October 16, 2014

Long-term travel, consumerism, and purging

Long- term travelers of all kinds will tell you that one of the most important preliminary steps to taking off is The Purge. That period of time that you devote to deciding which material possessions will still be necessary and dear to your heart after traipsing all over the globe in pursuit of clarity, freedom, connection, adventure, and knowledge. Clothing is donated, items are sold to pay for gear, and maybe a tupperware or two are packed to the brim with things you can’t bare to say goodbye to just yet. Everything else, everything that will represent your existence for the time you spend abroad will be packed into a backpack or suitcase, a necessary piece of gear that looked far bigger before you started packing it.

The act of purging everything was a huge undertaking that occupied our minds and our time for months before we left. The fact that we decided to get rid of almost everything helped in that we didn’t have to think much, we just had to get rid of it. Easier said than done.

For the past several years I have considered myself someone who does not really need all that much. Not a minimalist, but certainly not a materialist either. In new York, my husband and I participated in the consumerist culture far less than our teenage foster daughters would have liked. We didn’t eat at McDonald’s; we didn’t believe that we “needed” anything in a commercial with a catchy jingle; we didn’t eat out more than once a week; we bought local whenever possible instead of feeding the corporate machine of mass made goods; we had a family rule that if you were going to bring a new piece of clothing into your wardrobe, you needed to get rid of another piece first. By most accounts, we were doing pretty good at not getting sucked into the consumerist machine.

And yet, as I cleaned out our closets and gathered our things in boxes, I realized just how much stuff we had. How did that happen?? 

I don’t know about you but I live in one pair of shoes, depending on the season. Fuzzy boots for winter and flip flops for summer. So how the heck had I accumulated over 20 pairs of shoes?! Aaron could wear the same five shirts over and over again without complaint so why in the world did he have bags and bags of t-shirts to give away?!

The more we purged, the more guilt I felt. While it felt great to get rid of so many uneccesary possessions. I couldn’t help but feel this nagging feeling that despite my best efforts, I had still been pulled in by the “just in case” notion that consumerism thrives on. In fact, when I really took stock, more than half of what we owned could fall into the “just in case” category. Why, in New York City, I was so consumed by the notion of “just in case” (without even being aware of it!) is beyond me. If I really needed something I could just go out and buy said item when the need actually arose. I could have even *gasp* asked a neighbor if I could borrow theirs. Instead, I had filled my house with a bunch of stuff I didn’t even need, “just in case”. What a waste!

Adding to my guilt was the realization of just how many things we had been throwing away. Shoes whose soles had worn through, toys that no longer worked, tools with missing pieces had all gone into the garbage and, eventually, into a landfill. As I packed our entire life into backpacks, I realized just how wasteful we had been. Everything I packed had to do at least double duty. Anything that ripped or became worn we would have to try to repair before replacing it due to budget constraints and lack of resources in some areas. It did not bother us to think that we could not easily replace things on the road so why had we been so flippant about throwing things out in New York? We are very aware that much of the rest of the world lives without the ability to throw out and quickly replace anything they desire so how did we get caught up in doing just that?

Without fully realizing it, my husband and I had been participating, more than either of us cared to admit, in the consumerist culture we didn’t endorse. I have come to think that there is no way to completely avoid consumerism when the entire culture around you embraces it. Convenience becomes an easy thing to pay for and, before you know it, you have lots of stuff and lots of waste. There are some tough souls who are able to resist this culture to a very impressive level, no matter their surroundings. We put in a strong effort, but when we really looked at the evidence we had to admit that we just didn’t do as well as we had thought.

Long-term travel is an amazing educator when it comes to sustainability. Cars from the 50′s troll the streets of Mumbai, serviced and repaired beyond what any American would think is “reasonable”. Cobblers make a decent living on streets around the world where throwing out shoes with small holes is inconceivable. Chicken wire is taken down and repurposed over and over again until it finds a home within the walls of a cob house in Guatemala. Baby food jars become perfect containers for homemade salves, creams, and cosmetics in Puerto Viejo. Most of the world survives easily without a constant need for new things.

The initial purge is just phase one in a long journey to recognizing the reality of our personal roles in a consumerist society. The continuing journey can be eye opening in terms of illuminating just how much “need” (I use the term loosely) we really could eliminate just by shifting our thinking away from a mentality based in scarcity and replacing it with one based in abundance.

