In the past few months, I have complained several times about the current status of travel writing and how it does not satisfy my needs.
In this sense, it would have been too easy to just sit there and complain without actually doing something about it. And that’s exactly what I did by joining forces with British travel writer Tom Coote.
We sat down and worked hard to create a new digital magazine: Wicked World.
You can access it by clicking here.
Wicked World exists to promote the kind of travel related writing that wouldn’t normally find an outlet in more mainstream publications. We’re not here to sell expensive guided tours, round the world tickets or travel insurance. On the contrary, we are here to provide a showcase for honest, alternative and irreverent writing, with a particular emphasis on internationally oriented underground culture. And we of course accept related, inspired submissions from like minded travel writers and adventurers.
If you want examples, the very first issue of Wicked World has articles on: the burgeoning black metal scene in Bangladesh; the rarely visited Meroe Pyramids in Sudan; mine clearance in Cambodia; a haunting return to Vicksburg, Mississippi; the resurrection of a mummified monk in Thailand; a bizarre encounter with the police in Kyrgyzstan; System of a Down’s self-financed film about the Armenian Genocide; and a festival for hungry ghosts in Malaysia and Singapore.
In the future, we are planning to provide a syndication service for travel related articles, and to experiment with publishing the kind of eBooks that wouldn’t normally find an outlet through more mainstream publishers.
If you would like to get involved in Wicked World, or would simply like to know more, then send an email to either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
I don’t hitchhike too much, I have four kids and a husband, which is a prohibitive number of people for a convenient pick up. I do, however, pick up hitchhikers just about every chance I get. To me, it’s a great trade, a chance to increase my per-capita gas mileage and the entertainment is for free! Sure, it takes a certain amount of faith in humanity to pick up a stranger on the side of the road, but then again, it takes a certain amount of faith in humanity for them to take the chance and get in my car. I’ll reach across that divide if you will.
So as someone with a propensity to go out of my way to pick you up while you’re hitching, let me give you a little advice, that will increase your odds of catching a ride and sharing my chips while we drive.
1. Image matters
You don’t have to be squeaky clean (you’re traveling the hard way, after all!) You don’t have to be the picture of the boy or girl next door. You can be a bit grungy, your pack can be worn (in fact it’s a good sign if it is!) You can be tired and road worn. But remember that what I see is selling me, your image matters. Smile. Have the look of the intrepid adventurer that you are. Don’t be afraid to make me laugh with your sign or your roadside “hook.” Have an instrument, be playing it. Look like you’re going to be fun to ride with. Look like I’ll regret it if I drive on past. Be the photograph that sells your story.
2. Be flexible
Be willing to hop in the back of our camper with four kids, or tie your pack on the roof of my van. Be willing to stop and run an errand with me between point A & point B. Be willing to run to catch up if I can’t stop for another hundred yards. Be willing to go only half of the distance you want me to take you. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up taking you the whole way after all!
3. Pay for your ride
That’s right. Pay for your ride. A good hitchhiker always pays for her ride. I’m not talking about offering money, or to pay for gas, or to buy me a meal. I would never expect you to do that, but I do expect a good trade for my effort, so be thinking about what you bring to the table, or the vehicle, as it were. I’ll expect some good stories, some intelligent conversation, or a good laugh, at the very least! Some of our best hitchers have become interviews for travel stories. Others have taught the kids to juggle something, or told us new jokes, or shared recommendations for things we must see in our own travels. Don’t ever take a ride without giving something of yourself in return.
Do you hitch? What are your best hooks for getting picked up? Do you pick up? How do you decide who makes the cut?
My travels in northern France have always provided vivid reminders of the battle for Normandy, which raged from D-Day through the summer of 1944. Though partially healed by the decades, scars still remain in the rolling countryside, picturesque villages, and gentle beaches.
Sixty-nine years ago today, the Allies waded ashore on the beaches of Normandy, France, and began the liberation of Europe from Hitler. A US veteran of the Normandy campaign said recently, “Out of my squad of 13, only 3 survived.” His story was not unique. The fighting was ferocious, and casualties on both sides were severe.
On each of my visits to this beautiful area, I have been struck by the locals’ affection for Americans. The French are not normally known for their liking of the US tourist, but in Normandy, the appreciation for the US sacrifice is strong. Several coastal villages fly American flags and bear plaques in the town square commemorating the day of their liberation by US troops in June of 1944.
Some reminders are particularly evocative for me. For example, I find few sites as poignant as the rusted ports lurking in the waves just off the coast of Arromanches-les-Bains.
Not far from the immaculate rows of gleaming marble headstones of the US cemetery at Omaha Beach, the tiny beach village of Arromanches-les-Bains was chosen to be the main port of the Allies. Still visible in the surf are the ghostly hulks of the prefabricated ports known as “Mulberry Harbors”, designed to move those millions of pounds of Allied men, vehicles, and supplies from ship to shore in the fight against Hitler.
