Vagabonding Case Study: Mariellen Ward

Mariellen Ward11312765965_4a28229541_c

Age: 54

Hometown: Toronto

Quote: Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. Joseph Campbell

How did you find out about Vagabonding, and how did you find it useful before and during the trip?
I did not know about Vagabonding before my first big trip. I didn’t know anything about traveling, or traveler’s, or resources. I just went.

How long were you on the road?
On my first trip, I went to India for six months. I left in December 2005 and my return ticket was for June 2006. I had no idea what would happen during those six months, whether I would make it to June, or whether I would even survive at all! Since then, I’ve been back to India bout six times, and have spent about 17 months’ altogether traveling in India, most of it by myself.

Where did you go? 
On my first trip, I had planned out a couple of things, but most of my itinerary was open. I was enrolled in a yoga studies program in Chennai, south India, for one month and accepted as a volunteer for one or two months in a program for Tibetan refugee children in Dharamsala, in north India. Otherwise, I had no fixed plans and just want to explore the subcontinent.
What was your job or source of travel funding for this journey?
While I was trying to recover from grief and depression over the deaths of my parents and the break-up with my fiance, I decided to follow a dream and become a yoga teacher. During the intense training process, with a teacher who had trained in India, I suddenly felt compelled to go to India. It felt like the thing I had to do to save my life from a downward spiral. So, even with doubt and apprehension looming in my mind, I started saving and planning. I sold 1/3 of my belongings, gave up my apartment, and moved to a small room in someone’s house. I saved $10,000, it took nine months, and then I left.

Did you work or volunteer on the road?
During the one-year planning process, I found out about several volunteer opportunities, and applied. The one I wanted most was to volunteer with Art Refuge, a U.K. based program that offers art therapy to Tibetan refugee children newly arrived in Dharamsala. After lengthy interviews, they accepted me. So that gig was scheduled about a year in advance. I stayed for one month in Dharamsala and loved the volunteer assignment — though I was sick practically the entire time I was there. Apparently the town had received a bad water shipment. I wrote about in Butterflies are Free


Of all the places you visited, which was your favorite?
Everyone always asks me what’s my favorite place in India! I find it a very hard question to answer. India is so varied, with some of the world’s highest mountains, one of the biggest deserts, and thousands of miles of ocean coast lines! However, if pressed, I will admit to loving the desert of Rajasthan, the mountain hill stations,  Sikkim, the Rishikesh area, Delhi, Mumbai and the beaches of Kerala. Sorry, can’t narrow it down further!

Was there a place that was your least favorite, or most disappointing, or most challenging?
I was appalled at the conditions in Agra, home to the Taj Mahal — the world’s most beautiful building. There must be so much money pouring into that city, and yet none of it is spent on infrastructure or tourism. Thanks goodness they are at least preserving the Taj, the fort and Fatephur Sikri. But it does make you shake your head.

I was disappointed by some of the sacred places in India turning into “traveler’s haunts” and catering to foreign tourists, mostly backpackers. I understand that tourism is good for the economy, and I see the efficacy in serving pancakes at the Pink Floyd Cafe in Pushkar … but it’s still disappointing. Especially when you see foreigners drinking beer in Pushkar, which is a sacred city and supposed to be alcohol free. There is a dark side to tourism.

India is itself quite challenging, and it challenges you on every level of your being. However, if you go with a certain attitude, the attitude of the seeker, and see everything that happens as a lesson, you can turn difficult circumstances into transformative experiences. Personally, that’s how I approach India, and it works for me.

Which travel gear proved most useful?  Least useful?
Haha, I brought a whole bunch of stuff that proved ridiculously un-useful the first time I went. The Indian family I was staying with laughed at my large medical kit that included syringes, portable mosquito net, and stack of pills for preventing things like malaria and diarrhea. Unfortunately, the travel medical clinic I visited in Canada scared me into thinking I was heading into a dangerous and wild place.

Of course I discovered that India has modern medical facilities and I soon realized I didn’t need half the stuff I brought.

After several trips and thousands of miles, I’ve changed priorities. Nowadays, it’s things like a smart phone, good walking sandals, a small thermos with a tight seal, an LED headlamp, and a large selection of Indian “suits” and scarves that I consider most useful. The only thing from the medical kit that I now carry is the rehydration drink packs. They are useful if you get Delhi-belly. I wrote a post about my Top 10 Essential Things to Pack for India

What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle?
The rewards are probably different for everyone, but for me, I feel that I am doing what I was put on earth to do; I am following my “bliss,” my unique path. Traveling, especially in India and South Asia, makes me feel totally alive. It inspires my creativity and satisfies my adventurous spirit.

What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle?
You have to give up being bored.

What lessons did you learn on the road?
This is a big topic, a book really — and one that I want to write. But to summarize briefly, I would group what I learned into three broad categories:

1. Personal. I gained an enormous amount of much-needed confidence and a much broader perspective.

2. Global. I became a “citizen of the world,” and gained a much better understanding of my place in the world, and about how                               perspective plays such a huge role in how we see things.

3. Spiritual. I consider myself a seeker, and have immersed myself into the spiritual ideas and traditions of India, especially yoga.                        Most westerners don’t realize that yoga is a complete system, an art and science, and a way of being in the world. The west has                      reduced yoga to a system of exercises, but it is much, much more. So opening myself up to the spiritual teachings of yoga has been                  a huge part of my journey.

How did your personal definition of “vagabonding” develop over the course of the trip?
I didn’t really have a notion of vagabonding when I first started traveling. I was trying to save my life from an entrenched depression. Then I fell in love with India, and began a love affair, with all the typical stages of drama. Now I see myself as a cultural explorer.

If there was one thing you could have told yourself before the trip, what would it be?
Don’t worry. Enjoy the trip, every moment, even the difficult ones. Everything always works out the way it is supposed to.

Any advice or tips for someone hoping to embark on a similar adventure?
My advice is don’t go on a similar adventure. Go on YOUR adventure. Follow YOUR bliss. Listen to YOUR heart.

When King Arthur sent the grail knights into the forest to search for the Holy Grail, he instructed them to enter the forest at the darkest spot, the place where there is no path. You have to find your own path to win the Holy Grail, and whatever that represents to you.

When and where do you think you’ll take your next long-term journey?
I was given an Explorer’s Grant by Kensington Tours to undertake a cultural expedition to India. I am going in October to follow in the footsteps of a 16th century mystic poet named Mirabai — a woman who escaped three attempts on her life to follow her calling, and write ecstatic poems and songs. She traveled widely across Rajasthan and Gujurat, and I am going to visit many sites associated with her. There’s more details about this fascinating woman here, in Tracing the Myth of Mirabai

After that, I will probably travel in South Asia for several more months. I published a travel wish list, which also includes plans to help support the women of India: My travel wish list in India and South Asia

I’m hoping to get enough support to conduct training sessions with groups of women and teach them how to use the Internet. The company that makes the Aakash, the world’s cheapest computer tablet, has agreed to donate some so I can hand them out.

The more I travel, the more my interest in travel shifts from ‘what’s in it for me?’ to ‘what can I do for others?’ I think that’s probably typical. You see how big the world is and how small you are, and it has a profound impact. Which is ultimately probably the biggest gift of travel.


Read more about Mariellen on her blog, Breathe Dream Go, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter

WebsiteBreathe Dream Go Twitter@breathedreamgo

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Posted by | Comments Off on Vagabonding Case Study: Mariellen Ward  | July 30, 2014
Category: General, Vagabonding Case Studies

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