From 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.
We’d been dating long distance for over three years. We got engaged in Australia in January of 2009 when I was still in New York and he in Melbourne. We’d traveled overseas together on every holiday break we could and loved it. We knew we wanted to share the same space for more than a few weeks together and thought long and hard about how to do it in perhaps a non-traditional way. We decided to take a ten-month honeymoon after we got married and travel around the world. A couple of years later, we did it again for a few months. We looked forward to the job hiatus, an apartment on hold, the joy of not knowing where we’d be or what we’d do on any given day, nothing pulling us in a specific direction and constant adventure ahead. The scariest part was that at some point, we had to tell people what we were doing. Of course, some responses were positive, ‘that’s awesome, take the opportunity and enjoy’ from those who were happy for us. But, let’s just say that the traditional path was not the one on which we traveled.
There were many interesting questions that came from the thoughts of others, but mostly we got…’you’re doing what?’
Here are some of the questions we got when we ditched the traditional path for a while.
Why would you do that?
What about health insurance?
What about your jobs?
What about your career?
What about your apartment?
What will you do for money?
Do you have a trust fund I don’t know about?
How can you do that?
Where will you live?
Did you get an apartment already?
Do you know where you’re staying?
You’re planning on traveling WHERE?
Don’t you know there are diseases and crazy dangers there?
Why would you want to go THERE?
What will you do with all of your STUFF?
Are you insane?
Are you ever coming back?
What about your family?
Can I come too?
You’re doing what?
How did people react when you shared your travel plans?
What’s the most memorable question you heard when you headed off on your journey?
To read more of Stacey’s travels check out her blog at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com
Money in, soda out-this is the typical experience with a drink machine. But we’ve all had that sticky situation of money in-no soda out. What do you do? Do you shake or kick the machine, or do you yell or even go as far as to demand that the machine return your drink or your money back? When you place your hard earned money in that skinny plastic slot, you expect that same result that you’ve had time and time again. What happens when the result is not the same? What happens when the machine is human?
Travel changes a person. For some, we leave looking one way and return another. But for most of us, the real change happens on the inside. It’s perspective, beliefs, and thoughts that can’t be viewed by the naked eye. Returning from long-term travel and trying to fit into the same old boxes people place us is often difficult and sometimes truly impossible. We may look the same on the outside but are internally altered.
Some travel changes work for the new person in the same life. Stay in Australia for a while and you might now put fried egg atop every burger you make. Travel to Costa Rica and upon your return you might scour the shelves of every supermarket inspired by your newfound love of Lizano sauce. These changes fit. These changes seem acceptable to society at large. But what do you do about those ‘other’ changes?
For many, long-term travel showcases the lives, cultures, settings and lifestyles of other ways to live. Embracing that way of life for even a small period of time changes a person from the inside out. For some, we come home and although unfathomable to many, we quit our jobs or ditch life-long careers. We no longer accept certain attitudes and often have a newfound perspective for the actual problems in life as opposed to those we used to think of as problems. We change the way we act in situations and often have a new lease on life, greater independence and more faith in ourselves.
Our reactions, or actions (like those of the soda machine) are actually visible. Perhaps we now react differently to conversations, statements, outings or others than we used to. It’s in these circumstances that it’s difficult for others to know what to do. All of a sudden society has acted one way and instead of responding in our usual way; we’ve changed. Others weren’t on our journey but those invisible changes are now affecting them. A result of many life-changing events, I’m sure, but it’s still difficult to share all of the internal changes that have gone on in your perspective, wants, desires and those choices you’d now choose to make.
No matter the result, the struggle is real on both sides. Do your friends and family shake the machine? Do they say ‘the heck with this, I’ll just use a different one?’ Do they take the time and patience to understand the inner workings of this device and deal with the fact that the soda might never reach the tray? We’ve all had experiences with this sort of situation. For me, it took time, patience and understanding on both sides. I was the one who left and changed, and there was work needed on both sides. When the machine has made up its mind, eventually those shaking realize too and either accept this decision or don’t. This is true with drink machines and people.
