March 29, 2013

The Next Destination, part I

There is a common trait among us travelers regarding the seasons: With the onset of spring, thoughts turn to traveling. It’s in our DNA. This can pose a conundrum for us, since another trait of the inveterate traveler is difficulty with deciding where to go next with limited resources (and they are always limited).This can provoke a lot of angst and indecision for us. For the next few posts, I’ll be examining the different ways travelers approach the big decision of the Next Destination in hopes that it will help some globe trotters who are hung up on the issue.

Things to think about are finite things such as time and money. Where is affordable? How far can my dollars stretch? Can I spend enough time there to really get a feel for the place, and still eat decently and sleep in a clean place? What’s the exchange rate? Dollars to pesos or pounds (Greece is a good deal these days)? Is a bed and meal cheap where you’re going? Are there budget options like hostels and humble, family-run B&B’s? As Americans, we’re the most time-poor people in the industrialized world, so will you be able to beg, steal, and borrow enough time to really get a feel for your destination?

If time is less of an issue than money (i.e. you’re an unemployed travel writer like myself) there are ways to get overseas and immersed in a culture while earning income, such as work-stays can be a good option; doing seasonal agricultural work on a family farm in exchange for room and board can lead to deep, rewarding cultural immersion (and a nice tan). If less labor-intensive jobs are to your liking, summer gigs at a resort or even a hostel can help pay the bills.

In the next post I’ll discuss some things you can do to help yourself pare your list down to a manageable level and really start planning an adventure to remember.

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Category: Destinations, General, Notes from the collective travel mind, On The Road, Volunteering Abroad, Working Abroad

March 12, 2013

Location Independence: The intersection of work and travel

Location Independence is a concept that has exploded over the past few years. With the rapid expansion of the internet, all of a sudden, there are possibilities that didn’t exist, even a decade and a half ago. Travel has long sung her siren song in the hearts of many arm chair gypsies and now many of those folks, who previously burned with longing, find themselves able to hit the road and travel without giving up their careers.

It’s easy to see the draw: photos of folks working, poolside, books like The Four Hour Work Week, and countless blogs of evangelical nature bend “come hither” fingers at those “stuck” in their 9-5 with some level of discontent. But is it all it’s cracked up to be?

It’s one thing to save up and take a gap year, or work in spurts as you go, tucking into a contract for a few months and then traveling in free wheeling style for a few months. For many, that’s the perfect blend. But what is it like to truly work from the road, to hold down proper careers in a nomadic life? We do it. We know quite a few others who do it.

And here’s what I have to say: It’s a hell of a lot of work. 

Juggling time zones, clients and projects across continents is not for the faint of heart. There are some very real benefits to being able to deliver during your clients’ off hours, and the combination of a lack of overhead and lower living costs in many popular overseas locations sweetens the deal. But the trade off is often that working from these “more desirable” locations is also more difficult, logistically, linguistically and in terms of connectivity.

It’s not a question of whether it is “worth it.” For those of us living and working location independent as we travel, it is most certainly worth it. But that should not be confused with it being “easy” or equated with working whilst on perpetual vacation. Work is work. Where it happens might be becoming increasingly negotiable, but the facts are the same. I think there is a certain amount of snake-oil-salesmanship going on right now in the community of books and blogs being promoted that suggest that it is otherwise. There are many examples of people who go big in their first year or two and blow hard about it, but where are they three or four years in? Very few continue in the lifestyle.

We’re five years in at this point. We live and work on the road. We make “real money” from “real career” type efforts and support a family of six. We pay taxes, we have insurance and investments. It’s not a gap year or a phase of a fling. It can be done, and we have a wide array of folks we could point to who are doing it. We’d encourage anyone who wants to that it’s possible and you can be your own rainmaker, in work, travel and lifestyle. But we’ll also tell you that it’s tough. There’s no free lunch, and anyone who says there is, is selling something.

Are you location independent in your career or do you want to be? Do you choose to work and travel? What has been your experience?

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Category: Lifestyle Design, Vagabonding Life, Working Abroad

February 7, 2013

Motorbiking helps long term vagabonding city dwellers

Picture credit: Flickr/Alfred Glickman

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…)

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Category: Asia, Expat Life, Notes from the collective travel mind, Simplicity, Vagabonding Advice, Working Abroad

August 24, 2012

Realities of Travel Writing, part 2: Getting the Assignment

In this second installment of Realities of Travel Writing, I’m continuing on the topic of getting the assignment. It bears fleshing out, as you can’t board the plane until you land the gig. So, first thing’s first.