The skeletal iron beasts, now rusted and worn away by decades of tide and salt water, serve as a reminder of the world-changing event that came to Normandy’s shores. And they remind us of the ordinary people—most now passed away—who found themselves swept up in the gale force of history.
The years go on, but the echoes remain.
As a fan of great museums, England, and historical stuff in general, I’m excited about a brand new museum that has just opened this week.
Located in the historic dockyard of Portsmouth on England’s picturesque south coast, the Mary Rose Museum houses the sixteenth-century hulk of the HMS Mary Rose, the pride of Henry VIII’s navy. Built in 1511, the massive warship sank off the coast of England in 1545 while fighting the French fleet. After ages under the waves, her remains were resurrected from the sea by marine archaeologists and installed in the new museum. A museum that, incidentally, is situated in the very dockyard in which the ship herself was constructed.
But it’s the collection of objects from within the ship—thousands of sixteenth-century items being called the largest trove of Tudor-era artifacts ever assembled—that are the real stars of the museum. By a stroke of fate, the silt of the sea floor created a virtually airtight tomb for the small objects within the vessel. The resulting collection of relics is so well preserved that it has been dubbed “the English Pompeii” for its quality and poignancy.
The artifacts on display within the hull include miraculously preserved musical instruments, rosaries, board games, silverware, weapons, book covers, medical equipment, furniture, coins, and even the remains of several of the Mary Rose’s sailors. Facial reconstructions of the recovered skulls put a human dimension to the 500 men who perished with the ship, as do the everyday items they used. Combs with Tudor-era lice still trapped in them are also in the exhibit, as are the remains of the ship’s dog.
Taken together they are sure to tell a story of lives lived and lost within a sixteenth-century ship’s creaking timbers.
I can wait to see this for myself.
Strangest things we’ve seen lately:
Back home, before 2011 when we hit the road to become The Nomadic Family, we used to not move without seat belts. I would allow the kids to unbuckle only when the car came to a complete stop in the driveway, and not a second earlier. Today, after hitchhiking on the back of banana pickup trucks throughout Central and South America, our motorcycle accident in Cambodia, and most recently, after sitting on the roof of a jungle expedition truck in Gopeng, Malaysia; we no longer regard transportation safety a parental concern. (God help us!) Strangest thing I’ve seen lately, is all five of us on the back of motorcycles on the curvy mountain roads surrounding Da Lat, Vietnam, with not a care in the world. I’ve spent my entire motherhood telling the kids how motorcycles were death traps, and here we are, with the Bull Riders of DaLat, on motorcycles. Strange, and liberating, indeed.
The first things you notice about Ellis Emmett are his piercing blue eyes, the source of his deep, rolling laugh. This is a guy who loves life, and lives large; that much is clear from the moment he shakes your hand. He’s a builder, a farmer, an expert white water rafter, a mountain climber, an avid traveler, a photographer, a writer, and co-host of the fantastic SCUBA & adventure documentary series: Descending, which has been nominated for awards in Canada. He’s also a husband, a father, a mentor and a guy who dedicates a great deal of his life and efforts to inspiring others to “get off their butts and live their dreams.”
We talked about a lot of things while feeding his alpacas and rolling my kids down his back hill in the big blue barrels that he uses on rafting trips to store gear when there aren’t little boys who want to use them as adventure vehicles. We talked through mouthfuls of red curry with chickpeas that my kids said tasted like Thailand but reminded them of their favourite restaurant in Guatemala. We laughed in front of his enormous stone fireplace and swapped travel stories. This is a guy who lives in our world and who “gets it” in ways few people do.
Ellis is positively dripping with pearls of wisdom. Here is a short excerpt from our discussions on what he sees as being the most important aspects of life:
The nine things that I believe are important in life:
Dream- have a dream. Dreams are so important. Without a dream you have nothing to strive for every day becomes the same.
Freedom- sometimes in order to have freedom you have to make a commitment not to have freedom for a certain time to achieve what you want to. Freedom has two parts: time and money. If you have enough time and enough money to do whatever you want, whenever you want to, then you have freedom. You don’t have to have a lot of money, to be free. You can always scale down so that you need less, instead of continually scaling up
Growth- It’s important to be in a constant state of growth, to be continually evolving and learning in some way. If you’re not growing, you’re stagnating. To avoid stagnation, travel, explore, learn.
Physical- A healthy body and healthy mind go hand in hand. If you are not proud of yourself then how can you expect anyone else to treat you with respect? Ellis has a gym in his basement. His wife is a personal trainer. The day we’re visiting, his legs are killing him from a massive workout the evening before. He laughs about that as we hike up the hill from the alpaca paddock
Contribution- It’s very very important to give back. Don’t’ try to hold on to everything for yourself. It’s all part of the wheel and the process itself. In giving you open the avenue for receiving. The more you help and give to others, the more others will do the same for you.
