July 24, 2014

Can words hurt as much as sticks and stones?

“Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you.”

These words ring through my head as my new friend hangs her head and cries. She is devastated.

My friend attends a school run by those who seem to be more fortunate. She attends school for free in a nation where free is synonymous with poor quality and any kind of quality education costs at least a small sum. This young girl walks to school everyday in her hand-me-down uniform and devours her school lessons. She speaks English, a language she taught herself, better than her teachers. Sometimes she skips school because the streets of Varanasi hold more interest than the tired worksheets that are levels and levels below her intellect. There is no such thing as “differentiated instruction” where she goes to school. People tease her for her “hand out” education” but still she shows up, still she finishes her homework, and still she practices her English with anyone who will listen. Despite her poverty, she offers her help to anyone she considers a friend and flatly refuses compensation, even if she knows such a decision will earn her the ire of her older sister. This little girl, who owns no toys, says she believes she will always get what she needs from the universe, even if it is only a very, very little bit. She possesses the drive and exudes the potential that everyone raising money for a school like hers talks about.

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But at school today, she was humiliated.

Today my friend’s teacher reminded her of her “place” and delivered a lesson on class structure that included telling a little girl that she should be “happy for what she gets”. All because my friend expressed a preference for one donated item over another.

As she cries next to me, I am reminded of the phrase I heard so often in my youth and wonder if whoever made it up had ever had anyone repeatedly tell them they were “less than” and undeserving of exhibiting normal human behaviors?

“Why can’t I have a favorite color? Why can’t I have an opinion? Why does everyone hate me because I am poor?”, she says as she kicks a stone. She can’t, for the life of her, understand why being poor should make her a blank canvas, devoid of all opinion, preference, and choice. Frankly, I don’t understand it either.

72202_453969653223_1359295_n As I sit with her, I notice the boy down the street being all but broom swept out of a store as the owner calls him a string of names in Hindi. A tourist couple are discussing the touts in town in less than flattering terms, with smiles on their faces, and not fooling any of them. Another traveling pair was sitting next to me last night and trying to engage me in, what seems like, the never ending discussion on “terrorists”. Several tourists have visited my young friend’s school and come out raving about the “wonderful” work being done for these children who have “nothing” and have “horrible home lives”. The beat red cheeks of the children over-hearing these comments tells me that many of them didn’t know they had horrible families until this very minute.

Words hold meaning and words have weight. As I look down at my young friend, beaten by words, I wonder why anyone thinks their words do not matter. And then I start to take stock of my own language. Language flows from our lips to someone else’s ears and into their hearts. If we do not choose out words carefully, they take on a life of their own. Have I had a small part in creating a world where words can be hurled like stones, aimed to leave a sting and a bruise? Have I myself used words that have hurt, whether I meant to or not? If I admit that words do, in fact, hurt, do I not have an obligation to work to do better?

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When we humiliate a child in class, even verbally, we break them a little. But it’s bigger than that. When we call people we don’t know terrorists, when we mimic accents that aren’t ours, when we try to justify our stereotypes of Africans, Pakistanis, and Italians, when we tell fellow travelers to expect the worst from the world’s poor, when we refuse to acknowledge cultural differences and bad mouth people we met once, when we tell stories that generalize a nation or a people based on a single experience, when we allow our entertainment industry to export a narrow definition of beauty, when we tell racist jokes, when we use words like “cute”, “frigid”, or “bitch” to describe a powerful woman- when we say these things we break people too, even if just a little bit. And, just as bad, we set people up to treat other people poorly based on preconceived notions, misconceptions, assumptions, and a lack of cultural awareness. We perpetuate the notion that it’s ok to verbally take someone down as long as you don’t throw those “sticks and stones”- that it is somehow not as bad.

The little girl sitting next to me is economically poor, no getting around it. She sure she is “less than” after being told by teachers, tourists, peers, shop keepers, and police officers that she is just that. She has grown up in a world where words saying she is too brown, too poor, and too female to be “right” have been repeated over and over and over. Words have most certainly hurt her. Today was just the latest in a barrage of ignorance thrown at her due to things far beyond her control, mindsets rooted in ignorance and hate passed down from long ago. But somewhere in her she also still believes that they are wrong. She has not accepted the box they have created for her. She looks at me with her hurt in her eyes and silently asks me to tell her is is not “less than”. She does not accept the words but they still sting. Her tears pour out and I wonder how many little girls are sitting on curbs, in blue hand-me-down uniforms, crying over words that weren’t supposed to hurt?