What happened when you returned from your journey? Did you experience the ‘soda machine theory’?
As I was preparing to write this blog post, I thought of a problem that most, if not all writers, struggle with: coming up with something to write about. That’s especially true in travel writing, where finding a good angle, or a “story”, is key to get the attention of an editor and an audience.
With the facility of modern travel, even getting to very far-flung and hardcore destinations is not enough to have a story. Plenty of people are probably already there, camera in hand, without an assignment. Truth is, today’s editors have many more offers than they can consider, and they all come from as many exotic locations as we can find pointing fingers madly on a world map. So, how to stand out and get published?
I found that opening my eyes very wide is the most useful of strategies. In fact, today’s publishing industry is not looking at what is there, but more at what has slipped between “there” and “somewhere else” only people with deep sense of observation see. I don’t believe that one has forcibly to stay in a place long to get such “discerning power”. Of course, extended knowledge of a place can just do your writing good; but in order to catch that glimpse that makes an idea stand out among all the others, you don’t necessarily need it.
You just need good imagination, attention to detail, and a great deal of curiosity.
I give you a simple example: the other day I was walking down Armenian Street in Penang, where plenty of people go visit the famous street art installations realized by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic. I remember that there were so many people lined up to take pictures of the kids on a bicycle, and all of them were waiting to take the same picture. The street corner was so crowded, it was silly to notice how, tucked at a street corner just across the road, a traditional rattan furniture shop was empty.
I know that place very well, for I have visited several times before: the owner, an old man in his 70s, has been weaving rattan furniture by hand for the past 50 years. He, of course, besides keeping an old trade of Malaysia alive, is a goldmine of stories. When I visit and he has time, I always leave his shop with more than a handful of ideas buzzing in my head. And that’s how I get material to write my stories: by looking around the corner, and talking to people. Real people, who aren’t just taxi drivers and hotel staff.
The difference between a story you can sell, and one which will be rejected, is all matter of perspective and perception. The important thing is to remember that nobody is willing to pay to get what everybody else can provide, and most often for free on their blogs… so open your eyes and ears, interact with people, and look for the unusual, underrated, or just plain forgotten. It will pay off if you are persistent, and able to cope with inevitable instances of rejection.
This summer I’ll be spending several weeks helping to guide travelers through Europe’s best sights. A dream job to be sure, but the stakes are high; the task of introducing people to the richness of Europe can be a heavy burden. Being in charge of a group’s travel safety and general exposure to the rich cultural treasures of any place is a daunting responsibility.
Curating a group’s travel experience is not for the faint of heart. The question is always how best to introduce people to the buzzing urban intensity of Rome, the humid, decadent decay of Venice and the vertigo-inducing heights of the chilly Swiss Alps. One person’s death march through the hot, crowded streets of Florence is another’s carnival of once-in-a-lifetime Renaissance sights. On the other hand, consider that same tour member’s restless boredom in an ancient half-timbered German hamlet. It’s another’s perfect medieval village vacation under the shadow of a ruined castle looming in the hills above.
The main task of any good tour guide is, of course, to help people connect to the history, the people and the culture of the place they’ve come so far to see. And different people connect to the culture in different ways. Some come for the food, while others could care less about the cuisine scene. Some just want to take in the sights, while still others need every historical detail you can offer them. One tour member’s Michelangelo is another’s gelato; it’s not right or wrong. It’s just different, because people are different.
A good guide can gently expose a conservative American mom to the permissive hedonism of canal-laced Amsterdam, and inspire her to think about the Dutch culture’s success in keeping drug abuse and teen pregnancy to record lows compared to our nation’s sad stats. Or bring the history of an otherwise lifeless site to life through a well-rendered story detailing the intense human drama it witnessed. The same guide can introduce the tired, indifferent sightseer to the majesty of the Louvre and the Uffizi Gallery, and walk out with a convert to the flashy, fleshy vividness of Renaissance humanist art.
