Just how extensively you should prepare yourself before vagabonding is a topic of much debate among travelers. Many experienced vagabonders believe that less preparation is actually better in the long run. The naturalist John Muir used to say that the best way to prepare for a trip was to “throw some tea and bread into an old sack and jump over the back fence.” …
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that experienced vagabonders already possess the confidence, faith and know-how to make such spontaneous travel work….
For the first time vagabonder, of course, preparation is a downright necessity– if for no other reason than to familiarize yourself with the fundamental routines of travel, to learn what wonders and challenges await and to assuage the fears that inevitably accompany any life-changing new pursuit. The key to preparation is to strike a balance between knowing what’s out there and being optimistically ignorant.
Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel Chapter Four- Rolf Potts
Rolf is right, preparation is a hot topic in vagabonding circles. There are firm proponents of both minimal and diligent preparation. I laughed at the John Muir quote, as that approach resonates with me. I’m well known for grabbing my bag and hopping continents on very little notice and at the slightest suggestion of an adventure. However, Rolf’s point is well taken: that spontaneity and the ability to hop a plane and hit the ground running, the ability to roll with the punches and come out on top, is something that develops over time. I’ve been traveling for a long time. I’ve survived enough things to know how to hedge my bets and trust that the odds are in my favor. It’s not that way when we’re starting out.
I’m engaged in preparing for a small adventure with an old friend of mine for this summer. We’re going to walk 800 km of the Camino de Santiago. Hardly an edgy adventure, but it’s one that has meaning for my friend and I. I feel quite privileged to be invited along on her first foray into vagabonding. Our differing preparation styles have been a source of mutual amusement and have caused me to remember the joy of first journeys and big leaps into the unknown. It has become our joke that she’s prepared for all things and I’m going to show up still lacing my boots. One approach isn’t better than the other, they are just different. We are both doing the necessary preparation for our level of experience with the unknown, and we’re learning from each other in the process.
What about you? How do you prepare for a journey? Are you of the “tea and bread in a bag,” school of planning, or do you, like Rolf, relish the preparation as much as the journey? How much preparation is enough. How much is not enough.
“Travel is at its most rewarding when it ceases to be about your reaching a destination and becomes indistinguishable from living your life.”
–Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (2008)
Hometown: Kalispel, Montana
Quote: “Instead of living in a specific place in the world, you simply live in the world. Everywhere is your home and everyone is your neighbor.”
Each time I touch my feet to the soil of a new country, I am reminded of just how huge our world really is. Every so often, I catch my breath when I think about the diversity of our cultures, the depths of our oceans, the span of our land, and the sheer volume of people that call earth “home”.
I am simultaneously pulled along by an undeniable knowledge of our interconnectedness. Of a deep understanding that while I may not be able to see it “all”, that shouldn’t really be my goal anyway. Those who have come before have seen quite a bit and those who come after will see quite a bit more. My role in the march of time is to witness this world as it is, right now, and to participate as honestly as I can in our collective life on earth.
No matter where I go, the sun rises and the sun sets and it is this simple rotation of the earth that keeps me rooted to the fact that there is no “other” when it comes to our collective humanity. A day is always beginning and ending somewhere on earth and we all lays eyes upon the same sun, no matter what corner of the earth we inhabit.
How could we not feel connected, knowing that we are looking at the exact same sun, no mater what corners of the earth we travel to?
When I handed in my resignation letter, put what few belongings I hadn’t sold into storage and packed my life into a 55L rucksack, I became a vagabond.
Without bricks and mortar, without a stable income and without fear of regret, I altered the direction in which my life was headed and set off to travel the world.
Long term travel is a romantic notion, one that many aspire to but never achieve.
“The freedom of being a stranger in a strange place, knowing no one, needing to know no one, with no obligations, elicits deep feelings of liberation. The farther from the beaten path I go, the quicker my attachment to any idea of how I should be treated is discarded — I’m grateful merely that my needs are met. Without an agenda, or company to distract me, I invariably feel a certain hopelessness that can appear contrary to my aimlessness. Perhaps it’s just the simple joy of being alive.”
