About a decade ago, on a whim, I took a trip to Costa Rica and opened the door to a world I didn’t know existed. I still remember crowding around the computer with my friends and studying ticket prices. I remember feeling a little silly that I had never been out of the country except for one brief trip to Canada when I was 10. I twas confused but determined as I applied for my first passport. Beaches, monkeys, and learning to surf were all I thought about as the weeks ticked by. When I returned I couldn’t shake the feeling that everything I saw- the waterfalls, the monkeys, the flowers- might be different if I were to return. I felt incredibly grateful for having been able to experience what I had at the exact time that I had.
Months later, already bitten by the travel bug (but not entirely aware of that fact), I was off to India. I touched the walls of the Taj Mahal and drank my weight in chai. I wrapped myself in a sari for a wedding and was genuinely surprised to learn that New Delhi in December is cold. One morning, at dawn, I found myself atop the Golden Temple in Amritsar. As the call to prayer went out, everyone around me dropped to their knees. The newness of the moment and my ignorance of cultural practices made me pause before I followed suit and for a brief moment, I was alone, standing atop the Golden Temple, the whole colorful world around me, on their knees, connected in an invisible way by their love, their need, and their devotion.
Travel is full of these moments. The moments that take your breath away. Moments that suddenly illuminate a belief that had always lived inside of you but you never knew you had. Moments that happen in an instant that you will replay in your mind and retell to your friends for the rest of your life. Cliche as it may be, these moments feel nothing sort of magical, especially in those early days of travel.
But here’s the thing about moments- if we don’t take them out of the memory box they don’t do us much good. If we romanticize the moments and forget to employ the lessons those moments taught us, the growth it encourages within us, then those moments become great stories and not much more. Travel is gift but if we forget to actively employ the breathtaking moments and incorporate them into our everyday thoughts and actions, we miss the opportunity to “connect the dots”. Travel cannot fix all things. It cannot replace the day to day work of being a thoughtful human being, connected in a meaningful way to one’s core beliefs and values.
If we do not do the work in our day to day lives; If we let the lessons we have learned slip by the wayside when we return; If we write blog posts about our experiences but forget to turn our philosophical ponderings into action, then those moments never get to work their real, transformative magic.
Having that brief moment of realization at the Golden Temple was amazing. It is a moment I replay over and over and it still takes my breath away a little, each time I think of it. The real gift, however, has been the constant development and deepening of my belief that we are all connected by our shared humanity. That moment has touched my life far beyond the 60 seconds it took me to take it all in, take a breath, and drop to my knees. It is a moment that reminds me to never forget connect the dots between the other wondrous moments and my day to day life.
Moments like these do not have to happen atop the Golden Temple. Where have you experienced wondrous moments?
$28 per day per person
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
There are many interesting and strange things to see on Bali, but if I had to pick just one it would be the statues you come across in seemingly random places.
Describe a typical day:
Our morning routine stays the same wherever we are. We wake up, make breakfast and do work and homeschool.
After that we typically would go explore an area, temple, mountain, beach, etc. via motorbike. The countryside in Bali is so bright green and beautiful that we would often take longer routes to our intended destination just to see more of it.
Evenings we would relax, make dinner and simply enjoy the tranquility of being surrounded by rice fields.
Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:
I went to a birthday party for an eighteen-year-old local, Wayan. I talked with his friends and teenage family members for a while and had few shots of whatever local drink they were consuming. Unlike the other times when I’d been with Wayan, where we talked about an array of things, I barely spoke with him.
When I arrived, he sat me down with his cousin, gave me food and a drink and explained that he now would be attending to the others at the party. For the rest of the two hours I was there he spent that time making sure everyone, including me, had enough to eat and drink. He served people at his own birthday party. I have no idea if this is normal in Balinese culture, but I found it incredibly endearing. Certainly a drastic difference to how I, ahem, behaved on my eighteenth birthday.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
There is so much to like about Ubud. I liked the people. We met so many kind and smiling people. I liked the amazingly beautiful temples and natural environment. I liked the traditions that were on display with so many aspects of life, from daily offerings (see picture below), to decorating temples, parades and ceremonies, one of which happened in the middle of the rice field where we stayed. After being in southeast Asia for several months, I really liked the ability to get clean, organic food.
