“Wit, style, a keen and original mind, an eye for the unusual — these are what delight us in the travelogue writer. The compiler of a guidebook, on the other hand, must be a totally different kind of person. His job is to report the location, dimensions, age, and life-history of the monuments, and only incidentally, if at all the emotions or associations they arouse in his breast. Wit and originality have no place in such an assignment; in fact, they might very well get in the way. What he requires above all are the matter-of-fact virtues of thoroughness, diligence, and accuracy.”
–Lionel Casson, Travel in the Ancient World (1974)
“Sometimes I thought of the Peace Corps as a reverse refugee organization, displacing all of us lost Midwesterners, and it was probably the only government entity that taught Americans to abandon key national characteristics. Pride, ambition, impatience, the instinct to control, the desire to accumulate, the missionary impulse — all of it slipped away.”
–Peter Hessler, Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West (2013)
“China is easier to write about than Cheyenne, Leningrad easier than Louisville. But to see Cheyenne and Louisville written about well, to see the dailiness of America brought to life with freshness and humor, is to watch one of the hardest high-wire acts in travel writing.”
–William Zinsser, They Went: The Art and Craft of Travel Writing (1991)
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
A duck-billed platypus. Though sadly, it was only in the zoo. My friend and I were constantly on the lookout for one in the wild and we were let down big time to never come across one.
“Reading and restlessness — dissatisfaction at home, a sourness at being indoors, and a notion that the real world was elsewhere — made me a traveler. If the Internet was everything it was cracked up to be, we would all stay home and be brilliantly witty and insightful. Yet with so much contradictory information available, there is more reason to travel than ever before: to look closer, to dig deeper, to sort the authentic from the fake, to verify, to smell, to touch, to hear and sometimes – importantly – to suffer the effects of this curiosity.”
–Paul Theroux, The Last Train to Zona Verde (2013)
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
Sidewalks! Living in Latin America for the past year and a half, sidewalks are unseen and non-existent… but not in Antigua, they have sidewalks to walk on, even if they are skinny and crowded.
Describe a typical day:
In the morning we head out to walk around the city’s (cobblestone) streets. We explore the cathedrals and other colonial buildings, and gawk at the nicest McDonalds we’ve ever seen. Later, we visit the large local market to shop for produce and to eat lunch. In the afternoon we watch a procession celebrating Dia de los Muertos.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
I love the overall cleanliness of the city, and the colorful homes and buildings. Antigua takes pride in it’s city. I didn’t dislike anything about our visit.
Describe a challenge you faced:
Trying to decide whether to stay an extra day so that we could do some extreme bungee action. (We decided to stay.)
What new lesson did you learn?
The city life can be a refreshing change after living in remote places for awhile. It’s good to have a mix.
Next we’ll be heading to the border of El Salvador and Guatemala.
I have only been broke once- right after my divorce. I made it out of that rut pretty quickly because A) My new business took off, and B) I had family and friends nearby who occasionally brought food or baked goods.
I am cautious with my money, especially while being out of the country. I have always had enough in my savings to fly the kids and I home on a moment’s notice in case of emergency, or in case I just got sick of being away. I never want to feel “stuck” somewhere, so I manage finances responsibly.
However, the end of the year poses extra challenges because my clients get too busy to pay me on time, and holidays are always expensive. This year, though we spent next to nothing during Christmas, while we celebrated in Costa Rica, I had other unexpected challenges. I had to pay lawyer fees in regards to my ex-husband trying to sabotage our travels, and we had a LOT of travel expenses that needed to be paid for immediately. I completely wiped out my entire savings, paying for airline tickets to go home for a visit and to make a court appearance, leaving a few Colones in change to pay for food.
As a mother, I felt like a complete failure. We already live on a strict budget, and I make good money, so how did this happen? This was my #1 fear by far before I left the states, and here it was, a reality. A very scary reality. Survival mode kicked in, and I had to quickly turn my thoughts towards abundance- imagining a full pantry and refrigerator, and a re-plenished bank account.
The first few days were the roughest, but a neighbor (who did not know our situation) brought us a bunch of homemade tamales. I cried out of gratefulness.
A couple of days later, Jonathan got paid for a job he has been doing here, so we paid our final month of rent here, and bought 2 days worth of food. I just kept hoping something more would come through, someone would pay their invoice, or I would find a hundred dollars on the street. I tried to remain hopeful, but I was also feeling desperate.
One night last week, we all shared a meal of cabbage, eggs and rice, and I cried through the whole meal. I get emotional even thinking about it. The kids didn’t know our struggle. They always had 3 meals a day, and knew nothing of the couple of meals I skipped so they could have enough. This, to me, is not even close to ideal. I was so angry with myself, but felt helpless to do anything about it but wait.
Finally, someone paid an invoice, so we were able to buy more food, and another large chunk of money I was expecting will be available in less than 24 hours.
Situations are temporary. A lot of people live paycheck to paycheck, and it is perfectly normal to skimp on even essentials sometimes. Here, families make the best of it. I have been incredibly fortunate that this has only happened to me one time in 2 years. Not only that, but for me, I knew it was only a temporary situation, as I knew I had plenty of money on its way to me within a few days or weeks.
Money comes, and money goes. People even here in Monteverde spend their last Colones every pay period on food, and know that more money is coming. They don’t worry. They don’t live their life around money and how much or how little they have. As long as they are working hard and enjoying their lives, they know money will find its way to them when they need it. And it always does.
Karma seeds sprout when needed. One of us must have done something good for someone because we were given a bunch of tamales that fed all of us for 2 meals. People here have friends, family, and neighbors here for them, and with such a small community, everyone pitches in to help. Had we expressed even the slightest need, people here would have delivered food by the tray- I just know it. Their hearts are pure, and they feel responsible for each other in their small community- even to us as visitors. They also know that when they are in need, their community is here for them.
