Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Small Bouts of Adventure

Spring has sprung and the weather in the Valley is heating up. This lovely thaw marks for us the beginning of the 2013 Festival season.  In the times that this blog has lay silent and dormant we have in fact been starting a business.

My husband and I have been tossing around the idea of a business for as long as we have been together and we finally, in the depths of winter depression decided no time was as good as the present. It’s been a lot of paperwork and a pretty intense learning curve but it’s coming along.

The Good Life Collective is a place for emerging artists in our valley can consign their work for sale at festivals ( mainly) and fairs(sometimes). It is as much a way to make the life of an artist more sustainable as it is a way for us to make out travel/music addiction sustainable. It allows us participate in our community ( in this case the community of festivarians) and also to be mobile, or at least, that is our intent. 

As part of our new work schedule we have applied to and been accepted as vendors in many music festivals in the North East. Our first festival, Extravaganja went off well enough to make us think there may be some chance of this actually working.

From here until September every other weekend we have something planned. Now while many of those things are festival,  not all are, at the end of the month I will be doing a press trip for GoNomad which will involve whales and sea kayaks, neither of which I have had experience with.

It’s not the same as travel, I can’t fool myself completely, but I am hoping that these short burst of adventure will satiate me for at least a little longer.

Stay tuned for new adventures of camping, music, traveling business and whatever else we encounter on our little road trips.( And if you are feeling friendly, give us a 'like' on Facebook here.)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Explore Locally

I have to give credit to my mother in law for leading the conversation that provoked this post. We were discussing what a traveler can do to keep the ' explorer' feeling alive. My MIL is currently her aging mother’s primary caregiver, so needless to say, she’s grounded for awhile.  While I am loath to admit it, my bank account says that I am too.
Travel cannot be replaced, I have to lead with that. There is simply no substitute for actually going someplace, no matter how much I’d like to sugar coat it, for the blog, for friends, for my editor who keeps pushing me to write about how you can travel without traveling, the fact remains the same. You can’t travel without traveling. So what can you do? What stirs the mind and excites the imagination in if not the same, at least similar ways?

If you can’t travel, read. Books, as I discovered as a youth, can take you anywhere.  Often they can explain places in more intimate detail than you as a traveler may ever experience. Some  generes are better than others. Historical fiction is a big winner for devling into a different culture. It doesn’t even need to be about a different place, putting your mind in a different time can shake up how you perceive yourself in your own time.  Travel naratives, as much as the genre is decried by literary snobs, has some excellent examples of books that can take you palces. One of my favorite examples is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, a book that is in many ways a travel narrative but is much more literary than the usual story (and fascinating to boot).

I adore food, I'm one perfect truffle away from being a incurable foodie. In fact food may be the most singular memorable thing about travel. The white rose dumplings in Hoi An, the kebabs at Kareem’s in Old Delhi, vanilla slices in Tatura, the best pina coladas  ever in St. Martin/St. Martaan.
After our first trip in 2010 I dove into Julia Child’s repoitor of recipies. I have been to France but I felt I got to know more about the culture through the food I was cooking. When I get back from a trip to India, there is always a hoel in my stomach where street food should be. Madhur Jaffery is the Indian equivalent to Julia Child’s her recipies are easy to follow and produce *almost* authentic results.  I have learned how to make chaat, lassi, gulab jammun, saag, butter chicken, and dalh makani in order to satisfy our insacable lust for the food of the Sub Continent.
When I’m on the road, I always make the point of taking a cooking class in the local culture. This is something you can do at home. Check your local cooking store, they often have classes in preparing unqiue cultural dishes froma round the world. If you live in the Amherst area, here’s a link. If you don’t, well that’s what Google is for.


Music is my savior. If there is one thing I love as much as travel it's music. Sound transports you, moves you, grooves you. It can transform a bad mood into a good mood, a dull scene into a party. It can be anything and I live for the sound of something new. 'Composing' playlists on the road is a time honored 17 hour bus ride activity and I have found that music, like smell can take me back to a place or a moment like nothing ( but scent that is) can.

It's hard to find music from other countries unless you have satalite radio or a fondess for digging up links. But music even within a genre can be very different from place to -place. Pys-trace is India is a different species to Melbournes scene or the stuff coming out of Brooklyn. Brisbane hip-hop vs West Coats style. French gypsy music and British acid house. Music is one of the best, most reliable ways to understand a culture, connect with fellow travelers and explore what's out there.