I disliked the traffic in Ubud. It is horrendous on some days. Too many buses on tiny streets causing massive traffic jams. It is not fun inhaling diesel exhaust on a motorbike. I disliked how touristy Ubud is. It is touristy in a different way than is the south of Bali, which is a beach destination, but it is touristy nonetheless.
Describe a challenge you faced:
We planned to spend a month in Ubud. It actually took about a week of settling down to enjoy the slower pace of life. After having moved every 3-5 days for so many months, being able to relax and not plan our next destination took some adjustment. I guess it was just a feeling of being restless. But in the second week I settled in and had no problem whatsoever enjoying my time there.
What new lesson did you learn?
That I need a break from traveling sometimes. It is so easy to try to see everything in a country. I just had to except that I cannot see it all and to attempt to do so will only lead to burn out, which I was until we recuperated in Bali.
One of the things we worry about a lot as we travel is our carbon footprint; our environmental impact.
Living in the west where most people are mindful of the 3 R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) and most communities have “green initiatives” it’s easy to be lulled into complacency and think that we’re “doing it.”
Then, you enter the third world. Much of Asia, Africa and Central America are strewn, as far as the eye can see, with plastic bags, foam food containers, mylar packaging from juice containers and a sea of broken glass. Trash is a huge problem, worldwide.
As travelers, there’s another level though. How we move around the planet matters. There are “better” and “worse” ways to make a move. Airplanes are the absolute worst when it comes to carbon footprints. Every time I step onto a plane I hear the earth wheeze and I hate it. Sometimes we do it, but I hate it. It’s a hard balance to strike, between time, money and ecology, and I’m the first to admit that we could do better. We’re always striving to do better. Here are a few things to think about as you travel, either locally, or abroad:
Any vehicle burning a fossil fuel is “bad” on some level for the environment. Boats with little outboard motors, to big 737s all have an impact, but their impact is not equal.
Obviously this includes anything not burning a fossil fuel:
You get the idea. The thing to consider in this category is just what went into making what you’re using to get around. A brand new carbon fiber bike has a bigger footprint than upgrading an old used one that can be repurposed. Living car free and intentionally living within walking distance of everything that matters is better than riding a moped every day.
Trash is the bane of my existence. I absolutely HATE to throw stuff out. It drives me crazy not to have a recycling program. Not having a compost bin seems just ridiculous on every level. It would be so simple. And yet, some places, these things just don’t exist.
What’s a traveler to do?
Often there are options available that aren’t “advertised” when you arrive.
Example: There is no “recycling” program where we lived in Thailand, however, if you clean and separate your glass and metal and put it out next to your trashcan, there are folks who come around, pick it up and sell it for money. This helps the environment and the local economy, everyone wins!
The fastest way to reduce your carbon footprint, regardless of where you live is to buy local. For travelers, this should be a no brainer. The whole point of travel is to experience new places, new flavours, new ways of living.
Resist the urge to visit that big chain store and buy your Western comfort food. Eat local instead.
Don’t insist on brand name clothing that’s been shipped around the world twice, buy a locally made shirt or shoes.
The benefit is two-fold, the earth thanks you, and so does your neighbour who you purchase from!
What are your best tips for living green at home or on the road?
“I confess that I have never understood why so many people’s idea of a fun vacation is to don flip-flops and sunglasses and crawl through maddening traffic to loud hot crowded tourist venues in order to sample a ‘local flavor’ that is by definition ruined by the presence of tourists. This may (as my Festival companions keep pointing out) all be a matter of personality and hardwired taste: The fact that I just do not like tourist venues means that I’ll never understand their appeal and so am probably not the one to talk about it (the supposed appeal). But, since this note will almost surely not survive magazine-editing anyway, here goes: As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it’s only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let’s-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. My personal experience has not been that traveling around the country is broadening or relaxing, or that radical changes in place and context have a salutary effect, but rather that intranational tourism is radically constricting, and humbling in the hardest way — hostile to my fantasy of being a real individual, of living somehow outside and above it all. (Coming up is the part that my companions find especially unhappy and repellent, a sure way to spoil the fun of vacation travel:) To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all noneconomic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.”
