“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
“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.
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.
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