$25 per person
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
It was strange watching fisherman on the river covered from head to toe, including a sort of ski mask, in scorching heat.
Describe a typical day:
Work and homeschool in the early morning, as always. Breakfast would be at our guesthouse.
We spent a lot of time simply relaxing at the beach or on the river. Our days were spent exploring the region by motorbike. We rode over to Kep, a nearby beach town. Other days we found caves, salt fields, little bars with docks we leapt off of into the river below, a national park we biked through and a pepper plantation, a local crop that is renowned the world over.
Evenings we usually spent in the small town, along the river, eating at one of the local restaurants.
Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:
I talked with one local about her experience living in Australia for two years and her return to Cambodia. She explained that for years she wanted to return to Australia to live because there were far more opportunities for her.
However, she was very happy to report that this slowly began to change, for her, about eight years back when tourism began to take off. She said twelve years ago the idea that she would have more opportunities in Cambodia than in Australia was unfathomable. But for her this was now true.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
I really like the laid back pace of Kampot. After the heaviness of Phnom Penh it was just what we needed. It’s a small town so everything is easy, e.g. finding food, parking, accommodation. People are very friendly and the river is beautiful, especially at sunset.
There was little I disliked about Kampot. If I had to choose something it would be that a lot of the roads are under construction, so, depending on your location, the air can be extremely dusty.
Describe a challenge you faced:
Getting lost on the motorbike in the midday sun with no water, Google maps being inoperable and an inability to speak Khmer. There were very few people we could even stop to ask directions and no real way to explain the main road—any main road—we were looking for.
We finally found a small gas station and were able to get our bearings and make it out of there. Three people crammed on a motorbike in that heat, with that much dust and no water is something we can luckily now laugh about. Not so at the time.
What new lesson did you learn?
We’d already learned this lesson before, but I guess we needed to learn it again. When venturing outside of town be sure to bring a paper map in addition to a map on your phone. Being able to point to any spot on the map will save if you have no way of telling a willing person where you want to go. Oh, and bring more water than you think you need.
“Of course, writers of any kind are never the norm; those of us who write about travel are different from the start, since we usually head out alone. The reason cited most often is freedom from distraction; when you’re by yourself, you’re more attuned to your surroundings. Less discussed, but just as important, is the fact that, alone, you’re also more sensitive. You not only notice your surroundings more clearly, you respond to them more deeply. Smiles and small kindnesses mean more to the unattached traveler than they do to a happy couple. A merchant in Fethiye adds a few extra sweets to my purchase and I’m extremely touched, in part because no one has paid any attention to me in days. If I’d been there chatting with my wife, I wouldn’t have been so moved; I may not have even been aware. And the merchant quite possibly would not have been inspired like he was by my lonely presence.”
–Thomas Swick, A Moving Experience, The Morning News, 12/03/2013
Here’s a curious trivia tidbit from U.S. history: In 1786, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams took leave from their Europe-based diplomatic duties and traveled to Stratford-upon-Avon to visit the home of William Shakespeare. Not much was recorded of the occasion, but one fact of their pilgrimage to the Bard’s birthplace stands out: At some point during the tour, the two American statesmen brandished pocketknives, carved a few slivers from a wooden chair alleged to have been Shakespeare’s, and spirited them home as souvenirs.
In retrospect, it’s easy to look back on this incident and conclude that — in terms of travel protocol, at least — Jefferson and Adams were complete knuckleheads. The thing is, I haven’t seen any evidence to prove that, as world-wandering travelers, our quest for souvenirs has become any more logical or dignified in the ensuing 220 years.
I mention this because I recently traveled to Key West, where a popular section of Duval Street is crowded with souvenir boutiques. In a certain sense, this stretch of Duval felt a tad anachronistic, since — in the age of eBay and similar online shopping venues — you don’t have to travel to a place like Key West to load up on painted seashells and exotic cigars. What struck me more, however, was not the items typically associated with Florida, but the bizarre overabundance of souvenir t-shirts, which said things like “Tell your boobs to stop staring at my eyes,” or “Farting is my way of saying I (heart) you.”
