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.