Not all those who wander are lost
Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer
The only impossible journey is the one you never begin
The real voyage of discovery consists not of seeing new landscapes but having new eyes
Adventure travel, whether armchair or up-close-and-personal, has less to do with what there is to be seen than what we have in us to see. We can travel the world and see nothing, or wander through our own garden and be filled with awe by what we’d never personally imagined.
If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it is lethal. The more risks you take, the bigger the adventure you are going to have.
In retirement, as in life, we all travel different paths. Everyone seems to have their own plan. Surprisingly, I don’t meet anyone with a plan to retire or travel similar to mine. Some stay in their hometowns all year taking a few vacations rarely longer than a month at a time and some travel full time. Some travel to the same place every year or go to different places but stay in one place for long periods. Some have fifth wheels, large motorhomes, trailers, vans or VW campers. Some backpack and stay in hostels. Some travel alone while others like the security of traveling with others. We all make choices. The more I travel, the happier I am with the choices I have made. With a limited time to see the world, I would ideally like to travel full time as there is so much to see. I want to be always going to someplace different and I generally go to that place once, so try to intensively explore wherever I go. I have a real curiosity about the world.
There is a difference between a tourist and a traveller. “Tourists don’t know where they have been, travellers don’t where they are going”. Vagabonding describes a traveller best. Timetables are not fixed, and reservations are rarely made more than a few days in advance. Some of my most frustrating times on the road have been when I had to follow a fixed time line. When I wanted to go to Brazil, the visa required an exit airline ticket out of the country. This forced me to figure out my entire itinerary and buy my ticket exiting the country.
Of course circumstances often determine what kind of travel you can do. If still working and with a limited time frame, one must often go on guided trips or book all accommodation and transportation before hand. Unfortunately many tourists feel insecure if all those arrangements are not made before leaving home. That style of travel is much more restrictive and more expensive.
Lack of money may prevent one from going to some of the premier destinations. I am always surprised at many young travellers who miss the best places for cost reasons. Claiming that they had traveled to country X, their only experience may have been one month on the same beach.
I had initially hoped that I had at least 15 good years to see the world. Wherever I go, I want to see everything (which of course is not possible) as I do not think I have the luxury of being able to go back to many places a second time.
My style of travel is to decide on a rough itinerary using a travel guide (almost always Lonely Planet), and then decide on an almost day to day basis what I will do next. Depending on where you are, it may not be necessary to book accommodation at all – simply turn up and find out what is available. As I am fairly driven to see as much of the world I can, and have a limited amount of time to do it, my travel looks much more like an organized tour. All the highlight places are seen and rarely is much time spent in one place. Most other travellers I meet often stay for much longer periods in one place. I keep on the move, but that can get exhausting at times. In the winter of 2013-14, I visited 12 countries in six full months. It took a long time to recover once I got home.
I am always surprised how some peoples lives are fear-based, for example – their religion (Christianity is a very fear based religion), the way you raise your children, not hiking because of fear of bears (seeing bears is da rare occurrence), or where they travel. Some of the best places in the world do have dangers. My favourite country to travel to is Mexico which has been having a wave of drug based violence. But that is mostly drug cartels killing people in other cartels or politicians and newspaper journalists. Rarely are tourists affected and you would have to be in the wrong place at the wrong time to be affected. I have a lot of sympathy for that nation as tourism has been severely affected. Unfortunately some travel insurance is actually invalidated if one travels there especially if your country has issued travel advisories. With Mexico, these tourists are missing one of the best cultures and cuisines anywhere. Of course one must be careful and show common sense wherever you go. Fear prevents people from enjoying the best experiences. People incorrectly evaluate risk – they rarely think about traveling in a car, one of the most dangerous things we do.
ITINERARY and TIME FRAME.
Before a trip I buy the Lonely Planet for the area, read it and hi-light the book giving me a general route of my journey. From then on the trip is planned on a day to day basis. With no set plans, one has the option to spend as much time as desired in any one place. Other travellers often give many insights that change itineraries. Traveling with no time pressure is so nice – I can go anywhere my heart desires and spend as much time as I need to see anywhere as completely as I want to. Not having a return flight home gives me the ability to return home when I have done all I want to.
TRAVELING with OTHERS.