In one sense, it seems ridiculous that anyone would travel to Key West and buy a t-shirt that has nothing whatsoever to do with south Florida (“I’m not a bitch, I’m ‘Miss Bitch’ to you”). Still, bringing home a tacky keepsake from Key West can serve as a sort of travel credential — an existential referent that proves you went to south Florida and got drunk enough to exercise bad judgment. Similarly, for Jefferson and Adams, those Stratfordian wood-shavings were tangible proof that they had journeyed across England and touched a chair that had, presumably, once cradled Shakespeare’s butt.
Indeed, in most cases it would appear that souvenir hunting is not a meaningful examination of place so much as it is a litmus test of our own whims and preconceptions as travelers. In Egypt, for example, generations of tourists have obsessively sought relics that remind them of the Pharaonic landscape they’ve seen in books and movies. Hence, all the major Egyptian tourist sites do a steady trade in fake papyrus, Great Pyramid paperweights, and alabaster Nefertiti statues — none of which would be found in the home of any self-respecting Egyptian. Similarly, in Calcutta’s New Market, an unspoken caste system exists between Indian shoppers and souvenir-seeking tourists. The travelers instinctively gravitate into boutiques that sell carved elephant figurines and decorative jars of saffron, while the Indians shop for rubber bathmats, stainless steel pans, and digital calculators. The implication here, of course, is that buying an electric blender might be more representative of day-to-day Calcutta life than buying Kashmiri silk (though, admittedly, a blender would not look as good in your living room).
Although it may be tempting to blame this discrepancy on modern misconceptions, the tourist quest for souvenirs has always been somewhat skewed. In ancient Anatolia, locals hawked supposed Trojan War relics to credulous Greek travelers, and excavations in Italy have suggested that ancient Romans had a penchant for cheap glass vials painted with pictures of contemporary tourist attractions (none of these have been proven to be snow-globes, to my knowledge, but it’s easy to draw a parallel). In medieval times, Christian pilgrims wandering the Holy Land proved to be among the most gullible relic-hunters in human history, as they carted home enough crowns of thorns, Holy Grails, and apostle-femurs to stock a macabre, New Testament-themed WalMart.
If any world culture deserves mention for its souvenir idiosyncrasies, however, it is the Japanese, who have long considered the giving of gifts to be an essential social ritual. Since taking a leisured journey carries a cultural sense of shame at leaving one’s home duties, Japanese travelers reflexively seek out omiyage — small gifts that will be presented as an act of respect to the family members and coworkers they left behind. So common is this practice that some Japanese airports stock souvenirs from around the world in an effort to save travelers the hassle of finding them in their actual destinations. Hence, a given Japanese girl’s bedroom might feature a Mickey Mouse clock, a miniature Eiffel Tower, and a carved Balinese frog mask — each of which represent her father’s past trips to Florida, Paris, and Indonesia, and all which were purchased at Narita Airport.
In pointing out the global-historical foibles of souvenir-seekers, I don’t mean to position myself above the madness. Like so many tourists before me, I, too, have been known to display weakness in the face of Peruvian weavings, Latvian amber, and Korean lacquer-ware.
I’ve found, however, that bringing these items home and putting them on display has taught me an interesting lesson. Whenever I stroll into my office and gaze at my Mongolian masks and Syrian worry-beads, I find that they don’t evoke my Asian travel memories quite so effectively as the beat-up, navy-blue “Bruin Track & Field” t-shirt I wore in both countries.
Strange as this may seem, it makes perfect sense: When I bought the masks and the worry-beads, I was shopping — but when I wore the t-shirt I was hiking across the steppes beyond Ulan Bator, or exploring the mountaintop monasteries outside of Damascus.
Indeed, as novelist Anatole France once noted, I’d wager that “it is good to collect things, but it is better to go on walks.”
In Stratford-upon-Avon, at least, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams might have done well to heed this advice.