After you’ve come up with a great article idea and researched the websites, blogs, or magazines you want to pitch it to, there’s still a lot more to be done.

Firsts, is your idea in line with what they specialize in? What is their market or target audience, and how is your article idea relevant to them? Some blogs/websites/magazines are quite open to all facets of travel, but some are “niche,” i.e. quite focused on one part of the world or aspect of the experience of traveling. The editor is the audience, for the purposes of pitching. Know their needs well or you’ll be wasting your time and theirs.

Similarly, know the tone and style of the publication you’re approaching. Tailor your pitch accordingly. For example, World War II Magazine will have a more professional, academic tone than, say, a free-wheeling blog dedicated to twenty-somethings with wanderlust. Again, know your audience. If you pitch them without knowing anything about their market it will show and they will shut you down fast.

Also, more research to be done: Have they published a piece similar to your idea recently? If so, they won’t be interested in repetition. Be aware of what they haven’t covered lately and leverage that in your pitch. Editors of magazines, websites, and blogs are always scrambling for fresh ideas. They need new content constantly, and are aware of the perils of repetition and stagnation.

The bottom line: Come to their rescue with an original, well fleshed-out piece that is in line with their purpose, market, tone and style, and you’ll be surprised how receptive they can be.

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Category: General, Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel Writing, Working Abroad

May 25, 2012

Work-Stays: Making a buck abroad

As most travelers probably know, there’s more than one way to get yourself a great adventure far from home. Last week I wrote a bit about teaching ESL in a foreign country. This week, a bit about another great way to make a buck abroad: work-stays.

Lots of establishments—ranging from host farms (organic and non-organic), lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels, and just plain homes—invite travelers to help out in exchange for accommodation and meals. The short-term “guests” pitch in some light labor (usually four hours or so a day) while getting meals, a bed, and a great big dose of the local culture in the process.

Due to the seasonal nature of agriculture, helping out on a farm bailing hay, picking grapes in a vineyard, or picking berries at an orchard can be a great way to survive a summer abroad on little to no money.

The old system was a casual arrangement whereby owners of farms asked for help by putting up a flyer on the local hostel’s notice board. Word of mouth spread the work-stay gospel as well, and travelers soon began swapping information on the best locations, working conditions, and employers.

As like everything else, the method of finding the opportunities changed with the arrival of the internet. Now the web is loaded with good sites functioning as a digital, world-wide hostel notice board. Any traveler with a connection can find good opportunities, get advice, and interact with prospective employers around the globe.

Some helpful resources aimed at connecting travelers to work-stay opportunities include: http://www.helpx.net/ (one of the original work-stay info hubs), http://www.adventurejobs.co.uk/ (geared toward resort work), http://www.overseasjobcentre.co.uk/ ( a pretty comprehensive site with lots of opportunities), and http://www.anyworkanywhere.com/ (another good site loaded with helpful links).

Skills like agriculture, animal care, boat-crewing, and carpentry are valuable  in various pockets of the globe. Being a certified instructor of boating, tennis, or scuba diving are valuable in resorts. Aside from the monetary savings, the opportunity to live with the locals and participate in their day-to-day life is well worth the work.

Next week I’ll cover summer volunteering in Europe, another great way to connect and be useful in the unlikely (but possible) scenario that you’ve got enough cash to last part of the summer without a gig.

 

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Category: Vagabonding Advice, Working Abroad

May 18, 2012

Summer Travel Work, Part I: Teaching ESL

  It’s a fact that travel dreams begin to intensify when summer is around the corner. For me and most other inveterate travelers I know, every fiber is starting to vibrate with an anxious need to hatch a plan pack a bag, and head off to far-flung places. The passport sings to us, asking to be paroled out of the drawer it’s been kept in for months. The question is, where and how? Money is tight, and gas prices are pushing plane fares upward. There are still great deals to be found, of course, but this summer it’s especially important to find ways to supplement income during the travels.

Teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) can be a great way to meet people and get steady pay. Tutoring locals interested in gaining a better grasp of the most commonly used language in the world can lead to great friendships, not just a few more Euros or Yuan. Often the job comes with low pay but great opportunities to experience a culture, travel widely, and meet some fascinating people.