–Andrew McCarthy, The Longest Way Home (2012)
Finding yourself tired and achy after a long day’s sightseeing in Budapest? That can be easily fixed by indulging in one of the city’s great experiences—a long soak in the healing waters that residents and visitors have been availing themselves of since Ottoman times. Blessed by its location—it sits above numerous natural springs spouting warm water fortified with minerals—the Hungarian capital offers visitors some of the world’s great public bath experiences.
With over fifty baths, spas and public pools, Budapest wisely takes full advantage of the waters burbling up from its sediment. The experience of the spa/bath has become a way of life in this city, and integral part of its social fabric. Some baths date to the sixteenth century when the Ottomans first indulged in the bath craze, and others date from the early twentieth century. It is not unusual for a Hungarian physician to prescribe a visit to the baths, such is the strength of Hungarians’ belief in the restorative powers of the experience.
There are dozens of great thermal baths to choose from, but for the first-time visitor the popular Széchenyi offers a fine look into a top-notch Budapest bath experience. Housed in a grand old yellow building situated in the City Park, the enormous complex with the Baroque copper dome looks like every bit the grand nineteenth-century retreat it is; a recent renovation has given the historic building a fresh coat of gleam.
The brainchild of a Budapest mining engineer, Széchenyi was the first thermal bath on the Pest side of the city, with records showing that an artisanal bath existed on the spot by 1881. By 2014 a full panoply of options existed, including an outpatient physiotherapy department.
Upon entering, you’ll choose the options you want (children under 2 are free and there is a special student discount), rent your towel, and hit the locker room to change. If you get lost in the complex or just plain overwhelmed by the choices, attendants in white will try their best to assist, though many do not speak English. This being Europe, there are some swimsuit-optional areas, but the American visitor will be happy to know that most patrons are covered—minimally, by severely strained Speedos—but still covered.
Settling into the hundred-degree water, stress tends to melt away like an ice cube under a blazing summer sun. There is nothing to do but watch the other visitors, a great European pastime. An observant guest will find a feast of people-watching opportunities such as blissed-out regulars playing chess in their Speedos and local big shots discussing weighty political matters while struggling to stay awake in the relaxing water, their eyelids heavy as steam swirls around them. Don’t worry; you almost certainly be the only tourist there.
There are older, more historic spas and thermal baths in town (some of the Ottoman-era spas) and swankier spas (the Gellert Baths are justifiably popular) but for a locally-loved and affordable introduction to Budapest’s water wonders, spending a lazy afternoon relaxing under Széchenyi’s glimmering domes is a great way to start.
For a trove of information on spas and bath experiences around the world, visit http://findmesauna.com/ run by spa connoisseur and world traveler Sandra Hunacker.
Petrified, excited, invigorated, exhilarated, daunted…I felt them all in the weeks leading up to my first round the world journey. So many emotions, so little time. All the planning for this idea of taking a hiatus from the everyday was thrilling, yet frightening. From visa applications to inoculations (those weren’t fun) and new passport pages to hotel bookings the excitement continued to grow. But then it was six weeks before, one-month prior and days ahead of wheels up and the packing began. First world problem, no question; but all the worries came to a head with this-will I be okay without the ‘just in case stuff’ in the back of my closet?
You know that pile with the favourite t-shirt from university, the worn out jumper from sleep-away camp or those old standby jeans for the ‘I’m feeling fat’ days…where would you be without them? Was I really worried about ‘stuff’? We’ve all experienced that tug and pull in our own way. At this point, on this day, this was mine. Hindsight is twenty-twenty; was it really the stuff or was it something else? It’s what many who have made the leap to long-term travel have experienced with similar stories about managing on far less than in their pre-long-term travel days. But, I was stuck. Collapsing in a heap beside the flung open closet door staring at the ‘stuff’, I sat. The fashion consultants on What No To Wear would have thrown it out years ago since it’s been that long since I put my hand on it, but it was comforting to know it was there. Smaller after bouts of culling and donating, but, still there. I knew that pile held far more than clothes.