I no longer by things “just in case”. In fact, we no longer buy anything without checking first to see if we can make it, borrow it, or Macgyver it. I still carry a little but of guilt about how much I use to have (and waste) but then again, once you know better, you do better.

What do you think? Has travel influenced your perception of consumerism or changed how you view your consumption habits?

 

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Category: Ethical Travel, Ethics, General

October 15, 2014

Vagabonding Case Study: Lyndsay Cabildo

Lyndsay Cabildo unnamed

 

discounttravelblogger.com

Age: 31

Hometown: Manila, Philippines

Quote: “I may be young at age but older in hours, because I wasted no time.” –J. Beacon

(more…)

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Category: General, Vagabonding Case Studies

October 13, 2014

Tourism is like a quick fix of empathy

“This is the grand fiction of tourism, that bringing our bodies somewhere draws that place closer to us, or we to it. It’s a quick fix of empathy. We take it like a shot of tequila, or a bump of coke from the key to a stranger’s home. We want the inebriation of presence to dissolve the fact of difference. Sometimes the city fucks on the first date, and sometimes it doesn’t. But always, always, we wake up in the morning and find that we didn’t know it at all.”
–Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams (2014)

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day

October 10, 2014

Deciding to Get Off the Road (well… for a bit)

 

Off the Road

(photo credit: ocarchives on Flickr)

I book my bigger trips a up to a year in advance. This way I know they’re set and I won’t succumb to “I’m too busy, I can’t do this now” syndrome. Last year I put a deposit down on a trip to Peru. Not just any trip – this was with The Adventurists. A bunch of us get together down in Piura, learn to ride old, unreliable mototaxis. Then we’ll attempt to ride them across the Andes and through the jungle to Urubamba, Sacred Valley. By all accounts, one hell of an adventure and I’ve been excitedly looking forward to it.

mototaxi

(this is a mototaxi and yes, it is a bit sketchy. photo credit: yonelcampos on Flickr)

For some reason, some part of me wasn’t. A little voice has been telling me, “Should you really go?” and, “Don’t you have other things you need to do?” Now I’m normally the one who encourages people to ignore the little nervous voice in their head and get out of their comfort zone. Except this wasn’t one of those. It wasn’t the skittish nervous voice, worried about the risks of the adventure. It wasn’t the stiff workaholic voice, encouraging me to spend another weekend in front of the computer. It wasn’t the sweet lazy voice, lulling me into spending a week glued to the couch. This was a deeper voice… and so I sat down and contemplated what it was saying.

I’m sharing because we all go through this struggle eventually. Now I advocate travel — as a way to expand your comfort zone, to get back into the moment and out of our heads. Heck, look at this whole site. It’s dedicated to traveling. Sometimes, though, staying home is the right decision. Here’s how I weigh things.

First – do a gut check to see which voice you are listening to. If it is the workaholic or lazy voice, take it with a grain of salt. Take both of them with a whole shaker of salt. Push through anyway.

The more difficult ones to sus out are the nervous voice versus the fear voice. I may not be using the right words, so let me explain. The nervous voice is the one that fills us with anxiety and dread. It’s the one that keeps us from doing something, not because there’s an eminent danger, but because it’s afraid of leaving the status quo. Worse, it’s afraid of succeeding. This is the voice that tells us not to ask out that person that we’re interested in. The one that tells us we aren’t good enough. It fills you with self-doubt. When you hear this voice, it is often a pointer for the exact direction that we should be moving in. When it says don’t do something, that may be exactly the thing you should do.

The fear voice is the one that tells you, instinctually, that something is wrong with a situation. The hairs on the back of your neck go up and your gut gets tight. This voice tells you that something is wrong with the situation. That the alley you’re about to go down is dangerous. That the person you just met isn’t being honest. This is a voice you listen to. Now, it isn’t always right; but you should pay closer attention. Your subconscious has picked up on something and you need to take it into consideration. I’ve honed this voice and it has saved me in some sketchy situations.

Sometimes the voice is even deeper – something akin to Jiminy Cricket, guiding you like a conscious.

After I figure out which voices I’m listening to, I consider the risks intellectually. I weight the the intellectual and intuitive together. The result is a decision that I can stand behind, knowing that I’ve taken the whole of me into consideration.