Your chances of obtaining a decent ESL summer teaching gig are good in Asia. China is hungry for teachers to instruct adults. Their exploding economy means many professionals are looking to acquire a stronger command of English in order to be more competitive in the global marketplace. Japan, Thailand, and Korea have a vibrant market also despite less powerful economies.

The garden spots of Europe, however, are a tougher gig to land. Thriving Prague is a hot ticket. Gorgeous, cheap, and fun, the historic city is inundated with American, British and Australian college students eager to spend the summer tutoring by day and living it up at night. Dozens of private schools cater to the ever-more-Western business set looking to bolster their English skills. More easy-to-land opportunities can be found in the less-glamorous Polish and Russian cities. Don’t be fooled by their lack of glam or dour-looking school buildings; these work-a-day cities offer great  opportunities for growth. travel, and fun.

It can be frustrating trying to sort out your options. Some schools require teachers to possess a TEFL certificate, many do not. And some TEFL programs aren’t worth the paper your certificate is printed on despite their flashy websites.

If you’re on the search for ESL opportunities abroad, or have done it and want to share your insights and advice, please leave a comment for those interested in trying it!

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Category: General, Languages and Culture, Working Abroad

May 17, 2012

Travel the world for free? Possible, according to Michael Wigge

Hitchiking, working our way around the world or couchsurfing are all good ways to save some money on the road, but being able to travel without spending anything has always seemed impossible to me. As Anna recently posted, we may  get free flights with credit cards’ air miles; however, as far as I know, travelling without spending a single cent is a dream. And believe me, I am one who really stretches his pennies as only few would do.

Let me tell you, I was wrong: I discovered that Michael Wigge, a German TV travel comedian, has actually succeeded. His efforts are documented in the self published book and DVD aptly titled  “How to travel the world for free”.  Check a video trailer here.

According to Wigge, as travelling 25.000 miles from Europe to Antarctica wasn’t challenging enough on a budget, he decided to attempt it without a single cent: as the book’s synopsis states, “on his journey, Michael immerses himself into fascinating subcultures, sleeps on the street with homeless people and nourishes himself with flowers”.

Michael’s trip is a story of determination and adventure: by crossing the Atlantic working on a container ship, being hosted by the Amish community in Ohio and reaching Antarctica employed as a luxury cruise’s crew member, it seems like he found the real recipe for free travelling around the globe.

Nevertheless, as this sounded too good to be true, I decided to reach him and ask a few clarifying questions.

First of all, why did he do this? Michael says that he mostly wanted to show other travellers how such an accomplishment is possible. “I decided to travel moneyless to Antarctica since it has always been my dream to let things behind me, including all worries about money… Antarctica was pretty much a dream for a long time, as normally it can only be reached paying a lot. I started planning this trip for almost a year, researching contacts and developing ideas how to travel for free”.

Michael supports the idea that, wherever you go, you will always be able to find help from good people: “I crossed eleven countries. My experiences where overall really good: people were willing to help me out in my special situation. The best example happened in Colombia: I knocked at a house’s door in Cartagena and directly asked for free accommodation. A family of 13 didn’t even bother to ask why I was in such a needy situation. They just offered me a place to stay, although their house was already super crowded…”

Of course, having no money to travel at all also put Michael in some challenging, nasty situations. He confesses that “the worst penniless situation happened in Las Vegas: as the tap water contains too much chlorine overthere, my lips got heavily burned. Consequently, in order to drink I had to resort to a used McDonald cup I fished out of the rubbish, refilling it at the restaurant. After a couple of days, I got caught by a Mc Donald’s worker!! It also sucked to sleep on Waikiki Beach, Honolulu and get some of my things stolen”.

Ok, yet another travel beggar, you may think. Instead, this answer led me to ask Michael how he managed to survive in such a world where money has, sadly, the uttermost importance. His answer is simple: of course, he had to work. Instead of money, however, he applied a concept which has been lost in the sands of time. “The principle is easy: always use the barter system”.

Barter was the way he got around the big life necessities such as food and accommodation. Michael gives some interesting suggestions, indeed: “I got free food in shops or restaurants in trade for a good story, floor cleaning or dish washing. This strategy worked 80% of the times. I also had a netbook with me and could use many free wi-fi networks and use Couchsurfing. Here, same strategy: I helped out in the household in trade for free accommodation. Lastly, I got free transport hitchhiking, working on a cargo ship across the Atlantic and on a luxury cruise ship from Ushuaia to Antarctica.