So the tour guide’s other main challenge, then, is to help one connect to the place in their own way, on their terms. In other words, help them find what they’re looking for—and sometimes what they didn’t know they were looking for. Some come for enlightenment and some come for a good time. There is no reason they can’t leave with both, their bag filled with insights and fun memories that will last a lifetime.
Travel, like chocolate always leaves you wanting more. With the first bite of chocolate lava cake-I was hooked. Dark chocolate may be my addiction, but travel is my vice. A three-week journey in Israel was the longest I’d ever been on a holiday and it was magical. That trip left an indelible memory in more ways than one. At twenty years of age, it was the first one without family, the first that far overseas, the first on a tour and the start of a journey sparking an interest in travel that was longer than just a few days. After university, backpacking through Europe for five weeks was my next big adventure. Again, longer than the norm of my childhood family travel, it still left me wanting more. Each time, extending a bit, but leaving that lingering need for so much more.
Ask any traveler and they’ll tell you it’s never enough. Two weeks, one month, six months or several years-regardless of quantity, once you’re hooked there’s no turning back. We know we’re lucky to have the option and ability to make the choice to travel, but clearly, a beautiful travel bug has bitten us. There are far worse vices to have in the world, but travel is mine. It’s always on my mind. Planning an adventure, dreaming of one, helping others source one, returning from one or in the middle there’s always travel on my brain. If you ask me ‘how long do I need to visit x’, my answer is ‘how long do you have’? No matter the time frame, travel is always beneficial. When asked, ‘should I go?’, my answer is always a resounding ‘YES’.
‘Round the world travel clinched it for me. Gifted with a year of travel, I’ve never since been the same. I still believe each type of travel has its merits. Whichever kind works for you is the right type. A few days on a beach, up a mountain, or sharing a trek on your favorite hike all offer incredible value. Short stays feed the travel desire and fill the soul with new lessons, perspective and sights, but, there’s something special about extended travel.
That first step into extended travel (whatever that means for you) leaves us longing and wanting more. Trying to return to that one weekend a summer or one week a year holiday no longer feels adequate. After that taste those sick days or weeks of leave are consolidated to put together to form a larger holiday. You go to work with a headache just to know that there will be a few more days to add to that trip. You ask the questions, ‘can I buy a week of leave or can I take leave without pay’ or even consider leaving that job just to have the time to travel. Its pull is often stronger than anything you’ve ever before felt. You look agape at those who even suggest ‘haven’t you gotten it out of your system yet?’ There’s more to see and more to explore. With each trip the list gets longer. Not necessarily the list of sites or destinations, but the desire to experience the wonder and watch in awe as your own perspective changes and eyes widen. It’s not about the boxes to tick or the pins in a map, but the personal journey that’s too good to pass up.
That wonderful chance to attempt life as a local for a short while or to delve a bit deeper into that cultural experience takes hold. There’s something special about long-term travel. The daily routine becomes filled with observing, listening, learning, sharing, tasting, savoring and enjoying. You take the time to stop and hear a person’s story or even share one of your own with a stranger you may never again see or one you’ll soon call friend. You get the opportunity to breathe a different air, meet people you’d never before meet, view with your own eyes and experience that which before was solely an image searched on Google. You’ve jumped into the book and are now your own guide.
How many people ever utter the words, ‘I wish I worked more?’ Once bitten, it’s hard to return. Extended travel is chocolate personified. It’s the best bit of that lava cake. From the first bite you taste, savor, smile and can’t believe how good it is but you know there’s more to come. And then you reach the center, the warm gooey chocolate dances on your taste buds and they are forever changed. Could you possibly imagine returning to a life without more of that fabulous deliciousness?
What was your first taste of travel? How did that jump to long-term travel change you?
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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?
“No journey is too great, if you find what you seek” – Anonymous
When I was little, I met counselors from all over the world at sleep-away camp. If you told me the ten year old who acquired a koala singlet from her counselor, would later marry an Australian and live down under; I would have told you, ‘you’re nuts’!
