As a first stop during my “charity discovery tour” in India I visited the village of Sujata, just behind Buddhist pilgrimage center – and Tibetan refugee colony – Bodhgaya, in Bihar state. If Bodhgaya is a bit more developed, although desperately poor, Sujata represents a real Bihar’s backwater: the kind of Indian village where houses are half built, their walls covered in thick cow dung’s cakes, and most people roam jobless looking for something to do under the scorching sun.
I was a host of Dinu, a young chap I met through Couchsurfing. He has been helping a local charity school, Lord Buddha, to develop and raise the foundations of the building thanks to the offers of a few foreign contributors. Dinu is still a young student: he dedicates his time to the school project for the poor kids of the adjoining villages, and he is trying to study Chinese besides the dearth of opportunities to find updated textbooks in Bihar.
Dinu also would like to be able to build a small “Couchsurfing Hostel” where he may be able to host many people passing through Bodhgaya, giving them a chance to volunteer participating to the schools’ activities. So far, the only thing Dinu has is some free land space, and some tons of bricks generously provided by a Canadian donor. Although having a vision, Dinu lacks funds, and needs help.
This post has the sole intention to let you know Dinu’s story and open up a channel in order to contact him, if interested. If you could even send him an English-Chinese dictionary or textbooks, he would be extremely thankful. Regarding the Lord Buddha school, I had a chance to visit during India’s Independence Day 2012, as the little kids put up a parade in front of the – for the moment being – single storey school building. Parents and families from the surrounding village were all present, flags were raised, dances and songs were performed, and everyone had a very sweet and entertaining morning.
I urge people to get in touch with him, at least to give some encouragement or practical tips, as this young fellow is really dedicated and has a very good heart: you can write an email to dinusinha(at)yahoo.co.in and get in touch regarding the project, or make a donation by contacting Dinu and using Paypal.
I sat down and tried to calculate how much money I spent visiting India last year, my way: the balance is ridiculously low. India is a cheap country, yes, but this would not have been possible without a few tricks.
Here is a lowdown on how I managed to spend 110$ for 6 weeks travelling from Kolkata to Delhi in North India, taking it slow, and doing a lot side trips. Hopefully the following suggestions may be useful for someone else!
You are in India, PAY like and Indian
This is a basic rule that applies to all of my trips: I do not want to pay more. If my skin is white, it does not mean I am rich, or stupid. If an Indian pays 10, why do I have to pay 100? A tourist in India has to bear enough of this double-tier pricing when visiting all Indian main sites (more on this next), but seriously, why should I pay 20 rupees when the guy next to me pays 5 for the same auto-rickshaw ride? It is a game, and a damn funny one. Learn the local lingo: pach rupee is five, das is ten. Surprise them. Talk to them in other languages than English as they keep on talking to a clueless you in Hindi. See how much fun it is. Send five, ten, twenty drivers away before you find a honest man, because they do exist, although very rare.
Avoid the inflated tourist attractions’ entry fees
India is the most unfair country in the world when it comes to double tier pricing. A Taj Mahal ticket which costs you a whooping 750 rupees, costs an Indian 20. Yes, 20 only. It is just a little over 300% more. Because they think we are rich, and we deserve to pay. Fine, let’s pay more. But do not pay for everything, be wise. The Sun Temple in Konark, Orissa, for example: just walk around it. It will not give you the perfect visual, but it would save the 200 rupees entry fee. And you will see it even better from the outer enclosure. And whenever they ask you to pay to be able to take pictures, please hide your camera and snatch away as much as you can. (more…)
Picture credit: Flickr/ Marcio Cabral de Moura
Living in Asia and trying to have real, normal friends can often bring to “that” conversation topic: travel. And whenever I say I have been to 50 countries, my friends roll eyes and vent out some long, strange sounds before freezing in awe with open mouths. Then, their jaws drop for about 10 seconds, and the dire question always comes up next.
“How can you do it? Are you RICH?”