We will always make it. It was terrifying. I felt like a complete failure, and I had no other options except to ask someone to borrow money (which, had we gone any longer, I may have). But we used the resources we had, and we made it. Jonathan is very creative with the most off-the-wall ingredients, and when I had just about given up trying to make it all work, he stepped in, and made a meal out of very little. He encouraged me, and reminded me that I was not a failure, and we would be more than ok. He was right.
I am not immune to hard times. Just because I feel like Super Travel Mom on my best days, I don’t always have it all together, and I can’t make everything work perfectly. Things happen. Money needs to be spent. Invoices are paid late. Lawyers demand payments. Kids get sick. I think what made this situation more difficult for me is the fact that I am not home, surrounded by friends and loved ones. I have my little family with me, but no one outside of the situation was here to provide support or encouragement. I felt all alone in a foreign country with nothing left, and it was a humbling experience to say the least.
It is all part of the journey. Last night when I whipped out my calculator to make sure we really were ok, Jonathan gently grabbed my hand and told me that this was part of the experience. We could have stayed home and had plenty of money, friends, and extra support. But we gave it up for something-not necessarily better- but different. We chose another path full of different experiences, and there are ups and downs, just as there were ups and downs when we were in the safety of our home towns.
Living without increases awareness. I was intently focused on money or the lack of it during the last couple of weeks. Once I had literally worried myself sick about it, I realized that I needed to use the resources I had and to maintain a healthy atmosphere for my family. I had to ground myself in the present circumstances- all the positive and the negative- and be acutely aware of my body, my mind, and my emotions. I was creating more turbulence by walking around with a frown on my face, complaining about an empty bank account, worrying about tomorrow, and crying. One night, I chose to focus on the good, the present, and the meals we were fortunate enough to eat that day. The next morning, I woke up with money in the bank.
Has this ever happened to you while you were away from home? What resources did you use to get past it? How long did your predicament last? How creative were you in solving your dilemma?
“He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature.” -Socrates
“As is often the case when I travel, my vulnerability — like not knowing what the hell I’m supposed to do upon arrival — makes me more open to outside interactions than I might otherwise be when I’m at home and think I know best what needs to be done. On the road, serendipity is given space to enter my life.”
–Andrew McCarthy, The Longest Way Home (2012)
We travel a lot, you might have noticed that. Wherever we go we meet people and we’ve always had a family habit of inviting those people to eat a meal with us, even if it’s off foldable plates on a ground tarp because we’re cycling. I love listening to people’s stories, learning about their journeys and giving our kids the opportunity to learn from as diverse a people group as possible. I make a point of asking each of these people two questions:
There is generally one of two responses:
Deer in the headlights or immediately sparkly eyes.
The initial response tells you a lot about a person.
I sat with a young backpacker on the shores of Lago de Atitlan, in the highlands of Guatemala last winter and he asked, “Why do you do that? Why do you ask those questions, I’ve noticed you doing it over and over again.” He’d been around a while.
I laughed a little. “Why? Indeed.”
“Because those two questions are all that really matter. They cut to the essence of who a person is. And no one else thinks to ask. The two things that are at the heart and soul of who we are are somehow taboo topics for conversation in too many circles. So, it’s the first thing I ask.”
So let me ask you:
What are you passionate about?
What you are passionate about will be the thing the fuels your dream, fuels your whole life, if you let it.
The best dreams are passion driven. They are the natural outgrowth of that deeply rooted fire in your chest that, if you’re like most people, you don’t feed nearly often enough.
Find your passion. Maybe you have more than one.
For me, my passions include
If you read my blog you’ll see these themes through and through. These are the things I get fired up about, they’re the things I live and breathe, they’re the things that drive my dreams and my life choices.
These are my “Why.”
What is driving you? Look hard at what motivates you, what you get excited about, what you’re willing to joyfully spend your free time on. These are your passions.
It’s imperative in defining your dream that you define your passions & find your “Why.”
What are your dreams?
This is a tough question for lots of people to answer because they’ve neglected their dreams for so long that they honestly don’t know.
If you don’t know, how do you begin to know?
Take two hours and go somewhere alone. Don’t take your phone. Don’t take anything but a notebook and a pen.
For the first hour just walk. Quiet your mind, let go of the worries, the stresses, the daily nonsense. Acknowledge it as it comes to the surface and then let it go. Reclaim your brain space.
For the second hour, find a place to write.
If you’re half of a partnership then give your partner the time to do the same and combine the lists.
These are your dreams.
So now you’ve got a list of dreams. Good for you, that’s a start.
Now you have to pick one. Which dream do you want the most? Which one are you ready to sell your soul for (newsflash: you’re selling your soul for SOMETHING all the time… don’t you think it’s time to sell it for something you actually want?)
You have to believe that you can have it.
You have to believe that you are worth it.
You have to believe that you are, in fact, capable of greatness and find that inside yourself.
Do you believe those things? Even if you don’t quite, just yet, start speaking them to yourself.
It’s New Year’s Eve, my friends. We’re standing on the precipice of a whole new year and you’ve got the power to write its story however you like. Make this your year of living passionately and committing to your dreams!
“Because most tourists rarely penetrate beyond the boundaries of “tourist space,” they have few opportunities to experience and photograph that which is really “unspoiled.” Their limited knowledge of the culture and life of the indigenous people tends to narrow down their conception of the “typical” to the stereotypical. …Locals often stage themselves in response to perceived touristic demands for authenticity.”
–Erik Cohen, “Stranger-Local Interaction in Photography,” Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 19 No. 2 (1992)