One backpack was all I allowed myself. If it didn’t fit it wasn’t coming. If it didn’t have more than one purpose or matched with three other things it wasn’t making it. I cried. Having looked forward to this journey for over a year, was I really crying over STUFF? Really? Wrapped up in this stuff were worries of everything and nothing. Would we be okay? What if something happened to someone I love? Who would keep in touch? What if everything changed when we were gone? The anticipation and worry manifested in that tiny pile in the back of the closet. The pile, that metaphor for the ‘what ifs of the world’ had taken hold and had me in its grasp. There were memories of time passed mixed with the notion of the unknown possibilities for a time yet to come. The crying continued. Logically, I knew how lucky we would all be if this truly was one of the most difficult decisions to make (perspective is a wonderful thing), but still, it was hard. On a precipice filled with greater meaning, this felt like one of those teachable moments. Either choice was fine, but I knew one led to a new journey in both destinations and personal growth while the other stayed stuck with the unchanging ease of ‘the devil you know’. Getting to the place to make the jump was a journey in itself and this felt like a turning point. Stay with the comfort of the pile or embrace the idea that you hold the key to the meaning of the pile? The rest is just that, ‘stuff’.
It didn’t make it into the backpack and after awhile I got up off the floor. I wasn’t yet ready to get rid of the pile but I was ready to close the closet door and leave room in the bag for the unknown future. The pile didn’t win. It remained, for the time being, in the back of the closet (to be revisited at a later date) and I took comfort in the knowledge that it was there. This journey to a place open to the risks and rewards of the frightening while slowly disentangling from the worries of the ‘what ifs’ is a continual one but each step does make a difference. Long-term travel was ahead with indeterminable adventure and experiences far greater than the stuff could ever hold. It is worth the risk. Maybe I wasn’t yet ready to discard the pile from the back of the closet entirely, but I was able to close the door and open a new one.
Traveler 1-Pile 0.
What’s your ‘pile’? What helped you make your leap?
Hometown: is not an easy one to answer so I will give you the place I was born: Johannesburg South Africa
Favorite Quote: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” ~Anais Nin (more…)
What’s the strangest thing that’s happened lately?
Between my husband and my son, they were stung three times during the one week we were in El Salvador!
Describe a typical day:
We’re driving most days, exploring the coast and searching for a place where we could possibly rent a house. Stopping at towns along the way, such as El Zonte, San Blas and Liberia, we check out the beaches and rental prices.
The roads are windy along the coastline in the north, with cliffs that offer vistas of the sea. Sunshine reflects off the ocean. The breeze blows, the windows are down and our favorite tunes are playing on the radio. It’s great to be alive, exploring this big, beautiful world!
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
Like: There are no speed bumps! After being in Guatemala for so long and their countless tumulos it’s refreshing to be able to drive without slowing down for speed bumps.
The people are super friendly, and love the children. They are constantly coming up to us every time we stop and asking questions.
We also found a great little place to hangout in El Cuco… a great campground with a pool and a short jaunt to the beach.
Dislike: We’re shocked with the prices here — food is about 20% more than Guatemala (we’d heard it was cheaper), and rental rates are outrageous! Prices are high, but the ‘niceness’ of accommodations are not. This was not at all what we expected. We can only surmise that rates are being driven up because the coast of El Salvador is very popular for surfers.
Describe a challenge you faced:
We’d hoped to find a house to rent for a month or two, but all rental rates were outside of our budget, and even if they hadn’t have been, nothing we found would work for our family of seven (soon to be eight.) Given my condition of being 6 months pregnant, I was disappointed by having my expectations unrealized.
What new lesson did you learn?
Expect the unexpected. You never really know what a destination has to offer until you hit the ground. Besides, everyone’s desires are different, so it can affect what their experience is like.
We’re heading to Nicaragua where we hope to find a house on the beach that we can rent for a few months.