I have also made the decision to travel alone. There are pluses and minuses but the ability to make all your own decisions is most important. There are not many women my age who want to travel for long periods (a month is usually the maximum), take long bus rides if necessary, stay in dorm rooms as they prefer hotels, and avoid planes. One of the first things I ask if considering a relationship, is if they like to sleep in a tent.
Traveling alone forces one to talk to a wide variety of people. You never know who you will meet. The people you meet on the road are a significant part of my travel experience. I am not always an easy person to travel with. But I often travel with others for short periods and frequently meet other travellers with whom I develop a good rapport and hanging out together for a few days can be great. It is always easy to break off the relationship and go your separate ways. I find meal times alone the most difficult. It would also be nice to have someone to share experiences with.
HOSTELS or HOTELS.
I prefer to stay in dorm rooms in hostels. This is the best way to meet fellow travellers, which is rarely possible when staying in hotels. Despite occasional bad dorm room behaviour, usually things are good. Young people don´t usually snore. Dorms are also the cheapest accommodation. The best website for hostels is hostelworld.com. Once you are a registered member, you save the booking fee and all your billing information is saved so reservations are easy. Each hostel has a rating and reliable reviews. Some countries, like India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar don’t have hostels and web sites like hostelworld have little value.
TALKING TO OTHER TRAVELLERS.
When traveling, to meet others, it is important to “put oneself out there”. Talk to everyone. You never know who you will meet or what you can learn, and I have met many wonderful interesting people. Make them the centre of the conversation, find out what they are all about. As most other travellers seeing the world in my style are less than 30, I often spend a few days to a few weeks traveling with young people (as Germans are the worlds greatest travellers, and they are a very worldly bunch, it is young Germans that I have spent most longer periods with). It is amazing how isolated some people are on the road. Language difficulties can be an issue. But some nationalities rarely talk to anyone even if they speak good English. Japanese seem to be most like this and French and Israelis traveling in groups seem to alienate other travellers the most. I often think about how much they are missing. I believe that at least one half of the travel experience is in the people you meet on the road.
BUS, TRAIN OR PLANE?
I also try to take the bus or train as much as possible. Entering a country by plane often requires an exit ticket. One can be denied access to the flight (not rare) or theoretically not allowed into a country (has never happened to me). I have bought many exit tickets that I never used and wasn’t able to get a refund for. Exiting a country by air often entails a fee at the airport that is rare when crossing a border by land. As I don´t usually know my exact itinerary, or when I will be leaving, an ongoing ticket is not practical. Traveling by bus or train in the daytime allows one to see the countryside in a much more intimate way. Having lots of time makes air travel less necessary. Traveling most everywhere overland is less expensive and still go on any adventure I desire.
Wouldn’t it be nice if one could have at least working travel language everywhere you go. The locals appreciate any attempt to use their language. However problems arise when they answer back. When language skills are rudimentary, understanding them can be more difficult than asking simple questions especially as fluent speakers talk much more rapidly, have a different accent, or use slang. Developing even a simple vocabulary can be difficult. I usually find that when your pronunciation is not perfect, locals can’t understand you. As native English speakers, we meet people from all over the world with bad accents, we are used to it, and can usually make out what they say. As most of my travel initially was in Spanish speaking countries, getting your vowels and accents perfect can be difficult, and if not perfect, they often don’t understand what you are saying. It can get frustrating enough to not want to try.
Everyone has a different aptitude for language. It is well known that the ability to learn a new language starts to decline after age 12. Just like any other skill, each individual has different skill sets as our brains are wired in different ways. Personally, I’m great at math and sciences, but poor at English as a subject and poor at languages. On CBC, I recently heard an interview with a 16 year old New Yorker, a polyglot, who could fluently speak 23 languages from Farsi to Ojibwa.
What your native language is affects your ability to learn a new language. Romance languages with Latin as a base are an obvious example. Speaking French, Spanish, Italian or Portuguese makes it much easier learning the other languages with a similar base.
Where you grow up affects language ability. Being raised in Europe where many languages are heard and taught in school makes it easier. Young people from Scandinavia, Germany, Netherlands, and Belgium, for example, usually have great English skills – English (and other languages) are often taught starting in elementary school as these ‘progressive’ countries seem to understand the important role of speaking English especially for business and industry. It is the one universal travel language. Clearly, knowledge of English will help ones career and job prospects immensely. In contrast, in France and south Europe, other languages are less stressed and the majority of young people tend to be unilingual.