The travel bug bit hard during my first non-family trip. After university, a backpacking journey kept hold. Not far from the traditional American story there was college, graduate school and then a job. As a teacher, I traveled on every break and worked every summer at camp. The world continued to spin on its axis and adult life, as I knew it, was underway.
Meeting my husband on a trip in New Zealand changed everything. Relationships take work (especially long distance ones) and breaks now included international travel finding a spot between Australia and America. After many kilometers (and large phone bills), we married in 2009 and decided to go on a one-year adventure to follow the sun. Bucking tradition of everything I knew, we leapt and had no idea if any net would appear.
Travel lesson #1: I realized, my husband is my net…and gives me the strength to be my own.
That year, everything changed. I could tell you about the adventures, the people, and the sights, but that’s for another time. Most importantly, the vagabonding experience transformed me. It didn’t happen overnight. Sometimes a whisper, while at other times change screamed loudly. Fears packed in luggage were left behind along the way leaving me lighter in personal and tangible baggage. Certainties that allowed me to go were dropped out of airplanes unnecessary upon return. Vagabonding’s gifts are long lasting and perspective changing.
Travel lesson #2: People change but true friends will always be there.
We knew that the two of us could manage distance, but we didn’t know if our ‘home’ friends could. Those who truly wanted us in their lives did make the effort. Staying in touch mattered. We found that the more we traveled, the more like-minded individuals we met. We embraced and befriended locals. We felt a kinship with those who found that the more they explored, the longer their ‘list’. We learned that no matter where in the world, we were lucky to have close friends.
Travel lesson #3: Comfort Zones: Love ‘em and leave ‘em.
Comfort zones are never easy to leave, but more growth happens outside rather than in them. Like it or not, travel forces you outside of your comfort zone. For me, that was change, but the greater gift was realizing what to do with those newfound feelings is what truly matters. The more you venture outside of your ‘zone’, the more the comfortable one swells. Before we left, the uncertainties were frightening. The leave of absence and keeping the apartment minimized risk and allowed me to jump. How did I know if I was going to enjoy this travel/expat life or not? It was scary, yet exciting.
Somewhere along the line, my comfort zone expanded. Maybe it happened when we literally leapt off the edge of Devil’s Pool in Zambia. Maybe it was getting sick on a trip having to use our travel insurance to find a doctor. Maybe it was the search for a new dentist in Melbourne, bush-camping in Botswana or learning to dance in the rain. Little by little, the bigger picture mattered more. Once anxiety producing experiences became a welcome challenge. If I could write Travel her very own thank you card, I would. Foods I never would have tried, places I never thought to visit and communities I didn’t know existed provided direction, and a door to the outside of my comfort zone. Once outside, I couldn’t go back in.
Travel Lesson #4: Perspective-a traveler’s gift.
Travel Lesson #5: Lessons from the road.
It’s been almost four years since we returned from our first venture in ‘round the world travel. Since then, we’ve continued to travel, been touched by a natural disaster and thought a lot about the type of life we want. We relish knowing we are part of a bigger world and are grateful to have both roots and wings. Last year, we took a second ‘round the world trip (three months) seeing more of the world and interacting with new and interesting people. I took another leave and Mathew quit his job for that journey. We were less bothered by the risk. Change continued. Eventually, I resigned from the very structured world of public education and have found a new freelance career. It’s risky, but; I jumped. Maybe we’ll even take the leap to location-independent one day. Regardless of choice, it’s worth the chance to bring out our happy more often than not.
Travel, has been the gift that keeps on giving. It’s how we met and how we experience life. We don’t want to ‘get it out of our system’. We embrace the itch. Travel opened our eyes to what is out there and has given us the courage to take risks to live the life we imagine. The road provided an incredible gift…perspective. Now, there’s no turning back.