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Category: Ethics

July 21, 2014

Alden Jones on going back to the places that obsess you

“Here’s what I think: you need to leave and then go back to the places that obsess you. If you want the delight of the unfamiliar you leave yourself enough time between trips to activate the added kick of nostalgia when you return. That is what it means to be a traveler: the desire to immerse yourself, for the ants and the flowers and the sticky heat and the language to become “normal” — but always, in the end, to go home, always with the knowledge (or hope) that the future holds another journey like this.”
–Alden Jones, The Blind Masseuse: A Traveler’s Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia (2013)

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day

July 18, 2014

Vagabonding Case Study: Denise Diamond

Denise Diamond

kids

adiamondabroad.com

Age: 36

Hometown: Texas

Quote: Be more awesome and do the things you’ve only been talking about doing until now. (more…)

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Category: General, Vagabonding Case Studies

July 16, 2014

Vagabonding Case Study: Christine Kaaloa

unnamed (1)

Christine Kaaloa

 grrrltraveler.com

youtube.com/ckaaloa

Age: Never ask a girl her age after she crosses 40.

Hometown: Aiea, Hawaii

Quote: Your horizon is only as far as you can imagine it. (more…)

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Category: Vagabonding Case Studies

July 14, 2014

Travel writing has a way of being perishable

“Travel writing is perishable. I find that when I’m reading a book of bygone travels I become irritated with curiosity about what the place is like today — can you still swim in the river, as the writer did? Can you still eat the fish? Are the houses still roofed with thatch? This problem has to do not only with travel writing but all nonfiction. If you look in the Classics or Literature section of any bookstore you’ll see mainly works of fiction. Nonfiction is about the physical world, and over time the physical world tends to disappear.”
–Ian Frazier, in They Went: The Art and Craft of Travel Writing (1991)

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day

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 12, 2014

How to be a traveler in the everyday

Flying in anti-gravity yoga in Long Beach, NYFrom the very first time I ever went on a trip, I never wanted to leave. Friends used to tell me they thought I feared reality and wanted to live in a permanent state of holiday. ‘What’s so wrong with that’, I’d reply. It has only gotten worse with age, I’m afraid. I used to think it was because I didn’t have to handle any chores at that time. Since then I’ve gotten sick while traveling, have had to pay bills while on the road and deal with other disheartening realities, but, even to this day, I never want it to end. How do I transfer those travel feelings to the everyday?

Free. Unencumbered. Happy. At Ease. These are just a few of the terms that travelers often use to describe how they feel when in their happy place. On the road we can be ourselves, be the person we always want to be and not feel as if we have to fit into any specific boxes or deal with any expectations. We can change direction with the wind, be spontaneous or try new things that we’d rarely do in our ‘normal’ setting. Go to the beach on a weekday, hike that mountain you were once afraid of or eat ice cream twice a day-all of these special things take place when we leave the nest. Things are only part of it, but more significant are the changes within that we discover. A different perspective arises, new hobbies take shape, varied taste buds develop and a whole new world opens up that perhaps we never knew-how do we harness those feelings and bring them back ‘to reality’?

There’s not always time or money to go on that much desired adventure. If we can find a way to bring the happiness found in travel to the daily routines of life-the everyday can sometimes feel like a holiday! Happy travels.

For more of Stacey’s writings visit her website at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com.

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Category: General, Notes from the collective travel mind

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 9, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: flat tires and bumpy road adventures (while pregnant) in Costa Rica

Playa Bejuco - 21

Cost/day: $50/day

What’s the strangest thing that’s happened lately?

We left the beach life in Nicaragua and are housesitting in the mountains of Costa Rica, above San Jose.

I’m 8 1/2 months pregnant, but that doesn’t stop us from taking a trip to the beach after we’ve been here a couple of weeks. You can see the ocean from our house in the mountains of Costa Rica, but it appears deceptively close. What we think will be a short drive to enjoy the sun and waves, turns into a 2 hour bumpy, off-road adventure and a flat tire.

I hope I don’t go into labor. ;)

Playa Bejuco - 06

Describe a typical day:

Our days have been spent at home at the mountain house, preparing for the birth of our sixth child.

But today we decided to take a trip to the beach today. Two bumpy hours and a flat tire later we finally arrived. The beach was large, the sun shone high, we picked fresh coconuts from the tree and found sand dollars in the sand.

Playa Bejuco - 41

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

Like: Costa Rica is a beautiful country. We love being back (we lived here in 2007-2008). We’re excited to explore it once more — the beaches, rainforests, oceans, waterfalls and rivers.

Dislike: After living in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua for the last 1 1/2 years, Costa Rica is comparatively more expensive — housing, food and activities… but I think we’ll adjust. We’re loving it here.

Playa Bejuco - 32

Describe a challenge you faced:

I’ve had all my babies at home (except for my adopted daughter ;) ) I’d like to have this one at home in Costa Rica, but we’ve been working out logistics… can the midwife make it in time? Is there a hospital nearby?

Greg Rachel Pregnant Costa Rica

What new lesson did you learn?

Every travel experience offers joy and disappointment, pleasure and pain, beauty and the unsightly. Traveling well is learning how to embrace both… still true.

Where next?

Staying put here for a while… I’m sure you can guess why. ;)

Learn how to become location independent this year, connect with me on Facebook, or join our Fantastic Family Fridays.

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Category: Central America, Family Travel, Vagabonding Field Reports
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