Exposure to other languages over time can be important. Growing up in Switzerland exposes one repeatedly to German, French and Italian and many Swiss young people speak all three in addition to Swiss German. In Canada, we have two ‘official’ languages but when growing up in western Canada, like me, I have never had the opportunity to speak French since high school, and my French is terrible. My heritage is French Canadian and I am 10th generation Canadian, but my ‘French’ grandfather left Quebec as a teenager to homestead in Saskatchewan, and even though he had a French accent, I never heard him speak French.
Another significant issue is developing conversational language skills, another whole level increase in difficulty.
Obviously, the ability to carry on a good conversation with locals vastly improves ones travel experience. The majority of my initial travel was in Spanish speaking countries, and my travel Spanish is adequate, but my ability to hold a conversation with a native speaker is virtually nil. I have had 2 weeks of good Spanish instruction in Guatemala and have few problems asking for directions, finding a room, making a reservation over the phone, and understand money, dates and time. I can even understand about 80% of what a tourist guide who speaks slowly and lucidly says. For me to acquire good conversational skills in Spanish would probably require at least 3 months of intensive study, something I don’t have the time or interest in. Missing even 20% of the content can make conversation impossible. Because of laziness, desire, aptitude, and zero exposure to Spanish when at home, it is unlikely that I will develop conversational Spanish skills. I once had a girlfriend who worked hard at her Spanish and thought she was ‘pretty good’. But in a conversation, she was hopeless, and the conversation rarely went past very basic levels.
There can also be a significant difference in the “Spanish” spoken in different countries. Chilean Spanish is notoriously different. They speak rapidly with a ‘singsong’ lilt. Most s’s at the end of words are dropped and they have many different expressions not used anywhere else. I was lost there and had no hope of making sense of their Spanish.
Often having poor Spanish has been helpful. When being panhandled, ‘no hablo Espanol’, ends the interaction. When stopped at military checkpoints common especially in Mexico, “no hablo Espanol”, smiling and being pleasant, works great. They throw up their arms in frustration and simply wave you through.
The best traveling experiences, and the best way to understand cultural context, is to have meaningful experiences with local people in the country you are traveling in. For many reasons, unfortunately, I tend not to have these sorts of experiences often. Being male may limit interactions with females. This is especially true in India or Muslim countries where women do not interact with males outside their intimate sphere. Women travellers have a much easier time there and in Muslim countries, and in fact anywhere as they are more often approached by the local population. It is amazing how many women travellers in India have attended weddings. Lacking good conversational language skills in the local language prevents having meaningful conversations with locals without good English skills. Few people in Latin America or India speak good English. As I do not stay in any one place for long, I have fewer interactions with locals, and thus fewer opportunities to form intimate relationships.
My authentic experiences are most often with other travellers as I make every attempt to put myself out there talking to as many fellow travellers as I can. Most of the interactions that end up being meaningful are with the most common traveler – the young person usually under 35 and I have frequently traveled with others for a week at a time or so. I develop very few relationships with travellers over 50. I tend to find them very self centred.d
Some ways to increase authentic experiences include the following. Hitchhiking in foreign countries is variably safe and allows one to meet locals. It is surprising how often one is invited to stay with them and share meals. Join couchsurfing.com to stay free in locals homes and share experiences, activities, and meals. Most hosts do this to meet up with travellers and thus foreigners. Because of the reference system, both host and visitor are vetted. Hanging out in nightclubs and bars may work but one may not necessarily meet people you want to. WWOOFing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) gives an opportunity to work for room and board and a great way to meet with the locals. Anyone under the age of 30 can obtain a work visa in most countries. Volunteering is another excellent way to have authentic experiences. I have not volunteered despite being a medical doctor. As a condition of my retirement, I had to give up my medical license and thus could not work as a medical doctor anywhere. I have also forgotten more than I ever knew and would be unsafe to now volunteer in my field of expertise.