No, I’m not and it seems that – like in the West – most Asians cannot conceive travel without a sackcloth bag full of cash tied to their waist. What’s more, to them travel is to shell out on something they cannot have at home. Understandable: if I also lived in a tiny house with too many people, I think I would enjoy spending a weekend at the local Holiday Inn laying by the poolside.
When I start to explain how I like to travel, and how I like to do things that they consider dangerous, downright crazy or just plain boring, they lose interest and continue sipping their drinks.
Their curiosity, however, surprises me. To the contrary of most Western folks of all ages, Asians probably have a deeper sense of responsibility towards their families, or are just less inclined to “leave it and risk it”. Japanese and some Koreans have been an exception, but not casually, their currency is stronger than most other Asians. It seems that the main problem between their desire for vagabonding, and the actual realization of their dream, is fear of not having enough money to make it.
So, they think I am rich.
I do not even own an Ipad like the one they are toying with as we speak. For one of those, they are not afraid to pay roughly one month’s salary …. funny, isn’t it?
Maybe it is all related to a matter of priorities, and everything will change when Asians will realize that trying to be Western actually leads to – errr… – escapism and vagabonding. We can just wait, and see what the future will bring…
The subject of my life as a minimalist keeps coming up in conversations lately.
I’m always a bit taken aback when someone suggests it, because I don’t think of myself as a minimalist at all. It’s true, I’ve lived out of a backpack, essentially, for over five years now. My whole life fits into one checked bag and one carry-on. Does that make me a minimalist? Perhaps.
Interestingly, I view myself in the exact opposite fashion: I refer to myself as a maximalist. It’s not about stripping life down to the bare essentials for me, it’s about living as large as I possibly can, experiencing it all, and finding good in both extremes, with my heart somewhere in the middle. It just so happens that in this incarnation of my life, as I travel relentlessly in search of memories with my family as the kids evaporate before my very eyes, that I don’t have much in the way of “stuff.” That’s not because I’m morally opposed to the stuff. It’s because the stuff would interfere with what matters most to me, with what I’m trying to achieve to the maximum, which is time, freedom, experience and relationship building. For now, I choose to spend my time and money on those things, which means that I don’t have much “stuff,” which makes me look like a minimalist, I suppose.
So what about you? Are you a minimalist? Or a maximalist, like me? Where do you fall on the sliding scale of moral debate about “stuff,” its origin, impact and use? This is a discussion, and there’s no “right answer,” so please, chime in!
After I read this article about motorbike travel in Indonesia, I started thinking of my own experiences: I switched the focus from great memories of incredible biking trips around Southeast Asia and India, and I considered my actual situation. I concluded that I could not lead the same comfortable life if it wasn’t for an old rattler of a motorbike I am driving around Penang Island since 2010.
To be honest, when I tell my foreign friends that I use a motorbike to get around town, I am confronted with skeptical stares: ”Oh man. That is dangerous.” And I do not blame them: the vision of rush hour traffic in most Asian cities may discourage the most hardcore city driver from hitting the road, and inspire safer options such as public transport or taxis. However, I think that by committing to learn how to handle the traffic, the long-term traveler can really increase his chances to blend in with the local city hustle.
Before I used the bike, I had to ask my girlfriend for rides, or use the erratic public transportation: this last option would have been ok if the buses showed up at the expected time. And when borrowing her car, parking was always a problem. One of the occasional perks was to get stuck in traffic at 32 Celsius degrees for longer than I had ever wished for.
I needed to get back my freedom of movements and time, and put both of them to greater use than to improve the art of cursing the next approaching driver. I decided to try to do what the locals did: so many of them were zooming past me blocked in traffic, wedging with dexterity among the oppressing lines of cars. It looked like the perfect solution to speed up my days, and possibly have some fun doing it. (more…)
“But you’re just going to leave!”
