with the opening three lines of each and every story. Indeed, James would pull out his wordy meathook, and catch you right under the chin, pulling you into the action. You would feel the smells, sounds and fear he was trying to tell you all about. I don’t know why, but one of his simplest descriptions, “Akira tells me to follow him closely and I am practically in his back pocket” stayed with me until today: now, whenever I tell people to stay very close to my back, I tell them to “stick to my back pocket”, and I think of Dorsey’s time in Cambodia.

This is the best quality I admire in Dorsey’s writing: his simple, dry, straight forward and damn catchy list of words that one after another “dance on the page”, as Bukowsky put it. But in this case, they dance at the sound of tribal drums during a secret and ancient ritual consumed under a moonlit forest thicket. (more…)

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Category: Africa, Asia, South America, Travel Writing

September 23, 2014

5 Ways to eat healthy while traveling

Hannah eating-Chiang Rai

Eating healthy is important to us.

I’m a relentless “do it myself” sort of girl. I was raised freezing and canning a lot of our own food. I make most things from scratch. It’s really important to me to feed my family healthy things so that the children grow properly and so that healthy eating patterns are established for life.

Lots of people ask us what we do about that while we’re traveling, since traveling is a lifestyle, not a two week event. There’s not one answer to that and there’s no easy answer. We’re in continual renegotiation of nutritional terms in this family. The most basic answer is that we do the best we can with what we have on any given day, on any given continent. The following are five of our strategies:

Eat Fresh

Most nutritionists will agree that fresh food and raw food are the most healthful choice. We eat as much fresh food as we can. Of course in many of the places we choose to live this also means adhering to the bleach-boil-peel rule. We’ve replaced “bleach” with Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) as a more natural fruit and veggie wash and we carry a knife in our backpack for a quick fruit peel while walking in a market.

With GSE we’re even able to make salads (often cited as a no-no in third world places because of the water used to wash the lettuce) daily.

For us, the best way to stay healthy is to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and enjoy the fabulous diversity of the planet. One of the best parts of travel is the food!

Eat Local

Eating Local means eating things grown or produced within the region we are living in. We don’t often buy pineapple when we’re living in Canada. We don’t often get apples when we’re living near the equator.

Eating local foods means that you’re also getting slow doses of the local bacteria, which will help build immunity as well as tolerance for the differences in diet and “gut bugs” as we travel. Moving slowly helps too, dropping in by plane is always an intestinal shock!

Lots of the guidebooks will tell you not to eat street food. We actually take exactly the opposite position. I would much rather eat a meal that I see cooked right in front of me than one cooked in a kitchen facility that I can’t see from the table where I’m seated. That way we know the food is hot and fresh and reasonable sanitation standards have been adhered to. There is nothing quite so local as food off of a street cart! Yum!

Make Our Own Probiotics

This is where you decide I’m crazy. In my backpack I carry cheese and yogurt cultures as well as water kefir grains. Yep. We make soft cheeses and yogurt out of dried milk and the first thing I do when we set up a new base is get my kefir grains going.

Travel naturally exposes us to a wider range of intestinal risks than living in New Hampshire did, and one of the ways we stack the deck in our favour is by making sure our guts are populated with the right kinds of bacteria!

Portable Nutrient Dense Greens

Believe it or not, it can sometimes be hard to come by fresh vegetables. We hit this wall immediately when we landed in Bangkok. There was a ton of street food available, but most of it was meat, wheat or rice based. We could get fruit, no problem, but we were quickly feeling the lack of veggies.

It sounds completely nuts, but I carry sprouting seeds in my backpack. It only takes a couple of days to get a batch ready and we love them. They can be added to salad, or made into the salad themselves. We love having almost instant access to high quality veggie sprouts and they make a big difference in our diet on the road!

Take Supplements

We take vitamins. Not religiously, but when we feel like our diet is not up to par, we add them in. We also carry essential oil and herbal concoctions to combat basic illness (oregano oil & rosemary oil) add vigor (spirulina), and sort out basic gut bugs (GSE).