Traveling in different cultures can at times be difficult simply because we may not understand how they think and behave. I first learned this after working in the Canadian Arctic five times. I left my last postings feeling very frustrated feeling that I had not made a significant contribution. I did not understand why Inuit don’t discipline their children, why they can’t give any past medical history, why they don’t like to work away from home when there are no jobs in their home towns but lots of unemployment outside their community, why they don’t value education like we do, and why they seem to kill anything that moves and thus don’t share our respect for wildlife. The list goes on and on but basically comes down to situations where they don’t behave like we do. It was not until I was able to discuss the situations with someone who had worked in the north for 15 years that I finally came to understand the cultural context of their beliefs and gain some insight (go to my page titled ideas to read a post on this).
A similar situation happened when traveling in India. I can not imagine a country more different than ours. They do not follow any of our social standards of polite behaviour. I have never heard any Indian say please, thank you or your welcome (except occasionally in people working in the tourist industry). You could give up your seat on a bus for an older woman or a woman with a young baby and they never acknowledge your existence. When getting off a bus, one has to run a gauntlet of people trying to get on. Men constantly butt ahead of you when standing in line for a ticket, or in fact any queue. Despite being the most religious country in the world (Hindus claim they have 36 million gods), and being fastidious dressers, they have absolutely despoiled their environment. Only 8 out of 3000 cities in India treat their sewage. I doubt that there is any water that is not extremely polluted. Garbage is everywhere and dustbins are rarely used. They have their animals all upside down. Cows are the top dog, closely followed by snakes and monkeys. Even rats are holy in one temple. Being reincarnated as a dog is the worst thing that can happen, whereas they are clearly our most favoured animal. The list is endless. Read “Being Indian”, a great book about the Indian psyche and a must read before going to India.
The real issue is that we are traveling in their country and thus need to completely tolerate and attempt an understanding of their behaviour, that is, to understand the cultural context. It can make travel so much more enjoyable. Travel can be a very trying travel experience but one could not change their behaviour nor do we have any right to. Simply go with the flow and learn to enjoy all these differences. It really is what travel is all about.
CAMERAS AND PHOTOGRAPHY
I no longer travel with a camera. It is amazing how differently one looks at the world when you are not looking for the next photograph. Instead of framing something in a 4×6 rectangle, one tends to see the whole picture and the minute details. One forms a better visual memory when you know you will not have a photograph to revisit the scene. Life on the road without a camera is so much less complicated – more space and less weight in the pack or shoulder bag, nothing to recharge, nothing to download, no sorting or discarding, no editing, and no emailing pictures. And how often do we revisit those pictures? Great pictures are available for everywhere on the internet. I have an inward smile when I see travellers rapidly moving through a site taking hundreds of snapshots of all sorts of immaterial things, and not really ‘looking’ at anything. They are missing seeing the essence of a place, feeling the peace of a temple or beautiful dawn. They seem to have a pressure to record everything on film or feel they haven’t been there. And most of those snapshots are technically poor pictures.
I am continually surprised by the proliferation of large SLRs that so many travellers have. Add a lens or two and you have added a few kilograms and significant volume to your pack. And the vast majority don’t have a clue how to really get the most out of those big cameras and lenses. Most use the P mode or think that M or manual gives them more control. They have no understanding of f-stops and depth of field, exposure control (when to over and under expose pictures), how to deal with pictures that have excessive contrast, when to use and not use flash, and all the compositional details entailed in taking the best picture. There is no doubt that they are taking better pictures than with a little point-and-shoot, but those pictures are rarely blown up to a size where it matters much negating the advantage of all those megapixels. E-mailing large files is difficult. And rarely do they have the best lenses that really do make a difference in picture quality. Factor in the cost of all that equipment and simply having to lug it around.
These cameras are also a significant target for thieves. In Ecuador, I was using the camera of a woman I had met at my hotel, two young men suddenly appeared behind us, one grabbed the strap behind my neck and one the lens, and there was no way I could prevent them from escaping in a few seconds.
Taking good photographs is hard work – it is all about light. You should be up before dawn and be out at dusk, trying to maximize that golden glow that really makes pictures shine. In the past, I have been a very avid amateur photographer, belonged to a camera club for 25 years, had a huge library of how-to books, subscribed to several photography magazines, made many large prints that I competed in photography shows all over, and won many awards. I have a box of the best lenses Canon makes, many costing several thousand dollars each, filters, and every gadget available. I have drowned more professional bodies than you can imagine at $3500 a pop. I always shot with Fugi Velvia and have a file cabinet with 25,000 of my best slides. But nothing has seen the light of day for many years. Maybe some day I will use all that stuff again, but not when I am on the road living out of a backpack.