Souvenir boutiques will be found in abundance in any major tourist area, but that doesn’t mean you must confine your souvenir-hunt to specialty shops. Any token of your trip — from restaurant placemats, to pressed leaves, to local candy — can serve as a personal keepsake. If seeking gifts for loved ones at home, check department stores and supermarkets before you hit the souvenir shop — odds are you’ll find something cheaper (and just as authentic) in these types of places.
2) Save souvenir shopping until the end of the journey.
Let a souvenir be a souvenir — a keepsake of experience — and don’t go off shopping for knickknacks before you’ve had some real travel adventures. Not only will this give you a social context for your destination before you start commemorating it with collectables, but it will also save you the hassle of dragging this newfound loot around with you as your journey progresses. An added bonus is that, as a shopper, you will have a better sense for the price and quality of your souvenirs once you’ve traveled and made some comparisons.
3) The experience is more important than the keepsake.
In the end, shopping anywhere is still just shopping. Don’t let the hunt for souvenirs get in the way of amazing travel experiences.
Age: 33 and 41
Hometown: Baltimore and Toronto respectively
Quote: I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.
Travelers are curious. Why else would they put up with the more uncomfortable bits that make up “travel”? Squatting toilets for instance or anything that has anything to do with an airline.
Many of us are so curious that we want to see it all. The whole world. At the very least, a sample of each region from the world. That “see it all” curiosity is especially true for my husband. His initial thoughts on creating an itinerary are never “I’d like to go back to….” but always “We haven’t yet seen…”.
I, on the other hand, am a very nostalgic person. In some ways, that seems like a trait that wouldn’t encourage travel but would instead put a damper on curiosity for all things novel and strange.
Believe it or not, I think nostalgia can fuel travel too. Of course a person who has traveled as a kid may feel nostalgic about returning to the places they visited or simply about travel in general. But I think there are 3 ways in which nostalgia can inspire anyone to travel, even those who never traveled before.
1.) If you think about it, the discovery of something new is inherently familiar from our childhood. When is this world more full of discovery than when we’re children, constantly exploring “firsts”? Everything from our first bike ride to our first field trip comes with that feeling of discovering something novel. In that way, even a person who never traveled as a kid may feel nostalgic about new experiences and new places.
2.) Some people travel for the nostalgic feeling of a simpler time. One of my first jobs was as a front-desk clerk in a bed & breakfast in Amish Country Ohio and I must say, most of our tourists came to remember what life was like when the world was slower. Every day I heard someone exclaim, “My grandmother used to do it that way!” or “Yes, I remember when we made bread that way too.”
My point isn’t that nostalgia inspires you to travel to Amish Country but rather that nostalgia can inspire travel to developing or remote cultures, not yet saturated with all things digital. Eastern Europe for instance reminds me of the America my grandparents tell stories about. Yes there are cars driving down dirt roads in the countryside, but there are horse-drawn carts too. And pay phones! And little bakeries run by little old women in the same plain aprons my aunts used to wear when they made homemade bread.
3.) Doesn’t the study of genealogy and family history seem to sprout from nostalgia too? Genealogy seems to inspire even the least wander-lusting types to travel back to the place of their roots. There’s something fascinating, after all, about visiting a town you’ve heard family fables about. My grandmother used to sing a song about buying shoes in “Laderbach.” Never has she seen Laderbach, but seeing the name “Laderbach” on a sign in Switzerland brought back warm memories of my her singing the songs her grandma sang to her. It was fascinating to realize that a little hint of Switzerland had trickled down through the generations in the form of a song.
Nostalgia is a mysterious feeling in this way. It seems it’s not just a love of things familiar from our past, but sometimes a love of things reminiscent of a past we’ve never even seen ourselves.
The Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road and it’s scenic tourist hotspots come without cost. What we found was fuel was expensive and will eat in to much of your daily allowance. We estimated at least $150 was spent in 2 days. The particular campground we stayed on was around $35 bucks for a pitch. This would probably rise in peak season.
Describe a typical day
The great ocean road is nothing more than a spectacular scenic drive. A 250 kilometre road along the south coast of Australia. 250k is by no means a long drive in terms of driving across Australia which made it hard not to rush it.