What are your secrets for staying healthy and improving your nurtrition on the road, or at home?

 

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Category: Food and Drink, On The Road, Travel Health, Vagabonding Life

September 18, 2014

The top five gifts travel has given me

I am often asked why I travel. What is the benefit? Is all the work, preparation, and planning worth it? So, I set out to identify what it is I really feel I have gained through travel. While this list may not be the same for everyone (and I expect it wouldn’t be), I bet most travelers can identify with each item on this list. So, here it is…. the top five gifts travel has given me.

5. Patience. Anyone who travels long term will tell you that patience is a major key to making it all work. Waiting for a train in New Delhi, cooking a meal for 4 on a single burner in San Marcos, dodging touts in ChiChi market, crossing the border into Panama, getting pushed around on a NYC subway at rush hour, avoiding eye contact with leering men in Egypt, or trying to coordinate travel plans in a foreign language in Nepal- the longer you travel, the more you value your own ability to call on your patience like a super power. Cultural differences and language barriers make time, space, and dimension very subjective terms. Patience is a virtue that gets practiced and (almost but not really) perfected the longer you travel.

 

4. Connection. True human connection, that which transcends cultural barriers, is something I value on a very deep level. Traveling allows me to see, smell, touch, taste, feel, and experience what visitors and immigrants to my home country hold in their memories and consciousness. Travel presents the opportunity for me to recognize the common human experience between myself, a circus performer in El Salvador, a business woman headed to work in Switzerland, a genocide survivor in Guatemala, and everyone in between. I get to connect with people all over the world, all the time and experience our shared humanity on a regular basis.

When I attended my friend’s wedding in India, I didn’t need a transistor to explain the side ways smile on her groom’s face as she walked towards him or the joy she radiated when she finally got to see him after a full week of ceremonies and preparations. When her parents visit and I am offered a cup of chai I am reminded of hot, humid, monsoon mornings in Mumbai and I can almost hear the chai wallahs, just like they can.  When I beg her to make me mattar paneer and she chides that it’s “not really healthy, you know”, I know that she is smirking because she is (not so secretly) thrilled that I loved an Indian dish so much and that I know exactly how it tastes in her hometown. When she asked my friend and I to be present at her son’s birth, her parents hugged me and told me to take care of her, knowing that only true friends would have traveled to India to see their child get married years ago. My friend is an awesome person and I would be friends whether I had traveled to India to watch her get married or not, but travel has added a richness to our friendship that can’t be replicated. Sometimes I think we over think things and place too much emphasis on cultural differences (as beautiful as they are) and forget to look for the moments that don’t need translation. Do you have to travel to find connection? No. Does travel magically make connections happen? No. But travel has expanded my understanding of what connection can mean, presented opportunity after opportunity to explore human connection, and made my circle wider and deeper than I ever thought it could be. My connection with this friend and every single person who has touched my life along the way, is a gift I carry forever.

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3. Clarity. Time spent away from home and all things comfortable has a way of clarifying that which is most important. Trekking from place to place with everything you own strapped to your back will make you think twice about your material “needs”. Watching a mother drop her child off at an orphanage because she doesn’t have the money to feed all three of her children will make you reconsider what “good parenting” means. Working with an NGO in a foreign country will forever make you look more closely at where your donated dollars are going. Visiting Mother Theresa’s homes in Kolkata will make you question the party line about mission work in the third world. Watching the sun cast shadows over ancient Mayan temples will make the history you think you know look dull. Meeting living victims of your country’s foreign policy will make you wonder just what else is being done in your name.

If it sounds like travel raises a whole lot of questions and not a whole lot of clarity, that is only partly true. Travel certainly and inevitably does raise innumerable questions…but the clarity lies within those questions. Clarity does not mean “figuring it all out”. Some questions will be answered, some will not. The very realization that the questions exist is clarity in itself.