Although I hated to admit it, who said that was right. At the time I’d been seasonally migrating as a guide for four years. And had no intention to confine my adventurous spirit in domestic American life, then—if ever. The catch though was he was not American; Swedish born to immigrated Polish parents. And unless we got married, physically being together was a matter of juggling countless visas. I was willing to explore the challenges of the relationship. He proposed, and I accepted. However, the seemingly prince-charming-fairy-tale was soured after five months, in one evening by his jealousy. (I’d been out socializing–drinking and playing cards with colleagues after a conference—and being that my fiancé and I were nine time zones apart, I missed talking to him on the phone for a whole day.) When I told him why, he got irate. The plot got thicker; but, long-story-short things didn’t work out with us.
My traveling continued, and continues still…But for several years after that break-up I abstained from dating or intimate relationships.
How do us late “Generation X” travelers bridge tradition and progressive thought?
I grew up with a passion for horses, not wanting to get married, or have children. My passion for horses keeps getting stronger. I was intrigued with the idea of marriage a few years back, and now have warmed up to fostering or adopting a child down the road. So where does that adult understanding leave me?
My current boyfriend and I are in an open relationship. We are committed to one another, but are non-monogamous and can have relationships with other partners. This doesn’t mean I can be traveling half-a-world-away, get drunk, and wake up naked next to some stranger; then afterwards confess to my boyfriend that it “didn’t mean anything” the morning after. Rather, as a couple, we consent to our partners other relations—be it flirting, dating, sexual contact, or intercourse. Everything, all our feelings are in full disclosure. We talk about everything!
There’s a Polish proverb that says, “Love enters a man through his eyes, women though her ears.” So shouldn’t it be every womens’ dream to have a guy that will actually talk to her?
So I began this post with a very traditional phenomena of girl-meets-foreign-boy-and-falls-in-love fantasy. And while I don’t doubt that could happen, it didn’t eventually work out for me. In the end, my original prince charming and I lacked one true thing…an open line and space of communication. But the guy who was always there happened to be my best friend.
At the root of most relationships, communication is lacking. Distance shouldn’t matter. In the end, every human is seeking a connection. It could be simply a friendly conversation; an exchange of directions; or one’s life story that just needed to be expressed.
My point is that communication should, and can be, the heart of travel when it comes to any form of relationship. Within in a few moments, or several hours of stories, you can make a friend.
What are you willing to give?
Personally, I’ve known my current boyfriend for more than a decade. He knows everything; all my travel stories, personal/health issues and fears. Perhaps that makes an open relationship plausible. We agree. We work. We love each other unconditionally.
And yes, I realize, both within my country (of the USA) and copious amounts of others it presents a multitude of controversy…
But because we as a whole, at vagablogging, share this progressive space…how do you feel about open relationships? Or in general…the way communication happens between fellow humans that you meet along your travels…
Who doesn’t like getting a postcard in the mail?
With the overwhelming evolution of technology, the act of putting pen to paper almost seems old-fashion. Words have the same definition whether typed or scrolled by hand. But handwriting can reveal clues about an individuals personality where digital text lacks that touch.
Years ago I discovered a site called Postcrossing that links together people who enjoy writing postcards. Once signed up for a free account, you request an address, and can begin exchanging postcards with random people around the world! All cards are assigned an ID that you write along with your message. Once the person receives your card, they register that ID and a map program calculates the distance it traveled. It’s a fun way to learn about other cultures, geography and connect with real people. I’ve received amazing handmade cards and messages that took me a while to translate.
Do you enjoy sending postcards? Have you ever used postcrossing?
I have been on the road for nine months straight as I write, and I have slowly noticed how I changed my budget habits overtime. Initially, I had a big plan, quite a small budget, and an indicative daily expense limit that would make most people laugh – or faint. I was mostly successful in keeping expenses between 5 and 10 $ a day by travelling in a very cheap region – the Indian subcontinent -, using Couchsurfing or seeking local hospitality as much as I could, sticking only to public transportation and local meals. By strictly adhering to my own rules, I managed to spend 5 and a half months across India, Nepal and Bangladesh and spending about 1000$ for me and my girlfriend together. But I also have to say that the very low price came with another kind of expense: some sort of travel burnout.