I stay in touch with international music through a variety of ways, apps like TuneIn Radio help. Triple J, Australia's biggest station has an app that lets you stream their shows, however the time difference makes it a little less useful than it could be. 

Ultimately, all these pastimes are about staying connected to the world and exposing yourself to knew information. It is this desire for personal growth and exploration that drives the traveler in all of us.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Choices Choices Choices

Travel is about freedom, and freedom they say, is about choice. Overall I agree, choice is a wonderful thing, it allows us to express ourselves in our lives in myriad ways. However I have found a traveler when faced with too much possibility can become mired in indecision.

Too much choice can manifest in different ways; In a new city, figuring out where to stay where to eat and what to do can all feel very overwhelming. Time constraints often, strangely, help. When you know you have an end point you can prioritize what you want to see and what you want to do. Time constraints often motivate a traveler to get out of the hostel and into the adventure.

 If you are feeling like you couldn’t possibly see it all even if you had forever give yourself a hypothetical limit ( say 2 weeks) design a plan around that, after 2 weeks you will probably have a better idea of where you want to go next or if you want to stay.

Too much choice can also crop up at home, during the planning stages. When you are staring at a map thinking “I could be anywhere” then it is very hard to feel strongly pulled to any one destination.  I have been mulling over moving to Brooklyn, or Portland, or New Zealand, or going on a long holiday to South America…. Or back to India, every week has a new destination, a new appeal. I am in other words, burnt out on choice.

Find a subject you like, read as much as you can about it, make a little mini-course for yourself. Are you really into the Middle Ages? What about backpacking Europe for old world walled cities? Have you admitted that you are a foodie? What is your favorite cuisine? Start there. Like music? Then get together a list of festivals and shows to attend.

The more you travel the worse it gets. Once you’ve crossed off all your essential bucket list destinations/act6ivities/experiences, you are left going “ what now?”. This feeling, this subtle drift can spell the end of a trip. Sometimes the limitless options are overwhelming. Without a plan, or even a strong inclination to go in any direction often the direction I have gone is home. I am not unique in this, many travelers report a similar feeling and it often is a signal that you way be done, for now. ON past trips we have found that simply running out of ideas has been the leading cause of us coming home.

But now we are home. I’m at a loss for direction, there are so many ideas, opinions and options that trying to figure out which is the right choice for us is increasingly difficult. In general, when I have too many options I do nothing, I guess this is classic phycology ( or so TED talks tell me). 
So what do you do? When you’ve gone down your list? When the whole world is open to you?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

In Praise of the Traveling Parent

My cousin recently returned from a trip overseas. She traveled with her two children, a four year old and an eight-month old, alone. 

( Insert applause here)

I have to admit, have no idea how she did it. Traveling with kids is  special kind of adventure and while her visit was routine, she was visiting her mother, she was still managing to travel with her children in a “third world “ country and then flying ten or so hours back with them.

Every time we are on the road I notice babies of other travelers.  There was the annoyed five year old who kicked my seat of six hours between coasts, the two babies on the train in Vietnam, the four children that a beautiful and dignified Jordanian couple wrangled through a ten hour flight. Once flying to Europe there was a modern gypsy ( wanderers not Roma) couple and there tow children. The husband looked like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean and they chatted about how they had been living in South-east Asia and then Italy. There are a fair number of babies among the Thailand backpacker crowd.

One of my main big fears of parenthood ( I have about 1,000) is that I would not be able to travel. That finances or social pressure would keep me grounded for the whole long 18 year haul. Not a very pretty idea.

Yet, there are these parents and their kids on the plane, the rain, the boat, in the back streets, on busses. Clearly, kids are portable.

There is the oft repeated notion that children need routine. Not being a parent I don’t know if this is true so my next thoughts are pure speculation.

We were originally a nomadic species so I’m not sure moving from place to place is particularly traumatizing. When you’re a kid ( if you remember) everything was new, so what’s the difference between new here or new there?

Kids are sponges, they are supposed to be anyway, learning about everything around them. I would think being stuck in school or a house is boring as sin for the average kid.