Spirituality- This can be in any form you want it to be. Spirituality is, I believe, a sense of self and acceptance of self. As human beings we have this inherent need to have a belief, who are we, what are we why are we here, where are we going (god I feel like a school teacher now!) Maybe to put it into one word, have a grounding. If you believe in Christianity that is equally as fine as Buddhism. it doesn’t matter what it is, you just have to believe in it. For myself personally, I’m an atheist, I don’t believe in any higher power. I believe we are the higher power. I believe each person has this massive energy and power within us. I’m not saying we are all gods, no, no. but we can do more than we know we can; we can do astounding things. If you set your mind to something you can do; it doesn’t matter what it is.
Love- “Just a small one,” he jokes with sarcasm in his voice… we as human beings need love in our lives, it comes in many forms: Romantic, family and self love. But self love is probably the most important form. And this is where people make a mistake; people think, “No one loves me,” and love for themselves is overlooked. I’m not talking about self love in an egotistical sense, but it comes back to respect. if you don’t love/respect the person you are, then you can’t expect others to. It comes back to the old cliche, “You get back what you give out.” If there are particular reasons you don’t love yourself, get out there and change those things.
Passion- Passion is a lot like love, it’s one of those things that, if you don’t have it in your heart you’re half dead already. You have to have passion to get out there and live life. You have to have interests, things that drive you. If you don’t have passion, then keep trying things until you find the thing you love to do. It doesn’t matter if no one else sees it, if you feel it, go with it… you don’t have to explain it, just like love
Environment- Be very aware of your environment and its affect on you and your life. Many times it’s our environment that is holding us back, not the home you are living in. There are many things you don’t have a choice over, the family you are born into and the home you are in, but most people have more choices than they believe they do.
There are two aspects of your environment to consider:
The physical aspect: your surroundings. And the social aspect: This is even more important. Who do you hang out with? We hang out with the people we want to become. The people we hang with don’t want us to change, so they try to keep us the same. If you want to be better at something, go find the people who are doing what you want to do, find something in common and learn from them, grow from that lesson that they can teach you subliminally. If you don’t like the person you are, then look at the people in your life, the place you are living, who you are hanging out with. Maybe the first thing you should do is move, reinvent yourself in a new place, rebuild from the ground up.
This week I have a question. It’s one that’s been rolling around in several communities I participate in, and it’s one that tends to bring about heated debate. It’s also one that is very hard to separate from one’s own experience, as a child and as a parent as well. I’m open to all answers and to lively debate, so don’t be afraid to dive on into the fray.
Without further ado, here is the question:
Is travel wasted on the very young?
Before you answer, let’s define a few terms:
So what do you think? Is travel wasted on the very young?
I’m working on a longer piece about this, that I’ll post on my blog in a few weeks, but I’ll dive in here and start the debate by throwing the short version of my position into the ring:
I do not believe travel is wasted on the very young. Just because a developing person cannot remember something does not mean that it does not have value and is not life changing for them. To suggest that we shouldn’t bother with things children cannot remember is to suggest that reading aloud to them, hugging them, playing with them, talking to them and doing little crafty projects with them is a “waste” as well, and we all know how much those activities matter over the long haul. I would argue that travel is a great benefit to the very young because it introduces much diversity to their developing brains at a point when it is easily assimilated. It’s not “wasted” it’s just very hard to measure the benefit to the developing individual.
As always, I have more to say… but this week I really want to know what you think about this, and why you think it. Tell me your stories, educate me! Let’s debate!
Most of us travel so that we can see the world, get out of our “box” and explore another culture, or corner of the world. If we wanted everything to stay the same, we would just stay home! It boggles my mind when I see travelers who spend their entire time abroad trying to recreate home and, essentially, avoiding the local interactions they claim to want.
There’s nothing inherently “wrong” with staying at the Hilton, eating at McDonalds or shopping at the Dispensar Familiar (a box store that is owned by Walmart but is masquerading behind a “local” label) but don’t kid yourself into thinking you’re having a local experience, or contributing to the local economy when profits are funneled into big corporations “back home.” There are some simple ways to have a more “authentic” experience wherever you happen to be traveling and to make sure your dollar goes further within the local economy as well. Here are three of mine; perhaps you have some of your own to add:
1. Stay local
Sure, you might book that first night by the airport with your travel miles card, but after that, stay at a family run hotel or guesthouse. Go one step further, and stay somewhere not recommended in the guidebook. Those places are getting a big bump by virtue of their write up in Lonely Planet, but there are likely several other very good places run by families who have generations invested in a particular place that will stretch your buck and add depth to your journey. We’ve found, across the board, that these sorts of places yield “insider” information and recommendations if not personal invitations to explore with new found friends, the proprietors. You’ll also find a very interesting subset of traveler frequenting these places, they’re the people you want to meet, I promise you.