–David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster, Gourmet, August 2004
When it comes to the ways of love and romance, no aphrodisiac is quite so potent as travel. On the road — freed from the dull routines and restrictions of home — you become more open, more daring, more willing to seize the moment. Away from home, the people you meet (be they locals or fellow travelers) seem sexier, more exotic, less repressed — and this makes you feel sexy, exotic, liberated. Freed from your past, happily anonymous, and filled with a sense of possibility, you are never more willing (or able) to fall headlong into a love affair.
The only downside is this: Rekindling things when you get home almost never works. Regardless of how great you and your lover felt in Rio; regardless of how seamlessly the two of you bonded in Paris; regardless of the memories you cherish from Koh Samui, you are risking heartbreak if you try to resume the romance in Hackensack or Burbank or Minnetonka.
I used to wonder why this was the case — why, after sharing intense travel experiences, my relationships with the intriguing women I met in Cuzco or Tel Aviv would sour into a series of uninspired emails, awkward phone calls and (on occasion) anticlimactic reunions. Why would everything change once we’d stopped traveling?
I finally got a clue to the problem several winters ago in Thailand, when I met a Belgian lass I’ll call Katia. Willowy and doe-eyed, with a sexy pout and effortless European grace, Katia would have been out of my league back home — but in the colorful madness of Bangkok, we somehow fell into an easy love affair. Together, we took a train down to Khao Sok National Park in southern Thailand, where we stayed in a tree-house hotel, swam the jungle-rivers, drank Mekhong whiskey, and shared the stories of our lives. After a week, when it came time for Katia to fly back to Brussels, I felt like we had really connected — that our time together had amounted to something special.
Katia must have felt the same way, since — over the course of the next several weeks — she told me how much she missed me, how much she cared for me, and how much our time together had meant to her. When she eventually invited me to join her in Brussels for Christmas, I didn’t hesitate: I bought a plane ticket and flew out as soon as I could.
Once I arrived in Brussels, things fell apart almost immediately. When I tried to put my arm around her as we walked to meet her friends at a bar, Katia curtly warned me not to touch her in front of her friends (“They know I’m not sentimental like that,” she told me). Once in the bar, Katia continually scolded me: for eating too much; for not sitting up straight; for not asking her friends the right kind of questions. For some reason, I’d suddenly become an embarrassment to Katia — an uncultured American fool who couldn’t do anything right.
The disappointment went both ways: Back in Thailand, Katia was laid-back and affectionate, and she’d talked about her passionate calling to design jewelry; in Brussels, I’d quickly discovered that she was a shrill busybody who used her art studio mainly to play computer games. When we visited Belgian museums, Katia sneered at my ignorance of art history; when I read a book on the train to Louven, she scolded me for not looking out at the scenery; when we ate dinner with her parents, she lost her temper when I didn’t pay enough attention to the conversation (which, I reminded her, was mostly in Dutch). In Thailand, Katia had found pleasure in the simplest moments; in Brussels, the only times she seemed remotely satisfied were when we were arguing.
After a week of being trapped in a small Brussels apartment with Katia, I had a realization: despite everything that had happened between us in Thailand, she was still complete stranger to me. I had fallen for Thailand as much as I’d fallen for Katia, and she had done the same. The world we’d experienced together as travelers was, in many ways, a transient fantasy world — and the mountaintop experiences we’d shared in Asia amounted to a sandcastle by the time I’d arrived in Europe.
Indeed, if the anonymity and renewal of travel makes love bloom easier, returning to the noise of your home-life makes road-romance reunions that much harder. Despite all the memories you’ve shared on the road, you can’t pick up the relationship where it left off, because that place is now thousands of miles away.