1011405_371339279659647_647328360_n 2. Empathy. Over the course of this long, continuous journey, I have come to the conclusion that pity and empathy do not look the same. Pity is what I had for people who were “less fortunate” than me back before I had met any of “those people”. Pity allowed me to see myself in some small way as “better than” and in no way did it serve me or those I thought needed me to do something for them. Pity paralyzed and disconnected me.

Empathy is what I hold now that I have helped birth babies, cook meals, and define education with people who would have previously been considered “less fortunate”. The key word in that last sentence is WITH, not FOR. I recognize the core of our shared human experience reflected in circumstances I will never fully understand. I have learned to actively remind myself that poor is not synonymous with “less fortunate” any more than rich is synonymous with “happy”. I still struggle with the “why” of our world’s inequality but I now know that the “how” for doing something about it depends on our ability to empathize, not pity.

 

1. Perspective. Triumphs and tribulations have a way of seeming really, really big when we have nothing to compare them to. Exploring our vast and varied world has given me the opportunity to step outside of the day to day that we all get caught up in and see the larger picture. Long term travel reminds me regularly that no matter the political, philosophical, or economic agendas being pushed back home, this is the one and only shot we have got at this life. I could spend every day hemming and hawing about the socially acceptable way to live this life (according to my home culture) or I can actually live it. The mundane must still be dealt with and the day to day must still be lived but at the end of my life, I will be damned if I look back and think ” I should have done more”.

 

What have you gained from travel?

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Category: General, On The Road, Vagabonding Life

September 17, 2014

Helping You Find the Best Airfare Option for You

Toronto

Airfare is most likely going to be the biggest budget item for your long-term trip, and we at BootsnAll would like to simplify it for you.

When someone decides to go vagabonding and travel the world, dreams of white sand beaches, mountain tops, temples, and the aromas of local cuisine fill the mind. Travelers envision all the people they’ll meet and the things they’ll learn.

But once the honeymoon period wears off and the realities of planning a trip like this come to the forefront, that excitement and eagerness can turn to frustration, particularly when it comes to figuring out airfare, a costly, but necessary part of world travel.

The first google search of “round the world airfare” spits back a myriad of results, from what different travel agents, companies, and airline alliances offer to a few “analyses” of those options.

While there is plenty of good information on those resources, we at BootsnAll didn’t find one that broke down all the options and did so in a simplified manner, so we created one ourselves.

The latest version of the Around the World Airfare Report (which we offer for free), published in September 2014, is the result of months of research, as we created three different traveler personas and shopped three different multi-stop routes, posing as customers.

The goal of the Around the World Airfare Report is to help make it easier for you to decide which option is right for your trip.

Everyone travels differently and has unique wants and needs when it comes to their big trip, and we get that, so we wanted to create a resource that delves into all options, offering suggestions for which companies to begin your search based on what type of traveler you are.

In addition, you’ll find price breakdowns between nine different companies and airline alliances, speed comparisons (how long does it take for each company/alliance to get back to you with a bookable price?), and a frustration factor, breaking down all those pesky rules and terms and conditions in a simplified and easy-to-understand manner.

If you’re planning or thinking about planning a long-term trip, download this free report to learn more about this complicated part of round the world travel.

Once you do, we’d love to hear what you think – what did you like, what didn’t you like, what would you like to see in the next version? Review the report here.

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Category: Air Travel

September 14, 2014

Finding new perspectives on familiar places

It can be difficult to find new angles through which to view places you already know well. Human nature being what is, it takes a conscious effort to see anything through new eyes. We tend to see only what we’re familiar with, and what strikes our vision on the most surface levels: the old buildings, the people, the streets, the here-and-now bustle that is so easy to get caught up in. But shifting our approach is sometimes needed if we are to really appreciate all the layers and the richness any place has to offer.

As a travel writer I’m always forced to do this, and though it’s challenging, it always rewards me with a much deeper perspective of a city’s beating heart and long-hidden scars.