“Fate is what happens to you…destiny is what you do with it”
– Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Read more by Stacey at the gift of travel
Last weekend, on a sunny Saturday morning at a local Seattle-area library, I kicked off the first of several ninety-minute “Travel talks” I plan to give this year. The seminar-style presentations, which I call “Traveling The Best of Europe Independently & On A Budget” will be free, presented at assorted libraries in the Seattle metro area.
I began doing these talks several years ago after answering the umpteenth question about how to travel independently in Europe (since that’s my specialty), how to plan it, and where to go. I realized there was a hunger for this type of straight-up advice from a trusted source. Since then I’ve done several, and I’m always stuck by audiences’ desire for useful tips and, more importantly, a much-needed infusion of “Hey, I can do this!” confidence.
Some have asked why I bother doing these talks when it’s basically free work and free advice. My answer: Sharing my hard-won tips on budgeting, itinerary-crafting, and other how-to essentials is a joy. Moreover, it’s a public service. More than just the mere nuts-and-bolts information, I’ve found that it’s the message of “you can do it too!” that is truly valuable, no matter what destination you’re discussing. Any guidebook will have a chapter on the basics needed to plan a trip and where to go, but it’s a presenter’s confidence and palpable love for the subject that can inspire someone to finally book that plane ticket.
So, if you’re inclined to spread your knowledge and love of whatever destination you choose, please consider offering a ninety-minute “how to travel independently & on a budget to…” presentation at a local library. Impart your wisdom and fill the room with your enthusiasm for the places you’re talking about. You might just motivate a reluctant adventurer to take the trip of a lifetime, and that is time well spent indeed.
In the final entry in my series of posts on the subtle but interesting variations in how European cultures celebrate Christmas, I take a look at one of the finest places to spend the holiday season, England. It’s not just a beautiful country with a joyous approach to the holiday; it’s also the spot where some of the most cherished Christmas traditions originated.
Throughout Europe, the sound of carols spill out from churches great and small, and the youthful choir’s heavenly harmonies are carried to the rafters on the cold air, just as they’ve been every year for centuries. Families cluster together and listen to the joyous sounds as their ancestors did, often in the same place.
But the singing of carols is especially beloved and ingrained in the Christmastime traditions of England. In fact, they’ve been a staple of the holiday in England since at least the sixteenth century, as many of the country’s Christmas traditions are. The great cathedrals of England—Wells, Canterbury, Durham, Bath and Salisbury to name just a few—hold spellbinding choral events by candlelight. Outside of the massive churches, colorful Christmas markets buzz with activity.
Once a pagan country with a large Druid population, England is also to thank for the tradition of the Christmas tree. The custom originated with the Druids who would decorate their places of worship with evergreen trees in the dead of winter, which to them represented life that could not be extinguished despite the cold and the dark. The later Christians appreciated this symbolism, as it reminded them of Christ’s promise of eternal life, and adopted the custom.
The holiday dishes are of course a pivotal aspect of any celebration, and the diversity in food served on the big day is one of the widely most varying customs of Europe’s Christmas celebration. In England the regulars like turkey and veggies are served, but desert is the real treat: The all-important Christmas pudding, a fruity desert usually made with figs and brandy, and mincemeat pies, both fixtures since the sixteenth century.
As if England didn’t have enough influence on Christmastime rituals, it was also the originator of the “kissing under the mistletoe” tradition. Dating from the medieval period, there was a tradition of hanging a small treetop called a “bough” upside down in one’s home as a blessing upon the occupants. As the years went by this custom lost its popularity, but was resurrected by the Victorians (nineteenth century) as a holiday decoration under which sweethearts would kiss for good luck.
A particularly English tradition also includes the wearing of a colorful paper crown—everyone is a king or queen at Christmas. Needless to say there is tea involved on this wintry day as well, often at 6pm on Christmas to warm the soul, because every proper English event involves tea.
Trees, teas, carols, and mistletoe: England is a fine place to enjoy the warmth, food and music of the season. Attend a carol performance at a magnificent old church, decorate the tree, have some pudding and kiss your honey under the mistletoe. It’s the most joyous time of the year and England is a great place to spend it.