In the case of this trip, I decided not to go. It wasn’t easy. I was supposed to leave on Wednesday, October 1st. I know that the amazing people who do go down to Peru will have an incredible time. I know that I’ll be slightly jealous of the stories they come back with.

In the end, the decision was clear. I’ve been on the road since January and have put almost 10,000 miles on various motorcycles. I realized that going on another adventure would have been an escape; that I now need to get shit done. The deciding factor, though, was the nervous voice. It didn’t make a peep about going to Peru, but it sure made a fuss when I thought about spending the next 2-3 months off the road. It recoiled at the thought of recuperating and focusing on things that I’ve been putting off for the last year. Things that make me nervous and anxious. Things that, if I do them right, will open up a new path next year. Yeah, it wasn’t easy, but I’m pretty sure I made the right choice.

For those of you out on the road – travel safe and have a hell of a good time! To those continuing on in Peru, enjoy one incredible adventure! I’ll be with you again shortly.

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: North America, Vagabonding Life

October 7, 2014

5 Ways to finance your travel dreams

Money

One of the most interesting aspects of traveling is meeting the fascinating array of people who manage to make their travel dreams a reality.

We’ve met young people and retirees, couples, single parents and families of every sort you can imagine. One of the things that always strikes us is the resourcefulness of this community and the many ways that people find to create income and finance their dreams.

The world economy is changing. The financial “security” that our parents generation enjoyed is not nearly as secure. The way people make money and work jobs is changing as fast as the technology that is pushing us forward. Whether you’re saving to take off on your dream trip or realizing that you want to make it last forever, these five strategies can help you fund it!

 

Less is More

Any good financial manager will tell you that the first thing you can do to find more funding is to cut fat.

Doing without your daily Starbucks coffee at $3.00 a pop saves $1000 a year; it doesn’t take a genius to do the math on that. A thousand dollars will buy a plane ticket, but it won’t keep you traveling for long. If you’re looking to build your nest egg faster, consider the following:

If your dream is to travel, learning to live with less and do things “the hard way” to save money will do two things: fund your travel and prepare you for the lifestyle that awaits!

Simplify, live like you’re on the road before you hit the road, and bank the difference!

 

Stretch your 1st World Money

The digital nomad’s ideal is to be able to make first world money and live outside of the first world.

While you’re barely scraping by in the USA on $35,000 a year, that same amount anywhere in Central America would let you live like a king. For some people travel is actually cheaper than staying home and living abroad allows them to get out of debt faster, save for a house or long term goals faster and at the same time they are living their dreams!

Guess what? Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too!

 

Diversify

Most of the people we know who are lifestyle travelers do not have one source of income, they have several.

For us, this means my husband’s day job (freelance in the tech industry) and my online and print freelance writing work. We have friends who have ebay businesses, others with multiple websites, some who consult, others who teach, some who own rental homes for income, many who have simply converted their “old careers” into more location independent versions.

The key is, not to put all of your eggs in one basket!

If you’ve got one goose laying all the golden eggs (whether you live a static life or one on the road) then you’re in a precarious position. What happens when that job, that contract, or that income stream dries up?

Develop new income streams, now, before you go, and as you travel as well!

 

Barter

There is more than one form of currency, and I’m not talking dollars versus euros!

Money is one way to get things done and the more you have the easier it is, to be sure, but it isn’t the only way! You can significantly reduce your reliance on green backs by entering into barter relationships that allow both parties to benefit and save you both a bucket of money.

Some examples:

Make an inventory of what you know how to do, the services you could provide and match that against what you need to keep moving forward. Don’t be afraid to accept, or offer a barter!

 

Leverage Technology

The absolute truth is that if it were not for the advances of technology, we could not be doing what we are doing.

It’s the internet and the ubiquitous accessibility of it that allows us to live and work anywhere for years on end, pursuing our passions.

You can leverage that technology too:

Some of the most creative uses of technology for career transformation that we’ve seen include a psychologist we met in Antigua who does his counseling sessions online, Latin, Burmese and English lessons via Skype, Ebay empires that fund big families on the move, and the lady who teaches our kids art by Skype on Wednesday mornings, from wherever she happens to be traveling, to wherever we happen to be traveling!

Think outside the box. Even things that don’t seem related to technology can be reinvented using it. 