And when he had to work for cash, the jobs he invented were some of the craziest and funniest I have ever heard from a traveller: “I was a Hill Helper, or better I pushed tourists up the steep hills of San Francisco for 1 US $. I also did Pillow Fighting by offering a decent fight for a dollar. 300 people joined me within a couple of days, and I earned enough money to fly from San Francisco to Costa Rica. I was also a Human Sofa: tired tourists could sit on my back in Las Vegas to relax for just a dollar. Moreover, I have been a butler for the German Ambassador in Panama: as I worked for the great man, he helped me buy a plane ticket to Colombia. The worst nightmare of a job though was working as a porter at Machu Picchu, to see it for free!!!”

Michael Wigge’s story may not be the ideal trip for most travellers and vagabonds, but clearly shows how resourcefulness, hard work and sharp wits can actually get us closer to our dreams. He concludes saying that he hopes his story would motivate other people to travel and explore the world, because his approach can be used by anybody, anywhere in the world. With or without money.

What do you think? Would you be able to travel the world for free as Micheal Wigge did and promotes? Please write your comments below. Hate him or love him, we surely have to check his book out.

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Category: Adventure Travel, Money Management, On The Road, Vagabonding Life, Vagabonding Styles, Working Abroad

April 19, 2012

Vagabonding as a rock musician: a step by step guide. Post #4: How to choose where to tour

This article is the fourth in a series of posts explaining how to bring your music on the road and get to travel with it. Read the series’ introduction , Post#1 , Post # 2 and Post #3 

picture credit: http://performermag.com/Archives/DIY.0801.php

In the last article of this series  I mentioned that a band may decide to book their own tours, by themselves, using their own forces. This is totally right and possible, but is a long, dreary process presenting more than a few risks. Exactly like planning a Round the World trip, there are many things to consider. First of all: where to go?

This question – WHERE – seems quite biased; but try to think that, unlike travelling, touring is a process that verifies only when every piece of the puzzle is laid down perfectly on the table, showing a nice, neat picture. Of course, if a band has to hit the road, there will also definitely be room for improvisation and resourcefulness: independent, poor musicians are known to be able to sleep anywhere, from beaches to floors and van’s seats. But seriously, can we consider “touring” a wild holiday with friends around two mere shows booked on two different weekends? No way, as it will cost you a fortune for nothing. And therefore, you need to choose carefully where to go when you plan touring.

Europe is by far the favorite choice: great cities, good crowds, and especially short driving distances make touring the Old Continent a favorite experience for many bands. If you add that Europe has some of the highest paying clubs, an affectionate, record-buying crowd, and that a show deal generally includes catering and accommodation for the whole band, there is no doubt this is the place where bands want to go to sell their records and have a great time.

The United States and Canada remain the dream destination for many non-American musicians and bands because of their abundant rock and roll history and culture. Touring the USA is quite simple logistically: hiring cars or vans is relatively inexpensive, and you can easily travel to any state and city by driving for a few hours – or days. Unfortunately, such a big rock and roll culture has generated a situation where cheaper gear and transportation expenses do not match with the poor pay, scarce free food and drinks, and virtually nonexistent accommodation services for touring bands. However, it is fairly easy and direct to ask for a crash pad, and get one after every show.

Australia and New Zealand may be beautiful holiday destinations, but are not very well suited for independent rock touring. Australia is too big and has too few key cities which, if not taken over by flight, may result in endless day drives to hit cities where a rock crowd is very scarce. Melbourne and Perth are different, but still, they are thousands of kilometers far from each other. In terms of pay, it is decent, but it is not worth the effort when thinking of touring only in these two countries.

Southeast Asia is increasingly becoming an appealing destination among most independent music circles. A fistful of pioneering small agencies are bringing bands to play those countries where the music scene is alive and kicking: mostly Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and sometimes Bangkok, Thailand. As long as a Southeast Asian tour may sound great, consider it still is a financial suicide: there is generally no guarantee for any of the shows, and if it is true that you may sell t-shirts and tapes – for a fraction of their real retail price, note well – , you will most likely do it for the fans, without even breaking even. Still, the lure of touring in such an exotic part of the world keeps attracting more and more bands.