We set out from Torquay a small town at the foot of the Ocean Road. Replenishing our food stock and refilling the petrol tank we set off. Putting pedal to metal we began our journey.
It is a hard task not to slow the driving down to a minimum as you peer out the window at the vast Ocean that separates Australia and the Antarctic. Within an hour we had pulled up at several viewing spots. Each spot offering a new perspective of this Vast coast. Our aim was to reach some of the more renowned landmarks but each twist and turn of the road would reveal a new outstanding view that just had to be savoured.
A few kilometres under our belt we pulled into to our first destination, a beautiful vantage point that looked out over the Twelve Apostles. These great natural monoliths stand tall and mighty from the ocean. The towering Rock formations are the result of years of erosion, proof of Australia’s natural beauty.
Although the rocks were once twelve standing spires only 8 remain. Remnants of the other four can still be seen led across the ocean below. A bare footed walk along the quiet beach allowed us time to stop and appreciate the pillars. An ample opportunity to take photos and dip your feet in the water.
We took our time and enjoyed our surroundings before moving on. Hopping back into our camper we carried on down the road. We were in no rush and refused to cram too much into a single day. So we travelled further on and for one last point of interest, the London Bridge.
This scenic rock formation was no longer standing but is still a sight to behold. It was once a free standing arch created by years of erosion. It had collapsed and left behind a small island and remnants that lined the ocean floor. We listened to a local story teller tell a humorous tale of the rocks collapse With an hour taking in this picturesque sight we decided to make tracks.
In no particular hurry we stopped for a fish and chips at one of the many small towns along this drive. Relaxing by the water we researched a place to stay. A campsite 10 kilometres down the road and only a short drive to Airlies Inlet our first destination of our list for day 2.
Settling down we sparked up the barbecue, grilled ourselves some steaks and sat and enjoyed a glass of wine savouring the quiet relaxing surroundings. The stars filled the night sky as the sun fell away. The sound of the ocean gently soothed us as we reminisced on our amazing day.
Describe an interesting conversation
When we stopped at London Bridge a local story teller told the story of the day the rock collapsed. A man and a women had taken a stroll together across the rock to the island. After spending sometime here, the “bridge” had plummeted to the sea below. Both parties were fortunately safe but in need of rescue. With helicopters and sea rescue assisting the couple off the island it had stirred media interest. This was last thing the gentlemen had wanted. His intention was not to let anyone know where he had been that day. He had just so happened to become stranded on the island with his Mistress, an affair he would have rather kept under wraps. Instead he had made headline news and been exposed for all his infidelities. A true test of Karma.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
There isn’t really anything strange to see down this beautiful road.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
The best part of the journey for me was the scenery. It had been the picturesque dream I had imagined Australia to be. Enjoying the road with the windows down and the breathing in the cool sea air. The dream had become a reality
A minor dislike is the road is very short, we had hoped to travel for a few days, this is hard to do as campsites are few and far between. You will find yourself having to cover more distance in order to find a place for the night.
Aren’t you afraid?
In a word: No.
It’s a question people ask us in lots of quiet ways.
Aren’t you afraid of the political climates in less than first world places?
No, but we’re aware of them. Of course they colour our travels. We make choices to go some places, and not others, based on political climates, but that doesn’t mean we’re afraid of them. We’ve been in Mexico, Guatemala, Indonesia and Australia during various elections. It’s an educational time to be in a place, there are discussions taking place that don’t otherwise. We’ve stayed with members of politically subversive groups, we’ve attended political rallies in some countries to learn, we’ve intentionally spent time in dictatorships, and in Muslim countries, and in communist countries, as well as monarchies and countries in various stages of development specifically so that our kids will have a bit of perspective on the concept of democracy, but we are not afraid.
Aren’t you afraid of terrorists in “Muslim” places?