Last summer, after having not communicated for four years, Katia sent me an email suggesting we meet up and talk. We met — as friends — in Paris, and I felt like I got to know my old Belgian lover for the first time.
Hometown: Carolina, Puerto Rico
Quote: The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. – St. Augustine
We found an affordable accommodation about 6 kilometres from central katoomba, The Skyrider Motel. It cost $100 a night a little over our usual expenditure but worth it for the luxury of one of the comfiest beds I think I may have ever slept on.
We searched some of the local bars and restaurants for a good meal, again lossening the belt around our budget. Most meals per person could range from a $15 pub grub special to upwards of $40 for a sit down dining experience.
Describe a typical day:
It felt like a chore getting out of such a beautiful an comfortable bed but we rose nice and early and set out for breakfast.
A small independant cafe in the heart of Katoomba offered a range of breakfast dishes from a bowl of muesli to a full English breakfast. So I opted in for the latter which I washed down with a fresh cappuccino. The cafe had a great vibe, the walls pasted with old rock posters and bank notes from around the world. It was run by what seemed to be fellow travellers, who kept the eatery lively and vibrant. It was Coffee with smile.
Once stuffed on sausage, beans and eggs we went in search of the local tourist center. I weighed up the idea of taking a tour or going it alone. Later choosing to make our own way round the scenic mountainous site.
So we purchased an all day pass for the Scenic World, this allowed us on the several attractions that offered the many views of the valleys and mountains.
A tip for any would be travellers to Katoomba from Sydney, it’s worth buying a 3 day public transport pass. Not only can you use it around Sydney on all public transport but it can take you out to Katoomba by train and allow you to use all public transport here also.
So we hopped on our designated bus and took it to Scenic World’s Skyrail. This is a cable cart with a class bottoms that takes your over the beautiful gorge. Be wary the cue was long for little reward however it did give a perspective of the depth of the gorge below.
Jumping off the other side we chose to walk along the footpath that takes you along the Gorge with a promise of a view of the 3 sisters, A trio of rock spires that stand out from the cliff face. It’s a long walk but many vantage points give a beautiful view of the blue mountains. A tremendous vastness of green forestry, rock faces, all clouded in a blue haze of which the area gained its name.
Once finished a short bus ride took us to another beautiful site, only this time we would have to walk for 45mins down into the gorge. We were making our way down to the Katoomba Falls waterfall. For us we knew this would be a beautiful picturesque platform but what we found was more astonishing than we could have estimated.
The platform was a flat rock that led to a cliff edge. On one side if us was the beautiful cascading waterfall, spin 180 to an amazing panoramic of the blue mountains. Just when we thought we had seen a beautiful view from the top of the gorge, suddenly it felt like we had been transported to a secluded paradise. The long steep boggy walk down made this spot quiet with only a small many sharing the spot with us.
We splashed around the water for a while enjoying the relaxing soothing sounds of the crashing water. We could have stayed here all afternoon but we had to make our way back to the top. We stopped at several lookouts along the route back up. Then finally reaching the the busy road above we set out for a nice eatery.
The bus dropped us outside the old City Bank. This quaint 2 story pub was bustling with travellers and boasted a bohemian atmosphere. Before we stepped through the door we had decided where we would spend the evening. With a little taste of home Guinness flowed from the taps and helped wash down the delicious homemade burger. Bacon Cheese and a 3/4 pound if meat, complimented by the hand cut chips and a touch of BBQ sauce. We drank until the last bus that took me back to the comfort of that beautiful bed.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
The Skyrider Motel was a complete surprise, from the outset it seemed like a pay by the hour Bates motel. However once inside, the room is a cosy well equipped room. The couple that ran the motel are also friendly and very helpful.
The blue mountains and the surrounding areas themselves are a beautiful sight to behold and was worth every cent and every second spent there.
The only downside is the World pass. The glass bottom Skyrail we did on the first day and the Skytrain really aren’t worth the money. Long waits in quiet season for crowded bustling carts gave little reward. Above all of this, once you reach the bottom of the valley you can only walk back up, there is no option to return to back of the cue. As able bodies explorers we were happy to walk back up but for anyone who may be impaired I could imagine this to be a burden.