2. Eat where there’s no english menu
That is to say, eat where the local folks are eating. In Merida, Mexico, this might mean walking deep into the mercado, flipping over a five gallon pail and bellying up to the tile bar with the roadwork crew to eat the plata del dia. No need to know what you’re ordering, they only serve on thing per day. I guarantee your money isn’t padding the pocket of the big red clown with preternaturally large feet.
3. Hire a local
It’s possible that the slick looking “Green Travel” agency on the strip in Champasak is genuinely locally owned and operated, but I’m not betting my money on it, based on their advertising. If you have the time and the patience, track down a guy with a boat and book your own ride down the Mekong to the next town. I promise you’re paying extra through the agencies, and that money is probably not being invested the way you wish it was. Look for opportunities to hire local people to teach you things. Hire the Mayan woman who comes knocking to teach you to use a back-strap loom. Hire your cyclo driver in Hue, Vietnam to take you on his motorcycle out into the hills, he’ll bring two of his friends if you have as many people as we do, and it will be a cross-cultural party!
4. Send out your laundry
Okay, here’s a fourth, I couldn’t stop at three: Send out your laundry, and not through your hotel. The laundries that have hotel contracts are doing well, making lots of money. Take a walk, look for the hole in the wall that looks like it’s run by a mother-daughter team and give them your business.
How ‘bout you? What are your best tips for making sure your dollar stretches within a local economy and is spent to the betterment of the community you’re visiting?
If you travel with kids then you’re well familiar with the gear overload that is all too easy to find yourself saddled with. Of course there’s the clothes and the toys, but by the time you add a carseat, playpen, stroller and perhaps a portable feeding chair, it’s bordering on the ridiculous. No wonder so many people just stay home with little ones. It seems like far too much trouble to move the equipment alone, never mind the additional challenges that the actual child adds to the mix.
The good news is: it doesn’t have to be that bad! Here are five tips for reducing the amount of crap you have to pack (and carry) when traveling with a little child.
1. Rent it
Did you know that in most bigger cities you can rent baby gear? Yep. Google it for your destination and you may find that you can rent a porta-crib or playpen, a feeding chair and a stroller or whatever else you need when you arrive. Almost all car rental agencies have carseats as an optional ad-on and they are delivered strapped right into the vehicle when you arrive. It couldn’t be easier. Many hotels and resorts are now getting on the bandwagon and supplying more than a baby cot for rental at their resorts in hopes of drawing more family travel business. It can pay to ask around and shop around for a destination that will make it easy on you!
2. Choose Wisely
If you intend to travel with your little one then a few, well chosen, items are well worth investing in to make the travel easier. Carseat and stroller combos, slings instead of strollers, they even have luggage the doubles as a ride on toy for the toddler set. Where was THAT when I was traveling with a tiny tribe? Of course you can “make do” with just about anything you have in a pinch, but if you plan to make travel a regular part of child life, it’s worth investing in the items that will simplify the process. For our family, this meant a sling instead of strollers, a baby backpack that would carry through toddlerhood and doubled as a high-chair and a diaper bag, and travel clothes for the parents that were wipeable and nearly bulletproof… or at least baby proof!
3. Less is More
Seriously. Even with kids. If you pack three or four outfits for your toddler it will be more than enough. Kids clothes are very easy to hand wash in a hotel sink and hang to dry and most children would rather re-wear their favourites anyway. Pack less in terms of clothing and diapers and paraphernalia and you’ll have more room for the things that really matter with kids: like the blankie that is a comfort item.
4. You can buy it
There is no need to pack jars and jars of baby food, formula, diapers, wipes, disposable bibs, soaps, lotions, or anything else. Anywhere in the world that you’re visiting where people have children (which is everywhere) these items will be available. Unless you’re tied to a specific brand because of an allergy, there’s no need to bring much from home. Bring what you’ll need for the first 24 hours and then plan to hit a store when you’ve settled in.
The take home message: Simplify your packing list. Make use of what’s already there from friends or rentals. Wash, rinse, repeat. Purchase a few key items that will make the whole process go more smoothly. Go with what’s locally available.
Cost/day (for a family of five):
Strangest thing we’ve seen lately:
Before his wish to die, but well after 40 degree fever and horrifying nightmares, the kindly villagers performed ritual healing ceremonies on my husband Kobi. They picked two of this leaf, four of that one, this root, that berry and cooked them over a banana-leaf-sealed open-fired vat. Then, with ritual prayer chanting, candles, and incense burning, he was stuffed under a dozen thick blankets to breath the steam, drank a cup o it, and bathed in the waters. Their love and earnest determination to cure him were touching. Two days later, he was hospitalized.