Being exposed to new cultures, languages, peoples and ways of living surely is a boon to any child so lucky to have the experience. While there are surely many episodes of our travels that are adult only, there are plenty of things we did that would be totally ok with a kid.

Backpackers in Thailand who had their kids with them always seemed to get special treatment from locals. A woman who gave me a stony glare lit up with delight when a small farang baby came her way. Children are cherished in Thailand and the baby was handed between probably 6 different people before making its way back to a parent.

There are risks too, the word is a dirty place and kids are not known for their discernment. There is the added danger of losing a child in a place where they don’t speak the language – if the speak yet. And the  neurotic parent would probably die  of anxiety of they saw the state  of some of the bathrooms in many of the places I’ve been.

There is the social pressure too. Traveling with children, to far flung destinations is not viewed kindly by society or grandmothers at large. Disney land? Where they are surrounded by sugary sweet consumerism , great. India… less so.

There are all sorts of concerns for traveling parents that the rest of us are spared. Time changes, new foods, breast-feeding schedules, baby friendly accommodation, the looks other travelers give you when you get on a plane.

Whether or not travel with children is possible seems to lay with the strength of the parent. My hats are off to my cousin, and all parents who dare to travel with kids. I may hate that your baby just cried for the whole of trans-pacific flight but I’m sure as hell glad that you don’t let that stop you. You teach your kids that the world isn’t something to fear but something to embrace and parents or not we could all do with a little more of that. But you also leave the door open. If one day I do have kids I know that I can travel thanks to you. And no worries about the plane.

I can always bring ear-plugs.

Friday, February 22, 2013

What Happens When We Aren't Traveling

I am a secret nomad. I like to be on the move, literally if possible figuratively when not. I like to keep busy and I am easily bored. So what happens in between planning for trips and traveling on them? What do we do the rest of the time?

“ You are who you are, wherever you are.” My friend told me, reassuringly, “no matter where you go you will have the experiences in life that you as a person as likely to have.”  It was a long way of telling me to chill out, exciting things happen at home too. When I first got home I was worried that nothing exciting or interesting would happen now that I was in one place.

I would love to say that nothing could be further than the truth, but that wouldn’t be wholly accurate. On the road you don’t need to seek out entertainment, companionship, or adventure. There is something new waiting every time you step out and there is a strong and supportive travel community that you can find fleeting camaraderie with.

At home you have to try harder to find new things. It is easy to stop looking at the world with the eyes of one who sees every detail who notices new patterns. In order to fend off this dreadful sleep-like state I have embarked on a series of projects.

I’m a fiend for projects. I like to keep busy and while I still can’t find a full time job, I work full time doing what I can to make life fun and engaging.

I have been helping a budding brewer get her legs under her, working on marketing and as a taste tester (it’s as fun as it sounds).

I have freelancing for the local artsy magazine, writing everything from music reviews to profiles of local business owners.

I have finished another edit of a book I wrote a couple of years ago. It’s as polished as I can make it now and though I haven’t had any success shopping it around (I mean really who wants to buy YA sci-fi?) I have made some great connections to the robust local writing community. They have given me tips and critiques, support and many things to think about.

But still there is a divide, between my travel-self and my home-self.  When I was living in Melbourne one of the topics of discussion that kept coming up amongst housemates was the question “ How do we make travel sustainable?”

To that end, and because we love art and music and being on the road, Fiz and I have conspired to open our own business;  It’s a service really, we organize local artists to vend at music festivals. This we hope will allow us to travel more, at least domestically, maintain our connection to the world of nomads, and to enjoy the perks of being more or less in one place, namely employment.

I’m hoping that this will bring us many good adventures, which I hope to share with all of you, over the summer.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

In Defense of Travel

The recent and tragic death of the bicycling couple Peter Root and Mary Thompson in Thailand earlier this week resonates with many travelers and their families both at home and abroad. For those of us who are lucky enough to consider ourselves part of the long-term travel and round-the-world travel communities this is the kind of story most of us wonder if we will end up in, it part of the price of this life.

International travel, especially to so called “third world” countries bears inherent risks. There is health, infectious diseases, sub-topics aliments, food poisoning, various exciting forms of diarrhea not to mention usually sub-par medical infrastructure or in some cases complete lack of medical availability. Then there is the issue of security, the world is not such a safe place, there are roadside bombs, targets against foreigners( especially white elite foreigners), muggings, robberies. These are the things that get the most attention in the news.