South and Central America has a long history of rock culture, and places like Brazil, Mexico or Peru have plenty of bands and fans. Similarly to Southeast Asia, touring this region is still attractive and interesting, but making a profit will be very hard. The long distances and the dangerous roads may be also better tackled by public transportation such as buses, making a tour of the region a real test of endurance. However, the wild crowds, la vida loca and the desire for rock and roll will most likely make up for all of the hassle you encounter.

Whatever you decide, you will need to prepare to put hard work on your booking effort, and include countless hours of email work and skype international phone calls. If this sounds like too much to do for your band, I guess you are still in the “local only phase”: do not worry, as after a few months/years of local gigging, the gut feeling to venture abroad will come as an unexpected stomach ache… do not tell me I did not warn you, then!!

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Category: Notes from the collective travel mind, On The Road, Vagabonding Advice, Vagabonding Life, Vagabonding Styles, Working Abroad, Youth Travel

March 29, 2012

Vagabonding as a rock musician: a step by step guide. Post #2: how to get serious

This article is the second in a series of posts explaining how to bring your music on the road and get to travel with it. (Read the series’ introduction and Post#1)

In my last article I was stressing on the necessity to improve your bands’ live performance by playing as many shows as possible. You may debate that this is a difficult task to stat with: why should you invest time and money to travel with your band, when you can just buy a RTW ticket and set off for the world tomorrow??

Well, it is mainly because you would experience travel under a completely different perspective. According to the Indie Travel Manifesto we emphasize at Vagabonding, playing music as a means to long term travel can bring you to experience a foreign culture very insightfully.

So, how to get serious? I have previously said that you need to hone your skills and be unique as a band/artist. People do not need clones anymore, so try to be yourself. (more…)

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Category: Notes from the collective travel mind, On The Road, Vagabonding Advice, Vagabonding Life, Vagabonding Styles, Working Abroad

March 15, 2012

Vagabonding as a rock musician: a step by step guide. Introduction.

 

Photo credit http://frasesdavida.wordpress.com

Most people will never understand the thrill of being on a stage because, actually, they have never been. That complex array of mixed emotions, gut feeling and embarrassment which sometimes spawns some of the World’s greatest awesomeness may be related to travel in many ways.

As I previously wrote , by bringing an instrument on your travels you may enhance the chances of casual encounters with locals, volunteer opportunities, earn some money as you go and many other serendipitous experiences making a trip much more worth remembering.

But… what about those people who are actually travelling by playing music? What about the touring artists? They do get to travel, yes. A lot.  And the best part is… they get paid for it!!

The role of the musician in today’s society is generally misunderstood, placed on a superior level, a better niche, and is generally perceived as something we may never get to attain. Well… deadly wrong, my friends. Playing music and get to travel is easier than you would think, if your expectations remain in the realm of realism. Because Woodstock and the 70s, unfortunately, are long gone in the sands of mythology and times…

I decided to start writing a series of posts to help those with a musical penchant to analyze their skills, organize them into a musical product, and take it out on the road by touring… and consequently get to travel the world in an amazingly different way.

How many times have you wandered the streets of most European and American cities, visiting different bars, and asking yourself how could that terrible guitarist get to strum those elementary notes on a stage, drunk, and just plain mediocre? If such people get a chance to express themselves, why should not you, a skilled, enthusiastic musician, get to do the same?

Because you do not know how, possibly. Because the music business still remains one of the least accessible cast systems in the show business… possibly alike to literary circles, but with a bigger emphasis on the egos, the booze, and the mayhem. And most times, believe me, when you get into those circles, you will understand that you CAN DO much better than most of them.

So, if you have dreamed about packing that guitar/ukulele/flute/keyboard/saxophone and taking it out on the road, driving long distances in vans crammed with people, sleeping on the floors of total strangers who have become your new best friends after a night of musical entertainment – and possible drunk mayhem -, getting to know the insights of the World’s furthest corners’ youth cultures, and making a lot of friends –and boy/girlfriends – along the way… well, if you really DID dream about this, tune up your RSS feed on Vagabonding because from this week onwards, and sometimes sporadically, you will find a wealth of useful information.

Now, go back to the bed, and keep practicing on the guitar!!! Because nothing in this World comes without effort… and this is the bottom line of this introduction, and Lesson Number One.

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Category: On The Road, Vagabonding Advice, Vagabonding Life, Working Abroad
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