We are not. I’ve met thousands of Muslims, become friends with a very few, and lived in some of the most volatile Muslim regions of the world. We’ve been discriminated against, our website has been hacked and plastered with pictures of dead Palestinian children, our kid was once slapped hard for no reason that we could see. We’ve been watched by the secret police and our activity logged because of our nationality. It gives a person a bit of perspective on the American treatment of Muslims within the USA. It’s good for us, and for our kids, to get a grip on the beauty of Muslim culture, the open-handed generosity of the vast majority of the people who call themselves Muslim, and even the hard experiences have been good for us. There are folks who behave badly and occasionally blow stuff up within the Muslim world, but then, there are dudes who roll up into schools in Connecticut and military installments in DC and blow stuff up too. I’m not afraid to enter a school, or visit DC as a result; likewise, we are not afraid of Muslim terrorists.
Aren’t you afraid of the drug war “raging” around us in Central America?
The drug war of the American making, you mean? No. Families are not the targets of those behaving badly. Reasonable precautions are, well, reasonable. Take a quick look at the statistics, and you’ll quickly see that even with the “drug war” Mexico is a safer place than the USA. We’re not glibly blowing off the “danger;” we’ve had guys on a raid with locked and loaded AK-47‘s between us and our kids in northern Mexico. That’s a moment that gives a traveling parent pause, and makes a person happy to have reasonable Spanish in her aresenal. Honduras has it’s moments; we had one of our scariest travel moments there, but in the end, it was fine. Our community in Guatemala had a group of local men who took it upon themselves to patrol the road in and out of the valley after dark to keep a lid on the nefarious business. In every single case, even the scary ones, the reaction to our presence has been one of protection and care for our persons. We are not afraid. In fact, we are so “not afraid” that we let our daughter take off on her own with her friends when she was 14, and we are drawn back to that corner of the world as one of our homes.
Aren’t you afraid of not knowing where you’re going or where you’ll sleep tonight?
Nope. We’re just not. One thing you learn after traveling a while is that things just work out. We’ve never had to sleep under a bridge. We’ve never been so lost that we were unable to find “home” by nightfall. These things just work out. Keeping a sense of humor is the tricky part!
Aren’t you afraid of being taken advantage of?
No, we aren’t, because we fully expect to be. Next issue.
Aren’t you afraid of having stuff stolen?
No, we aren’t because we know stuff will be stolen, at home or abroad, makes no difference. We had both mirrors very carefully stolen off of the van in New Orleans over Mardi Gras a few years ago. We had ipods lifted in Vietnam. It happens.
Aren’t you afraid of getting sick in some godforsaken place?
We have been, and we will be again. It’s not something we’re afraid of, it’s something we prepare for to the fullest extent possible. Including insurance, immunizations, a hefty first aid kit, and a habit of taking note of where the nearest hospitals are.
Aren’t you afraid of getting lost?
Nope. We made friends with the concept.
Aren’t you afraid of strangers?
Statistically, we should be afraid of the people we know. They’re the ones most likely to kidnap us or harm us in some way. Strangers have no reason to wish us harm, and consequentially are a safe and delightful bunch. “Stranger Danger” is a pernicious idea. I can’t imagine a worse thing to teach a kid than that the world is out to get him, when the exact opposite is the reality. Discretion is worth developing, the ability to “read” people is important to study and discuss with emerging adults, but to seed fear and distrust? How awful. Are we afraid of strangers? No, certainly not.
Aren’t you afraid of picking up hitchhikers?
We pick up loads of hitchhikers, the legit looking ones. I’ve never been afraid to pull over and pick up a traveling brother or sister, even when I’m alone. You can argue the hypothetical dangers until you are blue in the face and I will ask you one question: What is your PERSONAL experience? If you’ve never hitchhiked, or never picked up a hitchhiker, then frankly, I don’t think you get to weigh in. Statistically, there is less danger to picking up hitchers than there is driving your car to Walmart. Here are the facts from our personal experience: We’ve met dozens and dozens of fantastic people. We’ve made life long friends of a few. We had dinner with a real live knight because we picked up a hitchhiker. And here’s the icing on the cake: Are you ready?