After three more months and almost at the end of an Asia to Europe overland trip along the Silk Road, by trying to adhere to the same rules that made my Indian vagabonding highly rewarding, I must admit: I feel that sticking to the planned budget is working less. And it is not because of the different prices of accommodation, food and transportation in different countries, as all of the above can be overcome by the more resourceful on a tight budget. I feel it is because, as I see myself nearer to the end of one year of travel bliss, I am pushed to abandon my strict budget plan, and enjoy things in a more economically relaxed way.
At the beginning, I would never have chosen to have a sporadic breakfast in a café, opting instead for the street food at the market’s stalls. But now, as I stretch the last dollars and I still try to make it within the limits of a tight sum, the whole budget idea is not that important anymore. It may be the prospective of returning, and settling into some new sort of job that is giving more security and allows spending more leisurely. Or it may just be that, after a long time trying to make everything fit into the lowest possible expenditure in order to stay on the road the longest, a traveler just needs to forget about budgeting to feel like there is a change in a daily travel routine. Did you ever have similar feelings?
Recently I’ve been reading, “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. When the author was in her mid-twenties she solo hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. Her book unfolds as she treks north, nursing her blistered feet and cumbersome heavy pack along a majority of the 2,663mi (4,286km) trail. It initially begins at the Mexican border, passes through California, Oregon, and Washington in the USA and over the border into Canada. Several years ago I’d been gearing up to ride my horses along the same trail, but heavy snows in high mountain ranges and challenges with support team coordination threw a wrench in the trip–so it never happen. But I did ride sections of that trail, along with parts of the Continental Divide Trail, Chilkoot Trail, and the historic Oregon Trail. On foot I’ve graced sections of several other long paths, and driven a dog cart on one pulled by twelve huskies.
Reading Strayed’s book got me thinking about other long-distance footpaths around the world. A popular one in Europe that comes to mind is El Camino de Santiago which starts many different places but ultimately ends at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I first heard of the trail in a novel by Paulo Coelho called, “The Pilgrimage.” Other countries in Europe such as Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have quite a lot of paths. In Asia I’d looked into hiking the Annapurna Circuit in central Nepal. But it appears that Israel and Japan have many for the choosing as well; Japan’s most popular being the 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
Here are the worlds’ best hikes according to National Geographic.
Mark Moxon has an extensive website of information and stories from his long walking adventures.
The UK has a Long Walkers Association.
One Canadian man even walked around the world in eleven years.
Have you ever hiked or ridden on a long-distance path? Or do you have plans to do so?
Please share your stories or plans in the comments!
As I am thumbing my way across the Central Asian republics, I made a very much welcome discovery by typing “hitching to Dushanbe” in Google. What I found was a bit puzzling, at first: I would have never thought that a volatile, hazardous and utterly non-scientific art such as hitching a ride could have a wiki website!! But it really has!
Hitchwiki is some sort of Wikipedia of hitching, and it works wonders. Subdivided into geographic areas and countries, it gives you proper practical information from the mouths of experienced hitch hikers. You may now tackle every country’s highway with the right dose of preparation. And if you believe you do not need it, it means you have never thumbed a ride before!!
As the simplest example: how to get out of a city to actually be able to stop the car and get the ride you want? Do you think you may start hitching in the city center of Paris? This website proves extremely useful as it gives a low down on the ways to reach the toll heads of the most useful highways, and describes accurately what kind of city transport you may take to get there. I got some very useful information on how to leave the city center of Khujand and arrive directly in front of the Dushanbe highway using public transport. As Hitchwiki suggested, I got there, and in five minutes I was riding happily – and free of charge – down the highway towards my destination.
For some countries this sites suggests useful hitching language and a detailed description of some cultural aspects you may come across – or against – during your hitching adventures are readily explained. Such as the concept of Tarof in Iranian society: according to this, a driver would never ask you to pay for a ride, although he may want to, as many private cars in Iran are unlicensed taxis!!
I am glad I made such a discovery and that hitch hikers decided to share their experience and knowledge for the joy of other road adventurers… and I am also psyched to have more reasons to leave the bus stations’ touts and hassle behind!!