I lost my enthusiasm for photography when digital came along (in contrast to the rest of the world). Shooting with slide film only gives you one chance, there is nothing you can do to the slide to make it better. That made you concentrate on taking the best picture and I had to understand everything about the equipment, the technical aspects of depth of field, exposure control, dealing with contrast, and all the compositional elements necessary to make an outstanding picture. My ‘speciality’ was using hyper focal distance often in contrasty conditions (imagine sunlit mountains in the distance with a field of wildflowers in the foreground) all in focus and exposed properly. It was very technical photography. Importantly, I also have a good ‘eye’. Most importantly, I learned when not to take a picture. The present digital mentality seems to have negated all those things – it is now taking snapshots of everything irrelevant of light, and then using Photoshop to improve the image. However the ability to stitch panoramas, exposures and different depth of fields is a huge advantage of digital. When digital first came out, we debated what you could ethically do to an image and not be ‘cheating’. Now anything goes. The challenge of firstly taking a good picture is gone. I have no interest in taking poor pictures and have lost the energy it takes to do good photography. There are so many more important things when you travel.
ELECTRONICS ON THE ROAD
Computers. I always shunned them because of the weight and added complexity. But now with this web site, a computer has become indispensable. No more searching around for an internet cafe and paying the costs of using their computer. Wi-fi is everywhere and usually free. I can e-mail, search the web, book hotels, trains and flights, use Skype as my only telephone and work on my new obsession, this site, at any time. I bought the simplest, smallest, cheapest computer I could find in India but it had a counterfeit Windows program that became so infected that it became useless so I gave it to my guide in Bhutan. I now have an 11″ Macbook Air. I am willing to give up the weight/space factor for the convenience.
Mobile and smart phones. I once bought an unlocked iPhone4 at great expense and found it very handy, but it was pickpocketed in Barcelona, the pickpocket capital of the world. The hassle of getting new SIM cards in every country and having to cut up the large chip was a pain. A computer does many of those smart functions better (but unfortunately without the apps). In India, I bought the cheapest, smallest phone I could find, and it was indispensable there. I used it to book hotels, commonly to phone home to deal with credit and debit card issues, order new Kindles, and deal with flight issues. Telephone costs are unbelievably small in developing countries ($10 lasted 4 months in India), and most everywhere outside Canada. New Sim cards in each new country are also cheap and often free if using the same carrier. But I have not had a phone for a few years and don’t miss it. Google maps though would be very handy at times.
Electronic readers. My Kindle has likewise become indispensable. Mine has 3G and I can download virtually any book in the world at less cost than buying the paper edition, anywhere. It holds 3000 books and the battery is very long lasting. I get Time Magazine and the Atlantic, and keep abreast of world issues. No more carrying around big, space consuming books. They are fragile though, and after destroying four in a few months in India, next year I will use the cover for protection. Being not back lit makes reading easy on the eyes and reading in bright sunshine is easy. The payment happens automatically by credit card. They are made for travellers. I still enjoy holding a real book in my hand and when it comes down to it, would prefer that. Unfortunately using a guide book is not convenient and I always get the paper copy.
iPods. I draw the line here. I find it hard to relate to the young generation (any many older people too), always plugged in listening to music. Get a life and observe the world around you. But music has never been that big a part of my life. They seem ‘zoned’ out and oblivious to the world around them. They are also dangerous and there have been 89 recorded deaths in the last 10 years in the US directly attributable to not hearing traffic, and especially trains. Loud volumes are also deleterious to hearing. Many use an iPod Touch to get e-mails.
TYPE of RV.