The real risk in travel is often from everyday things, traffic accidents being one of the most prominent. During our time in Southeast Asia we saw (between us) three accidents. Only one lead to a hospitalization and none involved travelers but the risk is still there, especially if you are part of that traffic.

Road accidents cause more deaths to travelers than any other travel related risk. Busses fall off unpaved roads in the mountains, taxi drivers careen into other vehicles, scooters flip, rickshaws flip, bikes flip. Driving, whether a motorized vehicle or a people powered one, in a new country regardless of if it is Cambodia or England has inherent risks. New traffic patterns, new rules, maybe even a new orientation (left to right or the other way around). All these things increase your chances of befalling some tragedy. Travelers abroad can die on the road.

But people can die on the road at home too. In fact, it’s more likely.

When we hear of tragedies befalling travelers one of the first relations many have is “travel is dangerous”. For all the above mentioned reasons this is true, yes travel is dangerous. But so is being home. Anywhere where you live (and don’t think your bucolic country town excludes you) you can die. Life is dangerous; road accidents befall people all the time, with shocking regularity, but never make the news.

What makes the news is when two beautiful young people on an adventure die unexpectedly. Then you hear the statistics, the numbers and the horror stories.

Want to hear a horror story? Once I lived in a building that was so unsafe during a three month period a man was beat so badly with metal baseball bat that he needed reconstruction surgery, and another guy was stabbed. Rape was prevalent in this community, the local residents tried to combat it with awareness drawing white chalk outlines of victims on the pavement to make the numbers more visible.  My car was broken into. This was my campus, in Massachusetts. Nowhere is ‘safe’.

Do we incur more risk by traveling to places in the world different from our own? Yes, certainly. Do millions of people live in those places safely? Yes. Do hundreds of thousands travel there annually without an incident more serious than some traveler’s diarrhea and paying too much for a sarong? Yes.

This couple knew the risks and they took them anyway. Not because they were foolish and young but because they had good reason to believe that they would come back in one piece( according to Travel Med the chances of dying in traffic accident in South East Asia are 1.6x higher than at home). They had a dream and weren’t afraid to follow it, for that we honor and remember them.

 Whenever we travel, to Nepal or the grocery store, we take risks. In the end, something will get us all and though I read headlines like this with a whispered “there but for the grace of God go I,” I can’t help but believe that there are worse ways to go. This couple died together doing what they love, I pray that their families can find some solace in that.

Keep traveling, keep safe.

Red Queen's Race

"It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”
The Red Queen in Lewis Carrol’s, Through the Looking Glass

It is hard to believe that I have been back home for 7 months. That's as long as I lived in Australia. Returning to settled life has not been an easy process, the day to day takes more work to sustain than a transient nomadic life. Monetarily this is defiantly true. It costs more to live here, in one place, than it does to travel.If its wasn't for the overwhelming culture shock of coming home I would have shared more about the process with all of you.In fact I should have.

There is something quite surreal and abstract about reverse culture shock (yes here is such a thing). If you scan travel blogs, or magazines or websites you may see reference to it here and there, though it is often down-played and glossed over.

The psychological and long-term effects of travel are, sadly, rarely discussed. The transformations that happening while traveling, the experiences, the ups and downs, all those are looked into, taken apart bit by bit. But for many writers it can feel like the journey, the fun part, certainly the part people want to hear about, is over once you've come home. As a result, the emotions surrounding the decision to return home, the effect of travel on home life and the changes that travel makes in our lives is left under-represented.

For my own part I have not added much to the annuals in this regard. In fact I have fallen almost completely silent since I returned.

I thought the best way to stretch out the ol' fingers would be to start to fill in that gap. The Returning Gap, that space of time where you decompress from one trip and before you've planned the next one.  The space of time nobody talks about; the reintegration period.

Here it is, my top 5 hardest things about coming home have been:

1) Talking to non-travelers about travel

Even in my well educated, solidly middle class town the number of people who have spent time abroad is lower here than I have experienced in Europe or Australia. Being well traveled is not an essential ingredient to being an successful American. Desired, maybe, but certainly not required. The idea of taking six months or more out of the work force to ‘just travel’ is seen as a bit rash and, in these economic times, foolish.