 

What can you do today to fund your dream? 

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Category: Money Management, Vagabonding Life

October 6, 2014

Off-the-beaten-track adventure is still possible

“Rather than lament the fact that trips would have been better in some golden age of travel, we might as well celebrate the fact that we are enjoying the tail-end of an era in which a certain kind of off-the-beaten-track adventure is still possible.”
–Nicholas Danforth, World travel can be all about timing, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/20/2012

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day

October 4, 2014

Travel…What’s the take home?

Sunset at St. Kilda Beach, Australia

“Can you bring me home a koala? How about a kangaroo? How many pairs of Uggs do you think you can carry?” These were just some of my former student’s comments the first time they heard I was traveling to Australia.” Of course, it’s easy enough to talk about travel’s take home in material things but what about the intangible? Does different travel ‘give’ you different things? Do you head off in search of something to bring home and find yourself pleasantly surprised of what you wind up with upon your return?

My friend, Jessica, collects postcard stamps. Every time I travel I send her a postcard knowing that’s her ‘take home’ from my trip. My parent’s friend, Alan, collects beer coasters so that’s what we look for on any adventure. Me, I collect refrigerator magnets and do my best to grab one prior to leaving a new destination. And of course, in the early years there were t-shirts for everyone or little trinkets to hang on keys or wrists, but is that really the take home we’re talking about?

With digital archiving of photos taking over paper scrapbooks and Facebook posts and tweets replacing postcards, is there ever really proof of the traveler’s take home? For many, the take home (aside from the magnets for me of course) is internalized. There are new memories made and more stories to retell, but somehow still, after all this time, there are changes that go on that can only be ‘seen’ on the inside.

After we got married, we traveled around the world for a year and spent some time living in Melbourne, Australia (my husband’s home). When we returned, I went straight back to summer camp as a swim director and then school as a teacher and club advisor. Trying to fit in the same boxes when I was no longer the same was suffocating. The take home was growing and forcing me to sit up and take notice. It was more than the new products on the inside of my refrigerator and the newfound comfort treats in my cupboard. It was more than the few new apparel purchases and the favourite shell that I often carried in my pocket. It was more in how my eyes saw the world and what I felt to be important, crucial and significant. And it was even more in how I saw myself.

Time away from the routine of the everyday is vital. Facing new situations and dealing with circumstances that may need problem solving forces you to see what you find important. Learning about what you really need and how you’d like to make a difference in the world or finding perspective-that’s a take home. For some, it takes seeing the difficulties that so many face on a daily basis to remind themselves how truly lucky they are and then there are those who see those difficulties and choose to do what they can to make life easier in some small way.

We are a product of our circumstances. If you’re born into a vagabonding family perhaps you’ll never know the joys or troubles of a stationary life. Born into a land that struggles to have clean water, equitable education and human safeties one might never know the ease of turning on the tap, sitting in class or the simple act walking down the street. Travel provides a birds eye view into a different world-one that in the blink of an eye could have been yours and the effects are often life affirming. If we’re lucky enough to travel and truly take in what we see, sometimes our life is forever changed. The little voice inside of you may now whisper ever more loudly to make a change. The way your mind takes that extra second to rethink a problem and how it would be seen in another location is front and center. The newfound joy you feel in your own skin and the reawakening of you is on your mind often. The intangibles, the sub-conscious and the ever-changing outlooks…these are the ‘take homes’ of travelers.

What’s your take home?

To read more of Stacey’s travel musings, visit her website.

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Category: General, Vagabonding Life

October 3, 2014

Vagabonding Case Study: Stephen Schreck

Stephen Schreck unnamed

abackpackerstale.com

Age: 30

Hometown: Chillicothe, Ohio

Quote:  “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist; that is all.” ― Oscar Wilde

I take this quote to heart. Someday when I look back at my life, I want say I lived, not existed. This is a major reason I chose the life of a vagabond.

(more…)

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Category: General, Vagabonding Case Studies

October 2, 2014

Connecting spectacular travel moments with our day to day lives

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Category: Ethical Travel, Ethics

October 1, 2014

Slowing down in Ubud, Bali

Cost/day:

$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.

DSC03577

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.

DSC03389

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.

DSC03373

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.

DSC02963

Where next?

Penang, Malaysia

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Category: Asia, Vagabonding Field Reports
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