When traveling in North America, a truck and camper is ideal for my style of travel because of its great mobility. I have come to believe that a small camper van like a Volkswagon camper would be ideal to see Europe, the Middle East and north Africa. There are no limitations on where you can go and you can see everything. I not uncommonly dropped the camper on the side of the road. I can then go through tunnels (Real de Catorce in Mexico is only accessible by a long tunnel), or on four-wheel-drive roads and other rough roads not suitable for campers. Campers are much safer than towed motor homes especially on narrow roads. Because it is relatively short, I can park anywhere and often stay in the centre of towns close to the sights. My camper has everything in it I could desire and I can take bicycles and kayaks with me. I would not get an RV with slides because of the weight and I don’t need the extra floor space to dance. I have a well-designed solar system that allows me to dry camp and avoid campgrounds. In fact I have not used a campground since 2009. Having a well functioning source of electricity is key to the modern RV as every appliance (refrigerator, heater, water heater) has an electric ignition. Sirius satellite radio (hard wired in both the truck and camper) is my lifeline to home and the world and my major source of entertainment. CBC (all the world class interviewers are a joy), NPR (National Public Radio in the US) and BBC are my mainstays. I don’t watch TV at home so don’t miss it here. I avoid travel with any other vehicles as then what you do would be dictated by someone else. Your main social interaction would be with the same people instead of the whole variety of other travellers and the local population. Forcing yourself to interact is one of the keys to a complete traveling experience. The only negative is being alone to share your experiences with and mealtimes are the most difficult.
12 WAYS TO INCREASE INNER ATTRACTIVENESS
All of the best suggestions move beyond simply “being nice.” Niceness, kindness, and all those other “good” qualities should be the barest minimum required for being human in general, not just being a human who would like to date other humans. They’re also not necessarily things you have to do only for other people — a lot of them are things that you should really do for yourself. The overall effect they’ll have on your happiness and outlook will then spread to other areas of your life, including relationships.
So make yourself a better person, and therefore a more attractive person in the process. We’re all ongoing projects; that means we can always change.
1. Cultivate decisiveness. Obviously you should also remain open to and respectful of other suggestions, but knowing what you want can be really attractive. It’s a demonstrable way of displaying confidence, and therefore probably more useful than simply trying to “be confident” (whatever that means).
2. Play to your strengths.
3. Develop a neat skill or hobby. I actually think the wording of this particular suggestion is a little less than helpful — “be THIS” doesn’t actively give you something to do (it’s just a state of existence) — but the idea itself is sound. Developing an interesting skill or hobby speaks well of you in a few ways: One, the skill or hobby itself gives you character; and two, the fact that you actually took the time to learn it shows that you’re a go-getter. Have you always wanted to learn an instrument? Take lessons or start teaching yourself. Wish you could pick locks? Get yourself a practice lock and a set of picks and hit YouTube for some tutorials. Want to be able to make at least one knock-your-socks-off awesome meal? Get thee to thy kitchen and learn to cook that meal. The sky’s the limit; all you have to do is make the time to learn. The best part? You don’t even have to do it for the purposes of reeling in the ladies or menfolk; do it just for yourself. You’ll thank yourself for it.
4. Focus on the other senses beyond sight. Using smell as an example: Never underestimate the value of good personal hygiene.
5. Look. Listen. Pay attention. Engage with the world, and with everyone in it. Learn how to read people and adjust your behavior accordingly.
6. Learn. All the time. Always be learning. As demonstrated here, reading is an excellent way to learn new things; it’s definitely not the only way, though, so go ahead and watch, listen, and do in order to learn, too. Exercise curiosity about everything; then go try to figure out the answers to all your questions.
7. Love yourself. As cliché as it sounds, it’s true: You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.
8. Grow up. What I think is most important about this suggestions is that it doesn’t mean “not having fun ever.” It means dealing with your responsibilities in an adult fashion and not A) complaining about it all the time or B) expecting everyone else to take care of your shit for you. The key point is that last sentence: “They can still be playful, and fun, and light-hearted and enjoy silly things, but still be a responsible and empathetic adult.”
9. Don’t take yourself too seriously all the time. Humans are funny, even when we screw up (or, especially when we screw up). Laugh at your own foibles. You’ll be able to deal with them better, which benefits both you and other people.
10. Learn to express yourself clearly and succinctly. In addition to ditching “filler” words from your vocabulary, also put some thought into your grammar and spelling (especially in written communication). Messages like “U so hottt!!!!” are the exact opposite of hot.
11. Take initiative. Especially when it comes to yourself. We all have flaws; to err is to be human and all that. But if there’s something you wish you could change about yourself, don’t just wish it — go ahead and make the change yourself.
12. Let it go. Embrace your inner Elsa.