Which is to say, there simply are not that many well traveled young Americans, as there are Australians or French or British. Which is sad. It’s sad not just because travel is fun and everyone should get to have fun, it sad because travel teaches essential lessons about one’s place in the world. Lessons that are impossible to replicate within the country because they are based on being outside the country. Travel builds feelings of international-interconnectedness. It strengthens cultural ties and expands your concept of what the human experience is.

I’m not saying that there aren’t ways to expand yourself, to experience new cultures, or even immerse yourself in another language without leaving the boarders. I am simply saying that you cannot experience what it is to be an American abroad without going abroad.

When you are on the road other travelers constantly surround you, and this makes for an easy community. There is always somebody to turn to who has shared or exceeded your experiences. At home it is easy to feel isolated, to feel like you’ve been to the moon and nobody knows what you mean. It’s easy to let this get you down.

Complicating this is that the traveler’s desire to talk about their travels invariably exceeds the listener’s desire to listen to travel tales. After the first debriefing upon return the interest level drops quickly.

I mean who wants to hear about endless tropical, exotic travel tales after working all week, week after week. After falling back into the salt mines myself I can see how hearing about it all would really lose its shine, especially if I had no context for it.

Ultimately you end up sounding like a pretentious ass if you go on about it too much. Yet, with so much to decompress, so much to hash over, you are craving a really attentive listener. There are some days where you daydream about meeting up with a fellow traveler just so you can feel like you’re speaking the same language.

2) Housework

I forgot how much effort housework was. It sucks, there are always dirty dishes, dirty laundry, things out of place. It is an endless stream of stuff to do. After a year of having one towel apiece and only the clothes we could carry the return to the consumer driven society of America has been an adjustment.

For weeks we couldn’t figure out why we seemed to always be cleaning until we realized: it’s because we have so much more stuff.  If you have one cup you only ever have to clean one cup.

Dust is my nemesis. No matter how often I wipe down the bathroom of bedroom, a couple days later there it is again. You don’t collect much dust on the road.

3) Routine

I can’t say I don’t like a good routine, but it’s a strange thing to get back into. For a year every day was different, week-to-week things changed. Now I get up at the same time every day, I eat at approximately the same times, I work, I sleep. Weeks seem to blur together, days are gone in a blink.

I think that routine is necessary when you are in one place. Otherwise it is hard to be effective, but they do tend to speed up time. When you know (roughly) what your week is going to look like you don’t pay as much attention to each moment. Its easy t go to sleep.

4) Feeling stuck/ fear of never traveling again
There is a feeling that haunts me, a fear that I won’t be able to travel again. It makes me feel claustrophobic and it comes when a trip ends, before I have energy and resources to start thinking about the next step.

Feeling like I may never travel again is one of the worst parts about coming home.

5) Changes in one's perception of normal.
It’s hard to describe how much travel can change you. It’s often in subtle ways and I think only the most conscious and observant among us can truly detect personal changes as they are happening. As such sometimes you have to wait to bump up against an old perception before you realize you have a new one.

After seeing the condition that people live in some of the harder parts of developing countries, it can be very hard to take the so called “ first world problems” seriously.
I recently bumped a car pulling out of parking space. It was the force of gravity, no acceleration; the car wasn’t damaged, although the owner seemed to think so.  She ran about freaking out about her paint job, pointing to old scratches and blaming me, demanding our insurance info.

 I just kept picturing this man I saw one, he had his abscess in his leg that was spreading own his calve. It was clearly septic. He was just lying on a piece of pavement, a little island in Delhi’s traffic. He didn’t ask for help or beg, he just lay there, breathing. I kept seeing this guy in my mind as this woman went on about her bumper. I found it hard to care.

This change of perception isn’t always traumatic it can be utilitarian too. I know much more about cars now after breaking down in Australia. I have no problem talking to strangers, asking for change or directions, or peeing in parking lots. I tend not to think twice about unclean public bathrooms (I mean at least they have toilet paper). It’s not just me either. A traveling friend who spent a year teaching English in Thailand has noticed this too. Recently she posted on Facebook

“The horrified way some of these cruise passengers are describing their experience leads me to believe that they've never been to a less developed/developing country...is pooping in a bag really that traumatic?”

No. No its not. But I’m not sure many of my friends would agree.