For example, trying to find a topic in which to write about can suddenly have me thinking thematically. In the case of Amsterdam, I was recently casting about for a theme. The picturesque canals and predictable clichés are worn out. I wanted to go deeper.

Clichés are lame.

Clichés are lame.

Of course, a well-deserved reputation for religious tolerance in previously intolerant times is a strong undercurrent in the city’s history, shaping its character. But everyone knows about the city’s lenient attitude towards marijuana and prostitution. The pot-selling “coffeshops” and the brightly painted brothels of the Red Light District are hard to miss, and at any rate weed and sex are not exactly major taboos anymore. So, in doing this “personality profile”, as I like to view travel writing, I decided to focus on the less well-known, more hidden-in-plain-sight landmarks that quietly but effectively tell the story of Amsterdam’s legacy of tolerance in intolerant times.

The point is, looking around the city for these things forced me to look through fresh eyes. I began to notice things I hadn’t paid much attention to before. Statues and plaques commemorating Amsterdam’s history—normally easy to pass over in the bustling, thoroughly modern city—began to emerge from the background, as if reaching out through the centuries to educate me with a silent power.

Paying attention to these small reminders eventually told a story, a long and rich narrative, of how the city’s philosophy of tolerance became a beacon for many persecuted people seeking a safe refuge from their own country’s intolerance in a way that the pot bars and sex shops could not. Small churches emerged from the urban crush and hordes of camera-toting tourists, inviting me into their quiet, solemn interior just as they’d invited minority sects whose beliefs had marked them out for discrimination. Small Catholic churches in times of Protestant intolerance (and vice versa) thrived here, as did humble little synagogues that operated without interference or malice from the city’s fathers.

Around a corner from a busy street, a small brick building in a quiet courtyard bears a faded plaque indicating that English pilgrims came here to worship before heading to the New World. They prayed here, and then boarded the Mayflower to escape persecution in their home country.  They were made to feel comfortable here.

The remnants of more recent times came to the fore as well. I begin to notice the many houses bearing historical plaques indicating that the occupants courageously sheltered Jewish families during the Second Word War.

Not far away a statue of a portly, none-too-attractive dockworker seems at first glance to be a forgettable, bland post-war tribute to laborers. Look closer and you’ll find an inscription indicating that it memorializes the brave stand of the Amsterdam’s dockworkers, who staged the first strike undertaken in Occupied Europe to protest the mistreatment of the city’s Jews by the Nazis.

Statue commemorating the Strike of 1941

Statue commemorating the Strike of 1941

The strike, held a few days after 400 Jewish men were herded together on the spot where the statue now stands, was brutally put down by the SS within hours, and is remembered by few today. The statue’s rotund subject was a real-life non-Jewish dockworker who participated in the strike because he felt it was the right thing to do.

A small room in the city’s historic Dutch Theatre, once a point of assembly for Jews about to be shipped off to concentration camps, holds a humble memorial of three little stones. The memorial seems unimportant. Search for the true story, however, and you’ll find that the three stones represent a local man named Walter Suskind, his wife and small daughter. Suskind smuggled 1,200 Jewish children to safety during the war. In 1945 his work was discovered by the Nazis and he and his family were themselves sent to Auschwitz, never to return.

Hollandsche Schouwburg (Dutch Theatre)

Hollandsche Schouwburg (Dutch Theatre)

Soon I begin to understand how many centuries’ worth of brave Amsterdammers have risked it all to welcome and aid minorities in dark times, and that courage was common place in the face of tyranny. It underscores the strength of Amsterdam’s heritage of tolerance more than any fashionable pot bar or cheesy sex shop ever could.

My point is, the “what” that you look for isn’t nearly as important as the act of searching for new ways to connect to a city’s unique DNA. The important thing is looking from a thematic perspective, searching for that thread of history that informs its culture. This can provide the prism through which you can see through the here-and-now veneer and access the richness of a city’s historical character, forged in the crucible of time and trial.

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Category: Europe, Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel Writing
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