Describe a challenge you faced: We really underestimated the walking trail to the Waterfall, it is very steep and in some places boggy and flooded. Our real mistake was deciding to wear our flip flops. We struggle more than most but we never gave up and it was worth the struggle
What new lesson did you learn?
Always be prepared, a good pair of walking boots will never fail you no matter how much you like the wind between your toes.
Where next?- It’s magnetic island
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:
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!
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!
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!
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!
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?
“I always get terrified right before I travel. I become convinced that this time will be different: I won’t be able to figure out the map, or communicate with non-English speakers, or find the people I need in order to write the story I’ve been sent in search of. I will be lost and incompetent and vulnerable. I know that my panic will turn to excitement once I’m there — it always does — but that doesn’t make the fear before takeoff any less vivid.”
–Ariel Levy, “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” The New Yorker, 11/18/2013
Male to Colombo to Dubai to Milan and finally landing in New York forty hours later was the route we took home from the Maldives last week. The jet lag has been palpable but we’d both say it has been worth it for the perfection we experienced in our beach bungalow island paradise for six magical days. But for most of the people we talked to, the look of disbelief in their eyes when we explained the journey home was enough to say-“no way, I’d never do that!” We’ve gotten the same response countless times with the question-‘how long is the flight from New York to Melbourne? What on earth do you do for that long?’ Travel may mean something different to everyone, but no matter the explanation, we all have our reasons for leaping.
For me, travel is a journey from start to finish. Be it a two-day jaunt or a leap of years-I find magic in every part. It’s hard to believe considering when I even mention a thought about a trip or a move; my mom get’s stressed not liking anything to do with the word travel. For me, it’s exhilarating. There’s the research, the decision, the planning, the packing and then the actual adventure. I enjoy it all, but I actually get excited when I get to the airport, hand off my bags, head through security and know that I’m on my way! Each time I wander around the airport shops like a kid in a candy store knowing something great is about to happen-the anticipation is only the start to the journey.
It’s been called a traveler’s curse, itchy feet, a vice, an escape, running away and a million other things, but for the travelers I know, it’s part of their make up. Check the genetic code and I think you’d find a travel gene as part of many of our DNA compositions. We’ll tell you that our lists continue to grow no matter how many lands our feet touch. Some count passport stamps while others regale you with tales of amazing people and incredible human-interest stories. We’ll save our pennies regularly for that unquenchable desire to spend them on an adventure. Some travel solo on a journey all their own while others go in groups and find they learn even more about themselves than they ever expected. Some seek the world’s wisdom while others have a passion for learning as much as possible through first-hand encounters different than those in which they themselves experienced in their youth.
Why do you travel? What for you is worth the leap or the risk? Does the age old adage, “if you think adventure is dangerous, try routine-it’s lethal” resonate with you? Is it to experience other cultures, food, beer and lifestyles? Do you feel a pull towards nature’s beauty or the UNESCO world heritage site list? Do you like to volunteer in other parts of the world? Is it to get outside your comfort zone or just to know that you’re one small part of a much greater world? For me, it’s a mixture of all of these things. The insatiable curiosity of learning by doing is a driving force but the act of travel encompasses so many others that it’s difficult to put into words. Like many fellow travelers, the rush of travel makes me feel alive and although it comes with risks-I believe they are far outweighed by the rewards. I breathe better when I travel. I feel better when I’m planning an adventure. I smile more when talking to others about their experiences and bantering about ideas for new exploits. I learn more about the world when I’m forced outside my comfort zone and I relish the relationships that have been fostered by these ventures. Even more so, through my travels I’ve learned more about myself and why I leap, and I’ve learned to trust that the net will, without a doubt, appear.
In the end, although I would never tell you that these past few days of waking up at 4am has been pleasant (when you’re not heading to the airport to catch another flight at least), the sunrises have been beautiful and the jet lag undoubtedly worthwhile.
Why do you leap?
To read more of Stacey’s writing check out her website.