This very day we are surfing east around Melbourne, Australia, on our way to spend a few days with dear family friends. How did we meet them? They picked up my mom and dad when they were hitching their way across North Africa forty years ago.
Now tell me again, how dangerous it is… and not in hypotheticals; back it up with personal experience or real data, then we’ll talk.
Aren’t you afraid of taking rides from strangers?
Nope. Not ever. We’re also not stupid about it, but we’ve never had a bad experience, nor do we know anyone who has (and we know hundreds and hundreds of pretty hard core travelers.)
Aren’t you afraid of running out of money and being stranded somewhere?
Ha! Always, and never. Money is a constant worry for everyone, isn’t it? This is one of those “7 P’s” moments, as my Uncle Dick would say: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. We’ve run out of money (the 2008 market crash found us in Italy and swept away our entire trip savings) We had back up plans. We applied strategy to the situation. We’ve gotten stranded, but not for long. You figure it out, you know? Just like at home. I’m very glad not to find myself out of money and stranded somewhere in suburbia which is the antithesis of living my dreams. So yes, we’re afraid of running out of money and being stranded, just like you are, but we work through that, just like you do.
Here’s the thing about fear: You’re either paralyzed by it, or you’re actively overcoming it.
There are things to legitimately fear and there are precautions every traveler should be taking to minimize the risks. However, most of the fears that keep people from taking their dream trip are minor things, or things that can be planned for and risks reduced if not eliminated.
Read the full article, including why I’m not afraid of traveling with my children
“Why do we, for a spell, trade the security and comfort of a familiar place for the liberty offered by an unfamiliar space, a swap of domestic fixity for freedom of the open road? Even if we go as tourists, where there and then dominate the peregrination — rather than going like travelers, who each moment try to embrace the challenge of the here and now — don’t we usually set out motivated by curiosity of one degree or another? (A tourist, of course, may grow into a deeper traveler just as a journeyman sawyer becomes a master wheelwright; and further, all travelers, even the most awakened, are at times forced into mere tourism.) When we go on a visit (related to the word view), what may we hope to see (related to seek)? And what happens within us when seeing develops into seeking that encourages further seeing? Is such questioning not among the highest orders of human inquiry?”
–William Least Heat-Moon, Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road (2013)
As part of some tips for successful travel and freelance writing, I decided to interview Joe Henley. He is a Canadian freelance writer and death metal singer for Taiwanese band Revilement who has spent the past few years living in Taiwan, and will released his debut novel, “Sons of the Republic”, on American imprint Library Tales Publishing on September 12th 2014.
He’s an example of someone who set out to live in a foreign country and worked hard to realize the “writer’s dream”. I asked him a few questions to bring his experience as a useful example for other budding wannabe Vagabonding writers. read on… and as Joe says, keep writing.
How did you become a writer in Taiwan? Is being a white English native speaker an asset to break into a foreign country’s journalistic and media scene?
I started off working in academic publishing. I worked a somewhat dreadful desk job for years, actually, churning out articles and test materials for ESL publications. For that particular job, being a native English speaker was definitely part of what got me hired. There are labor laws here preventing companies from hiring anyone for jobs related to the ESL field who don’t come from certain countries wherein English is the official language. Then I started off getting freelance gigs on the side, and gradually built up my stable of regular jobs to the point where I was able to quit that job almost two years ago. It was fucking glorious.
Is writing your main source of income, or is it still some sort of a part time job?
Now it’s my main source of income, though I do still supplement with other work. I’ve got a bit of a radio voice so I can get gigs doing voice overs for various things here and there. But mainly it’s writing and editing now.
Is travel writing a viable market in Taiwan, or do you have to write across different topics/platforms to make ends meet?
I think you definitely have to write across different topics and platforms to make a living. I do some travel writing for various publications, but it’s such a niche thing when you’re only dealing with one country, and a relatively small one at that. One of my regular jobs besides travel writing is covering the local music scene, but I also write about politics, sports, the arts—anything, really. You have to hustle to make ends meet, and that means being as diverse as possible. (more…)